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Sturmgeschütz III

Sturmgeschütz is a German word for "assault gun", usually abbreviated StuG. The vehicle was a leading weapon of the Sturmartillerie, a branch of the German artillery tasked with close fire support of infantry in infantry, panzer, and panzergrenadier units. StuGs were very successful in their intended support role and destroyed, among others, many bunkers, pillboxes and other defences. Destruction of enemy tanks eventually became its main priority as the German Army in the Soviet Union did not have sufficient gun power in many of its 1941-42 era tanks (Czech T-35/T-38, Panzer III) to take on the increased numbers of Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks. It is estimated that by 1944 StuG battalions had destroyed 20,000 enemy tanks, mostly T-34's.

The StuG is not generally considered to be a true tank because it lacks a turret. The gun was mounted directly in the hull, in a casemate-style fashion, with as low a profile as was possible to reduce vehicle height, and had a limited lateral traverse of a few degrees in either direction. Thus, the entire vehicle had to be turned in order to acquire targets. Omitting the turret made production much simpler and less costly, enabling greater numbers to be built. The lower vehicle height was meant to give a "StuG" designated vehicle a significantly shorter vertical profile as compared to contemporary tanks, making the StuG more difficult to hit and easier to protect in hull defilade.

Most assault guns were mounted on the chassis of a Panzer III or Panzer IV, with the resultant model being called either a StuG III or StuG IV respectively.

In 1942 and 1943, the StuG was one of the most effective tracked vehicles of World War II in terms of opposition vehicles destroyed, and over 10,000 of them were eventually produced. The Germans were so excited by the initial Stug success that they turned to folly by producing the near useless Elefant "Stug" on obsolescent Porsche tank hulls (the Porsche had been beaten out by the Henschel Tiger for heavy tank production). These Elefant's proved completely unwieldy and did not even have the regular Stug III and IV advantage of a low profile. By late 1943 improved Allied tanks and tank destroyers (US) with improved guns, rotating turrets, and superior mobility (brought on not by technology but also improved tactics) forced the Stug III and IV's into the corner of being primarily an ambush weapon. While the ambush tactic still took a steady but nonetheless sustainable toll of Soviet T-34/85 tanks and some US Sherman, M10 and M18 Tank destroyers (vehicles far superior to the Stugs)and British Cromwell tanks which occasionally "impaled" themselves on defensive Stugs while engaging in offensive tactics, improved air ground coordination by all the allies due to near complete air superiority led to elevated Stug losses, eventually it was the Stug's that were being ambushed by aircraft or tanks/tank destroyers that had been warned by aircraft, and the inability to traverse the gun became an acute weakness. The Stugs quickly became more of a liability in terms of resource utilization than an asset (the German's had initially increased Stug production to replace standard tank losses), but they continued to be used as the German losses of all types of armored vehicles now exceeded production. Long since not used as originally intended, the Stug's increasingly proved a poor substitute for conventional tanks except in a very narrow envelope that became even smaller as the war progressed. By 1944 Germany was in a downward spiraling arms race with the allies and the Stug III's and IV's had reached their stretchability by 1944. The last attempt at using the Panzer IV with a Panther's long 75MM gun was not successful. The Germans attempted to make new Stug's based on 88MM guns, the Panther chassis variant being perhaps the most effective "Stug" but only produced in small numbers due to the need for conventional Panther tanks. Reversing the concept, the desperate Germans also took the small Czech T-38 tank chassis and turned it into a pocket "Stug", the Hetzer, with a 75MM late in the war for defensive infantry support, but by this time, although the Hetzer was extremely compact and maneuverable, it was a compromise design with a cramped fighting compartment, inefficient ergonomics (the main gun had to be loaded from the left when it was designed to be loaded from the right), unpopular with its crews and thoroughly obsolete, for the then extant turreted light vehicles with similar gunpower proved far superior. The increased effectiveness of anti-tank weapons used by infantry such as the bazooka, piat-guns, and sticky mines also made "Assault Guns" more vulnerable as they could not sufficiently protect their flanks.

The Soviet Union suffered sufficiently from the Stugs, more due to clumsy (but effective) tactics than Stug technical superiority, to produce their own form of Stugs based on the T-34 tank, the SU-85. These soviet "Stugs" for a brief time, helped supplement T-34 tanks still armed with 76MM guns in mid-late 1943 (a period where the Germans had a distinct edge in gun power over 76MM T-34's and KV-1's) and well into 1944 and were used very aggressively as they were hard to see on the steppe. In a very short time, however, the SU-85's were made obsolescent by the appearance of new T-34/85's which had come into production, but the Soviets, still stung by Stug's and by hard hitting German tanks, created the SU-100 which allowed them more firepower to deal with heavier German tanks.

After the war, the Czech's, because the type was used on their chassis, continued to produce Hetzer's, but their use was limited to locally enforcing Communist rule. As an anti-partisan vehicle they had value in infantry support. A number of captured Stug's were refurbished in the Soviet Union and given to Syria, along with Panzer IV's, which used them briefly against Israel. Both a captured Panzer IV and a Stug III are on display in the Armor Museum in Israel. The Swedes attempted to carry on the Stug concept with their radical "S" tank, but it proved a design dead end, although it served the Swede's well in peacetime.

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