German Equipment Names
By Christian Ankerstjerne
From the end of the First World War to the end of the Second World War, military technology developed drastically. With this development case the need for new terminology. As technology matured, so did the terminology. It is therefore not surprising that German equipment names in the years before and during the Second World War saw similar rapid changes.
German equipment names during the Second World War are often assumed to be standardized and well-organized. The reality is that the naming conventions that did exist were often poorly implemented, and that equipment names were changed frequently for reasons that are not always clear. In addition to the to varied and often-changing official names, unofficial designations and nicknames were frequently used in reports.
With many historical records being lost, compiling a full list of all official and unofficial names would be an impossible task. The purpose of this article is to provide insight into the systems that did exist for naming German equipment, how these systems were broken, and finally to clarify some of the common misconceptions on German equipment names that still exist today. The main focus of the article is on German armored vehicles, but parallels can be made to other types of equipment.
In addition to the official names used by the German army, equipment manufacturers in Germany during the Second World War were independent, private companies. As such, they usually had internal product names used in parallel with the official names within the German Army. Such internal company names will not be treated below.
Defining official names
Defining that is and what isn't an official name can be difficult. An argument that is sometimes made is that if a document was been written by someone in the German army in their official capacity, and that document happens to mention a piece of equipment, then the name they used is an official name. An example of such a document could be a typed or teletyped message that mentions the equipment strength of a unit. This argument does not take into account that there can be several reasons why the person chose to use that name, for example:
- They might have mistyped.
- They might have shorted the name to save space or time.
- They might have followed the slang used in their unit.
- They might not have known the prescribed names.
As the purpose of most reports was simply to gather information, the exact names used did not matter, as long as it was clear what was meant in the situation. While such local variations can be interesting, as will be shown later, continuing to use them today can lead to confusion.
The following document, which was sent on 21 August 1943 by the German Army High Command to the Reichminister für Bewaffnung und Munition (Reich Minister for Armament and Munitions; Albert Speer), with copies to both the Chef des Heeresrüstung und Befehlshaber des Ersatzheer (Chief of Army Armament and Commander of the Replacement Army; Friedrich Fromm) and the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen (Inspector General of the Armored Forces; Heinz Guderian), provides insight into who could officially name vehicles at the time it was written.
To the Reich minister of Armament and Munitions, Professor Speer.
- The Führer has decided that the assault gun with a 128 mm gun on the Tiger chassis is to receive the designation "assault gun", and not self-propelled anti-tank gun.
- The assault gun based on the Panzer IV chassis, until now called tank destroyer by the inspector general, is also to be called an "assault gun" and not tank destroyer.
As long as there are no principal Führer decisions through the Chief of the Army General Staff for the naming of army weapons, the Führer has decided that the existing procedure is to remain:
Due to requirements on the Army General Staff, the naming of all weapons, vehicles, and other devices are determined by the Chief of Army Armament and Commander of the Replacement Army.
Sources for official names
In keeping with the description above, name changes can be considered to fall into two categories: Explicit and implicit name changes. Explicit name changes are those that explicitly order some equipment to have new name. Implicit name changes are those where the new name is adopted in favor of the old one by those responsible for the name, even when no order for the change exist. An example of an implicit name change could be if a new name starts being used in publications such as equipment manuals.
Note that the terms explicit and implicit name changes are not terms used in any way in the Germany Army during the Second World War. Rather, it is merely a handy way of thinking about such name changes. It could be argued that, strictly speaking, official names would only exist where an explicit order can be shown, but the consequence of that would be that some equipment would have no official names at all.
Explicit Name Changes
Many name changes were announced in the official German Army news bulletin, Allgemeine Heeresmitteilungen, which was usually published two to three times per month and contained collections of administrative messages and orders.
In the 20 December 1935 issue, the following order dated 9 December 1935 was published which described the designations and weight classes of tanks, armored cars, and armored transport vehicles. The order was issued by Inspectorate 6, responsible for armored vehicles, under the German Army high command.
Designations of armored fighting vehicles
Collective term: Panzerfahrzeuge
These are tanks that are equipped with a machine gun or a machine gun and a gun with a caliber of up to (but not including) 75 millimeters.
These are tanks that are equipped with a gun with a caliber from 75 millimeters and up to (but not including) 105 millimeters.
These are tanks that are equipped with a gun with a caliber from 105 millimeters.
Heavy armored cars:
These are armored cars that have an enclosed armor structure that as a minimum is safe against S.m.K. ammunition, have forward and reverse drive, and have an armor piercing gun.
Light armored cars:
These are the armored cars that do not fully meet the criteria of heavy armored cars.
Panzertransportwagen (Pz.Trsp.Wg.) (cars, trucks, prime movers)
These are the armored vehicles that are not equipped with a weapon.
Previous definitions are hereby rescinded.
Necessary corrections to manuals and equipment lists are done at the available time.
Another example is this order from the 20 April 1936 bulletin issue, with an order dated 3 April 1936, also issued by Inspectorate 6.
New designations have been decided for the armored vehicles listed below, which are to be used from now on in correspondence and when publishing new manuals, etc. Existing manuals are changed at the earliest available time.
|Item||Former designation||New designation||New vehicle number|
|1||gp. Kw. (Kfz. 67)||
Abbreviation: s. Pz. Sp. Wg.
|Sd. Kfz. 231|
|2||gp. Kw. (Fu) (Kfz. 67 a)||
schwerer Panzerspähwagen (Fu)
Abbreviation: s. Pz. Sp. Wg. (Fu)
|Sd. Kfz. 232|
|3||M. G. Kpfw. (Vskfz. 617)||
Panzerkampfwagen I (M. G.)
Abbreviation: Pz. Kpf. Wg. I (M. G.)
|Sd. Kfz. 101|
|4||M. G. Kpfw. (2 cm) (Vskfz. 622)||
Panzerkampfwagen II (2 cm)
Abbreviation: Pz. Kpf. Wg. II (2 cm)
|Sd. Kfz. 121|
|5||Gesch. Kpfw. (3,7 cm) (Vskfz. 619)||
Panzerkampfwagen III (3,7 cm)
Abbreviation: Pz. Kpf. Wg. III (3,7 cm)
|Sd. Kfz. 141|
|6||Gesch. Kpfw. (7,5 cm) (Vskfz. 618)||
Panzerkampfwagen IV (7,5 cm)
Abbreviation: Pz. Kpf. Wg. IV (7,5 cm)
|Vs. Kfz. 622|
While the term Panzerkampfwagen was used prior to this order, it marks the introduction of the official designation Panzerkampfwagen followed Roman numerals for the specific tank models. Of interest is the use of the abbreviation Pz. Kpf. Wg., which later became Pz. Kpfw.. It is not clear exactly when this transition took place, and it may have taken place informally over time. In September 1938 and January 1939, several manuals for the Pz Kpfw III and Pz Kpfw IV were published in which they were referred to as:
- Panzerkampfwagen III (3,7 cm) (Sd. Kfz. 141) (abbreviation: Pz. Kpfw. III (3,7 cm) (Sd. Kfz. 141))
- Panzerkampfwagen IV (7,5 cm) (Vskfz. 622) (abbreviation: Pz. Kpfw. IV (7,5 cm) (Vskfz. 622))
In two orders dated 27 September 1939 published in the 7 October 1939 Army news bulletin, the Pz Kpfw III and Pz Kpfw IV were officially declared ready for introduction and procurement. The Pz Kpfw III was introduced under the same name and abbreviation as above, while the Pz Kpfw IV now had the number Sd. Kfz. 161 instead of Vskfz. 622.
The same pattern was used in an order dated 5 May 1939 published in a technical appendix to the Army news bulletin in which the Pz Kpfw II was likewise officially introduced under the designation Panzerkampfwagen II (2 cm) (Sd. Kfz. 121), abbreviated Pz. Kpfw. II (2 cm) (Sd. Kfz. 121).
Another example of the Pz. Kpfw. abbreviation can be seen in the 22 January 1940 bulletin issue with this order from Inspectorate 6 dated 16 January 1940:
Designations for the Czech tanks and guns taken over by the armored forces
The designations below have been determined for the Czech tanks and guns that have been taken over by the armored forces:
|Item number||Weapon with Czech designation||Future German designation||Shortened designation|
|1||Panzerkampfwagen L. T. M 35||Panzerkampfwagen 35 (t)||Pz. Kpfw. 35 (t)|
|2||Panzerkampfwagen L. T. M 38||Panzerkampfwagen 38 (t)||Pz. Kpfw. 38 (t)|
|3||3,7 cm Kampfwagenkanone M 34||3,7 cm Kampfwagenkanone 34 (t)||3,7 cm Kw. K. 34 (t)|
|4||3,7 cm Kampfwagenkanone M 38||3,7 cm Kampfwagenkanone 38 (t)||3,7 cm Kw. K. 38 (t)|
With immediate effect, only the new designations are to be used in correspondance, in equipment lists, status lists, etc.
Orders for name changes would not just apply to specific equipment but could also be of a more general nature. In this order from the 7 May 1941 bulletin by the Chief of Army Armament and Commander of the Replacement Army, all anti-tank guns are renamed collectively, and the new designation is also reflected in the collective unit designation.
Renaming of anti-tank guns
1. The Panzerabwehrkanone have with immediate effect the designation
Abbreviation as previously
2. To distinguish between the different equipment of the Panzerjägereinheiten1, the following designations are introduced:
- leichte Panzerjägerkanone (Pak)
- Up to and including 37 millimeters.
- mittl. Panzerjägerkanone (Pak)
- Above 37 millimeters and up to 74 millimeters.
- schwere Panzerjägerkanone (Pak)
- From 75 millimeters.
Later in the war, orders begin to refer to Hitler directly demanding name changes, such as this order from Alfred Jodl, entitled Suggestive Names for New Weapons, dated 1 February 1944.
The Führer has approved the following suggestive names for the Army and Air Force.
|8,8 cm Pak auf Fgst.III/IV||Nashorn|
|8,8 cm Sturmgeschütz Porsche||Elefant|
|Remote-controlled explosive carrier||Goliath|
|Engineering device for demolishing constructions with explosive gas mixtures||Taifun|
|s.Pz.Jäger auf Fgst.Tiger||Jagdtiger|
|s.Pz.Jäger auf Fgst.Panther||Jagdpanther|
|K 5 (smooth)||Schlanke Bertha5|
|Ofenrohr (8,8 cm R Pz B 54)||Panzerschreck|
|8,8 cm R W 43||Puppchen|
|7,5 cm Pak 40 auf Fgst.Pz.Lorraine||Marder I|
|7,5 cm Pak 40 and 7,62 cm Pak 36 (r) auf Fgst.Panzer II||Marder II|
|7,5 cm Pak 40 and 7,62 cm Pak 36 (r) auf Fgst.Pz.38(t)||Marder III|
|Me 163 rocket fighter||Komet|
|Me 262 jet fighter||Sturmvogel|
|Me 410 fast heavy fighter||Hornisse|
|Me 219 night fighter||Uhu|
|Ta 152 fighter||Würger|
|Ta 154 night fighter, long range heavy fighter||Wespe|
|Do 335 long range fighter, fast heavy fighter||Pfeil|
|Ju 188 medium bomber, armed||Rächer|
|Ju 388 medium bomber, fast||Not yet decided.|
|He 177 heavy bomber||Greif|
|Ju 390 long-range bomber||Titan|
|Ju 352 transport aircraft||Herkules|
|Ju 290 long-range reconnaissance aircraft||Not yet decided.|
|Ar 234 jet bomber||Blitz|
The commonly used designation for the heaviest artillery, such as Bruno, Siegfried, etc. will continue. Other designations for weapons or devices with other names, such as Wespe, Grille, Hummel, Maultier, will the rescinded in the future.
The order above marks a trend towards shorter, more memorable names. Likewise, this document from Heinz Guderian, titled Designation of Tanks, Assault Guns, and Tank Destroyers, is dated 8 August 1944.
The Army General Staff requests that the following designations are used as the authoritative name (including in the Army Armament Status Overview7 and in the Army news bulletin):
- Panzer IV with 7,5 cm KwK L/43 and L/48 on the Panzer IV chassis as "Panzer IV"
- Panzer IV with 7,5 cm KwK L/70 on the Panzer IV chassis with Vomag tank destroyer superstructure as "Panzer IV/L (A)" (long, Alkett)
- Panzer V with 7,5 cm KwK L/70 as "Panther"
- Panzer VI with 8,8 cm Kw K L/56 as "Tiger I"
- Panzer VI with 8,8 cm Kw K L/71 as "Tiger II"
- Assault guns and light tank destroyers
- Assault gun with 7,5 cm KwK L/43 and L/48 on the Panzer III chassis as "Sturmgeschütz III"
- Assault gun with 7,5 cm KwK L/48 on the Panzer IV chassis as "Sturmgeschütz IV"
- Assault howitzer with 10,5 cm St.H. L/28 on the Panzer IV8 chassis as "Sturmhaubitze"
- Assault tank with 15 cm St.H. 43 on the Panzer IV chassis as "Sturmpanzer"
- Vomag light tank destroyer with 7,5 cm KwK L/48 on the Panzer IV chassis as "le.Panzerjäger IV" (formerly Stu.Gesch.n.A.)
- Vomag light tank destroyer with 7,5 cm KwK L/70 on the Panzer IV chassis as "Panzer IV/L (V)" (long, Vomag) x)
- le.Pz.Jg. 38 (t) with 7,5 cm KwK L/48 on the Panzer 38 t chassis as "le.Panzerjäger 38 t"
- Heavy tank destroyers
- Heavy tank destroyer with 8,8 cm KwK L/71 on the Panther chassis as "Jagdpanther"
- Heavy tank destroyer with 12,8 cm KwK L/55 on the Tiger II chassis as "Jagdtiger"
x) After which it must henceforth be listed under "tanks".
Some of these names were repeated in the Army news bulletin on the 7 November 1944 with an order dated 29 October 1944, issued by the Inspector General of the Armored Forces.
Designations for armored vehicles
|Future designation||Previous designation|
|Jagdpanzer 38||le. Pz. Jg. 38 t|
|Jagdpanzer IV||le. Pz. Jäg. IV|
|Jagdpanther||s. Pz. Jäg. V|
|Jagdtiger||s. Pz. Jäg. VI|
|Panzer IV lang||-|
Deviating designations are no longer to be used. […]
Another document, titled Designation of Armored Vehicles, is not signed or dated, but is most likely from late-1944.
|Designation by the troops||Designation in ordnance catalogue||Designation in manuals, gun overviews, and replacement part lists|
|Jagdpanzer 38||Jagdpanzer 38 (7,5/48)||Jagdpanzer 38 Ausf…|
|Sturmgeschütz III||Sturmgeschütz III(7,5/48)||Sturmgeschütz III Ausf…|
|Sturmgeschütz IV||Sturmgeschütz IV(7,5/48)||Sturmgeschütz IV Ausf…|
|Sturmpanzer||Sturmpanzer (15/12)||Sturmpanzer Ausf.IV|
|Jagdpanzer IV||Jagdpanzer IV(7,5/48)||Jagdpanzer IV Ausf…|
|Jagdpanther||Jagdpanther (8,8/71)||Jagdpanther Ausf…|
|Jagdtiger||Jagdtiger (12,8/55)||Jagdtiger Ausf…|
|Panzer IV||Panzer IV(7,5/48)||Panzer IV Ausf…|
|Panzer IV lang||Panzer IV lang(7,5/70)||Panzer IV lang Ausf. A (Alkett)|
|Panzer IV lang Ausf.V (Vomag)|
|Panzer IV lang Ausf.E E 2 (Einh.Fahrgest.)|
|Panther||Panther (7,5/70)||Panther Ausf…|
|Tiger I||Tiger I(8,8/56)||Tiger Ausf.E|
|Tiger II||Tiger II(8,8/71)||Tiger Ausf.B|
|Flakpanzer IV 2 cm||Flakpanzer IV 2 cm Vierling||Flakpanzer IV 2 cm Ausf…|
|Flakpanzer IV 3,7 cm||Flakpanzer IV 3,7 cm||Flakpanzer IV 3,7 cm Ausf…|
|Flakpanzer IV 3 cm||Flakpanzer IV 3 cm||Flakpanzer IV 3 cm Ausf…|
|Bergepanzer 38||Bergepanzer 38||Bergepanzer 38 Ausf……|
|Bergepanzer III||Bergepanzer III||Bergepanzer III Ausf…|
|Bergepanzer IV||Bergepanzer IV||Bergepanzer IV Ausf…|
Implicit Name Changes
In addition the explicit orders to begin using certain names, equipment manuals were regularly published using new names. In addition to the manuals for the specific pieces of equipment, the German Army had a publication that listed most Army equipment: The D 97/1+ Gerätliste (Secret service manual 97/1 - equipment list). This list would specify both the name and the abbreviation for each listed piece of equipment. See examples of the 1943 version of this list for infantry weapons, machine guns, and mortars to see the structure of this publication.
Sd Kfz numbers
Because they are numerical and frequently in sequence, the Sonderkraftfahrzeug (Sd Kfz) (Special motor vehicle) numbers are often seen as being a more standardized and structured way to refer to armored vehicles. When looking at the full list of Sonderkraftfahrzeug numbers, it is clear that there were some attempts at standardization. Like with equipment names, it is also clear that these standards were far from consistent, and that the numbers can not always be used to refer to specific vehicles. For example:
- Sd Kfz 3 referred to both the Ford, Klöckner, and Open variants of the 2 ton Maultier, which were very different in appearance.
- Sd Kfz 4 referred both to the regular 3 ton Maultier and the armored 15 cm Panzerwerfer 42 variant.
- Sd Kfz 124 referred both to the Wespe and the ammunition carrier variant.
- The 7,62 cm Pak 36 on the Pz Kpfw II Ausf. D2 was referred to as both Sd Kfz 131 and Sd Kfz 132.
- Sd Kfz 266, Sd Kfz 267, and Sd Kfz 268 all referred to several command tanks on different chassis, depending on the radio equipment.
While the Sd Kfz numbers were often part of the names of vehicles, they can not be considered a more precise identifier.
Pak, Flak, Kw K, Stu K, and Stu H
The abbreviations Pak and Flak are frequently written as
FlaK, respectively, with an upper-case K. This does not reflect period German documents. Whether in manuals, name orders, reports, or in public material, the abbreviation is consistently written with a lower-case K. With a small number of exceptions, the abbreviation is also written without a period. Early in the war, Pak was short for Panzerabwehrkanone, but this was later changed to Panzerjägerkanone.
The abbreviations Kw K and Stu K both have an upper-case K. They generally also have a space or a period, or both, in front of the K.
In general, most abbreviations had periods before and early in the war. During the war, the periods were increasingly dropped from abbreviations (for example, Pz Kpfw and Kw K), though not in all cases.
Sturmgeschütz is today almost universally abbreviated as
StuG. While this abbreviation did see very limited used, specifically in the printed July 1943 equipment list, this was not a common abbreviation. Almost all typed and hand-written period documents either used the unabbreviated word, or used the abbreviation Stu. Gesch. Several variations of this abbreviation is used, such as Stu.Gesch. and Stu-Gesch. Printed material almost always wrote Sturmgeschütz in full, even when other words in the same context such as Panzerkampfwagen were abbreviated, though there are some official printed documents that use Stu. Gesch..
Common incorrect names
In addition to the examples mentioned above, there are many incorrect names that are commonly used. Some of these appear to be based on language conventions of other languages, while others appear to be the result of assumptions about name standardization.
- Kar 98 k
- The standard rifle of the German Army, the Karabiner 98 kurz, is very commonly referred to as
Kar 98 kin modern literature. In period German documents, the rifle is consistently referred to as K 98 k.
- Capital letters in the middle of words (JagdTiger, JagdPanther)
- German compound words will never have a capital letter in the middle of the word. For a more in-depth description of German words, see the German Military Dictionary section.
- Foreign equipment identifiers
- Foreign equipment frequently had a lower-case letter in the end of the name to indicate its origin, such as (r) for Russian, (t) for Czechoslovak, and (f) for French. This was not always the case, however. For example, the originally-Russian 7,62 cm Pak 36 does not generally have an (r) suffix in manuals or other printed materials. Likewise, the Jagdpanzer 38 name did not have a (t) suffix, and the suffix for the earlier name le. Panzerjäger 38 t did not have the parentheses.
A good example of incorrect post-war assumptions is the perceived distinction between the term Panzerjäger and Jagdpanzer. After the war, it became a common assumption that Panzerjäger only referred to open-topped self-propelled anti-tank guns, while Jagdpanzer only referred to closed-topped tank destroyers. This assumption does not match actual German nomenclature. As mentioned before, Panzerjägerkanone was the general term for anti-tank guns since 1941. In addition, Panzerjäger was the generic term used for both the anti-tank branch, as well as closed-topped tank destroyers, while the generic term for open-topped self-propelled anti-tank guns was Pak (Sf) (Panzerjägerkanone (Selbstfahrlafette); anti-tank gun (self-propelled)). This can be seen in the names described above, but it was also explicitly described in the September 1944 issue of the Armored Forces Newsletter:
Designations for anti-tank weapons
The diverse equipment of the Panzerjäger units requires a renewed clarification of the designations, characteristics, and usage options.
1. The main distinctions are:
- Pak (mot Z): drawn anti-tank gun
- Pak (Sf.): Self-propelled anti-tank gun
- Panzerjäger: Self-propelled anti-tank gun
To the first point: Pak (mot Z) belongs towed anti-tank guns. They are positional weapons.
Their weight (heavy anti-tank guns) and their unarmored means of movement limits their usage on the battlefield. Expansion and camouflage of the gun position are therefore of particular importance.
The most important towed anti-tank guns are:
- 5 cm m. Pak (L/60) (limited usefulness)
- 7,5 cm s. Pak (L/46)
- 8,8 cm s. Pak 43/41 (L/71) (leg carriage)
- 8,8 cm s. Pak 43 (L/71) (cross carriage)
To the second point: Pak (Sf.) belongs anti-tank guns on armored chassis with weak armor, open tops, and limited gun traverse. Cross-country ability and constant fire readiness enables mobile command during battle.
The type of armor excludes the use of Pak (Sf.) as assault guns. They require mutual fire support and safeguarding by infantry.
The Pak (Sf.) with the troops are mainly:
- 7,5 cm Pak 40/2 Sf.
Marder II(7,5 cm Pak 40 L/46, Fahrgestell II)
- 7,5 cm Pak 40/3 Sf.
Marder 38 t(7,5 cm Pak 40 L/46, Fahrgestell 38 t)
- 8,8 cm Pak 43/1 Sf.
Hornisse) (8,8 cm Pak 43 L/71, Fahrgestell IV)
To the third point: Panzerjäger belongs fully armored and cross-country capable combat vehicles.
Further important characteristics are:
- No revolving turret
- Front frontal armor
- Long gun with high penetration capability
They are empowered to offensively fight against enemy armor and can also be employed as direct infantry support.
Mutual fire support between tank destroyers, as well as support and close security by infantry, is to be ensured.
There must be differentiated between the following types of tank destroyers:
- le. Panzerjäger 38 t (7,5 cm Pak 39 L/48, Fg. 38 t)
- le. Panzerjäger IV (7,5 cm Pak 39 L/48, Fig. IV)9
- Panzer IV (lang) (7,5 cm Pak 42 L/70, Fg. IV)
- s. Panzerjäger V
Jagdpanther(8,8 cm Pak 43 L/71, Fg V)
- s. Panzerjäger VI
(If part, units will be equipped with the Sturmgeschütz III or Sturmgeschütz IV instead of le. Panzerjäger).
2. The weapons' suggestive names (
Jagdpanther) are to be used in reports and notifications.
When making requests for supplies, making suggestions or submitting notifications of a technical kind the exact specification of the technical data (chassis, gun) are required.
Most German equipment had a two-digit model number in its name, such as the 7,5 cm Pak 40. While this model number does sometimes loosely correlate with the year that the weapon was designed or introduced, it is not a reliable indicator. Instead, it should mainly be considered as a method to distinguish different equipment of the same type.
Names in the Field
German Army units at all levels were required to report their personnel and equipment strength at various time intervals. The purpose of these reports were to provide an overview of the combat strength of the units. While standards and templates did exist for submitting these reports, the reports of most units differed to some extent. The reports were generally either written on a typewriter, filled out by hand, or sent by teletype. This invariably led to variations in how equipment was named in the reports.
In addition to these natural variations, because the purpose of the reports was the determine the combat strength, the exact Ausführung (Ausf.) (Model) was generally not important. For tanks, a shorthand was usually used that only indicated the minimum amount of information needed to determine the chassis and gun. This shorthand was not standardized, but some examples of the abbreviations for the Pz Kpfw III and Pz Kpfw IV were:
|Pz III||Pz Kpfw III||Used while only the 37 mm gun was in use.|
|Pz III 3,7||Pz Kpfw III with 37 mm gun||Used after the 50 mm gun was introduced.|
|Pz III 5||Pz Kpfw III with short 50 mm gun||Used until the long 50 mm gun was introduced.|
|Pz III 5 kz||Pz Kpfw III with short (kurz) 50 mm gun||Used after the long 50 mm gun was introduced.|
|Pz III 5 lg||Pz Kpfw III with long (lang) 50 mm gun||Used while both the long and short 50 mm guns were in common use.|
|Pz III 7,5||Pz Kpfw III with 75 mm gun||Used after the 75 mm gun was introduced.|
|Pz III 5||Pz Kpfw III with long 50 mm gun||Used after the short 50 mm gun was no longer in common use, while the long 50 mm and 75 mm guns were.|
|Pz IV||Pz Kpfw IV with short gun||Used while only the short gun variant existed.|
|Pz IV kz||Pz Kpfw IV with short 75 mm gun||Used while both the short and long gun were in common use.|
|Pz IV lg||Pz Kpfw IV with long 75 mm gun||Used while both the short and long gun were in common use.|
|Pz IV||Pz Kpfw IV with long 75 mm gun||Used after the short gun was no longer in common use.|
As can be seen, these shorthand terms were not unique over time, but their meaning would have been clear for the time and purpose for which the report was submitted.
In addition to the ambiguity of the shorthand and names themselves, the shorthand would sometimes also be used in a non-obvious manner. For example, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, 8. Panzer-Division reported their Pz Kpfw 38 (t) with the shorthand Pz III. This made sense from a tactical perspective, as the 37 mm armed Pz Kpfw III had the same tactical role and approximate combat capability. From a research perspective, however, it shows that interpretation of individual documents can easily lead to mistakes.
Nicknames and Mythical Names
As has been described above, it was common for German equipment to have many name changes, some of which were in rapid succession. Likewise, field units would sometimes use nicknames to refer to their equipment.
One example is the Sd Kfz 234/2. While it was never officially named
Puma, this term has often been used in post-war literature. The name was in use during the war, however, as can be seed from this excerpt from a document with frontline observations from reconnaissance units from the Ardennes offensive:
… The solution Puma 75 mm long is good. […]
Likewise, this excerpt from a December 1944 interrogation report of prisoners from 1. SS-Aufklärungs-Abteilung also refers to the name Puma, which would presumably have been mentioned by the troops:
The battalion has six companies; 1st Company has 12 PUMAS and 12 amphibious jeeps. The 2d Company has about 12 halftracks with 20mm guns. 3d Company has 3-75mm anti-tank guns, 3-150mm howitzers and 4-120mm mortars. The 5th is Supply Company. The 6th is a replacement company and is stationed at MINDEN. The PUMAS are armored personnel carriers with either 20mm, 50mm or 75mm guns, and are 8-wheel carriers.
While these excerpts demonstrates with certainty that the name was in use, it is also clear that it was not restricted to the Sd Kfz 234/2, but is also used to reference the Sd Kfz 234/1 and Sd Kfz 234/4 as well. In addition, in a post-war interview, veterans from the same battalion referred to the Sd Kfz 234/1 as
Puma, but the Sd Kfz 234/3 as
In addition to these different uses of
Puma, the Allied intelligence report on the German infra-red equipment captured at Fallingbostel refers to the Panther equipped with the FG 1250 as
For more information about specific erroneous vehicle names, see the German Armor Myths article.
Problems with Translating Names
Finding the correct translation of German equipment names can often be tricky. The process can tend to become a competition of finding the most literal translation of the words, based on differing dictionaries and opinions.
A significant aspect of Nazi German propaganda was to use specific words to create emotions.10 This was also the case for German equipment, which was frequently given names that invoke powerful and aggressive imagery. While some of these names, such as
Panther, are easy to translate without loosing their connotations, others rely on cultural concepts that does not have any parallels in English.
One name that is not easily translated is
Hetzer. It is often translated as
agitator, but these are simplistic translations. The German word Hetz originates with the German word for persistence hunting or cursorial hunting,
Hetzjagd. During persistence hunting the prey is followed for over an extended period of time, exhausting the prey and making it easy for the hunter to kill it. The word has since come to be used when a group is mentally pursuing a person or organization. One example is the compound word
Medienhetz, which describes when several news outlets focus on someone over an extended period of time, and often implies that it is to an excessive extent. The act of performing such a Hetz would be zu Hetzen (to Hetz), and someone who carries out the act would be a Hetzer.
This cultural meaning of Hetzer is implied to native German speakers, but is difficult to convey in a single word.
Hounder would be an approximation, but would not match the literal translation.
Chaser is closer to the literal translation, but begins to loose the emotional impact. Ultimately, any translation for words such as these must necessarily be an compromise, and serious translators would add a note explaining the background rather than simply writing their preferred approximation.
Importance of Accurate Names
The ultimate purpose of equipment names is to easily identify the equipment. In most cases, this is achieved even if the exact official name is not used. For example, while Königstiger was never an official name, it should still be clear to everyone that it refers to the Tiger II. There are a lot of examples where this is less clear, and where using an imprecise name can lead to confusion.
Using incorrect names can also lead to incorrect assumptions and myths. One of the most common of these is how the terms Porsche and Henschel turrets for the Tiger II has led some to assume that these two companies designed the two different turret designs, while it was in fact Krupp who designed them both.
With the risk of incorrect assumptions both when researching and communicating, it is important for the serious researcher to understand how equipment names are used in documents, and to be conscientious about the names are used when communicating with others.
Thanks to Timo Worst for providing additional information about the wartime use of the name
Puma, and Luc Belanger for drawing my attention to the use of Pz Kpfw III to refer to the Pz Kpfw 38 (t).
- Tank destroyer units Back
- V2 rocket. Back
- V4 rocket. Back
- V3 artillery. Back
- Literally Slim Bertha, probably in refence to the "Dicke Bertha" (Fat Bertha) howitzer used in the First World War. Back
- V1 rocket Back
- Monthly production reports used for army equipment. Back
- Probably another error, which should say Panzer III. Back
- Fig is probably a typo, and should say Fg. Back
- Those who are interested in a broader perspective on the use of language in Nazi Germany should read "LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii" by Victor Klemperer. Back
- JODL, Generaloberst Alfred Josef Ferdinand. Suggestivnamen für neue Waffen. Back
- Nachrichtenblatt der Panzertruppen No. 15, September 1944. Back
- Interrogation Report, 18 December 1944. Back
- Benennung von gp. Fahrzeuge. 1 p. NARA T78 R413.
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