To aid identification of vehicles in battle, German combat vehicles were given tactical numbers. The system changed during the war, and individual units sometimes diverted from the official system. Use of the following description can therefore not stand alone, but has to be supplemented by precise information about the unit being researched.
Even before the war, a three-digit number system was implemented. The first digit identified the company, the second the platoon, and the third the individual tank. The third vehicle of the second platoon of the third company would thus be 323. If the second digit was a zero, the tank belonged to the company headquarters. If numbering more than nine companies, the full company number was still used. For example, the second vehicle of the first platoon of the tenth company would have tactical number 1012. Thus, the first company of a Panzer battalion would have looked liked this:
- Company headquarters
- 101 (company commander)
- 1st platoon
- 111 (platoon commander)
- 2nd platoon
- 121 (platoon commander)
- 3rd platoon
- 131 (platoon commander)
Some units used variations of the above system. For example, both Panzer-Regiment 15 and 24. Panzer-Division has used two-digit turret numbers. Half-tracks, such as the Sd Kfz 251, often received four-digit tactical numbers.
Battalion and regimental headquarters used a variety of markings. Regimental tanks, especially early in the war, replaced the first digit with a capital letter R, e.g., R01, R02, and R03. Roman numerals were similarly used to identify the battalion headquarters tanks. In the case of Abteilungen, best translated as independent battalions, the battalion headquarter vehicles could simply have a zero as the first digit.
The disadvantage of such markings was that they also made it clear to the enemy which tanks were command tanks. As a result, more obscure schemes were invented. One example, dated 24 April 1944, lists the following examples for Panzer-Grenadier regiments:
- Regimental headquarters
- 3701 (regimental commander)
- 3702 (regimental staff Sd Kfz 251)
- 2nd platoon, regimental staff company
- 3721 (platoon commander)
- 3722 (platoon Sd Kfz 251)
- 1st Battalion
- 2701 (battalion commander)
- 2702 (battalion staff Sd Kfz 251)
- Intelligence section
- 2711 (section commander)
- 2712 (section Sd Kfz 251)
- 2nd Battalion
- 2801 (battalion commander)
- 2802 (battalion staff Sd Kfz 251)
- 3rd Battalion
- 2901 (battalion commander)
- 2902 (battalion staff Sd Kfz 251)
Style and Color
While the tactical number system varied somewhat from unit to unit, the style and color of the tactical numbers differed dramatically. During the early years of the war, the tactical numbers were often painted on small, rhomboid metal plates attached to the sides and rear. Later, the numbers were painted directly on the turret or superstructure. A 1944 order specified the following style:
- DIN numbers (see below).
- 30 centimeters tall.
- Five centimeters wide, with a three centimeter black inner number, with a white, one centimeter outline.
- Numbers were to be located on the sides and read, in the following locations:
- Sd Kfz 251:
- Sides: On the upper armor plate, with the middle of the number approximately two meters before the rear end. The Balkenkreuz was placed on the stowage boxes, below the number.
- Rear: On the middle of the upper armor plate (or, on the Ausf. D, at the same height as the side number), across the door opening, with the Balkenkreuz on the lower armor plate.
- Sd Kfz 250 (early):
- Sides: On the rear upper armor plate, just before the rear end. The Balkenkreuz was placed at the front upper armor plate, just after the front end.
- Rear: centered at the same height as the side number, above the Balkenkreuz.
- Sd Kfz 250 (late): As the Sd Kfz 251.
- Armored reconnaissance cars: At both sides at the rear armor plates of the turret.
- Sturmgeschütz III:
- Without Schürzen: On both sides of the superstructure, behind the Balkenkruez.
- With Schürzen: Centered on the upper half, above the Balkenkreuz.
- Jagdpanzer 38:
- Sides: Centered on the superstructure, with the Balkenkreuz on the Schürzen.
- Rear: Centered above the Balkenkreuz.
- Jagdpanzer IV: Centered on the superstructure sides, with the Balkenkreuz on the Schürzen.
- Jagdpanther: Centered on the superstructure sides and rear, above the Balkenkreuz.
- Elefant: Centered on the superstructure sides and rear, above the Balkenkreuz.
- Marder I, Marder II, and Marder 38T: Centered on the superstructure sides and rear (where applicable). Balkenkreuz was place either below, in front of, or after the tactical number.
- Nashorn: Centered on the superstructure sides and rear, above the Balkenkreuz.
- Sd Kfz 251:
- DIN number style.
- Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppe. Taktische Nummern für Pz.Gren. (gep.), Pz.A.A., Pz.Jäg. Abt. und Pz. Artl.. Berlin : Oberkommando des Heeres, 1944. 11 p. Gen. Insp. d. Pz. Tr. Abt. Ausb. Nr. 4940/44 g.Kdos..