Tactical Numbers

By Christian Ankerstjerne


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.

Number System

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:

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:

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 number style.


  1. 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..