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Tank Designations


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A brief word is needed to explain what would seem at first sight to be a rather complex method of designating vehicles used by the German Army.

To begin with, all vehicles were prefixed by their purpose. For tanks this was the word 'Panzerkampfwagen' which translates literally as 'armoured fighting vehicle'. This was usually abbreviated in practise to 'PzKpfw'.

Other examples of this system were Panzerbeobachtungswagen (PzBeobWg), which was an armoured observation vehicle; Fiakpanzer (FlakPz), which was an anti-aircraft tank; and Panzerbefehlwagen (PzBefWg), which was an armoured command vehicle.

In addition to the purpose prefix each type of vehicle was given an ordnance inventory number. This was the number used for labelling all working
drawings and spare parts lists peculiar to that particular type of vehicle. This ordnance number was known as the 'sonderkraftfahrzeug' number, or SdKfz, and was usually included in brackets at the end of a vehicle designation. (SdKfz literally translated indicates 'special purpose motor vehicle'). An example would be PzKpfw I Ausf B (SdKfz 101).

The word 'Ausf means Mark, being short for 'Ausfuhrung', and could be found written either as Ausf or ausf. The different marks were written as letters of the alphabet. Thus for example, different marks of the Panther were described as the Ausf A, D or G.

The SdKfz numbers for each vehicle type are given in the data tables. Captured vehicles were not normally given an SdKfz number, exceptions being made for Czech vehicles that remained in production for the Wehr-macht, and for certain conversions such as those utilising the Lorraine tractor chassis as a self-propelled gun mounting.

The Wehr-macht designated their weapons in mm up to 20 mm and in cm thereafter, eg 8.8 cm, and this system has been followed in classifying all German weapons.

As well as the designations listed below, many had names such as "Tiger", King Tiger", "Panther", "JagPanther" as well.

German Designation English Terminology German Abbreviation
Panzerkampfwagen Armoured Fighting Vehicle PzKpfw
Panzerbeobachtungswagen Armoured Observation Vehicle PzBeobWg
Flakpanzer Anti Aircraft Tank FlakPz
Panzerbefehlwagen Armoured Command Vehicle PzBefWg
Sonderkraftfahrzeug Ordinance Number SdKfz
Ausfuhrung (A,B,C,D,E,F etc) Mark or Model Ausf (A,B,C,D,E,F etc)
PkZpfw M4 -748(a) Converted American Tank (a)  
PkZpfw 38(t) Converted Czech Tank (t)  
PkZpfw T34-747(r) Converted Russian T34 Tank (r)  
PkZpfw MKII 748(e) Converted British Matilda Tank (e)