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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, July 7, 2019

It Werfer's Panzers?

A couple of months ago I did a post about Nebelwerfers. In it you'll spot that I failed to mention anything about the Panzerwerfer 42, that is what this follow on article is about.
The Panzerwerfer 42 was created from a Maultier half-track, which in turn, was an Opel Blitz three-ton truck, with the rear wheels replaced by Carden Lloyd style suspension. It was then fitted with an armoured body although the roof of the bed was unarmoured. The cab and sides and rear of the vehicle were 8mm in thickness, and the armour over the engine was just 4-5mm. A rotating base was fitted at the back of the vehicle with one of the three crew in it, on top of this turret sat the multi-barrelled launcher. The launcher fires the usual 15cm ammunition that many Nebelwerfers were able to use.
To those interested in such things, the payload was reduced from 2t to 1t, 1Cwt. Total unladen weight increased from 3t, 17Cwt to 6t, 1Cwt.
All these measurements were taken from a Panzerwerfer 42 captured in France in 1944 by the British. The vehicle had originally been manufactured in 1943 by Adam Opel AG, at the Brandenburg/Havel factory.
The reason for the launcher's creation has been guessed at by several people. Modern thoughts are towards the idea that it was to avoid counter battery fire, which was something that dominated Nebeltruppen's tactics and thoughts, especially in the late war. At the time the British thought that it was to increase the rate of fire, as the crew could remain with their vehicle while it was firing, without having to retreat to a point of safety. This advantage is likely offset, due to there being only three crew compared to six in a normal towed launcher detachment and needing to reload more tubes. The throw weight of a single salvo should however be higher.

The tactical employment of Panzerwerfer 42's depends on their organisation. A normal Werfer battalion has three troops of six launchers. The type of launcher would be uniform across the battalion, presumably to make logistics of ammo supply easier. A Panzerwerfer 42 troop, consisted of the following:
  • Troop commander in lightly armoured command car
  • 1x telephone section.
  • 2x Werfer sections each of four launchers.
  • Ammo section
  • Enough transport for the above. 
Thus, the Panzerwerfer's would have eight launchers. They were often used to bulk out a battalion’s fire by becoming a 4th troop to the battalion. Because of this they would only be employed by units with a supply of 15cm rockets. It should be noted that the battalion would provide the observers, and these would report back to battalion HQ first with fire missions. These would then be passed onto the launcher troops. The result of this meant it could take around ten minutes for the Werfers to fire on a target. This compared poorly with the British practice of the observers reporting direct to the gun units, which meant response times were often 30-60 seconds.
The other role Panzerwerfer's were used in was as an independent unit. The independent unit's roles and activities would depend on what the situation of front line was. On a stabilised front line, multiple firing and observation positions would be provided, and fully scouted out. Firing data would be calculated, and even ammo reloads pre-placed. The Panzerwerfers would occupy a position with weapons loaded, fire their missions from their spotters, re-load and displace to a second position, and then rinse and repeat.

In support of an advancing unit, the Panzerwerfers would pull off the route of march into concealment before firing, and all re-loading was to be done in concealment. This mobile form of warfare stressed the use of concealment as a priority. If enemy surprised the unit with ground forces direct fire was fully expected of the unit.
The final role, and one that would become more common for the Panzerwerfers during the war, was covering a rear guard. In such a role the launchers would fall back from previously reconnoitred position to the next. If an enemy ground forces were encountered, it was suggested to leapfrog the troops two sections ahead to disengage the unit.

The above doctrine seems to imply at first glance the modern idea of avoiding counter battery fire was the aim of the Panzerwerfer. However, as re-loading was done after firing, and before moving then this could not be the case. Of course, that is only 'Doctrine' and in most of the major European armies doctrine was often seen as guidelines by lower tier commanders.

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