Marder III was the name for a series of World War II German tank destroyers. They mounted either the modified ex-Soviet 76.2 mm F-22 Model 1936 divisional field gun, or the German 7.5 cm PaK 40, in an open-topped fighting compartment on top of the chassis of the Panzer 38(t). They offered little protection to the crew, but added significant firepower compared to contemporary German tanks. They were in production from 1942 to 1944 and served on all fronts until the end of the war, along with the similar Marder II. The German word Marder means “marten” in English.
In the early stages of Operation Barbarossa, the Wehrmacht felt the need for a more mobile and more powerful anti-tank solution than the existing towed anti-tank guns, such as the 3.7 cm Pak 36, or self-propelled tank destroyers such as the Panzerjäger I (mounting the 4.7 cm PaK (t)). This need became urgent in 1942, when anti-tank shells fired from said anti-tank guns failed to penetrate the armor of new Soviet tanks such as the T-34 and KV-1.
As an interim solution, it was decided to use captured French vehicles, such as the Lorraine (Marder I), obsolete tanks in surplus, such as the German Panzer II (Marder II), and Czech-supplied Panzer 38(t) (Marder III) as the base for the production of makeshift tank destroyers. The result was the Marder series, which were armed with either captured Soviet 76.2mm F-22 Model 1936 divisional field guns, or German 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank guns mounted in later versions. Due to weight, space and time constraints, the Marder series had relatively thin armor when compared to other armored vehicles of the era. This thin upper armor formed a gunshield, only protecting the crew from shrapnel and small arms fire on the front and sides. All Marder series had open tops although some were issued with canvas tops to protect the crew from the elements. In this regard, the Marder was more of a gun carriage than a proper Panzerjäger that could exchange fire with enemy tanks.
Marder III, Sd.Kfz. 139
While the Panzer 38(t) had largely become obsolete as a tank in early 1942, it was still an excellent and plentiful platform for adaptation into a tank destroyer, among other roles. Since the Soviet 76.2 mm field gun was captured in large quantities, the decision was made to mate this gun to the Panzer 38(t).
To do so, the mass production of the Panzer 38(t) Ausf. G was halted and a modified superstructure was bolted onto the standard tank chassis in lieu of a gun turret. This upper structure mounted the gun and an extended Gun shield, giving only limited protection for the commander, gunner and the loader. Armor protection overall ranged from 10 to 50 mm with no armor at all above and behind the gun compartment which the crew occupied. It had a higher silhouette than the original Panzer 38 (t), which made it more vulnerable to enemy fire.
In German service, the Soviet gun was redesignated 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) and rechambered for the more powerful German PaK 40 cartridge.Thirty rounds of ammunition were stored inside the vehicle. Apart from the main gun, there was a 7.92 mm machine gun mounted in the hull.
This tank destroyer was put into production as the Panzerjäger 38(t) für 7.62 cm PaK 36(r), Sd.Kfz. 139. A total of 344 vehicles were built in three series from April to November 1942. Chassis numbers were 1360-1479, 1527-1600 and 1601-1750.
The various Marder IIIs fought on all European fronts and North Africa, with the Sd. Kfz. 139 being used mainly at the Eastern Front, though some also fought in Tunisia. In February 1945, some 350 Ausf. M were still in service.
The Marder IIIs were used by the Panzerjäger Abteilungen of the Panzer divisions of both the Heer and the Waffen SS, as well as several Luftwaffe units, such as the Hermann Göring division.
The Marder IIIs were mechanically reliable, as with all vehicles based on the Czechoslovak LT-38 chassis. Their firepower was sufficient to destroy the majority of Soviet tanks on the battlefield at combat range.
The Marder III’s weaknesses were mainly related to survivability. The combination of a high silhouette and open-top armor protection made them vulnerable to indirect artillery fire. The armor was also quite thin, making them highly vulnerable to enemy tanks and to close-range heavy machinegun fire.
The Marders were not assault vehicles or tank substitutes; the open top meant that operations in urban areas or other close-combat situations were very risky. They were best employed in defensive or overwatch roles. Despite their mobility, they did not replace the towed antitank guns.
In March 1942, before the Marder III appeared, Germany had already started production of the StuG III assault gun, which had comparable anti-tank capability (StuG III Ausf. F and later variants). These were fully armored vehicles, with the fighting compartment fully enclosed within an armored casemate, built in much greater numbers than the vulnerable Marder III. Among the many German casemated tank destroyers, one based on the Panzer 38(t) chassis was built in numbers from 1944: the Jagdpanzer 38(t). The weakly armored Marder series were phased out of production in favor of the Jagdpanzer 38(t), but Marder series vehicles served until the end of the conflict.
Mass 10,670 kg (23,523 lbs)
Length 4.65 m (15 ft 3 in)
Width 2.35 m (7 ft 9 in)
Height 2.48 m (8 ft 2 in)
Armor 10–50 mm
Main armament 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) or 7.5 cm PaK 40
Secondary armament 7.92 mm MG 37(t), MG 34 or MG 42
Engine Praga Typ TNHPS/II water-cooled, 6-cylinder gasoline, 7.75 l
125-150 PS (123-148 hp, 92-110 kW)
Power/weight 14.1 PS (10.3 kW) / tonne
Suspension leaf spring
Ground clearance 40 cm (1 ft 4 in)
Operational range 190–210 kmMaximum speed 35–42 km/h