Yugoslavia (1944-1952)
Tank destroyer – 20+ captured

During the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia (1941-1945) and the struggle for liberation, the resistance movements employed a collection of different armored vehicles from the USA, Germany, France, Great Britain, Poland, Soviet Union, and Italy. The Yugoslav Communist partisans used tanks and other vehicles that were given to them by the Western Allies and the Soviets, but also managed to capture a number of different Axis armored vehicles. Among these was the Jagdpanzer 38(t) which the Germans were using by the end of the war in small numbers on this front. The captured Jagdpanzer 38(t) would be used during the war in limited numbers and would also serve after the war by the new JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) army.

The Jagdpanzer 38(t)

When the Germans occupied what remained of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, they came into possession of two well-known weapon manufacturers: CKD (Ceskomoravska-Kolben-Danek) and Škoda. The CKD factory (renamed BMM by the Germans) was tasked with the production of the Panzer 38(t) for the Germans. The production of this tank would be terminated during the second half of the war, as it proved to be ineffective as a combat vehicle by that stage of the war.

The BMM factory continued production of different combat designs (mostly anti-tank) based on the Panzer 38(t)’s chassis. By late 1943, the BMM factory was involved in designing and building a light and relatively cheap tank destroyer vehicle based on some components from the Panzer 38(t). The result of this work would be the Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank destroyer. It was armed with the 7.5 cm PaK 39 and was fully enclosed and protected with well-angled 60 mm thick front armor. While not a perfect design, it would prove to be an effective anti-tank killer and during the war around 2,824 such vehicles were built by BMM and Škoda. It would be used on all fronts in Europe including in small numbers on the Balkans.


A brand new Jagdpanzer 38(t). Produced in August 1944 at the BMM factory. Source

In the Balkans

The quick defeat of Yugoslavia in April 1941 by the Axis forces created the wrong impression that there would be no more need for engagement of larger occupation force, but an uprising that began only a few months later forced the Germans to re-introduce some armored units in this region. At the start of the uprising, the Germans had only one armored company of old and captured tanks in the whole territory of occupied Yugoslavia. The Germans hastily rushed reinforcements including a tank battalion equipped with mostly captured French tanks ‘Beutepanzers’.

During the later part of the war, especially from 1943 onwards, the communist resistance movement, the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ) (Народноослободилачка војска Југославије), known today as the ‘Partisans’, began to increase in numbers. This was possible due to cooperation with the Allies which began supplying them with weapons, equipment and personnel. To combat the ever-increasing Partisan movement, the Germans were forced to send any available reinforcements, including some armored elements.

As most modern German armored vehicles were produced in relatively small numbers (in comparison to the Western Allies and Soviets) and were deemed too valuable, usually only older or captured vehicles would be sent to Yugoslavia. These were mostly French but included some Italian, Soviet, and a few British vehicles also. By 1944/45, some relatively modern vehicles, such as the Jagdpanzer 38, in small numbers, were present on this front with different units, including the 181st and 41st Infantry Divisions, 31st SS Volunteer Grenadier Division, 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, and Panzer Abteilung 202.

The 181st Infantry Division was engaged fighting Partisan forces in Montenegro and Herzegovina during the second half of 1944. In October, Panzerjäger-Abteilung 222 was reinforced with 14 Jagdpanzer 38s and with another 10 in January 1945. During the German withdrawal from Yugoslavia in early Spring 1945, this Division would see some heavy action around Zagorje in Croatia. During the battle for the Sermian Front in early April 1945, the 41st Infantry Division was reinforced with 10 of these vehicles. Both these Division surrendered to the Partisans by 12th May 1945.

The 31st SS Volunteer Grenadier Division since November 1944 had operated 14 Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles. This unit was for a short time used to fight Yugoslav Partisans before being deployed to Hungary to fight the Soviets. The much depleted 14th SS Grenadier Division “Galizische” was used to fight the Partisans in Slovenia during March, but shortly afterward was pulled out from this front. Panzer Abteilung 202 had been engaged in heavy fighting in Yugoslavia for years, its combat strength on 1st April 1945 was reported to be 23 Italian tanks, 2 Semovente 75/18, and 10 Jagdpanzers 38.

In Partisans hands

Precise information regarding the circumstances of when or how the Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles were captured is hard to find. The problem with Partisan documentation is that due to the poor knowledge of precise military designation, too often, wrong names or just simply the term tank (without any context or explanation of the type) were used. Sometimes Partisans units that did manage to capture enemy vehicles immediately put them into their service without reporting them to the High Command. Due to this, it is difficult to determine which vehicles were captured or if they were used in combat.

One of the first Jagdpanzers 38(t)s captured was during the German unsuccessful offensive action near Baranya that lasted from 6th to 19th March 1945. During the heavy fighting, the Partisans forced the Germans to withdraw and on that occasion, an unknown number (possibly only one or two) of Jagdpanzers 38(t)s were captured. The following month, another one was captured near Našice in North-East Croatia. Additionally, a number of these vehicles were also captured as they were left behind by the fleeing German forces. This is the case of Panzer Abteilung 202, as nearly all its armored vehicles (Jagdpanzers 38(t), M.15/42, Sd. Kfz. 251, etcetera) were found abandoned loaded on a train on the railroad from Ljubljana to Kranj. On top of that, a few were captured during the liberation of Maribor from 10th to 15th May 1945. The majority of the Jagdpanzers 38(t)s were captured with the final surrender of the 181st and 41st Infantry Divisions in May 1945.

According to researcher Dragan Savić, who investigated the Partisan archive of captured vehicles and equipment, a total of around 20 Jagdpanzer 38(t)s in various conditions were captured. Due to the lack of proper documentation, this number may be higher but it is hard to tell.


This vehicle was captured by the 16th Vojvodina Division (Vojvođanska Divizija) near the region of Baranya in March of 1945. Source


Another (or the same vehicle) with the 16th Vojvodina Division near the region of Baranya. Source

The use of these vehicles by the Partisan during the war is not well known due to the lack of documentation. The vehicles captured in Vojvodina (where the Jagdpanzers 38s were used) were often employed in combat, but only in small numbers.

There is a possibility that some Jagdpanzer 38(t)s were used by the specially formed Partisan auto-school (school for armored vehicle crew training) near the capital city of Belgrade in late 1944. If this school was independent or part of the larger school (possibly located, but there is no documentation to prove this) in the city of Kragujevac (Serbia) is also unknown. Allegedly, the Belgrade school in May 1945 had in its inventory: four R35, two-to-three M.15/42, L.6, one Semovente (possibly 75/18), two Semovente 47/32, a Hotchkiss (unknown type and numbers, probably a H35) StuG III, one Ferdinand (possibly a Jagdpanzer 38(t)) and a few armored cars.


One of the Jagdpanzer 38(t)s captured by the Yugoslavians and put into service, during training exercises at Bela Crkva after the war. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Leander Jobse.

The name

During the war, the Yugoslav Partisans managed to capture a number of Axis armored combat vehicles. As the majority of the Partisan fighters who managed to capture these vehicles had no knowledge of the precise military designation for these vehicles, they called them by different and mostly wrong names. For example, the German-used T-34s (captured by the Soviet Union) were often called ‘Panther’, despite the fact that this vehicle was never used on this front.

The same is true in the case with the Jagdpanzer 38(t) (and, in some cases, for the StuG III, which also complicates the identification process), which was known under the name “Ferdinand” by some of its crew during and after the war. The origin of this name is not clear, but it is highly likely that name was taken from Soviet troops during the battle for Belgrade in late 1944.

After the war, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) never officially designated the Jagdpanzer 38(t) as Ferdinand. This is likely a result of the better understanding of the equipment captured during the war. In order to avoid any confusion and as the later JNA never gave any other designation, this article has and will use the original German designation for this vehicle.

After the war

The Jagdpanzers 38(t) in the JNA after the war were used mainly to equip combat units and as training vehicles. It was used for a short time to equip the 2nd Tank Brigade (equipped with the Soviet T-34-85) with two battalions of 8 Jagdpanzer 38(t)s during 1946. Some were given to the independent self-propelled anti-tank brigade.

A group of four or five such vehicles was given to the newly formed Tenkovsko Vojno Učilište (TVU) [Tank Military School] in November of 1945. The TVU was formed by the order of the Ministry of the National Committee in June 1945. The TVU had the aim to train a new generation of tank officers and was based on the Soviet model of schooling. It was first located at Banjica, but was relocated to Bela Crkva in 1946. In 1948, due to the Tito-Stalin split, Yugoslavia refused to join the Eastern communist bloc, and due to this decision, they were in real danger of a war with the Soviet Union. As the TVU was stationed near the Romanian border, it was put on high alert during this crisis. As this led to a slow crew training process, the TVU was again moved to Banja Luka far away from the eastern borders. From 1948 onwards, in the hope to keep the T-34-85s in good condition, the older and captured vehicles were mainly used for training.


A Jagdpanzer 38(t) during training exercises at Bela Crkva after the war. All captured vehicles received a three-digit label after the war. Source


Another photograph during training exercises after the war. Source

During its use as a training vehicle, the Jagdpanzer 38(t) was not much liked by its crews. There were a few reasons for this: cramped interior; unusual crew positions (with three crew member located on the right side); and during training, these vehicles were always marked as enemy vehicles, which was unpopular with its crews. The Jagdpanzer 38 would remain in operational service up to 1952 when the remaining vehicles were withdrawn from service as they were being replaced with more modern Western vehicles. Unfortunately, no Yugoslav Jagdpanzer 38(t) vehicles survive to this day.

Markings and paint scheme

After the war, there was no effective registration numbering system for the available armored vehicles of the JNA. Captured vehicles, regardless of origin, received a white three digits label which was simply painted with a paintbrush. The German vehicles were painted in the Dunkel Gelb with the combination of dark green and brown-red.

Yugoslav Jagdpanzer 38s in Albania

After the war, in Albania, a new communist regime established good but brief relations with Yugoslavia. As a result of these good relations, the JNA provided the Albanians with a number of different items of military equipment, supplies, personnel, and instructors. With training, a group of 21 tanks and other armored vehicles (including few Jagdpanzer 38(t)s) were also sent in September 1946. The instructors and other personnel were stationed there during 1947-48 and helped to train the Albanian crews.

Conclusion

The Jagdpanzer 38(t) did not have any influence on the future development of armored vehicles in JNA. It was important for two things: first, it helped build up the JNA strength after WWII at times the need for any armored vehicle was great, and it did help training first generations of new crew and officers.

Sources

Terry J. G. (2004), Tanks in Detail JgdPz IV, V, VI and Hetzer, Ian Allan Publishing
Duško Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
Bojan B. D. and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
Bojan B. D. (2010) Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
Velimir V. (2003), Tito’s Partisans 1941-45, Osprey publishing.
Samuel W. and Mitcham J.R. (2007), The German Order Of The Battle, Stackpole Books.
http://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/ratniplen/hetzer.htm
http://znaci.net/arhiv/odrednica/16-vojvodjanska-divizija-novj

Jagdpanzer 38(t) specifications

Dimensions6.38 x 2.63 x 2.17 m
Total weight, battle-ready15.7 tonnes
Crew4 (Gunner, loader, driver and commander)
PropulsionSix-cylinder Praga AE water-cooled 150 hp
Speed42 km/h, 15 km/h (cross-country)
Range177 km
Armament75 mm PaK 39 and one MG 34 or MG 42 machine gun
Armor60-8 mm
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index
Sd.Kfz.250 mit 5 cm PaK 38
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