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Checking out the PaK 40

Checking out the PaK 40

When the German army invaded Poland in September 1939, it introduced to the world a new style of warfare in the form of ‘Blitzkrieg’ or lightning war. It was demonstrated again in May 1940 when Hitler ordered the invasion of France and the Low Countries. As the war progressed, the German army adapted to events and developed further new tactics, such as the forming of ‘Battle Groups’ using remnants of units and gathering them together to form a larger, single force.

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Anti-tank tactics and guns
Another tactic to emerge was the ‘Pakfront’, formed using anti-tank units from battalions and which included anti-tank guns of various calibres, including 88mm, the 50mm PaK 38, and the 75mm PaK 40, grouped together in one powerful specialist unit.
The Pakfront was developed shortly after the invasion of Russia in 1941 and was designed to engage Russian tanks and break up their attack. Anti-tank guns had been attached to German army units down to battalion level, which gave some defence against small-scale armoured attacks, but against larger forces, these were often overwhelmed. It was decided to group these smaller units into formations of up to 10 guns in defensive positions and under the command of one officer, who could designate targets for each gun to avoid multiple engagements of the same tank. When the guns opened fire simultaneously, the effect was devastating.
The Pakfront tactic could be used to spring traps to ambush tanks, with one of the primary guns being the PaK 40 7.5cm (75mm calibre). This was in development just before the outbreak of war and was a response to the fact that tanks were being fitted with heavier armour that could not be defeated by lighter guns, such as the 50mm PaK 38 or 37mm PaK 35/36. Although a towed anti-tank gun, some were adapted to a secondary role as a field gun (the 7.5cm FK40), and some barrels were also mounted on tracked chassis as self-propelled guns. It entered service in 1940, and by the end of the war, more than 23,300 examples had been produced and used on all fronts, from Russia to Italy and north-west Europe. A range of ammunition types were developed, including armour-piercing and high explosive for use in the role of field gun.

Ammunition and adaptations
Fitted with a semi-automatic horizontal sliding breech and a hydro-pneumatic recoil system, the crew of six could theoretically fire up to 14 rounds per minute out to ranges of 8,000 yards when operated as a field gun. In the direct-fire anti-tank role, the PaK 40 could engage targets out to ranges of 2,000 yards using either the Panzergranate 39 armour-piercing or the Panzergranate 40 armour-piercing core rigid (APCR) with a tungsten core. The Pzgr. 39 had a muzzle velocity of 2,591 fps and could penetrate 96mm of armour at ranges of 550 yards. The Pzgr. 40 had a muzzle velocity of 3248 fps and could penetrate 97mm of armour at 1,100 yards. A third type of ammunition was available, the Pzgr. 38, which was a high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round, and it had a low muzzle velocity of 1,476 fps and could penetrate 75mm of armour at all ranges. All ammunition types were ‘fixed round’, loaded as a single round, with different colour codes for identification purposes, which makes them of interest to collectors.
The barrel fitted to the weapon was the L46, which indicates its length in calibres, so 46X75mm to give a metric length of 3.45m. Usually seen in wartime photographs in its towed configuration, the PaK 40 could be mounted on the SdKfz 251 to produce the Mittlerer Schutzenpanzer, as well as the SdKfz234/4 PaK-wagen and the PaK 40 auf Raupenschlepper Ost. The barrel was also fitted into the Model F of both the Stug III and Panzer IV, being known as the KwK 40 and StuK 40 respectively, examples of which can be seen in some museums.
When used as a field gun, it was deployed by divisional artillery regiments and fired in support of an infantry advance or to engage and break up enemy attacks, firing shells weighing almost 12 lbs with a muzzle velocity of 1,800 fps. Such diversity made it one of the most important anti-tank guns for the German army and their allies, including Finland, Hungary, and Romania, and it remained in service right to the end of the war. In post-war years, the PaK 40 continued in service with countries such as Norway and Portugal, and examples were used by the North Vietnamese Army in the early 1950s.
At first glance, there is a similarity between the PaK 40 and the lighter 5cm calibre PaK 38, as both have gun shields, double-baffle muzzle brakes, and are fitted with split trails. The PaK 38 had tubular trail legs whilst the PaK 40 had box-like trails and was over two feet longer in length. However, that is where some confusion can be encountered, because some examples of PaK 40 barrels were fitted to tubular trails and identification only comes when looking at the calibre.

Examples and replicas
Owning a full-size example of the weapon can be quite expensive, as a recent search of specialist sites on the internet revealed. One of the best offers I found was an example in good condition with an asking price of 29,500 euros, but once purchased it must be kept somewhere safe and secure. There are replica examples available that are very good representations and great for re-enactment displays. A search on the internet will bring up several results. Smaller items connected to the PaK 40, such as inert ammunition and steel transport canisters, come up for sale and their price reflects the condition. Those whose budget can stretch to it might like to consider firing a shell from the only live-firing example of the PaK 40 left in the world. However, you will have to travel to the Ox Hunting Ranch in Texas, where for $1,400 you can fire the weapon of a lifetime. Full details can be found at: www.drivetanks.com/big-guns/
A few of the larger groups re-enacting German units have access to examples of the PaK 40, which are used during battle re-enactment scenarios. These presentations are very dramatic, with the gun being towed into the display arena and brought into action by the crew, with pyrotechnics adding to the effect. Replica examples of StuG III Ausf F, fitted with the StuK 40 barrel, also make appearances, and this will please the modellers who visit such shows for research purposes. Although only replicas, and not absolutely perfect, the presence of such vehicles will interest enthusiasts of WWII armoured fighting vehicles.