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Panzerjäger (German "armour-hunters" or "tank-hunters", abbreviated to Pz.Jg. in German) was a branch of service of the German Wehrmacht during the Second World War. It was an anti-tank arm-of-service that operated anti-tank artillery, and made exclusive use of the tank destroyers, which were also named Panzerjäger. Personnel wore ordinary field-gray uniforms rather than the black of the Panzer troops; however, those Panzerjäger troops who crewed the tank-destroyers wore the Panzer jacket in field gray.
From 1940, the Panzerjäger troops were equipped with vehicles produced by mounting an existing anti-tank gun complete with the gun shield on a tracked chassis to allow higher mobility.
The development of Panzerjägers into the fully protected Jagdpanzer armored vehicle designs began before the war with the Sturmgeschütz-designated armored artillery vehicles, the initial German turretless tanks to use completely closed-in armored casemates, and continued until 1944, resulting in the fully enclosed Jagdpanzer "hunting tanks", purpose-built heavy-gun tank destroyers. These usually used upward extensions of both the glacis plate and hull sides to comprise three sides of their closed-in casemates. Panzerjäger continued to serve as a separate branch of the Heer until the end of the war, often replacing tanks due to production shortages.
Initially, the chassis of captured light tanks were used after turrets were removed, providing a cost-effective solution to the German shortage of mobile anti-tank weapons in infantry divisions. Despite the shortcomings of light armour and high silhouette, they were successfully used in their intended role, which was basically a self-propelled anti-tank gun. Neither anti-tank guns nor Panzerjägers had any real armor to speak of, and while the Panzerjäger had a higher silhouette and was more visible than an anti-tank gun, it was also much more mobile, and was able to relocate or retreat far more rapidly than conventional anti-tank gun crews. The lack of armor meant little until the self-propelled guns began to take on more and more of the offensive duties of tanks as the war progressed and production lagged.
From 1943, the Type 44 infantry divisions included the following divisional Panzerjäger-Abteilung:
Panzerjäger units were either assigned as the 14th companies in infantry regiments, or as a whole Abteilung (battalion) within Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions, in both the SS and the Heer (regular army). Independent battalions and regiments were used by corps to protect the most likely avenues of tank attacks, while divisions would often position their Panzerjäger on the flanks, or use them to support infantry advances against an enemy using tanks. When used with tanks, despite intense inter-branch rivalry, Panzerjäger would work in teams, with the tank crews enticing enemy tanks to fire, disclosing their position, and Panzerjäger engaging the enemy from a defilade. Panzerjäger were often called upon to provide direct high explosive supporting fire to infantry by destroying machinegun and artillery positions, particularly in urban fighting.
Designs of the Panzerjäger vehicles varied based on the chassis used, which could be of three types:
Notable tank destroyers in the Panzerjäger classification were:
The later Jagdpanzer designation was used from the beginning for the following more integrally armored vehicles: