Originally designed to support the smaller Panzer III's and Infantry during the early years of the war. From 1941 to 1945, it had become the main tank of the German Panzer Divisions that relieved the Panzer III's from its front line duty. It served on all fronts until the end of the war on their capital itself.
It was the most commonly used tank in Germany's arsenal and the first production model was called the Ausf. A. The Ausf. A had a gasoline powered Maybach HL120 TRM engine that was capable of propelling the Panzer IV at speeds on road up to 41.8 km/h.
The armament of the Ausf. A was a low-velocity 75 mm KwK 37 main gun and two MG 34s. An additional MG 34 could also be mounted. The type of radio commonly used with the Ausf. A was the FuG 5 and it also required five crew members in order to function properly. The total weight of the Panzer IV was about 24 tons while the total length of the Panzer IV was 5.92 meters. The total range of the Panzer IV Ausf. A was also about 200 kilometers while this distance would be increased with future models. Early Panzer IV's has an Armor thickness of only 50 mm maximum, although this was sufficient for the early years of the war, as the war went on, this became evermore outdated while the later models have increased Frontal armor thickness to 80mm.
The first variant of the Panzer IV system was the Ausf. B model which retained the short 75 mm main gun and had modified frontal armor along with several other hull improvements. Furthermore, the engine's maximum output was increased, though only 42 were ever produced. Following the B model, was the Model C which had modified machine gun port and other armored improvements. Around 130 models of this type were produced. Next was the Model D which featured far more changes than previous variants. The tracks of the vehicle were toughened, more armor plating was added and an improved main gun were all modifications of the Model D. The Ausf. E was developed after combat experience in France and the Low Countries suggested that even more armor protection was needed.
An obvious sign for this being Panzer IV crews literally bolting on plates of armor to the front of the vehicle. As such, the Ausf. E model had up to 50 mm of frontal armor and 20 mm in the sides. What came next, the Ausf. F split into the Models of F1 and F2 was the first in the serious to be given the new main gun, the high-velocity 75mm KwK 40, which greatly improved the Panzer IV's fighting capability which means the Panzer IV was able to match to firepower of a 76mm M1 of the M4 Sherman and the T34-76 tank until it was outmatched by the Sherman Firefly with its highly powerful 17-Pounder gun, even by the M1 76mm using M93 HVAP rounds.
The F1 though did not feature the long barreled gun that the F2 had still had minor modifications made to it. However, the more significant changes came with the F2 with a long main gun that featured a muzzle brake at the end, improved armor, and a modified ammunition storage area so that more powerful rounds could be used. The Ausf. G that came next was produced in far more quantity than other models, 1,200 units in total. It also had been the first model to feature Schürzen Armor or more commonly known as side skirts/armor which was used to deter the effectiveness of Soviet AT rifles and Portable Anti-Tank Rockets. The last two variants of the Panzer IV that modified the original model were the Ausf. H and Ausf. J which both once again had their armor improved, the only difference being that the Ausf. J had its Schürzen armor turned into more of a wire mesh for cost reasons. It also had increased fuel capacity and increased range. The other variants of the Panzer IV were command tanks, bridgelayers, and other tank killers.
The Panzer IV was first developed in 1939 as a kind of replacement for the earlier Panzer III and Panzer II tanks that would quickly be outdated, as the war continued. Like many tanks in their first combat experience, problems showed with the initial Ausf. A designs. However, the Panzer IV platform was designed to be refined and improved over time and eventually, it became a perfect match for Allied tanks. Because of it's ease of maintenance, flexibility and reliability, the Panzer IV continued to be used throughout the war as the backbone of the Wehrmacht. It saw action in all theaters of war that the German army took part in. In total, around 8,880 examples had been produced by the war's end. These were not only used by the Wehrmacht however, numerous examples had also been sent to other Axis nations such as Hungary, Romania, and Italy. Some were also captured and used by Allied nations, notably the USSR.
- Forty, George. German Tanks of World War Two. Blandford Press (1987), Page 80