By Joe Rainer, Ph.D.
Director, US Army Ordnance Museum
The design of the Jagdpanzer 38, better known today as the “Hetzer,” was born out of a requirement ordered by General Heinz Guderian and WWII wartime contingencies. Guderian, as Inspector-General of Armored Troops, ordered the development of a light tank destroyer to replace the Marder series in March 1943.
The Alkett factory facilities in Berlin, which were the primary producers of tank destroyers, were nearly destroyed in a bombing raid in October 1943. Design and production of the Hetzer was moved to the Böhmische Märische Maschinenfabrik (BMM) in Prague, where the facilities could only manage a light, 16-ton vehicle. The initial designation of the program was Sturmgeschütz neuer Art mit 7,5cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) (Assault Gun new type with 7.5cm ATG 39 L/48 on the chassis of the Armored Fighting Vehicle 38(t). The designation became Jagdpanzer 38, Sd.Kfz 138/2 in September 1944. The Panzer troops nicknamed the hunting tank “Hetzer,” which has been translated as “Baiter,” but “Hunting Dog” is a better transliteration.
The first prototype was finished at BMM on April 1, 1944, and the Škoda Works began production the following month. Both factories were expected to produce 500 Hetzers per month each. Eventually, plants in Prague, Pilsen, Königgrätz, Boehm, and Breslau manufactured Hetzers and components. In all, 2,584 Hetzers were produced by May 1945.
The Hetzer was designed around a widened PzKfw 38(t) chassis with a modified suspension. The power plant was the newly designed Praga AE 6-cylinder, water-cooled, 7.75-liter gasoline engine, with 5 forward and 1 reverse gear. The 320-liter gas tank gave the Hetzer a range of 180km (112 miles) on roads, or 130km (80 miles) cross-country, and a maximum speed of 40km (25 miles) per hour.
The Czechoslovakians continued this tank destroyer program after the war, using the BMM in-house designation of G-13. Postwar “Hetzers” were armed with StuK 40 cannons with muzzle brakes, left over from wartime Sturmgeschütz production. They were used by the Swiss army and the Czechoslovak army, which called it the ST-1.
A technical intelligence team recovered the Ordnance Museum’s Hetzer on a flatcar at the Škoda Works in Pilsen in May 1945. It was shipped to Paris and then sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground for testing and evaluation. The left side armor was removed for teaching and display purposes.
During the restoration work performed on the vehicle in November and December 2008, the restoration team uncovered unusual colors beneath the top coats on the vehicle. The grey-green, yellow and white camouflage scheme are true to what was found on the vehicle.
Although this vehicle was never issued to a unit, the Ordnance Museum has given it the markings for a Panzerjäger company of the 9th Volksgrenadier Infantry Division, which saw action during the Battle of the Bulge and surrendered to US forces near Nuremburg in April 1945.
Visit the US Army Ordnance Museum
The Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, Maryland, is home to one of the finest collections of armored vehicles, artillery pieces, small arms and ammunition in the country. It is open from 9:00 am to 4:45 pm daily. It is closed on all national holidays except for Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. There is no admission fee. Books, apparel, souvenirs and memorabilia can be purchased at the Museum Gift Shop. Conveniently located right off Interstate 95, just follow the signs. To visit Aberdeen Proving Ground without current Federal or Military ID, you must enter at the Maryland Blvd. Gate (Route MD-715 from Route 40) and show a picture ID and your vehicle registration. Please visit the Museum Foundation’s Web site (www.ordmusfound.org) for a map and instructions on how to get to the museum.
The Ordnance Museum Foundation, Inc.
The Ordnance Museum Foundation, Inc. needs your support to preserve this world-class collection of artifacts. Membership is only US$35/year and includes a 1-year subscription to Military Vehicles Magazine. Joining is easy and can be accomplished online.
The Foundation is made up of men and women who volunteer their time to preserve this unique collection for future generations. If you are like-minded, please consider joining or making a donation. For more information, visit the Foundation at www.ordmusfound.org or query “Ordnance Museum” with your favorite browser. —Kone Brugh II, Chair, Board of Trustees
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