Andy Singleton dropped us a line after his recent exploits with the Panzer III, taking us through options and tactics to employ in Bolt Action with this mainstay of German armour.
Andy – For much of the Second World War the Panzer III was the most important vehicle used by the German army, and was used in combat in one form or another from 1939 right up to 1945, albeit in increasingly diminished roles.
The Panzer III went through 3 broad phases of evolution. Initially the vehicle was a product of the 1930’s, with comparatively light armour and a 37mm anti tank gun, as well as a couple of machine guns for infantry suppression.
This was deemed inadequate having initially faced off against the likes of the French Char B1, so the tank was upgraded to its second stage with thicker armour and a 50mm anti-tank gun. This upgrading continued rapidly following the experiences in Russia and the Western Desert.
These changes kept the Panzer III still very much a competitor to more modern designs such as the Grant, Sherman and T34. The increased quantities of infantry-portable anti-tank weapons saw a further increase in armour protection as well, however this would ultimately not be enough to keep the Panzer III at the forefront of the Panzer division.
The final stage of the Panzer’s evolution was the Type N, which saw the anti tank gun replaced with a howitzer to enable it to provide direct fire support to the Panzer Grenadiers it operated alongside. This vehicle retained the armour of the preceding versions, however its weapon now fired a more effective high explosive shell.
All very interesting, but how does this apply to Bolt Action? Well, let me show you…
Choices and Tactics
Blitzkrieg Era 1939-41
This covers the Panzer III C,D,E and F versions, and I’m also going to include the G version in this as well.
The C,D,E and F versions all come with a light anti tank gun, a hull MMG and a Co Ax MMG. The G is identical, although it is armed with a medium anti tank gun.
These are cheap tanks and, if you are playing games with theatre selectors set within the early war period, also quite solid. You’ll will have to be wary of things like anti tank rifles and light howitzers, as they can still hurt you.
Firepower-wise there are enough machine guns to put pins on 2 separate enemy infantry units, or alternatively suppress an infantry unit and fire an armour piercing round at enemy vehicles. The light AT might not look like much, but with lucky dice rolling and good positioning you can damage most vehicles in the game. I’ll discuss the medium AT gun in the next section, but in the early war period it’s a very impressive weapon, and will kill most opponents fairly easily. Don’t forget your penetration drops by 1 if firing over the weapon’s half range point, so you may need to be aggressive with your light AT armed Panzers to get them at their most efficient.
Russia and the desert 1941-43
These are the Ausf H, J, L and M. They are all armour 9 medium tanks, with a medium anti tank gun, a medium machine gun in the hull and a medium co ax machine gun. These are the very epitome of the medium tank in Bolt Action, although the armour options are interesting.
The H/J features reinforced rear armour, and although this doesn’t have much impact in the game, it does allow you to be a little more aggressive in your manoeuvring. I’d not recommend it though, as no tank should be mooning its opposition!
The L and M versions come with optional Schurzen that makes this little tank look rather beefy. Normally I don’t take this option, though I do model it on sometimes. Schurzen provides additional protection against shaped charged weapons as fired by Bazookas, so if you’re expecting to be up against a lot of these it’s worth considering. However it does only apply its protection to the sides, and I can normally find something better to spend my 10 points on.
All the points regarding the weapons of the C through F versions apply to these later models, however the medium gun means that with luck it can damage any vehicle in the game. Though going head to head with a JS2 isn’t recommended, with the right sacrifices to the dice gods you can paint up another kill ring on your gun barrel!
These are the most expensive Panzer III variants to field, although a regular tank will still come in at under 200 points, and gives you a good, cheap, balanced armoured unit.
The Panzer III Ausf N is my favourite version. Initially produced from 1942 with the purpose of providing infantry support due to the increasing obsolescence of the 50mm gun in an anti-tank role, the Ausf N was fitted with obsolete 75mm short barrel Panzer IV guns.
The N is very similar to the L/M, however trades anti-tank capability for increased HE, firing a 1D6 HE blast, and coming in at under 180 points for regular.
Advancing up with your infantry, throwing out HE blasts and pins from its machine guns, the N is a very useful weapon. The +2 pen from its HE means it is killing even veteran troops on a 3+, and can still give light armour pause for thought. It’s worth mentioning that the light howitzer is capable of dropping quite a big smoke template (4”) and also, with luck, putting a couple of pins on opposing vehicles. These shouldn’t be relied upon, but can give you a very nice edge with luck and timing.
In conclusion, the Panzer III is easy to overlook in favour of the sexy big cats, the big gun on the Panzer IV, or the sleek StuG, but what it brings to the table(top) is a very flexible, and utilitarian vehicle that can adapt to a wide range of roles, from cheap, multipurpose armour support in the early war variants, to a solid, well armed and armoured medium tank for the mid war era, and finally an anti infantry support tank that will make even Veteran infantry squads act cautiously.
The plastic Panzer III kit can be assembled to represent either the J, L, M, N or M/N variants.