PANZER IV ausf. J

(May 1944 production)

Kickoff !!!

Week # 1

Work on the Panzer IV Reproduction Hull Construction has finally begun.  This week we started making sparks.  Construction is now actively under way.

The first welder spatter hasn’t come easy though.  The first chatter about Panzerfabrik re-producing a Panzer IV began in 2012.  Although we haven’t communicated the progress or talked about it much it has been a vigorous journey bubbling in the background.

For you nuanced Panzer IV fans, the guiding example for our reproduction will be a VOMAG made Panzer IV ausf. J produced at the end of their production in May 1944. Its Serial Number will be 86574 the next sequential serial number when VOMAG left off.

By June VOMAG (Vogtländische Machinengabrik AG) had turned its full attention to Jagdpanzer IV.  Exclusive Panzer IV production went to Ni-Werk (Nibelungenwerk GmbH) for the rest of 1944-45.

P4

The Panzer in this photo closely represents what we are building.  This example is Ni-Werk made and a little earlier. Ours will be VOMAG.  But It pretty much captures the look and feel of our future baby right down to the cast hubcaps and welded rear Idler wheel.

We actually had a false start in 2013 when we completed some of the sub-assemblies that we will finally use.  I realized at the time just how complicated the Panzer IV was and how much about it I didn’t know.  I also realized that to create a Panzer IV masterpiece we needed a bigger and better facility with bigger and better tools.  We stepped back, took a breath and went to work learning, planning and gathering.

PANZERFABRIK’s  “Firebase Delta” Facility.  Panzer IV Build headquarters.

In the meantime we built the Panzer II ausf. L Luchs, mechanically renovated the T54b and fully restored our T-34/85.  Check them our on the TANKS page on www.panzerfabrik.net.   It’s time now to stop fooling around and get on with the Panzer IV.  The fullness of time has arrived … it’s a “GO!!!”

After meticulously drafting the hull in CAD, the files were sent to the local steel supplier.  There the parts were C&C plasma cut.  All of the dimensions, right down to the bolt hole size and placement have been taken from authentic, original Panzer IV hulls.  The pieces are “spot-on.”  No guess work.  No artistic interpretation. No compromise to accommodate anything.  All parts conform to original examples.

These pieces are for the floor only.  The hull sides will follow next week.

In preparation for the Panzer IV Reproduction Hull Construction we had to build an assembly table.  You will see that the Panzer IV is made up of over 7 bazillion pieces.  Assembly of even the floor needs to be facilitated by the use of a controlled fixture.  This tank isn’t getting pieced together on a garage floor.

A table has been constructed that is square, flat, level, with plumb straight sides.  The width is exactly the width of a Panzer IV hull.   Hmmmm…  Now that could be troublesome when it comes time to pull the hull out of the fixture.   Lots of friction, I bet.

Here is how the table will be used.  The first pieces of floor have been dropped in.   Looks like it all fits so far.

Piecing the floor together. Smashing and clamping it flat

Not counting access covers, a Panzer IV floor is made up of 32 individual pieces that are structural in nature.  There aren’t any other Panzers that come remotely close to this.  Floors are usually made from a couple of big flat pieces making a smooth solid floor.  Not the Panzer IV…  It all stems from the allowance to install 3 big fuel tanks up and in from underneath.

The middle one third of the Panzer IV hull is open to below.  Then a very complex, multi-chambered section is constructed to receive and hold the fuel tanks and close up the floor.  I suppose that in the mid 1930’s the designers thought it would be a good idea to keep fuel on the outside of the hull.

This idea is a failing blip on tank design history.  It is a seemingly good idea, which loses out.  The Panzer IV is one of…. if not the only…  mainstream tanks that incorporate this bad idea.

Our original Panzer IV (J) fuel tank section.  Effectively this is the floor in the center 1/3 of the Panzer IV hull.

The fuel tank section from the Flak Panzer at CFB Borden Ontario Canada

“What is the correct thickness of the steel?” you ask.  Ha!!!  There is no correct answer.  On the several original examples we examined there is a range of “correct”.  It appears that the builders used whatever material they had at the time.  Often the thicknesses of un-corroded examples don’t match up to either metric thicknesses or Imperial thicknesses.  One could measure the same section on different vehicles and in most cases get a random measurement that might vary up to a couple of millimeters.

Usually the measurement would end in some random fraction i.e. 6.87mm or 7.12mm.  So which is correct?  We chose available material that was somewhere in the range of correct.  So, did we choose the right thicknesses?   Um, yeah,,, sure.

Something interesting we found was that our late production J fuel tank section had the thinnest thicknesses of all earlier examples we measured.  Do you suppose Germany was running out of steel in February 1945?

Here are some process pictures of our build last week.

The long piece with the holes is the brace that reinforces the joint between two 10mm fuel tank covers that bolt in from below.  I propose that a panzer IV sliding over a big rock or large tree stump would crush this piece, rupture the fuel tanks and effectively knock out the Panzer.

Here at Panzerfabrik we are tough.  Michael don’t need no stink’in gloves when he welds.

Here is a good overview what takes place in the belly of the beast.  Fuel tanks go up inside from below in three locations, two of which you can see here.  The drive shaft goes in the hole and through the passage up to a cooling fan and clutch up front.

The irregular shaped area and hole are where the electric slip ring goes to provide power to the turret.  The center of the hole is approximately the center of the turret.  You can see the drive shaft has to pass by the arrangement.  So neither the turret nor the engine sits in the centerline of the tank. 

The turret is shifted to one side and the engine the other.  Almost nothing about the Panzer IV is symmetrical.   You can glimpse the third fuel tank location at the top of the photo.  The section that has the floor in the upper right is the location of the batteries. It is only tack welded at this point… about a day of welding and it will be ready to put the cover on. 

Big sigh of relief…. All the parts fit and came together exactly as they were supposed to.

A sneak Peek of what the floor looks like when done.

Meanwhile at the other side of the shop we are starting preparation on some of the other elements that we will need when we put the vertical parts of the hull together.

The upper nose is 20mm and provides access for the steering brakes and differential/transmission.

Jon is drilling holes with a Mag Drill.  There are exactly 8 trillion 7 hundred million holes to be drilled in a Panzer IV.

Nice holes for the 16mm bolts to fasten the hinges for the brake cooling hatches.  There is quite a bit of prep to be done on this piece before it can be installed on the hull.

Dave had the thankless job of prepping pieces for the hull nose.  Cutting thick plate with a torch is an unpleasant job to say the least.  Thanks Dave.   I think this is going to use up a lot of Oxy/Acetylene.

Not bad for week number 1.  At this pace well be finished and home by Christmas.  Hopefully next blog we will see the sidewalls placed on the Panzer IV Reproduction Hull Construction.

Thanks for reading

Randy

Panzerfabrik

Check back for more of the build to come.