The Panzerkampfwagen IV was Germany’s main tank of WWII, serving from its start in 1939 until Germany’s surrender in 1945, on all theaters. No other tank of the war saw such continuous front-line service or performed so credibly for so long. Far as longevity, the Panzer IV was the most successful tank of the war, and the reason for its longevity was an excellent design, with a solid basic platform that lent itself to continuous adaptations and improvements as the war progressed, such as bigger guns and additional armor. Because of such adaptability, 8500 Panzer IVs rolled out of factories by war’s end, more than any other German tank of WWII.
German armored warfare doctrine in the 1930s expected two primary tasks from tanks: the first was to take out antitank guns and deal with infantry strong points, using high explosive shells, while the second task was to take on and defeat enemy tanks and armored vehicles with armor-piercing shells. Thus Germany developed two complementary tanks: the Panzer III and Panzer IV. Panzer IIIs, armed with a 37mm gun, were the armor-killing tanks. They were to be supported by Panzer IVs, more heavily armored and armed. Equipped with a short-barreled howitzer-type 75mm gun for firing high explosive shells, Panzer IVs would operate alongside German infantry and take out enemy strongpoints and antitank guns. German tank battalions’ table of organization called for three Panzer III companies, supported by one heavy Panzer IV company.
The Panzer IV was operated by a five-man crew, consisting of the commander, gunner, and loader in the turret, and the driver plus radio operator, who also served as machine gunner, in the hull, all communicating via intercom. For its main armament, it was initially equipped with a short-barreled low velocity 75mm gun to fire high explosive shells, although it could also fire armor-piercing rounds when necessary. A coaxial machinegun was mounted alongside the main gun, while a second machinegun was mounted in the hull’s front plate.
Panzer IVs functioned as anti-infantry and anti-antitank weapons, until the invasion of the USSR in 1941, when it was discovered that Germany’s tank-killer tank, the Panzer III, was outclassed by Soviet KV and T-34 tanks, against whom the Panzer III’s 50mm gun was ineffective. A bigger and more powerful gun was needed, but the Panzer III’s platform did not readily lend itself to such an upgrade. The Panzer IV’s platform did. Thus, Panzer IVs took on the antitank role in addition to their anti-infantry one and, swapping their short barrel 75mm howitzer-like guns for 75mm antitank guns, took over from the Panzer IIIs.