In December 1943, the U.S. War Department issued a report on the German practice of mounting armor skirts (Schürzen) on panzers in WWII (Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 40, December 16, 1943).
From both Allied and German sources, reports have come in of additional armored skirting applied to the sides of German tanks and self-moving guns to protect the tracks, bogies and turret. Photographs show such plating on the PzKw 3 and 4, where the plates are hung from a bar resembling a hand-rail running above the upper track guard and from rather light brackets extending outward about 18 inches from the turret. What appeared to be a 75-mm self-moving gun was partially protected by similar side plates over the bogies. This armor is reported to be light -- 4 to 6 millimeters (.16 to .24 in) -- and is said to give protection against hollow-charge shells, 7.92-mm tungsten carbide core AT ammunition, and 20-mm tungsten carbide core ammunition. This armor might cause a high-velocity AP shot or shell to deflect and strike the main armor sideways or at an angle, but covering the bogies or Christie wheels would make the identification of a tank more difficult, except at short ranges."
Schürzen Side Skirts Schürzen were conceived and designed to provide protection primarily against Russian anti-tank rifles and low velocity high explosive rounds. Test firings on Schürzen (both wire mesh & steel plates) were performed prior to 20 Feb 1943. The tests were conducted using the Russian 14.5mm anti-tank rifle from 100m (90°) and a 7.5cm high explosive charge fried from a field gun. In all cases (mesh & steel plates) there was no damage or penetration to the test vehicle's side armor. The Schürzen were penetrated or torn off by the impacts, but remainde serviceable.
Wire Mesh or Steel Plates? Both the wire mesh schürzen (Drahtgeflecht Schürzen) and the steel plates were equally effective in protecting the test vehicles side armor.The mesh offered some advantages over the steel plates, most notably in weight.The disadvantage lay in the difficulty in procuring the wire mesh and the mounting system.The mounting system designed for the steel plate schürzen would not work with the wire mesh sections.A new mounting system would have to be designed and developed for it.This would take time, so the steel plate schürzen were produced while the mounting system for the wire mesh sections was developed. Schedule In Mar-1943 Hitler issued a directive to outfit all new Sturmgeschütz, Panzer III, IV and Panthers with side skirts.Additionally all of these types currently deployed or undergoing maintenance were to be retrofitted with them.In early June, 1943 the first front-line units on the Russian Front retrofitted their Sturmgeschütz in time for the Kursk offensive Problems Complaints by field units about the original mountings prompted some changes to be made.The original mounting system was poorly designed and resulted in frequent loss of the Schürzen plates.Heavy mud, brush and other foliage could force the plate off the mounting and damage both the plate and the rails.A change in mounting systems helped but never eliminated the problem completely. Mounting There are four types of Schürzen mounting used on Sturmgeschütz that I am aware of:
The original Schürzen mounting system (introduced in Summer 1943) consisted of two rows of 'L' brackets ─┘ One row mounted to the hull at fender level and the second to a rail just below the top of the superstructure.The brackets fit through small holes in the Schürzen plates.The normal movement of the StuG could dislodge the plates; not to mention brush or trees.
StuG III with the early Schürzen mounting - note the disarray of the plates!
Model of a StuG showing the early mounting rail
Spring (March) 1944 - In response to complaints from field units about ease of loosing theplates a new mounting was introduced.The new mounting brackets were located on the inside of the plates and secured on triangular or rectangular tabs welded to the rails mounted on the sides of the Sturmgeschütz.
Date Unknown (1944+ ?) - Bolted Schürzen - I have come across a number of pictures of Schürzen plates bolted on to the fenders and angled plates protecting the superstructure. The pictures seem to date from 1944. It is possible that this is a field kit. In my humble opinion, the design of the mounting brackets and plates is too consistant to be a field modification.
StuG III G (?) showing bolted Schürzen. Note the MG42 mounted as an AA weapon on top of the gun shield
A StuG III Ausf. G captured in a village near Paderborn in April '45.
In September 1944 Drahtgeflecht Schürzen (wire mesh) began replacing the steel plate Schürzen (on Panzer IV’s) starting in Sept-‘44.The wire mesh was supported by steel strips at the top, which fastened or hooked to a metal pole which ran the length of the panzer.The pole ran parallel to the fenders and was positioned beyond them by brackets attached to the superstructure.Most of the pictures I have seen show the Drahtgeflecht Schürzen mounted exclusively on PzKpfw IV tanks hulls (the turrets retained the steel plates).According to Spielberger the final run of StuG IV’s were completed mounting the Drahtgeflecht Schürzen.
Late Model Pz IV with Drahtgeflecht (mesh) Schürzen.
Schürzen On Other Vehicles
As mentioned above, Sturmgeschützen were not the only armored vehicles fitted with Schürzen.
The Panzer III shares a common hull with the StuG III.The hull brackets were virtually identical those used on the StuG III.This includes the unsatisfactory early mountings which were changed in Spring of '44.One obvious difference between the Schürzen on the StuG III and the Panzer III, is the Panzer III has a turret.The turret skirts were welded or bolted in place.Given their location and method of attachment it is understandable why there are many pictures of tanks with intact turret skirts and missing side skirts.
The Panzer IV has a longer hull than the Panzer III.Other than that the comments made for the Panzer III are valid for the Panzer IV.
Pzkw IV with Schürzen
Pzkw III with Schürzen
Panzer V - Panther The Schürzen on the Panther (sometimes mistakenly referred to as "fenders") covers the area from the top of the road wheels to where the hull extends out over the tracks. This is clearly designed to protect the crew and vital machinery (not the ammunition stores). The Schürzen are clipped or bolted directly to brackets mounted to the hull.
The Jagdpanther shares a common hull with the Panther and the Schürzen mounting is common to both vehicles
Panther Schürzen (right side)
Panther Schürzen Mounting Brackets
Jagdpanzer 38(t) - Hetzer TheSchürzen used on the Hetzer resembles that of the Panther. Unlike the Panther, the Hetzer's Schürzen is bolted on, rather than hung off a mounting rail. The Hetzer has mounting brackets welded to the Schürzen. These brackets are slipped over bolts located on the outer edge of the hull.
G-13 restored as a Jagdpanzer 38(t)
Hetzer Schurzen (Close Up)
JENTZ, Tom & Sarson, Peter IIllustrator), Sturmgeschutz III and IV 1942-45 (New Vanguard, 37) (Paperback), Osprey Publishing 2001
KUROWSKI, Franz Sturmgeschuetze vor! Assault Guns to the Front!, Fedorowicz (J.J.),Canada; 1999
PERRETT, Bryan; Chappell, Mike & Badrocke, Mike (Illustrator), Sturmartillerie and Panzerjager 1939-45 (New Vanguard #34.), Osprey Publishing 1999
SPIELBERGER, Walter J.Sturmgeschutz & Its Variants, (Spielberger German Armor & Military Vehicles Series, Vol 2). Schiffer Publishing, 1933