In this installment of Armor Corner we are going to provide a list of some terms regarding armor you may have seen before but not fully understood. We’ll start with the most basic term of all – there’s an interesting story behind it. Read on.
TANK: While the British were developing the first armored fighting vehicles during WWI, in order to throw German spies off the scent, they gave out the story that they were building water tanks with the great quantities of steel plate they had ordered up. The strange contraptions they produced have been called tanks ever since.
PANZER: This is without a doubt the most misused term having to do with armor. Panzer is the German word for armor, not tank, and to refer to German tanks as “Panzers” is improper, although even the Germans were guilty of such usage.
PANZERKAMPFWAGEN (PzKpfW): The literal meaning of this German term is “armored fighting vehicle,” but the word is nonetheless applied only to tanks. A PANZER DIVISION, though, is not a tank division, but rather an armored division.
PAK: This is the abbreviation for the “Panzer-abwehr Kanone,” or anti-tank gun, exactly as the more familiar term FLAK stood for “Flieger-abwehr Kanone,” i.e., anti-aircraft gun.
SdKfz: This was the abbreviation for the rather forbidding German word Sonderkraftfahrzeug, meaning simply “special purpose vehicle,” that is a vehicle built for a specific military purpose – not a civilian vehicle adapted for military use. All such vehicles produced by the Germans in WWII had a SdKfz number, and sometimes a sub-number, for example, the SdKfz 250/9 indicated a version of the SdKfz 250 light half-track mounting a 20mm gun in a rotating turret, and used for reconnaissance purposes. The SdKfz number was important for record-keeping purposes – use of the number left no doubt exactly what vehicle was being referred to.
ABTEILUNG: German for “Battalion.” The abbreviation sPzAbt 2/503, for example, indicates the second company of the 503rd Heavy (schwere) Tank Battalion.
POUNDER: Pounder? Yes, as in “17-Pounder,” a British gun which was one of the most powerful anti-tank weapons available to the Allies in WWII. Not content with driving on the wrong side of the road, the British also insisted on designating their cannon by the weight of their shells, not the diameter of the bore like everyone else.
JäGER: Notice how many of these terms are German? Here’s another meaning “hunter.” Thus, a Panzerjager is literally a “tank hunter.”
BAZOOKA: Officially known as the “2.36-in. Rocket Launcher,” this most famous of all hand-held anti-tank weapons was named after an alleged musical instrument used on a WWII-era radio comedy.
There you have a sampling of just a few weird and wonderful armor terms. We hope it was both entertaining and edifying.