Autopsy of a Hetzer

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When doctors want to know what the insides of a person are like, usually to determine cause of death, they perform an autopsy. This is a dissection of the body which allows the doctor to examine the internal structures and to perform various tests on samples taken from the body. So, what better way to examine the inside of a Hetzer, than to do an autopsy! All of the following photos were supplied to me by Fred Olsen of Canada, who is a volunteer at the Worthington Park Museum. Fred has granted me permission to use these photos on my website, but he holds the copyrights to them. The vehicle which will be examined is the one shown on the previous page of this website, the Restoration of the Worthington Park Museum Hetzer. It was captured by Canadian forces during World War Two and brought to Canada for examination. So, masks and safety goggles in place, we begin the autopsy!

We begin with an external examination of the vehicle. The vehicle is that of a German Jagdpanzer 38, approximately 56 years of age, armed with a 7,5 cm Pak 39 main gun. At this time, the roof mounted machine gun and gunshield is absent. It is a fully tracked vehicle with front drive sprocket, four large road wheels, one return roller, and a rear idler wheel. It has well sloped armor sides, with thick frontal armor and thin side, rear, and top armor. The main gun is mounted off center on the vehicle's right side with a Saukopf type mantlet. The exhaust system and muffler have already been removed. The overall paint scheme is a uniform gray color which is not original to the vehicle, but was applied post war in Canada. All external stowage and all optics and vision devices are absent from the vehicle. The overall length of the vehicle with gun barrel is 6,27 m, without barrel is 4,87 m. The width of the vehicle is 2,63 m and height without radio antenna is 2,10 m. The vehicle weighs 16.000 kg. The vehicle appears to be from an early production run as evidenced by the threaded gun barrel, exhaust assembly, and early style idler wheel. There is no apparent combat damage indicating that the vehicle was knocked out by external forces. At some point the gun tube was stuck in the recoiled position, but it is unknown if this happened prior to capture or afterwards. The photos give a brief, walk-around look at the vehicle. Notice the interlocking joints of the thick, frontal armor. The Notek light (blackout driving light) is absent, but its mount is present on the vehicle's left front fender. On the rear deck is a rounded armor protrusion which covers the point where the exhaust pipe exits the body. Immediately below that is the grill where the fan blows out the cooling air which has been pulled through the radiator. The cooling air enters the engine compartment via grilled openings located on the underside of the angled portion of the body, directly above the tracks (approximately where the last skirt armor piece is located). Note that the rear fenders of the vehicle are absent in the photos. Provision has been made for three sections of replacement track to carried on the vehicle. These are held on by the threaded post and accompanying slotted bracket located: 1. On the spine of the sloping rear deck, 2. On the lowest right rear portion of the deck, and 3. On the left side of the rear vertical hull plate. The square plate with bolted on circular piece located at the lower right of the rear vertical plate is the place where the "Fuchs gerät" engine coolant heating device may be mounted when required. This is basically a blow torch that heats a portion of pipe through which the engine coolant flows, and which then warms the engine to assist with starting in extremely cold weather. Also on the rear plate is the large transversely mounted tow bracket, usually seen only on BergeHetzer recovery vehicles, but which was sometimes applied to other vehicles. And finally, in the last photo of this group, one can see two opened rear deck hatches. The lower one is the engine compartment access on the right side of the vehicle. The upper one allows for access to the vehicle commander's seat. On the left side of the rear deck is one large hatch for access to the engine compartment. That hatch has two handles. Another indication that this is an early production vehicle, is that there are no fuel filler port access hatches at the lowest edge of the sloping rear deck. On later vehicles, one hatch would be located where the section of spare track is mounted next to the grill, and the second hatch would be located in the corresponding area on the left side of the deck.

Our examination continues with the next set of photos which begin with a close up of the two large hatches opened on the sloping rear deck of the vehicle. The left hatch is the engine compartment hatch and the right one is the commanders hatch. Actually, there is a second hatch into the commander's area, the edge of which is just visible on the right side of the photo. The latching mechanism for the large commander's hatch is the small reversed "P" looking object in the upper center of the opened hatch. The rectangular hole is the mount for a rearward looking episcope vision device. This allowed the commander a view of things behind the vehicle. The latch for the engine access hatch is absent but the hole for it is visible in the upper center of that hatch if you look closely. This latch is different from the commander's hatch. It is a simple plate which is turned from the exterior by a wrench applied to a square shaft protruding from the surface. The latch of the commander's hatch shown cannot be opened from outside. It is merely an internal lock down device. The next photo shows the right side of the vehicle with the previous hatches closed and the armored mount for the radio antenna visible. Note that the small antenna protruding from the mount is not the actual antenna used, but was placed there merely to show the location of the mount for what it is. Also shown is the semielliptical cover which protects the commander's rear looking episcope, the rings welded to the hull for fastening the tarp, and the mount for the tanker's bar (just below the antenna mount). The next several photos show the forward roof and Saukopf mantlet of the vehicle. Note that the flat roof plate is bolted into position, allowing it to be removed in order to remove the gun and transmission assemblies. Notice the rough casting of the Saukopf. The fourth photo has a good shot of the armored cover over the driver's vision devices as used on early Hetzers. This was found to be a shot trap and was replaced on later models with a simple sheet metal cover which would easily tear away if struck by a projectile. Also shown is a close up of the sliding plate and protective cover of the the gun sight which would protrude through the hole in the plate. This plate slides in the tracks located on the roof as the gun is traversed, thus protecting the curved slot cut in the roof plate. The next two photos show the entire rook plate. In the lower right rear of the roof plate is found the second commander's hatch, which can be opened from outside by use of a flat wrench "key", and which may be opened by itself in order to allow the commander's scissors periscope to be used to observe shot fall or to make observations. The two part hatch on the left rear of the roof plate, is the access point for the driver, gunner, and loader. Notice the episcope protective device at the edge of the roof plate. This device gives the loader a view to the left side of the vehicle. The raised, round mount just forward of the loader's hatch, is the mount for the internally controlled machine gun. The final photo in this set, is a drawing of the interior side latch mechanism used on the small commander's hatch and the loader's hatch. This latch was replaced on late model vehicles with the simple latch used on this vehicle's large commander's hatch.

Now we examine the tracks and suspension arears of the vehicle. The first shows the left tow bracket and the drive sprocket teeth protruding through the track links. This is followed by a side shot of the drive sprocket. A close up of the return roller and rims of two roadwheels is next. Note the large number of bolts on the rims. These were later reduced in number and eventually (in post war production) replaced altogether with welded rims. In the very center of the return roller should be a grease fitting but it appears to be broken off. The next photo is a close up of the left rear idler wheel. This is the early style with twelve holes. A close up of the hanger brackets for the skirt armor is next. The final shots are views of the underside of the vehicle looking from front to rear on either side. You can just see a portion of the mount for the forward pair of road wheels and the swing arms of the second set of roadwheels in the first of the two photos. Note the concave construction of the roadwheels. This concludes our external examination of the vehicle. Now begins the messy part of the autopsy.

We begin by excising (unbolting and lifting away) the roof and sloping rear deck of the vehicle. This allows our first glance inside the interior. In this group of photos, several of the internal organs have already been removed, allowing a better view toward the front of the vehicle. In the next several photos, with better lighting, we can see the rear of the main gun and its associated elevating and traverse mechanisms. The breech block is in the open (lowered) position and can be seen peeking out below the breech ring. The breech operating handle on the right side of the breech ring is in the rearward position. When the handle is pushed down and forward, the breech block is raised into the closed position. The lower, solid handwheel is the traversing handwheel. The handle of this wheel incorporates the electric firing trigger for the gun, allowing the gunner to track a target and fire without taking his hand off the wheel. The upper, spoked handwheel is for elevating the gun. Note that the recoil cage assembly is absent from the gun. Two intercom plug socket boxes are visible in the photos. One is found on the right, lower hull by the edge of the stowage box which sits above the tracks. The second is centered at the forward edge where the roof joins the front hull. The gun travel lock is also present, in the raised position, directly above the gun at the roof - front hull junction. Note that all the ammunition racks have been removed already. Ammunition is stored on the slanted upper right hull side, in several racks on the floor under the gun, and on the left lower hull side next to the loader's seat. In photos seven and eight of this group, we get a better view of the driver's area. On the forward hull slope can be seen the mounts for the driver's episcopes, a handle to assist him when getting out of his seat (there is an old padlock hanging on this handle), the holder for the butt of a rifle (the crew was issued a MP-44 for dismounted use), the steering levers, the transmission housing with its cooling fins, the gear selector lever which sits on the forward, upper edge of the transmission, and the clutch, gas, and brake pedals (from left to right). Notice the two pieces of pipe affixed to the hull immediately above the episcope mounts. These are possibly a means of mounting a removeable leather head pad which serves to protect the driver's forehead when looking out the episcopes. Later vehicles have a pad mounted directly to the hull at this location. Is it possible that the early vehicles had no protective pad and this "after market" method of mounting a pad was introduced for this early vehicle after it had gotten into the field? Notice there is no instrument panel present in the vehicle. The conduit containing the wiring is present but not the panel or the instrumentation. And in the final picture of this series, we observe the empty engine compartment, looking from the fighting compartment toward the rear of the vehicle. The sloping sided fuel tanks on either side of the compartment are visible (see the filler port which has a yellow cap on it) as is the location where the squirrel cage fan shroud was bolted. The black square, in the lower part of the white deck plate, is the hole through which the exhaust pipe is routed out of the engine compartment. Visible in the upper right portion of the photo is the battery box with battery removed. Now, let us move on to the examination of some of the previously removed "entrails" of the vehicle.

The first photo shows the racks which mount on the lower left hull next to the loader's seat and enable nine rounds of main gun ammunition (three per rack) to be placed in readiness. The primer end of the cartridge sits in a wooden plate, with a cut out which just fits the base of the cartidge, found at the bottom of each rack. The straps you see dangling at the top of the racks fasten around the warhead of the round and secure it in place. (Some straps are missing.) The next three photos show the two ammunition racks which are mounted on the slanted, upper hull side, to the right of the main gun. The base of the round goes at the bottom and the warhead is secured by the metal clamp at the top of the rack. Each round is secured individually. Each rack holds five rounds. Not shown are the two racks under the gun. The forward rack sits on the floor alongside the transmission housing and contains ten rounds. The rear rack sits under the breech and recoil catch and holds twelve rounds (three layers of four rounds apiece). This rear rack is designed in such a manner that the rigid clamps that secure each layer will fold out of the way when that layer is used, allowing access to the next layer. When all the rounds in that rack are used, the rack is collapsed out of the way, allowing access to the forward rack. That rack has vertical straps which drop back to allow the stored rounds to be withdrawn horizontally from the rack, resembling a wine rack.

At this point, allow me to interject several photos that I took inside the Hetzer (G-13) housed at the Texas Military Forces Museum, in order to illustrate the comments about the floor ammunition racks. You can see in these photos, the relative positions of the racks in relation to the gun. The first two photos show the rearmost rack, which collapses as the layers of ammunition are removed. Once this is empty, then the forward rack is accessible. The rounds in the forward rack are pulled out horizontally. You can see one actual cartridge of a Pak 39, minus the primer, in the upper left of that rack. The white box on top of the rack contains the gun sight and the accessories and replacement parts that go with it. Now we continue with the examination of the Borden Hetzer.

This next set of photos shows various parts related to the wall between the fighting compartment and engine compartment. The first shows the box in which the radio transmitter and receiver are mounted. This box is inset in the rear wall of the fighting compartment behind the loader, who also acts as the radio operator. Next to the radio box in that photo is the rear floor ammunition rack which is standing up on end. The dark rectangular surface facing the radio box is the part that bolts to the floor. Some of the moveable clamps are visible, lying in seemingly random positions. The next photo shows the bulkhead that separates the two compartments, seen from the engine compartment side. The mostly square hole on the left is where the radio box would be mounted. The rectangular hole at the upper right of the bulkhead is where the fume extractor ducting connects to the bulkhead. The next hole down is the spot where the fuel tank switch valve is mounted. And the lower cut out is where the starter fluid container, hand pump, and vlaves are mounted. (All of these are mounted on the fighting compartment side of the bulkhead.) The "L" shaped object, appearing in the center hole, is the tip of the moveable bracket for the commander's scissors periscope. The next photo shows more of this bracket with anangled shot of the same bulkhead. The triangle shaped arm, that ends with the "L" shaped tip, rotates about the vertical post and may be raised and lowered to adjust the height of the periscope. Note the wing nut for tightening the arm in place. As shown, the assembly is in the "stored" position. The following two photos show the bulkhead which forms the left sidewall and rear of the commander's position, which is a small "nook" directly behind the gun. This bulkhead attaches to the previous one near the periscope bracket edge. The slope of the rear hull deck can be seen in the upper edge of this bulkhead in the first of these two photos. The holes in the plate are access points to the engine compartment. There is a removable plate that covers the upper hole and the lower one is beneath the level of the sheet metal box that forms the commander's seat. The second of the photos is just another view of the same bulkhead. The final photo in this series shows the fume extractor duct lying upside down. The rectangular opening at the bottom of the photo is the point at which the duct connects to the bulkhead. The rounded sheet metal piece is the cover which goes over the reduction gears between the engine and the driveshaft. The rectangular plate leaning against the wall is of unknown origin.

The engine is examined next. The first photo shows a partially disassembled engine as seen from the rear of the vehicle. The drive shaft coming out of the engine is the shaft that drives the cooling fan. Note that this shaft goes through an opening in the body of the radiator, as the radiator is mounted between the engine and the cooling fan. The following two photos show the cylinder head, valve train and valve cover as viewed from the front and rear. The next photo shows the actual drive shaft which runs from the engine forward through the crew compartment to the transmission located at the front of the vehicle. Also seen is a portion of the right rear fender with the bracket for mounting the vehicle jack when not in use. Next we see the two halves of the protective shroud which encloses the driveshaft, thus offering some protection to the crew from the spinning shaft. Seen in this photo and the next, are the shrouds which enclose the universal joints at either end of the driveshaft. The holes provide for visual inspection of the universal joints without the need to unbolt the shrouds.

The final part of our examination begins with several photos of what I believe is the motor oil reservoir after extraction from the vehicle. The tank is shown from three different angles. Following this are three photos of the radiator. The first photo shows the radiator from the front, or side facing the engine. The hole in the lower center of the radiator, surrounded by the lighter color square, is where the cooling fan drive shaft passes through the radiator. Remember, the radiator sits between the engine and the cooling fan. On the right side of the radiator as shown, is the built-in transmission oil cooler assembly. The transmission oil flows through lines back to the radiator and is cooled just as the engine coolant does, although the two cooling units are distinct from each other internally. The next photo shows the radiator from the left side. Notice the slant of the radiator. This is made necessary by the angle of the rear hull plate of the vehicle, which requires the cooling fan to be mounted with the same angle and thus also the radiator. The third photo of this group shows the radiator from the rear. The coolant filler port is clearly seen on the top right side of the radiator in this picture. The final three photos show the cooling fan components. Obvious in in the first two, is the squirrel cage fan itself along with part of the fan shroud assembly. The last photo shows the forward section of the fan shroud. The drive shaft for the fan passes through the bearing at the center of the four spokes. The angled part on the left side, as shown in the photo, directs the exhaust air up and out the grill located in the rear deck of the vehicle. Note that the shroud is lying on its side and exhibits the damage caused by water collecting in the bottom of the fan shroud over the past fifty years. The shroud is completely eaten away by the corrosion. This is a water collecting spot anytime it rains or the vehicle is washed. As soon as the engine is started, a spray of water shoots upwards from the grill and the shroud is emptied of the collected water. But sitting idle for many years allows the corrosion to continue eating away at the metal.

This concludes our photographic autopsy of the Hetzer. Our findings? The vehicle was possibly abandoned by the crew when the gun recoil mechanism failed, causing the gun to not return to battery although it is not known if this condition actually occured in combat or after the vehicle was brought to Canada. No evidence of foul play was found, i.e., no penetrations of the armor by enemy fire. No evidence of a fire in the engine compartment was found. Perhaps the crew simply decided to abandon the vehicle because of lack of fuel, although attempts would normally be made to destroy the vehicle or gun if this was the case.

Fred has stated that he will continue to supply photos to me during the restoration process, so that viewers may keep abreast of the developments. To see more of Fred's site, go to: Worthington Park, CFB Camp Borden

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© 26 December, 2000

Richard Gruetzner