Driving the Hetzer (G-13)

Did you ever have the feeling that something was about to happen?

Note: The following applies specifically to the diesel engine Swiss G-13 when speaking to engine related matters.
The Panzerfahrer (abbrieviated as PzFahrer) is responsible for the automotive well being of the vehicle. He begins by making an inspection of the exterior of the vehicle, checking for missing track pin retainers, broken track links, fluid leaks, visible damage to suspension, presence of all vehicle accessories mounted on the exterior, and any other indications of trouble. He then climbs onto the rear deck and makes a brief check of the engine compartment, ensuring that battery connections are tight and clean, v-belts are properly tensioned and have no signs of damage, fluid levels are proper, and there is sufficient fuel in the fuel tank. Then the sliding plate which closes the grating over the cooling fan must be opened to the proper amount based on the ambient air temperature. The Panzerfahrer then opens the loader's hatch on the roof of the Hetzer and drops inside the vehicle.
Once inside, the driver opens a plate directly behind the loader's seat so that the handle on the oil filter may be rotated to clean the filter and the main engine oil dip stick may be checked for proper oil level. Another dip stick is checked after opening a small access door next to the radio compartment in order to ensure that the injector pump has sufficient oil. The driver then turns on the main power switch which is located on the rear bulkhead above the left track. The driver then climbs over the gunner's seat, hangs onto the two handles welded onto the ceiling of the fighting compartment and swings himself into his seat. The base portion of his leather padded seat is adjustable in the forward/backward direction only. The seat back is also padded and is removable for easier access. The driver inserts one of the two keys into the center of the round switchplate located on the right half of the instrument panel. This completes the circuit and allows power to the instruments, lights, and gun circuit. The second key is placed into the switchplate on the far left of the instrument panel. This is the switch used for starting the engine.
Inspections are now done on the transmission and differential oil dip sticks. The valve controlling the transmission oil flow to the oil cooler is turned to the closed position. Each steering lever is pulled rearward with the button on the handle pushed and without it being pushed. This is to check for full range of motion for the steering brakes in both radius steering and point turning modes. The gear selector lever is placed into the "O" position for neutral gear and the massive clutch pedal located to the left is depressed fully and released twice. A large leather pad exists on the inward sloping hull wall so that the driver's knee is not bruised when traveling over rough terrain. The parking brake lever is checked to ensure that the brake is applied. This brake lever is connected to the vehicle's brake pedal located to the far right against the transmission and differential housing where one normally finds the accelerator pedal in a car. The Hetzer's accelerator pedal is located in the middle between the clutch pedal and the brake pedal. After checking his episcopes and putting on his headphones and microphones, the driver is ready to start the vehicle.
The accelerator pedal is depressed fully and the starter key is rotated counter clockwise to the start position. Once the engine starts, the key is released and it returns to the neutral position. The engine is run with the accelerator pedal depressed about three quarters of the way to the floor until the engine temperature reaches fifty degrees Celsius. The pedal may then be released to allow the engine to idle. Once the engine starts, the red generator light on the instrument panel should go out. The yellow transmission oil light remains on while the transmission oil flow is cut off. After the vehicle has been driven for awhile, and the transmission housing becomes warm to the touch, the oil flow is opened to the oil cooler and the yellow light should go out while the vehicle is in motion. Proper operating temperature for the engine when driving is around eighty degrees Celsius. This is maintained by adjusting the position of the sliding plate over the cooling fan. The bigger the opening, the cooler the engine.
The Hetzer is now ready to drive. A communications check is made between the crew members to ensure good communication between the commander and the driver. The driver moves the gear selector lever to first gear and released the parking brake lever while keeping his foot on the brake pedal. Upon the command to move, the driver quickly depresses and releases the clutch pedal to engage first gear. As the vehicle moves, the accelerator pedal is depressed to bring the vehicle to speed. The gear selector is moved to second gear and at the appropriate time, the clutch is depressed and released to engage second gear. Note that the movement of the gear selector lever causes nothing to happen until the clutch pedal is depressed and released. Thus the next expected gear change may be selected in advance and when the need arises, that gear may be engaged by depressing the clutch.
Steering of the Hetzer is accomplished in two ways. Radius steering, used for all normal steering, is accomplished by simply pulling on the steering lever for the direction of turn desired. This applies a braking effect to the track on that side, slowing the track in proportion to the force applied to the steering lever. Release of the lever returns full power to the track and the vehicle drives straight ahead. Point steering, used to "turn in place", is accomplished by first depressing with your thumb, the button on the handle of the steering lever and then pulling back on the lever with button still depressed. This causes that track to be disconnected from the final drive and be braked to a full stop. Power must be applied in all turns to give the tracks the force required to make the turn without stalling the engine. The Hetzer does not have the capability to reverse one track in relation to the other and turn in place. The smallest turn possible gives a turning radius of about 4.5 meters. The steering levers may be used to make emergency stops by depressing the buttons on both levers and pulling back, thus disconnecting both tracks and halting them. This is not to be used for normal stopping as you lose the braking effect of the engine.
Shifting up and down the gears requires the same consideration of engine speed, momentum, grade of the terrain etc. as one would expect. The driver must know his vehicle's capabilities and select the proper gear to enable the vehicle to complete the climb uphill without shifting gears enroute as this may cause the transmission to break. The same gear required to go uphill should be used going downhill on a similar grade. Whenever possible, the climb uphill should be made in a straight line without steering since each pull of the steering lever subtracts power from the engine and stresses the transmission.
Although driving the Hetzer is relatively easy it always requires a second person acting as the commander or as a ground guide. The reason is simple. The driver has extremely limited vision out of his episcopes and cannot judge how close he is to other objects when turning or backing. His vision is limited to the arc from about the edge of the left fender to the point where the main gun hangs over the forward edge of the hull. Anything to the right or left which is outside that arc is invisible to the driver. Thus he must have someone guide him when maneuvering in close proximity to something. A simple system of colored lights is provided above the instrument panel by which the commander may give instructions to the driver to steer left, steer right or stop should the intercom not function. The noise level inside the vehicle makes communication between the driver and commander impossible without the intercom. A commander and driver who have practiced together for some time become quite capable of steering around all sorts of obstacles in close proximity to the vehicle. But it requires experience, practice and a great deal of trust in one another. The commander must be able to anticipate the ability of his driver to respond to his commands and must know the capabilities of the vehicle as well. The driver must have blind faith in his commander to give the correct instructions at the appropriate times and must respond in a predictable manner to each command. This coordination is required in order to safely maneuver the vehicle as well as to engage in combat since the rough aiming of the gun is done by the driver at the instruction of the commander.
When it comes time to shut down the Hetzer, the driver brings it to a full stop and places it in neutral. The engine is allowed to idle for awhile to enable the temperature to level off and to cool. Oil pressure must be monitored so that it does not sink below 1.5 atmospheres or the engine may be damaged. The parking brake is applied firmly. The engine is turned off by pulling back the kill lever located alongside the left hull wall, shutting off the fuel to the engine. (Remember, this is a diesel.) Once the engine has completely stopped, the gear selector is moved to reverse gear and the clutch is depressed and released. Both keys are removed from the switchplates and the master switch is turned off. Fluid levels and all other inspections are done as needed. The sliding cover over the cooling fan is closed and the vehicle is secured until next time.
Although the above has addressed the driving of the diesel engine Swiss G-13, except for the matters relating to engine start procedures, the additional key involved etc., all driving elements are the same for the German gasoline engine version. The various manuals in the author's possession, be they war time German, post war Skoda supplied, or Swiss military all agree on the procedures and techniques involved in driving. The engines may change but the driving doesn't.

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26 June, 1999

Richard Gruetzner