The Four Hole Idler

One thing which has always puzzled me (and evidently others) was whether or not any of the Hetzers used by Germany during the war had idler wheels of the four hole type as seen on the Swiss G-13 after the war. It seems all the published photos show idlers of the six, eight, or twelve hole type. And yet, Armin Sohns mentions that four hole idlers were used during the war.

With the publication of a new book titled Czechoslovak Armored Fighting Vehicles 1918-1948 by authors Charles K. Kliment and Vladimir Francev, published in 1997 by Schiffer Publishing Ltd., the "hole" story can now be told.

As was true with vehicles produced by all the combatant nations, the Hetzer underwent continual modification and improvement during the course of production. Some improvements were the result of combat experience and suggestions by the crews using the vehicles while other changes were made to simplify production. One example of the former was the mounting of handles on the roof above the driver so that he could more easily exit his position. (Especially important when attempting to depart a vehicle which has started to burn!) An example of production simplification is the series of changes made to the idler wheels of Hetzers.
According to Kliment and Francev, the idler wheel production changes proceeded as follows:

twelve holes on the original style flat plate
welded spokes with eight holes on a flat plate
eight holes in a smooth dish
stamped ribs in a dished plate with six holes
six holes in a smooth dish
four holes in a smooth dish

Thus it can now be said with some authority, that Hetzers equipped with four hole idlers were used during the war by German forces. We have the testimony of Armin Sohns, who commanded Hetzers during the war, and we have the recently published Czechoslovak Armored Fighting Vehicles 1918-1948 which includes photos of vehicles produced during the war which were equipped with four hole idlers. The book indicates that the change to four hole idlers actually occurred midway through the production of the Hetzer, although the scarcity of pictures does not readily lead to that conclusion. It should also be remembered that many photos of specialty types of Hetzers and of "projects underway" do not represent the latest versions of Hetzers in production due to the tendency of the Germans to use vehicles returned to the factory for repairs as the basis for new projects. There was also the tendency to cannibalize vehicles for spare parts while at the front, so a late production Hetzer could very well display wheels from earlier production models.

Photo evidence

The caption to this photo in the book by Kliment and Francev indicates this vehicle was captured by the insurgents in the Czech uprising in May of 1945. The vehicle was produced at the Skoda factory located in Prague. Note the idler wheel.

This is another vehicle captured during the uprising in Prague.

This is the Hetzer on display at the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum located in Aberdeen, Maryland. Note the wire mesh covering the cut away portion of the upper hull. This vehcile was once on display inside a building until the building was condemned and all the vehicles moved outside! Having been exposed to mother nature for the past thirty or forty years, one can imagine how badly deteriorated this vehicle and numerous others have become, due to the U. S. Army's neglect!

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26 June, 1999

Richard Gruetzner