5 cm KwK 38/39

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Summary

The 5 cm KwK 38 and 39 are a pair of tank cannons made by Germany and fire similar 50 mm projectiles. The Kwk 38 tank armament was conceived as a replacement for the 3.7 cm (37x249 mmR) in use on the KwK 36 on early Panzer III models. The Kwk 38 fired the 50x289 mmR cartridge from a L/42 caliber barrel and was mounted on the Panzer III tank in the time period of late 1940 to 1941. The German army had also been working on a replacement for their Pak 36 anti-tank gun, which became the Pak 38 (no relations to KwK 38). The Pak 38, firing the more powerful 50x420 mmR cartridge, was quickly adapted into a tank armament known as the Kwk 39, firing from the L/60 caliber barrel, replacing the KwK 38 in service. The Kwk 39 served on the later later Panzer III models, the Puma armored recon vehicles, as well as modified onto half tracks and other improvised anti-tank vehicles such as the Panzerjäger I.

Game Usage

The 5 cm guns are a substantial firepower upgrade for the Panzer III. While the KwK 38 version is only better than the previous 3.7 cm cannon by access to APCR ammunition, the KwK 39 gives the Panzer III a very reliable gun able to penetrate ~80 mm reliably. Adding that with APCR, the KwK 39 can allow the Panzer III to compete with even some Rank III vehicles. The 5 cm cannons still suffer from their tiny caliber size, so pin-point accuracy is needed to defeat the larger vehicles to hit at the precise crew locations.

Guns of comparable performance

KwK 38

KwK 39

Users

KwK 38

KwK 39

Pak 38

Ammunition

KwK 38

Ammunition Penetration in mm @ 90° Type of
warhead
Velocity
in m/s
Projectile
Mass in kg
Fuse delay
in m:
Fuse sensitivity
in mm:
Explosive Mass in
TNT equivalent
in g:
Normalization At 30°
from horizontal:
Ricochet:
10m 100m 500m 1000m 1500m 2000m 0% 50% 100%
PzGr 39 74 73 59 45 34 26 APC 685 2.1 1.2 25 45.9 -1° 43° 30° 15°
PzGr 40/1 118 117 84 56 37 25 APCR 1005 1.1 N/A N/A N/A +1.5° 24° 20° 18°
PzGr 40 132 130 94 63 42 28 APCR 1050 0.92 N/A N/A N/A +1.5° 24° 20° 18°

KwK 39/Pak 38

Ammunition Penetration in mm @ 90° Type of
warhead
Velocity
in m/s
Projectile
Mass in kg
Fuse delay
in m:
Fuse sensitivity
in mm:
Explosive Mass in
TNT equivalent
in g:
Normalization At 30°
from horizontal:
Ricochet:
10m 100m 500m 1000m 1500m 2000m 0% 50% 100%
PzGr 39 97 96 79 62 49 38 APC 835 2.1 1.2 25 45.9 -1° 42° 27° 18°
Sprgr. 38 4 4 4 4 4 4 HE 550 1.8 2.0 0.1 170 +0° 11° 10°
PzGr 40/1 128 126 91 61 40 27 APCR 1140 1.1 N/A N/A N/A +1.5° 24° 20° 18°
PzGr 40 150 149 108 72 48 32 APCR 1180 0.93 N/A N/A N/A +1.5° 24° 20° 18°

History of creation and combat usage

KwK 38

In the early months of World War II, the Panzer III was adequate with the 3.7 cm KwK 36 cannon, but encounters with the heavier Allied tanks such as the Matilda prompted Germany to up-gun their tanks to be better prepared against these tanks. The German Army was thus prompted to develop better cannon for their Panzer III. This developed into the usage of a larger 5 cm round on a gun known as the KwK 38. The gun was L/42 caliber long and were fitted onto Panzer III's from the period of 1940 to 1941. While more powerful than the 3.7 cm shell, it was still considered under-powered against the enemies Germany expected to fight.

KwK 39

Alongside the upgrade in tank armament, the German Army wanted a better anti-tank gun for their infantry, which was the 3.7 cm Pak 36. The development started in 1938 and the result was the 5 cm Pak 38 and the gun was put into mass-production in 1939 and seeing service in April 1941. The Pak 38 gun had no relation to the KwK 38 gun and were only similar in shell diameter. The Pak 38 was also a lot more powerful than the KwK 38 due to the longer barrel of caliber L/60 compared to the KwK 38's L/42 barrel. This improved gun inspired German designers to add a gun of the same power onto the Panzer III. The adapted Pak 38 for a tank mount was designated the 5 cm KwK 39. The gun rapidly replaced the KwK 38 in German service on the Panzer III, but never fully replacing it due to low supply and high demands.

Usage

With Operation Barbarossa commencing in June 1941, the German military ran into a very unexpected resistance in the form of the T-34 and the KV-1. At the time, the Panzer III were still made up mostly with the 5 cm KwK 38 instead, leading to the inability to defeat the T-34 without special APCR ammunition. The KwK 39 that rapidly began filling the Panzer III armament was much better and even allowed the Panzer IIIs to fight the T-34s at distances under 500 meters, but still requiring APCR to defeat the KV-1s. The Panzer IIIs that were sent to the North African Theater armed with the 5 cm cannons were labeled as Mark 3 "Special" by the Allied forces as a distinction between the older 3.7 cm models.

Further development in anti-tank weaponry such as the 7.5 cm Pak 40 anti-tank gun that was adapted for the Panzer IVs, the high-velocity 75 mm gun on the Panthers, and the 8.8 cm cannon on the Tigers made the 5 cm guns and the Panzer III itself obsolete, and the tank was put into secondary-roles or modified with the 7.5 cm howitzer from the early Panzer IV to become an infantry support tank.

Images

Additional information (links)