MANUFACTURER(S): Various - Germany
Detailing the development and operational history of the SdKfz 135 Marder I (Marten I) Tank Destroyer (TD) / Self-Propelled Artillery (SPA).
Entry last updated on 4/12/2017.
Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
After the Fall of France, Germany confiscated several hundred Tractor Blinde 37L (commonly known as "Lorraine Tractors") which were general purpose chassis covering a variety of roles including armored personnel carrier and battlefield supply vehicles. Though these sat dormant for a time, interest in putting these systems back into action was heightened with the opening of the Eastern Front (Germany's invasion of former ally Russia). The new front presented a whole new set of problems for the German Army, chief among these was how to contend with the ever-growing presence of the stout T-34 takes of the Soviet Army - mobile machines with thick frontal and side armor mounting an impressive main gun. The idea came about to fit a static superstructure to the existing supply of captured enemy tracked systems (like the Lorraine tractor) and make use of them as conversions to self-propelled anti-tank gun systems. The line of Marder tanks was now born and - before war's end - would see three distinct models of the family attached to three distinct chassis types (the latter two utilizing surplus Panzer II chassis systems).
The Marder I appeared in 1942 and was produced to the tune of 184 examples. In appearance, these combat systems were not unlike the self-propelled gun systems of today and featured a superstructure mounted to the rear with the engine in front. The superstructure was static in that the entire Marder I system would have to be pointed in the direction of fire. The superstructure was also opened at the top and the rear, making the gunnery crew exposed to battlefield fire and the elements in general. Nevertheless, with the turret mounting the powerful and proven PaK 40 anti-tank gun, the Marder I was a born killer ready to engage light to medium armored targets.
Production of the Marder I was split between 60 dedicated tank destroying elements and a further 100 as dedicated self-propelled artillery guns. The former would feature a version of the PaK 40 designated as the PaK 40/1 L/46 whilst the latter was armed with a 10.5-cm (4.1") OR a 15-cm (5.9") main gun. The Lorraine tractor design and arrangement proved to be quite acceptable to the task and was therefore a prime candidate for conversion. Other chassis under German control, such as the Hotchkiss H39 and FCM 36, were also used in a few limited conversions falling under the same Marder I designation.
The engine was mounted in the front as it was in the original Lorraine tractor. This was of a DelaHaye 103TT in-line 6-cylinder engine developing 70 horsepower. The engine allowed for vehicle speeds of up to 24 miles per hour on ideal surfaces and an overall range of 93 miles. Armor protection surrounding the critical sides of the main gun was 12mm at its thickest and was sloped for added protection.
In combat, the Marder I was moderately successful. Most systems were kept within the borders of France and took part in the Invasion of Normandy to which many were lost in the fighting. The Marder II and Marder III systems would soon come online and feature many of the lessons learned from the Marder I conversion program. In any case, Marders would make up a strong arm of offensive power for the German Army through to the closing days of World War 2 though, by this time, the Marder I's were all but limited in their production quantity and surpassed by more purpose-built tank destroyer designs.