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Depicting Anti-Tank Guns
During the Second World War, German soldiers wishing to depict anti-tank guns on maps and diagrams faced two considerable challenges. One of these was the frequency with which anti-tank guns of a given type achieved obsolescence. The other was the changes in nomenclature that resulted from the replacement of the anti-tank guns of one generation with the larger, more powerful, weapons of the next.
In 1939, German draftsmen used two symbols to depict anti-tank guns. The first, which combined the three-stroke radical for artillery piece with a single chevron, stood for the (relatively rare) 20mm anti-tank gun. The second, with two chevrons, represented the ubiquitous 37mm anti-tank gun.
In 1941, the introduction of 50mm anti-tank guns created the need for a new symbol. This problem might have been solved by placing the artillery piece radical atop three chevrons. However, rather than doing this, the authorities responsible for standardizing tactical symbols devised a set of three entirely new hieroglyphs.
The common element in all of these new symbols combined the artillery piece radical with a horizontal bar. When used alone, it represented the heaviest anti-tank gun in the German inventory of the day, the Panzerabwehrkanone 97/38. (This weapon consisted of the barrel of a French 75mm field gun mated to a new carriage.)
When the basic symbol for anti-tank gun rested upon two chevrons, the resulting hieroglyph indicated the presence of a medium anti-tank gun. This might have been a 50mm weapon of German manufacture, a 47mm piece of Czechoslovak provenance, or a 45mm anti-tank gun captured from Soviet forces.
A single chevron continued to mark the lightest anti-tank guns in the German inventory. However, the contents of this category had changed. Thus, rather than indicating a weapon with a caliber of 20mm or so, the term “light” applied to such obsolete items of equipment as the British (40mm) two-pounder anti-tank gun and, most especially, 37mm piece that, but a few months ago, had armed nearly all of the anti-tank units in the German Army.
In 1943, the general reform of tactical symbology replaced the counter-intuitive hieroglyphs of 1941 with simple two-stroke figures, each of which was marked by a letter that indicated the weight category to which the weapon in question belonged. The following year, a subsequent reform replaced the weight categories with numbers that indicated the caliber (as measured in centimeters) of the anti-tank gun being depicted.
For further reading: The symbols showcased in this article were found in various order-of-battle diagrams for German formations. For a more systematic explanation of the tactical symbols used by the German Army in World War II, see the guides posted on the website of Leo Niehorster.