Hi!, Blackwolf back again with a quick and easy guide to the German 3 digit numbering system found on armoured vehicles for people getting stuck into the hobby for the first time, or building up their first German force (good choice!).
Firstly, a brief word on the late war Panzer Division organisation to help us understand how these numbers work. German Panzer Divisions were generally made up of 1 tank regiment, 2 infantry regiments, and a number of supporting battalions (artillery, recce, pioniers, ant-tank etc). Now, lets focus on that tank regiment.
German tank regiments consisted of 2 tank battalions (Numbered I and II in roman numerals), and each tank battalion usually consisted of 4 companies. All the companies in the tank regiment were numbered consecutively from 1 to 8, with companies 1-4 in I.battalion and 5-8 in II.battalion. Occasionally, some lucky tank regiments received a 3rd battalion (III), usually equipped with something exotic, such as Tigers (so so lucky). If so, the company numbers continued on sequentially, 9-12.
OK, on to the actual 3 digit number. These break down simply as...
1st number is the company the vehicle belongs to.
2nd number is the platoon the vehicle belongs to.
3rd number is the individual vehicle number.
Thus, 215 would be 2nd company, 1st platoon, 5th vehicle.
And 731 would be the 7th company, 3rd platoon, 1st vehicle (The platoon leaders vehicle)
The company HQ tanks would have a zero in place of the platoon number, so the 2nd companies HQ tanks would be 201 and 202. Sometimes though, the HQ vehicles individual numbers started from zero, so might be 200 and 201. There was no hard and fast rule about that, so companies were generally free to choose how they numbered their HQ vehicles.
So, lets continue with the 2nd company for our example. Following is how their numbers would be organised...
HQ - 201, 202 (or 200, 201)
1st Platoon - 211, 212, 213, 214, 215
2nd Platoon - 221, 222, 223, 224, 225
3rd Platoon - 231, 232, 233, 234 ,235
4th Platoon - 241, 242, 243, 244, 245
Now, the higher command tanks. Battalion commanders used their battalions roman numeral in front of a double digit number. So the first Battalions HQ vehicles would be I01 and I02, while the second battalions HQ vehicles would be II01 and II02.
Finally, the Regimental command vehicles were distinguished with an R, appearing as R01 and R02 (or R00 and R01).
Pretty simple really. A German could look at any tank and know straight away which unit it belonged to, and which tank was the leaders. Unfortunately, the enemy worked this out pretty quickly too, and thus the Germans introduced variations to confuse the enemy!
To hide the regimental commanders, they were sometimes given a number in a non-existent company, such a 901 or 902 or even 001 or 002.
Some divisions varied their entire numbering system, such as the 12.SS-Panzer Division. They started their vehicle numbers from 5, thus a platoon commanders vehicle would be numbered (for the 1st platoon, 7th company) 715, followed by 716, 717, 718, and 719.
The Panzergrenadier units used the same numbering system on their halftracks, but as there could be more than 9 companies in a Panzergrenadier regiment vehicles in the 10th company and above used a 4 digit number, with the first 2 digits being the company number, thus halftrack number 1034 would be the 4th vehicle from the 3rd platoon from the 10th company.
Some units had an even more straight forward way of numbering their vehicles within a company. They would just start at number 1 for the company HQ and continue on from there. For example, the numbers for the 4th company would appear as such...
HQ - 401, 402,
1st Platoon - 403, 404, 405, 406
2nd Platoon - 407, 408, 409, 410
3rd Platoon - 411, 412, 413,
Some smaller units, most often a company of Tigers, would use a letter and 2 digit combination. Examples of this are the 8th company from 2.SS Panzer Division 'Das Reich', who used an S (for Schwere, meaning heavy), and thus numbered S01 and S02 for the HQ, and S11-S14, S21-S24, S31-S34.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are other variations out there, but these can be considered the most common.
A quick not also, it's important to know that in a tank regiment, the I.battalion was usually equipped with Panthers, while II.battalion was equipped with PzIV's, thus Panthers normally carried numbers starting with 1 to 4, while PzIV's carried numbers starting with 5-8. This, like most things the Germans did, was swapped around in certain divisions, and the Panthers were in II.battalion, and the PzIV's in I.battalion, but this was rare.
Below are some examples of German tanks and the 3 digit numbering system at work.
A Tiger demonstrating one of the variations to the number system