10.5 cm K gepanzerte Selbstfahrlafette “Dicker Max”
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German Reich (1941-1942)
Heavy Tank Destroyer/Bunker Buster – 2 Built
The “10.5 cm K (gp.Sfl.)” (Eng. 10.5 cm cannon (armored self-propelled gun)) or “10 cm K. Pz.Sfl.IVa” (Eng. 10 cm cannon self-propelled gun IVa), more commonly known as the “Dicker Max” (Eng. Fat Max), was a German self-propelled artillery gun. Development started in 1939, with the Army requesting a mobile “bunker buster” to destroy the fortifications on the French border. However, it would never fulfill that role, since the only two vehicles ever built were completed in early 1941, well after the end of the Battle of France.
The tank was based on the reliable Panzer IV chassis and used the standard K.18 German heavy artillery gun. The ammunition used consisted of Tungsten core rounds, which, in combination with the high velocity of the gun, had great penetration capabilities. Both vehicles were sent to the Eastern Front as tank destroyers, where one of the two would prove itself very successful, destroying a large number of Soviet tanks.
Context: The Need for a “Bunker Buster”
One of the main problems that the German High Command faced during preparation and planning for what would become the Second World War was how to defeat France. The German-French border was heavily fortified on both sides, with the French Maginot Line in the Alsace-Lorraine province and the German Siegfried Line mirroring it. In the end, two plans were prepared. The first plan was to revisit the Schlieffenplan that was already used during WW1. The idea was to invade the neutral Benelux states and invade France through the Belgian border.
The second plan was to power through the heavily fortified Maginot Line on the French-German border. However, this plan was only to be executed if the first plan failed. For this purpose alone, Germany started development of multiple heavy mortars, such as the 60 cm heavy mortar Gerät 40/41.
Beside this immense self propelled mortar, the Germans also intended to reuse the 8.8 cm Flak gun in this role. This gun was quite cumbersome to move, and in order to increase its mobility, two different proposals would be adopted.
Both of these were built in limited numbers and saw use in their designated roles. Alongside the previously mentioned projects, the need arose for a much more compact self-propelled tracked chassis mounting a powerful gun that could deal with enemy concrete bunkers.
Development of the ‘Panzerselbstfahrlafette IVa’
Because Krupp had previously developed most German tanks, the Wa Prüf 6 (Eng. Army Design Office 6) once again contacted the firm in 1938. However, because Krupp had never designed a large caliber self-propelled gun, there were many different concepts and ideas on how this SPG would look. After having agreed on some specifications, Krupp started the development in 1939.
One of the first problems that occurred was where to place the engine. Krupp submitted two drawings in April 1939. In the first drawing, the engine was placed under the gun, in the front, which resulted in a shorter overhang, reduced by 800 mm compared to the second drawing, in which the engine was placed in the center. However, putting the engine below the gun resulted in numerous disadvantages that Krupp listed:
poor access to the engine
unfavorable installation of the radiator and cooling air fans
crew encumbered by heat and fumes
noise from the engine
complicated operation of the transmission
firing height increased to at least 2 m
On the other hand, placing the engine in the center of the hull would result in a lower firing height of 1.7 m and easier access to the engine. Additionally, the center of gravity would be better placed. In the end, the Wa Prüf 6 went with the first plan, because they thought that 800 mm of additional overhang with the second engine location was too much to handle for such an SPG.
Next, it was settled that a 180 hp V-6 engine would be installed instead of a 320 hp V-12 engine. However, the drawbacks were an increased height of 100 mm. By May 1939, Krupp had to design a new variant of the SPG with the engine below the gun, a torsion bar suspension, and a 6-cylinder engine. On May 2nd, 1939, Krupp presented their new design. This design included the V-12 Maybach HL 120 engine instead of the agreed V-6, because they thought the V-6 would not be powerful enough.
Additionally, it offered easier access to the cylinders. The problem was that the V-12 was heavier and was planned to go out of production. In addition, Krupp proposed that they would use the steering unit and transmission of the VK9.01, but with dry-pin tracks and not lubricated ones. Lastly, a muzzle brake was installed. This reduced the recoil from 1,000 mm to 800 mm, which meant the gun could be moved 200 mm more to the rear. It was also specified at this point that the 10.5 cm K 18 gun was to be installed in the new SPG.
On May 15th, 1939, Krupp again met up with the representatives of the Wa Prüf 6, who decided in favor of a new design with a 200 hp Maybach HL 66 placed in the middle of the hull, with an estimated total weight of 22 tonnes. Krupp added a radiator behind the engine for better cooling. Additionally, the Wa Prüf 6 requested the recoil cylinder and recuperator be moved back to save space in the armored housing. It was also at this point that it was settled that a regular panoramic gunsight was to be used for indirect firing and a new periscope gunsight would be added for direct firing. After this, approval for constructing a full-scale wooden mock-up model was given to Krupp.
Later, Krupp would inform the Wa Prüf 6 that a weight increase could not be avoided if they intended to use a torsion bar suspension. Because of this, Krupp suggested using the Panzer IV’s leaf spring suspension to save weight. This caused a problem, as the Wa Prüf 6 had originally planned to use the torsion bar interleaved suspension with lubricated tracks with rubber pads to achieve the maximum possible speed. However, the Design Office knew that the excess weight that came with the torsion bar suspension could not be reduced from anywhere else and that, due to this excess weight, lubricated tracks without rubber pads would not work due to ground pressure limitations. The Wa Prüf 6 then thought about simply using a regular torsion bar suspension with dry pin tracks, like on the Panzer II Ausf.D1/2.
On August 10th, 1939, when the wooden mock-up model was completed, Wa Prüf 6 suggested reducing the hull width to match the one of the Panzer IV. Later, the final decision was made to limit the weight to 20 tonnes by using the 8-wheel leaf suspension and chassis of the Panzer IV. The Panzer IV was chosen over the Panzer III because, at that time, it was more readily available and lighter.
On August 21st, 1939, the decision was made to use the Maybach HL 66 P engine together with the transmission and steering unit of the VK9.02, after previously being proven to be compatible. This was very important, because higher turning power was needed, as the Panzer IV normally had a width to length ratio of 1:1.46 compared to 1:1 for the VK9.02. A maximum speed of 35 km/h was requested.
Krupp was then awarded a contract to produce two trial vehicles, with all necessary equipment and real armor. The gun was to be provided by the Wa Prüf 4 (Department for Artillery). On September 4th, 1939, Krupp presented the construction drawings. The SPG did not have a turret and the hull and superstructure were constructed as one unit. The two trial vehicles were to be completed by May and June 1940, with the armor hulls completed eight weeks prior so the gun could be mounted in time.
On the same day, the final changes before production were made. These included minor changes to the gun sights, mounts for the periscopes, changes to the gun shield, and the gunner’s hatch being made to be rectangular and counter sunk. Additionally, the range finder was omitted.
The designation for the “10.5 cm K (gp.Sfl.)” is quite complicated. First off, this article is referring to the vehicle as an SPG, because that was its original intended role, even though it was eventually used and classified as a tank destroyer.
During the entirety of the development and production, it was referred to as “10 cm K. Pz.Sfl.IVa”, which stands for “10 cm Kanone Panzer Selbstfahrlafette IVa” (Eng. 10 cm canon self-propelled gun IVa). On August 13th, 1941, the name was changed to “10.5 cm K (gp.Sfl.)” which stands for 10.5 cm Kanone (gepanzerte Selbstfahrlafette) (Eng. 10.5 cm canon (armored self-propelled gun)). After the war, the name “Dicker Max” appeared, which is nowadays the most popular name for the vehicle, presumably due to its simplicity and funny connotations.
Interestingly, in a diary entry of the commander of the second SPG, Kurt Hildebrandt, he gives the vehicle’s nickname as “Brummbär”.
The article iwill use the original designation when referring to the development/production/design sections and the second description when referring to everything after August 1941.
During production, on October 11th, 1939, Wa Prüf 6 again met up with Krupp. They informed Krupp that the transmission of the VK9.02 would not be installed and the regular SSG 46 transmission should be used instead. However, this significantly reduced the speed to 25 km/h, as the gear ratio was only 1:8 at 188 hp.
During a production report in April 1940, Krupp stated that they were working on the next generation of AFVs, which included the “10 cm K. Pz.Sfl.IVa”. The completion date was extended to August 1940, since the need for such an SPG was reduced after the invasion of France, as the Germans attacked around the heavy fortifications of the Maginot Line. However, Krupp would only complete the two SPGs in January 1941. During a demonstration for Hitler on March 31st, 1941, it was decided that serial production could begin in spring 1942. However, this was never implemented and only the two AFVs were ever produced.
The 10.5 cm K (gp.Sfl.)’s hull was slightly redesigned in comparison to a standard Panzer IV hull. The forward-mounted transmission was unchanged. The difference was that it received a new angled top armor plate cover that completely enclosed it. The two hull frontal brake access hatches, including the large square-shaped bolted hatch, were retained. The engine and driver’s positions were moved to the center of the hull. The gun and its mount were placed directly above the enclosed engine. Lastly, to the rear, was the crew fighting compartment.
Given that this vehicle was based on a Panzer IV chassis (unspecified version, but likely the Ausf.D or E), it used the same suspension. This consisted of eight small double wheels placed on each side, suspended in pairs, and placed on four bogie assemblies. The small road wheels were suspended by leaf-spring units. There were also four return rollers on each side. Finally, the drive sprocket was at the front and the idler at the rear.
The suspension was to be taken from the Panzer IV Ausf.E, while the drive sprocket appear to be taken from Ausf.D. The difference was in the covering caps. This basically changed nothing, as these were only minor mostly changes and performed the same. It also does not help that the Germans often mixed older and newer components on their vehicles.
In its early development phase, Wa Prüf. 6 and Krupp engineers often discussed what type of suspension to use. Several different proposals were made. This included the use of a torsion bar suspension and lubricated tracks without rubber pads. Ultimately, at the insistence of Krupp engineers and with the aim of saving weight and easing production, the use of the Panzer IV’s suspension was chosen. It weighed 430 kg less than a Panzer III’s torsion bar suspension. In addition, it provided more internal room and was generally easier to maintain. It was already in production, so there would be enough spare parts and it would also help save development time. Krupp still proposed that the Army should test a prototype that used a six-wheel bogie suspension. While Wa Prüf 6 considered and even issued a production order for a prototype equipped with this suspension for testing, it was eventually canceled, and no such vehicle was built.
For the construction of this vehicle, the Panzer IV’s original Maybach HL 120 TRM engine, giving out 265 hp@2,600 rpm, was replaced with a much weaker Maybach HL 66 P, providing 180 hp@3,200 rpm. The engine was then connected to a forward mounted SSG 46-type transmission. Initially, a MAN Cletrac-type steering unit was to be used. However, this was replaced with a standard Panzer IV steering unit to simplify production.
With these changes, the maximum speed dropped considerably to 27 km/h. Krupp engineers were alarmed by the reduction of speed and requested that the transmission be changed. A possible replacement was the A.K.6 S 55, but this was not yet properly tested. To avoid delaying the project, it was decided to keep the SSG 46 transmission despite the reduction in speed. The change of engine also reduced the overall operational range, which was 170 km on road and 120 km cross-country. The fuel tanks were located in the front part of the hull, but their capacity is not specified in the sources.
The engine itself was moved to the center of the hull in order to allow for the necessary room for the crew. The engine was placed in a fully enclosed casing. Two ventilation ports were placed above the engine compartment. This arrangement would later be used on many German vehicles adapted for various roles, including the 15 cm armed Hummel self-propelled artillery, which was also based on the Panzer IV.
The decision to replace the engine with a weaker one was mainly motivated by the need to keep the vehicle’s overall height as low as possible. This decision would greatly and negatively affect the overall drive performance of the 10.5 cm K (gp.Sfl.). Given the reduction of speed, the whole point of providing a mobile support vehicle was lost. In order to engage a target, the whole vehicle had to change positions often, and, together with a weaker engine, often led to overheating problems.
For the construction of the superstructure of this vehicle, the Germans especially wanted to avoid using complex-shaped armor plates. Instead, they went for the simplest design possible. Starting from the front, the Germans added an enclosed housing to the left of the gun, where the driver was positioned. It was a simple box-shaped compartment with a front mounted pivoting driver vision port, vision slit to the left, and a hatch on top. The driver’s protective visor, the Fahrersehklappe 50, was 50 mm thick. When the visor was closed, the driver would use a binocular periscope to see through two small round ports located just above the visor. Opposite this compartment, the Germans placed another fake one. It was meant to confuse enemy gunners, so that they had a harder time hitting the driver.
The front superstructure plate armor was made of one large piece with a hole in the center for the gun itself. The side armor consisted of four welded armor plates. The lower two were placed straight up, while the upper two were slightly angled toward the center of the vehicle. The upper part of the side armor was cut down as it went toward the rear part of the vehicle. This was done intentionally to reduce the weight of the vehicle and would appear commonly on many later German vehicles of similar design. The rear part of the vehicle was protected by one larger armor plate. Two escape hatches were placed there.
The top part of the vehicle was mostly open. The exception was the front part of the vehicle, where the gunner’s periscope was positioned. In front of it was a small bullet splash protector. The rear part of the vehicle was also lightly protected in order to provide the loaders with some level of protection against aerial attacks. The crew fighting compartment was left open to facilitate ventilation of the smoke created during gun firing. It also provided a good view of the surroundings, reduced production cost, and overall weight. The downside though is obvious, as the crew was exposed to enemy fire and the elements.
The thickness of the armor, like many other components, was determined by the weight limitations of the vehicle. To prevent the vehicle from becoming too heavy, the armor was kept relatively light. To enhance protection, the front armor plates were face-hardened.
The front hull had a thickness of 50 mm, while the upper front superstructure armor measured 30 mm. The box-shaped gun mantlet had a thickness of 50 mm. In contrast, the side hull and superstructure armor were thinner, measuring only 20 mm. The rear armor was even lighter at 10 mm. The upper armor varied between 10 and 20 mm in thickness.
The Germans made an intriguing addition to the vehicle by including a thin armor cover for the ammunition bins, even though the crew compartment was open-top. This feature aimed to offer some protection against potential attacks from enemy aircraft. However, doubts remain regarding the actual effectiveness and practicality of this measure.
In general, the armor thickness of the vehicle was considered relatively insufficient when compared to the standards of 1941. Nonetheless, the presence of a powerful and long-range gun helped alleviate this concern to some extent. The vehicle had the ability to engage targets from a distance, potentially preventing them from mounting effective counterattacks, at least in theory.
Main Armament – The 10.5 cm K18 Gun
The main armament chosen for this vehicle was the 10.5 cm K18 gun, which had been developed in the late 1920s. The designation “K18” was intentionally misleading, as the Germans were prohibited from developing new artillery after World War I. By using designations that falsely implied it was a pre-World War I design, they were able to bypass these restrictions. The K18 gun incorporated elements from both Krupp (carriage) and Rheinmetall (gun), which were merged together into a single design. Production began in 1933 after a successful testing phase, following a standard pattern similar to other modern German artillery pieces.
The gun featured a split-trail carriage and was connected to two large leaf-spring-suspended solid rubber-rimmed wheels. The barrel, housed in a protective jacket, was a single-piece design connected to a horizontally sliding breech. The gun was designed for towing by trucks or half-tracks, and if necessary, it could also be towed by horses, although in this case, the barrel had to be removed and placed on another trailer. It had a traverse range of 64° and an elevation range of 0° to +48°. With the strongest charge, it had a maximum firing range of just over 19 km. The gun weighed 5,640 kg when in action.
Despite its relatively long-range capabilities, the 10.5 cm K18 gun was considered to have a small caliber, despite its large size. However, it remained in use until the end of the war. An interesting aspect is that in the early stages of the war and during the invasion of the Soviet Union, it was often employed in anti-tank roles.
In order to fit inside this particular vehicle, the 10.5 cm gun had to undergo redesign. The gun was removed from its carriage and placed on specially designed mounting points located on top of the engine compartment. To accommodate the limited space, smaller recoil cylinders and recuperators were utilized. These modifications allowed for the omission of a large gun mantlet. Despite the reduced size, the gun maintained a sustained rate of fire of 120 rounds per hour (2 rounds per minute). A large muzzle brake was incorporated into the design, although it was later replaced by a smaller one when the gun was deployed on the frontlines. Additionally, a large travel lock was added to the front of the gun to support its heavy weight and long barrel.
The design of the vehicle’s gun system had some shortcomings, particularly in terms of its limited traverse and elevation capabilities. The gun had a traverse of only 16° and an elevation range of -15° to +10°. To operate the gun, the control wheels for both elevation and traverse were positioned on the left side of the vehicle, ensuring convenient access for the gunner. Each full rotation of the traverse wheel resulted in a traverse speed of 0.7°, while the elevation speed ranged between 0.7° to 0.8° per wheel turn.
The 10.5 cm gun exhibited remarkable anti-tank capabilities that served as a notable strength despite its design limitations. With a muzzle velocity of around 822 m/s (this varies slightly in different sources), it could penetrate up to 155 mm of armor at a range of 500 m. At a distance of 1 km, it was capable of defeating 128 mm of armor, and at 1.5 km, it could pierce 111 mm of armor. These exceptional performance characteristics established it as one of the most effective anti-tank weapons during the early years of the war.
The 10.5 cm gun employed a two-part ammunition system, comprising a propellant and a round. Although this type of ammunition slightly reduced the firing rate, it offered several advantages. It facilitated convenient storage within the vehicle and allowed for loading regardless of the gun’s position. Additionally, during firing, the gunner had the flexibility to utilize one or more charges as required. The ammunition load for the vehicle consisted of a total of 26 rounds, which were stored both on the right side of the crew compartment and in close proximity to the driver’s position.
The gunner would employ the Selbstfahrlafetten-Zielfernrohr for direct firing, specifically targeting enemy armor. However, when fulfilling the role of mobile artillery for firing support at long distances, the Rundblickfernrohr 34 would be utilized instead. The effective range for direct firing was limited to 3 km, providing the 10.5 cm gun with substantial firepower to engage distant targets. Nevertheless, due to various factors such as poor visibility, adverse weather conditions, ammunition quality, or sheer luck, engaging enemy armor at longer ranges was infrequent.
While no secondary machine gun was incorporated, the crew members were equipped with 4 MP 40 submachine guns for close self-defense purposes alongside two magazine pouches for each weapon.
The crew of the vehicle consisted of five: commander, driver, gunner, and two loaders. The driver enjoyed full protection as he was situated in the small driver compartment. The commander occupied the position on the right side of the gun and was equipped with a doppelscheren Turmspaehfernrohr scissor periscope for observing the surroundings. The periscope offered a 3x magnification and a 20° field of vision. Positioned opposite the commander was the gunner, while the two loaders stood behind them, prepared to load the gun.
Organization and Doctrine
The two 10.5 cm K (gp.Sfl.) were assigned to one of the most famous German early to mid-war anti-tank units, Panzerjäger Abteilung 521 (Anti-Tank Battalion 521). This battalion fielded various anti-tank weapons, including the Panzerjäger I and the larger Panzerselbstfahrlafette für 12,8 cm Kanone 40. During Operation Barbarossa, the unit was initially part of the XXIV. Army Corps and later came under the command of the 3rd Panzer Division in September 1941. It was later incorporated into the XVII. Army Corps and participated in the Battle of Stalingrad, where it was ultimately destroyed as part of the 6th Army.
Within the Anti Tank Battalion, the two 10.5 cm K (gp.Sfl.) were organized into a new platoon, which consisted of a fighting column and an ammunition transport column. The fighting column included two 10.5 cm K (gp.Sfl.) vehicles, two Kfz.4 anti-air defense cars, and a Kfz.15 radio communication vehicle. This composition allowed for both direct and indirect fire capabilities, contributing to the battalion’s effectiveness in combat.
The primary purpose of this particular self-propelled gun was to engage and destroy heavily fortified concrete bunkers at long distances, all while maintaining its mobility on the battlefield. Additionally, it served as a formidable weapon against heavy tanks that were impervious to other anti-tank weapons. However, due to its delayed deployment, it did not have the opportunity to fulfill its original intended role during the events in France in 1940. Instead, when it was eventually sent into the Soviet Union in 1941, its focus shifted primarily to its secondary role of engaging and combating enemy tanks.
First stage – Operation Barbarossa and Early Losses
The following reports come from Panzerjäger Abteilung 521, which participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941. The first operational report comes from 24th June 1941.
The platoon was employed in a vanguard in the fight around the area east of Kobryn, where it fired HE rounds at infantry positions. In the evening, the platoon was supporting an attack by motorcycle gunners that crossed over a river. The SPGs engaged open artillery at a range of 1,100 to 1,700 m and successfully disabled them.
During the advance on Slutsk on June 26th, 1941, an unfortunate incident occurred which resulted in the destruction of one of the self-propelled guns. Although the exact cause was not definitively determined, it is believed that the intense heat generated from the engine, combined with the exceptionally high temperatures outside on that day, led to a buildup of heat. Within the area, a small quantity of high-explosive (HE) grenades was stored, which likely ignited as a result.
Fortunately, the crew members were quick to react when they noticed a small burst of flame, allowing them to promptly evacuate the vehicle. All five crew members observed the SPG continuing to move for a short distance before coming to a halt. However, shortly thereafter, the flames spread and reached the main ammunition storage, causing a catastrophic fire. As a result, the vehicle was completely destroyed and had to be abandoned at the roadside. Remarkably, despite the loss of the vehicle, it was reported that the gun of the SPG remained intact and was still usable.
On June 30th, 1941, the final remaining self-propelled gun confronted a Soviet armored train but was unable to halt its escape to safety. The SPG encountered an internal problem with one of its components, specifically a broken bolt in the slide mechanism of the steering brakes. This malfunction significantly impeded the gun’s ability to aim accurately at the target. Consequently, the team lost approximately 5 minutes of crucial time, during which the armored train managed to elude capture and find a secure location.
On August 20th, 1941, the self-propelled gun found itself engaging an enemy column from a considerable distance of over 4,000 m. This was primarily due to the absence of a closer firing position that would ensure the SPG’s safety. As the enemy tanks opened fire, their long-range shots and the continuous movement of the column hindered their ability to aim accurately, providing relative safety for the SPG.
To engage the column, the SPG employed high-explosive (HE) grenades with delayed fuzes set to the maximum range of 2,400 m. Although the crew initially estimated the distance to be 3,000 m instead of the actual 4,000 m, they skillfully targeted the column with well-placed hits and multiple spotting shots. Following the German tank crew’s training protocol for column destruction, the gunner aimed at the first tank in the column using a pre-loaded HE grenade. While a direct hit was not achieved, subsequent observation revealed damage to the tank’s tracks.
Continuing the engagement, the SPG fired three additional rounds of regular armor-piercing ammunition at the same tank. However, none of the shots hit their mark, as the gunner had to rely on trial and error to adjust the gun’s elevation beyond the effective range of 2,400 m. Later, it was observed that the crew of the enemy tank, identified as a KV-1, intentionally destroyed their own tank and managed to escape.
In addition to the destruction of the first tank in the column, two more tanks, likely T-34/76 mod.1941s, met a similar fate. The rounds fired by the SPG caused damage to the suspension of these tanks, rendering them immobile. Subsequently, the crew of each tank took the decision to set their vehicles on fire, effectively destroying them.
During a defensive battle on August 29th and 30th, 1941, the Battalion encountered Soviet tanks. On the 29th, the gunner and commander of the SPG scouted the area to identify suitable defensive positions and gain a better sense of the distances to specific points, making the aiming process easier. Upon returning to the tank, a Soviet T-34 approached their position, unaware of the presence of the SPG. Exploiting this advantage, the crew successfully destroyed the tank at a close range of 100 m. Subsequently, they engaged a second T-34 at approximately 1,000 m, managing to immobilize it. However, the Soviets recovered the disabled tank under the cover of darkness later that night.
On August 30th, 1941, the SPG encountered a T-34 tank and two T-26 light tanks positioned approximately 1,200 m away. However, the SPG was unable to advance closer due to the presence of Soviet anti-tank positions in the area. Despite the challenging circumstances, the SPG successfully immobilized the T-34 tank but failed to hit the T-26 tanks, which managed to escape into a nearby forest.
Regrettably, the available records for the 10.5 cm, K (gp.Slf.) conclude at this point. Towards the end of 1941, the sole surviving vehicle was withdrawn from the frontlines.
Second stage – Into Stalingrad
After being withdrawn from the frontlines, the SPG underwent extensive repairs and maintenance at the Krupp facilities. The vehicle required significant repairs and was repainted, resulting in the loss of its kill markings. During this time, Krupp proposed using a new Panzer IV chassis, but the Army Design Office rejected the offer, stating that the existing suspension would suffice.
In spring 1942, the SPG was deployed back to the frontlines, once again assigned to Panzerjäger Abteilung (Sfl.) 521, which had survived the unsuccessful attack on Moscow in the winter of 1941. Alongside two similar vehicles, known as the Panzerselbstfahrlafette für 12,8 cm Kanone 40, the SPG was expected to be combat-ready by June 1st, 1942. It subsequently participated in operations such as Case Blue and the assault on Stalingrad, with the objective of capturing the oil fields near Stalingrad.
During this period, from spring to October 1942, the recorded history of the SPG is scarce, suggesting that the Army Design Office had less interest in its performance. It is likely that the vehicle was seen more as a reserve vehicle to plug equipment gaps in the Wehrmacht, rather than a subject for further testing or development. By this time, the Army Design Office had likely accumulated sufficient knowledge and experiences from previous operations, diminishing the need for detailed documentation of the SPG’s activities during this period.
The SPG met its demise in October 1942, as indicated by the absence of any mention of the vehicle in inventory reports from November and December of that year. The last known photograph of the tank was taken in December 1942 by Soviet soldiers. In the photo, the vehicle is seen in its original dark gray color with patches of sand yellow applied over it. Additionally, the tank underwent white washing, resulting in an interesting camouflage pattern. This type of camouflage was commonly employed by vehicles entering combat during the summer of 1942. The SPG featured a total of 18 kill rings and a small tank symbol painted on the barrel, reminiscent of the markings added by the crew in 1941.
According to the Army Design Office’s request, the crews and unit were tasked with closely monitoring and describing the flaws and performance of the 10.5 cm, K (gp.Slf.) during combat. The following points are based on reports from July to September 1941, shortly before the second vehicle was sent back to Germany:
The vehicle’s effectiveness in the vanguard was limited due to its lack of maneuverability. With a combined traverse of only 18°, the entire tank needed to turn even for minor adjustments. This, combined with the vehicle’s weak engine and heavy weight, significantly slowed down the aiming process. Furthermore, since only the frontal armor provided adequate protection, the tank crew had to constantly be vigilant to avoid being flanked and always keep its front facing the enemy. The nature of vanguard operations demanded the ability to engage targets from any direction without encountering such challenges.
The tank had proven its effectiveness in providing support to infantry attacks from open positions through direct fire. However, a significant challenge arose from the large dust cloud generated in front of the gun, which hindered the observation of the tank’s own shots. To overcome this issue, it was deemed crucial to deploy an observation post or a dedicated team led by a fire control non-commissioned officer (NCO) who possessed knowledge of both the crew and the vehicle. This team’s role was to provide accurate observations and assist in adjusting fire, thereby maximizing the tank’s effectiveness in combat situations.
The tank had not yet been utilized in its intended role as a concrete bunker destroyer with direct fire. However, its large caliber and high penetration demonstrated in the destruction of medium tanks indicated its effectiveness.
The transmission and engine did not encounter any major issues. However, there were concerns regarding the overstressing of the steering brakes, leading to bolts in the steering slide tearing out.
Achieving direct hits on heavy tanks like the KV-1 at ranges of 4,000 m proved challenging. Destruction or damage to the suspension primarily resulted from shell fragments, which sometimes led the crew to abandon and destroy their tank. However, this occurrence was not consistent, with instances where the enemy crew managed to tow their tank away during nighttime.
Due to the gun’s capability in engaging soft skin targets up to 4,000 m, it was recommended to mark the range scale accordingly. However, most armored targets could only be effectively engaged at a range of 1,500 m.
Prior to each firefight, it was crucial to scout the terrain in order to identify an optimal firing position. This task could be carried out by either the commander or the gunner.
Engaging moving targets proved challenging, especially at longer distances. The limited traverse of 9º on either side was insufficient for pre-aiming at targets over large distances.
It was not recommended to engage heavy tanks directly at ranges exceeding 1,000 m, as achieving penetration became increasingly challenging. Additionally, there was limited visibility monitoring the impact location of projectiles. Therefore, it was advised to engage tanks only within a range of up to 1,000 m.
In order to facilitate indirect fire with high-explosive grenades, the inclusion of a rangefinder was seen as crucial, especially for ranges exceeding 1,000 m.
The commander’s observation periscope proved insufficient and had to be replaced with a standard Scherenfernrohr (scissor telescope) for improved observation capabilities.
The encountered challenges and experiences played a vital role in the development of subsequent German self-propelled guns (SPGs), such as the Wespe and Hummel. These vehicles incorporated several of the necessary upgrades derived from the lessons learnt.
The 10.5 cm, K (gp.Slf.) served as a well-conceived initial endeavor to create a specialized self-propelled gun (SPG) dedicated to the destruction of heavy bunker positions. However, like many first attempts, it exhibited several design flaws and performance concerns on the battlefield. Nonetheless, the project held significant importance for both Krupp and the Army Design Office, as it provided valuable insights and lessons in terms of combat performance. These experiences proved instrumental in the development of subsequent SPGs during the war. Moreover, the knowledge gained alone rendered the vehicle useful for the German Army, despite its imperfections.
Furthermore, the vehicle’s actual combat performance demonstrated its effectiveness as a tank destroyer, as the second vehicle showcased its capability by successfully destroying numerous Soviet medium tanks with its powerful gun. However, it is important not to overlook the negative aspects, which significantly impacted the vehicle’s mobility and overall performance. The design flaws, in particular, played a pivotal role in the destruction of the first vehicle, highlighting a potential recurring problem if larger numbers had been produced, akin to the issues faced by many Ferdinand tank destroyers in 1943.
10.5 cm, K (gp.Slf.) Specifications
7.47 x 2.86 x 2.53 m
5 (driver, 2 loaders, gunner, commander)
On roads 27 km/h, off-road 17 km/h
On roads: 170 km, off-road: 120 km
10.5 cm Kanone L/52
3x 9 mm MP 40
Maybach HL 66 P, 6 cylinder water cooled, 6.6-liter gasoline, 180 hp
26 10.5 cm (HE and AP) shells
576 9 mm rounds
-15° to +10°
Sfl.Z.F.1, 2x 20 degrees, 3400 m for AP, 2400 m for HE
The Panzer I Ausf.C was a German light tank prototype that was part of the VK series of tanks. Initially developed by Ernst Kniepkamp, before Krauss-Maffei took over, the Panzer I Ausf.C was based on the concept of a fast and maneuverable light tank that could outperform all other tanks in terms of speed. With the first tanks completed in late 1942, they came too late to perform their intended role of being an airborne tank. In the end, they were only used in combat as regular light tanks. They saw action on the Eastern Front and Normandy with partial success due to their excellent mobility but limitations with the armament and armor protection.
Context: Development of the “Perfect” Tanks – The early VK series
In 1937, after Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp, an engineer at Wa Prüf 6, had already succeeded with the development of half-tracks, he started his next big project that would become in his eyes the best light tank. The developed chassis were classified as VK (Vollketten, Eng: fully-tracked) by the Army, which meant they were experimental. Kniepkamp believed that a tank should maximize firepower and the highest possible speed, while armor protection was less important. However, this is not to be confused with other VK projects that had nothing to do with the development of Kniepkamp’s tank.
To create his ideal tank, Kniepkamp wanted to design a light tank to achieve maximum speed. In his mind, the requirements for such a tank were the use of large road wheels without return rollers and a torsion bar suspension. Additionally, he wanted the latest engine design installed and a power-assisted semi-automatic transmission.
Nevertheless, this fixation on high speed was not as valued by the army, as high speed could only be achieved in very favorable conditions and on roads. In difficult-to-drive-through terrain such as mud, the high speeds were not as useful because the tank had to drive at a medium pace to not get stuck in the mud. However, it could have been useful during fast retreating or advancing situations.
In February 1937, Kniepkamp wrote a letter to Krupp proposing a production and development contract. However, Krupp did not agree to it initially, as they wanted more freedom for their ideas during the development of the design. In May 1937, Kniepkamp once again sent a letter to Krupp informing them that up to ten other firms had shown interest. Krupp once again rejected the proposal.
Kniepkamp decided to work with Krauss-Maffei, a German firm already heavily involved in the production of the Sd.Kfz.6-9 half-track series and therefore already familiar with interleaved suspensions. Krauss-Maffei’s first concept for such a light tank was the VK3 t (the 3 standing for 3 tonnes), developed in January 1938.
The drawing was only of a chassis. It included a torsion bar suspension with four large road wheels on each side, a Maybach NL 38 engine, and lubricated tracks. This would give the chassis a theoretical maximum speed of 80 km/h. By April 1938, this design evolved into a light tank concept with an estimated weight of 5.5 tonnes, hence the designation VK5. The chassis design was almost the same, with only a reduced speed of 75 km/h.
Why a New Panzer I?
To understand why such a new Panzer I was even needed, one must know why the old Panzer I was no longer seen as valuable by the Army in 1939. The Panzer I Ausf.A’s development started as early as 1930. Perhaps unsurprisingly, by 1939, the suspension and technical parts had become outdated, even after the introduction of the upgraded Ausf.B version. Furthermore, as had become apparent during the Spanish Civil War, the armament of only two 7.92 mm MG 13 was no longer adequate. Lastly, the top speed of both the Ausf.A and B could be improved, and since in Kniepkamp’s eyes this was the most important aspect of a tank, he was dismissive of them.
Regardless, both the Panzer I Ausf.A and B still played an important role during the early years of the war in spite of their detractors. It was only in 1941 after the Battle on Crete and the huge losses of Panzer I Ausf.A and Bs in the Soviet Union combined with the previously named factors, that the need for this new Panzer I really arose.
Development of the VK6.01
The VK5 program was abandoned due to the concept being too unrealistic to actually construct. The first concept that was actually contracted was the VK6. The 6-tonne light tank was only a chassis at first with a 6-cylinder Maybach HL 54 TRM engine, torsion bar suspension, and lubricated tracks. In theory, the tank would achieve a maximum speed of 67 km/h. The first tests were to be held in August 1939, but Krauss-Maffei had issues with the electric operation of the steering unit and could not meet the timescales.
Even before the first VK6 had even gone into production, work had already begun on a VK6 with a new Maybach HL 61 with an 8-speed semi-automatic transmission and designated as VK6.01. In October 1938, Krauss-Maffei was awarded the contract for 6 trial vehicles. In June 1939, further calculations were done which would result in a theoretical speed of 80 km/h by fitting the more powerful 6-cylinder Maybach HL 45.
After the trials of the finished VK6 prototypes were over, Krauss-Maffei, responsible for constructing the chassis, and Daimler Benz, in charge of making the turret and superstructures, were awarded contracts for the 0-Series of 40 VK6.01 Panzerkampfampfwagen I n.A. (Neue Art, Eng. new version), 0-Series meaning the vehicles were built for testing before serial production could commence. The contract was signed on April 25th 1940 and the tanks were to be finished from March to September 1941.
By the end of November 1940, Mauser (a German small arms firm) had produced 5 E.W.141s and 35 by May 9th, 1941 out of the 60 requested. The E.W.141 was a 7.92 mm high-velocity semi-automatic tank gun, which was intended as the main armament of the VK6.01 which. Of the 60 E.W.141s, 40 were to be used for the 40 requested VK6.01 and the other 20 for the newly developed R.K.9, which was a German/Austrian armored car made by Steyr which utilized wheel-cum-track technology and had the similar same turret and therefore the same intended gun. Daimler Benz was to build the turrets and the superstructures for the 40 VK6.01s and send them to Krauss-Maffei, which was responsible for building the chassis and final assembly.
The first two trial chassis were finished by July 1941. VK6.01 production was deemed as not pressing and was given less priority. This was because at this point the invasion of the Soviet Union was at full scale and the Germans were losing a lot of their medium tanks which were a higher priority for replacement. As a result, the production of the first 40 VK6.01s was to commence in October 1941 and was only to be started if it did not delay the production of more important tanks, such as the Panzer III or Panzer IV. Immediately after the prototype chassis was completed, Krauss-Maffei was to produce a suitable superstructure and test weight simulating the turret and then send the tank for testing to Berka. Additionally, a modification was requested to bolt 5.5 mm thick extra armor plates to the sides of the tank in 1941.
In January 1942, new demands were given to upgrade the two prototypes to ‘Tropen’ (Eng: tropical) standards. This meant they were to be used and should be able to operate in hot tropical climates such as North Africa or the southern Soviet Union.
The first trials were held in May 1942 when one of the prototype chassis was sent to drive the ‘Autobahn’ (Eng: highway) from Munich to Dachau, which was around 30 km, and then return cross-country. The trials had the goal to test the minimum oil pressure needed in the new triple-radius steering unit. The tests were successful with only minor changes done to the steering unit.
The actual production is poorly recorded and estimated to have occurred from the summer of 1942 to early 1943. In total, 40 of the now-designated Panzer I Ausf.C were completed. The chassis numbers ranged from the first serial produced Ausf.C 150101 to 150140.
Around the same time the VK6.01 was in development, the VK9.01 was also developed. The VK9.01 was a similar attempt to create a fast and new light tank but this time based on the chassis of the Panzer II. Both designs were intended to be produced in large numbers rather than compete for the same requirement. However, the VK9.01 had slightly more priority and the 0-Series was therefore finished earlier. In the case that the VK9.01 was not successful, 1,000 more units of the VK6.01 were to be built. In the end this was not the case as both designs were only produced in low numbers.
Although very much different from the Panzer I Ausf.A and B, the VK6.01 was still considered a sub-variant of the Panzer I and received the Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf.C (Sd.Kfz.101) designation. The VK stood for ‘Vollketten’ meaning fully tracked. In 1938, it was called Panzer I n.A. (neue Art), which translated to ‘Panzer I new version’. The official designation Panzer I Ausf.C was first used on July 1st, 1942 by the Army Office. The article will use the designation VK6.01 for the production section which often refers to only the chassis and not the completed tanks and will use Panzer I Ausf.C designation for the completed tanks.
Visually, the Panzer I Ausf.C had nothing in common with the previous Ausf.A and B models. The Panzer I Ausf.C had a hull, superstructure, and turret. The suspension consisted of interleaved road wheels and the turret was outfitted with a unique anti-tank rifle. It is characterized by its iconic off-center turret, high speed, and being the only Panzer I armed with a high-velocity gun.
Hull and Superstructure
Due to the large engine, the Panzer I Ausf.C’s hull and superstructure were relatively high compared to other German light tanks. The tank itself was 4.195 m long, 1.920 m wide, and 2.010 m tall.
On the front side of the hull, there were two towing hooks. The tracks were protected by mudguards on which two headlights and a headlamp for night driving were placed. Later during production, fuel canisters, storage boxes, shovels, and a jack were placed on the mudguards. Additionally, 3 smoke launchers were placed on the right fender. The superstructure under the turret was shaped like a hexagon and had on the front side a large armored visor for the driver on the left side. On the left side of the tank was an additional visor slit for the driver. There was a small hatch for the driver to get out on top of the superstructure. However, this was blocked by the turret and gun most of the time.
On the rear side of the superstructure was the engine deck with two large hatches for accessing the engine and a smaller one for the fuel tank. Two exhaust grills were placed on the rear side next to the engine access hatch.
Inside the tank on the left side, there were replacement items such as spare glass blocks, spare barrels for the main gun, and ammunition bags for the machine gun. In the rear end of the left side were the ammunition boxes and a fire extinguisher. On the front side, there was a seat for the driver with a steering wheel and a radio set. The driver had the option to look through the binoculars or the visor. On the right side of the tank, there were extra ammunition boxes, a first aid kit, spare machine gun barrels, and a gas mask container. On the rear right side were additional parts for the radio set and another gas mask container. The slip ring contact for the turret was placed in the middle of the tank.
Frontal armor protection was 30 mm of face-hardened plates capable of sustaining fire from 2 cm armor-piercing projectiles. The side and rear armor was up to 20 mm thick. During a later modification, it was decided to bolt extra 5.5 mm armor plates onto the sides. The roof was 10 mm thick.
The Panzer I Ausf.C, as intended by Kniepkamp in his light tank VK series, had an interleaved Schachtellaufwerk (Eng. overlapping torsion bar suspension). Due to the narrow wheelbase and track contact length, the tank had an excellent steering ratio of 1:0.85. This was most desirable because it prevented the tracks from breaking during high speeds when steering, but also because the low contact length of the tracks reduced friction with the ground, making it easier to steer the vehicle.
On the downside, this relatively unusual steering ratio caused by the short distance between road wheels could in theory have resulted in over steering and possibly even tipping the vehicle over. It was not recorded how it performed in practice.
There were five 650 mm diameter twin road wheels on each side supported by torsion bars. The first and last torsion bars had shock absorbers. On the rear side of the suspension, there was a 540 mm diameter adjustable idler wheel on each side. On the front side, there was the drive wheel on each side connected to the transmission that drove the tank forwards.
There were 52 lubricated track links on each side with rubber pads. The lubrication was an important factor as it allowed higher speeds and faster track rotations.
By May 1942, the decision was made to only use unlubricated tracks with 89 track links on each side. This decision was made because the Panzer I Ausf.C was seen as not relevant at this stage of the war and the lubrication and rubber were needed elsewhere. Additionally, the increased weight of up to 8 tonnes was not suitable for the rubber pads anymore. Interestingly, it was also demanded that the lubricated tracks of the vehicles which were already built at this point, including the prototype chassis, were also to be removed. This is also the reason why there are so few photos available of the Panzer I Ausf.C with lubricated tracks and no photos beyond 1942. The drive wheel also had to change and was replaced by a drive sprocket wheel with 21 teeth. Surprisingly, the maximum speed and performance were maintained with only an increased combat weight to 8 tonnes and reduced ground clearance.
Even with an increased weight of 6.4 tonnes (with lubricated tracks and without combat gear), the Maybach HL 45 P engine could achieve up to 150 hp at 3,800 rpm. Together with the 8-gear Maybach VG 15319 transmission, speeds of up to 79 km/h were theoretically possible. However, in reality, only 65 km/h was allowed at a set rpm of 3,200 even on perfect road conditions. This was due to the engine and transmission getting damaged at higher rates.
The fuel tank, capable of holding 170 liters of gasoline, was enough for a range of 300 km on roads at speeds of 65 km/h and 190 km on off-road terrain at speeds of 35 km/h.
Turret and Armament
As had been the case with the Panzer I Ausf.A and B turrets, Daimler Benz was also responsible for designing the turret of the Ausf.C. The turret was rectangular shaped and could be rotated 360º by hand with a commander’s cupola with 8 periscopes. The turret armor was sloped and made out of rigid 14.5 mm thick homogeneous armor plates, which were bulletproof against steel core 7.92 mm rounds.
The tank was armed with a 7.92 mm MG 34 tank variant, which had an armored sleeve to protect the barrel, and the 7.92 mm E.W.141, both placed inside the turret. Developed from the MG 141 (a prototype heavy machine gun developed from the serial produced MG 131), the E.W.141 (‘Einbauwaffe’, Eng. Built-in Weapon 141) was a unique self-loading but semi-automatic rifle designed for light tanks such as the Panzer I. Use of this weapon was influenced by the experiences of the Spanish Civil War, where the Panzer I severely lacked adequate armament to defeat other armored fighting vehicles.
The E.W.141 fired a very powerful 7,92 mm x 94 SmK H (tungsten core armor-piercing bullet) round, which were the same rounds as those of the German Panzerbüchse 38 and 39 (Eng: anti-tank rifle). It had a muzzle velocity of 1,170 m/s and could penetrate up to 25 mm of armor angled at 30° at ranges of 100 m. The E.W.141 had 94 rounds in total with some stored in boxes in the hull and some set up in the turret that could be automatically fed into the gun. The 2,100 bullets that included regular and tracer bullets for the MG 34 were stored in ammunition boxes on the floor with 150 bullets in each box. The E.W.141 had to be removed during long transports to prevent weather from damaging the gun.
The gunner aimed the gun with a T.Z.F.10 articulated telescope and could elevate the gun from -10 to +20º.
Crew and Communication
Like all Panzer I variants, the Ausf.C had a crew of only 2. The gunner or commander was seated in the turret and was tasked with observing the battlefield, operating the gun, and commanding the driver. The driver, sat on the left side of the hull, was tasked with driving the tank and operated the radio.
Instead of a regular FuG 2 or 5, the driver operated a Funksprechgerät a (Eng. Two-way radio a). This new radio had a range of 2-3 km stationary and 1 km on the move. The 1.4 m long antenna was on a flexible rubber base on the turret next to the commander’s cupola.
Whilst Kniepkamp’s plan was just to have a fast light tank, the army, for a yet unknown reason, gave the Panzer I Ausf.C a more specific role which was described in a report from July 1941. At this time its official name was still Panzer I n.A. and it was to be used by paratroopers as an airborne tank. Due to its low weight and high mobility, it would have been perfect for this role. It would have been transported by the large Messerschmitt Me 321 Gigant cargo and transport glider.
The idea or the reason behind why the Germans even wanted such a tank is described from the results of Operation Mercury which ended a month prior.
Operation Mercury was the first large scale paratrooper operation where, unlike in the Netherlands or in Norway in 1940, the paratroopers landing were not initially supported by land forces. The objective was to capture the island of Crete which was protected by a British garrison. In theory, the plan was that the German troops would land near the barracks and win a quick victory.
In reality, although a victory for the Axis, casualty-wise, it was a disaster. One of the main reasons was poor preparation and a lack of proper reconnaissance, so German paratroopers would land directly on the British barracks without any weapons, as the weapons were in separate containers which were easily captured. When landing near urban centers, German paratroopers were shot at by Greek farmers with shotguns or got stuck in trees and then got picked up.
Based on the experiences of the entire operation, the Germans intended to implement two new weapons. Firstly, they introduced a light small automatic rifle that would later become the FG 42 to be carried during the initial drop. Secondly, they planned to introduce a small tank to be used in tandem with the airborne troops to increase the firepower available. This was of course the Panzer I Ausf.C.
As an alternative or secondary role, the Panzer I Ausf.C was envisaged for use by colonial armored units operating in mostly hot climates. The term “colonial” does not directly mean colonial in the classic sense. It means it would have been used as a garrison tank for the territories controlled for example in Southern Europe or in North Africa. This was further shown by the changes made to the fan drive in 1942 which converted it to a “tropical” tank.
Establishing the Panzer I Ausf.C’s camouflage is rather complicated. In some photos in front of the Krauss-Maffei factory, the tank appears in dark gray and some in dark yellow RAL 7028. This is due to the first Panzer I Ausf.Cs being completed in July 1942, when German AFVs were still painted in dark gray and the last Panzer I Ausf.Cs were completed in early 1943, when the order was sent that all AFVs were to be painted in dark yellow.
In addition to the dark yellow order, olive green and rust red paint were distributed amongst the troops. With the new paint, some of the Ausf.Cs deployed for training in France in 1943 were painted in a 3-tone camouflage pattern.
Similar to the production, the actual combat use of the Panzer I Ausf.C is poorly recorded and not explained in detail in any given source. In addition, it is important to know that the tanks were never used in their intended role as airborne tanks, as after the disastrous casualties suffered in Operation Mercury, Hitler feared using paratroopers in airborne operations. Even though alongside the introduction of the FG 42 light machine gun this tank was to mitigate some of the problems previously experienced, neither got to be used in their intended role.
It was used to some degree in its role as a “colonial” or garrison tank, as it was first stationed in Greece where fans installed as part of the Tropen modification proved adequate for the country’s hot climate.
In March 1943, the first two of the 40 completed Panzer I Ausf.Cs were sent to the Eastern Front attached to the 1st Panzer Division, 1st Panzer Regiment, 2nd Battalion for combat trials. At that point, the Battalion was not fighting on the Eastern Front and was stationed in Greece. It was not until October 1943, when the Battalion was fighting on the Eastern Front during the Battle of Kiev, that one of the two Ausf.Cs was lost. The other one, which was also the first serial production Ausf.C, remained in service until December 1943, when it was sent back for repairs, ending its career on the Eastern Front. Interestingly, an inventory report of the 1st Panzer Division from July 7th 1943 states that no Panzer Is were fighting alongside the Division, which would mean that they were not counted as regular Panzer Is. It is presumed that the one Panzer I Ausf.C that was lost in October 1943 was destroyed beyond recovery since the Soviets never captured an example.
Some of the 38 Ausf.Cs were sent to the LVIII. Panzer Reserve Corps also in 1943 while others were sent to Panzer Abteilung Norwegen (Eng. Tank Battalion Norway), which was training in France at that time. They were to be used as training tanks and anti-partisan tanks similar to how its much heavier ‘brother’, the VK9.01 Panzer II Ausf.G, was used. Both units consisted of tanks that were deemed less important and almost useless for frontline fighting. Alongside the Panzer I Ausf.Cs, many ex-French tanks were organized into these units.
With its light but bulletproof armor, fast speed, and high-velocity armament, it was effective at dealing with partisans. When the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944, the LVIII Panzer Reserve Corps was called into action and converted into the LVIII. Panzer Corps. The Panzer Abteilung Norwegen with its Ausf.Cs was converted into the 25. Panzer Division upon the invasion. The Panzer I Ausf.Cs were presumably part of the Panzer-Lehr Division (Eng. Tank Training Division). Most of the 38 Ausf.Cs were lost in Normandy by the end of 1944. At least one example was captured by Allied troops and examined. However, the Allies concluded that it was not an important vehicle and scrapped the only potential surviving Ausf.C.
Successor – VK6.02
The VK6.02 was the planned successor to the VK6.01 Panzer I Ausf.C. In 1938, plans were made for a tank that utilized the already developed VK6.01 chassis but with a new Maybach HL 61 engine rated at 130 hp at 2,600 rpm. As of July 1941, two of the six VK6.01 chassis that had been contracted were to be completed as VK6.02s with a differential steering unit. A month later, Krauss-Maffei proposed installing a much simpler two-stage steering unit. In the end, none were ever built and the 6 prototype chassis were all VK6.01 due to the delayed development of the new engine compartment. In March 1942, sketches of the VK6.02 engine compartment were revealed with a 6-cylinder Maybach HL 50 engine rated at 200 hp at 4,000 rpm that would in theory be able to achieve speeds of 80 km/h.
Conclusion – An Engineer’s Dream
In theory and practice, the Panzer I Ausf.C was capable of driving at speeds that could only be achieved by very few other German tracked vehicles, such as the Panzer II Ausf.G. Its armor, on the other hand, was only adequate to withstand machine gun fire but not fire from other tanks and even armored cars. This made it extremely vulnerable and it had to rely on its high speed and maneuverability. Additionally, the high-velocity E.W.141 was not effective at penetrating the larger Allied medium tanks, such as the M4 Sherman, and was only effective against other light tanks and soft-skin vehicles. It is worth noting though that fighting other tanks was not its intended role. Even so, in supporting infantry as part of an airborne operation or even fighting pockets of resistance as a garrison tank, it would most likely have faced heavier weapons which would have tested its armor.
In the end, Kniepkamp’s concept for a light tank that emphasized speed was just another idea or plan made by engineers who at the time did not know what the army needed. He did not know in what state Germany would be once the tank was built, and as it turned out, the Panzer I Ausf.C made extensive use of resources that Germany did not have in large numbers, such as rubber and tungsten. Because of this, the Panzer I Ausf.C and the project were dropped and emphasis was put on more important already-developed tanks, such as the Panzer III or Panzer IV.
Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf.C, VK6.01
4.1 x 1.9 x 1.9 m
2 (driver, commander)
On roads 79 (65) km/h, off-road 35 km/h
On roads: 300 km, off-road: 190 km
7.92 mm E.W.141, 7.92 mm MG 34
Water-cooled 6-cylinder Maybach HL 45 P
94x 7.92 mm S.m.K.H., 2100x 7.92 mm S.m.K.
Bob Carruthers, Panzer I & II Germany’s light tanks, (Hitlers War machine)
Bryan Perrett, German Light Panzers 1932-1942 (Osprey Vanguard)
Horst Scheibert, Uwe Feist, Mike Dario, Waffenarsenal Panzer I
Frank V. De Sisto, German Leichte Panzer at war, (Armor at War Series)
Janusz Ledwoch, Vol. XI PzKpfw I vol. I (Tank Power)
Lucas Molina Franco, Panzer I The beginning of a dynasty
Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle, Panzer Tracts No. 1-1 Panzerkampfwagen I, Kleintraktor to Ausf.B
Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle, Panzer Tracts No. 1-2 Panzerkampfwagen I, Kl. Pz. Bef. Wg. to VK18.01
Walter J. Spielberger Die Panzerkampfwagen I und II und ihre Abarten Einschließlich den Entwicklungen der Reichswehr.
German Reich (1939-1945)
Self-Propelled Light Anti Aircraft Gun – 2,016 Built
By the time of the Second World War, modern armies were searching for ways to improve the mobility of their anti-aircraft guns. Germany initially used a simple twin machine gun mount placed on light unarmored trucks or any other available chassis. These generally had insufficient firepower and poor mobility, limiting them to operating on good roads. Something with better punch and mobility was desirable. The German Army would develop a simple solution by mounting a 2 cm anti-aircraft gun on a highly mobile half-track chassis by the start of the war. This would lead to the creation of the Sd.Kfz.10/4 and 5 light self-propelled light anti-aircraft guns. While these would eventually be replaced with a superior design, they served to provide the basic experience and prove that concept had merit, which the Germans would exploit in large numbers during the war.
Context: Need for a Light Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun
The history of the development of weapons that can bring down aerial targets goes back to the introduction of aircraft. In the German (Prussians to be more precise) case, this first took place during the siege of Paris at the end of 1870. The defenders used balloons to communicate with their forces outside of the besieged city. The Germans responded by deploying a 3.7 cm gun designed by Friedrich Alfred Krupp. Even back then, in military circles around the world, mobility was seen as a highly important aspect of any war. In order to increase its mobility this gun, it was be placed on a horse-drawn wagon.
By the start of the 1900s, with the advances in technology and industry, it was possible to test mount such guns on four-wheel motor carriages. This would lead to a series of anti-ballon vehicles being developed and presented to the German Army. One such example was the Ehrhardt Ballon Abwehr Kanone (BAK) armed with a 5 cm gun placed in a small turret with limited traverse. While this vehicle would not be accepted for service, others, like the Rheinmetall 7.7 cm gun-armed truck, would be built in some numbers.
When the war in Europe broke out in 1914, the need to protect vital industrial and military targets against aircraft became ever more pertinent. The Germans tried to increase the number of these anti-balloon trucks, but there were never enough of them. These also proved to be quite effective in engaging ground targets, especially tanks.
In the years following the end of the First World War, the German Army was forbidden from using or developing such mobile anti-aircraft platforms except for very limited numbers. This did not stop the German Army from experimenting with this concept. The anti-aircraft vehicles used in the First World War provided sufficient anti-aircraft fire to protect designated targets. Thanks to their mobility, they could relatively quickly take up new positions. As these were wheeled vehicles, their mobility off-road was greatly limited. To resolve the issue of poor mobility over rough terrain while keeping a good speed on roads, in the 1920s, the Germans tested the concept of the wheel-cum-track chassis. These vehicles used both tracks and wheels depending on the terrain, but the whole concept proved to be too complicated and ineffective and was soon abandoned.
By the late 1930s, the German Army began using a series of half-tracks, mainly as towing vehicles. These had a front two-wheel axis and fully tracked driven and steered units to the rear. While not perfect, these vehicles provided an excellent combination of driving on ‘bad’ and ‘good’ terrains. The smaller of the series, the Sd.Kfz.10, would be chosen for testing the mounting of a 2 cm Flak anti-aircraft gun in the rear position, previously used for storage. While installing smaller caliber guns may at first seem like a downgrade, the newly developed 2 cm guns had a far higher rate of fire and muzzle velocity than the older guns, being more effective.
The weapons design office wanted to make the 2 cm Flak 30 mobile. However, the chassis used had to be an already existing half-track one, so it could provide good performance through cross-country terrain. The chosen vehicle had to be already in production, so conversions from already existing vehicles were easy to perform and no additional production line was needed.
During the early 1930s, the German Army initiated a program for the development of a series of half-tracks intended to be used for towing various artillery pieces and other equipment. The smallest of the series was the Sd.Kfz.10. It was initially developed and produced by Demag AG, though other companies would later also become involved. The project began development in 1932. Two years later, the first prototype, named DI 1, would be built. That would eventually lead to the creation of the D7 version which would be used as a production model, which began in 1939. By the time production ended in 1944, some 25,000 were built.
The Sd.Kfz.10 was originally planned to be a half-tracked towing vehicle for light artillery, anti-aircraft, and anti-tank guns up to 1 tonne. In addition, it was intended to act as a light troop carrier. It was a competent overall design and saw service throughout the Second World War on all fronts. Given its rather small towing capabilities, it would eventually be replaced by larger models.
The Sd.Kfz.10/4 and 10/5
Following the urgent demands for a highly mobile anti-aircraft vehicle, the Germans decided to test if the 2 cm gun could be placed on the Sd.Kfz.10 half-track. The Sd.Kfz.10 fit the criteria demanded by the design office perfectly, as it was light and mobile whilst still able to drive cross-country. Additionally, the weight of the gun did not slow the vehicle down too much. The larger Sd.Kfz.6 and 7, while well capable of doing the job, were badly needed to tow heavier guns. Units already operated the 2 cm Flak 30 and the Sd.Kfz.10, which meant they were already familiar with them and training was therefore easy. Initial tests were carried out on the Demag half-track prototypes. Following their successful trials, production orders for these vehicles would be given.
This modification was known as the Sd.Kfz.10/4 (armed with the 2 cm Flak 30) and 10/5 (Flak 38) (Sf.) auf (gepanzerten, if armored) Fahrgestell leichter Zugkraftwagen 1-ton (Eng. self propelled on armored towing vehicle chassis 1 tonne). The Sd.Kfz.10/4 was initially developed in 1935 and started production in 1938.
It saw service until the war’s end. The Sd.Kfz.10/5, first deployed in 1943, can be seen as a direct improvement, as it featured crew protection and an upgraded 2 cm gun.
Interestingly, there is some confusion in the sources regarding this designation. For example, authors J. Ledwoch and R. Sawicki (Tank Power Vol. XCVIII Sd Kfz 10/4) mentions that the designation 10/5 was never used by the Germans. On the other hand, well-known authors T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle, mention that both designations were used in their books Panzer Tracts No.12 Flak Selbstfahrlafetten and Flakpanzer and Panzer Tracts No.22-1 Leichter Zugkraftwagen 1t. The later sources indicate that the first official mention of the Sd.Kfz.10/5 was from October 1943. Despite this, they continue, the Sd.Kfz.10/4 designation remained in use up to the end of 1944.
Production and Conversion
In May 1939, production of 370 Truppenluftschutz 2 cm Flak auf Zugkraftwgen 1t (Eng. Troop Air Defense 2 cm Anti-Aircraft Gun on Sd.Kfz.10) began, which would be completed by July 1939. The Army recieved 195 (until 1941, the vehicles intended for the army were still sent into battle as part of the Luftwaffe) and the Luftwaffe received 175. However, due to production issues, only 70 could be delivered by July. By September 1939, all vehicles had been produced. In December 1939, it was settled that the Army needed an additional 1,000 Sd.Kfz.10/4s by June 1940, and that if this was completed, production was to continue at a rate of 45 each month. Later, an order was added that specified 304 Sd.Kfz.10/4s for the Luftwaffe. Until March 1940, 927 Sd.Kfz.10/4 chassis had been built, but only 350 were completed with the superstructure by Adlerwerke. After March 1940, Adlerwerke continued completion of 25 vehicles per month. Vehicles completed in 1939 were designated Baujahr 1939 (Eng. Construction year 1939) and vehicles completed in 1940, Baujahr 1940. They differed mainly in the front bumper, where equipment was stored, and the addition of mounting ramps on the 1940 version, which were not present on the 1939 version.
In 1941, the long-term tank production program for the Army included the need for a total of 5,070 Sd.Kfz.10/4s. From July 1939 until December 1941, 736 Sd.Kfz.10/4s were actually completed by Adlerwerke of the 927 chassis without guns and armament. By 1942, an additional 291 Sd.Kfz.10/4s were completed. In total, 1,054 were built by Adlerwerke until October 1943, when production stopped.
In 1942, the last version (Baujahr 1942) of the Sd.Kfz.10/4 was introduced with a widened gun platform to fit the upgraded 2 cm Flak 38. However, these were still designated 10/4s. In January 1943, in an attempt to stop the high crew casualties, additional armor plates around the windshield were introduced. In 1943, around 375 of these armor plates were completed and fitted to not only the later 10/5s, but also the 10/4s. The first Sd.Kfz.10/5 entered service in October 1943. These vehicles featured the 2 cm Flak 38 and the additional armor was standardized. The production of Sd.Kfz.10/4s was stopped, but those which were still in service kept their original designation. Differentiating between a late Sd.Kfz.10/4 with additional armor and a Flak 38 and an Sd.Kfz.10/5 is very hard, as the vehicles differ only in minor aspects. The new contract for the Sd.Kfz.10/5 was given to Mechanische Werke Cottbus (Eng. Mechanical Factories Cottbus), which completed 275 10/5s until the end of 1943. In 1944, they completed 687 and stopped construction in 1945, with no new vehicles completed. The total number of both Sd.Kfz.10/4s and 10/5s built was around 2,016.
The Sd.Kfz.10 chassis, like all German half-tracks, could be divided into three sections. The front engine, central crew compartment, and the rear positioned crew or cargo transport compartment. Given its small size, the load capacity was rather limited, but on the other hand, transported troops could dismount very quickly from the vehicle.
The suspension consisted of two components, the front two-wheel axis and the rear fully-tracked suspension. The front steering wheels were typical German non-powered ones, which were used mostly for steering on good terrain. The torsion bar suspension consisted of five overlapping and interleaved double road wheels, a front-drive sprocket, and a rear idler. While somewhat complicated, it provided a relatively good off-road drive
The Sd.Kfz.10 was powered by a Maybach HL 42 water-cooled engine giving out 100 hp @ 2,800 rpm. With this engine, the Sd.Kfz 10 could reach a speed of up to 65 km/h. Cross-country, this was reduced to 30 km/h. With a fuel load of 110 liters, the maximum operational range was 220 km and 150 km cross-country.
The main armament of the Sd.Kfz.10/4 was the 2 cm Flak 30. This weapon was developed by Rheinmetall and adopted for use by the Luftwaffe in 1935. It was a fairly simple open bolt and recoil operated anti-aircraft gun. When deployed, the gun had a full traverse of 360° and an elevation of -12° to +90°. The maximum effective range was 2 km against air targets and 1.6 km against ground targets. The maximum rate of fire was 280 rpm, but the practical rate of fire was usually closer to 120 rpm.
Ammunition was provided in 20-round magazines. The use of such a magazine greatly diminished the gun’s rate of fire, as it was highly dependent on the loader’s training and experience.
For engaging targets, the gun was initially provided with a Flakvisier 35, which had a course and speed calculator incorporated into it. Whilst quite effective, it was too complicated and would be replaced by the much simpler Linealvisier 21 stamped sight. When deployed, the gun was placed on three adjustable legs. The gunner, which was positioned behind the gun, had the option of two different firing modes depending on the pedal trigger mechanism used. The right was for single fire and the left was for automatic fire. In front of him, the gunner had the horizontal traverse and, on the right, a vertical elevation handwheel. In case of emergency, the gun could fire while still on the trailer, with a limited traverse of only 40°.
For transport, the gun could easily be placed on a two-wheel trailer which could be then towed by almost any vehicle.
From 1941 onwards, the new Sd.Kfz.10/5 was provided with the improved Flak 38. This was a weapon intended to replace the older 2 cm Flak 30, which it never actually fully did. The Flak 38 was designed by Mauser Werke, incorporating many elements of the Flak 30 with some internal changes, such as the addition of a new bolt mechanism and return spring. It had a full traverse of 360° and the elevation range was slightly improved, going from -20° to +90°. The range against air and ground targets was the same. The firing rate was greatly increased to between 420 and 480 rpm, but the practical rate of fire was usually between 180 rpm to 220 rpm rounds. While basically the same gun, the mount is easily recognizable by the new round-shaped elements, and the gunner’s position was moved to the right side. The hand wheels, although of different design, remained in the same positions.
The mount for the Flak 38 was different and could not easily be installed on the Sd.Kfz.10/4. Nonetheless, occasionally, this was still done. In 1942, the Sd.Kfz.10 gun platform was widened from 1.89 to 2.24 m.
While primarily intended for anti-aircraft use, the 2 cm Flak guns were also provided with two types of anti-armor rounds. There was a standard armor-piercing round that was capable of penetrating 23 mm of armor angled at 30° at 100 m ranges. There was also an option to use the tungsten core armor-piercing round which had an improved penetration power of 40 mm of flat armor at the same distance. However, this round was rare due to the general lack of tungsten. Despite rather limited anti-tank capabilities, it could still be dangerous for lightly armored targets and infantry formations.
Besides the main armament, for their personal defense, the crew was usually provided with standard Mauser 98K rifles. These were stored on a special mount placed above the wheel fenders. They were initially completely exposed to the elements. It quickly became obvious to the crews that this was not a good option, given that they were quite exposed to dirt and dust. These would be replaced with a box-shaped storage bin for the rifles starting from 1942. It was also not uncommon to see the crews using other weapons for their defense, such as the MP-40 submachine gun.
The 2 cm gun was positioned on the rear part of the Sd.Kfz.10, which was previously occupied by the storage section. A simple flat platform with a few hatches to access the interior of this new compartment was added. As it was intended to be strong enough to support the total weight of the gun, the crew, and other equipment, it was necessary to strengthen its base construction. Three stabilizer connectors for the 2 cm Flak’s legs were added on top of this platform. In addition, three round-shaped mounting points were also placed on top of it. Their purpose was to act as connection points for the Flak gun’s leveling pads. This platform was also provided with wire mesh side walls (except the front) which could be folded down to provide more working space. Despite being a relatively small gun, the Sd.Kfz.10’s gun platform was rather cramped even with the folding sides.
The side walls also carried spare ammunition boxes, with four on the sides and two more to the rear. The total ammunition load carried with the vehicle was 240 rounds. An additional 640 spare rounds, together with other necessary kit, such as spare barrels, were carried in the ammunition trailer.
The initial requirements stated that, on some occasions, the gun had to be dismounted for better concealment. Before 1940, crews had to manually get the 2 cm gun down from the trailer, then on top of the chassis, which proved to be a difficult process. To speed this up, in 1940, two ramps were added to the vehicles, which, when not in use, were stored in a holder which was located in front of the vehicle. The process was very simple. First, the two ramps were put on the rear side of the vehicle. Then, two men on each side attached ropes to the gun trailer and stretched them around a metal rod. After that, a third man would adjust the trailer into position, and together, the crew would pull the trailer with the gun on top of the platform. The crew then removed the trailer and slowly dropped it on the ground. This process would take around 20 seconds. By 1941, crews were no longer required to dismount their guns during long stationing. This meant the ramps were redundant and were removed. There were also two metal support beams that could be raised. These provided stability and hold for a canvas. This canvas spanned over the vehicle and connected to the windshield at the front.
Protection and Armor
The majority of the early-built vehicles did not receive any kind of armor protection, even for the gun. Only limited numbers were provided with a gun armored shield. After the completion of the conquest of France, all available Sd.Kfz.10/4s had to be equipped with a gun shield.
This came in two forms depending on the gun used. They can be easily distinguished, as the older Flak 30 had a larger square-shaped gun barrel shield section, while the later Flak 38 had a smaller rectangular section. In addition, the Flak 38 gun shield was slightly cut off at the top on the right side to provide a good viewpoint for the gunner. The gunner was usually, but not always, provided with a small gun shield located in front of the gun sight.
The vehicle itself did not receive any kind of armor protection. As was often the case when used for ground support fire, this proved highly problematic. The crew and the vehicle’s engine were completely exposed to enemy return fire. This often led to huge problems, such as bullets hitting the radiator or the driver, which would often leave the vehicle immobilized. To somewhat resolve this issue, an 8 mm thick armored shield was added for the vehicle radiator and the driver’s compartment. The driver’s compartment was protected by a large windscreen with two front openings. The sides were partially, or in some cases, fully protected, with a visor port added. The rear and top were completely open. Realistically, this provided only a limited amount of protection except against small caliber rounds and shrapnel, but some protection was still better than nothing. Adding any kind of armor for the rear gun compartment was impossible due to the fact that the chassis was already overburdened with all the added weight.
Depending on the source, the number of crew members was 6 or 7. Previously mentioned authors J. Ledwoch and R. Sawicki list 6 crew members, including a commander, two gunners, and three loaders. Authors T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle mention a slightly larger crew of 7, which included a commander, 5 gun operators, and the driver. It is possible that the sources that mention a smaller number do not include the driver, but this would be quite odd. In 1943, the number of crew was reduced to only four, likely a driver, commander, gunner, and loader. This meant that some of them had to perform other tasks, such as spotters or providing additional spare ammunition.
In 1932, when the newly developed anti-aircraft guns were transfered over from the infantry to the airforce, the infantry had to rely on machine guns to deal with fighters. This meant that, until 1941, all Sd.Kfz.10/4s were registered with the Luftwaffe and were attached to a Panzer or infantry division. The Sd.Kfz.10/4s in service with the Luftwaffe were organized into Leichte Flak Abteilungen (Sf.) (English: Light Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Battalions). If attached to the army, they were renamed to Heeres-Fla-Bataillone (Eng. Army Anti-Air Battalion). One of these battalions had three Fla Kompanie (mot) (Eng. Motorized Anti-Air Companies). The Fla Kompanie (mot) was an independent unit raised by the Infantry and each company was assigned to a different division. It had 3 anti-aircraft platoons with 4 Sd.Kfz.10/4s in each platoon. This makes the total number of Sd.Kfz.10/4s per Leichte Flak Abteilung (Sf.) to be 36. However, due to equipment shortages, the Abteilungs were assigned to larger units, such as armies and army corps. Another unit type which fielded Sd.Kfz.10/4s were the independent motorized artillery observation balloon batteries, which had 12 10/4s.
During the Polish and French campaigns, the Heer (infantry and tanks) solely used towed 20 mm guns. However, there is a possibility that some might have been mounted on vehicles by the Heer after seeing the 10/4 used by the Luftwaffe. Each infantry and tank division had machine gun battalions which acted as anti-aircraft units. Only the SS received the designated anti-aircraft machine gun battalions. There was also the Heeres Fla Battalion für Infanterie (Eng. Army Anti-Air Battalion for Infantry) which operated anti-aircraft guns such as the 2 cm cannons. However, these were only used by the Infantry and were, in most cases, towed. The Sd.Kfz.10/4s from the Luftwaffe moved alongside their assigned division.
In 1941, at the start of Operation Barbarossa, the Sd.Kfz.10/4s were organized within the Heer for the first time officially, although the Luftwaffe kept its 10/4s, received new ones and later even more 10/5s. The Luftwaffe, or rather, the independent anti-aircraft companies were reduced to 6 Sd.Kfz.10/4s. There were cases, such as the 5th Light Division (mot) in North Africa, already having Sd.Kfz.10/4s prior to Operation Barbarossa. The Sd.Kfz.10/4 was organized within Fliegerabwehr Bataillone (mot) (Eng. Motorized Anti-Air Battalions). Each battalion had a headquarters unit and three motorized anti-aircraft companies. The headquarters unit did not field any 10/4s and had the standard organization for a motorized HQ unit (signal detachment, battalion HQ, transport HQ). Each motorized infantry anti-aircraft company had a company HQ, signal detachment, company transport, company maintenance, and 3 anti-aircraft platoons. Each anti-aircraft platoon had an HQ section and a firing detachment. Each firing detachment had 4 Sd.Kfz.10/4s, 2 Sd.Kfz.10/4 without guns acting as ammunition transport vehicles and 4 trailers which could be towed by the ammunition vehicles and the gun vehicles. This made a total of 41 Sd.Kfz.10/4, 36 with armament and 9 without in each Fliegerabwehr Battalion (mot).
However, the anti-aircraft battalions were not the only ones that fielded Sd.Kfz.10/4s, as the anti-tank battalions of each motorized infantry division and tank division did as well. A single motorized infantry anti-aircraft company was contained within the anti-tank battalion. It had a company HQ, signal detachment, company maintenance section, company transport unit, and 4 anti-aircraft platoons. Two anti-aircraft platoons operated the 2 cm Flakvierling (Eng. 20 mm quad gun), whilst the other two fielded vehicles with a single 2 cm Flak gun. Of the two, one operated towed anti-aircraft guns whilst the other fielded mounted guns. This means only one anti-aircraft platoon actually fielded Sd.Kfz.10/4s, as the other mounted anti-aircraft gun platoon featured the much bigger Sd.Kfz.7/1. Within this one platoon, the numbers were the same as in the anti-aircraft battalions. Four Sd.Kfz.10/4 with armament, two without, and four trailers, making the total number 6 Sd.Kfz.10/4 in an anti-tank battalion. A motorized battery still had 12 10/4s, but these were independently assigned to any unit.
A motorized infantry division did not field an anti-aircraft battalion and only the tank divisions had this, which meant motorized infantry divisions only had the 6 Sd.Kfz.10/4s from the anti-tank battalion, whilst the tank division had around 47 Sd.Kfz.10/4s. A regular non-motorized infantry division did not field any.
The Waffen SS combat units from 1941 had a different organization. SS Tank Divisions had a SS Flak Abteilung (mot) (Eng. Motorized Anti-Aircraft Gun Battalion) which fielded multiple batteries. These batteries were taken from the Luftwaffe and were organized in the same way as the Luftwaffe units. This meant the Sd.Kfz.10/4s were part of a self-propelled light 20 mm anti-aircraft battery. Within that battery, there were 3 gun platoons which fielded 4 Sd.Kfz.10/4s each, making the total number of Sd.Kfz.10/4s within each SS tank division 12 (all of them with armament).
In 1942, due to an increasing amount of Allied air power on all fronts, the need arose to better protect anti-tank battalions and have separate anti-aircraft battalions for almost every unit. The staff unit battalion of a tank division fielded Sd.Kfz.10/4s within their armored command detachment. The armored command detachment had one anti-aircraft platoon. The organization within that one anti-aircraft platoon was the same: 4 with guns, 2 without, and 4 trailers. However, due to a lack of self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicles, the concept of a designated anti-aircraft battalion was dropped, and most Sd.Kfz.10/4s were handed over to other units.
Furthermore, after 1942, each infantry regiment had Sd.Kfz.10/4s. However, the infantry regiments within tank divisions fielded different anti-aircraft companies than an infantry regiment within a motorized infantry division. Within a tank division, the infantry division fielded one mechanized light anti-aircraft company. This company had a company HQ, signal detachment, ammunition supply unit, maintenance unit, company transport unit, and 3 anti-aircraft platoons. The first anti-aircraft platoon was designated ‘mono motorized platoon’ and fielded only towed 2 cm Flak guns. The second anti-aircraft platoon, designated ‘mono self-propelled platoon’, fielded 4 Sd.Kfz.10/4 with guns, 2 without, and 4 trailers. The third platoon, designated ‘quad self-propelled platoon’, fielded the much bigger Sd.Kfz.7/1. The total number of Sd.Kfz.10/4s in an infantry regiment of a tank division was 6.
An infantry regiment within a motorized infantry division had a self-propelled light anti-aircraft company. This one had two mono self-propelled platoons and one quad self-propelled platoon, for atotal number of 12 Sd.Kfz.10/4s, 8 with armament and 4 without. The anti-tank battalion of a tank division kept its original number of Sd.Kfz.10/4s, 12 each, and within the anti-tank battalion of a motorized infantry division, the were 6.
Officially, a motorized infantry division in 1942 had 30 Sd.Kfz.10/4s and a tank division had 42 Sd.Kfz.10/4s.
The organization of the SS changed slightly, to a total of 12 Sd.Kfz.10/4s per division, 6 within the SS Flak Abteilung and 6 within the SS reconnaissance battalion. An exception was the LSSAH, which had an additional 24 Sd.Kfz.10/4s within its two infantry regiments. Another exception was the Führer Begleit Bataillon (Eng. Leader Escort Battalion) which fielded 12 Sd.Kfz.10/4s within its 4th Company. Interestingly, these were 10/4s equipped with Flak 38 instead of Flak 30 guns.
In 1943, all parts of either a tank or motorized infantry division had an anti-aircraft company of some sorts that fielded the Sd.Kfz.10/4. This entirely new system would not change until the war’s end. Furthermore, the new Sd.Kfz.10/5, was, in summer 1943, not part of the organization and was only added in October. It was meant to act as a replacement for the 10/4 and fulfilled the same role and was added to the same levels of the organization. The battalion staff unit of a tank division and armored Panzergrenadier Division, a motorized infantry division equipped with half-tracks instead of trucks, had a divisional escort company which in turn had an anti-tank platoon, HQ company, maintenance platoon, transport platoon, and an anti-aircraft platoon. This anti-aircraft platoon again fielded 6 Sd.Kfz.10/4s (4 with armament and 2 without and the 4 trailers). The HQ unit of a medium tank battalion had an anti-aircraft platoon that fielded 9 Sd.Kfz.10/4s, bringing the total number up to 18. However, the anti-aircraft platoon was only present if authorized by special order, which meant this was rare.
Each Panzergrenadier Regiment had a mechanized light anti-aircraft company. This was the same organization as in 1942, with each company having anti-aircraft platoons. In the second anti-aircraft platoon, there were 6 Sd.Kfz.10/4s. A regular motorized infantry regiment had the same organization. Within a Panzer Artillerie Regiment (artillery regiment of a tank division), there was a singular anti-aircraft platoon within the HQ battery fielding 6 Sd.Kfz.10/4s.
In 1943, the concept of a designated anti-aircraft battalion was reintroduced, designated as Heeres Flak Artillerie Abteilung (Eng. Army Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion). These had a singular mechanized light anti-aircraft company that followed the same organization as above, 6 Sd.Kfz.10/4s. The mechanized anti-tank battalion followed the same organization with 6 Sd.Kfz.10/4s, as did the reconnaissance battalion.
The same changes applied to the Waffen SS divisions, which also fielded 10/4s and later 10/5s within almost every battalion. An SS Panzer Corps had a self-propelled medium anti-aircraft company (the term battery was changed, as these units were not part of the Luftwaffe anymore). Within the anti-aircraft company, were 2 light anti-aircraft platoons fielding 5 Sd.Kfz.10/4s (3 with armament and 2 without) each. Each SS division had two SS Panzergrenadier regiments, each of which in turn had a self-propelled anti-aircraft company. These were the same as the ones used by the Wehrmacht, but with 3 anti-aircraft platoons which fielded 6 Sd.Kfz.10/4s each. An SS Sturmbrigade, which was a motorized infantry division with 4 motorized infantry regiments and assault tanks, also had 18 Sd.Kfz.10/4s within their light self-propelled anti-aircraft company. The Führer Begleit Battalion was assigned a second company fielding 10/4s, bringing the total number up to 24.
A tank division in 1943 fielded 54 Sd.Kfz.10/4s (72 if authorized by special order) and a Panzer Grenadier Division also had around 54 Sd.Kfz.10/4s. Not much has been written about the Luftwaffe, but it is likely that they kept their original system of 18 per battalion. These would continue to support the Heer’s units until the war’s end. An SS tank division in 1943 had around 36 Sd.Kfz.10/4s and an SS Panzer Grenadier division also had 36 Sd.Kfz.10/4s.
After 1943, the number of Sd.Kfz.10/4s and 10/5s slowly decreased, with much more capable anti-aircraft vehicles and tanks entering the battlefield. This meant that the number, although not recorded in detail, decreased within the units.
Number of Sd.Kfz.10/4 and 10/5 per Division from 1939 to 1945
In 1944, a manual was introduced that included the doctrine and recommended use of the Sd.Kfz.10/4 and 10/5. The following section is directly taken from said manual and translated. The purpose of the Sd.Kfz.10/4 and 10/5 was to shoot down ground attack planes and reconnaissance planes at a maximum range of 1,200 m. Additionally, it would engage ground targets of all kinds (if penetration was possible) up to a range of 4,400 m.
The Sd.Kfz.10/4 and 10/5 were much more mobile in urban environments and rough terrain than their motorized towed counterparts. This advantage was to be used to full effect. Vehicles such as the Sd.Kfz.10/4 were to be brought into engagements with care, because of their height and non-existent crew protection. The Sd.Kfz.10/4 and 10/5 were highly important weapons that were only to be used in their intended role and not for towing, with the exception of the ammunition trailers.
The air situation decided the use and location of the self-propelled guns. Air targets were always prioritized. The vehicles were always meant to fight together, so the splitting of units had to be prevented, also minimizing potential threats. The vehicles were not to be used as assault guns or reconnaissance vehicles. During fog or at night, air defense was not recommended, with the exception if tracer ammunition was already loaded or low flying targets were spotted. The vehicles were to engage ground targets in hidden positions using ambush tactics. Normally, the unit or company was to be used as an escort for other units, such as tanks, infantry, or transport columns.
This is a list of situations and how the vehicles should have been used during these situations.
Railroad transport: Depending on the situation in the air, the vehicles, as a company, were loaded either at the start or at the end of the train.
Assembly: The vehicles were only to be assembled if the area was not protected air cover.
March: During the march or escorting, the vehicles had to be on standby at all times. If the area was free of enemy targets, the vehicles were allowed to drive forward in advance to clear a new area.
Rest: During rest times, the vehicles were to be left on standby whilst other units prepared for rest.
Attack on the move: If the situation in the air allowed for it, the vehicles were to use their superior mobility and firepower to engage ground targets on the move. Air targets were not to be attacked on the move.
Support for an attack: The vehicles were to support the most important elements of an attack. For example, the tank units were prioritized over anti-tank units.
Attack: During an attack, the vehicles were to support the advancing bulk of forces and protect them from fighter attacks. If no air attacks occured, then the vehicles were to engage ground targets, such as anti-tank positions, machine gun positions, suppress bunker positions, and light tanks, though only at close ranges. The vehicles were not to be directly used against infantry.
Defense: When defending, the vehicles were to be used in the effective range of the frontline. However, they were not to be directly placed on the frontlines, as the vehicles would then often be used to engage lesser priority targets.
Retreat: When retreating, the vehicles were to guard key positions, such as bridges, until the bulk of the other forces retreated.
Urban combat: During urban combat, the vehicles were to be used closely together with infantry and were to target roofs and basements due to the high effectiveness of their rounds and large elevation angles.
Forest combat: The vehicles were to refrain from going into forests without sufficient protection from friendly infantry. They were to move alongside the forest border and deal support damage with their HE ammunition.
River crossing: The vehicles were to protect the other units when crossing a river. A part of the anti-aircraft unit would be sent over to the other side as soon as possible to maximize the protection.
Transport over the sea: The vehicles were allowed to engage air targets and ground targets, such as fast boats, from the deck when being transported over sea. They were also tasked with protecting the rest of the units during unloading.
The first Sd.Kfz.10/4s, including the Demag prototypes, were given to leichte Flak Abteilung 86 in 1938.
The Sd.Kfz.10/4 would first see action during the Polish campaign in 1939. They were allocated to support five Panzer divisions, four light divisions, and four motorized infantry divisions. Given that the Polish Air Force was mostly destroyed by the Luftwaffe at the beginning of the invasion, enemy air targets were rare.
War in the West May-June 1940
The Sd.Kfz.10/4 would see action during the Western campaign in May 1940. Interestingly, just prior to the start of the German offensive, some units, such as the 601st Anti-Aircraft Battalion, received tracer ammunition to practice providing ground fire support. Alongside other anti-aircraft weapons, they were extensively used to protect the vital bridgeheads at Dinant, Sedan, and Maastricht in mid-May 1940. During their defense, they claimed to have shot down at least 20 enemy aircraft. After the successful conclusion of the Western campaign, the German Army undertook an evaluation process of the performance of its armed forces, including weapons made in August 1940. In the review, the performance of the Sd.Kfz.10/4 was deemed sufficient and even praised when used against ground targets. In this manner, it was deemed more successful than the Panzer II, which was also armed with a 2 cm gun.
Supporting the Afrika Korps
Some vehicles were sent to North Africa as part of the Afrika Korps. They were originally part of the 5th Light Division, which was one of the first Army divisions to receive Sd.Kfz.10/4s that were not part of the Luftwaffe. In North Africa, the vehicles proved to be decent. Their 2 cm gun was enough to deal with the early Allied fighters and ground attack planes and could also knock out British armored cars and light tanks at short ranges. However, due to a lack of cover in the desert, most vehicles were knocked out by British tanks and did not survive. Due to its open combat compartment, ventilation was not a problem. Furthermore, the engine could deal with the heat, though occasionally, problems occurred when sand entered its system. The only Sd.Kfz.10/4s arrived with the Fla-Bataillon 606 (mot.) of the 5th Light Division at the start of the campaign. Until November 1942, the battalion shot down multiple Hurricane fighters and light bombers until it was destroyed in March 1943. No additional battalions or divisions in North Africa had 10/4s.
In the Balkans
Some Sd.Kfz.10/4s participated during the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. The vehicles were mostly used against ground targets and the occasional Allied fighter. A number of vehicles were stationed in Yugoslavia as part of the 7th SS Panzer Grenadier Division Prinz Eugen or part of Luftwaffe ground units.
Despite encountering no major threats from air targets in occupied Yugoslavia, some Sd.Kfz.10 anti-aircraft vehicles saw service there. These were likely used as fire support weapons platforms, where vehicles with good mobility were highly praised. The reason for this was that the Yugoslav Partisans would often attack and besiege smaller German and Axis garrisons. Having a vehicle with a half-track chassis that could respond quickly to places where roads were generally in a poor state was a welcome addition to the Germans. In addition, after 1943, German positions in occupied Yugoslavia were often engaged by Allied air forces stationed in liberated parts of Italy.
When the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, the Sd.Kfz.10/4s were once again pressed into service. They once again proved to be a vital aspect of air defense in the army. As, by this point, the army had its own 10/4s and did not have to rely on the Luftwaffe, they could be used much more efficiently. At the start of Operation Barbarossa, many Soviet fighters and planes could not even take off and those which could be deployed were shot down. Due to many inexperienced fighter pilots and poor organization, many crews of Sd.Kfz.10/4s scored high kill numbers.
At the end of March 1942, the Armeeoberkommando 2 (Eng. Army Headquarters 2) issued a report to the Heeresgruppe Süd (English: Army Group South) about the performance of the Army during the previous year in the Soviet Union. In it, the following was noted:
The sensitivity of the Sturmgeschütz (StuG III) to attack on the flank made it necessary to deploy 2 cm FlaK 38 guns. It should be considered to provide two anti-aircraft batteries for every StuG Abt (each with three StuGBttr). The 2 cm Flak will be used as a light support weapon, and it also will provide the division with urgently needed anti-tank protection
While not quite clear if this related to the self-propelled version of the Sd.Kfz.10/4, it showed that the 2 cm gun was still effective when used against lightly armed targets.
Although they had a fairly decent mobility, the Soviet Union and the mud seasons would be where the Sd.Kfz.10/4 and later the Sd.Kfz.10/5, like many other German AFVs, would meet their match in terms of mobility.
In 1943, the vehicles also participated in the Battle of Kursk. By this point, Soviet fighter planes were better and more agile than in 1941, which resulted in reduced kill counts for the 10/4s.
After the Battle of Kursk, in October 1943, the Sd.Kfz.10/5 entered service. The Sd.Kfz.10/5 would soon be organized into regular units and acted in the same way as the 10/4. Even though the extra protection provided by the shield resulted in fewer crew casualties, mobility during the mud seasons was still a problem. The improved 2 cm Flak 38, although of the same caliber, had a much higher rate of fire, making it more effective at shooting down Soviet ground attack planes. Both vehicles were active on the Eastern Front until replacement 10/4s and spare parts stopped coming in 1944 and 1945 and the vehicles were eventually lost.
In 1945, one of the last recorded use of Sd.Kfz.10/5s was that of leichte Flak-Abteilung 81 (Sf.) within the 1. Flak Korps. They were used in the defense of Tarnów and Krakow.
In September 1943, the Allied forces invaded Sicily and, later, other parts of Italy. The Sd.Kfz.10/4s from the Afrika Korps had all been destroyed and new ones had to be sent to Italy. These reinforcements also include the new Sd.Kfz.10/5s. However, Allied air supremacy quickly became a problem in Italy, as many Sd.Kfz.10/4s and 10/5s were overwhelmed by the sheer number of Allied bombers and fighters. Until 1945, the vehicles got pushed back to the Alps, and eventually all were lost.
In 1944, the Allied force landed in Normandy. Many German reserve units were called from all fronts to try and stop the advancing forces. The German units were also supported by the Sd.Kfz.10/4s and 10/5s, but they could not stop the Allied air supremacy. Furthermore, Allied fighter planes, similarly to the Soviet ones, had greatly improved. The single tube 2 cm Flak was obsolete and inferior to other German anti-aircraft tanks.
The Sd.Kfz.10/4 and, later, the 10/5 were successful vehicles in terms of combat performance and were successful in fulfilling their role as a stopgap until dedicated anti-aircraft vehicles entered service. During the early years, they provided sufficient protection against fighters and ground attack planes. Although their armor protection was next to nothing and resulted in a high crew casualty rate, the Sd.Kfz.10/5 and 10/4 with improvised armor at least provided protection for some of the crew against rifle fire. However, they often fell victim to the large number of Allied tanks and anti-tank weapons, which greatly increased the loss rate for vehicles in general. However, the reason why the High Command kept the vehicles in service and production, even though they were intended as a stopgap, was that no designated anti-aircraft vehicles were ever built in larger numbers. In 1944, with Allied air superiority and much more capable vehicles, such as the Flakpanzer IV variants, the Sd.Kfz.10/4 and 10/5 were slowly replaced.
Sd.Kfz.10/4 and 10/5 Ammunition Carriers
In 1939, when the Sd.Kfz.10/4s were issued to Luftwaffe ground units, there was a problem, as there were not enough 2 cm Flak guns for Sd.Kfz.10/4s. Furthermore, due to the demands for ammunition carriers, since regular motorized vehicles often could not keep up with their mechanized counterparts, some Sd.Kfz.10/4s were converted into ammunition carriers. However, they were first used in 1941 with the Army, before that regular Sd.Kfz.10 were used as ammunition carriers. The exact number is not known, however in theory, for every 6 Sd.Kfz.10/4s, 2 were unarmed. Their task was not only to carry the ammunition, but also tow the ammunition trailers. Since 4 ammunition trailers were issued per 6 Sd.Kfz.10/4s in general, 2 were also towed by regular 10/4s.
The conversion or production was done by either removing or not installing the 2 cm gun. However, the platform and mount were still there, making it possible to add the gun. Often, a canvas would be strapped over the ammunition storage compartment to protect it from the weather. One such ammunition vehicle differs from a regular Sd.Kfz.10 by the side platforms and 2 cm ammunition on the sides.
Sd.Kfz.10/5 with 5 cm PaK
Although most 5 cm Sd.Kfz.10 conversions were done using the regular Sd.Kfz.10, some anti-tank units modified their Sd.Ffz. 10/5s to mount a 5 cm Pak instead of the 2 cm gun.
Sd.Kfz.10 Field Modification to Sd.Kfz 10/4 Standard
At least on one occasion, due to a lack of Sd.Kfz.10/4 or 5 vehicles, troops modified a regular Sd.Kfz.10 by placing the 2 cm Flak gun on its transport compartment. The compartment itself was heavily modified in this case, adding a wooden frame on which the gun was placed.
An unknown number of captured Sd.Kfz.10/5s were reused by the US Army in 1944. Captured in Italy in May 1944, the 5th US Army used at least one of these 10/5s. US troops repainted the vehicle in olive green and applied US tactical markings.
Another example of Allied service was the British 6th Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment, which, after the start of the Normandy offensive, captured at least one such vehicle. In early July, two soldiers of this unit, C. Davies and L. Walden, managed to shoot down two German fighters with it, a Bf 109 and the FW 190.
Given their relatively large numbers, some Sd.Kfz 10/4 and 10/5 SPAAGs were also captured by the Soviets. It is unclear if they used them against their former masters, but it is also quite possible given that the Soviets employed captured German equipment from time to time.
There are at least two and a half surviving Sd.Kfz.10/4s and one Sd.Kfz.10/5.
The Sd.Kfz.10/4 and its improved cousin 10/5 were the first mass produced self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicles that entered service with the German Army. Thanks to their half-track chassis they possessed excellent mobility in contrast to other improvised truck based or towed anti-aircraft weapons. For the earlier stages of the war their 2 cm guns were more than enough to deal against both air and ground to enemy targets. By later stages of the war, while this gun was still capable of aching combat success, it was becoming too weak to deal with new enemy aircraft designs. Additionally, the 2 cm Flak gun could not be used against most Allied tanks and could only deal with infantry and soft targets, such as trucks or light tanks. The upgraded Flak 38 did not change the situation significantly. Armor protection was also quite weak. Initially most vehicles did not even receive the gun shield, making the crew completely exposed to enemy fire.
The Germans were quite aware of this vehicle limitations and introduced a series of replacement vehicles that were better armed and protected (in case of tank based anti-aircraft vehicles). But, as these new improved vehicles could not be built in sufficient numbers the Sd.Kfz.10/4 and 10/5 remained in service up to the end of the war.
Sd.Kfz.10/4 and 10/5, 2 cm Flak 30/38 (Sf.) auf gepanzerten Fahrgestell leichter Zugkraftwagen 1-tonTechnical Specifications
7 (Commander, driver, and five gun operators)
Length 4.75, Width 2.15, Height 2 m
Maybach HL 42 water-cooled 100 hp @ 2,800 rpm engine
65 km/h, 30 km/h (cross-country)
220 km, 150 km
one 2 cm Flak 30 or 38
-12°/-20° to +90°
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T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (1998) Panzer Tracts No.12 Flak Selbstfahrlafetten and Flakpanzer
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2009) Panzer Tracts No.22-1 Leichter Zugkraftwagen 1t
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W. Muller (1995) German 2 cm Flak in World War II, Schiffer Military
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I. V. Hogg (1975) German Artillery of World War Two, Purnell Book Services Ltd.
T. Anderson (2019) Panzerartillerie, New Osprey
R. Michulec (1999) Wehrmacht Support Vehicles, Concord
T. Anderson (2017) History of Panzerjager Volume 1 1939-42, Osprey Publishing
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P. P. Battistelli (2007) Panzer Divisions The Blitzkrieg Years 1939-40, Osprey Publishing
German Reich (1938-1945)
Armored Staff Car – 10 Ausf.A and 58 Ausf.B Built
The Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A and B were armored cross-country cars intended for transporting very senior German officers around safely, even on rough terrain. Due to the rising need for such an armored car that would be easy to build, a development already began in the early 1930s. Based on the chassis of an existing and very popular truck, the Kfz.69 and 70, the 6-wheeled Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A was built. With only a few Ausf.A vehicles were ever completed, in 1941, the Ausf.B entered production with only 4 wheels but improved mobility. The Ausf.A and B were assigned to command and HQ units and later used as reconnaissance vehicles. Production was stopped in 1942 and, by 1943/1944, most Sd.Kfz.247s were lost.
Context and Development: Need for a Cross-Country Staff and Troop Car
In 1929, the company of Krupp designed a 3-axle cross-country artillery tractor that was meant to be able to tow anti-tank (AT) guns through rugged terrain. However, this vehicle was meant to not use tracks and stll perform better than a regular truck. The result was the Krupp L2 H43, which was a 6-wheeled (6×4) truck chassis that had a 4-cylinder boxer engine. This engine was installed to fulfill the requirements, which demanded a high ground clearance. The L2 H43 and the later H143 truck chassis were used on several different vehicles. One example was the Krupp Protze (Protze refers to the name Protzekraftwagen, which originated from its constructor), designated Kfz.69. Throughout the 1930s, this was Germany’s most produced light AT gun and artillery gun carrier.
Alongside the most well-known version, the Kfz.69, there were several other variants, each of which fulfilled a different role. In 1934, the German weapons design office demanded the development of a fast and mobile cross-country vehicle that was easy and cheap to produce for very high-ranking officers. This vehicle was intended to safely transport these officers to the front. Although there were already staff cars in service, the Kfz.21 was solely a 6×4 car which was limited in mobility. This limit came to show later in 1941, when many staff cars had trouble going through rugged terrain. Furthermore, they could not provide sufficient protection against even small arms fire. The new cross-country armored cars were to be organized within the HQ units of the divisional HQs and reconnaissance battalions.
In 1934, the prototype of the Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A was built on the chassis of a Krupp L2 H43. By January 1938, 10 vehicles had been completed. The production was carried out by Krupp and Daimler Benz.
In the same year, the contract for at least 58 new staff vehicles was given out to Daimler-Benz. These were to be built on an Einheitsfahrgestell (Eng. Unitary chassis). The unitary chassis was intended to be used for many vehicles to simplify production. These staff car variants had 4 wheels and would later be known as the Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.B.
Production was to start in October 1939, but design problems delayed the production. To resolve the problems, unlike all other 4-wheeled armored cars that used the Einheitsfahrgestell, the Ausf.B used the Einheitsfahrgestell II für schweren Pkw (Eng. unitary chassis for heavy personnel carrier), with a two-wheel drive instead of the intended 4. From July 1941 to January 1942, all 58 Ausf.Bs were completed.
The long name for the Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A and B was Schwerer geländegängiger gepanzerter Personenkraftwagen, Sonderkraftfahrzeug 247 Ausführung A (6 Rad) und Ausführung B (4 Rad) mit Fahrgestell des leichten geländegängigen Lastkraftwagen, which translates to ‘heavy cross-country armored personnel carrier, special purpose vehicle 247 variant A (6-wheeled) and variant B (4-wheeled) on chassis of the light cross-country truck’. This designation was only used on paper and in factories. There was also an abbreviation for this long term: s.gl.gp.Pkw. The troops would normally refer to it as schwerer gepanzerter Personenkraftwagen (Eng: heavy armored personnel carrier) or, if commanded by a general, schwerer gepanzerter Kommandatenwagen (Eng: heavy armored command vehicle). For the sake of simplicity, the article will use the term Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A and B.
The Ausf.A was designed to be as cheap as possible whilst still being able to sustain fire with rifle caliber bullets. It would also maintain the style of German armored cars at that time, such as the Sd.Kfz.221 and 222. The Ausf.A was 6-wheeled and had an armored superstructure around the vehicle. The Ausf.B maintained the overall idea of the armored superstructure and only the number of wheels changed to 4.
Hull, Superstructure, and Layout
The hull was built around the chassis of the vehicle. On top of the hull was the armored superstructure that went around the entire vehicle. The Ausf.A had an open top. Above the wheels were mudguards. At the front was the engine grill and two headlamps. On the left side, the Ausf.A had a spare wheel and other equipment, such as an ax and shovel. On the front and on the sides were visors, two on each side and two on the front. The visors on the front laid on another big visor which could be opened for a better view. On some vehicles, fake visors were painted on to confuse the enemy. The Ausf.A also had two exit doors on the sides and one at the rear. Some vehicles had a K-Rolle (Eng: wired barrier-roll), used for laying quick barriers, placed on the engine deck, on the front side.
The Ausf.B also had a mostly open-topped superstructure, but the driver’s compartment was covered by a top metal plate. On some vehicles, a canvas was fastened above the crew compartment. It also had mudguards above the wheels, on which headlamps were placed. The engine grill was also at the front, with an access hatch to the engine on the engine deck at the front. The Ausf.B had three exit doors, one at the rear, one on the right, and one on the left side. On the rear door was the spare wheel. On its left side, the Ausf.B had a shovel, a storage box, a jack, and an access hatch to the crew compartment. On the right side, it had a fire extinguisher and the last access hatch. Visors were placed all around the vehicle, with three on each side and two at the front. Towing hooks were at the rear and on the front.
The inner layout did not differ much between the two variants. There were two seats at the rear and a large two-man bench. On the inner sides of the superstructure was equipment for the crew, such as ammunition and the periscope, which was placed in the middle of the crew compartment. Two seats were at the front for the driver and co-driver.
Suspension and Wheels
The Ausf.A had 4 driven wheels and 2 steering wheels. On the front side were the two steering wheels, which were sprung with leaf springs. At the back side were the four drive wheels, that were sprung by common coil springs. The Ausf.A had two different variants which differed in the distance between the rear axles. However, the versions are almost impossible to distinguish. The early Ausf.As received the L2 H43 chassis, whilst the late Ausf.As received the later L2 H143 chassis. There were also different tire types, but this had nothing to do with the different chassis types. One tire type was thicker and more resistant to difficult terrain.
Initially, the Ausf.B was planned to have 4 driven wheels. All 4 wheels were individually suspended and coil spring-suspended. However, due to production issues, it only received the Einheitsfahrgestell II chassis, which had a 2-wheel drive.
Both variants had their engine at the front and access hatches above the engine compartment. The Ausf.A had a 65 hp @ 2,500 rpm Krupp 4-cylinder engine, which propelled it to a top speed of 70 km/h. The gearbox had 4 forward and 1 reverse gears. The 110 liters of gasoline were enough for 350 km on the road and around 240 km off-road.
The Ausf.B, on the other hand, was fitted with a more powerful 81 hp @ 3,600 rpm water-cooled Horch V-8, which performed better than the Krupp engine. Furthermore, the Ausf.B had a power-to-weight ratio of 18.1 hp/ton compared to the 12.4 hp/ton of the Ausf.A. This resulted in the Ausf.B generally performing better in terms of mobility than the Ausf.A. However, one factor for this performance increase was the weight being reduced by almost one tonne. The Horch gearbox had 5 forward and 1 reverse gears. The 120 liters of gasoline was enough for 400 km on the road and 270 km off-road.
Exact armor specifications are not known and range from 6-8 mm all around for both vehicles. The armor was sloped and angled to prevent penetration by 7.92 mm steel-cored bullets at ranges of over 30 m.
Officially, there was no primary armament on either the Ausf.A or B. For protection, the vehicle had to rely on the weapons of the crew and an MP 38/40 with 192 rounds kept within the compartment. However, crews quickly became aware of this lack of protection, mainly against air attacks, but also against ground targets. On some Ausf.As, an anti-aircraft (AA) MG 34 was mounted behind the periscope. Most of the Ausf.Bs received an AA MG 34 or MG 42 mounted on the front superstructure for use against infantry and one at the back against air attacks. Since these were field conversions, they did not have any protective shields. There was one exception from the LSSAH, when an Ausf.B featured a presumably self-made shield and an MG 34 mounted in the crew compartment.
Communication between the vehicles had to be done with hand signals and flags, as no radio was fitted in the Ausf.A and B. However, similar to the armament, crews quickly adapted and refitted their cars with radios. It is unknown whether these conversions were authorized, but they all appear to be very similar. Vehicles were either refitted with a frame antenna going around the crew compartment or a star antenna (mostly on the Ausf.B). The radios were most likely FuG 5 or 8s.
The crew in both variants was 6: one driver and five passengers. The driver sat on the right side in the driver’s compartment. Of the 5 passengers, 1 sat next to the driver (presumably the commander). The other 4, which included one adjutant or senior officer, sat in the crew compartment on two benches.
Organization and Doctrine
Although the vehicle was capable of driving through rugged terrain, it was somewhat limited due to its wheels. The drivers were therefore advised to stay on dirst tracks and roads and only drive off-road if needed.
In 1939, the Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A was organized within headquarters units of motorized infantry brigades, with one vehicle per unit. Before the war, some divisions had a motorized reconnaissance regiment instead of a battalion. These regiments had an approved strength of up to 6 Sd.Kfz.247s.
The regular battalions had a total of 3 within their HQ unit and in each armored car company. The independent recruitment reconnaissance battalion also had one within their HQ unit and armored car companies. This was a total of 4 Sd.Kfz.247s without the reconnaissance regiment and 7 with the reconnaissance regiment per motorized infantry division and tank division in 1939.
Regular non-motorized infantry divisions did not have any. The independent training reconnaissance battalion also had one within their HQ unit and armored car companies. The Waffen SS had one Sd.Kfz.247 per division within the HQ unit of their reconnaissance unit.
However, these were only theoretical numbers and the fact that only around 10 Ausf.As were ever built leads to the conclusion that most units did not receive any Sd.Kfz.247. Confirmed units that fielded Sd.Kfz.247s were the HQ units of the motorized reconnaissance regiments. The regular army corps HQ also had several vehicles on the adjutant level.
In 1940, the organization did not change much. The Ausf.B was not yet in service, which meant that most divisions were still underequipped. The number of motorized reconnaissance units was reduced to a single regiment that had 4 Sd.Kfz.247s instead of 6. This meant each tank and motorized infantry division was meant to only have 4 Sd.Kfz.247s, one from the infantry brigade HQ and 3 from the reconnaissance battalion. The division with a sole reconnaissance regiment had 5. The SS fielded 2 vehicles per division.
In 1941, the organization changed slightly, and more and more divisions actually received vehicles. These were mainly the new Ausf.Bs, which were delivered from July 1941 onwards. Each SS division still fielded 2 Sd.Kfz.247s Ausf.Bs within their reconnaissance battalion. The headquarters of a Panzer group now also fielded 247s on their adjutant level. The same applied to the motorized army corps. For regular motorized and tank divisions, the HQ unit of an infantry brigade had one and the reconnaissance battalion had 2. This resulted in a total number of up to 3 vehicles per division.
In 1942, the Wehrmacht would change the way how reconnaissance was done. Instead of motorized reconnaissance battalions, there were two individual motorcycle battalions. One of the two was converted from the old reconnaissance battalion and was refitted with more motorcycles. This meant most Sd.Kfz.247s were moved over to the HQ units and armored car companies of the new motorcycle battalions. The headquarters unit of an infantry brigade still fielded their 247s. A total of 3 Sd.Kfz.247s were present in each division. The same changes applied for the Waffen SS, which was also given motorcycle battalions. The organization of the Independent and HQ units also changed. It was thought that the Sd.Kfz.247s were less effective as staff vehicles, but more important in the reconnaissance role and were therefore removed from army corps HQ. The training motorcycle battalion had one within their HQ unit.
In 1943, although reconnaissance battalions were reintroduced, the Sd.Kfz.247s were removed from the Wehrmacht’s organizational lists. Only the Waffen SS continued to use them. This meant most Wehrmacht 247s were moved over to the Waffen SS. The SS had 2 per Division within their motorcycle HQ unit and reconnaissance HQ unit. However, some units simply kept their 247s and continued to use them. Two of these continued recorded cases were during the Battle of Normandy and the Invasion of Rhodes.
Number of Sd.Kfz.247 per Division from 1939 to 1943
Type of Division
Number of Sd.Kfz.247
motorized infantry and tank division
4, 7 (with reconnaissance regiment)
motorcycle and reconnaissance recruitment battalion
Army Corps HQ
motorized infantry and tank division
motorized infantry and tank division
Tank Corps HQ
Before the Second World War, the Sd.Kfz.247 was often seen during big parades, when very high ranking officers were transported. These vehicles were therefore often photographed and played more of a propaganda role, in order to demonstrate how advanced the German command forces were, even though, in reality, most units did not even receive these vehicles.
During wartime, the vehicles were less effective than in their propaganda role and were mostly photographed because of their crew. They did not participate in any direct fighting and mainly were second in line on the frontlines. The later upgraded versions with radios and self-defense armament were used more often on the frontlines, especially within the motorized motorcycle battalions as reconnaissance vehicles and communication vehicles. Due to their speed and cross-country capabilities, they were popular as reconnaissance vehicles compared to other reconnaissance armored cars, such as the Sd.Kfz.222. However, these outshined the 247s because of their superior armament.
The vehicles saw service on almost all fronts, from the annexation of Austria, to the occupation of Czechoslovakia, to the Invasion of Poland. They went on to see service during the invasions of France and the Soviet Union. Although they did not see service in North Africa, some Ausf.Bs took part in the invasion of Italian-occupied Rhodes in 1943, as part of the 999. Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of Sturm Division Rhodos (Eng. Assault Division Rhodes).
After the Sd.Kfz.247s were removed from the organizational lists, there was no demand for them, and the few vehicles that survived continued to see service. Due to only such a low number of vehicles being produced, most Sd.Kfz.247s were lost by 1944.
There are no surviving Sd.Kfz.247s. However, the 247 proved to be a popular vehicle for reenactors over time. There are numerous reproductions and replicas owned by private collectors and reenactors. They are mostly used as HQ vehicles for the unit, but some are also lent for film production. The exact number of reproductions is not known and they all differ in historical accuracy. They all use different chassis of trucks and cars and the material used is also different.
The Sd.Kfz.247 Ausf.A and B were successful attempts at creating a mobile cross-country armored staff car that was superior in terms of mobility to the other staff cars but inferior to half-tracked vehicles. Although it might seem like the vehicle lacked armor protection and armament, this was not demanded by the weapons office. The vehicles delivered what they were intended for. However, the vehicles were built in too few numbers to actually have had an impact on the war and were less relevant to the German Army. They were replaced by more advanced half-tracked command vehicles.
Sd.Kfz.254 Ausf.A and B specifications
Ausf.A: 5.2 x 1.9 x 1.7 m, Ausf.B: 5 x 2 x 1.8 m
Ausf.A: 5,200 kg, Ausf.B: 4,460 kg
Crew (Ausf.A) and (Ausf.B)
6 (driver, 5 passengers)
Ausf.A: on roads 70 km/h, off-road 31 km/h, Ausf.B: on roads 80 km/h, off-road 40 km/h
After a war with Colombia over a territorial dispute ending in a stalemate, Peru found itself weak. Even though the war was not lost, the High Command was disappointed with the army and, therefore, the need for a new weapon arose. Tanks and the concept of importing tanks had been just introduced to South America and the Peruvian Commission saw this as an opportunity to modernize their army. After a series of negotiations and tests, Peru acquired 24 Praga LTP light tanks which were used for the first time during the coup d’état in 1938. Later, in 1941, the vehicles saw their first combat action and were used with great success against Ecuador. They allegedly stayed in service all the way until the 1980s, when they were finally decommissioned after an illustrious career.
Context: Territorial Disputes and a Lost War to Colombia
After the war of independence in 1824, the nation of Peru was one of the many nations to rise from the Spanish colonial empire. Throughout the years, until the 1930s, South America was characterized by wars caused due to the expansion and exploration of the jungles further inland, where many different countries had claims on the same territories. One of these overlapping claims was around the regions of Amazon, Putumayo, Napo, and the Apaporis Rivers, between the nations of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Furthermore, after the Salomón–Lozano Treaty of 1922, when the important town of Leticia was given to Colombia, many Peruvians still felt right in their claim over this area.
The League of Nations failed to deescalate the mounting tensions between Colombia and Peru due to the interest of third parties wanting the dispute to escalate. One of these parties was Czechoslovakia, which sought to export armament. The dispute finally reached its zenith in September 1932, when 200 Peruvian soldiers crossed the border and captured the Colombian town of Leticia with next to no resistance. It is unknown whether the Peruvian government planned this attack, however, they used it as justification to go to war. The incident turned into a full-scale war, but a very slow one, as the war zone area was very remote. In order to get there, the soldiers had to go through difficult terrain, such as mountains and deep jungles. The Colombians, on the other hand, had the advantage of moving their troops on the Amazon River.
Peruvian troops arrived first and captured multiple towns, such as the port town of Tarapacá. However, Colombian gunships delayed the arrival of additional troops. The largest battle took place during the Colombian capture of the town of Güeppi, with over 100 Colombian soldiers and 30 Peruvian casualties. In April 1933, the president of Peru was assassinated and replaced by General Oscar Benavides, who was against continuing the war due to personal close relations with Colombia.
Before a potential large-scale battle could break out involving hundreds of troops on each side, the League of Nations successfully resolved the war in March 1933. The war ended in a status quo ante bellum (Everything is as it was before the war) and with only a few casualties on each side. Even though the strength in manpower was almost equal, Colombia had a superior air force and access to the area via the Amazon.
Tanks for Peru and the Peruvian Delegation in Europe
Although Peru had not lost the war, strictly speaking, they had not achieved their objectives. Following the war, the Peruvian Army searched for a new weapon that could be used to effectively penetrate enemy lines. A possible solution were tanks. However, Peru did not have the production capability or engineering skills to develop its own tank. Therefore, the purchase of export tanks was considered. Tanks had been used in the South American continent before the Peruvians thought about buying tanks, during the Brazilian revolutions and wars and the Chaco War involving Bolivia and Paraguay. However, the tanks used in these conflicts were used rather unsuccessfully and only employed in small numbers. Furthermore, one of the biggest problems with tanks in most parts of South America was the hostile environment. The thick jungles and, in Peru’s case, the mountains, were physical barriers for the tanks. This led to only a small number of possible tank candidates that were able to adapt to the environment.
Due to the rising tensions even after signing multiple treaties with neighboring countries, the Peruvian Army Purchasing Commission sent representatives to Europe with the hope of buying light or medium tanks from either Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, or the United Kingdom.
In 1936, the Czechoslovak firm Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk (ČKD) established contact with the Peruvians after hearing that the Peruvians were seeking to acquire tanks. ČKD suggested the Peruvian delegation took a look at their AH-IV tankettes and TNH tanks made for Iran, which they proposed for export. In October 1936, the Peruvian delegation visited the ČKD factories and the AH-IV and TNH tanks.
Following this, right after the visit in October 1936, the Arms Purchasing Commission provided the delegation with the requirements, which were: 36 tanks, 5-6 tonnes in weight, a speed of 20 km/h, and armed with a 37 mm gun and a 7.65 mm machine gun.
After another meeting in January 1937, in April, the Peruvian delegation watched the demonstration of the newest tank prototypes made by ČKD. The newly developed LTL for Lithuania met the requirements of the delegation.
In September 1937, a letter was sent to the Peruvian Army Purchase Office, informing them about the high prices of the ball mount of the gun. The Office replied that the delegation had to renegotiate the price within a week and conclude the contract which, in the end, turned out in favor of the Peruvians. A month later, another meeting was held where the supply of 24 tanks was negotiated. Originally, they were to be armed with the Škoda A-7 and A-8 guns. However, due to Czechoslovak Army demands, these would not be available until 1939, which was not acceptable to the Peruvians. To speed up the process, ČKD instead proposed the A-3 37 mm vz. 34, as mounted in the LT vz. 35. This also could not be produced fast enough for the Peruvians’ liking either. After a meeting between the MNO (Ministry of Defense) and CKD, the Czechoslovak Army supplied 10 reserve A-3 guns and 14 guns from infantry anti-tank guns. ZB managed to provide the machine guns in time.
At the same time, Peru also showed interest in purchasing Italian tanks. However, the demonstration of the tanks was delayed and, therefore, the Peruvians continued with ČKD. One CV33 made it to Lima for demonstrations in November 1937, but it failed to meet the requirements.
In January 1938, ČKD received the 10 3.7 cm vz. 34 ÚV A-3 guns, of which three had been taken from Czechoslovakian light tank prototypes, such as the Š-II-a. The other guns were the 3.7 cm can. vz. 34 J, for which special cartridges had to be made. In the same month, the Peruvians finally decided to stick with the ČKD tanks. During a meeting in Paris with the chief of the ČKD firm and the Peruvian Commission, the technical specifications were discussed.
The final negotiations began on January 31, 1938. ČKD informed the Peruvians of an increase in weight from 5,600 kg to 6,600 kg, which was reviewed negatively by the Peruvians, who saw it as an inconsistency on the behalf of ČKD. Whilst the negotiations were nearing their conclusion by the second week of February, the contract discussion had to be put on hold since the leader of the Peruvian Commission got sick. On February 15, 1938, the leader of the Peruvian Commission, Colonel Martínez, and the representatives of ČKD were able to finalize the contract worth 24 million koruna (US$42,000 in 1938 and around US$900,000 in 2022) for 24 Praga LTL. Of the 24 million koruna, 14 million went to CKD, 9 million to Skoda, and 1.1 million to ZB Brno. CKD managed to gain a profit of around 2,287,000 koruna.
The final vehicle specifications in the contract were: 6,300 kg weight, 25 mm of armor, a 3.7 cm cannon, a ZB 53 heavy machine gun, a ZB 30 light machine gun, 40 km/h operational speed at 4,500 m above the sea level, and a crew of 3. The request also included 8,000 HE and 5,334 AT shells for the tanks.
During the same month, the Peruvian Commission requested a visit to the factories in Czechoslovakia. Their request was allowed and the Peruvians watched a demonstration of the TNH tanks and LT vz.34 and a mounting and dismounting of the 3.7 cm cannon on the LT vz.34.
Although the contract was agreed, the Czechoslovak Ministry of Defense would only approve the sale if its Peruvian counterpart offered credible assurances that they would not export it to third countries. The assurance was obtained on April 6, 1938, and the sale was agreed upon by the Czechoslovak government, which also made the guns available.
After the final hurdle was overcome, ČKD began construction of the prototype, which was designated Praga LTP, at the Liben factory almost immediately, on April 21, due to very little time available. From April to June 1938, the prototype was constructed in the presence of the Peruvian Commission. The Peruvian Commission was headed by Captain Hector Cornejo and also included Second Lieutenant Calindo and Sergeant Vargas, who had indegenous roots and became the center of attention in Prague. Vargas would later be the main mechanic responsible for the LTPs on the Peruvian side. On August 5, the prototype was accepted by the Commission. The vehicle was accepted with only an increase of weight of 1,000 kg.
The prototype, named “Lima” after the Peruvian capital, was sent to Peru without armament for testing. The main objective was to see how the LTP performed in the Peruvian high altitude. The average altitude in Peru is 1,555 m (5102 feet), but most of the populated areas are coastal. Large parts of the borders with Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador are mountainous though. If the vehicle completed all tests successfully, then serial production could commence.
“Lima” was sent in a wooden box through Poland to the port of Gdynia on August 4th, 1938, then on the steamer “Pilsudski” to New York where it arrived on August 20th. The vehicle, disguised as a tractor, was then transported on the ship “Frida” to the Peruvian port of Callao, where it arrived on September 13th, 1938. The next day, the tank was sent to the arsenal in Lima and prepared for test trials. It performed basic test drives for three days, before being sent via train to La Oroya, at 3,728 m above sea level in the central Peruvian Andes.
“Lima” performed well in its tests in September 1938 and the Peruvians were satisfied. However, the representative of the French mission in Peru requested more challenges and tests that the tank should undergo. It should be noted that Peruvian military thinking at the time was heavily influenced by the French. In the end, even the French representatives in Peru were convinced and reported the results to Renault.
The tank could effectively drive at 33 km/h at 4,200 m above sea level and could drive up a 40º slope. Nonetheless, an accident occurred when the tank was tasked with driving up a curvy and unknown road at top speed. It was very windy that day and the tank’s driver lost control on a curve and fell 5 m. The tank itself sustained only minor damage, and the crew members were lightly hurt.
“Lima” was repaired the following morning and returned to Lima on September 23. The commission who saw the rescue and repairs on the tank was satisfied and saw this as a learning opportunity in case it happened again. On October 3, the president of Peru inspected the tank and was also satisfied. The whole accident turned out positively for the Czechoslovaks in the end, as rumors spread in Lima that the tank had fallen from a height of 15 m sustaining no damage at all. Whilst sources mention that shooting tests were carried out next, the tank did not have any armament. This was either a mistake in the sources or possibly refers to the tank being shot at. The tank was also tested for driving through dunes, which it satisfactorily passed.
Production and Export
With the success of “Lima”, serial production in Czechoslovakia was authorized. The first 13 hulls, which would become the first series, were put under construction. However, the deadline of the contract was regarded as unrealistic by ČKD. The Peruvian Commission demanded that the prototype was to be sent for trial runs in Peru by summer 1938 and the remaining tanks were to be delivered by October 1938. Armor plates for the tanks were made in the Poldi factories and the guns were constructed by Skoda. ZB was responsible for the machine guns. It was Poldi that often delayed the construction of the tanks due to armor plate shortages.
Due to the Czechoslovakian mobilization in September 1938 following the German annexation of the Sudetenland, several tanks were taken over by the Czechoslovakian military. In case the Peruvians wanted their money back if they regarded the contract with ČKD as unfulfilled, the Czechoslovakian government would pay Skoda per tank. However, this whole affair is quite unclearly explained in the available secondary literature.
In October 1938, several armor pieces were completed and mechanical components were installed on 11 tanks. Of these, 4 already had engines. In November, 6 tanks were completed and sent to painting.
In the meantime, in Peru, the diplomatic representatives and two factory divers were training the first Peruvian tankers, 3 officers, and 7 NCOs. The training consisted of teaching the Peruvians not only to drive the tanks but also how to service them.
Demonstration and training were done on the prototype “Lima”. Training finished a day before the tanks arrived. Acceptance trials that took place between December 23 and 27 were performed by the new Peruvian tankers.
In December 1938, the other 17 vehicles were successfully tested in Czechoslovakia. After the mobilization was called off, on November 4, 1938, the first batch of 6 vehicles was sent to Hamburg. In Hamburg, the tanks were sent to Callao on board the ship “PATRIA”. On December 7, after arriving in Callao, during the process of unpacking the first four vehicles, another problem was observed. All unpainted surfaces, such as shafts connecting the engine and gearbox, levers, brakes, water pump, and exhaust pipes were rusting and all leather surfaces were molding. This was mainly the result of time limitations on the Czechoslovakian side, which meant the repairs had to be done by the mechanics in Peru. On some vehicles, such as No. 1, the brake could not be replaced. Bulletproof glass blocks and support rollers of the tracks had to be replaced on almost every vehicle. Furthermore, much to the dislike of the Peruvians, the heavy ZB machine guns had a defect. Additionally, some vehicles lacked specific parts which had to be replaced.
On January 5, 1939, the second batch of LTPs was sent through Poland to the harbor in Gdynia and then sent to New York on board the ship “BATORY”. The second batch, consisting of 9 tanks, arrived in Callao on February 14, 1939, on board the ship “LEILA”.
On January 13, 1939, the third and final batch of vehicles consisting of 8 tanks was sent through Poland to Gdynia and then to New York on the steamer “VIGILAND”. The tanks arrived in Callao on February 27, 1939, on board the ship “HELGA”. Afterward, the purchase of several radio telegraph instruments was approved.
The tanks of the second and third batches had some of the same defects as the first batch, such as a lack of bulletproof glass blocks, which was a problem on almost all LTPs. In January 1939, the glass blocks were sent from Czechoslovakia with the addition of other necessary parts. Additionally, 1,071 cases and 13,334 rounds for the LTP’s guns were sent. On March 3rd, 1939 the last tanks were accepted and were officially introduced to Peruvian service. In April, 14 boxes with additional spare parts for the LTPs were sent.
Trials in Czechoslovakia
Before being sent to Peru, each serial-produced LTP (all vehicles except the first one) had to go through a test trial. This trial run consisted of a 150 km long route on roads and 3 hours on soft grass and stony areas. On the road, everything and every little aspect of the tank had to be tested, which included testing the brakes, steering, water crossing capabilities, trench crossing capability, and ability to climb and overcome obstacles.
The contract also stipulated that one of the first ten (excluding the prototype) tanks had to pass a long test run overseen by the Peruvian Commission. This route had to be 1,000 km long, of which 100 km had to be sandy ground. In November 1938, the route and journey were recorded. The vehicle, presumably vehicle No. 2-7, was sent together with two crew members, a Czechoslovak driver and a Peruvian mechanic, a car, and a fuel transporter and was divided into 8 stages.
The 8 stages of the 1000 km test run of the LTP
Prague – Brno (227 km), 120 liters of fuel, 10 hours
Good performance under perfect weather on the state roads
Brno – Trenčín (139 km), 110 liters of fuel, 9 hours
Steering brakes had to be adjusted -> same performance
Trenčín – B. Bystrica (154 km), 131 liters of fuel, 8 hours
Oil in the gearbox had to be changed, heavy fog, performed well
B. Bystrica – N. Smokovec (153 km), 150 liters of fuel, 7 hours
No problems occurred
N. Smokovec – Ružomberok (98 km), 77 liters of fuel, 6 hours
Icy and mountainous roads, some track pins had to be stripped
The Commission was satisfied with the results and considered the LTP a reliable vehicle. Except for the cases when track links became loose and rivets broke on the tracks, the tank sustained no damage. This problem was fixed by introducing a new bolt for the track links. The representative of the Commission who participated in the ride stated that the vehicle could be easily started every morning whilst being kept in a closed garage overnight. At an average speed of 25 km/h, the tank’s brakes, steering, engine, and transmission all performed excellently. The temperature inside the tank was around 21°C with an outside temperature of 6°C.
The last tests were done in December 1938. All 17 tanks underwent shooting trials. However, this proved to be extremely difficult for the tanks, as the temperature reached -16°C.
At first, the tanks were designated LTL which were originally intended for Lithuania. The original contract also included the name Praga LTL. “LT” stood for Lehký Tank (Eng. Light Tank) in Czech. The letter at the end denoted the export nation, “L” for Lithuania, “P” for Peru, and “H” for Helvetia (Switzerland). When the prototype entered construction, the tanks were renamed Praga LTP which means Lehký Tank Peru. In Peru, it was known as Tanque Ligero 38/39M (Eng. Light Tank Model 38/39).
The design of the LTP was very similar to that of the LT vz.38 TNH. It featured the same suspension and most of the drive, transmission, and suspension were unchanged. The vehicle had two machine guns and a 37 mm gun fitted in a turret that was redesigned from the turret of the LT vz.38.
Chassis and Suspension
The hull was an armored body divided into two compartments. The engine compartment, located at the back, had the engine and fuel tank. The crew compartment was separated from the engine compartment via a firewall. Only the driver was located in the hull.
The running gear was almost the same as the LT vz.38. The road wheels on the LTP were smaller compared to the LT vz. 38. The diameter of the road wheels of the LTP was around 675 mm whilst on the LT vz. 38 it was 775 mm. The running gear consisted of a front sprocket wheel, an idler wheel, four roadwheels, and three return rollers. The suspension was a leaf spring type. The rubber outlines of the roadwheels were a bit smaller than on the LT vz.38. Additionally, the contact length of the tracks with the ground was also shorter on the LTP. Track tension was handled by a tensioning crank and the idler wheel.
The engine was located at the rear, in the separate engine compartment. All 24 Scania Vabis 1664 engines for the LTPs were built in Sweden. These were similar to the ones on the LT vz. 38, with some minor differences making it more suitable for the higher altitude in which the tanks had to operate. The maximum compression ratio was increased to 1:7.2. This was to prevent the compression from reaching its maximum capabilities already at low altitudes. A pressure-reducing flap was placed in the air chamber, between the carburetor and the oil cleaner. The flap was closed by a spring which was controlled by the driver according to a scale. At low altitudes, the spring closed the flap halfway, which prevented too much air from getting into the oil cleaner. The compression level was around 1:5.7. If the tank operated at high altitudes, then the flap could be opened more and let more air through, which achieved maximum cylinder filling. This resulted in a maximum compression ratio of 1:7.2. The carburetor was a special aviation type that allowed the addition of more air. This additional air came through an air intake and was then filtered by the carburetor diffuser. The fuel was fed via an AC pump. On the rear end side was a water radiator cooling air outlet grill for the engine. The engine propelled the vehicle up to a maximum speed of 40 km/h on roads and 33 km/h off-road. The drive shaft was connected to the front sprocket wheel, driving the tank. The engine’s power rotated the drive shaft, which powered the front-placed gearbox. The LTP’s gearbox had 5 forwards and one reverse gear.
The superstructure was built on top of the hull. On the rear side were the engine deck and a rear wall. On top of the engine was the grill for the air outlet and a towing cable. On the rear wall were the exhaust muffler, a red light, a pickaxe, and a shovel. On the left mudguard were spare tracks, a toolbox, and an ax. On both mudguards, on the front, were two white side lights. On the right mudguard were the jack, iron bars, and a sledgehammer. On the front side of the hull was a hatch for the driver and a vision port with three hatches with bulletproof glass which could be rotated. On the right side of the front plate was the light machine gun. Between the vision port and light machine gun was a removable headlamp. On the front and rear sides of the hull, two towing hooks capable of handling 5,000 kg were situated.
Turret and Armament
The turret was similar to the LT vz.38. It had a small extension at the back, where equipment and ammunition for the machine gun were stored. There were two seats for the commander and gunner, connected to the turret ring. In order for the turret to be perfectly balanced, both crew members in the turret had to be seated. This also allowed for the best turning capabilities on larger slopes.
Whilst firing, the turret could be fixed with a brake to allow quick operation of the gun. On the turret roof, there were two hatches, one for the commander and one for the loader. There was also a cylindrical commander’s cupola on top of the commander’s hatch which was attached to the commander’s hatch. The observation cupola could be rotated freely 360° and had a bulletproof glass block for the commander, but could also be locked in position. Additionally, there were holes in the turret’s roof for signal flags and a periscope. On the turret’s sides were two pistol ports, and in the rear, a glass vision block that could be closed.
The LTP had a main gun and two machine guns. The main gun mounted in the turret was the 37 mm ÚV vz. 34. The gun was the same as in the LT vz.34 and 35 and later also the German operated Panzer 35(t). Targets for the LTP’s gun were acquired using an angled aiming telescope. In terms of performance, the gun had a muzzle velocity of 675 m/s and could penetrate up to 35 mm of armor angled at 30º at a range of 100 m and up to 21 mm of similarly angled armor at a range of 1,000 m. This made the tank, for 1938, and especially in South America, very modern, as it would face no problems penetrating other export and rival tanks, such as the Vickers 6 ton and Renault FT.
The coaxial machine gun was the heavy air-cooled 7.92 mm ZB vz. 53.
The other machine gun was the light air-cooled 7.92 mm ZB vz. 30 mounted on the left side of the hull. It was manned by the gunner, who kneeled to operate it.
All weapons could be removed for maintenance. There were 53 rounds for the main gun, of which 18 were armor-piercing and 36 high explosives. They were stored at the bottom and left of the tank in tin packages.
The heavy machine gun had 2,200 rounds, of which some were armor-piercing, and the light machine gun had 500 rounds stored in the turret and bottom of the tank.
The armor was the same or similar as the LT vz.38 TNH except for the inner layout, observation devices, and turret. It could effectively protect the crew from armor-piercing bullets fired from regular caliber rifles and light machine guns from a distance of 75 m. The front side of the superstructure and hull were 15 to 25 mm thick. The sides of the superstructure were 15 mm thick and the rear was up to 12 mm thick. The engine deck was 10 mm thick. The turret front was 20 mm thick, and the rest, including the cupola, were 15 mm thick. Even though it was riveted and therefore offered less protection than welded armor, the rivets were reinforced and countersunk and therefore were relatively stable.
The crew consisted of 3: a commander tasked with overviewing the battlefield and giving orders to the crew, a driver, and a gunner, who operated the main gun and the coaxial heavy machine gun. The commander and gunner were housed in the turret, whereas the driver was positioned at the front of the vehicle. The crew for the prototype received training in Czechoslovakia and Peru directly from Czechoslovakian mechanics and tankers. After the first vehicles arrived, the first tank training school was opened, in which a Czechoslovakian tank instructor taught the crews. Unlike the Czechoslovakian tankers, who had trouble navigating and operating the tanks in such high altitudes, the Peruvians, who were used to the height, learned fast how to operate the tanks in mountainous regions.
Although radio receivers for the tanks were ordered, the tanks primarily relied on signal communication. Through the signal hatch on top of the turret, a red and green signal flag could be raised. During the night, electric lamps on the turret could give off a red and green color. Communication between driver and commander was done via light bulbs which the commander activated with buttons. The three light bulbs were in three different colors, creating different orders for the driver.
Organization and Doctrine
After an attempted coup d’etat in January 1938, the first Peruvian tank battalion was formed. It consisted of two companies with 12 tanks each. Additionally, there were support vehicles delivered in June 1939, which were a Praga AV command car and a two-tonne 6×4 Praga RV truck. The main positions of the tank battalion were occupied by Czechoslovak experts and mechanics.
The exact further organization is not known. However, photos reveal that the 12 LTPs in each company were divided into 3 platoons, each platoon identified by either a square, a triangle, or a circle. Platoon leaders had noncontinuous lines and regular vehicles had continuous lines. Each platoon had 4 vehicles. In several photos, which were all taken during the conflict with Ecuador in 1941, new markings appeared on the turret sides. One of these markings was an “R1”. Before the war, these markings did not appear and it is hard to deduce what the Czechoslovaks had in mind in terms of organization.
At some point during the 1960s, a new system was introduced with a three-digit turret number system.
The Czechoslovak military advisors and mechanics proposed their doctrine on how to use the tanks in combat. The doctrine was similar to the Czechoslovak tank doctrine and was not specialized for the Peruvians. The doctrine stated that the tanks were used only alongside the infantry. This meant that the tanks could not be as fast as designed, but the advancing infantry could keep up with them. Only in some cases were the tanks meant to advance faster than the infantry. The tanks were to advance in a line with normally 2 or 3 platoons at once, which meant the tanks advanced at a company level together. They would penetrate the enemy’s lines on a narrow front with infantry moving between the tanks.
Camouflage and Markings
Each LTP had a unique camouflage pattern that theoretically could help identify a vehicle without seeing its name. The camouflage pattern was the standard Czechoslovakian three-tone pattern consisting of dark green, earth brown, and ochre yellow.
During the 1950s or 1960s, the vehicles were painted in dark olive green, as the Czechoslovaks did not supply any new paint after the vehicles arrived for the first time. Later, when 1 or 2 tanks were restored, a 4-tone camouflage was applied, consisting of black, beige, olive green, and brown.
Each of the 24 tanks had a different name painted on the right side of the chassis in white letters. Most names were the names of cities, regions, and counties of Peru.
The tactical markings were painted in most likely either signal yellow or white on the right side of the turret and the rear. Only 12 of the 24 tanks were ever sent to combat against Ecuador, which means the other 12 most likely did not participate and therefore had no tactical markings.
The 1st LTP was the prototype named “Lima”, after the capital city of Peru. It had a distinctive pattern that differed greatly from the other patterns applied to the tanks. “Lima” was also the vehicle that underwent the test trials in Peru. “Lima” was also used for testing the armor thickness against rifles and machine guns.
Of the first batch of vehicles, numbers 2 to 7, the names were not noted down and therefore can only be deduced from photos.
Capital city of Peru
First prototype, different style of camouflage pattern
Historical port city in which the tanks arrived
It had a small Peruvian flag on the side
of the turret painted by the factory
Region in the south of Peru
It did not have a white circle but an “R1”,
but can be seen together with other 1st Platoon vehicles
Region in the very south of Peru
It had a white square on its turret
Region in the south of Peru
This area was part of the disputed area with Ecuador
and one of the reasons why war broke out in 1941
Region in the north of Peru
Region in the north of Peru
Region in the southeast of Peru
It had a white square on its turret
Region in the south of Peru
It had a white square on its turret
Region in the central of Peru
It had a white circle on its turret
Region in the north of Peru, but also the word freedom in Spanish
It had a white circle with a dot
in the middle on the right and rear turret side
Region in the west of Peru
It had a white square on its turret
Region in the northwest of Peru
Region in the north of Peru named after the Amazon River
Region in the central of Peru on the coastline
Region in the north of Peru
It had a white triangle on its turret
“Madre De Dios”
Region in the east of Peru which translates
as “Mother of God”
It had a white triangle on its turret
Region in the south of Peru
Region in the central north of Peru
City in Tacna region in Peru.
Region in the central of Peru
Region in the central south Peru
Region in the south of Peru
It had a white circle upon the war’s start
Region in the very southeast, to the border with Bolivia
“Puno” was selected for shooting
tests in May 1939 and it was revealed
that the heavy machine gun had problems that could later be fixed.
“Puno” had a white triangle on its turret
The 1939 Failed Coup Attempt
The first action and use of the LTPs was in February 1939. On February 19th, 1939, at a time of internal turmoil in Peru, General Antonio Rodríguez Ramírez, who was also Second Deputy President, carried out a palace coup against President Óscar R. Benavides, who at the time was away on an excursion. However, this was very short-lived, and Gen. Rodríguez Ramírez was shot by a policeman. The other conspirators saw the writing on the wall and lay down their arms.
In the aftermath of the failed coup, President Óscar R. Benavides was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the 7 tanks (the second and third batch were still on their way) were readied. He also proposed the purchase of armored cars to deal with the insurgents. It is unknown how the tanks were used, but it is assumed they did not fire a shot and were used more as a deterrent.
In July 1939, the tanks were demonstrated to the public for the first time, without any harmful intent, as part of a large military parade.
The War of 41
When Ecuador gained its independence from Gran Colombia in 1830, it gained a large number of territories that were previously disputed between Colombia and Peru. This led to a number of small border clashes between Ecuador and Peru and a number of unsatisfactory accords and protocols. An agreement was settled in 1936 with the Ulloa-Viteri Accord, which gave Peru its desired territories. However, most Ecuadorians were not satisfied with the agreement as a lot of Ecuadorian lands were lost. This led to further border clashes. Peru accused Ecuador of crossing the border and occupying Peruvian towns. It is important to note that even to this day, the war, and especially the build-up to it, are poorly documented and most sources take a chauvinistic line.
In 1940, the border clashes escalated in the Peruvian border town of Loreta. Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, aware of the state of his army, knew that, if a war were to break out, his country would fall, similar to France in 1940. In October 1940, he defused the situation slightly by opening negotiations between the two countries. He also tried to find international support to scare Peru off. Although the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister tried to reopen negotiations multiple times, his Peruvian counterpart did not reciprocate. This is, by some, often considered as the Peruvians wanting the war at all costs and continuing to search for a justification.
In March 1941, the USA and several other South American nations suggested mediating the dispute between both countries. This was seen as a great opportunity for the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, but the Peruvian Foreign Minister once again ignored this.
Ecuador fielded next to no real organized army. Around 750 soldiers and 30 officers were on the frontline, along with an additional 650, most of whom were in paramilitary units and volunteers, in reserve. A total of 8 outdated Krupp artillery pieces left over from the wars fought by Gran Colombia were also in service, along with 2 to 4 47 mm guns, and around ten 20 mm Breda anti-aircraft guns. For motorized vehicles, the Ecuadorians only had civilian ones that quickly ran out of fuel.
Peru, on the other hand, fielded a much larger army, consisting of an estimated 11,000 to 13,000 men. In 1940, the Agrupamiento del Norte (Eng. Northern Army Grouping) was created. This was organized into the Group Headquarters, two light infantry divisions, and two army detachments. The two army detachments consisted of a special force for fighting in the jungles and the 33rd Infantry Battalion fighting in the northeast. The Group Headquarters had the 5th and 6th Cavalry Regiments, the 6th Artillery Group consisting of 8 105 mm guns, and the Army Tank Detachment consisting of the 1st Company of LTPs.
Solely based on photographic evidence, in combat against the Ecuadorians, the first company of tanks was employed and consisted of:
The 1st Light Infantry Division fielded multiple infantry battalions, anti-aircraft, engineer, and artillery groups. The same organization was used for the other light infantry division. The rest of the Peruvian Army, including the other 12 tanks, were stationed on the other borders, such as with Bolivia.
On July 5th, 1941, negotiations broke down between Ecuador and Peru and the dispute finally escalated into a full-blown war. However, at the start, it was only a minor border clash. It is unknown which side shot the first bullet and accusations remain to this day, but it started out between two border patrols in the Ecuadorian town of Huaquillas on the Zarumilla River, near the coast. The Ecuadorian troops managed to capture Peruvian border posts in the Aguas Verdes district on the Peruvian side of the Zarumilla River. The Peruvians responded on the next day by bombing Ecuadorian border towns and pushed the Ecuadorians to the other side of the river using a much larger force.
The first major battle of the war was the Battle of Zarumilla, fought between July 23rd and 31st. This battle was fought in the air, on land, and in the river mouth with submarines and small warships. Peruvian forces managed to overwhelm the Ecuadorian Army with superior strength, making them flee.
Peru attacked the Ecuadorian port town of Puerto Bolívar with ships on July 29th. Ecuadorian President, Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Río, ordered a unilateral ceasefire, resulting in the ire of many Ecuadorians, military and civilian. Before the ceasefire went into effect at 18:00 on July 31st, a final attack was conducted by the Peruvians. Peruvian paratroopers conducted the first ever parachute operation in the Americas to capture Puerto Bolívar.
In spite of the ceasefire, Peru launched a new attack to the east, in the Amazon jungles of south-central Ecuador between July 31st and August 1st. Fighting in this area lasted until August 11th when Peru gained control of the Yaupi and Santiago rivers.
The Peruvian LTP tanks also supported attacks in the east during August and September 1941, in which Peru managed to capture a large number of territories. On August 31st, Peru began the blockade of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s main maritime port and base of its fleet.
The Peruvian advance was slowed down when Argentina, Brazil, and the US demanded an end to the war. By October 6th, offensive operations ended and an international mediation was formed to try and resolve the war. Although representatives tried to support Ecuador, the Peruvians stood by their claims, and by 1942, the US had greater problems to deal with.
On January 29th, 1942, the Rio Protocol was signed which resulted in Ecuador giving up its claim on Peruvian land and the border between the two countries finally being agreed upon. However, this would not be the final peace treaty, as war broke out again in 1981 and 1995. Only in 1998 was a final peace agreement between the two countries reached.
The Peruvian LTP tanks were widely used on the coastline on the western side, due to most of the fighting happening there. On several occasions, the Czechoslovakian T-6 artillery tractor, with its superior tracked suspension, towed the motorized units out of the mud and through rivers. The tanks also supported infantry, advancing in the way the doctrine intended. On one occasion, the tanks crossed a river and protected the infantry, which could move safely over the river.
The LTP performed excellently due to the almost non-existent anti-tank capabilities of the Ecuadorian forces. The vehicles advanced at a fast pace supported by motorized units and motorcycle infantry. They encountered no trouble advancing through mountainous regions and the rainforest and, if minor mechanical problems occurred, the trained Peruvian tankers and the Czechoslovak mechanics could solve the problem. At some point, the LTPs advanced at such a high pace that the rest of the army could not keep up.
It was only due to the lacking Ecuadorian anti-tank capabilities that the tanks managed to survive in many instances. The only possible threat was posed by the Ecuadorian artillery, which was also one of the reasons why the Bolivians lost their tanks to the Paraguayans in the 1932 Chaco War. However, the Ecuadorian artillery, only available in small numbers, lacked coordination and experience, which resulted in its ineffective use.
Only in one case did an Ecuadorian 20 mm Breda gun manage to slightly damage the turret front of a vehicle during the attack on Huabillos. The AP rounds of the 37 mm gun were not used often, as the tanks encountered nothing to penetrate. The HE rounds, on the other hand, were used, dealing damage to the already few machine gun nests and bunker positions.
Post-War of 41 Service
In 1947, even though through the Lend-Lease Act, the United States had provided Peru with 30 M3 Stuart tanks, the Peruvians favored the LTP tanks, and a request for 20 additional vehicles was put forward to ČKD. The Peruvians were unhappy with the M3 Stuarts, as they were less reliable compared to the LTPs, which had now been in service for 5 years without any major issues. Negotiations started, with the Peruvians requesting upgraded light tanks from ČKD. The upgraded tank would have had welded armor, an upgraded 37 mm Skoda A-7 gun, and a diesel engine.
However, in 1951, the new Czechoslovakian Communist government ended the negotiations, as in their eyes, and those of Moscow, Peru was a mere vassal of American imperialism. ČKD could only send spare parts with a value of US$53,735 on April 5, 1950, which arrived in 1951. Throughout the years, many of the 24 tanks were cannibalized for parts that were used to repair other LTPs.
Two vehicles in running condition but without paint and ammunition, located in the Real Felipe fortress in Callao, were spotted in 1987 and were allegedly still used to fight Shining Path terrorists.
The LTPs were eventually replaced by the much more advanced AMX-13 and T-54/55 tanks.
One of these two vehicles from Callao was restored in 2015 by the Military History Institute and was named “Junín” and gifted to the Czech Republic. The other exists in its old form in front of the fortress. However, it is assumed that more vehicles exist, either broken down in army storage or as monuments in barracks or public places. In the 2000s, 1 or 2 vehicles were also restored by the Army and have been used during parades.
Support Vehicles for the LTP
Due to the need for repairs and tank maintenance coming up during the discussion of the original contract, a mobile workshop trailer was designed. The trailer had four wheels and carried spare parts and tools for the tanks. It was to be towed by a T-6 artillery tractor and only one was sent to Peru. In February 1939, the mobile workshop arrived together with a Praga T-6 artillery tractor.
Conclusion – South America’s Greatest Tank during WW2?
The choice to purchase tanks from Czechoslovakia had proven to be the right one for Peru, as the Praga LTP fulfilled all the requirements demanded by the Peruvian Army. The only exceptions being some minor mistakes, small shortcomings, and increased weight. The ultimate test for the tank would be the participation during the Peru-Ecuador War of 1941, where they performed exceptionally well against the Ecuadorian Army, suffering from next to no breakdowns or mechanical issues. They even outperformed the later arriving M3 Stuarts. In service until the 1980s, the Tanque Ligero 38/39M was one of the tanks with the longest service life in the world.
The question of if the Tanque Ligero 38/39M was South America’s best tank during WW2 remains unanswered, as no conflicts between any other nations happened. However, assumptions can be made from similar vehicles or comparing gun penetration with specifications of other export or South American tanks.
Furthermore, the armor provided sufficient protection against the 47 mm of the Vickers. Chile fielded several Carden-Loyd tankettes armed with 20 mm anti-tank guns. However, it is not known how these guns performed.
In 1941 and 1942, the first Lend-Lease vehicles arrived, not just in Peru, but the entirety of South America. Although the M3 Stuart would, in theory, be equal to the LTP, the state in which most M3 Stuarts arrived was terrible, resulting in poor performance. The only tank that could have posed a serious threat was the M4 Sherman sent to Brazil as part of the Lend-Lease Act, which outshone the Praga LTP in most factors. There was also the Nahuel DL.43, which was essentially an Argentine medium tank similar to the M4 Sherman. This tank would also outperform the LTP.
Tanque Ligero 38/39M specifications
4.1 x 1.95 x 2.16 m
3 (Driver, commander, loader/gunner)
Cross-country: 33km/h, roads: 41 km/h
37 mm UV vz. 34 canon, heavy ZB vz. 53 (turret), light ZB vz. 30 (hull)
54 rounds for the gun (18 armor piercing, 36 HE rounds), 2,700 rounds for both MGs
German Reich (1939-1941)
Engineering Tank – At Least 8 Built
Deemed obsolete in 1939, the Panzer I chassis was reused for many roles and purposes, creating new variants of the Panzer I. One of these new variants was the Panzer I bridge layer. Using the Panzer I Ausf.A chassis, the engineer battalion of the 2nd Panzer Division converted two of their tanks into bridge layers before the Invasion of Poland in September 1939. During the Polish campaign, more Panzer I bridge layers entered service and these vehicles also took part in the Invasion of France in May 1940. Their service life ended at some point in 1941, during Operation Barbarossa, due to the Panzer I chassis not being able to carry the bridge reliably. Furthermore, the production of Bridge layers on more modern chassis and with greater capacity had already begun in 1940, which replaced the Panzer I bridge layer, the Brückenleger I.
Context: Mobile Bridges for the Wehrmacht
The Panzer I was initially planned as a frontline and stopgap tank for the Panzerwaffe (English: tank force) in case of enemy aggression. However, as more and more modern tanks entered production and the Panzer I, with its thin armor and armed only with machine guns, was outdated as a frontline tank. However, rather than simply scrapping the vehicles, many Panzer I chassis of the Ausf.A and B variants were reused in new roles.
By 1939, the Waffenamt (English: Weapons office) had realized the need for motorizing bridge layers and engineering equipment in general. Normally, engineer bridges would have been carried by engineers, cars, or horses. Motorizing these bridges meant that they could be deployed almost immediately and could then support the advancing tank forces.
The exact production numbers and dates for the Brückenleger are not known. The first 2 Bridge layers were built before the Invasion of Poland in September 1939. These tanks were not simple field conversions carried out by the troops but conversions demanded by the Weapons Office. Alongside the 2 Panzer Is, multiple Panzer IIs were also converted into bridge layers. The conversions were most likely carried out by Krupp or Henschel, since these two companies were the leading companies in Panzer I production. The vehicle had its turret removed and a scaffold built around it, on which the bridge was fitted.
During the Invasion of Poland, an additional unknown number of Panzer I Ausf.As were converted into bridge layers. At least 2 vehicles can be seen with their entire superstructure removed. This would lead to the possibility that these vehicles were field conversions of Fahrschulwagen (Engish: training tanks) carried out by the 2nd Panzer Division’s engineer battalion.
At some point in September 1939, an unknown quantity of Panzer Is (Ausf.As and Bs) were also converted into bridge layers. Photos suggest that at least four additional vehicles (2 Ausf.As. and 2 Ausf.Bs) were built. However, this last variant differed greatly from the previous two bridge layer types. They featured a new bridge and still had their turret mounted. They all participated during the Invasion of Poland and later in France. It is unknown if any further vehicles were converted after 1940.
Officially, there is no record of the vehicle being referred to as Brückenleger I (English: Bridge layer I). However, this is the term the troops used to refer it to. Additionally, the later bridge layer on Panzer II and IV chassis was referred to as “Brückenleger”. Therefore, it can be presumed that this vehicle would have a similar name.
The first two bridge layers used the chassis of the Panzer I Ausf.A. Other than the removal of the turret, no changes were made. On the second version, again two Panzers I Ausf.A chassis were used. On the last version, both Ausf.A and B chassis were used.
Other than the mounting of support beams for the bridge, the superstructure was left unchanged on the first version. On the second version, the entire superstructure appears to be removed or was never mounted, as these vehicles could have been maintenance or training tanks on Panzer I chassis which both featured no real superstructure. Across the mudguards, two wooden beams for holding the bridge were mounted on the rear and front sides. The last version had an unchanged superstructure of the Ausf.A and B. However, multiple iron beams appear to be bolted into the front part of the hull for a bridge support. Furthermore, two iron bars were bolted onto the side of the superstructure on each side.
The suspension of the Ausf.A and B was left unchanged in all parts. It was still the same leaf spring suspension type with the road, idler, frontal wheels, and return rollers. This would later turn out to be a problem, as the already stressed chassis of the Ausf.A and B had problems successfully carrying the bridge in steep areas.
On the Brückenleger I mounted on the Ausf.A and B chassis, two different engines were installed. The bridge layer vehicle on the Ausf.A chassis used the Krupp M 305 4-cylinder air-cooled engine, which was very loud and noisy and could barely handle the Panzer Is lone weight. Adding a heavy bridge and even other tanks could lead to engine breakdowns. Vehicles on the Ausf.B chassis had the new Maybach NL 38 TL 6 cylinder water-cooled installed, which improved the Panzer I’s performance greatly.
On the first two versions, the turret was removed due to an unknown reason. This was presumably done in order for the first bridge type to fit the tank. The last version still mounted the Ausf.A or B turret in its entirety.
Three Different Bridges
Generally, the bridge layers differed mainly in what bridges they were mounting and were all rather primitive in terms of technology. The first version mounted two removable bridge ramps that could be used either as a ramp or additional length for the tank driving onto it. The deck could be removed, but it was not intended to be in combat. The bridge was made out of wooden beams bolted and held together via iron corner brackets. The deck rested on a wooden supporting skeleton mounted around the superstructure, which in turn was attached to the hull and superstructure by wooden beams. In total, the two bridge ramps had a length of 4 meters and a maximum load capacity of around 7 tonnes.
The second version can be seen as more of a bridge carrier and looked rather rudimentary. In photos, the two vehicles seem to be carrying three independent bridging sections which could all be removed easily. They laid on two wooden beams which in turn laid on the mudguards. Not much is known about their load capacity but, due to them solely being made out of wood, without any trace of metal support brackets, it is questionable if these 4-meter-long bridges could carry more than 7 tonnes.
The last version was technically the most advanced and looked more like the later bridge layers, such as the bridge layer IV. It featured three parts. One part could be put behind the tank so another tank could drive onto it. Once again, the deck acted as a part of the bridge itself and the front part would be extended either upwards or downwards. This bridge, although mainly being made out of wood, featured more metal parts that supported the bridge. This upgrade led to an estimated load capacity of around 8 tonnes and the three parts could cover a length of up to 15 meters. However, a new problem occurred. The bridge was now less stable, and rigidity was decreased. The deck was now a single piece with no hole between the tank itself and the bridge. Furthermore, it was now steep and permanently fixed and could not be removed without removing the bolts. Two large iron beams bolted into the hull supported the front part of the deck. Two smaller iron bars were bolted to the side of the superstructure and to the bridge on each side. Lastly, there was an iron bar hanging above the front hull between the turret and the front support beams which held two (presumably) concrete cubes in place, which acted as counterweights for the extended front bridge. The concrete cubes were connected to the extended front bridge via a large iron bar. To elevate the extended front bridge, the concrete cubes could be dismounted from the middle iron bar and moved from the level of the superstructure to a level above the bridge. If the concrete cubes were at the level of the superstructure, the extended front bridge would be pointing upwards. If the concrete cubes were above the deck, the extended front bridge would be pointing downwards. In some photos, the concrete cubes seem to be missing for unknown reasons.
This is what the bridge layer was intended to look like. However, since there were no official regulations for the Brückenleger I, many crews changed the type of bridge that they were carrying or mounted further bridges on it. In some photos, Brückenleger Is with a full metal bridge can be seen or with another type of bridge which was much more narrow and normally mounted on the Sd.Kfz.251 engineer variant.
There is no record of any changes to the armor and the wooden bridge would not upgrade the armor overall. Therefore, the side, frontal and rear armor was still around 13 mm of steel. The turret, if mounted, was also up to 13 mm.
Armament was removed in the early versions due to the absence of the turret. The machine guns presumably would be carried with the rest of the crew in a separate vehicle. In the later version, both machine guns, the MG 13 k, were mounted.
All three versions had a crew of 2. The commander/gunner was relieved of his task of operating the machine guns in the early versions. On the later versions with turrets, the commander was also operating the weapons. The driver would only drive the vehicle. The rest of the crew responsible for managing the bridge would drive alongside in a truck, car, or half-track and deploy if the bridge was needed. The exact number of how many people were needed to deploy the bridge is not known. In multiple photos, more than 3 people are shown (two of these are the actual crew members). This means at least one additional member was needed.
Organization and Doctrine
At first, the bridge layers were organized into the engineer battalions of Panzer Divisions, since the term tank engineer battalions did not exist yet. In 1939, officially, there were no armored bridge laying tanks, these were only unofficially part of the engineer companies. Starting in March 1940, the third company of every Pionier-Abteilung (English: engineer battalion) of all 10 panzer divisions was renamed into Panzer-Pionier-Kompanien (English: tank engineer companies). Within these Companies, there was the bridge platoon. This platoon would have 4 Brückenleger. Officially, these Brückenleger were based on the Panzer II and IV chassis, however, as the photos suggest, the Brückenleger Is were also fitted in these divisions. This also explains why the bridge layers participating in the Polish campaign only feature the tactical symbol for tank battalions and not that of the tank engineer battalions. At some point, an improvised ‘P’ was painted next to the tank battalion’s rhomboid, standing for Pionier (English: Engineer).
Although the bridge layers were superior in terms of mobility in comparison to their counterparts on foot, they were limited in the capacity and length of the bridge that they were carrying. This meant they could only be deployed in specific situations. The bridge layers were used when an obstacle, such as a small valley, trenches, or ditches not crossable by tanks, stood in the way of the advancing forces. The first two versions were able to clear 4-meter-long obstacles. Since their entire hull acted as a part of the bridge, the vehicle would drive into the ditch or trench, and then other tanks could drive over it. However, the bridge layers would always act together, meaning on one bridge layer the ramps were removed and used for additional length on the other one. On the second version, the bridges could be removed completely. On the later version, similar to the previous ones, the other tanks would drive over it but now the length of the covered area was much longer. Furthermore, the bridge (without the support platform) could be removed and used in other places.
Service Life/Test Results
The bridge layers which participated during the invasion of Poland were part of the 38th Engineer Battalion of the 2nd Panzer Division. No information exists on where and how effectively the bridge layers were used. However, one can assume that they were used during the crossing of the river Dunajec and river San in some way or another.
During the Invasion of France, the bridge layers were divided into three possible engineer battalions. Engineer Battalion 38 of the 2nd Panzer Division kept its old bridge layers, whilst Engineer Battalion 58 of the 7th Panzer Division was equipped with new bridge layers. The last potential battalion was Engineer Battalion 39 of the 3rd Panzer Division, however, this is solely a possibility with no photographic evidence.
Although very likely, it is unknown if the vehicles stayed in their battalions during Operation Barbarossa. Some Brückenleger Is can be seen in deep snow. The photos show the later versions with the large bridge.
Before the Invasion of Poland, tests were done to test the weight-carrying capability of the Brückenleger. During the tests, the Brückenleger was driven into a trench and another Panzer I would drive over it in the same manner as the later and better known ‘ARK’ type tanks. The bridge could successfully carry up to 8 tonnes, which was enough for the Panzer I. However, due to the bridge being made out of wood, stability and rigidity was reduced. This led to the tests turning out rather disappointing for the troops. Nonetheless, the vehicles were sent to the frontlines. It is unknown if any further tests were done on the later models. In theory, wooden bridges could turn out to be quite useful, as they were easier to produce, quieter, and are less slippery in wet conditions.
The Practicality of such a Conversion
Being only able to carry very few tanks of the German Army, the bridge layer I would turn out to be useless in its task of carrying tanks once the Panzer I was put out of service. However, during the first years of the war and especially during the Polish campaign, a large proportion of the German tank force consisted of Panzer Is.
Furthermore, one could argue that the bridge rigidity was insufficient when tanks drove over it and that it could only be deployed in very specific areas. But these were areas in which tanks performed much better than motorized vehicles and the bridge layer I could effectively sustain the weight of German trucks and cars, which could therefore transfer through difficult terrain.
Lastly, the Panzer I was available in large quantities around 1939, whilst heavier tanks, such as the Panzer IV, were not yet available in large numbers and, if available, were used as combat tanks and not engineer tanks. This task could be performed by the already obsolete Panzer I. Like many other conversions, the Panzer I could be made useful again in another role, from which the Army could benefit again.
Other Brückenleger Is
The following vehicles were all based on the Panzer I chassis, but do not have anything in common with the initial development of the real Brückenleger I.
The first odd bridge layer appears to be a training tank on the Ausf.B chassis mounting a very small bridge above its crew compartment.
The second vehicle is a Panzer I Ausf.A chassis without a turret but with a bridge put across the tank. It was used to demonstrate a motorcycle driving up steep obstacles during a parade.
Another bridge layer variant was the Panzer I Ausf.A with fascines. This one was not as much of a bridge layer as the other ones, but still has the same general purpose. It was a regular Panzer I Ausf.A mounting iron support beams. Across the support beams, fascines would be laid. The fascines would be used to support infantry walking across unstable ground, such as mud. If tanks could have used these fascines is questionable. Based on photos, at least one vehicle was converted. This one took part during the Invasion of Poland in 1939 as part of Panzer Regiment 35 within the 4th Panzer Division and was destroyed during that time.
The exact fate of these vehicles is not known, but photos show the vehicles during the winter of 1941. After the winter, no photos exist. Therefore, it can be assumed that the vehicles were either lost or pulled off the front because of their obsolescence.
Although the idea of having a mobile and armored bridge-laying vehicle had proven to be successful, the Panzer I was not the right choice for the chassis. It was severely limited with regards to which vehicles it could carry and how long its bridge could be. The later bridge layers, such as the bridge layer IV, were much better fitted for the role. Furthermore, the need for mobile bridges slowly decreased from 1943 onwards, as the Wehrmacht suffered more and more defeats and was on the retreat. However, the Brückenleger I could effectively carry trucks and other motorized vehicles and the obsolete Panzer I was fitted with a new role.
Brückenleger I specifications
Early version: 4.02 x 2.06 x 1.5 m, Late version: 4.02-44 (extended bridge 15) x 2.06 x 1.90 m
Early version: 6.4 tonnes (bridge load: 7 tonnes), Late version: 7 tonnes (bridge load: 8 tonnes)
At least 3 (commander/gunner, driver, bridge operator)
German Reich (1938-1944)
Decontamination Vehicle – 60-70 le. Entg. and 392 m. Entg. Built
After the experiences of the First World War, which saw the introduction of poisonous gas, many countries assumed that, even though banned through the 1925 Geneva Protocol, that gas would be continued to be used. Therefore, many of these countries experimented with new poison gasses, but also new ways of decontamination. In Germany, the gas warfare doctrine was to be included in the general doctrine which was combined with mobile arms warfare. The idea was to have a mobile task force with three different vehicle types. One of these vehicle types was the Entgiftungskraftwagen (Eng: Decontamination vehicle). They were based on the Sd.Kfz.10 and 11. It would have been used to decontaminate an area where soldiers would advance. However, gas was never used in large amounts during the Second World War. Therefore, the decontamination vehicles were not used in their intended role and alternative uses were found, such as carriers for artillery shells, throughout the war. Its service life ended in 1944 after production had stopped and the last vehicles were destroyed or lost.
Context: German use of Poisonous Gas during the First World War
During the First World War, poisonous gas was used for the first time in combat to inflict huge casualties and spread fear amongst the enemy. After the German Army had been halted on its advance in the winter of 1914-1915, the frontlines started to solidify and both sides dug themselves into trenches. Both sides could not break the other line or, if broken through, only captured small bits of land. Therefore, the German High Command demanded a new weapon to break the frontlines. German chemical companies had been producing chlorine as a side product. Together with these companies, Fritz Haber worked on a way to weaponize this.
In April 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, chlorine was first used by the Germans. The gas worked effectively, and the British and French forces suffered huge casualties. However, the chlorine was uncontrollable and could not be removed after the attack. Therefore, the Germans did not gain much land. Later, as gas masks were introduced on both sides, the Germans abandoned chlorine gas. This was due to chlorine gas being water-soluble, which meant its effects could be reduced by holding a wet cloth or rag to the mouth and nose. Furthermore, it could be easily identified due to its color.
Phosgene was the next gas used by the Germans, presumably first used at Ypres. It was less easy to detect and was much more deadly than chlorine. However, its symptoms took a long time to appear. This was due to the (in comparison) minimal immediate effects of lachrymatory. Only after several hours did the effects of liquids in the lung cause death.
However, the most commonly used gas, even though it was technically a liquid, was mustard gas, first used in 1917. It had a yellow mustard-like color and smelled like garlic. The initial contact was symptomless, but once skin irritation occurred, blisters and biological burns appeared. Although the mortality rate was low, the long-term effects were respiratory problems and burns. The role of mustard gas was not to directly kill the other soldiers but to cause severe pain and disable them from participating in battle. Furthermore, the fear factor was an important element.
The Sd.Kfz.10 was originally planned to be a half-tracked towing vehicle for light artillery, anti-air, and anti-tank guns. Due to the need for a small and light but very fast and mobile half-track, the Demag half-track was developed. Initially, it was only meant to tow artillery guns and ammunition carriers but, during the construction of the first vehicles, it was desired that some of these vehicles would be used for gas warfare and within the Nebeltruppen (Eng. smoke troops, a code name for the German gas warfare units). After numerous Demag prototype vehicles, the D 7 variant went into serial production. However, before that, some D 6 vehicles were used to test the decontamination doctrine.
Sd.Kfz.10/2 Leichter Entgiftungskraftwagen
During the Interwar, the German Army continued to use (in theory) mustard gas and intended to use it for their gas warfare units. But after contaminating an area with the liquid, the German soldiers needed a way through the contaminated area to advance. A decontamination vehicle alongside the contamination vehicle was needed.
In 1936, the Nebeltruppen first showed interest in acquiring light and small half-tracks to mobilize their units. The commander of the Nebeltruppen stated that a Demag vehicle should be tested, ideally in the role of both contamination and decontamination.
In July 1937, the firm of Büssing NAG received a contract for the production of 300 vehicles with a modified transmission that would be able to carry equipment for gas warfare.
Exact production numbers are unknown, but the estimated number ranges from 60 to 70 vehicles completed between 1938 and 1939. The production stopped in June 1939, after the bigger 3t Sd.Kfz.11 was favored and the need for the light Demag decontamination vehicles was dropped.
The Sd.Kfz.10/2 was a half-track based on the chassis of the Demag 7 or later Sd.Kfz.10 Bauart 1939 (Eng. version 1939). It had a superstructure that carried the decontamination chemicals and a spreader for said chemicals.
The chassis used were 300 ordered D7 chassis with an auxiliary drive in the transmission to be able to carry equipment. In addition to the regular Sd.Kfz.10 chassis, two fuel tanks were placed behind the driver’s seat, whilst the left fuel tank had a shaft connected to the spreader’s driveshaft. No other changes were made, which means the vehicle had an interleaved suspension with 5 road wheels, an idler wheel, and a front sprocket wheel which was powered by the transmission.
The superstructure consisted of a spreader and a platform. On the platform’s backside, the 8 drums of chemicals would be placed together with rails for extra stability and safety. A canvas was put above the entire crew and chemical compartments and fastened on the windshield and spreader on the backside. The canvas could be rolled up and stored in the back and was extended only in heavy weather situations, as the canvas placement was low and the crew had less space to work with. The front seat bench, where the driver and co-driver sat, was not changed and was directly in front of the drums. In front of the crew was the engine. Just in front of the spreader in the rear was an additional bench for two crew members.
The exact number of crew members is unknown but, in most photos, there appear to be at least three: driver, co-driver, and an operator for the spreader. However, the additional bench in the rear is for two-member and would therefore get the number up to 4.
The Sd.Kfz.10/2 had the same Maybach NL 38/HL42 TRKM engine as the regular Sd.Kfz.10. However, due to the extra weight of the spreader and chemicals, the overall capabilities of the vehicle mobility-wise were reduced. The engine could give the vehicle a top speed of 65 km/h on roads and about 50 km/h off-road. During usage, crews were instructed never to exceed speeds of 20 km/h on roads and 10 km/h off-road. The fuel tanks held 86 liters of fuel. In the end, it did not matter that the speed was reduced, as the vehicle had to drive at marching infantry speed in combat situations.
Spreader and Chemicals
The spreader was used to spread the chemicals onto the desired area. It was mounted on the rear side and could hold 200 kg of chemicals at once. The Streuvorrichtung (Eng. Spreader) had smooth rollers inside of it to spread the chemicals and a rubber sheet that prevented the wind from blowing the chemicals away. It also had a screen that prevented large clumps from falling down. The spreader and rollers were powered via the left driveshaft, which was connected to the engine under the vehicle. The amount of chemicals spread was controlled by the distance of the smooth rollers inside the spreader. The crew could control this via a lever located at the spreader itself. The dial numbers ranged from 0-9 and were usually set to 3 or 4, which spread about 300 g/m².
The decontamination chemicals were stored in eight drums (4 placed in a row on each side), weighing 480 kg. A singular drum with 50 kg could cover an area of 1 m width by 160 m long. All of the chemicals could cover an area of 1 m by 1,300 m.
The tools were the standard equipment for German AFVs. The vehicle had a long ax, pickaxe, crowbar, and a spate. Rifles were stored lined up behind the driver’s seat and crew baggage under the bench seat.
The Sd.Kfz.11’s history started when the German Army searched for a new way to tow their artillery guns. After several ways were tested to tow the guns, it was settled on a half-track design, since these were easy to produce, cost-efficient, and reliable.
In 1934, development began with the German firm of Hansa Lloyd (later Borgward). Like the Sd.Kfz.10, the 11 had multiple prototypes, which included variants from the H. kl. 2 to the H. kl. 6. The H. kl 6 chassis would later be the production variant and chassis for most variants of the Sd.Kfz.11. It was later renamed to Leichter Zugkraftwagen 3t. (Eng. light towing vehicle 3t.) as production was transferred to Hanomag.
Sd.Kfz.11/2 Mittlerer Engiftungskraftwagen
During demonstration trials in 1937, it was revealed that due to an overall delay concerning the Demag 7 vehicles, an alternative vehicle for decontamination had to be used. The Sd.Kfz.11 was able to carry more decontamination chemicals and could save on the overall number of vehicles used within a battery. However, there were some negative aspects too, such as the vehicle being bigger and less narrow and therefore easier to spot and harder to drive through narrow ways and roads.
The Sd.Kfz.11/2 was a medium decontamination vehicle based on the Sd.Kfz.11 chassis carrying chemicals for decontamination and was meant to replace the smaller Sd.Kfz.10/2.
Two different models of the Sd.Kfz.11/2 existed. The Bauart 1938 and Bauart 1939 (Eng. Model 1938 and 1939) differed in the number of chemicals carried and the width and height of the big cabin. The superstructure, cabin, driver’s compartment, and spreader were built by Peter Bauer Köln (a German vehicle factory in Cologne) and mounted on the chassis. The chassis of the Sd.Kfz.11 was provided by Borgward. The chemicals were most likely produced by the I.G. Farbenindustrie AG.
Before May 1937, 34 vehicles and one prototype vehicle were ordered by the OKH (Oberkommando Herr, Eng. High Command of the Army). Eighteen vehicles were enough to fill the first Entgiftungs Batterie (Eng. Decontamination Battery) for trials and demonstrations. In 1938, the OKH planned to produce enough Sd.Kfz.11/2s to fill all Nebel Abteilungen (Eng. smoke battalions) until March 1939. The model 1938 was built between the span of 1938 to the first half of 1939, which means a total amount of 68 vehicles built. After that, the model 1939 was introduced and produced until the end of the vehicle’s life. In June 1939, the Waffenamt (Eng. Weapons Apartment) demanded the production of 138 new vehicles by October 1939 to fill the newly created Nebel Abteilungen. Production would continue, with 18 vehicles completed by April 1940 and 180 after October 1940. However, in December 1939, the Nebeltruppen (Eng. smoke troops) requested the production of another 200 Sd.Kfz.11/2s and, after that, at a rate of 10 vehicles per month. In June 1940, 600 new vehicles were needed. However, due to the irrelevance of the decontamination vehicles after the Nebeltruppen were repurposed, the production order was canceled but the production was not stopped due to the vehicles being needed in other roles. In 1940, the Nebeltruppen had been diverted from poisonous gas warfare to smoke troops featuring the 15 cm Nebelwerfer.
However, these were only demands and orders. The exact production numbers between the time span of March 1938 and 1941 are not known due to Borgward not reporting the production. In 1941, around 234 vehicles were built (in the estimation of the vehicles needed to fill the existing Nebel Abteilungen). In 1942, 50 vehicles were made. In 1943, 75 vehicles were constructed and another 33 by March 1944.
Estimated production numbers of the Sd.Kfz.11/2
Number of Sd.Kfz.11/2
March 1938-June 1939
Based on the Sd.Kfz.11 chassis, the 11/2 had a new platform on the rear, which featured the chemicals and the spreader. The driver’s compartment was similar but some parts were changed. Separating both compartments was a large storage cabin that carried the equipment of the crew. In front of the driver’s compartment was the engine.
The chassis was the same unchanged Sd.Kfz.11 H kl 6 chassis with an auxiliary drive, like the Sd.Kfz.10/2, connecting the spreader with the engine. It had an interleaved suspension with a front sprocket wheel connected to the transmission and drive. Steering could be performed by both the two front wheels and by the tracks.
The superstructure consisted of a driver’s compartment, a large storage cabin, and a rear platform with the spreader and chemicals. The driver’s compartment had a two-crew bench seat and was open-top. A canvas could be fastened above the entire vehicle’s crew compartment and, if not mounted, stored in the back. A large storage cabin was placed between the driver’s compartment and the rear platform. On the early model 1938, the cabin was rather tall and narrow, and on the later model 1939, wider and smaller. There were rails to stabilize the chemical barrels on both sides of the platform and, at the rear end, was the spreader. Due to the resizing of the cabin, the model 1939 also featured smaller and shorter rails.
The Sd.Kfz.11/2 had 4 crew members. Two, driver and co-driver, sat on the bench in the driver’s compartment. The other two, tasked with operating the spreader, sat on two folding seats located on each end of the platform.
The engine was the same Maybach NL 38/HL 42 giving out 100 hp. This could propel the vehicle up to 50 km/h on roads and 40 km/h off roads. Like the Sd.Kfz.10/2, during usage, crews were instructed only to drive at about 20 km/h on roads and 10 km/h off-road. Like the Sd.Kfz.10/2, the reduced and slow speed was not relevant, as it was meant to match infantry marching speed. The vehicle had 110 liters of fuel and a maximum range of 275 km on roads and 150 km off-road.
Spreader and Chemicals
On the model 1938, two different spreaders existed. A taller bin with a different drive and the smaller standard spreader was also featured on the model 1939. The model 1939 only had one spreader. The spreader worked in the exact same way as the one on the Sd.Kfz.10/2, with the difference that these ones were bigger and wider, with 400 kg of load capacity. This meant there were also rollers inside the spreader and a rubber sheet spreading the chemicals. There was also an auxiliary drive powering the rollers. The amount of chemicals spread was also controlled by a lever and the distance between the rollers. Regularly, it would have been positioned at levels 1-6 (out of 0-9).
The chemicals were stored in drums and small tin cans. The model 1938 had 14 drums weighing 840 kg and the model 1939 had 12 drums weighing 720 kg and 16 small tin cans weighing 160 kg. A total of 50 kg of pure chemicals could cover an area of 1.7 m in width by 300 m in length. The entire load (on model 1939) of 728 kg of pure chemicals (not counting the weight of the drums themselves) could cover an area of 1.7 m in width by 4,350 m in length. For the model 1938, it would have been around 4,200 m in length. The cans were stored eight per side on the rear side of the storage cabin.
Unlike the Sd.Kfz.10, the Sd.Kfz.11 got its tools located in the Gerätekasten (Eng. equipment cabinet). In there, there were:
-1x spare wheel
-1x hand crank
-4x zeltbahnen (tents)
-2x working suit (protective suit)
-4x winter coats
-4x clothes bags
-4x carrying bags for working suits
-4x cooking equipment
Additionally placed around the chassis and superstructure were the standard tools, such as the large ax, shovel, and crowbar pickaxe. The 4 rifles of the crew members were located 2 on each side of the bench.
The decontamination chemicals were the Entgiftungsstoff Losantin (Eng. Decontamination substance Losantin). Losantin, or scientifically named calcium hypochlorite, is the calcium salt of the hypochlorous acid. In an approximately 10% aqueous solution, it can be used to decontaminate the skin. It was already in service with the German Army during WW1 to decontaminate Gelbkreuzgiftgase (Eng. yellow cross poisonous gas) or skin poisonous gas, such as mustard gas or Lewesit. Because the German Army intended the continued usage of mustard gas for an upcoming war, Losantin was used as the decontaminating counterpart. The word Losantin can be seen written on the barrels themselves.
During test trials for a new decontamination plow in October 1941, the possibility was revealed that this plow could be used to dig a trench and therefore make way for soldiers to advance without using chemicals. The OKH allowed the usage of this plow and the Sd.Kfz.11/2 was to be the vehicle towing the plow. The Entgiftungspflug 41 (Eng. Decontamination plow 41) was a trench plow with a single axle chassis.
Organization and Doctrine
The Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 11/2 were part of the Nebeltruppen (Eng. smoke troops). The Nebeltruppen were an independent branch using terms from the artillery and was the branch intended for gas warfare. The Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 11/2 were both organized into Entgiftungs Batterien (Eng. decontamination batteries) within Entgiftungs Abteilung (Eng. decontamination battalions).
In October 1937, a single Nebel-Abteilung had a HQ staff unit, three Nebel-Batterien (Eng. smoke batteries) and three Entgiftungs Batterien. Each Nebel-Batterie had 8 10 cm Nebelwerfer towed by Sd.Kfz.10s. Each Entgiftungs Batterie had 6 Gasspürer Sd.Kfz.10/1 (Eng. gas detection vehicle), 6 Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 6 Sd.Kfz.11/2. There was also Nebel-Gerät-Kolonne (Eng. smoke device column), which was the codename for a contamination battery equipped with 18 Sd.Kfz.10/3 and 18 Sd.Kfz.11/3 (contamination vehicles). This contamination unit changed places with the decontamination unit in the case it was needed. However, if not enough 10/2s existed, they could be replaced by spare 11/2s.
In 1938, it was decided to split the Nebel-Abteilung into Nebel-Werfer-Abteilungen and Entgiftungsableitungen, separating decontamination and contamination into two different battalions during war time.
In 1939, the organization was changed. Each Entgiftungs Abteilung had three Entgiftungsbatterien with 6 Sd.Kfz.10/1 and 12 Sd.Kfz.11/2 each, since the Sd.Kfz.10/2 was removed and replaced by the Sd.Kfz.11/2. However, many units kept their 10/2s.
There were also so-called Straßen-Entgiftungs-Abteilungen (Eng. street decontaminating battalions) responsible for decontaminating streets after a possible bombing run with poisonous gas. These had at first 3 Sd.Kfz.10/2 and later 6 Sd.Kfz.11/2 within 1 battery, bringing the total number up to 18. In 1941, 3 street decontamination battalions were in service with 54 Sd.Kfz.11/2 and 9 Sd.Kfz.10/2.
Number of Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 11/2s in a single Entg. Abt. per year after official regulations
Number of Sd.Kfz.10/2s
Number of Sd.Kfz.11/2s
0 (some were kept in service)
1941 (For street decon. battalion)
The decontamination vehicles were a part of the German gas warfare doctrine developed in 1936. This doctrine states that, during combat, a single contamination half-track contaminated an area. In turn, later, the Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 11/2 would drive through and spread the chemicals with the desired length and density. Closely following the decontamination half-track would be infantry soldiers, mostly on foot, equipped with gas masks. Since the mustard gas spread by the contamination half-tracks was a liquid, it would stay on the ground and the soldiers could move safely on the decontaminated strip. It is not known on which occasions or circumstances or when the German Army had planned to use this doctrine. However, one can presume it would have been used in situations where the enemy was entrenched. To save on chemicals, the Entgiftungspflug 41 was planned to be towed by the 11/2. In reality, in some photos, the plow can be seen used to dig fast and provisional trenches for soldiers.
There was also the possibility that the enemy contaminated an area. In this case, the half-track would have been used in the same way. However, this action would only be useful when the enemy also used liquid mustard gas or any other Lost gas, since Losantin only worked for this type of chemical. There were specialized vehicles for the decontamination of other gasses, but these were mostly trucks and cars and could only decontaminate individual soldiers.
The Sd.Kfz.10/2 and 11/2 both had the tactical symbol for the Entgiftungs-Batterie (mot) (Eng. decontamination battery motorized) which was a rectangle (standing for an infantry or artillery branch unit) together with two circles (for wheels) under the rectangle. The letters “Eg” were inside the rectangle, standing for Entgiftung (Eng. decontamination). The Sd.Kfz.11/2 presented in the Tank Museum in Munster has an incorrect symbol.
There were several trials and demonstrations in which an entire decontamination battery was used. In 1938, the first trials took place with the Sd.Kfz.10/2, which turned out rather positive. However, it was decided to use the Sd.Kfz.11/2 due to its larger storage capacity. Both vehicles not only went through obstacle courses during trials but also had to demonstrate how the unit worked. This included a full run-through of the gas warfare doctrine but in miniature size.
In 1940, there were three Entgiftungs Abteilungen (101, 102, and 105). In 1941, this number would be expanded to five (with the addition of 103 and 104).
There are not many recorded events or times when the Sd.Kfz.10/2 or 11/2 were used in their intended role. The first time was during the invasion of France within Entgfitungs Abteilung 102’s 2nd battery, when 22 Sd.Kfz.10/2s and 14 Sd.Kfz.11/2s participated in battle. However, the vehicles were not used as decontamination vehicles, since poisonous gas and the gas spreader vehicles were not used on the German side in battles. They presumably moved alongside their unit and the division and were on standby.
Most units realized that the vehicles had no use and could be used in a better way. After 1940, when it was officially announced that the Nebeltruppen were diverted from gas warfare, the units removed the chemicals and barrels and used them to carry rockets for the German rocket launchers. However, some vehicles appear to have continued in their role as decontamination vehicles, carrying the chemicals throughout the first years of Operation Barbarossa in 1941 and 1942. This was probably due to the fear amongst the German units that Soviet troops might use poisonous gas at some point. This, in turn, was also the reason why the Sd.Kfz.11/2 was produced until 1944, as a safety precaution in case of an enemy gas attack.
In 1942, all three street decontamination battalions and decontamination battalions 101, 102, and 103 were converted into Schwere Wurfgerät Abteilungen (Eng. heavy launcher battalion) which carried the rockets for the 28/32 cm Nebelwerfer. Battalion 104 was converted into Gebirgs Werfer Abteilung 10 and 105 into Werfer Regiment 70.
Information about each Ent. Abt.
Entgiftungs-Abteilung 1 (later renamed to 101)
Established: September 1939, served: France, Soviet Union
Schweres Werfer-Regiment 3
Entgiftungs-Abteilung 2 (later renamed to 102)
Established: September 1939, served: France, Soviet Union
schwere Werfer-Abteilung 102
Established: June 1940, served: Soviet Union
schwere Werfer-Abteilung 103
Established: May 1940, served: Soviet Union
Entgiftungs-Abteilung 5 (later renamed to 105)
Established: November 1939, served: France, Soviet Union
Carrier for Rockets
Some vehicles were converted into carriers for the German rocket launchers. These were the 10, 15, and 21 cm Nebelwerfer (Eng. smoke launcher), and 28/32 cm Nebelwerfer 41. The vehicles carried the Wurfkörper (Eng. rocket body), meaning the wooden cartridge with the 28/32 cm rocket inside and the steel cartridges for the smaller rockets.
A singular Sd.Kfz.11/2 Bauart 1939 survived until today. Displayed in the tank museum in Munster, the vehicle can be seen still in its original role as a decontamination vehicle loaded with Losantin barrels. This specific example is one of the last to be ever produced by Borgward in 1944, with chassis number 324482 and is still in running condition.
The leichter und mittlerer Entgiftungskraftwagen auf Sd.Kfz.10 and 11 were the first successful attempts at mobilizing the decontamination troops. In theory, these could provide a path through a contaminated area, allowing troops to march through. However, due to weak armor and no armament in close combat situations, the vehicles would need much protection from other vehicles or tanks. After several tests, the Sd.Kfz.11/2 proved to be the more effective vehicle. In the end, the decontamination vehicles’ fate was sealed due to their irrelevance on the battlefield. Gas warfare was not needed for the German Army and the vehicles were converted into other roles.
Sd.Kfz.10/2, Sd.Kfz.11/2 specifications
Dimensions (L-W-H) (10/2), (11/2)
10/2: 4.8 x 1.9 x 1.95 m, 11/2: 5.8 x 2 x 2.4 m
Total Weight (10/2), (11/2)
10/2: 4770 kg , 11/2: 6740 kg
Crew (10/2) and (11/2)
4 (Driver, crew members/spreader operators)
10/2: 65 km/h on roads and 40 km/h off roads, 11/2: 50 km/h on roads and 40 km/h off roads
10/2: 250 km on roads, 125 km off-roads, 11/2: 275 km on roads, 150 km off-road
German Reich (1936-1941)
Light Tank – 399 Built + 147 Converted
The Panzer I Ausf.B can be seen as a direct improvement to its predecessor, the Ausf.A, featuring a water-cooled engine, an upgraded suspension, and a modified rear. The Ausf.Bs shared a similar fate and combat history as the Ausf.A, seeing service in Spain, Poland, France, and lastly, the USSR, where their participation in combat ended. After that, along with its previous version, the Ausf.B was used for garrison roles and training purposes.
Context: Urgently Needed Upgrades for the Ausf.A
The main reason why an upgrade was needed was the Ausf.A’s weak engine, which often could not effectively power the tank. Suffering from breakdowns, not being able to climb up steep hills or reaching a specific speed, the Krupp air-cooled 4-cylinder model 1931 engine was only adequate for a short time. Hence, in 1932, after the first La.S. prototypes left the factories, Wa. Prüf. 6 (Waffen Prüfamt 6) (English: Weapons Ordinance Department), which was responsible for all tank designs, demanded an increase in engine power.
As a result, 5 different engines were proposed and all went through testing. The first engine was a 4-cylinder water-cooled N.A.G. Typ G, which ended up being too heavy and therefore not increasing the speed, but rather reducing it to 28 km/h. After the first one failed the testing, an air-cooled Krupp V8 engine was installed. Like the first one, it was too big and therefore the suspension and superstructure had to be modified, which was not viewed well by Wa. Prüf. 6. Two other engines by Adler (air-cooled 80 hp) and N.A.G. (water-cooled 80 hp) were tested. Both performed better than the previous two versions but eventually ended up in a dead-end and the concept was canceled.
The initial winner was the Maybach 100 hp NL 38 Tr. Maybach itself had been producing artillery tractors and was to design a new engine for a 5-tonne light tank. Although the exact reasons why this engine was picked are not known, it is highly likely that it was due to it being cheaper than the others while still producing more horsepower and being a water-cooled engine. In fact, after the installation of the Maybach engine in the Ausf.B, almost all other tanks, trucks, and half-tracks which came after the Panzer I featured a Maybach engine.
In January 1936, a contract was given out to all assembly firms (Daimler Benz, Henschel, M.A.N., Grusonwerk) for 1,500 Panzer Is. Out of these 1,500 tanks, 325 should be the new Panzer I Ausf.B or at that time named “Panzerkampfwagen I (MG) with Maybach motor”. Seventy-two of those 325 were only chassis and later used for the new series of “Kleiner Panzer Befehlswagen” (English: small command tank).
The 5a. Serie /La.S. (English: 5a. Series/agricultural tractor) was the first batch of Panzer I Ausf.Bs, with the first vehicle being completed in July 1936. Due to the small amount of Ausf.Bs in contract, another contract was given to the assembly firms for the 6a. Serie/La.S. of 150 tanks. 4 out of these were used to build Kleiner Panzer Befehlswagen.
By May 1937, 340 Panzer I Ausf.Bs had been produced and, by the end of the year, 399 Panzer I Ausf.Bs were built.
7c. Serie / La. S. (Umsetzfahzeug, only chassis built and turrets taken from the Aufs. A)
Grusonwerk (part of Krupp)
8c. Serie / La. S. (Umsetzfahzeug, only chassis built and turrets taken from the Aufs. A)
Henschel, Grusonwerk (part of Krupp)
Production numbers for the Panzer I Ausf.B including the Umsetzfahrzeuge. Source: Panzer Tracts
The Panzer I Ausf.B used the same design and was more a modification of the already existing Ausf.A design. It used the same superstructure, hull, and turret design. Only the suspension and engine were significantly different.
Hull and Superstructure
Whilst the front hull did not change and was left identical to the previous version, the rear hull was extended to be able to fit the new suspension and larger engine. Furthermore, the extension allowed for additional space for cooling air and the tow coupling to be relocated to the rear. Additional ports were also placed under the hull for draining oil, coolant, and fuel, making servicing of the vehicle easier.
Furthermore, the rear armor cover was redesigned to fit the new engine. It was stepped up at the rear for the air intake to cool the engine. The air was drawn through the radiator and blown out of a grill placed at the rear right-hand side of the engine deck. A new split hatch was placed above the engine for easy access. Furthermore, a new smaller rectangular hatch was placed above the radiator fan drive. Lastly, the two exhaust pipes, which on the Ausf.A were located on the mudguards, were removed and now a single muffler with extra armor protection was fixed to the rear side.
On the front, the driver’s visor was changed. Three conical-headed bolts were placed on the visor to better support the glass.
During production, starting with the 5a. Serie/La.S., a reinforcing pipe was placed across the rear hull, supporting the two idler wheels.
One of the most notable modifications after the vehicles entered service was the addition of a Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (N.K.A.V.) (English: rack to deploy five smoke grenades). Furthermore, some vehicles received another support beam for the reinforcing pipe, as it tended to crack in combat situations. Lastly, starting with the 5b./6a.Serie, a new 5.5-liter radiator was added instead of the old 3.5-liter one, along with an upgraded cooling fan.
Suspension and Transmission
The suspension upgrade is probably the most iconic change from the Ausf.A to Ausf.B and is often used to distinguish between them. The reason for these changes was to upgrade the overall mobility and mainly the steering. With the Ausf.A, the tank, whenever it was being steered, had to also move the idler wheels, which inhibited and slowed down the steering process. This would also increase the chance of the tank throwing a track. Furthermore, a new lengthened suspension would help with a more stable ride and more stability whilst firing.
Therefore, for the Ausf.B, a fifth road wheel and a fourth return roller were added. The connection between the fourth road wheel and the idler wheel was cut and the fourth wheel was connected in a pair to the new fifth road wheel. The second and third were also connected in a pair, whilst the first one was independent.
The idler wheel was raised and its crank arm was mounted in a housing. Track tension was done by rotating the idler wheel’s crank arm.
The driveshaft for the transmission transferred torque from the engine through the main clutch. Like on the Ausf.A, the clutch, transmission, and steering unit were connected by flanges to form a single unit.
The turret on the Ausf.B was almost identical to that of the Ausf.A, with the commander still having four visors and the two machine guns. However, all three lifting hooks were relocated from the sides of the turret to the top. This change improved the overall armor protection of the turret, as this meant fewer bolts on the turret sides.
The new water-cooled Maybach NL 38 Tr was able to supply 100 hp at 3,000 rpm, which was a great improvement from the old Krupp air-cooled M305 engine. The tank could now drive up to 40 km/h and could successfully climb most hills. Furthermore, due to the water cooling system, the engine was less likely to overheat in hot climates, such as Spain or later, North Africa.
The 6 cylinders of the engine were cooled by circulating water and placed in a row. For cooling water circulation, a centrifugal pump was driven by a pulley and belt drive which also drove the electric generator. To ensure that there would not be any problems whilst cooling when tilted at any angle, the upper water box directed water into the hoses and was connected to the water discharge ports. An overhead cam controlled the valves and drove the oil pump, tachometer drive, and magneto. Additionally, a fan was placed in the ventilation system next to the engine and pulled by a pulley and belt from the crankshaft.
The fuel was located in two tanks, with one holding 82 liters and the other 62 liters, both on the right side, separated from the crew compartment.
In terms of armor protection, there were not many changes. The rear side and superstructure were still 13 mm thick steel with a Brinell Hardness of 530. The new rear engine deck was 8 mm thick. The thickest part was at 15 mm on the MG mount of the tank. This armor protection was adequate for protecting against small arms fire from smK-type ammunition (English. steel cored) bullets at a range of 30 meters.
Like the Ausf.A, the Panzer I Ausf.B featured two MG 13 Kurz (English: short) machine-guns. There were also cases of the Ausf.B mounting the regular MG 13. It was operated by the commander and both machine guns could be removed. Whilst the right MG was easier to move around and dismount and mainly used for shooting the actual target, the left one was used for more static combat and cover fire. The MG 13 was the standard machine gun for the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht in 1933-1934. Although available in greater numbers at this point, the MG 34 was not used due to being more expensive and overheating faster.
The Ausf.B also had two crew members, a driver and a commander. The driver sat on the left side and was tasked with driving the tank. He had an escape hatch above him and two visors to look out. The commander was situated in the turret and was tasked with operating the machine guns, the radio, observing the battlefield, and giving orders to the driver.
How to Differentiate between the Ausf.A and B
From behind, the two variants can be easily told apart. The Ausf.A has two mufflers on the mudguards left and right, whilst the Ausf.B only has one placed at the rear end. On the Ausf.B, an air intake was placed at the rear end of the crew compartment. On the lower hull, the Ausf.B has a reinforcing pipe between the two idler wheels. Note some very early models of the 5a.Serie of the Ausf.B may not have this pipe.
From the sides, the variants are told apart from the suspension. The Ausf.A only had 4 road wheels whilst the Ausf.B had 5. Furthermore, the Ausf.A only had 3 return rollers, whilst the Ausf.B had 4. The idler wheel has been raised off the ground and was not connected to the last road wheel on the Ausf.B.
Lastly, the two variants can be differentiated by looking at the turret. Normally, the Ausf.B had its three towing hooks placed on top of the turret, while the Ausf.A had the hooks on the side. However, due to the Umsetzfahrzeuge using the Ausf.A turret, some Ausf.B variants (Umesetzfahrzeug) had their hooks on the side. This means, if only the turret is visible and the hooks are located on the side (hinting for an Ausf.A), the tank can also be an Ausf.B.
From the front, the variants can only be told apart by looking at the driver’s visor. The Ausf.B, unlike the Ausf.A, had three conical-headed bolts supporting the glass behind. However, there are also cases of the Ausf.B featuring the old Ausf.A visor.
The first Panzer I Ausf.Bs were painted in the standard three-tone camouflage painted on vehicles during the time span of 1932-1937. The pattern was called the Buntfarbenanstrich (Eng. Multi-colored-pattern) featuring color patches in yellow, green, and brown.
In June 1937, the order was given to paint all newly produced vehicles in dark gray with brown patches. In 1938 all vehicles even the existing ones had to be repainted. Throughout the Poland campaign and the early stages of the 1940 Invasion of France, the tanks stayed in that two-tone camouflage.
After the Invasion, to save paint the brown patches were removed and all vehicles were painted in dark gray.
Those Panzer I Ausf.Bs sent to North Africa, received the colors of the Afrika Korps which were a base layer of yellow and yellow-greenish patches
From 1943 onwards, the order was given to paint all vehicles in dark yellow. This included some of the surviving Ausf.Bs.
Organization and Doctrine
The general organization and doctrine were completely the same with the Ausf.B as for the Ausf.A.
At first, all Panzer I tanks were organized into regiments and independent battalions and later into Panzer Divisions. These “independent battalions” were tasked with different roles, such as signal battalions or engineer battalions, and could be attached to any Panzer Division. Whilst the first few regiments only consisted of the Ausf.A, after the first production series of Ausf.Bs were delivered, the regiments were mixed with Ausf.A and Bs.
Number of Panzer Is
Panzer Regiment 1
Panzer Regiment 2
Panzer Regiment 3
Panzer Regiment 4
Panzer Regiment 5
Panzer Regiment 6
Panzer Regiment 7
Panzer Regiment 8
Nachrichten-Abteilung 37 (Signal Battalion)
Nachrichten-Abteilung 37 (Signal Battalion)
Nachrichten-Abteilung 37 (Signal Battalion)
KKS Kraftfahr Lehr Abteilung (Driving School Training Battalion>
Schiesslehrgang (Shooting Training School)
Organization of all Panzer Is in 1937. Note the table includes the Ausf.A and B.
Number of Panzer Is
Panzer Regiment 1
Panzer Regiment 2
Panzer Regiment 3
Panzer Regiment 4
Panzer Regiment 5
Panzer Regiment 6
Panzer Regiment 7
Panzer Regiment 8
Panzer Regiment 11
Panzer Regiment 15
Panzer Regiment 31
Panzer Regiment 35
Panzer Regiment 36
I./Panzer Regiment 25 (Regiment HQ)
I./Panzer Regiment 23
I./Panzer Regiment 10
Panzer Regiment 33 (Panzer Battalion)
Panzer Regiment 65
Panzer Regiment 66
Panzer Regiment 67
Panzer Lehr Abteilung (Training Tank Battalion)
Schiesslehrgang (Shooting Training School)
Technischer Unteroffizier Lehrgang (Technical Sergent Training School
Pioner Battalion 38 (Pioneer Battalion)
Pioner Battalion 62
Pioner Lehr Versorgungs Battalion (Engineer Training and Supply Battalion)
Organization of all Panzer Is in March 1939. Note the table includes the Ausf.A and B.
Like its previous version, the Ausf.B was not intended as a training tank but as a stopgap for the Panzer III and IV.
During wartime, the Panzer I would act as a support tank against soft targets such as trucks and infantry, supporting the Panzer IIIs and IVs. Furthermore, the Panzer I Ausf.B could be used for reconnaissance purposes due to their increased performance mobility-wise. The Panzer I was used in combat in the combined arms doctrine. Combined arms warfare was the standard tank doctrine for the German Army during the early wars. It consisted of all tanks advancing in a spearhead together with air support and motorized infantry.
The Panzer I Ausf.B between 1936 and 1938
Just like the Ausf.A, the Panzer I Ausf.B saw its first service during the Spanish Civil War on the Nationalist side. However, unlike the Ausf.A, the Ausf.B was sent in lesser numbers. After German military advisors arrived in Spain, they reported the success of German fighters in Spain. Once Walter Warliomnt (German representative for the Nationalists) was in Germany again, he requested more equipment for the Nationalists.
On October 25th 1936, 21 Panzer I Ausf.Bs arrived in Sevilla, days after the first batch of Panzer I Ausf.As had arrived from the 3rd Panzer Division. Their main task was to train the Spanish crews in repairing and operating the Panzer Is. Although the Nationalists would continue to request Panzers armed with 20 mm guns, they did not receive any.
In Spain, the Panzer I would be mainly used as an infantry support vehicle. Furthermore, the machine guns were not capable of penetrating the Soviet T-26 tanks at combat ranges and, therefore, the Nationalists lost many of their Panzer I tanks. This changed as more and more T-26 tanks were captured by the Nationalist forces and reused.
Although the Panzer I proved to be more robust to the Spanish environment than the Soviet vehicles, it often suffered from engine overheating and track damage. The engine overheating and track damage was fixed with the Ausf.B’s water-cooled engine and the work of Spanish and German engineers.
Moreover, the Panzer I was not used in its intended doctrine, which meant it could not profit from the advantages of combined arms warfare. Nevertheless, in some cases, the Panzer I was used in a kind of combined arms warfare.
In conclusion, the Panzer I Ausf.B performed better than the Ausf.A due to its water cooled-engine. However, it still had the same problems of being used incorrectly and being inadequately protected.
Austria and Czechoslovakia
Together with its older brother, the Ausf.A, the Ausf.B took part in the annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Not much is known about their performance in general and it is unclear whether the Ausf.B’s superior mobility and reliability were reflected in the campaign.
The Invasion of Poland – 1939
During the invasion of Poland, all available Panzer Is were sent to the front. This was due to an insufficient number of medium tanks, such as the Panzer III and IV. Out of 3,472 tanks in total, 1,445 were Panzer Is. Out of this number, at least 400 vehicles were Ausf.Bs. In Poland, the Ausf.B encountered the Polish 7TP and Vickers 6-ton tanks, but also the TKS. These vehicles could not be penetrated by the Panzer I at ranges of more than 30 meters. However, the most dangerous enemies of the Panzer I were the Polish anti-tank guns, which could successfully deal with all German armored vehicles. Only with combined arms tactics and air support did the Panzer I perform well.
War in the West – 1940
The Polish campaign, although successful, resulted in the loss of many German tanks, including Ausf.Bs. Therefore, a great number of Panzer Is were pulled off the front, not least due to the rising production of medium tanks and Czech light tanks which replaced the Panzer I.
On April 9th 1940, Panzer Abteilung z.b. 40 was sent to Denmark to participate in the Invasion and later to Norway, where it would see service together with Panzer IIIs and the Neubaufahrzeug. In Norway and Denmark, the Ausf.B did not encounter many dangers, as both Norway and Denmark had next to no anti-tank capabilities and most vehicles were lost due to attrition. This unit, equipped with Ausf.B and A tanks, would later be stationed in Norway and participate in the Invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 through the Lappland region, together with Finnish troops.
At the start of Fall Gelb (English: Case Yellow – the invasion of the Benelux countries), 554 Panzer Is took part in the invasion, most of them Ausf.Bs. In France, the Ausf.B suffered many losses. The French and British anti-tank guns could penetrate the Panzer I without any problem. French light tanks, such as the R.35 and FCM 36, were immune to the machine guns of the Panzer I. Medium tanks, such as the S.35, and the heavy Char B1 could destroy entire battalions of Panzer Is. British tanks performed similarly against the Panzer I. However, since the Panzer I never attacked alone, these situations were rather rare. Furthermore, due to close coordination between the ground forces and the Luftwaffe, the experience gained from Poland, and the coordination between ground units, such as anti-tank guns and motorized infantry via radios, the Panzers were able to push back the Allied forces.
War on Several Fronts – 1941
Alongside some Ausf.As, 15 Panzer I Ausf.B tanks were sent to North Africa to support the Afrika Korps. Those Panzer Is were the Tropen (English: tropical) variant, which had an improved cooling system. The tanks themselves did not see much combat in North Africa and were used for garrison purposes.
In spring 1941, the Panzer I Ausf.B, although in very small numbers, participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece. Neither country had much of a tank force. Whilst Yugoslavia possessed a handful of R-35 tanks which could threaten the Panzer I, like in Poland, the terrain and enemy anti-tank guns were a much bigger problem. After the invasion, some additional Panzer Is were sent as garrison vehicles.
The last major offensive the Panzer I Ausf.B took part in was the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. In total, 337 Panzer I tanks, most of them Ausf.B, were sent alongside the invading forces. In the time between June and December of 1941, the number of Ausf.Bs decreased greatly. The Ausf.B alone posed no danger to Soviet tanks. During the mud season, the Ausf.B’s weak tracks could not handle the situation even with the improved engine. Furthermore, because no new Panzer Is were built, spare parts were becoming more and more scarce. By 1942, most vehicles were pulled off the front. Those which stayed were slowly lost to attrition.
Most of the Panzer Is which were pulled off the front served as policing, garrison, or anti-partisan vehicles in the regions occupied by Germany. Furthermore, many were converted or reused to one of the many variants and field conversions built later in the war.
Combat Results of the Ausf.B
In direct combat against any Allied tank, the Panzer I Ausf.B, like its brother, would be inferior in terms of armament and armor protection. However, in most cases, the Panzer I would not fight alone. It would always be supported by heavier tanks, such as the Panzer II or III. They would advance together and, whilst the heavier tanks dealt direct damage towards enemy tanks, the Panzer I would deal damage indirectly by using its machine guns. The machine guns could successfully deal with soft skin vehicles, such as trucks and even very lightly armored tanks and, most notably, infantry. It could suppress enemy anti-tank guns, machine-gun nests, and infantry in general, whilst the infantry or tanks could advance. Furthermore, the Ausf.B, whilst rather weak in its hard factors (armament, armor protection), could shine with its soft factors. These included the coordination between units via a radio receiver, the improved crew comfort, and lastly, the easy-to-repair aspect and the experience the crews gained during pre-war training. Within the units, the Ausf.B was more popular than the Ausf.A due to its upgraded engine and mobility.
Furthermore, the Panzer I was the first German tank to enter serial production and was also the first tank constructed by many German companies. This experience would turn out to be very useful later during the war. Additionally, whilst the Ausf.A trained the factories in constructing tanks in general, the Ausf.B trained them in modifying their production lines.
The Ausf.B not only trained the factory workers, but it also helped to gain experience within the German design office, which learned to deal with mistakes and how to effectively modify a tank to be better.
Lastly, the Ausf.B was, like its older brother, successful in preparing and training thousands of German tankers for the war due to their intensive training during maneuvers.
An unknown number of Panzer Is were in service with the Red Army in 1941. These tanks were designated T-1 but no photos of them are known to exist and captured during the first months of Operation Barbarossa in 1941.
By 1942, the Panzer I was no longer suitable for frontline service due to its inadequate armor and firepower, and because of this, many of them were pulled off the front and reused. Hungary had 8 Panzer I tanks as of 1942, after Germany sold them to become part of the 1st Cavalry Division.
Post-Spanish Civil War Spanish Service
After the Spanish Civil War had ended, the new government under Franco was excluded by many international organizations including the purchase of new arms and tanks. Therefore it had to make use of the vehicles gained during the war. This resulted in the Spanish Arsenal still consisting of 84 Panzer Is. Although some continued to be used as training vehicles, during the 1950s the Panzer Is were replaced by newer tanks such as the M24 Chaffee.
Vehicles Based on the Panzer I Ausf.B Chassis
After a number of Panzer I Ausf.As were converted into Fahrschulfahrzeuge (English: Training school vehicles) by removing the superstructure and turrets), a stockpile of leftover Panzer I Ausf.A turrets started to grow. To make use of these, it was decided to build another series of Panzer I Ausf.Bs. The 7c. and 8c /La.S. were regular Fahrschulfahrzeuge on the Ausf.B chassis with upgraded rear armor and a Drehüberträger (English: Slip string contacts, responsible for transporting electricity to a potential turret).
Later, spare or old Ausf.A or B turrets were placed on top. These Umsetzfahrzeuge (English: Converted vehicles) were in most cases a Fahrschulfarzeug using the Panzer I Ausf.B chassis and superstructure with an Ausf.A turret. Contracts for the chassis were given to Grusonwerk (Krupp) and later to Henschel in 1937. Grusonwerk could deliver 52 7c.Serie/La.S. and 9 8c.Serie/La.S., whilst Henschel delivered 86 8c.Serie/La.S. In 1940, 64 Umsetzfahrzeuge had been completed and took part in the Invasion of France acting as regular Panzer I tanks. By 1941, all 147 were completed.
Panzer I Ausf.B Tr.
Due to the extreme temperatures in the desert, those Panzer I Ausf.Bs which were sent to Libya with the Afrika Korps received an upgraded cooling system and a new specification: Panzer I Ausf.B Tr (Tr: Tropen, English: tropical). The ventilation system was exchanged, along with the installation of a new fan and increasing the size of the air inlet and outlet. About 20 vehicles from the 6a. Serie were converted.
After the introduction of the tank in 1916, many countries wanted to also acquire these new machines. However, most of them could not afford to develop and build their own tanks. Therefore, many of the Great Powers sold their tanks to these smaller countries. The companies made huge profits selling tanks like the Vickers 6-ton or Renault FT. Seeing this, Krupp also wanted to participate in this global market and get Germany started on exporting tanks.
The second one consisted of a singular Panzer I Ausf.B chassis and the turret and most of the superstructure from the first L.K.B. The last L.K.B. was only a Panzer I Ausf.B chassis without superstructure but with test weight and a new engine. Due to overall shortages of tanks in 1939, it was decided to cancel the project and all the traces of the L.K.B. were lost.
The Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’
The Panzer I in Spain suffered from a weak armament that was not able to fight effectively against Soviet tanks. Therefore, two Panzer Is (one Ausf.A and one Ausf.B) were converted into flamethrower tanks. The Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’ on Ausf.B chassis was equipped with a short Flammenwerfer 35. However, due to a very short range of 30 meters, the project was abandoned and no further conversions took place.
Up-gunned Panzer I Ausf.Bs
Like its previous version, the Ausf.B was upgunned many times. In 1936, Heinz Guderian realized that the German Army needed a mobile tank destroyer, as the Panzer III and IV lacked anti-tank power. In March 1940, the idea of having a separate tank mounting an anti-tank gun was put in action. The Panzerjäger I (English: tank hunter I) was an Ausf.B chassis mounting a Czech 4.7 cm Pak (t). The first conversions were done by Alkett, which provided the chassis, and Škoda, which provided the guns. They saw service during the invasion of France, in North Africa, and the invasion of the Soviet Union. The vehicles proved adequate at dealing with most Allied tanks during the early stages of the war, but often failed at penetrating the Soviet medium and heavy tanks.
In 1939, the Wehrmacht realized that the heavy 15 cm sIG (Sturm Infanterie Geschütze, English: infantry assault guns) could not keep up with the advancing tank forces because of their weight and the way these guns were transported. Therefore, before the invasion of France, several 15 cm sIG 33s were put on Panzer I Ausf.B chassis because of the Ausf.A could not carry the weight. Later, a shield was added to protect the crew. The Sturmpanzer Is (English: Assault tank I) were organized into heavy infantry assault gun companies. However, even the upgraded Ausf.B chassis could not handle the weight of the gun and the tank broke down often. Therefore development began for a new way to mobilize the sIG 33. In the end, 38 vehicles were converted by Alkett and stayed in service until 1943.
There were also several field conversions, with the idea of converting an outdated chassis into a tank destroyer. An obscure field conversion is the Panzer I Ausf.B mounting a 50 mm Pak 38. No information exists on who carried out the conversion, where it was used, and when. In the only photo available the backside of the PaK 38 shield can be seen.
One of the most well-known upgunned Ausf.B field conversions was the Panzer I Ausf.B with 75 mm StuK (Sturmkanone, English: Assault cannon). This vehicle-mounted a 75 mm StuK 40 L/48, possibly taken from a StuG III. The tank served during the battle of Berlin and it is unknown who carried out this conversion. The conversion seemed to be done in a rather rudimentary fashion, by removing the turret and mounting the gun on the superstructure. An additional shield was put in front of the gun to protect the crew.
In 1939, the Wehrmacht and its engineers faced a shortage of mobile and armored bridge-laying vehicles. Before the war had started, the 7th Panzer Division converted two of their Panzer I Ausf.As into bridge layers. In the following months, new Panzer I chassis were converted into bridge layers. These also included some Ausf.B chassis. The Brückenleger I on Ausf.B chassis had an 11-meter long bridge on top of the superstructure whilst the turret was still in place. Eventually, due to the Panzer I chassis not being adequate for the task, it was replaced by the bridge layer on the Panzer II chassis.
Ammunition Carrier on Ausf.B
The first ammunition carriers on Panzer I chassis were tasked with carrying ammunition safely to the front lines. In 1939, these vehicles were mostly based on the Ausf.A chassis. This changed in 1941, when most Panzer Is were pulled off the front and were converted into more useful vehicles. One of these conversions was the Ammunition carrier on Ausf.B. These vehicles received a wooden superstructure and were allocated to Panzer Jäger Abteilungen (English: tank destroyer battalions).
Flakpanzer I Field Conversions
Unlike the Ausf.A, the Ausf.B chassis was never used for the original Flakpanzer I featuring the 2 cm Flak. However, multiple photos show some Ausf.B chassis used for mounting anti-aircraft guns. The first one shows an Ausf.B chassis mounting an MG 151 Drilling (English: triple MG). Not much is known about the vehicle itself other than that it was employed late in the war as a last-ditch effort to up-gun the Panzer I.
The second photo shows an Ausf.B chassis mounting a 37 mm Flak but with the actual cannon missing and only the mount visible.
Ambulance Vehicles on the Ausf.B
After the invasion of Poland, the German army realized that they had no way of transporting doctors and medics safely to the front and transporting the wounded back to safety. To resolve this problem, many vehicles were converted into medical support vehicles. There were two kinds of medical vehicles. The first variant transported doctors and medical supplies to the front lines, whilst the second variant often transported wounded soldiers away from the front lines. These would be primarily reserved for NCOs and officers. The second variant had stretchers for the wounded on the engine deck. Both variants had their armament removed and had giant red crosses and flags painted on them to ensure that the enemy would not shoot them. In France, almost all vehicles were part of the 4th Panzer Division. They went on to serve on the Eastern Front and North Africa.
Before the invasion of France, several Kleine Panzer Befehlswagen were converted into transport vehicles for doctors and medics.
Next to the Kleine PanzerBefehlswagen, there were also several Panzer I Ausf.B chassis converted into medical vehicles. These were regular Ausf.B chassis with a protective shield. It is unknown from which vehicles these conversions originated, but it is assumed that they were converted from either Fahrschulwagen or engineering vehicles. This variant also had stretchers on its engine deck.
Due to a shortage of medical vehicles, an unknown number of regular Panzer I Ausf.Bs were also converted. Photographic evidence shows only a single Ausf.B. Visually, the tank does not seem to differ from regular Panzer Is except for the mounting of the stretcher and removal of the machine guns.
To further upgrade the Pionier Kompanien (English: Engineer companies), they were equipped with new Pionier Fahrzeuge (English: Engineer vehicles). These were vehicles intended to remove any obstacles and barricades. The first variant was called the Panzer I mit Abwurfvorrichtung (English: Panzer I with explosive charge dropping device). The Abwurfvorrichtung variant transported a 50 kg explosive charge which would then be dropped from an extended arm onto the target. At first, these were only used by Panzer Battalion 38 but, in 1940, a production order for 100 additional vehicles was given. These would be issued to the newly formed Panzer Pionier Kompanien (English: tank engineer companies) in specialized Zerstörungszüge (English: Destruction platoons) with 5 vehicles each. They participated in the invasion of France, where their performance was adequate for their intended role.
In March 1940, an order was given for a new explosive charge-laying vehicle. This time, the Panzer I would be able to carry a 75 kg explosive charge. Unlike the previous version, the Ladungsleger I (English. Charge dropping vehicle I) carried its charge above the engine deck, on a ramp that would be used to drop the charge. The exact number of vehicles built is unknown, however, at least two participated during the invasion of France together with Panzer Pionier Battalions 39 and 58, together with the Abwurfvorrichtung vehicles. In 1941, the vehicles were given a new role, mounting and being able to shoot 28 cm rockets.
Multiple photos show Ladungsleger vehicles outfitted with 28 cm rockets in the Soviet Union in 1941. In photos, the vehicle still seems to be mounting the explosive charge. These were similar to Sdkfz. 251 halftracks mounting the same rockets. The Stuka zu Fuß halftracks (English: Stuka on Foot) were used by the Nebeltruppen (English: Fog troops), which were a part of the artillery and deployed the Nebelwerfer (English: fog thrower). However, it is unknown if the Panzer I Ausf.B with 28 cm rockets were used by the Nebeltruppen or remained in service with the Panzer Pionier Kompanien. The reason behind this conversion is most likely that the task of a charge-laying vehicle was not needed anymore in 1941.
Similarly, there was also an unknown number of Panzer I mit Abwurfvorrichtung outfitted with flamethrowers.
As the first Panzer Is entered service, they proved to be vulnerable in stressful situations and difficult terrain and therefore tended to break down. First introduced on the chassis of the Panzer I Ausf.A, the Instandsetzungskraftwagen (English: Maintenance tank) was responsible for maintaining tanks and carrying the equipment for maintenance and spare parts. Later, more and more Ausf.B chassis were converted into maintenance vehicles. The first version based on the Ausf.B chassis was a simple Panzer I Ausf.B without superstructure and new storage spaces for tools and equipment. A canvas could be stretched around the iron bars. The second version simply saw the removal of the turret, but with the superstructure remaining. This version was often a field conversion carried out by the troops on the front later in the war. The last version had a completely new superstructure, some of it armored and some of it soft skin. The Instandsetzungskraftwagen stayed in service until 1945. An unknown number of Instandsetzungskraftwagen were also reused for carrying fuel, towing artillery guns, and used by the engineers.
An unknown number of Panzer I Ausf.B chassis were converted into engineering vehicles. These vehicles were tasked with carrying equipment for engineers, but also wooden planks for building bridges. It is confirmed that at least three Panzer I Ausf.Bs were used as engineering vehicles.
Not much is known about this vehicle and information can only be taken from photos and a short paragraph from the Kubinka Tank Museum. In one photo, the Panzer I with swimming equipment seems to be part of a reconnaissance battalion in the Soviet Union in 1941 or 1942. Because the Schwimmpanzer II (Panzer II with swimming equipment) was originally intended for ‘Operation Seelöwe’ (English: Sealion, the German Operation for invading the United Kingdom), one can assume that the Schwimpanzer I would have been used for a similar role. However, the equipment is very different from the Schwimmpanzer II. The Schwimmpanzer I had a pontoon hanging on each mudguard. This would result in the tank only being able to float and not swim. One example was captured by Soviet Forces in 1942 and was sent back to Moscow for further examination. This vehicle was also an Umsetzfahrzeug and was presented to the public during the Gorky Park exhibition after the war. For unknown reasons, the side pontoons had been removed and only the extended mudguards were visible during the exhibition. After that, its trace was lost.
After the success of the first command tank variant, the Funkpanzerwagen built on the Ausf.A chassis, development began in 1935 for a new command tank based on the Ausf.B chassis. In 1936, contracts were awarded for 72 new kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen (Sd.Kfz.265) (English: small command tank). In total, 184 Befehlswagen were built. There were three different versions, all of them different in the commander’s cupola. The first version of Befehlswagen had no cupola, whilst the second one mounted a cupola. The third one had a slightly modified cupola.
At the start of the war, each company was issued one Befehlswagen. However, this turned out to be insufficient, as many Befehlswagen were lost during the early campaign. In 1941, most Befehlswagen I were replaced by Befehlswagen based on the Panzer III. They were reorganized into the artillery branch as auxiliary vehicles. Even before the war, some vehicles received a frame antenna and had no armament due to difficulties with producing the ball mounts. Furthermore, several Befehlswagen had additional armor plates bolted onto the superstructure for extra protection.
Some Befehlswagen were reused as mobile command stations for steering mine clearing vehicles and explosive charge laying vehicles, such as the Sd.Kfz.303
Due to a shortage of command tanks, many improvised command tanks entered service around 1938. These included regular Panzer I Ausf.B tanks fitted with a frame antenna and a new radio.
There are also several photos of an improvised Befeshlwagen on Ausf.A and B chassis. Although no information is available, photographic evidence supports the theory that these strange Panzer Befehlswagen were some early prototypes or improvised vehicles. They differ from the placements of visors and which antenna type they mount. They had a different superstructure, no armament, and only one entrance on the front side. Photos show that these vehicles shared a similar life to the regular Befehlswagen.
As with the Panzer I Ausf.A, there were also training tanks on the Ausf.B chassis. These Fahrschulwagen (English: Driving school vehicles) were issued to each company and to the driver’s schools. There were many different versions and variants of this, based on where and when they were used.
The regular Fahrschulwagen were taken from the production line and had no superstructure mounted on them, but often support bars for the driver. Starting in 1937, companies were allowed to convert two more of their Panzer I tanks in stockpile into Fahrschulwagen.
During the war, as the situation for Germany was getting more and more desperate, most Panzer I tanks in reserve were converted into training tanks. These conversions also included the mounting of a charcoal engine to save fuel.
Unknown Field Conversions
There are a number of obscure Panzer I Ausf.B variants about which there is no information at this moment and which are only known from photos. The following vehicles are unknown field conversions and their purpose can only be speculated.
The Panzer I Ausf.B was the result of the Army requesting an urgently needed upgrade to the Ausf.A due to the tank not being able to work properly in stressful situations, even during maneuvers. The Ausf.B delivered this upgrade and showed great improvement mobility-wise compared to its predecessor. However, this only solved one problem, leaving the problems with the vulnerable armor and light armament. In the end, the Ausf.B was also badly needed by the Wehrmacht during the early years of the war and, in combined arms warfare, performed fairly well. It would continue to see service as a garrison and training vehicle until the end of the war.
Even though it was not the first tank of the German Army, the Panzer I Ausf.A was the first German tank to enter serial production and the first German tank to see combat in large numbers. It is one of the most nondescript but also one of the most important German tanks, with over 1,190 built between late 1934 and early 1936. Although not the most effective in tank versus tank combat, it played an important role in training a new generation of German tank crew members and in spurring further tank development. Furthermore, it was highly important during the early phases of the Second World War. The Panzer I Ausf.A first saw action during the Spanish Civil War and in the Second Sino-Japanese War, being Germany’s first true export tank. Its frontline service life ended in 1941, by which point the Panzer I was considered unsuitable even in the reconnaissance role, though it continued to see service as a training and auxiliary tank.
Context: Development of a Light Armored Machine Gun Tank
World War I ended for Germany with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which, among many other things, restricted the country from constructing and designing any tanks. But, since the newly formed Weimar Republic did not want to be left behind in terms of tank development, the Reichswehr, the army of the Weimar Republic, secretly trained with dummy tanks, which were either bicycles or cars disguised as tanks. Later, when a secret treaty which involved the sharing of technology and trading of resources was signed with the Soviet Union, Germany started to design new tanks and could test these safely in the Soviet Union. The two most notable tanks of the Weimar Republic were the Großtraktor (Eng: Big Tractor) and Leichttraktor (Eng: Light Tractor), but both were only prototypes manufactured in very small numbers.
After the Nazis took over in Germany, all secret projects with the Soviet Union were scrapped, as was the training school in Kazan. Hitler’s new regime ignored the Versailles restrictions and pushed on with the development of new tanks since the old Leichtraktor and Großtraktor were considered unfit for purpose.
When developing the future doctrine for tanks, two factions stood against each other. The first one, under General Guderian, wanted to quickly equip the German Army with tanks as a stopgap until the arrival of what would become the Panzer III and IV. The other one, under General Beck, was against the idea of having a stopgap tank because it believed all production capability should be put into the creation of the eventual Panzer III and IV. In the end, Wa. Prüf. 6 (Waffen Prüfamt 6, Eng: German Weapons Design and Ordnance Department responsible for the development of military vehicles) agreed with Guderian’s idea, even though a light machine gun tank would not fit the German Army’s criteria of having a tank that would be able to attack alongside infantry and have at least some anti-tank capability. Guderian felt that a small tank that did not cost too many resources would make a good transition model.
In 1930, Wa. Prüf. 6 turned to Krupp and requested the design of a new tank using the suspension of the previously purchased light tracked tractor from Vickers Armstrong. Krupp developed the Kleintraktor (Eng: Small Tractor) which, after three failed prototypes, was already very similar to the Panzer I.
In 1933, Krupp was given the first production contract for 135 vehicles codenamed 1. Serie La.S. (Landwirtschaftlicher Schlepper, Eng: Agricultural Tractor) or later Krupp-Traktor (Eng: Krupp Tractor). An additional contract for 3 vehicles, each based on Krupp’s Kleintraktor, was given to five different companies: Krupp Großen Werk (Großen Werk was the part of Krupp responsible for manufacturing in the 1930s), Daimler-Benz, Rheinmetall-Borsig, Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN), and Henschel.
Unlike other countries’ design firms, the German design office often gave contracts to different firms which would then create only one part of the tank. Krupp and Daimler Benz were both tasked with the creation of a turret and a hull, while the other firms were tasked with only creating a hull.
After a series of evaluations of different prototypes, which all visually looked very similar to the Kleintraktor, Krupp’s hull and the Daimler-Benz turret and superstructure won. Whilst evaluating the different prototypes, the first series (only chassis without turrets and superstructures) was already ordered from Krupp and built, creating the future training school vehicles. But Wa. Prüf. 6 was not pleased with the finished product and Krupp had to redesign the whole tank. This new design would later become the Panzer I Ausf.A.
The first official designation was La.S., which is an abbreviation for the German words Landwirtschaftlicher Schlepper (Eng: Agricultural Vehicle). This was chosen due to the Treaty of Versailles still affecting Germany’s tank production and to deceive enemy intelligence. The designation 1-4. Serie denotes the production series of La.S. and when the tanks were built. When, in 1939, it was made obvious to the entire world that Germany was rearming, the official name changed to the better-known Panzer I Ausf.A. designation, which, in full, was Sd.Kfz.101 Panzerkampfwagen I Ausführung A. Training schools kept calling them the 2-4. Serie/Landwirtschaftlicher Schlepper. Sd.Kfz. (Sonderkraftfahrzeug, Eng: special purpose vehicle) was a classification system used by Wa. Prüf. 6 to identify all German military vehicles, while Panzer/Panzerkampfwagen I was generally used by the troops.
In 1933, Krupp won the competition to produce the hull and Daimler-Benz the superstructure and turret for the La.S.
Initially, it was planned that Krupp would produce 150 2. Serie La.S and Daimler-Benz 300 superstructures and turret sets. However, this was never achieved and, in the end, it was agreed on a final figure of 200 finished tanks.
In a meeting with Krupp, Wa. Prüf. 6, and the other firms in February 1934, it was discussed who should produce what. Krupp was tasked with providing updated blueprints with the changes from the old 1. Serie La.S. Krupp was then to provide these new designs and 10 engines to the other firms: (Henschel, Grusonwerk (part of Krupp), MAN, Daimler Benz, Rheinmetall). In turn, these companies were to construct 30 hulls each and Krupp 50. The production deadline was for February 1935.
When the first vehicles were delivered to the troops, they were unsatisfied due to the engine being too weak to perform on an obstacle course. As a result, General Lutz turned to Wa. Prüf. 6 and demanded that the production of La.S. should stop after the 2. Series and only be restarted if imminent war became a possibility. However, the La.S.’ successor, the La.S. 100 (later the Panzer II), was still in development and could not be completed until 1936.
As a result, Krupp’s order for La.S. was increased to 1,000 vehicles shortly thereafter. Krupp was also tasked with providing over 650 engines. Krupp did not have the production capability to keep up with this contract and therefore considered outsourcing the order to even more outside firms.
In the end, the Reichswehrminister (Eng: Minister of Defense) demanded that all production capability should be going into the La.S., with over 1,000 vehicles to be completed and handed over to the troops by July 1935. Krupp was to produce 215 chassis, while the other firms were to produce the rest. In August 1935, after over 600 tanks were already completed, an order was issued that 150 chassis should be used as training school tanks. Therefore, production of a third series (the 3. Serie/La.S.) with only minor modifications was started by Krupp. Because the Panzer I only had a radio receiver and was not able to send out messages, a new command tank was designed using the chassis of the 2. Serie/La.S., with 15 built. The last 175 tanks from the planned 1,000 tanks were called the 4. Serie/La.S.. In the end, 1,190 Panzer I Ausf.As were built.
After the failed project of the first series of La.S., a second series was started in February 1934. Although it resembled the previous versions, almost all of its components had to be redesigned. These changes mainly included the enlargement of the return rollers, bigger fuel tanks, and the increase of the hull height by 50 mm. Additionally, for the first time, Wa. Prüf. 6 wanted a radio set inside the tank to improve communication. Therefore, a more powerful electric generator had to be fitted inside the rear. Later, the proposed increase in the hull height was canceled. Before entering production, a new cooling system was implemented. It consisted of two air filters and air intakes which greatly improved the cooling of the engine.
Hull and Superstructure
The hull was the main component that supported the drivetrain. It was made out of several armor plates welded together, with a firewall separating the engine compartment and the crew compartment. Three strong steel strips were bolted to the upper edge of the hull to support the superstructure. Multiple hatches and ports on the hull could be unbolted to access different parts of either the engine or drivetrain. The tank had two tow shackles for towing the tank at the front and two aluminum mudguards.
Mounted on the hull was the superstructure, which was designed by Daimler-Benz. It was designed in order for a two-man crew to fit inside the tank and was equipped with a short-wave radio receiver set and two gas masks, since the tank had no other protection against poison gas.
The superstructure was separated into two parts: the front section and the rear section. The front section protected the crew compartment and could only be removed after the removal of the rear section. The rear section protected the engine compartment and had thinner armor. It could be removed much easier in order to access the engine.
While it may not seem very impressive by modern standards, the Panzer I was the first German serial production tank to receive vision slits and bulletproof glass, so the crew would be better protected whilst looking out. The vision ports were located all around the superstructure, with one each on the back and front and one on each side. Two access hatches were located on the superstructure. The driver’s hatch was located on the left side, while the commander’s hatch was on the turret.
Like the other components of the Panzer I, the turret’s origin can be traced to the development of the Kleintraktor, when Daimler-Benz was tasked with providing a turret for the series. It was a success and only small modifications on the inside had to be made, making the Panzer I turret visually almost identical to the first turret of the Krupptraktor. The turret could be fully rotated, mounted on a ball-bearing race, and armed with two MG 13s which could be aimed with a telescopic sight. There were two visors with vision slits on the back, two without vision slits on the sides, and a commander’s hatch on top. Furthermore, there were two visors that could be opened directly in front of the machine guns.
Suspension and Transmission
The suspension consisted of one front sprocket wheel, three return rollers, one idler wheel, and four road wheels on each side. While the first/front road wheel was a single wheel, the second and third road wheels were paired in a leaf spring suspension. The fourth road wheel was also mounted on a suspension cradle connected to the idler wheel. The idler wheel was partially connected to the fourth road wheel and touched the ground, which would later turn out to be a significant problem, as the steering of the tank was severely impaired.
The Panzer I Ausf.A had a transmission, clutch steering unit, and final drive. The transmission was a five-speed gearbox with synchronization for the first four gears.
One of the main problems with the Ausf.A was its engine. The air-cooled 4-cylinder Krupp M305 proved to be very loud when starting and made the tank extremely noisy. In his diary, a soldier wrote that the troops would jump-start the engine, creating a very loud sound that would wake up the whole platoon. This was overdone to such an extent that the Panzer I manual specifically prohibited this course of action.
The engine could propel the tank to a maximum speed of 37 km/h, giving out 60 hp at 2,500 rpm. Next to the engine, located at the rear side of the hull, was an electric generator and two Solex carburetors. The engine also had a cooling fan, cooling-oil, and oil-filter.
The armor was made of rolled homogenous hardened plates with a Brinell hardness of 850. It was welded and formed the body of the superstructure and hull. Although not protected from even small caliber anti-tank guns, it could provide protection against small arms fire and SmK bullets (steel-cored rifle bullets). At the front, the thickest part was at 15 mm on the MG mount of the turret, whilst the superstructure front was up to 8-13 mm. The sides were protected by 14.5 mm at the thickest point under the driver’s hatch. Lastly, the rear hull and engine deck were protected by 8-13 mm of armor.
The Panzer I Ausf.A turret-mounted two MG 13 machine guns. The MG 13 was the standard machine gun of the Reichswehr and the German Army for the first years of the war. A total of 2,250 rounds of 7.92 mm SmK (steel-cored) bullets were packed in 25 magazines, with 61 additional magazines stored in racks inside the tank. The machine guns were both operated by the commander and fired by cables connected to the triggers. While the left MG was fired by a handgrip on the elevating mechanism, the right one was fired by a handgrip on the traversing mechanism. Both could be disconnected and fired directly by the commander for better aiming. Later, the MG 13 k (the k meaning “kurz”, Eng: short), a shortened version of its predecessor, replaced the MG 13.
Two crew members operated the Panzer I Ausf.A: a driver and a gunner/commander. The commander was situated in the turret and tasked with operating the machine guns, the radio and giving orders to the driver. The driver was situated on the left side of the hull. Communication between the driver and commander was via speaking tubes. Many of the crews who operated the Panzer I Ausf.A were intensively trained, having participated in many maneuvers prior to the outbreak of the war.
In 1932, the first Panzer I prototypes, the 1. Serie/La.S. and Kleintraktor, were painted in “Feldgrau” (Eng: field gray). This specific camouflage was put on all military vehicles to disguise them as commercial vehicles.
Later during the same year, the first ‘real’ Panzer Is received the Buntfarbenanstrich (Eng: multi-colored-camouflage). This was a three-tone camouflage consisting of earth-yellow, matt green, and matt brown. The pattern was to be applied in random patches and could either be feathered or separated by thin black lines.
In July 1937, an order was given to stop painting all tanks in Buntfarbenanstrich. Tanks would now be painted in dark gray and dark brown. The base color was gray, with patches of brown applied randomly but not overlapping the gray. The order only applied initially to newly produced tanks. Tanks with the old camouflage would only be repainted if necessary due to damage to the old pattern. Tools and equipment stayed in the old camouflage. In November 1938, the order was given to paint every tank in the new pattern, with ⅔ of the tank covered in gray and ⅓ in brown. Although the reason why this new pattern was introduced is unknown, it is highly likely that it was because the gray and brown paints were much cheaper. Furthermore, gray has the effect of blending in with the surroundings over long ranges, making it a fairly effective camouflage pattern.
To save paint, in June 1940, the order was given to stop buying paint directly from suppliers and obtain it through the Ordnance Department. A month later, it was ordered that all vehicles would only be painted in dark gray.
For the Afrika Korps, a special camouflage pattern was issued. In March 1941, when the first tanks arrived in Libya, the order was given to paint all equipment and vehicles in Gelbbraun (Eng: yellow-brown) with Graugrün (Eng: gray-green) patches. This pattern would be applied in the same way as brown and gray: ⅔ of the tank in yellow-brown and ⅓ in gray-green. Unlike the brown and gray pattern, the edges would not be sharply defined but rather feathered together.
In March 1942, the camouflage for all vehicles in the Afrika Korps was changed to a base brown (⅔) and light gray patches (⅓). Before applying the new pattern, all old paint supplies had to be used up.
On 18th February 1943, the order was given to paint all vehicles and larger equipment in Dunkelgelb (Eng: dark yellow). Olive-green and red-brown would act as camouflage stripes, which could be acquired through normal supply channels. The application of olive-green and red-brown was made optional, since not all units, especially on the Eastern Front, had access to these paints. Note that by this point, all Panzer Is had been pulled out of frontline service. Panzer Is that continued service as training tanks were painted in dark yellow.
Organization and Doctrine
The first 318 Panzer Is were organized into Panzer-Regiments in August 1935. However, there were not enough Panzer Is to fill the 6 regiments, so early Panzer I prototypes were used to make up the numbers. Around 1936, two additional regiments would be added. In 1937, this number had not changed, but there were more Panzer Is in each regiment. Furthermore, there were separate battalions with special tasks, such as the Nachrichten-Abteilung (Eng: signals battalion) and Kraftfahr Lehr Abteilung (Eng: driving school battalion) equipped with Panzer Is. By March 1939, the last pre-war modifications to the organization were done, which mainly saw the addition of more regiments with less Panzer Is in them. This was due to the increasing number of other tanks, such as the Panzer II and IV. Furthermore, new ‘independent’ battalions were added, which could be attached to any division or used in any role. The signals battalions no longer contained any Panzer Is.
At the start of the war, the Panzer I regiments were organized into Panzer Divisions, which were an organic part of the Heer (Eng: German Army). A German Panzer Division in 1939 consisted of one motorized infantry regiment, two Panzer brigades, one reconnaissance battalion, one artillery battalion, one engineer battalion, one anti-tank battalion, and one signal squadron. Each Panzer brigade consisted of two regiments, each consisting of two battalions. Each battalion had up to 34 Panzer Is and 33 Panzer IIs placed in a Leichter Kompanie (Eng: Light Company). There were also 5 Panzer III and 6 Panzer IVs which formed the Mittlere Kompanie (Eng: Medium Company). Each platoon had 2 Panzer Is and 3 Panzer IIs. Together, up to 272 Panzer Is were allocated for each Panzer Division, but this number often varied, with some tanks staying in reserve or acting as replacements for other tanks. Furthermore, each regiment and later even company received a single Panzer Befehlswagen (Eng: Command Tank) based on the Panzer I hull.
A year later, in 1940, the organization changed, with the Panzer Is slowly being replaced by medium tanks, such as the Panzer III and IV.
By 1941, the Panzer Is were officially removed from frontline combat service but continued to see service as replacement and reconnaissance tanks.
It is a common myth that the Panzer I Ausf.A and its successors were intended as training tanks, but this was not true. The Panzer I already had a designated training vehicle variant, the Fahrschulwagen I. Furthermore, if intended as a training tank, it would not have been equipped with two machine guns and also not armored with expensive nickel. From the start, the Panzer I was intended for combat, but only as a stopgap until the later Panzer III and IV entered service.
The Panzer I was to be used in combined arms warfare and never alone. Combined arms warfare was the combination of all aspects of the military. These were the Stukas acting as close air support, the Panzers acting as the spearhead, and artillery and motorized infantry close behind in support. The intended doctrine for the German tank arm only included the Panzer III and IV working together, where the Panzer III would deal with other tanks and the Panzer IV with infantry and fortifications. The Panzer I was either used as a fast tank that supported the advancing forces with its machine guns against infantry or used as a reconnaissance tank that drove ahead of the Panzer III and IV.
Divisional Insignias and Emblems
Before national identification marks, such as the Balkenkreuz, were painted on the tank and any kind of numbering system was introduced, Panzer I tanks, and also tanks of other nations, such as France, used playing card symbols for identification. This was only experimental for the first maneuvers and parades of the first newly created Panzer Division from 1935 to 1937. After that, the Panzer I received a new system, consisting of a combination of numbers, colors, and shapes stenciled onto the front driver’s plate and in the form of placards on the rear side. The system was used until the invasion of Poland, but many units did not follow this order and only used the stenciled three-digit number system which would eventually replace the placards system completely. During maneuvers, a chess board-like ring was painted around the turret. This was used to identify the platoon or company commander. There were many more such unique symbols with unknown purposes during the first years of the Panzer Divisions.
The placard was located at the rear side of the turret or engine deck. It was a light gray square, 420 mm long x 240 mm high, with two smaller symbols in the center. On the right, there was always a rhomboid in a specific color with a specific number and on the left was either two stripes or a circle only for company and platoon leaders.
Two red stripes identify a platoon leader; One red circle identifies a company leader, a solid white square identifies a Panzer from the 1. Platoon, two solid white stripes identify a Panzer from the 2. Platoon, a triangle identifies Panzers from the 3. Platoon. The small number identifies the regiment. The rhomboid’s filler color identifies the company: white 1./5. Company, red 2./6. Company, yellow 3./7. Company, and light blue 4./8. Company. Other than the filler color, the rhomboid could also be either a completely solid color (like in the photo) identifying the I. Abteilung (1. Battalion) or have a black stripe identifying the II. Abteilung (2. Battalion).
The three-digit system was located either at the sides or front of the superstructure. This system was much more complicated before the war. During wartime, the system was simplified to a point where enemy anti-tank guns and tanks had no problems figuring out which vehicle was the platoon leader and would shoot it first. This would eventually lead to its downfall, with many units making up their own system.
The small number identifies the regiment. The filler color identifies the battalion: Red= 2. Battalion, White= 1. Battalion
Instead of a 0, this system used a dot. Later, it would be replaced by a regular 0. The right digit identifies the individual tank in the platoon. Sometimes, this digit would not be present, then the tank was either part of a Leichte Zug (Eng: light platoon: a platoon of tanks supporting the HQ command) or the Stab (Eng: staff).
The middle digit identifies the platoon. The left digit identifies the company. It could also have a triangle or square (either red= 2. Battalion or white= 1. Battalion). These were used to identify HQ battalion command vehicles.
Since the system proved to be too complicated, a new simplified system was introduced and used throughout the war. It kept the simple idea of a three-digit system with company, platoon, and individual tanks. Information about the regiment was put in a separate (now only white) rhomboid.
In order to standardize and clarify the German identification markings, an order was given shortly before the outbreak of the war to paint solid white Balkenkreuze (Eng: beam crosses) on the tanks. If the tank did not have this Balkenkreuz, it was identified as an enemy tank. The Balkenkreuz would be painted on the turret front, rear, and both sides. Furthermore, a white square would be painted on the engine deck for identification for fighter planes. This would later be removed due to the tanks being exposed to enemy aircraft too, but then added again in form of the famous Fliegertuch (Eng: Fighter Cloth), which was essentially a regular Nazi Germany flag with the same purpose, mainly used on the Eastern Front and in North Africa.
One of the problems with this solid white Balkenkreuz was that it proved to be a very good aiming spot for enemy tanks and anti-tank guns. This was such a big problem that many crews intentionally covered the Balkenkreuz with mud or, in some other cases, painted it yellow.
To fix this problem, in October 1939, the order was given to paint a Balkenkreuz with an open center on the rear and sides of the superstructure of the tank.
Later, between 1940 and 1941, the Balkenkreuze received a black stripe in the center to further conceal them.
After the war’s outbreak, Panzers started being organized into panzer divisions and not regiments. Therefore, new insignias were introduced for each panzer division. These symbols were stenciled in yellow on all armored and motorized vehicles. There was no mention of a specific area where these should be applied, but High Command gave orders on how they would look for each panzer division in service at that time. Throughout the war, new symbols were added for new divisions and old ones were replaced in an attempt to disguise their identity.
The Panzer I Ausf.A between 1936 and 1938
The Panzer I first saw combat in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, which ranged from 1936 to 1939. After the outbreak of the war, many countries, including Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union, initially signed the Non-Intervention Pact, which prohibited involvement in the civil war. Nonetheless, throughout the conflict, to different degrees, Italy and Germany supported the Rebel or Nationalist side, and the Soviet Union sent military equipment and military advisors/political commissars to the Republic.
Walter Warliomnt, the German representative in Rebel Spain, traveled back to Germany on September 12th, 1936, a few months after the beginning of the conflict, to inform the German High Command of the success of the German aircraft used up to then, but also with the warning that if the Rebels were to win, they would need more materiel support from Germany.
On September 20th, the majority of the officers and troops of Panzer-Regiment 6 of the 3rd Panzer Division volunteered to fight in an undisclosed location. On September 28th, 267 men, 41 Panzer I Ausf.As, 24 3.7 cm Pak 36s, and around 100 other logistical vehicles set sail for Spain, arriving in Sevilla on October 7th, from where they were then transported by train to Cáceres to instruct Spanish crews on how to use their tanks. An additional 21 Panzer I Ausf.Bs arrived in Sevilla on October 25th. By the end of 1936, the German tank unit, the Panzergruppe Drohne, was made up of three tank companies. Its main task was instruction, not just in tanks, but also anti-tank guns, tank transporters and flamethrowers, and repairing damaged vehicles. Although German crews were instructed not to crew the tanks in combat, there are some recorded instances of this occurring early in the war. To fill in for damaged or lost tanks, an additional 10 Panzer Is were sent to Spain in early 1937, the last to be sent directly by Germany through the Condor Legion.
Additional tanks, replacement parts, and other vehicles were processed and delivered through Sociedad Hispano-Marroquí de Transportes (HISMA), a dummy company set up by Germany to make deals with Spain. Whilst the Nationalists continually asked for a tank armed with at least a 20 mm cannon to be able to effectively confront the Republican T-26s, none would arrive. The Nationalists instead had to be content with additional Panzer Is. The first request was sent on July 13th, 1937, and 18 Panzer I Ausf.As arrived in El Ferrol on August 25th and 12 in Sevilla on August 30th. The second order was sent on November 12th, 1938, with 20 Panzer Is arriving on January 20th, 1939. It should be noted that these two orders required a great deal of insistence from Spanish authorities and German Condor Legion officers. This, alongside the hesitance to deliver anything more modern than a Panzer I, may be indicative of a German reluctance to fully commit to Spain to the same extent as Italy did, at least regarding land forces.
In total, Germany supplied 96 Panzer I Ausf.A and 21 Ausf.B, 4 Panzerbefehlswagen I Ausf.B (Panzer I command tanks), and one Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf.A (ohne Aufbau) (a turretless training tank).
When in combat, the Panzer Is mostly acted as an infantry support vehicle, as were most vehicles during the conflict. During their first engagement with Soviet T-26 tanks, fighting in Ciudad Universitaria on the Madrid front in November 1936, the Rebels were held back, with over 15 Panzer I tanks destroyed. This was due to the Panzer Is and Italian tanks not being able to penetrate the Soviet T-26 unless at very close ranges.
As the Nationalists started to turn the tide and began to capture huge numbers of equipment and Soviet tanks, the anti-tank problem was fixed by giving each company of Panzer Is one T-26 and several 37 mm German anti-tank guns. The Panzer I, although it could not outclass the Soviet T-26 and BA-6 armored cars, was much more robust and reliable in the Spanish environment. This was aided in large part by the excellent maintenance work carried out by German and Spanish engineers.
However, there were many cases of the engine overheating in the hot climate, which would later be fixed by installing the water-cooled engine in the Ausf.B. Furthermore, cases of detracking occurred and the armor protection on the visors proved to be too thin to stop armor-piercing rifle bullets. The Spanish terrain was often very rough and next to no infrastructure existed, which compounded the situation.
Furthermore, the Panzer I was in most cases not used in a combined arms doctrine, with artillery, planes, or other tank support, and the crews were often Spanish personnel, who were less trained than German tank crews. The Panzer Is were used mostly as mobile machine gun nests, advancing into defended towns, which was not how they were intended to be used.
However, there were several instances of them being used differently, with a number of Panzer Is being amassed and used to penetrate a weak point in the enemy’s defense line to overwhelm the front. The first notable example came in the Nationalist counter-offensive during the Battle of Brunete on July 18th, 1937. Condor Legion ground commander, Wilhelm von Thoma, was able to persuade General Valera to employ their Panzer Is together, rather than dispersing them among the infantry. This succeeded until the intense heat and general exhaustion slowed down the advance.
Another example of this combined arms warfare-like employment of Panzer Is during the Spanish Civil War came during the Catalan Offensive at the beginning of 1939. The Nationalist offensive to capture the remaining parts of Catalonia had begun on December 23rd, 1938, but the Republican defense was solid. On January 3rd, Panzer Is and other Nationalist tanks were amassed and broke the front in the province of Lleida, leading the way to the eventual fall of Barcelona.
The Panzer Is fought on almost all fronts of the Spanish Civil War. According to data compiled at the end of the conflict, from its foundation in 1936, the Agrupación de Carros de Combate (Eng. Tank Grouping), where the majority of Panzer Is were, had participated in 904 combats.
Spanish Republican Service?
The Rebels/Nationalist were renowned for capturing and putting to use Soviet/Republican vehicles. What is less known, but also far less common, was that the Republican side also captured a number of Italian and German vehicles in Rebel/Nationalist service.
Photographic evidence shows at least three Panzer Is in Madrid being shown to a crowd of curious onlookers. The vehicles were repaired and cleaned before the exhibition. The vehicles were given new numbers, though they can only be distinguished in two, numbers “31” and “33”. The purpose of these numbers is unknown. Number “31” had a banner reading “todos contra el invasor” (Eng. All together fight the invader) and the one where the number can not be identified had a large banner celebrating the heroics of a certain Corporal García. The original machine guns on these vehicles are missing, and were replaced by dummies and Hotchkiss 7 mm ones.
There is another photo showing a lone Panzer I in the field. This vehicle, with camouflage applied, has a small red flag with a yellow hammer and sickle on the right mudguard. There is no information available about when or where this photo was taken and it is hard to tell if this was an isolated case.
In September 1936, 15 Panzer I Ausf.As were sold to China for 1.03 million Reichsmark. Together with the tanks, a representative of Krupp, Habermaas, came to China to evaluate their performance. Habermaas stated that, upon arrival, the Panzer Is were in a poor condition due to insufficient packaging. Parts of the tanks, such as the machine gun mounts, brakes, and telescopes, were heavily rusted. Additional equipment, such as manuals and toolboxes, were damaged or lost due to the salt and water that had corroded the tanks. Lastly, the electrical parts were damaged due to the moist air, which also included the electrical fans, resulting in the tank overheating up to 60°C. The Chinese government falsely accused the Germans of sending them used tanks instead of new ones, but the bad state of the Panzers was due to the bad organization of the Chinese Ordnance Department and poor packaging by the Germans.
Another problem of the Panzer I in China was the suspension. Chinese infrastructure was even worse than in Spain, resulting in even worse results. The only terrain through which the Panzer I could drive was the rice fields, where the Panzer I had just enough ground clearance to be able to carefully drive through. Getting over the dikes between the rice fields proved to be impossible for the Panzers. The only other way of driving these tanks was in Nanking on dry rice fields. The tanks could only carefully drive on these still muddy grounds or else the chance of losing a track was increased. The Vickers 6-ton and Carden-Loyd, which were also exported to China at that time, were superior to the Panzer I in terms of mobility. The other main problem that the Chinese pointed out was the weak armament in comparison to the Vickers 6-ton.
In theory, the Panzer I was relatively comfortable, especially for Chinese soldiers, who were generally shorter than German soldiers. However, in practice, the tank heated up very fast and all visors and hatches had to be opened, exposing the crew to enemy small arms fire. Notwithstanding these points, the Panzer I proved to be adequate for the Chinese Army.
In the end, the tanks did not participate during the Defense of Shanghai. They fought in the Defense of Nanking, where all 15 tanks were captured by Japanese troops and sent for evaluation to Japan.
Similar to the Panzer Is in Spain, their poor performance can be traced back to the fact that they were not built for the difficult terrain and hot climate of China. Furthermore, like in Spain, the Panzer Is were not used in their intended combat role by the Chinese and quickly fell victim to the environment of China and Japanese troops.
Austria and Czechoslovakia
In 1938, the Panzer I was present during the annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Even though no fighting occurred, the tanks had to drive a long distance to the annexed countries and the Panzers often broke down. This was not a problem unique to the Panzer I, as the Panzer II, III, and IV also broke down with similar frequency.
The Invasion of Poland – 1939
At the start of the Second World War, on 1st September 1939, 973 Panzer Is participated in the invasion of Poland, making up about 40% of the German tanks deployed during the invasion. The other 260 Panzer Is stayed in reserve. With the loss of over 819 tanks, of which 320 were Panzer Is, the Polish campaign proved to be extremely costly for the German Army, contrary to the common misconception. Later, the number of Panzer Is which were either completely lost or needed major repairs was reduced to 89 tanks.
War in the West – 1940
As Panzer II, III, and IV production had drastically increased by 1940, more and more Panzer Is were withdrawn from frontline service. Furthermore, the Polish campaign demonstrated that the German Army still needed to improve its combined arms tactics. One of the greatest drawbacks of German armor during the 1939 campaign was the lack of communication between the Luftwaffe (Eng: Airforce) and Heer and their lack of armor protection. Even the small number of Polish tankettes equipped with anti-tank guns and 7TP tanks had no problem knocking-out the German tanks. This was not just a problem for the Panzer I, since the Panzer III and IV also had thin armor.
Before the invasion of France, 29 Panzer Is, part of Panzer Abteilung 40, were sent to Denmark and later Norway in April 1940. The Danish and Norwegian armies fielded no active tanks and only had a small number of anti-tank guns, resulting in no Panzer Is lost in combat, though mechanical attrition in the harsh territory of Norway did take its toll.
At the start of Fall Gelb (Eng: Case Yellow, the invasion of the Benelux and France), 554 Panzer Is took part in the invasion. Similar to the Polish campaign, the French campaign was extremely costly for the Panzer Is and the German Army in general. Over 182 Panzer Is were completely lost, which was 26% of the total number of Panzer Is deployed.
The invasion of France was the most costly invasion up to that point, specifically in terms of tanks lost to enemy tanks. The much heavier and better armored French tanks, such as the H39, R40, Somua S35, and Char B1 faced no problem penetrating German tanks, but, on the other hand, the German tanks struggled to penetrate their armor. Even the earlier R35 and FCM 36 tanks, although with a very poor armament that was not adequate for dealing with tanks, had superior armor protection. However, French tanks and the entire army lacked effective communication, still relying predominantly on hand signals and flags. The Ausf.A did not field a full radio either, but the radio receiver was enough for the officer or general to give orders from his radio half-track to the command tank, which then gave the orders to the platoon leader and then to the individual tanks. This gave the German Panzers the advantage of coordination, allowing them to cut off French supply lines or encircle their armies. British tanks, such as the Matilda, which was a slow infantry tank with thick armor, were often picked off by bigger guns, such as the famous 88 mm Flak 36. One of the main aspects of the German success was due to their combined arms doctrine, with other parts of the army, such as the artillery, anti-tank guns, and the Luftwaffe working together with the tanks. The fact that the Panzer I had such a weak armament was not very relevant, since only in the rarest cases did a Panzer I actually engage in combat against another tank. Most of the time, French tanks faced multiple Panzer Is supported by Panzer IIs, IIIs, and IVs.
War on Several Fronts – 1941
In March 1941, 25 Panzer I Ausf.As were sent to North Africa as part of Panzer Regiment 5 of the Afrika Korps. Later, an additional 25 Ausf.As were sent as replacements. If no modifications had been made, the Panzer I Ausf.A, with its overheating problems and air-cooled engine, would subject its crew to inhuman temperatures inside the tank. Therefore, all Panzer Is were modified into Tropen (Eng: Tropical) variants (Panzer I Tp), which received better cooling and more air filters.
In North Africa, the Panzer Is suffered from low supplies of fuel and spare parts that plagued the entire Afrika Korps. Furthermore, the Panzer Is were not used as frontline tanks anymore, meaning they would get the least amount of fuel allocation. Their purpose was acting as reserve tanks and policing vehicles, since the General Staff of the Afrika Korps knew from the experiences in France that the Panzer I was not capable of fighting against Allied tanks.
During the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941, only 18 Panzer Is took part in Panzer Regiments 31 and 33. In the Balkans, the Panzer Is did not encounter many tanks. The Yugoslavian tank force, although fielding a number of Renault FT and R35 tanks, did not pose much of a threat to the Panzer Is, since these were present only in small numbers and were dealt with by other German tanks and aircraft. However, anti-tank rifles and guns were a great threat to the small tanks, as in Poland. The very bad terrain made it hard for the Panzer Divisions to advance in the first few days.
Later, the Panzer I Ausf.A would see service in the Balkans, both in Yugoslavia and Greece, in anti-partisan duties. There, they proved fairly effective with their bulletproof armor and machine guns.
At the start of Operation Barbarossa, 337 Panzer I tanks were available, divided into 17 panzer divisions. Over the period of the first month of fighting, 172 Panzer Is were lost. The rest were slowly lost due to attrition and other factors. Since no new Panzer Is had been produced after 1936, most tanks were either lost or converted into self-propelled guns or other variants by 1943. In this form, some of the Panzer Is continued to soldier on until 1945, by which time they were thoroughly obsolete.
The Panzer I Ausf.A’s Combat Performance
The Panzer I and its machine guns could effectively destroy soft targets. It was fast and small and could therefore be extremely dangerous to any infantry. But the Ausf.A was extremely loud due to its air-cooled engine. Furthermore, the commander was overwhelmed with his tasks of observing the battlefield, giving orders to the driver, operating the radio, and operating the machine guns. Additionally, if the tank was driven at a high speed, it would sometimes pitch violently.
However, the Panzer I Ausf.A played a big role for propaganda purposes. With the public used to the small Reichswehr, mostly equipped with cavalry, the large numbers for that time period of new tanks driven by a new generation of tankers dressed in black uniforms with skulls, representing the old skull hussars of Prussian times, had an enormous effect on the population. Therefore, many young people decided to also join the tank arm. Furthermore, the arrival of these small tanks in a city during a parade was always highly celebrated by the public. The tanks were often presented on Adolf Hitler’s birthday and on German Thanksgiving (a harvest festival) in 1935.
Furthermore, an often-ignored fact is that the Panzer I Ausf.A was the first German tank to enter serial production, with many different firms working on the production. For many of these firms, it was their first time mass-producing military vehicles. Despite their inexperience, they managed to produce a large number of the Panzer I Ausf.As at a rapid pace. The experience gained by these firms, for example, MAN and Henschel, would later contribute greatly to the production of tanks such as the Panther and the Tiger.
Lastly, although it was not the vehicle’s main task, the Panzer I Ausf.A was indirectly responsible for training an entire new generation of tank crews who would later become the first crews of the more advanced Panzer IIIs and IVs. Due to their extensive training during maneuvers and exercises, their performance was often superior to other tank crewmen at the start of the war. For instance many famous tank aces started training on a Panzer I
Service With Other Nations
Although not known which variants, a report of the Red Army in 1941, stated that 5-6 T-1 tanks are in service with the Red Army. The T-1 was the Soviet name for the Panzer I. However there is no photographic evidence to support this.
The independent state of Croatia, a puppet regime of Nazi Germany, successfully purchased 4 Panzer I Ausf.A tanks in 1941. These were used as garrison vehicles against the partisans.
Post-Spanish Civil War Spanish Service
The Spanish Civil War was won by the Rebel/Nationalist side and resulted in General Franco’s 36-year long dictatorship. Due to Spain’s support for Italy and Germany during the Second World War, in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, Spain was excluded from the new international organizations, such as the United Nation, and many states closed diplomatic relations. In military terms, this meant Spain had to make use of the vehicles which had survived the Spanish Civil War.
At the end of the Spanish Civil War, there were still 84 operational Panzer Is. This means that throughout the war, only 38 vehicles were fully lost. By 1942, there were still 144 Panzer Is and CV-33s and CV-35s in the Spanish Army and they equipped all five tank regiments of the Spanish Army. Whilst the passing of the years took a toll on the tanks, they were only replaced when US tanks, M24 Chaffees and M41 Walker Bulldogs, made available through the changing geopolitical world situation, arrived in Spain in the mid to late 1950s. Even then, some continued to be used for training.
Footage of the Panzer I Ausf.A
WW2 Panzer I Ausf A footage – Source: Panzer Insight
Vehicles Based on the Panzer I Ausf.A Chassis
L.K.A. and L.K.B
After the First World War and the introduction of armored warfare many countries wanted to acquire tanks but could not develop them on their own. Therefore many of the great powers such as France and the UK exported tanks and made huge profits. As a result, the company of Krupp also wanted to participate in this global market. In 1936, Krupp decided to create an export tank based on the Panzer I Ausf.A.
The L.K.A. (Light Tank for Export) was built using the Panzer I turret, a modified superstructure, and a different suspension. Although the L.K.A. visually resembled the Panzer I Ausf.A, it had nothing to do in regards to its initial development. This common misconception exists due to a British reporter claiming the L.K.A. to be the first Panzer I prototype. However, this is false, as the L.K.A. was developed in 1936, by which time the Ausf.A had been in production for almost 2 years.
A similar story regards the L.K.B., with the difference that the L.K.B. used the exact same turret, suspension, and superstructure. Unlike the Ausf.A, the L.K.B. ran on a different diesel engine and was designed and built for export.
The Panzer I “Lanzallamas” and the Panzer I “Breda”
During the Spanish Civil War, the Panzer I was ill equipped to fight against the Soviet T-26 tanks and plans were made to carry out modifications to be able to properly confront them. The first plan involved adding flamethrowers to Panzer Is, colloquially known as Panzer I “Lanzallamas”. During the early years of the Spanish Civil War, probably in October 1936, two Panzer Is (an Ausf.A and an Ausf.B) had their armament changed to a long Flammenwerfer 35 on the Ausf.A and a much shorter Flammenwerfer 35 on the Ausf.B. Their effective combat range could only reach up to 30 meters, which made the tanks rather impractical and therefore the project was not continued. It is unknown if the vehicles were ever used in combat or just for training.
The best-known modification on a Panzer I in the Spanish Civil War is the Panzer I Breda, which was first introduced in September 1937 when the Soviets started supplying even more tanks to the Republicans. The new design had a modified turret to be armed with the Italian 20 mm Breda gun. At least four were modified this way by Spanish mechanics in the Fábrica de Armas (Eng. Weapons Factory) in Seville. This design was prefered to the slightly earlier attempt to arm an Italian CV-35 with the same gun, and after successful test, more were ordered for conversion.
In spite of its apparent benefits, the Panzer I Breda project was dealt a fatal blow upon the condemnation from Condor Legion ground forces commander Wilhelm von Thoma. Von Thoma was strongly opposed to the conversion because of the poor crew safety resulting from an unarmored viewport created to aim the new gun, and as a result, he was able to convince the Cuartel General del Generalissimo (Eng. the Generalissimo’s Headquarters) to cancel the order for more vehicles.
Nonetheless, the four vehicles were assigned to units and saw combat, though details are scarce. One was struck by an enemy projectile in the Battle of the Ebro, the Breda gun of another malfunctioned and required replacing, and a third caught fire.
The Nationalists devised plans to upgun other Panzer Is with 37 mm and 45 mm guns, but these did not materialize. Furthermore, other Nationalist war tank developments, such as the Carro de Combate de Infanteria tipo 1937. (CCI tipo 1937) and the Verdeja nº1, and post-war Spanish vehicles, such as the Tractor Ligero SECN, took inspiration from the Panzer I and the knowledge gained from using and maintaining them.
Up Gunned Panzer I Ausf.As
Besides the 2 cm Breda Panzer I conversion carried out by the Nationalists, an unknown number of vehicles were later upgunned by German forces before the invasion of France with a 37 mm anti-tank gun, which was the standard anti-tank gun of Germany during the early war. The conversion removed the turret and placed the gun on top of the superstructure. Furthermore, the 3.7 cm PaK received an extended shield. The vehicle was used by Panzerjäger Abteilung 521, which was also equipped with Panzerjäger Is, a tank destroyer based on the Panzer I Ausf.B chassis.
In an attempt to make use of the outdated Panzer I chassis, an unknown number of Panzer I Ausf.As were converted into bridge laying tanks. Some of them had their turrets removed, while on some tanks the turrets were retained. An 11 meter-long bridge, which was able to carry up to 12 tonnes, was placed on top of the tank. These tanks turned out to be ineffective, as they could only carry a very light bridge and the weight was too much for them. Furthermore, development of the Panzer II bridge layer had already begun.
Ammunition Panzer I Ausf.As
Supplying ammunition was always a big problem, since there were no armored ammunition vehicles at first, only trucks, which were not protected against even small arms fire. As a solution, during the Polish campaign in 1939, over 51 Panzer Is were converted into ammunition carriers called Munitionsschlepper I (Eng: Ammunition carrier I) or Versorgungspanzer (Eng: Supply tanks). This was done by removing the turret and replacing it with a two part hatch.
In 1942, when many of the Panzer Is were pulled off the front, another variant was built, on which another superstructure was placed on top of the tank. Its main task was supplying ammunition to Panzer Jäger Abteilungen (Eng: tank destroyer battalions). These were independent battalions with anti-tank equipment, such as towed anti-tank guns and anti-tank rifles, but also Panzerjäger Is (Panzer I Ausf.B with a 4.7 cm anti-tank gun).
Flakpanzer I and Other Anti-Aircraft Vehicles
On 27 March 1941, the Munitions Transport Abteilung 610 (Eng. Ammunition Transport Battalion) was converted into an anti-aircraft unit known as Flak Battalion 614. In order to motorise some of its 2cm Flak guns, the unit mounted some of them on Munitionsschlepper I Ausf.As that it had inherited from its time as an ammunition transport unit. This was done by removing the turret and mounting a 2 cm Flak 38 onto a modified superstructure. The Flakpanzer I was issued to the ammunition carrier companies. Additionally, there was another ammunition carrier vehicle based on the Panzer I Ausf.A, with the task of carrying the crew and ammunition for the Flakpanzer I.
Before the war had even started, there was a need for training crews for the anti-aircraft role. Therefore, a couple of Fahrschulwagen Is were converted into training Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns (SPAAGs). The modifications included the addition of a twin MG 34 mount, the Zwillingssockel 36. Another modification included one MG 34 with an improvised mount. The backside of the only known photo reveals that the photo was a postcard sent by a soldier to his wife, demonstrating its instructional use.
Some Panzer Is, including a number of the ammunition carriers, were later used as medical vehicles. Unofficially named the Sanitätspanzer I (Eng: Medic tank I), these saw service mainly on the Eastern Front. All of them appear to have been field conversions that used superstructures of various designs.
Because the first Panzer Is tended to break down under stressful situations, they often needed repairs in the field and during maneuvers, but many times it was too hard to drive or tow the broken tank into the garage. For maintaining these tanks a new variant of the Panzer I was introduced using the Ausf.A and Ausf.B chassis. The Instandsetzungskraftwagen (Eng. Maintenance tank) was an open top Panzer I chassis tasked with carrying equipment for maintenance crews and repair tools. On photos, those vehicles can be differenced by looking at the equipment inside the tank. Instandsetzungskraftwagen often carried spare road wheels around. At first only one Instandsetzungskraftwagen was issued to each company. These early versions, were repurposed Fahrschulwagen with iron bars. Around these iron bars, for protecting the equipement against weather, a canva could be placed. Eventually it turened out that one Instandsetzungskraftwagen was not enough for each company. Therefore due to a lack of Fahrschulwagen, regualr Panzer Is were used as Instandsetzungswagen. This conversion was done by removing the turret. The last version featured a windshield or a completly new soft skin superstructure. The vehicles stayed in service until the end of the Panzer I on the battlefield.
Due to increasing demand for engineering and pioneering vehicles, a number of Panzer I Ausf.As were converted for these roles. One of these variants was a Panzer I Ausf.A with two large metal support beams which would then be loaded with fascines that could be used to fill in ditches or gaps.
An unknown number of vehicles based on the Fahrschulwagen I chassis were converted into cable laying vehicles and were used by the pioneers and engineers. The vehicle’s main task was laying cables for antennas and telephone communication.
Because the standard Panzer I Ausf.A was only equipped with a radio receiver, a command tank had to be developed. There appear to have been several experiments involving the fitting of extra radios into Panzer Is before the creation of a standardized Kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen (Eng: Small Command Tank).
On this variant, the turret was removed and replaced by a fixed superstructure without any armament. The crew was increased to 3, with a separate radio operator. Each Panzer company received at least one vehicle.
There are also several photos of an unusual variant of the Panzer I Ausf.A and Ausf.B that appears to have been used for command purposes, but unfortunately next to nothing is available on its history. On this variant, the turret and upper superstructure were removed and replaced with a new superstructure constructed from straight steel plates. This superstructure appears to have varied on each vehicle, but usually had a large hatch in the front right and multiple visors all around. No armament was fitted to this Panzer I variant, but several photos show it equipped with radio antennas suggesting that it must have carried extra radios.
One of the photos shows the vehicle with a checkerboard pattern around the superstructure. This means the vehicles were around before 1937 but the exact date of their creation is unknown. It is unclear whether this variant was purpose-built at the factory or converted after manufacture, though the lack of documentation and the wide variety in construction suggest the latter may be more likely. It is possible that this variant was an early stand-in for the later Befehlswagen (Eng: Command tank) versions of the Panzer I or that it was used to fill gaps in units lacking such vehicles before the war. Alternatively, they could have been created for some other purpose of command and control, as at least one tank appears to have the markings of an artillery battery and it is known that Befehlswagens were later used for this purpose. Furthermore, one vehicle was spotted at a collection point in France in 1940 as part of the 2nd Artillery Regiment.
At least one regular Panzer I Ausf.A was fitted with an extra radio and a frame antenna. It is possible that this was an experimental vehicle used to test the concept of a command vehicle or it may have been converted to fill in the gaps caused by a shortage of Panzebefehlswagen.
At the same time as the creation of the Panzer I Ausf.A, a training variant was introduced. The Fahrschulwagen I (Eng: Driving school vehicle I) was meant to train new tank drivers. The conversion of a Panzer I to a Fahrschulwagen was rather simple, done by removing the superstructure. Some of the Panzer I prototypes and Kleintraktoren were used as “Fahrschulwagen”. They stayed in service until the war’s end, meaning that almost every tank driver was trained on the Fahrschulwagen I at least at some point during his career.
Next to the regular Fahrschulwagen without the superstructure and turret, there were also other variants, such as a training vehicle powered by charcoal gas. This was done due to the decreasing fuel reserves of Germany during the late war. A variant mounting a Panzer III turret, used for training in a three man turret, also existed. A similar variant that instead had a superstructure and turret representing a Sherman tank was used by the Volkssturm for target practice during the lead up to the Battle of Berlin in 1945.
Unknown Field Conversions
The following vehicles are all vehicles based on the chassis of the Panzer I Ausf.A. These are either field modifications or unknown variants. These vehicles are so arare that only photos and rarely any information on them exists. Therefore their purpose can only be speculated.
Even though many Panzer Is were lost during the early years of the war, today, a surprising amount of vehicles still exist. This is partially due to the tanks being pulled off the front and used as training vehicles, minimizing their casualties. Note this list only includes Ausf.A tanks. There are also a number of Ausf.B tanks around that might be confused with them.
Although rather lacking in technical terms, in the end, the Panzer I Ausf.A and its successors were effective in their role of preparing thousands of new tankers who would later become the core of the Panzer arm of the Wehrmacht and go on to operate much more combat effective vehicles. Put into the large context of the early war, the Panzer I was the most important tank in regards to training and was crucial in building up the first Panzer Divisions, making it the best tank which the German Army could produce at that time. If used in a combined arms doctrine, the Panzer I’s drawbacks were attenuated and its strengths could shine. After all, the Panzer I was designed in 1930, for which time the armor protection and armament seemed adequate, and it was also only meant to act as a stopgap to be slowly replaced by the Panzer III and IV. However, by 1939, there simply were not enough of these Panzers to be able to equip the Heer, so the German Army had to rely on these small Panzer Is, which contributed to the great victories of the first years of the war.
Panzer I Ausf.A specifications
4.02 x 2.06 x 1.72 m
2 (commander/gunner, driver)
-10° to +20°
max.: 37.5 km/h, roads: 20 km/h, cross-country: 12 km/h
roads: 140 km, cross-country: 93 km
2x 7.92 mm MG 13/MG 13k
2250 7.92 mm S.m.K. in 25 magazines
Krupp M 305 4-cylinder air-cooled
FuG 2 receiver
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española. Teatro de Operaciones del Norte 36/37 (Valladolid: AF Editores, 2007)
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Andalucía y Centro 36/39 (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno’s editores, 2009)
German Reich (1940-1942)
Flamethrower Tank – 151 Built + 1 Prototype
A couple of months before the beginning of the Second World War, the HWA (“Heereswaffenamt”, Eng: Army Ordnance Department) requested the construction of a flamethrower tank to support the infantry fight against heavily fortified positions. The first vehicles (named Flammpanzer II) were ready after the Fall of France and participated, along with other newly made Flammpanzer IIs, in Operation Barbarossa. In combat, these tanks performed rather poorly due to their thin armor. Ultimately, all of them were pulled out of service and converted into Marder II tank destroyers.
History of the Flamethrower Tank
The origin of the Flammpanzer can be traced back to the First World War, when the German Army started using the flamethrower as an assault weapon against infantry in close-range combat situations. These flamethrowers were carried by specially trained soldiers and were highly effective when assaulting a trench line. Their task was to pin down the enemy while friendly forces advanced into the enemy’s lines. They were not only effective as combat weapons, but also had a great psychological impact. The only major downsides were the fact that the flamethrower operators were unprotected from any kind of projectiles and had to carry a lot of heavy equipment.
Seeing their effectiveness, many nations experimented with their own flamethrowers. Another new type of weapon that saw great success during the First World War was the tank and combining these two inventions made a vehicle that could bring fear into the enemy while still being protected. After the end of the First World War, many Europeans and veterans immigrated to South America. This led to the creation of the first flamethrower tank to be ever used in combat. The so-called F-1 was a field-improvised tracked agricultural tractor with added armor protection and a flamethrower. It was used by the São Paulo Public Police Force during the Brazilian Revolution of 1932. The “tank” performed excellently against the Brazilian Army, which did not have tanks or enough anti-tank capabilities in the area where the F-1 was used. It proved to be most effective as a weapon of terror against the Brazilian infantry, but still lacked mobility and was too cramped for the crew.
The first serially constructed flamethrower tanks were the Soviet OT-26, developed from 1931, and the Japanese Sōkō Sagyō Ki, introduced in 1931. These tanks shared differences, but also had things in common. Both used an already existing tank chassis and the main armament was removed. The OT-26 was based on the twin turret T-26 variant. One of the turrets was removed while the other had its gun exchanged with a flamethrower. Although the T-26 chassis was reliable, the flamethrower was ineffective due to its short-range.
The Sōkō Sagyō Ki was based on the Type 89 I-Go chassis. Additionally, the turret was removed and replaced with a commander’s cupola. Unlike the OT-26 or previous flamethrower tanks, the Sōkō Sagyō Ki was not just a flamethrower tank. It was equipped with multiple flamethrowers, two claws in front of the tank for mine cleaning, and a winch to grab heavy objects. These tanks were made for the engineer battalions in order to destroy enemy fortified positions.
Italian and German Flamethrower Use
The Italian tank fleet was very weak in the 1930s in terms of firepower. To increase this, flamethrowers were mounted on Italian tanks. The first tanks to receive this upgrade were the FIAT 3000 and the FIAT-Ansaldo CV.35. After the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, the Italians sent military aid to the Spanish Nationalists in 1936, including flamethrower equipped CV.35s. During the conflict, a new way of flamethrower tank combat was invented, which involved attacking the enemy tanks from behind and burning the crew alive. The small size of the CV.35 was perfect for sneaking up to the enemy. However, because of the thin armor, the tanks were only protected against small-arms fire and were vulnerable against enemy tanks like the BT-5 or T-26.
Furthermore a small number of Panzer I’s sent to Spain were converted into flamethrower tanks. These were less effective than their Italian counterparts and were generally vulnerable against any enemy tank fire. The flamethrower’s range was also not effective as it could only reach up to 25 m.
In winter 1939, the German weapons department ordered the creation of a flamethrower tank using an already existing chassis, with the idea of having a flamethrower tank to support the infantry in assaulting heavily fortified positions.
The official designation for this tank was Sd.Kfz.122 Pz.Kpfw. II (F) Ausf.A/B. The (F) should not be confused with the later Panzer II Ausf.F version. The (F) stands for (Flamm) or (Flammpanzerwagen), which would translate to (flame) or (flamethrower tank). This is why most people refer to it as the Flammpanzerwagen II or.
Production (Ausf.A and B)
Since the Panzer I did not fulfill the criteria, the HWA decided to use the Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.D variant, originally a light tank made for cavalry support and independent light tank divisions. But, since this was never implemented, the Panzer II Ausf.D had no specific use. The Flammpanzer tank had two sub-variants, the Ausführung (variant) A and B. Ausf.A tanks were all vehicles built before the summer of 1941 and based on the Panzer II Ausf.D1 and E chassis, while the Ausf.B was built from June 1941 until March 1942 on the Panzer II Ausf.D2 chassis. While the D1 variant had a sprocket wheel with 11 spokes, the D2 chassis had only 8 spokes. The Ausf.E had changes made to the front and idler wheel and had lubricated tracks but only 7 Ausf.E chassis were made and all were converted into Ausf.A.
The Panzer II manufacturing companies, MAN and Daimler-Benz, were approached by the HWA to design the hull and turret respectively.
From April to September of 1939, 46 chassis of the Panzer II Ausf.D1 were taken off the normal production line and rebuilt by MAN. 1 prototype vehicle was already finished in July 1939 made out of carbon steel (also known as soft- or mild steel). Later, in the Winter of 1940, all of them were converted to flamethrowers by Wegmann & Co. in Kassel. In addition to the construction of new tanks, 43 already completed Panzer II Ausf.D were taken from the 7th and 8th Panzerdivision. In May 1940, the production was halted and all completed vehicles were sent back for modifications. The original order demanded the production of a 0-series with 90 Flammpanzer II tanks by October 1940. This deadline was achieved with the delayed production of only 3 tanks which were completed in February 1941 due to a lack of Panzer II chassis. Additionally, an order for 150 new Flammpanzer IIs was given in April, which were to be produced at a rate of 30 per month. Production started in August 1941 but, due to a shortage of chassis for the Flammpanzer IIs and the fact that some of the available chassis were not in a usable state, only 62 could be completed until March 1942. After that date, the conversion order for Flammpanzer II tanks was stopped. The rest of the 150 tank order were normal Panzer II Ausf.Ds.
The Flammpanzer II used the same engine as the Panzer II Ausf.D, which was the 6-cylinder Maybach HL62 TRM 140 hp gasoline engine. Since the original role of the Panzer II Ausf.D was to support the cavalry, it had to keep up with the horses. Therefore, a more powerful engine had to be built in comparison to the regular Panzer IIs. This speed was transferred to the Flammpanzer II, making it a very fast vehicle with a maximum speed of 55 km/h. Although the weight was raised from 11 to 12 tons, the vehicle showed no changes mobility-wise.
Both the Flammpanzer II Ausf.A and B used the unchanged suspension of the Panzer II Ausf.D and E. Since the Panzer II Ausf.D requirements were for a better engine, the running wheels had to be upgraded too. They were given a completely new running gear, using four large all-rubber wheels sprung on torsion bars, which made the return rollers of the Ausf.C superfluous. Furthermore, all 7 vehicles were based on the Panzer II Ausf.E chassis had different front and back wheels which adapted to the new lubricated tracks on the Ausf.E.
Hull and superstructure
The lower hull was completely identical to the Panzer II Ausf.D and E. The superstructure was also very similar. On the front of the tank were two escape hatches for the driver and radio operator. Two armored boxes were placed on the left and right mudguards, which consisted of the fuel tanks for the flamethrowers, which could be accessed by opening the top. On each Flamethrower turret, there were small hatches to access the flamethrowers if repair was needed. To reach the engine, which was separated from the crew compartment, a hatch was put on the rear top of the tank. Additionally, storage boxes and the standard tank equipment were placed on the superstructure. Some of the Ausf.A Flammpanzer IIs had a spare track and idler wheel on the backside.
The turret was completely different from the one used on the previous Panzer II variants and was smaller. It had a hexagonal shape and an armored vision slit on each side. The front side had a MG fitted in a “Kugelblende”. Additionally, there was a hatch located on the top for the commander.
One of the main flaws of the Flammpanzer II was its weak armament. The two flamethrower turrets, called “Spritzköpfe” (meaning Spray heads), were equipped with two standard flamethrowers that could be moved 180°. The turrets were located on the front, on the left and right, on the mudguards. The fuel was stored in separate fuel tanks behind the turrets, running along the sides above the tracks. They could be refilled by opening the top of the armored box. Each of the two fuel tanks included 160 liters of flamethrower oil, a mixture of gasoline and oil, and were “shot” with the help of pressurized nitrogen stored in six pressurized tanks. The oil was then ignited by an acetylene lighter. The Flammpanzer II could shoot 80 bursts for 5 seconds each at a maximum range of 35 meters. This range proved to be very weak and not enough for effective use. Additionally, there was a 7.92 mm MG 34 fitted in the turret with 1800 rounds available and a K.Z.F.2 (1,75 x 18°) as a gunsight with a range of 200 meters. Behind the turret on the backside, two pairs of three small “Nebelwerferanlagen” (smoke grenade throwers) were fitted, which could create a smoke wall to support infantry advance or help the tank retreat in dangerous situations.
Another drawback of the Flammpanzer II was its light armor. The turret was relatively well armored in relation to the hull, with 20-30 mm of thickness. The hull and superstructure had 14.5-30 mm of armor. The frontal armor plates provided effective protection against anti-tank rifles at most ranges. The side armor, on the other hand, could only protect against small arms fire and proved to be extremely dangerous for the fuel tanks of the flamethrowers.
Flammpanzer II tanks had a crew of 3 men (radio operator, driver, commander). The commander was situated in the turret. His tasks were commanding the crew, operating both flamethrowers and the machine gun in the turret. The small flamethrower turrets were moved by an electrical transmission located in the main turret. The radio operator was situated on the right side and operated the radio (FuG 2), while the driver sat on the left side.
Operation Sea Lion
Flammpanzer IIs were organized into Abteilungen (eng: Battalions) which served in Panzer Divisions together with the “Panzergrenadiere”. From the 1st to the 4th March 1940, two Panzer Abteilungen (Tank Battalions) were formed. These were Panzer Abteilung (F) 100 and, a few days later, 101. Another flamethrower unit was Panzer Abteilung (F) 102, but this battalion consisted of “Flammenwerfer Beutepanzer” (captured tanks that were converted into flamethrowers). Panzer Abteilung (F) 100 used a “Wolfsangel” (Wolf fishing rod) as their unit emblem, while 101 first used crossed flamethrowers in light green paint and, after 1941, a multi-colored flame.
Although they were ready for the invasion of France, there was only a small number built at this point. Before the invasion of France, both battalions were located at training schools in “Wehrkreis III” (Army Circle 3). Furthermore, the OKH (German Army High Command) delayed the production to July 1940. After the invasion, they were stationed in northern France and prepared for the planned Operation Sea Lion (amphibious invasion of Great Britain). Many photos show the tanks during exercises, being loaded and unloaded from transport ships and rafts.
Flamethrower combat tactics
In September 1940, a manual for “Panzerflammabteilungen” (Flamethrower Tank Battalions) was created. This manual reveals the tactical doctrine and the flamethrower´s intended combat role. Their main task was to support the “Panzertruppe” (tank force) or “Panzergrenadiere” (tank grenadiers) by eliminating threats which other tanks or the infantry could not. Furthermore, the flamethrower had a huge demoralizing effect on the enemy. While the flamethrowers were to be used at an effective range of 30 meters, the machine gun was used for longer ranges, up to 400 meters.
The manual covered three different methods of engaging enemy positions. The first method showed how to deal with enemy infantry on flat terrain. The flamethrower turrets were to be set at an 0° elevation angle and sprayed in discharging bursts. Furthermore, by traversing the turrets whilst driving, an area about 50 meters could be covered. The second method showed how to engage opponents in field fortifications, woods, buildings or machine-gun nests. This could be achieved by shooting out short bursts, demoralizing and driving out the enemy, so they could be eliminated with other weapons. The last method dealt with entrenched enemies or enemies in bunkers and log bunkers. By shooting out cold oil and covering the area then igniting it with a single burst, the area could be set on fire for a longer duration.
In terms of pushing forward, the flamethrower tanks were always to advance with cover fire from either the artillery or other tanks. Additionally, at close ranges, the regular Panzer IIs provided cover fire. During combat, all three flamethrower tank companies were to be deployed and were only allowed to advance with a Panzerdivision.
Furthermore, the Flammpanzer II could create a smoke cloud whilst shooting the flamethrowers and using the “Nebelwerfer”. This could be used to close in on enemies or retreat safely. If supply vehicles managed to reach the Flammpanzer IIs, the whole battalion could be refilled and rearmed in one hour.
Combat results on the Eastern Front
Since the invasion of Britain was never initiated, all 90 Flammpanzer IIs were transported to the Warsaw area for the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union. There, Panzer Abteilung (F) 100 was attached to the 19. Panzer Division in the XLVII Panzerkorps (47. Tank Corps) and Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 to the 7th Panzer Division as part of the 2. “Panzergruppe” (2. Tank Group). Both battalions were part of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Center). Each battalion had a Staff and Staffcompany, 3 armored flamethrower companies, 1 reserve squadron, 1 light tank platoon (with 5 Panzer II light tanks) and a workshop company. The armored flamethrower companies each consisted of 1 staff platoon with two Panzer II Ausf.C or D light tanks, three flamethrower tank platoons with 4 Flammpanzer IIs each and a single light tank platoon with 5 Panzer II Ausf.C or D. The reserve squadron held a reserve of 2 Panzer II light tanks and 6 Flammpanzer II tanks. In practice, these reserves did not last long.
Starting in August 1941, the first new Ausf.B Flammpanzer IIs arrived, which were highly needed due to tank losses. They were put into the already existing battalions. After seeing how vulnerable the battalion was against enemy armor, the OKH demanded the addition of a Panzer III (5cm) platoon for extra anti-tank capability. There was also one single Pz. Bef. Wg. III added, which was a command tank variant of the regular Panzer III (5cm) but was fitted with a “Rahmenantenne” (cage antenna) and had the main armament removed. At the start of Operation Barbarossa, both battalions consisted of 24 regular Panzer IIs (2cm), 42 Flammpanzer II tanks, 5 Panzer IIIs (5cm) and 1 Pz. Bef. Wg. III.
Panzer-Abteilung (F) 100 first saw action in the area of Legi, beyond Warsaw, when the tanks drove over the Legi bridge. Only a few days later, the battalion reached Minsk and a month later participated in the battle of Smolensk. Instead of advancing to Moscow, the battalion was sent south and almost reached Kursk. This order was canceled and the tanks were ordered to support the advance on Moscow. Their final advance was to the area of Orel (350 km south of Moscow), where they were stopped. Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 followed a similar route as 100 and also got put out of service around the same date. In early November 1941, both battalions were pulled off the front and only left the regular Panzer II (2cm) and Panzer III (5cm) tanks behind, which were transferred into the 18. Panzer Division.
Unlike Panzer Abteilung (F) 100, 101 offers a detailed rare after-action combat report from the 26th June 1941. On the 26th of June 1941, near Stonim in Belarus, Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 and Panzer Regiment 25 supported the attack of “Schützenregiment 7” (7th Infantry regiment) against an enemy who held a position 2 km wide and deep. At 6 am, the battalion attacked. The 3rd Company attacked from the right side, while the 1st and 2nd attacked from the left. Due to terrain difficulties which included driving over multiple gullies, the advance had to be done on a narrow front. The Soviet infantry, which had only used small arms fire at this point, though the presence of anti-tank guns and heavy machine guns were suspected, had positioned itself in brush-covered woods.
Shortly after the tanks reached the forest, it turned out that the woods were impenetrable by tanks. The infantry, which advanced alone into the forest, was met with heavy machine gun fire. After the commander failed to direct the battalion around the forest, due to difficult terrain, the 2nd and 3rd Companies started to burn down the brushland with Panzer III (5cm) support. The advance through the woods was slow because many Soviet soldiers were shooting from hidden spots and therefore the German infantry could not advance forwards. The Flammpanzer IIs burned down the Brush Piles, one after another, and captured soldiers who were struck by fear. With the support of the 1st Company, the woods and nearby cornfields could be secured by 11 am. At 12:30 am, Panzer Abteilung (F) 101, which had already retreated from the area, received a message from Schützenregiment 7 that they were under attack from all sides. The commander of Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 (Major Mast) sent the 1st Company for support but, upon arriving, this support was no longer needed, since the infantry had successfully defeated the enemy.
In the end, the battalion managed to destroy several light machine guns, 11 heavy machine guns, 1 mortar, 2 cars, 3 trucks, and one tank. Furthermore, the battalion claimed to have destroyed 1 heavy tank and 2 artillery pieces, but this number could not be verified. Around 100-150 Soviet soldiers were killed by either the machine guns or flamethrowers. Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 reported no casualties, vehicle- and men wise.
Like many other German early war tanks, the performance of the Flammpanzer II on the Eastern Front was rather weak. Due to their thin armor, Soviet anti-tank rifles and guns faced no problem penetrating the sides of the Flammpanzer II at most combat ranges. Another downside was that the Flammpanzer II, like many pre and early WW2 tanks, had a one-man turret. The commander of the Flammpanzer II was overwhelmed with his tasks of observing the battlefield, giving orders to the crew, and operating the flamethrowers and the machine gun. Lastly, the flamethrower’s short-range made the tank even more vulnerable, since it had to approach the enemy very closely.
Both battalions suffered from huge losses, as seen in Tables 2 and 3. Almost the entirety of the time, the battalions had no command tank and only little medium tank support. Additionally, in the first few days, both battalions lost almost half of their Flammpanzer II tanks. These problems continued throughout the invasion and the battalions were only at half of their strength for the most time. When the order arrived to pull the Flammpanzer IIs back from the front, Panzer Abteilung (F) 100 and 101 together had only 12 operational Flammpanzer II tanks. On the other hand, unlike the early Panzer II variants which had problems with their leaf spring suspension in the Russian mud, the Flammpanzer II and its larger wheels performed excellently.
After their last deployment, the Flammpanzer IIs were pulled off the front by mid-November 1941. All surviving vehicles, including the regular Panzer II Ausf.Ds were converted into Marder II tank destroyers. The flamethrower tank project was canceled and production stopped, until 1943, when the Germans started introducing a new flamethrower tank, the Flammpanzer III. Meanwhile, Panzer Abteilung (F) 100 was renamed Panzer Regiment 100 and was reorganized and equipped with standard medium and light tanks. Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 experienced the same fate when they were renamed the 24th Panzer Regiment. Both regiments saw action again in the summer offensive of 1942. The flamethrowers were given to the pioneers and the MG turrets were built in coastal defenses in Norway as a part of the Atlantic Wall. Since all Flammpanzer IIs got converted, only the turrets can be seen nowadays.
In the end, the Flammpanzer II was a well-thought-out first attempt at creating an armored flamethrower to attack bunker positions, supporting the infantry, and performing tasks that other tanks, such as the Panzer III or IV, could not achieve. The idea behind it was fairly good and, at that time, the armor and armament seemed good enough to fight the opponents. Furthermore, its original role was not to engage enemy tanks, but rather infantry and bunker positions. Additionally, the combination of speed and the fear factor from the flamethrowers made a fairly effective anti-infantry vehicle.
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