Categories
Swiss Tanks

Panzer 39

Switzerland (1939)
Light Tank – 24 Purchased

The Panzer 39, also known as the ‘LTL-H’ or ‘LTH’ (which was the Czechoslovakian export designation), was a Swiss light tank that served in the Swiss Army from 1939 to 1960. It was the basis of multiple proposed conversions, the first one being the 1941 modification featuring a 47 mm AT gun and later modifications would eventually turn it into the Nahkampfkanone 1. This was the first tank to be utilized by the Swiss which had proper anti-tank capabilities. Before that, Switzerland had bought the French Renault FT in 1921, called the MFT-17 “Moskito” in Swiss service, and, later, in 1934 and 1935, the Vickers-Armstrong Modell 1933/34 light tank called the Panzer 34/35. It was intended to build the Panzer 34 and 35 tanks in larger quantities and use them as border patrol and reconnaissance vehicles but, before long, it was decided that these tanks lacked the firepower and armor to be effective against other tanks. A Swiss delegation thus visited the German firm of Krupp in Essen and the Swedish firm of Landsverk in Stockholm in order to look for new vehicles to replace Panzer 34/35. However, neither Krupp nor Landsverk offered any vehicles that were to the liking of the Swiss, although one Landsverk L-60 was obtained for testing. It was believed that during their time in Sweden, the Swiss delegation was given a tip to visit the Czechoslovak company CKD (short for Ceskomoravka-Kolben-Danek), as many Praga AH-IV-Sv tankettes were being finalized for Sweden.

MFT-17 “Moskito”. Source: Stiftung HAM
Panzer 34/35 during trials. Source: Author/Swiss Archives

Development

When looking at the development of the Panzer 39, consideration should be made of the earlier vehicles which CKD offered to Switzerland. As with many nations at the time, Switzerland opted to buy a new tank instead of developing their own. Swiss officials contacted CKD in 1937 saying that they would visit later in the year to look at new tanks. Not being a company to miss such an opportunity, CKD offered the Swiss some Praga AH-IV-Sv 3.5-tonne tankettes as well as the 7.5-tonne TNH-S tanks. During the visit of the Swiss delegation in early September 1937, they received a proposal for about 60 AH-IV-H tankettes which were similar to the Swedish version. However, the Swiss delegation deemed the tankette to be too short for traversing the alpine terrain and thus rejected the offer. The delegation then asked for a 6-tonne vehicle with 24 mm of armor and a domestic 20 mm gun as well as two Maxim machine guns. CKD, which was negotiating with Latvia and Peru at the time to sell a tank known as the LTL, got the request from Switzerland for their new tank. Since they had the LTL at their disposal, they offered it to Switzerland.

Swedish AH-IV-Sv tankette. Source: Flickr user Thomas T.

While it was armed with a 20 mm Oerlikon gun as required by the Swiss, this vehicle still did not satisfy the Swiss and was thus modified. After rigorous tests though, the deal was accepted and signed. This new vehicle was called LTL-H (also known as LTH) and the deal was for 24 of these vehicles, of which 12 vehicles were to be built in Czechoslovakia fitted with a 119 hp Skoda Praga EPA engine but without armament and optics.

Panzer 39 located at the Military museum Full-Rheuental. Source: kleinesstachelschwein.ch

The remaining 12 vehicles were built in Switzerland and fitted with a Swiss 110 hp Saurer CT1 D SZ 1007 engine. These 12 vehicles, as well as the 12 Czechoslovakian built ones, were armed with a 24 mm Panzerwagen Kanone 1938, a pair of 7.5 mm Panzerwagen Maschinengewehr 1938, and one 7.5 mm LMG 1925, all manufactured by the Waffenfabrik W+F Bern.

Layout

The layout of the Panzer 39 was like that of many other tanks of the time, with the engine being in a separate compartment to the rear and the crew compartment ahead of it, with a rotating turret on top of the vehicle.

The armor was 32 mm on the front of the hull and turret, with 15 mm on the sides and 8 mm on the rear of the tank.

The crew consisted of 3 men, a driver, a gunner for the main gun as well as the coaxial 7.5 mm LMG 1925 located on the left of the main gun. He was also, presumably, meant to load the main gun. Lastly, there was the tank commander whose job was to not only command the vehicle but also operate the radio and man the commander’s MG, a model 1938 7.5 mm Panzerwagen Maschinengewehr which was located on the right-hand side of the main gun in an independent ball mount.

Close up of the front of a Panzer 39. The two Pzw Mg 38s in the hull and next to the 24 mm Pzw K 38 main gun are visible. Source: Author’s own

Who would have operated the hull-mounted Pzw Mg 38 is not known, although it can be assumed that the gunner could also get into the MG position next to the driver if the need occurred.

Typical to CKD tanks of the time, the Panzer 39 had 4 large road wheels on each side, connected in pairs to a leaf-spring suspension. The drive wheel and transmission were in the front of the vehicle.

It could reach a top speed of 45 km/h on-road with a range of 200 km and 20 km/h off-road with a range of 120 km.

Close-ups of the suspension and engine deck. Source: Author’s own.
Rear of the turret. The distinctive CH designation which has been added to every Panzer 39 since 1941 is visible. – source: Author

The main gun was derived from the 24 mm Tankbüchse 41 manufactured by W+F Bern. It had a clip size of 6 rounds and was a single-shot weapon. It could penetrate 43 mm of armor at a range of 150 meters with an initial shell velocity of 900 m/s for the armor-piercing shell. It could fire Armor Piercing (AP) rounds, as well as High-Explosive (HE) rounds, Tracer rounds, Training rounds with or without Tracer as well as Dummy rounds.

The 24 mm Tb. 41 and its muzzle. Source: Team-Pak.ch & Author

In Service

Entering Swiss Army service in 1939, these tanks were divided into 6 Tank Detachments known as Pzw. Det. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7, with 4 vehicles per Detachment. In 1940, the 6 Tank Detachments were reorganized into 3 Tank Regiments (Panzerwagen Kompanie, Pzw. Kp), 1, 2, and 3, each of which was attached to a light brigade.

Following the end of WW2, throughout which Switzerland remained neutral, the Swiss Army underwent a reorganization and, in 1948, Pzw. Kp. 1, 2, and 3 were disbanded. This was followed by another change in 1949, when the former Pzw. Kp. 1 through 3 were renamed to Panzerjäger Kompanie ( Anti-tank regiment) 31 through 33. These units were then equipped with the G 13.

Panzer 39 mod. 1941

The Swiss Military quickly discovered that the 24 mm PzwK 38 was not sufficiently effective when it comes to penetrating armor. Thus, in 1941, plans to upgun the Panzer 39 were started and it was quickly decided that the caliber of choice would be 47 mm. The gun of choice was the 4.7 cm Pak 41 (renamed to 4.7 cm Panzerwagen Kanone 41 for mounting in the tank) and a new turret design for mounting the gun was submitted in April 1943.

3-side drawing for the new turret. Source: Author/Swiss Archives

The gun would have had a penetration of around 60 mm at point-blank, with the armor-piercing shell weighing 1.75 kg and having a muzzle velocity of 750 m/s. The new turret was significantly larger in order to fit the new gun, but kept the armor at around 30 mm at the front but only around 8-10 mm on the side and 8 mm on the rear. In addition to that, the new turret was welded instead of bolted to increase crew protection and lower weight. The requirement for this new turret was that it had to be designed in such a way that no hull modifications was needed in order to mount it. It was not until 1945 that the prototype was ready for testing with a wooden mockup gun mounted. By this time, the 47 mm gun was out of date and unable to provide the anti-armor capability to keep up with foreign tank’ armor. As a result, the plans for this modification were reversed. The single prototype turret was destroyed following a decision by the Swiss Military in late 1945 to turn all Panzer 39s into training vehicles, thus making the modification obsolete.

Panzer 39 mod. 1941 with new turret and wooden mockup gun. Source: pinterest user Tank The Monster

Conclusion

Like with many other nations at the time, CKD’s tanks formed the backbone of the Swiss Army and were the basis for many different modifications. The Panzer 39 underwent one more modification in the shape of the 34M Pz.K-41 which eventually lead to the Nahkampfkanone 1 project.

Switzerland was neutral during WWI and WWII and therefore would have had to fight a defensive war if attacked, especially during WWII. Swiss General Guisan expanded the existing bunkers and came up with the National Redoubt plan, which consisted of abandoning the lowlands by almost the entire military, only leaving a few bunkers occupied. These manned bunkers consisted of mainly the Rhine forts at the German border, as well as multiple tactically situated bunkers in the lowlands which were meant to weaken the invaders as much as possible until they reached the Redoubt itself. On top of heavily fortifying the Alps with countless smaller and larger bunker systems, many roads and bridges were rigged to explode at a moment’s notice. These sections of road and bridges were generally placed in front of bunkers in strategic positions, where convoys of potential invaders would all be stuck and could neither move forward nor backwards easily, therefore making them ideal targets for the bunkers which would have caused massive losses. On top of that, the railway connection through the Gotthard and various other North to South connections would have been destroyed making transporting goods between Nazi-Germany and fascist Italy a logistical nightmare.

The alpine terrain would have made traversing it a nightmare without proper equipment. Source: theculturetrip.com

Such a warfare in the Alps would also require the Swiss Military and its vehicles to be very mobile, therefore making heavy vehicles or vehicles with bad off-road capabilities useless in the mountainous terrain. This would also explain why Switzerland was happy with their Panzer 39 and their great off-roading ability as well as good reliability. They were perfectly suited for their terrain and defensive warfare. The vehicles that could be used in the Swiss Alps would have mostly been lightly armored ones, such as half-tracks and other light tanks, against which the 24 mm main gun of the Panzer 39 would have been more than sufficient. However, this plan abandoned a large part of the country and most of the population in the hands of the enemy.



Panzer 39 illustration based on the surviving example at the Military museum Full-Rheuental.


Illustration of the Pz. 39 mod. 1941 prototype with 4.7 cm gun.

Both illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications (Pz. 39)

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.46 x 2.00 x 2.10 m (14.63 x 6.56 x 6.88 ft)
Total weight 7.7 tonnes
Crew 3 (Commander, Radio Operator/ Gunner/ Driver)
Propulsion Skoda Praga EPA (119 hp) (88 kW) and Saurer CT1 D SZ 1007 (110 hp) (81 kW)
Suspension Leaf-spring
Speed (on/off road) 45/25 km/h ( 28/15.5 mph)
Range (on/off road) 200/120 km ( 124/75 mi)
Armament W+F 24 mm ( 0.94 in) Panzerwagen Kanone 1938
2 x 7.5 mm ( 0.30 in) W+F Panzerwagen Maschinengewehr 1938
7.5 mm ( 0.30 in) W+F Leichtes Maschinengewehr 1925
Armor Front 32 mm (1.3“)
Side 15 mm (0.6”)
Rear: 8 mm (0.31 in
Production 24

Specifications (Mod. 1941)

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.46 x 2.00 x 2.10 m (14.63 x 6.56 x 6.88 ft)
Total weight 7.7 tonnes
Crew 3 (Commander, Radio Operator/ Gunner/ Driver)
Propulsion Saurer CT2D, 125 bhp (92 kW)
Suspension Leaf-spring
Speed (on/off road) 45/25 km/h (28/15.5 mph)
Range (on/off road) 200/120 km ( 124/75 mi)
Armament K+W 4.7 cm (1.85 in) Panzerwagen Kanone 1941
2 x 7.5 mm (0.30 in) W+F Panzerwagen Maschinengewehr 1938
7.5 mm (0.30 in) W+F Leichtes Maschinengewehr 1925
Armor Front 30 mm (1.1“)
Side 15 mm (0.6”)
Rear: 8 mm (0.31 in
Production 1 Prototype

Sources

militaerfahrzeuge.ch
ftr.wot-news.com
Swiss National Archives/Einbau 4.7 cm Pak. in Panzerwagen
Swiss National Archives/NK I + NK II
Exportni Lehka Tanky Praga ( Export Light Tanks) by Vladimir Francev

Categories
Swiss Tanks

Panzer 58 and its Development

Swiss Tanks Switzerland (1950-1958)
Paper and Prototypes – 12 built

The threat from the East

In the 1950’s, with Europe having been just cleaved into two by the Allies and the Soviets, the Swiss, while neutral, were looking quite anxiously towards their eastern border. Especially taking into consideration that their best tank was a slightly improved Jagdpanzer 38(t), the G-13. The Swiss felt underprotected against a possible Soviet threat.
The Soviet IS-3 tank was the one which tormented the minds of the designers most. This vehicle had sent a chill through the hearts of Western military leaders when it rolled through Berlin during the 1945 Victory Parade with its 122 mm gun and futuristic looking turret and pike nose.
The Swiss army thus started looking for a new medium tank capable of defending Swiss soil. While buying foreign vehicles or licensing a design would have been cheaper, no vehicle available on the market at the time proved adequate for what the Swiss military desired, and they set the bar high. They wanted a vehicle with good armor and armament, but also one that had the mobility to handle the Swiss terrain.
In lack of alternatives, the Swiss designers got to their drawing boards and got to work trying to make a tank that not only fully achieved the perfect triangle of mobility-firepower-protection, but could also go up mountains. The tank designers had to start practically from scratch, as they had almost no experience with regards to making AFVs aside from the Nahkampfkanone I and II tank destroyers.

The Misconception

Contrary to popular belief, the Panzer 58 was not based on the ‘Indienpanzer’ project, a German medium tank designed for the Indian army.
While there are some visual similarities between the two, this claim is not correct. The ‘Indienpanzer’ is never mentioned in any of the official documents of the Panzer 58 project. In fact, the Panzer 58 had more in common with American tanks than it did with German ones.

The 30 ton Panzer aka KW 1950

The first design on the ladder that would eventually lead to the Panzer 58 appeared in 1950 and was named, rather unimaginatively, the 30 ton Panzer alias the KW 1950 in later documents.

KW 1950 ’30ton Panzer’
It would have sported a 600 horsepower engine which, along with its maximum width of just 3 meters, making it ideally suited for the narrow alpine roads in Switzerland.
Firepower-wise, the design team didn’t settle on a single gun, but took into account 4 different guns, two 90 mm ones and two 105 mm ones, differing by length.
The secondary armament consisted of 2 guns; a coaxial gun on the right side of the turret where the gunner was located, and one at the rear of the turret on the left side, behind the loader. While no caliber was mentioned explicitly, they would’ve most certainly been 7.5 mm’s, as that was the most used MG caliber in Switzerland at the time.
The frontal hull armor was meant to be 65 mm ( 2.56”) thick and welded. It had a beak shape, very similar to the IS-3, meant to increase the effectiveness of the armor against threats directly in front of it, due to angling. As an example, only taking into account the 65 degrees from the horizontal of the upper plate, this roughly translates to 150mm (5.9”) of effective armor thickness.
This is comparable to the Soviet IS-2 tank, but less than the protection of the Soviet T-54, IS-3 or American M48 Patton. However, the 30 ton Panzer was meant for the Swiss countryside, where all those better armored tanks would prove heavy, slow and vulnerable
The side hull armor thickness was significantly weaker, with 20 mm (0.78”) of armor below the tracks and up to 40 mm (1.57”) on the upper part of the side. This was an ‘all-or-nothing’ bet that was meant to maximise frontal protection, but sacrifice it everywhere else for the sake of mobility.
The turret had an interesting hemispherical shape which required casting, as opposed to welding. The thickness would have been around 65 mm (2.56”) for the front and 45mm (1.77”) for the sides. However, the internal mantlet provided significant extra protection, and the shape of the turret improved effective protection too. Furthermore, the design drawings show a gun depression angle of up to 10 degrees, which would have allowed the vehicle to take advantage of the terrain by revealing only it’s turret over crests and hilltops.
There was also a proposal of a 15 ton version of the 30 ton Panzer. At that time, Switzerland hadn’t received their AMX-13 light tanks from France yet. Not much is known about that vehicle, but it is possible it was just a lighter version of the 30 ton design, with the same size and engine power. It was, however, planned with a different gun: a 9cm L/39 gun, which was mainly intended to fire HEAT ammunition. Based on the weight difference between the 30 ton and 15 ton version is is likely that the armor would have been extremely thin all around.

KW 1950 specifications

Dimensions 8.8 x 2.9 x 2.4 m (28’10” x 9’6” x 7’10” ft)
Total weight, battle ready 30 tons
Crew 4 (commander/radio, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion 600 hp (441 kW) Hispano Suiza Petrol engine, 20 hp/ton
Suspension Torsion bar suspension
Speed (road) 50 km/h (31 mph)
Armament 90 mm (3.5 in) or 105 mm (3.13 in ) gun
Armor 65- 350 mm (2.5-13.77 in) front turret
65 mm ( 2.5 in) front hull
20-40 mm side/ rear (0.78-1.57 in)
Total production none
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index


KW 30 1950 model by Giganaut

The KW 30 1952

For some reason, the Swiss Army was not satisfied with this and the 1950 design never left the drawing board. However, it evolved into the KW 30 1952. The KW stood for the name of the Construction Workshop or Factory in Thun that built a lot of the Swiss military armament, including the tanks and translates to “Eidgenössische Konstruktionswerkstätte.”
The designers did settle on a main armament, a 90mm L/60 rifled gun. The secondary armament would have likely been a 7.5 mm coaxial gun. The original design kept the 600 hp German Maybach engine. The transmission was also derived from that of the famous German Tiger. This engine, and transmission combined with the intended 30 ton weight, it would have had a power to weight ratio of 20 hp/ton. This was significantly higher than that of the Soviet T-55, American M48 or British Centurion.

KW 30 side view

KW 30 front-side view

KW 30/52 specifications

Dimensions 9.7 x 2.9 x 2.55 m (31’9” x 9’6” x 8’4” ft)
Total weight, battle ready 33 tons
Crew 4 (commander/radio, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion 600 hp (441 kW) Maybach Diesel engine, 18.18 hp/ton
Suspension Torsion bar suspension
Speed (road) 45 km/h (28 mph)
Armament 90 mm L/63 (3.5 in) gun
Armor 70 mm (2.75 in) front turret
60 mm (2.36 in) front hull
45 mm sides( 1.77 in)
Total production 1 mockup and 1 prototype
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index


KW 30/52 model by Arkhonus

The Panzer 58

A year later, it was also proposed to give the KW 30 a rounded hull similar to that of the M48 Patton and slightly increase the width.
This proposal led to the last version of the KW 30, of which one prototype was built in 1957. This vehicle is also called the ‘Panzer 58 First Prototype’.

KW 30/57 towed by a M47 Patton
It had smaller diameter wheels compared to the 1952 version and the same style of rounded turret. It got a Model 48 90mm gun, received side skirts and got a coaxial Bührle 20mm 5 TG autocannon. The crew was kept the same as on the KW 30 1952.
The 2nd prototype lost its side skirts and had a longer wheelbase. A British 20 pdr gun was chosen over the 90 mm L/60, because a surplus of spare parts was available from the existing stock of Panzer 55 Centurions. This is the vehicle that still stands in the Thun military museum and of which so many photos exist online.

Panzer 58 second prototype located at the Panzermuseum Thun, Switzerland – Image by Yuri Pasholok
The Panzer 58 was changed again; this time up-gunned with the famous Royal Ordnance L7 105mm gun. This gave the tank the needed punch to face off against almost any enemy tank of its time.
The 20 mm coaxial gun is an interesting feature particular to the Panzer 58s, that disappeared from the vehicles that followed. It was meant to allow the tank to engage lightly armored vehicles without having to fire its main gun. It had a low firing rate and ammo capacity, which reduced its usefulness against enemy infantry.
A small series of just 10 such vehicles was built, and they were in service with the Swiss Army for a short while.
In the meantime, the Swiss Parliament decided to buy 150 Panzer 61s. These were improved Panzer 58s and quite similar. The small batch of the Panzer 58s was eventually upgraded to the Panzer 61 standard, but when or how this was done isn’t known.

Panzer 61 AA9 at the 2017 IMFT in Full Reuenthal – Image by IMGUR user Chrüeterchraft
There were further plans to create a Self Propelled Gun version by mounting a 150mm gun on the Panzer 58 but instead the Swiss army eventually mounted a 155mm gun on a Panzer 61 and later on the Panzer 68 chassis. These vehicles were designated as the Panzerkanone 61 and Panzerkanone 68 respectively.

Panzerkanone 68
Another experiment on the Panzer 58 chassis was proposed in 1970, when the Swiss military wanted to mount the drivetrain of an MBT project known as ‘Panzer 74’. This used the MBX 833 BA-500 engine and the Renk HSWL 183 transmission in the chassis of a Panzer 58 for testing purposes.

Panzer 58 specifications

Dimensions 9.45 x 3.04 x 2.65 m (31′ x 9’11” x 8’8” ft)
Total weight, battle ready 35 tons
Crew 4 (commander/ radio, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion MTU MB 837 600 hp (441 kW), 17.1 hp/ton
Suspension Torsion bar suspension
Speed (road) 50 km/h (31 mph)
Armament 1st Prototype: 90 mm Kanone 48
2nd prototype: 84 mm Panzerkanone 1958 (20 pdr)
prototype 3 to 12: 105mm Panzerkanone 1960 (RO L7)
Armor 70-138 mm ( 2.75-4.7 in) front hull
120- 193 mm (4.7-7.59 in) turret
30-40 mm ( 1.18-1.57 in) sides/rear hull
65-40 mm (2.55-1.57 in) side/rear turret
Total production 12 vehicles 1957-1958
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Conclusion

The Panzer 58 development has quite a long and interesting history and ends with the Panzer 68 in 2003. Being Switzerland’s first ever home-developed tank it was quite a good design. It could have been so much more if the economy would have allowed it.
Article written by Joris Peier and Stan Lucian

Sources

Swiss National Archives
Yuri Pasholok livejournal https://yuripasholok.livejournal.com/


Panzer 58 by tank encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

KW 30/57 prototype