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WW2 German Light Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf.B (Sd.Kfz.101)

Germany (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.

Colorization of a Panzer I Ausf.B in North Africa in 1941. Note this vehicle is an Umsetzfahrzeug, which means it has a Ausf.A turret on a Ausf.B chassis. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: VK.com

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.

Colorization of a Panzer I Ausf.B in the Soviet Union in 1943. Note this vehicle is also an Umsetzfahrzeug. (English: converted vehicle).Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Yandex.ru

Production

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.

Serie Assembly Firm Numbers produced Total Production
5a. Serie / La. S. (Panzer I Aufs. B) Daimler Benz, Henschel, M.A.N. (Maschinen Fabrik Augsburg), Grusonwerk (part of Krupp) 30, 107, 66, 50 253
6a. Serie / La. S. (Panzer I Aufs. B) Daimler Benz, Henschel, M.A.N. (Maschinen Fabrik Augsburg), Grusonwerk (part of Krupp) 30, 48, 34, 34 146
7c. Serie / La. S. (Umsetzfahzeug, only chassis built and turrets taken from the Aufs. A) Grusonwerk (part of Krupp) 52 52
8c. Serie / La. S. (Umsetzfahzeug, only chassis built and turrets taken from the Aufs. A) Henschel, Grusonwerk (part of Krupp) 9, 86 95

Production numbers for the Panzer I Ausf.B including the Umsetzfahrzeuge. Source: Panzer Tracts

Design

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.

Panzer I Ausf.B, unknown date and location, presumably after 1939. Source: Militärphotofan 23 via Ebay

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.

Panzer I Ausf.B rear engine deck. Source: Panzer Tracts

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.

Panzer I Ausf.B suspension. Note the five road wheels and four return rollers. Source: Panzer Tracts
Panzer I Ausf.B during pre-war maneuvers in 1936. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Turret

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.

Colorization of a Panzer I Ausf.B in France, 1940. Note the missing turret hooks, which are now on the turret. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Panzer Tracts.

Engine

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.

The water-cooled Maybach NL 38 Tr mounted in the Panzer I Ausf.B. Source: Fahrzeuge der Wehrmacht

Armor

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.

Armor specifications of Panzer I Ausf.B. Source: Panzer Tracts

Armament

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 MG 13 k. Source: Bodenfunde und Originale

Crew

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.

Colorization of a Panzer I Ausf.B getting towed out of a mud pit after an accident. Presumably 1939, before the war. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Collection of Christian Ankerstjerne

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.

Left: Panzer I Ausf.A
Right Panzer I Ausf.B
Source: Panzer Tracts
Example: An Ausf.B (note the rear exhaust muffler and air intakes) but without the reinforcing pipe, meaning this vehicle was one of the first Ausf.Bs to be completed of the 5a.Serie. (Source: Panzer Tracts)

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.

Left: Panzer I Ausf.A
Right Panzer I Ausf.B
Source: Panzer Tracts

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.

Left: Panzer I Ausf.A
Right Panzer I Ausf.B
Source: Panzer Tracts

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.

Left: Panzer I Ausf.A
Right Panzer I Ausf.B
Source: Panzer Tracts

Camouflage

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.

The three colors (from left to right): Erdgelb (Eng: earth yellow), Matt Braun (Eng: matt brown), and Matt Grün (Eng. matt green).

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.

From left to right: Dunkelbraun (Eng: dark brown) and Dunkelgrau (Eng: dark gray)

After the Invasion, to save paint the brown patches were removed and all vehicles were painted in dark gray.

Dunkelgrau (dark gray) Ral 7021

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 left to right: Gelbbraun (Eng: yellow brown) Ral 8000 and Graugrün (Eng: gray-green) Ral 7008

From 1943 onwards, the order was given to paint all vehicles in dark yellow. This included some of the surviving Ausf.Bs.

Dunkelgelb (Eng: dark yellow) Ral 7028.
Note the color is not perfect, since the original pallet for Ral 7028 was lost during the war.

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.

Panzer Regiments/Battalions Number of Panzer Is
Panzer Regiment 1 171
Panzer Regiment 2 132
Panzer Regiment 3 131
Panzer Regiment 4 160
Panzer Regiment 5 130
Panzer Regiment 6 99
Panzer Regiment 7 151
Panzer Regiment 8 117
Nachrichten-Abteilung 37 (Signal Battalion) 1
Nachrichten-Abteilung 37 (Signal Battalion) 1
Nachrichten-Abteilung 37 (Signal Battalion) 1
KKS Kraftfahr Lehr Abteilung (Driving School Training Battalion> 7
Schiesslehrgang (Shooting Training School) 8

Organization of all Panzer Is in 1937. Note the table includes the Ausf.A and B.

Panzer Regiments/Battalions Number of Panzer Is
Panzer Regiment 1 48
Panzer Regiment 2 63
Panzer Regiment 3 84
Panzer Regiment 4 84
Panzer Regiment 5 84
Panzer Regiment 6 84
Panzer Regiment 7 84
Panzer Regiment 8 84
Panzer Regiment 11 84
Panzer Regiment 15 84
Panzer Regiment 31 84
Panzer Regiment 35 102
Panzer Regiment 36 101
I./Panzer Regiment 25 (Regiment HQ) 39
I./Panzer Regiment 23 40
I./Panzer Regiment 10 41
Panzer Regiment 33 (Panzer Battalion) 54
Panzer Regiment 65 53
Panzer Regiment 66 54
Panzer Regiment 67 50
Panzer Lehr Abteilung (Training Tank Battalion) 18
Schiesslehrgang (Shooting Training School) 8
Technischer Unteroffizier Lehrgang (Technical Sergent Training School 2
Pioner Battalion 38 (Pioneer Battalion) 8
Pioner Battalion 62 7
Pioner Lehr Versorgungs Battalion (Engineer Training and Supply Battalion) 1

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.

Colorization of a column of Panzer I Ausf.As and Bs in Germany, 1937. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Operational Service

The Panzer I Ausf.B between 1936 and 1938

Spain

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.

Panzer I Ausf.B of the 3rd Company of the Carros nacional in May 1937. Source: Biblioteca Nacional

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.

Panzer I Ausf.B in Nationalist service. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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.

Panzer I Ausf.B number 622 in Poland, 1939. Source: VK.com

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.

Colorization of a destroyed Panzer I Ausf.B during the Polish campaign, September 1939. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Tank Archives

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.

Original color photo of two Panzer I Ausf.Bs in Copenhagen in Denmark on April 9th 1940, as part of Panzer Abteilung z.b. 40’s first battalion. Source: Bundesarchiv via VK.com

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.

Panzer I Ausf.B as part of the 7th Panzer Division and the 2nd Panzer Gruppe. Soviet Union, 1941. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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.

Colorization of a Panzer I Ausf.B in the Soviet Union in 1941. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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.

Panzer I Ausf.B in the Soviet Union, 1941. Note the muddy tracks. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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.

Colorization of a column of Panzer I Ausf.As and Bs in Germany, 1940. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection
Panzer I Ausf.B during Operation Sealion training in Holland, 1940. Source: Wolrdwarphotos

Other Operators

Soviet Union

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.

Hungary

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

Umsetzfahrzeug

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.

Colorization of an Umsetzfahrzeug during pre-war training. Note the three-tone camouflage. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: https://yuripasholok.livejournal.com/7807244.html

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.

L.K.B.

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 first plans included the L.K.A. (Light tank for export), which used the turret and superstructure of the Panzer I Ausf.A. However, only one was ever completed and Krupp already started on the next project. The L.K.B. (Light tank for Bulgaria), was intended for Bulgaria, as the Bulgarians showed great interest in buying German tanks. The first L.K.B. was a regular Panzer I Ausf.A featuring a new diesel engine.

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.

L.K.B.2 photographed with the superstructure and turret of L.K.B.1. Source: Panzer Tracts

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.

Panzer I Ausf.B mounting the Flammenwerfer 35. Source: Private collection of Ruy Aballe

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.

Alkett Panzerjäger I in France, 1940. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzerjager_i/

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.

Colorized photo of a Sturmpanzer I on the Eastern Front in the summer of 1942. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Original Source: Bundesarchiv via https://ww1939-1946.blogspot.com/2014/03/2.html?m=1

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.

The Panzer I Ausf.B with 50 mm Pak 38. Unknown location and date. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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.

Panzer I Ausf.B with a 75 mm StuK 40 L/48 in Berlin, 1945. Source: Bundesarchiv via ixbt.photo.com

Brückenleger I

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.

Panzer I Brückenleger in Germany, 1940. Source: Armed Conflicts

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).

Colorization of an ammunition carrier on Ausf.B chassis with the superstructure. Note this vehicle was exhibited in the Gorky Park in Moscow, Winter of 1945. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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.

Soviet soldiers inspect the Panzer I Ausf.B with MG 151. Source: forum.ww2.ru

The second photo shows an Ausf.B chassis mounting a 37 mm Flak but with the actual cannon missing and only the mount visible.

The Panzer I with 37 mm Flak mount. The surrounding area gives the impression of a repair station, therefore the gun was presumably removed for maintenance. Source: Armed Conflicts

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.

A Kleiner Panzer Befehlswagen converted into a medic and doctor transport vehicle. France, 1940. Note the Red Cross flag. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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.

The second variant of ambulance vehicles on Ausf.B chassis. This one was part of the 4th Panzer Division. Note the stretcher on the back and the visors in the front. France, 1940. Source: Kurmark-Antik
Colorized photo of the second variant of the Ambulance Panzer I crossing a bridge next to French POWs. France, 1940. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Original Source: Bundesarchiv

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.

The Ambulance Panzer I Ausf.B. Note the stretcher on the engine deck. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Engineering Vehicles

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.

Colorization of a Panzer I mit Abwurfvorrichtung. France 1940. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Original Source: Ebay via forum.ioh.pl

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.

Ladungsleger in France, 1940, as part of the 5th Panzer Division. Source: elgrancapitan.org

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.

A Ladungsleger I featuring 28 cm rockets in the Soviet Union, 1941. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Similarly, there was also an unknown number of Panzer I mit Abwurfvorrichtung outfitted with flamethrowers.

Panzer I mit Abwurfvorrichtung featuring a flamethrower. Soviet Union, 1941. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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 early version of Instandsetzungskraftwagen in the Soviet Union, 1941. Note the spare wheels for Panzer Is, added windshield, and the cart it is towing. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection
The last version of the Instandsetzungskraftwagen in the Soviet Union, winter 1942. This superstructure on this vehicle is most likely soft skin and can only protect the equipment from getting wet. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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.

Three Panzer I Ausf.Bs used as engineering vehicles. Note the tactical symbol identifies that this tank is part of a Panzer Pionier Kompanie (English: tank engineer company) of the Panzer Pionier Battalion 13 of the 14th Panzer Division. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Schwimmpanzer I

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.

Colorization of a Schwimmpanzer I on display in Gorky Park. Note the pontoons have already been removed but the mounts for the pontoons are still visible. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection
Another view of the Schwimmpanzer in the Gorky Park in Moscow. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection
Last known photo of the Schwimmpanzer I with pontoons in service with the Wehrmacht in 1942 in the Soviet Union. The surrounding vehicles are part of a reconnaissance unit and therefore the Schwimmpanzer might be too. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Command Tanks

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

Sd.Kfz.265 Kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen with no cupola, frame antenna, glass block, and a three-tone camouflage. Germany 1937. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection
Sd.Kfz.265 Kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen with the late cupola in the Soviet Union in 1941. This vehicle is already part of the artillery. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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.

A Panzer I Ausf.B with Rahmenantenne (Eng. frame antenna) behind a regular Befehlswagen with no cupola and a frame antenna. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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.

A strange Befehlswagen with checkerboard pattern. The purpose of the patterning is unknown but it is assumed that these vehicles were command vehicles. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Training Tanks

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.

Fahrschulpanzer on Ausf.B chassis. Note the support bars for students. Source: Koelsch333
Fahrschulpanzer I on Ausf.B chassis fitted with a wood gas unit that ran of charcoal. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

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.

A Panzer I Ausf.B featuring a Beobachtungskuppel (English: observation turret). These Beaobachtungskuppeln were also fixed to a large number of Panzer IIs. The Panzer IIs acted as reconnaissance vehicles. Therefore, the same can be said about this Panzer I. Soviet Union, Winter 1941. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection
Another obscure Panzer I variant, part of the 7th Panzer Division. This one seems to have only one machine gun mount and an unknown support bar. Some Panzer I turrets that have been placed in fortifications also feature only one machine gun mount. However, no connections between these two can be drawn. France 1940. Source: Panzer Tracts
Probably the most unusual Panzer I variant is shown in this photo. The vehicle appears to have a different front wheel, which raises the question of whether a different drive, engine, or transmission is mounted in this vehicle. There is also a number plate of the Wehrmacht present. Normally, number plates on tanks either hint towards a factory/prototype, private, or training school vehicle. However, since the first number is a 0, this vehicle is a prototype and factory vehicle. Furthermore, the number plate reveals that this vehicle was registered in Berlin and therefore could be part of the Alkett factory. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection
Panzer I Ausf.B with dummy guns, presumably in 1938, Germany. Source: Ebay, courtesy of Armin Freitag’s digital collection

Surviving Vehicles

Panzer I Ausf.B captured in 1943. The vehicle is an Umsetzfahrzeug. Note the towing hooks at the side of the turret Source: the.shadock.free.fr
Panzer I Ausf.B used by the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, located in Madrid, Spain. Note the dark gray camouflage is inaccurate, as all Panzer Is arriving in Spain were repainted. Source: the.shadock.free.fr
Panzer I Ausf.B presented in the Russian Military Technical Museum in Chernogolovka. The vehicle was previously in a private collection around Moscow. This vehicle is also an Umsetzfahrzeug. Source: the.shadock.free.fr
Panzer I Ausf.B in the US Army Ordnance Museum in Fort Lee. The tank was recovered from Libya and was one of the first 60 vehicles sent to Fort Lee. Source: the.shadock.free.fr

Conclusion

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.

Illustrations

Panzer 1 Ausf.B light tank of the III Corps, IV Panzer Division, Lillehammer, Norway, February 1940. (Note it has five road wheels)
Panzer I Ausf.B light tank of the II Panzer Division, Belgium, May 1940. (Note it has five road wheels)
A kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen with the early cupola. Based on Ausf.B hulls, around 200 of these high profile, fast command tanks were built. They led Panzer Is in Poland, France, the Balkans, Africa, and Russia. The last were still in use in 1943 for urban police duties in many European cities
Alkett Panzerjäger I of the Panzerjäger Abteilung 521, France, May 1940. It was part of the only eighteen vehicles ready in time to take part in the opening hours of the operations. The other companies were still training and would be engaged later in the campaign.
15cm sIG 33 (Sf) auf Geschüetzwagen I Ausf.B (Bison) Sd.Kfz.101 of the schwere Infanteriegeschütz-Kompanie 701, France, May 1940.
Panzer I Ausf.B ‘Lanzallamas’. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf.B specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.42 x 2.06 x 1.72 m
Total Weight 5.8 tonnes
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Engine Maybach NL 38 TL 6 cylinder water-cooled petrol
Speed 40 km/h, roads: 25 km/h, cross-country: 15 km/h
Range roads: 170 km, cross-country: 115 km
Gunsight T.Z.F.2
Traverse 360°
Elevation -10° to +20°
Armament 2 x 7.92 mm MG 13 k
Ammunition 2,250 7.92 mm S.m.K. in 25 magazines
Trench crossing capability 1.40 m
Communication FuG 2 receiver
Power-to-weight ratio 17.25 hp/ton
Armor 8-14.5 mm
Total Production 399 built, 147 converted

Sources

Walter J. Spielberger Die Panzerkampfwagen I und II und ihre Abarten Einschließlich den Entwicklungen der Reichswehr.

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 VK. 18.01

Horst Scheibert, Uwe Feist, Mike Dario, Waffenarsenal Panzer I

Lucas Molina Franco, Panzer I The beginning of a dynasty

Thomas Anderson, The History of the Panzerwaffe

Janusz Ledwoch, Tank Power Vol. XI PzKpfw I vol. I

Paul Thomas, Images of War, Hitler’s Light tanks 1935-1943

Bryan Perrett, Osprey Vanguard, German Light Panzers 1932-1942

Frank V. De Sisto, Armor at War Series, German Leichte Panzer at war

Bob Carruthers, Hitler’s War machine, Panzer I & II Germany’s light tanks

Categories
WW2 German Light Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf.A (Sd.Kfz.101)

Germany (1934-1936)
Light Tank – 1,190 Built

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.

Colorized photo of a Panzer I Ausf.A in Germany in 1936. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original Source: World War photos

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.

Colorized photo of a 1. Serie La.S. with a Daimler-Benz turret. These were made from a 1. Serie La.S. chassis and a turret and superstructure developed by Daimler-Benz. These were the first “Panzer Is” to receive armament. Later, they were used by the Luftwaffe for testing the effects of 50 kg bombs on tanks. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original Source: Panzer Tracts
1. Serie La.S. with an improvised Krupp turret without any armament and an improvised superstructure. These were made because Krupp already finished some of its chassis, but Daimler Benz had not completed any turrets at this point. About 20 tanks with these improvised turrets were deployed during the German Army’s first tank parade in 1935. – Source: IIRC

Name

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.

Colorized photo of a Panzer I Ausf.A with only one machine gun mounted. Germany, 1938. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Source: Waffenarsenal

Production

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.

Colorized photo of a Fahrschulwagen I using a 2. Serie La.S. chassis, winter 1938. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original Source: World War photos

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.

Production of all Panzer I Ausf.A series and the previous Krupp Traktors. – Source: Panzer Tracts
Colorized photo of a Panzer I Ausf.A during a training exercise in 1935. Note the chessboard-like pattern on the turret, which indicates the tank belonged to either a company or platoon commander. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original source: Panzer Tracts

Design

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.

Panzer I Ausf.A in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. – Source: World War photos

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.

Top view of the superstructure without the engine deck. – Source: Panzer Tracts

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.

Inside view of the turret. – Source: Panzer Tracts

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.

The connection between the last road wheel and idler wheel of the Panzer I. – Source: Panzer Tracts
Side View of the Panzer I Ausf.A suspension. This one is the 2.Series. – Source: Panzer Tracts

Engine

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 air-cooled 4-cylinder Krupp M305 from a Panzer I Ausf.A in the Bovington Tank
Museum – Source: Maquet Land
The air-cooled 4-cylinder Krupp M305 from a Panzer I Ausf.A in the Bovington Tank Museum – Source: Maquet Land

Armor

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.

An illustration showing the armor thickness around the tank. (Source: Panzer Tracts)
Colorized photo of Panzer I Ausf.A driving through a wall during maneuvers in 1938. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original source: Panzer Tracts

Armament

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.

Colorized photo of two German Soldiers with an MG 13 in 1934. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original Source: Wiki

Crew

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.

Panzer I Ausf.A during a parade in 1935. Note the death skull flag indicating that this tank belonged to Sonderabteilung Nürnberg (Eng: Special Battalion Nürnberg). Nürnberg is a city in southern Germany. – Source: Waffenarsenal

Camouflage

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.

Feldgrau (Field gray)

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.

Colorization of a Panzer I Ausf.A in front of the barracks in 1936. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original Source: Ebay
Colorized photo of a Panzer I Ausf.A with Bunfarbenanstrich in 1935, undergoing tests in deep snow. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original source: Waffenarsenal
The three colors (from left to right): Erdgelb (Eng: earth yellow), Matt Braun (Eng: matt brown), and Matt Grün (Eng. matt green).

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.

From left to right: Dunkelbraun (Eng: dark brown) and Dunkelgrau (Eng: dark gray)

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.

Dunkelgrau (dark gray) Ral 7021

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.

From left to right: Gelbbraun (Eng: yellow brown) Ral 8000 and Graugrün (Eng: gray-green) Ral 7008

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.

From left to right: Sandbraun (Eng: sand brown) Ral 8020 and Hellgrau (Eng: light gray) Ral 7027

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.

Dunkelgelb (Eng: dark yellow) Ral 7028. Note the color is not perfect, since the original pallet for Ral 7028 was lost during the war.

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.

Organization of all Panzer Is in 1937. Note the table includes the Ausf.A and B.
Organization of all Panzer Is in March 1939. Note the table includes the Ausf.A and B.
Colorized photo of Panzer I Ausf.As in 1935. These tanks were part of Sonderabteilung Nürnberg. Note that, in many photos, the Panzer Is can be seen without armament. During nighttime and when not in use, the machine guns were removed for better maintenance. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original Source: Collection of Christian Ankerstjerne

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.

Colorized photo of a Panzer I Ausf.A in Poland 1939. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original Source: World War Photos

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.

Colorized photo of a Panzer I Ausf.A during the Invasion of Poland, 1939. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original source: World War photos

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 first view of Panzer I Ausf.As during training. The right one has the chessboard pattern applied indicating that it belongs to a platoon or company commander. – Source: Panzer I, The Beginning of a Dynasty

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.

Platoon leader of the 1. Company of the 1. Battalion of Panzer Regiment 4.

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).

Panzer I Ausf.As during a parade on Adolf Hitler’s birthday in 1935. The vehicle in the foreground is from the 2. Platoon (two white stripes) of either the 1./5. Company (white filler color of the rhomboid) of the 1. Battalion (solid color in rhomboid) from Panzer Regiment 5 (white number). – Source: Panzer I dynasty

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.

Platoon leader of the 3. Platoon of the 8. Company of the 2. Battalion of Panzer Regiment 3.

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.

Panzer I Ausf.As during a maneuver. The vehicle in the foreground is a Fahrschulpanzer I based on an Ausf.B hull. Note that, although this is presumably a training exercise, the tanks already have the simplified numbering system, marking the date around 1939-1940. – Source: World War photos

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.

Panzer I Ausf.Bs in Poland in 1939 with mud on their white Balkenkreuze. – Source: Bundesarchiv

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.

Panzer I Ausf.A with the open Balkenkreuz. Note the armament of the tank was removed when the tank was unused for a while. – Source: Private Collection of Christian Ankerstjerne

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 list presented by the OKH (Oberkommando des Heer, Eng: Army High Command) to German field units. Immediately after the order, changes were made, such as the 4. Panzer Division using an encircled tree. – Source: Panzer Tracts

Operational Service

The Panzer I Ausf.A between 1936 and 1938

Spain

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.

A Panzer I being unloaded from a train in Cáceres so it could be used to instruct Spanish crews in the use of such weapons – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 75

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).

Table showing the total amount of Panzer Is sent to Spain – Source: TE
A Panzer I Ausf.A driving on a mountain road in Vizcaya in spring 1937 – source: Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 95

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.

A knocked-out Panzer I is used as cover during the fighting around Aravaca at the end of 1936 – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 131

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.

A column of four Panzer Is getting ready for the Aragón Offensive. Note that vehicle at the rear is armed with a 20 mm Breda gun – source: Mortera Pérez (2011b), p. 5

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.

The three Panzer Is exhibited by the Republican authorities in Madrid. Note the numbers on the side hatch and the large banner celebrating Corporal García’s heroics at the forefront – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 133

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.

The only photo of the lone Panzer I Ausf.A on the field with a small Communist flag – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 133

China

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.

Colorized photo of a Panzer I Ausf.A in Chinese service captured by Japanese troops after the battle of Nanking. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original Source: World War photos

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.

Panzer I Ausf.A in 1938 getting washed by firefighters in order for them to look clean when entering the newly annexed Sudetenland. – Source: Waffenarsenal

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.

Colorized photo of a Panzer I Ausf.A transporting Polish prisoners of war after the Invasion of Poland in 1939. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original source: Panzer DB
Colorized photo of a Panzer I Ausf.A during the invasion of Poland in 1939. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original source: Waffenarsenal

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.

Colorized Photo of a Panzer I Ausf.A in the Soviet Union belonging to the 2nd Panzerarmee in June 1941. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. (Original Source: World War Photos)
Panzer I Ausf.As next to a Panzer III (3.7 cm) in the Soviet Union in the winter of 1941. – Source: Waffenarsenal
Panzer I Ausf.A in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1942, acting as a security vehicle against partisans. – Source: Waffenarsenal

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.

Panzer I Ausf.A stuck in the mud. This happened often during the first manoeuvers in 1935-1936. Although the engine was generally sufficient, sometimes it was not powerful enough for the tank to be able to drive out of the mud. – Source: World War photos

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.

A young German woman giving flowers to the commander of a Panzer I Ausf.A. in Erfurth, 1935. – Source: Waffenarsenal

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

Colorized photo of a Panzer I Ausf.A during training in 1936. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Original Source: World War Photos

Service With Other Nations

Soviet Union

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.

NDH Service

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.

Panzer I in Domobranska Service – Source: paluba.info

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.

A Panzer I Ausf.A in post-war service in Madrid 1944. – Source: Unknown

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.

Krupp’s L.K.A. in 1938. – Source: Panzer Tracts
L.K.B. in 1938. – Source: Panzer Tracts

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.

Panzer I Ausf.A ‘Lanzallamas’ during training at Cubas de la Sagra, 1937. – Source: RTVE

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.

Panzer I Breda “351” of the 3a Compañia [Eng. 3rd Company, Command]. Undated, unlocated – source: unknown
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.

Colorized Panzer I with a 3.7 cm anti-tank gun. Note the extended shield. The dark gray camouflage and open Balkenkreuz indicate a date around 1940. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Source: Ebay

Brückenleger I

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.

One Brückenleger I (Eng: Bridge Layer I) on top of another one. Unknown date and time. – Source: Valka

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).

Colorized photo of a Munitionsschlepper I in the Soviet Union, 1941. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Source: Flickr
Munitionsschlepper I, as part of the 1. Panzer Armee in 1941. Note the K stands for Kleist who was the commander of the 1st Panzer Army. – Source: Kurmark-Anti

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.

A Flakpanzer I with a folding side platform, which was raised during marches. – Source: Pinterest

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.

Fahrschulwagen I with Zwillingssockel 36 and two MG 34s. – Source: valka
Fahrschulwagen I with a single MG 34 in an improvised MG mount. – Source: Format72
Fahrschulwagen I with a twin MG 42 mount. – Source: Ebay

Sanitätspanzer I

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.

Engineering Vehicles

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.

An Instandsetzungskraftwagen I with a canvas cover. – Source: Ebay
Instandsetzungskraftwagen with the turret removed. Note the spare road wheels. – Source: Ebay
The last version with a new superstructure and windows. – Source: Tusslamabad

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.

Panzer I Ausf.A with supports for carrying fascines in Poland, 1939. – Source: Ebay

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.

A Farschulwagen I adapted to lay cables in 1939, before the war. – Source: Format72/Ebay

Command Tanks

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.

A Kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen during a parade in 1935. – Source: Panzer Tracts
A Fahrschulwagen I converted into a Funkpanzer (Eng. Radio tank). These Funkpanzers were desperatly needed and therefore other vehicles were often reused. – Source: Ebay

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.

Colorized photo of this very rare Panzer I variant, presumably in a training school in 1939. Note the white uniform indicating a young tank school student and the antenna on the top. Colorization by Johannes Dorn. – Source: Ebay
The very rare Panzer I variant in around 1938 as the tank is already painted in dark grey. Note the missing visors and the Rahmenantenne (Eng: Frame antenna) which goes all around the tank. – Source: Ebay

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.

A Panzer I Ausf.A with Rahmenantenne. – Source: Panzer Pixel

Training Tanks

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.

1.Serie/La. S. converted into a Fahrschulwagen, used for training during the war. Note the license plate. – Source: Panzer Tracts
A charcoal/wood gas-powered Panzer I Ausf.A used for training Volkssturm units in Berlin, 1945. – Source: Armed Conflicts
Panzer I Ausf.A with a Panzer III turret (3.7 cm) used as a training tank. Unknown date and location. – Source: Armed Conflicts
A Panzer I representing a Sherman tank used for target practice in Berlin, 1945. – Source: Armed Conflicts

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.

A possible Befehlswagen similar to the other existing command tanks. – Source: Unknown
A Panzer I Ausf.A chassis with superstructure without the turret and armament. The turret seemed to be replaced by a fixed turret with visors all around it, hinting towards an observation vehicle. – Source: Ebay
A possible ammunition carrier featuring a mounted MG 34. The photo was taken before 1938 due to the vehicle still having the 3 tone camouflage applied. – Source: Ebay
Panzer I Ausf.A with a 25 mm Hotchkiss Anti-tank gun mounted on top of the superstructure. – Source: Ebay
Another unknown variant on the Ausf.A chassis. This one seemed to have a totally new superstructure possibly hinting towards an Instandsetzungskraftwagen. – Source: Ebay

Surviving Vehicles

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.

A Panzer I Ausf.A in the Forsvarsmuseet in Oslo, Norway. This tank was left behind during the invasion and then used as a garrison and policing vehicle. – Source: the.shadock.free
Panzer I Ausf.A in running condition in the Arsenalen Tank Museum in Strängnäs, Sweden. The tank was bought from Norway after the war. – Source: the.shadock.free
Another Panzer I Ausf.A in running condition from the Panzer Museum Munster in Northern Germany. This tank was found beside a road next to a training school in Bavaria. – Source: the.shadock.free
Panzer I Ausf.A with incorrect camouflage used during the Spanish Civil War and that later remained in Spanish service in the Museo de los Medios Acorazados in El Goloso, northern Madrid. Note this tank has a much larger M113 track on the right side. – Source: the.shadock.free
Panzer I Ausf.A, Collings Foundation, Stow, MA, USA. The tank was previously part of the Canadian War Museum and then restored to running condition – Source: the.shadock.free
Panzer I Ausf.A restoration project in France. – Source: the.shadock.free
There are a large number of Panzer I turrets that were used in bunkers (similar to the photo, this one is located in Denmark) all around Europe, mostly as part of the Westwall. Three turrets are in Norway, one in Denmark, two in Greece, and one in France. The turret in the photo is one that was modified to fit only one machine gun. – Source: the.shadock.free

Conclusion

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.

One of the early production Panzer I Ausf.A light tanks in 1936, with the original tri-tone camouflage
Panzer I Ausf.A in Poland 1939. (Note it only has four road wheels)
One of the very first Panzer I Ausf.A light tanks that landed with the Afrika Korps, in January 1941. It is a late production Ausf.A from the XXIst Panzer Division. Notice the uniform beige low quality paint, already damaged by sand, and the large identifications numbers still over the original European Panzergrau tone. (Note it only has four road wheels)
Panzer I Ausf.A in KMT service, Battle of Nanjing, 1937. The vehicles would have been sent in tri-color camouflage, but photos show that the paint appears to have faded.
Panzer I Ausf A. ‘Lanzallamas’, illustrated in a Buntfarbenanstrich camouflage
scheme – the color all Panzers would have been supplied to the Nationalists.
Panzer I Breda of the 4ª Compañia with a Cruz de Borgoña. The other side of the vehicle is shown in photos to have the Cruz, but it is possible that this side also had one. The camouflage scheme appears to be a locally painted amoeba pattern on the turret, painted over the original Buntfarbenanstrich, still visible in photos on the hull.
Flakpanzer I, Flak Abteilung 614, Stalingrad sector, Ukraine, January 1942.
Fahrschulpanzer I based on the 1.Serie/La.S., petrol powered
Fahrschulpanzer I petrol powered tank with raised rear for students
Fahrschulpanzer I Holzgas with a mock-up turret. It was meant to simulate an enemy tank during the training of Volkssturm troops

Panzer I Ausf.A specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.02 x 2.06 x 1.72 m
Weight 5.4 tonnes
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Traverse 360°
Elevation -10° to +20°
Gunsight T.Z.F.2.
Speed max.: 37.5 km/h, roads: 20 km/h, cross-country: 12 km/h
Range roads: 140 km, cross-country: 93 km
Armament 2x 7.92 mm MG 13/MG 13k
Ammunition 2250 7.92 mm S.m.K. in 25 magazines
Armor 8-13 mm
Engine Krupp M 305 4-cylinder air-cooled
Ground Clearance 29.5 cm
Power-to-weight ratio 11.1 hp/ton
Communication FuG 2 receiver
Total Production 1,190

Sources

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)

Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Aragón, Cataluña Y Levante 36/39 Parte I (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno’s editores, 2011)

Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Aragón, Cataluña Y Levante 36/39 Parte II (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno’s editores, 2011)

Bob Carruthers, Panzer I & II Germany’s light tanks, (Hitlers War machine)

Bryan Perrett, German Light Panzers 1932-1942 (Osprey Vanguard)

Francisco Marín Gutiérrez & José Mª Mata Duaso, Carros de Combate y Vehículos de Cadenas del Ejército Español: Un Siglo de Historia (Vol. I) (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 2004)

Francisco Marín Gutiérrez & José Mª Mata Duaso, Carros de Combate y Vehículos de Cadenas del Ejército Español: Un Siglo de Historia (Vol. II) (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 2005)

Frank V. De Sisto, German Leichte Panzer at war, (Armor at War Series)

Horst Scheibert, Uwe Feist, Mike Dario, Panzer I (Waffenarsenal)

Janusz Ledwoch, Vol. XI PzKpfw I vol. I (Tank Power)

Lucas Molina Franco & José Mª Manrique García, Blindados Alemanes en el Ejército de Franco (1936-1939) (Valladolid: Galland Books, 2008)

Lucas Molina Franco, Panzer I The beginning of a dynasty

Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle, No. 1-1 Panzerkampfwagen I, Kleintraktor to Ausf.B (Panzer Tracts)

Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle, No. 1-2 Panzerkampfwagen I, Kl. Pz. Bef. Wg. to VK. 18.01 (Panzer Tracts)

Paul Thomas, Hitler’s Light tanks 1935-1943 (Images of War)

Thomas Anderson, The History of the Panzerwaffe Volume 1

Walter J. Spielberger Die Panzerkampfwagen I und II und ihre Abarten Einschließlich den Entwicklungen der Reichswehr.

Categories
WW2 German Light Tanks

Kreuzer Panzerkampfwagen Mk IV 744(e)

Germany (1940-1941)
Cruiser Tank – 9 Used

“To the victor, goes the spoils”. The old proverb is often true of modern warfare as well. During the Second World War, the German Wehrmacht made very intensive and extensive use of captured armor to fulfill a wide array of roles, from security vehicles to hulls used to create tank destroyers and self-propelled guns. These vehicles are known as Beutepanzers. Prior to 1941, the vehicles captured in the greatest numbers and used most intensively were French tanks, due to the fall of the country and its large tank force to Germany in May-June 1940. However, it is often swept under the rug that Germany captured and reused some British equipment too. A considerable number of armored vehicles was left behind by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) as it evacuated France in June 1940. Of these, a number of Mark IV Cruiser tanks are notable as these were, for a short time, actually employed by the Wehrmacht during Operation Barbarossa, albeit with poor results.

A Kreuzer-Panzerkampfwagen Mk IV 744(e) beside a German truck during Operation Barbarossa. Despite being captured in small numbers only, the Mark IV would have the dubious honor of participating in the German invasion of the Soviet Union in a flamethrower tank battalion’s ranks. Source: beutepanzer.ru

The Cruiser Tank Mark IV (A13 Mk II)

As its name indicates, the Cruiser Mark IV was the fourth adopted model of the series of British Cruiser tanks, designed around high mobility at the cost of armor protection. The vehicle shared the A13 designation with the fairly similar Cruiser Tank Mark III (A13 Mk I), of which it was an improved version of.

The main features of the design were a front armor increased to 30 mm from 14 mm on the Mk III, a three-man turret armed with the 40 mm 2-Pounder anti-tank gun, a Christie suspension, and a powerful 340 hp engine that allowed for a high maximum speed of 48 km/h (even higher in trials). Overall, the design could be said to be fairly solid for the early war. A three-man turret was a feature not too common outside of German medium tanks, the 2-Pounder had good performances against early German tanks, the design was fairly mobile and 30 mm of armor, though it would not protect against 37 mm anti-tank guns, was still not particularly on the lower end of highly mobile tanks in the same weight class and role as the Mark IV, such as the Soviet BT-7, for example.

A German soldier stands inside a yet-to-be repainted Cruiser Mark IV during the campaign of France, 1940. It appears at least one Mark IV was immediately turned back against its original users during the campaign of France, before it was even repainted. Source: Beutepanzer.ru

A number of Cruiser Mark IVs were deployed within the 1st British Armoured Division sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force to fight against German troops. Though the Germans claimed the British lost 65 Mark IV in France, only about 40 appear to actually have been deployed there, with the overestimation perhaps due to confusion with the very similar Cruiser Tank Mk III (A13 Mk I) and simple overestimation. With the campaign of France quickly turning disastrous after the German breakthrough at Sedan on 13th May 1940, the encircled British Expeditionary Force barely made it out during the famous Dunkerque episode – in which it left all of its heavy equipment, including whichever Mark IV had not been lost in combat, behind.

British tanks in German hands

The fall of France in 1940 had left the Germans with a tremendous quantity of captured tanks, or tanks abandoned with various degrees of potentially repairable damage, in their hands. The majority of these were French, and the German quickly set up infrastructure to recover these tanks and send them back to the French factories they captured for potential repair. A non-negligible amount of British tanks were also left behind. However, the issue was that, unlike for French tanks, the Germans had not captured the factories that were producing these tanks or their spare parts alongside the fleet, which made repairing and re-using British armor a much harder affair. This meant that, in general, British tanks were used in much smaller numbers and were much more discreet than their French counterparts in German hands.

Among the vehicles that were recovered were at least nine Cruiser Mark IV tanks, the most modern Cruiser type available to the British army at the time. These were given the German designation of Kreuzer Panzerkampfwagen Mk IV 744(e). Kreuzer Panzerkampfwagen was a mere German translation of their British designation as Cruiser tanks. The number in the 700s indicated a tank; the (e) indicated the vehicle’s country of origin, in this case, the United Kingdom (Englisch).

These nine Cruiser Mark IV tanks were assigned to a rather curious armored unit. In October 1940, they were delivered to Panzer-Abteilung (f) 100. The (f) stood for Flammpanzer. This was a unit centered around the Panzer II (f) Flamingo flamethrower tanks, with the Kreuzer-Panzer added alongside some Panzer IIs to provide more general-purpose supporting fire for these more specialized vehicles. It appears that, outside of these nine Cruiser tanks, some others, perhaps up to six, were sent to the German trials center at Kummersdorf to be evaluated, and a small number of others may have been used by security units, though this is not documented.


A Kreuzer-Panzer, originally a British Mark IVA, recognizable by the new mantlet, in German service in the Netherlands. The vehicle appears to still be identical to its original British specifications outside of the new paint job. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Panzer-Abteilung (f) 100 was stationed in the Dutch city of Terneuzen and village of Zaamslag, located in the southernmost part of the Dutch province of Zeeland, just north of the Belgian border. It stayed there from October 1940 to May 1941. During this time, the unit appears to have taken part in exercises in preparation for the hypothetical invasion of Great Britain, Operation Seelöwe (Sealion). It appears that at least one of the vehicles was loaded into some sort of landing barge during an exercise. As such, in the pretty much materially impossible scenario in which Seelöwe could have occurred, one would likely have seen a small number of Kreuzer-Panzer used by the Germans against their original manufacturers. Though details on the nature of the tanks’ stay in the Netherlands is unclear, they may, more pragmatically, have been used to familiarize German tankers with the vehicles they would have faced fighting against the British, a role in which they could have proved a useful tool.

A Kreuzer-Panzer used during landing exercises. Though the very small German fleets of Cruiser tanks likely would not have achieved much if an invasion of Great Britain ever took place, the vehicle was likely a good platform to familiarize German military men with British tanks. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Into Barbarossa

In May 1941, Panzer-Abteilung (f) 100 moved from its location in Zeeland to the Polish town of Murowana Goślina, North of Pozen/Poznan, and later near the Soviet border at Sielce. The unit was attached to 18. Panzer-Division and was to support its advance into the Soviet Union.

A Kreuzer-Panzer and Panzer II (f) Flamingos, one towing a trailer from the Renault UE, likely either in Poland prior to the start of Barbarossa or during the first days of the campaign. The British Beutepanzer could theoretically have defended the flamethrower tanks against enemy armor, but if the Soviets fielded T-34s or KVs, the Kreuzer-Panzer would prove mostly toothless. Source: beutepanzer.ru
Panzer II (f)s in front of a Kreuzer-Panzer. Interestingly enough, the Beutepanzer had its original British tracks replaced with those of the Panzer II Ausf.D, shared with the Panzer II (f), likely due to lack of spares of British tracks and to ease logistical burdens. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Panzer-Abteilung (f) 100 comprised three companies. On 22nd June 1941, it appeared to have at its disposal, outside of the 9 Kreuzer-Panzer, 5 Panzer IIIs, 25 Panzer IIs, and its main force, 42 Flammpanzer II Flamingos.

A column of Panzer-Abteilung (f) 100, including a Panzer III, a Kreuzer-Panzer and Panzer II (f)s. Source: beutepanzer.ru

By this point, the Cruisers had been in German service for several months and had received a number of changes to integrate them into German units. Their original tracks had been replaced with tracks from the Panzer II Ausf.D1. The reasons behind this are unclear, but may very well be logistical, particularly as the Panzer II (f) also operated by the unit were typically converted Ausf.D chassis. The vehicles had also received Notek lights and shelves to hold jerrycans. One was given a tow hook to tow the French trailer originally designed for the Renault UE, which was widely used by the unit.

A Kreuzer-Panzer which received all sorts of German refits. The Panzer II tracks lack the spiky guide horns present on the original British tracks. One may observe the large stowage boxes added to each side of the turret. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Kreuzer-Panzers numbered N°141 to 144, 243 and two with numbers starting with 24 but with the last number unidentified have been found. As the first number in German tank numbering system indicates the company the vehicles served in, it appears the Kreuzer-Panzer served in at least two of the unit’s three companies, and with three numbers missing, the third company may very well have had their British Beutepanzer as well. Within the fairly diverse fleet of armored vehicles operated by such a small unit, the Kreuzer-Panzer were, alongside the five Panzer IIIs, the tanks with the best anti-tank capacities, far exceeding the 20 mm autocannons of the Panzer II, let alone the flamethrowers of the Flamingos. As such, the tanks being distributed in the unit’s companies may have been undertaken in order to provide protection to the flamethrower and autocannon-armed Panzers against Soviet tanks. The 2-Pounder was a very decent anti-tank gun by 1940. By 1941, it would still easily dispose of most Soviet tanks, the likes of the T-26, BT-5, BT-7 or T-28, however, it would largely struggle against T-34s and could realistically only penetrate them from the sides and at fairly short ranges. Against KVs, the gun was fairly hopeless to do anything outside of potentially damaging the tracks.

Kreuzer Panzerkampfwagen Mk IV 744(e) n°141, stopped, perhaps due to a breakdown, in a village likely somewhere in Eastern Poland or Belarus. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Conclusion – A swift end to the Kreuzer-Panzers

As Panzer-Abteilung (f) 100 headed into the Soviet Union alongside 18. Panzer-Division, it was heavily engaged in a number of battles, including the battle for Brest fortress, and less than ten days into the operation, was already past Minsk. However, the service of the British tanks in Operation Barbarossa would be very short. While there are no details on the precise performances of the tanks, the Kreuzer-Panzers would likely have proven very vulnerable to any form of Soviet anti-tank opposition. More than their thin armor protection though, the final blow to the vehicle’s service within the Wehrmacht appears to have been a question of reliability. With few spare parts, most tanks swiftly suffered breakdowns that could not easily be solved. It is known that by 11th July 1941, not even a month into Barbarossa, no Kreuzer-Panzers were left operational, and this appears to have been unchanged all the way to Panzer-Abteilung (f) 100 being retired from the front in November 1941. Though it is possible that some Beutepanzer Mark IVs were still serving in some security units in other parts of German-controlled Europe, there does not appear to be any evidence confirming this, and as such, German use of the Kreuzer Panzerkampfwagen Mk IV 744(e) may very well have ended within the first weeks of Barbarossa.

A Kreuzer-Panzer leads a column of Panzer-Abteilung (f) 100 during Operation Barbarossa. Though originally meant to cross long distances and exploit breakthroughs, the Mark IV could not hope to perform such duties for long if it lacked spare parts. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Despite its short life in the German Army, the Kreuzer-Panzer Mk IV 744(e) remains an interesting example of the large variety of uses Germany made for its Beutepanzers during the war – and has the dubious honor of being one of the few Beutepanzer types used on the frontlines during Operation Barbarossa, albeit only for a short period of time.

Kreuzer Panzerkampfwafen Mk IV 744(e) 243 during Operation Barbarossa, illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Sources

Panzerkampfwagen T 34- 747 (r) , The Soviet T-34 Tank as Beutepanzer and Panzerattrappe in German Wehrmacht Service 1941-1945, Jochen Vollert, Tankograd publishing
https://www.axishistory.com/books/153-germany-heer/heer-other-units/8997-panzer-abteilung-f-100
http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Gliederungen/PanzerAbt/PanzerAbt100-R.htm
Beutepanzer.ru

Categories
WW2 German Light Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) Ausf.A

Germany (1939)
Light Tank – 150 Built

Prior to the war, the German Army was heavily engaged in expanding its new Panzer Divisions. For this purpose, great attention was given to the development of new types of tanks (Panzers). Due to the German industry’s lack of production capacity at that time and despite great effort, the more desirable and stronger Panzer III and IV could not be produced in sufficient numbers. The Germans were instead forced to use a large number of the weakly armed Panzer I and Panzer IIs.

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) Ausführung A
Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) Ausführung A (Source: panzernet.net)

Luckily for the Germans, during the takeover of Czechoslovakia in early 1939, they came into possession of the Škoda and ČKD factories. With them, they obtained over 200 LT vz. 35 and, more importantly, some 150 (not all were finished by that time) LT vz. 38. While both would be put into service, the Germans were far more interested in the more advanced LT vz. 38, which was far superior to the German Panzer I and II and was a close match for the larger Panzer IIIs. The LT vz. 38 would provide a great asset for the German Panzer Divisions during the first few years of the war. In later years, its chassis would be reused for a number of different modifications up to the war’s end.

The Czechoslovakian Origin

After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Czechoslovakia became an independent state. Beside its independence, it also inherited two military weapon manufacturers, Škoda (Pilsen) and Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk, ČKD (Prague). ČKD was formed back in 1871 and was initially involved in the production of industrial machinery, while, in later years, it would begin to develop and produce military equipment like field kitchens, automobiles, tractors, etc. During the First World War, CKD was even involved in producing a small run of armored cars for the Austro-Hungarian army. With the dissolution of the monarchy, for over a decade, ČKD did nothing regarding the development of armored vehicles. The first attempts to expand to the production of armored vehicles were made during the twenties. These included two projects: the MT tracked tractor (based on the French FT tank) and the ‘Kolohousenka’ (a wheel-cum-track) vehicle, but nothing came of these two projects.

Recognizing their obvious lack of experience in tracked vehicle design, ČKD officials bought three British Carden-Loyd Mk.VI tankette and built an additional four under license. After a series of tests and evaluations, ČKD produced its improved tankette based on this vehicle (named P-1), and even gained a small production order from the Czechoslovakian army. However, the greatest success of this project was the gaining of experience in tank design.

In the mid-thirties, the tank design bureau of ČKD, under the leadership of Alexej Surin (who was a Russian immigrant during the First World War), began working on a completely new and quite modern suspension design. Plans and blueprints for the AH-IV tankettes and TNH light tank were ready early in 1935. Both vehicles were to use a new design of suspension which consisted of two larger road wheels placed on a single horizontal spring unit.

As, at that time, Czechoslovakia was in no position to finance nor maintain a large army, ČKD turned instead to the foreign market. The first business opportunity was quick to arrive. Luckily for ČKD, a military delegation from Iran was visiting Czechoslovakia on a military mission of finding good tank designs. This delegation, led by General Ismail Khan, arrived in Prague during May 1935. Once there, they met with the representatives from Škoda and ČKD. The ČKD paper designs impressed the Iranian delegation, which immediately ordered 30 AH-IV armed with machine guns and TNH armed with 3.7 cm guns and two machine guns. The ČKD officials were quite generous to the Iranian delegation, donating them a P-I tankette (which no doubt positively affected the delegation) as a present.

These two prototypes were ready (without the weapons and with mock-up turrets) by September 1935. The Iranian delegation was once again impressed and increased the order for 50 vehicles of both types. Immediately after these negotiations, the ČKD began working to finish its TNH vehicle, which lasted to the end of 1935. Due to some delays, ČKD finally delivered these vehicles in May 1937.

The two prototypes (TNH to the left and AH-IV to the right)
The two prototypes (TNH to the left and AH-IV to the right) were presented to the Iranian delegation in September 1935. (Source: tankarchives.ca)

Following this success, ČKD managed to achieve great export success with these two vehicles. The TNH, with different weapon configurations, would be sold to Iraq, Latvia (which ordered 21 tanks but never received them due to Soviet annexation), Peru and Switzerland.

 LT vz. 38
Further development of the TNH would eventually lead to the introduction of the successful LT vz. 38. (Source: warspot.net)

During the late thirties, encouraged by these export successes, ČKD officials tried to sell the TNH to the Czechoslovakian army. Previously, ČKD had been included in the production of nearly half of the 298 Škoda LT vz.35 tanks for the Czechoslovakian army. ČKD got its chance when the army decided not to increase the production of the LT vz.35 and instead asked for a new design. The ČKD response to the Czechoslovakian army request was the TNH-S tank. This vehicle was built in 1937 by using soft iron plates to save money (as it was to serve mainly as an advertising vehicle for any interested customer). While visually the same as the standard TNH, the TNH-S tank had a stronger engine and a new gearbox unit. At the start of 1938, the TNH-S and another prototype named P-II-R were presented to the army. After a series of extensive tests that lasted until March, the army requested tests of the installation of the LT vz.35 turret with a new 3.7 cm A7 gun. In April, the army made several new requests regarding the design of the driver’s frontal armored plate, which had to be changed in order to provide more room for the machine gun to be operated efficiently, increasing the armor thickness of the front plate to 25 mm, increasing the fuel load from 180 to 210 l, adding and a two-part hatch doors above the radio operator.

After more months spent in weapon testing, the TNH-S was once again presented to the army’s military delegation at the start of July. The delegation was impressed with its performance and ordered it into production under the designation LT (which stands for ‘Lehky Tank’, light tank) vz.38. The tank was then returned for a complete overhaul, but despite the 7,740 km-long test run, only minor repairs were needed.

Despite providing excellent overall performance, the start of LT vz.38 production was delayed. The main reason for this was a disagreement between the army and ČKD officials regarding the tank’s price. The price for the LT vz.38 (without the gun) was 640,180 crowns, which was far more than the older LT vz.35. As both sides reached a compromise, a contract for 150 vehicles was signed in late July 1938. It was planned to produce the first 20 vehicles by the end of the year. The remaining tanks were to be built in early 1939. The vehicles were to be built in the ČKD production facilities in Prague-Liben. Praga was to provide the engines and most parts of the gearboxes, while armor plates were provided by Poldi steel mills and VHHT.

Czechoslovakia’s attempts to reorganize and expand its army were never completed due to political developments with Germany. Namely, due to the Munich agreement in September 1938, Germany managed to obtain a large portion of Czechoslovakia’s western territory. During this crisis, ČKD received permission from the army to advertise this vehicle abroad. Britain was interested in its design and, in February 1939, one was actually shipped to England to be tested at the Mechanical Experimental Establishment of the British Army. The British were not impressed with its performance. After this failure, the vehicle was shipped back to Czechoslovakia. Sweden also tried to buy the LT vz.38 and an agreement was signed for 90 vehicles. In July 1940, these 90 vehicles were simply taken over by the Germans for themselves. But, nevertheless, Sweden acquired a production license for this vehicle.

Due to problems with the deliveries of armor plates from the suppliers, actual production was unable to start up until early 1939. The first series of 10 tanks was actually completed by the time of the German annexation of what was left of Czechoslovakia and the creation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the Slovakian Republic puppet state.

In German Hands

With the occupation of former Czechoslovakian territories, the Germans came into possession of the Škoda and ČKD factories. To determine what weapons and armored vehicles could possibly be reused, the German Heeres Waffenamt (army weapons department) dispatched, in May 1939, a delegation to the ČKD factories. Under German ownership, ČKD would be renamed to BMM (Böhmisch-Mährische Maschinenfabrik). This delegation was led by Lt.Col. Fichtner and Lt.Col. Olbricht. After a quick inspection of vehicles present at the facility, the LT vz. 38 immediately caught the attention of the German delegation. It appears that the LT vz. 38’s overall performance highly impressed the Germans who, after an examination, proposed its adoption for army use. For this reason, on 15th May 1939, the Arbeitstab des Heeres-Waffenamt-Prag (working staff of the armament office in Prague) was formed. Its first decision was to immediately take over the 10vehicles already produced, which were then given to the 1st Armored Regiment stationed at Milovice. There, these tanks were used for the initial training of new cadre of instructors that would be needed for later expansion in the numbers of this vehicle. 9 LT vz. 38 would be officially taken over by the Germans on 22nd May 1939, while one vehicle was kept in the factory.

 LT vz.38 being demonstrated to the Germans
The LT vz.38 being demonstrated to the Germans during May 1939. It still has the Czechoslovak tricolor camouflage. (Source: panzernet.net)

While the Heeres Waffenamt was initially uninterested and reluctant to adopt foreign weapons and armored vehicles (a practice that would change later in the war), due to a lack of German industrial production capacity, which prevented the Wehrmacht from fielding tanks in greater numbers, the LT vz. 38 was accepted for service. Little did the Germans know at that time that this decision would lead to the emergence of a great number of different types of armored vehicles (anti-tank, ammunition supply, anti-aircraft etc.) based on the LT vz. 38 chassis. The production rate was to be around 25 vehicles per month. Beside the first 10 vehicles, 12 were completed in June, 39 in July, 18 in August, 31 in September, 30 in October with the last 11 completed in November 1939. Very interesting is the fact that the Germans actually paid ČKD for all these tanks.

The Name

When the ČKD LT vz. 38 tank was adopted by the Waffenamt, from May to August 1939, these were simply referred to as tschechische (Czech) Pz.Kpfw.III. In August 1939, in German documents, the designation Panzerkampfwagen (3.7 cm) L.T.M. 38 began to appear. L.T.M. 38 was an abbreviation which stood for Leichte Tank Modell 38 (light tank type/model 38), while in some sources it stands for Leichte Tank Munster. In some German documents, the designation Panzer III(t) was also used. In the period between October 1939 to January 1940, the name was once again changed to LTM 38 Protektorat. The name Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) (or simply Panzer 38(t)), by which it is best known today, was officially introduced by In 6 in mid-January 1940. In addition, its main weapon was also officially designated as 3.7 cm Kw.K.38(t).

During the war, as newer models were introduced, the Ausführung (English: version) denomination, ranging from A to S, would be added to its name. While, during its production run, some changes were made (mostly regarding the armor thickness), the Panzer 38(t)’s overall construction and design was relatively unchanged from the first version to the last. For this reason, precise identification of the Panzer 38(t) versions can sometimes be very hard.

Design

The Hull

The Panzer 38(t) was more or less similar in layout to all other German tanks. It was divided into a few sections which included the forward-mounted transmission, central crew fighting compartment, and, to the rear, the engine compartment. The transmission and steering systems were placed at the front of the hull and were protected with a large angled armored plate. To allow better access for repairs, a rectangular-shaped transmission hatch was located in the middle of this plate. It was protected by an extended ‘U’ shaped splash ring.

The hull and the remaining parts of the Panzer 38(t) body were constructed using armored plates riveted to an armored frame. The armor plates that needed to be easily removable (like the upper horizontal plate in the hull for access to the gearbox, rear-engine plate, etc.) were held in place by using bolts. In order to be able to cross rivers up to 1 m deep, the rivet and bolt joints were waterproofed by adding parchment paper soaked in oil.

The Superstructure

The superstructure was added atop the Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A hull to provide protection for the crew members. It had a simple design which consisted of four plates (one at the front, one on each side, and one at the rear) and the armored roof plates (the roof could be easily removed for repairs). While the side and rear armored plates were flat, the front was not. The left part, where the machine gun ball mount and the small observation port for the radio operator were located, protruded out slightly. This port had a 4 mm visor slit that was cut into it and, for protection against small-caliber rounds, a stepped deflector was added. This observation port was protected with a 50 mm thick armored glass block. For the radio operator, there was an additional but much smaller observation port to the left side.

the Panzer 38(t)’s relatively cramped interior
A view of the Panzer 38(t) interior. The driver was positioned to the right with the radio/machine gun operator left of him. Here, the Panzer 38(t)’s relatively cramped interior is also noticeable. (Source: Pinterest)

On the right side, there were two observation ports (one on the front and one on the right side) that were used by the driver. These could be protected by using either a 50 mm thick armored glass block or a tempered glass windshield.

The roof armor plate of the crew compartment was completely flat. Above the radio operator, there was a two-part hatch door. The Panzer 38(t) superstructure was not completely gas-proof, and for this reason, four gas masks were stowed inside the vehicle.

Front view of a Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A
Front view of a Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A. The radio operator’s hatch door is open. This particular vehicle was taken for evaluation at the German Kummersdorf testing center, possibly in early 1939. (Source: Panzer Tracts No.18).

The Turret

The Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A had a simple turret design, which was constructed using differently shaped armored plates held together by rivets and bolts. The large one-piece front armor plate was placed at an angle of 9° and the sides were angled at 10°. The front turret armor plate was connected to the turret frame by using bolts so that it could be easily removed for maintenance or repair of the main gun. The turret was mounted on a ball bearing race and had a full 360° of traverse. The traverse was achieved by using the traverse handwheel gear. The diameter of this turret ring was 1,210 mm (or 1,265 mm depending on the source).

A commander’s cupola was located on the left side of the turret roof. The commander’s cupola had four observation ports to cover all sides. On top of it was a large one-piece hatch door. A tube-shaped pivoting, traversable (with a 360° arc) periscope was mounted in front of the cupola. Unlike later versions of the Panzer 38(t), the Ausf.A did not have an armored cover over the top of the periscope.

On the commander’s cupola’s hatch, there was a smaller round hatch which was used for firing signal flares or using signal flags. Next to the commander’s cupola, there was another round-shaped hatch that had the same purpose. The secondary role of these two hatches was for ventilation during gun firing. Besides the commander’s cupola, no other escape hatch was added to the turret. In addition, there were no observation hatches to the side nor to the rear.

Storage and Other Equipment

Due to the Panzer 38(t)’s small size, internal storage space was quite limited. For this reason, additional external storage boxes were added. These were not added at the production plant, but at Army depots prior to their shipment to frontline units. The number, size and designs of the storage boxes varied throughout the production run. On the Ausf.A, a shovel and a pickaxe were placed at the rear. While it was not initially installed, during the production run of the Ausf.A, a Notek light was added on the left track guard, while to the rear left side (later in production changed to the right side), a convoy tail light would also be added.

Four Panzer 38(t)s belonging to Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division
Four Panzer 38(t)s belonging to Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division during the Western campaign in May/June 1940. While the second tank lacked the large storage bin, the remaining three had one placed on the left side. (Source: panzernet.net)

Suspension and Running Gear

The suspension consisted of four 775 mm diameter large road wheels with split rubber tires. The use of large diameter wheels was meant to reduce wear on the rubber tires. These wheels were connected in pairs and were suspended using semi-elliptical leaf spring (with 14 leaf springs) units. In addition, there were a front (637 mm) 19 tooth drive sprocket, (525 mm) rear idler, and two (220 mm) return rollers per side. The track consisted of 94 links. Each track link was 293 mm wide and 104 mm long. These were connected using link pins which were secured with spring clips. The ground clearance of this vehicle was 40 cm. The upper part of the tracks was covered by a track guard which was 2 mm thick. The truck guard was also slightly angled to the outside, to serve as a rainwater drain.

Panzer 38(t)’s large paired road wheels
A drawing of the Panzer 38(t)’s large paired road wheels with their semi-elliptical leaf spring unit just above. (Source: S.J. Zaloga Panzer 38(t) Osprey Publishing)
Panzer 38(t) suspension system
Side view of the Panzer 38(t) suspension system with two return track rollers and four road wheels. The drive sprocket wheel is at the front of the tank and the idler wheel at the rear. (Source: warspot.ru)

The Engine and Transmission

The Panzer 38(t) was powered by a Praga TNHPS/II six-cylinder gasoline engine giving out 125 [email protected] rpm. This was actually a license-produced variant of the Swedish Scania-Vabis type 1664. The maximum speed for the vehicle was 42 km/h (or 17 km/h cross-country), with an operational range of 220-250 km and 100 km cross country. The fuel load of 220 l was stored in two fuel tanks placed under the engine and protected by an armored plate.

The Panzer 38(t) engine cooling system consisted of one radiator (with a capacity of 64 l) and a large cooling fan, both of which were placed to the rear of the engine compartment. Engine temperature could be regulated from the crew compartment. This engine provided the best performance when the temperature was between 80 to 85° Celsius. Air intakes were placed above the engine and were protected from enemy fire with armored plates. The engine could be started using a 2.5 kW Scintilla (later replaced with a Bosch) type starter or simply by using the hand crank.

Rear view of a Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A.
Rear view of a Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A. Behind the large round armored cover was the cooling system, which consisted of one radiator and a large cooling fan. Also, note the air intake grille placed above the engine. (Source: warspot.ru)

The engine and the crew compartment were separated by a fire-resistant and gas-tight armored firewall. This firewall was 5 mm thick and consisted of 2 mm of steel, 2 mm of asbestos, and 1 mm of aluminum plates. It served to protect the crew from the engine heat and any possible outbreaks of fire in the engine. The crew had two small rectangular hatch doors placed in the firewall in order to have access to the engine compartment if needed.

The Praga-Wilson CV-TNHP four-speed (one reverse) gearbox was connected to the engine by a drive shaft that ran through the bottom of the crew fighting compartment. The driver could change the gear simply by using a selector and then engaging the clutch foot pedal.

The driver steered the tank by using clutch-brake steering units which had two steering brake drums and two bypass drive brakes. When the driver used the bypass driver brake, the Panzer 38(t) turning radius was 9 m. To lower this radius to less than 9 m, the driver released the steering clutch and then engaged the steering brakes.

The Armor Protection

The front glacis was 12 mm thick at a 75° angle, the hull front was 25 mm at a 15° angle and the lower hull front was 15 mm thick with a 66° angle. The side armor was 15 mm thick, the rear was 10-15 mm and the bottom was 8 mm.

The front superstructure armor was 25 mm placed at a 17.6° angle. The sides of the crew compartment were 15 mm placed vertically. The engine compartment was protected by 10 mm thick armor at a 35° angle.

The front turret armor was 25 mm (at a 10° angle), while the sides and rear were 15 mm (at a 9° angle) and the top was 8 mm (at 80-90° angle). The commander’s cupola had all-around 15 mm of armor, with the hatch door being 8 mm thick.

The Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A, similar to other German tanks at that time, was equipped with the Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung (a smoke grenade rack system). This device was placed on the rear of the hull. This rack, covered with an armored shield, contained five grenades which were activated with a wire system by the Panzer 38(t) commander. When activated, the Panzer would then drive back to the safety of the smokescreen.

Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung system
The Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A Nebelkerzenabwurfvorrichtung system positioned at the rear and covered with an armored shield. (Source: Pinterest)

The Crew

The Czechoslovak designers originally planned for this vehicle to have three crew members. In this scenario, the commander would be the only one to stay in the turret. He would simply be overburdened with the many tasks that he would have to perform, like operating and loading the gun. As this thinking was obsolete by German standards, the greatest change to this vehicle was adding the fourth crew member. While the latest German tanks used innovative five-man crew configurations, due to the Panzer 38(t)’s small size, this was not possible. In German hands, the Panzer 38(t) was operated by a crew of four which consisted of commander/gunner and loader, who were positioned in the turret, and the driver and radio operator in the hull.

The crew positions inside the Panzer 38(t)
The crew positions inside the Panzer 38(t). (Source: S.J. Zaloga Panzer 38(t) Osprey Publishing)

The commander was positioned on the left side of the turret. In order to have a better awareness of the surroundings, he was provided with a cupola. Due to the turret’s small size and the impossibility of adding a fifth crew member, the commander had to act as the gunner too. The loader was positioned next to the commander. The loader also operated the turret machine gun. In the hull, on the left side, was the radio operator and next to him, to the right, was the driver. The commander had two options to communicate with the driver, either through an intercom system or by signal lights (green, red, and blue).

The Armament

The main armament of the Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A was the 3.7 cm A7 L/48.7 Škoda gun which, in German hands, was renamed to KwK 38(t). With the acquisition of Czechoslovakian factories, the Germans also claimed possession of stockpiles of 3.7 cm ammunition. The original Czechoslovakian 3.7 cm rounds (known in Germany as Pzgr.Patr 37(t)) had a weight of 0.850 kg and, with a muzzle velocity of 741 m/s, the armor penetration was 28 mm armor (at a 30° angle) at 600 m. This type of ammunition had some issues, especially with the large cloud of smoke that accumulated after the gun was fired, which made forward observation difficult. Another issue was the lack of tracers. To resolve these problems, the Germans improved its performance by adding a tracer, increasing the weight by adding a larger explosive charge, and adding a new cap in order to increase its aerodynamic performance. This new round had a muzzle velocity of 750 m/s and could penetrate 41 mm (at a 30° angle) at 600 m and 27 mm at 1 km. Besides the armor-piercing rounds, there was also a high explosive and a tungsten-cored round. The tungsten core ammunition was available from early 1941 on. It was known as the 3.7 cm Pzgr.40/37(t) and, with a muzzle velocity of 1,020 m/s, could penetrate 64 mm of armor at ranges of 100 m at a 30° angle. In German pamphlets that were issued to the frontline troops in the summer of 1941, this ammunition type is listed as being able to penetrate the T-34’s hull side armor from ranges of up to 300 m. Tungsten was in short supply in Germany, so the use of this ammunition was rare. The rate of fire for this gun was around 15 rounds per minute.

The ammunition load for the main gun was 90 rounds (or 72 depending on the source), which was stored in 15 ammunition magazines with 6 rounds each. The elevation of the gun ranged from -10° to +25°. The gun used the Turmzielfernrohr 38(t) telescopic sight, which had a 2.6x magnification and a 25° field of view. If this sight was not operational (either due to malfunction or combat damage), there was an optional second open sight. The back of the gun was provided with an armored recoil shield to avoid accidental injury during gun firing. Underneath this protective shield, a canvas bag was added to hold 15 to 20 spent cartridges. During the firing of the main gun, the spent propellant fumes were ejected by the engine cooling air system, through a vent slit which was located on the superstructure left side, or even through the observation ports. When on the move and not in combat, the turret could be locked down in place.

The secondary armament consisted of two 7.92 mm ZB vz. 37 machine guns. These machine guns were renamed by the Germans as MG 37(t). The first ball-mounted machine gun was positioned in the superstructure and was operated by the radio operator. It had a 28° traverse with an elevation of -10° to +10°. The elevation was limited in order to avoid hitting the main gun by accident and potentially damaging it. For aiming this machine gun, a telescopic sight with 2.6x magnification was provided. There was also an option for the driver to fire the machine gun, by activating a trigger placed on the left steering lever. In this case, the machine gun would be fixed and aimed by moving the whole vehicle.

The Panzer 38(t) was armed with one 3.7 cm gun
The Panzer 38(t) was armed with one 3.7 cm gun and two machine guns. This configuration was more or less standard for all tanks during World War Two. While the 3.7 cm was effective against most tanks (except the heavy ones) in the early stages of the war, the appearance of the Soviet T-34 and KV series in 1941 showed that it was no longer adequate for the job. The turret machine gun could be aimed independently, which was somewhat unusual for its time. (Source: warspot.ru)

The second ball-mounted machine gun was placed to the right of the main gun. Interestingly, there were two options for how this machine gun could be operated. First was the standard coaxial link to the main gun. The second option was to use the machine gun completely independently by removing a connection pin. In this case, the machine gun had 28° of traverse with an elevation of -10° to +25°. The turret machine gun was operated by the gunner. The total ammunition load for the two machine guns was 2,700 rounds. The Germans added one MP 38/40 submachine gun with 256 rounds of ammunition. Besides the gun and machine gun ammunition, some 24 rounds for a signal flare pistol were also carried inside. On some Ausf.A vehicles, a blocking mechanism was added to the turret machine gun to prevent it from hitting the main gun.

The Command Version

On their new Panzer 38(t)s, the Germans added radio equipment which they deemed necessary for proper tank use. Usually, the tank company commander’s tank was equipped with an Fu 5 transmitter and Fu 2 radio receiver. The platoon leader’s tank had the Fu 5 and ordinary tanks were equipped with only Fu 2 radio sets.

The Panzer 38(t) had a few different command vehicle versions known as Panzerbefehlswagen (tank command vehicle). These were built in three different versions (the difference was in the radio equipment used and type of radio antennas), the Sd.Kfz.266, 267, and 268. The Sd.Kfz.266 version was equipped with a Fu 5 and a Fu 2 radio and used a rod-type antenna. The Sd.Kfz.267 had Fu 8 and Fu 5 radio equipment and had large frame antennas that were placed on the rear deck. This version had its turret fixed and the main gun was replaced with a wooden dummy gun. The last version, the Sd.Kfz.268, used the Fu 7 and Fu 5 radio equipment with two rod antennas. The Sd.Kfz.268’s main purpose was to communicate with German Air Force units for better cooperation.

When modified to be used as a command vehicle, the hull machine gun had to be removed and, in its place, a round armored cover was added. For crew protection against infantry attack, two more MP 38/40 submachine guns were added. A number of Panzer 38(t) Ausf.As were modified for this role. The Ausf.As that were used in Poland had a larger aerial on the left side of the superstructure. While not present on all Ausf.A, the use of this antena was abandoned after the Polish campaign. The main center where all these modifications were conducted was the Nachrichten Heereszeugamt (signal ordnance depot) at Berlin-Schoneberg.

The command version based on the Panzer 38(t) was not popular with its crews, as it lacked an adequate view of the surroundings. While the Panzer III was more preferable for this role, due to a lack of tanks in the early stages of the war, the Panzer 38(t) was used instead.

This Panzer 38(t) used in Poland 1939
This Panzer 38(t) used in Poland in 1939 had a larger aerial antenna placed on the left side of the superstructure. Its use was abandoned after Poland. (Source: panzernet.net)
The Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A Sd.Kfz.267 with its large rear frame antenna
The Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A Sd.Kfz.267 with its large rear frame antenna is the most easily identified of all command version tanks. (Source:Panzer Tracts No.18).
 Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A Sd.Kfz.268 version, identified by its two-rod antennas.
This is the Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A Sd.Kfz.268 version, identified by its two-rod antennas. (Source: warspot.ru)

In Combat – Poland 1939

By the time of the Invasion of Poland in September 1939, there were some 57 Panzer 38(t) (with two command vehicles) allocated to Panzer-Abteilung 67 (67th Tank Battalion), which was part of the 3rd Leichte Division (Light Division). This battalion was divided into three companies with four platoons each. While it was originally intended to equip these companies purely with the Panzer 38(t), due to a lack of tanks, it was not possible. For this reason, Panzer-Abteilung 67 was instead also issued with (rare) Panzer II Ausf.D tanks. The 3rd Light Division was allocated to Armee Gruppe Süd (Army Group South) which was under the direct command of General Colonel von Rundstedt. At the start of the war, the 3rd Light Division engaged Polish positions near Czenstochowa and managed to break through the line. It lost its first Panzer 38(t) tank on the 6th September 1939, when it was hit by a Polish 3.7 cm anti-tank gun. In the following days, the 3rd Light Division clashed with many Polish forces, until it reached Gora Kalwaria, just south of the Polish capital, Warsaw. It also participated in the German attempt to stop the Polish counterattack near the Bzura River, which was successfully repelled. The last combat action in Poland was during the siege of Modlin. By the end of the Polish campaign, only around 7 vehicles were lost, but all were recovered and put back into action.

Panzer 38(t) tanks during the Polish invasion in 1939
Panzer 38(t) tanks during the Polish invasion in 1939. Just behind the front vehicle is a rare Panzer II Ausf.D. (Source: S.J. Zaloga Panzer 38(t) Osprey Publishing)

During this campaign, the Panzer 38(t) performed well, with minimal equipment and mechanical breakdowns. But, like all German tanks, the Panzer 38(t) was also lacking adequate armor protection. The Polish anti-tank guns could penetrate its frontal armor at up to 300 m ranges and the anti-tank rifles at up to 100 m. Interestingly, during the Polish campaign, the Germans tested the idea of using trucks to transport the Panzer 38(t), hoping that this way, they would be able to advance more quickly. This likely proved to be impractical (and possibly dangerous) and was abandoned and never used after Poland.

This Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A used in Poland
While the use of trucks as a transport for the Panzer 38(t) was meant to increase its speed of deployment (at least in theory), it proved to be problematic and this idea was dropped.
 Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A used in Poland lacked the larger aerial antenna
This Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A used in Poland lacked the larger aerial antenna placed on the left side of the superstructure. (Source: Panzer.net)

In Combat – To the West

After the Polish campaign, the Light Divisions were reorganized into proper Panzer Divisions. The 3rd Light Division was renamed the 8th Panzer Division in October 1939. Due to the increased production of the Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A and Ausf.B, it was possible to equip two Panzer Regiments, the 10th (part of the 8th Panzer Division) and the 25th (part of the 7th Panzer Division). The Panzer regiments consisted of three battalions. Each battalion was further divided into two 15 vehicle companies (divided into three platoons) in total some 90 vehicles. But, despite increased production of the Panzer 38(t), insufficient tanks had been produced to fully equip these units by the time of the German invasion of the west. The 7th Panzer Divisions had, at the start of the campaign, some 91 Panzer 38(t), with 10 (or 8 depending on the source) additional command vehicles based on this tank. The 8th Panzer Division was a bit larger, with 116 Panzer 38(t) and 15 command tanks.

A column of Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A, belonging to the 7th Panzer Division.
A column of Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A, belonging to the 7th Panzer Division. The large white line painted across the engine compartment was used for aerial recognition.

When the Germans attacked in May 1940, both of these Panzer Divisions were part of General von Rundstedt’s Armee Gruppe A. The 7th Panzer Division, which was under the command of Erwin Rommel, made quick progress and, by 14th May, crossed the Maas River. After that, it successfully engaged the French 1st Tank Division, which had Char B1 bis and H35 tanks. The 7th Panzer Division crossed the French border on 16th May and, two days later, managed to inflict heavy losses on the French 1st Light Division. By the 20th, it had reached the Arras area, where the British 4th and 7th tank regiments were holding the line. These units were equipped with Matilda tanks, which were immune to the Panzer 38(t)’s 3.7 cm gun. While British tanks initially caused panic among the German units, the use of artillery, air support, and 88 mm guns allowed the Germans to regain the initiative. The British lost some 46 tanks, while the German lost only six Panzer 38(t)s. By 12th June, this division managed to cut off and force the surrender of the French IX Corps near Abbeville. The last combat action of this unit in the West took place six days later while engaging British forces at Cherbourg.

A Panzer 38(t) during the French campaign in May/June 1940
A Panzer 38(t) during the French campaign in May/June 1940 crossing the French Border. (Source: worldwarphotos.info)

Meanwhile, the 8th Panzer Division supported the XIX. Tank Corps, which was under the command of General Guderian. This Corps made rapid progress through the Allied line and, by the 25th of May, reached St. Omer, which was only 40 km south from Dunkerque. By the end of May, the 7th Panzer Division reported 18 heavy and some 295 enemy light tanks destroyed, with 20 Panzer 38(t)s being lost. In total, both divisions lost some 54 Panzer 38(t) tanks, but the majority could be repaired and put back into action.

The Panzer 38(t) tank’s good performance in the West could be considered somewhat ironic considering its origin. It was the Czechoslovak revenge for handing their country over to the mercy of the Germans during the Munich Agreement.

In Combat – The Balkan Campaign

The 8th Panzer Division saw action during the Axis war with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April 1941. During this operation, the 8th Panzer Division was part of the LVI. Motorized Corps that attacked from Hungary. After the short campaign that lasted less than two weeks, this Division reported the loss of 7 Panzer 38(t)s.

In Combat – The Soviet Union

For the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union, thanks to increased numbers of Panzer 38(t)s, there were 3 more Panzer Divisions equipped with this vehicle, besides the ones used in France. The total Panzer 38(t) and command vehicle strengths of these divisions on the 22nd June 1941 were as follows: the 7th had 166 tanks and 7 command vehicles, the 8th 118 and 7, the 12th 109 and 8, 19th 116 and 11 and the 20th had 116 vehicles and only 2 command vehicles. At this point, due to the introduction of an additional version of this vehicle, tracking the Ausf.A is difficult, as the sources usually refer to all variants simply as Panzer 38(t), without mentioning the precise version.

Prior to Operation Barbarossa, in order to reduce reliance on fuel supply convoys and to increase operational range, the Panzer 38(t) (together with nearly all German tanks) were to be equipped with 200 l towed fuel trailers. In addition, a transfer pump system was also provided. As the use of this trailer could be dangerous in combat situations, a quick release tow hitch which could be activated from inside the vehicle was added to the rear. This proved to be awkward and vulnerable to enemy fire, which would lead to its withdrawal from further use.

A Panzer 38(t) belonging to the 12th Panzer Division
A Panzer 38(t) belonging to the 12th Panzer Division during Operation Barbarossa in the early months of 1941. While the fuel trailers increased operational range, they proved to be a hindrance in combat and their use was abandoned. (Source: worldwarphotos.info)

The Panzer 38(t), like all German equipment in the Soviet Union until the end of 1942, suffered heavily. For example, the 7th Panzer Division had lost some 176 vehicles by the start of 1942. Some 98 were lost as a consequence of enemy fire, 1 was captured, 52 had to be blown up due to a lack of fuel, spare parts, or breakdowns and some 25 had to be returned to Germany for extensive repairs.

In early 1942, the Panzer 38(t) was to equip the new 22nd Panzer Division, while those on the front lines were reorganized. Due to losses, the 6th and 7th Panzer Divisions were brought back to the West for rebuilding. The surviving Panzer 38(t)s from the 7th Panzer Division were used to reinforce the 1st and 2nd Panzer Divisions. The 12th was re-equipped with newer Panzer III tanks, while the 8th, 19th and 20th Panzer Divisions still had this tank in their inventory. During 1942, the Germans also sold over 100 Panzer 38(t) to their Hungarian allies.

While the Panzer 38(t) was a quite good tank in the early years of the war, by 1942, due to its weak armor and armament, its days as a front line combat tank were at an end. It proved to be no match for the newer Soviet T-34 and KV series tanks. This could be clearly seen in a report of the 1st Panzer Division dated from early April 1942.

… Panzers are knocked out by T 34 at ranges of 200 to 800 meters. The Panzer 38(t) can’t destroy or repulse a T 34 at these ranges. Because of its gun, the T 34 can knock out an attacking Panzer at long-range… “.

The Panzer 38(t)’s 3.7 cm gun was ineffective against the thick and sloped armor of the Soviet tanks. In rare cases, there were instances when the Panzer 38(t) managed to destroy a Soviet T-34 tank. One such occasion involved a Hungarian operated Panzer 38(t). This event took place during the combined German and Hungarian attack on the Soviet positions at Storozhevoye. During the fighting, a T-38 (as the Panzer 38(t) was called in Hungarian service) commanded by Sergeant Janos Csizmadia came across a T-34 that was attacking the German rear positions. Sergeant Janos Csizmadia reacted quickly and fired at the T-34 at close range. The T-38’s 3.7 cm armor-piercing round managed to pierce the T-34’s rear armor and the tank exploded.

In other Roles

From 1942 on, it was obvious to the Germans that the Panzer 38(t) was becoming obsolete as a main frontline combat vehicle. For this reason, most Panzer 38(t) were being retired from service and reallocated to secondary duties. Over 351 turrets taken from this tank were used as stationary bunkers all around occupied Europe. Other vehicles were reused as training tanks, put on trains, or even as ammunition vehicles. While the sources do not mention the precise versions of these modifications, some were probably also of the Ausf.A version. As the Panzer 38(t) proved to have outstanding performance, it was heavily used by the Germans for many modifications during the war, but probably the most well known are the tank hunters.

 351 turrets taken from obsolete Panzer 38(t) tanks
Some 351 turrets taken from obsolete Panzer 38(t) tanks were used across Europe as stationary bunkers. Some of these probably included Ausf.A turret. (Source: Pinterest)

Use by other Axis Powers

During the war, the Germans supplied their allies with a number of different weapons and tanks. These included the Panzer 38(t). During the attempt to rearm their Romanian allies in March 1943, some 50 Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A, B, and C (known as T-38 in Romanian service) versions were given to Romania. These were then used by the Romanians to fight the Soviets, but as these tanks were obviously obsolete, they performed poorly against Soviet Armor. Nevertheless, some survived up to August 1944, when Romania switched sides and joined the Soviets and began attacking German units. The last three T-38s were lost during the fighting for the crossing of the Hron river in March 1945.

Conclusion

Despite not being German-built, the Panzer 38(t) played a great role in the Panzer Divisions during the first years of the war. It was far superior to the German Panzer I and II tanks and was available in sufficient numbers to equip several Panzer Divisions by 1941. While its effectiveness as a front line combat tank diminished during the invasion of the Soviet Union, its service did not end there. While most were withdrawn from the front lines and allocated to secondary duties, several continued to see combat for some time afterward. But, the most useful feature of the Panzer 38(t) was its chassis, which was used extensively by the Germans up to the war’s end.

The Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A was almost identical to the original Czech Lt vz.38. This vehicle saw action in France in 1940. Illustration by David Bocquelet.

Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A specifications

Dimensions L-W-H 4.6 m x 2.12 m x 2.4 m
(15ft 1in x 6ft 11in x 7ft 10in)
Total weight 9.4 tonnes
Crew 4 Commander/Loader, Gunner, Radio Operator/hull machine gunner and Driver
Armament 3.7 cm KwK 38(t) L/48.7 gun
Secondary Armament 2x 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine-guns
Turret Armor front 25 mm, sides and rear 15 mm and top 10 mm
Hull Armor front 25 mm, sides 15 mm, rear 15 mm and the top and bottom 8 mm
Propulsion Praga EPA 265 HP @ 2600 rpm petrol/gasoline engine
Top road speed 42 km/h (26 mph)
Max. road range 250 km (155 miles)
Total production 150

Source

T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2007) Panzer Tracts No.18 Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) Ausf.A to G und S.
S. J. Zaloga, Panzer 38(t), Osprey Publishing.
H. H. Stapfer (2009) Panzer 38(t)/Swiss LTL-H, Squadron Signal.
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications
A. Lüdeke (2007) Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Parragon books.
H. Scheibert, Die Deutschen Panzer Des Zweiten Weltkriegs, Dörfler.
C. Bescze (2007) Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II, STRATUS.
V. Francev and C. K. Kliment (2002). Praga Lt vz.38 Pz.Kpfw. 38(t), MBI.
P. P. Battistelli (2007) Panzer Divisions: The Blitzkrieg Years 1939-40. Osprey Publishing

Categories
WW2 German Light Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen 35(t)

Germany (1940)
Light Tank – 244 Used

One year after the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany) in March 1938, Adolf Hitler implemented the occupation of the Sudetenland (Bohemia-Moravia) and the seizure of Czechoslovakia.
As a result, the Germans took over the Czechoslovak industry, including the Skoda factory, which produced the Lehký tank vzor 35 (Light Tank Model 35), locally known as the LT vz. 35, or LT-35. By the time of the German occupation, Czechoslovakia had built 434 LT vz. 35 light tanks. The Germans immediately took over 244 of them in order to equip their emerging armored forces.

These light tanks fought in the German Panzer Divisions from 1939 until 1942, when they were removed from active service. During this three-year period, they actively participated in the Invasion of Poland, the Battle of France and the initial stages of Operation Barbarossa (the ill-fated and costly invasion of the Soviet Union).
The tanks were highly praised by their crews, especially their robustness (except the pneumatic system, which was very susceptible to extreme cold) and versatility. They were used until the exhaustion of the spare parts available for this model. When in use with the Germans, it was known as Panzerkampfwagen 35(t) or Pz.Kpfw.35(t). The letter “t” indicated the term ‘Tschechisch’ (meaning ‘Czech’ in German), following the rule of using a letter designating the name of the country of origin for the material captured by the Germans.

Pz 35(t) and Panzer IVs in France, 1940. Photo: Bundesarchiv

LT vz. 35, the Original

The Lehký tank vzor 35 (Light Tank Model 35, LT vz. 35) was the frontline tank of Czech armored forces at the time of the German invasion. The 10.5-ton tank entered service in 1939. It had a 3-man crew and was armed with a 37mm Škoda ÚV vz.34 gun, with two 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Zbrojovka Brno vz.37 machineguns. The tank had armor of up to 35 mm (1.4in) thick.
The vehice ran on a leaf-spring suspension, and propulsion was provided by a 120hp Škoda Typ 11/0 4-cylinder gasoline engine. This would provide a top speed of 21 mph (34 km/h).
A full article on the LT vz. 35 can be found HERE.

Pz.Kpfw.35(t), German Service

At the beginning of WWII, the Germans had shocked the world with their combined arms tactics. Armored forces were essential in the practical application of this doctrine, with armored vehicles paving the way for the infantry. There was a pressing need for quick, well-armed armored vehicles. In April 1939, the Germans had in their inventory about 230 Panzer III tanks. The LT vz.35 was classed similarly in the German army and with the confiscation of these 244 Czech tanks, their medium-light armored forces more than doubled.
The Germans used everything available to them, from new vehicles coming out of assembly plants to old veterans of the Czech conflicts in the Sudetenland. Most of these vehicles were sent to the 11th Panzer Regiment in Paderborn and the 65th Panzer Abteilung in Sennelagen. They used the Pz.Kpfw.35(t) to the limit of its useful life, as production had already been completed by the Czech factories. The Germans did not think to resume their manufacture because the pneumatic system of these tanks was problematic for maintenance.

Design

Many of the elements of the basic design of the Czech vehicle remained the same. In the name of the standardization, the Germans made many modifications in the Czech LT vz. 35. The most evident was the painting of all vehicles in the standard German-Gray color, with a large white cross, preceding the infamous Balkenkreuz, applied to the side of the turrets. Some tanks had stripes of brown or green on the German-gray, but this was not common.
The big white crosses were gradually removed shortly after the first stages of the Invasion of France, as the enemy gunners used them as excellent aiming points. Many vehicles were penetrated in this way in Poland and France. At the time of the Invasion of Russia, the great majority of Pz.Kpfw.35(t) tanks had much smaller and discrete Balkenkreuz on the sides of the hulls.
In mechanical terms, the main modifications were the installation of German radios and intercoms, the installation of Notek lights on the left front mudguards and German lights on the rear of the tanks. Another important modification was the replacement of Czech magnets with Bosch ones, made in Germany. To increase the range of the vehicles, extra fuel was carried in jerry-cans installed in racks at the rear of the hull.
But the most important of all modifications were based on tactical studies of the use of the armored vehicles: the incorporation of a fourth crewmember. This fourth crewmember was a loader and his addition was meant to reduce the commander’s workload and to increase the efficiency of the vehicle and of its crew. With the presence of the loader, the commander could concentrate on observing the tactical situation of the battle in which he was involved, increasing his effectiveness and greatly increasing the ability of the tank to accomplish its tasks and survive.

Operation Barbarossa 1941: North sector, 1941, German Infantry supported by a Panzer 35(t) – Bundesarchiv
The effectiveness of this decision was well proven in the brief but intense Battle of France when the German Panzers (with their 3 turret members: gunner, loader, and the commander) faced the French tanks, whose turrets were only crewed by the commander. The French commanders had to load, aim, shoot and even discern the whole tactical environment of the battle. The cost of this modification was a decrease in the number of projectiles stored in the tank turret.
The Germans also modified some of the Pz.Kpfw.35(t)s into the Panzerbefehlswagen 35(t), or command tanks. The transformation was intended to increase the internal space of the tank to facilitate the control tasks. This was achieved by eliminating the front hull machine gun and installing an additional Fu 8 radio and a gyrocompass. The major external differential factor of these command vehicles was the presence of a large frame antenna on the rear deck just behind the turret.


Panzer 35(t) of the 11th Tank Regiment, 1st Light Division of the Wehrmacht. Poland, September 1939.

Panzer 35(t) of the 65th Panzer battalion, 11th Panzer Regiment, 6th Panzer Division. Eastern Front, Summer 1941.

The original LT vz. 35 in Czech service.
Illustrations by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Operational Use

With tensions in Europe growing and the possibility of war increasingly close, the German crews trained intensively with their new tanks alongside the maintenance and logistics personnel. The planned invasion of Poland was imminent.
By the end of August, the 11th Panzer Regiment had its companies fully equipped with the light Pz.Kpfw.35(t), with additional tanks in reserve. The 11th Panzer Regiment formed a part of the 1st Leichte Division. For the Fall Weiss Operation (the invasion of Poland), 106 Pz.Kpfw.35(t) and eight Panzerbefehlswagen 35(t) were ready for combat.
Proving its robustness and reliability, many Panzer 35(t) tanks covered more than 600 km on their own tracks, on very rough roads or in open field, with no major breakdowns (the fragility of the pneumatic system only manifested itself in very low temperatures). They participated in the hard battles at Wielun on September 3 and at Widawa, Radom and Demblin, on September 9. The Pz.Kpfw 35(t)’s ended their participation in the Polish Campaign between the 17th and the 24th of September in the north of Warsaw at Mandlin.
The armor of the Pz.Kpfw 35(t) could easily manage artillery shrapnel, machine gun bullets and infantry anti-tank rifle rounds. It could also withstand 20mm cannon fire, but the 37mm anti-tank shells of the wz.36 AT gun and 7TP light tanks could penetrate the 25mm armor. At the end of the Polish Campaign, 11 tanks were heavily damaged, but almost all were refurbished by Skoda to return to the front line. Only one was considered a total loss.
It was observed that the tanks moved by their own means for far greater distances than expected, thanks mainly to the reliability of the machines. With the lull coming after the fall of Poland, the armored forces installed reserve track links and supplementary rubber tires for their suspension wheels. Another measure was the installation of a rack for jerry-cans with extra fuel.
After the end of their first combat action came a period of tension and reorganization for the German Armored Forces. The 1st Leichte Division was renamed as the 6th Panzer Division, with its 118 Pz.Kpfw.35(t) restored survivors and its 10 Pz.Bef 35(t), serving with the 11th Panzer Regiment.
During the ensuing invasion of France, the 6th Panzer Division reported 45 casualties among its Pz.Kpfw.35(t), but only 11 were considered total losses. The other 34 returned to active service after being retrieved from the battlefield and repaired by the workshops in Germany and Czechoslovakia. Many of these casualties were due to the exhaustive use.
The Pz.Kpfw.35(t)s remained as first-line vehicles until the beginning of 1941. The 6th Panzer Division still listed in its inventory 149 Pz.Kpfw.35(t) gun tanks and 11 Pz.Bef.35(t) command tanks at the end of June 1941, being used for Operation Barbarossa. Because of the long distances in this theater of operations, the Pz.Kpfw.35(t) carried up to 8 jerry-cans in additional fuel racks on the rear portion of their hulls, in addition to a greater load of spare parts.
In battle, the Pz.Kpfw.35(t)’s were still effective against the Soviet light tanks, but when meeting the T-34, KV-1 and KV-2, it became painfully clear that the small and reliable 37mm main guns could do nothing against the armor of these tanks. But even so, the Germans continued to use these tanks. It can be said that the removal of the Pz.Kpfw 35(t) from the front lines of combat was due more to the mechanical wear (these vehicles had covered enormous distances in Poland, France and Russia) and the climatic conditions (The Russian winter was too much for the fragile hydraulic and pneumatic lines of the tank). On the 30th of November 1941, all Pz.Kpfw. 35(t)s were reported as “non-operational” on the Russian front.
All surviving vehicles were sent back to Germany and Czechoslovakia, where some less worn out were remanufactured for other uses. Forty-nine of these vehicles had their turrets and armament removed. A tow- bar with a capacity of 12 tonnes was installed in the back of the hull, along with more jerry-cans for extra fuel. These vehicles, converted by Skoda, once again served Germany as artillery tractors and ammunition carriers: Morserzug-Mittel 35(t). Rather than waste the turrets, these were reused as fortified bunkers and fixed fortifications on the shores of Denmark and Corsica.

Panzer 35(t) specifications

Dimensions 4.90×2.06×2.37 m (16.1×6.8ftx7.84 ft)
Total weight, battle ready up to 10.5 tons
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader/radio)
Propulsion Škoda Typ 11/0 4-cylinder gasoline, 120 bhp (89 kW)
Speed (on/off road) 34 km/h (21 mph)
Suspension Leaf spring type
Armament Main: Škoda ÚV vz.34 37 mm (1.46 in), 72 rounds
Secondary: 2 x 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Zbrojovka Brno vz.37 machineguns, 1800 rounds
Armor 8 to 35 mm (0.3-1.4in)
Maximum range on/off road 120/190 km (75/120 mi)
Total production 434

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Skoda LT vz.35 – Vladimir Francev and Charles k. Kliment – MBI Publishing House; Praha – Czech Republik
Panzerserra Bunker

Categories
WW2 German Light Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen 17R/18R 730(f)

Germany (1940)
Light Tank – Approximately 1,700 Captured

 The German captured tank policy

During World War Two, the German Army was using a large number of captured equipment, including thousands of tanks. The German army captured as many vehicles as possible, and these vehicles were gathered in special collection points where they were examined and deemed to be of any use to their new owners. Useful tanks would then be repaired, modified, and painted in German colors and markings.
Panzerkampfwagen 17R 730c(f).
Panzerkampfwagen 17R 730c(f).
Captured tanks (Beute Panzerkampfwagen) were put in active service with special captured tank units (formed in May of 1940) of Panzer or Infantry Divisions in various roles such as reconnaissance. Other vehicles were converted into weapon carriers and artillery tractors, while some were used for training purposes, policing duties, and sometimes target practice.

About the Name

A numerical block system was used to classify captured equipment. Known as the Kennblatter Fremdengerat, this listing used number categories to label foreign vehicles. Vehicle listings were divided into the following basic categories:
200 – Armored cars
300 – Halftracked vehicles
400 – Armored halftracked vehicles
600 – Fully-tracked artillery tractors
630 – Armored artillery tractors
700 – Tanks
800 – Gun Carriers / Self-Propelled Guns
In addition to the number system, letters were also used. Letters were used to recognize the previous user, not specifically the producer, of a certain piece of the equipment. The letter system was as follows:
(b) – Belgien – Belgium
(f) – Frankreich – France
(t) – Tschechoslowakei – Czechoslovakia
(e) – England / Kanada – Great Britain / Canada
(u) – Ungarn – Hungary
(j) – Jugoslawisch – Yugoslavia
(i) – Italien – Italy
(h) – Holland – Netherlands
(p) – Polen – Poland
(r) – Russland – Soviet Union
(a) – Amerika – United States of America
In the Renault FT‘s case, the standard FT was renamed to Panzerkampfwagen 17R 730(f) and the FT Modifié 31 was renamed to Panzerkampfwagen 18R 730(f). The “17R” and “18R” were used to differentiate the two variants from each other. The designation number 730 is a subcategory of tanks, its precise meaning being Light Tank. Additionally, the PzKpfw 17R 730(f) also had two subcategories that distinguished between cannon and machine gun variants. 730c was the cannon variant and 730m mounted the machine gun.
Inspecting a captured FT.
Inspecting a captured FT.

The FT in German Service

After the fall of France, the Wehrmacht captured a total of 1,704 standard and Modifie 31 Renault FT tanks. They were redesignated and painted in feldgrau (field-grey). The Balkenkreuz (Iron Cross) was also painted on the side of the turret or sides and rear of the hull. Some later units in France were painted with dark green stripes. In 1941, the Luftwaffe received 100 FTs for safety and protection duties at aerodromes and facilities. FTs given to the Luftwaffe were given WL license plates on the nose or the left side of the hull near the rear.
PanzerKampfwagen 18R 730(f) belonging to the Luftwaffe
PanzerKampfwagen 18R 730(f) belonging to the Luftwaffe.
All captured FT Modifié 31 tanks which were not allocated to the Vichy police forces were taken over by the Wehrmacht. Some served as training machines. Others, often rearmed with a more potent machine gun, served as airfield guarding vehicles, snow ploughs, deployed in counter-insurgency forces, armored trains and for police duties in all of Europe and some even fought during the Paris uprising in August 1944.

Other Captured FT’s

Apart from France, FTs were captured from Belgium, whose FTs were still in storage depots during the 1940s campaign, and Poland, which had about 100 FTs still in inventory. Germany even captured Polish FTs that were heavily modified, like some that were mounted on rails to serve as armored draisines. Other FTs were captured from Yugoslavia, which had 56 unmodified FTs during the German invasion in 1941. Some Yugoslav FTs captured by the Germans were recaptured (3rd hand) by Allied forces and used against the Germans.
Two captured Yugoslavian FT's with a German soldier posing in the picture
Two captured Yugoslavian FT’s with a German soldier posing in the picture.
It appears that the numerical block system was not used as strictly as intended, because so far no captured Belgium, Yugoslav, or Polish Renault FTs have surfaced with (b), (j), or (p) suffixes. If the Germans were consistent in their nomenclature, they would have still maintained issuing suffixes relating to the country of manufacturing origin, not where the equipment was captured. This is true for many other captured weapons and vehicles.

Sources

Axis History
The PIBWL military site
Beutepanzer
El gran capitán – Historical military website
Operation Priority, a database on the Renault FT and its variants

Gallery

American soldier poses next to a recaptured FTGerman soldier looking under the hood of a PanzerKampfwagen 18R 730(f).Polish Renault FT originally belonging to armored train Nr.11 or Nr.14., captured in Łowicz area. The inscriptions are in German. Note the Hotchkiss HMG tripod on top of the engine compartment.Polish Renault FT originally belonging to armored train. Note the turret bulges on the sides of the gun mount, an identifying piece of Polish FT's.Various captured Polish armored draisines.Various captured Polish armored draisines.Various captured Polish armored draisines.PanzerKampfwagen 18R 730(f) recaptured by Allied forces in France.Various captured Polish armored draisines.Captured FT at a German training camp.PzKpfw 17R 730c(f)

PanzerKampfwagen 17R 730(f), from a driver’s training unit in France, 1943
PanzerKampfwagen 17R 730(f), from a driver’s training unit in France, 1943.

PanzerKampfwagen 730(f), France, winter 1944
PanzerKampfwagen 730(f), France, winter 1944.

Sicherungsfahrzeug FT 731(f) used for police operations, now preserved in a museum
Sicherungsfahrzeug FT 731(f) used for police operations, now preserved in a museum

PzKpfw. 18R 730(f) Patrol tank of the Luftwaffe, France, 1940
PzKpfw. 18R 730(f) Patrol tank of the Luftwaffe, France, 1940

Captured FT Armament and Usage

Armament
Most PzKpfw 17R 730(f)s kept their original French armament. FTs captured from other nations than France still maintained the French armament given to them. The PzKpfw 17R 730c(f) kept the Puteaux SA 1918 37 mm gun, which had no modifications and remained unchanged throughout its use in German hands. Most PzKpfw 17R 730m(f) kept their 8 mm Hotchkiss machine gun, but some did mount the MG 08/15, a lighter and portable version of the MG 08. The machine gun housing was adjusted to mount this weapon, in both the PzKpfw 17R 730m(f) and PzKpfw 18R 730(f).
Usage
In total, the many uses for the Panzerkampfwagen 17R/18R 730(f) were reconnaissance, command, policing, training, train escorts, airfield protection, or mobile posts for artillery. None were used for frontline combat as the Renault FT was already fading into obsolescence by the 1920s, however FTs were used in the Paris and Serbian uprising in the 1940s.
Destroyed German FT at the Luxembourg Palace
Destroyed German FT at the Luxembourg Palace.
The Luftwaffe deployed their 100 FTs throughout Europe as follows:
– 45 in western France
– 30 between northern France and Belgium
– 25 in the Netherlands
Captured FT abandoned at an aerodrome in Antwerp (Belgium) in 1944
Captured FT abandoned at an aerodrome in Antwerp (Belgium) in 1944.
In April 1941, another 100 Renault FTs were distributed by the German units defending the French coast in the Channel area and eight of these vehicles were distributed in July to the British Channel Islands, which were occupied by the Germans since 1940. These tanks provided a weak armored core to the units defending the coast, in addition to performing surveillance and defense work of facilities or aerodromes. Due to the slowness of the vehicle and above all its vulnerability, the remaining 100 FTs were used as fortifications, being buried in numerous points of the coastal defense.

FT serving as a coastal defense bunker.
A small batch of FTs were sent to occupied Norway. Similar to the FTs in France, the tanks were placed into units to provide a weak armored core and were later used to fortify points on the Norwegian coast.
A pair of PzKpfw 17R 730c(f) in Norway.
A pair of PzKpfw 17R 730c(f) in Norway.
After the surrender of France, 64 FTs were sent to Italy. The cars were deposited in the 1st Automotive Center of Turin. The Italians already had a tank based on the FT, the FIAT 3000, but did not distribute them among their units. Instead, they were used as targets for testing anti-tank munitions at the Cirié Artillery Experiment Center in Turin. In May 1941, the Germans prepared 20 FTs to be sent to Crete. However, these tanks never arrived on the island.
30 German FTs attached to Panzer-Kompanie Z.b.V 12 were sent to Yugoslavia to fight against the partisans. The FTs deployed in Yugoslavia were decommissioned at the end of 1942, but were reused as parts for armored trains. Precisely at the end of the war, on May 8, 1945 in Prague, the SS Kampfverband Wallenstein used an improvised armored train with three tanks in which at least one FT was used against the Czech insurgents. The Czech rebels managed to disable the FT, being one of the last vehicles destroyed in combat during World War II in Europe.
A pair of PzKpfw 17R 730c(f) in Norway.
German FT serving on an armored train in Prague.
An unknown number of FTs from France and Poland were employed by the Germans in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and some survived to 1943.
PanzerKampfwagen 18R 730(f) used for rear area defence. Luzk town, Wolhynien area, Ukraine, Soviet Union, 1943.
PanzerKampfwagen 18R 730(f) used for rear area defence. Luzk town, Wolhynien area, Ukraine, Soviet Union, 1943.

German Modifications

Apart from armament modification, Germany added some minor improvements to the exterior of the vehicle. Upon capture, the Renault FT did not have headlights for maneuvering in dark environments, and the Germans noted that the vehicles had trouble traveling at dusk without a light source, so Germany produced field modifications to fix this issue. Some FTs were mounted with carbide lamps on the front of the nose in an armored housing. Other FTs in Yugoslavia had a single headlight mounted to the left of the nose.
PzKpfw 18R 730(f) with lamp modification
PzKpfw 18R 730(f) with lamp modification.
Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

Categories
WW2 German Light Tanks

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) Ausf.B-S

Germany (1939)
Light Tank – 1,414 Built

Export first: The THN series

CKD had already began studies to replace the LT vz.35 by 1935, which led to several prototypes. In an effort to finance future production and part of the development at affordable costs, export versions, under the factory name “TNH“, were designed, revised under contract, and sold in moderate quantities to many countries. These included Iran (TNHP), Peru (LTP), Switzerland (LTH, then renamed Panzer 38, and G3 after the war), and Lithuania (LTL). Unfortunately for the latter, deliveries didn’t take place before the invasion by the USSR, and the vehicles were later sold to the Slovakian army as the CKD LT vz.40. Sweden, a competitor on the tank market, also delivered engines for some these exports. They ordered a single TNH-S built with a Scania-Vabis engine for extensive testing. After the collapse and occupation of Czechoslovakia, they purchased 90 TNH-S, but the delivery was seized by the Germans, which renamed this series Panzer 38(t) Ausf.S. Nevertheless, the Swedes were compensated with a production licence and built the Strv m/41 and the Sav m/43 SPG in 1943-44. Around 274 of both versions left the Scania-Vabis factory.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

Hello, dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

Design of the Škoda LT vz.38

The CKD (Praga) LT vz.38 design was straightforward and only based on well-proven solutions. The most distinctive feature was its suspension, consisting of two-pairs of cold sprung bogies with massive roadwheels. The size of these was seen as a benefit for protection, ease of maintenance and cost, compared to the over-complicated wheeltrain and suspensions system of the LT vz.35. It was an inspiration for the German designers of the Panzer II. However, they used a torsion arm system instead.

The hull was mostly riveted, compartmentalized, with the engine at the rear and a transmission tunnel running to the front drive sprockets. The THN late export versions had three return rollers, but the LT vz.38 had two, the rear one being dropped and the relatively narrow tracks, lightly tightened. Armament comprised the fast-firing Skoda A7 37 mm (1.46 in) gun with 90 rounds, both HE and AP. It was flanked by an independent ball-mounted compact Škoda vz.38 machine gun, a second one being mounted in the bow. Total provision for these was around 3000 rounds. The TNHPS, or LT vz.38, was poised to enter service with the Czech army. On July, 1, 1938, 150 were ordered, but failed to be delivered because of the German invasion. Many vz.38s of the first original batch were later given to the Slovakian army.

Production under German supervision

Although the Germans were impressed by the design, the Praga-Škoda lines were reorganized under their control, and the design of the new LTM 38 was revised while production was running. Modifications included a rearranged and roomier turret, holding a third crew-member, the commander being spared of any other tasks. Also added were an intercom system, a new German radio set, a revised commander cupola, modified sights, and new external fixations. These vehicles were renamed Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) in January 1940.

Main variants

Despite the fact that no less than eight main versions (Ausführung) of the Panzer 38(t) existed, not including the Ausf.S intended for the Swedish army, there are few differences between them, even to an exerted eye. The first Ausf.A (entirely riveted construction) was produced to an extent of 150 machines from May to November 1939, and the next batch of Ausf.B (110), C(110) and D (105) were produced from January to November 1940. They were very similar, except for some detail modifications, like external fittings, improved commander cupola, sights, a new headlight and a half-riveted, half-welded construction. But all had in common the main Czech Skoda KwK 38(t) L\48 gun and two vz.38 machine guns. Protection was slightly improved, but was limited to 30 mm (1.18 in).

The Ausf.E(275) and F(250), built between November 1940 and October 1941, were up-armored to 50 mm (1.97 in), with an extra bolted-on 25 mm (0.98 in) appliqué armor on the frontal glacis. The turret mantlet and front were also thickened. New larger storage boxes and fixation points were added on the mudguards. The Ausf.S (May-December 1941) was an offshot initially built for Sweden, but confiscated and incorporated in the Wehrmacht. The Ausf.G was the last “regular” version, with the same armor, but better protection distribution and a nearly all-welded hull. This was the most prolific series, 321 being delivered by CKD-Praga from October 1941 to June 1942. 179 more were delivered as chassis and later transformed into SPGs. After that, new up-armored chassis (Ausf.H,K,L,M) were used for conversions.

The Panzer 38(t) in action

The Panzer 38(t) came as a welcome addition to the existing models. They equipped frontline Panzerdivision units, but were not tactically used in the same fashion as the Panzer I and II. They were mostly involved in vanguard and flanking actions, where their antitank capabilities and better protection made them suitable for providing local infantry support and to deal with most light tanks and armored vehicles. They earned a high reputation of reliability among tank crews, and were simple and easy to maintain and repair. They were also agile and sturdy, with finely tuned components and a generally excellent building quality. Their limitations appeared on the Eastern Front in 1942, when dealing with more and more T-34 tanks, as the shortage of medium tanks meant the Panzer 38(t) was often engaged in desperate situations against vehicles which it was not designed to deal with.

The first Ausf.As saw action in Poland with the 3rd Leichte Division. In Norway, they formed a large part of the XXXI Armee Korps. In France, they were engaged mainly with various units of the 7 and 8th Panzerdivions, and later with the latter unit in the Balkans, April-May 1941. But the real test came with Operation Barbarossa, were they equipped the 6th, 7th, 8th, 12th, 19th and 20th Panzer Division. It was clear by 1942 that their capabilities were limited in regular combat, and they were more and more relegated to pure reconnaissance missions and rearguard actions. By then, CKD Praga-Škoda proposed a new modernized version, the Pz.Kpfw.38(t) nA (or Neuer Art), but this version was rejected and instead the production of chassis turned to other, rather successful variants. They were also largely distributed to other Axis countries, including Hungary (102), Slovakia (69), Romania (50) and Bulgaria (10). All fought on the Russian front, until the very end of the war.

A popular basis: chassis adaptations

The Praga/Škoda Panzer 38(t) proved to be a reliable platform, declined into all kinds of vehicles the Wehrmacht required during the war. For example, the Sd.Kfz. 138/139 (Marder III), using a German 75 mm (2.95 in) or a Soviet 76 mm (3 in) gun, were early generation tank-hunters, improvized SPGs with weak armor, replaced later in the war by the mass-produced Jagdpanzer 38(t). This derivative was a highly successful, sleek and sloped, low-profile, tank hunter. SPGs, AA, scout, recovery and command versions were also produced in great numbers.

In total, the two Czech industry giants, Škoda and Praga-CKD, produced around 6591 AFVs derived from the original chassis under German occupation, including the “standard” Panzer 38(t). At the same time, conversions meant that 351 surplus turret had to be reused, mostly in fixed positions, fortifications and pillboxes in many occupied countries, like along the Atlantic wall. Prototypes included the Morsertrager 38(t) Ausf.M, Schwerer and leichter Raupenschlepper Praga T-9, Munitionsschlepper 38(t) and the Befehlswagen 38(t).

Marder III

This famous tank-hunter was declined into two versions, Sd.Kfz.138 and 139, armed, respectively, with a German Pak 40 and a Russian Pak 36(r). (1500 built 1942-44)

Grille

A SPH designed for infantry support, based on the Panzer 38(t) Ausf.H and M late chassis versions. (383 built 1943-44)

Munitionspanzer 38(t) (Sf) Ausf.K/M

The tender version which accompanied the Grille, which had no room to carry their ammo.

Jagdpanzer 38(t)

Army designation Sd.Kfz.138/2, a really efficient and prolific small tank hunter. (2827 built 1943-45)

Flakpanzer 38(t)

The Flakpanzer 38(t) was an AA derivative, armed with a single 20 mm (0.79 in) Flak 38 autocannon. (141 built 1944-45)

Aufklärungspanzer 38(t)

Specialized reconnaissance versions. Aufklärungspanzer 38(t) mit 2cm KwK 38 (50-70 built) and Aufklärungspanzer 38(t) mit 7.5cm KwK 37 (only 2 prototypes). (52 or 72 built 1944-45)

Flammpanzer 38(t)

Around twenty built in 1944 on late Panzer 38(t)s.

Bergepanzer 38(t)

A salvage version. Around 170 were converted using existing chassis in 1944-45.

Pz.Kpfw. 38(t) Schulfahrwanne

Some chassis (perhaps 100-150) were converted in late 1942 and 1943 as training turretless tanks.

Links/Src
The Panzer 38(t) on Wikipedia
The Panzer 38(t) on Achtung Panzer

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) specifications

Dimensions 4.61 x 2.13 x 2.25 m (15ft x 7ft x 7ft 4in)
Total weight, battle ready 9.7-9.8 tons
Crew 4 (commander, loader, driver, radio operator/bow gunner)
Propulsion Praga Typ TNHPS/II 6-cylinder gasoline, 125 bhp (92 kW)
Speed (on/off road) 42/15 km/h (26/9 mph)
Suspension Leaf spring type
Armament 37 mm (1.46 in) KwK 38 L47
2 x 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Zb53 machine-guns
Armor 30-50 mm maximum (1.18-1.97 in)
Max Range on/off road 250/100 km (160/62 mi)
Total production 1414

Slovakian LT vz.38
LT vz.38 under Slovakian colors, 1940. None of the models were delivered in time to enter service with the Czech army.

Panzer 38(t) Ausf.B
Panzer 38(t) Ausf.B, Rommels’s 7th Panzerdivision, French Campaign, May 1940.

Panzer 38(t) Ausf.C.
Panzer 38(t) Ausf.C, 8th Panzerdivision, French Campaign, May-June 1940.

Panzer 38(t) Ausf.D
Panzer 38(t) Ausf.D, the last version armored with 30 mm (1.18 in) of maximum armor, Moscow, Russia, winter 1942/42.

Panzer 38(t) Ausf.E
Ausf.E in Russia, autumn 1941.

Panzer 38(t) Ausf.F
Panzer 38(t) Ausf.F, 20th Panzerdivision, Kharkov sector, summer 1942. The sand beige livery was not unusual in the Southern Ukrainian steppe.

Panzer 38(t) Ausf.G
A Panzer 38(t) Ausf.G, western Ukraine, summer 1943. The G was the last and most prolific version. Production stopped in June 1942. By then, surviving units were used only for reconnaissance and anti-partisan warfare.

Hungarian Panzer 38(t)
Panzer 38(t) Ausf.G, Royal Hungarian Army, 30th Tank Regiment, 6th Company – 1942, Don area, Russia.


Aufklärungspanzer-38(t), a 1939 derivative of the Panzer 38(t) used for quick reconnaissance on the Eastern front. Contrary to the usual wheeled SdKfz 221/222/223 this tracked vehicle could cope with muddy or snowy terrain.

Hetzer
A famous derivative, the Jagdpanzer 38(t) (Sd.Kfz. 138/2), also incorrectly known as the Hetzer. This was the most popular offspring of the Panzer 38(t) family, being produced up to 2800 machines by CKD-Skoda until the end of the war. It was armed with a 75 mm (2.95 in) Pak 39 L/48 and protected by well-sloped 40-60 mm (1.57-2.36 in) of armor.

Gallery

A Panzer 38(t) in June 1941, during the early days of Operation Barbarossa.

Panzer 38(t) video


Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

Categories
WW2 German Light Tanks

Panzer I Ausf.C to F

Germany (1934)
Light Tank – 1,493 Built

General conception

After Hitler’s victory in the 1933 elections, Germany started rearming and expanding its army. Due to the treaty of Versailles, the German army wasn’t allowed to have any tanks when Hitler came to power. Officially called the Sd.Kfz.101 (Sonderkraftfahrzeug/Special-Purpose Vehicle), the Panzer I became the first mass-produced tank of the Wehrmacht. In 1933, after extensive trials, production of the Sd.Kfz.101 began.

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Panzer I Ausf.C

Although still called the Panzer I the Ausf.C version was a very different vehicle. It had torsion-bar suspension with large interleaved road wheels. It had a more powerful Maybach HL45 150 hp engine. These new features gave the tank a top road speed of 65 km/h even though the armour thickness had been doubled, compared to the PzKpfw I Ausf B, to 30 mm at the front of the tank.
A long-barrelled 7.92 mm E.W.141 self-loading semi-automatic machine gun was mounted in the turret next to a standard 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun. It was intended to be used by the Luftlandetruppen (Airborne troops) and the Kolonial Panzertruppen (Colonial Armoured Troops). In early 1943 two were sent to the Eastern Front for combat evaluation. In 1944 the other 38 were issued to LVIII Panzer Reserve Korps which fought in Normandy.
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank
Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf.C light tank
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank in Dunkelgelb dark yellow.
Panzer I Ausf.C
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank of the LVIII Panzer Reserve Corps, which fought in Normandy in 1944. With the help of the bocage and their high velocity armament, they gave good account of themselves. This tanks gun has a dirt cover over the barrel used in long drives outside the combat area.

Panzer I Ausf.C specifications

Dimensions 4.19 m x 1.92 m x 1.94 m
(13 ft 9 in x 6 ft 3 in x 6 ft 4 in)
Weight 8 tonnes
Armament left barrel 7.92 mm Einbauwaffe 141 MG machine gun
Armament right barrel 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun
Crew 2 (driver/commander-machine-gunner)
Armor 10 mm – 30 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL45P 150 hp
Maximum Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Range 300 km (186 miles)
Total production 40

Panzer I Ausf.F

The Panzer I Ausf F had additional protective armour: the front armour was now 80 mm thick. It was intended to be used against fortified strongpoints and have a weight limit of 18 tonnes so that it could safely drive over army engineers combat bridges. In September 1942 seven were reported as being used on the Eastern Front, near Leningrad. Five more were sent in January 1943. An additional 11 were sent to the Eastern Front with two other units between Aug – Nov 1943. One is preserved at the Kubinka museum, another in Belgrade.
Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf.F
Panzer I Ausf.F light tank of the 1st Panzer Division at Kursk

Panzer I Ausf.F specifications

Dimensions 4.38 m x 2.64 m x 2.05 m
(14 ft 4 in x 8 ft 8 in x 6 ft 8 in)
Weight 21 tonnes
Armament two 7.92 mm MG34 machine guns
Crew 2 (driver/commander-machine-gunner)
Armor 25 mm – 80 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL45P 150 hp
Maximum Speed 25 km/h (15 mph)
Range 150 km (93 miles)
Total production 30

The Panzer I in Spain

After the Civil War broke out in 1936, the two opposing sides quickly found themselves supported by friendly countries, which desired to test their equipment and tactics. For obvious ideological reasons, the Soviet Union quickly chose to support the Republican Front and sent waves of T-26s, a Russian derivative of the Vickers 6-ton. On the other side, the Nationalist Forces were supported by Germany and Italy. Italy sent dozens of CV-33 tankettes, with Germany sending the then only tank available. Approximately forty-five Panzer I Ausf.A tanks were sent, followed by seventy-seven Ausf.B tanks. Most of were delivered to the Gruppe Imker, the tank unit of the Condor Legion under Hugo Sperrle. The Spanish forces dubbed them “Negrillos”, due to their dark grey paint. Most were quickly painted in a new lighter scheme.
The first engagement that the Panzer I took part in was the battle of Madrid. Here, the Nationalist forces managed to defeat the Republicans, despite the Panzer I being inferior to the T-26. Only at very short range and using AP rounds could the Russian tanks be taken out. Col. Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma even offered rewards for every captured T-26, so he could bolster his unit’s abilities.
In August 1937, General Pallasar received a request from Franco to upgrade several Panzer Is with the 20 mm (0.79 in) Breda model 1935. Only four were converted at the Armament Factory of Seville in September 1937, and further orders were suspended due the large number of T-26 tanks available by then. The Panzer I remained in service with the Spanish until 1954, when it was replaced by the M47 Patton.

Links

The Panzer I on Wikipedia
A list of surviving examples today

Kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen
A kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen or light command tank. Based on Ausf.B hulls, around 200 of these high profile, fast command tanks were built. They led Panzer Is in Poland, France, the Balkans, Africa and Russia. The last were still in use in 1943 for urban police duties in many European cities.
Panzerjäger I
The Panzerjäger I was based on the Ausf.B chassis and was the earliest German tank-hunter.
siG 33
The sIG 33 auf Panzer I Ausf.B was probably the most overloaded platform ever to carry a howitzer.
Flakpanzer I
Flakpanzer I, Flak Abteilung 614, Stalingrad sector, Ukraine, January 1942.

Gallery

Panzer I Ausf.APanzer I Ausf.FPanzerbefehlswagen IPanzer I Ausf.A

Panzer I Ausf.C

Panzer I Ausf.C
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank (Bundesarchiv)
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank (Filip Hronec)
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank captured by US troops in Normandy
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank captured by US troops in Normandy.The machine guns have been removed.(NARA)
Rear view of the Panzer I Ausf.C light tank captured by US troops in Normandy
Rear view of the Panzer I Ausf.C light tank captured by US troops in Normandy.(NARA)

Video


Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2