“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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. D.1. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Czechoslovakia/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.
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 a British Carden-Loyd Mk.VI tankette. After a series of tests and evaluations, ČKD produced its own 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, 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 tank 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, giving them a P-1 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Panzer 38(t) Ausf.A specifications
4.6 m x 2.12 m x 2.4 m
(15ft 1in x 6ft 11in x 7ft 10in)
4 Commander/Loader, Gunner, Radio Operator/hull machine gunner and Driver
3.7 cm KwK 38(t) L/48.7 gun
2x 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine-guns
front 25 mm, sides and rear 15 mm and top 10 mm
front 25 mm, sides 15 mm, rear 15 mm and the top and bottom 8 mm
Praga EPA 265 HP @ 2600 rpm petrol/gasoline engine
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.
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
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
4.90×2.06×2.37 m (16.1×6.8ftx7.84 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
up to 10.5 tons
4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader/radio)
Škoda Typ 11/0 4-cylinder gasoline, 120 bhp (89 kW)
Speed (on/off road)
34 km/h (21 mph)
Leaf spring type
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
Germany (1940) Light Tank – Approx. 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
PanzerKampfwagen 17R 730(f), from a driver’s training unit in France, 1943.
PanzerKampfwagen 730(f), France, winter 1944.
Sicherungsfahrzeug FT 731(f) used for police operations, now preserved in a museum
PzKpfw. 18R 730(f) Patrol tank of the Luftwaffe, France, 1940
Captured FT Armament and Usage
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Germans Tanks of ww2
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.
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).
4 (commander, loader, driver, radio operator/bow gunner)
Praga Typ TNHPS/II 6-cylinder gasoline, 125 bhp (92 kW)
Speed (on/off road)
42/15 km/h (26/9 mph)
Leaf spring type
37 mm (1.46 in) KwK 38 L47
2 x 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Zb53 machine-guns
30-50 mm maximum (1.18-1.97 in)
Max Range on/off road
250/100 km (160/62 mi)
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, Rommels’s 7th Panzerdivision, French Campaign, May 1940.
Panzer 38(t) Ausf.C, 8th Panzerdivision, French Campaign, May-June 1940.
Panzer 38(t) Ausf.D, the last version armored with 30 mm (1.18 in) of maximum armor, Moscow, Russia, winter 1942/42.
Ausf.E in Russia, autumn 1941.
Panzer 38(t) Ausf.F, 20th Panzerdivision, Kharkov sector, summer 1942. The sand beige livery was not unusual in the Southern Ukrainian steppe.
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.
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.
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.
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. In 1936 it got its modern name, the Panzerkampfwagen I Ausführung A (Ausf.A). The first fifteen were delivered without turrets, for training purpose only. Mass-production of the proper military model began later.
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!
The first Panzer
The Panzer I was the very first in a long line of tanks. The only other German tank at the time was the sluggish and massive Neubaufahrzeug. Its story is linked to the 1919 treaty of Versailles, which severely reduced the abilities of the German Army to rebuild a potent army. The total amount of soldiers allowed was reduced, so that only a police and defensive token force could be maintained. However, many officers saw in these limitations the potential to build a new small, but well-equipped and very well trained, professional army. Due to the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forbidden from owning any kind of tanks. But, despite the fact that the few tanks built in 1917-18 never had the power to change the outcome of the Great War, the potential of this new weapon was well-understood.
In 1930, Krupp was selected by Waffenpruefwesen 6 (the automotive and tank design office of the German army) to work on the design of a small light tracked tractor named Kleintraktor. It was to be equipped with a 20 mm (0.79 in) auto-cannon, powered by a 60 hp engine and weigh no more than 3000 kg. A year later, in 1931, Krupp sent a description of the Kleintraktor-Fahrgestell (chassis) to Wa.Prw.6. A description of the superstructure was promised after the construction of a wooden model.
The Krupp Kleintraktor was described as a fast and manoeuvrable tracked vehicle that weighed about 3.5 tons and could achieve 45 km/h (28 mph). The hull was made of steel sheets welded together. It was armed with a 20 mm (0.79 in) auto-cannon and carried 500 rounds.
As development proceeded, several prototypes were made, and faults were removed from the tank. The turret was redesigned to fit 2 machine guns and armor was increased. In 1933, the Panzer I was considered ready and an order was placed for 150 training tanks, with another 1000 combat-ready tanks being ordered the following year. Neither of these orders were fully delivered.
This first model came into production in late 1934, and continued until early 1936. Around 800 were built, having several limitations. The armor was insufficient, being only 13 mm (0.51 in) at its thickest. There were problems with the early suspension, making the tank pitch backwards at high speeds. There were also concerns about the propulsion, overheating, the commander being both gunner and loader of the two machine guns, and communication going through old-fashion vocal tubes. With its two machine guns, light armor and speed, these machines were nothing more than training and scout tanks. Despite this, most of them fought in regular Panzer divisions alongside the improved Ausf.B until late 1941.
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’s a late production Ausf.A from the XXIst Panzer Division. Notice the uniform beige low quality paint, already attacked by sand, and the large identifications numbers still over the original European feldgrau tone. (Note it only has four road wheels)
Ausf.B and variants
The Ausf.B was an improved version of the first model. It appeared in 1936 and was built until 1938, with around 675 machines produced. The main difference was a longer chassis (by 40 cm) with one more road wheel, in order to accommodate a much more reliable and powerful water-cooled, six-cylinder Maybach NL 38 TR delivering 90 bhp, along with a new gearbox. The suspension was also largely improved. The weight rose to 5.8 tons, but neither the armament nor armor were modified. During the war, the ‘main’ version of the Panzer I was the Ausf.A. Soon, both Ausf.A and B served as basis for sub-versions and adaptations, such as the kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen, or light command tanks, which had their turret replaced by a larger superstructure. In 1940, several Panzer I Ausf.Bs were rearmed with the Czech 47 mm (1.85 in) gun, resulting in the Panzerjäger I tank hunter. Other were equipped the 15cm sIG and became the heavy artillery carrier 15 cm sIG 33 (Sf) auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B, which was designed to destroy fortifications with its 150 mm (5.9 in) howitzer. The resulting tank had a very high profile, only partial crew protection, and both the chassis and propulsion were highly overloaded.
Panzer 1 Ausf.B light tank of the III Corps, IV Panzer Division, Lillehammer, Norway, February 1940. Brown and feldgrau (usual cyan-grey livery) was common in operations in early 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)
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 in Dunkelgelb dark yellow.
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
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)
Armament left barrel
7.92 mm Einbauwaffe 141 MG machine gun
Armament right barrel
7.92 mm MG34 machine gun
10 mm – 30 mm
Maybach HL45P 150 hp
40 km/h (25 mph)
300 km (186 miles)
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.
Panzer I Ausf.F light tank of the 1st Panzer Division at Kursk
Panzer I Ausf.F specifications
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)
two 7.92 mm MG34 machine guns
25 mm – 80 mm
Maybach HL45P 150 hp
25 km/h (15 mph)
150 km (93 miles)
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.
From Poland to Russia
Despite the fact that the Panzer I was conceived as a training tank, it was available in large quantities when the invasion of Poland started. They were used for scouting, spearheading assaults and supporting infantry. Speed, surprise and close aviation support proved efficient against the Polish and after just 5 weeks Poland fell.
In Denmark and Norway, the Panzer I proved very useful due to the lack of good antitank weapons and served for infantry support and scouting. They were still largely available for the campaign of France, but couldn’t take on the vastly superior French tanks head-on. However, they were once again successful due to their speed, communication and tactical use.
In Africa, the first Panzer Is were shipped in February 1941 to Tunis, becoming part of the 15th Panzer Division under Erwin Rommel’s command. As the war raged on, the Panzer I was soon replaced by the Panzer II in the Afrikakorps. They also took part in the Balkan campaign and in July 1941, 410 Panzer Is were part of the three army groups that participated in Operation Barbarossa. After several encounters with the Russian T-34s, KV-1s and the Russian weather, it became obvious that the Panzer I was completely obsolete and the last surviving units were converted to support vehicles or used for police duties and training.
In 1942, Hungary received 14 Panzer I Ausf.Bs and command versions, which were used to fight the Russians in Ukraine. Other later versions, such as the Ausf.C and Ausf.F, saw service until the end of 1944, as well as special versions like the Panzerjäger I and the impressive sIG 33 auf Panzer I Ausf.B howitzer carrier. Some African Panzer Is were converted to Flammenwerfer auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf A (flamethrowers), which fought at Tobruk. Others served as munition carriers in Russia (Munitionsschlepper I Ausf.A ) and some were converted into AA batteries, like the Flakpanzer I, equipped with the 20 mm (0.79 in) Flak 38 L/112.5 gun. Ultimately 24 were built and fought in Ukraine and Stalingrad, where most were lost.
Although it became obsolete quite fast, the Panzer I formed a large part of Germany’s armored forces and participated in all major campaigns between 1939 and 1941. The tank would soon be surpassed by better known tanks, such as the Panzer IV, Panther and Tiger. Nevertheless, the Panzer I’s contributions to Nazi Germany’s tank development was significant and formed the knowledge base for many different tanks.
One of early production Panzer I Ausf.A light tanks in 1936, with the original tri-tone camouflage.
Panzerkampfwagen I in Spain, Nationalist forces, Legion Condor, “El Negrillo”, June 1938.
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.
The Panzerjäger I was based on the Ausf.B chassis and was the earliest German tank-hunter.
The sIG 33 auf Panzer I Ausf.B was probably the most overloaded platform ever to carry a howitzer. Flakpanzer I, Flak Abteilung 614, Stalingrad sector, Ukraine, January 1942.
Panzer I Ausf.C
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank (Bundesarchiv)
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank (Filip Hronec)
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.(NARA)
Germans Tanks of ww2
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