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WW2 German Panzer I

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

German Reich (1936-1941)
Light Tank – 399 Built + 147 Converted

The Panzer I Ausf.B can be seen as a direct improvement to its predecessor, the Ausf.A, featuring a water-cooled engine, an upgraded suspension, and a modified rear. The Ausf.Bs shared a similar fate and combat history as the Ausf.A, seeing service in Spain, Poland, France, and lastly, the USSR, where their participation in combat ended. After that, along with its previous version, the Ausf.B was used for garrison roles and training purposes.

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 Panzer I

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

German Reich (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 Panzer I

Panzer I Ausf.C to F

German Reich (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