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WW2 German Panzer II

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.H & Ausf.M (VK9.03)

Germany (1940-1942)
Light/Reconnaissance Tank – At Least One Prototype Hull Completed

At the start of the Second World War, the Panzer I and Panzer II light tanks far outnumbered any of the other tanks in the German inventory. Lightly armed and armored, these fragile machines were already nearing obsolescence by the time Poland was invaded in September 1939. Conscious of the fact that these tanks required modernisation if they were to remain viable into the future, in the late 1930s, German engineers embarked upon a plethora of projects to improve the Panzer I and Panzer II. One of the first attempts was the VK9.01, a project begun in 1938 to enhance the mobility of the Panzer II by introducing technologically advanced automotive components and a new suspension into the design. Conceived in July 1940, the VK9.03 was the next major iteration of this series, featuring marginally thicker armor and a more powerful engine than its predecessor. Despite these limited improvements, the VK9.03 came close to gaining approval for mass production as both the Panzer II neuer Art (new model) Ausf.H and the Panzer II Ausf.M.

Like the rest of the VK9 family of tanks, the design of the VK9.03 was closely intertwined with the tank design philosophy of Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp, an influential engineer and a leading figure in the Heeres Waffenamt (Army Ordnance Department). Following Kniepkamp’s belief that speed and firepower were of paramount importance in tank design, the VK9 series was designed to incorporate the latest automotive technology developed by German engineers, such as new transmissions and steering systems. In theory, this sophisticated technology would create a more mobile platform that was easier for its crews to operate. In reality, the immature, temperamental automotive components proved to be an unending nightmare for the tanks’ crews.

Yet even before the technological problems became apparent, the VK9.03 lived a precarious existence. Right from the moment of its inception in July 1940, it was merely one project among a litany of contradictory and seemingly mutually exclusive designs aimed at creating a new model Panzer II. At the same time as the VK9.03 was struggling to get off the drawing board, work was ongoing on several more promising new model Panzer II projects, such as the VK13 series with its more spacious interior and four-man crew. Moreover, operational experience in the Polish and French campaigns had raised questions over the utility of such lightly armed and armored tanks outside the sphere of reconnaissance. In light of these realities, it would appear miraculous that the VK9.03 project was even approved, let alone considered for mass production, were it not for the muddled and irrational state of German tank procurement; a circumstance that allowed projects such as the VK9.03 to gain their own momentum irrespective of wider economic considerations and the needs of the troops in the field.

Castles in the Sky: The Transformation of German Tank Procurement

The early war Nazi economy was beset by problems and inefficiencies caused by a contradictory ‘guns and butter’ policy, overlapping administrative jurisdictions, and the mismanagement of resources. These underlying structural issues that afflicted the Nazi state were reflected in the disorganized nature of the German tank procurement system of 1940. It was in this context that the visionary and talented engineer Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp came to prominence.

As the chief of Waffen Prüfen 6 (Wa Prüf 6), a subdivision of the Heeres Waffenamt (Army Ordnance Department) responsible for overseeing the design of new tanks and other motorized vehicles, Kniepkamp was involved in nearly all of the major German AFV projects of the Second World War. Under his stewardship, this department of engineers came to usurp the authority of Inspektorat 6 (In 6), the Army’s procurement office for armored vehicles and other such similar equipment. Whereas In 6 had previously determined which kinds of tanks the Heer needed and Wa Prüf 6 had merely translated these stipulations into engineering specifications, by the late 1930s, Wa Prüf 6 began to assume greater control over what types of tanks should be produced. This outsized influence resulted in a situation where tanks were designed less in accordance with Army requirements than with the whims and wishes of the engineers in Wa Prüf 6 and the design firms. Consequently, the doors were opened to a smorgasbord of projects, many of which were technologically sophisticated, yet also in many cases impractical, unnecessary, and unwanted.

In a typical example of this design frenzy, by the end of 1939, the design firm Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (M.A.N.) was working on three separate projects to improve the Panzer II: the VK9.01 (the future Panzer II Ausf.G), the VK13.01 (which later evolved into the VK13.03, more commonly known as the Panzer II Ausf.L ‘Luchs’), and the more heavily armored V 16.01 (later adopted as the Ausf.J). This is reflective of the lack of oversight and direction in German tank procurement at the time; German engineers could not decide whether an improved Panzer II should be more mobile or if it should have greater armored protection, nor could they figure out whether it should have a three-man or four-man crew. Rather than decide on a specific approach, they simply squandered resources on pursuing all three, despite the inherent overlaps and contradictions among these designs.

Although one might expect that the onset of war would have put paid to this free-for-all in favor of a more rationalized production schedule, the chaos was, if anything, exacerbated. The VK9.03 emerged from this increasingly complex web of intersecting designs and the competing procurement initiatives engendered by this situation.

Note to the reader: Most of the projects to improve the Panzer II received a designation in the VK index. Created by Kniepkamp, this index categorised the configuration of the vehicle (VK/HK – Vollketten/Halbketten – Full-tracked/Half-tracked), its projected weight, and its position in the development cycle. So VK9.03 referred to the third design for a (projected) nine tonne fully-tracked armored vehicle. For the purposes of consistency and clarity, I have elected to use the format VKX.0X or VKXX.0X when referring to VK index numbers in this article. Publications and period documents refer to VK designations in a multitude of different ways, thus VK901 or V.K.901 can both be considered ‘correct’ alternatives to VK9.01.


Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp in uniform. After receiving responsibility for overseeing the creation of new tank designs in 1936, Kniepkamp became one of the most influential figures in German Second World War armored fighting vehicle development. Under Kniepkamp’s guidance, German engineers initiated the designs for several famous tanks, including the Panther, the Tigers, and the various E-series projects. Although nowhere near as well-known as their contemporaries, the VK9.01 and VK9.03 epitomized Kniepkamp’s conception of the ideal light tank. Source: Wikimedia Commons

More of the Same: The VK9.03 Design

In June 1940, not long after the Heeres Waffenamt had delivered the disappointing news to In 6 that mass production of the VK9.01 would not be possible until November 1941, In 6 instructed Wa Prüf 6 to commence work on the VK9.03. With a projected weight of 10.5 tonnes, this new design was to sport thicker armor and a more powerful engine than the VK9.01. However, in nearly all other respects, the characteristics and components remained exactly the same as its predecessor to such an extent that it is quicker to list the differences than it is the similarities.

Even though improved armor protection was stipulated as one of the primary goals of this project, the slight weight expansion did not permit a vast increase in armor thicknesses over the VK9.01. In fact, only the sides of the hull and the rear were to be increased from 14.5 mm to 20 mm, whilst the rest of the armor remained the same with a maximum of 30 mm on the front of the hull. Although the increase in the thickness of the hull sides and rear may have rendered the VK9.03 slightly more resistant to anti-tank rifles, which had knocked-out many Panzer IIs in Poland, this was hardly a massive increase that would drastically increase the survivability of this tank of the battlefield.

The other most significant change implemented in the VK9.03 was the installation of a more powerful Maybach HL 66 P engine. Originally developed in 1938 for the HK (meaning Halbketten – ‘Half-tracked’) 9.01 half-track design, Maybach had manufactured five of these engines by the end of 1940 followed by 14 more in 1941. Rated at 200 hp, this engine was calculated to be capable of providing sufficient power to allow the VK9.03 to attain a maximum road speed of 65 km/h, an impressive speed for a tracked vehicle of that time period. Given that the lighter VK9.01 could reach 67 km/h with its less powerful 150 hp HL 45 engine, this did not really represent an improvement; instead, it merely ensured that the VK9.03 maintained the mobility of its predecessor.

Indeed, on 22 June 1940, engineers attempted to derive the automotive characteristics of the VK9.03 by calculating the effects of installing a Maybach HL 66 engine and a strengthened VG 15319 transmission able to withstand higher torque into a heavier but otherwise unchanged VK9.01 hull. Whereas in these initial studies the VK9.01 suspension was not altered in any way, the Kgs. 61/300/10 tracks of the VK9.01 were eventually exchanged for wider Kgs. 63/360/90 tracks, thereby increasing the wheelbase of the vehicle from 2.00 to 2.08 m.

Aside from these changed characteristics, the VK9.03 remained virtually identical to the VK9.01, retaining the three-man crew (comprising a commander/gunner, radio operator, and driver), and the 2 cm Kw.K. 38 and M.G.34 (Pz.) armament. Due to the disparity in the number of surviving documents between M.A.N. (the designer of the hull) and Daimler-Benz (designer of the turret and superstructure), details concerning the initial design of the turret and superstructure for the VK9.03 are scant. However, given the extensive similarities between the VK9.01 and VK9.03, it is likely that the turret and superstructure would have resembled that fitted to the VK9.01, but this is merely speculation.

Even though the VK9.03 does not appear to have offered any substantial enhancements to the already delayed VK9.01, Wa Prüf 6 had awarded contracts to M.A.N. to design and build five Versuchs-Fahrgestell (trial chassis) and Daimler-Benz to design the Aufbau (turrets and superstructures) by the end of 1940.

Ordered already in June 1940, the first of these VK9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell was to be equipped with the Maybach VG 20417 transmission and the LG 45 L steering unit, the latter of which had already been proposed for the aborted VK9.02. Considered to be at the cutting edge of German automotive technology for the time, these components were specifically selected for the VK9 series in order to deliver the excellent mobility and ease of operation deemed so essential by Kniepkamp. In a cruel twist of irony unbeknownst to the engineers at the time, these ill-fated immature components were to prove a constant source of breakdowns when they were trialed in the VK9.01.


A factory-fresh 0-Serie VK9.01 (adopted as the Panzer II Ausf.G) photographed by Wa Prüf 6 in 1941. The VK9.03 shared many of the features introduced with this design, including the stabilized armament and the torsion bar suspension with overlapping road wheels. Although it is unclear whether or not the VK9.03 was originally intended to use the same superstructure and turret as the VK9.01, it is likely that it would have looked similar given the VK9.03’s overall resemblance to the VK9.01 design. Source: warspot.ru

The Great Expectations: Plans for Mass Production

The numerous similarities between the design of the VK9.01 and VK9.03 were paralleled by the equally ambitious plans for mass production. Formed before the technologically advanced automotive components used by the VK9.01 and VK9.03 had even undergone thorough testing, these lofty schemes envisioned contracts for thousands of tanks that would re-equip the combat reconnaissance units in the Panzer Divisions and the Motorised Infantry Divisions.

As soon as 8 January 1941, by which point the majority of the design drawings for the VK9.03 hull had been completed, the Waffenamt awarded a contract to M.A.N. for the production of 500 VK9.03 hulls. Presumably, Daimler-Benz, which had been tasked with designing the Aufbau on 23 September 1940, also received a production contract for 500 turrets and superstructures to be mated to these hulls. This contract suggests that the VK9.03 had displaced the VK9.01 as the primary candidate for a mass-produced new model of Panzer II, as whilst mass production of the VK9.01 was frequently discussed, a series production contract beyond the 75 0-Series trial hulls never materialized.

Regardless of these optimistic plans, it is important to recognize that by the time this contract had been awarded, M.A.N. was only just on the cusp of completing the first VK9.01 0-Serie hulls that had been ordered over a year ago. This vast chasm between the aspirations for the VK9 project and its tangible results were exposed in an almost comical segment of a meeting concerning the status of developmental vehicles held on 23 May 1941 between M.A.N staff and General Radlmeier, a representative of the Reichsministerium für Bewaffnung und Munition (Reich Ministry of Armaments and Munitions). Perhaps understandably, Radlmeier had visited M.A.N. with the impression that the VK9.03 was ready to progress to series production; after all, according to information available at the Ministry, VK9.03 mass production was to begin in January 1942. It fell to M.A.N. staff to explain to a reportedly ‘very astonished’ Radlmeier that the production of the first five Versuchs-Fahrgestell had only just started, and that M.A.N. had scheduled the production of the first series production VK9.03 for April 1942. In a statement that did not bode well for the innovative and unproven VK9.03, this segment of the report concluded with Radlmeier’s ominous pronouncement that future Panzer production would focus on mass production of mature tank designs on automobile-style assembly lines.

Yet despite this telling indication that the pressures of wartime economic management were starting to militate against novel and technologically complex designs such as the VK9.03, this new model of Panzer II remained firmly entrenched in the Heer’s long-range planning. On 30 May 1941, a document known as the Schwerpunktprogramm (Priority Program – Schwerpunkt being a German term, often used in relation to ‘Blitzkrieg’, that refers to the focal point of a particular effort) outlined the production quantities of all vehicles necessary to fulfil the requirements of the Heeres Panzerprogramm 41 (Army Tank Program 1941). In order to outfit a total of 20 new Panzer Divisions and 10 new Motorised Infantry Divisions, the Waffenamt calculated that the Heer needed 2,592 VK9.03 tanks for combat reconnaissance in Panzer units, as well as another 8,111 VK9.03 armored reconnaissance vehicles for headquarters, infantry, motorized infantry, Panzer, pioneer, reconnaissance, and tank-hunter units. Moreover, 1,483 VK9.03 tanks were to be used for commanding tank-hunter units and for artillery observation in artillery units, not to mention 1,028 chassis for tank destroyers mounting a 5 cm anti-tank gun and 360 chassis for self-propelled 15 cm s.I.G. 33 guns.

Such colossal demands necessitated a correspondingly prodigious production output. To meet these targets, the document declared that 300 Panzer II would need to be completed by April 1942, 1,380 by 1 April 1943, 4,980, by 1 April 1944, and 13,980 by 1 April 1945. In a concession to the inconveniences of reality, it was accepted that production of the standard Panzer II (the Ausf.F) would have to continue until VK9.03 production could begin in earnest, whenever that might be. Unfortunately for these assiduous planners, such targets, if they were ever obtainable in the first place, would require a degree of economic rationalization that, at least in the case of Panzer II development, was sorely lacking among both industry and the Waffenamt.

Rather than prioritize effort on perfecting a single design that would have been suitable for the kind of mass production on assembly lines desired by economists, the Waffenamt continued to pursue multiple projects, without deciding on a clear trajectory for future production. Thus, by August 1941, the contract for 500 VK9.03 had fragmented into a contract for 250 VK9.03 and 250 VK13.03, another even heavier Panzer II variant that was intended to use the same automotive technology as the VK9 series but would mount a more spacious two-man turret. A sixth VK9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell was also ordered, with the first one that had been ordered back in June 1940 expected to be completed by September of 1941.

In the space of just a few months, the VK9.03 project was to splinter still further, as more new additions were proposed and several alterations introduced. Consequently, the yawning gap that separated German tank design from the needs of troops on the battlefield and the imperative of economic rationalization became a chasm.


A photo of the Maybach HL 66 P engine from a technical manual published in May 1942. Capable of producing 200 hp at 3,000 rpm, this engine was proposed for installation in the VK9.03. The same engine was later employed by the VK13.03, an alternative new model of Panzer II also developed by M.A.N. Source: valka.cz

The Fragmentation of the VK9.03 Project

Back in May 1940, M.A.N. and Waffenamt officials had reassured one another that mass production of the Panzer II neuer Art, then in the guise of the VK9.01, would be underway by November 1941. However, as November approached, the prospect of mass production was not even on the horizon, let alone the foreseeable future. Although a total of 15 of the 75 VK9.01 0-Serie chassis had been delivered to the Heer by the end of August 1941, their performance in trials held at the Berka testing ground was far from encouraging, with numerous breakdowns and teething troubles afflicting the new automotive components. In any case, the VK9.01 had already been superseded as the candidate for mass production by the VK9.03, which was itself also facing competition from the new VK13.03 design.

The precarious future of the VK9.03 was compounded still further by the sudden introduction of new members of the VK9 family. Following another visit from General Radlmeier on 15 August 1941, M.A.N. reported that he was ‘especially interested’ in new tank designs, namely the VK9.04 and VK9.05. According to the report, these designs were not to be produced in their own separate batches, but instead, as part of the 250 VK9.03 ordered on 1 August 1941. Just as the VK9.01 had been displaced by the VK9.03, the VK9.03 also faced being made redundant by new designs in its own family of armored vehicles.

Unfortunately, very little is known about the VK9.04 and VK9.05, other than the fact that they existed. Asides from the aforementioned report of Radlmeier’s visit, the only other snippet of information concerning the VK9.05 comes from a report on engine development submitted by Maybach on 31 March 1942. In this report, the VK9.05 is mentioned as having a 400 hp Maybach HL 100 petrol engine and a Lenkkupplung steering unit. Given the absence of any other details, it is highly likely that the VK9.04 and VK9.05 remained nothing more than conceptual designs.

If these issues with technology, production, and competing designs did not place the VK9.03 in sufficient jeopardy, the nature of the war on the Eastern Front was also starting to call into question the validity of expending such a vast amount of effort and resources on a light tank. The experience of fighting against Soviet tanks catalyzed plans to upgun the existing Panzer III and Panzer IV medium tanks, and as a result, more emphasis came to be placed on creating new designs with more firepower and greater armored protection. As one of Germany’s primary producers of armored vehicles, trucks and heavy industrial equipment, M.A.N. was forced to focus its efforts on sustaining production of the Panzer III and later the famous Panther. This changing wartime context, therefore, left little room for mass production of a vulnerable, immature, unproven and complex light tank such as the VK9.03.

The implications of this situation were made apparent in a report by the assembly department of M.A.N. dated 18 August 1941. According to this report, the requirement to produce 20 Panzer III and 50 VK9.03 per month would necessitate the expansion of the assembly hall in order to accommodate 125 new machine tools, as well as a new department for the working of gear wheels. This latter provision was particularly important, as the finishing of gear wheels was one of the major bottlenecks of Panzer production at the M.A.N. assembly hall. Since there had been delays in the arrival of gear finishing facilities at M.A.N., the factory was compelled to sub-contract the work to other factories such as Zahnräderfabriken Augsburg, and would be unable to increase its own output over the next two years. Since the VK9.03 would have needed three times as many gears as the Panzer III, this setup was likely to seriously impede mass production of the VK9.03.

The report goes on to note that the equipment used to machine holes in the hull sides for torsion bar suspensions would need to be reworked for the VK9.03, further delaying the startup of mass-production. This report, which provides an interesting glimpse into the somewhat mundane factors that influenced tank production, did not bode well for the VK9.03. Faced with these hurdles to overcome and the need to increase production of arguably more relevant designs, it must have begged the question: was the VK9.03 worth the effort?

These difficult questions were of little concern to those involved with the design process, who continued to run rampant proposing new additions to the VK9.03. One such example of this was the idea to replace the 2 cm Kw.K. 38 main armament of the VK9.03 with a more powerful 2.8 cm self-loading cannon derived from the 2.8 cm sPzB 41 heavy anti-tank rifle. Known by several names, including Geschütz 8202, Wg 8202 SLMG, 2.8 cm Kw.K. 41, and then, after delays with its production, 2.8 cm Kw.K. 42, this weapon was fitted with a Mauser-designed gas pressure loader. It was calculated to be capable of firing 15-20 aimed rounds per minute and was intended to be able to penetrate 60 mm of armor at 30 degrees from a range of 100 meters when firing the 2.8 cm Pzgr. 41 round.

Reflecting the breakdown of the German procurement system, it was Hitler’s decision to mount this gun in the VK9.03 that initiated work in this direction. On 11 September 1941, the Heeres Waffenamt was requested to produce 200 Geschütz 8202 for delivery between April 1942 and April 1943. Needless to say, progress was not so swift. In a July 1942 report providing an overview of the status of equipment development by the Heer, it was revealed that ten 2.8 cm Kw.K. 42 from a Versuchs-Serie (trial series) of 24 were available and that the rest of the contract was on track for completion by 1 October 1942, presumably referring to the order for 200 placed in September 1941. However, after this report, the gun simply vanishes and there is no evidence to suggest that any from the mass production contract were produced or that any were fitted to a VK9.03 turret.


The 2.8 cm sPzB 41 heavy anti-tank rifle from which the 2.8 cm Kw.K. 42 was derived. Equipped with a progressively tapering barrel to increase muzzle velocity, this weapon operated on the squeeze bore principle. Seen here mounted on a standard field carriage, this weapon was also mounted on half-tracks and the four-wheeled Sd.Kfz.221 armored car. Source: warspot.ru

Around the same time as these efforts to upgun the VK9.03 were being explored, engineers were also pursuing the idea of mounting a M.A.N.-designed HWA 1038 GL V8 diesel engine in the VK9.03. Although there is little background on the developmental history of this engine and the thought process behind the decision to mount it in the VK9.03, there are brief mentions of its relation to the VK9.03. On 20 August 1941, a delegation from M.A.N. met with Herr Strunze, an engineer from Wa Prüf 6. In order to make the engine easier to start in wintry conditions, Strunze suggested that the engine be fitted glow flanges on the engine intake line and a fuel injection system to allow fuel already in the intake line to be easily ignited. Unlike the 2.8 cm Kw.K.42, this engine was at least trialed in both a VK9.01 and a VK9.03 (most probably one of the six trial chassis). As stated by a M.A.N. report from February 1942 on the development of diesel engines, the V8 had an output of 185 hp at 2,600 rpm, and work was underway to up this to 200 hp by increasing engine speed. Testing with a supercharger was also mentioned.

As with many other German tanks in production during late 1941, consideration was also given to adapting the VK9.03 for operation in the hot, humid, and dusty environments such as might be found in the North African deserts of Libya and Egypt, or the southern reaches of the Soviet Union. Known as Tropen (literally ‘tropics’) modifications, these were intended to improve cooling and restrict the ingress of dust and sand. Typically, such modifications included enlarging the cooling air intake, installing a more powerful fan and extra filters, sealing exposed openings against dust, protecting the electrical equipment, and issuing a tarp and wider shovel to the crew. All of these measures were mentioned in a report on Tropen modifications from the Waffenamt dated 13 December 1941, which noted that testing was being conducted on the VK9.03. This is not so surprising given that the first VK9.01 were intended to be issued to the 15th Panzer Division (part of Rommel’s Afrika Korps), although there is no evidence that these plans were ever carried out. If the VK9.03 were also intended to be deployed with similar units, then it stands to reason that Tropen modifications would have been required.

Despite these many setbacks and diversions, the VK9.03 project refused to die. On 3rd December 1941, the Panzer II n.A. (VK9.03) was included for the first time in the monthly reports compiled by the Amtsgruppe für Industrielle Rüstung (Group for Armaments Manufacture – abbreviated as Wa J Rü in German records), which set production targets for the next six months. According to this report, the first VK9.03 would be completed in May 1942. In fact, this estimate was later revised in the January 1942 report, which projected the construction of one VK9.03 in April, three in May and five in June 1942. Yet meanwhile, M.A.N was still struggling to finish the VK9.01 0-Serie, which continued to trickle out of the assembly halls in tiny batches into 1942.

Evidently, the economic and technological constraints looming over VK9.03 production were not factored into the Waffenamt’s schedules.


A representation of what the Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung M may have looked like had it entered service in 1942. It is shown painted in a coat of gray RAL 7021 Dunkelgrau, the standard camouflage scheme for German tanks at the time of this project’s development. Illustration by Alexe Pavel, funded by our Patreon campaign.

VK9.03 for Four: The Panzerspähwagen II Ausf.M

The exact purpose of the VK9.03 and its place in the German Army was complicated yet more by the bifurcation of the project into two separate tanks, which only served to further blur the lines between the various M.A.N designs for an improved Panzer II.
During its aforementioned summary of Tropen modifications released on 13 December 1941, the Waffenamt referred to a ‘Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.H und M (VK9.03)’. This marks the first surviving mention of an initiative to develop a specialized version of the VK9.03 for armored reconnaissance. Known by various designations, including Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.M (VK9.03), Panzerkampfwagen II neuer Art (VK9.03) Aufbau VK13.03, Panzerspähwagen II Ausf.M, and Panzerspähwagen II Ausf.MAN, this was essentially an effort to mate the VK9.03 hull with the superstructure and turret designed for the VK13.03 (later known as ‘Luchs’).

Unfortunately, little is known about the genesis of this idea, as few documents concerning its development are known to have survived. Consequently, all that is available to piece together the history of this tank are a few disconnected fragments and off-hand mentions.

Nevertheless, the Pz.Sp.Wg. II Ausf.M did not simply spring out of the ether. In the aforementioned Schwerpunktprogramm (Priority Program) of 30 May 1941, in which the Heereswaffenamt had laid out its grandiose plans for long-range mass production of the VK9.03, several different variants based on the VK9.03 chassis were mentioned. Among these was a VK9.03 Pz.Sp.Wg., of which 8,111 were deemed to be required for reconnaissance in various infantry, motorized, Panzer, pioneer, and Panzer-Jäger units. These would replace the less mobile wheeled armored cars that currently fulfilled these roles. It is therefore likely that the order to develop the Pz.Sp.Wg. II Ausf.M sprang from these requirements.

Ironically, this barren historical record is somewhat counterbalanced by the existence of a surviving data sheet for the Pz.Sp.Wg. II Ausf.M released on 5 March 1942, thanks to which we have access to a plethora of proposed technical specifications for the Ausf.M; even more so than the Ausf.H. These details provide an insight into what the Ausf.M may have looked like and its potential capabilities.

The primary difference between the Ausf.H and the Ausf.M was the superstructure and turret. Whereas the Ausf.H would likely have used a one-man turret similar to that designed for the VK9.01, the Ausf.M lifted the superstructure and turret directly from the VK13.03. This created sufficient space to add an extra crew member in the turret, thereby relieving the commander of his extra duties involved in servicing the main armament.

Asides from other minor changes to the specifications, in most other respects the Ausf.M remained the same as the Ausf.H. It retained all of the same major components, including the 200 hp Maybach HL 66 P engine, the distinctive VK9 series suspension, and the wider Kgs 63/360/90 tracks. By keeping the same suspension and 36 cm wide tracks, the VK9.03 maintained excellent flotation, having a ground pressure of 0.81 kg/sq cm. The proposed transmission and steering system, perhaps the most important components in the VK9 series given the headaches they caused for their engineers, was not specified. Armor thicknesses also remained constant, with 30 mm on the front, 20 mm on the sides and rear, 10 mm on the deck, and 5 mm on the belly, as did the overall combat weight at 10.5 tonnes.

The armament remained unchanged too. Just like the Ausf.H, the Ausf.M would have had a 2 cm Kw.K.38 cannon and M.G.34 (Pz.) machine gun fitted to a stabilized mount in the turret. 400 rounds of 2 cm Pz.Gr.Patr. (armor piercing) ammunition and 2,100 rounds of 7.92 mm M.G.34 ammunition would be stowed within the vehicle, as well as 192 rounds of 9 mm Parabellum ammunition for an M.P.38 submachine gun. Initially, a T.Z.F.6 monocular gunsight would be employed by the gunner to sight these weapons, but later this would have been replaced by a T.Z.F.12b. Rotating periscopes in the turret roof would provide visibility for the crew members in the turret, whilst the driver employed K.F.F.2 periscopes to see out when his armored visor was closed.

As a reconnaissance tank, among the most important pieces of equipment carried onboard the Ausf.M would have been the radios. An Fu 5 set was listed on the data sheet, although Doyle and Jentz state that this would have been supplemented by an Fu 12 with a star aerial when it was issued to a Panzer Aufklärungs Abteilung (Armored Reconnaissance Battalion). This latter radio had a longer range and was therefore necessary for communicating with elements higher in the command chain.

Equipped with the 200 hp Maybach HL 66 P, the Ausf.M had a power-to-weight ratio of 19 hp/tonne and could attain a maximum speed of 60 km/hr on roads or 30 km/hr cross-country. With sufficient room for 235 litres of petrol, it could cover 290 km on roads or 175 km cross-country, impressive figures for the standards of the time that would have been well-suited for a reconnaissance vehicle. It was also expected that the tank would be able to scale a vertical obstacle of 30 cm, climb a 30% gradient, cross a 60 cm wide trench and ford 1.4 metres of water without preparation.

Whilst these estimated specifications promised to result in an impressive reconnaissance vehicle that would have been mobile and maneuverable, it is important to note that these are merely projections. No examples are known to have been produced and it is probable that the Ausf.M would have suffered from the same reliability problems as its counterparts if it used the same troublesome transmissions and steering units. There are also some contradictions in the figures as reported in the books Panzer Tracts 2-2 and Panzer Tracts 20-2, both of which have sections on the Ausf.M. The figures used here have been chosen by the author on the basis of what look to be the correct specifications.

Ultimately then, the Ausf.M was just another dead end in the convoluted VK9.03 development process. The fact that it used the superstructure and turret of the VK13.03 was especially revealing in that it pointed to the inescapable reality that the VK9 was losing traction in the face of competition from other designs. Although its designers could not have known at the time, the Ausf.M foreshadowed the outright replacement of the VK9.03 by the VK13.03.


A surviving VK13.03, which received the official designation Panzer II Ausf.L, on display at The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK. Nicknamed the ‘Luchs’ (Lynx) by the Heer, 100 of these tanks would be produced between 1942 and 1943. Capable of carrying a four-man crew and fitted with simpler, proven automotive components, the VK13.03 replaced the VK9.03 in the search for a new model Panzer II after a period of uneasy coexistence between the two designs. Incidentally, the raised bracket located at the front-middle of the turret roof is for an Orterkompaß, a navigation device later proposed for the VK9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen. Source: The Tank Museum

Dashed Hopes: The Cancellation of the VK9.03

Regardless of these numerous distractions and diversions, M.A.N. continued to push on with the construction of the six VK9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell in preparation for a demonstration to be held in February 1942. However, even before these Versuchs-Fahrgestell had been completed, problems began to arise with the steering units. This was not an encouraging development, especially considering that the use of an advanced transmission and steering system to create a more mobile Panzer II was arguably the fundamental raison d’être for the VK9 series. Indeed, similar issues with fickle three-stage steering units would also cripple the VK9.01 project.

The impact of these difficulties in perfecting a working steering system were exposed in a meeting held on 27 December 1941 between M.A.N. staff and General Radlmeier. Herr Garnjost of M.A.N. informed Radlmeier that it was simply impossible to finish the three Versuchs-Fahrgestell in time for the February demonstration. In order to allow for some testing to be carried out as quickly as possible, an expedient solution involving the installation of a Kolben-Danek steering unit from the Panzer 38 (t) was proposed for the second Versuchs-Fahrgestell. All going well, this would allow for its completion by the end of January.

Meanwhile, the third Versuchs-Fahrgestell would await the arrival of a Maybach steering unit, which was expected to delay its completion until the end of February. It is not specified precisely which kind of Maybach steering unit was earmarked for this third trial chassis, but it is possible it could have been the LGL 15319 that was also fitted to the majority of the VK9.01 and contracted for installation in the first VK9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell ordered in 1940.

Put simply, this meeting revealed that VK9.03 production was dependent upon the resolution of the difficulties producing and using the steering units. This impression is reinforced by a M.A.N. meeting held on 10 January 1942, where officials openly questioned the possibility of mass producing the VK9.03 with a three-stage steering unit and broached alternative solutions. The solution they proposed was replacing the steering unit with a M.A.N. design, presumably of more conventional operation. It was hoped that this would allow for the assembly of the first VK9.03 hull in June 1942 and the production of the first complete series production tank at the beginning of August that same year.

In addition to the steering unit fiasco, this meeting also provides a glimpse into a less well-covered aspect of the VK9 family’s history. Due to the loss of Daimler-Benz records after the war, almost nothing remains concerning the design, development, and production of the VK9.01 and VK9.03 superstructures and turrets. Nevertheless, it appears from M.A.N. reports that the company struggled to produce a workable design in time, as there are allusions to delayed delivery of blueprints and drawings in surviving M.A.N. records. According to this report, missing turret floor and turret equipment schematics had pushed production back by four months and meant that M.A.N. would be unable to complete the first Aufbau until July 1942. Of course, without Daimler-Benz reports, it is not possible to evaluate the reasons behind these delays.

Nevertheless, the results of a trial carried out with one of the VK9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell in January 1942 suggested that there were more pressing issues with the automotive components. In a frustratingly enigmatic report of a meeting held between all the major M.A.N. and Wa Prüf 6 figures involved with the VK9.03 (including Kniepkamp), the results of a 530 km test drive of a VK9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell were discussed. It is not entirely clear what the exact automotive configuration of this VK9.03 trial chassis was, but the minutes indicate that it was not considered sufficient evidence to make a judgment on the three-stage steering units before comparative trials were carried out in February. Even so, the curious note that ‘in no case should the remarks from Blank [a mechanic involved with the trial] be allowed to fall into outside hands’ seems to imply that the results were less than stellar. Certainly, much to Kniepkamp’s dismay, M.A.N. representatives brought up the idea of replacing the steering units with a conventional clutch-brake system as installed on other Panzers.

Unable to stave off the inevitable any longer, M.A.N. and Wa Prüf 6 agreed on 3 February 1942 that the first 15 VK9.03 series production hulls would use a simple clutch-brake steering system and a conventional Z.F. manual transmission. This was a far cry from Kniepkamp’s vision of a revolutionary mobility upgrade for the Panzer II and a stark indication that the VK9.03 had reached a technological cul-de-sac.

The next mention of the VK9.03 comes from a conference between Albert Speer and Hitler on 22 March 1942. During this meeting, Hitler agreed that the VK9.03 could be fitted with an HL 66 engine, SSG 48 transmission and a multiple-stage steering unit derived from B.M.M.’s design for the Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) n.A. light tank. It was estimated that this combination of automotive components could result in speeds of up to 60 km/h being obtained.

Amazingly, just five days later on 27 March 1942, the entire VK9.03 project was canceled in a sudden and abrupt volte-face. In the new production programme issued by the Heeres Waffenamt, M.A.N. was to dispense with the production of 250 VK9.03 and 250 VK13.03 in favor of producing 500 VK13.03 instead. In a context of greater economic rationalization presided over by Speer, who had been appointed Minister of Armaments following the death of Fritz Todt in a plane crash on 8 February 1942, there was simply no room for the experimental and wasteful VK9.03.

A Failed Resurrection: The VK9.03 after March 1942 and the VK9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen

At the time of the cancellation of the VK9.03 in March 1942, it is unclear how many of the Versuchs-Fahrgestell had been completed. It is known that at one point as many as six were under contract, although later reports from 1942 only mention three under construction. Moreover, at least one of these hulls was used in trials and test drives, including the one discussed in January 1942 and the aforementioned trials with a M.A.N. diesel engine mentioned in February 1942.

The history of German trials vehicles is understandably shadowy and obscure. Spared from fighting on the front, these vehicles were rarely photographed and only occasionally mentioned in reports. Even so, they were often retained by the factories or by the Heereswaffenamt as testbeds for trialing new equipment. Such was the case with the VK9.03, one of which was reportedly being used by Maybach as late as 1945 for testing a new HL 90 engine (14 of these were produced between 1941 and 1944), a preselective Olvar transmission and a Bauart Renk hydraulic steering unit; a fitting end for a design defined by its relationship to experimental automotive components. Unfortunately, no photographs of these trial chassis are known to have survived and details remain scarce.

More puzzlingly, work on an artillery observation variant of the VK9.03 appears to have continued after March 1942. According to a Wa Prüf 6 report released on 1 July 1942, work was ongoing on designing a VK9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen (armored artillery observation vehicle) for motorized artillery and Panzer Regiments, with the production of 30 contracted vehicles expected to start in 1943. Like the VK9.03 Ausf.M, the impetus for this design probably dated back to the 1941 Panzerprogramm, which stipulated the provision of VK9.03 for artillery observation purposes. However, this does not explain why the Waffenamt had elected to continue work on this specific variant, as it makes little sense to continue working on a design for such a specialized version, given that such vehicles were usually converted from standard mass-produced vehicles. This is a prime example of how the many gaps in the documentary record render it difficult for modern researchers to piece together the logic (or lack thereof) behind armored vehicle development.

Whatever the story behind the VK9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen, a single Versuchsgerät VK9.03 mit Kuppel 1303 B (trial equipment with the cupola 1303 B) was reported as having been completed by September 1941. Usually translated as ‘device’ or ‘equipment’, it is unclear precisely what ‘gerät’ refers to. Possible answers include a piece of specialized equipment or, noting the reference to a cupola, a turret design, but this is just speculation.

In order to fulfill its purpose, the VK9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen was to be fitted with a rangefinder, Orterkompaß (a kind of orientation compass that could be installed on top of the turret of the Luchs, Panzer IV, Panther and Tiger), observation equipment and appropriate radio sets.

Whilst it may have succeeded in temporarily outlasting its parent tank design, the VK9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen almost certainly suffered the same fate as its relations. Asides from this brief reference, there are no further known references to this vehicle available.


The Orterkompaß 38 (OKo.38) showing the compass itself, its special 300 mm long support, and its base. This device, or one similar to it, was earmarked for the VK9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen. Derived from a type of compass developed for the Luftwaffe in the 1930s, the Oko.38 was intended to assist with driving at night or in bad weather. These would have been mounted on small rectangular plates welded to the top of tank turrets. The cylindrical support was designed to increase the distance between the compass and the tank, thereby reducing magnetic interference from the steel. Although a few examples survive until this day, there is little evidence that these were ever mass produced or widely used. Source: panther-ausfuehrung-g.blogspot.com

Doomed to Die?: The VK9.03 in Retrospect

The VK9.03 was a flawed design that would have been unsuitable for mass production and out of its depth on the battlefields from 1942 onwards. Although the new automotive components envisaged for this tank could have resulted in a more mobile Panzer II, the complexity and unreliability of these various transmissions and steering units ultimately proved to be a critical issue.

Worse still, the VK9.03 did not offer any other sufficient improvements over the VK9.01 and the Panzer II Ausf.F then in production, namely in the realms of firepower and protection. Consequently, the failure of the transmissions and steering units undercut the entire purpose of the VK9.03 since, without those features, there was nothing left to justify its existence. This unfortunate fact was made all the more apparent by the emergence of the VK13.03, which provided all of the benefits of the VK9.03 in a tank able to accommodate a four-man crew.

Yet, in the chaotic and irrational German tank procurement system of the mid-war period, the existence of deep flaws did not always automatically result in cancellation of the entire project. Instead, designs often gained a momentum of their own and were able to devour funds, resources, and time, even if the Heer had no specific need or desire for them. Such was the case with the VK9.01, which outlasted its successor and continued in limited production until 1943 despite suffering from the same problems as the VK9.03. Evaluated with this in mind, the VK9.03 was also the victim of circumstance.

At the time when the crucial decisions were being made about the VK9.03 production schedule, Albert Speer, the new Minister for Armaments Production, was attempting to rationalize the Nazi economy and push it towards a total war footing. Ironically, the idea expressed in the Panzerprogramm 41 to mass produce an entire family of armored vehicles on the VK9.03 hull represented a rare instance of sensible joined-up thinking in the procurement process, but given the doubts among M.A.N. officials that mass production of the VK9.03 could ever be achieved in the near future, this was little more than a pipe dream. Whilst the cancellation of the VK9.03 was not a foregone conclusion, these production obstacles and its growing redundancy in the face of superior alternatives and changing economic circumstances conspired to kill the project in 1942.

Nevertheless, whilst this represented the end of the VK9 series of armored vehicles, efforts to improve the Panzer II persisted. These would culminate in the VK13.03 or Panzer II Ausf.L, better known as the ‘Luchs’ (Lynx), which built upon some elements of the VK9.01 and VK9.03 whilst dispensing with some of the more problematic aspects of these designs.

Specifications (Ausf.H & M)*

Dimensions (L-W-H) M: 4.63 x 2.48 x 2.05 metres
Total Weight 10.5 tonnes
Crew H:3 Men (Commander/Gunner, Radio Operator, and Driver)
M:4 (Driver, Radio Operator, Commander, Gunner)
Propulsion Maybach HL 66P producing 200 hp at 3,200 rpm
Transmission H: Maybach 8-speed preselective VG20417 transmission LG 45L (LGL 15319) steering unit (these components for the first Versuchs-Fahrgestell)
Maximum speed H: 65 km/h on roads
M: 60 km/h (road), 30 km/h (off-road)
Range M: 290 km (road), 175 km (off-road)
Suspensions Torsion bar, 30 cm ground clearance
Armament H: 1x 2 cm Kw.K.38 cannon, 1 x M.G.34 (P)
M: 1x 2 cm Kw.K.38 cannon (400 rounds), 1 x M.G.34 (P) (400 rounds), 1 x M.P.38 (192 rounds)
Armor (hull/turret front) 30 mm frontal hull and turret
20 mm sides and rear
10 mm deck
5.5 mm belly
Production At least 1 hull

*Note that these are projected specifications as no series production VK9.03 are known to have been completed.

Sources and Further Reading

Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.2-2 Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.G, H, J, L, and M: Development and Production from 1938 to 1943 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2007).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.20-2 Paper Panzers: Aufklaerungs-, Beobachtungs-, and Flak Panzer (Reconnaissance, Observation, and Anti-Aircraft) (Maryland, Panzer Tracts, 2002).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, H.L., Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2011).
Spielberger, W.J., Der Panzer-Kampfwagen I und II und ihre Abarten: Einschließlich der Panzerentwicklungen der Reichswehr (Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag, 1974). Translated into English as Panzer I and II and their Variants: From Reichswehr to Wehrmacht (Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing US, 2007).
Antonov, V., ‘Schwere Panzerbüchse 41’ (Russian). English version HERE.
Jairo, ‘Orterkompass en el Panther Ausf.G’
Pasholok, Y., ‘Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.G: The Fruit of Unending Labour’ (Russian). English version HERE.

Bibliographical Comment

Unsurprisingly for such an obscure and poorly documented tank, little has been written on the VK9.03. Although the VK9 series was mentioned in the older, classic reference books concerning Second World War German armored fighting vehicles, most of the information presented in these works is based on faulty post-war Allied intelligence reports or assumptions, contributing to many errors and misleading statements. This has contributed to the proliferation of misunderstanding and confusion concerning this series of tanks in print and online media, with one salient example being the mislabelling of the Pz.Sfl.Ic tank destroyer (based on the VK9.01 chassis) as the Panzer II Ausf.H (VK9.03) in the popular online game War Thunder.

The most important and reliable work of reference on the VK9.03 is Panzer Tracts 2-2 written by the doyens of German Second World War AFV history, Jentz and Doyle. This book provides a wealth of information derived from primary source material, helping to set the record straight without indulging in extensive speculation. An earlier work by the same authors, Panzer Tracts 20-2, offers a less comprehensive summary of the VK9.03, though readers should note that there is some minor contradictions between the two, possibly the result of typos in the text.

A detailed account of the VK9 series based on the work of Jentz and Doyle is also offered in an article by Russian historian Yuri Pasholok that has been translated into English. This article, as well as the others in the Panzer II series, are particularly useful for contextualising the VK9.03 and investigating its links to contemporary designs.

Asides from the works mentioned above, all other sources of information concerning the VK9.03 should be treated with caution given their tendency to rely on outdated reference material or other confused commentators. Until any new information surfaces concerning these machines, Panzer Tracts 2-2 will remain the definitive source of information on the VK9.03.

Categories
WW2 Czechoslovak Prototypes WW2 German Panzer II

Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Škoda

Germany/Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (1940)
Light Tank – 5 Prototypes Built

On 15 September 1939, the German Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Office – HwaA) issued new specifications for a fast, more heavily armored scout reconnaissance tank with 30 mm front armor, a 2 cm or 3.7 cm main gun and a top speed of 50 km/h. These were originally sent to the German firm MAN but, on 31 July 1940, they were also sent to two other companies, Škoda and BMM (the former Czechoslovak ČKD).

The prototype Panzer T-15 light tank looks like an improved Panzer II tank but there were many differences. Its factory designation was Škoda T-15. The first two prototypes were only built in mild structural steel.

The Panzer Späh Wagen II Ausführung Škoda, previously designated the Škoda T-15. Source: Bundesarchiv

Name

A German Wa Prüf 6 (the German design office for armored vehicles and motorized equipment under the Heereswaffenamt – Army Ordnance Department) document dated 5 March 1942 shows the factory name Škoda T-15 being scratched through and the name Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Skoda (Armored Scout Car II version Škoda – Pz.Sp.Wg II Ausf.Skoda) written in its place.

German Wa.Prüf. 6 original document notes that show the change of name. Source: Herbert Ackermann

Design

The company Škoda-Werke’s T 15 design had welded armor, an improvement over the Czechoslovak built Panzer 38(t) tank’s bolted and riveted armor. The armor on the front of the turret and hull was 30 mm thick and the sides were 25 mm thick. The turret had a new curved shape with a commander’s cupola. The main gun fitted on the prototypes was the 3.7 cm Škoda A19 anti-tank gun (German designation 3.7 cm KwK 38(t) L/47). It could fire armor-piercing (AP) shells and high explosive (HE) fragmentation shells.

On 4 January 1943, the Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Skoda prototype was shown to Hitler and senior German officers. Source: Bundesarchiv

There was no hull machine gun. A 7.92 mm MG34 machine-gun was mounted in the turret. The driver and radio/operator were positioned at the front of the tank. Both had armored vision ports like the later Panzer II tanks.

The tank was powered by a Škoda water-cooled V8 10.8 liter 245 hp gasoline/petrol engine. The transmission had 6 forward gears and one reverse.

German Wa.Prüf. 6 original document that shows some of the vehicle’s specifications. Photo: Herbert Ackermann

The suspension was different from other tanks under construction at that time. It had four pairs of large road wheels on semi-elliptic leaf springs. There were three pairs of smaller track return rollers. The drive wheel was at the rear while the idler was at the front.

Rear view of the Škoda, looking at the engine bay. The Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Skoda prototype had four pairs of large road wheels on semi-elliptic leaf springs and three pairs of track return rollers. Source: shushpanzer.ru

The first prototype T-15 was completed in October 1941, and the second in December 1941. Tests were conducted during March and June of 1942. Further tests were completed between July and October at Kummersdorf, 25 km south of Berlin.

Alterations

Alterations were made to the original design on the later prototypes. The turret shape was changed. The side armor was curved differently. An armoured driver’s vision port was fitted to the side of the chassis. The commander’s cupola was also completely redesigned. Instead of the Czech ZB.37 machine gun a German 7.92 mm MG.34 was installed. The 37 mm A19 gun remained in place, but Škoda’s engineers also provided for the possibility of arming the tank with a 47 mm gun. The same Wa Prüf 6 document dated 5 March 1942 mentioned earlier showed that it was intended to mount a 5 cm PaK 39 L/60 on the production tank in a Daimler-Benz built turret.

Škoda-Werke’s redesign of the T 15 prototype wooden mockup, with improved sloping frontal hull armor, smaller turret and relocated exhaust. Source: Yuri Pasholok

Fate

Škoda had signed a contract to build five prototypes but only built four. Construction of the fifth was stopped in early 1944 as the Panzer II Ausf.L Luchs (Lynx) was already in mass production.
Škoda completed the construction of the fifth prototype in May 1945, having restarted work in January. After the war finished, it was shown to the new Czechoslovak Army in July 1946 but no orders were placed. The Škoda tank design department used the chassis to develop different light tank projects which they called the T 15A, T 15S and T 16. They stayed as drawings. No prototypes were built.

The Pz.Sp.Wg II Ausf.Skoda prototype tank undergoing trials. There appears to be a build up of mud between the road wheels. A platform has been constructed on the right side of the turret for testing staff to have somewhere to sit as they observe what is happening. Source: Bundesarchiv


Illustration of the Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung Škoda, also known as the Škoda T-15. Produced by Mr. Adrielcz, funded by our Patreon Campaign


Panzerspähwagen II T15 by adrielcz

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.58 x 2.17 x 2.16 meters
Total weight, battle ready 10.8 tons
Crew 4 (commander, gunner, radio operator, driver)
Propulsion Skoda T-15 8-cylinder, petrol 220 hp
Suspension semi-elliptic leaf springs
Speed (road) 50 km/h
Range 200 km
Armament 3.7 cm Skoda A19 (3.7 cm KwK 38(t) L/47), 7.92 mm MG34
Armor 8 mm – 30 mm
Total production 4 (+1 post war)

Sources

warspot.ru (Russian)
Pavel Pilar “Pruzkumne tanky Skoda T-15 a Praga TNH nA”, HPM c.3 / 2000
I.Pejcoch, O.Pejs “Obrnena technika” №6
“Hobby Historie” 2011 №10
Hilary Doyle and Thomas L. Jentz, Panzer Tracts No. 11-2: Aufklaerungspanzerwagen (Full and Half-Track Armored Reconnaissance Vehicles) H8H to Vollkettenaufklaerer 38.

Categories
WW2 German Panzer II

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.G (VK9.01)

Germany (1938-1943)
Light Tank – 45 Built

In the summer of 1938, the German Army (Heer) authorised the development of a new model of the Panzer II light tank in an effort to create a more mobile armored fighting vehicle that could supplant its technologically inferior predecessors in the Panzer Divisions. Known initially as the VK9.01, this project encapsulated the design philosophy of one influential figure in German armored fighting vehicle design: Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp. Convinced that successful tank design revolved around delivering the maximum firepower at the highest possible speed, Kniepkamp was an advocate of the latest high-performance technology developed by German automotive engineers. Guided by these tenets, the VK9.01 project made use of many sophisticated yet technically immature automotive components in order to meet these stipulations; a decision which engendered constant delays and frequent modifications to the design.

These technological problems were to hound the VK9.01 throughout its history. Hampered by the fickle nature of its advanced drivetrain, the VK9.01 never fulfilled its destiny of becoming a mass produced replacement for the Panzer II. Instead, the project floundered in a state of uncertainty, as other competing projects to improve the Panzer II, including the VK9.03, the VK13.03 (better known as the ‘Luchs’), and the VK16.01 (Panzer II Ausf.J) came to show greater promise. Faced with these many hurdles, the mass production of the VK9.01 was constantly subject to delays, changing requirements, and the threat of cancellation. It is remarkable, then, that not only did this project continue to be developed until 1943, but that it also saw limited production and, even more surprisingly, combat.

Due to its obscurity and the paucity of published material available on this esoteric tank, the VK9.01 has been understandably overshadowed in the historiography of Second World War German armored fighting vehicles by the more iconic designs, such as the Panther and the Tigers. Nevertheless, the history of the VK9.01 provides many insights into the disintegration of the pre-war system of German armored fighting vehicle procurement. Its convoluted development illustrates the pernicious ramifications of a process that prioritised the pursuit of technological fantasies over the tactical requirements of the Heer. Conceived just before the start of the Second World War, in the midst of the collapse of the tank procurement system, the inception of the VK9.01 is inextricably intertwined with this widening gulf between German tank design and reality.

The Need for Speed: Heinrich Kniepkamp and the Panzer II

At the beginning of the Second World War, the Panzerkampfwagen II was by far one of the most numerous front-line tanks in the Panzer Divisions. Although it has been denigrated as little more than an interim training tank in several popular post-war accounts, the Panzer II was an important step in pre-war German tank design, one that eventually evolved into an effective light tank for the mid-1930s. Nevertheless, the initial incarnations of this machine (Ausf.a/1, a/2, a/3, and b) were hamstrung by several problems that reflected their origins in the earlier Kleintraktor (the predecessor of the Panzer I), most notably an anemic engine and a frail suspension. These technological deficiencies not only hampered mobility and caused breakdowns, but they also prevented the Panzer II from being up-armored lest the weak suspension collapsed under the strain. Consequently, subsequent versions of the Panzer II (Ausf.c, A, B, C, and F) were produced with a much improved leaf-spring suspension coupled to a larger hull and a more powerful engine, all of which combined to result in a more reliable chassis that would continue to be produced in one form or another until 1944.

However, there were those in both industry and the Heeres Waffenamt (the army ordnance department responsible for designing, testing, producing, and deploying new weapons systems) who believed that these improvements did not go far enough. Chief among these figures was Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp, a gifted and influential engineer, who had designed transmissions for Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (M.A.N.) before becoming a senior figure in Waffen Prüfwesen 6 (Wa Prüf 6), the sub-division of the Heeres Waffenamt tasked with overseeing the design of tanks and other motorised equipment. In 1936, Kniepkamp was appointed as the head of Wa Prüf 6, where he was able to exercise considerable control over German tank design. A leading proponent of torsion bar suspension, Kniepkamp used this influence to initiate the development of half-tracks and tanks fitted with this suspension in conjunction with large diameter road wheels, track links with lubricated joints, and complex transmission and steering systems that were intended to allow for fast, yet easy to control vehicles. Aware of its reliance on what he regarded as outdated leaf spring suspension, Kniepkamp authorised efforts by M.A.N. to embark upon several additional redesigns of the Panzer II chassis with the aforementioned suspension features, regardless of the absence of any specific requests from the Heer.

Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp in uniform. After receiving responsibility for overseeing the creation of new tank designs in 1936, Kniepkamp became one of the most influential figures in German Second World War armored fighting vehicle development. Under Kniepkamp’s guidance, German engineers initiated the designs for several famous tanks, including the Panther, the Tigers, and the various E-series projects. Although nowhere near as well-known as its contemporaries, the Panzer II Ausf.G epitomised Kniepkamp’s conception of the ideal light tank. Photo: Public Domain

Coinciding with Kniepkamp’s ascendancy was a breakdown in the German Army’s strict procurement process. During the time of the Weimar Republic and the early years of the Third Reich, the onus was placed on Inspektorat 6 (In 6) of the Allgemeines Heeresamt (General Army Office) to outline the desired characteristics for future armored fighting vehicles. These concepts were subsequently converted into technical specifications by Wa Prüf 6 of the Heeres Waffenamt, which were then passed on to engineers working at the designing firms competing for the production contracts. Under this system, In 6 controlled the direction of tank design and the awarding of contracts, ensuring that engineers were moderated by budgetary restraints and the requirement to produce designs that were able to fulfill specific tactical needs.

However, Thomas Jentz and Hilary Doyle have persuasively argued that this system was overturned towards the end of the 1930s, as the primacy shifted towards Wa Prüf 6. Contrary to the intended operation of the system, the personnel in Wa Prüf 6 began to submit a myriad of designs to In 6 without solicitation. As these designs were not initiated in accordance with army requirements, the engineers were no longer restrained by the rigid system of checks and balances upheld by the previous system. Unimpeded by stringent budgetary constraints or the stifling parameters of In 6 proposals, German engineers were free to pursue cutting-edge technology and ideas, the majority of which were too unreliable to be fit for the battlefield. The result of this collapse in design oversight was that German armored fighting vehicle designs increasingly came to reflect the desires of engineers enamored with state-of-the-art technology, rather than the requirements of the troops on the ground.

Panzer II on Steroids: The VK9.01 Project

It was against this background that Wa Prüf 6 submitted a proposal to develop a more mobile Panzer II that would be capable of attaining an exceptionally high speed. Even though the Panzer II with improved leaf spring suspension had only entered production the previous summer, and in spite of the fact that M.A.N. was in the process of refining Kniepkamp’s design for a Panzer II with torsion bar suspension (the Ausf.D), In 6 responded positively to these suggestions. Thus, on June 18th 1938, In 6 authorised work to commence on yet another project to develop a new Panzer II, which received the designation VK9.01. Part of the VK (Vollketten – Fully Tracked) index system, this designation signified that this project was the first design for a fully tracked vehicle in the 9 metric ton weight class. As with the other Panzer II designs, contracts were awarded to M.A.N. for the development of the chassis, whilst Daimler-Benz was responsible for designing the superstructure and turret.

Note to the reader: For the purposes of consistency and clarity, I have elected to use the format VKX.0X or VKXX.0X when referring to VK index numbers in this article. Publications and period documents refer to VK designations in a multitude of different ways, thus VK901 or V.K.901 can both be considered ‘correct’ alternatives to VK9.01.

A 0-Serie Panzer I Ausf.C (VK6.01), photographed at the Krauss-Maffei assembly plant in late 1942/early 1943. Its close ties to the VK9.01 project are apparent from their similar appearances and the use of some of the same automotive components. From this photograph, the resemblances in the turret and the suspension design are clear to see. Like the VK9.01, the VK6.01 also had an exhaust protruding from the front glacis plate to expel fumes generated by the steering brakes. Photo: warspot.ru

Following Kniepkamp’s belief that speed was paramount in tank design, the VK9.01 did not receive more armor protection but instead maintained the same configuration as the Panzer II Ausf.D, with 30 mm of frontal armor on both the turret and the hull, accompanied by 14.5 mm of armor plate covering the sides. The armament was also unchanged, with the significant exception that the 20 mm Kw.K.38 autocannon and its coaxial 7.92 mm M.G.34 were to be equipped with a vertical stabilizer. In keeping with the VK9.01’s prioritisation of mobility, the stabilisation would allow for greater accuracy when firing on the move. Furthermore, the VK9.01 retained the three-man crew of the Panzer II, housing a driver and radio operator who sat side-by-side at the front of the tank, and a commander in the turret, who was also responsible for operating the weaponry. Considering the role of light tanks in providing reconnaissance, isolating the commander in a small one-man turret was a notable flaw in the VK9.01’s design, especially when compared to the two-man turrets of its competitors, such as the VK9.03 and the VK13 series.

It was in the realms of the suspension and the drivetrain that the VK9.01 was to receive the most significant attention. Kniepkamp’s influence is obvious here, and the design of the VK9.01 is in many ways a scaled up version of the VK6.01, a parallel project to improve the Panzer I. Drawing on Kniepkamp’s previous work designing half-tracks for the Heer, the VK9.01 was to have torsion bar suspension with five relatively large overlapping road wheels. This overlapping suspension system was chosen because it would give the VK9.01 a short track contact length of only 1.8m, which combined with its short wheelbase of 2m to provide a remarkable steering ratio of 1:1. Thanks to this suspension, the VK9.01 would be exceptionally maneuverable, able to make tight turns and neutral steer on level ground. Working in conjunction with this suspension was to be an advanced, yet easy to operate, LG 45 triple-stage steering unit. This system would allow the driver to select three different steering radii in each gear (ranging from as low as 4 metres to as high as 332 metres) by turning the steering wheel 20, 40, or 60 degrees in the desired direction. Connected to this steering unit was to be a Maybach VG 15319 pre-selective 8-speed transmission, a gearbox that would be considerably easier for untrained personnel to operate than the manual transmissions then in service on the Panzer II. Powered by a newly developed Maybach HL 45 motor producing 150 horsepower at 3800 rpm, the VK9.01 was capable of reaching a top speed of 67 km/h.

An action shot of the Panzer II Ausf.G participating in an army training exercise. This is the probable fate of many of these tanks, which do not appear to have seen much combat use. Equipped with stabilised weapons, the Panzer II Ausf.G was designed for moving across terrain at high speeds. Prominently displayed on the left-hand side stowage box, this tank sports a Balkenkreuz, and looks to have been painted in an overall coat of RAL 7021 Dunkelgrau, the standard colour scheme of army vehicles and equipment until the introduction of RAL 7028 Dunkelgelb in February 1943. Photo: Mr Akira Takiguchi’s Private Collection

In theory, these advanced technological components promised to create an easy to operate, highly agile Panzer II. In reality, however, the steering units and transmissions would be a source of constant trouble for the VK9.01 and its designers.

High Hopes: Mass Production of the VK9.01

On October 11th 1938, four months after In 6 had authorised the VK9.01 project, M.A.N. presented a full-scale wooden model of the VK9.01 to representatives from Wa Prüf 6. The delegation noted the somewhat cramped fighting compartment, and asked for the wooden model to be inspected again, this time with the radio set and other missing equipment installed. Notwithstanding these concerns about the restricted space inside the fighting compartment, work on the project continued after this presentation.

Initially, M.A.N. was contracted to assemble five Versuchs-Fahrgestell (trial chassis) for the VK9.01. Subsequently, Wa Prüf 6 awarded contracts to M.A.N. for the production of a 0-Serie of 30 VK9.01 Fahrgestell (chassis), whilst Daimler-Benz was contracted to produce the same number of Aufbau (turrets and superstructures). This 0-Serie, which was upped in July 1939 to 75 VK9.01 chassis, was essentially a pre-production pilot run, intended to allow engineers to test the tanks and iron out any flaws in the design before the assembly plants commenced mass production. However, by the eve of the Second World War, these straightforward production plans had already become more complicated, as the designers sought to incorporate more advanced technology into the design. Between August and September 1939, the contracts for the 0-Serie were altered so that the final 45 of the 75 0-Serie chassis would be completed as VK9.02. These VK9.02 chassis were to be equipped with an improved LG 45 L steering unit (later re-designated as the LGL 15319), but would maintain the same engine and transmission as the VK9.01. This process of constant tinkering with the VK9.01 design proved to be a recurring theme in the project’s history, as incremental improvements were proposed and trialed even though the VK9.01 was rapidly becoming obsolescent on Second World War battlefields.

When Wa Prüf 6 first awarded the contracts for the VK9.01, it was projected that the first 30 0-Serie chassis would be completed by the end of 1939: 5 in July, 10 in August, 10 in September, and 5 in October. In addition to this, the second batch of 45 VK9.01 0-Serie chassis would follow in 1940, with 10 in May, 10 in June, 10 in July, and 15 in August. Acknowledging that these plans would not materialise, in July 1939, Wa Prüf 6 informed M.A.N. that a substantial contract for mass production of the VK9.01 was expected to be awarded in November 1940, with the first deliveries expected in November 1941.

One of the VK9.01 Versuchs-Fahrgestell (trial chassis) photographed outside the M.A.N. assembly plant in Nürnberg. Although the chassis does not appear to have been fitted with its track guards or any tools, it is interesting to note that the front Notek headlight has already been installed. The water-cooled Maybach HL 45 engine can be seen protruding above the rear deck. According to Hilary Doyle, the arrangement of three oil bath filters in a row was a distinctive feature on this engine. This photograph also affords a clear look at the shock absorbers fitted to the first and last road wheel stations on each side. Unlike series production vehicles, the outer road wheels on the trial chassis were of a design similar to that of the VK6.01, consisting of solid ribbed discs. Photo: warspot.ru

The experiences of the September 1939 invasion of Poland renewed the impetus behind the plans to mass produce the VK9.01, as well as the VK16.01, a contemporaneous development to up-armor the Panzer II. During the campaign, the Panzertruppen had incurred heavy losses from Polish anti-tank rifles and modern 37 mm Bofors-derived wz.36 anti-tank guns, which could easily penetrate the thin 14.5 mm rounded frontal armor of the Panzer II. As a result, Panzer IIs were retrofitted with 30 mm thick frontal armor plates and M.A.N. was implored by Wa Prüf 6 to speed up development of the VK9.01 and VK16.01. Therefore, by 25 April 1940, the 0-Serie production plans were revised, with the first 30 0-Serie VK9.01 to be delivered in the period between September and November 1940, followed by the remaining 45 in March through June 1941. Decisions on mass production would be made sometime between December 1940 and March 1941, depending on the results of testing. At the same time, the VK9.01 was first referred to as the Panzerkampfwagen II neuer Art (new model), underlining the belief that the VK9.01 would be the successor to the Panzer II. As a contingency plan, the production of another series of the Panzer II fitted with the current leaf-spring suspension as well as stabilised weapons installed was also proposed. In the end, In 6 would follow through on this plan by authorising the production of the Panzer II Ausf.F, although it would not be fitted with stabilised weapons.

Despite the limited progress that had been made on the VK9.01 by the middle of 1940, M.A.N. was confident that they would secure lucrative mass production contracts for these designs. Reporting on a meeting with Oberstleutnant Fichtner of Wa Prüf 6 on 24 May 1940, M.A.N. optimistically claimed that the firm was in an ‘especially favourable situation’ because the VK9.01 and VK16.01 were of ‘great military importance’. Later in May 1940, M.A.N. projected that they could produce between 45-70 VK9.01 per month, alongside assembling Panzer IIIs. Considering the obsolescence of the Panzer II during the later invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, this belief in the future of a design with such thin armor and limited firepower appears to be misplaced hubris from engineers sequestered from the battlefield in their ivory tower. However, it is important to note that this report was compiled not long after the breakthrough at Sedan and the trapping of Belgian, British, and French forces in northern France and Belgium, where the limitations of the Panzer II in combat had not proven to be a significant obstacle towards German military success.

In stark contrast to these grandiose plans, the tangible results for the VK9.01 project by the beginning of June 1940 were far less illustrious. According to a January 1940 status report on the development and production of tanks, M.A.N. noted that the armored hulls for the VK9.01 trial chassis had not been delivered, let alone those for the 0-Serie. This appears to conflict with a later report from 1st July 1942, which states that one of the five Versuchs-Fahrgestell had been completed by December 1939. Due to the fragmentary nature of surviving records detailing VK9.01 production, it is impossible to establish the facts of this situation by precisely identifying when all of the VK9.01 trial chassis were completed.

Confronted with this sluggish progress, M.A.N. abandoned the untenable production schedule devised on 25th April 1940, reporting, on 25th November 1940, that they now planned to complete the first 45 VK9.01 chassis from May to September 1941. This meant that mass production would not be able to begin until autumn 1941, provided no further obstacles were encountered.

A VK9.01 fitted with the superstructure and turret designed by Daimler-Benz. In a 1947 M.I.10 intelligence report on German armored fighting vehicles of the Second World War, this tank was misidentified as the V.K.1301. Unfortunately, this error has been perpetuated by some later publications, which have uncritically accepted this identification. Asides from this faulty interpretation, this tank is also significant in that it exhibits many differences from the 0-Serie tanks, which have not been identified in other publications, including Panzer Tracts. Firstly, the chassis is fitted with the VK6.01 style outer road wheels only seen on the trial chassis in the previous image. Secondly, the roof of the superstructure lacks the triangular splash guard fitted in front of turret, before the driver’s and radio operator’s hatches. The triangular angled supports on the track guards are also larger and mounted higher up the superstructure side than those on 0-Serie tanks. This suggests that it is a trial chassis fitted with a trial superstructure and turret. As can be seen by comparing this photograph to other Ausf.G in service, the tool stowage and the location of the left-hand side stowage box also varied considerably between different tanks. Photo: warspot.ru

Death by a Thousand Modifications: The Production History of the VK9.01

Even as M.A.N. looked forward to mass producing the VK9.01, the future of this project was becoming more and more precarious. Before the first VK9.01 0-Serie chassis had been completed, the Heer was already anticipating the need for an improved Panzer II n.A. with a higher top speed and greater armored protection. As a result, in June 1940, M.A.N. was awarded contracts by Wa Prüf 6 to develop yet another iteration of the VK9 series: the VK9.03. Considering that the two tanks were intended to fulfill exactly the same tactical role, this new development did not augur well for the mass production of the VK9.01.

At the same time as the preliminary work on the VK9.03 commenced, the VK9.01 0-Serie languished in production limbo, trapped in an interminable series of modifications to the automotive components of the design. The plans in September 1939 to produce the first 30 VK9.01 with LGR 15319 steering units and the remainder with the LGL 15319 were adjusted on 25th July 1940. Now, only 20 VK9.01 would be equipped with the LGR 15319; all of the rest would receive the LGL 15319.

Hitherto unchanged from the original design specifications, the transmission also underwent a similar ordeal, as the engineers strove to incorporate the latest technology into the VK9.01. In April 1941, only one month before the VK9.01 0-Serie production was scheduled to begin, it was suddenly decreed that new transmissions developed by Maybach (the OG 20417) and Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen (the SMG 50) were to replace the VG 15319 transmission in all VK9.01, save for 11 chassis. Unfortunately, there is no published surviving evidence explaining the rationale behind the design for these new transmissions, nor are there any documents outlining the reasons why they were ordered to replace the VG 15319 in the majority of the VK9.01 0-Serie chassis. Likewise, the decision to maintain 11 VK9.01 with the old transmission also remains a mystery. Regardless of these whys and wherefores, the complicated mélange of automotive components that were envisaged for the small 0-Serie of 75 VK9.01 exemplifies the deleterious impacts of an unfocused and uncontrolled design process.

In light of this constant tinkering, it is not surprising that the production of the VK9.01 did not match the projections. Due to the fact that the VK9.01 never entered mass production, it is only intermittently mentioned in monthly reports from the Amtsgruppe für Industrielle Rüstung (Group for Armaments Manufacture – abbreviated as Wa J Rü in German records), the department of the Heeres Waffenamt responsible for administering production contracts for equipment and spare parts. As a consequence of the scarcity of documentary evidence, the precise details of VK9.01 production are difficult to pin down. Nevertheless, it is clear that the production realities did not align with expectations. Compared to M.A.N.’s plans to complete 45 VK9.01 chassis between May and September of 1941, only 15 had been delivered by 18th August 1941. Indeed, prior to July 1941, two OG 20417 and two SMG 50 transmissions had not even been delivered for the four remaining Versuchs-Fahrgestell.

Records also indicate that turrets and superstructures were spasmodically fitted to the VK9.01 0-Serie chassis during 1941 and 1942. The first of these complete tanks may have been completed in April 1941, when Wa J Rü recorded delivery of a single Panzer II n.A., followed by another two in August the same year. Disappearing from the records for the rest of 1941, the VK9.01 resurfaces in Wa J Rü notes from early 1942, which register the delivery of six in January, accompanied by three more in February.

A factory-fresh pristine example of the Panzer II Ausf.G photographed by Wa Prüf 6 in 1941. This is a 0-Serie chassis, fitted with the outer road wheels that were unique to the VK9.01 design. Two unusual features of the Ausf.G are clearly shown in this photograph: the exhaust pipe for the steering brake fumes protruding from the glacis plate, and the fake visor installed in the front of the superstructure between the driver’s and radio operator’s visors, which was intended to draw enemy fire away from the other vision ports. The superstructure displays the triangular shaped splash guard installed in front of the driver’s and radio operator’s hatches, which would protect against bullet and shrapnel fragments. Looking at the track guards, this tank has the smaller style of track guard supports typical for 0-Serie tanks, along with a stowage box that has been placed further to the rear. Unique to this VK9.01, the turret has also been armed with a longer ‘Flak’ barrel on its 2 cm Kw.K.38; a modification that would serve to increase muzzle velocity and thereby provide more penetration. In addition to this, the two-tone ‘Tropen’ camouflage scheme is clearly exemplified by the contrasting stripes covering the sides of this tank. This supports the notion that the Panzer II Ausf.G was intended to be sent to North Africa. Photo: warspot.ru

Ultimately, the production of the VK9.01 was a classic case of too little, too late. By 1942, the fighting on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union had shown that thinly armored tanks were exceedingly vulnerable, and of limited combat utility outside reconnaissance and scouting. Correspondingly, the emphasis on design and mass production switched to heavier armed and armored tanks, such as the VK30.02, which would evolve into the famous Panther tank. Worse still, the VK9.01 and VK9.03 projects were displaced in the reconnaissance role by the VK13.03, which benefited from the automotive technology refined in its predecessors. Packaging this automotive technology into a design with better armor protection and sufficient space for a four-man crew, the VK13.03 offered a more appealing option for a mass produced light scout tank, 100 of which would later be produced as the Panzer II Ausf.L ‘Luchs’.

As these realities caught up with the VK9 series, the contracts suffered the consequences. In March 1942, the VK9.03 project was unceremoniously cancelled by the Heeres Waffenamt. Having advanced closer to achieving actual production than the VK9.03, the VK9.01 was not cancelled altogether, but the contract for the 0-Serie was cut by 20 chassis in July 1942 (from 75 to 55) and the sought after mass production contract never materialised. Known since June 1942 by its formal designation as the Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.G, the VK9.01 continued to be produced by M.A.N. at a slow pace for the rest of 1942. According to a report from 17th February 1943, 45 VK9.01 0-Serie chassis had been completed at M.A.N. by the end of 1942, with another scheduled for completion later that month, after which time they would be displaced on the assembly room floors by the more important Panther tank.

These scant records make it exceedingly difficult to provide definitive figures concerning the production of the VK9.01. It is unknown how many of the VK9.01 0-Serie chassis were fitted with turrets and superstructures to make complete tanks. The records from Wa J Rue suggest at least 12 were completed in this way, but it is also possible that more could have been completed. It is also unknown how many of the VK9.01 were fitted with each of the respective steering units and transmissions proposed for this design. It is not even known whether or not the extra chassis scheduled for completion in February 1943 was ever finished, meaning that oft-given figure of 45 VK9.01 0-Serie chassis completed could actually be 46.

Details concerning the production of superstructures and turrets by Daimler-Benz Werk 40 are even sketchier than those for the chassis. The sum of knowledge on this matter amounts to the fact that 60 sets of superstructures and turrets were completed at Daimler-Benz between the contract being awarded in June 1938 and the end of 1942, along with 9 sets of turrets and superstructures completed out of M.A.N.’s contract for 25 sets.

Faced with these significant gaps in our knowledge regarding the VK9.01, it is likely that many aspects of this project will remain shrouded in mystery, unless new information comes to light in future publications on this subject.

A 0-Serie Panzer II Ausf.G being outfitted at an army depot in Magdeburg. Chalked on the front of the hull is the chassis number ‘150014’, confirming that this chassis was one of the fifteen completed by M.A.N. before 18th August 1941. This tank carries all the normal features expected of a 0-Serie Panzer II Ausf.G, including the normal 1 m long barrel for its 2 cm Kw.K.38. Although difficult to discern in this photograph, this tank has also been camouflaged with the ‘Tropen’ scheme. Photo: warspot.ru

Delving into Details: The Curious Case of the Ausf.G1, G3, and G4

The enigmatic history of the VK9.01 is not merely confined to the production data (or lack thereof). Like many German armored fighting vehicles during the Second World War, the VK9.01 received multiple designations throughout its history, including Panzerkampfwagen II neuer Art, Sonderkraftfahrzeug (Special purpose vehicle) 121/1, and Panzerkampfwagen II Ausführung G.

However, one designation, in particular, raises some thought-provoking questions about the VK9.01 and its history. The designation in question refers to the VK9.01 as the ‘Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.G1, G3, und G4’, and was published as the title of a technical manual, specifically D651/36 issued in November 1942, concerning the ‘Description, Operation, and Maintenance of the Chassis’.

What makes this designation unusual is that it contains numerical suffixes after the Ausführung letter, referring to a G1, G3, and G4. Such a practice is extremely uncommon in German armored fighting vehicle (AFV) designations. Usually, there is simply an Ausführung letter such as ‘A’ or ‘D’ without any numerical suffix. In the few instances where this designation pattern does occur, as for example with the Jagdpanther Ausf.G1 and G2, the numerical suffixes are used to indicate production differences or different variants of the AFV in question. Hence, it is probable that the G1, G3, and G4 designations allude to separate variants of the VK9.01. This, in turn, begs the question of what separates these variants from one another, and why is there no mention of an Ausf.G2?

Unfortunately, all of the publications relating to the VK9.01 do not even mention this puzzle, let alone provide an explanation for these numerical appendages. Moreover, primary source material uncovered by Spielberger, Jentz, Doyle, and others has so far failed to shed any more light on this mystery.

One possible solution to this enigma may be that the different designations refer to the various combinations of steering units and transmissions proposed and equipped on the VK9.01 throughout its lifetime. This is a logical hypothesis considering that these variations in steering units and transmissions would have been precisely the kind of essential details one would expect to find mentioned in a technical manual.

A photograph of Maybach’s OG 20417 preselector gearbox installed in a 0-Serie VK9.01. These transmissions were tested extensively by Maybach at their facility near Friedrichshafen. The steering wheel used by the driver to select the appropriate turning radius is also visible in this photograph. Photo: warspot.ru

However, it is important to note that it is equally possible that these designations refer to other differences for which there is no surviving documentation, or that they mean something entirely different altogether. The historiography of German armored fighting vehicles is replete with instances of seemingly logical assumptions proving to be wildly inaccurate upon the discovery of new information, so it is wise to avoid extensive speculation.

The primary reason for mentioning this conundrum is therefore not to provide an answer to these questions, but to highlight an anomaly that has been overlooked in the hope that it will precipitate more discussion on this issue and perhaps even the discovery of new material.

Putting the VK9.01 Through its Paces: The Trials at Berka and St Johann

In April 1941, at the same time as the new transmissions were ordered to be fitted to the majority of the VK9.01s, a major trial exercise involving ten 0-Serie VK9.01 was directed to take place. This trial would be conducted at Berka, a training and testing centre in the German province of Thuringia. It would involve five 0-Serie VK9.01 that had the SMG 50 transmission installed, as well as five 0-Serie VK9.01 fitted with the OG 20417. Unfortunately, the precise date of this trial is unknown, but based on the VK9.01 chassis numbers involved (Fgst.Nr.150016, 150018, 150019, 150020, 150021, 150027, 150031, 150032, 150033), it must have taken place after August 1941, at which point only fifteen chassis had been delivered to the Heeres Waffenamt.

The trial was not an auspicious debut for the VK9.01 project. Records compiled later by Major Esser from the Kummersdorf test centre reveal the extent of the debacle. Having covered 7253 km (4506 miles) at most, all five of Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen’s SMG 50 transmissions failed during the trial; one specimen fitted to Fgst.Nr. 150016 covered just 1766 km (1097 miles) prior to its breakdown. Maybach’s offering did not fare much better: two of their OG 20417 transmissions had also succumbed to mechanical failures by the end of the trial. Curiously, one of the Maybach OG 20417 transmissions that was earmarked for the exercises at Berka does not appear to have participated in the trial, as Major Esser’s notes only mention four 0-Serie VK9.01 fitted with this transmission.

Even though it was still intended to fit 11 0-Serie VK9.01 with the VG 15319 transmission, this setup was conspicuously absent from the major trial at Berka. Surviving documentation does mention that one Versuchs-Fahrgestell fitted with a VG 15319 transmission and an LGR 15319 steering unit was tested at Berka, on 9 July 1941, proving that this combination was tested on the VK9.01. However, this note does not provide further elucidation on the results of this test, and later documents on the VK9.01 appear to focus exclusively on the alternative transmissions, suggesting that the VG 15319 was not developed further.

Following the trial at Berka, both Maybach and Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen continued to test their transmissions in VK9.01 chassis. During the winter of 1941/2, one of the VK9.01 equipped with the SMG 50 transmission that had participated in the evaluation at Berka (Fgst.Nr.150021) was put through its paces at St Johann. Now one of the most popular tourist resorts in the Tyrol region of Austria, St Johann is a market town situated in a valley located near the mountainous Bavarian border. Used by the Heer to test tanks and other armored fighting vehicles in wintry conditions, the conditions at this facility provided an insight into how well their designs could cope with harsh environmental conditions, such as might be found in parts of the Soviet Union.

A 0-Serie VK9.01 (chassis number 150021) testing Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen’s SMG 50 transmission in the snowy conditions at St Johann during the winter of 1941/2. The tank has had its armament removed and carries numerous additional markings (presumably related to the trial), as well as an army number plate: WH 0178596. On this tank, as with some other Panzer II Ausf.G, the Notek headlamp has been installed closer to the driver’s visor, inboard of the left headlight. Photo: warspot.ru
The same VK9.01 traversing the snow at St Johann. As can be seen from the photograph, when it was working, the tank was perfectly capable of crossing deep snow despite its 30 cm ground clearance. Photo: warspot.ru

Frustratingly, there are no written records regarding the assessment of the VK9.01 from its testing at St Johann, although photographic evidence shows that it was capable of traversing deep snow despite its shallow 30 cm ground clearance. Another SMG 50-equipped VK9.01 (Fgst.Nr.150018) from the Berka trials also underwent winter testing at St Johann, as well as further testing in the vaguely defined ‘East’. In addition to these winter tests, Wa Prüf 6 contracted Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen to conduct driving trials with their SMG 50 transmission in a VK9.01 between 1st January 1942 and 16th July 1943. This relatively long period of testing suggests that the SMG 50 transmission was still suffering problems and that it was far from ready for any form of mass production.

Information on the testing conducted by Maybach is even more nebulous. Surviving photographs confirm that Maybach did carry out driving trials with at least one VK9.01 chassis fitted with their OG 20417 transmission. However, as with most of the other trials involving the VK9.01, there are no records conveying the results of these trials.

One of the 0-Serie chassis used to test Maybach’s preselector OG 20417 transmission wading through the mud at the company’s Friedrichshafen testing facility. It has a unique improvised engine deck that does not match the standard design fitted to the 0-Serie tanks. It also appears to carry a civilian license plate on the rear of the engine deck, which was not uncommon for tanks undergoing testing at civilian facilities before they were accepted by the army. Photo: warspot.ru
Maybach’s 0-Serie VK9.01 chassis. In order to simulate the weight of the turret and superstructure, a test weight has been attached to the middle of the chassis in between the engine and the driver’s position. This would ensure that the machine’s performance and the test results accurately reflected that of a completed tank. A windshield has also been fitted in front of the driver, presumably to prevent him from being covered in mud kicked up by the tracks. Photo: warspot.ru

More mysteriously, the VK9.01 chassis was also used as a testbed for an 8-cylinder diesel engine developed by the M.A.N. factory at Augsburg. Originating from a Heeres Waffenamt request in early 1939 to develop a 180 horsepower diesel engine for tanks, M.A.N. designed a V-8 diesel engine with an output of 185 metric horsepower at 2600 rpm. In an internal report dated 20th February 1942, a senior engineer from M.A.N. stated that the diesel engine had been successfully tested in, among other vehicles, a VK9.01, where it had performed satisfactorily. The report concludes that work is slated to continue on the development of the diesel engine in order to increase its output, but there are no further mentions of any alternative engines being tested in the 0-Serie VK9.01.

Caked in mud, the 0-Serie VK9.01 chassis is put through its paces by Maybach. A close examination of the rear shock absorber reveals that it has been fitted with a guard behind it, another feature that appears to be unique to this specific chassis. The halftrack in the background is a 1-ton Sd.Kfz.10 designed by Demag. Photo: warspot.ru

The protracted development of the VK9.01 highlights the problems inherent in using immature and unproven technology. Even though they were subjected to an extensive saga of tests and driving trials, the advanced transmissions used by the VK9.01 were a dead end that would never find employment in subsequent projects. As the abysmal results from the Berka trial dramatically demonstrated, the VK9.01 would never have been ready for planned mass production in November 1941; the design was simply too technologically immature to have been a reliable machine on the battlefield.

Hiding Behind the Frontlines: The VK9.01 in Service

The unsuitability of the VK9.01 for mass production and frontline use is apparent from its rather limited service in the Heer. Before the reduction of the 0-Serie contract and the fiasco at Berka, the VK9.01 was intended to supersede the older variants of the Panzer II serving in the Panzer Divisions. These aspirations are evident in the plans to issue the VK9.01 to some of the first elements of Rommel’s Afrika Korps. According to a status report detailing the conversion of the 33rd Infantry Division into the 15th Panzer Division, this new unit was to be issued 6 Panzer II n.A. before it left for North Africa. The fact that some photographs of the VK9.01 clearly display the two-tone ‘Tropen’ (Tropical) camouflage pattern, consisting of Graugrün (RAL 7008) stripes on a background of Gelbbraun (RAL 8000), reinforces the idea that the VK9.01 was initially slated for employment in the North African theatre of operations.

Like many photos of the Panzer II Ausf.G, this photo from an expired online photo auction raises more questions than it answers. It shows two Panzer II Ausf.Gs on a train in front of two four-wheeled armoured cars. Both of the tanks have a large stowage box on the front-right fender and a large Balkenkreuz emblazoned on the right side of the turret. It is possible that these tanks may sport the two-tone ‘Tropen’ camouflage scheme, but it is not certain. Sadly, it is unknown when and where this photograph was taken, and there are no means to identify to which unit the vehicles belonged. Photo: Expired Online Auction

However, it is generally accepted that these plans did not come to fruition, and that the VK9.01 never crossed the Mediterranean. Even though the report clearly stipulates that 6 VK9.01 will be incorporated into the 15th Panzer Division, it is dated 1st February 1941, several months before any VK9.01 chassis had actually been delivered from the M.A.N. factory. Moreover, the 15th Panzer Division arrived in North Africa in April 1941, at which point records indicate only a single complete VK9.01 (chassis fitted with superstructure and turret) had been finished. It is therefore highly unlikely that the VK9.01 formed part of the 15th Panzer Division’s first contingent, but it remains possible that some could have been shipped over at a later date. Even so, there are no further mentions of the Panzer II n.A. in this unit’s operational records, nor are there any published photographs that appear to show a VK9.01 in North Africa. Added together, the evidence strongly suggests that the intention to deploy the VK9.01 to North Africa was never realised, although the gaping holes in the history of the VK9.01 preclude any definitive conclusions on this matter.

After this brief mention, the VK9.01 vanishes from operational records. Based on the limited photographic evidence of this rare tank, it appears that most of them found their way into training units. Until the advent of the internet and the circulation of newly discovered photos being sold on internet auction sites, it was incorrectly assumed that the VK9.01 never saw combat. However, every so often, photographs come to light which show the VK9.01 in operation with troops on the Eastern Front. Unfortunately, it is impossible to glean substantial details from most of these photos, such as which units the tanks belonged to and the precise location in which they were operational.

Prime examples of the difficulties in parsing out such details are a series of unpublished photos mentioned in Panzer Tracts 2-2. According to Jentz and Doyle, these photographs belonged to a veteran from Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 5 of the 2.Panzer-Division, who photographed VK9.01 tanks training in Germany and loaded on a train. These photos provide far more questions than answers. Did the VK9.01 belong the 2.Panzer Division or another unit? Where was the train containing the VK9.01 headed? Were the VK9.01 attached to this unit ever used in combat? Until more research is carried out or new photographs come to light, these questions will remain unanswered.

A Panzer II Ausf.G in action. This tank is being used to tow a 2 cm Flak 30 or 38 anti-aircraft gun, at the same time as providing a lift to several soldiers. As with many photographs showing this tank in service, it is simply impossible to provide more comprehensive details regarding the location of this tank or the unit it belonged to. Note that this tank also displays the Notek headlight in the inboard position. Photo: warspot.ru

Nevertheless, some pieces have been added to the VK9.01 puzzle by Akira Takiguchi. In a short article published on his website, Mr Takiguchi shared a photograph showing that at least one VK9.01, working in conjunction with troops from the Luftwaffe, Heer, Polizei, and local militias, participated in anti-partisan operations in the town of Grodek (also known as Horodek among various other names), located in present-day Belarus. Tactical markings on the VK9.01 suggest that it belonged to a Panzerspähkompanie (armored reconnaissance company), but the specific unit remains unidentified. A second photograph was published by Takiguchi in April 2020, showing two VK9.01s in this area, presumably belonging to the same Panzerspähkompanie. These photographs were captured in the spring of 1944, showing that the VK9.01 did see combat behind the lines relatively late into the war.

Mr Akira Takiguchi’s photograph showing a Panzer II Ausf.G supporting an anti-partisan sweep through the town of Grodek. The purple label points to the tactical symbol denoting that this tank belonged to a Panzerspähkompanie (armored reconnaissance company). The tank has been covered with all of the familiar paraphernalia seen on German tanks in combat, including extra stowage boxes and tow ropes. This photograph is also noteworthy for the motley collection of uniforms and weapons employed by the troops sitting on top of the engine deck. Photo: Mr Akira Takiguchi’s Private Collection
Another photo from the collection of Takiguchi showing two Panzer II Ausf.Gs from the unknown Panzerspähkompanie parked in Grodek during the spring of 1944. According to Takiguchi, the unit also operated a six-wheeled armoured car (likely either an Sd.Kfz.231 or Sd.Kfz.232 six-rad) in this vicinity. It may be possible to make out the striations of the two-tone ‘Tropen’ camouflage pattern on the nearest tank, but it is difficult to be certain from this black-and-white photograph. Photo: Mr Akira Takiguchi’s Private Collection via the Facebook Light Panzer Reference Group

Clearly, there is still much to be uncovered regarding the service life of the VK9.01. In the absence of any surviving tanks or components, additional information must be unearthed from archives or period photographs. Even so, based on the limited information available, it appears that most of the VK9.01s that were completed as tanks were used in areas where their limited firepower and armor protection were not such a liability, for purposes including training and combatting partisans.

A Panzer II Ausf.G moving along a road as part of a column of vehicles. The glacis plate has spare track links attached, a common practice amongst German tankers serving on the frontlines, who thought that it provided extra protection. Unsurprisingly, the left-hand side track guard has been supplemented with extra stowage boxes. Photo: Public Domain

The Heer’s Recycling Programme: The Fate of the VK9.01 Turrets

Ironically, for a tank designed with mobility in mind, a considerable number of VK9.01 turrets saw service as static emplacements than they did atop a tank. Throughout the Second World War, the Heer proved to be very adept at adapting obsolete or excess material to new purposes. As the contract for the 0-Serie VK9.01 was reduced from 75 to 45 over the course of its development, the Heer found itself in possession of many surplus VK9.01 turrets and superstructures that had already been completed by Daimler-Benz before the contracts were cut. Not content to leave these usable components languishing in storage, the Heer used these extra turrets to create more emplacements in their fortifications that lined the coasts and frontiers of Western Europe. These new positions were known as ‘Ring Stands’, which consisted of redundant tank turrets mounted on top of concrete or wooden platforms in positions where they could enhance the firepower of German defensive lines.

A VK9.01 turret mounted on a Ring Stand somewhere in Denmark. The low ground surrounding the emplacement provides an unobstructed field of fire for the weapons. Pegs for inserting sticks to hold up the camouflage netting and break up its outline were supposed to be welded onto the turret, but lacking the pegs, the netting on this example has simply been draped over it. Photo: Public Domain

In total, 27 VK9.01 turrets were recycled in this way. Asides from the concrete platform upon which they were mounted, the VK9.01 turrets were otherwise unmodified. They retained the same armament as their tracked counterparts (one 2 cm KwK 38 and one coaxial 7.92 mm MG 34) and the armor protection was not increased. Similarly, the commander’s cupola fitted with 8 periscopes for all-round observation was not supplemented with additional optical devices. The only significant change was the ammunition capacity, which was greatly augmented by the additional space available inside the concrete stand. Compared to its mobile cousin, which had sufficient stowage capacity for 200 cannon rounds and 2,100 machinegun cartridges, the VK9.01 mounted on a Ring Stand could hold up to 2,800 rounds for the cannon, as well as 24,000 rounds for the MG 34.

The designs for all of the various Ring Stands created by the Heer involved covering the bases underground so that only the turret protruded above ground level. In the case of the VK9.01, the turret projected 580 mm high above the concrete base and had a firing height of approximately 190 mm. The design of the VK9.01 turret also allowed for the guns to be depressed by 10 degrees and elevated up to 20 degrees for firing at targets. Thanks to their low silhouette and large ammunition reservoir, the VK9.01 turrets mounted on Ring Stands proved to be a useful supplement to German fortifications, explaining why these turrets and those of other designs were widely employed for this purpose, as the threat of an Allied landing loomed over German-occupied France.

Drawings for the Pz.Kw.-Turm II (VK9.01) (Normalserie) Ring Stand. These were based on drawings by Wa.Prüf.Fest.IV. (the fortification design office) dated 18th March 1943. They illustrate the shape of the underground concrete base, as well as the small target presented by the turret. Photo: Public Domain

Of the 27 turrets that were given over to this purpose, 17 were completed by M.A.N., whilst the remaining 10 were outfitted by the Artillerie Werkstatt die Kommandantur Hill Süd. Whereas M.A.N. assembled turrets were completed with the original T.Z.F.10 binocular gunsight, the remaining ten turrets prepared by the Artillerie Werkstatt die Kommandantur Hill Süd were expediently fitted with the T.Z.F.4 monocular gunsight. The use of the T.Z.F.4 may have been due to a shortage of T.Z.F.10 gunsights, of which only 93 were produced in total during 1941 and 1942, with 30 set aside for the VK16.01 0-Serie.

After being appropriately furnished by M.A.N. and the Artillerie Werkstatt die Kommandantur Hill Süd, the VK9.01 turrets were installed in various sites across Western Europe. The most comprehensive report on the location of the Ring Stand turrets, composed on 26th March 1945, lists 16 turrets sent to Denmark, whilst 10 more were either positioned along the Atlantikwall spanning the northern French coastline, or the Westwall guarding Germany’s border with eastern France. Even though photographic evidence does at least confirm that VK9.01 Ring Stands were based in Denmark, Jentz and Doyle note that the report does contain known errors, leaving open the possibility that the VK9.01 Ring Stand may have been allocated in a different way to that presented by the report. Moreover, the report only accounts for 26 VK9.01 turrets, yet records state that 27 were converted for use on Ring Stands. As there are no surviving VK9.01 turrets mounted on Ring Stands, more detailed information on their positions is dependent upon further research into this subject.

A VK9.01 turret mounted upon a Ring Stand located in front of the Kurhotellet on the Danish island of Fanø. The two holes in the turret front plate indicate that this was one of the 17 turrets conditioned by M.A.N. and fitted with the T.Z.F.10 binocular gunsight. Photo: Collection of Frihedsmuseet, Copenhagen

Curiously, at least one VK9.01 was recycled in an entirely different manner. During the trials of an experimental air-cooled diesel engine developed by the Czechoslovakian firm Tatra, a VK9.01 turret was mounted on the VK13.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell used to test this engine. In March 1944, VK13.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell Nr. V.29 fitted with this VK9.01 turret and the Tatra engine underwent off-road testing at Berka, which was followed by a trip from Prague to Eisenach in order to measure fuel consumption. The rationale behind fitting this chassis with a VK9.01 turret is a mystery, but it appears to have been a unique occurrence. Given that the chassis was undergoing testing, the VK9.01 turret may perhaps have been an expedient substitute for the lack of spare available VK13.03 turrets or testing weights. Certainly, had the VK13.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell conducted the testing without a turret fitted, the testing results for fuel consumption and off-road performance would have been skewed by the fact that the tank would weigh considerably less minus its turret.

VK13.03 trial chassis Nr. V.29 fitted with a VK9.01 turret. This chassis was used to test a new engine created by Tatra, undergoing trials during the Spring of 1944. It is unknown why the VK9.01 turret was used, but it seems to be a one-off occurrence. The armament has been removed from the VK9.01 turret and a plug placed over the aperture for the 2 cm KwK 38 cannon. Photo: Public Domain

Another inexplicable link between the VK9.01 and the VK13.03 turrets is to be found in VK13.03 turrets being stamped with turret numbers assigned to the VK9.01. In one of the Panzer II Ausf.L ‘Luchs’ assembled by M.A.N. (chassis number 200103), the VK13.03 turret assembled by Daimler-Benz carries turret number 150070, which would appear to be part of the VK9.01 series, given that the VK9.01 was assigned the chassis number band 150001-150075, whereas the VK13.03 received the band ranging from 200101-200200. Whatever the true reasons behind these perplexing instances of intermingling happen to be, the degree of crossover between the two projects is unsurprising. Both were developed by M.A.N. and Daimler-Benz, and both were intended to be new models of Panzer II.

Dead End: The VK9.01 in Retrospect

Ultimately, the VK9.01 amounts to little more than a footnote in the wider history of German Second World War armored fighting vehicle design. Even though the automotive components designed for the VK9.01 promised to revolutionize the performance of the Panzer II, the finished product failed to live up to the lofty expectations of its designers. Far from enhancing the mobility of the Panzer II, the new transmissions and steering units proved to be the bane of the VK9.01 project, contributing to the tank’s unreliability and its abject failure in testing. It is therefore unsurprising that most of the technology associated with the VK9.01 project would not go on to be used anywhere else. Indeed, the VK13.03 (better known as the Panzer II Ausf.L ‘Luchs’) eventually eschewed its complex triple radius steering unit derived from the VK9.01 for the less sophisticated but proven technology of a clutch-brake system.

These technological problems were exacerbated by the tendency of the engineers at Wa Prüf 6 to pursue multiple designs simultaneously, without a clear focus or priority. Consequently, the VK9.01 had been superseded after merely two years in development by the VK9.03, a bigger, more powerful iteration of the VK9 series, which would itself be supplanted by the elusive VK9.04 and VK9.05. This meant that several similar designs were developed at the same time for exactly the same purpose by the same engineers working at the same company: a perfect illustration of the propensity for German engineers to experiment with new technology rather than focus on improving existing designs. Despite the clear indications that the existing armament and armour protection of the Panzer II would be inadequate on the battlefields of the 1940s, the engineers involved in the VK9 series neglected these considerations, frittering away time and money on experimenting with novel drivetrains.

A Panzer II Ausf.G moving through a village. Although there are plenty of details on the photo, the frustrating lack of unit markings, combined with a dearth of written documentation concerning unit allocation, make it exceedingly difficult to pin down the specifics of this photograph. Photo: Military Photos

The product of this wasted effort was the underwhelming Panzer II Ausf.G, a testament to the widening gulf between German tank designers and battlefield requirements. This tank was a far cry from the light tank of the future, fit for little more than training or fighting against partisans behind the lines. Conceived as a vast leap forward for future German light tank design, these grandiose aspirations for the VK9.01 project ironically culminated in an unsatisfactory technological dead end.

Views of the right-hand side of the VK9.01 and the rear of its turret are surprisingly rare. The radio antenna has been raised out of its protective trough and the cupola hatch has been hinged open. The quality of the photograph makes it difficult to determine whether or not this tank has been painted in the ‘Tropen’ camouflage scheme. Photo: eBay auction
A blurry, poor quality photograph of two Panzer II Ausf.G. The stowage boxes on the left-hand side bear a close resemblance to the tanks seen in a previous image, indicating that they may have belonged to the same unit. Both tanks carry a Balkenkreuz on the left-hand side of the turret, and the lead tank also appears to have another stenciled on the hull rear. Photo: Public Domain


Illustration of the Panzerkampfwagen II Ausführung G by Alexe Pavel and Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin.

Panzer II Ausf.G illustrated by David Bocquelet
Panzer II Ausf.G with winter camo, illustrated by David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.24 x 2.39 x 2.05 metres
Total Weight 10.5 tonnes
Crew 3 Men (Commander/Gunner, Radio Operator, and Driver)
Propulsion Water-cooled gasoline Maybach HL 45 motor producing 150 HP at 3800 rpm
VG 15319, or OG 20417, or SMG 50, 14.3 HP/ton
Transmission Triple radius differential steering unit LGR 15319 or LGL 15319
Maximum speed 67 km/h (regulated to 65 km/h)
Range On road: 200 km
Cross Country: 125 km
Suspensions Torsion bar, 30 cm ground clearance
Armament 1x 2 cm KwK 38 auto-cannon (200 rounds)
x coaxial 7.92 mm MG 34(P) machine gun (2100 rounds)
Elevation/Depression: +20/-10 Degrees
Sight: T.Z.F.10 binocular sight (2.5 x 25 degrees)
Armor (hull/turret front) 30 mm frontal hull
14.5 mm + 5.5 mm hull side
14.5 mm rear hull
14.5 mm superstructure side
30 mm gun mantlet
30 mm turret front
14.5 mm turret sides and rear
Production 45

Sources and Further Reading:

Books:
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.1-2 Panzerkampfwagen I: Kl.Pz.Bef.Wg. to VK18.01 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2002).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.2-2 Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.G, H, J, L, and M: Development and Production from 1938 to 1943 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2007).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.20-2 Paper Panzers: Aufklaerungs-, Beobachtungs-, and Flak Panzer (Reconnaissance, Observation, and Anti-Aircraft) (Maryland, Panzer Tracts, 2002)
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.21-1 Staende mit Pz.Kpfw.Tuermen (Panzer Turrets on Concrete and Wooden Stands): Pz.kpfw.-Turm I to F.Pz.D.T.4814 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2004).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, H.L., Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2011).
Hoppe, H., Wehrmacht Special No. 4003 German Military Vehicle Rarities (3): Imperial Army, Reichswehr and Wehrmacht 1914-1945/ Deutsche Fahrzeugraritäten (3): Kaiserreich/Reichswehr/Wehrmacht 1914-1945 (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2005).
MacDougall, R., and Neely, D., Nürnberg’s Panzer Factory: A Photographic Study (Sussex: Panzerwrecks, 2013).
Spielberger, W.J., Die Panzer-Kampfwagen I und II und ihre Abarten: Einschließlich der Panzerentwicklungen der Reichswehr (Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag, 1974). Translated into English as Panzer I and II and their Variants: From Reichswehr to Wehrmacht (Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing US, 2007)
Sowodny, M., and Force, E. (translator), German Armoured Rarities 1935-1945 (Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing US, 1998).
Internet Articles and Websites:
Frihedsmuseet Digital Archive. Available: LINK
Greville, D., Research into Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp and the Sd.Kfz.2 Kleines Kettenkraftrad. Published:
LINK
Pasholok, Y., ‘Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.G: The Fruit of Unending Labour’. Published: LINK Translated into English: LINK
Photographs compiled at https://forum.ww2.ru/index.php?showtopic=4693101
Takiguchi, A., ‘Seek, then it will be found’. Published: LINK

Bibliographical Comment:

The standard reference work on the VK9.01 is Panzer Tracts No.2-2 Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.G, H, J, L, and M: Development and Production from 1938 to 1943. Written by Thomas Jentz and Hilary Doyle, the doyens of German interwar and Second World War AFV history, this book contains the most extensive account of the VK9.01 project in print. Based on extensive research into primary sources, the accuracy and level of detail in this book is unparalleled, making it an essential port of call for anyone interested in further reading about the VK9.01. All publications concerning the VK9.01, including this article, are indebted to this book, without which most of the details presented here would simply be unavailable. Companion volumes in this series provide equally comprehensive and groundbreaking treatments of their respective subjects.

Other reference books which cover the VK9.01 should be treated with caution. Many of those published before Panzer Tracts 2-2, particularly Spielberger’s history of the Panzer II, contain inaccurate assumptions and misleading information which were corrected by Jentz and Doyle. Most of the other books mentioning this tank contain only a superficial glance at the VK9.01, reflecting the neglect of this AFV in the available literature. Until new archival research is conducted and the results published by other authors, Panzer Tracts 2-2 is unlikely to be surpassed as the essential reference on this subject.

Yuri Pasholok’s online article concerning the Panzer II Ausf.G (available in its original Russian and also translated into English) is, despite the occasional error, an excellent summary of the information presented in Panzer Tracts 2-2. Read in conjunction with the other articles in Pasholok’s Panzer I and Panzer II series, this article is also helpful for contextualising the development of the VK9.01, by tracing its lineage to earlier designs and its links to other contemporaneous projects.

The combat service of the Panzer II Ausf.G is perhaps the largest blank spot in the history of this tank. Akira Takiguchi’s online article highlights the difficulties confronting those interested in this obscure subject. This short article investigates one particular Ausf.G photographed in combat and provides several extremely interesting photographs from Takiguchi’s private collection.

The author also wishes to express his thanks to Hilary Doyle for responding to queries concerning the ‘Ausf.G1, G3 und G4’ mystery.


Categories
WW2 German Panzer II

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.J (VK16.01)

Germany (1942)
Heavy Reconnaissance Tank – 22 Built

The Panzer II bore many variants over its service life, from the Ausf.A, to the subject of this article, the J. The Panzerkampfwagen II Ausführung J. was a heavy reconnaissance tank, and compared to its bretheren, was far better protected.
Being a ‘Heavy Reconnaissance Tank’, the J performed a similar role to a light tank. This panzer was far from light, however, completely disregarding the usual morphology of this type of vehicle. It was slow, heavy and extremely well armored. The only similarity the vehicle bore to the other Panzer IIs was its name. It was not, in any way, an offensive weapon. If it got in trouble, the armor would have protected it while it withdrew, and its cannon would have been used to try and suppress the enemy in the meantime.

Panzer I Ausf.F

3 Panzer I Fs in the field. Source:- flamesofwar.com
3 Panzer I Fs in the field. Source:- flamesofwar.com
The Panzer II J followed the same path as the heavy variant of the Panzer I, the Ausführung F. The 2 vehicles were very similar. The Panzer I Ausf.F had a single vision port for the driver and was armed with 2 MG 34s in a cylindrical turret. Only a small number of the vehicles were produced.

Tiger Cub

Panzer II Ausf.J
The Panzer II J began life as the VK16.01 (VK: Vollketten – fully tracked, 16: Tracked vehicle weighing 16 tonnes. 01: First prototype) on November 15 1939. The prototype was approved in 1940 and the contract for production was given to MAN. There was some delay after however, and the vehicle didn’t go into production until 1943. Even so, the production run was quite limited.
The II J was an extremely tough nut to crack. The vehicle had 80 mm (3.15 in) of frontal armor and 50 mm (1.97 in) on the sides with similar values for the turret as well.
The II J’s teeth were not quite as sharp as the Tiger however, as the tank kept the same Rheinmetall 2 cm KwK auto-cannon that was standard issue for regular Panzer IIs. It also had a coaxial MG 34. The 2 cm  (0.79 in) auto-cannon was a considerable improvement over the Panzer I Ausf.F’s dual MGs. The weapon was more than deadly to large groups of infantry and lightly armored vehicles. However, it would really struggle against most tanks of the era. Though as its main role was reconnaissance, this wasn’t too much of an issue.
A Panzer II Ausf.J passing a group of soldiers. Notice the commander standing out of the cupola.
The vehicle had a crew of 3. The driver was placed in the forward left part of the hull, next to which was the radio operator. Each position had a direct vision port in an armored housing, as found on the Tiger. The ports could be fully closed to increase protection, at the cost of vision. There were also vision ports on the flanks of the vehicle. The commander was alone in the turret and operated the 2 cm (0.79 in) cannon. The radio operator would also double as loader if required. The commander was able to ingress and exit the vehicle through a slightly raised cupola. The cupola lacked vision ports, so in order to survey the battlefield, he would have to expose himself. The crew accessed the vehicle via large round hatches in either side of the tank.
The tank was powered by a 150 hp Maybach HL45 engine, propelling the vehicle along at a steady 31 km/h (19 mph). All 18 tons of the tank were supported on overlapped road-wheels designed by E.Kniepkamp, a designer best known for his work on half-tracks.

Panzer II Ausf.J, unknown unit, Kursk, July 1943.
Panzer II Ausf.J, unknown unit, Kursk, July 1943. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Service Life

Panzer 31 of 221 Panzer Div. Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com
Panzer 31 of 221 Panzer Div. Source: panzerserra.blogspot.com
The Panzer II Ausf.J was a short-lived variant. The original order of 100 vehicles was canceled on the 1st of July 1942 due to construction efforts being focused on newer Panzer models. As such, only 22 of the vehicles were produced in total. In 1943, seven of the tanks were issued to the 12th Panzer Regiment, operating on the Russian Front.
These vehicles saw combat at the battle of Kursk along with its Panzer I F cousin. The Panzer II Ausf.J’s armor would have probably proven to be a quite nasty surprise to the Soviet defenders. However, it is important to note that this armor was only meant to allow the vehicle to get out of sticky situations, and not to actually assault enemy positions. It’s 2 cm (0.79 in) autocannon, while adequate for the reconnaissance role, would have been totally useless against most enemy armored opposition.
In 1944, a damaged IIJ was converted into a recovery vehicle, this being named the Bergepanzer II Ausf.J. The changes consisted in the removal of the turret and the introduction of a small crane. Later on, in 1944/45, the same vehicle served with Panzer Werkstatt Kompanie (Tank Repair Company) of the 116th Panzer Division.
No Panzer II Ausf.Js have survived to this day. One Panzer I F survives however, in the Belgrade Military Museum, Serbia.

An article by Mark Nash

A fully loaded and camoflaged II J fording a small Stream
2 crew members stand beside their vehicle. The cammo pattern can also be seen.
2 crew members stand beside their vehicle. The cammo pattern can also be seen.

Panzer II Ausf.J specifications

Total weight 18 tons
Crew 3 (driver, loader/radio operator, commander/gunner)
Propulsion Maybach HL 45 P
Suspension Kniepkamp
Speed (road) 31 km/h (19 mph)
Armament 2 cm (0.79 in) KwK 38 auto-cannon
MG 34 machine-gun
Armor 80 mm (3.14in) front, 50 mm (0.19 in) sides and rear
Total production 22

Links & Resources

Panzer Tracts No. 2-2 – Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.G, H, J, L, AND M
The Pz. II J on www.wehrmacht-history.com
Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

Categories
WW2 German Panzer II

Panzer II Ausf.A-F and Ausf.L

Germany (1934)
Light Tank – 1,856 Built

The main German light tank of WW2

Both the Panzer I and II were considered as stopgaps before the arrival of more advanced models, namely the Panzer III and IV. Despite of this, the Panzer II remained in service throughout the war, being the main light tank in German service and being used as a scout, although many wheeled vehicles preformed this specialized task far better. In this particular role, the Panzer II lacked both speed and range. It was gradually improved and produced until 1943, as no satisfactory replacement was ready in time.

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

The origins of this model date back to 1934, when it became apparent to the Waffenamt (military ordnance bureau) that delays in the production of the Panzer III and IV led to the need of a new design to quickly replace the Panzer I. The specifications required a 10 ton tank with a 20 mm (0.79 in) autocannon. Krupp, AG, Daimler-Benz, MAN, Henschel, Sohn AG were contacted, and submitted their designs to the Waffenamt in 1935. The Krupp design was rejected, and a marriage of the Daimer-Benz hull and MAN chassis was chosen instead. This led to ten prototypes during late 1935, initially named LaS 100. Production was approved the same year.

Panzer II general features

Basically, the accepted design was an enlarged Panzer I with a turret bearing the new Rheinmetall KwK30 L55 20 mm (0.79 in) quick firing gun. The armament was derived from the 2 cm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft gun, capable of a firing rate of 600 rpm. The purpose of such a gun was to have good armor-piercing capabilities, due to its high velocity and high rate of fire, being especially effective at short range against most light and medium tanks of the time. The KwK 30 was aimed through a TZF4 gun sight. Normal provision was 180 rounds (armor-piercing and high explosive) and 2250 for the coaxial 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Rheinmetall-Borsig model 34 machine-gun. Elevation/depression for the gun mount was +20/-9.5°. As the Spanish Civil War showed, a dramatic increase in armor was urgently needed, and the first designs incorporated integral 14 mm (0.55 in) homogeneous steel armor (10 mm/0.39 in top and bottom), which was sufficient against shrapnel and bullets. However, it was not immune to many high velocity 37 mm (1.46 in) AT weapons of the time, or the French 25 and 47 mm (0.98-1.85 in) and Soviet 45 mm (1.77 in) towed antitank guns.
The engine of nearly the entire series was the gasoline 6-cylinder Maybach HL62 TRM providing 140 hp, coupled with a ZF transmission with 6 gears plus reverse. It was reliable, although it limited any major increases in armor and armament, due to significant losses both in speed and range. The first pre-series vehicles were fitted with small wheels sprung in pairs under three bogies, a system very similar to the Panzer I suspension. However, for reliability and mass production, a new system of five individually sprung, larger wheels was chosen. The upper part of the track was supported by three return rollers, increased to four on the production version. The crew-size of three was a progress over the Panzer I, but the commander was also the main gunner, sitting on the turret seat. The driver sat at the front of the vehicle. The loader/radio operator was situated on the floor under the turret, operating a FuG5 USW receiver and 10-watt transmitter. The radio gave a clear advantage to the Panzer II over previous models and foreign opponents.

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.a/1 to a/3 (Sd.Kfz.121)

In January 1934 the German tank design office of the weapons testing ordnance department Waffen Prüfwesen 6 (Wa Prw 6) issued specifications of a new tank chassis they wanted built, code name La.S.100. Weapons manufacture Maschinenfabrik Augsburg Nürnberg AG, (M.A.N.) built a prototype La.S.100 tank chassis. They were in competition with two other German companies Fried.Krupp Abt.A.K. and Henschel. M.A.N. was awarded the contract to build the chassis of the new Panzer II light tank based on their prototype La.S.100 chassis. Daimler-Benz designed the superstructure and turret.
It is wrong to dismiss the Panzer II tank of 1936 as a poor design when comparing it with more heavily armed and armoured tanks of WW2. The tank’s armour could protect its crew from small arms fire and 7.92 mm S.M.K steel-cored armour-piercing machine gun bullets fired from a range of 30 m. It was designed to engage enemy machine gun nests and destroy them to enable the infantry to continue to advance, not to engage in tank on tank combat. The tank’s 2 cm Kw.K.30 L/55 gun could knock out Soviet T-26 and BT tanks but the crews were aware that the Panzer II tank’s armour would not stop a 3.7 cm or 4.5 cm anti-tank gun.
The high nickel-alloy, rolled homogeneous-hard armour plate ranged in thickness from 5 mm to 13 mm. It was welded together not riveted as seen on many other tanks of this time-period. This made it stronger and lighter.
The first Panzer II Ausfuehrung (model versions) were given the lower case letter ‘a’ then ‘b’ and ‘c’. Later versions were given capital letters ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’. This can be confusing. The Panzer II Ausf.a tanks was subdivided into Ausf.a/1, Ausf.a/2 and Ausf.a/3. Each version having minor mechanical changes.
Early versions of the Panzer II changed shape over time as they were upgraded during their operational life. Additional armour was added and features like cupolas were fitted. Panzer II tanks were not used in the Spanish Civil War. They first saw combat in Poland, 1 Sept 1939.
Panzer II Ausf.a
The Panzer II Ausf.a (Sd.Kfz.121), also known at first as the VK 6.22, was a new stopgap tank design. Here is one of the pre-series Ausf.a3, with a longer hull and other improvements over the Ausf.a. They were involved in the large training exercises in 1937, then deployed during the Austrian and Czechoslovakian annexations. They fought in Poland, Norway and France, and then were phased out as training machines.

Panzer II Ausf.a/1, a/2 and a/3 specifications

Dimensions 4.38 m x 2.14 m x 1.94 m
Weight 7.6 tons
Crew 3
Armament 2 cm Kw.K.30 L/55 auto-cannon
Additional weapon 7.92 mm Coaxial M.G.34 machine-gun
Armor thickness 5 mm – 15 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL 57 TR 6-cyl water-cooled 130 hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Road Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Max Range 190 km (118 miles)
Total production Ausf a/1 25
Total production Ausf a/2 25
Total production Ausf a/3 25

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.b (Sd.Kfz.121)

The thickness of armour on the Panzer II Ausf.b tank’s chassis, superstructure and turret was increased from the Ausf.a tank’s 13 mm to 14.5 mm. The gun mantle increased from 15 mm to 16 mm. To reduce the reliance on obtaining nickel, the armour was changed to rolled homogeneous nickel-free armour steel. It had the same resistance to 7.92 mm S.M.K steel-cored armour-piercing machine gun bullets fired from a range of 30 m as the Ausf.a but it had to be thicker to achieve this. This increased the weight of the tank by 500 kg but it did not decrease its speed.
The shape and thickness of the crew’s vision ports were changed to give added protection. A different style of large drive wheel was bolted on to the final drive at the front of the tank. The rear engine deck was redesigned. Armoured louvers were added to the rear right of the tank. The road wheels and the track return rollers were widened. The return rollers were reduced in diameter. Wider tracks, increasing from 260 mm to 285 mm, were introduced. Lengthened, foldable track guards were fitted to the rear of the tank.
The 2 cm Kw.K.30 gun could fire three different shells. When fired against armour plate laid back at 30° from the vertical. The PzGr.39 (Armour Piercing) shell could penetrate 23 mm of armour at 100 meters and 14 mm of armour at 500 meters. The PzGr.40 (Armour Piercing Composite Rigid) shell could go through 40 mm of armour at 100 meters and 20 mm of armour at 500 meters. It could also fire 2 cm Sprgr. 39 (High Explosive) shells.
Early versions of the Panzer II changed shape over time as they were upgraded during their operational life. Additional armour was added and features like cupolas were fitted. Panzer II tanks were not used in the Spanish Civil War. They first saw combat in Poland, 1 Sept 1939.

Panzer II Ausf b
Here is an Ausf.b operating with the 36th Panzer Regiment, based at Putloss in Schelwig-Hosltein, part of the German expeditionary force, Operation Weserübung, March 1940.

Panzer II Ausf.b specifications

Dimensions 4.75 m x 2.14 m x 1.95 m
Weight 7.9 tons
Crew 3
Armament 2 cm Kw.K.30 L/55 auto-cannon
Additional weapon 7.92 mm Coaxial M.G.34 machine-gun
Armor thickness 5 mm – 16 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL 57 TR 6-cyl water-cooled 130 hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Road Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Max Range 190 km (118 miles)
Total production 100

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.c (Sd.Kfz.121)

The suspension on the Ausf.c was visually very different from that used on previous models. Five larger 55 cm diameter road wheels replaced the six small road wheels. The suspension was now a leaf spring, crank arm system. The long metal beam that ran along the road wheels was no longer needed and was removed. The new version of the front drive wheel first introduced on the Ausf.b was kept. An additional track return roller was added bringing the total to four. The front track guard extension was now held together with a by clips.
This increased the total weight from 7.9 tons to 8.9 tons. This did not affect the tank’s top speed as the engine was upgraded as well. It was fitted with a more powerful Maybach HL 62 TR 6-cylinder water cooled 140 hp petrol engine.
The 2 cm Kw.K.30 gun could fire three different shells. When fired against armour plate laid back at 30° from the vertical. The PzGr.39 (Armour Piercing) shell could penetrate 23 mm of armour at 100 meters and 14 mm of armour at 500 meters. The PzGr.40 (Armour Piercing Composite Rigid) shell could go through 40 mm of armour at 100 meters and 20 mm of armour at 500 meters. It could also fire 2 cm Sprgr. 39 (High Explosive) shells.
Early versions of the Panzer II changed shape over time as they were upgraded during their operational life. Additional armour was added and features like cupolas were fitted. The bullet ricochet ‘splash’ plate and the dummy cone shaped periscope in front of the commander’s hatch were removed. The additional armour added to the front hull glacis plates changed the look from a curved frontal armoured hull to an angular shape. Panzer II tanks were not used in the Spanish Civil War. They first saw combat in Poland, 1 Sept 1939.

Panzer II Ausf.c specifications

Dimensions 4.81 m x 2.22 m x 1.99 m
Weight 8.9 tons
Crew 3
Armament 2 cm Kw.K.30 L/55 auto-cannon
Additional weapon 7.92 mm Coaxial M.G.34 machine-gun
Armor thickness 5 mm – 16 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL 62 TR 6-cyl water-cooled 140 hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Road Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Max Range 190 km (118 miles)
Total production 75

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.A (Sd.Kfz.121)

The Panzer II Ausf.A was the final standardised version ready for mass production. The previous versions Ausf.a/1, a/2, a/3, b and c were all trial series developed to test new design elements. This is why a capital letter ‘A’ was used to denote the tank version. Only minor internal changes were made. A new gear box was fitted. The fuel pump, oil filter and cooler were relocated on the engine. The tank’s electrical system was supressed to try and stop it interfering with the AM radio reception and transmission.
The man visual difference between the Ausf.c and the Ausf.A was the introduction of a new driver’s visor at the front of the tank. The large flat rectangular armoured vision port cover was now replaced with a V shaped armoured visor that had a slit built into it. The two side visors used by the driver and radio operator were now of the same type. The first modification fitted to the Ausf.A was a turret ring guard bolted on to the superstructure at the front and rear of the turret ring, to help deflect incoming enemy armour piercing bullets and shell shrapnel.
The 2 cm Kw.K.30 gun could fire three different shells. When fired against armour plate laid back at 30° from the vertical. The PzGr.39 (Armour Piercing) shell could penetrate 23 mm of armour at 100 meters and 14 mm of armour at 500 meters. The PzGr.40 (Armour Piercing Composite Rigid) shell could go through 40 mm of armour at 100 meters and 20 mm of armour at 500 meters. It could also fire 2 cm Sprgr. 39 (High Explosive) shells.
Early versions of the Panzer II changed shape over time as they were upgraded during their operational life. Additional armour was added and features like cupolas were fitted. The bullet ricochet ‘splash’ plate and the dummy cone shaped periscope in front of the commander’s hatch were removed. The additional armour added to the front hull glacis plates changed the look from a curved frontal armoured hull to an angular shape. Panzer II tanks were not used in the Spanish Civil War. They first saw combat in Poland, 1 Sept 1939.

Panzer II Ausf.A

Panzer II Ausf.A specifications

Dimensions 4.81 m x 2.22 m x 1.99 m
Weight 8.9 tons
Crew 3
Armament 2 cm Kw.K.30 L/55 auto-cannon
Additional weapon 7.92 mm Coaxial M.G.34 machine-gun
Armor thickness 5 mm – 16 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL 62 TR 6-cyl water-cooled 140 hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Road Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Max Range 190 km (118 miles)
Total production 210

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.B (Sd.Kfz.121)

There were no major changes between the Panzer Ausf.A and the Ausf.B. There was a delay in finalising the design of the Panzer III tank to enable it to be mass produced. To fill this gap more Panzer II tanks were ordered but with a few minor alterations like vertical bullet deflectors welded to the sides of the superstructure in front of the vision ports. 50 mm thick bullet proof glass were bolted behind the vison slit. During the production run strengthening reinforcing rods were added to the hull and angle irons were welded inside the engine compartment.
The 2 cm Kw.K.30 gun could fire three different shells. When fired against armour plate laid back at 30° from the vertical. The PzGr.39 (Armour Piercing) shell could penetrate 23 mm of armour at 100 meters and 14 mm of armour at 500 meters. The PzGr.40 (Armour Piercing Composite Rigid) shell could go through 40 mm of armour at 100 meters and 20 mm of armour at 500 meters. It could also fire 2 cm Sprgr. 39 (High Explosive) shells.
Early versions of the Panzer II changed shape over time as they were upgraded during their operational life. Additional armour was added and features like cupolas were fitted. The bullet ricochet ‘splash’ plate and the dummy cone shaped periscope in front of the commander’s hatch were removed. The additional armour added to the front hull glacis plates changed the look from a curved frontal armoured hull to an angular shape. Some were fitted with a smoke grenade rack on the battlefield.
The Panzer II Ausf.B tanks sent to North Africa had extra armoured plate bolted onto the gun mantel in addition to the extra hull armour. A large stowage bin was fixed over the right track guard. Panzer II tanks were not used in the Spanish Civil War. They first saw combat in Poland, 1 Sept 1939.

Panzer II Ausf.B

Panzer II Ausf.B specifications

Dimensions 4.81 m x 2.22 m x 1.99 m
Weight 8.9 tons
Crew 3
Armament 2 cm Kw.K.30 L/55 auto-cannon
Additional weapon 7.92 mm Coaxial M.G.34 machine-gun
Armor thickness 5 mm – 16 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL 62 TR 6-cyl water-cooled 140 hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Road Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Max Range 190 km (118 miles)
Total production 627

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.C (Sd.Kfz.121)

The Ausf.C was ordered to keep the factories busy until the Panzer III tank was ready for mass production. The only visible difference is a new type of improved vision port. It had two conical beaded bolts of the face plate and two large bolts above and below it to keep the 50 mm bullet proof glass in place. It was still armed with a 2 cm Kw.K.30 L/55 main gun that could fire armour piercing AP shells and high explosive HE Shells. The turret was also fitted with a 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun.
Early versions of the Panzer II changed shape over time as they were upgraded during their operational life. Additional armour was added to the front of the tank’s hull and turret in 1940. When the commander’s cupola was fitted in 1941 the bullet ricochet ‘splash’ plate and the dummy cone shaped periscope that used to be in front of the commander’s hatch were removed. The additional armour added to the front hull glacis plates changed the look from a curved frontal armoured hull to an angular shape.
Two of the 40 Pre-series Panzer II Ausf.C light tanks were sent to the eastern front. In 1944 the remaining thirty-eight light tanks were recorded as issued to the Reserve of LVIII. Panzerkorps in Normandy to be used for training and reconnaissance work. They were lost in Normandy.

Panzer II Ausf.C
Panzer II Ausf.C
Panzer II Ausf.C
Panzer II Ausf.C Russia

Panzer II Ausf.C specifications

Dimensions 4.81 m x 2.22 m x 1.99 m
Weight 8.9 tons
Crew 3
Armament 2 cm Kw.K.30 L/55 auto-cannon
Additional weapon 7.92 mm Coaxial M.G.34 machine-gun
Armor thickness 5 mm – 16 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL 62 TR 6-cyl water-cooled 140 hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Road Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Max Range 190 km (118 miles)
Total production 364

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.F (Sd.Kfz.121)

The Panzer II Ausf.F was built with the thicker 30 mm armour on the front of the tank hull and 30 mm armour of the front of the turret. It was not added on later as in previous earlier models. The Commander had a cupola with a periscope on the top of the turret rather than a split hatch. The side vision ports had vertical bullet splash guards in front of them and had two conical bolts above and below the visor to hold in place the 50 mm bulletproof glass behind it.
The turret dummy periscope and commander’s hatch bullet splash guard were not fitted. The turret ring was protected from bullet and shrapnel damage by a triangular shaped guard welded to the top of the superstructure at the front and back. The turret was fitted with a rear stowage bin.
A fake armoured visor, made from aluminium alloy, was bolted onto the front of the hull to the right of the driver’s vision port. This was done to distract enemy fire away from the driver. Most other parts used to build the tank were unchanged from previous models. It was still armed with a 2 cm Kw.K.30 L/55 gun and 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun.
The first seven Panzer II Ausf.F light tanks were completed in March 1941. Production stopped at the end of July 1942. A total of 1,004 received chassis numbers and entered service.
They were used mainly on the Eastern Front as a reconnaissance tank but some Panzer II Ausf.F light tanks were sent to Libya as replacements. In the desert, they were issued to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Panzer Regiment, 21st Division (II.Abt/Pz.Rgt.5). These tanks had the size of the cooling air intake and exhaust holes increased and the radiator fan changed for a high-performance version so it could cope better with the hot desert temperatures. Late production tanks built in 1942 had four posts fitted around the turret cupola to be used as a base for a Fla-M.G anti-aircraft machine gun. The rear turret stowage bin does not seem to be fitted.

Panzer II Ausf.F
Panzer II Ausf.F
Panzer II Ausf.F
panzer II Ausf.F Russia

Panzer II Ausf.F specifications

Dimensions 4.75 m x 2.28 m x 2.15 m
Weight 9.5 tons
Crew 3
Armament 2 cm Kw.K.30 L/55 auto-cannon
Additional weapon 7.92 mm Coaxial M.G.34 machine-gun
Armor thickness 5 mm – 30 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL 62 TR 6-cyl water-cooled 140 hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Road Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Max Range 190 km (118 miles)
Total production 509

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.D & Ausf.E (Sd.Kfz.121)

The leaf spring suspension on the Panzer II Ausf.c and Ausf.A-C tanks were found to have a limited life span of 1,500 – 2,500 km before they needed changing. A new torsion bar suspension system with larger road wheels and a different drive and idler wheel were introduced on the Panzer II Ausf.D and E. It was designed by Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN). No track return rollers were used. The seven Ausf.E chassis had different wheels. They were used for trials, never as combat tanks as no turret or superstructure was fitted to them. They were converted into Flamethrowing tanks.

A new Maybach HL 62 TRM engine and a new Maybach Variorex VG 102128 7-speed gearbox enabled this heavier Panzer II Ausf.D tank to reach top speeds of 55 km/h. Fuel tanks were moved into the engine compartment. The rear engine deck was completely changed. The armoured deck now covered the width of the tank and had two large split hatches in it.
One of the major differences was that the radio operator now has his own armoured forward vision port and hatch at the front of the tank. The triangular aerial support on the left of the tank was removed and the aerial positioned on the right side of the vehicle. There are no vertical bullet splash shields in front of the side late version vision ports. There are conical shaped bolts above and below the armoured side vision ports to hold in place the 50 mm thick bullet proof glass.
The front hull armour was now 30 mm thick and of an angular rather than a curved design. The turret armour was still 14.5 mm. It had a split hatch and dummy periscope cone and bullet splash guard in front of the hatch. All Panzer II Ausf.D tanks that survived Poland and the invasion of France were converted into 7.62 cm Pak 36(r) Marder II (Sd.Kfz.132) tank hunters following an order issued 20 December 1941. Some Panzer II Ausf D were converted into flame throwers.

Panzer II Ausf d
Panzer II Ausf.D

Panzer II Ausf.D and Ausf.E specifications

Dimensions 4.75 m x 2.14 m x 2.02 m
Weight 11 tons
Crew 3
Armament 2 cm Kw.K.30 L/55 auto-cannon
Additional weapon 7.92 mm Coaxial M.G.34 machine-gun
Armor thickness 5 mm – 30 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL 62 TRM 6-cyl water-cooled 140 hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Road Speed 55 km/h (34 mph)
Max Range 200 km (124 miles)
Total production Ausf.D 43
Total production Ausf.E 7

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.G (Sd.Kfz.121)

In the summer of 1938, the German Army (Heer) authorised the development of a new model of the Panzer II light tank in an effort to create a more mobile armored fighting vehicle that could supplant its technologically inferior predecessors in the Panzer Divisions. This would become the failed Panzer II Ausf.G.

Panzer II Ausf.G
Panzer II Ausf.G Russia

Panzer II Ausf.G captured by American forces in Normandy 1944
Panzer II Ausf.G captured by American forces in Normandy 1944 (NARA)
Panzer II Ausf.G captured by American forces in Normandy 1944
Rear view of the Panzer II Ausf.G captured by American forces in Normandy 1944 (NARA)
Thirty-eight Panzer II Ausf.G light tanks were issued to the Reserve of LVIII. Panzerkorps in Normandy
Thirty-eight Panzer II Ausf.G light tanks were issued to the Reserve of LVIII. Panzerkorps in Normandy. (Filip Hronec)
Brown and green paint was sprayed in broad bands over a base coat of Dunkelgelb dark yellow.
Brown and green paint was sprayed in broad bands over a base coat of Dunkelgelb dark yellow. (Filip Hronec)
Before the Allied landings in Normandy, the Panzer II Ausf.G was used for training.
Notice the Panzer II Ausf.G did not have any track return rollers. (Filip Hronec)
Before the Allied landings in Normandy, the Panzer II Ausf.G was used for training.
Before the Allied landings in Normandy, the Panzer II Ausf.G was used for training. (Filip Hronec)

2 cm Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.H & Ausf.M (Sd.Kfz.121)

The Panzer II Ausf.H and Ausf.M only reached the prototype stage. They did not enter mass production or see active service. They would have 30 mm thick armor on the front of the hull and turret, but the side and rear armor were going to be increased from 14.5 mm on previous Ausf.G models to 20 mm thick. The company MAN was contracted to design and build the hull while Daimler-Benz manufactured the superstructure and turret. To cope with the weight of the armor a more powerful Maybach HL 66 P 200 hp engine was fitted to the prototypes.
They both had the same overlapping torsion bar suspension system with five large road wheels as first introduced on the Panzer II Ausf.G light tank. No track return rollers were fitted. The overlapping road wheels enabled only a short length of track to be in contact with the ground, which resulted in exceptional manoeuvrability as it had a small turning circle. The first and last torsion bars on each side of the tank had shock absorbers attached to dampen down the impact of bumps at speed.
The Panzer II Ausf.H was initially intended for the tank to be armed with the standard Panzer II 2 cm KwK 38 gun but documents show that it was intended to fit a 2.8 cm KwK 42 self-loading gun. No further records have been found that show this happened.
The Panzer II Ausf.M prototype design used the Panzer II Ausf.G light tank hull suspension with overlapping torsion bar suspension system with five large road wheels but it was to be fitted with the wider turret of the Panzer II. Ausf.L. This would enable a fourth crew member, a gunner, to work in the turret.
On 27th March 1942, the decision was made to stop any further work on the Panzer II Ausf.H and Ausf.M designs in preference to the preferred Panzer II. Ausf.L Luchs (Lynx).

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.J

Instructions were given to MAN and Daimler-Benz to build a strengthened Panzer II tank, which would become the Panzer II Ausf.J. The frontal armour on the hull and turret was increased from 30 mm to 80 mm thick. The sides and rear of the turret and hull were increased from 14.5 mm to 50 mm thick. It was armed with a 2 cm Kw.K.38 gun and a 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun in the turret. The commander had a cupola on top of the turret.

Panzer II Ausf.J
Panzer II Ausf.J
Panzer II Ausf.J

Panzerspähwagen II (2 cm Kw.K.38) Luchs – Lynx (Sd.Kfz.123)

In 1938, the German company Maschinenfabrik Augsburg Nürnberg (MAN) and Daimler-Benz were awarded the contract to design a new version of the Panzer II light tank for reconnaissance missions. They had already produced a three man Panzer II: MAN worked on the chassis and Daimler-Benz constructed the superstructure and turret. They then moved on to develop a four-man version that would become the Panzerspähwagen II (2 cm Kw.K.38)(Sd.Kfz.123) also known as the Panzer II Ausf.L ‘Luchs’ (Lynx). Panzerspähwagen and Panzerspaehwagen in English means armoured car.
The first prototype chassis was completed in July 1941. In June 1942 it was tested against two Czech built light tanks the Skoda T 15 and 38(t) n.a. tank. The Luchs was found to be the better design, with a larger turret and better ground clearance. During the trials the engine, clutch and transmission functioned without problems over different terrains.
The Maybach 180hp HL 66 P water-cooled petrol engine had enough power to enable the tank to have a top road speed of 60 km/h.
The front armour on the turret and chassis was 30 mm thick. The side and rear armour was 20 mm thick. The turret was armed with a centrally mounted 2 cm KwK 38 main gun with a 1.3 m long anti-aircraft gun barrel and a coaxial 7.92 mm MG34(P) machine gun which had an armoured sleeve to protect the gun barrel. The gunner sat on the right of the turret which was a different layout to most German turrets. The Maybach HL 66 P water-cooled 180 hp petrol engine produced enough power to give the tank a top road speed of 60 km/h. Production of 2 cm Luchs began in September 1942 and finished on 7 January 1944: only 100 were built. They were used on the Eastern Front and the Western Front in Normandy.

Panzerspähwagen II Luchs

Panzerspähwagen II ‘Luchs’ specifications

Dimensions 4.63 m x 2.48 m x 2.21 m
Weight 11.8 tons
Crew 4
Armament 2 cm Kw.K.38 auto-cannon
Additional weapon 7.92 mm Coaxial M.G.34 machine-gun
Armor thickness 5.5 mm – 30 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL 66 P 6-cyl water-cooled 180 hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Road Speed 60 km/h (37 mph)
Max Range 260 km (161 miles)
Total production 100

Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

Main variants

Many Panzer II chassis, particularly those of early versions (Ausf.A to C) were used for special versions. And the production line, which stopped producing the Panzer II, kept churning chassis for the production of new variants.

Panzerkampfwagen II (Flammenwerferwagen) (Sd.Kfz.122)

On 21 January 1939 the Waffenamt, (weapons department of the German military) suggested that flame thrower tanks be built using the Panzer II Ausf.D tank chassis. Between April and August 1939 forty-six new Panzer II Ausf.D tank chassis were diverted from the main tank production line and converted into a Flammenwerfer (flame thrower). An order dated 8 March 1940 resulted in an additional forty three Panzer II Ausf.D tanks, that had been issued to front line Divisions, being recalled and converted in to Flame thrower tanks.
Confusingly these Ausf.D tank chassis were renamed Panzerkampfwagen II (Flammenwerferwagen) Ausf.A. They did not use the Panzer II Ausf.A suspension. It had the new Panzer II Ausf.D torsion bar suspension system with larger road wheels and a different drive and idler wheel. It did not use any track return rollers.
The tank was armed with two flame guns housed in separate armoured towers built over the front left and right track guard. The tank commander operated the right flamethrower and machine gun. The radio operator controlled the left flamethrower. The gun’s fuel was kept in external armoured tanks mounted on each track guard behind it. The turret was redesigned. It was now only armed with a single 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun in a central ball mount flanked either side by two armoured vision ports.
A few Panzer II (F) Ausf.A flamethrower conversions used the Panzer II Ausf.E tank chassis that was similar to the Ausf.D but had different wheels and tracks. A new contract for more flamethrower tanks was reported as having been issued 1 March 1941. These were known as Panzer II (F) Ausf.B. They still used the Panzer II Ausf.D tank chassis but had different idler and front drive sprocket wheels.
They were not enough built in time for the invasion of France and the Low Countries 10 May 1940. There are photographs showing them practicing getting on and off invasion barges in the English channel during the summer of 1940 for Operation Sealion. They first saw combat on the Eastern Front during Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, 22 June 1941. Total build was 92 Ausf.A version and 250 Ausf.B.

Panzer II Flamm
Panzer II (Flamm) Ausf.B (Sd.Kfz.122) flamethrower built on Panzer II Ausf.D hull

Panzer II (F) specifications

Dimensions 4.30 m x 2.124 m x 1.85 m
Weight 12 tons
Crew 3
Armament 2x Flammenwerfer
Additional weapon 7.92 mm Coaxial M.G.34 machine-gun
Armor thickness 5 mm – 30 mm
Propulsion Maybach HL 62 TRM 6-cyl water-cooled 140 hp gasoline/petrol engine
Max Road Speed 55 km/h (34 mph)
Max Range 250 km (155 miles)
Total production Ausf.A 92
Total production Ausf.B 250

Marder II

The most famous derivative was this successful tank hunter, using captured Soviet 76 mm (3 in) AT guns (Sd.Kfz.132) or the regular German Pak 40 (Sd.Kfz.131). 744 of both versions were built or converted until 1944, and they served well until 1944.

Wespe

The Wespe (Wasp) was a frontline self-propelled howitzer motor carriage, officially named “Leichte Feldhaubitze 18 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II”. 682 were built by Alkett from 1942 to 1943. They served with various Panzerartillerie Abteilungen on the Eastern front and North Africa, alongside heavier SPGs like the Hummel and Bison. Some were later converted as ammunition supply tanks (Munitions Selbstfahrlafette auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II).

15 cm sIG 33 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Sf)

Another, heavily modified version officially named “15 cm sIG 33 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Sf)”. This was another attempt to self-carry the gargantuan 150 mm (5.9 in) sIG field howitzer. The Panzer I Ausf.B served as the first basis for such a conversion, but it was soon found to be overloaded. A new, lengthened and reinforced chassis with extra wheels was designed, based on a regular Panzer II Ausf. B chassis. This led to the final Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II. However, only 12 were completed by December 1941, and sent to the Afrika Korps.

Brükenleger II

A Bridge layer based upon an Panzerkampfwagen II tank chassis was requested by the Waffeamt in early 1939. Four were manufactured by Krupp and M.A.N. The bridge could be extended up to 12 meters and withstand 8 tons. Although some sources say they were used in Poland and France because of the White identification cross on the front of the tanks in this picture. Panzer II Ausf B to Ausf F didn’t start production until March 1941. None would have available for the Polish or French campaign
They were in the Engineers section of 7th Panzer. What looks like a white cross in the photo is a Yellow cross bordered in white. They were painted on the vehicles to prevention ‘friendly’ fire incidents due to the unusual silhouette of the Brükenleger II.
panzer II bridge layer
Three Bruckenleger II Bridge layesr based upon an Panzerkampfwagen II tank chassis

Wartime operations: The Panzer II in action

From 1936 to 1939, as the production gradually increased, the Panzer II were used for the drilling of the Panzertruppen. Many of the officers involved became unit commanders afterwards. Some seem to have been sent in Spain, for testing purposes with Panzer Abteilung 88 of Legion Condor, but this is unconfirmed. The first war operation came with the Czechoslovakian annexation, almost without a fight. More serious actions took place during the Polish campaign, in September 1939. The Panzer II was, at that time, the most numerous model in the Werhmacht, with 1223 units. War operations showed that, while it was efficient against most lightly protected tankettes, many were destroyed by the Polish infantry AT rifles and the modern 7TP light tanks. 83 in all were destroyed, including 32 at the battle of Warsaw. Soon enough, there were concerns that they should be withdrawn as frontline combat tanks. Others were sent in Norway, were they played their part without serious opposition from the Allies. The French had landed there two independent tanks battalions, 30 Hotchkiss H35/39s in all, but they never encountered any German tanks. At peak deployment, the Germans had 63 tanks in Norway, mostly including Panzer Is, IIs and only three heavy Neubaufahrzeug. Two Panzer IIs were lost to enemy AT guns.
At the start of the campaign of France, all available Panzer IIs (920) were gathered. The crews were concerned by their opponents’ armor and weaponry. However, the speed, range and flexibility of these light units, all equipped with radios, led to refined tactics, and these tanks were deployed in efficient screening-scouting duties. They performed well, despite heavy losses. In 1941, they took part in operation Marita (the Balkans campaign) and the invasion of Greece. Many were sent to the Afrika Korps, were their speed was seen as an advantage on this particular barren landscape. Variants of the Panzer II (the Wespe and Marder II) were also shipped to Africa. Some survived, despite losses and few replacements, until the Axis surrendered in Tunisia.
When the Russian invasion took place in the summer of 1941, 782 Panzer IIs were involved, now organised in scout units. But the lack of armor proved to be a serious issue. Many Ausf.Cs were up-armored and retrofitted with extra plates. The Ausf.F was a largely rebuilt variant with overall added protection. Ammunition was mixed with more and more AP shells, notably tungsten-core rounds. But most Russian tanks proved immune to them, and only some T-26s and various light tanks could be disabled at short range, by experienced crews. When they could, the Panzer II tankers avoided tank-to-tank combat. In 1942, most of the survivors were removed from the frontline, or given to allied nations, like the Slovaks and Bulgarians. Some were converted, others led to various unsuccessful prototype conversions. Notable among these are the recovery Bergenpanzer II and the Flak 38 version. Production turned towards the Wespe and Marder II. In 1943-44, only the Luchs was active, in limited numbers, alongside survivors of the previous campaigns (386 by October 1944). There are records of 145 Panzer II still active by March 1945.

Sources

Panzer Tracts No.2-1, No.2-2 and No.2-3 by Thomas L.Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle
The Panzer II on Wikipedia
A list of surviving vehicles
The Panzerkampfwagen II on Achtung Panzer