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WW1 German Armor

Leichter Kampfwagen II (LKII)

Nation Flag IconGermany (1918)
Light tank – At least 24 built

The German delays in developing their own tanks were due to a report following the examination of a knocked out Mk.II tank in 1917. The British Mk.II tank had been built as a training vehicle with a soft-metal armor plate. Nevertheless, instructions were given for them to be transported to the battlefield and used in combat. The Germans conducted firing trials on this tank and concluded that it was not a serious threat, because the armor could be penetrated by machine-gun fire, artillery, and direct fire from anti-aircraft and field guns. The advances made at Cambrai with the fully armored Mk.IV tank changed their appraisal of the usefulness of the tank. The Germans started a process of recovering as many Mk.IV tanks as possible, rearming them with German guns and using them against their previous owners. They also built twenty Sturmpanzerwagen A7V break-through tanks. German designers realized they needed a more agile light tank to perform a cavalry role. Work started on designing a Leichter Kampfwagen, a light tank.

Did the Germans copy the British Whippet?

There is no documentary evidence to suggest that the Germans knew about the design and construction of the British Medium Mark A ‘Whippet’ light tank in 1917. The fact that the German Leichter Kampfwagen II (LKII) light tank looked very similar to the British Whippet is just a coincidence due to similar requirements.

This is the British Medium Mark A, Whippet tank. Compare it with the shape of the German Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II light tank. Illustration by David Bocquelet

The German words ‘Leichter Kampfwagen’ literally translates to ‘light combat vehicle.’ A better translation would be ‘light tank.’ The tank was also known as the LK.II. It had a top road speed of 16 km/h (10 mph). Although they were designed in 1917 and manufactured in 1918, they never saw combat with the Imperial German Army during WW1. After the war, some were sold to Sweden and Hungary. The Arsenalen Swedish Tank Museum has three surviving vehicles and a fourth can be seen at the German Tank Museum at Munster.

German Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II light tank on display at the Arsenalen Swedish tank Museum. Source: Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum/Craig Moore

Development and production – Leichter Kampfwagen I (LK.I) light tank

In May 1917, German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank designer Joseph Vollmer became interested in developing a light tank, as he was disillusioned with the slow cumbersome, heavier tank designs. It needed to be constructed quickly, and the best way to do that was to use existing engines, transmissions, and other mechanical parts.

Joseph Vollmer submitted a light tank proposal to the German Supreme Command (Oberste Heeresleitung – OHL). In September 1917, a research project was authorized by the OHL that included the construction of a prototype. In the Autumn of 1917, tank production was not a priority for the OHL. They had seen the limited success of earlier British and French tank attacks that had been stopped by artillery and the muddy conditions of the churned-up battlefield scarred by deep shell craters. The OHL believed that further enemy advances with tanks could be stopped with the resources they already had. This view changed after the Battle of Cambrai, 20 November 1917. The temporarily substantial advances achieved in one day using combined arms tactics and the mass tank attacks shocked the senior German officers.

The LK.I light tank. Notice the tracks protrude in front of the tank and the metal frame between them. There are no mud shoots in the side of the suspension protective armor plates. The louvered radiator cover is angled at the top towards the driver. The 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun has not been fitted in the turret. Source: Bundesarchiv 146-1971-092-26

In March 1918, the first tracked light tank chassis, with a working engine and transmission, was ready for trials (this was the same month the British Whippet went into action for the first time). The trial results were disappointing, as the maximum speed obtained was only 18 km/h (11 mph). On 7 April 1918, when the armored superstructure and turret were bolted onto the chassis, this top speed was reduced to 16 km/h (10 mph). It was soon found that the 14 cm (5.5 inches) wide tracks were too thin. New 25 cm (9.45 inches) wide tracks were ordered to be fabricated. This caused a delay, as they did not arrive until 20 April 1918. However, work started on producing an alternate design to this first version of the Leichter Kampfwagen.

Development and production – Leichter Kampfwagen II (LK.II) light tank

At the same time, Joseph Vollmer had been working on a second design that would become the Leichter Kampfwagen II (LK.II). The original Leichter Kampfwagen was now given the designation LK.I. The new tank design had thicker armor than the LK.I, making it heavier. The tracks were the new 25 cm (9.45 inches) wider version.

On 26 April 1918, German intelligence sources reported to the OHL that the French were mass-producing their own 5-6 tonnes light tank, the Renault FT. On 13 June 1918, Joseph Vollmer demonstrated the LK.I prototype to Lieutenant-Colonel Max Bauer, head of OHL operations section II at the Krupp proving ground. In June 1918, the first LK.II prototype was finished.

On 17 July 1918, after further meetings, the OHL placed an initial order for 670 LK.II tanks, with the option of increasing that to 2,000 tanks by 30 June 1919 and a further 2,000 to be finished by December 1919, bringing the total to 4,000. The first production LK.II left the production line on 10 October 1918. The order was canceled the following month when the First World War ended.

Design

The following sections will describe the design of the machine-gun armed variant of the Leichter Kampfwagen II, of which at least 24 vehicles were built.

Suspension

The LK.I and LK.II light tanks were developed independently but roughly at the same time. The main difference was the length of the tracks. The LK.I prototype had a long protruding track frame at the front of the tank meant to make crossing trenches and getting up the far side of shell craters easier. This apparent sensible design feature was abandoned for a more compact frame. They found that there was too much track in contact with the ground. This made the tank very hard to steer and turn.

The British tank designers had found the same problem when they lengthened the frame of their Mk.V tank by six feet (1.82 m). This tank was called the Mk.V* tank (it was pronounced mark five star tank). The Mark V tank could turn very well, but the Mk.V* had great difficulty turning tight corners. The British designers corrected this fault on the Mk.V** (‘double star’) by making the bottom of the track frame more curved to reduce the amount of track in contact with the ground on solid terrain. The Mk.V** did not enter mass production due to the First World War ending.

There is a lot less track in contact with the ground on the LK.II light tank compared with the LK.I. The front of the track still juts out in front of the tank body, so it is the first thing to make contact with the far side of an enemy trench or shell crater, but not as much as the track system on the LK.I light tank.

The German light tank designers did not fall into the same poorly designed track system seen on the British Lincoln No.1 Machine, the French Schneider tank, the French St Chamond tank, and the German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank. The bodies of these four tanks were in front of the tracks and came in contact with the mud first. This caused the tanks to get stuck in the sludge of trench walls and shell crater earth banks.

Reducing the length of the tracks at the front of the tank on the LK.II light tank did away with the need for a strengthening metal frame having to be installed between the two tracks, as on the LK.I light tank. That frame would have dug into the mud and hindered the tank from climbing out of a ditch.

The armored radiator cover at the front of the LK.II tank was angled. Source: Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum/Craig Moore

During trials, it was found that the engine overheated. Conditions inside the fighting compartment were also uncomfortable due to the heat, fumes, and noise. The louvered grill at the front of the tank and those on the side did not ventilate the engine compartment sufficiently. In October 1918, the solution was found. A big fan was fitted next to a large radiator in front of the engine. This required a redesign to the front of the tank. The louvered grill was removed and replaced with a solid sheet of armor that sloped in the opposite direction to that of the grill on the LK.I tank. It was hinged at the bottom to enable the protective metal armored plate to swing down to allow access to the radiator and fan for maintenance. The angling of the armored plate increased the amount of metal an enemy’s armor-piercing bullet would have to pass through. It would also increase the chance of bullets ricocheting and aid the tank to slide up the muddy bank of a trench or shell crater. The protruding tracks would bite into the mud first, but the mud between the tracks needed to slide off the tank’s body, not dig into the mud wall.

On the LK.I light tank, the track frame, road wheels, drive sprocket, and idler wheel were all protected by slab-sided armor plates. This caused problems with a build-up of mud. On the production version of the LK.II light tank, two long mud shoots were built into the top of the armored track cover.

The road wheels on the LK.II light tank were all sprung. They were not on large springs, but they did have a small range of movement that helped give a smoother ride. Each wheel was attached to a ‘bogie’ suspension unit. There were four road wheels attached to each unit. Each one of these units had an additional amount of rotation to help the tank get over small obstacles and rough ground.

The track tensioning system was exposed and looked very similar to the system used on British tanks. To make an adjustment, a crew member would loosen the hexagonal locking nut on the outside of the tank track suspension protective armor at the front. He would then use a spanner to change the settings on the tensioner rod that could be accessed via a rectangular panel and then tighten the locking nut again.

The track tension could be changed by loosening this locking nut and adjusting the tensioning rod from the rectangular access panel. Source: Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum/Craig Moore

Armor

The tank chassis was riveted. Welding was not used in manufacturing during the First World War. The superstructure was bolted onto a metal frame. The front radiator armored plate was 14 mm (0.55 inch) thick and angled. It was hinged to allow access to the engine compartment for maintenance. The bolts that kept the armored plate in place had conical tops to protect them from damage. The front, side, and rear armor ranged in thickness between 12 mm (0.47 inch) and 14 mm (0.55 inch). The armor on the top of the superstructure and turret was 8 mm (0.31 inch) thick. The belly armor was only 3 mm (0.12 inch) thick.

The Engine

The LK II was powered by a German Daimler-Benz Model 1910 4-cylinder 55-60 hp petrol engine. It had two, 2-cylinder banks that were bolted onto the same crankshaft. A wide leather belt came off the crankshaft and turned the fan blades for the large single radiator. The engine compartment was separated from the fighting compartment by a firewall that was mainly made of wood. It did not entirely seal around the edge of the compartment frame, as there were gaps that allowed airflow, flames, toxic and flammable gases to pass along the outer skin of the vehicle with ease. The wooden firewall would provide a few additional vital minutes to allow the crew to escape the tank in the event of an engine fire. A wooden firewall is not ideal but any firewall is better than nothing and wood is cheap, easy to put in place, and repair.

The LK II was powered by a German Daimler-Benz Model 1910 4-cylinder 55-60 hp petrol engine. It had two, 2-cylinder banks that were bolted onto the same crankshaft. Source: Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum/Craig Moore

The fuel tanks were on each side of the engine compartment. To fill them, a crew member would have to open the engine hatch and undo the filling cap. He would then have to use a hose or long funnel to pour fuel into the tank. An external filling cap was not fitted. He would have to repeat this process to fill the fuel tank on the other side of the engine.

To start the tank, the crew had to turn the hand crank at the front of the vehicle. This was very hazardous in a combat situation. In 1929, an internal engine crank handle and an electric starter were fitted to the upgraded Swedish Army version of the LK.II, the Stridsvagn m/21-29 tank.

The LK.II engine had to be started with an external hand crank. Source: Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum/Craig Moore

Turret

Both the LK.I and LK.II light tanks were armed with a 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun in a fully rotating turret. The 57 mm gun version did not have a turret. The machine gun was water-cooled and was fitted with a large protective metal tubular jacket around it. It was fixed into position on a ball mount that had some spring stabilization. There were additional pistol ports on each side of the turret. If for some reason, the turret ring got jammed, the commander could fire his personal issue PO8 Luger out through these holes. They could also be used as vision ports.

The LK.II light tank was armed with a 7.92 mm MG08 machine gun in a rotating turret, but an additional machine gun can be fired out of large pistol ports. Source: Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum/Craig Moore

To traverse the tank turret, the commander had to grab two handles, brace his back against two pads at the back of the turret and use his legs and arms to physically move the turret by brute force. There was no electric turret traverse motor or a manual handle attached to a geared wheel. The commander had vision slits in the side of the turret and in the cupola. These were not protected by blocks of thick bulletproof glass. If they were hit by an enemy bullet while the commander was looking through them, he would receive eye and facial injuries.

What looks like a fire extinguisher at the back of the turret is, in fact, a small fuel tank for the internal lighting system. There were no electrical lights inside the tank. The tank commander could enter and leave the tank via a large rear hull door.

The attachment on the back of the turret that looks like a fire extinguisher is a small fuel tank for the internal lighting system. Source: Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum/Craig Moore

Towing and Recovery

The LK.II light tank had a large ‘A’ frame at the rear of the tank, below the door. It was designed to be used to tow artillery pieces, trailers and recover disabled tanks or be used to be towed if it suffered a mechanical breakdown. The chain was stowed above the rear door on the left. It just hung down and was attached to the rear ‘A’ frame towing bracket with a D-shaped lock. It must have made a very loud noise going over rough ground as it constantly banged against the side of the tank. Next to the chain, fixed to the rear hull to the left of the door, was a long metal ‘tankerbar’.

The LK.II had an ‘A’ shaped tow frame at the rear of the tank. It could be used to move artillery guns, trailers, disabled tanks, and be towed if it suffered a mechanical failure. Source: Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum/Craig Moore

Additional Machine Guns

Although the tank could be operated by two crewmen, the driver and the commander/gunner, there were four additional machine gun mounts built into the LK.II tank hull. There was one in the front of the hull superstructure, on the left of the driver’s position. There was one built into the back door and one on each side of the hull. These could not all be manned at the same time due to a lack of space, and whoever operated the extra machine gun would have had to change position depending on where the threat came from.

This is the driver’s position. A machine gun could be mounted through the open hatch to his left and in the closed hatches behind him on both sides of the tank. Notice the superstructure was bolted onto a metal frame. Source: Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum/Craig Moore

The additional machine gun would be stowed inside the tank and only fitted in the gun mounts when required. The Swedish Army operated these tanks with four crew members. The two additional members manned the side machine guns. It is not known how many men the Imperial German Army would have assigned to these tanks if they had been used in combat.

The rear door had a large pistol port. A machine gun could be mounted through the hatch. Source: Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum/Craig Moore

The Driver’s Position

The LK.II tanks sold to Sweden were converted to be right-hand drive vehicles. Prior to 3 September 1967, traffic in Sweden drove on the left side of the road and all vehicles were right-hand drive. The German, Berlin-based, company Steffen and Heymann sold the LK.II as a “heavy tractor.” This company did not build the vehicles. They acted as intermediaries and negotiated contracts. Photographic evidence suggests that the conversion of the driving position to the right-hand drive of tanks being shipped to Sweden was done in Germany prior to transportation.

This LK.II has had its upper structure and armament removed. It looks like a commercial sales photograph showing that the vehicle has been repurposed as a heavy tracked tractor and is no longer a tank. It is right-hand drive which made it suitable for sale to Sweden. Source: Warspot.ru

The driver had a forward-looking vision slit and two more to his left and right. These vision slits were built into hatches that could be opened and removed when not in a combat zone, to give better visibility. To the right and left of the driver were access/escape doors. The foot controls were not in the order seen on modern cars, with the clutch on the left, brake in the center, and accelerator on the right. For this vehicle, the clutch pedal was on the left, the accelerator in the middle, and the brake on the right. As the driver put his foot on the brake, the clutch pedal automatically depressed. This reduced the chance of stalling the engine.

The driver controlled the tank using the two tiller levers in front of him. The gear selection lever was to his right. He had large escape hatches on both sides of the tank. Source: Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum/Craig Moore

The driver steered the tank with two tillers: the lever on the left controlled the left track and the one on the right controlled the right track. As the tiller moved back, it disengaged the clutch on one side and engaged the brake. The four-speed gearbox control lever was on the right of the driver. There was no speedometer. The only instrument dial that the driver had to monitor was the oil pressure gauge.

Operational use

On 30 August 1918, a Leichter Kampfwagen light tank prototype was transported to a military training ground near Saarburg, near the Luxembourg border. The German Army Group Herzog Albrecht was given the job of appraising the tank and using it in training exercises. It is not known if this tank was a LK.I light tank, a LK.II armed with a 57 mm gun or a LK.II machine gun light tank.

On 7 September 1918, a Leichter Kampfwagen light tank was recorded as being present with a Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank and taking part in a demonstration exercise. It is not known what type of Leichter Kampfwagen tank took part.

So far, no records have been found stating that production LK II tanks were issued to military units. No LK.II light tanks took part in active combat operations with the German Army.

Export sales of the Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II light tank

Under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, Germany was not allowed to build or use tanks. It secretly sold its stock of LK.II tanks to Sweden and Hungary. The Hungarians were also on the losing side of the First World War and their purchase and ownership of military weapons was severely controlled by the same treaty conditions. Nevertheless, in early 1920, the Hungarian Government purchased one machine gun-armed LK.II light tank from Germany. They then bought a second, followed by a final order for twelve more.

The Hungarian Government had witnessed the German Revolutions that followed the Armistice and seen the use of armored cars and tanks on the streets of Germany. They had also suffered invasion by their neighbors, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, all with French support. The Hungarian Government wanted to be prepared for any further civil unrest or confrontations with its neighbors. All fourteen LK.II light tanks were to be issued to the Hungarian Police training school (RUISK) based in Budapest. But when they arrived, the Treaty of Trianon was in effect banning the Hungarians rearming, so they had to be hidden from the Treaty inspectors and were taken apart. The hulls were hidden in country estates of trusted farmers, disguised as ‘agricultural tractors’. The armored bodies were put inside cattle wagons and kept moving around the country. The Treaty Inspection Committee, on one occasion, visited a train station where there were some railway cattle wagons containing LK.II tank bodies, but they were not discovered.

In March 1927, Hungary was no longer subject to rearmament inspections. The first tank company was formed in 1928. In April 1930, after careful inspection of the condition of the disassembled LK.II hulls and bodies, they assembled 6 tanks and started using them for crew training, until more modern vehicles became available. The new Italian FIAT 3000 light tanks were purchased and used by the 1st Training Company and five of the LK.II tanks were used by the 2nd Training Company. The other hulls were kept for driver and maintenance training.

During the second half of the 1930s, the LK.II tanks were seen as obsolete and scrapped by the garrison. Two turrets were used later for an armored train. In 1939, one LK.II tank was found hidden in a closed shed within the garrison grounds. As that tank did not exist in the official records and was deemed obsolete, it was sold for scrap metal.

In 1921, the Swedish Government purchased ten machine gun armed Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks. They were given the name Stridsvagn m/21 and issued to the Army in 1922. Five of the tanks were upgraded in 1929 and given the new designation Stridsvagn m/21-29.

How many Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II light tanks were produced?

It is not known exactly how many Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks were manufactured. It can be confirmed that ten were sold to Sweden and fourteen to Hungary. This makes a total of twenty-four completed production tanks. There may have been others but, so far, no photographs or documentary proof has been found.

Development and production – Leichter Kampfwagen (LK) gun tank

On 13 June 1918, a Leichter Kampfwagen I light tank prototype was driven around the proving ground at Krupp’s factory premises, near Berlin, to demonstrate its abilities to members of a military conference. Ten days later, on 23 June 1918, the OHL placed orders for the LK.II light tank. At the same time, trials started on a prototype gun tank based on the LK.I light tank hull. Initially, instructions were given that this tank should be armed with a 57 mm Maxim-Nordenfelt gun, as used on the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank.

The gun was designed and built in 1887 by the British Maxim-Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company for the Belgium War Ministry. It was a short-barrelled 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) 26 caliber gun made of steel, with a vertical sliding-block breech. It was initially used to arm the Belgium fortresses of Liege and Namur. In 1914, the German Army captured a large number of these guns. It could fire high explosive 57 x 224R Fixed QF ammunition at an effective range of 2.7 km (1.7 mi). The shell weighed 2.7 kg (5 lb 15 oz).

Leichter Kampfwagen (LK) gun tank prototype armed with a 57 mm gun. The front louvered grill and the side vents did not provide enough ventilation to keep the engine cool. Source: Bundesarchiv

The gun would be too large to fit into the revolving turret used on the machine gun armed LK.I and LK.II light tanks, so a decision was made to construct a rigid casemate at the rear of the tank that could accommodate the size of the cannon.

An initial look at the drawings and photographs of the prototype gun tank may make it appear that it was based on the LK.I tank because of the front armored louvered radiation grill. This is confusing. When the construction of two gun tank prototypes was authorized, the designers chose to use LK.II tank hulls but included some of the superstructure features of the LK.I light tank.

Leichter Kampfwagen (LK) gun tank prototype armed with a 57 mm gun. The driver’s position was under the main gun. He had four vision slits to see where he was going. Source: Bundesarchiv

On 20 August 1918, it was reported that the LK.II tank was found to be too small and light to handle the recoil of the 57 mm gun during firing trials. It was also discovered that the extra weight at the rear of the tank made the tank difficult to steer, as it was tail heavy. It made the tracks at the front of the tank have problems gripping as the tank was driven cross-country because there was not enough weight above them.

On 30 September 1918, the OHL instructed that Krupp’s new 37 mm gun was to replace the 57 mm gun and the ratio of gun and machine gun armed tank orders should be two-thirds armed with a 37 mm gun and one third were to be armed with a machine gun in a revolving turret. By the end of the war in November 1918, no Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks armed with a 37 mm gun had been produced. This may have been due to the fact that the Krupp 37 mm gun was still in development and had not been produced in enough numbers for production to start.

Leichter Kampfwagen (LK) gun tank prototype armed with a 57 mm gun. You can see how much the rear of the gun jutted into the tall casement fighting compartment through the open door. Source: Bundesarchiv
plan of the Leichter Kampfwagen (LK) gun tank prototype armed with a 57 mm gun. The running gear was comprised of seven ‘bogies’ with four road wheels each. Source: Pro-tank.ru

Other Variants

The Leichter Kampfwagen III (LK.III) light tank

Just before the end of the war, tank designer Joseph Vollmer submitted a proposal for the Leichter Kampfwagen III (LK.III) light tank. The LK.II hull, track and suspension system would be used. The engine and gearbox would be placed in a compartment at the rear of the tank instead of at the front, as found in the LK.I and LK.II tanks. The engine would be kept cool by a large armored louvered grill on the back of the tank and two vents on the side of the engine compartment.

The driver’s position at the front of the tank would enable him to have better vision than being sat at the rear of the tank and having to peer over a long engine bonnet, as in the LK.II tank. During combat conditions, he would look through vision slits in armored hatches in the front and side of the upper superstructure. Just behind him, on the left and right sides of the tank, there were large escape hatches that swung out forwards. This configuration of the door would give the crew some armored protection as they left the tank if it was on fire, ditched or knocked out on the battlefield. These hatches could be opened outside of a combat area to give the driver better vision and increase the airflow inside the fighting compartment.

The turret was above and behind the driver’s position. It would have had vision slits, side pistol ports, and a hatch on the top. This layout was very similar to the French Renault FT and modern tanks.

Although, initially, it was intended to arm the tank with the same 57 mm gun used on the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank, firing trials with the 57 mm armed LK.II prototype tanks had found that the LK.II hull and suspension system were too frail. It was found that, when the 57 mm gun was fired, the vehicle could not cope with the stresses of the recoil. The production gun version of the LK.II tank was going to be armed with the new lighter Krupp 37 mm gun. It would be safe to assume that the same decision would apply to the LK.III tank, as it used the same LK.II hull and suspension system. The OHL had given instructions that one 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun armed LK.II tank was to be built for every two 37 mm gun armed LK.II tanks built. These same ratios might have been applied to the production order of the LK.III. The Treaty of Versailles banned Germany from building tanks after 1918. No Leichter Kampfwagen III light tanks were ever built.

An artist’s impression of what a turreted 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun armed version of the Leichter Kampfwagen III (LK.III) light tank may have looked like. Artwork by Refactor95
A drawing of what a casemate version of the Leichter Kampfwagen III (LK.III) light tank armed with a Krupp 37 mm gun may have looked like. Source: Tim Rigsby
An artist’s impression of what a turreted version of the Leichter Kampfwagen III (LK.III) light tank armed with a Krupp 37 mm gun may have looked like. Artwork by Refactor95

The Leichte-Zugmaschiene (Krupp Light Prime Mover)

On 22 May 1918, the German manufacturing company Krupp submitted a proposal to build a lightly armored, armed artillery prime mover to tow field howitzers, based on the LK.II hull and suspension system. It was called the ‘Leichte-Zugmaschiene’ (English: light train machine) or ‘Kraftprotzen’ (English: mechanized limber). This was done on the instructions of Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) Max Bauer, head of OHL, Section II, who was concerned about the lack of horses available to move artillery guns on the battlefield. Krupp’s design did not have a turret. The 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun was fixed in place in a casement tower at the rear of the vehicle. The armor was not as thick as that on the LK.II. It would only protect the crew from small arms fire, not armor-penetrating bullets.

Plans of the 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun armed Leichter-Zugmaschiene artillery prime mover. Source: Bundesarchiv

The proposal was rejected in favor of mass-producing the LK.II light tank. The Chief of Motor Transport (Chefkraft), Colonel Hermann Meyer, made a compromise to gain the support of Oberstleutnant Bauer for the LK.II light tank project. He instructed that all LK.II tanks would be fitted with strong towing hooks at the rear of the tank.

The Kleiner Sturmwagen

On 13 June 1918, at a meeting held in Krupp’s office in Essen, Germany, tank designer Vollmer and the Chief of Motor Transport (Chefkraft), Colonel Hermann Meyer, demonstrated the prototype Leichter Kampfwagen I light tank by having it drive around the company’s proving ground in front of a specially invited audience of Government ministers and Army officers. Krupp took the opportunity to show the plans for a new tank called the ‘Kleiner Sturmwagen’ (English literal translation: ‘Small assault vehicle’, although a better translation would be ‘Light assault tank’). It was larger than the Leichter Kampfwagen II. There would be two versions: one armed with a 7.92 MG 08 machine gun and the other with a 52 mm gun. These plans have not survived. On 23 July 1918, the Krupp and Daimler manufacturing companies formally submitted a joint proposal for the Kleiner Sturmwagen light assault tank. The proposal was eventually rejected, as the decision was made to produce the Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks.

Surviving Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II light tanks

There are four surviving German-built LK.II light tanks. Only one survives in the original 1918 specifications. It is on display at the Arsenalen Tank Museum, 645 91 Strängnäs, Sweden. The Swedish Army called it the Stridsvagn m/21 tank. The other three surviving LK.II light tanks were upgraded and were re-designated Stridsvagn m/21-29 Tank. Two are at the Arsenalen Tank Museum in Sweden. The third is on display at the Deutsches Panzermuseum, Munster, Germany.

Conclusion

The German design took too long and was objectively not much better than the British Whippet Medium Tank. The failure to have light tanks available to exploit the German breakthrough during the spring 1918 Kaiserschlacht was a severe failure, however, it is unlikely that the Germans would have won the war even if these were available.

The 1918 German Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II with a 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun in a rotating turret. Illustrated by David Bocquelet
Swedish Stridagn m/21, armed with a machine gun. Illustrated by David Bocquelet

Leichter Kampfwagen LK II specifications

Machine-gun armed LKII Gun-armed LKII
Dimensions (L-W-H) Length 5.1 m (16ft 9in)
Width 1.9 m (6ft 3in)
Height 2.5 m (8ft 2in)
Length 5.1 m (16ft 9in)
Width 1.9 m (6ft 3in)
Height 2.5 m (8ft 2in)
Total Weight, Battle Ready 8.5 tons Not known but in excess of 8.5 tons
Crew 3
Propulsion German Daimler-Benz Model 1910 4-cylinder 60hp petrol engine
Transmission Cone clutch to four-speed and reverse gearbox to worm reduction and bevel drive, chain loop to drive sprocket, one for each track
Maximum road Speed 14-16 km/h (8.69 – 9.41 mph)
Fuel Capacity 300 litres in two 150 liter fuel tanks
Range Around 60 – 70 km (37.28 – 43.5 miles)
Trench Crossing 3.04m (10 ft)
Armament 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun (s) 57 mm Maxim-Nordenfelt gun (fitted to prototype)
37 mm Krupp gun (propose production gun)
Armor, front, sides and rear 12 mm – 14 mm
Armor, roof 8 mm
Armor, floor 3 mm
Total Known Production 24 2

Sources

“Die technische Entwicklung der deutschen Kampfwagen im Weltkriege 1914-18” by Erich Petter, Berlin 1932.
“Die deutschen Kampfwagen” by Alfred Krüger, published in “Militärwissenschaftliche und technische Mitteilungen”, Vienna, volumes 1/2 1924 and 3/4 1924
Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum
German Tank Museum, Munster
Landships II
‘Tank Hunter World War One.’ By Craig Moore

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