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WW2 German Improvised AFVs

Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f)

german tanks of ww2 Germany (1940-45?)
Improvised Light Tank – 1 built

The German occupation troops in the Balkans and in the rest of Europe did not have the first pick when it came to equipment. They usually received obsolete hand-me-downs from more important units of the army or captured vehicles that no one else wanted. Thus, these troops, which were fighting against determined and organized resistance movements, were forced to improvise and improve what they had within their means.

Such might have been the case for a curious vehicle that recently appeared in a number of photographs online. This vehicle consists of a German Panzer I turret mounted on top of the cargo area of a French Lorraine 37L armored supply tractor. Unfortunately, no information is available regarding this vehicle, its role, or its usage, but it can be hypothesized that it was meant as an escort vehicle against partisan attacks or maybe for training.

The Lorraine 37L

During WW1, the armies involved on the Western Front needed a way to transport ammunition and supplies to the front line. Men and horses were getting killed and injured from small arms fire and exploding shell fragments. For this reason, tracked armored supply vehicles were designed. The Tracteur de ravitaillement pour chars 1937 L armored tracked supply vehicle, better known as the Lorraine 37L, was developed by the Lorraine Company in 1937. It was meant to supply the cavalry units of the French army, being larger and faster than the Renault UE that was meant to supply the infantry units. The Lorraine 37L could transport a heavier load and keep up with the fast cavalry divisions. Production began in January 1939.

Lorraine 37L tractor
Lorraine 37L tractor towing a tracked fuel trailer in muddy conditions. Source: Wikimedia Commons

By the time of the armistice in 1940, a total of 432 Lorraine 37L armored supply tractors had been produced. The victorious German forces captured many Lorraine 37L vehicles, of which 300 to 360 (depending on the source) were repaired and pressed back into service. They used them in their original role as Gefechtsfeld-Versorgungsfahrzeug (Eng: supply carriers) and Munitionstransportkraftwagen (Eng: ammunition carriers). After finding out that the suspension system was robust and reliable, many were also converted into 7.5 cm PaK 40/1 Marder I tank destroyers or self-propelled artillery guns.

The regular version of the Lorraine 37L had six large road wheels in three pairs of bogies on each side. This gave the vehicle a low ground pressure and good weight distribution. Each bogie could move up and down independently. It was sprung by an inverted leaf spring system located just below the upper track run: three assemblies were placed between the four top rollers. The tracks were 22 cm wide and it was powered by a 70 hp Delahaye type 135 engine. The transmission was in the front of the vehicle driving the tracks via the drive sprockets located at the front.
The driver and commander sat in the middle of the vehicle, having all-around protection from most rifle-caliber weaponry due to the 6 to 12 mm of armor. At the back, there was a small open-topped cargo space.

Lorraine 37L armored tracto
Lorraine 37L armored tractor towing a tracked fuel trailer. Source M.I.10

Panzer I turret

Work on what would become the Panzer I tank started in 1930, 3 years before the rise of Hitler to power and while the Treaty of Versailles was still officially observed by the German government.

As produced, the Panzer I mounted a single-man turret sporting two coaxial 7.92 mm magazine-fed MG13 machine-guns. Aiming was done using a telescopic sight between the two machine-guns or could be done by eye through two apertures that could be covered by armored shutter when not in use.

Details of the Panzer I turret
Details of the Panzer I turret. Source: Panzer Tracts 1-1

A large forward-opening hatch on top of the turret allowed access for the commander and also allowed him to observe his surroundings while not under fire. Four more shutters were available around the turret sides, two of which had slits built into them. These could be used for observation or used as pistol ports in case enemy infantry got too close. The armor ranged from 7 to 15 mm. Traverse of the turret was done by hand using a gear drive. This drive could also be decoupled and the turret could then be turned by the commander physically rotating it using his body.

Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f)

Photographs have been found showing that a Lorraine 37L armored supply tractor was modified into a light tank by fitting a Panzer I tank turret over the cargo bay at the rear of the vehicle. The turret is missing its main armament in two of the photos available, while in the third one it is hard to judge if the armament is present.

In two of the photos, the vehicle seems to be undergoing mobility tests going up and down an embankment, with various military officials and civilians watching the trials. In one of these, an Italian TL-37 artillery tractor is in the foreground with a German soldier on the back appearing to take a photo or some kind of measurements. The presence of the Italian truck under German control means that these photographs were taken after the September 1943 Italian Armistice and were probably taken somewhere in Yugoslavia.

In the last photo, the vehicle is part of a military column along with two passenger cars and a truck. The forward-most passenger car has a Wehrmacht identification plate.

The crew consisted of three men, a commander in the turret in the new combat compartment, and two men in the front of the vehicle, one being the driver of the vehicle. The vehicle is painted in a single color scheme with a single Balkenkreuz visible on the transmission housing at the front.

Given the low height of the cargo space, it is likely that anyone in the turret would have to be sat in the cargo space in order to be ‘closed-down’ in the turret. This would have seriously hampered any combat ability of the vehicle, especially when it comes to traversing the turret and firing. It is notable that in the known pictures of the vehicle the turret is always facing ahead. Further, two of the three images show a man standing in the turret, and, from his height, the ‘floor’ level of the cargo bay can be ascertained.

Operational Role

Unfortunately, the few photos available do not allow identification of the location this vehicle was used in, as they could be anywhere in Europe. In the lack of new evidence, the best hope to find the location would probably be to identify the buildings visible in one of the photos. Commentators online have claimed that this vehicle was used in Croatia or that it was built by Baukommando Becker (Eng: Construction Unit Becker, responsible for many conversions of the Lorraine 37L, such as the Marder I) in France. However, neither of these hypotheses is supported by any concrete evidence.

The role this vehicle was meant to fulfill is also unknown. It is possible that this vehicle might have been meant to be used as a tank against the resistance forces which would generally lack any anti-armor armament that could take it out. Its twin machine-guns would be enough firepower for such a task. If this vehicle was indeed meant to be used in combat, its performance would have been poor at the very least. The armament would have been restricted in depression over the forward firing arc, as the hull itself would have come in the way. Also, due to the low height of the combat compartment and lack of a turret basket, rotating the turret would have been difficult if not dangerous. Further, there was a significant distance between the gunner in the turret and the driver in the front compartment, making communication and coordination between them difficult. For combat purposes, the vehicle would probably have been little less than a mobile machine-gun nest able to protect static major objectives and to intimidate enemies that were lacking anti-tank firepower.

Alternatively, it could also have been meant to be used for escorting supply columns from the hit-and-run attacks of resistance forces. However, in this case, the slower nature of the tracked Lorraine 37L tractor (not taking into account the extra weight of the turret) would either have severely restricted the speed of the convoy or would have made the vehicle incapable of keeping up.

It is also possible that this vehicle might have been meant as a training vehicle, helping to train drivers, gunners, and vehicle commanders, which might explain the lack of armament. Finally, it might have been used to familiarize infantry with tanks and how to deal with them.

However, without further information being obtained, there is no way to say for certain where this vehicle was built, with what intent, and how it was used.

Conclusion

The Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f) is a mystery vehicle that is known only from a couple of photographs. It is not known where it was built or for what purpose. Only one was probably converted. It is not known what happened to it during or after the war. It was most probably cut up for scrap metal.

The Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f)
The Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f) undergoing trials. (photo source unknown)
The Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f)
The Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f) undergoing trials. (photo original source unknown)
he Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f)
The Panzer I Turm auf Lorraine Schlepper(f) as part of a military column. (photo source unknown)
This peculiar improvised vehicle featured a Panzer I turret on of a Lorraine 37L tractor. Illustration by David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.2 m x 1.57 m x 2 m
13ft 9in x 5ft 2in x 6ft 7in
Total weight, battle-ready 8 tonnes
Crew 3
Propulsion Type 135 Delahaye 6 cylinder inline petrol/gasoline 70 hp
Max. Road Speed 37 km/h (23 mph)
Max. Range road 137 km (85 miles)
Secondary Armament Possibly two 7.92mm M.G.13 machine guns
Armor 9 mm – 13 mm
Total Built 1

Sources

The three available photographs
F.Vauvillier, JM Touraine, L’Automobile sous Uniforme 1939-40
Panzer Tracts 1-1: Panzerkampfwagen I, Kleintraktor to Ausf.B

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