Light Tank – 1 Operated
Even into the 1930s, Norway was not one of the more industrially advanced countries in Europe. As such, Norway was a relative latecomer to the idea of mechanizing its armed forces. It was not until the mid-1930s that the Royal Norwegian Army (No: Hæren) began to express an interest in Armored Fighting Vehicles. It was around this time that it developed its first armored vehicles – 3 improvised armored cars built on commercial truck chassis. By 1936 though, the Army was looking for something a little tougher. The Army became interested in the L-120, a prototype light tank in development by its fellow Scandinavian neighbor, Sweden. While the L-120 – built by Landsverk – would not become a success in Sweden, 1 prototype hull was purchased by and delivered to the Norwegians.
The tank was delivered without a turret, leaving the Hæren to build a basic one of its own design, equipped with a machine gun. The L-120 was Norway’s first-ever tank and would be known by many names, including ‘Kongstanken’ (Royal Tank) and ‘Norgestanken’, (Norwegian Tank); however, it is most popularly known as the ‘Rikstanken’ (The National Tank).
In Norwegian service, the tank would never see combat. Although it was used in training in 1938 and 1939, it was left in storage when the German Army invaded in April 1940. After the invasion and subsequent occupation, the vehicle remained in storage. By war’s end, however, the tank had disappeared.
What’s in a Name?
According to the Forsvarsmuseet (Norwegian Armed Forces Museum) in Oslo, the names given to the L-120 have some interesting history in their own right. The names ‘Norgestanken’ and ‘Kongstanken’ were actually double entendres. In Norwegian, the word ‘tanken’ means both “the tank” and “the thought”. The noun ‘Norgestanken‘ can therefore also mean ‘The Norway thought’, an old nationalistic term for the idea of an independent Norway – Norway had only gained independence from Sweden in 1905. ‘Kongstanken’ can also mean “the royal thought”, and can signify grand, bold, or idealistic thinking. This generation of Norwegians remembered the struggle for independence, so it is easy to see why so much reverence was placed in the name.
In 1936, the Swedish Military was looking to replace the Stridsvagn m/21-29 and Stridsvagn m/31. A requirement was put out for two new tanks, one armed with a 37 mm gun, and a lighter vehicle armed only with machine guns. Landsverk would design two vehicles to fill these roles, the L-60 and the L-120. The L-60 would fill the medium tank role, and would later enter service as the Strv m/38. The L-120 was under consideration for the role of the light tank. At least 3 prototypes were built, each with slight differences, mostly regarding the design of the radiator grills and the design of the driver’s hatch. Design-wise, the L-120 was extremely similar to the previous L-100 light tank concept. The design was typically Swedish, being quite a narrow vehicle, with a hull that sloped to the rear, and a large diameter sprocket wheel at the front of the running gear. The L-120 has a claim to fame in that it is one of the first-ever tanks to feature a torsion bar suspension.
By 1937, two prototypes had been produced, and by May were taking part in trials. The trials highlighted that their engines left them underpowered, and they were extremely unreliable. As a result, the Swedes canceled development of the L-120, with the military instead opting for the Czechoslovakian-built AH-IV tankette.
Despite the tank’s failures in the eyes of the Swedish military, the Norwegians expressed interest in the L-120 to see whether it would be compatible with their dragoon and cavalry units. Initially, the Norwegian Army was granted a budget of 20,000 Kroner. However, the shipping costs of a complete tank would have risen to 50,000 Kroner due to the weight. As a result, the vehicle was shipped in a stripped-down condition without armor plating, a turret, or any armament. The Norwegian Army took delivery of this basic tank hull in 1938.
Overview of the ‘Rikstanken’
Unfortunately, not much information regarding this L-120’s unique specifications survive today, but there are fragments that can be retrieved. The L-120 weighed between 4 and 4.5 tonnes (4.4 – 4.9 tons), measured 4 meters (13 ft 3 in) in length and was about 1.7 meters (5 ft 8 in) wide. With the original turret, it measured 1.65 meters (5 ft 4 in) in height. Propulsion was provided by an 85 hp, 6 cylinder Volvo Type DC – presumably, petrol – engine, reportedly taken from the Volvo LV93 series of commercial trucks. This ran through a 5 speed (4 forwards, 1 reverse) gearbox, also apparently taken from the LV93 truck. The engine was located at the rear of the tank and powered the forward-mounted sprocket wheels, propelling the vehicle to a top speed of about 50 km/h (31 mph). The running gear consisted of 4 split, spoked, and rubber-tired road wheels per side on a torsion bar suspension. There was a larger diameter, spoked trailing idler wheel at the rear, and the return of the track was supported by two return rollers. The track was of quite a short pitch, and quite narrow at about 15 cm (5.9 in) wide.
The L-120 hull that made it to Norway was unique in appearance compared to the other prototypes. The front of the vehicle was dominated by a large sloping upper plate that extended back to the turret ring. There is a suggestion that the tank was delivered without armor, and as such, iron plates were installed on the vehicle. This cannot be corroborated at the time of writing, however. The sides of the hull also sloped inwards. A simple box-like hood was added over the driver’s position, placed slightly to the left of the centerline. Three simple vision ports in the hood provided vision for the driver, one of only a two-man crew. The steering tillers were also reportedly missing when the vehicle arrived, leading to their replacement with a steering wheel. This is another detail that currently can not be corroborated.
The other crew member was the commander/gunner who would be located in the turret. As the vehicle arrived without a turret, the Norwegians had to fabricate their own. They came up with a simple cylindrical turret with a flat roof and a single-piece hatch. This seems to be quite crude in nature and simply hinges backward at a crease in the middle of the roof plate. The only way the commander could see out effectively would be to operate head out, as there do not appear to have been any vision devices in the walls or roof of the turret. However, in some of the surviving photos, it would appear that there may be simple slits cut into the sides of the turret. Considering the rudimentary nature of the turret, it must be assumed that horizontal traverse was manual, but whether this was by gearing or brute force is unknown. It is also unknown how thick the metal used to fabricate the turret was, and whether it made it taller or shorter than the original turret.
For armament, the Norwegians installed an American made Colt M/29 ‘Mitraljøse’ (heavy machine gun) in a simple circular cut out in the ‘face’ of the turret. This weapon was a Norway-specific version of the Colt MG38, the export version of the Colt M1928, which in turn was an export version of the famous Browning M1917. It was chambered in the Norwegian 7.62 x 61 mm round, and remained a water-cooled, recoil-operated machine gun, and had a rate-of-fire of 590 rounds-per-minute. This gun was a sensible choice, as it was the most plentiful – perhaps only – heavy weapon in service with the Norwegian Army at this time, with around 1,800 in operation.
Other details on the vehicle include simple headlights on the fenders over the sprocket wheels, the exhaust pipe on the right rear fender, a larger stowage box on the left rear fender, and pioneer tools (pickaxes, shovels, etc) stowed around the back end of the vehicle.
The service history of the ‘Rikstanken’ can be described as patchy at best. What remains are a series of fragments, mostly consisting of second- or even third-hand accounts.
Between 1938 and 1939, the L-120 was predominantly used in training exercises alongside the cavalry and the 3 improvised armored cars. All 4 vehicles were passed around the cavalry and dragoon units so they could all train with and gain experience operating with armor. As part of the cavalry, the tank received the number ‘PV-1’, which was painted on both of the fenders over the sprocket wheels. It would appear that the tank was predominantly based at Gardermoen, just North of Oslo, at the base of the 1st Dragoon Regiment.
It would appear that the mechanical issues that emerged during the Swedish trials once more reared their heads during Norway’s time operating the vehicle. The Norwegians also came to the conclusion that the engine was far too underpowered. There were also brake issues, once reportedly causing the vehicle to crash into a tree. A Colonel by the name of Christopher Fougner – Commander of the 2nd Dragoon Regiment, was of the opinion that the tank was a waste of money and time, reportedly stating that the only working tank the Norwegian Army would ever see would belong to an attacking enemy. This is ironic considering the events that would transpire just a couple of years later, in 1940.
April 1940 would, of course, bring the invasion of Norway by Nazi Germany, and subsequent occupation. The L-120’s role in the invasion is, again, uncertain. There is a possibility that the tank did see some action in defense of Norway, but it would appear this was not the case. Even so, its ability to combat the more advanced Panzers of the Wehrmacht is highly questionable, although it may have done well against infantry. However, it seems more likely that the tank – along with the armored cars – were left at the Gardermoen base when the garrison forces left to face the invaders. Indeed, there are many post-invasion photos of German troops posing with the vehicle to suggest this.
This, unfortunately, is where the trail runs cold. It is unknown what happened to the vehicle during the duration of the occupation, or whether it survived to the end of the war. Nothing is thought to remain of the vehicle today.
Successful or not, the L-120 ‘Rikstanken’ is an important vehicle in Norway’s military history. Despite the mechanical issues, it gave the Norwegian Army their first experience in the operation of a tank.
It was not until the end of the War, and the Nazi occupation, that the Norwegian Army would gain more advanced armored vehicles. The surrendering German Army left behind swathes of equipment, including Panzer III medium tanks and StuG III assault guns, which would be pressed into service as the Stridsvogn and Stormkanon KW-III, respectively. Norway would also receive a small number of the American built M24 Chaffee light tank, which would serve them into the later years of the Cold War.
Landsverk 120 (L-120). In Norwegian service, it was known as the ‘Rikstanken’ meaning ‘National Tank’. It was fitted with an improvised turret mounting an M/29 machine gun. The grey color is speculative as it is unknown what color the vehicle would have been. This illustration was produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
Ole Jacob Broch, Oslo militære samfund gjennom 25 år: 1925-50
Åke F. Jensen, Kavaleriet i Norge 1200-1994: Utvikling og innsats gjennom 800 år
Tom Kristiansen, Tysk trussel mot Norge? Forsvarsledelse, trusselvurderinger og militære tiltak før 1940
Øystein Mølmen, Raumabanen/Romsdalen, Lesja og Dovre: Kamphandlingene 1 April 1940 Kjell Arnljot Wig, Kongen ser tilbake
Forsvarsmuseet (Norwegian Armed Forces Museum), Oslo
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