After Hitler’s victory in the 1933 elections, Germany started rearming and expanding its army. Due to the treaty of Versailles, the German army wasn’t allowed to have any tanks when Hitler came to power. Officially called the Sd.Kfz.101 (Sonderkraftfahrzeug/Special-Purpose Vehicle), the Panzer I became the first mass-produced tank of the Wehrmacht. In 1933, after extensive trials, production of the Sd.Kfz.101 began.
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Panzer I Ausf.C
Although still called the Panzer I the Ausf.C version was a very different vehicle. It had torsion-bar suspension with large interleaved road wheels. It had a more powerful Maybach HL45 150 hp engine. These new features gave the tank a top road speed of 65 km/h even though the armour thickness had been doubled, compared to the PzKpfw I Ausf B, to 30 mm at the front of the tank.
A long-barrelled 7.92 mm E.W.141 self-loading semi-automatic machine gun was mounted in the turret next to a standard 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun. It was intended to be used by the Luftlandetruppen (Airborne troops) and the Kolonial Panzertruppen (Colonial Armoured Troops). In early 1943 two were sent to the Eastern Front for combat evaluation. In 1944 the other 38 were issued to LVIII Panzer Reserve Korps which fought in Normandy.
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank in Dunkelgelb dark yellow.
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank of the LVIII Panzer Reserve Corps, which fought in Normandy in 1944. With the help of the bocage and their high velocity armament, they gave good account of themselves. This tanks gun has a dirt cover over the barrel used in long drives outside the combat area.
Panzer I Ausf.C specifications
|Dimensions||4.19 m x 1.92 m x 1.94 m
(13 ft 9 in x 6 ft 3 in x 6 ft 4 in)
|Armament left barrel||7.92 mm Einbauwaffe 141 MG machine gun|
|Armament right barrel||7.92 mm MG34 machine gun|
|Armor||10 mm – 30 mm|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL45P 150 hp|
|Maximum Speed||40 km/h (25 mph)|
|Range||300 km (186 miles)|
Panzer I Ausf.F
The Panzer I Ausf F had additional protective armour: the front armour was now 80 mm thick. It was intended to be used against fortified strongpoints and have a weight limit of 18 tonnes so that it could safely drive over army engineers combat bridges. In September 1942 seven were reported as being used on the Eastern Front, near Leningrad. Five more were sent in January 1943. An additional 11 were sent to the Eastern Front with two other units between Aug – Nov 1943. One is preserved at the Kubinka museum, another in Belgrade.
Panzer I Ausf.F light tank of the 1st Panzer Division at Kursk
Panzer I Ausf.F specifications
|Dimensions||4.38 m x 2.64 m x 2.05 m
(14 ft 4 in x 8 ft 8 in x 6 ft 8 in)
|Armament||two 7.92 mm MG34 machine guns|
|Armor||25 mm – 80 mm|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL45P 150 hp|
|Maximum Speed||25 km/h (15 mph)|
|Range||150 km (93 miles)|
The Panzer I in Spain
After the Civil War broke out in 1936, the two opposing sides quickly found themselves supported by friendly countries, which desired to test their equipment and tactics. For obvious ideological reasons, the Soviet Union quickly chose to support the Republican Front and sent waves of T-26s, a Russian derivative of the Vickers 6-ton. On the other side, the Nationalist Forces were supported by Germany and Italy. Italy sent dozens of CV-33 tankettes, with Germany sending the then only tank available. Approximately forty-five Panzer I Ausf.A tanks were sent, followed by seventy-seven Ausf.B tanks. Most of were delivered to the Gruppe Imker, the tank unit of the Condor Legion under Hugo Sperrle. The Spanish forces dubbed them “Negrillos”, due to their dark grey paint. Most were quickly painted in a new lighter scheme.
The first engagement that the Panzer I took part in was the battle of Madrid. Here, the Nationalist forces managed to defeat the Republicans, despite the Panzer I being inferior to the T-26. Only at very short range and using AP rounds could the Russian tanks be taken out. Col. Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma even offered rewards for every captured T-26, so he could bolster his unit’s abilities.
In August 1937, General Pallasar received a request from Franco to upgrade several Panzer Is with the 20 mm (0.79 in) Breda model 1935. Only four were converted at the Armament Factory of Seville in September 1937, and further orders were suspended due the large number of T-26 tanks available by then. The Panzer I remained in service with the Spanish until 1954, when it was replaced by the M47 Patton.
A kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen or light command tank. Based on Ausf.B hulls, around 200 of these high profile, fast command tanks were built. They led Panzer Is in Poland, France, the Balkans, Africa and Russia. The last were still in use in 1943 for urban police duties in many European cities.
The Panzerjäger I was based on the Ausf.B chassis and was the earliest German tank-hunter.
The sIG 33 auf Panzer I Ausf.B was probably the most overloaded platform ever to carry a howitzer.
Flakpanzer I, Flak Abteilung 614, Stalingrad sector, Ukraine, January 1942.
Panzer I Ausf.C
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank (Bundesarchiv)
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank (Filip Hronec)
Panzer I Ausf.C light tank captured by US troops in Normandy.The machine guns have been removed.(NARA)
Rear view of the Panzer I Ausf.C light tank captured by US troops in Normandy.(NARA)