Panzerkampfwagen II was a stopgap measure meant to provide the Nazi German Army with a medium-weight training tank until Guderian could find sufficient backing to bring the Pz.Kpfw III and IV, his fighting tanks, into production.
But the Pz.Kpfw II, in partnership with the Pz.Kpfw I, was destined to spearhead the blitzkrieg into Poland and France because they were the only tanks Germany had in 1939. Thousands of Pz.Kpfw IIs were also thrown against Russia in 1941.
Even though the Pz.Kpfw II was intended as a trainer, it was designed to fight other tanks. It carried relatively thick armor for its time: a maximum of 1.2 inches on the hull nose and slightly less on the turret face in the original Ausf A model.
It was equipped with a 30-caliber 20mm gun and one 7.92mm machine gun. At the time production began, the 20mm gun could penetrate 1 inch of armor at 500 yards, enough to defeat any tank.
The first Pz.Kpfw IIs were powered by a 130-horsepower Maybach engine, but this was quickly upgraded to a 140-horsepower version. By 1939 nearly 1,300 of the new tanks had been manufactured and were in service.
By this time, as the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) had shown, its armor was considered insufficient and the 20mm gun almost useless.
After the successful Nazi German campaign against France in May and June 1940, there occurred one of those decision points that greatly affect the outcome of any war. As they had so often before, the Nazi government chose the wrong path.
A total of 950 Pz.Kpfw IIs had been used against Belgian, British, and French tanks with stunning success. But they succeeded because of superior tactics, not superior equipment.
A misreading of these successes by Hitler and others kept the Pz.Kpfw II in production far longer than it should have been, delaying the introduction of superior tanks and consuming valuable resources.
Instead of providing priority for the development of a new, more powerful medium tank, the decision was made to upgrade the Pz.Kpfw II. A new version, the Pz.Kpfw II Ausf F, went into production.
The Ausf F had new and heavier armor plating (1.3 inches) and mounted a new, longer KwK 20mm 38-caliber gun. Later, some of these tanks received a long-barrel 37mm gun of French manufacture.
The new armor provided more protection but took nearly ten miles per hour off the tank's speed. Nevertheless, nearly 1,100 Pz.Kpfw II Ausf A, B, C, F, J, and Ks participated in the invasion of Russia in June 1941.
Again, superior tactics rather than equipment enabled the Nazi German Army to push deep into Russia on three fronts. Within five months, Moscow, more than 1,500 miles from the invasion's jump-off point, was under siege.
But with the introduction of new Soviet tanks -- notably the T-34 -- the Pz.Kpfw II was no longer a viable design.
The numbers tell the story: Of the nearly 1,100 Pz.Kpfw IIs that began the invasion, less than 870 were still in service ten months later, despite intensive production to make up battle losses.
Increasingly after 1942 the Pz.Kpfw II was relegated to other roles, most notably as a self-propelled weapon mounting a variety of guns, from the Pak 40/2 75mm to a 105mm howitzer.
Known as Panzerjägers, this series of tank destroyers was issued to armored and infantry units. Thus the Pz.Kpfw II was the only tank in the Nazi German armed forces to serve as a tank through the entire war.
See the next page to find specifications for Panzerkampfwagens I and II.
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