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Panzerkampfwagens I and II

The German Panzerkampfwagen I light tank was originally intended as a training tank. It was armed only with two machine guns.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

What had been referred to in all official documents as "agricultural tractors" to disguise their true nature were, in fact, military tanks called Panzerkampfwagen.

But it was not until 1935 that the new Nazi government, which had approved their acquisition, was ready to defy the Versailles Treaty of 1919 (which limited the German armed forces to 100,000 men and no tanks or fighter aircraft) and admit the true nature of the tanks.

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In the meantime, these two new tanks of the arrogant Third Reich were intended for use as training vehicles for the new armored division concept developed by General Heinz Guderian, the Chief of Staff to the Inspectorate of Motorized Troops.

But building modern tanks virtually from scratch proved far tougher and more time-consuming than anyone had anticipated -- especially with Adolf Hitler constantly changing priorities.

The two new tanks, designated Panzerkampfwagen (Pz.Kpfw) I and II (military designations, SdKfz 101 and SdKfz 121), were drafted as war weapons.

They formed the armored force that broke the Polish Army in three weeks during September 1939. Nine months later, they were still the armored core of the blitzkrieg that smashed the mightiest fighting force in Europe, the French Army.

Panzerkampfwagen I specifications were issued as early as 1932. It was designated as an agricultural tractor to disguise its true purpose.
Panzerkampfwagen I specifications were issued as early as 1932. It was designated as an agricultural tractor to disguise its true purpose.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

In the early days of the Third Reich, Guderian correctly perceived that Hitler was hell-bent on unleashing war on the European continent to avenge the German defeat in 1918 and the dishonorable peace (as perceived by Germany) that had been imposed.

Influenced by the writings of Charles de Gaulle, France's preeminent military tactician who was ignored by the French military establishment, and England's Basil Liddell Hart, Guderian strove all through the 1930s to build the new Panzer divisions -- a combination of tanks, infantry in motor vehicles, motor-drawn artillery, scouting troops on motorcycles, and necessary support units.

The first of the new Panzer divisions was formed in 1935, and their tanks were the Pz.Kpfw I and II.

The Pz.Kpfw I was designed to a general specification set by the new Nazi government. They were produced by industrial giant Krupp Werke, which won a design runoff. The chassis was based on the British Carden-Loyd tankette. A 57-horsepower Krupp gasoline engine drove the front sprockets.

The tank weighed not quite six tons in the original version. It mounted a hand-cranked turret in which the commander stood -- the driver sat below in the hull -- and two 7.92mm machine guns were mounted for the commander's use. Armor plating between .25 and .5 inch thick protected the crew against small arms fire.

Capable of traveling up to 125 miles at a top speed of 23 miles per hour, the Pz.Kpfw I could cross vertical obstacles more than 14 inches high and span four-foot trenches.

Production began in 1934, and trials that year showed that the Pz.Kpfw I was badly underpowered. A new, more powerful Maybach 100-horsepower engine was installed, which required that the chassis be lengthened by 17 inches. This in turn required a fifth road, or bogie, wheel, which led to the development of the Panzerkampfwagen II.

For more on the Panzerkampfwagen II, continue to the next page.

To learn more about historical tanks, check out:

Like the Panzerkampfwagen I, the Panzerkampfwagen II Medium Tank was designed and built as a training tank. It carried a 20mm main gun.
Like the Panzerkampfwagen I, the Panzerkampfwagen II Medium Tank was designed and built as a training tank. It carried a 20mm main gun.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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 Panzerkampfwagen II, which formed the backbone of the Nazi invasion force into Poland in September 1939, was lightly armed and armored.
The Panzerkampfwagen II, which formed the backbone of the Nazi invasion force into Poland in September 1939, was lightly armed and armored.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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.

The Nazi German force that invaded Russia in June 1941 included 1,064 Panzerkampfwagen IIs.
The Nazi German force that invaded Russia in June 1941 included 1,064 Panzerkampfwagen IIs.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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.

In this rare photo, a Panzerkampfwagen 38(T) can be seen moving in advance of a Panzerkampfwagen II during the invasion of France in May and June 1940.
In this rare photo, a Panzerkampfwagen 38(T) can be seen moving in advance of a Panzerkampfwagen II during the invasion of France in May and June 1940.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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.

To learn more about historical tanks, check out:

The Panzerkampfwagen II, shown being loaded onto a transporter, weighed about nine tons.
The Panzerkampfwagen II, shown being loaded onto a transporter, weighed about nine tons.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Panzerkampfwagens I and II were designed as training tanks for the Nazi army, but ended up leading the charge of World War II.

Despite a lack of armor and armament, the Panzerkampfwagens performed well, mainly because of strategic decisions. Below are specifications for Panzerkampfwagens I and II.

Panzerkampfwagen I

Date of service: 1934

Country: Germany

Type: Light tank, training (originally)

Dimensions: Length, 4.03 m (13.2 ft); width, 2.05 m (6.7 ft); height, 1.71 m (5.6 ft)

Combat weight: 5,046 kg (5.6 tons)

Engine: Krupp M305 gasoline 60 horsepower

Armament: Two 7.92mm Model 1934 machine guns

Crew: 2

Speed: 37 km/h (23 mph)

Range: 200 km (124 mi)

Obstacle/grade performance: 0.41 m

(1.3 ft)

Panzerkampfwagen II

Date of service: 1935

Country: Germany

Type: Medium tank

Dimensions: Length, 4.81 m (15.8 ft); width, 2.28 m (7.5 ft); height, 2.02 m (6.6 ft)

Combat weight: 8,436 kg (9.3 tons)

Engine: Maybach HL 62 gasoline

Armament: One KwK 20mm 30 caliber gun; one 7.92mm Model 1934 machine gun

Crew: 3

Speed: 40 km/h (25 mph)

Range: 190 km (118 mi)

Obstacle/grade performance: 0.42 m (1.4 ft)

To learn more about historical tanks, check out:

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