The Panzer II (Panzerkampfwagen II) was a light tank that was forced to fill a large role in the early war until German production could bring adequate numbers of heavier Panzer III and IV into service.
In 1934, the development of the new German tanks, which would be the Panzer III and Panzer IV, was falling behind schedule despite an urgent need for tanks. As a stopgap solution until the designs were finalized, the Germany Army submitted a request for a new tank, giving the responsibility of designing to Krupp, MAN, Henschel, and Daimler-Benz.
The product was a design that is based off the German Panzer I light tank, but was larger with the addition of an extra bogie wheel and had a 20 mm autocannon as its main armament. The finished tank was designated the Panzer II and production was to start in 1935, but did not start delivering tanks until 18 months later. At this time, it was in a low rate production status by 1936. By the time the Panzer II reached the Ausf. C designation it was fitted with a superior suspension system to support the weight of the tank. The changes included five larger wheels attached to new leaf springs. In 1937 the Ausf. C entered full production with MAN and other manufacturers. Over 1,600 Panzer II light tanks were produced between 1937 to 1942.
The Panzer II incorporated new design changes from the Panzer I following experiences on tank warfare from the Spanish Civil War. The armor was widened to block shells rather than machine gun fire and shrapnel, so the armor thickness was 14 mm on front, sides, and back in the Panzer II Ausf. A through C. The 20 mm autocannon on the turret was based off the 20 mm FlaK 30 then in use with an exceptionally high firing rate of 600 rpm from a 10-round magazine, the weapon had poor anti-tank capability against even early war tanks, the tank also came with a coaxial machine gun as well. The turret was hand cranked by the commander, who doubled as the gunner of the tanks. The crew of the Panzer II consist of three people, the driver, commander, and loader who doubled as a radio operator. The Panzer II Ausf. C could reach a speed of 40 km/h with its leaf spring suspension system and Maybach HL62TR engine.
In the 1940s, the Panzer II was upgraded to the Panzer II Ausf. F, which entered into production in 1941 with increased armor and a torsion bar suspension system. A total of 524 Ausf. F were produced between March 1941 to December 1942.
The Panzer II Ausf. F had a 35 mm front armor and 20 mm side armor compared to the 14 mm all-around armor on the Ausf. C. The 20 mm autocannon on the turret was the same.
By April 1941, the Panzer II was already beginning to show its age from its weak armor and tiny 20 mm cannon. However, it was adequate in the role of a scout/reconnaissance tank and was used as such for another year in places such as the Soviet Union and Northern Africa before finally being retired. Since December 1939 however, there has been projects to create a faster, more armored reconnaissance tank for the German Army. It was determined that these projects would use the Panzer II as its basis.
In April 1941, prototypes of these new reconnaissance tanks were starting to come in and all were produced by MAN. The last was delivered in August 1942, with a total of four different prototype design completed. The prototypes range from increased armor and firepower in comparison to the Panzer II base model. The designs were: VK 9.01 (Ausf. G), VK 9.03 (Ausf. H), VK 16.01 (Ausf. J), and the VK 13.01 (Ausf. M). The Ausf. G had a 7.92 mm EW141 anti-tank heavy machine gun and a normal MG34 as a coaxial, the Ausf. H, J, and M were all equipped with a 20 mm KwK 38 and a coaxial machine gun. Armor on these designs were 30 mm maximum on all but the Ausf. J, which had 80 mm (enough that it was dubbed the “little tigers” by Russians and Germans alike). Some of these designs were later upgunned due to insufficient ballistics for the current cannon set up. Some tried to mount the French 37 mm SA 38 gun captured from the French campaign, but this was changed to the German 50 mm Pak 38 L/60, which is similar to the one mounted on the Panzer IIIs. This 50 mm cannon would see itself mounted on the VK 9.03 (Ausf. H) as its main armament instead of a 20 mm cannon.
On April 30, 1941, it was determined that the Panzer II Ausf. H was to be built in mass quantitites, 3,500 to be Gegechtsaufklarungs (heavily armored reconnaissance tanks), 10,950 to be normal recon tanks, and 2,003 to be observation posts. This program was cancelled in September 1942 however. In early 1943, another program was proposed to convert the Ausf. H into a tank destroyer with the 75 mm Pak 42 gun, the same on the Panther tanks in a manner similar to the Marder series, but this never went through to designing and development.
Overall, none of these new prototype designs of the Panzer II made it into mass production scales and the entire program was cancelled. About twelve VK 9.01, one VK 9.03, twenty-two VK 16.01, and one VK 13.01 were created during the program. Of the designs, only the VK 16.01 saw service in the Eastern Front. These designs would influence the development of the Panzerzpahwagen II Ausf. L "Luchs".
The Panzer II would serve in the initial stages of World War II in the Battle of Poland, France, and in the North African Campaign and Operation Barbarossa as Germany's most numerous tank (By May 1940, there were about a thousand Panzer Is and IIs, but only 381 Panzer III and 290 Panzer IVs). By 1941, it was clear that the Panzer II was starting to become obsolete, and with increasing quantity of Panzer IIIs and IVs, the Panzer II was generally withdrawn from a primary combat role and relegated to reconnaissance duties and rear-area duties, at which it did exceptionally well.
Only limited experiments were made in up-gunning or developing the Panzer II, as the tank as a whole was clearly inadequate, but a flame throwing version was deployed briefly on the Eastern Front.
Despite the up-armoring in the different Panzer II variants, the Panzer II could still be penetrated by most towed anti-tank weapon in service at the time, leaving the crew at risk to enemy fire. By 1942, it was largely removed from front lines and production ceased by 1943. The turrets of these obsolete tanks were used as gun turrets on defensive bunkers on the Atlantic Wall, and the chassis stayed in use for other purposes, such as a self-propelled gun and tank destroyer in the Wespe and Marder II respectively.
Early in the war during the Poland and French Campaigns, the Panzer II Ausf. C's 14 mm armor was deemed inadequate as every anti-tank weapon served at the time could penetrate this armor. The German response was to increase the armor, first with a front armor increase to 30 mm on the Ausf. D, then ending with a 35 mm front armor and 20 mm side armor on the Panzer II Ausf. F.
Pz. Kpfw. II Ausf. a1, a2, a3, b, cEdit
The early development of the Pz. Kpfw. II is indicated by five models, a1, a2, a3, b and c. They were considered as prototype tanks.
Model a1: Had a suspension arrangement of six small bogie wheels, each side mounted on three hull pivots connected by an outside girder. There were four return rollers, sprocket, and a cast rear idler. It weighed about 8.4 tons, was manned by a crew of three and mounted one 2 cm KwK 30 and a coaxial 7.92 mm M.G. 34 in the turret. It was powered by a six-cylinder Maybach (HL 57 TR) gasoline engine and was fitted with epicyclic and brake steering without a final reduction gear. The frontal armor was 20 mm in thickness, the sides 15 mm.
Model a2: Same as Model a1 except for variation in construction of engine compartment and welded rear idler instead of cast.
Model a3: Same as Model a1 except for minor modifications in the suspension arrangement and cooling system.
Model b: Incorporated an improved Maybach (HL 62 TR) engine, as well as a new track with wider driving sprockets, bogie wheels and return rollers. A final reduction gear was also introduced, which necessitated slight alterations in the structure of the front of the hull. The model weighed 9 tons.
Model c: An entirely new suspension comprising five independently sprung bogie wheels on each side made its appearance in this model. It is believed that the torsion bar system of bogie wheel suspension originated in this tank. Modifications to the driving sprocket, rear idler, and return rollers, the latter of which now numbered four, were made. Improved epicyclic and steering brakes were also introduced, the latter being equipped with automatic take-up to compensate for wear. Model c weighed 9 1/2 tons.
Pz. Kpfw. II Ausf. A, B, C (Sd. Kfz. 121)Edit
Model A was produced in 1937, followed by B and C in 1938. It is not known whether there are any important differences between these models. All had a suspension consisting of five equally spaced rubber-tired bogie wheels on each side mounted independently on suspension arms pivoted on hull and provided with quarter elliptic leaf springs. There are four 8½ in. diameter return rollers on each side, a 2 ft., 7 in. diameter sprocket, and a 2 ft., 1 in. diameter idler.
The frontal armor of this series was originally only 15 mm thick and the hull had a rounded nose formed by the bending of a single plate which also incorporated the glacis and nose plate. At some time after the battle of France (1940) the armor of these models was reinforced by bolting 20 mm armor plates on the front of the tank. The additional armor on the front of the hull consisted of flat nose and glacis plates which entirely altered the appearance of the hull and nose and gave the effect of spaced armor in front of the rounded part of the basic plate. The gun mantlet armor was thickened by the addition of a 15 mm plate.
The Maybach, HL 62 TR, 6-cylinder gasoline engine, which comprises the power plant, has a rating of 140 h.p.
The armament consists of a 2.0 cm gun which is fired by a trigger on the elevating handwheel, and a coaxial 7.92 mm M.G. 34 which is fired by a trigger on the traversing handwheel.
These models are often converted for use as mounts for heavy anti-tank guns such as the 7.5 cm Pak 40 and the 7.62 cm Pak 36 (r), as well as the 10.5 cm l.F.H. 18 M, known as the Wasp, and the 15 cm s.I.G. 33; the suspension for the latter having a sixth bogie wheel.
Pz. Kpfw. II Ausf. D, E (Sd. Kfz. 121)Edit
Produced in 1939. Comparatively few of these models were made and these were later converted to flamethrower tanks (Pz. Kpfw. II, Aus. (F)).
Although the hull, turret, and superstructure of model D are similar to preceding models, its suspension arrangement of four large, rubber-tired, Christie-type bogie wheels which touch the top and bottom of the track make it easy to recognize. Models D and E are the only Pz. Kpfw. II tanks with this type of suspension. The bogie wheels are large enough to eliminate return rollers. The front drive sprocket, rear idler, and the dry-pin, center-guide track complete the suspension assembly. The track can be fitted with snow spuds. These are inserted in the outer web members and held by a split cotter-pin.
The power plant is the Maybach HL 62 TR, six-cylinder, water-cooled engine rated at 140 B.H.P. The transmission provides five forward speeds and one reverse. The steering system embodies the epicyclic clutch and brake principle.
The normal Pz. Kpfw. II armament of one 2 cm Kw.K. 30 with one coaxial 7.92 mm M.G. 34 is mounted. Armor plate thicknesses range from 30 mm front to 15 mm sides.
Model E was the same as Model D.
Pz. Kpfw. II Ausf. F"Edit
Produced in 1941. This is the latest type of Pz. Kpfw. II tank identified in action. The major modifications appearing in this model are (1) increased thickness of the basic frontal armor, (2) new design of hull nose, (3) use of uninterrupted length of plate for front vertical superstructure plate, (4) use of dummy visor mounted alongside the driver’s visor.
The single skin nose of the Model F hull is constructed, of flat plates 35 mm thick with a Brinell hardness of 426 and is nearer vertical than the superimposed nose plate in the earlier reinforced models. This modification to the nose of the hull has shortened its length by approximately five inches.
The turret front and mantlet remain unaltered except for the omission of the additional plates and a corresponding thickening of the basic armor to 30 mm.
Model F is equipped with a new driver’s visor of the double shutter type. A dummy visor, a one-piece aluminum casting, is mounted alongside the driver’s visor on the right, presumably to draw fire from the latter.
The suspension arrangement of five bogie wheels and four return rollers is the same as that utilized in the previous models A, B and C.
The power plant consists of the HL 62 TR Maybach, a 6-cylinder, water-cooled gasoline engine rating 140 B.H.P. at 2600 r.p.m.
The transmission is of normal synchromesh, manual control type, providing six forward speeds and one reverse, and the steering system utilizes the epicyclic clutch and brake principle.
Armament comprises one 2.0 cm KwK 30 gun with coaxial 7.92 M.G. 34 in turret.
Models G and J have been mentioned in an official German document but there are no details available.
Pz. Kpfw. II Ausf. Panzer II (Flamm)Edit
The flamethrower tank, Pz. Kpfw. II (F) is a conversion of Pz. Kpfw. II, Models D and E, which employed the four bogie wheel suspension, and should not be confused with the Model F, which utilizes the five bogie wheel type of suspension. The road performance of the flamethrower tank approximates that of Models D and E.
The flamethrower projectors, having a range of about 35 yards, are mounted in small turrets set well forward on each trackguard. The turrets have 180° traverse while the projectors themselves have a limited elevation. Fuel is supplied from two tanks, provided with armored shields, which are mounted externally on the trackguards, and by compressed nitrogen from the four nitrogen cylinders located inside, below the turret. The tanks have a capacity of 35 gals. each. Two small cylinders mounted just behind the projector turrets contain acetylene, which is used for fuel ignition. The flamethrower is controlled electrically from panels in the turret.
Since this equipment is essentially a close-combat weapon, the tank is liberally fitted for smoke production to screen its movements. Not only is the normal smoke generator rack fitted at the rear, but there is on each trackguard a triple smoke generator discharger, aimed to fire forward, and bowden cable controlled from the turret. Armament also includes a machine gun on a ball mounting in the turret.
Pz. Kpfw. II Ausf. L "Luchs"Edit
(Not yet finished)