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Panzer II German tank used in World War II.
Panzer II is the common name of a German tank used in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen II (abbreviated PzKpfw II). Designed as a stopgap while other tanks were developed, it played an important role in the early years of World War II, during the Polish and French campaigns. By the end of 1942 it was largely removed from frontline service and production of the tank itself ceased by 1943, but its chassis was used for several other armoured vehicles.
In 1934, delays in the design and production of the Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks were becoming apparent. Designs for a stopgap tank were solicited from Krupp, MAN, Henschel, and Daimler-Benz. The final design was based on the Panzer I, but larger and with a turret mounting a 20 mm anti-tank gun. Production began in 1935, but it took another eighteen months for the first combat-ready tank to be delivered.
The Panzer II was the main battle tank of the German Panzer divisions beginning with the invasion of France, until it was replaced by the Panzer III and IV in 1940/41. Afterwards, it was used to great effect as a reconnaissance tank. The Panzer II was tested in the Spanish Civil War and used in the German campaigns in Poland, France, Holland, Denmark, Norway, North Africa and Russia. After being removed from front-line duty, it was used for training, on secondary fronts and for patrolling occupied Europe.
The Panzer II A, B, and C had 14 mm of slightly sloped homogenous steel armor on the sides, front, and back, with 10 mm of armor on the top and bottom. This armor proved to be ineffective against anything heavier than a machine gun, so starting with the D model, the front armor was increased to 30 mm. The Model F had 35 mm front armour and 20 mm side armor.
Most tank versions of the Panzer II were armed with a 2 cm KwK 30 L/55 cannon. Some later versions employed the 2 cm KwK 38 L/55 which was similar. This cannon was based on the 2 cm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft gun, and was capable of firing at a rate of 280 rounds per minute, a very high rate for a tank. The Panzer II also had a 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34 machine gun mounted coaxially with the main gun.
The 2 cm cannon proved to be ineffective against many Allied tanks, and experiments were made towards replacing it with a 37 mm cannon, but nothing came of this. Prototypes were built with a 50 mm tank gun, but by then the Panzer II had outlived its usefulness as a tank regardless of armament. Greater success was had by replacing the standard armor-piercing explosive ammunition with a tungsten cored solid ammunition, but due to material shortages this ammunition was in chronically short supply.
Later development into a self-propelled gun carriage saw the mounting of a 5 cm PaK 38 antitank gun, but this was seen as insufficient for the time, and the larger 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) was installed as an effective stop-gap. The main production antitank version was fitted with a 7.5 cm PaK 40 which was very effective. Artillery mounting began with a few 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry guns, but most effective was the 10.5 cm leFH 18, for which the Panzer II chassis became the primary carriage for the war. Most of these versions retained a pintle mounted 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun for defense against infantry and air attack.
All production versions of the Panzer II were fitted with a 140 hp, gasoline fuelled six-cylinder Maybach HL 62 TRM engine and ZF transmissions. Models A, B, and C had a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). Models D and E had a Christie suspension and a better transmission, giving a top road speed of 55 km/h (33 mph) but the cross country speed was much lower than previous models, so the Model F reverted back to the previous Leaf Spring type suspension. All versions had a range of 200 km (125 miles).
The Panzer II had a crew of three. The driver sat in the forward hull. The commander sat in a seat in the turret, and was responsible for aiming and firing the guns, while a loader/radio operator stood on the floor of the tank under the turret.
Panzer II Ausf. a (PzKpfw IIa)
Not to be confused with the later Ausf. A (sole difference being capitalization of the letter A), the Ausf. a was the first limited production version of the Panzer II to be built, and was subdivided into three sub-variants. The Ausf. a/1 was first built with a cast idler wheel with rubber tyre, but this was replaced after ten production examples with a welded part. The Ausf. a/2 improved engine access issues. The Ausf. a/3 included improved suspension and engine cooling. In general, the specifications for the Ausf. a models was similar, and a total of 75 were produced from May 1936 to February 1937 by Daimler-Benz and MAN. The Ausf. a was considered the 1 Serie under the LaS 100 name.
Panzer II Ausf. b (PzKpfw IIb)
Again, not to be confused with the later Ausf. B, the Ausf. b was a second limited production series embodying further developments, primarily a heavy reworking of suspension components giving a wider track and a longer hull. Length was increased to 4.76 m although width and height were constant. Additionally, a Maybach HL62TR engine was used with new drivetrain components to match. Deck armor for the superstructure and turret roof was increased to 10-12 mm. Total weight was increased to 7.9 m. 25 were built by Daimler-Benz and MAN. in February and March 1937.
Panzer II Ausf. c (PzKpfw IIc)
As the last of the developmental limited production series of Panzer IIs, the Ausf. c came very close to matching the mass production configuration, with a major change to the suspension with the replacement of the six small road wheels with five larger independently sprung road wheels and an additional return roller bringing that total to four. The tracks were further modified and fenders widened. Total length was increased to 4.81 m and width to 2.22 m, while height was still about 1.99 m. At least 25 of this model were produced from March through July 1937.
Panzer II Ausf. A (PzKpfw IIA)
The first true production model, the Ausf. A included an armor upgrade to 14.5 mm on all sides, as well as a 14.5 mm floor plate, and an improved transmission. The Ausf. A entered production in July 1937.
Panzer II Ausf. B (PzKpfw IIB)
Introducing only minimal changes to the Ausf. A, the Ausf. B superseded it in production from December 1937.
Panzer II Ausf. C (PzKpfw IIC)
Few minor changes were made in the Ausf. C version, which became the standard production model from June 1938 through April 1940. A total of 1,113 examples of Ausf. c, A, B, and C tanks were built from March 1937 through April 1940 by Alkett, FAMO, Daimler-Benz, Henschel, MAN, MIAG, and Wegmann. These models were almost identical and were used in service interchangeably. This was the most widespread tank version of the Panzer II and performed the majority of the tank's service the panzer units during the war.
Panzer II Ausf. F (PzKpfw IIF)
Continuing the conventional design of the Ausf. C, the Ausf. F was designed as a reconnaissance tank and served in the same role as the earlier models. The hull was redesigned with a flat 35 mm plate on its front, and armor of the superstructure and turret were built up to 30 mm on the front with 15 mm to the sides and rear. There was some minor alteration of the suspension and a new commander's copula as well. Weight was increased to 9.5 tons. 524 were built from March 1941 to December 1942 as the final major tank version of the Panzer II series.
Panzer II Ausf. D (PzKpfw IID)
With a completely new Christie suspension with four road wheels, the Ausf. D was developed as a cavalry tank for use in the pursuit and reconnaissance roles. Only the turret was the same as the Ausf. C model, with a new hull and superstructure design and the use of a Maybach HL62TRM engine driving a seven-gear transmission (plus reverse). The design was shorter (4.65 m) but wider (2.3 m) and taller (2.06 m) than the Ausf. C. Speed was increased to 55 km/h. A total of 43 Ausf. D and Ausf. E tanks were built from May 1938 through August 1939 by MAN, and they served in Poland. They were withdrawn in March 1940 for conversion to other types.
Panzer II Ausf. E (PzKpfw IIE)
Similar to the Ausf. D, the Ausf. E improved some small items of the suspension, but was otherwise similar and served alongside the Ausf. D.
Panzer II Ausf. J (PzKpfw IIJ)
Continued development of the reconnaissance tank concept led to the much up-armored Ausf. J, which used the same concept as the PzKpfw IF of the same period, under the experimental designation VK1601. Heavier armor was added, bringing protection up to 80 mm on the front and 50 mm to the sides and rear, with 25 mm roof and floor plates, increasing total weight to 18 tons. Equipped with the same Maybach HL45P as the PzKpfw IF, top speed was reduced to 31 km/h. Primary armament was the 2 cm KwK38 L/55 gun. 22 were produced by MAN between April and December 1942, and seven were issued to the German 12th Panzer Division on the Eastern Front.
Panzerkampfwagen II ohne Aufbau
One use for obsolete Panzer II tanks which had their turrets removed for use in fortifications was as utility carriers. A number of chassis not used for conversion to self-propelled guns were instead handed over to the Engineers for use as personnel and equipment carriers.
Panzer II Flamm
Based on the same suspension as the Ausf. D and Ausf. E tank versions, the Flamm (also known as "Flamingo")used a new turret mounting a single MG34 7.92 mm machine gun, and two remotely controlled flamethrowers mounted in small turrets at each front corner of the vehicle. Each flamethrower could cover the front 180° arc, while the turret traversed 360°.
1800 7.92 mm rounds were carried and 320 l of fuel for the flamethrowers along with four tanks of compressed nitrogen. The nitrogen tanks were built into armored boxes along each side of the superstructure. Armor was 30 mm to the front and 14.5 mm to the side and rear, although the turret was increased to 20 mm to the sides and rear.
Total weight was 12 tons and dimensions were increased to a length of 4.9 m and width of 2.4 m although it was a bit shorter at 1.85 m tall. A FuG2 radio was carried. Total weight was 12 tons. Two sub-variants existed: the Ausf. A and Ausf. B which differed only in minor suspension components.
155 Flamm vehicles were built from January 1940 through March 1942, mostly on new chassis, but 43 using existing Ausf. D and Ausf. E chassis. The Flamm was deployed in Russia but was not very successful due to its limited armor, and survivors were soon withdrawn for conversion in December 1941.
5 cm PaK 38 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II
Conceived along the same lines as the Marder II, the 5 cm PaK 38 was an expedient solution to mount the 50 mm antitank gun on the Panzer II chassis. However, the much greater effectiveness of the 75 mm antitank gun made this option less desirable and it is not known how many field modifications were made to this effect.
7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Marder II)
While the 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) was a good stopgap measure, the 7.5 cm PaK 40 mounted on the tank chassis of the Ausf. F resulted in a better overall fighting machine. New production amounted to 576 examples from June 1942 to June 1943 as well as the conversion of 75 tanks after new production had stopped. The work was done by Daimler-Benz, FAMO, and MAN. A much improved superstructure for the 7.62 cm mounting was built giving a lower profile. The Marder II became a key piece of equipment and served with the Germans on all fronts through the end of the war.
Leichte Feldhaubitze 18 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Wespe)
After the development of the Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II for mounting th sIG 33, Alkett designed a version mounting a 10.5 cm leichte Feldhaubitze 18/2 (leFH 18)in a built-up superstructure. The Panzer II proved an efficient chassis for this weapon and it became the only widely produced self-propelled 105 mm howitzer for Germany. Between February 1943 and June 1944, 676 were built by FAMO and it served with German forces on all major fronts.
Munitions Selbsfahrlafette auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II
To support the Wespe in operation, a number of Wespe chassis were completed without installation of the howitzer, instead functioning as ammunition carriers. They carried 90 rounds of 105 mm caliber. 159 were produced alongside the Wespe. These could be converted in the field by installation of the leFH 18 if needed.
Panzerkampfwagen II mit Schwimmkörper
One of Germany's first attempts at developing an amphibious tank, the Schwimmkörper was a device built by Gebr Sachsenberg which consisted of two large pontoons that attached to either side of a Panzer II tank. The tanks were specially sealed and some modification to the engine exhaust and cooling was needed. The pontoons were detachable. The modified tanks were issued to the German 18th Panzer Regiment which was formed in 1940. However, with cancellation of Operation Sealion, the plan to invade England, the tanks were used in the conventional manner by the regiment on the Eastern Front.
7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. D
After a lack of success with conventional and flame tank variants on the Christie chassis, it was decided to use the remaining chassis to mount captured Soviet antitank guns. The hull and suspension was unmodified from the earlier models, but the superstructure was built up to provide a large fighting compartment on top of which was mounted a Soviet 76.2 mm antitank gun, which while not turretted, did have significant traverse. Only developed as an interim solution, the vehicle was clearly too tall and poorly protected, but had a powerful weapon and was better than what the Germans had at the time.
Panzer II Ausf. L (PzKpfw IIL) "Luchs"
A light reconnaissance tank, the Ausf. L was the only Panzer II design with the overlapping road wheels to enter series production, with 100 being build from September 1943 to January 1944 in addition to conversion of the four Ausf. M tanks. Originally given the experimental designation VK1303, it was adopted under the alternate name Panzerspähwagen II and given the popular name Luchs (Lynx). The Lynx was larger than the Ausf. G in most dimensions (length 4.63 m; height 2.21 m; width 2.48 m). It was equipped with a six speed transmission (plus reverse), and could reach a speed of 60 km/h with a range of 290 km. FuG12 and FuG Spr a radio were installed, while 330 rounds of 20 mm and 2,250 rounds of 7.92 mm ammunition were carried. Total vehicle weight was 13 tons.
Limited production, experiments and prototypes
Panzer II Ausf. G (PzKpfw IIG)
The fourth and final suspension configuration used for the Panzer II tanks was the five overlapping road wheel configuration termed Schachtellaufwerk by the Germans. This was used as the basis for the redesign of the Panzer II into a reconnaissance tank with high speed and good off-road performance. The Ausf. G was the first Panzer II to use this configuration, and was developed with the experimental designation VK901. There is no record of the Ausf. G being issued to combat units, and only twelve full vehicles were built from April 1941 to February 1942 by MAN. The turrets were subsequently issued for use in fortifications.
Panzer II Ausf. H (PzKpfw IIH)
Given experimental designation VK903, the Ausf. H was intended as the production model of the Ausf. G, with armor for the sides and rear increased to 20 mm and a new four speed transmission (plus reverse) similar to that of the PzKpfw 38(t) nA. Only prototypes were ever completed by the time of cancellation in September 1942.
5 cm PaK 38 auf Panzerkampfwagen II
Planned as a light tank destroyer, the first two prototypes were delivered in 1942 but by then their 50 mm gun was not sufficient and the program was cancelled in favor of 75 mm weapons.
Brückenleger auf Panzerkampfwagen II
After failed attempts to use the Panzer I as a chassis for a bridge layer, work moved to the Panzer II, led by Magirus. It is not known how many of these conversions were made, but four were known to have been in service with the German 7th Panzer Division in May 1940.
15 cm sIG 33 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II
One of the first gun mount variants of the Panzer II design was to emplace a 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry gun on a turretless Panzer II chassis. The prototype utilized an Ausf. B tank chassis, but it was quickly realized that it was not sufficient for the mounting. A new, longer chassis incorporating an extra road wheel was designed and built, named the Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II. An open-topped 15 mm thick armored superstructure sufficient against small arms and shrapnel was provided around the gun. This was not high enough to give full protection for the crew while manning the gun, although they were still covered directly to the front by the tall gun shield. Only 12 were built in November and December of 1941. These served with the German 707th Heavy Infantry Gun Company (SP) and German 708th Heavy Infantry Gun Company (SP) in North Africa until their destruction in 1943.
Bergepanzerwagen auf Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. J
A single example of an Ausf. J with a jib in place of its turret was found operating as an armored recovery vehicle. There is no record of an official program for this vehicle.
Panzer Selbstfahrlafette 1c
Developed in prototype form only, this was one of three abortive attempts to use the Panzer II chassis for mounting of a 5 cm PaK 38 gun, this time on the chassis of the Ausf. G. Two examples were produced which had similar weight to the tank version, and both were put in front-line service, but production was not undertaken as priority was given to heavier armed models.
Never getting an official Panzerkampfwagen title, the VK1602 was a project which did not reach the stage of completed prototypes. It was intended as a 5 cm KwK39 armed companion to the Ausf. L, with a Maybach HL157P engine driving an eight speed transmission (plus reverse).
Panzer II Ausf. M (PzKpfw IIM)
Using the same chassis as the Ausf. H, the Ausf. M replaced the turret with a larger, open-topped turret containing a 5 cm KwK 39/1 gun. 4 were built by MAN in August 1942, but did not see service.
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