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Deutschland Jahre Null

Germany emerged from the war in the summer of 1945 as a broken, devastated, morally violated country. “Deutschland Jahre Null” as written and photographed on a ruined vestige of a wall and recalled by Rosselini’s 1949 eponym movie. A country in disarray, military occupied by foreign nations, with an ongoing witch hunt towards Nazis on the run. The fate of the country was kept in balance between USSR and the western allies, and the question of rearming its demobilized forces was raised as tensions rose on the Berlin question and occupation zones by some American and British officers alike, fearing the communist takeover of Europe. As these tensions crystallized with the blocus of Berlin, the question was raised once more, and eventually led to the cold war as we know it.

A country split in two

The split between the GDR (German Democratic Republic) and FRG (Federal Republic of Germany) in 1949 was in some ways, inevitable, as only a war could have persuaded Stalin to leave East Germany, but the price paid in blood for the territory made some legitimation of this occupation. As Churchill stated with his famous “iron curtain” the creation in Berlin of a wall in 1961 symbolized in itself the very nature of the tensions and drama that unfold in Germany. A people divided -by force- for 43 years.

Two countries antagonized by the very fracture that divided two sphere of influence and visions of the world. And on the borders were massed untold numbers of divisions, of infantry, tanks. Military airbases and garrisons dotted the landscape, ready to get on one another’s throat in the shortest notice. Thought frightening, it was only the conventional aspect of this cold war. Over everybody in Germany loomed the dark spectre of nuclear annihilation, targeted precisely on these allied German bases. So Germany was in the very heart of the cold war, and Berlin the symbol-city of it all. In the years following the raising of the wall, entire families were divided and two countries gradually emerged, with vastly diverging way of living and cultures.

West Germany and NATO

Soon after the signature of the treaty that led to NATO, the question of West Germany incorporated inside it was raised again. Prior to that era, the rearmament of Germany was perceived as a threat both by the Soviet Union and French Gaullists and communists. However after the 1949 split, both sides were to be rearmed as it was seen the most logical choice. After all, German engineers were known to be possibly among the best in the world, and the German army although badly led on top, proved to be a formidable fighting force.

The baby-boom also was to provide the manpower for a new, defensive army, deeply embedded in strong constitutional and democratic principles, eradicating the old specter of German militarism. It was also seen as a practical way to gradually reduce the military presence of the allies (and the financial burden associated) on the territory, although local authorities alleged the financial benefits of such presence in their area. Konrad Adenauer also led his country resolutely on the western side rather than seeking any form of neutrality. So West Germany joined NATO on 9 May 1955 and soon the Bundeswehr was born.

The Bundeswehr

The creation on november, 12, 1955 of the Bundeswehr was a accompanied by a split between the ground forces (Heer), the Luftwaffe and Bundesmarine, but also the Streitkräftebasis (Joint Support Service) and the Joint Medical Service or Zentraler Sanitätsdienst. The symbol associated was the old Maltese cross, partly associated with the past Teutonic Knights and Prussian nobility, rather than the straight Balkan cross, for obvious reasons. Needless to say the svatiska was banned from any display in any forms or shapes. This army was equipped by American equipments, soon partly produced locally under licence, and for tanks, the M47 Patton formed the bigger part of the new panzerdivisions, as well as the M48 Patton. Seen germany had both the experience, the will and the industrial basis to design and produce locally a new tank, it was decided to pursue the development of the “Europanzer” in the 1950s, together with France and later joined by Italy.

The “Europanzer” project

The European Standard Tank was at first a joint Germans/French project started in 1955 to replaced their American models and fit more precisely their collective requirements. The whole program was dubbed the Europanzer (but was later called the “Standard panzer”) and the design emphasised mobility and firepower as both countries estimated that modern rounds rendered heavy RHA armour useless. Superior range and accuracy combined with a better speed and manoeuvrability were to compensate for a lack of protection.

In June and July 1957 both Germany and France gave their the final requirements to the companies involved in the project. Officially Italy joined the project in September 1958 and contracts were signed for the production of 2 groups of German prototypes and a single French prototype. The latter began testing at Satory in march 1961, followed by the German prototypes in Meppen. In 1963 the French prototype was evaluated in Germany. These were refined in 1963 as the Standard-Panzer and the AMX-30 when both countries eventually decided to built their own tanks due to too much specification divergences and other considerations. The Standard-Panzer became the blueprint for the following prototypes of the Leopard in 1964.

The Leopard: The European feline

Being an the forefront of tank design during ww2, the world saw with great attention a brand new model, especially if it renewed with the “feline” tradition of its ancestors. The name reflected agility, speed and ferocity, and also proved a marketing success. It was tested virtually by all European nations previously equipped with American tanks, and purchased in droves, as well as former UK supplied countries like Canada and Australia. The United States themselves evaluated the vehicle in Germany, which left such an impression that in 1965, the Army decided to embark on their first joint German-American tank project ever, better known as the MBT-70.

The Leopard was armed with the standard (licence-built by Rheinmetall) 105 mm L7 main gun and featured an excellent mobility with an advanced suspension system. Protection was constantly improved in the 1970s and 1980s, until the release of the Leopard 1A5, the last version, and was one of NATO’s most prolific tank. At that time the new standard gun was to be inspired the 120 mm L11 manufactured by the Royal Ordnance Factory and also purchased for licence production by Rheinmetall.

The Leopard 2: An enduring legacy

The long development of the joint MBT-70 project, revealed itself to be a failure, with the separation of both armies. Too diverging specifications on the long run and the associated costs led the Bundestag to refuse to fund the project anymore in 1969 (it reached 1.1 billion DM), but data was reused for the Keiler, code name for the future Leopard 2.

The latter reused many of the advanced technologies featured by the prototypes series, married with as many parts of the actual Leopard 1 to bring the costs down. Eventually, the Leopard 2 entered service in 1979, just one year after the M1 Abrams, also born from the MBT-70. In all, throughout all versions manufactured and exports, 3480 were built. The Leopard is recognised today as one of the very best MBT in the world, often rated #1 by military experts. Despite being thirty-six years old, it was proved modular enough to evolve with the latest technologies, and like the Abrams, is not scheduled for a replacement anytime soon.


The German Heer official website
The bundeswehr on Wikipedia
Equipments of the Bundeswher (West Germany)
Cold War Tank Formations

German M47 Patton now on display at the Dresden museum

German M48A2C Patton in German Service, preserved. 

French Europanzer
The French version of the Europanzer, which differed from the german one by a gunner’s rangefinder.(credits:www.jedsite)

German Standard panzer
Porsche version of the Europanzer (A group), which differed from the French one by a commander’s rangefinder.(credits:www.jedsite)

The second prototype of the Leopard, now preserved at the Munster Museum.

The upgraded Leopard 1A5, an export success (here in Italian service).

Flakpanzer Guepard
The Flakpanzer Gepard, a SPAAG based on the Leopard chassis.

The Bergepanzer II ARV, based on the Leopard I chassis.