Panzerkampfwagen I
translation
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 PANZER I

Light Tank - Germany.
About 1493 built 1934-37.

General conception

After Hitler's victory in the 1933 elections, Germany started rearming and expanding its army. Due to the treaty of Versailles, the German army didn't have any tanks when Hitler came to power. Officially called the Sdfkz101 (special-purpose vehicle 101), the Pz. I was made the standard tank of the Wehrmacht and production was ramped up. In 1933, after extensive trials, production began of the Sdkfz. 101. In 1936 it got its modern name, the Panzerkampfwagen I Ausfhrung A. (Ausf A). The first fifteen were delivered without turrets, for training purpose only, and later mass-production of the proper military model began.

The first Panzer

The very first of a long line of tanks, the only other series at the time being the sluggish massive Grsstraktor (Neubaufahrzeug). This story began in 1919, when the treaty of Versailles severely reduced the abilities of the German Army to rebuild a potent army. The total amount of soldiers allowed was reduced so that only a police and defensive token force could be maintained. However, many officers saw these limitations as a potential to build a new small, but well-equipped and very well trained, professional army. Due to the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forbidden to own any kind of tank. But, despite the fact that the few tanks built in 1917-18 never had the power to change the outcome of the Great War, the potential threat of this new weapon was well-understood.

In 1930, Krupp had been selected by Waffenpruefwesen 6 (the automotive and tank design office of the German army) to work on a design of a small light tracked tractor named Kleintraktor. It was to be equipped with a 2cm machine gun, be powered by a 60 hp engine and weigh no more than 3000 kg. A year later, in 1931, Krupp sent a description of the Kleintraktor-Fahrgestell (chassis) to the Wa.Prw.6, promising a description of the superstructure after the design was clarified with a wooden model.
The Kleintraktor was described as a fast and maneuverable tracked vehicle that weighed about 3.5 tons and could achieve 45 km/h. The hull being made out of steel sheets welded together. It was armed with a 2cm machine gun and carried 500 rounds.
As development proceeded, several prototypes were made and faults were removed from the tank. The turret was redesigned to fit 2 machine guns and armor was increased. In 1933 the Panzer I was considered ready and an order was placed for 150 training tanks, with another 1000 combat-ready tanks being ordered the following year. Neither of these orders were fully delivered.

The Ausf A

This first model came into production in late 1934, and continued until early 1936. Around 800 were built, which had several limitations: The armor was insufficient, being only 13 mm at its thickest. There were problems with the early suspension, making the tank pitch backwards at high speeds. There were concerns about the propulsion, overheating, the commander being both gunner and loader of the two machine guns, and communication going through old-fashion vocal tubes. With its two machine gun, light armor and speed, these machines were nothing more than training and scout tanks. Despite this, most of them fought in regular panzer divisions alongside the improved Ausf B until late 1941.

Ausf B and variants

The Ausf B was an improved version of the first model, which appeared in 1936 and was built until 1938, with around 675 machines produced. The main difference was a longer chassis (40 cm) with two more bogie wheels to accomodate a much reliable and powerful water-cooled, six-cylinder Maybach NL 38 TR delivering 90 bhp with a new gearbox. The suspensions ware also largely improved. The weight rose to 5.8 tons, but neither the armament nor armor were to be modified. During the war, the 'main' version of the Panzer I was to be the Ausf A. Soon, both Ausf A and B served as basis for sub-versions and adaptations, such as the kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen, or light command tanks, which had their turret replaced by a larger superstructure. In 1940, several Panzer I Ausf B's were rearmed with the Czech 47 mm gun, giving the Panzerjger I tank hunter or equipping the 15cm sIG, which gave the very heavy artillery carrier SiG 33 "Bison" on Ausf B which was designed to destroy fortifications with its 150 mm howitzer. The resulting tank had a very high profile, no full crew protection and both chassis and propulsion were largely overloaded.

The "Mini-Tigers" Ausf C and F

Soon it appeared that the Panzer I A and B0 were obsolete and as priorities were given to medium tanks, the tank played less and less of a roll.
The Ausf C was a completely revised version of the previous Panzers, the hull, suspensions, track system, turret, propulsion, armor, and armament, all being new. It was given 30 mm of armor, a torsion-bar suspension, interleaved road wheels, and a 20 mm antitank gun. These tanks were assigned to the LVIII Panzer Reserve Corps, which fought in France in 1944. The Ausf C was built in limited numbers (40 standard and 6 prototypes) by Krauss-Maffei and Daimler-Benz.
Despite the Ausf D never being put into production, thirty Ausf F tanks were built. The Ausf F was considered a support tank, with 80 mm armor, a revised turret with two Mg34s, powered by a 150 horsepower (110 kW) Maybach HL45 Otto engine. Weighing 18-21 tons, this was barely a light tank by the standards of 1942. They were all assigned to the First Panzer Division and fought at Kursk in 1943, where most were destroyed.

The Panzer I in Spain

When the civil war broke out in 1936, the two sides found themselves quickly supported by friendly countries which desired to test their equipment and tactics. For obvious ideological reasons, the Soviet Union quickly chose to support the Republican Front and sent waves of T-26s, a Russian derivative of the Vickers 6-tons. On the other side, the Nationalist Forces were supported by Germany and Italy. Italy sent dozens of CV-33 tankettes, with Germany sending the then only tank available. Approximately forty-five Panzer I Ausf A tanks were sent, followed by Seventy-seven Ausf B tanks. Most of were delivered to the Gruppe Imker, the tank unit of the Condor Legion under Hugo Sperrle. The Spanish forces dubbed them "Negrillos" due to their dark grey paint. Most were quickly painted in a new lighter scheme.

The first engagement that the Pz. I took part in was the battle of Madrid. Here the nationalist forces managed to defeat the republican forces, despite the Pz. I being inferior to the T-26. Only at very short range and using AP rounds could the Russian tanks be taken out. Col. Ritter Von Thomas even offered rewards for every captured T26, so he could bolster his unit's abilities.

In august 1937, General Pallasar received a request from Franco to upgrade several Pz. I's with the 20mm Breda model 1935. Only four were converted at the Armament Factory of Seville in September 1937, but further orders were suspended, due the large number of T26 tanks available then. The Pz I remained in service with the Spanish until 1954, when it was replaced by the M47 Patton.

From Poland to Russia

Despite the fact that the Panzer I was conceived as a training Tank, it was available in large quantities when the invasion of Poland started. They were used for scouting, spearheading assaults and supporting infantry. Speed, surprise and close aviation support proved efficient against the Polish and after just 5 weeks Poland fell.

In Denmark and Norway, the Panzer I proved very useful due to the lack of good antitank weapons and served for infantry support and scouting. They were still largely available for the campaign of France, but couldn't take on the vastly superior French tanks head-on. However, they were once again successful due to their speed, communication and tactical use.
In Africa, the first Panzer I's were shipped in February 1941 to Tunis, becoming part of the 15th Panzer Division under Erwin Rommel command. As the war raged on, the Panzer I was soon replaced by the Panzer II in the Afrikakorps. They also took part in the Balkan campaign and in July 1941, 410 Panzer I's were part of the three army groups that participated in Operation Babarossa. After several encounters with the Russian T34s, KV1s and the Russian weather, it became obvious that the Panzer I was completely obsolete and the last surviving units were converted to support vehicles or used for police duties and training.

In 1942, Hungary received 14 Panzer I Ausf B and command versions which were used to fight the Russians in Ukraine. Other later versions such as the Ausf C and Ausf F saw service until the end of 1944, as well as special versions like the Panzerjger I and the impressive SIG-33 Bison howitzer carrier. Some African Panzer I's were converted to Flammenwerfer auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf A (flamethrowers), which fought at Tobruk. Others served as munition carriers in Russia (Munitionsschlepper I Ausf A ) and some were converted into AA batteries, like the Flakpanzer I equipped with the 20mm Flak 38 L/112.5 gun. Ultimately 24 were built and fought in Ukraine and Stalingrad where most were lost.
Although it went obsolete quite fast, the Pz. I formed a large part of Germany's armored forces and participated in all major campaigns between 1939 and 1941. The tank would soon be surpassed by better known tanks, such as the Pz IV, Panther and Tiger. Nevertheless, the Pz I's contributions to Nazi Germany's victories were significant and formed the base for many different tanks.

Links and resources about the Panzer I:

The Panzer I on Wikipedia.
A list of surviving examples today (pdf document)

Specs. SdKfz 101

Dimensions : 4,02 x 2,6 x 1,72 m (13.2 x 6.8 x 5.6 ft)
Total weight, battle ready : 5,4 Tonnes (6.0 short tons).
Crew : 2 (Driver/Commander-MG gunner
Propulsion : Krupp M 305 4-cyl air cooled, gasoline, 59 bhp
Speed (on/off road): 50/37 km/h (31/23 Mph)
Range (on/off road) : 200/175 km (120/109 mi)
Total production 1493
Panzer I in 1936
The first early production Panzer I Ausf A in 1936, with the original tri-tone camouflage.

PzKpfw-I Ausf A 1939
Panzer I Ausf A of the XVIIth Panzerdivision in Poland, september 1939.

Ausf A Afrika korps
One of the very first panzers landing with the Afrika Korps, in january 1941. It's a late production Ausf A from the XXIst Panzerdivision. Notice the uniform beige low quality paint, already attacked by sand, and the large identifications numbers still over the original European feldgrau tone.

Panzer I Ausf B
Panzerkampfwagen I in Spain, Nationalist forces, Legion Condor, "El Negrillo", june 1938.

Panzer I Ausf B
Panzer I Ausf B of the IIrd Panzerdivision, Belgium, may 1940.

Panzer I Ausf B
Panzerkampfwagen 1 Ausf B of the IIIth corps, IVth panzerdivision, Lillehammer, Norway, february 1940. Brown and feldgrau (usual cyan-grey livery) was common in operation in early 1940.

Panzer I Ausf C
Panzerkampfwagen 1 Ausf C of the LVIII Panzer Reserve Corps which fought in Normandy in 1944. With the help of the bocage and their high velocity gun, they gave good account of themselves. They were no photo evidence of a camouflage, all clues seems to point out that they were delivered with the usual Feldgrau paint.

Panzer I Ausf F
Panzerkampfwagen 1 Ausf F of the 1st Panzerdivision at Kursk, july 1943. Beeing four times as heavy as the Ausf A/B, they only share their name with the Panzer one tree family. This late attempt to produce a "light" infantry support tank was not followed and only thirty were built in all. Most of them were lost at Kursk, one is preserved at Kubinka museum, another in Belgrade.

Kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen
A kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen or light command tank. Based on Ausf B hulls, around 200 of these high profile, fast command tanks were built. They led Panzer I in Poland, France, the Balkans, Africa and Russia. The last were still in use in 1943 for urban police duties in many European cities.
Panzerjger-I
The Panzerjaeger-I based on the Ausf-B chassis was the earliest German tank-hunter.
siG-33
The sIG-33 "Bison" was probably the most overloaded platform ever to carry a howitzer.

Gallery

Panzer I Ausf A Panzer I Ausf F Panzerbefehlswagen I Panzer I Ausf A

Video


Panzer I/II documentary.
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