The Sd. Kfz. 121, also known at the beginning VK 622, was a new stopgap tank design. Here is one of the preserie Ausf a3, with a longer hull and other improvements above the Ausf a. The greater gain of the c was a new reworked suspension. They were involved in the large training exercises of 1937, then deployed during the Austrian and Czechoslovakian annexations. They fought in Poland, Norway and France, and then were phased out as training machines.
Here is an ausf b operating with the 36th Panzer Regiment, based at Putloss in Schelwig-Hosltein, part of the german expeditionary force (operation Weserübung), march 1940. The Ausf c which followed was the most accomplished version of the entire preserie, with only twenty-five beeing built. The mass-produced A, B and C versions were closely derivated from it.
The very first serie Panzer II Ausf A was largely based on the early Ausf c. Production records for the Ausf A are Unknown. Here is one in the 15th Panzer Regiment, 5th PzD, deployed in Norway, april 1940.
An Ausf B during the campaign of France, belonging to the famous Ist Panzerdivision, part of Guderian's XIXth corps, which made the breakthrough in the ardennes, may 1940.
Panzer II Ausf B Beobachtung (command tank), Russia, Group army center, april 1942.
An Afrika Korps Panzer II Ausf C, attached to the famous XXI panzerdivision. Along with the XVth Pzd, this units was brillantly led by Rommel from Libya to Egypt. These Panzer II C were "tropicalized". This included better ventilation slits for the crew and the engine, and extra fixations for storages of any kind (spare parts, water and gasoline jerrycans).
Ausf C in Russia, operation Barbarossa, 7th Panzerdivision, july-august 1941.
An Ausf C in plain white paint winter livery, Heeresgruppe Süd (Army group south, General Gerd Von Runstedt), 13th Panzer Division (Sixth army, IIIth Panzer Corps) under General Fretter Pico command, Caucasus, december 1941.
Panzer II Ausf F, XVth Panzerdivision, El Alamein, june 1942.
Panzer II Ausf F, Xth Panzerdivision, Djedeida, Tunisia, december 1942. Camouflaged pattern became commonplace in this new landscape.
Panzer II Ausf F, unknown unit, Kharkov 1943.
A Panzer II Ausf D, unknown unit, Poland, september 1939. The Ausf D and E only differed by minor details in their drivetrain. This Chistie-inspired transmission system proved so unsatisfactory off-road that the next Ausf F reverted back to all Panzer II standard features.
The Panzer II(F) better known as Flamingo (official designation SdKfz 122), was a conversion of existing Ausf D/E into flame-thrower tanks. They were almost exclusively used in the eastern front. Here is a Flamingo in white livery, at Stalingrad, december 1942.
The Panzer II Ausf L or "Luchs" (Lynx), the most famous reconnaissance tank of the Wehrmacht and ultimate version of the Panzer II. Its main features, new hull, new drivetrain and engine, new tracks and interleaved wheels, new suspensions, better armor, radio and internal equipments, made this model really well suited for the task.
The Panzer II Ausf G was an attempt to produce an heavily armored scout tank. New tracks and interleaved wheels, new wielded hull, helped this model to reach the specifications, but the entire project was cancelled due to other priorities in 1942, after twelve has been built in three sub-variants. The Ausf H was very similar, simplified for mass-production, and equipped with the special MG8202 or KwK42 2.8cm taper-bore antitank rifle, with a muzzle brake. It was derived from the earlier 2.8 cm sPzB 41, or PanzerBüsche-41 (Click to see). Both are prospective views, as none seemed to have seen combat.
The Ausf J (22 built by MAN early 1943), was an heavily armored version of the Panzer II, which had nothing in common but the name. It was very close to the Panzer I Ausf F, but only twenty-two were built in all. The hull, tracks, engine, were similar to the later, but with a modified turret holding the Rheinmetall 20mm. Both Pzr-IF and Pzr-IIJ were dubbed "little tigers" by the Russians and the Germans.
Here is a prospective view of the Vk 1602 Leopard, as it would have been in regular units by the fall of 1943. But compared to the cost and use of the SdKfz-223 "Puma" equipped with the more effective 75mm, the project was doomed...
The main german light Panzer of ww2...Both Panzer I and II were, in 1936, considered as a stopgap before the arrival of the main advanced models, namely the Panzer III and IV... Despite of this, the Panzer II remained throughout the war, the main light tank in german service, although many wheeled vehicles preformed this specialized task far better. In this particular task, the Panzer II lacked both speed and range, but anyway, it was gradually improved and produced until 1943 as no satisfactory replacement was ready in time.
The origins of this model dates back from 1934, when it appeared to the Waffenamt (Military ordnance bureau) that delays in the production of the Panzer III and IV urged a new design was to be quickly produced over the Panzer I, as a 10 ton tank with a 20mm autocannon. Krupp, AG, Daimler-Benz, and MAN, Henschel, Sohn AG (Chassis only) were contacted, and submitted their designs to the waffenamt in 1935, when the production was approved. The Krupp design was rejected, and a marriage of the Daimer-Benz Hull and MAN chassis was choosed instead. Thus led to ten prototypes late 1935, initially named LaS 100.
Panzer II general features :Basically the submitted design was an enlarged Panzer I with a turret bearing the new Rheinmetall KwK30 L55 20mm quick firing gun. The origin was the 2 cm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft gun, capable of a firing rate of 600rpm. The aim of such gun was to have better armor-piercing capabilities due to its high velocity, especially at short range against most light and medium tanks of the time (1936). As the spanish civil war showed, a dramatic increase in armor was urgently needed, and the first designs all incorporated an integral 14 mm homogeneous steel armor (10 mm top and bottom), which was sufficient against shrapnells and bullets. However, it was not immune against many high velocity 37 mm AT weapons of the time, and the French 25 and 47 mm and Soviet 45 mm towed antitank guns. This KwK-30 was aimed by a TZF4 gun sight. Normal provision was 180 rounds (armor-piercing and high explosive) and 2250 for the coaxial 7.92mm Rheinmetall-Borsig model 34 machine-gun. Elevation/depression for the KwK-30 mount were +20/-9,5°.
The main engine of nealry all series until 1943 was the gasoline 6-cylinder Maybach HL62 TRM providing 140 ps, coupled with a ZF transmission, with 6 gear plus reverse. It was reliable although limiting all major increases in armor and armament without significant losses both in speed and range. Early series had a leaf-sprinf suspension, and the first pereseries were fitted with small wheels sprung by pairs under three bogies, a very similar system to the Panzer I suspension. However, for reliability and mass production, until more advanced Christie model were available, a new system of five individually sprung, larger wheels was chosen. The upper part of the track was supported by three return rollers, then four on the definitive version. The crew of three was a progress, but the commander was also the main gunner, sat on the turret seat. The others were the driver and the loader/radio (on the floor under the turret, which operated a FuG5 USW receiver and 10-watt transmitter). The radio gave a clear advantage to the Panzer II over previous models and foreign opponents.
Panzer I Ausf a/b/c: The preseries.Contrary to the Panzer I which was mass-produced relatively quickly under the A version, gradual development of the Panzer II by various constructors led to "preseries", namely the "minor" versions, identified by their minuscule letters (125 in all were built in 1936-37).
The Ausf a (75 units) were sub-divided into three minor variants, featuring cast idler wheel (then welded) with rubber tire, some engine improvements and then improved suspension an engine cooling (which was a 130hp Maybach HL 57 TR coupled with a ZF Aphon SSG45 6-speed gearbox). They were known also as the "short hulls", but were under-protected, with just 13 for the frontal glacis.
The Ausf b (25 units), featured a reworked suspensions, wider tracks, longer hull (now 4,76m), a Maybach HL62TR engine and corresponding new drivetrain. Turret armor was increased to 12mm.
The c version was the last preserie, with a brand new suspension featuring five larger independently sprung road wheels and four return rollers. The lenght was further increased, to 4,81mm, and the width to 2,22m. (previous specs were 4.38 m(l) x 2.14 m(w), 1.95 m(h)). Cost of these models decreased in time : A single Ausf a was given to 52.640 RM but an Ausf c costed only 38.000 RM. Large-scale production versions appeared not cheaper : The Ausf F from 1941 was 52.728 RM complete wirth its armament.
Main production models : Panzer I Ausf A, B and C.They were the main production variants. The Ausf A benefited from all previous improvements, with upgraded in armor, now 14,5 mm on the sides and hull front, and minor additional improvements in transmission. This version was produced from july to december 1937. The Ausf B which succeded was almost unchanged but in minor aspects. They were visually identical and all parts were interchangeable. The Ausf C then came in june 1938, superseding the Ausf B. Production rate was overall increased by more contrators, namely Alkett, FAMO, MAN, Daimler-Benz, MIAG, Wegmann, and Henschel. The early production were visually distinguished from the later by their rounded front hull. The later were up-armored significantly, notably with extra plates bolted to the frontal glacis and turret. The last produced, during the war, even received additional, moderately sloped side armor plating. They also received the new KwK-38 gun. The Ausf C was the main variant used throughout the war, produced until mid 1941. During 1939-40, it was also the most largely available tank for the Panzertruppen.
Ausf F : Last version.Wartime experienced quickly led to major improvements on the Panzer II, notably its armor, with a new, single-piece frontal 30mm glacis, and a new gun mantlet increased to 30mm, as well as 15mm the sides and rear. A new commander cupola was also fitted, as well as the new KwK 38 20mm gun. Consequentely the weight rose to 9,5 tons, and the power-to-weight ratio fell to 14,7 PS/ton. From march 1941, this version was built into 524 units, until december 1942. This was the last major version, all others were such redesigns that they were only artificially attached to the Panzer II serie... The Ausf F was still a scout tank, with far better survivability that the previous models, but with some sacrifices to the speed. The 20mm was tested successfully with the new tungsten cored solid ammunition round, which increased grealty its antitank capabilities at short range. However, this was in limited supplies.
Ausf D and E : The redesigned scout tanks.In 1938, when both Panzer III and IV came into production, the waffenamt considered a conversion of the existing production line for true scout tanks, or Schnellkampfwagen. MAN designed the first prototype, based on the relatively unsuccesful FAMO/Christie suspension recently acquired from USA. At first, this new suspension gave excellent results, 55kph instead of 40. Production was ordered shortly after. They were completely redesigned, the turret beeing the only kept original part. They received extra armor, up to 30 mm on the frontal glacis and gun mantlet, a new Maybach HL62TRM engine, and a new transmission, Maybach Variorex VG 102128 7-speed gearbox. The only differences between the D and E were the tracks and wheels. These fast reconnaissance tanks were given to cavalry units, but only 43 were completed as such by MAN, when their poor cross-country performances became obvious in Poland. Other chassis were then converted (into Flamingo flame-thrower variant).
Panzer II Ausf H-G-M heavy reconnaissance tanks.In april 1941, an ambitious program was poised to release 3500 Gefechtsaufklarungs (heavy reconaissance tanks) along with 10 950 lighter reconnaisance models. This led to various prototypes, all built by MAN. This was part of a new breed of up-armored models (neue Art verstarkt) conceived in April 1941-august 1942. They were some upgunning attempts, first with captured French 37mm SA 38 guns, later with a German 50mm Pak 38 L/60 gun (as the 5 cm PaK 38 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II, VK-903b). The Ausf H had a properly redesigned turret, new hull, engine, tracks, and new interleaved wheels train, but a sole prototype was completed. The Ausf G (three sub-variants) saw a limited production, also by MAN (12 units). This version was armed with a 20mm EW141 MG heavy machine gun. The Ausf M was highly similar, but only 4 were completed when the entire project was cancelled in september 1942.
Just like the Panzer I Ausf F, the Ausf J was a complete new tank, which bears no resemblance and shared no parts with previous models. It was a very wide, highly armored small support tanks, with large tracks, the fruit of war experience in Russia. The first prototype, VK-1601, was ready by march 1942. Only 22 were built by MAN between april and december. With an armor raised to 50mm on the front, 30mm sides, and the same engine, speed was limited to a mere 31km/h. The armament was unchanged, and gave this tank better hitting power than its sister-tank Panzer IF. They joined the 12th Panzer Division and fought at Kursk, in Russia.
All these models had interleaved road wheels and large tracks. The most ambitious of all was the Leopard which was to replace the Ausf L, "Luchs". Also known as the VK-1602, it was largely based on the Ausf J, with an improved sloped hull which strongly resembled the one Panther's used. Officially called the Leopard, with nearly 35 tons, it was more likely a new medium tank than a true reconnaissance model. But the whole project, too costly, was cancelled before the only prototype was completed, late 1942.
Ausf L "Luchs" : The ultimate scout tank.The VK303 prototype of Panzerspahwagen was studied by MAN and built afterwars by MAN and Henschel under the name of Panzerspahwagen II Ausf L "Luchs" (Lynx). from september 1943 to january 1944 (104 units). The Sd.Kfz.123 was the ultimate version of the Panzer II, largely based on previous models, but up-armored and fitted with the interleaved wheels and new tracks developed for the semi-experimental Ausf G. It has also a new, more powerful (180 bhp) Maybach HL66P engine, coupled with a ZF Aphon SSG48 gearbox, which gave this model excellent performances (60 km/h road and 42 km/h cross-country) and a new rearranged hull fitted with bigger fuel tanks. Range was increased to 290km. The Hull superstructure, chassis, drivetrain, turret, were all modified. Armour was raised to 30mm on the sides and front. The weight soared to 11,8 tons.
The crew was now four, the commander could focus on his own tasks, and had a newly designed cupola. The Radio (FuG12 MW receiver and 80-watt transmitter) had also a greater range, and intercom was fitted. The gun was still the 20mm KwK-38 L55, but with 320 rounds, including many AP rounds. The secondary Mg34 was replaced in the hull. The Luchs fought until the end of the war both on the Eastern and Western front into Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilungen (armored reconnaissance units) affected to Wehrmacht and SS units.
Main variants : Marder, Wespe, Flamingo & BisonMany Panzer II chassis, particularly those of early versions (Ausf A to C) were used as basis for special versions. And the production line, which stopped producing the Panzer II were kept busy producing new variants.
Marder IIThe most famous one was this successful tank hunter, using captured Soviet 76mm AT guns (Sd.Kfz. 132) and the regular German Pak 40 (Sd.Kfz. 131). 744 of both versions were built or converted until 1944, and they served well until 1944.
WespeThe Wespe(Wasp), was a frontline self-propelled howitzer motor carriage, officially named "Leichte Feldhaubitze 18 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II". 682 were built by Alkett from 1942 to 1943. They served with various Panzerartillerie Abteilungen on the eastern front and North Africa, alongside heavier SPAs like the Hummel and Bison.Some were lately converted as ammunition supply tanks (Munitions Selbstfahrlafette auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II).
FlamingoAlso called Flamm-Panzer II, this was a chassis derivative of the failed D/F scout tanks. They were fitted with a brand new turret with a single Mg34 and a rearranged hull mounting two remotely controlled flamethrowers in small turrets, supplied with 320 litres of fuel and four tanks of compressed nitrogen. Armor was increased to 30mm. 155 were converted until march 1942, and they mostly served on the Russian front.
Sturmpanzer II BisonAnother, heavily modified version officially named "15 cm sIG 33 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Sf)". This was another attempt to self-carry the gargantuan 150mm sIG field Howitzer. However, as the Panzer I Ausf B now obsolete by 1941, served as the first basis for conversions, it was soon found overloaded and a new, lenghtened and reinforced chassis with extra wheels was designed, based on a regular Panzer II Ausf B chassis. This led to the final Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II. However only 12 were completed by december 1941, and sent to the Afrika Korps.
Wartime operations : The Panzer II in action.From 1936 to 1939, as the production gradually increased, the panzer II were used for the drilling of the Panzertruppen. Many of the officers involved became unit commanders afterwards. Some seemed to have been sent in Spain, for testing purposes only into the Panzer Abteilung 88 of Legion Condor (unconfirmed), but their first war operations came with the Czechosloavkian annexation, almost without a fight. More serious actions arrived with the Polish campaign, in september 1939. The Panzer II was at that time, the most numerous model of the Werhmacht, with 1223 units. War operations showed that, if it was efficient against most lightly protected tankettes, many were destroyed by the Polish infantry AT rifles, and the modern 7TP light tanks. 83 in all were destroyed, including 32 at the battle of Warsaw. Soon enough, they were concerns that they could be withdrawn as frontline combat tanks. Others were sent in Norway, were they played their part without serious opposition from the allies. The French had landed there two independent tanks bataillons, 30 Hotchkiss H35/39 in all, but they never envountered any German tanks, well spread in infantry support. At peak deployment, the Germans had 63 tanks in Norway, including mostly Panzer I, II and only three heavy Neubaufahrzeug. Two Panzer II were lost due to enemy AT guns actions.
At the start of the campaign of France, all available Panzer II (920) were gathered. The crew were concerned by their opponents armor and weaponry, but the speed, range and flexibility of these light units, all equipped with radios, led to refined tactics, were these tanks could have more efficient screening-scouting duties. They performed well, despite heavy losses. In 1941, they took part in operation Marita (the Balkans campaign), and Greece. Many were sent to the Afrika Korps, were their speed was seen as an advantage on this particular barren landscape. Modified Panzer IIs (Wespe and Marder II) were also shipped in Africa. Some survived, through losses and few replacements, until the axis surrendered in Tunisia.
When the Russian invasion took place in the summer of 1941, 782 Panzer II were involved, now reorganised into scout units. But still, the lack of armor proved to be a serious issue. Many Ausf C were up-armored and retrofitted with extra plates, and the Ausf F, largely rebuilt with overall added protection. Ammunition was mixed with more and more AP shells, notably tungsten-core rounds. But most Russian tanks proved immune to them, and only some T26 and various light tanks could be disabled at short range, by experienced crews... When they could, the Panzer II avoided tank-to-tank combats. In 1942, most of the survivors were removed from the frontline, or given, to allied nations like the Slovaks and Bulgarians. Some were converted, others led to various unsuccessful prototype reconversions (notably the recovery Bergenpanzer II, or the Flak-38 version). Production was now turning Wespe and Marder II instead. In 1943-44, only the Luch was active, in limited numbers, alongside survivors of the previous campaigns (386 by october 1944). They were records of 145 Panzer II still active by march 1945...
The Panzer II on the Web:The Panzer II on Wikipedia.
A list of surviving examples today (pdf document)
The Panzerkampfwagen-II on AchtungPanzer