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Strange Bugs

Thomas Anderson re-evaluates Germany’s late-war light Panzers.
Vehicles of Panzer Abteilung (zbV) 66 standing before the vehicle halls at their home garrison. This picture gives a good idea of the two heavily armoured light tanks, to the left the VK 1601, to the right the VK 1801. (Anderson)
1 The crew of this VK 1801, also known as PzKpfw I Ausf F, gather in the small gap in the track cover, standing on the wide track. They are wearing felt boots and padded white trousers to fight the extreme cold in the Russian winter of 1943/44. The tank is nicely whitewashed. (Anderson)

World War II is often described as a war of tanks. However, the translation Krieg der Panzer would certainly fit better, considering how the Wehrmacht was the first army to fully understand the new weapon’s incredible potential. After the traumatic experiences of the Great War, followed by the great economic depression, the German Reich built up its new armed forces, the Wehrmacht, with the help of unconventional staff officers. What was to emerge as the Panzertruppe was the child of a tough team of staff officers, led by Generals Lutz and Guderian. It is to their credit that Germany introduced a new combat arm, the Schnellen Truppen (rapid forces), which should later be renamed the Panzertruppe. According to their doctrine, tanks, not the infantry, should play the lead role in a coming conflict. Both officers saw mobility as the prime factor for battlefield success. The balance of mobility, firepower and armour protection – the trio of factors determining the success of any tank - had been altered, influencing both combat tactics and technology. The very first experiences with early dummy tanks and simple armoured cars would again affect many other aspects such as training and organization. Subsequently, the embryonic Panzertruppe elaborated on their tactics, with tactics and technological development influencing one another.

When the specifications for the first German tank designs were drawn up, the emphasis was firstly concentrated on small armoured vehicles. Still facing severe economical problems, this decision allowed the requested mass production. These first developments gave the German industry valuable experiences for the heavier combat tanks planned for the future.

Early Panzers

The PzKpfw I, or Panzer I (this designation was equally familiar) was made by Krupp. Mass production of the two versions, Ausf A and B, amounted to some 2,000 vehicles, and served to equip the first Panzer Divisions, ensuring training for thousands of tank crews. The next model, the Panzer II, was little more than an upgraded Panzer I, with a moderately improved drive train. The most noteworthy difference was the adoption of a 2cm KwK 30, a gun having some armour penetration capability, and the increase of the crew by one to three soldiers. The commanders of the Panzertruppe were fully aware that neither tanks was able to meet their the most important requirement: the ability to engage and defeat enemy armour.

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Inside this months issue: Panzer Vor! - The Great and Small of Panzer Modelling Challenger 2 - Operation Telic Armour