The Panzer II is the common name used for a family of German tanks used in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen II (abbreviated PzKpfw II).
Although the vehicle had originally been designed as a stopgap while larger, more advanced tanks were developed, it nonetheless went on to play an important role in the early years of World War II, during the Polish and French campaigns. The Panzer II was the most numerous tank in the German Panzer divisions beginning with the invasion of France. It was used in both North Africa against the British and on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union.
The Panzer II was supplemented by the Panzer III and IV in 1940/41. Thereafter, it was used to great effect as a reconnaissance tank. By the end of 1942 it had been largely removed from front line service and it was used for training and on secondary fronts. Production of the tank itself ceased by 1943 but its chassis remained in use as the basis of several other armored vehicles, chiefly self-propelled artillery such as the Wespe and Marder II.
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In 1934, delays in the design and production of the Panzer III and Panzer IV medium 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 designed before the experience of the Spanish Civil War of 1936–39 showed that shell-proof armor was required for tanks to survive on a modern battlefield. Prior to that, armor was designed to stop machine gun fire and high-explosive shell fragments.
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. Many IIC were later given increased armor in the front of the vehicle. Starting with the D model, the front armor was increased to 30 mm. The Model F had 35 mm front armor and 20 mm side armor. This amount of armor could be penetrated by towed antitank weapons, such as the Soviet 45mm and French canon de 25 and canon de 47.
Most tank versions of the Panzer II were armed with a 2 cm KwK 30 L/55 autocannon. Some later versions used the similar 2 cm KwK 38 L/55. This autocannon was based on the 2 cm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft gun, and was capable of firing at a rate of 600 rounds per minute (280 rounds per minute sustained) from 10-round magazines. A total of 180 shells were carried.
The Panzer II also had a 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34 machine gun mounted coaxially with the main gun.
The 2 cm autocannon proved to be ineffective against many Allied tanks, and experiments were conducted with a view to 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 2 cm armor-piercing explosive ammunition with tungsten cored solid ammunition, but due to shortages of tungsten this ammunition was in chronically short supply.
All production versions of the Panzer II were fitted with a 140 PS (138 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 torsion bar 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 to the previous leaf spring type suspension. All versions had a range of 200 km (120 mi).
The Panzer II had a crew of three men. The driver sat in the forward left hull with the gearbox on the right. The commander sat in a seat in the turret, and was responsible for aiming and firing the cannon and co-axial machine gun, while a loader/radio operator sat on the floor of the tank behind the driver. He had a radio on the left and several 20mm ammunition storage bins.
Development and Limited Production Models
Panzer II Ausf. a (Pz.Kpfw. IIa)
Not to be confused with the later Ausf. A (the sole difference being the capitalization of the letter A), the Ausf. a was the first version of the Panzer II to be built (albeit in limited numbers), and was subdivided into three sub-variants. The Ausf. a/1 was initially built with a cast idler wheel with rubber tire, but this was replaced after ten production examples with a welded part. The Ausf. a/2 improved engine access problems. 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 (Pz.Kpfw. 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 resulting in a wider track and a longer hull. Length was increased to 4.76 m but width and height were unchanged. 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 increased to 7.9 tonnes. Twenty-five were built by Daimler-Benz and MAN in February and March 1937.
Panzer II Ausf. c (Pz.Kpfw. 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 the 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.
Main Production Models
Panzer II Ausf. A, B and C
The first true production model, the Ausf. A, included an armor upgrade to 14.5 mm. / 0.57086614 in. on all sides, as well as a 14.5 mm floor plate, and an improved transmission. It entered production in July 1937 and was superseded by the Ausf. B in December 1937, introducing only minimal changes.
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. Earlier versions of Ausf. C have a rounded hull front, but many had additional armor plates bolted on the turret and hull front. Some were also retro-fitted with commander’s cupolas.
Panzer II Ausf. D and E
With a completely new torsion bar suspension with four road wheels, the Ausf. D was developed as a tank for use in the cavalry divisions. 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 143 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 after proving to have poor off-road performance. The Ausf. E improved some small items of the suspension, but was otherwise similar and served alongside the Ausf. D.
Panzer II Ausf. F
Continuing the conventional design of the Ausf. C, the Ausf. F superstructure front was made from a single piece of armor plate with a redesigned visor. Also, a dummy visor was placed next to it to confuse enemy gunners. The hull was redesigned with a flat 35 mm plate on its front, and the 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 cupola as well. Weight was increased to 9.5 tonnes. From March 1941 to December 1942, 524 were built; this was the final major tank version of the Panzer II series.
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 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°.
The flamethrowers were supplied with 320 litres of fuel and 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 at the sides and rear.
Total weight was 12 tonnes 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. Two sub-variants existed: the Ausf. A and Ausf. B which differed only in minor suspension components.
One hundred and fifty-five Flamm vehicles were built from January 1940 through March 1942. These were mostly on new chassis, but 43 were converted from Panzer II Ausf. D/E. The Flammpanzer II was deployed in the USSR, but was not very successful due to its limited armor, and survivors were soon withdrawn for conversion to Marder II tank destroyers in December 1941.
Panzer II Ausf. L “Luchs”
A light reconnaissance tank, the Ausf. L, was the only Panzer II design with the Schachtellaufwerk overlapping/interleaved road wheels and “slack track” configuration to enter series production, with 100 being built from September 1943 to January 1944 in addition to the conversion of the four Ausf. M tanks. Originally given the experimental designation VK 1303, it was adopted under the alternate name Panzerspähwagen II and given the popular name Luchs (Lynx). The Luchs 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. The FuG12 and FuG Spr a radios were installed, while 330 rounds of 20 mm and 2,250 rounds of 7.92 mm ammunition were carried. Total vehicle weight was 11.8 tonnes.
Self-Propelled Guns on Panzer II Chassis
15 cm sIG 33 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Sf)
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 1941. These served with the 707th and 708th Heavy Infantry Gun Companies in North Africa until their destruction in 1943.
7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. D/E – Marder II Sd.Kfz. 132
After a lack of success with conventional and flame tank variants on the Ausf. D/E 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, open-topped fighting compartment with a Soviet 76.2 mm antitank gun, which, while not turreted, did have significant traverse. Only developed as an interim solution, the vehicle was clearly too tall and poorly protected, but had a powerful weapon.
7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II – Marder II Sd.Kfz. 131
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 served with the Germans on all fronts through the end of the war.
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. Production quantity is unknown.
Leichte Feldhaubitze 18 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II – Wespe
After the development of the Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II for mounting the sIG 33, Alkett designed a version mounting a 10.5 cm leichte Feldhaubitze 18/2 field howitzer in an open-topped superstructure. This was Germany’s only widely produced self-propelled 105 mm howitzer. Between February 1943 and June 1944, 676 were built by FAMO, and it served on all major fronts.
Munitions Selbstfahrlafette auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II
To support the Wespe in operation, 159 Wespe chassis were completed without installation of the howitzer, instead functioning as ammunition carriers. They carried 90 rounds of 105 mm caliber. These could be converted to normal Wespes by installation of the leFH 18 in the field if needed.
Limited Production, Experiments and Prototypes
Panzerkampfwagen II mit Schwimmkörper
One of Germany’s first attempts at developing an amphibious tank, the Schwimmkörper was a device built by Gebr Sachsenberg that consisted of two large pontoons, with one attached to each side of a Panzer II tank. The tanks were specially sealed, some modifications to the engine exhaust and cooling were needed, as was an inflatable rubber ring used to seal the turret during amphibious operation. A propeller linked by a universal joint to an extension was linked to the tank’s engine provided motive power, steering in water being effected by a rudder mounted behind the propeller. Speeds of up to 6 mph in dead calm were claimed, as was the ability to cope with conditions up to sea state 4. Once ashore the pontoons were detachable. The modified tanks were issued to the 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.
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 under the experimental designation VK 901. There is no record of the Ausf. G being issued to combat units, and only 12 full vehicles were built from April 1941 to February 1942 by MAN. The turrets were subsequently issued for use in fortifications. Two were converted to use the 50mm Pak 38 and troop-tested on the Eastern Front.
- Crew: 3
- Engine: Maybach HL66P driving a five speed transmission (plus reverse)
- Weight: 10.5 tonnes
- Dimensions: length 4.24 m; width 2.38 m; height 2.05 m
- Performance: speed 50 km/h; range 200 km
- Main armament: 7.92×94 mm MG141 automatic rifle, turret mounted with TZF10 sight
- Secondary armament: 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun, coaxially mounted
- Turret: 360° hand traverse
- Armor: 30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear
Panzer II Ausf. H – Pz.Kpfw. IIH
Given experimental designation VK 903, 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.
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 7th Panzer Division in May 1940.
Panzer II Ausf. J – Pz.Kpfw. IIJ
Continued development of the reconnaissance tank concept led to the much up-armored Ausf. J, which used the same concept as the Pz.Kpfw. IF of the same period, under the experimental designation VK 1601. Heavier armor was added, bringing protection up to 80 mm on the front (similar to the maximum armor found on the KV-1 model 1941 Soviet heavy tank) and 50 mm to the sides and rear, with 25 mm roof and floor plates, increasing total weight to 18 tonnes. Equipped with the same Maybach HL45P as the Pz.Kpfw. IF, top speed was reduced to 31 km/h (19 mph). Primary armament was the 2 cm KwK 38 L/55 gun. 22 were produced by MAN between April and December 1942, and seven were issued to the 12th Panzer Division on the Eastern Front.
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 II Ausf. M – Pz.Kpfw. 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. Four were built by MAN in August 1942, but did not see service.
Panzerkampfwagen II ohne Aufbau
One use for obsolete Panzer II tanks that 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 Selbstfahrlafette 1c
Developed in prototype form only, this was one of three abortive attempts to use the Panzer II chassis for mounting 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.
VK 1602 Leopard
The VK 1602 was intended to be the 5 cm KwK 39-armed replacement for the Ausf. L, with a Maybach HL157P engine driving an eight speed transmission (plus reverse). While the hull was based on that of the Pz.Kpfw. IIJ, it was redesigned after the Panzer V Panther, most noticeably with the introduction of fully sloped frontal armor. Two versions were initially planned, a lighter, faster 18-ton variant and a slower, 26-ton vehicle; the former was abandoned at an early stage. Subsequently, work on the first prototype was abandoned when it was determined that the vehicle was underarmed for its weight, and versions of the Panzer IV and V could serve just as well in the reconnaissance role while being more capable of defending themselves. This vehicle never received an official Panzerkampfwagen title, but it would have been called the “Leopard” had it entered production. Its turret design was adopted for the SdKfz 234/2 armored car.