Panzer I

From Academic Kids


The Panzer I was a light tank produced by Germany in the 1930s, intended as a training tank, but also used extensively in the Spanish Civil War and early World War II.

The Panzer I went by many names and designations, with the most common official designation as the Panzerkampfwagen I, or PzKpfw I. It also carried the official vehicle designation of Sonderkraftfahrzeug 101, or SdKfz 101. During the early period of its development, the name Landwirtschäftlicher Schlepper, or L-S, meaning an industrial tractor as a cover name to deflect investigation into the then-illicit German development of tanks. The Panzer I was converted into a number of special-purpose vehicles and self-propelled guns.



The Panzer I marked the first production tank design in Germany since the conclusion of World War I. In 1932, specifications for a light (5-ton) tank were made and issued to the German industrial manufacturers Rheinmetall, Krupp, Henschel, MAN and Daimler Benz. In 1933, the design by Krupp was chosen. It was based on the British Carden Loyd Mk IV Tankette, two of which had been secretly purchased from the Soviet Union. The Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany from producing any tanks so these versions were referred to as "Landwirtschaftlicher Schlepper" (agricultural tractors). The design was modified in late 1933 to combine the Krupp chassis with the Daimler Benz turret design. In 1934, the resulting tank was designated the Panzer I Ausf A (version A), and production began in July.

The original Panzer I was designed as a light tank for reconnaissance and infantry support duties. However, the most important goal of its development was to provide a vehicle to begin forming and training a German tank force. It was to be replaced in the Panzer divisions as soon as possible by more capable purpose-designed combat tanks, although as it turned out, by the start of World War II, the Panzer I was still filling a significant role in these units due to extended time in getting more advanced tanks produced.

The tank itself was produced in two primary variants. The original PzKpfw IA was underpowered and was replaced in production by the PzKpfw IB, with a more powerful engine and other improvements. The B model can be identified by the slightly longer hull and extra road wheel necessary for the larger engine. For the most part, the two versions were similar in operation. A few attempts were made to make a heavier armed tank or one able to participate in airborne operations, but few of these were made. By the time of the replacement of the Panzer I, it was long obsolete in any combat role, and thus many of the surviving chassis were converted to other roles. Most attempts to mount guns were less than successful due to the small size of the vehicle, but it was successful as a turret-less tractor, both for training of tank drivers and carrying cargo and munitions to front line units.

Combat History

The Panzer I first saw combat in 1936 in the Spanish Civil War as part of the German forces sent to assist General Franco and the Nationalists. The Panzer I turned out to be underpowered, under-gunned, and outclassed by the Soviet T-26 and BT-5 tanks used by the Republican forces. A number of Panzer Is were captured by the Republican forces, and fitted with 20 mm or 25mm anti-tank guns.

The Panzer I was intended as a training tank, to be replaced by the Panzer III in actual combat. However, because of delays in the production of Panzer IIIs, the Panzer I was the main tank used in the invasion of Poland and was used extensively in the invasions of France, Denmark, and Norway.

Fifteen Panzer IAs were purchased by Nationalist China, and saw combat in the Chinese Civil War.

After Germany removed the Panzer I from combat they were used extensively for patrolling in the conquered territories and for the training of new Panzertruppen.


The Panzer I had 13 mm of unsloped or slightly sloped homogenous steel armor on all sides, with 8 mm of armor on the top of the turret, and 6 mm on the top and bottom of the hull. The armor was sufficient to stop rifle bullets and most machine-gun bullets, but could not stop anything heavier, such as anti-tank rifles and anti-tank guns. Even though the armor was relatively thin, the steel plates had been face-hardened, an expensive treatment which suggests that roles other than merely training had been considered.


The Panzer I was armed with a pair of 7.92 mm machine guns in the turret. These guns could be independently elevated, but otherwise fixed in the turret. This made the Panzer I a good tank against infantry and soft vehicles, but completely impotent against anything with armor.


The Panzer IA had a 57 hp (43 kW) Krupp M305 4-cylinder gasoline engine, capable of propelling it at 37 km/h (23 mph) on good terrain, and a range of 145 km (90 miles) on-road. The IB had a 100 hp (75 kW), 6-cylinder Maybach NL38TR engine giving it a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph), and a range of 170 km (105 miles) on-road.


The Panzer I had a crew of two. The driver sat in the forward hull, while the commander sat in the turret and operated the guns.


Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf A (PzKpfw IA)

The Ausf A was the first production model. 818 were produced from July 1934 through June 1936 by Daimler-Benz, Henschel, Krupp and MAN. Intended as a training and development vehicle, it none-the-less was widely used by all German panzer formations early in the war. Quickly phased out however, its last service was in Finland and North Africa as late as 1941. It differed from the later Ausf B in a number of respects. Most important was its less powerful Krupp M305 engine. The lighter Ausf A (5.4 tons) was also shorter (4.02 m) and could be recognized externally by only having four road wheels. The Ausf A underperformed the Ausf B, with a top road speed of 37 km/h and a range of 145 km.

Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf A ohne Aufbau

Actually the first Panzer I vehicles to be built, 15 were completed by the various firms included in the program (Daimler-Benz, Henschel, Krupp, MAN, and Rheinmetall) to develop their industrial capacity and provide initial training vehicles to the Wehrmacht. The Ausf A ohne Aufbau was merely a Panzer I hull without superstructure or turret. The interior was completely open, and was crewed by a driving student and instructor with room for three student observers behind them. The suspension and hull were identical to the Ausf A, but total weight was reduced to 3.5 tons and height to 1.15 m. Performance was similar.

Munitionsschlepper auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf A

Given the designation SdKfz 111, the Munitionsschlepper (ammunition tractor) was built to provide panzer units with an armored, tracked vehicle for front-line re-supply of tanks. 51 examples were converted from older Ausf A tanks in September 1939. The conversion involved simply removing the turret and providing a two-piece armor plate cover over the resulting opening. This was a rather crude conversion, and served in Poland and France with panzer units. Total weight was a little less than the Ausf A at 5.0 tons and height reduced to 1.4 m. Since some fuel capacity was removed, range was cut to 95 km. No armament was provided.

Brückenleger auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf A

An attempt to mount bridging equipment on the Ausf A chassis proved impractical due to the weak suspension of the vehicle, although this was later tried with greater success on the Panzer II chassis.

Flammenwerfer auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf A

A simple field modification, the Flammenwerfer consisted simply of a portable flamethrower being mounted in place of one of the machine guns with enough fuel for about 10 seconds of firing at a range of up to 25 m. The conversion was not permanent, and was only reported to be used in the Battle of Tobruk by the German 5th Light Division.

Kleine Panzerbefehlswagen (klPzBefWg)

Given the designation SdKfz 265, the klPzBefWg was designed from the Ausf A to provide a command vehicle for panzer units. This required lengthening the chassis (by adding a fifth road wheel) and upgrading the engine. Ultimately, this chassis would be the basis for the improved Ausf B version. The klPzBefWg also differed in replacing the turret with a built up superstructure, affording more interior room for command equipment and a FuG6 radio in addition to the FuG2. A single MG13 or MG34 in a ball mount on the front of the superstructure was provided, although often removed. Slightly heavier (5.9 tons) and taller (1.99 m) than the Ausf B, the klPzBefWg served with all panzer units into the early war years. It did receive an additional 15 mm of armor later, but eventually was moved to auxiliary duties by 1942. 184 were build by Daimler-Benz at the same time as Ausf B production, as well as six examples built from Ausf A tanks.

Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B (PzKpfw IB)

The Ausf B was the most widely built and used Panzer I version. Adopting the larger hull developed for the kleine Panzerbefehlswagen, and installing a more powerful and reliable Maybach NL38TR engine, 675 were built by Daimler-Benz, Henschel, Krupp, MAN, and Wegmann from August 1935 through June 1937.

Specifications for the Panzer I Ausf B

  • Crew: 2
  • Engine: Maybach NL38TR with 5 forward gears plus reverse
  • Weight: 5.8 tons
  • Dimensions: length 4.42 m; height 1.72 m; width 2.06 m
  • Performance: speed 40 km/h; range 170 km
  • Radio: FuG2
  • Armor: 13 mm plate on front, side, and rear; 8 mm roof; 6 mm floor
  • Armament: twin turret-mounted coaxial MG13 7.92 mm machine guns with TZF2 gun sight
  • Elevation: + 18° to - 12°
  • Ammunition: 2,250 7.92 mm machine gun ammunition carried
  • Turret: one man with 360° hand traverse

Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B ohne Aufbau

The Ausf B ohne Aufbau used the same chassis as the Ausf B, but deleted the superstructure and turret. Designed to provide panzer units with a tracked recovery and repair vehicle, 164 were produced alongside the standard Ausf B vehicles. However, the introduction of larger tanks left it unable to do recovery work and by 1940 it was being transferred to training duties. Versus the Ausf B it was much lighter (4.0 tons) and shorter (1.35 m). Like the Ausf A ohne Aufbau, the compartment was open topped, but the hull was armored.

4.7 cm PaK (t) (Sf) auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B

Commonly known as the Panzerjäger I, this version marked Germany's first attempt at an armored tank destroyer. This simple conversion involved removal of the standard turret, and mounting in its place a 4.7 cm PaK (t) antitank gun (captured from Czechoslovakia) with a tall wrap-around gun shield. This shield was 14.5 mm armor plate but gave no coverage from the rear or above. Total traverse was 35 ° and elevation was 12 ° to -8 °. 86 rounds were carried for the main gun, which used a ZF2 X 30° gun sight. While performance was similar to the Ausf B, it was heavier (6.4 tons) and taller (2.25 m) than the B, while carrying a third crew member.

15 cm sIG 33 (Sf) auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B

The larger Ausf B chassis made possible the mounting of heavier guns with removal of the turret. The largest was the 150 mm heavy infantry gun, the sIG 33. This mammoth piece was relatively short and fit just barely in a tall superstructure not only built up to the vehicle's 2.8 m height but also out over the tracks to their full 2.06 m width. The superstructure armor was light at only 10 mm and only protected the front and sides. The heavy resulting weight of 8.5 tons overstressed the chassis and utimately, the vehicle was not a great success. 38 were converted from older Ausf B tanks in February 1940 and they served with six heavy SP infantry gun companies with survivors in service into 1943. The sIG mounting was capable of 25 ° of traverse and 75 ° of elevation, and could be depressed to -4 °. It used a Rblf36 sight, and ammunition was carried seperately, there being no room for onboard shell storage. The sIG would be mounted more successfully on larger chassis as the war progressed.

Flammenwerfer auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B

An experiment at a field modification similar to that done to the Ausf A later in North Africa, this conversion was made during the Spanish Civil War, although there is no record of later use during World War II.

Ladungsleger auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B

A field modification kit, the Ladungsleger, or explosives layer, was mounted on the rear deck of an Ausf B tank and used to lay explosives to defeat field fortifications. A number of vehicles were given these kits, with authorized use on the armored engineers company of each Pioneer Battalion.

Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf C (PzKpfw IC)

An attempt to redesign the PzKpfw I for use in the reconnaissance role and in airborne operations was made through a full redesign of the suspension, using interleaved road wheels, a new powerplant, and increased armor. Total weight was 8.0 tons, powered by a Maybach HL45P engine driving a transmission with 8 forward gears plus two reverse gears. However, the vehicle was shorter (4.19 m) and narrower (1.92) while height was a bit greater (1.94 m). Speed was impressive at 79 km/h and a range of 300 km was possible. Armament was significantly upgraded, with one of the machine guns replaced by a 20 mm EW141 automatic cannon, while the other was a coaxial MG34 7.92 mm machine gun. The guns could elevate to 20 ° and down to -10 ° with full hand powered traverse. Armor was built up to 30 mm front and 20 mm for the side and rear, with 10 mm top and bottom, with almost no slope. Despite the improvements, the tank was still outclassed by the time of its production from July through December 1942, during which 40 were built by Krauss-Maffei, and most were issued to reserve units.

Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf D (PzKpfw ID)

Only 1 produced, designated VK602.

Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf F (PzKpfw IF)

Originally given the prototype designation VK1801, the final attempt to design a new Panzer I tank was the Ausf F, a 21 ton heavily armored infantry assault tank. Strictly designed to mount the maximum armor protection possible, 80 mm frontal plate was provided with 50 mm on the side and rear and 25 mm top and bottom, although with negligible slope. The suspension and powerplant of the Ausf C were used, but with a simpler transmission with only 4 forward gears plus reverse. Length was increased to 4.38 m and width to 2.64 m to accommodate wider tracks to lessen ground pressure while height was only lightly greater at 2.05 m. Performance suffered with speed reduced to 25 km/h and range to 150 km. A pair of MG34 coaxial machine guns provided the armament. While invulnerable to most antitank weapons of its time, its low speed and weak armament limited it to expressly anti-infantry operations. Only thirty were produced by Krauss-Maffei from April through December 1942, and most served on the Eastern Front.

Designs based on chassis

  • 15 cm sIG33(Sf) auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B - Self-propelled 150 mm howitzer. 38 converted from existing tanks.
  • Panzerjäger I - Self-propelled 47 mm anti-tank gun. 202 converted from existing tanks.
  • Flammenwerfer auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf A - Flamethrower tank. Field conversion of the Panzer IA using an infantry flamethrower.
  • Ladungsleger auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf A - Minelayer tank. 100 converted from existing tanks.
  • Munitionsschlepper Auf Panzerkampfwagen Ia und Ib - Ammunition carrier. In 1942-43, all Panzer Is still in service were converted into these vehicles.
  • Flakpanzer I - anti-aircraft tank. 24 converted from Munitionsschlepper I Ausf As.

See also


External links

German armored fighting vehicles of World War II
Panzer I | Panzer II | Panzer III | Panzer IV | Panther | Tiger III | Panzer 35(t) | Panzer 38(t)
Self-propelled artillery
Wespe | Hummel | Grille | Panzerwerfer
Assault guns
StuG III | StuG IV | StuH 42 | Brummbär | Sturmtiger
Tank destroyers
Panzerjäger I | Marder I , II , III | Hetzer | Jagdpanzer IV | Jagdpanther | Nashorn | Jagdtiger | Elefant
Armored half-tracks Armored cars
SdKfz 4 | 250 | 251 | 252 | 253 Sdkfz 221/22/23 | Sdkfz 231/32/34/63
Self propelled anti-aircraft
Flakpanzer IV: Möbelwagen, Wirbelwind, Ostwind, Kugelblitz | Gepard
Maus | P-1000 Ratte | E- series | Panther II | Waffentrager | Neubaufahrzeug
Proposed designs
P-1500 'Monster' | Panzer VII 'Löwe' | Panzer IX
German armored fighting vehicle production during World War II
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