In July of 1934, the Waffenamt (Ordnance Department) ordered the development of an armored vehicle 10 tons in weight and armed with 20mm automatic cannon. In early 1935, number of manufacturers including Krupp AG, MAN (chassis only), Henschel und Sohn AG (chassis only) and Daimler-Benz AG provided their prototypes of Landwirtschaftlicher Schlepper 100 (LaS 100) – agricultural tractor, for evaluation by the army. The new vehicle was also known as 2cm MG Panzerwagen and as VK 622 (Versuchkraftfahrzeug 622). New light tank – Panzerkampfwagen II was to supplement new Panzerkampfwagen I light tank as a vehicle with heavier armament capable of firing armor-piercing and high explosive rounds. Krupp was the first to present their design, but it was not adopted and it was then decided to utilize chassis designed by MAN and hull by Daimler-Benz. In October of 1935, first soft steel prototype was tested and 10 LaS 100 tanks, later designated as Ausf a1 were ordered. From late 1935 to May of 1936, MAN produced 10 Ausf a1 tanks.
Panzerkampfwagen II (Sd.Kfz.121) was larger than Panzerkampfwagen I, but was still a light training tank that could be used in reconnaissance or policing role. Regardless, it entered combat service due to the delays in production of Panzerkampfwagen III and Panzerkampfwagen IV as a "stop-gap" vehicle for the expanding Panzertruppen. As well as Panzerkampfwagen I, it did not prove very effective in combat, although it was the main battle tank of the Panzertruppen until 1940/41. In 1939, it was comparable to other light tanks such as Polish 7TP, Soviet T-26 or French R-35, although all three were armed with larger caliber guns. Overall, Panzerkampfwagen II just like Panzerkampfwagen I was ineffective as a combat tank, but was an important step in the development of more powerful panzers. In good hands, it was a good light tank and effective light reconnaissance tank that provided German designers and manufacturers with more tank building experience. As any other panzer, its chassis became a base for usual conversions including Marder II tank destroyers and Wespe self-propelled howitzer as well as other built on its chassis and/or using its components – e.g. Flammpanzer II Flamingo / PzKpfw II(F) – flamethrower tank, Schwimmpanzer II – an amphibious tank and Sturmpanzer II Bison – self-propelled gun.
Also suspension of Panzerkampfwagen II was used to convert standard Opel, Mercedes-Benz or Ford trucks to halftracked trucks – Maultier (Mule) used extensively on the Eastern Front. Krupp also worked on the concept of utilizing Panzerkampfwagen II’s chassis and components as a base for the dismountable weapon carrier (Waffentrager), armed with 105mm leFH howitzer. In early 1943, Rheinmetall-Borsig mounted single Panzerkampfwagen II chassis with captured Soviet 120mm model 1938 mortar, while testing the concept of rigid mounted armament.
Armor of Panzerkampfwagen II was its weak spot as it was outclassed when tank entered service. It was very thin and did not offer any protection against anything other than firearms and shell fragments (e.g. vulnerable turret ring was later provided with a protective shield). The main armament of 20mm cannon was adequate at the time of its introduction into service, but soon proved to be an outclassed weapon. It was effective against soft targets but proved to be ineffective against majority of Allied armor.
After the Fall of France, there were tests to rearm Panzerkampfwagen II with captured French 37mm SA 38 gun but they were never concluded. Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf a/1 to Ausf F were armed with 20mm KwK 30 L/55 automatic cannon (developed from 20mm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft cannon) with rate of fire of 280 rounds per minute and coaxial Rheinmetall-Borsig 7.92mm MG34 machine gun. Cannon was mounted on the left and machine on the right side in the turret. The 20mm cannon was fitted with various models of TZF4 optical sight depending on the variant. The turret itself was offset to the left and had commanders split hatch replaced later by commander’s cupola. Inside the fighting compartment stored were 180 20mm rounds (in 10 round magazines) and 2250 7.92mm rounds (in 17 belt bags). In addition, some tanks were equipped with smoke grenade projectors for close defence.
Panzerkampfwagen II was operated by three men crew composed of driver located in the front of the hull, commander/gunner and loader/radio-operator in the turret. Commander sat on seat in turret, while the loader stood on the turret’s floor. The communication between commander and driver was by the use of the voice tube. Communication equipment consisted of FuG5 USW receiver and 10-watt transmitter, which gave the tank advantage on the battlefield over most of the opponents. Early models had rounded nose plate replaced by two angled armor plates joined at 70-degree angle. Also, early models carried 200l of fuel and starting with Ausf F this was reduced to 170l. Tanks sent to North Africa were modified with tropical ventilation and filtering system to operate in dusty and dry climate – Tropisch (Tp). Many Panzerkampfwagen II tanks were retrofitted, reworked and up-armored during their service to keep them operational longer creating hybrid variants.
Ausf a/1, a/2 and a/3 were pre-production vehicles, which entered service for testing purposes without their mechanical problems being completely solved and remained in service until mid/late 1941. Each subsequent variant featured some modifications e.g. to the layout, engine and cooling and exhaust system as well as the suspension to correct problems encountered in the previous variant. Their suspension was developed from the Panzerkampfwagen I and consisted of three articulated pairs of road-wheels connected by an outside girder. Models Ausf a1/a2/a3 were powered by 130hp Maybach HL 57 TR 6-cylinder engine with ZF Aphon SSG45 6-speed gearbox. New tanks had operational road range of 200km. Armor protection ranged from 5 to 13mm.
Overall, 75 of PzKpfw II Ausf a/1 (10 – late 1935 to May 1936), a/2 (15 – May 1936 to February 1937) and a/3 (50 – May 1936 to February 1937) tanks were produced from late 1935 to March of 1937 by MAN and Daimler-Benz (chassis number 20001-20075). Cost of single Ausf a tank with armament was 52640RM.
Ausf b was also a pre-production vehicle with modifications introduced a solution to problems of first three variants. MAN and Daimler-Benz produced only 25 from February to March of 1937 (chassis number 21001-21025). Ausf b had the same but improved suspension as its predecessors as well as modified transmission, cooling and exhaust system. It was powered by 140hp Maybach HL 62 TR 6-cylinder engine (standard engine for all Panzerkampfwagen II tanks) with road range of 200km. Armor protection ranged from 5 to 13mm.
In March of 1937, new variant Ausf c appeared. It featured modifications and new suspension, which consisted of five independent road-wheels and became standard for following models of Panzerkampfwagen II. Variants Ausf A/B/C were modified and improved production versions of Ausf c and became main production versions. There were only minor differences between Ausf A/B/C and all four variants had improved armor protection, which ranged from 5 to 16mm. In May of 1940, protection was increased by addition of 20mm plates to front areas as a result of experience with Polish anti-tank rifles in September of 1939. Ausf c, A, B and C weighted 8.9 tons and had a road range of 200km. All four were powered by Maybach HL 62 TR engine with ZF Aphon SSG46 gearbox (Ausf A-C). From March of 1937 to April of 1940, 1113 Ausf c, A, B and C tanks were produced by MAN, Daimler-Benz, Henschel, Wegmann, Alkett, MIAG and FAMO (chassis number 21101-27000). Cost of single Ausf B tank without armament was 38000RM. Chassis of Ausf A, B and C were also used as a base for Marder II (Sd.Kfz.131) tank destroyer. One of the most interesting conversions was modified Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf A/B/Cs mounted with superstructure similar to Marder II (Sd.Kfz.131) and armed with 50mm Pak 38 L/60 gun (due to shortage of 75mm Pak 40 guns), designated as 5cm PaK38 L/60 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Sf). It was an experimental mounting, which was then developed to accommodate larger guns – Marder Series.
In May of 1938, first Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf D/E (Schnellkampfwagen – fast fighting vehicle) were produced by MAN as light tanks for cavalry units. Only 43 were produced from May of 1938 to August of 1939 (chassis number 27001-28000). They featured unsuccessful Famo/Christie-type suspension similar to those developed by the British and Soviets. Top speed of new tanks was 55km/h, compared to 40km/h of regular Panzerkampfwagen II tanks. Both were powered by 140hp Maybach HL 62 TRM 6-cylinder engine with Maybach Variorex VG 102128 7-speed gearbox. The main difference between two were the modifications made to the track and wheels from Ausf D to E. The only component that remained the same in the design of Ausf D/E in comparison to previous models was the turret, while the rest was largely newly designed. The armament and ammunition stored remained the same. The armor protection was increased from 5 to 30mm. The main idea behind Ausf D/E was to provide cavalry units with a fast reconnaissance tank. Ausf D/E tanks only saw service with Light Divisions during the Polish Campaign of 1939. In March of 1940, due to the poor cross-country performance large number of Ausf D/E was taken out of service. Only 43 chassis were completed as tanks, while the rest of chassis produced was used for conversions such as Flammpanzer II Flamingo (Sd.Kfz.122) flamethrower tanks and Marder II (Sd.Kfz.132) tank destroyers.
In March of 1941, improved and modified version of Ausf C – light reconnaissance tank Ausf F was introduced by FAMO. 524 tanks were produced from March of 1941 to December of 1942 (chassis number 28001-28834). Ausf F was the last variant of the normal Panzerkampfwagen II series. It had the same armament as other Panzerkampfwagen II tanks but some were armed with newer 20mm KwK 38 L/55 cannon. Inside the fighting compartment stored were 180 20mm rounds and 2700 7.92mm rounds. Armor protection ranged from 5 to 30mm but it still didn’t offer adequate protection. Ausf F featured numerous modifications based on the experience with earlier models such as front hull, front superstructure, mantlet, suspension and new commander’s cupola. Ausf F weighted 9.5 tons and had a road range of 200km. Cost of single Ausf F tank without armament was 49228RM and with armament 52728RM. Only 524 Ausf F chassis were completed as tanks, while the rest was used as a base for Marder II (Sd.Kfz.131) tank destroyers and Wespe (Sd.Kfz.124) self-propelled howitzers.
Since December of 1939, there were various projects to create a specialized fast reconnaissance light tank based on Panzerkampfwagen II’s chassis and components. From April of 1941 to August of 1942, prototypes (neue Art verstarkt – up-armored new model) like VK 901 (Ausf G1/G3/G4 – 12 completed), VK 903 (Ausf H – 1 prototype), VK 1601 (Ausf J – 22 completed), VK 1301 (Ausf M – improved version VK 901 and VK 1601 – 1 completed) were produced. Ausf G was armed with 20mm EW141 MG heavy machine gun and 7.92mm MG34 machine gun, while Ausf H, J and M with 20mm KwK 38 L/55 cannon and 7.92mm MG34 machine gun. Armor protection was increased and was 30mm maximum on Ausf G, H and M and 80mm on Ausf J. All models were produced by MAN and none of them entered full-time production since the entire program was abandoned. VK 901 (Ausf G) was based on Ausf D and was designed to replace Ausf F, while it was replaced by improved VK 903 (Ausf H). In January of 1942, 2 VK 901 (Ausf G) were modified and fitted with 50mm Pak 38 L/60 guns and were troop tested on the Eastern Front.
In early 1943, there was a proposal to convert VK 903 into a tank destroyer armed with 75mm PaK 42 L/70 gun (vehicle similar to Marder), designated as 7.5cm Pak 42 L/70 mit Kugelblende auf VK 903, but it was never realized and remained only a proposal.
On April 30th of 1941, the "Panzerprogramm 41" made provisions to build Ausf H in following numbers: 3500 Gefechtsaufklarungs (heavily armored reconnaissance tank designed to operate under heavy combat conditions), 10950 general reconnaissance tanks and 2003 observation posts. In September of 1942, provisions made by the "Panzerprogramm 41" were cancelled.
In the continuation of the development further variants – Ausf J (VK 1601) and Ausf H (VK 903) were produced. In 1943, seven VK 1601 (Ausf J) were issued to 12th Panzer Division, which was fighting on the Eastern Front. In 1944, one of them was converted into a recovery vehicle – Bergepanzer II Ausf J. Later on in 1944/45, the same vehicle served with Panzer Werkstatt Kompanie (Tank Repair Company) of 116th Panzer Division. All of those designs finally led to the development of VK 1303 – Panzerspahwagen II Ausf L Luchs. In 1942, Skoda built a prototype of T-15 (Panzerspahwagen II Ausf Skoda) in competition with VK 1303, but its design was rejected. There was also VK 1602 Leopard (based on VK 1601 – Ausf J), which was designed to eventually replace Luchs. Leopard was reconnaissance tank designed to operate under heavy combat conditions but it design was rejected.
Panzerkampfwagen II was first issued to combat units in the spring of 1936 and saw active service till 1942. Afterwards, it served on secondary fronts until the end of the war as well as a training tank. Originally, Panzerkampfwagen II was the main component of the early Panzer divisions being issued to company and platoon commanders. It was soon after issued to Panzer Battalions. Some sources state that small number (probably Ausf b and A with Panzer Abteilung 88 of Legion Condor) was used during the Spanish Civil War (1936-38). It is unconfirmed if really any Panzerkampfwagen II tanks were used in Spain. Panzerkampfwagen II tanks were used first in action in 1938, during unopposed annexation of Austria and occupation of Czechoslovakia. Panzerkampfwagen II took part in the Polish Campaign in 1939 and was used as a combat tank. Following the reorganization of the Panzertruppen in 1940/41, it was relegated to the role of reconnaissance tank. During the Campaign in the West in 1940 and early stage of the Invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Panzerkampfwagen II served mainly as reconnaissance, but were often used as combat tanks due to the overwhelming number of Soviet tanks. Majority was removed from frontline service in 1942, but remained as an active part of Panzertruppen until 1943. Some Panzerkampfwagen II tanks were still in service during the Normandy Battles of 1944 and even in 1945 (145 as of March of 1945). 1223 Panzerkampfwagen II tanks took part in the Polish Campaign of 1939, being the most numerous of all German tanks. 83 tanks were lost including significant number (approx.32) in the fighting for Warsaw. Only 18 Panzerkampfwagen II took part in the German Invasion of Norway in 1940 as part of Pz.Abt.z.b.V.40, where they acted as infantry support. On May 10th of 1940, there were 920 Panzerkampfwagen II tanks ready for the German Blitzkrieg in the West in mid-1940. 260 Panzerkampfwagen II tanks were ready for the Operation Marita in the Balkans on April 6th of 1940. On June 22 of 1941, 782 Panzerkampfwagen II tanks took part in the Operation Barbarossa, where many tanks were lost to Soviet tanks and anti-tank guns. Panzerkampfwagen II tanks were used in North Africa, by Rommel’s DAK until the surrender in early 1943. In North Africa, Panzerkampfwagen IIs had some success as the nature of the battlefield was more mobile and shortages of equipment forced Rommel to use them lacking newer replacements. In 1942, only 381 were in service for the German Summer Offensives in Russia. On July 1 of 1943, on the eve of Operation Zitadelle, there were 107 Panzerkampfwagen II tanks in service. On October 1 of 1944, there were total of 386 Panzerkampfwagen II tanks in German service but following this month no more reports about available Panzerkampfwagen II tanks were made. The only Waffen SS units to be equipped with Panzerkampfwagen II were Panzer-Grenadier Division Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Wiking fighting on the Eastern Front. Leibstandarte received its first Ausf F tanks in late 1942, but by spring of 1943, all were withdrawn from service. Panzerkampfwagen II also saw service with Germany’s ally – Slovakia. It is an unconfirmed rumour that probably after the war few saw service with Lebanese Army (probably from Romania).
Today, Panzerkampfwagen II and Luchs can be seen in the Bovington Tank Museum in United Kingdom; Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf C and Luchs can be seen in Saumur, France; Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf F and Luchs can be seen at the Museum of Armored Forces in Kubinka (near Moscow) in Russia; Panzerkampfwagen II at the Panzermuseum Munster in Germany, at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland in USA and in the museum in Belgrade.
This light reconnaissance tank saw service until the end of the war on both the Eastern and Western Front with Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilungen (armored reconnaissance detachments) of Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS. Reported users include 116th Panzer Division on the Western Front and 3rd, 4th and 6th Panzer Division on the Eastern Front. It is reported that 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf and 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking fighting on the Eastern Front also used Luchs.
Vehicles sent to the Eastern Front were mounted with additional frontal armor plate for increase protection. Small number was fitted with additional radio equipment and antennas and served as reconnaissance communication vehicles. Luchs was to be eventually armed with (Luchs 5 cm) 50mm KwK 39 L/60 gun (VK 1602 Leopard) but only variant with 20mm KwK 38 L/55 cannon (with rate of fire 420-480 rounds per minute) was produced. The 20mm cannon was fitted with TZF6 optical sight. It is also reported but not confirmed that 31 Luchs were mounted with an open-top turret armed with 50mm KwK 39 L/60 gun and began arriving to the troops in late 1943. Also plans were made to produce recovery version – Bergepanzer Luchs, but they were never materialized. Along with Bergepanzer Luchs, scale model of Flakpanzer Luchs anti-aircraft tank based on lengthened chassis (VK 1305), armed with either 20mm Flakvierling or 37mm Flak 36 gun, was made but this project was never realized.
Panzerspaehwagen II Ausf L Luchs – Gallery