Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tanks that Shaped WWII - Panzer I


Panzer I
Poland, 1939 – German light mobile tanks became the spearhead of Hitler’s blitzkrieg. From the shadow of the Treaty of Versailles, the Panzer I were new German tanks developed that initiated another devastating war. Tanks shaped World War II. It moved battles from trenches to open plains. Mobility overtook static strategies. And the Panzer I was among the tanks that played during World War II.

The Panzer I was among the fresh batch of tanks illegally developed by Germany. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles ended the First World War. The advantageous allies, fearful of the German might, weakened Germany. In military perspective, Versailles aimed significantly stagnating the German armed forces. It was barred from making an air force. They were also prohibited from developing and making tanks. 

In 1933, the fascist Nazi Party rose to power. Adolf Hitler became the undisputed Chancellor of Germany. Hitler dreamed of a thousand year Reich that dominated the world. His plans called for a rapid militarization of Germany. The new chancellor also recognized the importance of tanks in battlefield. 

The Heereswaffenamt or the German Army Weapons Agency was given the task of developing new tanks secretly. In 1933, the Agency announced to weapons manufacturer that they were looking for designs of new 5000 kilogram light tanks. Eventually, 5 companies passed their designs. Companies like Daimler-Benz, Rheinmetall, and Krupp passed designs for the needed tanks. Eventually, the designs of Krupp was chosen. But the Agency did not disregarded the designs of other companies. They decided that Krupp’s chassis design would be the basis of the new tanks. Meanwhile, the superstructure and the turret would be based on Daimler-Benz design. Prototypes were made. The samples were even experimented in the Soviet Union to prevent suspicions. In 1934, the final prototype was exhibited in Kummersdorf, Germany. In order to mislead the western powers, the authorities did not called them tanks. Rather, they called it simply as a landwirtschaftlicher or a tractor. In 1934, the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, was pleased and approved the new tanks.

Immediately, mass production of the tanks began. On July 1934, 150 first generation Panzer I tanks were produced by the Henschel & Son Co. in Kassel. The tank was designated as Panzerkampfwagen I or PzKpfw I SdKfz 101 Ausf A. The Panzer I was only 5 feet high. It was lightly protected with a 7 – 13 mm thick armor. It was also lightly armed with only 2 .3mg light machine gun. It had a speed of 23km/hr. made by M305 57-horsepower petrol engine. There problems, however, with the first generation of Panzer I. The problems were corrected in the second generation of Panzer I, the Ausf B. In 1935, 800 were produced by another German arms manufacturer, Wegmann. They changed the engine from a 57-horsepower engine to a 100-horsepower Mayback NL38 TR 6-cylinder petrol engine.

It was not a while when the Panzer I finally saw action. In 1936, a Civil War in Spain erupted. It was between the Republican and the Fascist party under General Francisco Franco. The fascist government of Italian Benito Mussolini and German Adolf Hitler sided and aided Franco in his battle. Among the aids that Franco received were Panzer I. It was during the Spanish Civil War that the Panzer I was tested for combat operations. 

Following the Civil War, Germany itself sowed the seeds of World War II. In 1939, German Wehrmacht or the German Armed Forces launched a Blitzkrieg campaign against Poland. In the frontlines of the war were 1,445 Panzer I. Within only a month Germany occupied half of Poland. 

After the Invasion of Poland, the Panzer I, however, began to be sidelined. It light armor and light weapons would be no match to the heavier and more armed allied tanks in the west. And so, during the German invasion of France in 1940, only 523 Panzer I saw action. By the following year, all Panzer I in combat were phased out.

But the German High Command found new uses for the Panzer I. Some Panzer I were converted into Kleiner panzerbefehlwagen or a command tank. Inside the tank were maps laid out alongside communication units. Other Panzer I were converted into ammunition or supply carriers. Others were strip of turret and super structure and the chassis were used as based for an anti-tank or an anti-air craft gun.

The Panzer I were among the first batch new German tanks at the Second World War. It significance could be seen on the start of the war. Without the Panzer I, new tank developments such as the Tiger and Panthers would not have been born. Also, it was among the tanks the shaped the modern world because without it, Germany could not had invaded Poland, and the rest is history.

See also:
Panzer II
Panzer III
Panzer IV

Bibliography:
Axelrod, A. (ed.). Encyclopedia of World War II. New York: Fact on File, 2007.

Bishop, C. The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,500 Weapons Systems, Including Tanks, Small Arms, Warplanes, Artillery, Ships, and Submarines. New York: MetroBooks, 2002.

Bull, S. Encyclopedia of Military Technology and Innovation. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004.

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