Friday, July 11, 2014

Tanks that Shaped WWII - Panzer II

Panzer II (Credit: German Federal Archives)
France, 1940 – German light mobile tanks spearheaded the advance of German Blitzkrieg in the Ardennes Forest and pushed the Anglo-French forces back. Similar to its contemporary, the Panzer II, was develop in the dark shadows of the Treaty of Versailles, the Panzer II were new German tanks made to carry out the ambitions of Adolf Hitler. Tanks shaped World War II. It moved battles from trenches to open plains. Mobility overtook static strategies. And the Panzer II played a role during World War II.

Like the Panzer I, the Panzer II was also illegally developed. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles placed harsh and devastating punishment for Germany. Out of the 450 article conceived in the treaty, more than 400 was meant to weaken Germay. Among the prohibitions was the ban on development of an air force and tanks.

In 1934, Germany began to develop its Panzer. In the same year, the Heereswaffenamt or the German Army Weapons Agency wanted to develop a tank for training. To avoid suspicion of the League of Nations, the Agency called landwirtschaftlicher 100 or LaS 100, simply a tractor.  Weapons manufacturer like Krupp, Henschel, and MAN were given the task of developing a design of the needed tank. Eventually, MAN’s chassis design the chosen design. But the superstructure and the turret of the tank’s design was given to Daimler-Benz.

In 1935, the first batch of Panzer II were made. Many companies took part in the production, such as Daimler-Benz, Famo, MIAG, and Wegmann. The Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf A was a three-man crew tank. It was armed with a 20-mm cannon placed offset to right. Besides the main weapon was a 7.92 mm co-axial machinegun. It weighted 7.2 tons. It had a speed of 40km/hr. made by a 130 horsepower gasoline engine.

On the following year, a new batch of Panzer II, the Ausf B was made. Its engine was upgraded to a 140-horsepower gasoline engine. Frontal armor was made thicker. Thus, the weight became heavier, from 7.2 tons to 8 tons.

In 1937, a third batch of Panzer II, the Ausf C, was produced. It had a better armor, and its boggie wheels were upgraded and made it possible to move to different terrains easier.

For the next two years, new batches of Panzer II were made. In 1938, the Ausf D rolled out the war factories. In 1939, the Ausf E was introduced. It had a torsion-bar suspension making it lighter to move. It also had a speed of 55km/hr.

In 1939, Panzer II faced its first major battle. It played a role for the successful blitzkrieg of Poland alongside the Panzer I. Then in 1940, it participated to the demise of the Anglo-French forces with 1,000 strong Panzer II rolled.

After the war, a new batch of Panzer II was made. The Ausf F was created with better armor protection. It front armor was 35mm. Meanwhile, in its sides, it had 20mm thick armor.

In 1940, Hitler planned the invasion of England. To cater to the need of an amphibious tank, a new variant of Panzer II was made. The Model A was the first amphibious tank develop by Germany. Its engine was made to propel the tank up to a speed of 10kn/hr.

However, Hitler decided to act against the east first. In June 1941, Hitler launched operation Barbarossa. The Panzer II approved to be outmatched heavily. It armor was no match to the guns of Russian T-34. It also had a weak firepower and could not deal enough damage to the slope armor of the T-34.

Although the Panzer II was obsolete, its chassis proved to be useful. Many Panzer II were converted to either an anti-tank gun carrier, an artillery, or reconnaissance. During the war between Germany and the USSR, the Germans captured several 76.2 mm Anti-Tank Gun. The German then used the Panzer II chassis and attached the anti-tank gun at its top. The result was the Marder I. And sometime later, the Russian gun was replaced by a 7.5mm German anti-tank gun. It was the Marder II. 1,200 Marder II were produced. Chassis of Panzer II were also used to carry howitzers. The Wespe weighed 10 tons and had 10.5mm howitzer. It produced in Poland and ended its production when it fell to the Soviets in 1944. Other variation included the Flammpanzer II, which began production in 1942. It was a Panzer II armed with a flame thrower. A hundred of this Flammpanzer II were produced. The Panzer II also became the basis of a reconnaissance tank called the Luch, which began production in 1943.

The Panzer II were the tanks that started World War II. It played a huge role for the advance of the German war machine in Poland and France. Although converted, its chassis saw action in the winter battles of Operation Barbarossa. Panzer II contributed in shaping World War II.

See also:
Panzer I
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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