Panzer II

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 supplanted by the Panzer III and IV by 1940/1941. 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. The turrets of the then obsolete PzKpfw Is and PzKpfw IIs were reused as gun turrets on specially built defensive bunkers, particularly on the Atlantic Wall. 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 and tank destroyers such as the Wespe and Marder II.

Country Name Origin Year
Germany 1936
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Germany 1936 1945 View

Armor

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 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.

Armament

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.

Mobility

All production versions of the Panzer II were fitted with a 140 PS, 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).

Crew

The Panzer II had a crew of three men. The driver sat in the forward hull. The commander sat in a seat in the turret, and was responsible for aiming and firing the guns, while a loader/radio operator stood on the floor of the tank under the turret.

Type Light tank
Place of origin Nazi Germany
Service history
In service 1936–1945
Wars World War II
Production history
Designed 1934
Produced 1935–1943
Number built 1,856 (excluding conversions)
Specifications (Ausf. A-C)
Weight 8.9 t (8.8 long tons)
Length 4.81 m (15 ft 9 in)
Width 2.22 m (7 ft 3 in)
Height 1.99 m (6 ft 6 in)
Crew 3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
Armor 5–14.5 mm (0.20–0.57 in)
Main
armament
1 × 2 cm KwK 30 Ausf. a–F
1 × 2 cm KwK 38 Ausf. J–L
Secondary
armament
1 × 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34
Engine Maybach HL 62TRM 6-cylinderpetrol
140 PS (138 hp, 103 kW)
Power/weight 15.7 PS/tonne
Suspension Leaf spring
Operational
range
200 km (120 mi)
Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)

End notes