The Panzer II was the common name 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 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. By the end of
1942 it had been largely removed from front line service, and
production of the tank itself ceased by 1943. Its chassis remained in
use as the basis of several other armored vehicles.
In 1934, delays in the design and production of the Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks were becoming apparent. Designs for a stopgap tank were solicited from Krupp, MAN, Henschel, and Daimler-Benz. The final design was based on the Panzer I, but larger, and with a turret mounting a 20 mm anti-tank gun. Production began in 1935, but it took another eighteen months for the first combat-ready tank to be delivered.
The Panzer II was the most numerous tank in the German Panzer divisions beginning with the invasion of France, until it was supplemented by the Panzer III and IV in 1940/41. Afterwards, it was used to great effect as a reconnaissance tank.
The Panzer II was used in the German campaigns in Poland, France, the
Low Countries, Denmark, Norway, North Africa and the Eastern Front.
After being removed from front-line duty, it was used for training and
on secondary fronts. The chassis was used for a number of
self-propelled guns including the Wespe and Marder II.
ArmorThe 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 machinegun fire and High Explosive shell fragments.
Panzer II and Panzer I on western front (May 1940)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.[clarification needed] Starting with the D model, the front armor was increased to 30 mm. The Model F had 35 mm front armour and 20 mm side armor.
This armor could be penetrated by towed antitank weapons such as the
Soviet 45mm and French canon de 25 and canon de 47.
ArmamentMost tank versions of the Panzer II were armed with a 2 cm KwK 30 55 calibers long cannon. Some later versions used the 2 cm KwK 38 L/55 which was similar. This cannon was based on the 2 cm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft gun, and was capable of firing at a rate of 280 rounds per minute, a very high rate for a tank. The Panzer II also had a 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34 machine gun mounted coaxially with the main gun.
The 2 cm cannon proved to be ineffective against many Allied tanks, and experiments were made towards 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 armor-piercing explosive ammunition with a tungsten cored solid ammunition, but due to material shortages this ammunition was in chronically short supply.
Later development into a self-propelled gun carriage saw the mounting
of a 5 cm PaK 38 antitank gun, but this was seen as insufficient for
the time, and the larger 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) was installed as an
effective stop-gap. The main production antitank version was fitted
with a 7.5 cm PaK 40 which was very effective. Artillery mounting
began with a few 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry guns, but most effective
was the 10.5 cm leFH 18, for which the Panzer II chassis became the
primary carriage for the war. Most of these versions retained a pintle
mounted 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun for defense against infantry and air
MobilityAll production versions of the Panzer II were fitted with a 140 hp, 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 Christie 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 back to the previous leaf spring type suspension. All versions had a range of 200 km (125 miles).
CrewThe 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.
Number built 1,856 (excluding conversions)
Weight 7.2 tonnes
Length 4.8 m (15 ft 9 in)
Width 2.2 m (7 ft 3 in)
Height 2 m (6 ft 7 in)
Crew 3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader)
armament 1 × 2 cm KwK 30 Ausf.A–f
1 × 2 cm KwK 38 Ausf.J–L
armament 1 × 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34
Engine 6-cyl petrol Maybach HL
140 hp (105 kW)
Power/weight 15 hp/tonne
Suspension leaf spring
range 200 km (120 mi)
Speed 40 km/h (25 mph)