Wednesday, 17 April 2013
PzKpfw II Ausf J
In the mid-1930s, the primary German armoured vehicle was the PzKpfw I. It weighed 5.5 tons and had two machine guns in a rotating turret. While it had pretty decent characteristics, the armament did not satisfy the German army. In 1934, Krupp, Henschel, and MAN received orders for a tank with a cannon. The PzKpfw II was born. In late 1935, prototypes were tested. Modifications of the PzII were produced until 1943. The PzII will be the topic of a subsequent article. For now, we will talk about one of the later modifications, the light scout Pz II Ausf J.
After the Polish campaign in 1939, Germany considered creating a light tank with more powerful armour than the Pz I and Pz II. A large amount of work was performed on this project, and a number of prototypes were developed. One of them, Pz II Ausf L "Luchs" was accepted, and mass produced until 1943.
The Ausf J was meant to be a scout vehicle, as protected as possible, but not so heavy that its maneuverability was harmed. The work was distributed between two companies. Daimler-Benz was designing the turret. MAN was designing the suspension and the hull.
The suspension was built with Kniepkamp's interleaved road wheels, which were very popular with German tank builders in those days. In an attempt to achieve maximum parts compatibility, the suspension was taken from the VK901, which, although intended as a development of the PzII, was a completely new vehicle.
Due to increased armour, the Ausf J was going to be much heavier. While keeping the same 5 road wheels, the suspension was more robust.
The tank's hull is also curious. It was made as a single part. The crew got in through hatches in the sides. The commander entered through a hatch on top of the turret.
The tank's armour was greatly strengthened. Early Pz IIs had 14.5 mm of front armour. Ausf C, D, E, and F had between 29-35 mm of armour. The Pz II Ausf J further increased that to 80 mm. This thickness led to the tank's mass being increased to 18 tons.
The heavy armour was supposed to be compensated by a more powerful engine. However, the new gasoline engine was only 10 hp more powerful than the old one, limiting the tank's maximum highway speed to 28 kph. For a scout tank, this is unacceptably low. The aforementioned Luchs could accelerate to 60 kph.
The armament remained the same: a 20 mm autocannon and a 7.92 mm machine gun. For a modernized vehicle, this was insufficient.
The tank turned out to be so incompatible with its original design that it was not mass produced. Only 22 vehicles were built. Some were sent to training schools. Five were sent to a special tank company meant to land at Malta. When the landing was cancelled, they were included in the 12th Tank Division. From August 15th, 1942, this division fought at Staraya Russa and Demyansk. Due to their thick armour, Pz II Ausf J took the role of an assault tank. There is no data on their fate. It is presumed that they were lost in battle.
Six tanks of these types were used in the summer of 1943 in France. In 1944, one of these vehicles was converted to an engineering vehicle with a 5-ton crane.
Original article available here.