The history of this “feline” tank, which, despite its long project cycle, was never built in metal, began before WWII, in the summer of 1938. That is when German companies MAN and Daimler-Benz started developing a scout tank, designated VK 9.01. Formally, it was considered a further development of the PzII, but was actually a brand new project. The prototype was built in 1939. After field tests, a “zeroth” series of 75 tanks was planned, designated PzII Ausf. G. However, between April 1941 and February 1942, only 12 tanks were produced. In 1940, the prototype, now designated VK 9.03. was modernized with a 200 hp Maybach HL 66p engine. The maximum speed of the tank reached 60 kph, which was considered enough for a scout tank. In April of 1942, MAN built a 12.9 ton VK 13.03 prototype, meant to replace the VK 9.01/9.03. It was tested at Kummersdorf along with other tanks (including the T-15 Skoda), and was then accepted by the army as the Pz II Ausf. L Luchs (Sd. Kfz. 123). An order was placed for 800 tanks of this type.
The VK 16.02 Leopard was going to be the only vehicle in the new “gefechsaufklarer” (combat scout) class, replacing the VK 16.01 (Pz II Ausf J). In the middle of 1942, MAN began work on the Leopard, to fulfil a contract of 5 pre-production samples. By the end of November, blueprints for a wooden mockup were ready. The hull had sloped armour and was reminiscent of a shorter version of the Panther tank, developed by the same company.
Daimler-Benz was developing a prototype as well. It had a rear transmission, as was typical for Soviet tanks, with a forward turret. However, Daimler-Benz lost the Panther project to MAN. The development of a shorter version of the VK 30.02 DB was also terminated.
New tank projects were controlled by Wa Prüf 6 (Waffenamt Prüfwesen 6 / Panzer- und Motorisierungsabteilung 6th department of Arms Directorate). In order to reduce the workload of MAN engineers, whose primary job was the Panther, Leopard's blueprints were given to MIAG in January of 1942. Two variants were proposed: a light scout, weighing 18 tons, and a heavy one, weighing 26 tons. On June 4th, 1942, both were presented to Hitler. He selected the 26 ton variant, as more appropriate for the realities of modern war. On July 27th, 1942, MIAG presented the blueprints for Fko 252 Gefechsaufklarer Leopard to Wa Pruf 6. These are the blueprints that would have been used if the Leopard was every built.
In September of 1942, Arms Directorate decided that the first Leopard should be ready for April 1943, and in October 1943, 20 of these tanks should be produced monthly. These plans were not meant to be, again, by Hitler's will. On October 13th 1942, he met with Reichsminister Speer. During the meeting, it was established that combat scouting duties can be done by the Panther tank, which were of a higher priority. The situation changed, and the tank must be lightened in order to reach 60 kph. The first Leopard prototype never made it to metal. On January 3rd, 1943, the VK 16.02 was cancelled, as a tank that did not meet the requirements of 1943. The concept of combat scouting was continued with the VK 28.01 by Daimler-Benz, with a new engine and thicker armour, but this project also never left paper, and the program was shut down in May 1944. The turret developed for the Leopard was used in the Sd.Kfz.234/2 Puma. Rheinmetall tried to use the Leopard chassis and a 10.5 cm leFH howitzer to make a self propelled "Waffentrager Leopard" gun, but only a wooden model was built.
Currently, several plastic models are produced in small amounts by several companies. All of these models are based on blueprints in “Panzer Tracts No.20-2 Paper Panzers”, written in 2002 by American historians Thomas L. Jentz and Hillary Lois Doyle. Other blueprints, wooden models, or even their photographs, did not survive until present day.
Original article available here.