The appearance of a new modification of the Panzerkampfwagen II tank was preceded by a number of interesting events. Recall that at the end of the thirties, the Wehrmacht wished to receive a light tank based on the existing Pz.Kpfw.II, capable of performing reconnaissance missions, and, if necessary, participating in battles, for which he needed adequate protection and weapon. The first version of such an armored vehicle was the VK 901 tank from MAN and Daimler-Benz. This development was tested, but did not receive the approval of the customer due to insufficient protection characteristics and exceeding the required combat weight by about one and a half tons.
Later VK project appeared 903, also did not arrange the military. Increasing the thickness of the side armor on 5 mm did not give the desired increase in protection, and also eliminated the fulfillment of the mass requirements. Later, the development of a light tank weighing up to 12-13 t, called VK 1301, was approved. This machine, like its predecessors, did not go into the series. At the same time, one of the main reasons for abandoning it was the noticeable progress of the VK 1303 project, which was being developed at the same time. At the same time, there were some technical problems.
Museum tank Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.L Luchs from Saumuru Photo by Wikimedia Commons
In the middle of 1940, Czechoslovak companies BMM and Škoda were involved in the light reconnaissance tank development program, which led to a serious increase in competition and some acceleration of work. By the end of 1941, all program participants submitted their new equipment for testing. An interesting fact is that the first stage of the competition ended with the victory of a light tank from BMM. However, soon MAN specialists improved their version of the armored vehicle, after which it was able to win the second stage of the program in the middle of the 42. MAN’s tank was now proposed to be mass-produced and operated in the military.
Development of the project with the symbol VK 1303 started at the end of 1940 year. Using existing experience and developments in previous light tank projects, MAN specialists had to develop their own version of the armored vehicle with the required characteristics. By this time, the customer agreed to raise the marginal combat mass to 13 t, which should have to some extent simplify the creation of the project, and also made it possible to provide acceptable protection. In addition, it made it possible to complete the development of a new tank in a relatively short time, since it became possible to make extensive use of existing components and assemblies without major modifications.
The use of ready-made developments led to the expected results. Externally, the tank VK 1303 should have been minimally different from other equipment created earlier. The individual features of the exterior of this car resembled VK 901, VK 903 and VK 1303. At the same time, there were some noticeable differences in the design of various units. In the framework of two new projects VK 1301 and VK 1303 it was planned to implement the same ideas, but it was proposed to achieve the goal in different ways and with the help of different equipment.
The prototype chassis used in the early tests. Photo Aviarmor.net
In the VK 1303 project, it was proposed to use the existing developments in previous projects, including those related to hull design and body armor. To save time and maintain continuity, the new tank had to have a common layout, traditional for German armored vehicles of that time. The engine was placed in the stern, transmission - in front of the hull. Inhabited compartments should be placed between them. It was also planned to use the waste form of the body, assembled by welding from armor plates of different configurations.
The hull of the VK 1303 tank has retained the frontal part of its predecessors, consisting of three sheets 30 mm thick. The bottom and middle sheets were located at different angles to the vertical, the top was mounted with a slight tilt back. Behind the frontal part were placed vertical sides 20 mm thick. From a similar sheet was made feed. The roof and the bottom should have been 13 and 10 mm thick, respectively. In comparison with previous developments, the under-the-box box has been expanded due to the use of the new tower. For more efficient use of the internal space, the stern sheet of the hull was piled back and formed an additional niche.
On the roof of the hull it was proposed to install a tower similar to that used in previous projects. The body of the tower consisted of several sheets of different shapes, installed with a slope inward. To improve performance and facilitate the construction of the tower had bevels in the front and rear parts of the sides. Protection of the tower from firing from the front was provided by the forehead and mask, 30 mm thick. The sides of the tower were supposed to be made of sheets 15 mm thick, and the stern - of 20 mm. From above, the tower was closed with a sloping 13-mm roof. An interesting feature of the VK 1303 project was the location of the tower in the center of the hull, and not with a shift to the board, as in other modifications of Pz.Kpfw.II.
The new tank retained the power plant of its predecessors. The aft engine compartment housed a Maybach HL 66P carburetor engine with a power of 180 hp. The engine was equipped with an electric starter, but could also be started using a manual system. The transmission consisted of a Fichtel & Sachs Mecano type dry friction main clutch, a ZF Aphon SSG48 gearbox with six forward and one reverse speeds, and MAN shoe brakes. In the aft compartment of the hull, together with the engine, two fuel tanks with a total capacity of 235 liters were placed.
The undercarriage for the VK 1303 tank was a further development of the units used in previous projects. At the same time, as in the case of VK 1301, there was some change in the design in order to strengthen the units and compensate for the increased combat mass. The chassis received five road wheels with a diameter of 735 mm for each side. Skating rinks with rubber bands were equipped with an individual torsion suspension. In addition, the front and rear pairs of rollers received additional hydraulic shock absorbers. The rollers were mounted in two rows in a staggered manner: three inside and two outside.
The newly-driven front-wheel drive wheels with spider engagement were used again. The guide wheels with tension mechanisms were placed in the stern. In the new project, a small-scale caterpillar with a width of 360 mm, developed for one of the previous reconnaissance tanks, was used.
In the armored turret of the tank had to accommodate all the necessary machine-gun armament. Interestingly, during the design of the tower and weapons complex have undergone some changes. Thus, in the first version of the VK project, the 1303 provided for an asymmetric placement of the installation with weapons, but later it was decided to place the gun on the longitudinal axis of the tower. This allowed to a certain extent to improve the ergonomics of the internal volumes of the tower without significant changes in its design.
One of the full prototypes. Photo Aviarmor.net
The 20-mm automatic gun KwK 38, already used on several previous modifications Pz.Kpfw.II., was selected as the main weapon for the new tank. This gun with a barrel length 55 calibers could accelerate projectiles to speeds of the order of 1050 m / s and make 220 rounds per minute. The most effective armor-piercing ammunition guns could pierce up to 35-40 mm of homogeneous armor from a distance of 100 m. The gun was fed with ribbons placed in metal boxes. Inside the crew compartment housed ammunition guns from 330 shells.
In one installation with a gun mounted twin machine gun MG 34 caliber 7,92 mm. Ammunition machine gun - 2250 cartridges.
It was proposed to direct the weapon with the help of hand drives, which ensured the rotation of the turret and the rise of the gun mount. With the help of such mechanisms it was possible to fire in any direction with the elevation of the trunks from -9 ° to + 18 °. The gun was completed with a Zeiss TZF 6 / 38 gun, which could be used to fire a cannon and machine gun. In addition, the machine gun was equipped with its own KgzF 2 sight.
Over time, the light tank received additional weapons in the form of two triple-barreled smoke grenade launchers. These devices were to be placed in front of the sides of the tower. The task of the 90-mm grenade launchers was to provide camouflage in various combat situations.
Interior fighting compartment. Photo by Pro-tank.ru
The crew of the new tank consisted of four people. In the front compartment of the corps should be located a driver and a radio operator. In the roof of the office there were two hatches for access to the crew seats. In the front plate and the sides of the hull there were four hatches to monitor the environment. At the radio operator’s workplace, it was planned to install FuG 12 and FuG Spr “a” radio stations. The antenna of one of the stations was placed on the aft part of the tower, and the second, of a pan-type, was to be mounted in a special glass on the starboard of the turret box.
The tower placed jobs commander and gunner, who also had to perform the functions of loader. It was decided to abandon the use of the commander's turret, because of which it was now proposed to carry out the observation using two periscopes in the hatches. Also on the right side of the tower appeared slotted viewing device.
During the VK 1303 project, the MAN designers managed to meet the customer's requirements for the dimensions and weight of the machine. The tank length was 4,63 m, width - 2,48 m, height - 2,21 m. Combat weight did not exceed 11,8-12 t. Estimated maximum speed reached 60 km / h, cruising range - 290 km. Such high mobility should have been provided with relatively good indicators of the specific power of the tank: at least 15 hp per ton.
Tank Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.L on the front. Photo Aviarmor.net
By the middle of 1941, the VK project 1303 reached the test stage of an experienced chassis. A MAN prototype was assembled at the MAN plant and was not equipped with a full-fledged hull and turret. To simplify the design, this machine received an empty volume at the place of the fighting compartment, which was partially filled with cargo to simulate the weight of the tank. Also, an experimental car received a windshield and several other details that were completely unrelated to armored combat vehicles, but facilitated the work of testers.
Comparative tests of several light reconnaissance tanks, developed by different companies, passed in May-June 1942 of the year. These tests showed a clear superiority tank VK 1303 over other machines. According to the results of the comparison, the military made their choice - the army was to receive MAN light tanks. Other machines had less high performance and therefore could not interest the customer.
In the middle of 1942, the VK tank 1303 was adopted under the designation Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.L Luchs ("Lynx"). Soon there was an order for serial construction of equipment. Wehrmacht ordered the construction and supply of 800 light tanks of the new model. The production of this technology was entrusted to the firms MAN and Henschel. In the autumn of 1942 of the year (some sources mention the autumn of 43), the first production tanks came off the assembly line.
By the end of 1942, a proposal appeared to upgrade the new tank in order to improve its basic characteristics. So, serious claims caused used weapons. By this time, the 20-mm KwK 38 automatic cannon had become obsolete and lost the ability to hit enemy tanks. In this regard, the development of a new version of “Lynx” with enhanced weapons began. In some sources, such a machine is referred to as VK 1303b.
The 5 cm KwK 39 L / 60 50 mm gun was chosen as the main means of increasing firepower. Such a tool allowed to solve the task, but required reworking the design of the armored vehicle. The existing turret, developed as a KwK 38 cannon, could not accommodate a new high-powered cannon. A new version of the tower was developed, featuring a larger size and, according to some, a lack of a roof.
At a certain stage of development of the project, a proposal appeared to equip the tank Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.L with a more powerful engine. Instead of the available Maybach HL 66P, it was proposed to use a Tatra 103 diesel engine with an HP 220 power. This alteration was one of the serial tanks, but further modernization has not progressed. Serial armored vehicles were equipped only with standard carburetor engines.
Despite all efforts, it was not possible to fulfill the order for the construction of eight hundred new-type tanks. According to various sources, no more than 1944-100 Luchs-type machines were built before the start of 142. According to some sources, several tanks were rebuilt from the experienced VK 1301, while the rest of the vehicles were built from scratch. In total, MAN built no more 118 tanks, and Henschel produced up to 18 machines. In January 1944, production was discontinued. By this time, the contracting plants were loaded with several orders with high priority, because of which they could no longer produce light tanks with mixed prospects. As a result, even the fifth part of the original order was not fulfilled.
A variant of a light tank with enhanced armament, according to various sources, was not embodied in the metal or did not leave the testing stage. Some sources claim that such an armored vehicle was not even built, while others talk about the assembly of several prototypes. In addition, there is a mention of the release of an 31 tank with 50-mm guns. However, according to most sources, the Kvy KNK 39 did not go to the “Lynx” series.
Surviving tank, view of the stern. Photo Lesffi.vraiforum.com
Preserved mention of two projects of special equipment based on the new light tank. On the basis of the existing chassis, it was proposed to build a Bergepanzer Luchs repair and recovery vehicle suitable for servicing several types of light tanks. In addition, the possibility of creating an anti-aircraft self-propelled Flakpanzer Luchs with the original combat compartment equipped with an 37-mm automatic gun was considered.
The first production tanks Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.L entered the army in the fall of the year 1942. It was proposed that reconnaissance vehicles be distributed among several large units. It was assumed that the composition of the reconnaissance battalions of tank divisions will appear on the new company, equipped with tanks Luchs. The initial order made it possible to equip a large number of compounds with new equipment, but in practice the re-equipment was delayed and then reduced.
Due to the suspension of production of new tanks after the 100-142 units, only a few units managed to get the equipment: 2-I, 3-I, 4-I and 116-I tank divisions, Wehrmacht training division and 3-I tank division SS Totenkopf. The task of the vehicles handed over to the battalions of these formations was to participate in reconnaissance and to supplement the equipment already in service.
According to some reports, some tank operators Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.L were not satisfied with the characteristics of this technology. So, it is known about the artisanal strengthening of booking by installing additional 20-mm sheets on the frontal details of the body. Such refinement in the conditions of military workshops allowed to significantly increase the level of protection and machine survivability on the battlefield.
According to most sources, Luchs tanks have been actively exploited for a long time. Recent reports of the massive use of such technology in the interests of intelligence refer to the end of 1944. At the same time, until the summer of the 44-type machine “Lynx” was used only on the Eastern Front, and after the start of the fighting in Western Europe, part of the formations armed with such equipment were transferred to the new theater of military operations. Thus, light reconnaissance tanks, armed with several divisions, managed to make war on all European fronts and fight with armored vehicles of several anti-Hitler coalition countries.
In view of the specific combination of defense and firepower, which directly influenced combat effectiveness and survivability on the battlefield, light reconnaissance tanks Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.L Luchs were exposed to serious risks. They could withstand infantry or enemy light tanks, but medium tanks and artillery were too serious a threat. As a result, intelligence units regularly suffered losses. Moreover, by the end of the war almost all the “Lynx” tanks were disabled, destroyed or captured by the enemy.
Of the 100-142 built Luchs tanks, only a few vehicles survived to our time, which are now museum exhibits. Tanks of this type are stored in the British Bovington, French Saumur, German Münster, in the Russian Kubinka and in several other museums. This equipment is regularly restored and is in good condition. In addition, some of the machines still remain operable and are used in demonstration performances.
The development project for a light reconnaissance tank was launched in the middle of 1938, but real results in the form of serial equipment of the required type appeared only in the autumn of 42. This delayed work led to unpleasant consequences for the German army. The tank of the 1942 model of the year was actually created according to the amended technical task of the late thirties, because of which it could not fully meet the requirements of its time. As a result, no more than one hundred and fifty cars were built, after which the construction was curtailed due to the lack of visible prospects. Thus, the task set by the army was solved, but it happened too late for the full use of the new technology.
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