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During the 1940 Invasion of France, German Generalmajor Erwin Rommel cemented the reputation of the 38(t) as a fast-attack tank.

Panzer 38(t)

By Jon Guttman
11/23/2015 • Military History Magazine

Crew: Four (commander/gunner, loader, driver, radioman)
Weight: 21,700 pounds
Length: 15.1 feet
Width: 7 feet
Height: 7.4 feet
Main armament: 37mm KwK 38(t) gun
Elevation: -10 +25 degrees
Sight: TzF 38(t), 2.6x, 25-degree field of view
Secondary armament: Two 7.92mm MG 37(t); one machine gun on platoon command tanks
Ammunition: 90 rounds of 37mm, 2,700 rounds of 7.92mm
Communication: Fu 5 and Fu 2 transceiver (platoon commander)
Engine: Praga Typ TNHPS/II 125 hp, six-cylinder gasoline engine
Transmission: Praga-Wilson Typ CV; one reverse gear, five forward gears
Steering: Clutch-brake
Fuel: 58 gallons
Range: 60–155 miles
Maximum speed: 26 mph
Power-to-weight ratio: 12.7 hp/ton

When Generalmajor Erwin Rommel led the 7th Panzer Division into France on May 10, 1940, 99 of his tanks were Panzer 38(t)s, including eight command versions. Soon realizing the light tank was ineffective against stout French armor, Rommel relied on its speed and mobility to forge ahead, instead using his 88mm anti-aircraft batteries to deal with enemy tanks. Although he lost 42 tanks—26 of them Panzer 38(t)s—by June 20 Rommel’s fast-moving “Ghost Division” had destroyed or captured 460 French tanks and rounded up 97,000 Allied prisoners.

In its glory days the Panzer 38(t) was better armed and armored and more mobile and reliable than other light tanks in the German fleet, but neither its designer nor its manufacturers were German. In the mid-1930s Alexej Surin—a Russian Civil War refugee working as an engineer for the Ceskomoravská-Kolben-Danek machine works in Prague—designed the TNH light tank for export to Persia. It featured four large road wheels and pivoted on a single horizontal spring and arm. Orders came in from Peru, Switzerland and, after the 1938 Munich Crisis, Czechoslovakia itself—though none of its tanks were delivered before the invading Germans dismembered the country on March 15, 1939. While production of the new Panzer III medium tank faced continual delays, the Germans—impressed by the Czech LT vz. 38’s 37mm gun—took over production and had CKD turn out the tank for use as the Panzer 38(t). (The “t” stood for Tschechisch, German for “Czech.”) Comprising up to a fifth of German armored strength before production ceased in 1943, the Panzer 38t also saw use by Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and neutral Sweden. Even after the light tank was outclassed, the Germans used its chassis for an array of self-propelled guns and other armored vehicles, including the 75mm Jagdpanzer 38 Hetzer (“Rabble-Rouser”) tank destroyer in the war’s closing months. MH

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