Panzer 38(t)

Not to be confused with T-38 tank, a Soviet light tank.
Panzerkampfwagen 38(t)

Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) Ausf. S
Type Medium tank
Place of origin Czechoslovakia
Service history
In service 1939–1945 (Nazi Germany)
Used by Nazi Germany
Kingdom of Bulgaria
Slovak Republic
Wars World War II
Ecuadorian–Peruvian War
Production history
Designer ČKD
Manufacturer ČKD
Produced 1939–1942
Number built 1,414 (for Germany)
Weight 9.725–9.85 tonnes (9.571–9.694 long tons; 10.720–10.858 short tons)
Length 4.61 metres (15.1 ft)
Width 2.135 metres (7.00 ft)
Height 2.252 metres (7.39 ft) (overall)
Crew 4

Armor 8–30 mm Ausf. A–D
8–50 mm Ausf. E–G
1x 3.7 cm KwK 38(t) L/47.8
2x 7.92 mm ZB-53 (MG 37(t)) machine gun
Engine Praga Typ TNHPS/II water-cooled, 6-cylinder gasoline
125 PS (123.3 hp, 91.9 kW)
Power/weight 13.15 PS/tonne
Transmission 5 + 1 Praga-Wilson Typ CV
Suspension leaf spring
Ground clearance 40 centimetres (16 in)
Fuel capacity 220 litres (58 US gal)
250 kilometres (160 mi) (road)
100 kilometres (62 mi) (cross-country)
Speed 42 km/h, 26.1 mph (road)
15 km/h (off-road)

The Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) was originally a Czech tank of pre-World War II design. After Czechoslovakia was taken over by Germany, it was adopted by the German Army, seeing service in the invasions of Poland, France and Russia. Production ended in 1942, when its armament was deemed inadequate. In all, over 1400 were manufactured. The chassis continued to be produced for the Marder III (1942-1944) with some of its components used in the later Jagdpanzer 38 (1944-1945) tank destroyers, turretless assault guns, anti-tank guns and anti-aircraft guns.

The (t) stands for tschechisch, the German word for Czech; the Czechoslovak military designation was LT vz. 38 (Lehký tank vzor 38, Light Tank model 38). Manufacturer's designations included TNH series, TNHPS, LTP and LTH. The special vehicle designation for the tank in Germany was Sd. Kfz. 140.


The Panzer 38(t) was a conventional pre-World War II tank design, with riveted armour and rear engine. This armour was mostly not sloped, and varied in thickness from 10 mm to 25 mm in most versions. Later models (Ausf. E on) increased this to 50 mm by bolting on an additional 25 mm armour to the front. The sides received an additional 15 mm of armour from Ausf. E onward.

The two-man turret was centrally located, and housed the tank's main armament, a 37 mm Skoda A7 gun with 90 rounds stored on board. It was equipped with a 7.92 mm machine gun to the right of the main ordnance. This turret machine gun was in a separate ball mount rather than a fixed coaxial mount. This meant that the machine gun could be trained on targets independently. Alternatively, the commander/gunner could couple the machine gun internally to the main gun and use it as a coaxial machine gun. The driver was in the front right of the hull, with the bow machine-gunner seated to the left, manning the 7.92 mm machine gun. As with many 1930s tanks, the bow gunner was also the radio operator. The radio was mounted on the left of the bow gunner.

Minor adjustments, such as adjustable seats for the driver and firmer footing for the commander/gunner and loader, were provided in German service. A total of 2,550 rounds were carried for the bow and turret machine guns. The driver could also fire the hull machine gun with a trigger fitted on the left tiller bar.

In German service, a loader position was added to the turret by reducing the ammunition capacity by 18 rounds. All future Panzer 38(t) tanks were rebuilt according to this specification and those already in service were modified accordingly. The commander had to aim and fire the main gun.

The engine was mounted in the rear of the hull and drove the tank through a transmission with five forward gears and one reverse gear to forward drive sprockets. The track ran under four rubber-tired road wheels and back over a rear idler and two track return rollers. The wheels were mounted on a leaf-spring double-bogie mounted on two axles. Despite the large wheel size, the tank did not use a Christie suspension.


In 1935, the Czechoslovak tank manufacturer ČKD was looking for a replacement for the LT-35 tank they were jointly producing with Škoda Works. The LT-35 was complex and had shortcomings, and ČKD felt there would be orders both from the expanding Czechoslovak army and for export.

ČKD decided to use a suspension with four large wheels for their new tank. It resembled the Christie suspension outwardly, but was actually a conventional leaf spring unit. The resulting vehicle was reliable, and an export success under the name "TNH". With small variations for each customer, 50 were exported to Iran (TNHP), 24 each to Peru (LTP) and Switzerland (LTH). Lithuania also ordered some (LTL).[1] The British Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) had one trial model delivered on March 23, 1939 to Gunnery School at Lulworth. A report stated that "the (bow) gunner could not sit back comfortably as the wireless set was in the way of his left shoulder". The report also stated that, due to the shudder while the vehicle was on the move, it was impossible to lay the gun. Even at the speed of 5 mph, accuracy was poor. As a result, the British did not purchase the Panzer 38(t) and the trial model was returned.

In the fall of 1937, the Czechoslovak armed forces launched a contest for new medium tank; Škoda, ČKD and Tatra competed. Škoda Praga submitted the existing joint production export model mentioned above. ČKD also entered a prototype separate from the above, the interesting V-8-H (later called the ST vz. 39), which proved to have numerous mechanical problems. Tatra, known mostly for its smaller, wheeled armored cars, submitted a paper entry that was a very novel concept that completely changed the layout of a tank, which concept they patented in 1938. On July 1, 1938, Czechoslovakia ordered 150 of the TNHPS model, although none had entered service by the time of the German occupation (March 1939).

German production

After the takeover of Czechoslovakia, Germany ordered continued production of the model as it was considered an excellent tank, especially compared to the Panzer I and Panzer II that were the Panzerwaffe's main tanks. It was first introduced into German service under the name LTM 38; this was changed on 16 January 1940 to Panzerkampfwagen 38(t); the 38(t) was used by the German Army as a substitute for the Panzer III.

The small turret of the Panzer 38(t) was incapable of carrying a gun big enough to destroy more modern tanks, such as the T-34, so manufacturing of the tank version ceased in June 1942 by which time more than 1,400 had been built. Examples of the 38(t) were also sold to a number of German allies, including Hungary (102), Slovakia (69), Romania (50), and Bulgaria (10).

The main advantages of the Panzer 38(t), compared to other tanks of the day, were a very high reliability and sustained mobility. In one documented case, a regiment was supplied with tanks driven straight from the factory in 2.5 days instead of the anticipated week, without any mechanical breakdowns.[2] In the opinion of the crews, the drive components of the 38(t) - engine, gear, steering, suspension, wheels and tracks - were perfectly in tune with each other. The 38(t) was also considered to be very easy to maintain and repair.[3]

After tank production ended, the chassis was used for tank destroyer designs, which were produced in greater numbers than the original tank. In 1942-1944, about 1,500 examples of the Marder III model were produced. It was replaced by the Jagdpanzer 38(t) (later known as Hetzer), based on a modified Panzer 38(t) chassis, of which approximately 2,800 were produced. The Panzer 38(t) chassis was also the basis for an anti-aircraft gun carrier, the Flakpanzer 38(t), produced in small numbers (about 140).

The Aufklärungspanzer 38(t) (designation Sd.Kfz.140/1) was a reconnaissance vehicle based on a 38(t) tank fitted with a "Hängelafette" turret (20 mm KwK 38 L/55 gun and a coaxial MG 42 - adapted from the Sd. Kfz. 222 armoured car); a support version armed with a 75 mm KwK 37 L/24 (and MG 42) gun mounted in the modified superstructure was also designed. Seventy Aufklärungspanzer 38(t) with a 20 mm gun were built in February and March 1944; just two Aufklärungspanzer 38(t) with a 75 mm gun were built in 1944.

Swedish production

Stridsvagn m/41 SII

Since the 90 PzKpfw 38(t) Ausf. S built for Sweden to be delivered in March 1940 were confiscated with the invasion of Czechoslovakia, negotiations with Böhmisch-Mährische-Maschinenfabrik for the blue-prints needed for license production commenced and an agreement was reached at the end of 1940, which included the upgrades for the TNHP-S. The riveted construction was seen as a drawback, but since redrawing the blueprints for a welded construction was estimated to delay production by almost a year,[4] no changes were made to the 116 m/41 ordered from Scania-Vabis in June 1941. Deliveries started in December 1942 and were completed in August 1943, no less than three years behind the original plan.

While clearly outdated, the need for a 10-ton light tank was so pressing that another order was placed in mid 1942. Since Scania-Vabis had reached the production ceiling, the 122 tanks had to be complemented by some 80 strv m/40. The second batch had the frontal armour upgraded to 50 mm bringing the weight to 11 tonnes, and to deal with the increased weight the 145 hp Scania-Vabis typ 1664 was replaced by a more powerful 160 hp Scania-Vabis typ 603. Due to the larger size, the hull had to be made 65 mm longer causing a wider gap between the second and third roadwheel. This enabled the fueltanks to be upgraded from 190 litres to 230 litres. Only 104 got delivered when production ended in March 1944; the last 18 chassis were built as the assault gun sav m/43 instead. Another 18 sav m/43 were purpose built.

At the end of the 1950s, 220 SI & SII were converted to pansarbandvagn 301 armoured personnel carriers and the turrets[5] used for airbase defences.[6]

Operational history


Panzer 38(t), France, June 1940

The Panzer 38(t) performed well in the Polish Campaign in 1939 and the Battle of France in 1940. It was better armed than the Panzer I and Panzer II tanks. It was on a par with most light tank designs of the era, although it was unable to effectively engage the frontal armour of medium, heavy and infantry tank designs.

It was also used in the German invasion of the Soviet Union from 1941 onwards in German and Hungarian units, but was outclassed by Soviet tanks such as the T-34. Some ex-German units were issued to the Romanians in 1943, after the loss of many of the Romanian R-2 tanks. By then, it had become largely obsolete, though the chassis was adapted to a variety of different roles with success. Notable variations include the SdKfz 138 Marder III mobile anti-tank gun, the SdKfz 138/1 Grille mobile howitzer, Flakpanzer 38(t) and the Jagdpanzer 38(t) "Hetzer" tank destroyer. Small numbers were also used for reconnaissance, training and security duties, such as deployment on armoured trains.

Panzer 38(t), Soviet Union, June 1941

The German tank commander Otto Carius, who was credited with over 150 'kills' described an action in a 38(t) in July 8, 1941:

It happened like greased lightning. A hit against our tank, a metallic crack, the scream of a comrade, and that was all there was! A large piece of armour plating had been penetrated next to the radio operator's seat. No one had to tell us to get out. Not until I had run my hand across my face while crawling in the ditch next to the road did I discover that they had also got me. Our radio operator had lost his left arm. We cursed the brittle and inelastic Czech steel that gave the Russian 47mm anti-tank gun so little trouble. The pieces of our own armour plating and assembly bolts caused considerably more damage than the shrapnel of the round itself.[7]

In contrast, speaking about the armour on German tanks:

Again and again, we admired the quality of the steel on our tanks. It was hard without being brittle. Despite its hardness, it was also elastic. If an anti-tank round didn't hit the armour dead on, it slid off on its side and left behind a gouge as if you had run your finger over a soft piece of butter.

The above report highlights the reason why the 38(t) was pulled out of front lines in favour of heavier Panzer III, IV and StuG IIIs. Panzer 38(t) continued to serve after 1941 as a reconnaissance vehicle and in anti-partisan units for some time. Several captured examples were refitted with Soviet DTM machineguns and employed by the Red Army.

Reliable running gears and chassis proved useful throughout the conflict. At the start of Operation Barbarossa, the Germans found Russian T-34 tanks to be superior, as the German 37mm Pak36 anti-tank gun proved incapable of penetrating the T-34's armour. To neutralize the Russian T-34, the Germans mounted a captured Russian 76.2mm field gun on the chassis of the 38(t) model as a stop-gap measure and called it the "Marder III". Initially, the Marder III was nothing more than a 38(t) with a Russian 76-mm divisional gun M1936 (F-22) in place of a turret, with the breech modified to take German ammunition. Because of this arrangement, crews of early Marder III models fought exposed on top of the 38(t)'s engine deck, behind where the turret used to be. Continuous efforts to provide Marder III crews with more protection eventually lead to the tank destroyer Hetzer which still used the same running gear on widened chassis and slightly widened track links to compensate for the extra weight of the armour. When Germany was being attacked from both West and East, the Hetzer served the German Army as one of the most common German AFVs in the last year of the war. Production of Hetzer continued for the Czechoslovak Army after the war. Switzerland purchased 158 examples. Swiss Hetzer served into the 1960s.

The conversion of Panzer 38(t) chassis to tank destroyer and other uses freed 351 turrets for use in fortifications in various locations. Almost half of these (150) were used in Southwest Europe, while 78 went to the Eastern Front, 75 to Norway, 25 in Italy, 20 in Denmark, and 9 in the Atlantic Wall. The small-bore armament and thin armour of the turrets made them insignificant as an anti-tank pillbox by the later stages of the war, but they were still useful in combating infantry attacks.

The SdKfz 140/1 Aufklärungspanzer 38(t) is a reconnaissance vehicle based on the Panzer 38(t). It came about from a shortage of light reconnaissance tanks - the Panzer I was outdated and the Panzer II Luchs was only just starting production. To fill this gap, a Panzer 38(t) mounting a 20mm gun was built in small numbers. The basic construction was to remove the 38(t)'s turret, build up the hull superstructure and place an open turret from either a SdKfz 222 or SdKfz 234/1.



Preserved LTP

A Peruvian mission went to Europe in 1935 and looked at tanks from several major manufacturers before settling on the Czech LTL. Peru bought 24 of them, organizing them into two companies. This small armoured force was complemented by truck-mounted infantry and artillery pulled by tractors (the Czech ČKD). Peruvian doctrine was influenced by the French military mission operating in Peru at the time, and emphasized the use of tanks to support infantry attacks rather than in independent mobile columns (as in the German Blitzkrieg).[9]

The Peruvian tank battalion played an important role in the 1941 Ecuadorian-Peruvian War, spearheading the attack across the Zarumilla River and at Arenillas. This was helped by the fact that the Ecuadorian Army had no modern anti-tank guns and their artillery was horse-drawn. "The LTL tanks performed extremely well in the 1941 war and remained in front-line service for more than 50 years."[10]


All strv m/41 SI were sent to P 3 in Strängnäs, who were the only regiment who painted the road-wheels in the same camouflage pattern as the hull against regulations prescribing field-grey to be used.[1] Most of the m/41 SII went to P 4 in Skövde, with a small number allocated to P 2 in Hässleholm and the material reserve of P 3.[6] All tanks had been retired from active service in the mid 1950s and later rebuilt into APCs.

Technical Data


Panzer 38(t) Aus. A-C



Other designs based on 38(t) chassis

See also



  1. 1 2 "Panzer 38(t)". Tanks Encyclopedia.
  2. in: History of the 25 Panzer Regiment of the 7 Panzerdivision.
  3. Spielberger, 1990
  4. "Stridsvagn m/41 S II". (in Swedish).
  5. "Värntorn". (in Swedish).
  6. 1 2 "Strv m/41". (in Swedish).
  7. Carius, 2003, pp. 7,8
  8. " - T-38 light tank".
  9. "Pieces of the Equator". Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  10. "War on the Equator Developer's Preview". Retrieved 9 May 2012.


Further reading

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