Panzer Grenadier, Part 1
Since the first golden age of historical
board gaming in the 1970s, there’s been
one constant: Gamers love panzers. The Germans
might have lost the war, and that’s
a very good thing, but moving German tanks
across a game board (or smashing them) still
evokes excitement in many players. Here we
take a look at how these weapons have been
represented in our Panzer Grenadier
series of games.
Germany’s first mass-produced tank
was the PanzerKampfwagen (“armored fighting
vehicle”) I, usually abbreviated PzKw
I (Pz I on game counters, for better graphic
fit). This small vehicle began production
in 1934, with almost 1,500 built when production
ceased three years later. Another 70 came
out in 1942, when the lines briefly re-opened
in one of the inefficiencies inherent in the
Nazi feudal economic system.
The PzKw I had its good points when built:
It could be manufactured on production lines
originally intended for civilian vehicles
such as tractors or trucks (a major factor
in the construction of otherwise useless light
tanks by many nations). It was relatively
cheap to build, and could be produced in some
numbers and made quickly. In 1934, the emerging
German panzer force wanted as many vehicles
as it could get, to facilitate large-unit
The PzKw I had two machine guns and very
light armor, and was not especially fast. The Germans used them in Poland, Norway
The ridiculous little tank made its first
game appearance in Afrika
Korps and also appears in Panzer
Grenadier: Eastern Front.
Germany’s next tank, the PzKw II, only
offered somewhat improved fighting ability.
This tank had a 20mm automatic cannon (in
effect, a large machine gun) and slightly
beter armor protection. Production started
in 1936, and German factories built about
1,700 of them up until December 1942. The
PzKw II began its service life as a main battle
tank, intended to fight other tanks. Already
behind foreign tank developments, the PzKw
II never served in this role, as testing in
the Spanish Civil War found it grossly outclassed
by the Soviet-made BT-5 and T-26 tanks. Just
how much these vehicles fought in Spain is
disputed, but the superiority of the Soviet
machines was not.
This tank showed up in the first edition
of Eastern Front, and is present
in about half of the volumes of the series.
There are none of them in the four late-war
games (Airborne, Battle of the Bulge,
Beyond Normandy and Road to Berlin)
and of course none in the Pacific theater
In practice, the PzII piece is not worth much
in a fight with other tanks. It’s not
all that great against infantry, either.
In 1937 the Germans finally hit on a better
main battle tank, the PzKw III. This one began
with a 37mm gun, which already put it behind
Soviet and French vehicles in terms of firepower.
It did not enter production until 1938, and
remained on the assembly lines until August
1943, when all of its chassis were finally
diverted to making more battle-worthy assault
guns. PzKw III tanks served in German units
up until the very end of the war.
After several small runs, the first widely-used
model was the PzKw IIIE. The first version
shown in Panzer Grenadier is the PzIIIF (also
used to represent the very similar prior model).
These had a 37mm gun, and formed the backbone
of the panzer forces in Poland and France.
This piece appears in fairly large numbers
in Afrika Korps, Desert
Rats and Eastern Front, and
is a workhorse for the German player.
German experience in Poland and France showed
that the tank needed a better gun to fight
enemy tanks, and the PzKw IIIG with a 50mm
gun began to appear in the summer of 1940.
As a game piece, it’s found in the same
Like many armies, the Germans found themselves
fighting the last war. The new 50mm gun would
have been adequate against French armor, but
they needed something better to face the Soviet
T-34 encountered in June, 1941. A longer-barreled
50mm gun had been ordered soon after the 50mm
was first introduced, but the Army Weapons
Office did not want to disrupt production
by changing the armament twice in less than
60 days. The tank with the long 50mm gun (the
L/60 model) did not show up at the front until
The first model with this weapon, known
to the British as the “Mark III Special,”
appeared just before the invasion of Russia.
It shows up
in Afrika Korps and Desert Rats.
Germany did not produce enough tanks for
its armed forces’ needs, and would have
been hard-pressed to achieve the stunning
blitzkrieg victories of 1939 and 1940 without
the windfall of vehicles confiscated from
the former Czech Army.
Skoda, the huge Czech industrial combine,
built a wide variety of motor vehicles before
World War II, and also made artillery and
other weapons for many armies as well as the
Czech forces. When the Germans took over in
March 1939, they confiscated 219 of the Czech
main battle tank, the S-IIa. They designated
it the PzKw35(t) (“t” for “Tschechoslowakei”).
The S-IIa had good armor, a 37mm gun and reasonable
speed. When introduced in 1935, it was one
of the most advanced tanks in the world.
In German service, these tanks equipped
the 6th Panzer Division in Poland (when the
unit was known as the 1st Light Division)
and in France and Russia. In Eastern Front Deluxe Edition it appears in
both German and Romanian colors; as the R-2,
it formed the backbone of the Romanian armored
The S-IIA also fought on the Eastern Front with the Slovak Army, as shown
in the supplement First Axis.
The German seizure of Czechoslovakia caught
Skoda’s rival, Praga, with a new model
on the assembly line, but no actual production
tanks had been delivered to the Czech Army.
This was the Vz 38, which had much better
mechanical performance, a slightly better
37mm gun and eventually improved armor. Praga
built almost 1,100 before production shift
over to self-propelled guns.
It equipped several
panzer divisions, seeing lots of action in
Poland, France and Russia, and later also
saw service with the Hungarian and Romanian
Praga sold a battalion's worth of the tanks to Peru, where they fought during the 1941 war with Ecuador as shown in War on the Equator. And Lithuania bought variants armed with a 20mm automatic cannon and lusted for
more powerful models; these can be found in Iron Wolves.
This piece originally appeared in December 2004.
Ready for panzer battles? Get Panzer Grenadier: Afrika Korps, available now!