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Panzers of 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 training.

The PzKw I had two machine guns and very light armor, and was not especially fast. The Germans used them in Poland, Norway and France. 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 game, Guadalcanal.

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 three games.

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 mid-1942.

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 force.

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 armies. 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!