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Old 07-01-2009, 03:15 PM
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Default German Lk II Tank

After the engineering design work for the A7V tank and tracked lorry had been done, Joseph Vollmer turned his attention to the development of a light armoured vehicle in May of 1917. He thought that the A7V and its rhomboid brother, the A7V-U, already had reached, if not exceeded, the limit of usefulness in terms of size, weight and performance. He disagreed with the ongoing plans to build a far larger vehicle, the K-Großkampfwagen (K-Wagen), and went on to construct a small fighting vehicle for one driver and one or two machine gunners. To accelerate production and utilise already existing material, he aimed at recycling the engines and gear works of mothballed passenger cars of the 40 – 60 HP class, of which he believed about 1,000 to be available. In September 1917, the Chief of Motor Transport (Chefkraft), Colonel Hermann Meyer, endorsed this project, which now received the name Leichter Kampfwagen (Bauart Vollmer) – short LK.
During spring, summer and autumn of 1917, however, tank construction was no priority for the German Supreme Command (Oberste Heeresleitung – OHL). This only changed at the end of November, when, after the shock of the British tank attack at Cambrai, a short-lived frenzy of activities to enhance and accelerate German tank production arose.
In this context, on December 29th, 1917, Meyerplaced his proposal to mass produce light tanks. He estimated that some 500 to 600 machines could be procured with delivery starting in March 1918.
A first test vehicle was to be ready by the end of January.
The tank would have a maximum velocity of 30 km/h, carry a crew of three, be armed with one machine gun (and another one in reserve). Armour would be 8 mm hardened steel (without additives). This armour thickness could stop all ordinary ‘soft’ infantry projectiles, but those with steel core only above 300 m distance; it was chosen because the weight of thicker armour was believed to overtax the commercial car engines.
Meyer also pointed out that the French were known to be working on a light tank in the five to six ton class.
OHL rejected this proposal on January 17th, 1918. The 8 mm armour was not considered proof against infantry bullets. The enemy possessed steel core ammunition with a performance simular to the one the Germans used. Despite their high velocity, the vehicles were expected to be put out of action rapidly.
What OHL really wanted is documented by making available 30 additional armoured bodies for the A7V tank (thus raising the number of projected vehicles to 68) and charging Chefkraft to explore the possibilities to copy and mass produce the British rhomboids.
The latter mission would keep Chefkraft and his staff very busy the following months, but all conferences with Daimler and Krupp would come to nothing because the idea was finally dropped in favour of LK II production.
Meyer, who accepted the decision against the LK without protest, did, however, not entierly abandon light tank development. On January 20th, 1918, he ordered:
a)to place no production orders for LK-Wagen
b)to complete test vehicles as soon as possible
c)to examine how the LK-Wagenarmour could be made resistant against steel core bullets.
Vollmeronly succeeded in having his first LK chassis ready by early March 1918. Test runs showed that a velocity of 16 – 18 km/h could be attained, but also demonstrated that the original 14 cm wide track plates were too small and had to be replaced by plates 25 cm wide.
The armoured body for the test vehicle was delivered on April 7th, the 25 cm wide tracks became available on April 20th. Weight of the tank (without crew) was 6,35 metric tons.
In parallel, Vollmerdeveloped a new vehicle with 13 mm maximum armour thickness, 25 cm track plates, better speed transformation, and improved manoeuvrability – the LK II. Ground clearance was to be 40 cm, the tank’s bottom would receive 3 mm armour plates. Weight was calculated to be 8 tons.
Subsequently, the original LK was now designated LK I.
At this moment, things did become a little bit confused. On April 26th, 1918, OHL received reports about interrogations of French prisoners of war. These revealed detailed information about the French Renault tank, the FT17.
The German tank situation was rather poor right then: A7V tank production had been cancelled already, captured British Mk.IVs came into service only in small numbers at a time – and did not fulfil the expectations that had been placed in them.
Suddenly, the Chefkraft proposal to mass produce light tanks was remembered again. The head of OHL operations section II, Lieutenant-Colonel Max Bauer, became interested as well. Bauer was a very influential man who also had close ties with the Krupp company. In August of 1918, Bauer would be given overall control of the German tank construction programme, but already now he exercised dominating informal control – not least because he was the one who decided about priorities in allotment of resources.
Consequently, Krupp was asked to forward a proposal for a light tracked vehicle. As Bauer at that time was mainly concerned in the dire lack of horses for the field artillery, the Krupp proposal of May 22nd was less a tank than a lightly armed and armoured artillery tractor, far less capable of surviving enemy small arms fire than the LK I.
On June 13th, a conference was held at the Krupp principal office in Essen. Chefkraft and Vollmer presented the LK I running around on Krupp’s proving ground, Krupp showed drawings of their “Kleiner Sturmwagen“.
On June 23rd, mass production was ordered by OHL. While Bauer still wanted mechanised limbers (“Kraftprotzen“), Chefkraft wanted tanks but compromised to receive Bauer’s endorsement. At the same time, Bauer did recognise that the LK was the only solution that was advanced far enough to enter mass production in a timely fashion. A small batch of Krupp vehicles was ordered in addition to a series of several hundred LKs, which were to have towing hooks for guns or mine throwers. Furthermore, trials for the construction of a LK tank with 5,7 cm gun were to be started. This is the first mention of a cannon armed LK - although.the opinion that only gun armed tanks had a chance of success in combat had already been expressed in April, after the experiences made during the battle of Villers-Bretonneux. To placate Bauer even further, two turretless LK II Kraftprotzen variants were subsequently designed but remained blueprints only.
The first LK II prototype chassis became ready by the end of June 1918. – It would seem that the LK I prototype was taken as sufficient example for the machine gun armed variant, while the first LK II chassis was immediately used for the cannon armed prototype, thus skipping the construction of a machine gun armed LK II prototype.
On July 17th, the Berlin war ministry formulated that orders for 670 LK II had been placed so far, and that increased production seemed possible. 2,000 tanks could be ready until June 30th, 1919; and 2,000 more until December 1919 – 4,000 in all.
On July 19th, Chefkraft approved that the LK II would form the basis for further development. There would be two types:
-a machine gun armed LK-Protze with revolving turret, and
-a 5,7 cm cannon armed LK-Wagen.
The LK II inherited the engines and gear works of the mothballed passenger cars that had already been a feature of the LK I.
On July 23rd, Krupp and Daimler provided a new proposal for a “Kleiner Sturmwagen“ jointly to be produced by both companies. This vehicle was to be somewhat larger and more powerful than the initial Krupp project, armed either with a machine gun or a 5,2 cm cannon. But by now, decisions had already been made in favour of LK II production.
On August 8th, 1918, Chefkraft reportet to OHL that, based on the decisions taken on June 13th, 270 LK II and 33 Krupp vehicles would be procured until April 1919, and that - starting in April 1919 – 200 light tanks could be produced each month.
Orders had been placed for machine gun armed vehicles only, as the cannon armed variant was still under development.
On August 29th, a report established that the 5,7 cm cannon – the same weapon that was used in the A7Vs, the A7V-U and the captured Britsh Mk.IV males – could not be used in the LK II. The vehicle was found too frail for this gun, the high weight of the gun also made the tank tail heavy and thus difficult to steer cross country.
On August 30th, A7V Abteilung 3 – engaged in tank familiarisation training for Army Group Herzog Albrecht on a training ground near Saarburg – received a LK tank for appraisal and use in the exercises. Unfortunately, the Abteilung 3 war diary does not reflect whether this was the machine gun armed LK I or the gun armed LK II prototype, nor have any pictures turned up so far. The LK was only used in one demonstration exercise, on September 7th, where it ran the show together with A7V 505. Thereafter it seems to have been withdrawn to Berlin again. – Given the timing, it would appear that this vehicle was the LK II gun type, sent for field testing after the home agencies had completed their examinations.
Until September 1st, 1918, the construction programme had already grown to 580 LK IIs plus only 20 Krupps, and on this day was raised again to now 800 LK IIs.
Immediately afterwards, the number of LK IIs ordered was raised again to 1,385, plus 65 Krupps, all to be delivered in spring of 1919, with an option to order even more.
On September 30th, OHL decided that the new 3,7 cm cannon, currently under development at Krupp, would form the armament of the LK II gun tank, and that about 2/3 of the vehicles should have guns and 1/3 machine guns. Whether the gun type would have a revolving turret or a casemate like the 5,7 cm test piece remained open. – The TOE for Abteilungen 201 to 204 (the ones to be ready until end of April 1919, or at least half of them, as this number had now gone up again from 400 to 800) just lists 100 machine gun armed tanks for each detachment, thus reflecting that no production of gun armed tanks had yet been ordered.
In the meanwhile, the skipping of the LK II machine gun armed prototype had backfired. When production started, it was found that cooling of engine and crew compartment was inadequate. The solution to this problem, which was finally found by adding a fan, dragged along until October 1918. – It was his fan that now led to the inverted nose of the production vehicle.
Only on October 10th, 1918, did the first production vehicle leave the assembly line.
On October 2nd, Krupp and Daimler could finally present a test vehicle of their Kleiner Sturmwagen, but this did not influence the production orders any more.
Shortly before the end of the war, Joseph Vollmer proposed the LK III, which put engine and gearbox to the rear, the turret to the middle and the driver to the front of the vehicle, thus achieving the classic layout of modern tanks – that had already been implemented in the French Renault FT17 a year before.
How many LK II MG types actually were completed, remaines an open question. In November 1918, all contracts concerning construction or repair of tanks or armoured cars were cancelled.
However, a note of the war ministry in Berlin dated September 30th, 1919, records that
-90 light tanks on tracks
-58 armoured cars with four wheel drive, and
-30 makeshift armoured cars on normal 4 ton lorries
had been ordered for Grenzschutz Ost (border protection in the east).
The orders for 38 Daimler D.Z.V.R and 20 Ehrhardt armoured cars with four wheel drive can be traced to early February 1919. The order for the makeshift lorries cannot have been placed much later, if not already in December of 1918. All these wheeled vehicles had actually been procured, although the D.Z.V.R.s only were delivered in early 1920. This would indicate that the light tanks had been ordered in the same time frame.
In early 1920, the Hungarians bought one LK II MG type, shortly afterwards another one, somewhat later in the same year twelve more were purchased “very cheaply from demobilised materials of German Army“. All 14 vehicles were given to the Budapest based Hungarian Police Recruits School (RUISK) and were kept hidden until 1928, the armoured bodies stored away in railway wagons. In the early 1930-ies, only seven tanks were serviceable still.
In 1921, Sveden bought (at least) another ten LK II MG types. The LK II producer Steffens & Heymann, Berlin-Charlottenburg, offered 15 “Raupenschlepper“ (tracked tractors), which were in fact LK II. Ten (?) of these were acquired and shipped to Sveden, where they were assembled and taken into use as Stridsvagn M21 in early 1922.
In its final configuration, the LK II had a crew of three, could attain a maximum speed of 14 km/h, had a range of 60 – 70 km, could cross trenches 2 m wide, but was not considered capable of negotiating badly churned up terrain. Armour was to be 12 – 14 mm front, sides and rear, 8 mm on the top surfaces and 3mm on the floor. The two fuel tanks (150 litres together) had an extra armoured hull of 8 mm.
Total weight of the vehicle with crew, weapons and ammunition was 8.5 metric tons.
The final designations were:
LK II – Wagen mit MG im Drehtrum“ (LK II vehicle with MG in rotating turret) and
LK II – Wagen mit 3,7 cm Kanone“ (LK II vehicle mit 3,7 cm cannon)

Main sources:
„Die technische Entwicklung der deutschen Kampfwagen im Weltkriege 1914-18“ by Erich Petter, Berlin 1932. (typewritten dossier)
„Die deutschen Kampfwagen“ by Alfred Krüger, published in „Militärwissenschaftliche und technische Mitteilungen“, Vienna, volumes 1/2 1924 and 3/4 1924

LK II - Strv m/21 Walkaround
The beautifully preserved LK II below can be seen in the remarkable Armour Museum (Pansarmuseet) in Axvall, northeast of Gothenburg in Sweden - so it is, properly speaking a "strv m/21", the swedish designation. It is finished in the colours of the Swedish Army - it is not the original colours, obviously, but the camo is a correct representation of the one used by the Swedes on this tank. Not only is it wonderfully preserved, and equipped with the proper weapons for the swedish version - Schwarzlose MG:s - it's actually a runner!

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