The Versatile Panzer 38(t): Examining its specifications, variants, and impactful operations

Following German annexation, the Panzerkampfwagen 38(t), a versatile tank designed in Czechoslovakia, rose to prominence during World War II. It served a variety of missions, ranging from frontline fighting to tank destroyers, as a result of its variations and adaptations.

The Panzerkampfwagen 38(t), also known as the ČKD LT vz. 38, was developed in Czechoslovakia by ČKD during the 1930s. It rose to prominence during World War II, particularly after Nazi Germany annexed Czechoslovakia and was adopted by the German army. This tank was used in a variety of combat battles, such as invasions of Poland, France, and the Soviet Union. Over 1,400 Pz. 38(t)s were built before production was halted in 1942 due to concerns about the weapon’s poor primary armament.

The (t) in its name represents “tschechisch,” the German term for Czech, representing its Czechoslovak heritage. The Czech military referred to it as the LT vz. 38 (Lehký tank vzor 38 or Light Tank type 38). In Germany, the tank was designated Sd. Kfz. 140, a special vehicle (Sonderkraftfahrzeug).

Despite the end of Pz. 38(t) production, its chassis was reused in succeeding military vehicles. The Marder III, built from 1942 to 1944, used the Pz. 38(t) chassis, with components reused in the Jagdpanzer 38 tank destroyer and its derivative vehicles from 1944 to 1945. The tank’s legacy extended beyond its original function, leaving an indelible imprint on the development of future armoured vehicles in the latter stages of World War II.

 

Specifications:

The Panzer 38(t) was a German light tank with a mass varying from 9.725 to 9.85 tonnes (9.571 to 9.694 long tonnes; 10.720 to 10.858 short tonnes), a length of 4.61 metres (15 feet 1 inch), a width of 2.14 metres (7 feet 0 inches), and an overall height of 2.25 metres (7 feet 5 inches). It had a four-person crew with armour ranging from 8 to 30 mm for Ausf. A-D and 8 to 50 mm for Ausf. E-G. 

The Panzer 38(t) was equipped with a 37 mm KwK 38(t) L/47.8 primary cannon and two 7.92 mm ZB-53 (MG 37(t)) machine guns as supplementary armament. The tank was powered by a Praga Typ TNHPS/II water-cooled 6-cylinder petrol engine delivering 123.3 horsepower (125.0 PS; 91.9 kW), with a power-to-weight ratio of 13.15 PS/tonne. The gearbox system used a 5 + 1 Praga-Wilson Typ CV layout, and the tank was suspended by leaf springs with a ground clearance of 0.40 metres. 

With a fuel capacity of 220 litres (58 US gallons), the Panzer 38(t) had operational ranges of 250 kilometres (160 miles) on roads and 160 kilometres (99 miles) in cross-country terrain. On the road, it had a top speed of 42 km/h (26.1 mph), but its off-road capability was restricted to 15 km/h (9.3 mph). These specifications highlighted the tank’s adaptability and mobility throughout service.

 

Variants:

Throughout its operational lifetime, the Panzer 38(t) served as the basis for several export versions and adaptations. Iran became the first customer in 1935 when it ordered the TNHP Initial export version. Peru received the LTP export version, also known as Tanque 38/Tanque 39. Switzerland acquired 24 units of the LTH export version, which had a redesigned turret with no guns. Unfortunately, the LTL export version intended for Lithuania (with 21 units ordered) was never delivered due to Soviet annexation, but it was later adopted by Slovakia as the LT-40.

In Czechoslovakia, the LT vz. 38 was classified as the army variant, although it was never used. Slovakia, on the other hand, used the LT-38 and LT-40 designations for the Panzer 38(t) tanks it had taken over from Lithuania. The German PzKpfw 38(t) Ausf. A-D was a TNH tank type. The following variants included the Ausf. E-F, which had more frontal armour, and the Ausf. S, which was an intermediate design between the Ausf. D and E. The Ausf. G had integral 50mm frontal armour, however, the PzKpfw 38(t) n.A. used welded armour instead of riveted armour and had a redesigned turret.

The Panzer 38(t) platform also saw specialised versions, such as the Panzerbefehlswagen 38(t), which was a command tank with additional radio antennas. Sweden’s Stridsvagn m/41 S(I) and S(II) were licensed-built TNH equivalents, with the latter featuring better armour and a stronger engine, producing 116 and 104 units, respectively.

Furthermore, the Panzer 38(t) chassis served as the foundation for several subsequent designs. The Marder III tank destroyers (Sd. Kfz. 138 and 139), the self-propelled gun Grille (Sd. Kfz. 138/1), the ammunition carrier Munitionspanzer 38 (Sf) Ausf. K, the Flakpanzer 38 (Sd. Kfz. 140) anti-aircraft gun, and reconnaissance tanks such as the Aufklärungspanzer 38 mit 2 cm KwK 38 and Aufklärungspanzer 38 mit 7.5 cm K 51 L/24 were among them. In addition, the Panzer 38(t) chassis served as the foundation for the Jagdpanzer 38 tank destroyer, Swiss G-13 postwar derivatives, Nahkampfkanone 1, Pansarbandvagn 301 armoured personnel carriers, and the Stormartillerivagn m/43 assault gun in Sweden. The  TACAM T-38 was a Romanian tank destroyer based on the Panzer 38(t).

 

Operations:

Throughout World War II, the Panzer 38(t) played an important role in a variety of combat campaigns. It was originally used by the German 3rd Light Division during the invasion of Poland in 1939, demonstrating its efficiency in the early phases of the fight. It then took part in Operation Weserübung in Denmark as part of the German 31st Army Corps and played an important role in the Battle of France alongside the 7th and 8th Panzer Divisions. The tank served in Operation Barbarossa and subsequent Eastern Front operations, being used by German, Hungarian, and Slovak units such as the 7th, 8th, 12th, 19th, 20th, and 22nd Panzer Divisions, as well as the Hungarian First Armoured Field Division and Slovak Fast Division.

When faced with more powerful opponents, such as Soviet tanks like the T-34, the Panzer 38(t) struggled, eventually resulting in its departure from frontline battle. Despite its shortcomings, the tank was adapted for a variety of purposes, resulting in versions such as the Sd. Kfz. 138 Marder III, Sd.Kfz. 138/1 Grille, Flakpanzer 38(t), and Jagdpanzer 38(t) “Hetzer” tank destroyer. The chassis was repurposed for reconnaissance, training, security, and specialised anti-tank operations, demonstrating its versatility on the field.

The tank also saw action outside of the European battlefield. Notably, Iran purchased 50 Panzer 38(t) tanks and designated them TNH. However, they faced overwhelming odds during the Anglo-Soviet invasion in August 1941, struggling against the Soviet Army’s massive tank forces.

Additionally, in the late 1930s, Peru purchased 24 Czech LTP tanks (named Tanque 38), which played a critical role in the 1941 Ecuadorian-Peruvian War, backing infantry advances against an under-equipped Ecuadorian Army. The last LTP tanks were decommissioned from active service in 1988, emphasising their long operating life.

In Romania, the Panzer 38(t), also known as the T-38, was part of the 2nd Tank Regiment and later the 54th Company. In 1944, it was engaged in a variety of units, namely the 10th Infantry Division and the Cavalry Division.

Slovakia first used LT-35 tanks and later added the LT-38 to its military. The Slovak Army utilised these tanks in Operation Barbarossa, while Slovak revolutionaries used 13 of them during the 1944 Slovak National Uprising.

The tank’s flexibility is highlighted by its use by the Swedish Army. Following their retirement from active duty in the mid-1950s, the strv m/41 SI and m/41 SII variants were repurposed for Swedish service and subsequently modified into Pansarbandvagn 301 armoured personnel carriers (APCs).

The Panzer 38(t) displayed operational adaptability across many areas and stayed in service for an extended period in numerous capacities, demonstrating its importance in World War II military history.