If one asks you about “Leopard” tank what association will you have? Certainly, almost everyone will recall the main tank of the Bundeswehr. For over 50 years the tanks with this name are in service with Germany. But it turns out that during the WWII German armored forces had a Leopard, but this tank was less known than its modern descendant.
The development of the new reconnaissance tank on the basis of Panzer II Ausf J (VK1601) was included in the plans since 1941. In March 1942 the company MIAG and Daimler-Benz got the order to development of high-speed (medium/heavy) reconnaissance tank capable of operating in difficult combat conditions – Gefechtsaufklarung. MIAG engaged in the development of chassis and Daimler-Benz of the turret of the new tank. Both elements were to be developed and ready for production by October 1942. This tank was supposed to enter the service in special platoons of armoured divisions. Two versions of the tank were developed: lightly armoured and high-speed (18 tons) and more heavily armoured (26 tons). Soon, in summer 1942, work on the light version were discontinued, and all forces were focused on debugging of more heavily armoured version.
Design of the VK1602, named Leopard, was based on earlier Panzer II Ausf J (VK1601) and Panzer II Ausf M (VK1301) development works. The hull of Leopard had much in common with Panzer II Aufs J (VK1601), but the influence of Panzer V Panther was also noticeable (Panther was still in development at that time). The suspension had overlapping wheels of |”checkerboard” type and was similar to the one on Panzer II Ausf L – Luchs. It was planned that Leopard will replace a light (leichter) PanzerSpahwagen II Ausf L Luchs - Sd.Kfz.123 (VK 1303). Mock-up model was completed in May-June 1942, and the first prototype completed by September 1, 1942. Full-scale production was to begin in April 1943. The armament of the Leopard tank consisted of 50mm KwK 39 / 1 L/60 cannon and 7.92 mm MG34/42 machine gun, mounted in the new turret. VK 1602 had fairly heavy armor plating and had sloping angle armour (inspired by the Panther tank). Leopard had Maybach HL 157P engine with 550 h.p., it allowed the tank to attain a top speed of 50-60 km/h. To improve passability characteristics, track width of 350 mm was implemented. The crew of the tank consisted of 4 members.
The program Panzerprogramm 41 was provided for production of 339 Leopards (105 were to be produced by December 1943, and 150 tanks by mid-1944). Start of production had been planned for April 1943, but it was cancelled even before the first prototype was completed (January 1943). The reasons for the cancelling of the project were the big weight of VK1601 and the absence of powerful gun which made Leopard vulnerable to enemy tanks. Besides that, Leopard was very close to Panther in design, and development of scouting equipment was cheaper for Panthers than for the brand-new scouting tank. The concept of Leopard was continued in the draft of modernized VK2801 by Daimler-Benz, unluckily the project was never completed either, and the whole program was stopped in May 1944. And finally, scouting in combats was performed by Panzer V Panther and Panzer IV. Further, Leopard's turret was mounted on armoured vehicle Sd.Kfz.234/2 Puma. Besides that, Rheinmetall Company planned to use Leopard's suspension as the basis for the 105-mm self-propelled howitzer leFH, named Waffentrager Leopard. Unfortunately, only a wooden pattern of it was made.
Crew: 4 men
Engine: Maybach HL 157 P / 12-cylinder / 550hp
Speed: Road: 50-60km/h / Cross-Country: –km/h
Range: Road: 165km / Cross-Country: —km
Fuel Capacity: 560 litres
Lenght: 4.74 or 6.45m
Width: 3.10m or 3.27m
Height: 2.60m or 2.80m
Armament: 50mm KwK 39/1 L/60 & 1 x 7.92mm MG34/42
Ammo: 50mm - 50 rounds
7.92mm - 2400 rounds