Panzer I was the first German tank to enter the Wehrmacht. And although this machine was intended to train tank troops, for a long time she was destined to form the basis of the German tank fleet. Since mid-1934, in parallel with the supply of military vehicles to the troops, the deployment of tank units began. The intensification of this process was facilitated by the appointment of General Blomberg as the Minister of War of Germany, and General Reichenau, chief of the office of the Ministry of War, who held to modern views on the role of tank forces in a future war. It should be added that Hitler himself showed great interest in the motorization of the army. Here is what Heinz Guderian writes about this in his Memoirs of a Soldier, who received an invitation at the end of 1934 to demonstrate to the Reich Chancellor in Kummersdorf the actions of units of mechanized mechanized forces: “I showed Hitler a motorcycle platoon, anti-tank platoon, a platoon of training tanks T I, a platoon of light armored vehicles and a platoon of heavy armored vehicles. Hitler was greatly impressed by the speed and accuracy shown by our units during their movement, and he exclaimed: “This is what I need!”
By October 15, 1935, three panzer divisions were formed: 1st, located in Weimar, commanded by General Weichs, 2nd, located in Würzburg, Colonel Guderian, 3rd, located in Berlin, General Fessman. For the most part, these formations were manned with Pz.I tanks, since there were practically no other combat vehicles at the disposal of the Panzervaff. Only a Pz.II company could make up the company, but the production of this tank was only just beginning in 1935.
The fighting in Spain.
Panzer I received his baptism of fire in Spain. Hitler’s decision to help General Franco led to the creation of the Condor legion, which included units of the Air Force and ground forces.
The first nine Pz.I Ausf.A entered the Legion in October 1936, followed by 32 more combat vehicles of this modification. The part of the legion armed with tanks was called the Panzergruppe Drohne tank group. Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm Ritter von Thom was appointed her commander. At first, the group had the following organization: headquarters and two tank companies with three sections each. Each section included five tanks plus one command vehicle. The support units consisted of a transport department, a field repair shop, anti-tank artillery and flamethrower departments. The personnel consisted of 180 soldiers and officers of the 6th German Tank Regiment, who arrived in Spain under the guise of tourists. It was assumed that the Drone group will mainly be engaged in training Spanish tankers, and not fight. However, von Thoma immediately became convinced that “the Spaniards quickly learn, but just as quickly forget what they learned,” so the Germans did the most crucial part of the work in mixed
The first clash with the republican T 26 occurred on October 28, 1936. Pz.IA in this battle supported the cavalry of the Francoists and were completely powerless in front of the cannon tanks of the Republicans. The arrival in December of the first batch of 19 Pz.IB did not improve the situation. However, the Francoists had nothing else, and the Drone group was transferred to Madrid.
In order to at least somehow increase the firepower of German tanks, a 20 mm Breda mod.35 gun was installed in the Pz.IA tower slightly increased in height. It is hard to say how many cars were redone in this way. It is usually reported that several. However, in both domestic and foreign literature, only one photograph of those years with one converted tank is published.
In March 1937, a tank company equipped with captured Soviet T 26s was included in the Drone group, and in August, the group was reorganized into the Spanish unit. This process ended in March 1938 with the creation of the Bandera de Carros de Combate de la Legion, which organizationally became part of the Spanish Foreign Legion. The Bandera consisted of two battalions: one was armed with German tanks Pz.I Ausf.A and Ausf.B, the other with Soviet T 26. Both battalions (1. and 2.Agrupacione de Carros) took part in the battles of Teruel and Brunet, in Basque Country, in the battle of the Ebro and in the battles of Catalonia in 1939. During the fighting, losses among German tankers amounted to 7 people. Their participation in the Spanish Civil War ended with a parade in Madrid on May 19, 1939. After that, the “tourists” returned to Germany. German tanks Pz.I were operated in the Spanish army until the end of the 40s.
The fighting in Austria.
In March 1938, Pz.I tanks took part in the full house of Austria. The 2nd Panzer Division of General Guderian made a 420 km march in two days. At the same time, up to 38% of tanks failed due to insufficient reliability and were left on the side of the road. After this “campaign” Guderian sharply raised the question of improving the evacuation and repair of tanks. During the occupation of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia in October 1938, the situation improved significantly. The Panzer I and Panzer II tanks were delivered to the operational zones by truck in order to at least somehow save a meager resource of tracks.