Panzerjäger I (Pz. Jäg. I für 4.7 cm Pak(t)) ((English: Tank Hunter 1), the German tank destroyer, started its development in 1939 based on the Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf. B. Initially, the 37-mm Pak 36 gun was mounted on the chassis of the Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf. B. However, during the invasion of Poland, it was revealed that the gun was not effective against new vehicles. After Germany captured Czechoslovakia in 1940, the 47-mm Pak 36(t) L/43.4 (Škoda 47-mm A-5 KP ÚV vz. 38 Model A5) gun was mounted on the tank destroyer. A total of 202 vehicles were manufactured and saw action until 1943.
The heavily armored tanks in Allied inventory was considered a threat to the German armored forces, which consisted of mostly 3.7 cm gun that were ineffective. To counter these threats, the Germans sought for a vehicle able to mount a bigger gun able to fight these tanks. It was found that they could convert obsolete chassis designs like the Panzer I to mount the guns, thus saving the design process of developing a new vehicle for the role. The Czech 4.7 cm Pak(t) anti-tank gun was chosen for this task, and was mounted on a converted Panzer I chassis with the turret removed, a gun shield was used for the mount of the gun. Between 1940 to 1941, 202 Panzer I’s were converted by Alkett and Deutz AG to these tank destroyers, designated the ‘’’Panzerjäger I‘’’, the first of its kind of tank destroyers in the war.
This equipment, which is primarily a tank-hunter, was created by combining the 4.7 cm Czech antitank gun with the chassis of the Pz. Kpfw. I, Model B tank. Consequently its road performance approximates that of the Model B tank.
The turret arrangement consists of a three-sided welded shield, open at the top and rear, bolted to the superstructure by means of internal flanges. The driver’s seat is on the floor to the left rear of the gear box.
The fitting of the gun to the chassis is crude in many respects and not up to the usual standard of German workmanship or design. The gun is mounted on a steel frame, within the shield, in the front half of the vehicle. It is a single shot, high velocity weapon. The barrel is a one-piece forging fitted with a large and heavy muzzle brake and flash eliminator. The breech mechanism is of the vertical sliding block type. The gun is automatically cocked when the breech is opened. The elevating gear is on the left hand side of the gun and is controlled by an elevating wheel with a folding handle. The traversing gear is behind the elevating hand wheel. Traverse is limited by a spring-loaded stop to 15 deg. left or right. The recoil mechanism, which consists of a spring recuperator and liquid buffer, is housed in a cylindrical casing above the piece.
The gun utilizes the following types of ammunition—(1) A.P. tracer shell, (2) H.E. shell. At 300 yards the A.P. projectile effects a penetration of homogeneous armor of 2.3 ins. at 30 deg. obliquity; 3.0 ins. normal, and at 1000 yards will penetrate 1.8 in. at 30 deg. obliquity; 2.4 ins. normal.
The Panzerjäger I were organized in anti-tank battalions, each having three companies with nine vehicles each. Five battalions in the war were equipped with the tank destroyer. The first usage of the Panzerjäger I was in the Battle of France, where four battalions were committed. Though, only Anti-Tank Battalion 521 saw service from the beginning to the end as the other four were still in training when the campaign started. The opinion of the crew of these vehicles were positive, saying that the weapon was adequate to distances up to 600 meters if the enemy had 45 to 50 mm of armor. However, the crew also say that the ability to observe the battle in the vehicle was terrible, the crew had to look over the shield to see what is ahead, risking themselves to injury to the head.
After the Battle of France, the Panzerjäger I’s in Anti-Tank Battalion 605 were sent to the North African Campaign, though only 3 of the 27 vehicles made it as the transport freighter ‘’Castellon’’ carrying the rest was sunk. The battalion was in full strength during the British offensive in Operation Crusader in November 1941, to which they lost 13 vehicles in the battle. Battle experience praise the accuracy the vehicle provides, but state that the vehicles were too weak for the combat conditions and the gun didn’t have enough penetration in long distance. With an APCR round, it was found it could destroy the venerable Matilda infantry tanks at distance of around 400 meters. The battalion continued this battle of attrition with reinforcement and losses that during the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942, only 11 Panzerjäger I’s were left in the battalion. The last two replacement vehicle were sent to the battalion in November 1942. In Operation Barbarossa, five anti-tank battalions were equipped with the Panzerjäger I’s, which made up a total of 135 vehicles. The combat experience was subpar, while the Panzerjäger I had a good effective range of up to 1,000 to 1,200 meters, but the high profile of the vehicle presented a big target to enemy anti-tank weapons and artillery, even shrapnels from high-explosive shells could penetrate the thin armor. Many Panzerjäger I’s were destroyed and by the Fall of 1942, many battalions reported to be under equipped for further action and were disbanded. At this point, better anti-tank weaponry and vehicles were more accessible and replaced the Panzerjäger I in service, notably the Marder series.