“Beware of the Leopard!” (Part 2) – West German Panzers of the 1980s

West German Leopard 1A1A2s

One of the perennial problems with historical wargaming, particularly when researching a particular army for a specific battle or timeframe, is finding out exactly who was using what and when.  In the Industrial Age, it becomes much more than just a matter of troop-types and uniforms, as we now have thousands of bits of technology, from infantry weapons to artillery, vehicles, tanks and aircraft to worry about, not to mention all the various sub-types, upgrades, introduction dates and retirement dates for all the different bits and pieces.

All of this can be quite overwhelming for a newcomer to a period and it can be quite frustrating when you’re excited to start a period, but don’t know which models to buy.  It gets even more frustrating when you buy models, only to find that you’ve got the wrong ones for your chosen unit, period or theatre of war…

However, some of us are afflicted with OCD when it comes to such things and we like putting together lists… Max Wünderlich in particular has devoted an enormous amount of time and research in determining exactly which units in the West German Bundeswehr were using which type of tank and when during the Cold War and has produced this wunderbar table, showing exactly which West German units were using which type of tank.  The full table, showing German tank equipment going back to 1964 can be found on the Battlefront: WW2 Orders of Battle page here.  It deserves a wider audience, so here’s the condensed 1980s section:

Cross-reference the units on the left, with the year at the top.  M48s are in red, cast-turret Leopard 1s (1A1, 1A2 & 1A5) are in yellow, welded-turret Leopard 1s (1A3 & 1A4) are in orange, Leopard 2s are in green and those units saddled with the Kanonenjagdpanzer are in blue.

Panzer Types of the 1980s

Kampfpanzer M48A2C

The last of these venerable tanks were still hanging on into the early 1980s; mainly in Heimatchütz (Home Guard) Brigades, where they had replaced the Kanonenjagdpanzer in Brigade Jagdpanzer Companies and Battalion Jagdpanzer Platoons, before being upgraded in turn to Kampfpanzer M48A2GA2 standard.

A few M48A2C were also converted into Pionierpanzer M48s with the addition of a dozer-blade, as an interim engineering vehicle while the Bundeswehr awaited deliveries of Pionierpanzer Leopard.  In this configuration the 90mm main gun was often (though not always) removed.

This is a Skytrex M48 Patton, modelled by Martin Small and painted by me.

Kampfpanzer M48A2GA2

The venerable M48A2C was showing its age by the late 1970s and was wholly outclassed by modern Soviet tanks such as the T-64 and T-72.  Although the M48A2C had largely been replaced in German service by Leopard 1 variants (and Leopard 2 was in the pipeline), there was still a need for armoured tank-destroyers in the Heimatchütz  Brigades, as most of their elderly Kanonenjagdpanzer had been converted to Raketenjagdpanzer Jaguar and to mortar OP vehicles.  M48s would fit the bill for that task, though even in that role, they would need upgrading.

Most remaining West German M48s therefore went through an upgrade programme from 1978 to 1980, with the new version being designated as the Kampfpanzer M48A2GA2.  In this version, the 90mm gun was replaced by the British L7 105mm gun, the fire control system was improved, passive night vision equipment was installed and the commander’s cupola (which on the old M48 was like an additional turret) was replaced by a low-profile version, mounting a 7.62mm MG in place of the Browning .50-Cal.  This new version was very similar to the M48A5 used by a lot of NATO allies.

The model here is a Skytrex M48 Patton, extensively converted by Martin Small and painted by me.

Kampfpanzer Leopard 1

Leopard 1A0

No 1960s-vintage baseline-model Leopard 1 (sometimes known as the Leopard 1A0 to distinguish it from later upgraded models) were still serving with the Bundeswehr by 1980.

Kampfpanzer Leopard 1A1

Leopard 1A1A2

The first upgraded Leopard 1 models began appearing during the late 1960s and were designated as Leopard 1A1.  This upgraded model included improved gun-stabilisation and fire-control, a thermal sleeve for the gun-barrel and the iconic ‘saw-tooth’ Leopard side-skirts.  However, as can be seen on Max’s chart above, this model was very rare in the early 1980s, being quickly replaced by upgraded models.

Leopard 1A1A1 – The Leopard 1A1 still suffered from painfully-thin armour, so an upgrade programme was instigated in the early 1970s, adding rubber-composite appliqué armour to the turret sides and a new spaced armour mantlet, bringing the armour protection up to the same standard as the Leopard 1A2, 1A3 and 1A4.  This was by far the most common Leopard variant in service with the Bundeswehr during the 1980s.

Leopard 1A1A2 – This further modification of the 1A1A1 model during the 1980s added PZB200 image-intensifiers, which were being cascaded down from Leopard 2s, which were themselves being upgraded.

Leopard 1A1A3 – These were Leopard 1A1A1s which had been upgraded with digital radios.

Leopard 1A1A4 – These were Leopard 1A1A1s which had been upgraded with both the PZB200 image-intensifier of the 1A1A2 and the digital radios of the 1A1A3.

Note that a lot of the Leopard 1A1A1s listed on the chart above, particularly in the second half of the decade, were probably 1A1A3 or 1A1A4.

The model above is a plastic Leopard 1A1A2 by Team Yankee, assembled and painted by me.  For reasons known only to the lads at Team Yankee, they picked the Leopard 1A3/1A4 as their ‘standard’ German Leopard 1 model, even though the Leopard 1A1A1/1A1A2 was far more common.  Thankfully, the parts included in the Team Yankee Leopard 1 box allow you to build a perfect Leopard 1A1A1 or 1A1A2 from the parts supplied for the Dutch Leopard 1-V.  Use the searchlight box for the 1A1A1 or the caged image-intensifier for the 1A1A2.  Additionally, QRF produce a metal Leopard that is perfect for the basic Leopard 1A1 without the additional armour (or for the later 1A2).

Kampfpanzer Leopard 1A2

Leopard 1A2

Although it looked identical to the Leopard 1A1, the Leopard 1A2 addressed the issue of armour-protection by having thicker turret armour included in the design.  It did not therefore require the additional armour package used on the 1A1A1 and subsequent upgraded 1A1 models.  All other features were exactly the same as the 1A1.  The Leopard 1A2s were therefore the only ‘smooth’ cast-turreted Leopard 1s in service from 1981 onward, once all the 1A1s had been up-armoured.

The Leopard 1A2 variants were fairly rare in German service, being mainly grouped within the 18th Panzer Brigade (6th Panzergrenadier Division) in Schleswig-Holstein (part of the Danish-led ‘LANDJUT’ Command).

Leopard 1A2A1 – As with the 1A1A2, this model was upgraded with hand-me-down PZB200 image-intensifiers from Leopard 2s.

Leopard 1A2A2 – As with the 1A1A3, this model was upgraded with digital radios.

Leopard 1A2A3 – As with the 1A1A4, this model had both the PZB200 image-intensifier and digital radios.

As mentioned above, QRF produce a Leopard 1A1/1A2 model.

Kampfpanzer Leopard 1A3

Leopard 1A2 (left) and Leopard 1A3 (right)

The Leopard 1A3 model first appeared in 1973 and introduced a completely new, ‘square’ welded turret which had the same level of armour protection as the 1A1A1 or 1A2, but with considerably more interior space and overall better protection for the crew.  This model’s capabilities were essentially the same as the 1A1 and 1A2, with the addition of an improved commander’s independent sight.

The Leopard 1A3 was fairly rare in West German service, being grouped along with all the 1A4 models in the 10th Panzer Division.

Leopard 1A3A1 – As with the 1A1A2 and 1A2A1, this model was upgraded with hand-me-down PZB200 image-intensifiers from Leopard 2s.

Leopard 1A3A2 – As with the 1A1A3 and 1A2A2, this model was upgraded with digital radios.

Leopard 1A3A3 – As with the 1A1A4 and 1A2A3, this model had both the PZB200 image-intensifier and digital radios.

Although I haven’t built any German Leopard 1A3s yet, Team Yankee and QRF both produce models of the Leopard 1A3.  The old Armies Army/PSC range had a Leopard ‘1A3/1A4’, but the large periscopic commander’s sight pegged it more as a 1A4.

Kampfpanzer Leopard 1A4

Leopard 1A4

The Leopard 1A4 first appeared in 1974 and was a further improvement of the Leopard 1A3, sharing its distinctive ‘square’ welded turret.  The fire-control system of the 1A4 was now governed by an advanced (for the 1970s!) electronic computer and the commander now had a passive night-vision independent sight (the large ‘periscope’ of which being the main recognition feature of the 1A4).

There were no sub-variants of the Leopard 1A4.

As mentioned above, Armies Army/PSC produced a model Leopard ‘1A3/1A4’, but the large periscopic commander’s sight pegs it as a 1A4.  Rumour has it that these models are now owned by Scotia-Grendel.

Kampfpanzer Leopard 1A5

With the slow production of Leopard 2 variants during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Bundeswehr had an urgent need to upgrade their existing stock of Leopard 1s; particularly the large numbers of elderly 1A1 variants still in service.  This major upgrade included a new advanced fire-control system developed from that of the Leopard 2, incorporating thermal sights, a laser-rangefinder and the capability to fire APFSDS ammunition.  Internally the ammunition storage was all moved into the turret-rear and the gun mantlet was adapted to allow a possible future upgrade to a 120mm gun (though this later option was never adopted).

The first Leopard 1A5 rolled out in 1987 and eight brigades had converted by the end of the 1980s.  The Leopard 1A5 was widely exported from the 1990s and eventually became virtually  the ‘standard’ Leopard 1.

The above model was converted by me from the Team Yankee Leopard 1-V model simply by adding a box in front of the commander’s hatch to represent the thermal sight and by cutting off the ‘knobs’ for the coincidence-rangefinder lenses.

Kampfpanzer Leopard 2

The first Leopard 2 tanks were delivered to 9th Panzer Brigade (3rd Panzer Division) in late 1979 and represented a quantum-leap in capability when compared to the Leopard 1 or M48.  The new tank had a 120mm gun, a gun-stabiliser fitted as standard, an advanced ballistic computer, a laser-rangefinder, considerably better armour protection than the Leopard 1 and yet had mobility equal to that of the sprightly Leopard 1, despite the 50% increase in weight over the Leopard 1.

The first batch of Leopard 2 (later referred to as the Leopard 2A0 to distinguish it from the 2A1 and later models) were meant to be fitted with thermal sights, though many were in fact fitted with inferior PZB200 image-intensifiers.

Leopard 2A1 – These models, delivered from 1982 to 1983, had thermal commanders’ and gunners’ sights fitted as standard, as well as improved ammunition stowage and other minor changes.

Leopard 2A2 – These were the original 2A0 models upgraded from 1984 to 1987 to 2A1 standard and also incorporating other minor upgrades.  The removed PZB200 image-intensifiers were cascaded down to the Leopard 1 fleet.

Leopard 2A3 – These were delivered from 1984 to 1985 and incorporated digital radios and other minor changes.

Leopard 2A4 – This was the most significant upgraded model of Leopard 2 to appear during the 1980s and became the most widespread version.  The 2A4 included a new digital fire-control computer, a further increase in armour protection and an advanced fire-suppression system.

The model above is a plastic kit by Team Yankee, assembled and painted by me.  QRF also produce a 1980s-vintage Leopard 2 in metal.  There are no noticeable visual differences between the five early versions listed above, so the same models can be used for all variants.

Kanonenjagdpanzer 4-5

OK, it’s not a tank, but it is listed on Max’s chart above and was replaced by M48 and Leopard 1 tanks in the same units, so is worth mentioning here.  The Kanonenjagdpanzer 4-5 was a self-propelled 90mm anti-tank gun employed in the Jagdpanzer Companies of Heimatchütz Brigades and the Jagdpanzer Platoons of Heimatchütz Battalions.

In most cases these were replaced during the early 1980s by M48 or Leopard 1 tanks, but they remained in use with the 23rd Mountain Brigade until the 1990s.  Most redundant Jagdpanzer hulls were converted into Jaguar ATGM vehicles, but some were converted to become OP vehicles for the 120mm mortar companies in Panzergrenadier Battalions (see below).

The model above is a metal model by QRF.  The OP vehicle below is an ancient and long out-of-production plastic model by Roskopf with the gun removed and blanked off and a periscopic sight added.

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4 Responses to “Beware of the Leopard!” (Part 2) – West German Panzers of the 1980s

  1. José Ignacio Prado Ares says:

    Hi there .

    Sorry to write you like this , but I couldn’t find another way to contact you directly

    I would need a little help with the structure of the M-113 company of the Panzergrenadier battalions (or Heavy Jager companies) of the 80s

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Hi Jose,

      The M113 company of a Panzergrenadier Battalion was known as a Panzergrenadier (MTW) Company (MTW = ‘Manschaftstransportwagen’). Each Panzergrenadier Battalion belonging to a Panzergrenadier Brigade had 2x Marder companies and 1x MTW company. Panzergrenadier Battalions of Panzer Brigades were meant to be ‘pure’, with 3x Marder companies, though there were apparently some units with an MTW company in lieu of the 3rd Marder company.

      Marder companies had 11x Marders; an HQ of 2x Marders and three platoons of 3x Marders. These organisations were rather weak, due to the fact that the Marder could only hold 7 dismounts (reduced to 6 if it was fitted for MILAN). As a consequence, the 1st Section of each Platoon (‘Zuggruppe’) functioned more as a platoon HQ, with only the Platoon Commander (G3), 2IC (G3), Radioman (G3), 2x Marksmen (scoped G3) and a ‘spare’ Rifleman (G3) on board, plus two vehicle crewmen (Uzi). The Platoon Commander also officially carried a 40mm ‘Grenade-Pistol’, but this was usually carried by one of the other men. The other two sections (‘Gruppen’) in the platoon were the platoon’s manoeuvre elements and each had a Section Commander (G3), Machine-Gunner (MG3), Assistant Machine-Gunner (G3), a LAW Gunner (PzF44 & G3), a MAW Gunner (Carl-Gustav & G3), two Riflemen (G3) and two vehicle crewmen (Uzi).

      I’m not sure what the composition was of the Marder Company HQ, but there were no company-level heavy weapons. The second Marder in the Company HQ was the ‘Reserve Section’ and was equipped as a normal section. Its function was to make up for the loss of manpower caused by the small dismountable component and could also be used as an organic recce element.

      The MTW Company was slightly different in that the M113G allowed the dismountable element of each section to be 9 men. There were therefore only 10 vehicles in each MTW Company (HQ of 1x M113G and three platoons of 3x M113G), as there was no Reserve Section in the company. Unlike the Marder Company platoon organisation, the Zuggruppe (Platoon HQ Section) included an MG3, PzF44 and Carl-Gustav, as there was sufficient manpower to carry those weapons.

      By the start of the 1980s, one section in each platoon (in both the Marder and MTW Company organisation) had replaced its Carl-Gustav with MILAN, but had lost one of its riflemen, due to the space taken up by the ammunition inside the vehicle (MILAN could be fired from the cupola of both the Marder and the M113G). By the end of the 1980s, this had increased to two MILAN per platoon and in most cases the Carl-Gustav had disappeared completely, being relegated to Jager and Heimatschutz units. A lot of lists show three MILAN per platoon, but I’ve not found any real evidence to say that they ever achieved this during the 1980s.

      Heavy Jager Companies are a bit sketchier in the detail, but they were organised much the same as the Panzergrenadier MTW Company, EXCEPT the companies of Divisional Heavy Jager Battalions didn’t get MILAN. Instead, they had a battalion-level MILAN Platoon (IIRC, with 8x MILAN?). Territorial Heavy Jager Companies eventually received some MILAN to replace probably one Carl-Gustav per platoon.

      I hope that helps?


      • Jose Ignacio Prado Ares says:

        First of all , thanks a lot , Mark

        I´m just trying to figure out where the HQ element of each platoon of the M-113/MTW Company (Panzergrenadier battalion) was carried . I´m leaning towards the same system as the Warsaw pact forces , i.e. , with the oficer & the rest of the coommand group personnel distributed among the different squad APCs of the platton .

        Am I right?

        Also , I think that each MTW platoon had a MILAN , or it was a higher number?

        Was the the Zuggruppe (Platoon HQ Section) the first squad of the platoon , o it was a separate element ?

        If the above was the case , did the Zuggruppe carry both a Pz44 and a Carl Gustav?

        Thank you in advance for your kind help

        • jemima_fawr says:

          Hi Jose,

          As you’ve probably noticed, information is pretty scant. All the Heerestruktur 4 diagrams I’ve seen show the organisation as it was MEANT to be, once fully-converted. 😀

          Consequently, it shows each platoon having three MILAN; one mounted on every M113G except the Coy HQ vehicle. This compares to two MILAN for Marder platoons.

          As with other units, MILAN directly replaced Carl Gustav, so at the start of the 80s it was more like one MILAN and two CG per platoon. They might not ever have fully replaced all the CG with MILAN.

          It’s not at all clear. It would seem that the zuggruppe was still a single element, but the extra manpower meant that they had the full range of weapons, including MG3 and Pzf44.


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