When the German light tanks were re-organised with the 8.4 update the Panzer I Ausf. C burst onto the scene, hurtling through the low-tier landscape, emptying its clip of 7.92mm ammo into another unsuspecting Tier III, and then sped on off to lay another young tanker to waste. Or alternatively, careening off the edge of a cliff bringing its fast, short life to an end. Not even the lauded (and loathed) T-50-2 could match the Pz 1C for sheer speed. It was a tank I was very eager to play, and perhaps for that reason was the Tier III I kept until last to really try.
The Panzer I Ausf. C is known primarily for just two things, it speed and its machine-gun. However, there is rather more to this tank than just those two variables, and it is worthwhile to consider its other features for a moment. The one that I think is relatively poorly known – and indeed I will sometimes get surprising by it in moments of forgetfulness, is that for a Tier III tank this is a surprisingly well armoured vehicle. To the front it has 30mm of reasonably well sloped armour, and though the stock turret is weak the upgraded turret has the same strength. This makes it quite able to bounce shots from Tier II and III tanks, especially from other machine-gun users. The side and rear armour are, of course, weaker and that is where this tank is vulnerable – if it is standing still.
Another comparative weakness is that it only has two crewmembers, a Commander and a Driver. The other three roles are all done by the Commander. This means if your Commander dies the performance of the tank degrades massively – and it becomes quite possible for both crewmembers to die and your tank to be destroyed by default. As a counter to those I run my Panzer I Ausf. C with both a Small First Aid Kit and a Large First Aid Kit. The premium consumable makes it less likely the crew get killed, and I find on lower tiers there really is no need for a fire extinguisher. My other consumable is a Small Repair Kit.
Another strength, that allows this tank to be an effective scout in higher-tier battles, is that the upgraded radio has a 700m signal range. This is more than enough to report back spots to the other side of the battlefield, and only in relatively extreme cases will you be out of touch with your team. This is important because in higher-tier matches the Panzer I Ausf. pretty much has to become a scout because of the one big weakness of its weaponry: the penetration.
Turning to its gun selection there is basically a selection of two autoloaders. There is the 2cm Flak 38 L/112, and the 7,92mm Mauser. Many attributes between the two are the same: accuracy and elevation in particular. The Flak gun has slightly better penetration and damage, but the Mauser has a much higher rate of fire allowing for much higher burst damage with a far larger clip. Even though the Mauser has slightly less penetration and damage for each shot, its output in one sustained moment of firing outweighs the Flak gun quite considerably, which is why most players will opt for it. The one other drawback of the Mauser is, to go with its larger clip size, is its longer reload. Like with all autoloaders, timing the reload can be a significant factor in one’s success.
However, whichever gun one chooses the penetration will only be in the 30s. While this is enough for most Tier II and III vehicles (though beware the AMX 38, Pz S35, and the frontal armour of the T-127, T-60, T-70, and a handful of others, not least other Panzer I Ausf. Cs), it is far less effective when facing Tier IV or V vehicles. Premium ammo will help a little, but only a little, and at less than 8 tons of weight there is not really the option of a suicide ram either. These targets one either has to manoeuvre around or, in the case of something like the AMX 38 or higher tier vehicles, one has to spot for better-armed vehicles to destroy.
The flip side of this is when one is facing something like a Medium Mk III, or an open-topped vehicle with the Marder II, or an SPG. Against such foes the Mauser has its day, ripping them to shreds. In higher-tier matches though this lack of penetration forces the Panzer I Ausf. C into the larger scout role: it has no other.
As a scout the Panzer I Ausf. C does have quite good view range for a Tier III at a base of 340m with the upgraded turret. Its small size also means it is quite easy to hide in bushes, making in a potentially effective passive scout. However, its view range is smaller than several Tier V vehicles and so in these match-ups it still has the possibility of being caught unguarded if it is not properly situated in cover.
Of course, the Panzer I Ausf C. has one other very effective approach to scouting: active scouting, thanks to its speed. It is the fastest vehicle in the game, able to get to speeds of over 70 km/h, and with the upgraded tracks has a traverse of 48 degrees/second. That said the low weight means that the track cannot make those tight turns at high speed: it will drift. This can be an incredibly fun thing to do – but in the heat of battle is often less than ideal. However that same combination of low weight (and therefore small size) and incredible speed means that even with a somewhat wider circle one is still pretty tricky to hit. Running along a ridge-line is something that this tank excels at – and it can be a very successful suicide scout (though I would never recommend that course of action).
However, one must remember there are quite a few battlefields – and on all battlefields there are particular areas – where one simply cannot take full advantage of the top speed of the vehicle due to the layout of the ground. It can be very easy to end up crashing, either damaging or destroying one’s tracks. In this I was given a hint by a clan-mate: the addition of Enhanced Springs as it increases the durability of the suspension, making it less likely to break for various bumps one inevitably encounters.
Of course, using such a rarely used piece of equipment comes at a cost: one of those equipment slots gets used up. Given that the Improved Ventilation system is essentially a no-brainer, that leaves just one slot to fit either a camo net or binoculars. I must admit to being undecided. If I had a good camo crew and camo paint I would always plump for binoculars, as I would trust the combination of the two plus the tank’s natural camo value would be sufficient in most circumstances – the relatively small additional benefit from the camo net being outweighed by the large increase in view range. At the moment however, with my crew in the high-90s, I find it an altogether trickier decision – though I do lean towards the binoculars even so.
Two final points about the speed. The first is that there is a hidden weakness with the velocity – it becomes very easy to overextend oneself, earning a quick and useless death. It is intoxicating, and sometimes one can do fun things that are ultimately less than ideal. For example, on Karelia once I sped into the western valley. So did a Panzer I Ausf. C from the other team. We both headed towards each other full speed ahead and rammed head-on with something like 130-40km/hr of effective speed between us. Naturally we both died. Afterwards in chat I typed that I could not resist the temptation – and the other guy said exactly the same thing. All good fun – but from the perspective of the team rather silly.
The second is that if one survives long enough in match there often comes a point when enough enemy tanks have been destroyed to open a gap up in their lines. The Panzer I Ausf. C can use its speed to very effectively exploit this gap, get into the rear and kill the enemy’s SPG/s, and then scamper away before the enemy can properly react. Artillery, no matter the tier, remain vulnerable to the Mauser.
My own record with the Panzer I Ausf. C is 43 games played with 21 losses and 41 kills. Along the way I have attained my Ace Tanker Mastery badge, a single Sniper medal, and six Cool-Headed commemoratives.
My own impression is that this tank has been and continues to be a learning experience for me. I have far from cracked its potential. There is no doubt though that it is a lot of fun to play, and that I will continue to play it for some time yet.