The Germans were undone by the Allies' use of the heavy tank in the latter years of World War 1 (1914-1918). This threat was countered primarily with the forgettable Sturmpanzerwagen A7V Heavy Tank of the Germans but artillery proved the real tank-killer in the conflict. Other German armored vehicle developments persisted, however, and some began to follow the light-class route that was eventually (and highly successfully) adopted by the French through their Renault FT-17. The Leichter Kampfwagen I ("LK I") was intended as a lightweight, tracked armored vehicle for the infantry support role. Its primary purpose was to assist in the support a future, production-quality combat vehicle for the German Army. Work on the LK I was begun by 1918 and its design was headed by German engineer Joseph Vollmer (1871-1955) who would also prove instrumental to the Swedish tank programs of the interwar years. As a test vehicle, the LK I only ever existed in two pilot forms and was never ordered for serial production - that fell to the improved LK II detailed elsewhere on this site.
Vollmer made his trade as a car designer and eventually lent his talents to Germany's first adopted Army tank in the A7V. Then followed the oft-forgotten "K-Wagen" Super-Heavy Tank prototype, and ultimately the LK I. For the latter design, Vollmer utilized his experience with automobiles by selecting a commercial Daimler automobile chassis for conversion. The general internal arrangement was retained including its front-mounted engine compartment and twin-axle configuration. The roadwheels were removed and drive sprockets and track idlers added in their place. The typical track-over-wheel arrangement was used along both sides of the chassis. Over the engine and crew areas there now stood an armored superstructure. The engine became a Daimler-Benz 4-cylinder gasoline-fueled installation of 60 horsepower output and aspirated through a slatted front grille. The suspension system remained unsprung which tactically limited the vehicle in off-road maneuvers. Its base road speeds could reach 11 miles per hour while its road range was out to 43.5 miles. The operating crew numbered three.
The armor protection scheme was largely a basic approach utilizing many vertical and horizontal panels which comprised the sides of the track arrangements as well as the hull superstructure proper. Protection ranged from 8mm to 14mm along the various facings. With the engine fitted forward, the crew compartment was set over the rear axle of the vehicle and hinged rectangular side doors allowed the necessary access. Over the compartment was a traversable, circular-shaped turret intended to house the main armament - which for the prototype was a single 7.92mm MG08 machine gun. The addition of this turret marked the LK I as the first German armored vehicle to be equipped as such. Dimensions included a length of 5.1 meters, a width of 1.9 meters, and a height of 2.5 meters. Weight was listed at 6.9 tons.
With the deteriorating war situation for Germany - both internally and externally - there proved not too much time remaining to further its tank programs. Construction ultimately yielded a pair of vehicles by the middle of 1918 and as much testing as possible on these two were enacted to help further the upcoming Leichter Kampfwagen II design. However, the war was over in November of 1918 with the Armistice and the German nation stripped of most of its military power and heavily restricted in its war industry for the foreseeable future. While 580 LK II tanks were ordered, the end of the war limited that line to just two prototypes as well.