From 1927, the class 80 was the smallest model in the standard locomotive program. It was a tank locomotive with a 0-6-0T wheel arrangement, which was mainly used in shunting operations. However, since this was too weak for some tasks, a four-axle variant was developed as the class 81. Due to the standard design, this was possible without much effort and so Hanomag produced a small series of ten units as early as 1928.
The length increased by the fourth axis and the now possible higher weight were used by lengthening the boiler by one meter. Since the locomotive was to continue to be used mainly as a shunting locomotive and therefore no higher speeds were required, the wheel diameter was left at 1,100 mm to achieve a high tractive effort. To ensure curve running, the wheel flanges on both inner axles were weakened by 10 mm.
Although the standard series had been developed as a replacement for the large variety of Länderbahn types, the many existing larger tank locomotives were considered sufficient for shunting operations and further orders were therefore not forthcoming for the time being. When another lot of 60 units was ordered, the war shifted the demand to heavy freight locomotives and thus only ten examples of the series 81 remained. After the war, all remained with the Bundesbahn and were retired by 1963.