Saturday, 12 December 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Czechoslovakian Tanks

Before WWII, Czechoslovakia was one of the leading tank building countries in the world. It lost that status in 1939 after the German occupation, but their powerful industry kept working. Here, famous Marder and Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank destroyers were built, as well as hulls for the King Tigers. In providing for their army, Germany unwittingly set up the perfect conditions for Czechoslovakia to resume its position in the tank building world after its liberation.

In the fall of 1945, months after the war, the military and engineers of Czechoslovakia resumed their work, combining personal experience and technical solutions from both the German and Soviet tank design schools. Sadly, most of these designs were never produced for economic or political reasons.

Here is a brief overview of the most interesting Czechoslovakian tanks.

Kolohousenka KH.50

The first Czechoslovakian tank, designed by the combined efforts of Ringhoffer, Laurin & Klement and Breitfeld-Danek companies. The first two chassis built in 1923 were built based on solutions used in the German Hanomag WD-50PS tractor. The tank was equipped with a wheeled suspension, designed by German engineer Heinrich Folmer, which could be raised or lowered. The engine was also a German design. The tank was armed with a 37 mm cannon installed in a one-man turret.

Thanks to the wheeled suspension, the KH.50 was superior to its contemporaries in terms of range and speed. At the same time, this design was very complicated. Two improved KH.60 and one KH.70 designs were also produced. Engineers managed to improve the vehicle, but it was still very heavy, and very complex.

Work on the Kolohousenka family ended in 1929. The two KH.60 tanks were sold to the USSR, the KH.70 to Italy. The new owners studied these prototypes and came to the same conclusions: this design has no potential for further improvements.

LT vz. 35

Based on requirements from the Czechoslovakian army, Skoda designed the S-IIa cavalry tank in 1935. It surpassed is competitor, the P-II-a from CKD, and was adopted under the index LT vz. 35 (light tank model 1935).

At the moment of its creation, the LT vz. 35 was one of the best tanks in its class. The suspension provided smooth travel and the 37 mm vz. 34 cannon could defeat most tanks of the era. The front armour, 25 mm thick, protected the tank from high caliber machineguns, one of the main AT methods of the 1930s.

The contract for production of new tanks was divided evenly between Skoda and CKD. 298 LT vz. 35 tanks were built for the Czechoslovakian army. Foreign militaries also noticed this impressive novelty. Romania bought 126 tanks and used them under the index R-2. Bulgaria bought 10 improved tanks under the index T-11. After occupation, the German army adopted the LT vz. 35 under the index PzKpfw 35(t). They were used until the end of 1941.

LT vz. 38

In late 1937, the Czechoslovakian army announced a competition for a new light tank to replace the LT vz. 35. CKD entered their TNH-S tank, an improved version of an export tank designed for Iran. In July of 1938, after trials and numerous improvements, the tank was adopted under the index LT vz. 38 (light tank model 1938). The tank was quickly put into production, but only about 10 were finished before the German occupation.

The LT vz. 38 was the best pre-war Czechoslovakian tank, and the best light tank in the world at the start of WWII. Designed by Aleksei Surin, it combined good maneuverability and powerful armament. A good modernization reserve allowed the front armour to be increased to 50 mm without a loss of speed. The excellent design ensured that production continued even after German control. 1414 vehicles of this type were made. Hungary and Romania also used this tank. Sweden bought a license for the LT vz. 38 and produced it under the index Strv M/41.

In 1941, the LT vz. 38, already under the German flag and index, ran into Soviet KV-1 and T-34 tanks, against which it had little chance in battle. To be fair, in comparison to new Soviet tanks, almost all German vehicles appeared obsolete.

ST vz. 39

Work on medium tanks in Czechoslovakia began in 1931. At first, a combined drive vehicle was designed, but in 1934, it was discarded in favour of an all-tracked design. In 1934, the Czechoslovakian army announced a competition for a new medium tank. Tatra and Skoda submitted their designs.

The first CKD medium tank, indexed V-8-He, was built in December of 1937. The vehicle, designed by a group under the direction of Aleksei Surin, was a combination of solutions used in the LT vz. 34 tank and another prototype, the SP-II-b. It used a similar suspension, and the hull and turret were further evolutions of those used on the light tank. The first prototype had a dummy turret, but by 1938, a new prototype was ready, with a proper turret and a 47 mm Skoda A-9 gun. Thanks to the 250 hp V-shaped Praha NR engine, the tank could accelerate to a speed of over 40 kph, and the 32 mm of front armour reliably protected from high caliber machineguns and autocannons. The result was a modern tank, comparable with German and Soviet vehicles of the era.

In September of 1938, the tank was adopted into the army under the index ST vz. 39, but production did not start before the German occupation. Unlike the LT vz. 38, the medium tank was of no interest to the Germans, so it was not put into production.

Skoda T-24

In late 1941, under the initiative of the German Skoda director, Wilhelm Foss, a project was started to design a new medium tank for the German army. The new tank had little in common with medium tanks designed by Skoda earlier. The Soviet T-34 that had such an effect on the Germans was picked as a baseline.

Information on how work progressed on this new tank is contradictory. Two opinions exist: one that the tank began its life under the index T-24, and was later renamed T-25. The second states that both tanks were designed in parallel. Almost no information remains on the T-24 tank. There is only one blueprint, dated May 1942, which presumably depicts the T-24.

Like German engineers, the Skoda design bureau only borrowed the layout with sloped armour from the T-34, the rest was their own work. The tank had a torsion bar suspension, six road wheels per side, and a 380 hp engine. The T-24 project was shut down in September of 1942, with work focusing on the more promising T-25 tank. No effort was made to produce this tank in metal.

Skoda T-25

The T-25 medium tank was the pinnacle of Czechoslovakian tank design. The draft was proposed in May 1942, and the final design was ready by October.

The tank was seriously influenced by the Soviet T-34, but ultimately, only the layout with sloped armour was copied. The suspension consisted of six road wheels per side, on torsion bars. The T-25 would have a 500 hp 12-cylinder Skoda engine, letting the 23 ton tank accelerate to 60 kph. The armour was up to 50 mm thick. The armament was very original: a 75 mm Skoda A18 gun with a revolver type loading mechanism. The drum held 5 shots.

Due to the more promising Panther tank designed by MAN, the T-25 was cancelled in late 1942.

Konštrukta T-34/100

In 1949, Czechoslovakia obtained a license to produce the T-34-85 medium tank from the USSR. The first tanks left the assembly line of the CKD factory in Sokolovo on September 1st, 1951. Starting in 1953, production moved to Martin (Slovakia). 2736 tanks were built.

After the T-34-85, Czechoslovakia obtained a license for the SU-100 tank destroyer, armed with the powerful D-10S 100 mm gun. An idea was born to equip the T-34 with a gun of the same caliber. Konštrukta Trenčín started work on this project, then the Vojenský Technický Ústav (Military Technical Institute, or VTU). The project started in 1953, and by April of next year, the VTU proposed a T-34-85 with a redesigned turret. The front was lengthened to accept a 100 mm gun. The gun could be mounted in two slightly different ways.

The redesign was of little interest to the military, especially since production of the T-54 began in Martin in 1957.

TVP VTU Koncept

On October 17th, 1945, the General Staff of the Czechoslovakian army approved the requirements for a new medium tank. The project was named Tank Všeobecného Použití (TVP), or Main Battle Tank. The VTU stepped forward as the developer, with the T-34-85 as its inspiration, namely the slopes of the armour, its thickness, the armament, and mass.

The draft was proposed on March 2nd, 1946. Little of the T-34-85 remained in the project aside from sloped armour. The front of the tank had a machinegun and a flamethrower. The suspension was also homebrewed: leaf springs similar to those on the LT vz. 38 and German-designed tracks. Nothing specific was mentioned about the engine, aside from the requirements of a diesel engine that would produce 20 hp/ton. The turret used German designs. The armament would be the 88 mm L/56 gun.

During discussions, the military wished to improve the armament. The German 88 mm L/71 gun and 105 mm AA gun were proposed as options. The tank did not move past the draft stage, as the project was passed onto Skoda, who used it as a basis for their T-40 tank.

Škoda T 50

The Skoda T-40 became a stepping stone for further development of the universal TVP tank. Due to constantly growing appetites of the military, the vehicle had to be changed repeatedly until it was no longer recognizable. Only the dimensions and six road wheels per side remained. This stage of the project was called T-50, or just TVP.

Little is known about this design. Czech historians propose that it was influenced by the Soviet IS-3 heavy tank. The light Skoda T-17 tank serves as circumstantial evidence. Its turret was reminiscent of the IS-3, and its hull had the same pike nose. The TVP was supposed to be an enlarged T-17 according to some historians, but precise information on what was happening with the project during this period is lacking.

Information regarding armament is also brief. It is only known that, starting in 1949, the R 11 AA gun or the 100 mm A 20 gun were considered, with tank versions of both in development.

Škoda TVP T 50/51

The TVP obtained its final look on February 18th, 1950. On that day, Skoda and CKD, who were working on the project in parallel, presented their draft proposal. The CKD variant had the factory index TNHtA, but effectively these were the same tank, since the blueprints show almost no differences. The only difference is in the design of the transmission and engines.

Serious changes were made since the last stage of the project. The pike was discarded, and the front of the hull was closer to the AMX M4. The suspension was also redesigned. The turret was made anew, and received the ZK 477 AA machinegun. An X-shaped 1000 hp engine was proposed. The armament remained unchanged: either the R 11 or A 20.

Work did not progress past a 1:10 scale model. The license for the Soviet T-34-85 spelled the end of the project. The TVP was cancelled in March of 1950.

Original article available here.

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