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Czechoslovak WW2 Tankettes

Carden-Loyd Mark VI and CL-P in Czechoslovak service

 Czechoslovakia (1930)
Tankette – 3 bought, 4 built

The Carden-Loyd Mk.VI tankette, built by the British Vickers company starting from 1928, has been one of the most influential designs from the interwar period. Advertised as a cheap alternative for the tank, it was widely exported to many countries, including Czechoslovakia. It was meant to be produced under license by the Czechoslovak firm of ČKD, so only three examples were ordered from Vickers. Unfortunately for the Czechoslovaks, the vehicle performed poorly, but an improved version was eventually accepted into service as the Tančík vz.33.

A nearly finished CL-P at the ČKD factory
A nearly finished CL-P at the ČKD factory. Although a close copy of the original, there are minor differences, like a different designed sprocket wheel and fewer rivets on the headcovers. Source: Vladimír Francev

Background

Czechoslovakia was one of the states that emerged from the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, after the First World War. In 1921, the newly established army ordered its first tank, a French gun-armed Renault FT. Two years later, two machine-gun and two gun-armed FTs were bought, followed in 1924 by the final acquisition of one command and one radio vehicle, totaling seven tanks. However, the Czechoslovak army did not want to be dependent on foreign war industry. As such, the desire was expressed to be able to produce tanks in Czechoslovakia itself, providing effective maintenance and supply of spare parts due to the much better logistical conditions.

In 1922, Škoda proposed to build FT tanks but without a license. This proposal was denied by the Ministry of Defence (MNO) as they did not want to have potential diplomatic problems with France. In 1923, the Czechoslovak Ministry bought Hanomag WD Z 25 and WD Z 50 tractors and their licenses from Germany, as well as a design by German Joseph Vollmer for a wheel-cum-track system based on the WD Z 50. Based on this wheel-cum-track tractor, a tank had to be developed, known as the Kolohousenka project. The first prototype, built by Breitfeld-Daněk in 1924, failed to live up to expectations and was not accepted. Two attempts to improve it, in 1927 and 1929, failed as well. Another development was made by the Praga company which built a tracked tractor in 1925, the MT, with the track system resembling the design of the Renault FT. Based on this tractor, a tank design was proposed in 1927, also known as the Praga MT, but not accepted. Neither was a more advanced design from 1929, the YNH.

One CL-P, with registration NIX 22
One CL-P, with registration NIX 221, as seen from the front. Note the large ammunition box for the machine gun. Source Rotanazdar

A look abroad

With the domestic market not being able to provide any tanks conform to the standards demanded by the army, eyes were laid on tank development abroad. In October 1929, a Czech delegation, led by Lieutenant Colonel Bedrich Albrecht, visited the Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. plant in Britain. Albrecht was head of the III. Department of the Military Technical Institute (Vojenského technického ústavu, shortened to VTÚ). This department was responsible for evaluating military innovations and advised the army whether or not to follow up on these innovations. One of these new innovations was the Carden-Loyd Mk.VI tankette, which was described as a cheap and effective lightly armored vehicle to support infantry divisions. The Czechoslovak delegation was welcomed by Colonel Bridge, the former British military ataché in Prague and now Deputy Director of Vickers ground systems, who showed them the vehicle in question. Although the vehicle apparently failed an armor test, Albrecht reacted quite enthusiastically and was convinced of its tactical military value. After his visit, he wrote a report to the Ministry of Defence (Ministerstvo národní obrany, shortened to MNO) in which he strongly recommended to put this kind of vehicle into service.

Guided by the positive report, the Ministry expressed their interest in these vehicles but was not sure whether to order them at Vickers or have them built domestically in Czechoslovakia. The firm ČKD (Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk) came to mind, as it was already supplying trucks and artillery tractors to the Czech Army and, not least, was involved with the first tank development program in Czechoslovakia, namely the Kolohousenka tractor/tank project. As such, ČKD was approached by the Ministry with the question if they were interested in building these vehicles under license. With the future vision of equipping each infantry regiment with four to six tankettes, a total of at least 200 vehicles was necessary. The director of ČKD, Mr. Frankenberger, was willing to take the financial risk of investing private company money into this venture with the hope that arms production would become a healthy and lasting branch of manufacturing.

On October 14, 1929, the company offered General Jan Netík, head of the Arms Department of the Ministry, to demonstrate the vehicles to the army and to build them under license. In return, the army would have to pay the license and sign a binding contract for the purchase of 300 tankettes. This offer was turned down by the Ministry and considered unacceptable. However, under pressure by Lt.Col. Albrecht, who was backed by the Minister of Defence, Karel Viškovský, negotiations continued. Finally, it was arranged that ČKD would buy three Mk.VI tankettes for 450,006 CZK, one ammunition carrier for 21,525 CZK, and one transportation trailer for 17,220 CZK from Vickers-Armstrong (10,000 CZK was worth roughly 3,750 USD in 2015 value).

Whilst these vehicles were still in the UK and prepared to be shipped, on February 21, 1930, the Ministry agreed to buy the three tankettes and two trailers from ČKD. Furthermore, the Ministry would pay the shipments costs of 488,745 CZK and one-third of the license fee of 10,000 pounds sterling. In all, the Ministry paid 1,150,000 CZK (430,400 USD in 2015 value). The price was thought to be too expensive though and, by February 13, the decision was made to develop a new extensive testing program that aimed to test several weapon arrangements and various tactical deployments on the future battlefield. It was decided to test the vehicles as cavalry reconnaissance vehicles, light infantry tanks, fast vehicles against enemy armor, infantry weapons carriers, or as ammunition transporters on the battlefield. Furthermore, the British training manual was translated and interpreted.

A view of the CL-Ps rear
A view of the CL-Ps rear. The doors protecting the radiator are open. With the improved P-I design, these doors were replaced by adjustable blinds. Source: Rotanazdar

The license agreement

In the meantime, ČKD and Vickers had worked out their final license agreement, which was signed on February 25, 1930. It gave ČKD the rights for ten years to build the Mk.VI under license for the Czech Army. A first license payment was made on March 4, of 3,000 pounds. After this, twice a year, 500 pounds had to be paid to Vickers, with the last payment to occur on June 21, 1938. Due to the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, the last payments could not be concluded. Only after the war, in February 1947, a final sum of 880 pounds including interest was paid by ČKD. Besides these regular payments, a fee had to be paid for each vehicle built: in the case of under 100 tanks, 75 pounds, between 101-200 tanks, 60 pounds, between 201-300 tanks, 45 pounds, and for 301 tanks and above, 30 pounds. Following this agreement, negotiations continued, this time for ČKD becoming the sole representative of Vickers in Czechoslovakia. An agreement was signed on December 4, for one year. It is likely more agreements followed over the next few years but this is not known.

Design of the Carden-Loyd

The Mark VI tankette, only weighing 1,800 kg (3,970 lbs), was powered by a Ford model T engine, located in the middle of the vehicle, and produced 40 bhp, which resulted in a maximum speed of 40 km/h (25 mph) on the road. The driver was seated on the left and the gunner on the right, their heads were protected by two hexagonal armored extensions. The sole 7.92 mm vz.24 heavy machine gun was demountable. Ammunition was stored in the compartments on either side of the vehicle.

A top view of the CL-P with the roof armor removed
A top view of the CL-P with the roof armor removed, showing how uncomfortably close the crew was seated next to the engine. Source: Vladimír Francev

Going to Czechoslovakia

In early March 1930, the vehicles were finally shipped aboard the Lindisfarne from the UK to Hamburg, Germany, from where they were transported to Prague, shipping being arranged by the firm of Blothner & Grafe. On May 14, the three new war machines were presented on open terrain in Hloubětín, a city district of Prague. This presentation was supervised by Colonel Albrecht. During the afternoon, a meeting was held between representatives of both ČKD and the ministry, which concluded that the procedure of both testing and licensed production should be refined. On the same day, ČKD was ordered to build four new vehicles. These new vehicles were referred to as CL-P (Carden Loyd-Praga) or just P. Production would commence the same month and the tanks were to be ready by August to participate in the Army’s autumn exercises, but due to problems, they were only ready in late September. As such, only the regular CLs could participate in these exercises. When the CL-P’s were ready, three were transferred to the army while the fourth was kept in the company’s inventory. Each vehicle was priced at 221,325 CZK (approximately US$86,000 in 2015 value) which more than doubled the initial price that was considered by the army.

A CL-P just outside the factory of ČKD
A CL-P just outside the factory of ČKD. Source: Rotanazdar

Field trials with the Carden Loyd Mk.VI

During the 1930 autumn field exercises of the army, the CLs participated as a platoon and their performance, both on a tactical and technical level, was reported in detail. On a technical level, the vehicles performed very poorly. Their low ground clearance caused the ride to be very rough and it proved very difficult to ride on roads with deep ruts. In the countryside, roads were often nothing more than cart tracks. In most cases, the tankettes were too wide to drive on these tracks and had to go off-road, where large rocks easily caused damage to the low engine housing. Furthermore, driving along slopes was almost impossible, as the tracks were very easily thrown off. This also often happened when the tankettes tried to overcome obstacles. For instance, during one maneuver, when a vehicle tried to drive from the road onto the terrain, a track was thrown off by a bump on the side, which meant twenty minutes had to be spent to get the vehicle back on track. Another vehicle got stuck when the bottom of the vehicle slid on the middle part of the road while the tracks lost traction in deep ruts.

This bad performance caused both mental and physical suffering to the crew, who were gusted inside the vehicle during movement and the technical problems caused the crews to distrust their vehicles which lowered their morale. During movement, there was so much noise inside the vehicle, caused by the suspension and engine, that communication was practically impossible. Another problem was that the crew could not see each other. The large vision openings in the front, although providing a reasonable amount of vision, also reduced the safety of the crew. A rather bizarre anecdote claims that, while several officers, including Lt.Col. Albrecht, were examining the vehicle at the courtyard of the VTÚ, an officer noted that enemy bullets would easily go through the large vision openings, hitting the crewmember in the head, to which Albrecht seems to have replied: ‘you are right, but that man would have been miserable anyway, it is better if he was taken by God’.

Another problem with the vehicle was the machine gun. Its placement only provided a very low firing arc which reduced its effectiveness significantly. Furthermore, whenever the gunner had to reload the machine gun, he became partially exposed because the ammunition was stored in the storage compartments on the outside of the vehicle, greatly reducing his personal safety. It was reported that the best solution to this problem was to place the gun in a small turret which would also increase the gunner’s protection.

On a tactical level, it was concluded that the vehicles could be successfully used in conjunction with infantry or cavalry to attack unorganized enemy positions and were able to target positions over a greater range, but it was revealed that the vehicles did not meet the requirements for a reconnaissance vehicle, let alone it being used in the role of a conventional tank or deployment against enemy armored vehicles, which were fully out of the question. Comparative trials with wheeled armored vehicles, namely the OA vz.30 built by Tatra that was in development around the same time, concluded that the armored cars performed better in almost every case.

Two CL-Ps during maneuvers in the field
Two CL-Ps during maneuvers in the field. Although able to drive off-road, the low ground clearance often caused trouble while doing so. Source: Vladimír Francev

What now?

Due to these big problems, the army rejected the Carden-Loyd tankette in its original state. ČKD realized that they would never be able to sell the licensed produced version, the CL-P, and quickly promised to design an improved version and rebuild one of the prototypes. This proposal was approved and work was done on the vehicle over the course of 1931. Known as the P-I, the vehicle was trialed again and after several improvements were asked for, seventy of these vehicles were ordered and taken into service as the Tančík vz.33 (Tankette 1933 pattern).

As for the original Carden-Loyd tankettes, they disappeared from the records after they had been extensively tested. Furthermore, no pictures of the original tankettes seem to have survived in publications, all known pictures are of the license-produced copies.

The first P-I prototype
The first P-I prototype, which saw many improvements over the original design, including a larger crew compartment, a better placement of the gun, and an improved suspension. After minimal changes, this vehicle was taken into production as the Tančík vz.33. Source Rotanazdar

The Carden-Loyd and Škoda

While ČKD was busy solving problems in regard to the design, its main commercial competitor, Škoda, followed with interest. Although initially not interested in supplying the army with tanks, the tide turned when it was realized how lucrative the business would be. Using the Carden-Loyd suspension design as a starting point, they developed the MU-2 in 1931 and, although featuring a quite different design of the superstructure that included a turret, the Carden-Loyd influence is still visible in the suspension design.

The Škoda MU-2 in 1931. Retaining the small size of the Carden-Loyd, its design has been changed considerably with a 290 degrees rotatable turret, large engine compartment in the back, and an improved suspension. Source: Excalibur.cz

Conclusion

The acquisition of the Carden-Loyd turned out to be the turning point in Czechoslovak tank development. While several attempts to build tanks were undertaken at the end of the 1920s, they failed. With the Carden-Loyd, both ČKD and Škoda had found their base from which they were able to build more successful tanks. As a design, the Carden-Loyd was far less successful and it never saw service with the Czechoslovak Army.

The Carden Loyd Mk.VI as it would have appeared in Czechoslovak service. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharman, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 2.46 x 1.75 x 1.22 m
(8.07 x 5.74 x 4 ft)
Total weight 1.800 kg (3,968 lbs)
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Propulsion Ford T 4-cylinder petrol, 40 bhp
Speed (road) 40 km/h (25 mph)
Range 144 km (89 miles)
Armament vz.24 7.92 mm heavy machine gun
Armor 6 – 9 mm
Total purchased 3
Total production 4

Sources

Zavedení Tančíků do výzbroje [Introduction of tankettes to the Army Equipment], Jaroslav Špitálský, Rota Nazdar
Československá těžká vojenská technika: Vývoj, výroba, nasazení a export československých tanků, obrněných automobilů a pásových dělostřeleckých tahačů 1918-1956 [Czechoslovak heavy armored vehicles: Development, production, operational use and export of the Czechoslovak tanks, armored cars and tracked artillery tractors 1918-1956], PhDr. Ivo Pejčoch, Charles University Prague, 2009, p.47-53.
Československá obrněná vozidla 1918-48 [Czechoslovak armored vehicles], V. Francev, C.K. Kliment, Praha, 2004.
Czechoslovak Fighting Vehicles 1918-1945, H.C. Doyle, C.K. Kliment.

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