Cold War Yugoslavia Film Props Film Prop Tanks

Yugoslav ‘Panzer III’ Film Prop

Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1980s)
Movie Prop Tank – 1 Tank Modified For The Role

Movies and TV series that represented the fight against the Axis powers during the Second World War were very popular in Yugoslavia. For filming these, a large variety of supporting props, such as weapons, uniforms, and other equipment were used. In some instances, armored vehicles were employed for the best possible visual effects. These were vehicles taken from the Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija (JNA) (English: Yugoslav People’s Army). In most cases, these were used in their original form, only receiving some German markings. In rarer cases, the whole vehicle would be modified to closely resemble a German tank. For this purpose, one M-60 armored personnel carrier (APC) was modeled to look like a German Panzer III tank.

A modified M-60 that represented a Panzer III. Source: Still from Nepokoreni Grad series

Yugoslav Props Tanks

The Socijalistička Federativna Republika Jugoslavija (SFRJ) (Eng. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), that existed between 1945 and 1992, was heavily influenced by the heritage of the Communist resistance movement. Its influence was reflected in various aspects of public life, including literature, art, and film. As such, movies and TV series often portrayed the struggles and sacrifices of the Yugoslav Partisans, who fought against Fascism and occupation during the Second World War.

Films such as the Užička Republika (Eng. Republic of Užice) (1974) tell the story of the establishment of the first liberated territory in Yugoslavia during the war. The movie Sutjeska (1973) portrays the Battle of Sutjeska, which was one of the most significant battles fought by the Partisans during the war. Bitka na Neretvi (Eng. Battle of Neretva) (1969) depicts one of the largest battles fought in Yugoslavia during the war.

These movies and TV series were not only popular in Yugoslavia but also gained international recognition and acclaim. They were a testament to the bravery and sacrifice of the Partisans and served as a reminder of the importance of resistance against Fascism and oppression.

Creating such movies and TV series that depicted historical periods often required the use of props. The JNA had access to a range of equipment and weapons that could be used, including iconic German firearms such as the MP 40 submachine gun, MG 34 and 42 machine guns, Mauser 98K rifles, and others.

The JNA had in its inventory a wide selection of captured armored vehicles. Some of these vehicles were pressed into service in the early years after the war. It is not uncommon for captured or older vehicles to be used in such a manner, especially when resources are limited. However, as these vehicles aged and spare parts became scarce, maintenance was complicated, and, as result, many of them fell into disrepair. While these vehicles were original and saw combat in Yugoslavia, their use was not without its own set of challenges. For example, filmmakers may have struggled to find working examples of these vehicles that could be used on camera. Additionally, even if a vehicle appeared to be in good condition, it may not have been safe to operate. As a result, filmmakers may have had to use replicas or special effects to recreate these vehicles on screen.

The JNA operated large numbers of armored vehicles supplied by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. These were in more workable conditions, and, more importantly, safer to use. Both the T-34-85 and the Sherman tanks saw wide use in this role. In most cases, they received only simple German markings or some random number designation. In rarer cases, such as the filming of Bitka na Neretvi, some T-34-85 were modified more extensively to resemble the German Tiger tanks. In other cases, some fully-tracked tractors were modified to resemble enemy tanks. In 1980, one M-60 armored personnel carrier (APC) would be modified to resemble a German Panzer III tank.

A Yugoslav T-34-85 with a slightly modified turret that acted as a German tank. Source:
Yugoslav T-34-85 disguised as a Tiger tank in the movie Bitka na Neretvi. Source:
A Soviet-tracked tractor was also modified to resemble an Italian CV-38 fast tank. Source:
For the movie Desant na Drvar, a full-track tractor was modified to resemble something close to a tank. Source: Still from the movie Desnat na Drvar
A T-34-85 modified to imitate a Tiger tank used during the filming of Kelly’s Heroes. Source:
A US-supplied M3 Half-Track modified to resemble a German vehicle armed with 2 cm anti-aircraft guns. Source: Still from the movie Sutjetska

The Panzer III in Yugoslavia

The development of the tank that would later be known as the Panzer III was officially approved in a meeting of the German General Staff held in January 1934. Its proposed use in combat would be to engage and destroy enemy armor. To conceal its true purpose, it was initially designated as Zugführerwagen (Eng. Platoon commander’s vehicle). After years spent preparing the production facilities and improving the design, this vehicle finally entered mass production just before the outbreak of the war. In the early years of the war, the Panzer III was the backbone of the early panzer divisions. Inadequate armament was one of the major issues faced by the early Panzer III models, which led to the incorporation of a more powerful gun in later models. Despite many challenges, the Panzer III remained an important part of the German armored divisions until its replacement with the Panzer IV after 1942. Some Panzer III tanks even remained in use until the end of the war, indicating the durability and effectiveness of the design.

One of the more modern German tank designs in the early war years was the Panzer III. Source: T. Anderson Panzer III

The Panzer III would see service in Yugoslavia during the war. Some 270 such vehicles were operated by the 2nd and 12th Army Groups tasked with conquering Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941. The whole operation was initiated by Mussolini’s failure to defeat Greece in October 1940. Greek forces managed to stop the Italian attack and even went on their counter-offensive. With this setback, together with the losses suffered in North Africa, Mussolini had no choice but to seek help from his German ally. Hitler was not very interested in the Mediterranean theater, being more preoccupied with the plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union. But, worried by the possibility of a second front being opened to the south in Greece by the British, while the German forces were assaulting the Soviet Union, he reluctantly decided to send German military aid to help the Italians. For the planned occupation of Greece, Hitler counted on the Kingdom of Yugoslavia either joining the Axis or at least remaining neutral. Initially, the Yugoslavian government agreed to join the Axis, but a pro-West military coup ultimately led to a German invasion that started on 6th April 1941. The German armored forces had little trouble dealing with the disorganized Yugoslavian defenders, and by 17th April, the war was lost. Following the conclusion of this campaign, the German armored formations were sent back to Germany in anticipation for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

The Panzer IIIs used during the invasion of Yugoslavia were of the early versions, mostly equipped with the 5 cm L/42 and 3.7 cm guns. Source: . D. Dimitrijević and D. Savić Oklopne Jedinice Na Jugoslovenskom Ratistu 1941-1945

The emergence of resistance groups in Yugoslavia during the war was a significant challenge for the German military. The harsh treatment of the Yugoslav people by the occupying forces fueled resentment and resistance, leading to the formation of two main groups: the Communist Partisans and the Royalist Chetniks. The resistance groups used guerrilla tactics to engage the German forces, attacking isolated posts, communication and supply lines, and other vital targets. The German response was to send any available armored vehicles to Yugoslavia, but as most of their units were engaged on the Eastern Front, only obsolete and captured vehicles were available. The situation became more desperate for the Germans in 1944, as they lost their Italian ally and had to send additional forces to Yugoslavia. These forces included a small number of Panzer III vehicles, which remained in use up to the end of the war.

During the first year of occupation, the Germans forces had limited armored vehicles available for use against the Partisans forces. These were mostly obsolete and captured vehicles, such as this aging Renault FT. Source: Bojan B. D. and D. S avić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945
From late 1943 onwards, the Germans began employing various better designs, albeit in limited numbers, including these two Panzer III Ausf.N. Source: B. D. Dimitrijević and D. Savić Oklopne Jedinice Na Jugoslovenskom Ratistu 1941-1945

During the war, some Panzer III tanks were captured by the Partisans, and these tanks remained in use for a few years after the war. However, due to the general lack of spare parts and ammunition, their service was limited. Unfortunately, because of poor record-keeping from this period, not much is known about the precise number or version of these captured Panzer III tanks. The Partisans and later the JNA did not keep accurate records of their older equipment, which makes it difficult to know the exact number of tanks captured and their specific models.

These captured tanks were likely used for training purposes or as a source of spare parts for other vehicles. Some of them may have also been used in parades or as static displays in museums. However, without more detailed records, it is difficult to know for sure how these captured Panzer III tanks were used after the war.

The M-60 as a Panzer III

The M-60 was the first Yugoslavian domestically developed and built APC. In general, it was characterized to be a poor design, with weak armor, an underpowered engine, obsolete suspension, drive components, etc. Despite this rather poor service history, the JNA was forced to keep it in service, as nothing else was available. The production of fully operational vehicles began in late 1965 and lasted up to 1979. By that time, some 790 M-60 vehicles of all versions were built. As a result, it was available at hand and was likely cheaper to use than an actual tank.

The M-60 was the first Yugoslavian developed APC. Its overall design would prove to be unsuccessful, but, due to lack of anything better, it remained in use for decades. Source:

The M-60, like many other JNA military vehicles, has a distinctive appearance and can easily be modified to resemble other vehicles. It is not uncommon for filmmakers to use military vehicles as props in war movies to add authenticity to the scenes. The whole modification was rather simple. A mock-up of a Panzer III turret was placed on the top of its superstructure. Additionally, some minor alterations were made to the front of the superstructure and the mudguards. It would be used to represent a German vehicle in the movie Doviđenja u sledećem ratu (Eng. See You in the Next War) released in 1980.

An interesting adaptation of an M-60 into a German Panzer III tank. Source:

It also was used in the TV series Nepokoreni Grad (Eng. Unconquered City). In this case, it was used as a Croatian vehicle. During the war, the Nezavisna Država Hrvatska (NDH) (Eng. Independent State of Croatia) was a German puppet state, created after the invasion and breakup of Yugoslavia in 1941. As part of its collaboration with Nazi Germany, the NDH was allowed to establish a small armored force to help combat resistance movements in Yugoslavia. However, due to limited resources and a lack of industrial capacity, the NDH was forced to rely mainly on obsolete armored vehicles acquired from the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia and their Axis allies, such as Italy and Germany. The NDH’s armored forces were mostly composed of light tanks, armored cars, and self-propelled guns, which were often poorly maintained and lacked spare parts. Despite these limitations, the NDH armored units saw extensive actions in the fighting against resistance forces.

Some sources mentioned that in late 1944, the Germans provided the NDH with 20 Panzer III Ausf.Ns, 10 Panzer IV Ausf.Fs, and 5 Panzer IV Ausf.Hs. While some Croatian crew members were, at that time, sent to Germany to be trained to operate these vehicles, there is no proof that these were ever actually delivered or used by the NDH.

In late 1944, several Croatian tank crews were sent to Germany to be trained on Panzer IVs. The is no proof that the NDH forces ever received such vehicles. Source: B. B. Dumitrijević and D. Savić, Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
A M-60 used in the series Unconquered City as a Croatian vehicle. Note the added Croatian red and white chessboard marking, which was used during the war. Source: Still from Nepokoreni Grad series
Croatian Panzer I with the chessboard marking.

Overall Construction


The M-60’s suspension was based on the Soviet SU-76, which was developed during the Second World War. The Yugoslav engineers who worked on the M-60 project reused the SU-76’s suspension, but made several modifications to it, such as reducing the number of road wheels to five per side and changing the front drive sprocket.

The M-60 employed a SU-76M suspension with some changes. The most noticeable is the reduced number of road wheels and the addition of a new type of front drive sprocket. Source:

On the other hand, the Panzer III’s suspension consisted of six small road wheels in addition to a front-drive sprocket and rear-positioned idler. Both suspensions used three return rollers per side. To someone unfamiliar with these vehicles, their suspensions may appear the same. However, historians and armor enthusiasts can spot many differences. For a start, the Panzer III employed a much larger front driver sprocket and idler. In addition, the Panzer III used six road wheels which were positioned closer to each other. The M-60 road wheels on the other hand, had a larger space between them, and there were only five of them. Lastly, while not present on all vehicles, early Panzer IIIs had the hull-side escape hatches for the crews. While the M-60 and Panzer III shared some similarities in their use of a torsion bar suspension, their specific designs and modifications were unique to each vehicle.

A side view of the Panzer III’s suspension. While using the same type of torsion bar suspension, the Panzer III had six road wheels and a larger drive sprocket and idler. Source:

Realistically, nothing could be changed to the M-60’s suspension to resemble a Panzer III’s. Trying to add a sixth road wheel would be expensive and pointless. It could only have damaged the vehicle and prevented its use as a military vehicle. It is also understandable that the JNA would not want to discard vehicles that, while obsolete, were still useful in some capacity. The JNA simply did not have anything better in sufficient numbers to carelessly discard its vehicles.

Some minor attempts to slightly change the suspension appearance were made, by adding larger and crudely made mudguards. The M-60 was equipped with round-shaped or flat forward and rear mudguards. The vehicle adopted as the German tank had completely different front and side mudguards. The front part appeared to be slightly longer and more crudely made.

The M-60 generally had round-shaped front and rear mudguards. Source:
Beside the previously mentioned mudguard design, a somewhat simpler model was also used. Source: Magazine Poligon 1/2017
The modified M-60 used larger and more crudely made mudguards. The front parts were somewhat longer and were not even properly connected to the vehicles as a small gap could be seen in the picture or video of this vehicle. Source: Still from Nepokoreni Grad series


While there are some similarities regarding suspension parts, the superstructure is completely different. It is important to acknowledge that the two vehicles were designed in different eras with different technological capabilities and design priorities. The Panzer III was designed as a tank, while the M-60 was used to transport infantry squads.

The Panzer III used a simple square-shaped superstructure with no hatches. Contrary, the M-60 had a slightly larger superstructure with many hatches, either on top or rear of the vehicle. Despite this, some minor attempts were made to at least resemble (with lots of imagination) a Panzer III’s superstructure. The M-60’s trim vane connected to the lower superstructure armor was removed. Ironically, the M-60, due to many design flaws, did not have amphibious capabilities, so the trim vane was pretty much useless. Instead, a mock-up front aperture was added. It had a machine gun port and a fake driver vision port.

Good view of a Panzer III’s small superstructure on this disassembled vehicle. For historical contexts, this vehicle was damaged beyond repair and it is being cannibalized for any valuable spare parts. Source: T. Anderson Panzer III
The M-60, on the other hand, had a much larger superstructure. This was necessary as its role was to transport 9 soldiers with their weapons and equipment. Source:
The M-60 was provided with a trim vane. As the driver was seated above the trim vane, there was no need to add a front vision port. Instead, such a vision port was placed on his hatch. The position of the front machine gun port, however, necessitated the installation of a small hatch. That way the gunner could use his machine gun despite the trim vane being raised. Source: Magazine Poligon 1/2017
The trim vane was removed, and in its place, a mock-up that was to resemble (kind of) a Panzer III’s frontal superstructure design. While the driver’s vision port was fake and could not be used, the machine gun port was real. Source: Still from Nepokoreni Grad series


Whoever worked on this vehicle, did an excellent job with the mock-up turret. Many quite well-made details, such as the side two-part hatches, pistol ports, and side vision ports were replicated. The mock-up turret was not just placed on the M-60’s top. Instead, what appears to be a round base was used to connect these two. Further, the turret appears not to be fixed in place. There are scenes where the turret moved slightly to the sides. While there is no information on how it was built, it is possible that a ring-shaped turret base with added ball bearings to help with the rotation was used.

While not easy to spot, the turret was placed on what appears to be a round-shaped base. Source: Still from Nepokoreni Grad series
The turret itself appears to be able to rotate slightly to the slides. On the other hand, it is possible that it was only loosely connected and it simply moved slightly depending on the road condition the vehicle was driving on. Source:

The German Panzer III tank went through several modifications during its production run, with different versions featuring different turret designs and components. This makes it challenging to identify the precise version of the turret design, even on an original German Panzer III. Additionally, due to the nature of war and the need for field repairs, it was not uncommon for vehicles to be equipped with older or newer components, depending on availability and the urgency of the situation. As a result, tanks with mixed components were not a rare sight, even within the same unit. This further complicates the identification of the exact version of the replicated turret’s design.

For a start, the gun depicted is a 5 cm L/42. This gun was intended as a replacement for the outdated 3.7 cm gun that was originally used on the Panzer III. While the overall gun and its mantle mock-up were quite well done, there are some mistakes. The 5 cm L/42 gun is missing some key elements of the original design, such as the round-shaped gun mantle, protected machine gun port, and pyramidal-shaped hatches. Additionally, the gun protective recoil cylinder steel jacket and deflector guard are not centered correctly. Instead, the older version’s internal mantlet was copied, but this too lacks the two machine gun mounts on the right side of the turret. Lastly, the gun’s protective gun recoil cylinder steel jacket and a deflector guard were not fully centered, but were slightly off to the right side. The original Panzer III’s gun was positioned in the center of the deflector guard.

A front view of the mock-up Panzer turret. While generally a good copy, it is missing some key elements of the original design. Also, note that the gun is not centered on the deflector guard. Source: Still from Nepokoreni Grad series
The early Panzer III turret armed with the 3.7 cm gun. This version was copied for the mock-up Panzer III. Features such as the two machine gun ports and the left cover are missing. Source: T. Anderson Panzer III
The creators of the vehicle were inspired by the later version armed with the 5 cm gun. But this too is wrong regarding the missing mantlet and not centered deflector guard for the main gun. Source: T. Anderson Panzer III

The command cupola of the prop Panzer III was taken from the Ausf.G version. In this case, it was an exact copy of it. It had a two-part hatch that could be opened or closed. Other elements of the turrets were also well-made, starting with the rear-positioned two machine gun ports. On the sides, the two-part hatches were also well made with some minor details lacking. In the TV show, actors can be seen entering the turret via the commander’s cupola.

The design of the command cupola was copied from the Ausf.G version. Source: T. Anderson Panzer III
A side view of the Panzer III’s turret. Source T. Anderson Panzer III
In comparison, the side view of the mock-up vehicle. The details of the two hatches and vision ports, to name a few, are quite well done. Source: Still from Nepokoreni Grad series
Rear view of the vehicle. Source: Still from Nepokoreni Grad series
The actors could be seen on several occasions entering the turret through the commander’s cupola. Source: Still from Nepokoreni Grad series

The top of the mock-up turret was also basically the same as on a Panzer III. In general, the early Panzer III, besides the signal ports, had quite a simple top turret design.

An early Panzer III’s top turret view. Source:
The mock-up vehicle had a very similar turret top design. Source: Still from Nepokoreni Grad series

On Screen

In contrast to other Yugoslav films, where tanks and other armored vehicles were shown destroying buildings or participating in fighting, the M-60 prop had a rather unimpressive role. In episode six of Nepokoreni Grad, the tank was undergoing repairs at a workshop where a group of Partisans constantly sabotage attempts to repair tanks. The M-60 is shown leaving the workshop and driving through the city before being forced to stop, as one of the Partisan mechanics had thrown a bag of sugar into the fuel tank. In Doviđenja u sledećem ratu it appears in a few scenes driving through a village.


The Yugoslav movie industry often used tanks and other armored vehicles to represent enemy vehicles. In most cases, these only received enemy markings with no attempts to modify them to share some similarities with those vehicles used during the war. In the case of the M-60 adaptation of a Panzer III, things were a little different. Those who made it did an excellent job to copy some elements of the Panzer III, namely the turret. The M-60’s superstructure was way different from that used on the Panzer III, so even with the best aspects considered, they would never look alike. The use of modified vehicles for movie productions highlights the importance of realism in creating effective and engaging films. It is impressive to see the level of creativity and resourcefulness in adapting existing vehicles for these purposes.

M-60 disguised as a Panzer III for the TV show Nepokoreni Grad


B. D. Dimitrijević and D. Savić (2011) Oklopne Jedinice Na Jugoslovenskom Ratistu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju
B. B. Dumitrijević (2010), Modernizacija i Intervencija, Jugoslovenske Oklopne Jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za Savremenu Istoriju
T. Anderson (2015), The History Of The Panzerwaffe Volume 1 Osprey Publishing
T. Anderson (2022), Panzer III, Osprey Publishing
Magazine Poligon 1/2017

Cold War Yugoslavia Film Props Film Prop Tanks

‘Tiger’ Film Props in Bitka na Neretvi

Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1960s)
Movie Prop Tank – 3 To 4 Tanks Modified For The Role

Movies that represented the fight against the Axis powers during the Second World War were very popular in the communist parts of Europe, such as Yugoslavia. The Germans, not surprisingly, were always portrayed as the bad guys, who brought death, oppression, and destruction with them. They were presented as having vast manpower and armament superiority. Opposite them were the people, fighting with courage and determination in the hope of liberation and, of course, for the party. Many battles were recreated, reinterpreted, filmed, and turned into movies. For this, producers needed all kinds of supporting props, such as weapons, uniforms, and other equipment. However, for the best possible visual effects, they needed actual tanks. On that matter, they did not need anything else, but the mighty Tiger. Of course, the Yugoslavs never had such a vehicle. Instead, they disguised a few T-34-85s for this purpose, and these were successful mock-ups for the period.

A T-34-85 modified to imitate a Tiger tank. Source:

Yugoslav “Tigers”

After the war, the newly created Socijalistička Federativna Republika Jugoslavija SFRJ (English: Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) was heavily influenced by the heritage of the Communist resistance movement in many areas. This was present in almost all spheres of public life, from monuments dedicated to fallen fighters, which were common sights in towns or small villages, or other important events in both literature and art. This was probably best represented in the TV series and movies filmed up to the start of the 1990s. These often portrayed tales of smaller groups of Partisans or the much larger battles that occurred during the war. The most prominent movies of that time were Užička Republika (English: Republic of Užice), Sutjetka (English: Battle of Sutjeska), Valter Brani Sarajevo (English: Walter Defends Sarajevo), and the Bitka na Neretvi (English: Battle of Neretva), to name a few.

When it comes to films with a historical theme, of course, it is necessary to use props that are reminiscent of the period depicted. This was not too big of a problem for Yugoslav cinematography. Although fighting in Yugoslavia may not have been as intense in terms of the number of soldiers and equipment as on other fronts in Europe, great battles were fought nevertheless. This was especially the case between 1944 and 1945, when fairly large engagements took place. During these, the Yugoslav Partisans managed to capture huge stockpiles of enemy weapons and vehicles of all kinds, including tanks. Many of these weapons would serve as a foundation for the creation of the new Jugoslovenske Narodne Armije JNA (English: Yugoslav People’s Army). Iconic German weapons, such as MP 40 submachine guns, MG 34 and 42 machine guns, Mauser 98K rifles, and others were captured in sufficient quantities to be issued for army use until replaced with more modern designs. Thus, during the filming of larger and more important movies, the JNA was often called to provide the necessary equipment and men. Partisan uniforms were also easy to come by, as they had often used various military outfits or simple civilian clothes during the war.

Tanks and other armored vehicles which were captured during the war saw limited use in the early years of the JNA. The Germans and their allies had used various types of vehicles in their attempt to suppress the Yugoslav resistance movements. These mostly included older or captured vehicles, as the Germans could not afford to send more modern designs. There were some modern vehicles, such as the StuG III, Panzer IV, and the Soviet T-34s in the area, but these were issued in limited quantities. Not surprisingly, many of them quickly fell into disrepair after the war given their age and lack of spare parts, So, by the time the Partisan-themed movies were filmed, none of these could be reused. Even if some were still in running condition, it is unlikely that they would be used. The JNA did have in its inventory vehicles that were used by the Allies, which were present in large numbers and in a more workable condition, such as the T-34-85 and Sherman tanks, both of which saw use in this manner.

After the war, the JNA operated a vast collection of different types of armored vehicles of various origins, such as the StuG III. A major issue quickly arose when maintenance and acquisition of spare parts became impossible. These would be rather quickly replaced with more modern designs available in sufficient numbers. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.inf

In Yugoslav cinematography, Bitka na Neretvi was the most expensive movie ever made. It was filmed in 1969 and directed by Veljko Bulajić. It was famous for starring foreign actors, such as Yul Brynner, Orson Welles, and Franco Nero. Another interesting fact was that Pablo Picasso did the movie poster intended for the world premiere. This movie initially had a huge budget of over US$4.5 million and was supported by over 10,000 JNA “volunteers”. It was shown in cinemas around the world and was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film. This movie follows the plot of a series of events in Bosnia during 1943, as the Axis forces tried to isolate and destroy a large contingent of Partisans forces. Not surprisingly, the Axis forces were clearly presented as possessing superior weaponry, including tanks and aircraft. The Partisans, on the other hand, had to fight with courage and faith in the Communist Party, with some help from captured weapons. Of course, the movie itself does not depict the war as it was in reality. This can be seen in the scenes where the Germans simply stumble and fall like flies under Partisan fire, Partisans who are mowed down by enemy fire take a few minutes to die, and in other scenes where the Communist struggle for liberation is magnified. But, despite this, the movie itself is a treasure for all historical enthusiasts of this period. Many original hand-held weapons and guns can be seen in it.

An interesting fact was that Pablo Picasso did the movie poster intended for the world premiere. Source:
The Italian actor Franco Nero in front of a German 5 cm PaK 38 guns in the movie Bitka na Neretvi. Source:

When depicting enemy tank formations, JNA tanks and other vehicles were reused. In Bitka na Neretvi, over a dozen or so tanks were used. These were mostly T-34-85s with some minor cosmetic changes, such as adding German markings. Some vehicles were modified more extensively to resemble the German Tiger tanks. Of course, it has to be taken into account that, when these films were shot, the availability of quality literature that dealt with the topic of armored vehicles was generally rare, at least in Yugoslavia. Thus, to some extent, it can be understood that using improvised tanks to represent German designs was completely irrelevant to an audience of that time. This is likely the case even today, as most audiences would not see it as a major issue, while tank enthusiasts might ‘scream internally’. In the movie, some imitations of other armored vehicles were also present, including Italian light tanks.

During the first year of occupation, the Germans operated the aging Renault FTs. These would be soon replaced with other French-captured tanks. Even if later tanks were used during filming, these would never be as visually imposing as the much larger T-34-85 tanks. Source: Bojan B. D. and D. S avić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945
Yugoslav T-34-85 disguised as a Tiger tank in the movie Bitka na Neretvi. Source:
A Soviet-tracked tractor was also modified to resemble an Italian CV-38 light tank. Source:

A Brief History of T-34 Tanks in Yugoslavia

In order to fight the ever-increasing Yugoslav resistance, the Germans operated a number of mostly obsolete and captured foreign tanks. During the summer of 1944, the SS Polizei Regiment 10 (English: 10th SS Police Regiment) was transferred from Ukraine to Trieste in Northern Italy. Once there, it was tasked with defending the vital transport lines against the Partisans. In its inventory, this unit had around 10 T-34-76 tanks of various types. They would see action in the last days of the war against the Partisans, when all T-34 tanks were either destroyed or captured.

While not clear, at least 5 or 6 T-34-76s were captured by the Partisans and put to use. Source:www.srpskioklop.paluba

The improved T-34 armed with an 85 mm gun placed in an enlarged turret would also see service in this theater of war. These were initially used by the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front, which supported the Yugoslav Communist Partisan’s attempts to liberate Serbia from the Axis forces in the autumn of 1944. This Soviet drive was supported by some 50 T-34-76 and 110 T-34-85 tanks. After successfully defeating the Germans in Serbia, the Soviets moved north, toward Hungary.

A Soviet T-34-85 during the liberation of Belgrade. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba

This was not the only support that the Soviets provided to the Yugoslav Partisans. On Stalin’s own orders, a unit, later named Second Tank Brigade, was to be formed. It was meant to be equipped with 65 T-34/85 tanks which were manned by Communist Partisan soldiers. After successful training in the Soviet Union, the whole unit was transported to Yugoslavia in late March 1945. Despite its late arrival, the unit saw action against the remaining Axis forces in occupied Croatia and Slovenia.
After the war, the surviving T-34 tanks would be used as the main fighting force of the newly created JNA. In later years, the JNA would acquire over 1,000 such tanks, which, despite their age, represented a huge part of its armored force. Given their sheer numbers, the JNA never managed to fully replace them with something better. The T-34-85 would see extensive action during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. Following the conclusion of these wars, all surviving T-34-85 were removed from service and mostly scrapped.

Two T-34-85s in Trieste at the end of the war. While not used during the final fighting for the city, they would be used for political pressure placed on the Allies to hand over the city to Yugoslavia. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba
A post-war T-34-85 in JNA service. Source:www.srpskioklop.paluba

The Yugoslav Tigers

Generally speaking, finding original World War Two weapons was not a problem. The JNA had in its inventory all kinds of stockpiles of captured weapons. Various and sometimes rare German tanks and other armored vehicles were put to use by the JNA after the war. Of course, the Tiger was never used in this part of Europe. Such rare beasts would have never been effective in hunting small Partisan units in hilly terrain. Their job was to spearhead German assaults and decimate enemy armored forces. Using it in any other role was simply a waste of the resources invested in this tank. Given its general effectiveness, it became one of the most iconic tanks in history.

A Panzer 35(t) and an extremely rare Panzer I Ausf. F. Both vehicles survived the war and can be seen at the Kalemegdan Military Museum. Source: B. D. Dimitrijević and D. Savić Oklopne Jedinice Na Jugoslovenskom Ratistu 1941-1945

As the JNA did not have such tanks, the easiest way was to recreate them using what they had at hand. The producers of the Bitka na Neretvi movie went for imposing visual effects more than any historical accuracy. Using such a known tank as the Tiger in a movie where it can be seen destroyed by a much-weaker opponent could be seen as a symbolic act of bravery and the inevitable demise of the German force. The best-suited tank that could be reused for this purpose was the T-34-85. It was available in huge numbers and, with some improvisation and modifications, it was the closest thing that could resemble a Tiger tank. The T-34-85 already had a movie career in Yugoslavia, often being portrayed as a German tank in many old Partisan movies. They were often used without any cosmetic changes, simply adding German markings. In rarer cases, some minor changes were made by adding some modifications to the turrets or hulls.

A Yugoslav T-34-85 with a slightly modified turret that acted as a German tank from the movie Battle for Neretva, filmed in 1969. Source:

Yugoslav film workers who worked on visual effects, possibly assisted by some elements from the JNA, managed to build a decent Tiger replica. It was not just merely adding some cosmetic changes, as they actually put some extensive effort into making it resemble a Tiger tank.

Overall construction

Sadly, precise information on how these vehicles were assembled are hard to come by. It is likely that nobody at that time gave any thought to writing articles or even mentioning them in books or any other publication. The whole extended frames that were placed around the turret and the superstructure were possibly made of wood or metal plates. In any case, what is certain is that the overall construction had to be robust enough to withstand stress and vibrations caused by the vehicle moving. It certainly would not be visually appealing if, during the filming, some parts fell off.


The T-34-85 and the Tiger used quite different suspension designs. The Tiger tank used torsion bar suspension with eight large overlapping wheels. While offering excellent drive performance, it was difficult to maintain and repair, labor-intensive, and expensive to build. The T-34-85, on the other hand, used a Christie coil spring suspension. It was mechanically more robust but required a lot of space inside the hull sides. In contrast to the Tiger, the Soviet tank only had five road wheels.
Visually, from a distance, these two shared some similarities, at least to someone who is not familiar with either the history or the design of these vehicles. Both used large road wheels, without return rollers. Given their similarity, it was logical to reuse the T-34-85 for this purpose. Other tanks in JNA inventory, such as the Shermans or the M47, used a suspension that was obviously quite different in every aspect.

The T-34-85 used a five-road wheel suspension with a front idler and rear drive sprocket. Source: Picture taken from the Bitka na Neretvi movie
The Tiger suspension consisted of eight road wheels. Unlike the Soviet vehicle, the driver sprocket on the Tiger was located to the front. While obviously not the same, they share some visual resemblance to each other, at least from distance. Source: Wiki
A good view of the complex interleaved wheels used on the Tiger. This perfectly shows the complexity of its suspension. The Germans were the only ones to use such a design in large numbers. Armies around the world that produced tanks after the war mainly used the much simpler torsion bar suspension but without overlapping wheels. Source: Wiki


Another quite recognizable detail of the German Tiger was its simple box-shaped superstructure that covered the upper part of the vehicle. The driver vision port and the machine gun ball mount were placed on the front armor plate. Above them, two round-shaped hatches served as the entry points to the hull-positioned crew members. The Tiger hull was fairly large, being 8.45 m long and 3.23 m wide.

A quite recognizable feature of a Tiger tank was its simple square-shaped superstructure. Source: Wiki

In contrast, the T-34-85’s superstructure design was quite different, incorporating highly angled armor plates. Similarly to the German vehicle, this tank had a forward-mounted machine gun ball mount and a driver vision port which acted as an entry hatch. Unlike the Tiger, however, the T-34-85 was not provided with an upper hatch for the hull-positioned crew members. It was also slightly smaller in dimensions, 6.68 m long and 3 m wide.

In contrast to the Tiger, the T-34-85 used highly angled armor plates. This provided an extra level of protection, as incoming rounds could bounce off the sloped armor plates. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba

The people responsible for the creation of these vehicles had to make a number of changes to adapt the T-34-85 in order to resemble the Tiger as closely as possible. They did not have to change the overall dimensions of the vehicle, as obviously, no one was going to use a measuring tape to actually measure. Luckily for them, the Tiger superstructure’s simplicity offered a quite straightforward solution, which essentially was the installation of a box-shape frame around the T-34-85’s body. While not perfect, and to some extent disproportionate, it provided a relatively good resemblance to the Tiger. As the final touch, a driver vision port and a machine gun ball-mount replica were added, but these were obviously not precise copies of the real ones. Lastly, in order to not interfere with the engine ventilation ports, the upper parts of the engine compartment were left open.

The box-shaped housing was placed on the T-34-85 tanks and offered a great resemblance to a Tiger, at least from a distance. The driver’s vision port could not be copied, as this part was likely difficult to adapt to be fully functional and not obstruct the driver’s field of vision. Source:
A close-up view of the Tiger’s front armored plates, which obviously shows the difference in shape and design. Source: Wiki


Once again, the turret was another major difference between these two vehicles. Luckily for the Yugoslavs, the Tiger’s turret also had a simple design that made it relatively easy to replicate. The turret’s construction concept was basically the same as with the tank’s superstructure. The T-34-85’s turret was encased with a frame that imitated a Tiger’s turret. While not an exact copy, it was quite similar to the original. The Yugoslav Tiger did have a commander’s cupola, but its quality was rather poor. Another small detail added to the turret was the rear-positioned imitation of the storage boxes.

A front view of the prop Tiger turret. The main visual difference was that the front parts of the Tiger turret moved with the gun itself. On the Yugoslav Tigers, only part around the barrel moved up or down, the rest of the frontal turret stayed in place, regardless of the gun’s position. Source: Still from Bitka na Neretvi
Side view of possibly the same vehicle. The people who were in charge of implementing this modification did a relatively good job. Source: Still from Bitka na Neretvi

The last part that needed to be adapted was the main gun itself. Both the Tiger and the T-34-85 used similar caliber guns, with the first being 88 mm and the latter 85 mm. The Tiger’s gun was much more complex in design, as it consisted of a large mantlet, a two-part barrel, and a muzzle brake. In contrast, the 85 mm gun used a smaller gun mantlet and a single-piece barrel without a muzzle brake. These prop tanks were never going to use actual live ammunition besides simple blanks. Therefore, a mock-up mask could be placed above the original guns without fear of potentially damaging them.

The upper picture shows the mighty 88 mm gun which was the main armament of a Tiger. It had a different shape to that of a T-34-85’s gun. Thanks to the simplicity and similar dimensions, the 85 mm gun was easy to adapt to the new role. The only thing that was needed was a wooden or metal replica of the 88 to be placed around it. Source: and
A ‘Tiger’ operated in another Partisan-related movie, the Sutjetska. From this distance, all the modifications, even the gun barrel, make for a quite well-done replica. Source:

How Many Were Converted?

How many tanks were modified for this proposal is not clear. Given a large amount of available resources, there was no major reason to not convert at least a few of them. The T-34-85s were taken from the 329th Armored Brigade. According to author B. B. Dimitrijević (Modernizacija i Intervencija Jugoslovenske Oklopne Jedinice 1945-2006), four tanks were adapted for use in Bitka na Neretvi. This author does not go into detail if these four are ones that were used as modified Tigers, but this seems very likely. In the movies, at least three Tigers can often be seen engaging the Partisans. That does not necessarily mean that only three were converted. Additional tanks may have been stored as available replacements if something went wrong with other vehicles.

At least three T-34-85s were converted for this purpose. Given the historical and political significance of these major movies, the JNA had to provide the necessary manpower and material. Source:,_The

In the Movies

The purpose of Bitka na Neretvi was not necessarily historical accuracy. The plot of this movie is more focused on the emotions and strength of the Partisan fighters. It depicts their struggle, where despite all circumstances, the Partisans fight on. To some, this may appear as a Communist propaganda tool, in which their struggle and success were greatly exaggerated, which was certainly true. However, it must not be forgotten that the Yugoslav Partisan fighters suffered a lot of hardship in their fight against a militarily superior enemy, who was often brutal and without mercy. It would take years of heavy fighting and sacrifice to finally see the enemy defeated and liberate their homeland. Such movies, with this kind of storytelling which is common across many war movies from all countries, are maybe not for everyone, but at least they serve as a tribute to honor the service and sacrifices made during the war.

Of course, considering the main purpose of this kind of movie, tactics and proper use of armored vehicles were completely unimportant. They served simply to imply the enemy’s superiority in every aspect, which makes the Partisan victory and struggles even greater. The Germans never used such modern vehicles (by World War Two standards) in Yugoslavia in any noticeable numbers, let alone in huge concentrations. The tanks that saw service were much smaller and less imposing. But still, to a poorly trained Partisan, even these may have appeared as invincible weapons.

Thus, the fake Tigers and ordinary T-34-85s could be seen in huge columns supported by the German infantry. During action scenes, they usually simply rushed forward, blowing up houses and other structures before being taken out by the Partisans. They are portrayed doing so in various ways, including using captured anti-tank guns, such as the 5 cm PaK 38 and the larger 7.5 cm PaK 40. Both of these guns were used in Yugoslavia by the Germans, but were generally rare sights. They were more commonly used in action close to the end of the war, way beyond 1943, when the events of this movie took place. The 7.5 cm gun had sufficient firepower to destroy a Tiger, but the smaller PaK 38 would have had major trouble doing anything against the Tiger’s heavy armor. Molotov cocktails were another famous tool used in these Partisan themed movies. They could be effective, but getting close to an enemy tank was not an easy task and success was not always guaranteed. In any case, in these movies, after the enemy attacked, they would usually be beaten back, with the tank slowly going forward in a somewhat chaotic manner.
These Tigers would be again used in another major Partisan movie, the Sutjetska, filmed in 1973. The plot is similar to the Bitka na Neretvi, where the Partisans try to escape a massive Axis envelopment. In this movie, the fake Tigers appear to be further improved to resemble a Tiger in more detail, such as adding a new command cupola, pistol ports, smoke dischargers, and other equipment. Once more, Orson Wells was involved in the film, this time as one of the writers. Renowned Welsh actor Richard Burton stars in the lead role of Josip Broz Tito.

The three Tigers used in the Sutjetska movie appear to have received major cosmetic improvements in many aspects. Source Still from Sutjetska

These three Tigers could be seen at the end of the movie advancing toward the Partisan’s positions. They would be ambushed by a Czechoslovak 3,7 cm KPÚV vz. 34 or 37 anti-tank gun operated by two Partisan fighters. This gun was another weapon used during the Second World War in Yugoslavia, so it is another small historical touch. At close range, the Tigers were taken out one by one, with each being destroyed by a single round. While this surely leaves a great visual impact on the viewer, in reality, this anti-tank gun would have been useless against the 100 mm thick frontal armor of the Tiger tank and would have struggled even against the 60-80 mm thick sides, even at point blank range.

While surely visually effective, the small 37 mm anti-tank gun would have been useless against a Tiger tank. Single rounds were also unlikely to succeed in defeating an enemy tank in real life, as at least several such small caliber rounds would probably be needed to do the job. Source Still from Sutjetska

International Career

Although perhaps less well known in the world today, during the 1960s, Yugoslav cinema entered its golden age. Thanks to the participation in several different foreign film productions, a series of well-known movies were filmed in Yugoslavia or had Yugoslav actors in them. For example, Winnetou and the Crossbreed, a 1966 Western was filmed in Yugoslavia. War-related movies were also filmed, probably the best known being Kelly’s Heroes (1970) starring Clint Eastwood. The movie’s plot revolves around the Allied liberation of France in 1944. The main protagonist is an American soldier named Kelly, who comes across information about German gold held in a bank behind enemy lines. He gathers a group of soldiers and a few Sherman tanks in an attempt to ‘liberate’ the gold for themselves. They finally manage to locate the bank where the gold is stored but find out that it was guarded by three German Tiger tanks. These tanks were likely the same ones used during the filming of the Yugoslav movies. Of course, given that this was a cooperation between the American and Yugoslavian film industries, the visual effects were much improved, and these are best seen on the tank themselves. The quality of the detail added to the tanks is extraordinary and resembles a real Tiger quite well. In the movie itself, the overall combat action is more realistic, to some extent. The downside is that they still portrayed some myths, such as that the Tiger armor was weakest at the back, which it was not (80 mm thick rear, 80 mm thick upper sides, 60 mm thick lower sides). The Americans used a Sherman armed with a long 76 mm gun, which could have easily penetrated a Tiger’s armor at the ranges presented in the movie.
The fate of the mock-ups is generally unknown, but they were probably given back to the army and converted back into regular tanks. These may have then been scrapped or they may have even seen service in the Yugoslav wars that followed.

Kelly’s Heroes had an outstanding cast, with three of the main protagonists played (from the left to right) by Donald Sutherland, Clint Eastwood, and Telly Savalas. This was a part of the iconic scene where these three confront the last Tiger tank. Source: Still from Kelly’s Heroes
A look at the amazing detail of the mock-up Tiger’s top part of the turret. Source:
A side view of the turret, showing many small details, such as the pistol port, the three smoke dischargers and even what looks like Zimmerit. Source:
The shape of the gun barrel was also quite well made. Given the much better understanding and information available on these vehicles, the American filmmakers probably had the help of historians and even soldiers who were in the war. Source:
It is possible that, for filming Kelly’s Heroes, the same modified T-34-85s were reused. The main difference was the use of new road wheels with different designs. This was surely done intentionally to further increase the resemblance to a Tiger’s suspension. Source:


In the world of cinema, tanks such as the T-34-85 were often used to portray German tanks. In many cases, no changes were made, while sometimes, attempts were made to adapt them to resemble a Tiger or other German tanks. Yugoslavian filmmakers, with the support of the JNA, made quite convincing replicas of the Tiger tanks, which saw use in a number of domestic films, and even in Kelly’s Heroes.

T-34-85 modified to imitate a Tiger tank. Illustration made by Godzila.


B. D. Dimitrijević and D. Savić (2011) Oklopne Jedinice Na Jugoslovenskom Ratistu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju
B. B. Dimitrijević (2010) Modernizacija i Intervencija Jugoslovenske Oklopne Jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju
D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara