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WW2 Yugoslav Partisan Armor

Partizanska Oklopna Vozila

Yugoslav Partisans (1942)
Armored Truck – 2 Built

During World War II, Yugoslavia was a stage of struggle where a large number of different types of armored vehicles were used by all warring parties. While these were not necessarily the more famous ones, such as the Tiger and Panther, those that were used were a mix of older and newer models, field modifications and improvisations. The Yugoslav Partisans were credited with the construction of some unusual vehicles. These included two locally built armored vehicles based on truck chassis.

History

While the conquest of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia proved to be an easy task for Germany and its allies, holding these territories proved to be much more difficult. This was mainly due to two resistance movements that were actively engaged in sabotage, destroying railways and bridges, attacking isolated occupation units’ positions and strongpoints, etcetera. Despite attempts to suppress these attacks, the resistance movements, especially the Communist Partisans, grew rapidly, forcing the Germans to introduce an ever-larger occupation force.

To combat the ever-increasing Axis presence, the Partisans used any available weapon that was either leftover from the Yugoslavian pre-war army or captured from the enemy. The Partisans also tried to locally construct their own armored vehicles. One such vehicle was an improvised tank, which after the war was referred to simply as the ‘Partizanski tenk’, Partisan tank.

During the first half of 1942, the Partisan units in the area of Bosanska Krajina (Bosnia) were engaged in heavy fighting with NDH (Independent State of Croatia) and German forces. The enemy operated a number of armored vehicles, such as tanks, tankettes, and armored cars. While fighting NDH forces in May 1942, the Partisans managed to capture two tankettes and used them against their former owners, but these were lost in July 1942. In an attempt to counter the enemy’s advances and to increase their own firepower and protection, after liberating a mine in Ljubija with its workshop in mid-May 1942, the Partisans began working to construct two armored trucks. While capturing this workshop provided the Partisans with the necessary tools to build these vehicles, it is unknown how precisely they did it and where they managed to get the armor plates. Being a mine area, it is possible that they cannibalized wagons or carts for spare parts, but as historical sources are scarce, so this is just speculation.

Name

These two vehicles never received any official names. For the sake of this article, the name ‘Partizanska oklopna vozila’ will be used, which simply means Partisan armored vehicles.

Built by the NDH?

D. Predoević (Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj) states the possibility that the construction of these two vehicles was actually initiated by NDH forces. He explains that, while the Partisans managed to capture Ljubija on 17th May 1942, they remained there up to 10th June, when they were forced to retreat. It may have been impossible to complete these two vehicles from scratch in this short period of time. A possible explanation is that the Partisans captured NDH vehicles that were under construction with available parts. The NDH force did, in fact, make several armored vehicles during this period, so they had skill and experience to do so. While there may be some truth in this, due to the lack of information about their precise history, it is impossible to say for sure.

The NDH built a small number of improvised armored vehicles using truck chassis during 1942. Source: Paluba

The design

For the basis for these two vehicles, a Fiat and a Magirus truck chassis were used. These two were probably captured from the enemy or were found in the Ljubija workshop. In order to put the new armored body on these two trucks, most parts like the cabin, rear cargo bed etcetera had to be removed, leaving only the chassis and the engine.

The rear wheels were fully protected by semicircular armored plates. While the Partisans never truly completed them, the vehicles captured by the advancing enemy lacked the protection of the front wheels which were later added by them.

The engine compartment was completely covered with mostly flat armor plates, except for the roof which had angled plates. On both sides and top of the engine compartment, four hatches were added, possibly to be used for maintenance of the engine and to act as ventilation ports. Also on the engine’s right side, there was a small antenna but, as the Partisans lacked radios, its purpose is unclear. In addition, there were two towing hooks added in front of the engine. These were probably added to help tow these vehicles in case of any of them slipping off the road or being bogged down in muddy terrain.

Side view of the improvised vehicle. This picture was taken after the German capture and the vehicle is lacking the front wheels’ armored cover. Note the two round shaped firing ports on the vehicle’s right side armor. Source: B. B. Dumitrijević and D. Savić (Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945)

Behind the engine compartment was the driver and crew (passenger) compartment. The driver was positioned on the vehicle’s left side and had a small observation hatch without a visor slit. Behind him, there was room for 6 to 8 men. Being fully enclosed, they could fire at the enemy through four round firing ports, two on each side.

On top of the crew compartment, a smaller superstructure with angled sides was added. In front of it, a small opening was left, likely to be used by a gunner to fire a machine gun. While the available pictures do not show any weapon fit in, an educated guess would suggest that this was its main purpose. The type of weapon used for this purpose is unknown, as the Partisans used a variety of different weapons, so it could be any one of them. The use of an anti-tank gun is highly unlikely due to the opening’s small size and the fact that, at this time in Yugoslavia, these weapons were generally rare. On top of this superstructure, a large pentagonal hatch door was added. Besides the driver, gunner, and the passengers, it is unknown if the vehicles had another crew member that served as the commander.

The rear of these vehicles appears to have been protected by a highly angled armor plate. To the rear, it would have been logical to have put a hatch door for the crew and the passengers to enter/exit the vehicle safely. Firing ports may have also been added on the rear. But, as no pictures of the vehicles from this side exist, this is all just speculation.

Due to lack of information, there is little known about its construction, besides what can be observed from the few photographs that have survived. For example, the thickness of the armored plates used is unknown. It is also unknown if the quality of these plates would provide any real protection from small-caliber fire. One of the few things mentioned in the sources is that the vehicle was around 5 m long.

Identification of the chassis used

While the few available sources mention that these two vehicles were built using a Fiat and a Magirus truck chassis, they do not state which precise types were used. While there is only one photograph of the Magirus chassis built, due to its poor quality, identification is impossible.

This is the only known photograph of the Magirus chassis based vehicle used. With such poor quality, it is impossible to identify the chassis. Source: D. Predoević (Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj)

For the second vehicle, thanks to the better quality photograph, it is easier to identify the precise type used. While most parts of the trucks used were removed and replaced with an armored body, the wheels were left unchanged. Based on them and on the fact that the sources mentioned that a Fiat truck was used, the options can be narrowed down. The most likely type used was a Fiat 621. Some 50,000 Fiat 621 were built for the Italian Army (and civilian use) in several different versions. The main reason for this assumption is the design of the wheel rims, which consisted of eight bolts that held the wheel and the two larger round shaped openings, both of which were present on the Fiat 621. If this was the case, the Fiat 621-based vehicle was powered by a FIAT 324 53 hp diesel with a maximum speed of 60 km/h. Due to extra weight, the maximum speed on this vehicle was much lower. The weight was around 2.5 tonnes, but with added armor plates and full crews, the weight probably increased by 1 tonne or even more.

The Fiat 621 is possibly the truck chassis that was used for one of these modifications. Source: Pinterest
The similarities between the tires of the Fiat 621 (left) and the Partisan modification (right) are obvious.

Different accounts of its use in combat

The potential usage of these two vehicles is not completely clear and the sources give different accounts. According to B. B. Dumitrijević and D. Savić (Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945), the Partisans, due to the speed of advance of the enemy forces, never had a chance to complete these two vehicles. In their hurry to escape the enemy, these two incomplete vehicles had to be abandoned. It seems that the enemy advance was so quickly that the Partisans did not have time to destroy or even sabotage them, which was their common practice during the war.

D. Predoević (Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj), on the other hand, states that, according to Partisan High Command dispatches, these two vehicles were to be used in an attempt to drive the enemy forces from Sanski Most. Both had specific tasks which were to be achieved. Ultimately, this attack failed, and the two vehicles disappeared from the Partisan records.

Final fate

After June 1942, the Partisans were forced to retreat from Ljubija. The two vehicles that they constructed were captured by the advancing enemy units. The circumstances under which this occurred are not known. Depending on the two previous combat use scenarios, they could have either been captured in the Ljubija workshop or during the Partisan failed attack attempt on Sanski Most. The sources also disagree about who captured them, as both German and NDH forces are credited with this.

Regardless of the circumstances, these two vehicles found their way into German hands. Unlike the photograph taken during the capture of one of the two vehicles, the vehicle in German service had its forward wheels covered with armor protection. These two would be used by the Germans during the Kozara Offensive, in an attempt to destroy Partisan forces stationed there. Their ultimate fate is unknown, as it appears that, after this operation, they were not used, or at least there is no record of them.

One of the two Partisan-built vehicles in German hands. Note that the front wheels are protected with rounded armor plates. In addition, it appears that they added a big headlight on top of the vehicles, but it is not clear. Source: D. Predoević (Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj)

Conclusion

The Partisan forces were, due to a lack of resources, often forced to use what they had at hand. These two vehicles were one example of such ingenious solutions to provide their troops with armored cover and increased firepower. Due to the rapid enemy advance, these vehicles were probably never used in combat by their creators. But, despite this setback, the Partisans would continue on with the fight against the enemy and even built even more strangely vehicles using a combination of Allied tanks and German weapons.

Partizanska Oklopna Vozila Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign

This article has been sponsored by East Coast Hardware, a Hardware, Home and Garden, Automotive and Sports shop. If you need parts for your car (vintage or replica military vehicle), do check them out!

Specifications

Crew Commander, Driver, Gunner, and 6 to 8 passenger
Dimensions 5 m long
Weight approximately 5 tonnes
Engine Possibly FIAT 324 53 hp diesel engine
Armament One unspecified machine gun
Armor unknown but probably low thickness of a few millimeters

Source:

B. B. Dumitrijević and D. Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd
D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara
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Categories
WW2 Yugoslav Partisan Armor

Partizanski Tenk

Yugoslav Partisans (1942)
Improvised Tank – 1 Built

During the war for the liberation of Yugoslavia, the Partisans were often forced to attack strong enemy positions due to the lack of proper weapons and equipment, which often lead to heavy losses. During the attack on the village of Srb, the Partisans came up with an idea to build an armored vehicle which would help them in the upcoming offensive. This vehicle was later known as a “Partizanski Tenk” (Partisan tank).

A side view of the Tenk. Its crude construction can be observed. Source: Prvi Tenkovski Bataljon

The Uprising in Lika

After the fall of Yugoslavia in April 1941, the Communist resistance movement spent the next few months gathering any available weapons its members could find. As the Germans began the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Yugoslav Communist leadership decided that it was time for the beginning of the liberation war against the occupying Axis forces. For this purpose, on the 27th of June 1941, they founded the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia known as ‘NOVJ’ (Narodnooslobodilačka vojska Jugoslavije), but otherwise known simply as the ‘Partisans’.
By the end of the year, many hard battles with the Axis forces had been fought across the Yugoslavian territories. Many territories were liberated but also lost in the following Axis counterattack. One such battle was fought for the liberation of the territory of Lika, near the Croatian Adriatic coast. Here, the Ustasha (Croatian military units) forces were committing crimes such as killing the local Serbian civilian population in June 1941. In response to this, in early July, the Partisans formed the Headquarters of Guerrilla Detachments (Štab Gerilskih Odreda) for Lika. Later that month, an uprising began against the Axis forces, positions, and installations in this area. It is here, in the small village of Nebljusime, that the story of the Partizan Tenk began.

Where the Idea Came From

With the fighting for the liberation of many towns and villages around Lika underway in late 1941 and early 1942, the Marko Orešković Battalion, with the support of other Partisan units, was given orders to expel the Italian garrison from the village of Srb. There are some disagreements in sources about the composition of the defending garrison, as it was allegedly supported by Ustasha and Chetniks forces. This assault would be no easy task though, as the defending garrison had time to fortify the larger buildings (school and municipal building) and houses into strong bunker positions. In addition, many smaller and larger bunkers were also constructed, armed with machine guns.
The Axis forces (especially the Italians) during the war tried to suppress and defend against Partisans attacks by concentrating garrison forces in many cities and villages. It was hoped that the Partisans would be discouraged from attacking positions with strong military forces present. Such scattering of their forces made many such positions an easy prey for the Partisans, as they simply could be isolated and destroyed one by one. As these positions lacked any mobile response forces, they could not help the besieged garrisons in most cases. The Partisans managed to surround and destroy many of them. The situation of Srb was different, as it was well fortified and an attack on it would lead to many losses.
During the preparations for an attack on Srb, the commander of the Marko Orešković Battalion, Đoko Jovanić, and the Political Commissar Milan Šijan came up with the idea to build an armored vehicle (better said a mobile bunker) which would help with taking Srb.

Work Began

The man responsible for the design and creation of the Partisan Tank was Stevo Brozović. He gathered a group of six engineers and blacksmiths (Ivan Razdrih, Milan Maričić, Rade Ljubojević, Nikola Maričić, Lajoš Bikvić, and Ivan Špacapan) and set a base for its construction in a forge belonging to Rade Ljubojević in the village of Nebljusime. First, they collected any useful material which could be found. They were lucky, as nearby there was an abandoned railroad station and train yard with plenty of building materials. Three wheels and axles were taken from a concrete mixer. A train fuel tank wagon was found abandoned near a train station at Loskun. Also near Loskun, on a railroad bridge, the Partisans found two large metal plates (8 x 1 m). These large plates were transported on a small railroad cart to Loskun and then, as there were no good roads to Nebljusime, they had to be manually carried with the help of 25 local inhabitants. As all materials were transported to the main base in Nebljusime, the work on the vehicle began immediately. After 21 (in March 1942) days and nights of hard work, the ‘tank’ was completed. This vehicle never received any special name during the war and it was simply called in the Partizanski Tenk in post war sources.

Design

The base for the Tenk was a reused train fuel tank. While the sources do not give precise information on its construction, it is very likely that the Partisans cut the fuel tank in half and used it as a base. This fuel tank had 6-8 mm thick steel walls and it was 1.25 m high and 1.7 m wide. This fuel tank was then covered all around (except the top and the bottom) with 4.5 mm thick steel plates. This improvised armor was tested with machine gun fire at ranges of 100 to 300 m, where the bullets had no problem to break through. As a result, in order to increase armor protection, another layer of 4.5 mm thick plate was added. The armor was held in place by welding and using bolt and rivets. Between these two plates, there was a space of 6-8 cm which was filled mostly with sand and textile materials. According to some sources, a third layer of metal plates was added to the vehicle. It is possible that these sources mistakenly consider the original fuel tank steel layer as the first armor layer, with the two added later making three in total.
It is unknown if the improved armor was enough to stop small-caliber rounds. Anti-tank and artillery guns would most likely easily have destroyed this vehicle, but these weapons were not present at Srb and, in general, were rare in 1942 in the region.
An extra three-sided 2 m long and 0.5 mm thick plate was added on the top front part. This metal plate may give the wrong impression that it was used as a firing position. This is not the case, as there was no door on top of the vehicle and the crew could not reach it from inside. This plate was actually used in combination with three dummy guns in the hope of confusing the enemy.
For movement, three metal wheels with a diameter of 0.5 m were installed, two to the rear and one in front. The front wheel could be controlled from inside the vehicle. It was protected with two metal plates on its sides. The rear two wheel’s axle was not provided with any armor. Above the rear right wheel, there was a metal lever that was used as a brake and was operated from outside the vehicle.
In front of the ‘tank’, there were four armored plates (0.7 x 0.44 mm size) that could be moved and used as firing ports. The main armament was composed by the crew’s personal weapons, like rifles and light machine guns.

A view of the rear door of the Tenk. Above the right wheel, the lever that served as a brake can be seen. Source: Hrvatski Ratnici Kroz Stoljeća 4
The crew consisted of eight men from the Marko Orešković Battalion. The commander was Milan Žeželj, his second in command Miloš Rastović. This vehicle was too small for all of them to fit in and had only four firing slots, so only four crew members were stationed inside the vehicle. The remaining four crew members, while not specified in the sources, would most likely help during the transport and act as a support unit in combat.
Due to the small size of the Tenk, the interior was very cramped and the crew members would have most likely had to stay in a bent-down position. The cramped interior would also have made the use of personal armament difficult. The only way for the crew to enter this vehicle was through a small rear door. Precise information about the interior of the vehicle is lacking.
The tank did not have any engine, but was instead moved by its crew or drove by horses. While there is no information about its precise weight, the Tenk would certainly have been quite difficult to move.


Illustration of the Partizanski Tenk (Partisan Tank) by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

In Combat

It is somewhat ironic that, by the time the Partisan Tenk was completed, the village of Srb was abandoned by the Italians and the Partisans took it without a fight. The Tenk was moved to Donjeg Lapca, where it remained until a large enemy offensive in mid-1942 when it had to be abandoned because of its heavy weight. It was later recovered and dug into the ground to be used as an air cover bunker by the Partisans. It would change hands many times during the war until the Partisan drove the Axis forces from this region in early 1945.
There is another version of the events that claims the vehicle was never used due to the capture of the first real tanks by the Partisans near Ljubovo in early 1942.

In 1946, the Tenk was donated to the Croatian History Museum, where it is still located. Its small size compared to the people next to it is apparent. The interior of this vehicle was surely cramped and hard to work in. Source.

In 1981, Postmark stamps with the Partisan Tenk were printed. Source.
The Tenk did survive the war and was donated in 1946 to the Croatian History Museum (Hrvatskom povijesnom muzeju) in Zagreb by one of the men who built it. There, it can be seen to this day outside the museum.

Conclusion

While, in theory, the Tenk could have helped the Partisans in overcoming enemy positions, in reality, it is unlikely that it would have been useful. While it proved that the Partisans had good intentions and the determination to prevent unnecessary losses, it was simply too crude of a design and lacked any means of moving itself around. Its armor may have been strong enough to stop small-caliber rounds, but against larger caliber rounds it would have been helpless.

Specifications

Crew 8 (4 in vehicle, 4 support)
Armament Crew’s personal weapons
Armor 15 – 17 mm

Sources

The author would like to thank Dori Bošković from the Croatian History Museum for providing the information necessary for writing this article.
Bojan B. D. and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
Velimir V. (2003), Tito’s Partisans 1941-45, Osprey publishing.
Pleše B. (1957) Kako je izrađen prvi partizanski tenk, Vesnik Vojnog muzeja Jugoslovenske narodne armije 4. Vojni muzej Jugoslovenske narodne armije, Beograd.
Tomislav A. and Višeslav A. (2011) Hrvatski Ratnici Kroz Stoljeća 4, Znaje, Zagreb.
Vujo V. (1988) Prvi Tenkovski Bataljon, Vojno izdavački i novinarski centar Beograd.
www.srpskioklop.paluba.info
znaci.net (1)
znaci.net (2)