Categories
WW2 Czechoslovak Prototypes WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Škoda Š-I-j

Czechoslovakia/Yugoslavia (1938)
Tankette – 1 built

As the Yugoslav Royal Army was in a search of new armored equipment, the Czechoslovak Škoda company was more than willing to offer its armored vehicles products. During the thirties, a few tankettes were presented to the Yugoslav Royal Army but performed poorly on testing so a new vehicle was requested. The following Š-I-D tankette achieved some success and eight were bought, but even this vehicle was deemed insufficient and future improvements were requested. This would lead to the development of the Š-I-j, which was presented to the Yugoslav Royal Army but for unknown reasons was never adopted.

History

In the early 1930s, the Yugoslav Royal Army began a process of reforming and reinforcing with additional equipment and armor for its two cavalry divisions. Each cavalry division consisted of two to three cavalry brigades with two regiments, one artillery squadron, a cycling battalion and other supporting units. It was planned to attach a motorized regiment to each division, supported with armor like light tanks or tankettes.

From the start, there was an issue as to where to acquire this new equipment from. While France and Yugoslavia had good military cooperation, France was unwilling to sell its latest tanks, as it wanted to dispose of the older surplus models first. Through the French, Yugoslavia had at its disposal around 56 older Renault-Kegresse M-28 and FT tanks, some having been bought and some received as military aid in the 1920-30s. By April 1940, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia managed to acquire 54 relatively modern R35 light tanks from France. The Yugoslav Royal Army had even considered acquiring some Soviet tank designs, such as the T-26 or BT series. However, mostly due to political reasons, this was not possible.

Yugoslavia negotiated with Poland and Czechoslovakia about acquiring new equipment. The negotiations with Czechoslovakia were somewhat successful and delivery of only eight Škoda Š-I-D (T-32 in Yugoslav service) was agreed.

The Š-I-D (T-32 in Yugoslav service) on parade. This picture was taken in September 1940 during military exercise near the capital, Belgrade. Source: srpskioklop.paluba.info

The Š-I-D was perhaps the most modern armored vehicle in the Yugoslavian Royal Army. Its general performance, however, proved to be disappointing. While the 37 mm gun was one of the best for its time for its size, the running gear proved to be unreliable, with a poor design that needed constant repair and was easy to break. Another issue was its armor thickness, which the Yugoslav Royal Army never deemed sufficiently strong and required to be improved. For these reasons, the Yugoslav Royal Army officials demanded from Škoda a new tankette with improved running gear, armor and main weapon. Škoda developed a much improved Š-I-j tankette. The prototype, without the gun, was completed in May 1938.

Name

The Š-I-j designation is an abbreviation, with ‘Š’ standing for the manufacturer, Škoda, ‘I’ (Roman number for 1) represents the vehicle category (category I for tankettes, category II for ‘light’ tanks and the category III for ‘medium’ tanks) and ‘j stands for ‘jugoslávský’, Yugoslav. Depending on the source, it was also marked with a capital ‘J’. But, if we take into account that the previous Š-I-D prototype was also marked with a minuscule ‘d’, we can assume that the Š-I-j designation is correct.

Škoda began changing its naming system for its production vehicles in 1940 (or in 1939 depending on the sources) and this included the Š-I-j. There are some disagreements between different authors about its later designation. According to B. Nadoveza and N. Đokić (Odbrambena privreda Kraljevine Jugoslavije), the name was changed in May 1939 to T-I-D, where the capital ‘D’ stands for Diesel. Author D. Predoević (Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj), mentioned that the name was changed to T-3D. To complicate the matter more, authors H. C. Doyle and C. K. Kliment (Czechoslovak armored fighting vehicles 1918-1945) state that the T-3D designation was used for the previously built Š-I-D tankette.

Technical Characteristics

The new Š-I-j tankette had many visual similarities with the previous built Š-I-D. The most obvious change was the redesigned and improved suspension, which had proved to be highly problematic on the previous version. It consisted of two pairs of larger road wheels (on each side), suspended by leaf-spring units. There were two front drive sprockets, two rear idlers and eight return rollers in total (with four on each side).

Drawings of the Š-I-j tankette. Source: www.palba.cz

The vehicle was equipped with (sources do not give us a precise type or name) a 3.77 liter diesel engine giving 44 kW (59 hp)@2200 rpm. The vehicle’s maximum speed was 31 km/h, but the cross-country performance is unknown. While tested with the Yugoslav Royal Army, the operational range was listed as 6 hours not in usual km.

The main armament was the Škoda A9J 47 mm gun with 42 rounds of ammunition. The gun could elevate between -10° to +25° and traverse 15° on both sides. The secondary weapon was a ZB vz.30J machine gun with 1000 rounds of ammunition.

Front view of the Š-I-j tankette. The 47 mm main gun and the machine gun next to it can be observed. The running gear was also improved, which had proved to be highly problematic on the previous version. Source: forum.warthunder.com

The superstructure consists of a simple rectangular armored casemate with a commander’s cupola on top. The armor plates were held in place with rivets. The front armor thickness was 30 mm, the sides 15 mm and the rear was 12 mm thick.

View of the rear side and the engine compartment of the Š-I-j. Source: forum.warthunder.com

The Š-I-j had two crew members: the driver who also used the machine gun, and the commander, who was at the same time the gunner and loader of the main gun. This was far from ideal, but for tankette standards of the era, it was completely normal. To gain access to their battle positions, the commander entered through the command cupola and the driver through the hatch next to it. The crew could observe the surroundings through two larger observation hatches in front, with an additional smaller one located on the driver side. For the commander, there was no need for a side observation hatch, as he had the cupola for all-around view of the surroundings.

Fate

The Š-I-j prototype was presented to a Yugoslav military delegation during March 1939. After examining the vehicle, the delegation had shown interest in the potential purchase of some 108 vehicles. By the end of 1939, the sole prototype was transported to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia for future examination. It is not clear what happened during the examination but no production orders were placed by the Yugoslav Royal Army. Possible reasons for this were that it was either deemed unsatisfactory or that more modifications were required, but the sources are not clear on the matter. It is also possible that the Yugoslav army officials simply lost interest in tankettes and wanted a ‘proper’ tank. In either case, the vehicle was returned to Škoda, where it was taken over by the Germans. Its final fate is unknown, but it can be assumed that it was probably scrapped during the war

Conclusion

While the new Š-I-j had many improvements regarding the armor, the armament, the running gear and the engine, for unknown reasons, it was never adopted by the Yugoslav Royal Army. Had it been put in service it may have been one of the best such very light vehicles in the world mainly due to its armor and armament, as most other similar vehicles were only lightly armored and armed with only machine guns.



Illustration of the Škoda Š-I-j produced by Brian Gaydos, funded by our Patreon Campaign

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.58 x 2.05 x 1.8 m
Total weight, battle ready 5.8 tons
Crew 2 (commander, driver)
Propulsion Unknown diesel type with 44 kW 2200 rpm, 3.77 liter
Speed 31 km/h
Armament 47 mm A-9J Gun
7.92 mm Vz.30J Machine Gun
.
Armor front plate 30 mm, sides 15 mm, rear 12 mm, floor 20 mm
Total Production 1

Sources

D. Babac (2008), Elitni vidovi jugoslovenske vojske u Aprilskom ratu. Evoluta
B. Nadoveza and N. Đokić (2014), Odbrambena privreda Kraljevine Jugoslavije,
B. B.. Dimitrijević, (2011) Borna kola Jugoslovenske vojske 1918-1941, Institut za savremenu istoriju.
Bojan B. D. and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju.
H.C.Doyle and C.K.Kliment (1979), Czechoslovak armored fighting vehicles 1918-1945, Argus Books Ltd.
D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara
srpskioklop.paluba.info
www.palba.cz

Categories
WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Renault R35 tanks in Yugoslav Service

Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1940)
Light Tank – 54 Purchased

In the interwar period, the Yugoslav Royal Army made some attempts to acquire new armored vehicles. The country that offered the best chance to get this equipment was France for two reasons. First, the relatively good relations between these two countries and the fact that France had a large number of tanks available. Despite the French reluctance to sell newer designs, an agreement for the purchase of 54 Renault R35 tanks would eventually be made. These tanks would be the most numerous armored vehicles that the Yugoslav Royal Army managed to acquire before the Axis invasion in April 1941.

History

In the early 1930s, the Yugoslavian Royal Army began a process of reforming its two cavalry divisions with additional armor support in the hope of increasing its potential offensive capabilities. These two cavalry divisions consisted of two to three cavalry brigades with two regiments, one artillery squadron, a cycling battalion and other supporting units. It was planned to attach a motorized regiment to each division supported with armored vehicles like the light tanks or tankettes.

From the start, there was an issue with where to acquire this new equipment from. While France and Yugoslavia had good military cooperation, France was unwilling to sell its latest tanks and wanted to dispose of the older surplus models. Through the French, Yugoslavia had at its disposal around 56 older Renault-Kegresse M-28 and FT tanks, some having been bought and some received as military aid in the 1920-30s. Some of these FT tanks were possibly acquired from Poland.

With the outbreak of World War II, it was almost impossible for the Yugoslav Royal Army to acquire new armored equipment anywhere in Europe. But this did not discourage the Yugoslav Royal Army officials from continuing negotiations with the French Army about buying any available modern armor. The continuous insistence of the Yugoslav military delegations finally bore some fruit in early 1940, when the French Army agreed to sell 54 relatively modern R35 light tanks to Yugoslavia. These arrived in April 1940, just before the German invasion of the West which stopped any future hope of acquiring new vehicles from France.

The R35 tank

The Renault R35 was a French light tank developed during the early thirties to replace the aging FT tank. While the French army tested other heavier designs (Renault D1 and D2), a simpler and cheaper vehicle was deemed more desirable. Work on this tank began in 1933 at the French Army’s request for a new light tank design. Renault was quick to respond and presented its prototype to the French Army which, after a series of modifications (among which was increasing the armor to 40 mm and improving the running gear), placed an order for over 1600 tanks. While the R35 was well protected with 40 mm-thick cast armor, it was plagued with problems such as weak firepower (it had the same 37 mm gun as the FT), just two crew members, a lack of radio and slow speed. During its service life, a number of further modifications and tests were carried out in order to improve its firepower and mobility, all with limited success. Regardless, it was the most numerous French tank during the German Invasion of 1940. After the defeat of France, the Germans captured many R35 tanks and put them in use in various roles, either unchanged or modified for specific purposes, such as ammunition carriers or anti-tank vehicles. The R35 was also exported to Poland, Romania, Turkey and Yugoslavia.

The R35 in France service. Source

R35 Unit Organization

Before the arrival of the R35 tanks, the Yugoslav Royal Army had at its disposal only one armored unit, simply called the Battalion of Fighting Vehicles (formed in 1936) equipped with FT and M-28 tanks. This unit is often mistakenly called the First Battalion. It is interesting to note that the Yugoslav Royal Army never adopted the term tank and instead referred to these vehicles simply as fighting vehicles (Борна Кола).

On May 3rd, 1940, the Battalion of Fighting Vehicles was reformed into the 1st and 2nd Battalions of Fighting Vehicles. The 1st Battalion was equipped with the older tanks while the 2nd was supplied with all the acquired R35 tanks. These two Battalions consisted of three companies, each with three platoons. Beside a number of motorized vehicles (for ammunition and spare parts transportation), no infantry, artillery or anti-tank support elements were provided for these units. The 2nd Battalion was commanded by Danilo Zobenica. Prior to the war, the R35 was often used in larger military exercises together with the T-32 tankettes.

The R35 in Yugoslav service were painted in the French dark green and marked with four-digit numbers. Later in service, it appears that single and double-digit numbers were used for special purposes.

In some sources, mostly internet websites, it is wrongly indicated that the R35 tanks were given to the 1st Battalion. The reason for this wrong identification is the small painted sign (a burning grenade with a number 1) located on a small spare box on the vehicle’s left side. This is actually an original French sign that was simply never repainted.

Left, the painted sign with the number 1, right above the first return roller. The person in the picture is the young King Petar II. Right, the French painted sign which is misinterpreted as the mark of the 1st Battalion. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.info
Camouflaged R35 followed by infantry on a military exercise near Belgrade in early 1940. The Frech sign is still visible here. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The R35 in a Military Coup, March 1941

In March 1941, the government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was negotiating with the Germans to join the Axis powers. A group of pro-Western Yugoslav Air Force officers, under the leadership of General Dušan Simović, staged a coup on the 27th of March 1941 in order to prevent this happening. They were supported by the R35 tanks of the 2nd Battalion of Fighting Vehicles, which were deployed at key locations in the capital Belgrade. The coup was successful. The R35 did not fire a single round and were used more as a psychological weapon.

During this coup, some R35 tanks had political slogans painted on the turret, for example, ‘For King and Country’ (За Краља и Отаџбину). The success of the coup actually doomed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and, only a few weeks later, the Axis forces attacked.

One of the R35 tanks used during the coup on the 27th of March. This tank had a political slogan ‘For King and Country’ painted on the turret. Source
The same tank placed in front of the Army Ministry building. Source

During the April War

The new government formed following the coup anticipated a potential Axis attack and began preparing for mobilisation, which proved to be too slow and inefficient. Elements from the 1st Battalion of Fighting Vehicles, with older armored vehicles, were deployed defending larger cities such as Sarajevo and Zagreb. The 2nd Battalion of Fighting Vehicles was mainly positioned defending the capital Belgrade, with one company (which one precisely is not known, it could be either 1st or 3rd) positioned in the city of Skopje. The 2nd Battalion’s new commander at the outbreak of war was Major Danilo Zobenica.

A large group of Yugoslav R35 tanks prior the war. Source

When the Axis forces attacked the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on the morning of 6th April 1941 (known today as the April War), the 2nd Battalion was ordered to move from Belgrade to Northern Croatia in hopes of preventing any possible enemy advance. They reached the Croation city of Đakovo on the 9th of April. Once there, this unit was mostly used to pacify Croatian rebels which were trying to disarm the Army unit stationed there. On the 10th of April, the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska – NDH) was formed with the support of the Germans. This event deepened the already chaotic state of the Yugoslav Royal Army stationed in Croatia. It was already breaking down due to the desertion of Croat soldiers and rapid Axis advance. For this reason, some elements from the 2nd Battalion were quickly transferred via the Sava river to Bosnia.

On 13th April, parts of the 2nd Battalion reached Gračanica in order to support the 2nd Army stationed there. Once there, the high command of the 2nd Army ordered the formation of three motorized detachments equipped with 5 R35 tanks, 5 trucks and infantry support. Once formed, these units were to defend the area around Bosanska Posavina against Croatian rebels who were openly attacking the Yugoslav Royal Army. Due to general confusion and chaos, it appears that only one such unit with around 3 or 4 R35 tanks was formed. The unit was named the Fast Detachment of the Second Army and was commanded by Dragoljub Draža Mihailović (later commander of the Chetnik movement in Yugoslavia during the war). On the night of 13th/14th April, this unit began making its way from Gračanica to its designation area. On the road to Bosanska Posavina, they engaged Croat insurrectionist forces which were defeated. The Fast Detachment also engaged with smaller German forces with some success. This unit was lost in combat with the German forces near Sarajevo. The remnants of the 2nd Battalion stationed in Bosnia were destroyed or captured by the German 14th Panzer Division.

The 2nd Battalion company that was stationed in Macedonia was completely combat ready by the time of Axis attack. On the 6th of April, it was repositioned to Ježevo Polje in support of the Bregalnička Divizija. The following day, the Germans made an attack in this area but were repulsed. The same day, the 2nd Battalion company was ordered to withdraw toward Veles. Due to the heavy German offensive, all R35 tanks were lost or abandoned by their crews.

In Occupied Yugoslavia

During the period between April 1941 and May 1945, the R35 was used by all belligerent parties in occupied Yugoslavia, including the Germans, Croats and the two Yugoslav uprising groups, the Communist Partisans and Royal Chetniks, under different circumstances.

In German hands

After the April War, the Germans captured at least 78-80 Yugoslav armored fighting vehicles. These were to be transported out of occupied Yugoslavia by the end of 1941. Because of the emergence of the two resistance movements, these vehicles were instead distributed to German occupation units. At the end of June 1941, the R35 captured tanks were used to form the Panzer Kompanie zur besonderen Verwendung 12 (12th Tank Company for Special Purposes) reformed into Panzer Abteilung zb.V.12 in 1944. The R35 was actively used to combat the Yugoslavian resistance movements almost until the end of the war. Over the years, the numbers of R35 tanks dwindled due to losses and mechanical breakdowns. For example, Panzer Abteilung zb.V.12 had, at the end of October 1944, only six R35 tanks, with only a single vehicle being fully operational.

The Germans did some minor modifications on the R35 (and on other French tanks), such as removing the larger domed shape cupolas on top and replacing them with simpler split-hatch doors. It is also not clear if all the German-operated R35 tanks in Yugoslavia were ex-Yugoslav or also ones captured in France in 1940.

This vehicle had the German Balkenkreuz painted on the turret and the rear hull but retained the original Yugoslav four digit number marking. It also had the German split-hatch turret doors. Source
A German R35 during the battle of Kraljevo, 1941. Source
The split-hatch doors, which replaced the domed shape cupola, are clearly seen here. This German R35 tank was lost in the area of Konjic in 1943 while fighting the Partisans. Source

In NDH

After the April War, the Independent State of Croatia made many requests to the Germans in order to receive captured Yugoslav armor to reinforce its newly formed army. While the Germans provided them with other captured military equipment, such as rifles and machine guns, they were initially reluctant to supply the Croats with captured tanks. Nevertheless, at least one R35 tank and a company of older FT eventually found their way into the hands of the NDH forces.

There is a possibility that the Germans provided the NDH with a small number of R35 tanks in 1944, but sources are not clear on this matter.

Beside the NDH’s Panzer I’s, to the far right, one R35 can barely be seen. While the NDH forces operated a few R35 tanks, their use was probably limited at best. Source: Pinterest

Back in Yugoslav Hands

During September and October 1941, the Partisans managed to capture several enemy tanks in Serbia. The first tank was captured on 8th September near the village of Vraževšnice. Two German tanks were captured a week later around the area of the cities of Kragujevac and Gornji Milanovac. Two more were found deserted near Gornji Milanovac on 16th October. The precise types that were captured are not clear, but at least one was a R35 tank.

Prior to its capture, the German crew sabotaged the guns on at least two of the tanks (the condition of the remaining captured tanks is not clear). For this reason, these tanks were instead armed with machine guns and hand grenades. At least two tanks were to be used in a joint Partisans and Chetniks attempt to liberate the city of Kraljevo, held by the elements of the German 717th Infantry Division. The German defenders were supported by tanks from Panzer Kompanie zu b.V.12, but no instances of tank to tank action were recorded. Even if these had occurred, the Yugoslav resistance’s tanks would be powerless to adequately fight enemy armor, being unable to use their sabotaged guns.

The tank crews consisted of both Partisan and Chetnik fighters. The R35 was commanded by Lieutenant Žarko Borušić. The attempt to liberate Kraljevo was made by the end of October 1941. The tank’s crew managed to somehow fool the German defenders and enter the city unopposed. The advancing infantry support was however stopped by the Germans and was unable to support the two tanks. The tank crews eventually managed to successfully escape the city.

This failed attempt to take the city, together with differing political views, would eventually lead to an open war between the two resistance movements. The Chetniks took possession of these tanks and killed the Partisan commander Srećko Nikolić (who was a commander of one of these tanks). The Chetniks then used two (of which one might have been an R35) tanks against Partisan forces that were holding the city of Čačak in November 1941. The Partisans managed to capture at least one tank (unknown type) from the Chetniks, possibly in late August 1941. This was then used and lost against the Germans during the latter’s attack on the territories of the Republic of Užice (part of Yugoslavia liberated by the Partisans in late 1941). The Partisans managed, in the later stages of the war, to capture even more R35 tanks. These were used against the German forces but also on parades in liberated cities, including in Kragujevac in May 1945.

After the War

A small number of R35 tanks (maybe only a few) did survive the war, but in what shape it is not known. Due to the R35 tank’s weak armor and main gun, the lack of spare parts and general obsolescence, the tanks were of limited use at best for the newly formed Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). Some were possibly used as training vehicles, but it is unlikely that they were in use for a long time after the war and were probably scrapped. Unfortunately, no Yugoslav R35 tank seems to have survived to this day.

Conclusion

While the R35 represented the backbone of the Yugoslav Royal Army armored force prior to WWII, due to their small numbers, wrong tactical usage and crew inexperience, they proved no match for the well trained German Panzer units. They were used by nearly all major sides during the liberation war in Yugoslavia. While, ironically, the majority were used by the Germans, it was the Partisans who used them in many fights to liberate Yugoslavia from the Axis powers in 1945.



One of the R35 tanks used during the coup on the 27th of March. This tank had a political slogan ‘For King and Country’ painted on the turret. This illustration was produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions 4.02 x 1.87 x 2.13 m (13.2 x 6.2 x 7 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 10.6 metric tons
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Propulsion Renault V-4 gasoline 48 hp, p/w ratio 8.0 hp/t
Speed 20 km/h (12 mph)
Suspension Horizontal rubber cylinder springs
Maximum range 130 km (80 mi)
Armament Main: 37 mm (1.46 in) L/21 SA18
Secondary: Châtellerault or Reibel MAC31 7.5 mm (0.29 in) machine-gun
Maximum armor 43 mm (1.69 in)
Total Operated 54

Sources

D. Babac (2008), Elitni vidovi jugoslovenske vojske u Aprilskom ratu. Evoluta
B. Nadoveza and N. Đokić (2014), Odbrambena privreda Kraljevine Jugoslavije,
B. B.. Dimitrijević, (2011) Borna kola Jugoslovenske vojske 1918-1941, Institut za savremenu istoriju.
D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Francuska, Beograd
Bojan B. D. and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju.
D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara
S. Zaloga (2014) French tanks of World War II (1), Osprey Publishing


Categories
WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Partizanski Tenk

Yugoslavian 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)

Categories
WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Jagdpanzer 38(t) in Yugoslav service

Yugoslavia (1944-1952)
Tank destroyer – 20+ captured

During the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia (1941-1945) and the struggle for liberation, the resistance movements employed a collection of different armored vehicles from the USA, Germany, France, Great Britain, Poland, Soviet Union, and Italy. The Yugoslav Communist partisans used tanks and other vehicles that were given to them by the Western Allies and the Soviets, but also managed to capture a number of different Axis armored vehicles. Among these was the Jagdpanzer 38(t) which the Germans were using by the end of the war in small numbers on this front. The captured Jagdpanzer 38(t) would be used during the war in limited numbers and would also serve after the war by the new JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) army.

The Jagdpanzer 38(t)

When the Germans occupied what remained of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, they came into possession of two well-known weapon manufacturers: CKD (Ceskomoravska-Kolben-Danek) and Škoda. The CKD factory (renamed BMM by the Germans) was tasked with the production of the Panzer 38(t) for the Germans. The production of this tank would be terminated during the second half of the war, as it proved to be ineffective as a combat vehicle by that stage of the war.
The BMM factory continued production of different combat designs (mostly anti-tank) based on the Panzer 38(t)’s chassis. By late 1943, the BMM factory was involved in designing and building a light and relatively cheap tank destroyer vehicle based on some components from the Panzer 38(t). The result of this work would be the Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank destroyer. It was armed with the 7.5 cm PaK 39 and was fully enclosed and protected with well-angled 60 mm thick front armor. While not a perfect design, it would prove to be an effective anti-tank killer and during the war around 2,824 such vehicles were built by BMM and Škoda. It would be used on all fronts in Europe including in small numbers on the Balkans.

A brand new Jagdpanzer 38(t). Produced in August 1944 at the BMM factory. Source

In the Balkans

The quick defeat of Yugoslavia in April 1941 by the Axis forces created the wrong impression that there would be no more need for engagement of larger occupation force, but an uprising that began only a few months later forced the Germans to re-introduce some armored units in this region. At the start of the uprising, the Germans had only one armored company of old and captured tanks in the whole territory of occupied Yugoslavia. The Germans hastily rushed reinforcements including a tank battalion equipped with mostly captured French tanks ‘Beutepanzers’.
During the later part of the war, especially from 1943 onwards, the communist resistance movement, the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ) (Народноослободилачка војска Југославије), known today as the ‘Partisans’, began to increase in numbers. This was possible due to cooperation with the Allies which began supplying them with weapons, equipment and personnel. To combat the ever-increasing Partisan movement, the Germans were forced to send any available reinforcements, including some armored elements.
As most modern German armored vehicles were produced in relatively small numbers (in comparison to the Western Allies and Soviets) and were deemed too valuable, usually only older or captured vehicles would be sent to Yugoslavia. These were mostly French but included some Italian, Soviet, and a few British vehicles also. By 1944/45, some relatively modern vehicles, such as the Jagdpanzer 38, in small numbers, were present on this front with different units, including the 181st and 41st Infantry Divisions, 31st SS Volunteer Grenadier Division, 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, and Panzer Abteilung 202.
The 181st Infantry Division was engaged fighting Partisan forces in Montenegro and Herzegovina during the second half of 1944. In October, Panzerjäger-Abteilung 222 was reinforced with 14 Jagdpanzer 38s and with another 10 in January 1945. During the German withdrawal from Yugoslavia in early Spring 1945, this Division would see some heavy action around Zagorje in Croatia. During the battle for the Sermian Front in early April 1945, the 41st Infantry Division was reinforced with 10 of these vehicles. Both these Division surrendered to the Partisans by 12th May 1945.
The 31st SS Volunteer Grenadier Division since November 1944 had operated 14 Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles. This unit was for a short time used to fight Yugoslav Partisans before being deployed to Hungary to fight the Soviets. The much depleted 14th SS Grenadier Division “Galizische” was used to fight the Partisans in Slovenia during March, but shortly afterward was pulled out from this front. Panzer Abteilung 202 had been engaged in heavy fighting in Yugoslavia for years, its combat strength on 1st April 1945 was reported to be 23 Italian tanks, 2 Semovente 75/18, and 10 Jagdpanzers 38.

In Partisans hands

Precise information regarding the circumstances of when or how the Jagdpanzer 38 vehicles were captured is hard to find. The problem with Partisan documentation is that due to the poor knowledge of precise military designation, too often, wrong names or just simply the term tank (without any context or explanation of the type) were used. Sometimes Partisans units that did manage to capture enemy vehicles immediately put them into their service without reporting them to the High Command. Due to this, it is difficult to determine which vehicles were captured or if they were used in combat.
One of the first Jagdpanzers 38(t)s captured was during the German unsuccessful offensive action near Baranya that lasted from 6th to 19th March 1945. During the heavy fighting, the Partisans forced the Germans to withdraw and on that occasion, an unknown number (possibly only one or two) of Jagdpanzers 38(t)s were captured. The following month, another one was captured near Našice in North-East Croatia. Additionally, a number of these vehicles were also captured as they were left behind by the fleeing German forces. This is the case of Panzer Abteilung 202, as nearly all its armored vehicles (Jagdpanzers 38(t), M.15/42, Sd. Kfz. 251, etcetera) were found abandoned loaded on a train on the railroad from Ljubljana to Kranj. On top of that, a few were captured during the liberation of Maribor from 10th to 15th May 1945. The majority of the Jagdpanzers 38(t)s were captured with the final surrender of the 181st and 41st Infantry Divisions in May 1945.
According to researcher Dragan Savić, who investigated the Partisan archive of captured vehicles and equipment, a total of around 20 Jagdpanzer 38(t)s in various conditions were captured. Due to the lack of proper documentation, this number may be higher but it is hard to tell.

This vehicle was captured by the 16th Vojvodina Division (Vojvođanska Divizija) near the region of Baranya in March of 1945. Source

Another (or the same vehicle) with the 16th Vojvodina Division near the region of Baranya. Source
The use of these vehicles by the Partisan during the war is not well known due to the lack of documentation. The vehicles captured in Vojvodina (where the Jagdpanzers 38s were used) were often employed in combat, but only in small numbers.
There is a possibility that some Jagdpanzer 38(t)s were used by the specially formed Partisan auto-school (school for armored vehicle crew training) near the capital city of Belgrade in late 1944. If this school was independent or part of the larger school (possibly located, but there is no documentation to prove this) in the city of Kragujevac (Serbia) is also unknown. Allegedly, the Belgrade school in May 1945 had in its inventory: four R35, two-to-three M.15/42, L.6, one Semovente (possibly 75/18), two Semovente 47/32, a Hotchkiss (unknown type and numbers, probably a H35) StuG III, one Ferdinand (possibly a Jagdpanzer 38(t)) and a few armored cars.


One of the Jagdpanzer 38(t)s captured by the Yugoslavians and put into service, during training exercises at Bela Crkva after the war. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Leander Jobse.

The name

During the war, the Yugoslav Partisans managed to capture a number of Axis armored combat vehicles. As the majority of the Partisan fighters who managed to capture these vehicles had no knowledge of the precise military designation for these vehicles, they called them by different and mostly wrong names. For example, the German-used T-34s (captured by the Soviet Union) were often called ‘Panther’, despite the fact that this vehicle was never used on this front.
The same is true in the case with the Jagdpanzer 38(t) (and, in some cases, for the StuG III, which also complicates the identification process), which was known under the name “Ferdinand” by some of its crew during and after the war. The origin of this name is not clear, but it is highly likely that name was taken from Soviet troops during the battle for Belgrade in late 1944.
After the war, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) never officially designated the Jagdpanzer 38(t) as Ferdinand. This is likely a result of the better understanding of the equipment captured during the war. In order to avoid any confusion and as the later JNA never gave any other designation, this article has and will use the original German designation for this vehicle.

After the war

The Jagdpanzers 38(t) in the JNA after the war were used mainly to equip combat units and as training vehicles. It was used for a short time to equip the 2nd Tank Brigade (equipped with the Soviet T-34-85) with two battalions of 8 Jagdpanzer 38(t)s during 1946. Some were given to the independent self-propelled anti-tank brigade.
A group of four or five such vehicles was given to the newly formed Tenkovsko Vojno Učilište (TVU) [Tank Military School] in November of 1945. The TVU was formed by the order of the Ministry of the National Committee in June 1945. The TVU had the aim to train a new generation of tank officers and was based on the Soviet model of schooling. It was first located at Banjica, but was relocated to Bela Crkva in 1946. In 1948, due to the Tito-Stalin split, Yugoslavia refused to join the Eastern communist bloc, and due to this decision, they were in real danger of a war with the Soviet Union. As the TVU was stationed near the Romanian border, it was put on high alert during this crisis. As this led to a slow crew training process, the TVU was again moved to Banja Luka far away from the eastern borders. From 1948 onwards, in the hope to keep the T-34-85s in good condition, the older and captured vehicles were mainly used for training.

A Jagdpanzer 38(t) during training exercises at Bela Crkva after the war. All captured vehicles received a three-digit label after the war. Source

Another photograph during training exercises after the war. Source
During its use as a training vehicle, the Jagdpanzer 38(t) was not much liked by its crews. There were a few reasons for this: cramped interior; unusual crew positions (with three crew member located on the right side); and during training, these vehicles were always marked as enemy vehicles, which was unpopular with its crews. The Jagdpanzer 38 would remain in operational service up to 1952 when the remaining vehicles were withdrawn from service as they were being replaced with more modern Western vehicles. Unfortunately, no Yugoslav Jagdpanzer 38(t) vehicles survive to this day.

Markings and paint scheme

After the war, there was no effective registration numbering system for the available armored vehicles of the JNA. Captured vehicles, regardless of origin, received a white three digits label which was simply painted with a paintbrush. The German vehicles were painted in the Dunkel Gelb with the combination of dark green and brown-red.

Yugoslav Jagdpanzer 38s in Albania

After the war, in Albania, a new communist regime established good but brief relations with Yugoslavia. As a result of these good relations, the JNA provided the Albanians with a number of different items of military equipment, supplies, personnel, and instructors. With training, a group of 21 tanks and other armored vehicles (including few Jagdpanzer 38(t)s) were also sent in September 1946. The instructors and other personnel were stationed there during 1947-48 and helped to train the Albanian crews.

Conclusion

The Jagdpanzer 38(t) did not have any influence on the future development of armored vehicles in JNA. It was important for two things: first, it helped build up the JNA strength after WWII at times the need for any armored vehicle was great, and it did help training first generations of new crew and officers.

Sources

Terry J. G. (2004), Tanks in Detail JgdPz IV, V, VI and Hetzer, Ian Allan Publishing
Duško Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
Bojan B. D. and Dragan S.(2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
Bojan B. D. (2010) Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
Velimir V. (2003), Tito’s Partisans 1941-45, Osprey publishing.
Samuel W. and Mitcham J.R. (2007), The German Order Of The Battle, Stackpole Books.
https://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/ratniplen/hetzer.htm
https://znaci.net/arhiv/odrednica/16-vojvodjanska-divizija-novj

Jagdpanzer 38(t) specifications

Dimensions 6.38 x 2.63 x 2.17 m
Total weight, battle-ready 15.7 tonnes
Crew 4 (Gunner, loader, driver and commander)
Propulsion Six-cylinder Praga AE water-cooled 150 hp
Speed 42 km/h, 15 km/h (cross-country)
Range 177 km
Armament 75 mm PaK 39 and one MG 34 or MG 42 machine gun
Armor 60-8 mm
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index
Categories
German Improvized AFVs WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Sd.Kfz.250 mit 5 cm PaK 38

Nazi Germany/Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1943-54)
Self Propelled Gun – 1 Built

During the Second World War, across the battlefields of Europe and North Africa, the German forces often made field modifications in the hope of improving their existing equipment or simply salvaging damaged ones. These modifications were often simple constructions consisting of putting different weapon systems on a tank or half-track. Examples of which include the “Oswald” and a Pzkpfw. KV-1B fitted with a 7.5 cm KwK 40.
Another such modification was the merging an Sd.Kfz.250 half-track troop carrier with a 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun.

History

Historically, this vehicle is a mystery and unfortunately, there is no information about it available. Various sources, mostly on the internet, offer different interpretations of who built this and where the vehicle was used. These range from it being used on the Eastern Front to it seeing action during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. However, most of these versions are incorrect or misinterpreted.
Thanks to Dr. Mirko Peković (Museum Advisor), we know that the Belgrade Military Museum received this vehicle in 1954 from a military post, from Kragujevac (a city in Serbia). Unfortunately, the Museum does not possess information on its origin. It is known that the vehicle was captured by Partisans during the German withdrawal from Greece. More precise information is difficult to find as the Partisans kept poor records of most captured vehicles and weapons during the WW2. It is also not known what the Partisans (and later the JNA-Yugoslav People’s Army) did with this vehicle.
Thanks to its preservation at the Museum, the construction can be analyzed in detail. The first thing of notice is that this is a combination of a German Sd.Kfz.250 half-track and a 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank weapon.


This vehicle can be seen at the Belgrade Military Museum located near the city center. Photo: Wikimedia


A fully restored and operational Sd.Kfz. 250 (Austria). On this photo, we can see the original appearance of the rear of this vehicle. Photo: SOURCE

Leihter Gepanzerter Mannschaftskraftwagen Sd. Kfz. 250

In 1939, the German Army made a request for a new light half-track troop carrier similar to the larger Sd.Kfz.251. The development of this project was handed over to Bussing-Nag (for the design of the main armored body) and Demag (for developing the chassis). For this purpose, the D7p chassis was used, a truncated version of the Sd.Kfz.10’s D7 chassis that featured only four road wheels on either side, instead of five. Due to many reasons (priority being given to the larger Sd.Kfz.251, slow adaptation for production, insufficient materials etc.), the development process and production were slow. The first production vehicles were not ready until 1941. From 1943 onwards, a new simplified armored body was used in the hope of speeding up the production. These were designated the Ausf. B in order to differentiate them from the more complex superstructures fitted to the Ausf. A. Over 6500 vehicles were produced in 12 variants until the end of the Second World War.

5 cm PaK 38

The 5 cm PaK 38 was developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig in 1938 as a replacement for the weaker 3.7 cm Pak 36, but it was not ready for service until 1940. The PaK 38 carriage was a split trail design with tubular rear legs which helped absorb the recoil during firing. For mobility, two solid tired disk wheels were used, to which an additional third rear wheel could be added. The gun was fitted with a semi-automatic breech and had a muzzle brake. For crew protection, a double skin shield was provided. Stronger weapons would eventually supplant the PaK 38, but it was never completely replaced as it remained in use until the end of the war. Between 1939 and 1944, some 9,500 were produced.
The Pak 38’s basic characteristics were: practical rate of fire 10 to 15 rounds per minute, elevation -8° to + 27°, traverse 65°, and weight in action 986 kg. Average penetration at 1,000 m (at 0°) was 61mm (Panzergranate 39) and 84 mm by using the rare tungsten ammunition (Panzergranate 40). The maximum range of high explosive shells was 2,650 m (2,500 m depending on the sources).


Pak 38 in action. Photo: SOURCE

The Modification

By analyzing the modified half-track superstructure in detail, it can immediately be noticed that several interesting and unusual modifications were done. The most obvious is the unusual rear extension of the Sd.Kfz.250’s fighting compartment by nearly a meter. It is probable that the added rear ‘part’ was simply salvaged from another damaged Sd.Kfz.250 or even 251. A potential explanation for this is that, because of the installation of the new weapon, the crew needed extra room to use it efficiently. However, similar modifications had already been implemented, for example on the Sd. Kfz.250/8. It had an even larger caliber gun installed, but this did not require any major changes to the superstructure and which was not extended.
The rear left the sided door of the Sd.Kfz.250 with 5 cm Pak 38 gun was left unchanged but the door itself was missing. This vehicle surely had an operational real door (there was no real reason no to have one), but at some point, it was removed for unknown reasons. Since recently, the door has been restored and welded completely, so it is no longer possible to see the interior. Dimensions of this modified version are, according to the Museum’s own book-catalog: length 4.56 m, width 1.95 m, and height 1.66 m. Armor thickness ranges from 8 to 15 mm.


On closer inspection, the place where the extended armor was welded to the original one can be observed. Photo: Author’s own


The potentially damaged suspension with the missing wheels and parts can be seen here (right side of the vehicle). Photo: Author’s own


On the left side, this vehicle seems like it is completely intact. All German vehicles in the Belgrade Military Museum are painted in this camouflage. It has a more ‘decorative’ role and does not represent how the vehicle was painted in reality. Photo: Wikimedia
The suspension and running gear appear to have suffered some kind of damage at some point and were never truly repaired. On the vehicle’s right side, the outer two road wheels are missing, as are the front wheels mudguards, and other parts like the bolt that hold the wheels in place.

Armament

The main weapon was the 5 cm PaK 38 anti-tank gun. The wheels and the two rear legs were removed. Besides this, it seems no other changes were done on the gun construction. The main weapon was held by two forward-pointed thick metal levers (one on each side). These were bolted to a metal construction which was added for this purpose. Traverse of the main weapon was quite limited, but the maximum elevation was high, but the exact numbers are not known.
Unfortunately, there is no information about the amount of ammunition carried inside. The similar Sd. Kfz. 250/8 carried around 20 (75 mm) rounds. As the 5 cm rounds were smaller, and with the extra rear space the possible minimum quantity could be at least 30 to 40 or much higher. According to the Museum own book-catalog, two secondary MG 34 or 42 machine-guns were also used. As there are no obvious mounts for them, it is possible that they were stored inside.


The Sd.Kfz.250 mit 5 cm PaK 38 in a dunkelgelb camouflage, as it might have looked if employed in the later part of the war. Observe the welded-on rear part of the hull. Illustration by Jaroslaw Jarja, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Crew

The crew would probably consist of the driver, gunner with a loader and a commander in order to efficiently operate this vehicle. The rest of the space was probably used for PaK ammunition, crew secondary weapons and equipment, and even more crew members or other passengers. According to the Museum own book-catalog, six crew members are listed but not marked who does what. What is possible is that this information is regarding the original Sd.Kfz.250 vehicle.


The top view, here we can see that by adding the sheet metal the gun was fixed in place. Photo: Author’s own

Roof

Another unusual feature of this vehicle is the covered top with sheet metal. At first glance it seems like an good idea, as this way the crew would be better protected. But if we examine the vehicle top, we can very easily detect a major problem. By adding this sheet metal, the gun was made completely useless and unusable. So the question is, why do it? The explanation is simple, it was added after the war, possibly by the JNA when it was given to the Belgrade Military Museum to keep the weather out of the vehicle for external display.


Side view of the vehicle top where we can see that it is covered with sheet metal to protect the vehicle from weather elements. It looks like the left side armor was damaged possibly by shrapnel. We can also see where the added rear part was welded to the vehicle superstructure. Photo: Author’s own
Unfortunately, nothing is left of the original interior. It seems that at some point, probably at the moment of handing over to the museum, the whole interior was removed. The Maybach HL42 TRKM engine, with the steering wheel and the control panel was also removed. It was probably estimated that it would be pointless to leave it, as it would be exposed to weather conditions. This is supported by the fact that no other exhibit vehicle of this Museum has a preserved interior.

Unfortunately today, nothing is left of the original interior apart from the gun. Photo: SOURCE
The vehicle weight is marked as 5.7 t, but it was probably more than 6 t (possibly up to 7 t) as we must take into account the gun plus the ammunition weight.

Who built it and why?

There are several different explanations about the origin of this vehicle. But since there are several different theories that be can found in different sources (most often on the Internet), it is appropriate to give explanation some of them and to explain why some of them are not true.
Modification built during the Yugoslav wars in the 90’s: We can immediately reject this theory for a number of reasons. The most obvious reason was the fact that this vehicle was placed in the Museum long before the conflicts even broke out.
Did the Partisans Build It: the Yugoslavian Partisans did modify a number of Allied supplied M3A3 tanks and equipped them with German captured weapons (7.5 cm PaK 40 and the 2 cm Flak 38 Flakvierling) in Šibenik workshop (1944/45). They certainly had the ability to make this modification. A number of 5 cm PaK 38 were captured from the Germans and used by the Partisans. They also captured and used in limited numbers some German half-track vehicles. But it is important to note that the main repair base (where the modifications on the M3 tanks were done- the city of Šibenik at the end of 1944 and beginning of 1945) was too far away from the estimated location where this vehicle was captured. It would be illogical to transport this vehicle to this location just to make the modification.
As the Sd.Kfz. 250 was a rare vehicle on this front, it does not make sense to modify it. The lack of any spare parts would make this vehicle useful only for only a short time until it broke down or was damaged. Also, there is no precise or valid information which can prove that they are creators of this modification. Partisan modification is, therefore, possible but not likely.
Did the Germans Build It: It is highly likely that it was built by the German, possibly somewhere in occupied Balkan. It is certain that it was made after 1943, as it had the new armored superstructure, which production began that year.
There are several reasons why we can say that it was German made: Booth the vehicle and the gun were of German origin, German soldiers did many similar modifications on the field so this would not be too big a problem for them, no other side used the Sd.Kfz. 250 in the Balkans except for Germans and most important (as already mentioned earlier) is the information that this vehicle was captured by the Partisans during the German withdrawal from Greece 1944 or 1945. But unfortunately, it is difficult to determine exactly where, when and which unit built it.
The question of why it was made, is also problematic, but it is possible to answer it. In essence, it could have been used as a training vehicle, but it is more likely that it was built to fight different Partisans groupings on Balkan. The Partisan way of fighting is usually by attacking in smaller groups different enemy targets (cities with small garrisons, patrols etc.) and then quickly retreat into the forests and hills. For the Germans (or any force on that matter) it was important to prevent these attacks in time before they cause damage, so mobility was important. Mobile artillery could give the Germans forces the more fire-power during the usually short engaging with the Partisans. Half-track vehicles had good mobility, better than trucks or cars, and in this case had sufficient armor to protect its crew from small arms fire. A high gun elevation would also help with fighting in hills or woods.
It is also possible that this modification was built during the fast and (somewhat) chaotic withdrawal of German forces from Greece, in the hope of better protecting the German withdrawal forces from possible Partisan attack. At some point, it was damaged (or abandoned) and then captured by the Yugoslav Partisans.
It is almost impossible to determine the exact creator unit of this modification. It could be any unit of the German Army Group E and F who were responsible for the defense of the Balkans from different Partisans faction and potential any Allied invasion in 1944/45.
Possible armored units from Greece were Panzer Auflkarungs Abteilung 122 or the Panzer Abteilung 212. Both units got orders for withdraw from Greece in late 1944 and to move mostly through the Yugoslavian territory. During these withdrawals, they often fought battles with Yugoslav Partisans and the Bulgarian forces that had earlier switched sides to the Allied side. There was heavy fighting in Macedonia and the southern parts of Serbia where this vehicle was probably captured.

In Partisan/JNA Service

If this vehicle was ever used by the Partisans and later JNA in any way (in war or as a training vehicle) it is not known. Mostly because of the inability to find new spare parts, there is a great chance that it has never been used operationally and was probably stored and later given to the Belgrade Military Museum.

The Name

There is also no information about the exact name for this vehicle, and whether the German (and later Partisans/JNA) even assigned an official name for it. In accordance with German army practice, the nomenclature and designation of such similar modifications the Sd. Kfz. 250 with (or ‘mit’ in German) 5 cm PaK 38 could be used.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, due to almost no information about this vehicle, we will never know it full operational history. It is very likely that it was built by the German forces in Balkans, possibly either to fight the Partisans or as protection for the withdrawing forces from Greece or even as a training vehicle. As there is no information available, it could be any or none of these. On the other hand, the Yugoslav Partisans did make some improvised vehicles by the end of 1944. But it is likely that they did not build this vehicle. Regardless of who made it or when and why, it is more important that it had survived the War, as many other similar modifications did not. In the end, it stands as proof of its maker skill and imagination of combining these two weapons.

The Belgrade Military Museum

This unusual vehicle can be seen in the Belgrade Military Museum exhibitions. The Museum was founded in August 1878, with the first permanent exhibition open in 1904. Over the course of more than a century of existence, it had accumulated a large amount of various military exhibits and weapons. Along with other interesting and rare World War Two era vehicles, like the German Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf.F. and the Polish TKF tankette.
The author of this article would take this opportunity to thank the museum advisor Dr. Mirko Peković for helping with the research for this article.

Specifications

Dimensions L W H 3.62m x 1.91m x 1.63 m (11’10” x 6’3″ x 5’4″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready 6 – 7 tonnes
Crew 2+4 4 (gunner, loader, driver, commander)
Propulsion Maybach 6-cyl. water-cooled HL42 TRKM petrol, 99 hp (74 kW)
Top speed 76 km/h (47 mph)
Maximum range (on/off road) 320/200 km (200/120 mi)
Armament 1x 5 cm PaK 38, possibly 2x 7.92 mm MG34 or MG42
Armor 8 – 15 mm
Production 1

Sources

Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu, Bojan B. Dumitrijević i Dragan Savić, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2011.
German Artillery of World War Two, Ian V.Hogg,
Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Alexander Ludeke, Parragon.
Sd Kfz 250 Vol. I, Janusz Ledwoch, Warszawa 2003.
Artillery and armoured vehicles in exterior of the military museum, Mirko Peković and Ivan Mijatović
Encyclopedia of German tanks of world war two, Peter Chamberlain and Hilary L.Doyle.

Categories
WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Light Tank M3A1/A3 in Yugoslav service

Yugoslav Communist Partisans /Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (1944-1960)
Light Tank – Number supplied: 56-100+

The Yugoslav communist Partisans, or National Liberation Army, were one of the largest resistance movements against Germany in occupied Europe, fighting many hard battles against the Axis forces during WWII. The Allies, seeing the importance of this struggle (as large number of Axis troops were sent to the Balkans to quell the Partisans), decided to supply the Partisans with a number of American Stuart light tanks and other military equipment, such as armored cars, trucks, military uniforms, and small arms etc. These Stuart light tanks were not first to be operated by the Partisans (they had used tanks such as the Italian L3 or the French Hotchkiss H35 and SOMUA S35 tanks among others) but were provided in enough numbers to equip a Tank Brigade. This Brigade would see heavy fighting from late 1944 until the end of the war in Yugoslavia in May 1945. The Stuart tanks were important not just for the Partisans, but they represented the nucleus from which the future JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) armored force would be created. The Stuart tanks would remain in operational service into the beginning of the 1960s.

Prelude

After the Italian defeats in North Africa and Greece, Mussolini had no choice but to seek help from his German ally. Hitler, unwillingly, decided to send German military aid to help the Italian conquest of Greece. For the planned occupation of Greece, Hitler counted on the neutrality of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia joined the Tripartite Pact of Germany, Italy, and Japan on 25th March 1941. Two days later, Air Force General Dušan Simović, with the support of other military officers, staged a coup d’etat and overthrew the government (and the Regent Prince Paul) which had intended to join the Axis forces. The new government under Simović did not ratify the Tripartite Pact and commenced negotiations with Britain and the USSR. Due to these events, and in preparation for the attack on Greece and the Soviet Union, the German High Command decided to occupy Yugoslavia and create a safe environment for further operations. Thus began the ‘April War’ (codenamed Directive 25); the Axis invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on 6th April 1941.
After the end of the April War, Yugoslavia was divided amongst the Axis forces. Mostly because of the brutality of the occupying forces, the discontent of the occupied nations grew more and more. Very quickly in the territory of the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia, two liberation movements were formed, the Royalist Chetniks (Četnici/Четници) and the communist Partisans (Partizani/Партизани). The communist side would form the NOV (National Liberation Army) (Narodno-oslobodilačka Armija/Народно-ослободилачка Армија) but are more commonly and simply known as the ‘Partisans’.
These two groups at first cooperated together against the common enemy. In October 1941, joint Partisan and Chetnik forces attacked (with some captured German Beutepanzer SOMUA S35, Renault R35, and Hotchkiss H35/39 ) the city of Kraljevo (in southern-central modern-day Serbia). This attack failed and soon after, conflicting ideology would lead the former partners into an open civil war which would last until the end of WWII.

Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. The Axis forces used the southern parts of Yugoslavia, to quickly attack Greek positions. Source: Wikipedia

Forming of the First Tank Brigade

1943 was an important year for the Partisan movement for several reasons. Italy capitulated and the south of the country was occupied by the Allies. After the capitulation and withdrawal of Italian forces in September 1943, large parts of what was once Italian occupied Yugoslav territory were left undefended and abandoned. Partisans succeeded in capturing large quantities of weapons, including Italian tanks, self-propelled guns, armored vehicles, and trucks. The withdrawal of the Italians directly influenced the increase in the number of people who joined the Partisan side.
The communication and supply link between the German forces in Greece with the rest of Germany came under risk. The Germans were forced to send a large number of troops (14 division and 2 partly equipped divisions). The remaining German allies, the Hungarians and Bulgarians, were also heavily involved, with a total of 9 Divisions and 2 corps, with all available NDH forces (Independent State of Croatia/Nezavisna Država Hrvatska) and a number of Chetniks and Serbian collaborationist units also committed. In total, this combined force numbered some 1.1 million men (soldiers, support units and others).
Due to the fact that the Partisan movement was increasing in size and was tying down such a large number of enemy soldiers and equipment, they became an important factor in any future Allied war planning for this theatre of Europe. This was one of the many reasons why by the end of 1943 and early 1944, the Allies decided to support the Partisan movement only. Although they had also helped Chetniks in the past, due to the lack of Chetnik actions against the Axis forces in the Balkans (and many other factors which are under contentious and heated debate even to this day), they stopped any further assistance to this group. Thanks to the fact that the southern part of Italy was under Allied control, the possibility of closer cooperation with the Partisans opened up.
From 1943 and 1944 onwards, the Partisans liberated large territories that now had to be defended from any Axis attack. This led to the change of guerrilla-style fighting to a more direct one, but due to the increasing number of Axis forces, and more importantly the lack of a sufficient number of heavier equipment, these open battles were costly and not always successful.
The Allies decided to help the Partisans by training them and equipping them with much needed heavy weapons, such as tanks and aircraft. Many Partisan fighters that had some experience with this kind of equipment were transported to Italy to be used to form future training camps and centers. For the creation of the first tank unit with Allied equipment, 94 soldiers and officers in total from the 4th Tank Battalion (a unit that had been operating in Croatia and was equipped with captured Italian light tanks) were used. In April 1944, this group was transported by the Allies by sea to El Katadba in Egypt (near the city of Cairo). This group was reinforced with some 200 members of the Royal Yugoslav Army in Africa. This number would increase to 1,200, as most soldiers of the Royal Yugoslav Army would join this unit. By May 1944, it was moved to Chenifa (a training camp in Egypt), where the training of the crews would commence. The training was mostly carried out by British instructors and great attention was given to driving and firing. For training purpose, Stuart tanks and AEC armored cars were used. After some demanding and exhausting exercises, the training process was considered complete, and by late June, the unit was shipped to Italy once more. There, at Gravina Di Puglia (a village near the city of Bari), the First Tank Brigade was formed on 16th July 1944.
The British provided all the necessary materials needed to equip this brigade. At the very beginning, the Brigade had only 10 Stuart tanks. The British were at first reluctant to supply more tanks, as they did not believe that the Partisans could efficiently operate and maintain a larger number of armored vehicles. There were no more tanks available and the British could not provide personnel for maintenance of these vehicles. In order to discuss this issue, a meeting between the Supreme Allied Commander for the Mediterranean, General Sir Henry ‘Jumbo’ Wilson, and Josip Broz Tito (leader of the Partisans) took place on 10th August 1944. These negotiations were successful for the Partisan side and an agreement was made to supply a sufficient amount of armored vehicles to equip at least one tank brigade.

Stuart tanks and their crews prior to their transportation to Yugoslavia. The photograph was taken at Gravina Di Puglia in 1944. Source

Brigade organization

The original planned organization structure of this brigade was the following: It consisted of a headquarter company (with additional support staff), an ambulance company, four tank battalions, an engineering battalion, a company of armored cars, a mechanics company, and a unit for crew training (this unit was removed from the brigade very early on). Each of these four tank battalions was further divided into two tank companies (there is no precise information on how many tanks each had), an anti-tank battery, and a rear support company.
The Brigade unit’s fighting strength consisted of 56 light tanks, mostly M3A3 Stuarts (though there were a small number of M3A1’s and possibly even few M5’s), 24 AEC Mk. II Armored Cars, and two M3A1 ‘White’ Scout Cars (to be used as command vehicles). Support elements consisted of 21 Ford 3t trucks, 21 Chevrolet 3t trucks, 2 1.5t trucks, 8 Jeeps, 6 fuel trucks, two unidentified tracked vehicles, and 9 motorcycles. There is a chance that other vehicles were included, but these are not listed in the sources. This speculation is based on the fact that when the Brigade was transported to Yugoslavia it had 59 tanks, more than the official documented (which also complicates the task of determining the exact number of tanks used).
As there were not enough tanks to equip all four tank battalions, a decision was made to use only three tank battalions and one armored car battalion. This armored car battalion was never used as a whole unit, but was instead divided into smaller groups and given to the tank battalions to be mostly used in an anti-tank role, as the QF 6-pdr (57 mm) gun on the AEC provided strong firepower.
The anti-tank battery was equipped with towed 6-pdr AT guns, which was the same gun as on the AEC Mk.II Armored Car, allowing for ammunition crossover. For the purpose of towing these guns, trucks and two unidentified tracked vehicles (possibly Bren Gun Carriers) were used. The engineering battalion was only mechanized after the Partisans captured a number of vehicles, mostly German.
For supplies necessary for the functioning of the Brigade, the Allies supplied the Partisans with 29,000 liters of fuel (with additional 35,000 liters requested by the Partisans official), 12,000 liters of oil, 19,000 rounds for the 37 mm and 6-pdr guns, and some 220,000 machine gun rounds.
In total, the Brigade had some 1,619 men. The remaining soldiers that were not included in the Brigade were instead sent to the Soviet Union to be a part of the Second Tank Brigade.

The Light Tank M3 ‘Stuart’

The M3 light tank was designed in 1940 to replace the older and outdated M2 tanks that were in service with the American armored forces. The M3 had many improvements over the M2, including thicker armor, stronger (due to the increase in weight) vertical volute spring suspension with a rear idler wheel, increased speed, and improved firepower consisting of four .30 machineguns and a 37 mm cannon. The first series was powered by the gasoline-fueled (petrol) Continental seven-cylinder four-cycle radial aircraft engine, but after 1942, a new four-stroke diesel radial Guiberson A-1020 engine was used. It had a crew of four (driver, driver assistant, gunner, and commander). From March 1941 to August 1942, some 5,811 Stuart (with petrol engine) and 1,285 (diesel engine) were built.
The much improved M3A1 version was produced from April 1942 onwards. The first batches of M3A1 tanks were built by using riveted armor, but later models had welded armor. The changes that were made were: improved turret design (the small commander cupola was removed) with two hatch doors, reducing the number of machine guns to three on later built vehicles, and the addition of a turret basket. Some 4,621 M3A1 tanks were produced by February 1943, including a small number of diesel-powered tanks (around 211).
Soon after the M3A1, a new model, the M3A3, was made (the M3A2 was only a paper project) as a result of poorly designed frontal armor and small fuel capacity. The front and side armor of the Stuart M3A3 was angled and the front viewing hatch for the driver and his assistant were replaced by new overhead ones. The radio was moved from the hull to the turret rear. Due to extra space that the Stuart M3A3 now had, it was possible to increase the fuel capacity. This version was produced until August 1943 (when the production of the Stuart was finally canceled) with a total of 3,427 vehicles being built.
The Stuart series saw extensive operational service throughout the war on many different fronts. The USA supplied the Stuart series to other nations through Lend-Lease, including 5,532 (of all variants) to the British Empire, 1,676 to the USSR, 427 to Brazil, with several other hundreds going to China, France, the Netherlands, and many Latin American nations. Britain would subsequently give some of their Stuart’s to Yugoslav Partisans. By 1943, however, the M3 was already outdated, due to its weak gun and feeble armor.

Partisan Stuart tanks in combat

Author’s note: as the sources often do not specify the exact model of M3 tank used by the Partisans (it could be either M3A1 or M3A3 or even M5), this article will use the Stuart designation for the sake of simplicity, unless the sources specify which model or version. Also, note that the Partisans and later in JNA documents designation Stuart was wrongly written as ’Styart’ or ‘Stuard’.
The Brigade was transported by British ships to the island of Vis (off the Yugoslav Adriatic coast) in early September 1944. This operation was successfully completed by October. Immediately after, all elements of the Brigade were transported onto Yugoslavian mainland and were divided into two groups: Northern and Southern.

The Northern Group

The Northern Group (the 2nd Tank Battalion and half of the 3rd Tank Battalion, in addition to AEC Mk.II armored cars which were equally divided to reinforce the 3rd Battalion in both groups) was tasked with helping other Partisan units in fighting and expelling the German (118th Jagerdivision) near the island of Brač (in the south of modern day Croatia). For this operation, 34 Stuart tanks and 12 AEC Mk.II armored cars were chosen. The transportation process on behalf of the British was slow, and by the time the 2nd Battalion was ready for action, the Germans forces had been driven-off. The next step was to transport these units to the mainland, but there was a problem due to the insufficient number of adequate Partisans transport ships. The British refused to help because of enemy coastal artillery. The Partisans however, decide to attempt to land by using all ships they could find. By late October, most tanks were transported onto the mainland, with only one tank being lost as a consequence of heavy German artillery fire. This group, along with other Partisans forces, pursued the retreating German forces. The progress was slow due to obstacles and mines which had been placed by the Germans. By late October, Partisans broke through the German defense line (Solin-Kaštel-Sučurac). In the night of 27th-28th October, a group of four Stuart tanks were sent to attack retreating enemy forces, but in this attack one Stuart tank was lost to enemy fire.

Transportation of a M3A3 tank by a British ships. Source: https://www.znaci.net/arhiv/fotografija/12063
After securing the coastline, the Northern group was moved toward the city of Šibenik (in central Dalmatia). It was planned by the Partisan high command to attack the city from two sides. Expecting a larger attack on the city, the German began withdrawing their forces (there was some number of Chetnik forces helping defend the city). During the advance on the city, elements of the Second Battalion unexpectedly came across a German force, and after some fierce fighting, lost four Stuart tanks with most of their crews being killed. The Germans had a battery of 75 mm PaK 40 anti-tank guns which could easily destroy Stuart tanks. There were other skirmishes with both German and Chetnik forces. A group of Chetniks came across a column of Stuart tanks, incorrectly thinking they were German tanks. The Partisan tanks immediately opened fire, killing many while the rest surrendered. Some German forces were left behind during the retreat and were surrounded. All available tanks and armored cars in the region were sent to destroy this group, but after some intense fighting, they failed and lost four tanks in the process, with one falling off a cliff. Consequently, the Germans managed to fight through the Partisans lines and escape. Regardless of this, the city of Šibenik was captured on 3rd November 1944.
Before the war, Šibenik had been a large naval shipyard and possessed a number of workshops. For this reason, the Partisans (despite some heavy sabotage made by the German) chose to make a repair and maintenance facility there. The Partisans managed to salvage some facilities and trained personnel in repairs and maintenance. As there was no reserve of new tanks, all tanks were considered important. Vehicles which had been destroyed or damaged were transported to Šibenik (how this was done is unknown, though possibly other tanks were used for towing) to be repaired if possible or to be used for spare parts. Those with turrets damaged beyond repair were used for different modifications equipped with captured German weapons. Šibenik would remain the main base for repairs and maintenance until the end of the war. In November, a tank school was moved to Šibenik from Gravine in the south of Italy to train new personnel. Training was mostly carried out on captured vehicles such as French and Italian tanks.

Šibenik was an important repair facility for the Partisans. Here we can see an M3A3 being repaired. As a number had lost their turret, they were reused for mounting captured German guns. The photographed vehicle could be one of those. Source

Collection of tanks of the Northern group at Šibenik, Winter of 1944/1945. Source
The next vital city to capture was Knin (on the Zagreb-Split road in inner Dalmatia). It was defended by a large force of entrenched German troops supported by Croatian Ustasha (Ustaše/Усташе), and Chetnik units, consisting of some 20,000 men, 20 tanks ( French Hotchkiss H35/39 and Italian FIAT (possibly) L6/40 tanks – under German flag). The Brigade’s Northern group was tasked in supporting other Partisan units (26th and 19th Divisions) in taking this city. The Brigade was further divided, with 13 tanks and 6 armored cars being assigned to the 26th Division and 12 tanks and 5 armored cars being assigned to the 19th Division. On 25th November, the first attacks using tanks and armored cars were unsuccessful, resulting in the loss of one tank and one armored car. The Brigade’s vehicles were not used as a single entity, but were instead divided into even smaller combat groups to support infantry units, which limited their offensive power. Furthermore, due to their tactical usage, the vehicles were easy targets for the defending forces. The armored vehicles were withdrawn and sent to support the attack of the 1st Dalmatian Proletarian Brigade on the city. The attack began on 2nd December, and after some heavy fighting, the Partisans managed to break the German resistance, which forced them to abandon Knin. By 4th December, all retreating German forces were destroyed or forced to surrender. The battle for Knin had been bitter and bloody, with the Partisans losing four Stuart tanks and one AEC armored car.

Actions of the Southern Group

The second Southern group (1st Battalion and the remaining elements of the 3rd Battalion) was tasked with the liberation of the Mostar region, which was vital to the Germans, as this was the main line of retreat for their remaining forces in Greece. Prior to the arrival of the Stuart tanks, Partisan forces had been stopped at the village of Buna (modern-day Bosnia). It was well defended, and the Neretva River flew through it, giving an extra obstacle that the Partisans had to overcome. Partisans with support of Stuart tanks and anti-tank guns attacked these positions but were not able to break through. The Stuart crews had great problems with the unknown terrain, with two being bogged down and a third falling on its side, forcing the crews to abandon the vehicles. Even though there was a danger that the Germans would destroy them, the Partisans went to great effort to salvage them. The Germans then launched a counterattack using Italian tanks which drove the Partisans back and brought a local Partisan hospital into danger. To save the situation, a tank company was quickly sent to try to stop the German advance. The counterattack was successful and drove the German back, with the loss of a single Stuart tank.
The next Partisan move was to attack the city of Široki Breg, which was a strong forward defense position defending Mostar. For this attack, 3 Stuarts and 3 AECs were chosen. But this attack proved unsuccessful, as the commander of the leading tank ran into (what he assumed was) a minefield. Instead of moving to another position, the commander decided to wait for infantry to clear the way for him. His tank was spotted by the Germans who immediately opened fire, hitting the tank, which caught fire, forcing the rest to withdraw. The next attack was also unsuccessful.
Using another similar force, the Partisans attacked another strong point at Nevesinje. The attack began on 30th November with three Stuart tanks and one AEC armored car with infantry support. The attack started well, but it was stopped as the Germans had six tank (four Italian, and two German tanks which the Partisans identified as ’Panthers’) and a number of Flak 3.7 cm guns. In the following battle, the Stuarts proved to be no match against the German tanks and one was lost, with one AEC receiving three direct hits, but miraculously, despite the damage, managing to pull back. The Germans lost one of their Fiat tanks. These actions were mostly unsuccessful due to the inexperience of the crews and commanding officers, poor positioning, insufficient scouting, and the use of tanks individually in a fire support role.
The fighting for Mostar continued until January 1945, when the Germans and their allied Croatian forces launched attacks on two bridges over the Neretva river in the hope that their destruction would slow down any future Partisan attack. One bridge near the city of Čapljina was briefly captured, only to be recaptured by Partisan forces with the help of several Stuart tanks (the bridge was damaged but still in use). Three Stuarts were damaged, though the Germans claimed five or more had been damaged. Two were captured by the Germans and used against the Partisans, with one later being destroyed in February and the second being recaptured. This indicates that the Partisans lost more than three tanks.

Unification of the Two Groups

As the Southern group alone proved insufficient to take down Mostar, the Northern group was called in to help in the upcoming planned offensive. Total Partisan strength was around 40,000 men, while the Germans (with Chetnik, Ustasha and a small numbers of Italians) had some 20,000. The Northern group made a 186 km long journey to reach its destination. On this journey, five Stuart tanks had to be abandoned due to mechanical breakdowns but would later be recovered.
At this time, the Brigade was reformed. As both groups had used the armored cars to reinforce the split 3rd Battalion, the Brigade HQ made the decision to rename the 3rd (Northern Group) into the 4th Battalion, as it was deemed that its dissolution would affect the battalion’s efficiency given that it had proved to be an effective force. As there were no spare British vehicles to equip this unit, enemy captured vehicles were used (exact models are unknown but possibly French – one Panhard 178 was used – or Italian).
The first attack with the reunited Brigade was launched against Široki Breg (6th February 1945), which was defended by a force of between 6,000 and 7,000 men equipped with different caliber anti-tank guns (37 mm to 75 mm). The attack was led by a group of Stuart tanks, while the AEC armored cars provided fire support against pillboxes and anti-tank guns, both being supported by Partisan artillery fire. But there was confusion as to how to proceed when the leading tanks ran into a minefield. Five tanks were lost to enemy fire and the attack was called off. All tanks were recovered, but at a great loss of life (eight killed and twenty-two wounded). Partisan high command decided to attack from the south with the 3rd Tank Battalion. Fortunately for them, due to the uneven terrain, this part of the defensive front was poorly defended and there were fewer mines and anti-tank guns. The attack was successful, which led to Germans leaving the first line of defense and pulling back into Mostar. A number of enemy armored vehicles were captured (at least one Somua S35 and one Semovente 47/32).

One Stuart M3A3 during the fight for Široki Breg in 1945. Source
The main attack began on 13th February with the support from the tanks from the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. After some fighting and navigation through bad terrain, they finally managed to cross three bridges and enter the city. Partisans also attacked from Nevesinje, with progress being slow due to the terrain, but they eventually managed to enter the city. German forces managed to escape toward Sarajevo, but with great losses. The Brigade had only lost one Stuart in addition to four damaged tanks.

At the battle for Široki Breg, even the Stuart M3A3 armed with the German 7.5 cm PaK 40 was used. Source: https://znaci.net/arhiv/fotografija/14367
The First Tank Brigade was later involved in supporting a large Partisan force of some 70,000 men against German and Croatian forces (20,000 men and 20 tanks) located in western Bosnia and the Croatian coast. The Brigade was again divided into two groups: the 1st and 3rd Battalions were given to the 26th Division and 2nd and 4th Battalions to the 19th Division. This was done by the Partisan HQ due to previous experience and cooperation of these forces. The 19th Division was tasked with capturing the city of Bihać (modern-day northern Bosnia). This Division was supported by Stuart tanks which made good progress, and after a few days of fighting, forced the German to pull back to the city. Two tanks were damaged, one by mine and one by a grenade. The advance was temporarily stopped as the Germans placed many mines and obstacles in the way, so the tanks had to wait for pioneers to clear the way. After the road was cleared, the advance carried on. As they approached the city, two AEC armored cars were sent to capture an intact bridge, but as they were crossing it, the Germans blew it up. One AEC dropped into the river, with the second one being destroyed by the Germans. The Germans, not willing to lose the city, sent reinforcements. To counter this, the 1st and the 2nd Tank Battalions were sent into the fight. The enemy was stopped at the cost of two Stuarts from the 2nd Tank Battalion. The 1st Battalion engaged heavy enemy resistance and lost 3 Stuarts with an additional one being damaged. As the battle was turning against them, the German and Croatians began a withdrawal. During the battle and retreat, they lost nearly 14,000 men. The First Tank Brigade suffered heavy losses. Out of the original 43 tanks, 8 Stuarts and 2 AEC’s were lost with an additional 7 Stuarts being damaged. Partisan mechanics worked day and night to repair as many of them as they could.
The Partisans continued to move towards the west, reaching the city of Gospić in what is today southern Croatia. On 4th April, the attack lead by the First Tank Brigade and five infantry divisions began. To counter this advance, the German sent 10 tanks (Italian L6-40). The Germans lost two tanks and had to pull back. After that the German defense was breached, they began to withdraw. One Stuart was destroyed and another damaged by enemy anti-tank fire. German and Croatian forces sent to stop them were beaten back. The Germans and the Croatian allies lost some 4,000 men, 40 guns and 20 armored vehicles.
The 2nd Tank Battalion was sent to capture Tounj (a small town southwest of Zagreb). Capturing this city would prevent German withdrawal from western Bosnia. The attack began on 13th April, and after a few days of heavy fighting, it was captured. Only one Stuart was damaged. Allegedly, one ‘Panther’ tank was destroyed by two AEC armored cars. This vehicle was proven later to be in fact a StuG III.
The final operations were the battles for Rijeka and Trieste, in the very west of Yugoslavia. The German positions were heavily defended with three defense lines consisting of a large number of old and new bunkers with 88,000 men, 338 guns, 60 tanks and 15 armored cars defending it, supported by Italian, Croatian and Chetnik forces. The total strength of the Partisan 4th Army (which had charged name before the attack) was 90,000 men, 366 guns, and 80 armored vehicles, counting with the support of the British RAF. The 4th Tank Battalion was the first to see action (17th April) in an unsuccessful attempt to subdue the defenders of the city of Sušak. The tanks proved useless in the attack on the well-defended city. The city was liberated on 21st April. In following days, two Stuarts were destroyed in addition to another one being damaged. By end of April, four Stuart tanks were cut-off and surrounded by German forces. The crews dismounted their tanks and used the Stuart’s machine guns to make a defensive perimeter whilst the gunners fired the main guns in support. The next day, Partisan infantry broke the German line and the Stuarts were saved. Due to bad terrain, tank use was limited, and one Stuart was lost on 28th April. Finally, by 3rd May, the line was broken and the city Rijeka was taken.
The city of Trieste was one of the last German resistance lines in this region. For its taking, the 2nd and 4th Tank Battalions were chosen to support the infantry divisions. The attack was carried out in two directions (each supported with one Tank Battalion). The 4th Battalion advance was successful, which led to the capturing of large stockpiles of ammunition and other war materiel near the village of Sežana. The second column was stopped as the bridge leading to Škofije was destroyed. This column was instead moved to Sežana to join forces with the 4th Battalion. This force managed to destroy many German units which were retreating in that direction. The battle for Trieste began on 30th April. German resistance was heavy and the first Partisan attack was repelled. On the same day, the 2nd Tank Battalion fought for the village of Basovizza, which was defended by 12 German tanks (including unknown numbers of captured Soviet T-34/76’s). During the following skirmishing, the Germans lost two tanks, with one T-34/76 being destroyed by an AEC armored car.

Advance on Trogiro of the First Tank Brigade in 1945. Source
The war for the Germans was all but lost. They continued to fight stubbornly to defend their last defense line at Trieste. The 2nd and 4th Tank Battalions were involved in liberating Trieste. As the Partisan attack was too strong, many Germans tried to flee by boat to Venice. Most boats were sunk by the guns of the Stuart tanks. By 2nd May, the battle was mostly won bar a few pockets of German resistance, which, with the help of the Stuart tanks were eliminated. By 3rd May, the last German resistance was crushed.
The last action of the First Tank Brigade was at the city of Rijeka, near Trieste, where large numbers of Germans were retreating to Austria. The 1st Tank Battalion was the only battalion available, but its tank forces had been depleted. The first attack on the German positions was unsuccessful, with the loss of four Stuart tanks. The Partisan HQ’s, after the capture of Trieste, moved large forces to this area. By this time, the 1st Tank Battalion had only a few operational tanks, and was not able to stop the German advancing forces. The 2nd and the 4th Tank Battalions arrived, but even they were hard pressed by the now desperate Germans. Two Stuart were lost on the night of 6th-7th May. Seeing that there was no hope of breaking out, the German Commander, General Kibler, unconditionally surrendered to the Partisans.


Small numbers of the obsolete M3A1 Stuart light tank were sent to the Yugoslav Partisans.


Most of the Stuarts supplied to the Partisans were the improved M3A3 version with sloped armor.

illustration of the M3A3 Flakvierling
One M3A3 Light Tank which had a damaged turret had it replaced with a 20 mm Flakvierling.


Another M3A3 Light Tank that had its turret or its armament damaged was modified to carry the potent 75 mm Pak 40 AT gun.


Fictional illustration of a Partisan 15 cm sIG 33 gun mounted on an M3A3 chassis. Such a vehicle was allegedly converted, but there is no proof to back this claim.


Fictional illustration of a Partisan M3A3 Stuart armed with a 120 mm Granatwerfer 42 mortar. While some sources claim this vehicle exists, there is no proof to back its existence.
Illustrations by David Bocquelet with modifications by Leander Jobse.


Even though most tank used by the 1st Tank Brigade were M3A3’s, smaller numbers of older M3A1 (second tank in the column) were also used. This photograph was taken near Molmino in early 1945. Source

Total losses and reasons for them

By the end of the war, the First Tank Brigade had suffered heavy losses, with 33 tanks and 5 armored cars being destroyed, with a further 31 tanks and 2 armored cars being damaged. The Partisan tank losses were high as the Germans were using well-trained infantry (especially in the use of anti-tank weapons, such as the Panzerfaust and explosives), a lack of coordination with infantry, the inexperience of the crews, lack of adequate scouting, and difficult terrain. Poor and inadequate coordination with infantry were the reason why many tanks were lost. The infantry often lied to the Stuart tank crews of the presence of German anti-tank positions. They were hoping that the tank crews would somehow spot enemy anti-tank weapons and destroy them. This practice forced the Partisan High Command to give special orders forbidding this kind of actions. Another problem was lack of reconnaissance, as the ordinary infantry reports were not always the most reliable as seen earlier.

After the war

In June 1946, the total number of Stuart tanks was 54 (two of which were locally converted Flak Stuart’s). The First Tank Brigade was (from 1946) equipped with Soviet T-34/85 tanks and the Stuart were passed on to the 6th Tank Brigade. In later years, they were used mostly in military parades or as training vehicles. They remained in use by the Yugoslav People’s Army until 1960.

When they were finally withdrawn from operational use most were scrapped. Because of the historical significance these tanks had for the JNA, it was decided to preserve a certain number of them. Two Stuarts (one M3A1, serial number ‘8770’, and one M3A3, serial number ‘8776’ ) were placed at the Belgrade Military Museum (Serbia). One was placed as a monument in the Serbian city of Kraljevo. Three can be found in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH): one M3A1 in Sarajevo and two (M3A1 and M3A3) in Banja Luka. Two others (M3A1 and M3A3) are in Slovenian Military Museum in Pivka. The M3A1 in Pivka was bought from the Brazilian Army by a private collector before being given to the museum in 2008.


The M3A1 at the Belgrade Military Museum Source: Wikipedia


The M3A3 at the Belgrade Military Museum Source: Wikipedia


The M3A3 in Kraljevo. Source


The M3A1 (serial number ‘6739’) from the Sarajevo (BiH) National Museum. Source


The M3A3 in Banja Luka. Source


The M3A1 and M3A3 in the Pivka Museum Slovenia. The M3A1 (to the left) was originally in the Brazilian army. Source

Color and Markings

The Stuart tanks supplied to this Brigade had the original British continental green color, though a small number of tanks were painted in desert yellow or even combinations of both camouflage schemes.
Marking-wise, all tanks had the Yugoslavian tricolor Flag (red, white and blue) with a red star in the middle painted on the hull side. Sometimes, a small red star was also painted on the turret. Political slogans (Za Zagreb-toward Zagreb) and the names of some cities (Beograd-Београд, Ljubljana-Љубљана etc.) were often written on the tanks, especially towards the end of the war.

How Many Were Supplied?

Although at first glance it seems that the number of Stuarts supplied can easily be determined, this is not the case. What is known with certainty is the fact that the British forces during the foundation of the First Tank Brigade supplied it with 56 M3A1/A3 tanks. It is possible that a few M5 were also included in this, but there is little or no evidence of this.
Authors Bojan B.D. and Dragan S. cited that on 6th March 1945, additional 36, mostly older, M3A1’s were supplied to the Partisans, with a few more in April. Additionally, three more tanks (abandoned by the Allies) were repaired by members of this brigade before their shipment to Yugoslavia.
According to Aleksandar R., some 51 tanks were supplied to replace the damaged and destroyed during the war. It is a possibility that an unknown number of tanks were supplied in small quantities by the end of the war.
The author Dinko P. presents several interesting facts:

  • When the Brigade was transported to the island of Vis, it had 59 tanks (here he agrees with Bojan B.D. and Dragan S.).
  • He also found information for additional M3A1/A3 tanks supplied on several occasions in Yugoslav official documents, but the exact number of vehicles are not mentioned.
  • The author was able to talk to a soldier from the First Tank Brigade (who had been part of it since the very beginning of the Brigade). According to him (the name of this soldier is not mentioned), all vehicles that were given by the Allies were operated in this unit, including the ones used for training. These (that were used for training) were transported by Partisan ships after the original transfer (by the Allies) of the Brigade to the territory of Yugoslavia. Also, an unknown number of tanks were ’obtained’ in various (and suspicious) ways, aka they stole them intact or slightly damaged from Allied army depots. In these cases, the Allies decided to turn a blind eye and did not prevent the Partisans from doing this.
  • On 31st January 1945, the total number of M3A1/A3 is listed to be 60 tanks, which is a bit more than the original number of 56 tanks.
  • Registration numbers and British labels (which were not removed in most cases) on a number of tanks give some indications that these vehicles were not originally intended to be supplied to the Partisans, but somehow these tanks found themselves in Yugoslavia.

According to Leland N., the British had supplied the Partisans with 52 M3A3 tanks with an additional 40 in the first half of 1945. Author Steven J, Zaloga writes that one M3A1 and 56 M3A3 were supplied.
Determining the exact number of supplied vehicles is more complicated given the fact that a fairly large number of damaged tanks were salvaged and put back into action. These vehicles could possibly be mistaken as newly supplied ones, and thus give a wrong impression of the total numbers. So, according to these facts, the total number may range from the original 56 to 100, or even more.

Partisan Stuart modifications

During the heavy fighting for the liberation of Yugoslavia, several Stuart tanks were damaged. Given that the caliber of the main gun on the Stuart tank was inadequate for a successful anti-tank role, the partisans decided to try to mount some captured German weapons in order to increase their firepower.
By the end of 1944, in Šibenik, the Partisans set up a workshop to repair their vehicles. In addition to the workshop, a collection office (also located in Šibenik) for captured, damaged, and destroyed vehicles was set, which also served as a source of spare parts. There, damaged M3A3 tanks were modified and armed with German weapons, such as the 75 mm PaK 40 anti-tank gun and 20 mm Flak 38 Flakvierling. It is also alleged that the Partisans rebuilt two more tanks and armed one with a mortar and the other with a 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry artillery gun, but the existence of either of these vehicles cannot be ascertained at this time. It is also worth mentioning that a single Somua S35 was rearmed with the 6-pdr gun taken from a damaged AEC armored car.
A final note is that most, if not all, British supplied Stuart tanks had track mudguards. The Partisan tank crews began removing them early on as they were a hindrance during tracks repairs.

Light Tank M3A3 with 7.5 cm PaK 40

As the 37 mm main gun was almost useless against stronger armored vehicles, the powerful 75 mm PaK 40 was installed on three Stuart tanks. The upper structure mounted the 75 mm PaK 40 anti-tank gun with its twin layer gun shield of 4 mm (0.16 in.) thick steel and a small armor plate between the gun and the tank hull in addition of two side armored plates.
One such armed Stuart managed to destroy a German T-34/76 in April 1945. Installing this gun made these vehicles capable of destroying any tank on this front. Drawbacks of these modifications include, among several others: slim armor, high recoil when firing the gun, low ammunition capacity.

One 75mm PaK 40 armed Stuart during the Battles for Trieste and its surroundings in May 1945. Source 

Light Tank M3A3 with 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling

On two damaged M3A3 tanks, the German 20 mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun was installed. The only armor protection for the gun operators was the front gun shield, with no side or rear armor. This vehicle would be mainly used in the role of fire support for ground troops. The immense rate of fire of their Flakvierling armament was used to suppress enemy infantry, unarmored vehicles, and anti-tank positions.
The reasons for building these two modifications are not clear, as there were only a limited number of German and their allied planes flying over Yugoslavia by the end of 1944 and in early 1945. Both vehicles survived the war and continued in use for some time, possibly as long as up until the sixties.

Two Stuarts were armed with German 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun. They were possibly used in combat but there is no information about their actions. Both vehicles would survive the war. Source

M3A1/A3 Mortar

Allegedly, during the war, one or two mortars were mounted on a Stuart chassis. The caliber of these mortars could be either 81 mm or 120 mm. One of the main ‘culprits’ for this confusion is a picture published (possibly after the war or just before its end) that shows Partisan crews using a vehicle which is assumed to be an M3A1/A3 as the base armed with two 120 mm mortars. However, this is not true, as the vehicle was, in fact, a German Sd.Kfz. 251 Ausf. D half-track armed with twin 120 mm Granatwerfer 42 (which is basically a direct copy of the Soviet M1938 without any changes to it). It is not known whether it was a Partisan modification or if they had captured this vehicle from the Germans (the second option is the most likely). So it is very likely that such a vehicle based on the M3A1/A3 did not exist.

Both pictures are taken in Šibenik. The first allegedly shows the M3A1 armed with two mortars, while the second picture shows that it is actually a German Sd.Kfz. 251 Ausf.D half-track. Source

M3A1/A3 with 15 cm schweres Infanterie-Geschütz 33 (15 cm sIG 33)

The existence of the 15 cm schweres Infanterie-Geschütz 33 (15 cm sIG 33) armed version, sometimes (mostly online) called SO-150, is also under question. There are only a few mentions (in different mostly online sources) of an M3A1/A3 being modified with such a weapon It was allegedly destroyed in its first combat mission. In addition, there is no information on its exact characteristics. It is unknown if the whole gun (with wheels or without them) was used, and there is no known pictures or document that exist to prove it. This modification was probably impractical, because it would have put a lot of stress on the tank’s chassis, especially when firing, but also because of the weight of the gun itself. Limited ammunition storage in this vehicle would also be a problem. The biggest drawback though would be the low-level protection for its crew, an important fact as this vehicle was supposed to be involved in close combat operations. If it ever existed, this vehicle could very likely have similar characteristics and problems as the similar German vehicle based on the Panzer I Ausf. B.

Conclusion

The Stuart was rated as a good vehicle compared to other captured enemy vehicles used by the Yugoslav Partisans. The positive side was the availability of a more than adequate number of spare parts (and there were enough numbers of Stuart tanks that could in case of necessity, be reused for spare parts) and ammunition. In contrast, captured tanks were available in smaller quantities or even only as individual examples, which complicated the maintenance and ammunition logistics. Availability of at least 59 Stuart tank offered great offensive punch, but in most occasions, Partisans used them in smaller groups and often supporting infantry in attack, reducing their offensive power. The 37 mm main gun was by 1944-1945 standards obsolete, and ineffective in its role as an anti-tank weapon. But as on the Yugoslav Front most enemy tanks were older types (such as the L6/40 and H35/39), it was not that much of a problem. But on several occasion, modern German tanks (and self-propelled vehicles) were almost immune to this gun, which forced Partisans to use the 6-pdr gun of the AEC armored cars. This was the main reason why the Partisans modified a number of damaged Stuarts and armed them with German captured weapons in an attempt to increase their firepower, proving they had the skill and imagination necessary to do such modifications effectively so that they could be used in combat. The Stuart proved to be very important to the Partisans and was involved in many hard-fought battles for the liberation of Yugoslavia.

A column of Stuart tanks preparing for an attack on Mostar in 1945. Source

Light Tank, M3A3 Specifications

Dimensions Length 5.03 m, Width 2.52 m, Height 2.57 m,
Total weight, battle ready 14.7 t
Crew 4 (driver, driver’s assistant, gunner and commander)
Propulsion Continental W-670
Speed 58 km/h, 32 km/h (cross-country)
Range 217 km
Armament 37 mm M6 gun, with three 7.62 mm machine guns
Armor 10-44.5 mm

Sources

The Stuart light tank series, Bryan Perrett, Osprey Publishing London.
Tanks of the world, George Forty, Hermes House,
Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o Narodnooslobodilačkom ratu naroda Jugoslavije, Beograd 1975.
Armored units and vehicles in Croatia during WW II, part I, Allied armored vehicles, Dinko Predoević, Digital Point Rijeka 2002,
Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2011.
Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2010.
World War II Tanks and Fighting Vehicles, Leland Ness, HarperCollins Publishers 2002.
https://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/m3/opis.htm
Magazine Arsenal No. 15, Aleksandar Radić, Beograd 2008,
Naoružanje drugog svetsko rata-USA, Duško Nešić, Beograd 2008.
https://www.znaci.net/arhiv/fotografije?slika_po_strani=50&fraza=&stranica=3
https://the.shadock.free.fr/Surviving_M3_M3A1_Stuarts.pdf

Sources

https://henk.fox3000.com/251.htm
https://sh.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prva_tenkovska_brigada_NOVJ
https://www.znaci.net/arhiv/fotografije?slika_po_strani=50&fraza=&stranica=76

Categories
WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Light Tank M3A3 with 7.5 cm PaK 40

Yugoslavian Partisans (1945-49)
Modified Light Tank – 3 converted

Genesis of the Light Tank M3A3 With 7.5 cm PaK 40

The Axis invasion (codenamed ‘Directive 25’) of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia started on the 6th of April 1941 (also known as the ‘April War’). The Yugoslav Army was taken completely by surprise by the speed and size of the Axis forces. The war ended on the 17th of April 1941 with the capitulation, occupation, and division of Yugoslav territory by the Axis forces.
However, very soon after the Axis occupation, in the second half of 1941, the first resistance groups started a rebellion against the occupiers. There were two resistance fighters groups, the Royalist Chetniks (Četnici/Четници) and the communist Partisans (Партизани). The Chetniks were led by General Draža Mihailović (Дража Михаиловић) and the communist Partisans movement was led by Josif Broz Tito (Јосиф Броз Тито). The term ‘Partisan’ describes both groups by definition, but today the name Partisans has become a synonym for the communist resistance movement in Yugoslavia.
Although in the beginning, these two groups worked together in the fight against the occupying Axis forces, a conflict between these two forces in late 1941 would break out into an open civil war. This lasted until the end of the war and the victory of the Partisans.
By the end of 1943 and early 1944, because of the lack of Chetnik actions against the Germans, the Allies decided to send large amounts of military aid to the Partisan movement instead, including weapons, tanks, and aircraft. According to the agreement between the Partisans and the Allies, it was planned to form one tank brigade equipped with Allied fighting vehicles (armored cars and tanks).

A column of Partisan M3A3s. A PaK armed one can be seen just behind the leading vehicle. Photo: SOURCE
This unit, named the First Tank Brigade, was formed on the 16th of July 1944. The British provided all the equipment needed to equip this brigade. In its inventory, there were some 56 M3A1/A3 Stuart tanks, 24 AEC Mk.II armored cars, and two M3A1 armored reconnaissance cars. The next larger delivery of 36 mostly M3A1 tanks would take place on the 6th of March 1945 (plus a few Stuart tanks received during the war from the Allies) so that the total numbers of Stuart tanks used is around 100.
The caliber (37mm) of the main gun on the Stuart M3A1/A3 tanks was inadequate for anti-tank duties in 1944/45, but Stuarts were still used, since most German tanks on this front were older (mostly Italian and French models). There was also nothing better available at that time, partly because there were not enough Soviet-supplied weapons. The Partisans, as a result, were forced to use the AEC Mk.II armored car (due to its better firepower, the 6 pounder – 57mm Anti-Tank Gun) for engaging better and stronger enemy tanks in mix units together with Stuart tanks.
But this tactic of using both vehicles types for fighting enemy armor led to a lack of any reconnaissance (vehicle or infantry) element of the brigade. The inability to determine exact information about the enemy forces, in particular, unit strength and exact positions, led to great losses.
By the end of the War, more than 60 Stuart tanks were destroyed or damaged. On several of these damaged tanks, the turrets were removed and Partisan engineers decided to try to mount some captured German weapons, to be used as improvised self-propelled guns with increased firepower. Two confirmed modifications are known; one armed with a German 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun and the second armed with the 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun. These modifications were quickly built and put into use without proper testing.
There is also no information about the exact names for these vehicles, or whether the Partisans even assigned an official name for them.

Front view of the modified tank. This one is armed with a second Browning machinegun placed above the gun shield or behind it. Photo: SOURCE

The modifications

On some damaged tanks, the tank turret was removed and in its place, a new modified gun platform was fitted. The upper structure mounted the 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun with its twin layer gun shield of 4mm (0.16 in.) thick steel and a small armor plate (there is no information on its thickness) between the gun and the tank hull. Two more armored plates were used for the side protection (taken from damaged German Sd.Kfz.251 or 250 half-tracks). In principle, the armor of the upper modified gun platform offered only limited protection for its crew, mostly from small caliber bullets and shrapnel.
The main armament, as previously noted, was the 7.5cm Pak 40 anti-tank. The choice for the main gun was very simple one, as the Partisans captured a number of these guns, so they used what they had. The exact number of rounds for the main gun is not known, but it is often mentioned as being around 25 rounds. The 7.5cm Pak 40 gun had enough power to destroy nearly all types of enemy tanks that could be encountered on this front. These being the German Panzer IV or some captured Russian T-34/76 (known as “Panthers” by the Partisans) in Germans use.
The secondary armament consisted of one original hull mounted Browning 7.62mm (.30 cal) machinegun. On some photographs, a second Browning machine gun can be seen placed on top of the gun shield or behind it, but the photographs are not clear enough.
Due to the removal of the tank turret and installation of the new 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun, it was necessary to do some modifications on the two roof hatch doors (used by the driver and hull machine gunner) so that they could be opened forwards only. Except for the change in the upper structure of the tank, the rest of the vehicle was the same as the original (hull, running gear, armor, and engine).
The dimensions of this vehicle were similar to the original tank configuration. Due to the length of the 7.5cm Pak 40 gun, it was certainly a bit longer than the original but the exact details are unknown. The weight of this vehicle was probably around some 15 to 17 tons. It had four crew members: commander, driver, gunner, and a loader. The gun crew had a very limited working space to effectively operate the main weapon.

Light Tank M3A3 With 7.5 cm PaK 40
Illustration of the Light Tank M3A3 With 7.5 cm PaK 40 by tank encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

In combat

There is little information on the precise participation and loses of the Partisan Stuart PaK version. What is known from the contemporary photographic evidence is that they were used in combat. There are only a few documented actions in which these tanks were used.

The PaK armed M3A3 in action somewhere in Yugoslavia. Exact date and location unknown.
They were used at the end of March 1945 in the area of Drenovača (Дреновача) against German positions. Then, on the 27th and 28th of April 1945, near Ilirska Bistrica (Илирска Бистрица), after some heavy fighting (between the Partisan and German forces), the Germans managed to push the Partisans out of Bistrice. This was with the support of one armored company equipped with several or more ‘Panther’ tanks (in reality captured and reused Russian T-34/76 tanks), The next day, Partisans carried out a counter-attack and on that occasion, one T-34/76 was hit and destroyed by a Stuart PaK version. They also took part in tough battles for the liberation of the Trieste (Трст) by the end of April 1945.
The final fate of Pak version is not known, whether they were lost in combat or if they survived. Тhe First Tank Brigade war losses were as previously noted, around 30 to 34 tanks destroyed and a similar number of damaged tanks. So it’s possible that in these numbers include some Pak-conversion tanks.
The role of this vehicle was very likely primarily for destroying enemy heavy armor and as a long-range fire support in a way similar to some German armored vehicles. We can conclude that this hybrid vehicle had both good and bad sides. The positive side was the superior firepower compared to the original and weaker cannon 37mm main gun. Negative sides were: limited working space for the gun crew, weak armor, limited ammunition storage, unproven designed and the whole new gun platform was very likely to stressful for the whole chassis.

PaK armed M3A3 and crew. Photo: SOURCE

Number built

It is believed three Stuart tanks were modified, but according to other sources (mostly on different internet websites) up to 5 vehicles were rebuilt this way, but this is probably not correct. What is particularly strange is that this conversion always appears alone in contemporary photographs, so it possible that only a single vehicle conversion was ever carried out. Currently, it cannot be exactly verified how many such vehicles were built. Their final fate after the war is unknown.

The 7.5 cm PaK 40 Anti-Tank Gun

The 7.5cm PaK 40 was a Rheinmetall solution for the German problems with their insufficiently strong anti-tank guns. It was first issued in very limited numbers by the end 1941 and start of 1942. It became the standard and a highly effective German anti-tank gun used until the end of the war, with some 20,000 examples being built.
The Pak 40 was in essence just a larger version of the 5 cm Pak 38. It had a split tubular trail carriage, double plate shield (two 4mm plates 25mm apart) to protect the crew, solid rubber tires with a torsion-bar suspension, and a muzzle-brake on the long gun barrel. It was an excellent anti-tank gun, but the main problem with it (according to many sources) was the heavyweight in action, many were lost because they became bogged down in mud, especially on the East Front. After the war, many European countries put them to good use to re-equip their shattered armies for some time.
The maximum effective range of Armor Piercing (AP) rounds was 2 km and for High Explosive (HE) rounds was 7.6 km (4.72 miles). Elevation was -5° to +22° with 65° traverse. Weight in action: 1425 kg /3142 lb. The armor penetration at a range of 1 km (0.62 miles), depending on the ammunition used was around 97 mm which was enough to destroy almost every tank of the period at that range.
The Pak 40 used several different types of ammunition:
– 7.5cm Pzgr Patr 39: Conventional piercing shell (AP) with ballistic and penetrating caps. Complete round weight of 12 kg (26.46 lb),
– 7.5cm Sprg Patr 34: Standard high explosive shell (HE) Complete round weight of 9.15 kg (20.18 lb),
– 7.5cm Patr H1/B: Complete round weight of 8 kg (17.64 lb), Hollow charge shell used in limited number because the low muzzle velocity (450 mps/1476 fps) made precise and accurate shooting at fast targets very difficult.

Specifications

Dimensions 4.33 x 2.47 x 2.29 m
14.2×8.1×7.51 ft
Total weight, battle ready 15-17 tons
Crew 5 (Gunner, two loaders, driver and commander).
Propulsion Continental 7 cylinder petrol
250 hp – air cooled
Speed 58 km/h (36 mph) road
29 km/h (18 mph) off-road
Range 120 km at medium speed (74.5 mi)
Armament 7.5cm Pak 40 Anti-Tank Gun
Armor From 13 to 51 mm (0.52-2 in)

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Artillery From WWI to the present day, Michael E. Haskew, Amber Books 2010.
Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Alexander Ludeke.
Fighting men of WWII Axis Forces, David Miler, Chartwell Books.
German Artillery of World War Two, Ian V.Hogg
Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu, Bojan B. Dumitrijević i Dragan Savić, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2011.
Armored units and vehicles in Croatia during WW II, Part I Allied armored vehicles, Dinko Predoević, Rijeka 2002.
Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2010.
https://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/m3/opis.htm

Categories
WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Light Tank M3A3 with 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling

Yugoslavian Partisans (1945-49)
Modified Light Tank – 2 converted

The Axis invasion (codenamed Directive 25) of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia started on the 6th of April 1941 (also known as the ‘April War’). The Yugoslav Army was completely surprised by the speed and size of the Axis forces. The war ended on the 17th of April 1941 with the capitulation, occupation, and division of Yugoslav territory by the Axis forces.
However, very soon after the Axis occupation, the first resistance groups started a rebellion against the occupiers in the second half of 1941. There were two resistance fighters groups, the royalist Chetniks (Четници) and the communist Partisans (Партизани). The Chetniks were led by General Draža Mihailović (Дража Михаиловић) and the communist Partisans movement was led by Josif Broz Tito (Јосиф Броз Тито). The term ‘Partisan’ describes both groups by definition, but today the name Partisans has become a synonym for the communist resistance movement in Yugoslavia.
Although in the beginning, these two groups worked together in the fight against the occupying Axis forces, a conflict between these two forces in late 1941 would break out into an open civil war. This lasted until the end of the war and the victory of the Partisans.

The modified M3A3 with the quad flak 38. Photo: SOURCE
By the end of 1943 and early 1944, because of the lack of Chetnik actions against the Germans, the Allies decided to send large amounts of military aid to the Partisan movement (weapons, tanks, aircraft etc.). According to the agreement between the Partisans and the Allies, it was planned to form one tank brigade equipped with Allied vehicles (armored cars and tanks).
This unit, named the first tank brigade, was formed on the 16th of July 1944. The British provided all the equipment needed to equip this brigade. In its inventory, there were some 56 x M3A1/A3 Stuart Light Tanks tanks, 24 x AEC Mk.II armored cars, and two M3A1 armored reconnaissance cars.
The caliber (37mm) of the main gun on the Stuart M3A1/A3 tanks was inadequate for anti-tank duties in 1944/45, but Stuarts were still used, since most German tanks on this front were older (mostly Italian and French models). There was also nothing better available at that time, and because there were not enough Soviet-supplied tanks to equip all units. The Partisans were forced to use the AEC Mk.II armored car (due to its better firepower, 57mm Anti-Tank Gun) for engaging better and stronger enemy tanks. But this tactic of using both vehicles types for fighting enemy armor led to a lack of any reconnaissance (vehicle or infantry) element of the brigade. The inability to determine exact information about the enemy forces, in particular, unit strength and exact positions, led to great losses.
By the end of the War, more than 60 Stuart tanks were destroyed or damaged (of around 100 supplied by the Allies during the war). On several of these damaged tanks, the turrets were removed and Partisan engineers decided to try to mount some captured German weapons, to be used as improvised self-propelled guns with increased firepower. Two confirmed modifications are known; one armed with a German 75mm PaK 40 anti-tank gun and the second armed with the 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun. These modifications were quickly built and without proper testing, but even so, the 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling version remained in service long after the war.
There is also no information about the exact names for these vehicles and whether the Partisans even assigned an official name for them.

The Modifications

The tank’s turret was removed and in its place, a German 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun was installed. The only armor protection for the gun operators was the front gun shield, with no side or rear armor. It had five crew members: commander, driver, gunner, and two loaders. Three crew members were needed to effectively operate the main gun, but the area behind the gun was very limited. There is no information about the amount of ammunition for the main weapon that could be carried on and in the vehicle and by looking at contemporary photographs of these vehicles, the ammunition was probably kept in the vehicle itself. The secondary weapon was the single machine gun in the tank hull. By installing the new gun platform, and in order for the driver and the hull machine gunner reach their positions in the tank, it was necessary to do some modifications on the two roof hatch doors so that they could be opened forwards.

The M3 with full crew. Photo: SOURCE
Other characteristics are similar to the original M3A3 vehicle, with the exception of height and weight. The dimensions of this vehicle are similar to the original tank configuration, if not a bit higher, but the exact figures are unknown. The weight of this vehicle is probably around some 15 to 17 tons.
This vehicle was mainly used in the role of fire support for ground troops (German planes at that time and on this front, were a rare sight). They would use the immense rate of fire of their Flakvierling armament to suppress enemy infantry, unarmored vehicles, and Anti-Tank positions. However, it should be noted that the Flakvierling was not very effective against enemy tanks, except maybe damaging optics.

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Artillery From WWI to the present day, Michael E. Haskew, Amber Books 2010.
Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Alexander Ludeke.
Fighting men of WWII Axis Forces, David Miler, Chartwell Books.
German Artillery of World War Two, Ian V.Hogg
Vek Srpske Protivvazdušne odbrane , Bojan Dimitrijević, Odbrana Beograd 2015,
Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu, Bojan B. Dumitrijević i Dragan Savić, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2011.
Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2010.
https://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/m3/opis.htm

illustration of the M3A3 Flakvierling
Illustration of the M3A3 Flakvierling by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

In Combat

The Flak armed Stuarts were used in combat, mostly in the battle for Trieste 1945. For the flak version, there is reliable information that both vehicles survived the war. In June 1946, the first tank brigade handed these two vehicles over to the first tank division. These vehicles were in use until 1949, but because of the fact that Stuart tanks remained in use by Yugoslav People’s Army until 1960, it was possible that they were in use even after 1949.

On this picture we see the lack of adequate armor protection and limited working space for the tank and gun crew. Photo: SOURCE

The Flak 38

The Flak 38 proved to be a successful weapon during war, especially the four-barrel Flakvierling versions. It was designed to shoot down low-flying aircraft but it was also found to be very effective when used against unarmored ground targets.
The Flak 38 Flakvierling was designed by Mauser-Werke to replace the old Flak 20, and was introduced in May 1940. At first it was mostly used by the German Kriegsmarine (navy) to provide anti-air defense for battleships, destroyers and cruisers. During the war, this anti-air gun saw much wider use with the rest of the German army in various mounts. This gun was transported on the Sonderanhanger 52 platform and carriage which was the same as for the one gun Flak 38 original version but enlarged and strengthened. The Flak 38 Flakvierling was also used as a mobile mounted weapon on several German vehicles, like the half-tracks (Sd.Kfz 6/1 and Sk.Kfz 7/1), tanks, trucks, and even on armored trains. An interesting fact is that, on some later versions, radars were fitted, in which case a parabolic reflector was installed between the four gun barrels. During WWII, the Flak 38 Flakvierling proved to be a highly effective and successful weapon that remained in use throughout the war, with some 3850 being produced.

The Quad Flak 38 in German service. Photo: Bundesarchiv
The Flak 38 Flakvierling had 8 crew members. Its effective range was 2 km (6562 ft.) or 2.2km (7229 ft.), depending on the source, with the maximum horizontal range of 5782 m (5230 yds). The maximum rate of fire was 1680 to 1920 rpm, (700-800 rpm was a more appropriate operational rate of fire). The gun could traverse a full 360° and the elevation was –10° to +100°. The weight in action was some 1520 kg (3352 lbs.). The Flak 38 Flakvierling was first equipped with the Flakvisier 40, that was a modified version of the Flakvisier 38. But, during the later part of the war, this was replaced by more simple types.
For this gun there were several different types of ammunition available that were used in combat, some of them were:
– SprGr.Patr.L/Spur – HE (high explosive) shell with self-destroying tracer (velocity 900 mps./2953 fps.)
– 2cm Pzgr Patr 40 L/Spur – AP (armour piercing) shell with tungsten core, armor penetration at 100 m was 40 mm (1.57 in. at 109 yds.), probably rarely used because of a shortage of tungsten,
– 2cm Pzgr Patr L/pur m Zerlegung – AP/HE/incendiary shell with no fuse and with a heat relay self-destroying tracer. Velocity was 830 mps./2723 fps.
– 2cm Sprgr Patr L/Spur (Ub) – Empty practice shell.

Number Built

It is believed that two Stuart tanks were converted. These two tanks survived the war and remained in use for a next few years after the war. It is not known what finally happened to them or when, or if, they were scrapped.

Specifications

Dimensions 4.33 x 2.47 x 2.29 m
14.2×8.1×7.51 ft
Total weight, battle ready 15-17 tons
Crew 5 (Gunner, two loaders, driver and commander).
Propulsion Continental 7 cylinder petrol
250 hp – air cooled
Speed 58 km/h (36 mph) road
29 km/h (18 mph) off-road
Range 120 km at medium speed (74.5 mi)
Armament 2cm Flakvierling 38, and one machine gun
Armor From 13 to 51 mm (0.52-2 in)
Categories
Czechoslovak WW2 Tankettes WW2 Yugoslavian Armor

Škoda Š-I-D (T-32)

Czechoslovakia/Yugoslavia (1936-41)
Tankette – 8 built

Armor for the Yugoslav Kingdom

In the early 1930s, Yugoslavia had two cavalry divisions. Each cavalry division consisted of two to three cavalry brigades with two regiments, one artillery squadron, a cycling battalion and other supporting units. It was planned to attach a motorized regiment to each division. However, it was necessary to obtain some light tanks or tankettes for these new cavalry units.
The primary problem was sourcing the new equipment. France was unwilling to sell its latest tanks but wanted to dispose of the older surplus models. Through the French, Yugoslavia had at its disposal around 56 older Renault-Kegresse M-28 and FT tanks, some having been bought and some received as military aid in the 1920-30s. In mid-1935, Yugoslavia bought 54 relatively modern R35 light tanks from France. The Yugoslav Army had contemplated acquiring some new Soviet tanks (T-26 or BT series); however, this was not possible due to political reasons.

Unworthy Competitors

During 1933/34, several Czech and Polish tankette models were tested. The Polish TK3 tankette was the first tested in February 1933. The results of these tests are not known, but the Yugoslav Army did not order them.
Czech tankettes were next to be tested. The first was the vz.33 in July and then the Škoda MU-4 in October. Both vehicles performed poorly, mostly due to frequent problems with their engines. After the unsuccessful trials, the MU-4 was returned for refurbishment, and the vz.33 was outright rejected by the Yugoslav Army. The MU-4 was rebuilt with a new, more powerful, 40 hp engine and also received a series of minor modifications. This model was again sent to Yugoslavia between the 20th and 31st of October 1934 for evaluation. Although many mechanical problems were solved, the Yugoslav military leadership still rejected this modified vehicle.

Š-I-D Prototype. Photo Source

A New Model

After these failures, Škoda began development of a new tankette, better armored and armed with a 37mm cannon. The prototype was completed in mid-1935 under the designation Š-I-d.
In 1936, this new tankette was presented to the Yugoslav delegation, which had a series of concerns. One of the main concerns was the thickness of the front armor. Yugoslav delegation insisted that the armor should be 30mm and not 20mm as it was on Š-I-d prototype. Although the later production model Š-I-D would have a thicker armor (22mm), it was still not thick enough. But as this model went into production, it seems that there was a kind of compromise between the two sides on that matter.
Once these concerns were addressed, the Ministry of the Army and Navy of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Škoda finally signed a contract on the 30th of June 1936, for eight improved Š-I-D tankettes. After some delays, they were delivered in August 1937. The Yugoslav Army had plans for a larger number of field tests in 1938, and if they were successful, they would buy a large number of this tankette.
The Supreme Command of the Yugoslav Army decided to acquire them from Škoda, for two simple reasons.
Firstly, both countries were members of the so-called “Little Entente/Мала Атанта” ( the alliance formed in 1920-21 by Yugoslavia, Romania, and Czechoslovakia). And secondly, the Yugoslav government signed a 3 billion Dinar loan with Škoda.
Model: Š-I-d (prototype version)
The Š-I-d prototype was based on the unsuccessful MU-4 tankette since the Yugoslav Army demanded certain changes (one of the main requirements was a need for stronger armor), serial production did not follow. The fate of the Š-I-d prototype is not known.
The Š-I-d designation is an abbreviation, with “Š” stands for the manufacturer, Škoda, “I” (Roman number for 1) represents the vehicle category (category I for tankettes, category II for tanks and the category III for “heavy” tanks) and “d” – “dělový” for a gun version designation.
The Š-I-d consisted of an armored box casemate with a command cupola. Front armor plates were 20mm thick, the sides 15mm and the rear was 10 mm thick. The armor was riveted. The crew could observe the surroundings through two observation hatches in front. The vehicle was 3.1 m long, 1.9 m wide and 1.6 m high. It had four running wheels mounted on two bogeys and three support rollers on each side.
The armament consisted of one Škoda 37mm A3 cannon and one machine gun (around 1000 rounds). The gun elevation was -10°/+25° and traverse -15°/+15°. The vehicle had a crew of two and a 55 hp petrol engine.
Model: Š-I-D/T-32 (Production version)
The improved Š-I-D (note the capitalized ‘D’) was accepted into service under the designation of “Брза борна кола T-32” (Fast fighting car/vehicle). Among the soldiers, they were known as “Škoda ŠID (Шид)” because of the name Š-I-D. They were incorporated into the Armored Vehicles Squadron of the Cavalry School based in Zemun (Земун). The first commander of this squadron was Second Class Captain Dušan Radović.
Unlike the prototype vehicle, the production version was approximately half a meter longer (3.58m), with roughly the same width (1.95m) and slightly taller (1.76m). It had one more running wheel and one more supporting roller. Like the prototype, it had a simple box-shaped superstructure with a command cupola on top (similar to other Škoda models). The front armor plates were 22mm thick (not 30mm as the Yugoslav army demanded), sides 15mm and the rear was 10mm thick. It also kept the two observation hatches from the prototype version.

Production version of the Š-I-D. Photo Source
The engine was also more powerful petrol engine, providing 60 hp, compared to the 55 hp of the prototype. The main armament was the improved Škoda A3J 37.2 mm gun (42 rounds). The secondary weapon was the ZB vz.30 J machine gun (1000 rounds). The gun could elevate -10°/+25° and traverse -15°/+15°. It was a modern gun at that time, with an effective firing range of 1,000 m, and its penetration power at 500m (at 30°) was 30-32 mm. At that time, German tanks, depending on the model, had armor of approximately 14.5 mm or more. As such, this gun had the ability to destroy most contemporary German tanks at a reasonable range.
Two crew members were needed to operate this vehicle, a driver who also used the machine gun, and the commander, who was at the same time gunner and loader of the main gun. This was far from ideal, but for tankette standards of the era, was completely normal. To gain access to their battle positions the commander and the driver used two hatch doors on the roof. The commander entered through the command cupola and the driver through the hatch next to it.
Compared with the tankettes from other countries, on paper T-32 was a major step forward. This tankette had a low silhouette, was fast, well armed and armored. However, the T-32 suffered from problems with its suspension and running gear which was structurally very weak and prone to failures. As a result, most of the T-32 vehicles spent months in the Army’s repair workshops.
According to the plans of the Yugoslav Army, this tankette was intended to perform following tasks:
1: Scouting enemy lines (uppermost on the enemy flanks)
2: Infantry Fire support.
3: In rearguard operations, they were to attack enemy flanks position and slow down their movement.
4: Taking important positions, but only with support from other friendly units,
5: Used as a vanguard on enemy flanks, two T-32s, would advance ahead, while the remainder would wait as a reserve and act as a fire support.
Through the use of these tactics, we can see that T-32 was not intended as an assault vehicle (like some German vehicles). Its purpose was not to directly attack enemy units and positions but instead act as a support element on the flanks with a surprise factor, in order to maximize on its low silhouette, good speed and gun and at the same time minimize issues with the lack of more crew members. Frontal attacks was only permitted when enemy’s forces were surprised, and large amounts of supporting forces (infantry and artillery support) were available.
An interesting fact is that the T-32 were involved in military exercises at Ada Ciganlija (Ада Циганлија) near Belgrade (Београд) in 1940. These exercises were recorded in the first color documentary film (the first ever recorded in Yugoslavia/Serbia). On this film, we can clearly see camouflage colors of these vehicles – chocolate brown, dark green and ocher.
During the military coup conducted by a group of pro-Western Yugoslav Air Force officers on the 27th of March 1941 in order to prevent the government of Yugoslavia from joining the Axis power, some armored units were used in supporting this coup (included with the T-32s).

Illustration of the Škoda Š-I-D or T-32 tankette by Jarosław Janas
Illustration of the Škoda Š-I-D or T-32 tankette by Jarosław Janas

Failure in Service

Issues with these vehicles already arose during the first year of service. As previously noted, the running gear broke down often and some vehicles were out of service for several months due to a constant need for repairs. To solve these problems, the Škoda factory sent its teams of mechanics, who after extended work removed most of the deficiencies. After initial experiences, the Yugoslav military leadership demanded the development of better armored and armed vehicles with much better running gear.

Bigger, Stronger

Based on these new requirements, Škoda developed a completely new tankette Š-I-J (‘J’ for Jugoslavsky/Yugoslavia). The prototype (named T-I-D, the ‘D’ is for diesel) which was completed in May 1938, was armed with a stronger 47 mm A-9 gun plus one machine gun, the frontal armor protection was 30mm, and the sides were 15mm thick, a more powerful engine and most importantly improved suspension.

In March 1939, this new prototype was presented to the Yugoslav military delegation. The Yugoslav Army was pleased with this new model and was interested in purchasing 108 tankettes, however, Hitler’s occupation of Czechoslovakia put an end to any further deliveries.

In Combat

Before the outbreak of the April war, the layout of the Yugoslav Army armored units was as follows: First battalion with command HQ was in Belgrade. The companies with FT and M-28 tanks were assigned to Second Army in Sarajevo (Сарајево), Third Army in Skopje (Скопље) and Fourth Army in Zagreb (Загреб). The second battalion with R35 tanks was in Belgrade, but parts of this unit were sent to the Third Army in the autumn of 1940. A squadron of fighting vehicles was based in Zemun (with all eight T-32). In total, Yugoslavia had about 118 tanks and tankettes available prior the Axis invasion.
Aside from the eight T-32s, the Zemun squadron of fighting vehicles had in its inventory an armored car platoon of two Berliet and one SPA (an old First World War-era armored car) and two indigenously armored trucks. It was originally planned to reinforce these units with new Italian AB-40s, but the outbreak of war prevented this from coming to fruition.
The Zemun squadron was tasked with protecting the airfield against possible enemy airborne assault between April 6 to 10, 1941. Following the German advance on Zemun and Belgrade, the squadron was ordered to move towards the City of Niš (Ниш), without any specific task. It appears that (according to some old photos) at least one T-32 was abandoned in Belgrade. It probably did not participate in any fighting and was possibly abandoned due to mechanical breakdown.
In the vicinity of the Avala (Авала) Mountains near Belgrade, the squadron received orders to move as fast as possible towards Mladenovac-Topola (Младеновац-Топола). When the unit arrived in Mladenovac, to their amazement there was no supply of AP ammunition, but it was instead supplied with fuel. During the night, the squadron was based in direction of Mladenovac-Aranđelovac (Арнђеловац)-Topola. By order of the Sixth Army Command, the squadron moved towards Topola with the primary objective of closing and defending the road leading from Mladenovac to Belgrade.
One patrol of two vehicles was sent to Kragujevac (Крагујевац) that morning. One T-32 had a breakdown and was abandoned along the way, while the other one continued alone and after some time met a German armored column who attacked it immediately. By pure luck, this tankette did not suffer any damage in the skirmish, but on the road back to base it also had a breakdown and was abandoned. Due to these losses, the squadron had only 4 or 5 operational vehicles left. There was no time for a rest because shortly after the skirmish, German forces attacked the positions of the Yugoslav Army near Topola and Mladenovac.
According to various sources, the Germans had several (possibly three) damaged tanks and one command vehicle (type unknown). Yugoslav accurate losses are not known, the commander of the squadron Captain Dušan Radović was killed in action. Some sources claimed that the last vehicles were destroyed at Mladenovac, which would mean that at least some managed to leave Topola. By the end of the April War (6th to the 18th of April 1941), all tankettes were lost.
The Germans managed to capture at least two vehicles or possibly more (there is no accurate data) in various conditions. Use of these vehicles by the Germans are unknown. There is no confirmed information that they were ever used in occupied Yugoslavia against Partisans or Chetniks units. According to some sources, they were sent back to (now in German hands) Škoda factory for refit and repair and afterward they were given to the Waffen SS units who used them for training, however, this is not confirmed. The German designation for Š-I-D was Pz. Kpfw. 732 (j).
It’s very likely that all the captured tankettes were eventually sent for scrap metal at some point during WWII. None of the tankettes survived the war and their fate remains unknown to this day.

Production Numbers

Only a few vehicles were ever built (eight) due to many factors, foremost being the German occupation of Czechoslovakia which resulted in the immediate stop of production and thereby the ability to purchase more of these vehicles.

Škoda Š-I-D (T-32) specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.58 x 1.95 x 1.76 m (11.7 x 6.3 x 5.7 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 4.8 tons
Crew 2 (commander, driver)
Propulsion Skoda Flat 4 cylinder 60 hp (2500 RPM, 3.99 liter)
Speed 25.4 mph (41 km/h)
Range 155 – 161 miles (250-260 km)
Armament Skoda A3J 37.2 mm, ZB vz.30 J machine gun. (Ammunition for main gun: 42 rounds, and machine gun 1000 rounds).
Armor 5 – 22 mm (0.1 – 0.8 in)
Total production 8

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Bojan b. Dimitrijević, The armoured vehicles of the Yugoslav Arмy 1918-1941 (Borna kola Jugoslovenske vojske 1918-1941.)
Dušan Babac, Elitni vidovi jugoslovenske vojske u Aprilskom ratu.
Branko Nadoveza, Nebojša Đokić, Odbrambena privreda Kraljevine Jugoslavije, Beograd 2014.
https://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/
https://www.paluba.info/smf/index.php/topic,5965.0.html
https://beutepanzer.ru/Beutepanzer/yougoslavie/t-32.html