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WW2 Czechoslovak Armored Cars

Lancia 1ZM in Czechoslovak Service

 Czechoslovakia (1918-1935)
Armored Car – 2 Received

The Lancia 1ZM was the first armored car used by Czechoslovakia. Before the First World War, Czechia and Slovakia were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but they had the ambition of becoming an independent state. During the war, Czechs and Slovaks were organized into units and fought alongside the Entente Powers in France, Italy, and Russia against their Austro-Hungarian oppressors and their allies. The Czechoslovak units were an important leverage tool, and, together with a strong independence movement, Czechoslovakian independence was proclaimed on 28th October 1918. However, Czechoslovakia was not the only new state in the area. The whole former Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up into smaller independent states, but territorial claims often overlapped with each other, creating many border disputes which resulted in military conflict. In this turmoil of events, two Lancia 1ZMs, received from Italy in 1918, saw action.

Lancia No.2 of the Czechoslovak Italian Legion. This 1ZM was of the first production series and assigned to the 7th Squadron in November 1918. Source: legie100.com
The Lancia and Bianchi, shortly after they were received from Italy. After the Czechoslovaks expressed dissatisfaction with having two different models, the Bianchi was replaced with another Lancia. Note that the marking on the turret only consist of one white band. Another red band would be added below shortly thereafter, creating the Czechoslovak flag. Source: Czechoslovak Armored Cars in the First World War and Russian Civil War

Czechoslovak Volunteers in Italy

The first Czechoslovak units in Russia were already formed in August 1914, first consisting of Czechs and Slovaks who already lived in Russia, and later joined by defectors and POWs from the Austro-Hungarian Army. In France, these developments started just as early. On 31st August 1914, the Czechoslovak Company “Rota Nazdar” was formed within the French Foreign Legion. The Italian government was more hesitant to allow the creation of a Czechoslovak force within their borders.

Italy joined the First World War on 24th May 1915, when it declared war on its northern neighbor and rival, Austria-Hungary. During the next two years, many Austro-Hungarian troops were captured, and among them, were nationalistic defectors who wanted to join the Entente to fight against the Empire, in the hope of gaining independence once the war was over. However, Italy had no interest in allowing this to happen, since it could potentially hinder their military and political ambitions in the region. Only after lengthy negotiations, Czech and Slovak POWs were separated from other POWs and gathered in a Czechoslovak prisoner camp in January 1917. The Italian government continued to prohibit them from fighting Austria-Hungary and Germany, but on the initiative of the Italian Field Army, some Czechoslovak reconnaissance groups were formed in September 1917.

The Italian stance on this matter started to change after its major defeat in the battle for Caporetto in October 1917. On 11th February 1918, the first Czechoslovak labor battalions were recruited. After more negotiations, an agreement was signed on 21st April 1918, which allowed actual Czechoslovak military units to be formed. By June, the Czechoslovak Army Corps in Italy had 15,680 members.

Lancia No.2 is seen here in 1921 or later. Source: rotanazdar.cz

Armored Cars

Nearing the end of 1918, Italy gave the Czechoslovak 6th Division two armored cars. They were a Lancia 1ZM and a Bianchi which were attached to the Czechoslovak Artillery’s heavy howitzer section based in Sabbionara. Both vehicles had a crew of four, including the commander and a deputy. Lieutenant František Kolojda was put in command of the Bianchi, and Lieutenant Jaroslav Hrdina commanded the Lancia. Both crews originated from the 39th Infantry (Rifle) Regiment. At the very end of November, the armored cars were reassigned; the Bianchi to the 6th Cavalry Squadron, and the Lancia to the 7th Cavalry Squadron. These two squadrons formed the Cavalry Group which had only been established on 19th November 1918.

In early December, the unit was concentrated in the city of Padua to be repatriated to the newly established state of Czechoslovakia. However, first, parades were held for Italian king Vittorio Emanuele III on 8th December. Several days later, on 16th and 17th December, subsequent inspections of the troops were held at the military airfield in front of the new president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, and the commander-in-chief of the Czechoslovak Italian Legion, Italian General Luigi Piccioniho. Both armored cars got the attention of President Masaryk and after talking to the crews, they expressed their dissatisfaction with having two different armored cars. After consultation with General Piccioniho, it was arranged that the Bianchi would be replaced by another Lancia. This new Lancia was designated No.1, while the other became No.2.

No.2, seen again in 1921 or later, but from a different angle. Note the type of grille, only seen on the 1st series of 1ZM, of which 20 were built. Source: rotanazdar.cz

Design

The two 1ZMs that were obtained by Czechoslovakia were of the first series (No.2) and second series (No.1). The main difference between the two series was the differently designed bonnet and front fenders. The vehicles were protected with armor between 2.5 and 6 mm thick. Weighing 4.2 tonnes, they were powered by a Lancia 1Z 4-cylinder petrol engine producing 35 hp, allowing a top road speed of 60 km/h. The Italian Army fielded them with a crew of five, including a commander, driver, and three gunners. However, the Czechoslovak Legion manned them with crews of four, eliminating one of the three gunners. Despite this, the armament of three 6.85 mm Maxim-Dreyse machine guns was retained. These were later replaced by 7.92 mm Schwarzlose vz.07/12 machine guns during the early 1920s.

Back Home

After 16th December 1918, the first units returned to Czechoslovakia. The Cavalry Group with its armored cars left Padua by train on the 23rd. The train took a detour via Rovereto, Trento, Bolzano, and Vienna, and crossed the border at České Velenice. The journey continued via the cities of Veselí-Mezimostí, Jindřichův Hradec, Cejle, Znojmo, Břeclav, and Žilina, to Poprad-Velká. There, the 7th Cavalry Squadron with Lancia No.2 continued the journey towards Galanta and was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division. Lancia No.1 was assigned to the 6th Infantry Division, but remained near Poprad, in the village Spišská Teplica.

The most likely route that both vehicles took by rail in a few days, from Padua in Italy to Poprad in Slovakia. Source: Author, based on Google Maps

Developments Along the Border

On 29th December 1918, the Czechoslovak Home Army occupied the city of Košice. After this, the Italian Legion occupied the first demarcation line between Hungary and Czechoslovakia, also known as the “Pichon Line”. Pichon was the French Foreign Minister at the time, and France, as one of the victorious powers, played a major diplomatic role in the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This first line was replaced by an interim border, established on 20th January 1919.

Lancia No.1 was moved from Poprad to Košice in early January. It was tasked with protecting Italian General Rossi from Czechoslovak soldiers under his own command, as they suspected him of treason and collaboration with the Hungarians. This threat quickly waned, and the security operation only lasted three days. After this, the Lancia was put on standby to be used during emergencies or for police duties.

On 21st March 1919, following a communist coup, the Hungarian Soviet Republic was proclaimed. In response, martial law was declared in Slovakia on the 25th, as the Czechoslovak government feared that disorder would cross the border. Lancia No.1 was dispatched to Rožňava, Rimavská Sobota, and Tornaľaj as a show of force, hoping to prevent any revolts by local Hungarians. This seems to have worked, so the Lancia did not see any combat, and was recalled to Košice.

Lancia No.1 in 1919. The photograph is likely taken in Košice. The text on the turret indicates it belongs to the 6th Squadron. Source: bojoslovensko.sk

To the Capital

Near the end of April, both armored cars were called to Prague in order to be used to suppress any unrest that was suspected to appear in May. Again, no unrest occurred, so it was decided to relocate the idle Lancias to Milovice to perform some live firing shooting tests on the military range. Milovice is close to Prague, and the vehicles returned the same day. Meanwhile, Lancia No.2 received a new commander, Lieutenant Jaroslav Novák, after which it was returned to the area of Galanta and Komárno, where it had been stationed earlier. Lancia No.1 was sent to Nitra.

War with Hungary

On 29th April 1919, a second demarcation line was established by Czechoslovak troops. This Czechoslovak advance led to Hungarian counterattacks. The Czechoslovaks lost several battles and were ordered to retreat to their initial positions on 22nd and 23rd May. The advancing Hungarian Army launched a major attack on 30th May and occupied a large part of Slovakia. On 10th June, units reached the Polish border, effectively splitting the Czechoslovak Army in two. On 16th June, the Slovak Soviet Republic was proclaimed, but this new Republic was swiftly defeated within three weeks, on 7th July 1919.

In the first week of June, Lancia No.1 moved from Nitra to Nové Zámky, and continued via Bajč, Perbeta, Nová Víska, and Šarkán, to Nana on the outskirts of Štúrovo (Parkáňy), a border town along the River Danube. The Czechoslovak defensive line ran through this city, in front of the local train station. However, the city had been taken by Hungarian troops. When the Lancia arrived, it was tasked to participate in the Czechoslovak counterattack, in an attempt to retake the city. The city was recaptured after an hour of fierce fighting. Fighting continued the next day and the Lancia was tasked to patrol the road between the city and the railway station. The Hungarians, supported by an armored train, attacked the following night and forced the Czechoslovaks to retreat. The Lancia was also forced to retreat, but its only way out was the road that led towards the railway station. This road was under fire from Hungarian guns located in Esztergom, on the other side of the river.

This is the best-known image of Lancia No.1. It is a 2nd series 1ZM, featuring a redesigned bonnet and protected air intake. Note that the machine guns are not fitted and no markings are visible. Source: rotanazdar.cz

While escaping via the road, the Lancia encountered the Hungarian armored train, which took the train crew by surprise. They fired upon the Lancia but missed. Meanwhile, the Lancia directed machine-gun fire into Hungarian troops gathered at the railway station while continuing its retreat to Nové Zámky. There, the crew was tasked to deliver a message to Nitra, but they were unable to return, as Nové Zámky had been captured by the Hungarians. The next day, the Lancia counterattacked in an attempt to retake the city, but it was halted by the French officer in command, who feared the road had been mined.

After the fight in Nové Zámky, the Lancia was redirected via Nitra to Vráble, a city also occupied by Hungarians. A Hungarian improvised armored train stood in front of the railway station, close to the road, which forced the Lancia to hide in a vineyard. Around 5 p.m. the train moved south in the direction of Šurany, providing the Lancia an opportunity to push into the city, together with a company of Czechoslovak troops. During the afternoon of the next day, they were forced out again during a Hungarian counterattack, and the Lancia provided fire cover for the retreating company. The following day, the Lancia was recalled to the Brigade’s Headquarters in Zlaté Moravce.

From there, the Lancia was ordered to Kozárovce, via Gartce and Svatý Benedikt. From Kozárovce, the Lancia covered retreating Czechoslovak troops. In the evening, Hungarian troops tried to take out the vehicle by using hand grenades, forcing it to retreat as well, back to Svatý Benedikt. The nearby city of Levice was taken by Czechoslovakia a few days later, and the Lancia carried out a raid on the road between Velka and Kálnica. After this action, the vehicle was assigned to support a battalion in the area. Near the road to Starý Hrádok, the vehicle participated in the elimination of a Hungarian machine gun nest, and resulted in the capture of two machine guns, two horse-drawn wagons, and several POWs.

Later, the vehicle was reassigned to a brigade fighting near Vráble. It performed reconnaissance missions in the direction of Nevižany, but the tires were hit by bullets, and without a spare tire, the vehicle was rendered immobile. In order to retain the vehicle in the fight, it was recovered and put on a flat car on the railway. Now considered an improvised armored train, the first sortie was carried out towards Zlaté Moravce. On 23rd June, the Lancia-train attacked from the vicinity of the River Žitava towards Úľany nad Žitavou, Dolný Ohaj, Hul, and Radava. The train was manned by two platoons of Czechoslovaks from the Italian Legion.

Following the armistice and the end of the Czechoslovak-Hungarian War, the Lancia was returned to Prague for repairs, performed at the Breitfeld-Danek factory. To prevent such an incident in the future, the pneumatic tires were replaced by solid rubber tires. The commander was also replaced by Lieutenant Adolf Prchlík. In August 1919, the Lancia was repaired and returned to Slovakia to be stationed in Kremnica, Ružomberok, and Bratislava. In December 1919, it was permanently garrisoned in Lučenec.

Lancia No.2 on 3rd June 1919. Note the marked battle damage on the side door. The colored bands on the turret are white-red, which was the original flag of Czechoslovakia between 1918 and 1920, based upon the same flag of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Source: rotanazdar.cz

Lancia No.2

Contrary to the elaborate combat reports of No.1, nothing is known about the use of Lancia No.2 during the Czechoslovak-Hungarian War. It was used, however, as a photograph from 3rd June 1919 shows battle damage on the vehicle. Originally stationed in Galanta and Komárno, the vehicle had returned to Prague by the end of 1919 and was stationed there. On 26th October, Lieutenant Karel Janoušek replaced the commander.

Lancia No.2 (NVII-752) next to Fiat-Torino No.5 (NVII-755). The Fiat-Torino armored cars were designed and built by Škoda on an emergency basis after the successful use of the Lancias in battle. Source: VHU PRAHA

Maintaining Peace

In early 1920, Lancia No.1 was rearmed with Schwarzlose vz.07/12 machine guns at the Railway Workshops in Zvolen, a city close to Kremnica and Ružomberok. In June, Lancia No.2 was attached to an Armored Car Group, also consisting of the newly delivered Fiat-Torino’s No. 9 and No.10 armored cars built by Škoda. František Petrák was placed in command of this group on 20th August.

The Schwarzlose vz.07/12 machine gun was extensively used by Austria-Hungary, and after 1918, by its successor states. Source: Forgotten Weapons

On 27th October, all armored cars and trains of the Czechoslovak Army were put under command of Karel Eichmann. This was followed by the establishment of the Special Combat Units Headquarters in Milovice on 29th October. It was officially named Velitelství zvláštních útvarů bojových (panc. vlaků, obrň. aut a tanků) (English: Headquarters of the Special Combat Units (armored trains, armored cars, and tanks)). Due to the addition of the twelve new Fiat-Torinos, armored car units lacked enough drivers, including Lancia No.1. In early 1921, an additional driver was recruited from Bratislava and dispatched to Lučenec.

On 23rd March 1921, Lancia No.2 and Fiat-Torino No.9 were dispatched from Prague to Opava to strengthen the local garrison of Fiat-Torinos No. 7 and 8, in light of the plebiscite that was held in Eastern Silesia. They appear to not have been used. On 2nd April, Lancia No.2 and Fiat-Torino No.9 left Opava to arrive at the Headquarters of the 10th Division in Banská Bystrica. There, Zvolen was designated as a permanent garrison for Lancia No.1 and No.2. Commander of Lancia No.2, Karel Janoušek, took command of the Armored Car Company. Fiat-Torino No.9 left for Lučenec to replace Lancia No.1.

On 6th May 1921, the Lancias moved to Opava to the Headquarters of the 8th Infantry Division and remained there until 22nd September. During their stay in Opava, on 27th August, Commander Karel Eichmann issued new registration numbers to all armored cars.

Number New 1921 Police Registrations ČSAV New 1932 Police Registration
1 NVII-751 14023 13.004
2 NVII-752 14024 13.005

Near the end of 1921, the problem of the lack of drivers had increased. On 28th September, the decision was made to assign only one driver per Armored Car Company. Additional drivers had to be requested from the local Headquarters.

On 22nd September 1921, all armored trains and cars were put on alert by the Ministry of Defense. The Lancias were ordered to move from Opava to Košice. They later moved to Rožňava. A month later, on 24th October, full mobilization of the armored cars and trains was announced, due to the second coup attempt in Hungary by Charles I, former Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. A potential restoration of Habsburg power was considered an endangerment to Czechoslovakia’s sovereignty. The additional men required were enlisted from infantry units, but those who arrived did not have the right equipment, nor the experience with any kind of armored cars, causing some organizational troubles. When it became clear that the second coup had failed, the order for the unit’s demobilization was given on 16th November. The Lancias were ordered towards Košice.

Post-war: uneventful and an accident

Between January and December 1922, the cars stayed in Prague and Milovice. On 4th May 1923, an exercise was held with the Lancias, a Fiat-Torino, and a Renault FT tank. An unfortunate accident on 22nd May claimed the life of a crewmember, Jan Beber, when he was caught by the fender of a car and fell under it. A few days later, on 27th May, both Lancias were moved to the aerospace workshop at the airfield of Kbely, where Lancia No.2 received new Schwarzlose vz.07/12 machine guns, like No.1 had already received in early 1920. Furthermore, the new internal equipment that was to be added was determined. In early June, both were again directed to Kbely to fit the new internal equipment that had been made.

In July 1922, the Assault Vehicle Battalion was reorganized. The armored car groups or companies were renamed to armored car platoons per 1st August. In April 1923, Lancia No.2 moved to Kbely again, this time to undergo repairs. In August, the vehicles exercised for the first time together with the new Škoda PA-I armored cars, which had been received in June. The next year, the vehicles were relocated to Bratislava, and appear to have stayed there for roughly two years until the beginning of 1926, when the platoon returned to Milovice. A major accident occurred in September 1926, when No.2 ditched itself and the front wheels and axle were severely damaged. Repairs took until 6th December to be completed.

Lancia No.2 was significantly damaged in September 1926, when it accidentally ditched itself. Source: rotanazdar.cz
Another shot of the unfortunate event, which gives a rare glimpse of the underside of the 1ZM. Also of note are the PA-I armored cars in the background. Source: rotanazdar.cz

With an increasing supply of new armored cars, the Lancias were mainly used for driver training from 1927 onwards. The intensive use for training worsened the technical condition of the aging vehicles. No.2 had to be completely overhauled in July 1928, and No.1 in August 1929. These overhauls were done at the automobile depot in Vršovice, Prague.

1930s

In the early 1930s, the Lancias were shown and used during some demonstrations and public events, but overall, experienced a rather uneventful time. In 1934, a commission was established, charged to assess the technical condition of both Lancias. As suspected, they were too worn out for effective use and, in July 1935, the armor was disassembled and stored in Milovice. On 13th July, both chassis were hauled away to Škoda in Mladá Boleslav and converted to training vehicles. Nearly two years later, on 1st March 1937, both vehicles were handed back to the Army. Lancia No.1 was sent to the Assault Vehicle Regiment in Olomouc and No.2 to PÚV 3 in Martin. The one in Olomouc was captured by the Germans after they occupied Czechia in March 1939. The other was located in the new German puppet state of Slovakia and was still listed as present on 11th August 1939. Presumably, both chassis and stored superstructures were scrapped during the war.

A Czechoslovak drawing showing the interior layout of the 1st series Lancia No.2. Source: rotanazdar.cz

Conclusion

Both Lancia 1ZMs performed well with the Czechoslovak troops. They were used against the Hungarians during the Czechoslovak-Hungarian War, and although details of one are unknown, the other performed with considerable success. Both were re-armed with Czech machine guns and saw internal modifications, but saw no further changes apart from that. Based upon the experience with these cars, the Czechoslovak Army initiated its own domestic armored car program in 1919, with development and construction largely taking place at Škoda which led, among other things, to the well-known PA series of armored cars.

The Lancia No.2 of the first production series with its Czechoslovak markings. Illustration by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Lancia 1ZM specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.61 x 1.94 x 2.9 m
Total Weight 4.2 tonnes
Crew 4 (commander, driver, 2 machine gunners)
Propulsion Lancia 1Z inline 4 cylinder petrol producing 35 hp petrol with provision to increase output by 30% (40 hp at 1200 rpm) for up to 30 minutes
Fuel consumption Lancia No.1 0.6 kg/km, No.2 0.5 kg/km
Speed (road) 60 km/h
Range 333 km
Armament 3x 6.85 mm Maxim-Dreyse, replaced with Schwarzlose vz.07/12 machine guns
Armor 2.5-6 mm
Trench 0.35 m
Slope 16%
Fording 0.8 m
Total Production 2

Sources

Jakl, Tomáš and Bernard Panuš and Jiří Tintěra. 2014. Czechoslovak Armored Cars in the First World War and Russian Civil War. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 118-147.
Špitálský, Jaroslav. 2020. “Obrnĕné Automobily Lancia.”14th January 2020. https://rotanazdar.cz/?p=8325&lang=cs
Francev, Vladimir, and Charles K. Kliment. 2004. Československá obrněná vozidla 1918-48. Prague: Ares.
Kliment, Charles K., and Hilary Louis Doyle. 1979. Czechoslovak armoured fighting vehicles 1918-1945. Watford: Argus Books.

3 replies on “Lancia 1ZM in Czechoslovak Service”

Are you the same WobblyJohn from TWZ? I was Rule 303 and I gave you a shoutout a few months ago about a scale model show in Kennesaw, GA. But I think you had left by then. I’m rarely there myself anymore which is a shame since it was a fun community until recently.

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