Light Tank – 24 Imported
After a war with Colombia over a territorial dispute ending in a stalemate, Peru found itself weak. Even though the war was not lost, the High Command was disappointed with the army and, therefore, the need for a new weapon arose. Tanks and the concept of importing tanks had been just introduced to South America and the Peruvian Commission saw this as an opportunity to modernize their army. After a series of negotiations and tests, Peru acquired 24 Praga LTP light tanks which were used for the first time during the coup d’état in 1938. Later, in 1941, the vehicles saw their first combat action and were used with great success against Ecuador. They allegedly stayed in service all the way until the 1980s, when they were finally decommissioned after an illustrious career.
Context: Territorial Disputes and a Lost War to Colombia
After the war of independence in 1824, the nation of Peru was one of the many nations to rise from the Spanish colonial empire. Throughout the years, until the 1930s, South America was characterized by wars caused due to the expansion and exploration of the jungles further inland, where many different countries had claims on the same territories. One of these overlapping claims was around the regions of Amazon, Putumayo, Napo, and the Apaporis Rivers, between the nations of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Furthermore, after the Salomón–Lozano Treaty of 1922, when the important town of Leticia was given to Colombia, many Peruvians still felt right in their claim over this area.
The League of Nations failed to deescalate the mounting tensions between Colombia and Peru due to the interest of third parties wanting the dispute to escalate. One of these parties was Czechoslovakia, which sought to export armament. The dispute finally reached its zenith in September 1932, when 200 Peruvian soldiers crossed the border and captured the Colombian town of Leticia with next to no resistance. It is unknown whether the Peruvian government planned this attack, however, they used it as justification to go to war. The incident turned into a full-scale war, but a very slow one, as the war zone area was very remote. In order to get there, the soldiers had to go through difficult terrain, such as mountains and deep jungles. The Colombians, on the other hand, had the advantage of moving their troops on the Amazon River.
Peruvian troops arrived first and captured multiple towns, such as the port town of Tarapacá. However, Colombian gunships delayed the arrival of additional troops. The largest battle took place during the Colombian capture of the town of Güeppi, with over 100 Colombian soldiers and 30 Peruvian casualties. In April 1933, the president of Peru was assassinated and replaced by General Oscar Benavides, who was against continuing the war due to personal close relations with Colombia.
Before a potential large-scale battle could break out involving hundreds of troops on each side, the League of Nations successfully resolved the war in March 1933. The war ended in a status quo ante bellum (Everything is as it was before the war) and with only a few casualties on each side. Even though the strength in manpower was almost equal, Colombia had a superior air force and access to the area via the Amazon.
Tanks for Peru and the Peruvian Delegation in Europe
Although Peru had not lost the war, strictly speaking, they had not achieved their objectives. Following the war, the Peruvian Army searched for a new weapon that could be used to effectively penetrate enemy lines. A possible solution were tanks. However, Peru did not have the production capability or engineering skills to develop its own tank. Therefore, the purchase of export tanks was considered. Tanks had been used in the South American continent before the Peruvians thought about buying tanks, during the Brazilian revolutions and wars and the Chaco War involving Bolivia and Paraguay. However, the tanks used in these conflicts were used rather unsuccessfully and only employed in small numbers. Furthermore, one of the biggest problems with tanks in most parts of South America was the hostile environment. The thick jungles and, in Peru’s case, the mountains, were physical barriers for the tanks. This led to only a small number of possible tank candidates that were able to adapt to the environment.
Due to the rising tensions even after signing multiple treaties with neighboring countries, the Peruvian Army Purchasing Commission sent representatives to Europe with the hope of buying light or medium tanks from either Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, or the United Kingdom.
In 1936, the Czechoslovak firm Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk (ČKD) established contact with the Peruvians after hearing that the Peruvians were seeking to acquire tanks. ČKD suggested the Peruvian delegation took a look at their AH-IV tankettes and TNH tanks made for Iran, which they proposed for export. In October 1936, the Peruvian delegation visited the ČKD factories and the AH-IV and TNH tanks.
Following this, right after the visit in October 1936, the Arms Purchasing Commission provided the delegation with the requirements, which were: 36 tanks, 5-6 tonnes in weight, a speed of 20 km/h, and armed with a 37 mm gun and a 7.65 mm machine gun.
After another meeting in January 1937, in April, the Peruvian delegation watched the demonstration of the newest tank prototypes made by ČKD. The newly developed LTL for Lithuania met the requirements of the delegation.
In September 1937, a letter was sent to the Peruvian Army Purchase Office, informing them about the high prices of the ball mount of the gun. The Office replied that the delegation had to renegotiate the price within a week and conclude the contract which, in the end, turned out in favor of the Peruvians. A month later, another meeting was held where the supply of 24 tanks was negotiated. Originally, they were to be armed with the Škoda A-7 and A-8 guns. However, due to Czechoslovak Army demands, these would not be available until 1939, which was not acceptable to the Peruvians. To speed up the process, ČKD instead proposed the A-3 37 mm vz. 34, as mounted in the LT vz. 35. This also could not be produced fast enough for the Peruvians’ liking either. After a meeting between the MNO (Ministry of Defense) and CKD, the Czechoslovak Army supplied 10 reserve A-3 guns and 14 guns from infantry anti-tank guns. ZB managed to provide the machine guns in time.
At the same time, Peru also showed interest in purchasing Italian tanks. However, the demonstration of the tanks was delayed and, therefore, the Peruvians continued with ČKD. One CV33 made it to Lima for demonstrations in November 1937, but it failed to meet the requirements.
In January 1938, ČKD received the 10 3.7 cm vz. 34 ÚV A-3 guns, of which three had been taken from Czechoslovakian light tank prototypes, such as the Š-II-a. The other guns were the 3.7 cm can. vz. 34 J, for which special cartridges had to be made. In the same month, the Peruvians finally decided to stick with the ČKD tanks. During a meeting in Paris with the chief of the ČKD firm and the Peruvian Commission, the technical specifications were discussed.
The final negotiations began on January 31, 1938. ČKD informed the Peruvians of an increase in weight from 5,600 kg to 6,600 kg, which was reviewed negatively by the Peruvians, who saw it as an inconsistency on the behalf of ČKD. Whilst the negotiations were nearing their conclusion by the second week of February, the contract discussion had to be put on hold since the leader of the Peruvian Commission got sick. On February 15, 1938, the leader of the Peruvian Commission, Colonel Martínez, and the representatives of ČKD were able to finalize the contract worth 24 million koruna (US$42,000 in 1938 and around US$900,000 in 2022) for 24 Praga LTL. Of the 24 million koruna, 14 million went to CKD, 9 million to Skoda, and 1.1 million to ZB Brno. CKD managed to gain a profit of around 2,287,000 koruna.
The final vehicle specifications in the contract were: 6,300 kg weight, 25 mm of armor, a 3.7 cm cannon, a ZB 53 heavy machine gun, a ZB 30 light machine gun, 40 km/h operational speed at 4,500 m above the sea level, and a crew of 3. The request also included 8,000 HE and 5,334 AT shells for the tanks.
During the same month, the Peruvian Commission requested a visit to the factories in Czechoslovakia. Their request was allowed and the Peruvians watched a demonstration of the TNH tanks and LT vz.34 and a mounting and dismounting of the 3.7 cm cannon on the LT vz.34.
Although the contract was agreed, the Czechoslovak Ministry of Defense would only approve the sale if its Peruvian counterpart offered credible assurances that they would not export it to third countries. The assurance was obtained on April 6, 1938, and the sale was agreed upon by the Czechoslovak government, which also made the guns available.
After the final hurdle was overcome, ČKD began construction of the prototype, which was designated Praga LTP, at the Liben factory almost immediately, on April 21, due to very little time available. From April to June 1938, the prototype was constructed in the presence of the Peruvian Commission. The Peruvian Commission was headed by Captain Hector Cornejo and also included Second Lieutenant Calindo and Sergeant Vargas, who had indegenous roots and became the center of attention in Prague. Vargas would later be the main mechanic responsible for the LTPs on the Peruvian side. On August 5, the prototype was accepted by the Commission. The vehicle was accepted with only an increase of weight of 1,000 kg.
The prototype, named “Lima” after the Peruvian capital, was sent to Peru without armament for testing. The main objective was to see how the LTP performed in the Peruvian high altitude. The average altitude in Peru is 1,555 m (5102 feet), but most of the populated areas are coastal. Large parts of the borders with Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador are mountainous though. If the vehicle completed all tests successfully, then serial production could commence.
“Lima” was sent in a wooden box through Poland to the port of Gdynia on August 4th, 1938, then on the steamer “Pilsudski” to New York where it arrived on August 20th. The vehicle, disguised as a tractor, was then transported on the ship “Frida” to the Peruvian port of Callao, where it arrived on September 13th, 1938. The next day, the tank was sent to the arsenal in Lima and prepared for test trials. It performed basic test drives for three days, before being sent via train to La Oroya, at 3,728 m above sea level in the central Peruvian Andes.
“Lima” performed well in its tests in September 1938 and the Peruvians were satisfied. However, the representative of the French mission in Peru requested more challenges and tests that the tank should undergo. It should be noted that Peruvian military thinking at the time was heavily influenced by the French. In the end, even the French representatives in Peru were convinced and reported the results to Renault.
The tank could effectively drive at 33 km/h at 4,200 m above sea level and could drive up a 40º slope. Nonetheless, an accident occurred when the tank was tasked with driving up a curvy and unknown road at top speed. It was very windy that day and the tank’s driver lost control on a curve and fell 5 m. The tank itself sustained only minor damage, and the crew members were lightly hurt.
“Lima” was repaired the following morning and returned to Lima on September 23. The commission who saw the rescue and repairs on the tank was satisfied and saw this as a learning opportunity in case it happened again. On October 3, the president of Peru inspected the tank and was also satisfied. The whole accident turned out positively for the Czechoslovaks in the end, as rumors spread in Lima that the tank had fallen from a height of 15 m sustaining no damage at all. Whilst sources mention that shooting tests were carried out next, the tank did not have any armament. This was either a mistake in the sources or possibly refers to the tank being shot at. The tank was also tested for driving through dunes, which it satisfactorily passed.
Production and Export
With the success of “Lima”, serial production in Czechoslovakia was authorized. The first 13 hulls, which would become the first series, were put under construction. However, the deadline of the contract was regarded as unrealistic by ČKD. The Peruvian Commission demanded that the prototype was to be sent for trial runs in Peru by summer 1938 and the remaining tanks were to be delivered by October 1938. Armor plates for the tanks were made in the Poldi factories and the guns were constructed by Skoda. ZB was responsible for the machine guns. It was Poldi that often delayed the construction of the tanks due to armor plate shortages.
Due to the Czechoslovakian mobilization in September 1938 following the German annexation of the Sudetenland, several tanks were taken over by the Czechoslovakian military. In case the Peruvians wanted their money back if they regarded the contract with ČKD as unfulfilled, the Czechoslovakian government would pay Skoda per tank. However, this whole affair is quite unclearly explained in the available secondary literature.
In October 1938, several armor pieces were completed and mechanical components were installed on 11 tanks. Of these, 4 already had engines. In November, 6 tanks were completed and sent to painting.
In the meantime, in Peru, the diplomatic representatives and two factory divers were training the first Peruvian tankers, 3 officers, and 7 NCOs. The training consisted of teaching the Peruvians not only to drive the tanks but also how to service them.
Demonstration and training were done on the prototype “Lima”. Training finished a day before the tanks arrived. Acceptance trials that took place between December 23 and 27 were performed by the new Peruvian tankers.
In December 1938, the other 17 vehicles were successfully tested in Czechoslovakia. After the mobilization was called off, on November 4, 1938, the first batch of 6 vehicles was sent to Hamburg. In Hamburg, the tanks were sent to Callao on board the ship “PATRIA”. On December 7, after arriving in Callao, during the process of unpacking the first four vehicles, another problem was observed. All unpainted surfaces, such as shafts connecting the engine and gearbox, levers, brakes, water pump, and exhaust pipes were rusting and all leather surfaces were molding. This was mainly the result of time limitations on the Czechoslovakian side, which meant the repairs had to be done by the mechanics in Peru. On some vehicles, such as No. 1, the brake could not be replaced. Bulletproof glass blocks and support rollers of the tracks had to be replaced on almost every vehicle. Furthermore, much to the dislike of the Peruvians, the heavy ZB machine guns had a defect. Additionally, some vehicles lacked specific parts which had to be replaced.
On January 5, 1939, the second batch of LTPs was sent through Poland to the harbor in Gdynia and then sent to New York on board the ship “BATORY”. The second batch, consisting of 9 tanks, arrived in Callao on February 14, 1939, on board the ship “LEILA”.
On January 13, 1939, the third and final batch of vehicles consisting of 8 tanks was sent through Poland to Gdynia and then to New York on the steamer “VIGILAND”. The tanks arrived in Callao on February 27, 1939, on board the ship “HELGA”. Afterward, the purchase of several radio telegraph instruments was approved.
The tanks of the second and third batches had some of the same defects as the first batch, such as a lack of bulletproof glass blocks, which was a problem on almost all LTPs. In January 1939, the glass blocks were sent from Czechoslovakia with the addition of other necessary parts. Additionally, 1,071 cases and 13,334 rounds for the LTP’s guns were sent. On March 3rd, 1939 the last tanks were accepted and were officially introduced to Peruvian service. In April, 14 boxes with additional spare parts for the LTPs were sent.
Trials in Czechoslovakia
Before being sent to Peru, each serial-produced LTP (all vehicles except the first one) had to go through a test trial. This trial run consisted of a 150 km long route on roads and 3 hours on soft grass and stony areas. On the road, everything and every little aspect of the tank had to be tested, which included testing the brakes, steering, water crossing capabilities, trench crossing capability, and ability to climb and overcome obstacles.
The contract also stipulated that one of the first ten (excluding the prototype) tanks had to pass a long test run overseen by the Peruvian Commission. This route had to be 1,000 km long, of which 100 km had to be sandy ground. In November 1938, the route and journey were recorded. The vehicle, presumably vehicle No. 2-7, was sent together with two crew members, a Czechoslovak driver and a Peruvian mechanic, a car, and a fuel transporter and was divided into 8 stages.
|The 8 stages of the 1000 km test run of the LTP|
|1st stage||Prague – Brno (227 km), 120 liters of fuel, 10 hours||Good performance under perfect weather on the state roads|
|2nd stage||Brno – Trenčín (139 km), 110 liters of fuel, 9 hours||Steering brakes had to be adjusted -> same performance|
|3rd stage||Trenčín – B. Bystrica (154 km), 131 liters of fuel, 8 hours||Oil in the gearbox had to be changed, heavy fog, performed well|
|4th stage||B. Bystrica – N. Smokovec (153 km), 150 liters of fuel, 7 hours||No problems occurred|
|5th stage||N. Smokovec – Ružomberok (98 km), 77 liters of fuel, 6 hours||Icy and mountainous roads, some track pins had to be stripped|
|6th stage||Ružomberok – Zlín (209 km), 138 liters of fuel, 9 hours||Sunny weather, good overall performance, accident occurred when the tank had to break sharply, which slightly injured the Peruvian mechanic|
|7th stage||Zlín – Jihlava (182 km), 138 liters of fuel, 10 hours||Good performance, some rivets of the track pins broke|
|8th stage||Jihlava – Prague (137 km), fuel consumption not measured, 6 hours||Good performance|
The Commission was satisfied with the results and considered the LTP a reliable vehicle. Except for the cases when track links became loose and rivets broke on the tracks, the tank sustained no damage. This problem was fixed by introducing a new bolt for the track links. The representative of the Commission who participated in the ride stated that the vehicle could be easily started every morning whilst being kept in a closed garage overnight. At an average speed of 25 km/h, the tank’s brakes, steering, engine, and transmission all performed excellently. The temperature inside the tank was around 21°C with an outside temperature of 6°C.
The last tests were done in December 1938. All 17 tanks underwent shooting trials. However, this proved to be extremely difficult for the tanks, as the temperature reached -16°C.
At first, the tanks were designated LTL which were originally intended for Lithuania. The original contract also included the name Praga LTL. “LT” stood for Lehký Tank (Eng. Light Tank) in Czech. The letter at the end denoted the export nation, “L” for Lithuania, “P” for Peru, and “H” for Helvetia (Switzerland). When the prototype entered construction, the tanks were renamed Praga LTP which means Lehký Tank Peru. In Peru, it was known as Tanque Ligero 38/39M (Eng. Light Tank Model 38/39).
The design of the LTP was very similar to that of the LT vz.38 TNH. It featured the same suspension and most of the drive, transmission, and suspension were unchanged. The vehicle had two machine guns and a 37 mm gun fitted in a turret that was redesigned from the turret of the LT vz.38.
Chassis and Suspension
The hull was an armored body divided into two compartments. The engine compartment, located at the back, had the engine and fuel tank. The crew compartment was separated from the engine compartment via a firewall. Only the driver was located in the hull.
The running gear was almost the same as the LT vz.38. The road wheels on the LTP were smaller compared to the LT vz. 38. The diameter of the road wheels of the LTP was around 675 mm whilst on the LT vz. 38 it was 775 mm. The running gear consisted of a front sprocket wheel, an idler wheel, four roadwheels, and three return rollers. The suspension was a leaf spring type. The rubber outlines of the roadwheels were a bit smaller than on the LT vz.38. Additionally, the contact length of the tracks with the ground was also shorter on the LTP. Track tension was handled by a tensioning crank and the idler wheel.
The engine was located at the rear, in the separate engine compartment. All 24 Scania Vabis 1664 engines for the LTPs were built in Sweden. These were similar to the ones on the LT vz. 38, with some minor differences making it more suitable for the higher altitude in which the tanks had to operate. The maximum compression ratio was increased to 1:7.2. This was to prevent the compression from reaching its maximum capabilities already at low altitudes. A pressure-reducing flap was placed in the air chamber, between the carburetor and the oil cleaner. The flap was closed by a spring which was controlled by the driver according to a scale. At low altitudes, the spring closed the flap halfway, which prevented too much air from getting into the oil cleaner. The compression level was around 1:5.7. If the tank operated at high altitudes, then the flap could be opened more and let more air through, which achieved maximum cylinder filling. This resulted in a maximum compression ratio of 1:7.2. The carburetor was a special aviation type that allowed the addition of more air. This additional air came through an air intake and was then filtered by the carburetor diffuser. The fuel was fed via an AC pump. On the rear end side was a water radiator cooling air outlet grill for the engine. The engine propelled the vehicle up to a maximum speed of 40 km/h on roads and 33 km/h off-road. The drive shaft was connected to the front sprocket wheel, driving the tank. The engine’s power rotated the drive shaft, which powered the front-placed gearbox. The LTP’s gearbox had 5 forwards and one reverse gear.
The superstructure was built on top of the hull. On the rear side were the engine deck and a rear wall. On top of the engine was the grill for the air outlet and a towing cable. On the rear wall were the exhaust muffler, a red light, a pickaxe, and a shovel. On the left mudguard were spare tracks, a toolbox, and an ax. On both mudguards, on the front, were two white side lights. On the right mudguard were the jack, iron bars, and a sledgehammer. On the front side of the hull was a hatch for the driver and a vision port with three hatches with bulletproof glass which could be rotated. On the right side of the front plate was the light machine gun. Between the vision port and light machine gun was a removable headlamp. On the front and rear sides of the hull, two towing hooks capable of handling 5,000 kg were situated.
Turret and Armament
The turret was similar to the LT vz.38. It had a small extension at the back, where equipment and ammunition for the machine gun were stored. There were two seats for the commander and gunner, connected to the turret ring. In order for the turret to be perfectly balanced, both crew members in the turret had to be seated. This also allowed for the best turning capabilities on larger slopes.
Whilst firing, the turret could be fixed with a brake to allow quick operation of the gun. On the turret roof, there were two hatches, one for the commander and one for the loader. There was also a cylindrical commander’s cupola on top of the commander’s hatch which was attached to the commander’s hatch. The observation cupola could be rotated freely 360° and had a bulletproof glass block for the commander, but could also be locked in position. Additionally, there were holes in the turret’s roof for signal flags and a periscope. On the turret’s sides were two pistol ports, and in the rear, a glass vision block that could be closed.
The LTP had a main gun and two machine guns. The main gun mounted in the turret was the 37 mm ÚV vz. 34. The gun was the same as in the LT vz.34 and 35 and later also the German operated Panzer 35(t). Targets for the LTP’s gun were acquired using an angled aiming telescope. In terms of performance, the gun had a muzzle velocity of 675 m/s and could penetrate up to 35 mm of armor angled at 30º at a range of 100 m and up to 21 mm of similarly angled armor at a range of 1,000 m. This made the tank, for 1938, and especially in South America, very modern, as it would face no problems penetrating other export and rival tanks, such as the Vickers 6 ton and Renault FT.
The coaxial machine gun was the heavy air-cooled 7.92 mm ZB vz. 53.
The other machine gun was the light air-cooled 7.92 mm ZB vz. 30 mounted on the left side of the hull. It was manned by the gunner, who kneeled to operate it.
All weapons could be removed for maintenance. There were 53 rounds for the main gun, of which 18 were armor-piercing and 36 high explosives. They were stored at the bottom and left of the tank in tin packages.
The heavy machine gun had 2,200 rounds, of which some were armor-piercing, and the light machine gun had 500 rounds stored in the turret and bottom of the tank.
The armor was the same or similar as the LT vz.38 TNH except for the inner layout, observation devices, and turret. It could effectively protect the crew from armor-piercing bullets fired from regular caliber rifles and light machine guns from a distance of 75 m. The front side of the superstructure and hull were 15 to 25 mm thick. The sides of the superstructure were 15 mm thick and the rear was up to 12 mm thick. The engine deck was 10 mm thick. The turret front was 20 mm thick, and the rest, including the cupola, were 15 mm thick. Even though it was riveted and therefore offered less protection than welded armor, the rivets were reinforced and countersunk and therefore were relatively stable.
The crew consisted of 3: a commander tasked with overviewing the battlefield and giving orders to the crew, a driver, and a gunner, who operated the main gun and the coaxial heavy machine gun. The commander and gunner were housed in the turret, whereas the driver was positioned at the front of the vehicle. The crew for the prototype received training in Czechoslovakia and Peru directly from Czechoslovakian mechanics and tankers. After the first vehicles arrived, the first tank training school was opened, in which a Czechoslovakian tank instructor taught the crews. Unlike the Czechoslovakian tankers, who had trouble navigating and operating the tanks in such high altitudes, the Peruvians, who were used to the height, learned fast how to operate the tanks in mountainous regions.
Although radio receivers for the tanks were ordered, the tanks primarily relied on signal communication. Through the signal hatch on top of the turret, a red and green signal flag could be raised. During the night, electric lamps on the turret could give off a red and green color. Communication between driver and commander was done via light bulbs which the commander activated with buttons. The three light bulbs were in three different colors, creating different orders for the driver.
Organization and Doctrine
After an attempted coup d’etat in January 1938, the first Peruvian tank battalion was formed. It consisted of two companies with 12 tanks each. Additionally, there were support vehicles delivered in June 1939, which were a Praga AV command car and a two-tonne 6×4 Praga RV truck. The main positions of the tank battalion were occupied by Czechoslovak experts and mechanics.
The exact further organization is not known. However, photos reveal that the 12 LTPs in each company were divided into 3 platoons, each platoon identified by either a square, a triangle, or a circle. Platoon leaders had noncontinuous lines and regular vehicles had continuous lines. Each platoon had 4 vehicles. In several photos, which were all taken during the conflict with Ecuador in 1941, new markings appeared on the turret sides. One of these markings was an “R1”. Before the war, these markings did not appear and it is hard to deduce what the Czechoslovaks had in mind in terms of organization.
At some point during the 1960s, a new system was introduced with a three-digit turret number system.
The Czechoslovak military advisors and mechanics proposed their doctrine on how to use the tanks in combat. The doctrine was similar to the Czechoslovak tank doctrine and was not specialized for the Peruvians. The doctrine stated that the tanks were used only alongside the infantry. This meant that the tanks could not be as fast as designed, but the advancing infantry could keep up with them. Only in some cases were the tanks meant to advance faster than the infantry. The tanks were to advance in a line with normally 2 or 3 platoons at once, which meant the tanks advanced at a company level together. They would penetrate the enemy’s lines on a narrow front with infantry moving between the tanks.
Camouflage and Markings
Each LTP had a unique camouflage pattern that theoretically could help identify a vehicle without seeing its name. The camouflage pattern was the standard Czechoslovakian three-tone pattern consisting of dark green, earth brown, and ochre yellow.
During the 1950s or 1960s, the vehicles were painted in dark olive green, as the Czechoslovaks did not supply any new paint after the vehicles arrived for the first time. Later, when 1 or 2 tanks were restored, a 4-tone camouflage was applied, consisting of black, beige, olive green, and brown.
Each of the 24 tanks had a different name painted on the right side of the chassis in white letters. Most names were the names of cities, regions, and counties of Peru.
The tactical markings were painted in most likely either signal yellow or white on the right side of the turret and the rear. Only 12 of the 24 tanks were ever sent to combat against Ecuador, which means the other 12 most likely did not participate and therefore had no tactical markings.
The 1st LTP was the prototype named “Lima”, after the capital city of Peru. It had a distinctive pattern that differed greatly from the other patterns applied to the tanks. “Lima” was also the vehicle that underwent the test trials in Peru. “Lima” was also used for testing the armor thickness against rifles and machine guns.
Of the first batch of vehicles, numbers 2 to 7, the names were not noted down and therefore can only be deduced from photos.
|1||“Lima”||Capital city of Peru||First prototype, different style of camouflage pattern|
|2||“Callao”||Historical port city in which the tanks arrived||It had a small Peruvian flag on the side
of the turret painted by the factory
|3||“Arequipa”||Region in the south of Peru||It did not have a white circle but an “R1”,
but can be seen together with other 1st Platoon vehicles
|4||“Tacna”||Region in the very south of Peru||It had a white square on its turret|
|5||“Loreto”||Region in the south of Peru||This area was part of the disputed area with Ecuador
and one of the reasons why war broke out in 1941
|6||“Piura”||Region in the north of Peru|
|7||“Lambayeque”||Region in the north of Peru|
|8||“Cuzco”||Region in the southeast of Peru||It had a white square on its turret|
|9||“Ayacucho”||Region in the south of Peru||It had a white square on its turret|
|10||“Junin”||Region in the central of Peru||It had a white circle on its turret|
|11||“Libertad”||Region in the north of Peru, but also the word freedom in Spanish||It had a white circle with a dot
in the middle on the right and rear turret side
|12||“Ica”||Region in the west of Peru||It had a white square on its turret|
|13||“Tumbes”||Region in the northwest of Peru|
|14||“Amazonas”||Region in the north of Peru named after the Amazon River|
|15||“Ancash”||Region in the central of Peru on the coastline|
|16||“Cajamarca”||Region in the north of Peru||It had a white triangle on its turret|
|17||“Madre De Dios”||Region in the east of Peru which translates
as “Mother of God”
|It had a white triangle on its turret|
|18||“Apurímac”||Region in the south of Peru|
|19||San Martin||Region in the central north of Peru|
|20||“Tarata”||City in Tacna region in Peru.|
|21||“Huánuco”||Region in the central of Peru|
|22||“Huancavelica”||Region in the central south Peru|
|23||“Moquegua”||Region in the south of Peru||It had a white circle upon the war’s start|
|24||“Puno”||Region in the very southeast, to the border with Bolivia||“Puno” was selected for shooting
tests in May 1939 and it was revealed
that the heavy machine gun had problems that could later be fixed.
“Puno” had a white triangle on its turret
The 1939 Failed Coup Attempt
The first action and use of the LTPs was in February 1939. On February 19th, 1939, at a time of internal turmoil in Peru, General Antonio Rodríguez Ramírez, who was also Second Deputy President, carried out a palace coup against President Óscar R. Benavides, who at the time was away on an excursion. However, this was very short-lived, and Gen. Rodríguez Ramírez was shot by a policeman. The other conspirators saw the writing on the wall and lay down their arms.
In the aftermath of the failed coup, President Óscar R. Benavides was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the 7 tanks (the second and third batch were still on their way) were readied. He also proposed the purchase of armored cars to deal with the insurgents. It is unknown how the tanks were used, but it is assumed they did not fire a shot and were used more as a deterrent.
In July 1939, the tanks were demonstrated to the public for the first time, without any harmful intent, as part of a large military parade.
The War of 41
When Ecuador gained its independence from Gran Colombia in 1830, it gained a large number of territories that were previously disputed between Colombia and Peru. This led to a number of small border clashes between Ecuador and Peru and a number of unsatisfactory accords and protocols. An agreement was settled in 1936 with the Ulloa-Viteri Accord, which gave Peru its desired territories. However, most Ecuadorians were not satisfied with the agreement as a lot of Ecuadorian lands were lost. This led to further border clashes. Peru accused Ecuador of crossing the border and occupying Peruvian towns. It is important to note that even to this day, the war, and especially the build-up to it, are poorly documented and most sources take a chauvinistic line.
In 1940, the border clashes escalated in the Peruvian border town of Loreta. Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, aware of the state of his army, knew that, if a war were to break out, his country would fall, similar to France in 1940. In October 1940, he defused the situation slightly by opening negotiations between the two countries. He also tried to find international support to scare Peru off. Although the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister tried to reopen negotiations multiple times, his Peruvian counterpart did not reciprocate. This is, by some, often considered as the Peruvians wanting the war at all costs and continuing to search for a justification.
In March 1941, the USA and several other South American nations suggested mediating the dispute between both countries. This was seen as a great opportunity for the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, but the Peruvian Foreign Minister once again ignored this.
Ecuador fielded next to no real organized army. Around 750 soldiers and 30 officers were on the frontline, along with an additional 650, most of whom were in paramilitary units and volunteers, in reserve. A total of 8 outdated Krupp artillery pieces left over from the wars fought by Gran Colombia were also in service, along with 2 to 4 47 mm guns, and around ten 20 mm Breda anti-aircraft guns. For motorized vehicles, the Ecuadorians only had civilian ones that quickly ran out of fuel.
Peru, on the other hand, fielded a much larger army, consisting of an estimated 11,000 to 13,000 men. In 1940, the Agrupamiento del Norte (Eng. Northern Army Grouping) was created. This was organized into the Group Headquarters, two light infantry divisions, and two army detachments. The two army detachments consisted of a special force for fighting in the jungles and the 33rd Infantry Battalion fighting in the northeast. The Group Headquarters had the 5th and 6th Cavalry Regiments, the 6th Artillery Group consisting of 8 105 mm guns, and the Army Tank Detachment consisting of the 1st Company of LTPs.
Solely based on photographic evidence, in combat against the Ecuadorians, the first company of tanks was employed and consisted of:
1st Platoon (white circle): “Moquegua” (platoon leader), “Libertad”, “Junín”, “Arequipa”
2nd Platoon (white square): Ayacucho (platoon leader), Ica, Tacna, Cuzco
3rd Platoon (white triangle): Puno (platoon leader), Madre De Dios, Cajamarca, Loreto (assumption)
The 1st Light Infantry Division fielded multiple infantry battalions, anti-aircraft, engineer, and artillery groups. The same organization was used for the other light infantry division. The rest of the Peruvian Army, including the other 12 tanks, were stationed on the other borders, such as with Bolivia.
On July 5th, 1941, negotiations broke down between Ecuador and Peru and the dispute finally escalated into a full-blown war. However, at the start, it was only a minor border clash. It is unknown which side shot the first bullet and accusations remain to this day, but it started out between two border patrols in the Ecuadorian town of Huaquillas on the Zarumilla River, near the coast. The Ecuadorian troops managed to capture Peruvian border posts in the Aguas Verdes district on the Peruvian side of the Zarumilla River. The Peruvians responded on the next day by bombing Ecuadorian border towns and pushed the Ecuadorians to the other side of the river using a much larger force.
The first major battle of the war was the Battle of Zarumilla, fought between July 23rd and 31st. This battle was fought in the air, on land, and in the river mouth with submarines and small warships. Peruvian forces managed to overwhelm the Ecuadorian Army with superior strength, making them flee.
Peru attacked the Ecuadorian port town of Puerto Bolívar with ships on July 29th. Ecuadorian President, Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Río, ordered a unilateral ceasefire, resulting in the ire of many Ecuadorians, military and civilian. Before the ceasefire went into effect at 18:00 on July 31st, a final attack was conducted by the Peruvians. Peruvian paratroopers conducted the first ever parachute operation in the Americas to capture Puerto Bolívar.
In spite of the ceasefire, Peru launched a new attack to the east, in the Amazon jungles of south-central Ecuador between July 31st and August 1st. Fighting in this area lasted until August 11th when Peru gained control of the Yaupi and Santiago rivers.
The Peruvian LTP tanks also supported attacks in the east during August and September 1941, in which Peru managed to capture a large number of territories. On August 31st, Peru began the blockade of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s main maritime port and base of its fleet.
The Peruvian advance was slowed down when Argentina, Brazil, and the US demanded an end to the war. By October 6th, offensive operations ended and an international mediation was formed to try and resolve the war. Although representatives tried to support Ecuador, the Peruvians stood by their claims, and by 1942, the US had greater problems to deal with.
On January 29th, 1942, the Rio Protocol was signed which resulted in Ecuador giving up its claim on Peruvian land and the border between the two countries finally being agreed upon. However, this would not be the final peace treaty, as war broke out again in 1981 and 1995. Only in 1998 was a final peace agreement between the two countries reached.
The Peruvian LTP tanks were widely used on the coastline on the western side, due to most of the fighting happening there. On several occasions, the Czechoslovakian T-6 artillery tractor, with its superior tracked suspension, towed the motorized units out of the mud and through rivers. The tanks also supported infantry, advancing in the way the doctrine intended. On one occasion, the tanks crossed a river and protected the infantry, which could move safely over the river.
The LTP performed excellently due to the almost non-existent anti-tank capabilities of the Ecuadorian forces. The vehicles advanced at a fast pace supported by motorized units and motorcycle infantry. They encountered no trouble advancing through mountainous regions and the rainforest and, if minor mechanical problems occurred, the trained Peruvian tankers and the Czechoslovak mechanics could solve the problem. At some point, the LTPs advanced at such a high pace that the rest of the army could not keep up.
It was only due to the lacking Ecuadorian anti-tank capabilities that the tanks managed to survive in many instances. The only possible threat was posed by the Ecuadorian artillery, which was also one of the reasons why the Bolivians lost their tanks to the Paraguayans in the 1932 Chaco War. However, the Ecuadorian artillery, only available in small numbers, lacked coordination and experience, which resulted in its ineffective use.
Only in one case did an Ecuadorian 20 mm Breda gun manage to slightly damage the turret front of a vehicle during the attack on Huabillos. The AP rounds of the 37 mm gun were not used often, as the tanks encountered nothing to penetrate. The HE rounds, on the other hand, were used, dealing damage to the already few machine gun nests and bunker positions.
Post-War of 41 Service
In 1947, even though through the Lend-Lease Act, the United States had provided Peru with 30 M3 Stuart tanks, the Peruvians favored the LTP tanks, and a request for 20 additional vehicles was put forward to ČKD. The Peruvians were unhappy with the M3 Stuarts, as they were less reliable compared to the LTPs, which had now been in service for 5 years without any major issues. Negotiations started, with the Peruvians requesting upgraded light tanks from ČKD. The upgraded tank would have had welded armor, an upgraded 37 mm Skoda A-7 gun, and a diesel engine.
However, in 1951, the new Czechoslovakian Communist government ended the negotiations, as in their eyes, and those of Moscow, Peru was a mere vassal of American imperialism. ČKD could only send spare parts with a value of US$53,735 on April 5, 1950, which arrived in 1951. Throughout the years, many of the 24 tanks were cannibalized for parts that were used to repair other LTPs.
Two vehicles in running condition but without paint and ammunition, located in the Real Felipe fortress in Callao, were spotted in 1987 and were allegedly still used to fight Shining Path terrorists.
The LTPs were eventually replaced by the much more advanced AMX-13 and T-54/55 tanks.
One of these two vehicles from Callao was restored in 2015 by the Military History Institute and was named “Junín” and gifted to the Czech Republic. The other exists in its old form in front of the fortress. However, it is assumed that more vehicles exist, either broken down in army storage or as monuments in barracks or public places. In the 2000s, 1 or 2 vehicles were also restored by the Army and have been used during parades.
Support Vehicles for the LTP
Due to the need for repairs and tank maintenance coming up during the discussion of the original contract, a mobile workshop trailer was designed. The trailer had four wheels and carried spare parts and tools for the tanks. It was to be towed by a T-6 artillery tractor and only one was sent to Peru. In February 1939, the mobile workshop arrived together with a Praga T-6 artillery tractor.
Conclusion – South America’s Greatest Tank during WW2?
The choice to purchase tanks from Czechoslovakia had proven to be the right one for Peru, as the Praga LTP fulfilled all the requirements demanded by the Peruvian Army. The only exceptions being some minor mistakes, small shortcomings, and increased weight. The ultimate test for the tank would be the participation during the Peru-Ecuador War of 1941, where they performed exceptionally well against the Ecuadorian Army, suffering from next to no breakdowns or mechanical issues. They even outperformed the later arriving M3 Stuarts. In service until the 1980s, the Tanque Ligero 38/39M was one of the tanks with the longest service life in the world.
The question of if the Tanque Ligero 38/39M was South America’s best tank during WW2 remains unanswered, as no conflicts between any other nations happened. However, assumptions can be made from similar vehicles or comparing gun penetration with specifications of other export or South American tanks.
A tank comparable to the Praga LTP which saw wide service was the LT vz.38, designated Panzer 38(t) in the German Army. Although the Panzer 38(t) fielded an upgraded gun, it had almost the exact same propulsion and armor protection. During the Polish campaign, the Panzer 38(t), although in small numbers, encountered the British Vickers 6-ton export tank and French Renault FT in Polish service. Both vehicles were also exported to South America. The Renault FT was present in relatively larger numbers in the Brazilian Army and the Vickers 6 ton (although out of service by 1941), in the Bolivian Army. Both tanks could be easily penetrated by the Panzer 38(t) and therefore also by the Praga LTP.
Furthermore, the armor provided sufficient protection against the 47 mm of the Vickers. Chile fielded several Carden Loyd tankettes armed with 20 mm anti-tank guns. However, it is not known how these guns performed.
In 1941 and 1942, the first Lend-Lease vehicles arrived, not just in Peru, but the entirety of South America. Although the M3 Stuart would, in theory, be equal to the LTP, the state in which most M3 Stuarts arrived was terrible, resulting in poor performance. The only tank that could have posed a serious threat was the M4 Sherman sent to Brazil as part of the Lend-Lease Act, which outshone the Praga LTP in most factors. There was also the Nahuel DL.43, which was essentially an Argentine medium tank similar to the M4 Sherman. This tank would also outperform the LTP.
Tanque Ligero 38/39M specifications
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||4.1 x 1.95 x 2.16 m|
|Total Weight||7,325 kg|
|Crew||3 (Driver, commander, loader/gunner)|
|Speed||Cross-country: 33km/h, roads: 41 km/h|
|Armament||37 mm UV vz. 34 canon, heavy ZB vz. 53 (turret), light ZB vz. 30 (hull)|
|Ammunition||54 rounds for the gun (18 armor piercing, 36 HE rounds), 2,700 rounds for both MGs|
|Engine||Scania Vabis 1664|
Chilean armor, Familia Acorazada Del Ejército De Chile
Vladimír Francev, Export Praga light tanks, Tanque 39, Pzw. 39, LT-40
Vladimír Francev, Charles K. Kliment Praga LT vz.38 MBI
Vladimír Francev, Charles K. Kliment Czechoslovakian Armored Fighting Vehicles from 1918 to 1948
Jaroslav Špitálský, http://rotanazdar.cz/?p=2192&lang=cs
4 replies on “Tanque Ligero 38/39M, Praga LTP in Peruvian Service”
Very cool and nice photos.
An interesting study on LTP, which is based substantially on my years of research, which is extended with additional information by the author. It’s a shame my name isn’t mentioned anywhere in the sources, and it just says “RotaNazdar.”
Hello, whilst yes I did use your well written article as a basis for information, I also used the book: Praga Export Ligh Tank by Vladimír Francev which shares a lot in common in terms of information and photos with your article. I will add your name to the sources of the Photos.
A superb article about one of the best tanks that operated in our continent during the second world war.