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WW2 Czechoslovak Tankettes

Škoda MU-2

 Czechoslovakia (1930-1931)
Tankette – 1 Prototype Built

During the late 1920s, the tankette, technically a small armored and tracked machine gun carrier, grabbed the interest of Czechoslovak military officials. At the time, it was mostly a British development, with the commercial market dominated by the tankettes produced by Carden-Loyd. From there, the concept spread internationally and similar vehicles were produced by many tank-building nations, although often not as tankettes, but as regular light tanks. Czechoslovakia was not afraid to embrace the somewhat commercial term when it took an improved model of the Mk.VI tankette into service as the Tančík vz.33 [Eng: Tankette Model 1933]. This improved vehicle was developed by the Czechoslovak company ČKD. These developments were followed with interest by the main competitor of ČKD, Škoda, which decided to enter the lucrative market of tank design early in the process.

The MU-2 during trials near the factory. Note the opened top hatches of the driver, which also partially obstructs his front view. The small size of the vehicle can be appreciated with the two men standing next to it. Source: Francev and Kliment, colorization by Smargd123

The Development

Škoda was the largest armament manufacturer in Czechoslovakia and, after the country’s independence, in 1918, was the first to produce armored cars for the Czechoslovak Army, based on the Fiat-Torino chassis. In 1922, Škoda even proposed to build an unlicensed copy of the Renault FT tank. This proposal was denied by the Ministry of Defense [Ministerstvo národní obrany, abbr. MNO], as they did not desire any potential diplomatic problems with France. After that, Škoda proceeded to design and build several armored cars, most notably the PA series, but there were no further initiatives to start the production of tracked armored vehicles.

When the company saw how the Army and competitor ČKD were negotiating the possible license production of Carden-Loyd tankettes, potentially around 200 pieces, interest in tank building increased significantly. It was realized how lucrative such a tank-building business would be. The business plan was simple: create an armored tracked vehicle, similar to the Carden-Loyd, but better. The actual development proved to be more difficult. In April 1930, shortly after the first three Carden-Loyds were shipped to Czechoslovakia in March, Škoda notified the Ministry of Defense that they were also designing an armored vehicle. The letter read: “We [Škoda] would like to politely remind you that we have designed a tank with similar characteristics to the Carden-Loyd, against which our design has certain advantages…” Škoda emphasized that the tank was of domestic construction and would be able to overcome domestic terrain features. The tank in question was the MU-2, with MU being short for “malý útočný vůz” [Eng: Small Assault Vehicle].

The vehicle that started it all, the Carden-Loyd Mk.VI. This is one of the copies produced under license by ČKD as the CL-P. Source: Rotanazdar
The successor of the CL-P, the P-I, better known as the Tančík vz.33. Source: druhasvetova.com

In spite of Škoda’s offer, the Ministry granted ČKD the order to build four copies of the Carden-Loyd Mk.VI, known as the CL-P, in May 1930. This was probably a good call by the Ministry, as Škoda’s design was still underdeveloped at the time. Initially, Škoda had great difficulty in getting started on the design, as they had to start from scratch. The military experts they consulted could not assist, nor could Škoda base their work on a foreign sample as they did not have one, nor any drawings. Any theoretical experience was nearly non-existent, as Škoda’s assistance in the Kolohousenka project was limited to the delivery of some parts, while the 1929 order by the Ministry to build a new wheel-cum-track tank, the SKU project [also known as the KÚV, or in a later design stage, as Š-III], had barely advanced.

The Tank Department and Truck Department of Škoda were tasked to design the new vehicle. Among the various engineers was Oldřich Meduna, who was responsible for the design of the tracks, wheels, and engine. To save time, the engine and drive axle from a car that was in production at the time were chosen for the tank. He later noted in his memoirs that it was quite difficult to get all the wheels right, as the road wheels, return rollers, sprocket, and idler all had a different shape.

Detailed side view of the MU-2, clearly showing the similarity of the suspension to the design by Carden-Loyd, although the layout of the hull is quite different. Source: Francev and Kliment

The Suspension

The track consisted of 147 links, wrapped around a sprocket at the front, two pairs of two road wheels, a tension idler, and four return rollers. There is no denying that the design of this suspension was highly inspired by the Carden-Loyd suspension, if not shamelessly copied without a license, although it featured some differences. The tracklinks were near-copies, with squared-off guiding teeth on each side, as was the simple disc-shaped sprocket, with 28 teeth. The four rubber-tired bogie wheels were placed in pairs of two, with the pair being suspended with pivoted flat leaf springs on each side. They were mounted to the suspension beam, which itself was attached to the lower hull with three brackets. The idler, with its tensioning system, was also attached to the suspension beam. Unlike the regular Mk.VI, which mostly featured a return skid, or sometimes regular road wheels as return rollers, the MU-2 had four steel return rollers guiding the tracks back to the sprocket.

Propulsion

The commercial car engine chosen to save development time was a four-cylinder gasoline water-cooled engine with an output of 33 hp (24.4 kW). Although not specified, this could be the Škoda SV engine, with a cubic capacity of 1,661 cm³. The engine was cooled by a horizontal fan placed above the engine, which sucked the air out of the crew compartment, ensuring a good climate for the crew, while sufficiently cooling the engine at the same time. The exhaust was placed on top of the flat engine deck, directly behind the turret.

The gearbox was designed by engineer Stehlíček, head of Škoda’s Tank Department.

The MU-2 during field testing near the factory. Despite the power to weight ratio of 16.5 hp per tonne, the vehicle performed badly in the field. Source: Francev and Kliment

Hull

Unlike the suspension, which resembled the Carden-Loyd’s very much, the layout of the hull was quite different. The welded hull consisted of plates not thicker than 4 to 5.5 mm, which proved totally inadequate to stop any serious enemy fire, apart from very light weapons, such as low caliber pistols. The frontal upper plate was angled at 30°, with the final drive being protected by a curved lower plate. A towing hook was installed on the front center, where the lower plate met the upper plate. The two headlights were installed in armored boxes, which were basically extensions of the armored hull. The front of these boxes could be opened when required, but in combat situations, where the light had to be kept a minimum, these could be kept closed with minimum light coming through a small round hole in the front.

Frontal view of the MU-2. Note the boxes for the headlights, which are closed. Source: Yuri Pasholok

The height of the hull was very low, at 96.2 cm. The driver sat on the right side. Due to the low height of the hull, the driver’s cupola was relatively large. This cupola was very basic in design, in some ways resembling a cardboard box. Two large vision slits provided a view to the front and right side of the vehicle, and at least the right slit could be closed from the inside. The top consisted of a large double-hatch, which formed the entry point for the driver. When opened, the front hatch opened so far that it settled down, partially obstructing the front view of the driver.

To the left of the driver sat the gunner, in a turret that could rotate 290°, as the rotation was partially blocked by the driver’s cupola. A water-cooled 7.92 mm Schwarzlose vz.7/24 heavy machine gun was mounted in the turret. This machine gun was a modified version of the earlier vz.7/12 and vz.16A and adapted to fire 8 mm Mannlicher bullets in a Mauser 7.92 mm cartridge. The gunner could enter his position through a double-hatch on top of the turret. His only vision was provided through an aiming sight above the gun. Due to the small size of the vehicle, both the driver and gunner experienced problems caused by the cramped interior.

A shot from the side, providing a detailed view of the turret and suspension. Source: Yuri Pasholok

Flawed or Groundbreaking?

The MU-2 was far from perfect. The interior was cramped, vision was limited, as was firepower, with just one machine gun, the armor was too thin to be of use, and the driving experience was rather poor. Yet, despite these fundamental flaws, the vehicle had good characteristics as well. The vehicle was easy to conceal thanks to its small size, the placement of the cooling fan ensured a good temperature inside, the use of welding had advantages over bolts and rivets as it prevented spalling, and the machine gun had a good firing arc, as it was mounted in a turret. Even though it was not fully rotatable, it was still much more versatile and thus effective than a hull-mounted weapon.

Most importantly though, it provided Škoda with a firm basis to continue the development of tracked armored vehicles, culminating in various successful projects, such as the LT vz.35. More directly, the design of the MU-2 led to the MU-4, a vehicle more similar to ČKD’s Tančík vz.33, as well as the MU-6, a light tank armed with a 47 mm gun in a turret.

After the MU-2 failed its tests performed by the Army, it was not accepted. Škoda kept the vehicle to perform some experiments, but it was scrapped shortly thereafter.

The MU-4, the immediate successor of the MU-2. Although this was technically a much more sound vehicle, it did not attract any buyers and was also disadvantaged by not having a turret. Source: Wikimedia

Conclusion

Although the MU-2 featured some improvements over the Carden-Loyd Mk.VI design, it still had some serious and fundamental defects. Still, it was quite remarkable that the engineers of Škoda managed to build this vehicle in the first place, as they had no experience, nor any guidance in the development and production process. Since the problems in the design were fundamental, the vehicle was abandoned and a new project was already underway by November 1931, namely the MU-4. Although the MU-2’s performance can be considered a failure, it gave the engineers of Škoda a firm basis, from which they could compete with the other Czechoslovak tank-building firm of ČKD. The MU-2, however, was scrapped.

The MU-2 in factory green. Illustration by Leander Jobse, funded through our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.2 x 1.7 x 1.44 m
Total weight 2 tonnes
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Propulsion water-cooled 4-cylinder 33 hp (24.4 kW)
Speed (road) N/A
Range N/A
Armament heavy machine gun Schwarzlose vz.24, 7.92 mm
Ammunition 3,400 rounds
Armor 4-5.5 mm
Obstacle 50 cm
Ditch 100 cm
Fording depth 50 cm
Total production 1

Sources

Czechoslovak armored vehicles 1918-48, V. Francev, C.K. Kliment, Praha, 2004.
Czechoslovak Fighting Vehicles 1918-1945, H.C. Doyle, C.K. Kliment.
Malý útočný vůz Š-I [Small assault vehicle Š-I], Jaroslav Špitálský and Ivan Fuksa, Rota Nazdar.
Zavedení Tančíků do výzbroje [Introduction of tankettes to the Army Equipment], Jaroslav Špitálský, Rota Nazdar.
Škoda MU-2, utocnavozba.wz.cz.
Бронетаракан от Škoda, Yuri Pasholok, Yandex.

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