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Has Own Video WW1 Austro-Hungarian Armor

Romfell

Austro-Hungarian Empire (1915-1919)
Armored Car – 1 Built

Before the First World War broke out in 1914, the Austro-Hungarian War Ministry had been offered several designs of armored vehicles, but all were declined. The Army did not even have armored trains in use when war was declared on Serbia in late July 1914. As the war dragged on, a desire arose among troops for some armored vehicles. On rare occasions, Austro-Hungarian troops also encountered Russian armored vehicles starting from the second half of 1915. In the same year, a new armored car was built in Budapest, although the War Ministry and Army Command were initially not involved. This car was the Romfell.

The Romfell shortly after completion. This image is preserved by the Austrian State Archives and the text on the back reads: “Buczacz 18/10.15 Panzerauto mit M.G. d. 36. J.T.D.” “Armored car with a machine gun of the 36th Infantry Troops Division, Buchach, 18th October 1915.” Source: Österreichisches Staatsarchiv

Austro-Hungarian armor developments

Home to the Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil of 1905, the first four-wheel-drive armored car, and the Burstyn Motorgeschütz of 1911, an early tank concept, Austro-Hungarian engineers were at the forefront of armored vehicle development before the war. However, these designs were rejected, along with other armored vehicle proposals, and thus, the Empire was without any armored cars when it entered the war on 28th July 1914.

Although (improvised) armored vehicles quickly appeared on the German fronts in 1914, initially, no armored cars were encountered by Austro-Hungarian troops on the fronts they fought on. The War Ministry had no intention of developing armored cars on its own, and the few designs for armored vehicles came from civilians or from the troops. Two of these initiatives were materialized in 1915, one being the Junovicz, and the other being the Romfell.

A Junovicz armored car. Either five or seven of these were built until 1918. Source: banataldemunte.blogspot.com

Construction

The initial idea for an armored vehicle came from Hauptmann (Eng: Captain) Branko Romanić, commander of Kraftfahrersatzdepot No.39 in Budapest, Hungary. More detailed plans were worked out by Oberleutnant (Eng: Lieutenant Colonel) Simon Fellner, whose names combined formed the name Romfell. Fellner was commander of the Hauptwerkstätte (Eng: main workshop) of the depot. Construction of one vehicle commenced in the spring of 1915. They were supported by reserve Lieutenant Emil Vidéky, former assistant professor at the Technical University of Budapest. On-site, the construction was managed by Imre Kádár, and the production itself was led by Lieutenants Ágoston and Fazekas. These officers also arranged the work of professional groups that were called in to work on complicated things, like the engine.

The Romfell, still in Budapest, with its creators in front. Simon Fellner stands on the right. In unspecified order, the others are presumably Branko Romanić, Emil Vidéky, Imre Kádár, Ágoston, and Fazekas. Source: Kajon Árpád Collection

The War Ministry was never informed about the project but became aware of it when, on 30th July, a formal request was made to the firm Siemens & Halske for delivery of a wireless radio with a range of 100-150 km. The first reaction by the Ministry was very negative. The conversion was seen as a waste of a perfectly fine and badly needed car.

Following up, the car was inspected by Oberleutnant Erich Kurzel Edler von Runtscheiner, who was a technical consultant with the 5/M Department of the War Ministry. This department was responsible for the organization of cars and airships, as well the Fortress Balloon Divisions and the Volunteer Corps. His report was very positive. He saw good use for military purposes and praised the craftsmanship. Reportedly, the vehicle was finished by the end of July. On 18th August, the depot officially noted that a Mercedes chassis, registered as “A VI 865”, was equipped with armor, and re-registered as “XI-271”. The report also included a question of whether the machine gun was to be fitted at the depot or by the troops it was to be issued to. Eventually, the machine gun was fitted in the depot. When a journalist visited the workshop he noted:

“The biggest surprise had yet to be shared with the visitors. In a completely locked room, the newest and most important product of the workshop was shown: a complete armored car, built after plans by the gentlemen Hauptmann Romanić and Oberleutnant Fellner in the military repair workshop, stood ready to be driven out. A more detailed description of this armored car and its armament cannot be given for understandable reasons. However, so much could be perceived that the shape and design of the armor surpasses all vehicles of foreign make. To honor the builders, the armored car was named “Romfell”. Hopefully, we will soon hear the good news of the excellent effects of the armored car.”

Sportblatt des Pester Lloyd, 24th October 1914

The Romfell shortly after completion and still in Budapest. It is shown here with the Schwarzlose machine in an anti-air configuration. This image was published in November 1915 by the Allgemeine Automobil Zeitung (Eng. General Car Magazine), presenting the vehicle to a wider public. Source: Allgemeine Automobil Zeitung no.47, 1915

The workshop

In 1906, the m. kir. Önkéntes Gépkocsizó Testületet (Eng: Royal Hungarian Voluntary Automotive Body) was formed in Budapest from members of the Magyar Automobil Club (Eng: Hungarian Automobil Club) and the Magyar Motorkerékpáros Szövetség (Eng: Hungarian Motorcycle Association). It had no regularized staff and was of mixed military and civilian origin. Both in peacetime and mobilization, the members of the body were supposed to use their own cars, but apart from that, were equipped according to military principles. When war broke out in 1914, it was reformed into a full military organization. On 1st August 1915, the K.u.K. Kraftfahrtruppenkommando (Eng: Imperial and Royal Automotive Troops Command) was set up in Vienna to coordinate military automotive affairs throughout the Empire. It stood directly under command of the War Ministry. Several bodies in Budapest were directly subordinated to this new Command, including the Depot.

The central buildings of the Automotive Replacement Depot (Hungarian: Autópóttár, German: Kraftfahrersatzdepot) were located at Ezredes Street 5-7. Some parts of the institution were located at other places in Budapest. The main workshop, where cars and light trucks were repaired, was located at 13 Zápolya Street, present-day Gogol Street. In 1911, at this location, the Magyar Automobilgyár Rt. company settled. This was an importer and repairer of French Dion-Bouton cars. No cars were built and the company was dissolved in 1913. After standing empty for a while, when war broke out, the buildings were bought by the army and expanded into a workshop.

From 1914 until January 1916, Romanić was commander of the Depot. In February 1916, he received a new position in a depot in Klosterneuburg, but returned as commander in May 1917 and remained until April 1918, when he was replaced by Hauptmann Béla Rittinger. During the absence of Romanić, in 1916 and 1917, command of the Depot was taken by Oberleutnant Fellner, who, before February 1916, was the commander of the main workshop.

Another photograph from the same time period as the previous one. The turret is facing forwards and no machine gun is fitted. Source: Landships.info
The Romfell with its short-lived trailer. No armament is fitted. Source: KarlHeinz Pfarr and Chloé Plattner

The creators: Romanić and Fellner

Simon Fellner, child of Hungarian József Fellner and German Franciska Kellner, was born on 28th October 1880 in Temeschwar (present-day Timișoara, in Romania). Fellner pursued a technical career and, in 1902, he received a degree in mechanical engineering at the Franz Joseph University in Klausenburg (present-day Cluj-Napoca, in Romania). From 1903 until 1917, he held a position at the Ganz Works in Budapest and also made study trips to Hannover and London in 1905-1906. When war broke out in 1914, he served as Oberleutnant and became commander of the main workshop of the Depot. After 1917, he also started to work at Bárdi Rt.

In 1920, the military workshop was transformed into a regular civilian car company named Unitas. It was led by Fellner and it became a success. The company traded, serviced, and produced cars, and in 1928, an agreement was reached with the Czechoslovak company Tatra to become its representative in Hungary. Apart from this successful venture, Fellner also participated in car races, and in 1929, he won the Swabian Race. He remained the technical director of Unitas until 1933. On 28th October 1947, on his birthday, Fellner died after he fell seriously ill.

A young Simon Fellner. Source: Újpesti Helytörténeti Értesítô

Branko Romanić was a reserve officer and chief engineer of the Ganz Works factory. Unfortunately, less is known about him than Fellner. In the same month Romanić left command of the depot, in April 1918, he filed a patent in Germany and Austria-Hungary for a three-wheeled agricultural tractor, together with Dr. Leo Steiner, the importer of the Holt Caterpillar tractors into Austria-Hungary before the war.

Design of the Romfell

The chosen donor chassis was a Mercedes 37/90 PS, a chain-driven rear-wheel-drive car built in 1913-1914 and powered by a 90-95 hp engine. This car had a maximum speed of 115 km/h. When the chassis was adapted to fit the armored body, relatively few changes were made, and the engine, transmission, and steering gear remained practically the same. The frame, cross-connections, spring bolts, and mounting suspension were strengthened and reinforced to allow the chassis to bear the weight of the new armored superstructure.

A chain-driven Mercedes 37/90 Sport-Phaeton. The Romfell was based on such a vehicle and the design took some inspiration from the original pointed rear. It has to be stressed that these vehicles were only rear-wheel-driven, contrary to reports that the Romfell had four-wheel drive, which was not the case. Source: Mercedes Benz Archives

The engine was a 4-cylinder in-line, four-stroke, with a displacement of 9530 cc and a bore and stroke of 130 x 180 cm. At 1300 rpm, it was capable of delivering 90-95 hp. A piston-type carburetor fuel system was used and the original fuel tank, located under the car’s rear, had a capacity of 125 l. Power was transmitted through a 4-speed manual gearbox. The engine had a fuel consumption of 29-33 l per 100 km. Only the rear wheels were driven by encapsulated chains, the front steering wheels were not driven. The Mercedes chassis weighed 1,525 kg, the curb weight was 1,950 kg. It could carry a gross weight of 2,650 kg, but the Romfell with its reinforced chassis could handle a greater load. In total, the Romfell weighed some 5 tonnes, not 7 tonnes as is sometimes suggested.

Thanks to the powerful engine, the Romfell, even with its 5 tonnes, could reach speeds between 28 and 40 km/h on good roads and even up to 25 km/h off-road, although only with favorable ground and weather conditions. In comparison, most armored cars of the time were powered by 40-60 hp engines. A notable armored car with a similar weight and engine power was the British Rolls-Royce, with a weight of 4.7 tonnes and an 80 hp engine.

Original drawings showing the unchanged Mercedes chassis. To accommodate the armored body, the chassis that was used for the Romfell was reinforced and some alterations were made. For example, the fuel tank, seen here behind the rear wheels, was relocated. Source: maquetland.com
View of the driver’s position, with all hatches open. The engine cover is also not installed. Source: KarlHeinz Pfarr and Chloé Plattner

Protection and layout

The whole armored body of nickel-chrome steel was designed in a way that bullets could not hit the armor at a right angle and the thickness of the armor was calculated so that 8 mm Mannlicher bullets could not penetrate the armor further than 110 m away, and pointed German S-bullets further than 300 m away. With these calculations, the armor plating was not too thick or thin in places, keeping weight down. The strongest plates, between 6.5 and 7 mm thick, were used on the sides of the body and the vertical parts of the turret, while less important parts of the chassis were armored by plates some 4.5 to 5 mm thick. The roof and other horizontal parts were constructed using 2 to 2.5 mm thick plates. The plates were riveted to a metal frame and some 1,500-1,600 rivets were used in construction.

The drawing on the left is a cross-section as seen from the rear-facing forwards. The right drawing shows the rear of the car. Note how the fuel was stored in the angled upper corners. The driver sat on the right. Source: maquetland.com
Close-up image of the Romfell. The starting crank can be seen below the radiator grille. Source: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

The side plates were tilted outwards at an angle of 75 degrees, while the rear plates were curved into a bow shape. The crew entered the vehicle through a square and rather small hatch in the sides that opened in two parts. Above the hatch, on the left side, a shooting port was located, with an additional two located on the same side. Another two shooting ports were located on the right side, but none above the hatch, since the driver was seated there. The driver had vision through one hatch in front of him. Two further vision hatches were located in the front, one on the left for the commander/observer and a central square hatch. Behind the square hatch was a retractable Zeiss Acetylene searchlight. This light could also be raised above the vehicle through yet another hatch in the roof. The vision hatches could be locked from the inside once closed.

The radiator in front of the engine was protected by an armored shutter with fifteen slats, so it was fairly well protected but still allowed for steady airflow. The engine compartment could be accessed through hatches on the sides and on top. Below the shutter was an opening that accommodated a manual starting crank.

Two extrusions were present on the lower rear of the Romfell. Attached to the lowest part of the rear armored plating was a towing hook, originally fitted to tow a trailer. Slightly lower, and pointing downwards, was another extrusion fitted to the chassis. It consisted of two iron bars with a sharp edge pointing downwards and connected to each other by a horizontal bar. Attached to it was a chain and when pulled, the contraption would lower to the ground, anchoring the vehicle if it had to stop while driving up a slope. Its effectiveness would have been limited, however, since the road surface could neither be too loose or too hard, in which case it would not be able to stop the vehicle from rolling down the slope.

The extension at the rear had quite a logical purpose. If the car was driving up a slope but had to stop, this contraption could be lowered, anchoring the vehicle, but its effectiveness depended on the state of the ground. If the soil was too loose or too hard, it would not be able to stop the vehicle from rolling down.

Turret and armament

The turret was mounted slightly to the rear of the vehicle. Due to the thin armor of the roof plate, a reinforced structure had to be made to support the weight of the turret. The supports can be seen on the exterior, with two rows of rivets on the upper edge of the side plates. The round turret ring had a diameter of 1,100 mm. Inside the turret were the other two crew members, presumably two gunners, or one gunner and a commanding officer. At the front of the turret was an opening for the M.07/12 Schwarzlose machine gun. The machine gun was slightly protected from the sides by two extruding armored plates. The machine gun had an elevation of 45° and a depression of 30°. The turret itself could be turned 360°.

A cross-section of the turret, dated December 1915 and signed by Romanic himself. The drawing shows the seat of the gunner, the machine gun and its mount, and the rollers on which the turret rotated. Source: maquetland.com

A large hatch was located on top of the turret, which hinged forwards. This hatch had several functions. Most importantly, it allowed the fitting of the machine gun to a pintle mount on the rear of the turret so it could function as an anti-air machine gun. Apart from this main use, other uses included the ability to load and maintain the machine gun, a crew member could protrude through it to get a better view from the surrounding area, and it could be opened for the ventilation of machine gun gasses that would otherwise fill the vehicle during firing.

The Schwarzlose M.07/12 machine gun was a design from 1902 and built under license by Austrian Steyr. It was a relatively simple and inexpensive weapon compared to its counterparts, like the German MG.08 and the family of Maxim machine guns. Presumably, the machine gun that was mounted in the Romfell had the stronger mainspring fitted, which allowed a firing rate of 580 rounds per minute.

It was envisioned that the vehicle carried 20,000 rounds of ammunition, although 12,000 were to be stored in the trailer. This left 8,000 rounds within the vehicle.

Longitudinal cross-section of the Romfell. It shows how the ammunition was stored against the lower parts of the hull. The 170 l of fuel that the Romfell could carry was divided into five separate tanks, the largest of which was located in the rear bow. This was done with the idea in mind that the car would not lose all of its fuel when a tank got damaged. Source: maquetland.com

Equipment and trailer

As mentioned, a wireless telegraph was requested from the firm Siemens & Halske. A range of 100 to 150 km was desired. Although a novel idea, this radio station seems to have never been fitted.

Besides the main armament, a spare machine gun was carried but presumably stored in the trailer. Further armament included one Mannlicher M.95 8 mm infantry rifle and two Steyr M1912 9 mm pistols.

Included in the original design was a small single-axle trailer. Its role was to transport fuel, ammunition, and spare parts, allowing the Romfell to operate longer and more independently. However, the storage space was rather limited and it impeded the mobility of the Romfell, so it was later decided to discontinue the use of a trailer. Instead, the Romfell was to be accompanied by a separate truck.

A non-original line drawing of the Romfell, showing what the trailer would have looked like in the top left corner. The trailer featured the same design as the car, but the carrying capabilities turned out to be too low and it was soon swapped for an accompanying truck. Source: Haditechnika 2003

Russian armored cars against Austria-Hungary

Shortly before the Romfell was issued to the troops in October, Austro-Hungarian troops encountered the first Russian armored cars on three to four occasions, according to documentation. In September, the 4th Army reported that, between Lutsk and Rivne, up to four armored cars were deployed. On 13th September 1915, the 24th ID reported that, near Klevan, a Russian armored car had caused great unrest among the 10th and 45th IR and had dispersed these units. In October, the 7th Army reported that a Russian armored car was destroyed by artillery near Zielona. Based on the effects the cars had on the battlefield, from several ranks, the desire arose for their own armored cars, which coincided with the Romfell actually being accepted into service.

The Romfell in Buchach, October 1915, shortly after it was issued to the 36th Infantry Division. The turret is turned away from the photographer. The trailer is not attached and was decommissioned very quickly. The wooden-spoked wheels were protected by 5 mm thick plates. Source: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

Romfell into service

On 30th July 1915, the Romfell made its first test drive and was driven for 100 km. In the first week of October (or August, depending on the source), the vehicle took part in a large military parade held in Budapest. This show of military might, organized by Infantry General Marenzi, the military commander of Budapest, was intended to support the Red Cross and was attended by a variety of Hungarian notables, including Minister of War Baron Samu Hazay, and Artillery Inspector Lieutenant General Kárász. Apart from the Romfell, conventional forces were shown, as well as a Holt Caterpillar. The Romfells’ appearance was praised by the onlookers and, after being shipped to Vienna to be inspected by the Ministry of War, the Romfell and its trailer were accepted for service.

The Romfell in the winter of 1915/1916. These pictures are presumably taken in the vicinity of Buchach. Note that the large iron crosses have already been removed. Source left: Haditechnika 2003; right: Kraftfahrzeuge im Dienste der k.(u.)k. Armee
A unique view of a very muddy Romfell, probably thanks to the lack of fenders. It would have been a good reason to keep the hatches closed. Source: KarlHeinz Pfarr and Chloé Plattner

On 11th October 1915, the Romfell was issued to the 7th Army and placed in command of Oblt.a.D. Ludwig von Rakosy. The vehicle was attached to the 36th Infantry Troops Division (36 Infanterie Truppen Division, 36.I.T.D.), which, together with the 15.I.T.D., formed the XIII Corps. This Corps reported later that the vehicle saw no action in late October. The 36.I.T.D. was stationed near Buczacz, present-day Buchach, Ukraine. During the following months, the car was used in this area, but no specific action was recorded, suggesting that the car did not see major action.

It was found out that the trailer was not as convenient as hoped. It was too small to carry enough equipment, while it impeded mobility. It was decided to ditch the idea and instead use an accompanying truck to carry spares, fuel, and ammunition. Also around this time, the large black-on-white iron crosses were removed from the sides.

The Romfell saw its last combat use on the Eastern Front during the Brusilov Offensive. In a worn-out condition, it was withdrawn from the unit on 11th August 1916 and transferred to the Kraftwagenwerkstätte Nr.36 des Etappengruppenkommandos 9 (Eng: Car Workshop No.36 of Support Command No.9) located in Stryi, roughly 110 km to the west of Buchach. In Stryi, it was repaired and received a new registration, “KN 5965”. This was against proposed plans of the Depot from Budapest which, on 29th August 1916, requested the return of the car for refurbishment, and fitting of new parts, like an electric starter engine and anti-slip tires, but this did not happen.

The Romfell, photographed in Reșița. Note that the headlights have been removed. Source: banatuldemunte.blogspot.com

After this, the records seem to have gone silent until the Romfell reappeared in June 1917, when the car arrived in Ljubljana. It is unknown where the car was in this period of roughly eleven months. It is the author’s theory that, during this time, the Romfell was transported to Resicza (present-day Reșița, Romania), as photographs exist of the Romfell in front of the Reșița Machine Factory. It was presumably refurbished at this plant. It is also possible that it was used as a production sample, because at the time, the factory began construction of several Junovicz armored cars. In the photographs, several features of the Romfell are missing, like the headlights and the exhaust pipe that normally extruded from the side in front of the rear chain.

This theory would not only explain the lack of information concerning this time period but also explain why the Romfell was photographed in Reșița.

At the same place, but from another angle. The text below the photograph is in Romanian and reads: “Car factory: an armored car built in Reșița”. Source: banatuldemunte.blogspot.com
Photograph of the machine factory in Reșița, showing the same building as in the previous photograph. Source: cimec.ro

The Romfell goes to the Italian Front

Following repairs and much later, the car was transferred to the 5th Army, allegedly to be used as a light mobile reserve for coastal defense near Trieste with the Adelsberg Küstenschutzdienst IV. On 18th June 1917, the car arrived by rail in Ljubljana. From there, it was driven by Zugsführer Johann Amann to Trieste and, with its crew, transferred to Feldautopark Nr.1. There, it was decided to replace the worn-out Mercedes chassis with a captured Italian Fiat 18BL truck registered with the number “KN 8428”.

Due to this rebuild, the car changed, both in terms of performance and appearance. The armor layout remained practically the same, with the only changes made to the slats in front of the radiator and the small radiator cap on top. More noticeable was the completely changed underbody of the car, and the wooden-spoked wheels were now unprotected. The new wheelbase of 3.55 m remained practically the same but the total length was shortened by 0.3 m to 5.37 m. Thanks to the lightweight chassis and running gear of the Fiat, the total weight was reduced by 1.5 tonnes, to 3.51 tonnes. Thanks to this massive decrease in weight, the M09 Goliath water-cooled petrol engine, with just 44 hp, managed to propel the vehicle to a speed of 35 km/h. Like the Mercedes, the Fiat had only rear-wheel-drive.

In March 1918, the Army High Command ordered the creation of armored car platoons on the Italian Front. To achieve this, all available armored cars were ordered to be relocated to Feldautopark Nr.1, a military car supply unit, located in Udine. On 1st June 1918, the first platoon (Panzerautozug Nr.1) was officially formed and Lieutenant Robert Dirr was placed in command. The Romfell was also ordered to be included in this new platoon. Apart from the Romfell, by the end of August, the unit consisted of a former Russian Austin 3rd Series, a Junovicz, a former Italian Lancia 1ZM, and a former Italian Isotta-Fraschini. It is believed that this unit saw little to no fighting and operated behind the frontline. The Lancia was quickly transported to Vienna. After the truce, the Junovicz was also transported away, but a bit more action awaited the Austin and Romfell.

The Romfell on the Eastern Front, photographed by a Croatian soldier of the Austro-Hungarian Army. The pictures are presumably taken in the early summer of 1916. Source: FS Collection
The Romfell in Gallicia, early summer of 1916. Source: Haditechnika 1983

The situation in Carinthia after October 1918

The end of the First World War also marked the end of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was dissolved and this led to the creation of multiple smaller states. As to be expected, each state had its own geographical wishes, which resulted in many (violent) border disputes between them. One such area was southeastern Carinthia, which had a mixed population of Slovenes and Germans. The Republic of German-Austria, which was officially declared on 12th November 1918, laid claims on the area, as well as the State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, officially declared on 29th October 1918. Therefore, no border between the two new states was drawn.

Already in November, the first military action began, when Yugoslav forces and militias started to advance into Carinthia. In January and February 1919, the clashes were much more violent and the Yugoslavs managed to occupy a large territory, but on 13th February, a peace treaty was signed between the two parties. This came after a ceasefire, arbitrated by the Entente Powers, who had been alarmed by the fighting. A dispatched US Army commission recommended a plebiscite for the entire Klagenfurt region.

On 29th April 1919, the Yugoslavs broke the ceasefire and advanced into the area held by Austrian troops. They encountered much more resistance than they had during their first offensive and successful Austrian counterattacks caused them to retreat. Within a short period, Austria regained control of most of the area that had been lost during the winter. Eventually, the counter-offensive was halted by the Yugoslavs, and a new Yugoslav offensive from 26th May until 6th June was successful, with a large part of the Klagenfurt area captured.

On 10th September 1919, the Treaty of Saint-Germain was signed, which established most of the new Austrian-Yugoslav border. The planned plebiscite was held on 10th October 1920 and a majority of the contested area voted to be part of Austria.

The results of the plebiscite: the pink areas joined Yugoslavia, while the remainder (red and blue) voted to stay with Austria. Source: fepanews.com

Deployment of the Romfell in Carinthia

The last chapters of the history of the Romfell were written in this period. After the Armistice was signed in 1918, Zugsführer Johann Amann retreated with the Romfell and the Austin to Carinthia. He was accompanied by Zugsführers Schoderböck and Deutschmann, as well as Gefreiter Petschnig. They decided to stay in Carinthia to fight against the Yugoslavs. Eight men joined and command of the armored car section was taken over by Fähnrig Jack. Zgf. Schoderböck was placed in command of the Romfell, and Zgf. Großl in command of the Austin. To reinforce the section, an improvised armored car was made by adding sandbags to a 3-t-Saurer-Subventions-LKW truck and armed with one to two machine guns, but it was considered useless in battle and disassembled after March 1919.

On 1st December 1918, one of the armored cars saw its first action, presumably the Romfell, during an attack on the city of Völkermarkt, to the east of Klagenfurt. On 15th December, the complete unit saw action near Grafenstein, a small town between Klagenfurt and Völkermarkt. During the armistice, in a period between 1st and 14th April, the Romfell was stationed on the road Trixen-Haimburg-Griffen, to the north of Völkermarkt, in order to defend Austrian field guards and recover trucks that got stuck on or near the road.

The Romfell in April 1919, next to a captured Austin 3rd Series. The location is the Waisenhauskaserne in Klagenfurt, Carinthia. This is the only known photograph of the Romfell on the Fiat 18BL chassis. The man in the center, with his arms crossed, is the commander of the unit, Fhr. Jack. Completely to the right, next to the Austin, stands Johann Amann. The man in the Romfell is Zgf. Schoderböck, the man seated on the Austin is Zgf. Großl. Source: Yandex

When the Yugoslavs broke the ceasefire on 29th April, the section saw major action. Rather quickly, one of the drivers of the Austin was taken out of action, so a new driver had to be recruited from another unit. In the morning, at 7:50, the armored car section advanced from Klagenfurt, together with the 2nd Volkswehr Battalion and some other units, to the small River Gurk. After clearing the road near Haidach, they advanced to Poggersdorf, around 17:30. An hour later, the armored cars advanced further to Kreuzerhof, but this time without infantry support. There, the Austin was damaged by the Yugoslavs with hand grenades and one crewmember, Gottwald, was wounded.

The next day, on 30th April, the Romfell supported the 2nd Volkswehr Battalion in their advance to Völkermarkt. It also performed some reconnaissance missions. On 2nd May, the Romfell took part in the attack on Völkermarkt itself. After this, the Romfell was moved southwest and on 4th May, it was deployed near Sankt Margareten and Abtei. It was tasked to clear the road in advance of the infantry. During the two following days, the Romfell saw action in the general area of Eisenkappel. On 6th May, at 13:30, the car was tasked to supply a machine gun unit, operating in the frontline, with new ammunition. This was the last reported action in which the Romfell took part. Its fate after that is unknown.

The captured Austin, photographed on 29th July 1918. It was deployed alongside the Romfell for quite some time. Unlike the Romfell, the Austin would survive for a long time and was only scrapped in 1951. One of its turrets has been preserved. Source: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

A second Romfell?

In publications based on older research, it is sometimes mentioned that possibly two Romfells or even more were built, but this is highly unlikely. It is true that the Romfell was once transferred to a new chassis, and either this rebuild or the fact that it looked slightly different on photographs after the transfer has caused confusion in the past. There were also reports that a Romfell was used post-war by Hungary and later captured by Romania. There are even claims that the Romfell was built in Reșița, present-day Romania, during the war. All this appears to be false information or information concerning different vehicles than the Romfell. In contemporary military reports, always a single vehicle is mentioned. Furthermore, in the relatively well-preserved records of the Depot in Budapest, a second vehicle is never mentioned. The most recent research suggests that just one Romfell was produced in Budapest in 1915 on a Mercedes chassis, while in 1918, the armored body was relocated to a Fiat chassis (based on the works by Bíró Ádám [2010], Chloé Fanny Plattner [2019], and Franz Felberbauer [2018]).

A Romfell Anti-Air truck?

In a publication by Hajdú Ferenc and Sárhidai Gyula from 2005, a line drawing was published of a supposed “Romfell 3” from 1918. It represents an anti-air vehicle, with a naval Škoda 5/8 M L/30 AA gun based on a Marta Alváz 40 hp 3-5t truck. The publication is of dubious quality and contains numerous errors, and to what extent the vehicle, the name of the vehicle, or its design did exist in the presented form is unknown. The claims seem to originate from a 2003 issue of the Hungarian magazine Haditechnika, which presents a bit more information. It states that the single vehicle was rebuilt into a fire truck in 1920 and used as such for many years. In more recent research, the Romfell Anti-Air vehicle is not mentioned, which may suggest it never existed, or at least never existed with the name Romfell attached to it.

A line drawing of the Romfell AA, called Romfell 3 in this instance. It does not appear to be an original drawing, but could very well be a reproduction of an original. Source: Haditechnika 2003
A scale model of the Romfell AA. It is unknown when or by whom this model was constructed. The images are stamped by a Car Museum from Budapest. Source: Haditechnika 2003

Conclusion

From a technical point of view, the Romfell was one of the better armored cars that was built during the First World War, although the Mercedes chassis wore down quite quickly. It was elegantly designed and aesthetically pleasing, something that could not often be said about armored vehicles of the time. The car also had some features that may be considered modern for its time, like the intentional use of sloped armor, the provision of an anti-air pintle mount, and the proposed plans for a radio. With just one vehicle produced and seeing little action, the Romfell had a negligible role in the war effort and its successful post-war deployment in 1919 is probably the most remarkable.

Illustration of the Romfell by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications (Mercedes chassis)

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.67 m x 1.8 m x 2.48 m (“>18 ft 7 in x 5 ft 11 in x 8 ft 2 in)
Total weight, battle-ready 5 tonnes (5,5 US Ton)
Crew 4 (Commander, driver, gunner, assistant)
Propulsion Mercedes 4-stroke Otto, 4-cylinder, 75 hp at 1200 rpm, water cooled
Speed (road/off road) 28-40 km/h (17.4-24.9 mph) / 20-25 km/h in favorable conditions (12.4-15.5 mph)
Primary Armament 1x 8 mm Schwarzlose M 07/12 machine gun (+1 spare)
“>Ground clearance 0.36 m (1 ft 2 in)
“>Wheelbase 3.58 m (1 ft 9 in)
Armor 2-7 mm (0.08-0.3 in)

Specifications (Fiat chassis)

Length 5.37 m (17 ft 7 in)
Total weight, battle-ready 3,51 tonnes (3,87 US Ton)
Propulsion M09 Goliath water-cooled petrol engine, 44 hp
Speed (road) 35 km/h (21,7 mph)

Sources

Militärwissenschaftliche Mitteilungen, Volume 61, Panzerfahrzeuge 1930, Major a. D. Dr. Heigl, 1930, p.709-712.
Sportblatt des Pester Lloyd, Die Militärische Automobil-Reparaturwerkstätte in Budapest, 24th October 1915, p.25. Anno.
Allgemeine Automobil Zeitung, no.47, Oesterreichisch-Ungarisches Panzer-Automobil, 21st November 1915, p.32.
Verordnungsblatt für das k. u. k. Heer: Beiblatt, Volume 22, No.46, 4th September 1915, p.263. Google Books.
Carinthia I, Moderne Kampfmethoden und Kampfmittel im Kärntner Abwehrkampf, Erwin Steinböck, 1963, p.656-675. Anno.
Schematismus für das k. u. k. Heer und für die k. u. k. Kriegsmarine 1914, Staatsdruckerei, February 1914, p.755. pdf.
DE Patent 309478, Dreirädrige Zugmaschine, Dr. Leo Steiner & Branko Romanic, applied 16th April 1918, published 23rd November 1918.
Budapest, XIII. Kerület, Gogol utca 15, Helyszínek, magyarjarmu.hu.
Katonai Logisztika, Volume 24, no.2, Adalékok az mh Anyagellátó Raktárbázis Történetéhez – A Gépkocsiszertár, Varga Imre, 2016, p.224-268. pdf.
Újpesti Helytörténeti Értesítô, Volume 21, no.4, Simon Fellner, Hirmann László, December 2014, p.26-28. pdf.
A Magyar Királyi Honvéd Haditechnikai Intézettõl a HM Technológiai Hivatalig 1920–2005, Hajdú Ferenc & Sárhidai Gyula, HM Technológiai Hivatal, 2005. pdf.
Haditechnika, Volume 44, No.5, Romfell páncélgépkocsi, a magyar páncélgépjárműgyártás első produktuma I. Rész., Bíró Ádám, 2010, p.68-73. pdf.
Haditechnika, Volume 44, No.6, Romfell páncélgépkocsi, a magyar páncélgépjárműgyártás első produktuma II. Rész., Bíró Ádám, 2010, p.74-78. pdf.
Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer des österreichischen Heeres 1896 bis heute, Walter J. Spielberger, Motorbuch Verlag, 1976, p.328-341.
The Austro-Hungarian Forces in World War I (part 2) 1916-1918, Men-at-Arms 367, Peter Jung, Osprey Publishing, 2003, p.33.
Stahl und Eisen im Feuer – Panzerzüge und Panzerautos des K.u.K. Heeres 1914-1918, Rudolf Hauptner & Peter Jung, 2003, p.27, 31-32.
100 Jahre Panzerwaffe im österreichischen Heer, Rolf M. Urrisk, Herbert Weishaupt Verlag, 2006, p.85-90.
Panzerfahrzeuge des Österreichischen Heeres, Franz Felberbauer, Motorbuch Verlag, 2018, p.12.
Samochody pancerne I wojny Światowej, Witold J. Ławrynowicz and Albert Rokosz, Tetragon, 2020, p.244-247.
Romfell, Copper State Models, Chloé Fanny Plattner, August 2019, p.4-9. Pdf.

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