Germany invaded Czechoslovakia on March 15th, 1939. This was the final step in the process kicked off by the Munich Agreement in the fall of 1938. France and Britain were not prepared for war, and their appeasement policy handed Czechoslovakia to the Germans. The first step was annexation of the Sudetenland, then the rest of the country. Slovakia declared independence, but Jozef Tiso's government was loyal to Germany. The Germans assumed direct control of Czechia, its advanced industry, and its armoured vehicles, including the LT vz.35. These tanks were designated Pz.Kpfw.35(t) in the German army and played a big role in 1939-1941.
A handy addition
Unlike its neighbours, Czechoslovakian tank designers was not sitting still in the 1930, merely tinkering with foreign designs. Czechoslovakian tank industry reached impressive heights and was one of the leaders in worldwide tank building by the late 1930s. It is not a surprise that the nation reached second place in tank exports. Their tanks combined high production quality and impressive combat characteristics. Nevertheless, this was not enough to fight Germany on its own, plus Poland also had claims on Czechoslovakian territory. Since France and Britain's position was made very clear and proposals from the USSR (the only nation willing to defend Czechoslovakia) were ignored, Czechoslovakian tanks turned out to be useless. They fell into German hands without having fired a single shot.
|LT vz.35 tanks being prepared to be shipped to Germany.
The LT vz.35, the backbone of Czechoslovakian tank forces, made up a large part of the captured vehicles. 296 tanks of this type were built in total, but there were no plans to keep building them. Many defects were uncovered during production and the plan was to replace them with the superior LT vz.38. Nevertheless, this was still a fine fighting vehicle by the spring of 1939 with combat characteristics comparable to those of German medium tanks. The mobility was lower, but this tank was more agile off-road than its German equivalents. Ground pressure of 0.49 kg/cm² was one of the best in its class.
Škoda's creation demonstrated its exceptional off-road performance in the USSR. It beat the T-26 during comparative trials held in the fall of 1938. This was a very dangerous vehicle that could have stood its own against German tanks, were not not for political betrayal. Three regiments had these tanks on hand at the time of occupation: one stationed in Milovice, one in Přáslavice, and one in Martin (Slovakia). After Slovakia declared independence, tanks of the latter regiment ended up in the new Slovakian army. It received 52 tanks of this type. The remaining 244 vehicles ended up in German hands. Two of these tanks had an interesting fate: tank #13909 was knocked out on March 15th, 1939, and was captured by Hungarians. It received the registration number 1H-407. The experimental Š-II-a tank was confiscated by Romania and eventually returned to the Škoda factory. It does not appear that this tank ever saw service.
|Training with new tanks. At first the Germans used the L.T.M.35 as is, in Czechoslovakian three colour camouflage.
The LT vz.35 was the first foreign tank to be used by the Germans in large numbers. They had the Carro Armato L3 captured after the Anschluss of Austria, but these were not even considered fighting vehicles. The Tč vz. 33 tankette and LT vz.34 light tank were similarly disregarded. The LT vz.35 was a different story. It quickly became apparent that Chamberlain and Daladier handed Germany a desirable present. This was a light tank, but as mentioned above its characteristics were close to that of German tanks. There were also almost as many of them on hand as all German medium tanks put together. Thus, the fate of the Skoda-Panzer (as it was first designated in correspondence) was decided. The index Pz.Kpfw. 3.7 (t) was also used.
The tank's adoption by the German army was not instant. Czechoslovakian complaints about technical issues with these tanks were not just excuses. A large number of these tanks were in need of repairs, for instance by May of 1939 only 37 of the 62 tanks from the 65th Tank Battalion were functional. 202 of the 244 tanks were combat capable by the start of WW2. The tank was also not fully satisfactory. The Germans saw it as an analogue of the Pz.Kpfw.III tank, but that tank had a 3 man turret. The LT vz.35 only had room for two crewmen in the turret, and even then there was usually only one crewman present there. In battle, the radio operator would climb into the turret and assume the role of a loader. The Germans added a loader as a dedicated crewman.
|German designations for Czechoslovakian 37 mm ammunition. Note that the HE shell was only introduced after the Polish campaign.
|Pz.Bef.Wg.35(t), a command tank with a distinctive radio antenna over the engine deck.
|All Pz.Kpfw.III(t) were gathered within the 1st Light Division.
|Overall, the Czechoslovakian tank showed itself well, but the bulletproof riveted armour did not offer guaranteed protection against Polish guns. Penetration of driver's vision ports was also common.
|There were almost twice as many Czechoslovakian light tanks in the German army than all models of the Pz.Kpfw.III.
|The 1st Light Division used Pz.Kpfw.IV tanks, even the Ausf.A. These were considered the most effective types of tanks.
|The 6th Tank Division lost about 55 Czechoslovakian tanks in France.
|Large numbers of Pz.Kpfw.35(t) tanks were used on the Soviet-German front.
|Even though the tank was obsolescent, the 6th Tank Division fought successfully until the fall of 1941.
|The 6th Tank Division was almost completely helpless by the start of December of 1941. The Pz.Kpfw.35(t) were finished off by the frost.
|Captured Pz.Kpfw.35(t) tank, NIBT Proving Grounds, 1943.
|Destroyed Mörserzugmittel 35(t), early 1944.