LT vz. 35 / PzKpfW 35(t)
Initially plagued with issues, the Czech LT vz 35 light tank became a reliable performer - for the German Army.
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The LT zv 35 was of Czechoslovakian origin and was developed just before open hostilities in Europe during World War 2. After overcoming some initial mechanical issues, the tank was in operational service in some number before coming under the control - and subsequent usage - of the invading Germans. From there, the light tank went on to serve the Wehrmacht through several opening campaigns. The LT vz 35 held a unique claim to fame for it was the most utilized tank of Czech origin in all of World War 2 though none of these fighting systems served with the Czech Army proper - instead were utilized by the German Army following the occupation of Czechoslovakia.
In October of 1934, the Czech Army put forth a defense contract to fulfill a requirement for a new light tank system. Following World War 1 (1914 - 1918), the mobile light tank - lightly armed yet fast and capable if properly used - became a standard fixture of any army of the time. With the growing threat of all-out war in Europe, all sides maintained a healthy stock of light tanks in their arsenal. The military of Czechoslovakia was no different and proved, in many ways, to be ahead of several technological curves concerning both small arms and tank designs before World War 2 - so much so that she served as a major exporter of both during the period prior to the German takeover.
The Czech Army received a pair of prototypes and designated both under the collective marker of "S-11-a" (They would also become known under the alternative simple designator of "T-11" in some published sources). The prototypes (referred to as "pilot" vehicles in tank-speak) were evaluated in June of 1935 to which some mechanical issues became apparent in their design. However, despite these issues, the Czech authorities moved ahead and ordered the type into serial production in October of 1935. The initial batch order was to deliver some 160 vehicles based on the prototype design.
The design was conventional for its time. The vehicle was characterized by a pair of narrow tracks running the length of either hull side. Each track side was afforded eight road wheels serving in pairs (two per bogie element) and further grouped as two major connected components. Four track return rollers were fitted across the bottom of the suspended track system. The drive sprocket was fitted to the rear of the design while the track idler was mounted at the front. The engine was set within a rear-mounted compartment as was the close-coupled transmission system. The transmission system utilized compressed air that was intentionally designed to help the driver with steering and reduce physical fatigue during long operations. This gave the new tank something of a range and speed advantage over that of her contemporaries. The transmission system allowed the driver access to six forward gears and a single reverse position. The hull, of riveted construction and measuring from 12mm to 35mm in thickness, was relatively low in profile with a traversing turret was fitted ahead of amidships.
The tank was crewed by four personnel that included the driver in a front-right position and a bow gunner to his left. The bow gunner operated a single ZB vz 35 (or ZB vz 37) series 7.92mm general purpose machine gun. The commander and the radio operator were situated in the two-man turret assembly. Main armament was fitted to the turret and consisted of a 37.2mm Skoda vz 34 series cannon that was coupled with a coaxially mounted ZB vz 35/37 series machine gun. The commander doubled as the gunner of the tank while the radio operator doubled as the loader. The main gun was afforded 72 rounds of 37.2mm projectiles while approximately 1,800 rounds of 7.92mm ammunition were stowed aboard the tank to feed the two machine guns.
In 1936, the first of five production tanks arrived from the Skoda Works for service in the Czech Army inventory. Once in practice, these tanks only served to amplify the shortcomings inherent in the prototypes, revealing more and more issues than previous noted. As such, the Army was forced to return these vehicles back to Skoda and engineers set about to refine their failing design. Upon completion of these revisions, the vehicle was offered up once more for service and another mass-batch was then ordered by the Czech Army, these to number 138 strong.
The Czech Army formally designated the tank system as the "LT vz 35". While its early issues were addressed, not all were completely corrected but operational service and upgrades soon brought the line up to speed, making for a much more effective end product. The Romanian Army became interested in the new Czech design and ordered 126 for their own ranks under the designation of "R-2".
After Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany he set his sights on conquering interests across Europe. He annexed Austria in March of 1938 and moved to tackle Czechoslovakia next. After annexing the Sudetenland, and effectively rendering Czechoslovakia powerless, the German Army formally occupied Czechoslovakia proper - an occupation that would last until the end of the war in May of 1945.
With the loss of its national identity, Czech factories - and its available products - now came under the authority of the Third Reich. The LT vz 35, therefore, became one such product and manufacturing of the type continued for its new owners. In German Army service, the LT vz 35 was redesignated to Panzerkampfwagen 35(t) and appeared in its shortened form as the PzKpfW 35(t). Skoda Works completed a further 219 "new-build" PzKpfW 35(t) vehicles for direct use by the German Army to help shore up limitations in its armored inventory in preparation for more war. Manufacture of LT vz 35 / PzKpfW 35(t) led to a total of 434 of these light tanks being produced in whole.
The German 6th Panzer Division fielded their PzKpfW 35(t) light tanks during the invasion of France in May of 1940. However, by 1942, these light tank systems that originated in 1930s were beginning to show their limitations as the battlegrounds making up World War 2 spread and evolved. As such, the hulls of outmoded PzKpfW 35(t) tanks were often reconstituted for other required battlefield roles to include self-propelled prime movers, artillery tractors, maintenance vehicles.