M53/59 Praga (Lizard)
Armored Car / Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) Platform
The Czech-made M53/59 Praga SPAAG system was adopted by several armies of the world.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
When there was still a unified Czechoslovakia (1945-1992) in the latter part of the 1950s, its local defense industry devised a new self-propelled, wheeled anti-aircraft gun system in the M53/59 (or "Model 1953/1959"). The vehicle's base design involved a standard Praga V3S series 6x6 wheeled multipurpose truck chassis, appropriately armored to suit the battlefield role, mated to a pairing of 35mm autocannons complete with basic optics, aiming equipment, and other role-specific equipment. The resulting product was then taken into service with the Czech Army and hundreds of this cost-effective battlefield solution were exported to allies and other interested customers including Egypt, Iraq and Libya. With the end of the nation of Czechoslovakia in June of 1993, the remaining fleet of these SPAAA (Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Artillery) trucks were passed on to successor states in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Locally the vehicle was designated as the "PLDvK vz.53/59" and known by the nickname of "Lizard" ("Jesterka").
The basic functionality of the Praga vehicle works truck system remained in the post-conversion process. However, there was a slightly oversized, angular armored body added to the chassis to provide basic ballistics protection for the crew of four (driver, commander, and two gunners). The cabin was completely protected in this way and vision for the driver and commander amounted to vision slots and hinged panels. There was a single, two-wheeled axle forward of midships and a two, four-wheeled axles aft. The gun section was fitted over the rear of the truck and could be offloaded to operate independently as a fixed Anti-Aircraft (AA) solution. The diesel engine used for drive power was retained in an armored forward compartment.
The body's armor scheme was constructed of aluminum and the engine was a Tatra T912-2 6-cylinder inline air-cooled diesel-fueled type offering 110 horsepower. The suspension system was of the torsion variety to allow for adequate cross-country / offroad travel. Road speeds could reach 37 miles per hour and operational range was out to 310 miles.
The gun section involved 2 x 30mm autocannons seated side-by-side on a traversing mount capable of elevation. Each gun fed from its own ammunition supply and around 900 rounds of 35mm projectiles were carried aboard (as well as any personal weapons taken on by the operating crew). No radar was installed so target sighting, acquisition, and firing was all handled manually - limiting the tactical value of the weapon system. Beyond its value as a short-ranged airspace deterrent, the weapons of the vehicle could also be trained in on light-armored vehicles and used as a suppression measure against dug-in infantry elements.
The M53/59 is known to have been used in the bloody, long-running Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s (1991-2001) where its automatic nature was put to deadly use. About 220 were ordered by Yugoslavia and received between 1965 and 1968 to which hundreds were in service by the time of the wars. However, poor weather and low-level light hours limited its effectiveness otherwise and the remaining fleet was eventually adopted by successor states in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia.
Despite its age and limitations, the M53/59 continues to see some service with several modern armies including that of Egypt.