Romfell Model 1915
Armored Car / Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV)
With angled armor, solid wheels and a rotating turret housing the armament, the Austro-Hungarian Romfell Armored Car was a system ahead of its time.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
World War 1 (1914-1918) proved itself as much a war about the first large-scale use of armored cars as it was a war about the first exploits of what became known as "tanks". Armored cars were more economical in terms of production and maintenance (typically built atop existing commercial chassis) and easier to operate with a crew of two or more personnel. The Austro-Hungarian Army was slow to appreciate the use of armored cars leading up to the war but all this changed when it faced the Russian Empire in the East and, later, the Italians, both adopters of armored car fleets.
This realization prompted the Austro-Hungarians to hastily assemble armored car fleets of their own (either through local measures, purchase or capture) and these existed only in limited numbers. One contribution was the rather forward-thinking Romfell Model of 1915 which brought along use of angled surfaces to its armored superstructure, solid wheels and tires and a machine-gun-armed turret sitting atop the hull roof. Despite its promising design, only two would be completed before war's end and their history shedding very little light on their exploits in the conflict.
The Romfell (and its name) was born from the partnership between Romanic and Fellner, a pair of Austro-Hungarian Army officers (hence "ROM-FELL"). Like other armored car designs of the period, the pair decided to reconstitute an existing commercial chassis for their military-minded vehicle and this appears to have been a Mercedes product carrying a 95 horsepower Mercedes gasoline-fueled engine coupled to a "chain-drive" transmission system. The wheels were a 2x2 arrangement across two axles with the rims solid and the rubber on the wheels also solid - offering a certain degree of survivability for the vehicle (no flat tires to be had). Armor protection measured 6mm thick at the most critical facings.
The chassis saw a heavy, armor superstructure added and it is in this design that the uniqueness of the Romfell Car shown through - the armor slabs tapered from roof to base, giving the Romfell Car a rather modern (or futuristic) appearance with elegant lines from front to rear. The engine compartment was held at front in the usual way and the driver's compartment immediately aft. Vision slits were cut into the armor panels at obvious points to provide some level of situational awareness. Over the rear of the truck chassis, and atop the superstructure roof, was a 360-degree traversing turret fitting a 7.92mm Schwarzlose Model 07/12 heavy machine gun. Some 3,000 x 7.92mm rounds of ammunition were carried aboard. A crude, Morse-telegraph-like wireless unit was also installed - a rather forward-thinking measure for the period. The operating crew was most likely three - driver, commander and dedicated machine gunner. Overall dimensions were compact - a length of 5.7 meters, a width of 1.8 meters and a height of 2.5 meters - making the internal conditions quite cramped.
The initial vehicle, originating out of a facility in Budapest, was completed by the Army in August of 1915 at which time the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been at war for nearly a year. The initial vision for the war was one of fluidity and overwhelming numbers but this soon gave way to networks of trench and the bloody fighting that constituted "Trench Warfare" centering on exchanges of artillery fire, machine gun kill zones and bayonet assaults. The armored car held value in the early-going as the fronts remained fluid but they increasingly lost the initiative as the war bogged down and battlefields became less hospitable.
Despite its interesting design the Romfell Armored Car held little impact in the war effort for the Austro-Hungarians - it inevitably suffered what all armored cars of the period suffered for it held a long nose which led to a wide, awkward turning radius, vision out-of-the-vehicle was poor (situational awareness) and the armored superstructure coupled with solid metal/rubber wheels, while adding a fair amount of protection to the crew and key systems, increased weight and played disastrously on soft ground. Little is known of the direct combat exploits of the car itself but it was at least identified in actions concerning 1918 along the Italian Front. The second car is believed to not have been completed until late-1917 or early-1918 and this version used another chassis / powerplant altogether.
By the end of the war, which ended with the Armistice of November 1918, the Romfell car already appeared to have fallen to the pages of history - its existence today saved only by a few documents and photographs that exist.