The Skoda tank in the Bulgarian Army


In the years before the WWII, Bulgaria had difficulties with the armament and the modernization of its army, because of the post-WWI restrictions. According to the Nieuille peace treaty from 1919, its army was reduced to the total of 20000 men. Bulgaria was forbidden to have tanks, battleships, submarines and an airforce. In the end of the 1930′s, the army had no armor suitable for modern warfare. Till the Solun agreement of 31.07.1938, which officially removed the restrictions from 1919, Bulgaria had only 14 Italian Carro Veloce L.3/33 tankettes (purchased in 1935) and 8 English Vickers 6 ton mod. E tanks (purchased in 1936/37), which were ‘secretly’ delivered. This ‘variety’ of amount and types of military vehicles remained in service till the spring of 1940, when first Czech Skoda LT vz. 35 tanks were delivered.

H.M. Tzar (King) Boris III inspecting Skoda tank.
Number of the car is B 60051 – B is the Bulgarian letter for V, and comes from ‘Voenen’ – ‘Military’.


The History In June of 1939, General R. Rusev, who was in Berlin, introduced to the German Foreign Ministry and to the command of the Wehrmacht the great needs of the Bulgarian army. He insisted on the delivery of 26 light tanks (without specifying the type or the mark) and other military equipment, needed for the construction of the so-called Covering front along the Southern border (against the danger of Turkey). In the beginning of the next month (July), the Bulgarian prime-minister Georgi Kjoseivanov visited Berlin and insisted on the delivery of 30-40 Czech tanks, saying, that "the hopes of Bulgaria are in the strength of Germany". On 22.07.1939, the Fuhrer made a decision for the delivery of armament to the politically important countries, putting Bulgaria at first place with the most important of its requests, like the one for the 30-40 Czech tanks. In the end of the same year, with the war already going on, a contract was made between the Government of the Tzarstvo (Kingdom) and AKG ‘Ausfurgeselschaft fur Kriegsgerat GmbH’-Berlin for the delivery of 36 military vehicles – trophies at lower prices.

 

Germany strictly kept its promises. In the first half of 1940, the first 26 Skoda LT vz. 35 tanks arrived in Bulgaria from the reserves of the Wehrmacht. The vehicles of the second shipment arrived in the period from August to October of 1940 and consisted of 10 machines of the same type, but brand new, directly from the factories of the ‘Skoda-Werke’. The history of the production of the second delivered 10 tanks began in 1938, when Afghanistan ordered them in the ‘Skoda’ company, but armed with the more modern 37 mm L/47.8 gun, with factory name A-7, instead of the standard 37mm A-3 L/40 gun. The German occupation of Czechoslovakia stopped the deal. These, useless for the Wehrmacht ‘Afghan’ tanks, were purchased by Bulgaria for 945000 Reichsmarks.

Till October of 1940, all the 36 Skoda LT vz. 35 tanks were delivered, with the needed equipment, instruments and basic spare parts. In Bulgarian army these tanks were given the name combat car ‘Skoda’. In some documents from the period before the end of 1942, can be seen the name combat cars ‘Skoda’ T-11 – to make difference between the machines, armed with the A-7 gun, and the ones with the standard A-3 gun. Till the arrival of the Czech tanks, the Bulgarian army had a single ‘druzhina’ (battalion) of combat cars, divided in two ‘rota’-s (company). I rota (1st company) had 14 combat cars ‘Ansaldo-Fiat’ (Carro Veloce L.3/33) and the II rota (2nd company) – 8 combat cars Vickers (Vickers 6 ton mod. E).

A column of Skodas of the 7th tank ‘rota’ (company) of the Armored brigade on parade in Sofia, December of 1944.
The picture is taken at the ‘Tzar Osvoboditel’ boulevard, infront of the Military club.
White "X" was used for recognition purposes.
Skoda LT vz. 35 combat cars formed III rota (3rd company) at the druzina (battalion). Captain Alexander Ivanov Bosilkov became the commander of the new unit. Since 10.06.1940, the Skodas were in the region between the villages Lozen and Lubimetz at the Turkish border to take part in training for the infantry to learn to operate together with the new type of military equipment – tanks. On 01.03.1941, Bulgaria joined the Axis pact and the 12th German army entered the country immediately. In the next month (Apri), the armored ‘druzina’ had maneuvers together with the 16th Panzer Division of the Wehrmacht in the region of the town of Pazardzyk. H.M. Tzar (King) Boris III was there, too.

In June 1941, the armored druzina was enlarged and transformed into an armored polk (regiment). Its kernel was an armored group, which consisted of all the armored cars of the Bulgarian army. The Skoda tanks were in the 1st and 2nd druzina (battalion) of the armored group. From 7 to 21 September of 1941, were the Tzar’s (King’s) maneuvers near the town of Yambol. The Skodas showed a great passability and reliability in the heavy ‘march’ from the town of Nova Zagora to Yambol, despite the heavy rains.

Skodas of the 3rd Armored rota (company) in line.
The first 3 machnes (No.57, 56 and 55) have the A-7 gun, the rest with A-3.
In 1942, the armored regiment, including the Skodas, took part in the ‘supply’ maneuvers near Breznik. The task was to learn and train using the German system for supply of the tank units. In the beginning of 1943, the Maybach T-IV (Panzerkampfwagen IV) entered the Bulgarian army as its main tank. At this time the Bulgarian High Command already knew, that the Skodas were hopelessly old. Because of the lack of a large number of the new type tanks, the old Czech machines remained in the lists as ‘combat’. On 01.10.1943, the armored regiment was enlarged into Bronirana brigada (Armored brigade). The 3rd and the 6th armored rota (company) of the armored regiment of the new brigade had Skoda tanks on strength. These were the same old 36 machines, already quite worn out.

This was the picture, when on 08.09.1944, the Red Army entered Bulgaria. On the next day, 09.09, the communists took the rule and Bulgaria was at war with Germany. Skodas took part in the first stage of the war, as a part of the Armored brigade. At first the light Czech tanks and the Maybach T-IV (Panzerkampfwagen IV) operated in mixed battalions of 3 companies – 2 with Maybach and one with Skoda. Since November, all the light tanks were gathered in one battalion with 3 companies: 2 with Skoda and one with ‘Praga’ (the light Czech tank Praga LT vz. 38, in the Wehrmacht – PzKpfw 38(t)). On strength in the Bulgarian army since 1943 with the name ‘Praga’. In December, the Armored brigade went back to Bulgaria and took part in the parades for the end of the first stage of the war. In the second stage of the war, in Hungary, the Skodas never took part. All the Czech tanks were gathered in the 1st tank brigade, situated near Sofia.

Skoda tank in Sofia, December of 1944.
On the front armor of this Skoda is written ‘Mitrovitza’ – to remind for the heavy battles in this region.
In March of 1945, 13 Skoda LT vz. 35 tanks were scrapped and sent to the iron furnaces. On 01.05, some of the Skodas took part in the socialist military parade. In the beginning of 1946, Skoda tanks were still on strength and their service continued till the beginning of the 1950′s, but just as training machines. Nowadays for the great service of the wonderful combat machine reminds one rusty exhibit in the Military-historical museum in Sofia.

French Hotchkiss H-35/38/39 / PzKpfw 35H 734(f) / PzKpfw 38/38H 735(f)
Czechoslovak LT-35 / PzKpfw 35(t)
at Military-Historical Museum in Sofia, Bulgaria.
For 1940, the Skoda LT vz.35 was not a modern, but a completely usable in warfare, tank. This was proved by German crews of the 6th Panzer Division of the Wehrmacht (ex-1st Light Division). The main tank in the backbone of the division – 11th Panzer Regiment – the PzKpfw 35(t) (the German name of the Skoda) fought successfully in: Poland (1939), France (May – June 1940) and in the first period of the campaign in the USSR (June – November 1941).

In Bulgaria, this tank was welcomed as quite fast, maneuvreable and well armored tank with good weapons and in large (for Bulgaria) numbers. According to the Bulgarian technicians, the armament, the radio and the suspension system were very reliable. The weak point was the pneumatic transmission system. The Skodas could be not even compared with the ‘oldtimers’ Ansaldo-Fiat. The Skodas were better, too, than the received in April of 1941, 40 French Renault R 35 tanks. The 8 Vickers tanks had characteristics close to the ones of the Skodas, but as Bulgaria was in war with England, the impossible delivery of spare parts and ammunition from England reduced their potentials down to zero. Also, it was climbing hills even better than the Maybach (Panzerkampfwagen IV). This was proved in the combat on the territory of Yugoslavia from September to December of 1944.

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf J at Military-Historical Museum in Sofia, Bulgaria.


All photos and information were provided and are property of Theodor Muchowski from Sofia, Bulgaria.
From the article by Kaloyan Matev in the Bulgarian ‘Model’ magazine, 6/2000.

 


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