For the Record: Panzer IV in Czechoslovak service
Hello everyone, today we'll have a look at some of the German armor serving in post-war Czechoslovakia. Personally, I find the 1945-1955 timeframe fascinating, when it comes to the Czechoslovak army tank composition. The early Czechoslovak army was a total mess of British, Soviet and German tech, some vehicles being present in one or two pieces only. The German vehicles were - at least initially - quite numerous and the most numerous of them all (along with the "Hetzer", whose history in Czechoslovak service was generally described in the "Czechoslovak tech tree - tank destroyers section") was the Panzer IV.
Let's look back to the chaos of 1945. The war just ended, but the country is in ruins. The army, which practically ceased to exist for six long years is built again, based on the Czechoslovak units, that fought both in the west and east. Little do the soldiers of 1945 know that in 3 years or so, those who fought in the west will be treated as criminals, jailed, tortured and sometimes murdered in prisons and communist "work camps". For now, the army is looking for weapons. Naturally, anything pre-war is totally obsolete, the conflict changed the face of warfare forever and there is no place left for the LT-38 tanks, that were considered to be the best light tanks in the world only 6 years ago.
Naturally, the first thing the new Czechoslovak government does is petition the Allies to help with re-arming post-war Czechoslovakia. However, things didn't go as smooth as the Czechoslovak army would like - the Allies had issues of their own and react only slowly on any Czechoslovak demands or pleas. T-34 tanks are in short supply for now - at least the modern versions - and the army still needs more vehicles. Thus, the idea was born to incorporate captured German equipment into the Czechoslovak army.
The Red Army made a staging ground for captured tech in Michalovce. The Czechoslovak government petitioned the Soviets to release the captured vehicles to the new Czechoslovak forces. The Soviets accepted and the Czechoslovak army gained the 165 relatively undamaged Panzer IV vehicles and 50 Panthers. Furthermore, the the Czechoslovak ministry of natinal defense (MNO) created a committee, tasked with overseeing the salvage operations. All over the country, teams of technicians salvaged damaged or knocked out German tanks and brought them to the Milovice staging ground. The same committee , along with the technical representatives of the Czechoslovak tank command secured all the major ex-German warehouses and tank repair plants in Czechoslovakia (notably near Teplice, Varnsdorf and Děčín), from which a large amount of Panzer spare parts was gained. These parts were also brought to Milovice. This operation took place from 1946 to 1947 and by 1947, 102 more Panzer IV's (80 of which were considered repairable) were collected here, along with 65 Panthers. All the vehicles considered for service/repair were the long-barreled Panzer IV versions (Ausf. G, H, J - however, Czechoslovak soldiers at that point saw little differences between them and simply called all of them "Panzer IV"), however some were hull/turret combinations of various Ausführungs and in some cases, even vehicles who originally didn't have the L/48 75mm gun were refitted with it (a Panzer IV with Ausf.J hull and Ausf.D turret, refitted with the 75mm L/48).
A decision was then taken to repair as many vehicles as possible (proper T-34 production didn't start until late 1951 and the first Czechoslovak T-34's were of poor quality). Originally, a Přelouč-situated company was selected to perform the repairs, but its capacity was not enough and so the old pre-war ČKD Prague company was "called to the rescue". First repairs were scheduled until 1947, but due to the still-ongoing post-war chaos and other difficulties, first 10 vehicles were ready in March 1948 and further 6 pieces until June. These vehicles were thoroughly tested afterwards by the army. The tests showed a series of flaws, the biggest of which was the steering. An alternative ČKD-made steering refit program was considered, but rejected, because the general staff saw little need for using the German tech in the future. The repairs went on in the meanwhile and by the end of 1949 (31.12.), the army officially had 82 Panzer IV's in its service (21 Ausf.G, 43 Ausf.H and 18 Ausf.J). The Panzer IV's, brought to service, were officially re-designated as "střední tank T-40/75" (medium tank T-40/75), regardless of their Ausführung.
In spring 1949, all the re-fitted Panzers were used by the IV. battallion, 23rd Tank Brigade, located in Milovice and from December 1949, 80 of these vehicles transferred to the 1st Tank Regiment in Strašice. The remaining 2 tanks were transferred to the tank training school in Dědice to be used as training vehicles.
The Panzers served in the army for several years - quite successfully, but the wear and gradual lack of spare parts wore them a lot. In the mid 50's (1955/1956), these tanks were being phased out in favour of the T-34's and stored in reserves, where they remained until 1959, when they were completely phased out. Some were used in making of war movies (during which at least one Panzer IV was destroyed to make the movie realistic), 55 tanks were sold to Syria in 1955 (by the time the phasing-out began). Some ended up as gunnery targets in the 60's, one was kept as a museum piece and currently resides in the Lešany armor museum. All the Czechoslovak Panzer IV's were repainted with standard Czechoslovak olive drab coating, as seen here:
In 1955, a plan was also concieved to remove the Panzer IV turrets and use them as bunkers in the western border area. One vehicle had its turret removed and installed on a concrete base at the Jince military testing grounds. It was tested by firing the 85mm AT gun at it. The turret showed to be incapable of withstanding the 85mm fire and the project was completely cancelled. There was also a project to use one of the turrets (with excessive weight removed) on a river gunboat in Slovakia. One boat was so converted and it served in the 50's. The last use was found for the turrets (even though this was a German wartime conversion) as armored train armament. Two such wagons were converted and remained in service until the 50's.
And what became of the Panzer IV's exported to Syria? Various sources differ as to how many Panzer IV's were actually supplied to Syrian and by whom. Some sources claim as few as 28 Panzer IV's were in Syrian service, being imported from Czechoslovakia, Spain, France and the USSR, while the real number was probably significantly higher (as 55 (some sources claim 45) vehicles were imported from Czechoslovakia only). Nevertheless, the Syrian Panzer IV's saw action in 1965's "War over Water" against Israel's Centurions, ironically reenacting the Jewish struggle against the former nazi oppressor's war machines. They didn't fare well and a lot of them were devastated by the long-range Centurion fire, when they were basically used as static bunkers. Further Syrian Panzer IV's were destroyed by the Israeli Super-Shermans during the 1967 Six Day war and the surviving tanks, converted into static firing positions were captured and used by the UN forces afterwards. Some sources claim it was the Wehrmacht veterans, fighting on these vehicles in WW2, who actually trained the Syrian troops.
Furthermore, some sources claim a few tanks were sold to Batista's Cuban government in 1958, shortly before it fell to Fidel Castro.
Syrian Panzer IV, destroyed by the Israelis
Syrian Panzer IV