Warning, this post is VERY picture heavy
this article will be from my personal experience with my own photos (so excuse their quality – did my best, but I just suck with a camera). Yesterday (7.5.2014), me, carramba66, CatfoodCZ, Clearevil and cNNk (two mods, OMG!) visited the 73rd Tank Batallion at Přáslavice. We were invited as VIP guests by the Československá Obec Legionářská (ČSLO) veteran organization as a reward for the charity for veterans we organized, which was recently concluded – it was supposed to be an “open day” at the unit (for public) and the some of the veterans themselves were to be present, when the unit formally thanks them for their service (since it was the day before the end of the war celebration here. Here is my account from the trip.
The unit is located at Přáslavice (Moravia, near Olomouc) and it was the same unit that Wargaming visited not that long time ago (easy, since it’s the only unit equipped with the T-72M4CZ) – I learned some very interesting info about Wargaming and especially Czech community management from the trip by the way, more on that later.
Anyway, the weather was nice (well, at the unit, everywhere else around the country it was raining, so good luck for me). We arrived at around 9AM (got up at 2AM, slept for two hours and the day before I had some others stuff to deal with, to say I was tired would be an understatement).
The unit entrance is “guarded” by a (post-war produced) T-34/85 tank, painted as one of the tanks that entered Prague in 1945 and took part in its liberation from nazi occupants.
After passing the checkpoint, we arrived at the point where we were to meet the ČSLO representatives and the veterans. This is how the unit vehicle park depot looks:
It was a bit chaotic, with the veterans arriving in batches, heading into the unit mess hall for a short refreshment, while we kinda just gawked around, taking pictures and such. The trip was obviously quite exhausting for the 90 year old men. After a short while, we all headed to the parade site.
The parade itself had several parts and I am ashamed to say I don’t remember exactly how they went after each other. First, the unit commander welcomed the troops that returned from their tour in Afghanistan. The veterans were invited to stand on the tribune, which was an honour, but for 90 year old men to stand during the 30 minute ceremony… it was kinda brutal.
The unit commander then did have a speech about the past, the ending of WW2 and that despite hard times (unit commander admitting in an official speech the times are hard for the army, that was sort of unexpected), the army must fulfill its duty and such stuff – the then thanked the veterans for their service. Several soldiers of the unit were cited and recieved a commendation. Then the local town mayor and the ČSLO representative talked and awarded the 37rd TB unit with a special “veteran ribbon” to its banner. It was actually really interesting to witness this ceremony, although the presence of the liaison officer arranging the trip was distracting – she was really hot. Either way, at the end of the ceremony, the ČSLO representative, Mr.Hozlár, officially thanked us for the charity from the tribune and the batallion commander came to chat with us and shake our hands. I must admit, it was a very nice feeling.
After the (let’s admit, nice but a bit awkward) hand shaking, the soldiers brought their vehicles and guns to show to the veterans and us (this apparently wasn’t for public, just for the vets and us, because they drove them away after we left). Specifically, we saw (touched, climbed on, manipulated) following things:
- T-72M4CZ (upgraded T-72M1 – active and upgraded armor, FCS, new power pack and some electronic gadgets, we (Czechs) only have like 30 of those, their development and manufacture was insanely expensive and after the cancellation of mass orders of tanks for the army, the price of development had to be split between the 30 pieces. Corruption played a role as well of course.)
- BVP-2 (upgraded BMP-2)
- New CZ508 “Bren” assault rifle (it’s not exactly lighter than the classic SA-58 and ridden with issues, such as the first batch of magazines was incompatible with NATO standard etc.)
- Dragunov sniper rifle (the army is supposed to recieve new sniper rifles, the rifle looked very used)
Some of the veterans were very excited about the new tech – they weren’t up to speed with weapon modern development and asked a lot of questions – the soldiers patiently answered, it was actually really nice.
BVP-2 details (it is VERY cramped)
Here, a soldier explains to us, how the new CZ508 assault rifle works (they tinkered around a bit with the grenade launcher as well). As I wrote, it’s pretty heavy. The man in the background with the RPG is Mr.Hozlár from the ČSLO organization – a former soldier and veteran of missions abroad, he helped to organize the charity on ČSLO side, overseeing (along with Clearevil, who attended every veteran meeting personally) the entire thing, arranging the gift deliveries and such.
After spending some time around the vehicles and talking to the soldiers present there, we learned of the conditions in the unit, which are… less than ideal, there are very strict limits on training times, fuel and other issues I probably shouldn’t write about. I guess it’s like this in every army, limited by the European budget. The soldiers are clearly doing their best to cope with the situation, but everyone admits it’s tough (this is combined with the contempt a lot of Czechs hold the army in due to our involvement abroad, especially in Afghanistan and due to well-known large amounts of corruption in the military purchases, which did lead to some ridiculous spendings over the year, while the rest of the army suffers).
We also learned that a LOT of soldiers from the unit are World of Tanks players – one for example loves the E-25, so we had a chat about that. A couple of them remembered how Wargaming visited their unit (apparently, Challenger was handing out bonus codes to soldiers in… large quantities :) One of the tankers tried to get in touch with him, but he was apparently busy) We did not fail to mention how WG EU screwed us over with the charity (I mentioned it several times in the charity posts), needless to say, this did not amuse the soldiers much.
After playing around with the tech and talking for a while, the veterans went to have a private lunch with the commander of the unit, while we were offered to have some fun with the T-72M4CZ simulators. Here, I would really like to thank the staff for answering my questions about the things, everyone was REALLY friendly, it was great :)
This is the gunnery simulator. On the left side, it’s the place for the gunner, on the right side, the commander. Needless to say, both have to do exactly what they would have to in the tank, including for example priming the mock-up “autoloader”, activating all the electrical systems and such stuff. This is the “open position”, it can be closed to simulate the cramped turret space.
And yes, it runs on Windows 2000
These are the driver simulators with hydraulics to simulate tank movement (much more fun than the gunnery part) :)
The graphics of both simulators are extremely rudimentary (think 1998 or so), but functional. The space for the driver however is INSANELY cramped. I am not a tall guy (175cm or so) and I am not that fat or anything, but I almost did not fit. How can anyone taller than me fit in, I have no idea. The main problem is that unlike in the old tanks (T-55), the driver is not “lying on the back” to fit in (keeping his body under very sharp angle from the seat), instead, you have to basically “crouch” in, it’s extremely uncomfortable. Regulations force the drivers to basically drive buttoned up always (apart from moving the tank around for maintenance and such stuff) and – well, I do feel sorry for the taller guys. But as you can see, carramba66 had fun.
During my first (and only, despite repeated attempts of the pretty officer who was handling the simulator) to drive, I managed to jump the tank off some sort of cliff or something (the visibility was very poor) and yes, the hydraulics simulating the violent tank movement actually do work, not a very pleasant experience :) But it was really nice to try. If this simulator is accurate (and it probably is), getting this tank to move is not exactly hard. You just turn everything you can on, activate the automatic transmission and press gas.
Here’s how it looks, video by cNNk:
After some time spent in the simulator room, we returned to the mess hall, where the veterans finished their lunch. At this point, there was supposed to be a discussion with them about their experiences, but they were all very tired from standing around that tribune I guess and after shaking hands with us (I had more pics from the mess hall but they are all really bad and overlit for some reason), they went to the ČSLO van, that took each home. I took a few pictures of the T-72M (I think) in front of the base and then we went home as well.
I would like to once again thank to everyone, who made the visit possible. It was a very nice experience.