Continued from part 3.
The first time the LT Vz.40 light tanks were shown to public was on 1.6.1941 as a part of the military festival in Turčianský Sv.Martin as a part of a military parade. Other vehicles in the parade, showing off Slovak military equipment, consisted of LT Vz.34 (already declared obsolete at that point), LT Vz.35, Vz.38 and finally the LT Vz.40 tanks, equipped only with machineguns. From mid-june, the Slovak LT Vz.40′s were quickly refitted by mounting in the new frontal turret plates with A7 guns. However, not all were refitted in time for Operation Barbarossa and so, some of the tanks equipped with ad-hoc frontal plates and machineguns only had to participate in the operation the way they were “put together” (the gun hole was covered by a plate and the vehicle was armed with ZB-53 machineguns only:
It is worth noting that the machinegun LT Vz.40′s were NEVER intended as “infantry tanks”, equipped with machineguns only – all the tanks carrying only machineguns were these temporary refits. These “machinegun” tanks fought during the early months as well and the refit of all 20 vehicles was completed (with the help of Czech workers from ČKD/BMM) by the end of October 1941. At the same time, the LT Vz.40 (now referred to in German documents also as LT-40) tanks also recieved new German radios (Telefunken). In November 1941, the vehicles were fitted with gun optics and periscopes and in December, assembly trials took place. In the end, 20 tanks were refitted like this – one returned from the front heavily damaged and was not able to complete the trials.
Overall, the combat capabilities of the LT-40 tanks on the eastern front were judged as limited. The first Slovak armored unit to fight on the eastern front was the Assault Vehicle Batallion (Prapor útočné vozby) under Major Jozef Dobrotka. This unit operated seven LT-40 tanks, armed with machineguns (altogether, the batallion had 47 light tanks). On 22.7.1941, tenacious Soviet defense of Lipovec caused heavy losses in Slovak ranks and the unit practically ceased to be operational as a result of that action (along with the tanks being poorly maintained). One LT-40, no.V-3037 (the one mentioned above to be heavily damaged) was knocked out and the commander of 2nd Company, 1stLt.Vančo, died in it. The mauled batallion was pulled from the front on 14.8.1941 and returned to Slovakia.
These days of intensive combat proved one thing for sure: unlike in Poland and France, the light tanks would have much harder time on Russian soil. Russian forces were equipped with AT rifles and even light AT guns would make short work of LT-40′s thin armor, making its use very hazardous to its crews. Another flaws uncovered in the heat of battle was the incapability of traversing broad infantry trenches and poor combat compartment ventilation, forcing the crews to drive with hatches open. It was also poor when used in recon roles, as the crew lacked proper optical equipment for such tasks.
As a result of these events, it was decided to use these light tanks in second-line operations only. On 8.8.1942, by the order of Slovak minister of national defense (Gen.Ferdinand Čatloš), a reinforced platoon of 7 of the LT-40′s tanks was moved from Slovakia (where the vehicles underwent repairs) to Ukraine (Korosten) on 30.8.1942 in order to participate in counter-insurgency operations, as well as in protecting the front rear. These tasks included the protection of railways, roads, bridges, warehouses and other strategic objects, that were likely to be sabotaged by partisans. The first anti-partisan action took place on 9.9.1942. These tasks, even though they rarely saw the tanks threatened, were very requiring when it came to vehicle mobility and the tanks were worn out very fast. By the end of January 1943, most of the LT-40 tanks were so damaged that the entire platoon was practically without any vehicles and in April, it had to be transferred back to Slovakia for refit.
Another unit to use the LT-40 tanks was the so-called “Fast Division” of Slovak army in the Caucasus region, which used one platoon of six LT-38 and one platoon of six LT-40 tanks. This so-called “Armored Company” under 1stLt.Štefan Lupták arrived in Kerch (Crimea) on 27.10.1942. From there, it was moved on 1.11.1942 to Kutaisskaja, where the division HQ was located. In the hilly Caucasus borderlands, the tanks were assigned for secondary duties as well, such as various patrol missions or even acting as improvised ARV’s, pulling German vehicles out of the mud.
In January 1943, during the all-out Soviet counteroffensive against the Germans, these vehicles had their guns removed and served full-time as gun tractors for the German HQ of Harko 304 (artillery unit) in Ivanovskaya. At this point, the Germans and the Slovak allies were practically routed by the advancing Soviets in the region and their rapid retreat saw them abandon practically all their armored vehicles, including all the LT-40′s present. These vehicles were then captured by the Soviets intact. The remnants of the Armored Company were moved to Crimea again. Since no relief, vehicles or reinforcements could be obtained and the Armored Company found itself without any armor, the unit was disbanded on 1.7.1943.
Of all the original LT-40 vehicles, only 14 were left, all of them in Slovakia. There, they were used by recon forces, replacing the old (and completely worn-out and obsolete) Czechoslovak armored cars, but after the Slovak recon units obtained Panzer II tanks from Germany, LT-40 were only kept in reserve and were kept in disrepair in Turčianský Sv.Martin in the army repair plants and garages, as the Slovak army no longer wished to use them in the east. There, they stayed until the Slovak National Uprising.
During the Uprising, on 7.9.1944, the Luftwaffe was bombing Sv.Martin (specifically its barracks and garages) and actually managed to destroy three of these (immobile) tanks. The rebelling army units in turn tried to make some of the LT-40′s operational to press them in service, when the new rebel armored batallion was formed on 22.9.1944. In the end, they managed to repair six of them. Five of those tanks were moved on 23.9.1944 to the Detva region (east of Zvolen), where they were to fight the Germans as a part of the partisan forces. They took a bad beating – one of the vehicles drove on a bridge that collapsed under it. The vehicle was recovered, but the tank commander died in the incident. The next day, the Germans captured Detva and Pokriváň and the remaining tanks had to retreat.
The sixth tank was moved on 25.10.1944 to Banská Bystrica, where it was to protect the HQ of the rebel army forces. The uprising however was collapsing and the commander of the tank, Ensign Jakub Pekár, decided to drive the tank into the mountains instead, where he spent hours just driving around (he did not know the region) looking for partisan forces until he ran out of fuel. In the meanwhile, the remaining 4 LT-40 tanks (the one that fell from the bridge was abandoned) fought in desperate delaying actions against the Germans. None were destroyed, but eventually they ran out of fuel and ammunition and the crews abandoned them (they only removed carburators and gun breeches to make them useless). As such, these tanks were recovered by the Germans later on.
The final fate of these four tanks is unknown. Some sources claim that they were given to the Slovak fascist remnants (so-called Homeguard – “Domobrana”) and one was destroyed during the liberation of Bratislava. Two of these vehicles appeared in Soviet service as captured vehicles during the Soviet attack on German forces in the Protektorat near Prague.