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Slovakia’s War:
The Slovak Pieces

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
May 2019

Panzer Grenadier: Slovakia’s War is a re-make of our old First Axis book, with 23 scenarios drawn from that expansion set and modified to use only the maps and pieces from Fire in the Steppe and Broken Axis. We included the pieces from First Axis and those from the old Sinister Forces book.

Ideas about games and game products come to me at many times and in many places. For some reason, I remember the first thought of the supplement that became First Axis very clearly. I was sitting on a metal bench at the Birmingham Zoo, watching my then-three-year-old daughter hop about in front of the sea lions enclosure.

Why that sight suddenly made me think that Panzer Grenadier needed supplements, and that the first of them should be about Slovaks, I do not know. But it has given me a nonsensical soft spot for this project, since it reminds me of those toddler days.

I began First Axis with an idea that the Slovak contingent on the Eastern Front had been small but professional and efficient. That's certainly the impression given by popular histories, if they mention the Slovaks at all. I soon found this notion to be quite mistaken. The Slovak rank-and-file along with most of their officers never wanted to fight alongside the Germans and took the Nazis’ murderous anti-Slavic racism rather personally.

Though small, the Slovak Army wielded a full array of troops and weapons, thanks to the legacy of Czechoslovakia's large and well-armed pre-war army. Here’s a look at how some of them translate into the Panzer Grenadier format.

Foot Soldiers

Slovakia achieved the ideal for which most of Germany’s Axis allies strove on the Eastern Front, to dispatch a small but mobile and modern force. Infantry therefore formed a proportionately smaller part of the Slovak commitment than in the much larger German or Romanian armies. But the foot soldier remained the backbone of Slovak fighting power just as in every other army of the Second World War.

   

Slovak infantry carried the weapons left behind when the Czech army was dissolved. The vz.24 rifle, a licensed version of the Mauser 98, was also used by the Germans and had been bought by many foreign customers. The standard light machine gun, the ZB 26, had been widely exported before the war and was known to the British Army as the “Bren gun” from its place of manufacture, Brno.

The Slovak infantry platoon was smaller than most at 45 men. Company organization appears to have wavered between three and four platoons per company at various times during the war; the combat formations usually stuck to three platoons per company but the battalions kept at home often went to four (probably due to a shortage of field-grade officers). The Slovak platoon was hard to rate in Panzer Grenadier terms, and a firepower value of 3-2 would not have been out of bounds.

Slovakia maintained very little horsed cavalry, with bicycle troops fulfilling the reconnaissance role instead. Though numerically a very small part of the Slovak commitment to the Eastern Front, the cyclists figure in most of their battles. The engineer arm was relatively weak, as most of the highly-trained specialists and in particular their officers had been Czech in the pre-war army. Though the Slovak order of battle features a number of “engineer” units, these were almost always construction outfits wielded picks and shovels.

Slovakia had an excellent heavy machine gun, the Brno-made ZB53 that was also used by the Germans and the Romanians. The Germans seized many of these from Czech Army stocks, but left the Slovaks with large numbers of older vz.24 models (same as the service rifle), a modernized veteran of the First World War.

Tanks

For its size, the Slovak Army had a large armored establishment thanks to Czech Army’s very modern orientation. The Slovaks inherited the equipment of the Czech 3rd Rapid Division, and other vehicles in depots. They also purchased more tanks from the manufacturers and from German stocks during the course of the war.

   

The LT34 was an early light tank built by CKD Praga for the Czech Army, the first ordered in large quantities. By 1939 it was obsolete though the 3rd Rapid Division, having the lowest priority for new equipment among the Czech armored divisions, had about 50. The Slovaks used them for training, and some saw combat during the National Uprising of 1944.

The Czech Army’s main battle tank was the LT35, exported to Romania as the R2 and later used by the Germans as the PzKw35t. This was a very modern and effective vehicle when it was new, but by the time the Slovaks took them to Russia in 1941 it was no match for current models. When the Slovak insurgents deployed them in 1944 they had no hope of matching modern German armor — although the Germans used them against the Slovaks as well.

Slovakia was not seen as a potential economic competitor for the Third Reich and was considered completely pliable by Berlin. Thus the Slovaks had a much easier time purchasing modern arms from Czech factories than was the case for other Axis allies like Romania. The LT38 did not enter service with the 3rd Rapid Division but the Slovaks were familiar with it and ordered ten of them in 1940 from the CKD firm. Over the next several years they bought 64 more, most of them used vehicles from German stocks. This was a very well-designed vehicle with Christie suspension, good protection and a good 37mm gun (the standard for tanks of its time). The Germans issued them as the PzKw38t, and it remained in production and front-line use until 1942.

But the LT38 was clearly outdated by 1943, when most of the vehicles arrived in Slovakia, and the Slovaks wanted to buy the new German PzKw IVH with a long 75mm gun. With the Slovak Mobile Division having proven itself unfit for front-line combat and unlikely to return to action, the Germans balked at diverting any of the badly-needed vehicles. But to placate the Slovaks they did sell them five PzKw IIIN tanks to help them train crews for the new tanks that they might sell at some undefined future date. The PzKw IIIN was a close-support vehicle with the same short-barreled 75mm gun that had equipped early models of the PzKw IV. The most effective tank the Slovaks had in 1944, the four vehicles that were still in running condition saw extensive use against the Germans.

Still seeking modern armor, in 1944 the Slovaks bought 16 used German PzKw II tanks to replace their Czech OA.30 armored cars. They also obtained 18 Marder III tank destroyers, a very effective vehicle based on the LT38 chassis. These arrived just in time to be used against the Germans, and to good effect.

Artillery

The Slovaks inherited a large artillery park from the Czech Army, but a comparatively small number of artillerymen. Artillery had been a specialty of the Czech soldier since the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and very few artillery regiments accepted Slovak recruits. Thus the Slovak Army had plenty of modern weapons, but no one to fire them. Some they sold to the Germans, but most were stored in depots and remained there throughout the war.

   

The 10cm vz.30 was a modern howitzer made by Skoda and bought by Turkey, Hungary, Brazil and many other foreign customers. The small artillery regiment that accompanied the Slovak Mobile Division had 10 of these, but the Slovaks had a hard time supplying them with ammunition. In 1942 the Slovaks bought two dozen new 105mm howitzers from the German firm Rheinmetall — a weapon denied to other Axis allies — so they could draw ammunition from German supply depots. The game piece also represents the Skoda vz.35 10.5 cm cannon, which had very similar performance to the German piece.

Slovakia also inherited 99 of the very effective 75mm Skoda mountain guns, which were issued directly to infantry regiments in the same manner as infantry guns in the German army. These were also used by Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia, Poland, Romania and many other armies.

See the Slovaks in action with Slovakia’s War. Order now!

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold dislikes Nazis, too.