The Slovak Pieces
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Sign up for our newsletter right here. Your info will never be sold or transferred; we'll just use it to update you on new games and new offers.
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.