|Battle of Otročín|
Some of the LT vz. 35 light tanks during the Battle of Otročín on October 8, 1938.
|Date||October 8 - October 9, 1938|
|Result||Decisive German victory|
The Battle of Otročín was a military engagement between the Republic of Czechoslovakia and Nazi Germany fought between October 8 and 9, 1938, in the vicinity of the village of Otročín, north-west of Plzeň, Czechoslovakia.
Prelude to the Battle
While the Germans faced heavy fortified positions along most of the German-Czech frontier, the troops of the German Tenth Army did not face heavy fortifications at the border, and thus were able to penetrate the Czech defensive lines in Western Bohemia. On October 1, following air strikes carried out by Stuka dive bombers and an artillery barrage, they crossed the border and then managed to break through the relatively light border fortifications positioned along the border at most places the following day at noon, however without the consequence of heavy losses among the storming infantry and field engineers. In the lead of the Tenth Army's advance was the XIV. Armeekorps under command of Gen.Lt. Heinz Guderian. Consisting of the 1st Panzer Division, 1st Light Division and the SS-Inf.Regt. “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler”, it was one of the most motorised units in the German Army. Despite the fact that his concept of Blitzkrieg was not fully developed and that the German High Command still used a motorised variation of the old Vernichtungsgedanke (literally meaning "concept of annihilation") as their military strategy, Guderian was eager to test his military doctrine in the field on a divisional scale.
The Blitzkrieg tactic used by Guderian proved to be very efficient as the Germans advanced relatively quickly through Western Bohemia, meeting effective, though light resistance. In a week, Guderian's troops had advanced 25 km inland despite relatively efficient (though small) Czech resistance, advancing through Lipová, Milíkov and Mnichov.
The reason for the lack of heavy defences and military presence on the Czech-German frontier in Western Bohemia was that the Czech High Command had prioritised to build heavy fortifications running west and north of the industrial centre of Plzeň and station the troops along this line. Plzeň was the home of much of Czechoslovakia's heavy industry, including the vital Škoda Works (Škodovy závody), who produced much of Czechoslovakia's artillery and the Czech army's main tank LT vz. 35. If this city fell to the Germans, the Czechs would not only have lost their main production centre of artillery and armour, but they would also lose one of their main strategic targets, from which Prague was within their grasp. Therefore, the Czechs had mobilized the I. sbor “Smetana” under Div. Gen. Jan Šípek.
On October 5, when the corps command received reports of German forces consisting of armoured scouts approaching from the northwest, elements of the 2. divize ”Mácha” under Brig. Gen. Valentin Pozdíšek was ordered to take up positions along the line Brt'-Otročín-Rankovice. However, at 18:00 on October 7, most of the troops stationed in Rankovice fell back to Beranov, leaving only a small infantry detachment with a few machine guns there.
At 9:00 on October 8, the forward elements of Guderian's reached the villages of Tisová and Ranovice. A Fieseler Fi 156 Storch reconnaissance reported that the Czechs had set up positions around the village of Otročín. The Germans decided to drop leaflets asking the Czechs to give up and claiming that the west had betrayed them and further resistance would be futile. However, as the German Junkers Ju-52 aircraft flew overhead, they were fired upon by Czech anti-aircraft artillery, which resulted in two aircraft being shot down. The Germans then ordered an artillery barrage on the Czech positions around the village. The Czech artillery in that area was somewhat weaker, but managed to fire back, resulting in several German casualties. After the preparations, the Germans attacked the northern flank of the Czech forces, clashing with them in the village of Brt'.
Schützen-Bataillon III of 1.Schützen-Brigade had cleared the village for Czech defenders by 11:00, but an hour later they were surprised by a Czech counterattack. Following a deadly artillery barrage, twenty-five LT vz. 35 tanks supported by accompanying infantry and Letov Š-328 light bombers, they had to retreat back to Tisová. 1. Schützen-Brigade was reinforced subsequentely by the Schützen-Regiment 113 and elements of Kradschützen-Bataillon 1 supported by ten anti-tank cannons of the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 37 and 40 Pz.Kpfw. I and 25 Pz.Kpfw. II light tanks of Panzer-Regiment 1. Some of the LT vz. 35 light tanks during the Battle of Otročín on October 8, 1938.At 13:00 the Czech attacked the village of Tisová after an air attack consisting of three Avia B-71 light bombers and five Letov Š-328, with Avia B-534 fighters controlling the air. The following battle resulted in the first tank-to-tank battle of the war. To the German's they discovered that the Czech tanks were better than their own Pz.Kpfw. I and IIs. After the Germans had lost 18 tanks while only destroying 8 of the Czech tanks, they ordered their anti-tank cannons forward. General Heinz Guderian himself went in the field to lead the battle himself upon the discovery of the quality of the Czech tanks. On his way to Tisová Czech artillery shells began hitting around his command vehicle, one of them only 50 m from him. Only luck saved him from getting killed.
As the 37 mm PaK 35/36 anti-tank cannons arrived at the front line, they immediately opened fire on the Czech tanks. After ten minutes five vehicles had been taken out of action. Seeing that their tanks were vulnerable to German anti-tank fire, they retreated back to Otročín. On the way back, a further four vehicles came victim of four Junkers Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers.
One of the German Pz.Kpfw. I light tanks destroyed during the Battle of Otročín, October 8, 1938.After the Germans had regrouped and come over the shock of the sudden Czech counterattack, they advanced again north and south of Otročín. At 16:30 elements of Schützen-Bataillon II had secured the village Poseč east of Otročín, thus encircling the Czech defences there. The next morning, at 06:45, the German artillery opened fire on the Czech positions around and in the village. The saturation of the bombardment lasted two hours. At 9:00, the Czech defences were attacked from three sides by German tanks and infantry. Initially the losses among German infantry were high, but after the regiment's 3 Pz.Kpfw. IV Ausf. C infantry tanks had been brought in to take out the defences, they managed to break through the defences around the village, and they destroyed 3 OA vz. 30 armoured cars and 4 LT vz. 35 light tanks in the process. By noon they had captured the village.
The losses on both sides were quite high. The Germans lost approximately 800 men while 500 were injured. Between 50 to 60 AFVs (at least 41 of them tanks) were destroyed. The Czech brigade lost 1,200 killed and 500 wounded, as well as 200 horses, 21 tanks and several guns. They Germans also took 250 Czech soldiers prisoner (including the brigade commander), as well as seizing a large number of rifles, ZB vz. 26 machine guns and several heavy machine guns and mortars as well. The remaining two LT vz. 35 tanks had been evacuated the day before due to damage sustained in the battle.
This was the first time the Germans had faced Czech tanks in combat in a tank battle. The Germans, especially Guderian, were shocked to find out how well the vehicles (and their crews) operated in combat. The armour protection and the armament was much better than those of the Pz.Kpfw. I and II. During the battle, Guderian realised that the only tanks equal to the Czechs were the Pz.Kpfw. IV (and probably the Pz.Kpfw. III as well). The Germans, especially Guderian, were also surprised to find out how well organised the counterattack and the defence of Otročín was. As a result, Guderian treated his prisoners with respect they deserved.
|Invasion of Czechoslovakia|
| Battle of the Border|
(Opava • Operation Freudenthal • Šatov • Znojmo • České Budějovice)