Prior to the German occupation of Czech lands, the Škoda works was one of the largest weapon manufacturers in the world, famous for its artillery and later its armored vehicles. In the early 1930s, Škoda became involved in designing and building tankettes, followed by tanks. Many models, like the LT vz. 35 or the T-21 (built under license in Hungary), would be mass-produced, while others never passed the prototype stage. Work on a new design during wartime was slow but a few interesting projects would be developed, such as the T-25. This was an attempt to design and build a tank that would be an effective opponent of the Soviet T-34 medium tank. It would have had an innovative main gun, well-sloped armor and excellent speed. Alas, no working prototype of this vehicle was ever built (only a wooden mock-up) and it remained a paper project.
The T-25 Medium Tank. This is the second drawing of the T-25 with a recognized turret design. It is the shape by which the T-25 is generally known today. Photo: SOURCE
The Škoda steel works located in Pilsen founded a special armament department in 1890. In the beginning, Škoda specialized in the production of heavy fortress and naval guns, but would also in time begin designing and building field guns. After World War One and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the new Czech nation joined with the Slovakian nation and formed the Republic of Czechoslovakia. Škoda works survived these turbulent times and managed to preserve its place in the world as a famous weapon manufacturer. By the thirties, besides weapons production, Škoda emerged as a car manufacturer in Czechoslovakia. Škoda’s owners did not at first show any interest in the development and production of tanks. Praga (the other famous Czechoslovakian weapon manufacturer) made a contract with the Czechoslovakian military in the early 1930s for developing new tankette and tank designs. Seeing a potential new business opportunity, the Škoda owners made a decision to begin developing their own tankettes and tank designs.
During the period between 1930 and 1932, Škoda made several attempts to gain the army’s attention. By 1933, Škoda designed and produced two tankettes: the S-I (MUV-4), and the S-I-P that were shown to army officials. As Praga had already received the order for production, the army agreed only to test the Škoda tankettes without ordering them.
By 1934, Škoda abandoned the development of any future tankettes as they had proved to be ineffective as combat vehicles, and instead moved to tank designs. Škoda presented several projects to the army but it was not successful in gaining any production orders, although the S-II-a design managed to gain some attention from the army. Despite the fact that it was shown to have flaws during army testing carried out in 1935, it was still put into production under the military designation Lt. vz. 35. They received an order for 298 vehicles for the Czechoslovakian army (from 1935 to 1937) and 138 were to be exported to Romania in 1936.
By the late 1930s, Škoda suffered some setbacks in their attempts to sell vehicles abroad and with the cancellation of the S-III medium tank. By 1938, Škoda works focused on designing a new branch of medium tanks, known as the T-21, T-22 and T-23. Due to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939, the work on these models was stopped. During 1940, the Hungarian army showed great interest in the T-21 and T-22 designs, and in agreement with Škoda, a contract was signed in August 1940 for license production in Hungary.
It was common for all Czechoslovakian armored vehicle manufacturers to give their tanks and tankettes designations based on the following parameters: First would be the initial capital letter of the manufacturer’s name (for Škoda this was ’S’ or ’Š’). Then the Roman numerals I, II, or III would be used to describe the vehicle’s type (I for tankettes, II for light tanks, and III for medium tanks). Sometimes a third character would be added to denote a special purpose (like ’a’ for cavalry or ’d’ for a gun etc.). After a vehicle was accepted for operational service, the army would then give the vehicle its own designation.
The Škoda works in 1940 completely abandoned this system and introduced a new one. This new designation system was based on the capital letter ‘T’ and a number, for example, the T-24 or, the last of the series, the T-25.
History of the T-24 and T-25 Projects
During the War, the ČKD company (under German occupation the name was changed to BMM Bohmisch-Mahrische Maschinenfabrik) was very important for the German war effort. It was engaged in the production of a large number of armored vehicles based on the successful Panzer 38(t) tank.
The designers and engineers from the Škoda works were not idle during the war either and made some interesting designs. To begin with, these were on their own initiative. The largest problem for the armaments department of the Škoda works at the beginning of the war was that the German military and industry officials were not interested in expanding production of weapons to occupied countries, albeit with a few exceptions like the Panzers 35 and 38(t). During this time, Škoda weapons production was very limited. After the invasion on the Soviet Union and after suffering large losses of men and material, the Germans were forced to change this.
As nearly all German industrial capacity was directed towards supplying the Heer (German field army), the Waffen SS (more or less a Nazi army) was often left empty-handed. In 1941, Škoda presented the Waffen SS with a self-propelled-gun project based on the T-21 and armed with the 10.5 cm howitzer. A second project, the T-15, was conceived as a fast light reconnaissance tank and was also presented. Although the SS was interested in the Škoda designs, nothing came from this.
Škoda designers and engineers had the opportunity to examine some captured Soviet T-34 and KV-1 models (possibly in late 1941 or early 1942). It would not be wrong to say that they were perhaps shocked to discover how these were superior in protection, firepower, and in having larger tracks when compared to their own tanks, and even to many German tank models at that time. As a result, they immediately began working on a brand new design (it would have nothing in common with older Škoda designs) with much better armor, mobility, and sufficient firepower. They hoped that they could convince the Germans, who were desperate at that time for an armored vehicle which could effectively fight Soviet tanks. From this work, two similar designs would be born: the T-24 and the T-25 projects.
The Germans made an agreement with Škoda at the beginning of 1942 giving them permission to develop a new tank design based on several criteria. The most important conditions set by the German army were: ease of production with minimal important resources used, to be able to be produced quickly and to have a good balance of firepower, armor, and mobility. The first wooden mock-ups to be built were to be ready by the end of July 1942, and the first fully operational prototype was to be ready for testing in April 1943.
The first proposed project was submitted in February 1942 to the German weapons testing office (Waffenprüfungsamt). Known under the designation T-24, it was an 18.5-tonne medium tank armed with a 7.5 cm gun. The T-24 (and later T-25) was heavily influenced by the Soviet T-34 in regards to the sloping armor design and the forward mounted turret.
The second proposed project was known under the designation T-25, and was to be much heavier at 23 tonnes with the same caliber (but different) 7.5 cm gun. This project was proposed to the Germans in July 1942 and the necessary technical documentation was ready in August 1942. The T-25 looked more promising to the Germans as it fulfilled the request for good mobility and firepower. Due to this, the T-24 was discarded at the beginning of September 1942. The earlier built T-24 wooden mock-up was scrapped and all work on it was halted. The development of the T-25 continued until the end of the year, when, in December 1942, the German military lost all interest in it and ordered Škoda to stop any future work on this project. Škoda proposed two self-propelled designs based on the T-25 armed with 10.5 cm and a larger 15 cm howitzers, but as the whole project was abandoned, nothing came from this.
What Would it Have Looked Like?
There is enough information about the technical characteristics of the T-25 tank, but the exact appearance is somewhat unclear. The first drawing of the T-25 was dated 29th of May 1942 (under the designation Am 2029-S). What is interesting about this drawing is what seems to be a display of two different turrets placed on one hull (the T-24 and T-25 had very similar hulls but with different dimensions and armor). The smaller turret, in all likelihood, belongs to the first T-24 (it can be identified by the shorter 7.5 cm gun) while the larger one should belong to the T-25.
The first drawing (designated Am 2029-S) of the T-25 together with the seemingly smaller turret that may have belonged to the T-24. As these two had a very similar design, it is easy to mistake them for one vehicle, when in fact, they were not. Photo: SOURCE
The second drawing of the T-25 was made (possibly) in late 1942 and its turret has a completely different design. The second turret is somewhat higher, with two top metal plates instead of a single one. The front part of the first turret would most likely (it is difficult to determine exactly) be rectangular shaped, while the second would have more complicated hexagonal shape. The existence of two different turret designs may at first glance seem somewhat unusual. The explanation may lie in the fact that in May the T-25 was still at its early research and design phase, and so by the latter part of the year, some changes were necessary. For example, the gun installation demanded more space and thus the turret needed to be somewhat larger, with more space necessary for the crew to work effectively.
Unlike the problem with the determination of the exact appearance of the T-25 tank, there is reliable information and sources concerning the technical characteristics of the Škoda T-25, from the engine used and the estimated maximum speed, armor thickness, and armament, to the number of crew. It is very important to note, however, that in the end the T-25 was only a paper project and it was never constructed and tested, so these numbers and information may have changed on a real prototype or later during production.
The T-25 suspension consisted of twelve 70 mm diameter road wheels (with six on both sides) each of which had a rubber rim. The wheels were connected in pairs, with six pairs in total (three on each side). There were two rear drive sprockets, two front idlers, and no return rollers. Some sources state that the front idlers were, in fact, drive sprockets, but this seems unlikely. Examination of the rear part (exactly at the last wheel and drive sprocket) on the drawing designated Am 2029-S of the T-25 reveals what appears to be a transmission assembly for powering the rear sprockets. The front hull design appears to have left no available space for installation of a front transmission. The suspension consisted of 12 torsion bars located beneath the floor. The tracks would be 460 mm wide with a possible ground pressure of 0.66 kg/cm².
The T-25 was planned at first to be powered by an unspecified diesel engine, but sometime during the development stage, this was dropped in favor of a petrol engine. The main engine chosen was a 450 hp 19.814-liter air-cooled Škoda V12 running at 3,500 rpm. Interestingly, a second small auxiliary engine producing just 50 hp was also planned to be added. The purpose of this small auxiliary engine was to power up the main engine and provide extra power. While the main engine was started by using the auxiliary engine, this one, in turn, would be started either electrically or by using a crank. The maximum theoretical speed was around 58-60 km/h.
The T-25 was influenced by the Soviet T-34. This is most apparent in the sloping armor design. The T-25 would be built by using welded armor on both the superstructure and the turret. The armor design seems to have been a very simple design, with angled armor plates (of which the exact angle is unknown but was possibly in the range of 40° to 60°). This way, the need for more carefully machined armored plates (like on Panzer III or IV) was unnecessary. Also, by using larger one-piece metal plates, the structure was made much stronger and also easier for production.
The armor thickness was in the range of 20 to 50 mm according to official factory archives, but according to some sources (such as P.Pilař), the maximum front armor was up to 60 mm thick. The maximum thickness of the frontal turret armor was 50 mm, the sides were 35 mm, and the rear between 25 to 35 mm thick. Most of the turret armor was sloped, which added extra protection. The hull upper front plate armor was 50 mm, while the lower was also 50 mm. The side sloped armor was 35 mm while the lower vertical armor was 50 mm thick. The roof and floor armor were the same 20 mm thickness. The T-25 dimensions were 7.77 m long, 2.75 m wide, and 2.78 m high.
The hull design was more or less conventional with a separated frontal crew compartment and the engine in the rear, which was divided from the other compartments by an 8 mm thick armored plate. This was done in order to protect the crew from engine heat and noise. It was also important to protect them from any possible outbreaks of fire arising because of some malfunction or combat damage. The total weight was calculated to be around 23 tonnes.
The T-25 crew consisted of four members, which may seem strange by German standards, but the use of an automatic loading system meant that the lack of a loader was not a problem. The radio operator and the driver were located in the vehicle hull, while the commander and the gunner were in the turret. The front crew compartment consisted of two seats: one on the left for the driver and the second to the right for the radio operator. The radio equipment used would most likely have been a German type (possibly a Fu 2 and Fu 5). The forward mounted turret design on the T-25 had one significant issue in that the crew members in the hull had no hatches at either the hull top or sides. These two crew members had to enter their battle positions through the turret hatches. In case of an emergency, where crew members had to make a quick escape from the vehicle, it could take too much time or would perhaps be impossible because of combat damage. According to T-25 drawings, there were four viewports in the hull: two on the front and one on both of the angled sides. The driver’s armored viewports appear to be the same design (possibly with armored glass behind) as on the German Panzer IV.
Located in the turret was the rest of the crew. The commander was located at the left rear of the turret with the gunner in front of him. For observation of the surroundings, the commander had a small cupola with a fully rotating periscope. It is unknown if there would have been side viewports on the turret. There is a single hatch door for the commander in the turret, possibly with one more on top and perhaps even one to the rear as with the later Panther design. The turret could be rotated by using a hydroelectric or mechanical drive. For communication between the crew, especially the commander and the hull crew members, light signals and a telephone device were to be provided.
Illustration of the T-25 with the earlier turret design.
Illustration of the T-25 with the second design turret. This is how the T-25 would probably have looked if it went into production.