From the Austro-Hungarian Navy: Traditions of ammunition production in the Czech Republic. Will it return to the top thanks to the acquisition of CAESAR cannons?

From the Austro-Hungarian Navy: Traditions of ammunition production in the Czech Republic. Will it return to the top thanks to the acquisition of CAESAR cannons?
28 / 12 / 2020, 10:00

Arms production and specifically the production of artillery ammunition has a long tradition in the Czech lands, which dates back to long before the establishment of the republic in 1918. It is a well-known fact that cannons, entire turrets and ammunition were produced by Škoda in Pilsen for modern Austro-Hungarian battleships of the Viribus Unitis class. But of course not only those - the company, which became one of the largest corporations in the world during the First World War, also produced field cannons and ammunition for them. The Czech lands were the industrial base of the monarchy, and its performance was followed by the First Republic. The relatively short decline after 1989 has been overcome and new opportunities can support the performance of Czech industry not only in the expected difficult times.

It was Emil Škoda who taught the Austro-Hungarian army to use steel for barrels of cannons, and this material contributed to the success of the company with the first mass-produced 47 mm rapid-fire cannon intended for the navy, and later with weapons for ground forces, larger calibers and heavy weapons, including for example the famous 305mm mortar. And with that also ammunition for all manufactured weapons.

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After the outbreak of the Great War, the company to some extent reoriented to peaceful production (including railway), but did not leave the defense industry. Not only the orientation of the new republic towards France, but especially the quality of Czech weapons attracted the interest of the French company Schneider et Cie. which helped the Pilsen company in difficult times, but not for free. The French company helped itself above all, it must be said. Among other things, it completely took over the production of naval guns for which Škoda no longer had sales, and obtained many of Pilsen's patents in this advantageous relationship. On the other hand, this cooperation helped Škoda undergo a transformation and in the field of artillery and artillery ammunition was able to continue to meet the needs of the newly formed Czechoslovak Army, and to build virtually a monopoly in this segment. It has implemented very important export contracts mainly with the countries of the so-called Little Entente (ie Romania and Yugoslavia).

Hand in hand with the production and development of new weapons the development of ammunition took place. Impact and timed grenades were developed for effective 150mm cannons in the 1930s. Attention was paid to anti-tank ammunition. In the critical year of 1938, the Czechoslovak Army had a supply of 3.5 million artillery and mortar shells. Produced on the territory of the republic. And the orders came even after the Munich agreement and the occupation of the border regions.

With regard to the gloomy development of international events, the Germans gathered the fruits of these efforts. They rationally used production and development in Škoda, as well as other Czechoslovak producers, among other things, to put pressure on their own companies through competition. The First Military Ammunition Factory, founded in 1922 in Polička, became part of the Škoda Holding. For various companies the transition to production compatible with the armament of the German army, also using Czechoslovak weapons now, was not easy however. Arms production reached its peak in the Protectorate Böhmen und Mähren in 1944.

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During the German occupation, Škoda produced 17,500 cannons. And the corresponding ammunition, which brought about three times the profit of weapons production: in 1943, 710 million for cannons and 2.2 billion for ammunition; 10 thousand people worked on the production of guns, 13 thousand on the production of ammunition. It is estimated tha during the entire war, only Škoda's factories produced around 20 million pieces of ammunition. Other Czech companies also played a role. Sellier and Belot produced artillery primers in Prague. Gunpowder and other explosives were produced by the Association for Chemical and Metallurgical Production in Ústí nad Labem and Explosia in Semtín.

Forty years of the Cold War, after a short post-war decline, represented a huge boom in arms production, and Czechoslovakia had a solid tradition in that regard. At the end of the 1980s, the performance of the armaments industry reached 3% of industrial production and involved more than 100 companies with more than 70,000 employees, averaging highly qualified employees. Less than a third of production was intended for the Army itself, and 70% for exports (up to 70% to the USSR), which was not sustainable after 1989 with the collapse of the Eastern bloc, followed by a sharp decline. About 60% of arms production took place in Slovakia, mainly the production of heavy equipment. The Czech Socialist Republic produced ammunition, small arms, electronics, cars and aircraft. And the area of ​​ammunition production, which, together with missile technology, accounted for about a tenth of weapons production, declined with the end of the Cold War.

At the same time, there was an inevitable loss of contact with world development, a loss of continuity, and the lagging behind of development, research and production capabilities. However, these have been renewed in the last decade in connection with growing investment in defense, and the domestic production of ammunition for the new 155mm CAESAR cannons may be a big boost for them. The Semtín Explosia can participate in it with its propellants (BMCS). The largest current Czech manufacturer of ammunition is the STV Group, continuing the tradition of the First Military Ammunition Factory in Polička. It has experience with the development and production of 155 mm High Explosive Extended Range Full Bore projectile with Base Bleed (HE ERFB BB), which are the basic type of ammunition for new cannons. And within the capacities of the Czech defense industry, it would be possible to find more solutions, such as MSM Group, the Slovak part of the CSG holding. Certification remains to be solved, and in the coming decades Czech companies can continue the tradition that has existed here for more than a hundred years, expand the portfolio of manufactured ammunition with new types and, thanks to a good perspective, intensify their own research and development - the cornerstone of competitiveness.

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