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Czecho-Slovak Skoda - 1918-1945

Following the emergence of the Czecho-Slovak Republic in 1918, in the complex economic conditions of post-war Europe the company was transformed from what was exclusively an arms manufacturer into a multi-sector concern. In addition to traditional branches, the production programme embraced a number of new concepts, such as steam (and later electric) locomotives, freight and passenger vehicles, aircraft, ships, machine tools, steam turbines, power-engineering equipment, etc.

In May, 1919, a commission of Ordnance officers was sent to the Skoda Works in Austria for the purpose of investigating their methods of constructing large and small ordnance. While there they secured additional data from the chief engineer of the plant with reference to the design of the gun, and saw the three guns which had been in process of construction on November 11, 1918.

Its trademark - a winged arrow enclosed with a circle, devised in the 1920s, has been a guarantee of top technical standards and product quality, the dimensions and quantities of which and the purposes for which they were produced Emil Skoda would have never dreamed of. Over the years, the lives of hundreds of thousands of the inhabitants of Plzen and the surrounding area have been linked to the plant in times of both peace and war.

At the beginning of December 1895 the mechanic Václav Laurin and the book-seller Václav Klement, both bicykle enthusiasts, had started manufacturing bicycles of their own design, patriotically named Slavia in the nationalist atmosphere of the ond of the 19th century. A few years later, in 1899, the Laurin & Klement Co. began producing motorcycles, wich were soon succesful and gained several racing victories. After initial experiments at the turn of century, producing of motorcycles was gradually replaced by automobiles form 1905 onward.

Like the motor cycles, the first Laurin & Klement automobile, the Voiturette A, was a full success, later becoming the archetype of Czech automobile classic. It soon formed a stable position for Company in the developing international automobile market, so that the Company could soon start operating on a wide scale. The volume of the production increased and soon exceeded the potential of a private enterprise, and in 1907 the founders of Laurin & Klement initiated conversion to a joint-stock company.

Skoda took part in significant companies in the cast steel, machinery and weapons production, since 1924 automobiles. First, a Hispano-Suiza "designed by Marc Birkigt, was copied under license. In 1925, fusion with the Pilsen Skoda Co. was accomplished, marking the end of the Laurin & Klement trademark. In early 1930s, the automotive business was again organized as a separate joint-stock company within the Skoda Group (Automobile Industry Co., ASAP). After the crisis, the Company achieved a break-through with the Type Skoda Popular.

The deteriorating political situation in Europe saw arms production rise again in the mid-thirties.

By the Munich Agreement signed in September 1938 by Great Britain, France, and Germany, Czechoslovakia, under President Eduard Benes, agreed to cede the Sudetenland to Germany. By the end of the year the Sudetenland was incorporated into the Reich, the district of Teschen was seized by Poland, portions of southern Slovakia was acquired by Hungary, and the rest of Slovakia became a vassal state of Germany. Hitler's quick absorption of the whole of Czechoslovakia included the famous Skoda ironworks, and he subsequently used the conquered nation as a Nazi arsenal.

The Reichswerke Hermann Goering acquired a significant hold on the Czech economy, acquiring coal and steel mills, as well as two of the top three iron works and three large Czech armaments concerns, including the Skoda Works. Reich Works Hermann Goering acquired large possession of shares in the Skoda Works, in order to use the latter as a finishing industry for the products of their own rolling mills and steel works, just as they used other industries in Germany. At that time the Skoda Works was one of the largest armaments complexes in Europe. The production volume of Skoda Works between August 1938 and September 1939 alone was nearly equal to that of all British arsenal factories in that period. The adverse loss of Skoda Works to Germany drastically increased Hitler's military power.

In a conference between Goering, Mussolini, and Ciano on 15 April 1939, one month after the conquest of Czechoslovakia, Goering told his junior partners in the Axis of the progress of German preparations for war. He compared the strength of Germany with the strength of England and France. He mentioned the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in these words: "However, the heavy armament of Czechoslovakia shows, in any case, how dangerous this country could have been, even after Munich, in the event of a serious conflict. Because of Germany's action the situation of both Axis countries was ameliorated, among other reasons because of the economic possibilities which result from the transfer to Germany of the great production capacity (armament potential) of Czechoslovakia. That contributes toward a considerable strengthening of the axis against the Western powers." The Skoda arms works, which had made Czechoslovakia the best armed of the successor states to the Austro-Hungarian empire, turned out arms for the Third Reich in quantity, as it had done for the vanished Czechoslovak republic.

The Skoda Works led a charmed life until the end of World War II. On the night of 16 April 1943, Bomber Harris sent out more than 300 Lancasters to make the long flight to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, where they would bomb the Skoda Works. Since the target was far beyond the range of Oboe, the attack used H2S. The H2S operators mistook the town of Dobrany for Pilsen (a 12-mile error) and a large mental hospital for the Skoda Works. Two hundred eighty-five bombers proceeded to deluge the area with 691 tons of bombs - a nightmarish absurdity that even Franz Kafka would have found difficult to express. The attacking force suffered grievously too. It lost 36 aircraft, more than 12 percent of the attacking force.

At the end of May 1943, in the remaining large raid of the month, Harris tried again for Pilsen. This time 150 bombers correctly identified the target, but landed almost all their bombs in a field outside the plant. The Fifteenth air Force raided Czechoslovakia in the middle of October 1944, striking at the Brux synthetic oil plant (416 tons), the Skoda Works at Pilsen (307 tons), and miscellaneous rail yards. On 25 April 1945 the Eighth Air Force launched the last heavy bomber combat mission in the European Theater, destroying 75% of the Skoda Armaments at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.

World War II brought the plant to the verge of destruction, but its employees, whether those from the production workshops, construction studios or laboratories, worked with dedication to achieve its revival, modernization and expansion so that it could contribute not only to the development of the town of Plzen and the Czech Republic, but also that of neighbouring as well as remote countries.

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Page last modified: 30-08-2013 12:53:21 ZULU