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Old 06-30-2009, 03:43 PM
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Default Romfell Armoured Car

World War One was a period of modernization and experimentation, not least in the field of Armoured Fighting Vehicles. This was especially true of Armoured Cars, which of course was a technically much simpler vehicle than tracked tanks, to build and to tinker with. Many designs were tested and tried, some original, some real duds, others stop-gaps or obvious improvisations, intended to quickly fill the need for armoured support. Many were little more than one-offs, build by small firms looking for a contract or just experience, and although sometimes both technically advanced and tactically viable leaving sadly little trace.
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One of these armoured rarities of the Great War is the Austro-Hungarian Romfell Armoured Car.
Before the war, the Austro-Hungarian Army had actually been offered several armoured fighting vehicle designs. First the Daimler armoured car, built already in 1905, and tested by them, but rejected by them. (One of the reason was a failed demonstration, ending in scandal because the vehicle scared off the horses of several of the high potentates attending the demonstration, and making the old emperor Franz Joseph himself very indignant, stating emphatically to his entourage that this thing was henceforth "not to be used for military purposes".) Secondly the so called Burstyn Tank, designed by K.u.K. Genie-Oberleutenant Gunther Burstyn, which actually was a remarkably modern deisgn, with fine trench-crossing capability and a revolving turret. This one was also rejected by the Austro-Hungarian Army, refusing any funding, meaning that it was never even built. (What efforts that went into armoured vehicles were instead invested into Armoured Trains, a decision not impossible to understand, as it was a concept that had already been tested technically, and that also made tactical sense, considering the wide fronts that the Austro-Hungarian Army was facing.)
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These decision proved them themselves sadly wrong pretty much as soon as the war started, as the main opponent of the Austro-Hungarian Army, the Russians, also was actually the Army most willing to develop and use Armoured Cars. And soon they would also face the Italians, whose Army also used armoured car.
As a consequence, in 1915 two Austro-Hungarian Armoured Car designs saw the light of day. The first was the relatively un-sophisticated Junovicz, which was essentialy a standard automobile chassis given a slab-sided, box-like armoured body, sporting five crew members and two Schwarzlose M07/12 HMG's. The second was the sleek and sophisticated Romfell.
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The persons behind the Romfell were two low-ranking Army officers, a Hauptmann and Engineer Romanic and a Oberleutenant Fellner - their names of course combined in the name of the vehicle. They too used a already existing commercial vehicle chassis as the base. As what chassis was used, there is conflicting accounts. The now deceased Peter Jung, who has done almost all research that there is on the Romfell, actually left two different versions behind. The first was that the first Romfell was built using a Mercedes Motorcar (Personenkraftwagen), with the registration "A VI 865", and having a 95hp motor with chain-transmission, . The second that the chassis used was a M09 Samson Seilwindenwagen with a 4-cylinder 75hp motor. The first alternative looks like the most viable, technically speaking.
That very first Romfell was built during the summer of 1915 in Budapest, and should actually be viewed as an Hungarian initiative. The actual building was done in and by the Armies Automobil Ersatzdepot in Budapest, also using resouces of private firms when necessary. The vehicle was finished in the final weeks of August 1915.

It was a remarkably modern and even elegant design, with curved sides. It sported a low turret with all-around traverse, fourwheel-drive and solid rubber wheels. The armament was one Schwarzlose M07/12 HMG, with an ammo supply of 3.000 rounds. The Schwarzlose was primarily intended for land targets, but could be elevated very freely as well, also giving the vehicle Anti-Aircraft capablity. The range of the Romfell was between 100 and 150km's. The max speed 26km/h. Another modern feature was that it had a wireless, in form of a morse telegraph from the firm of Siemens & Halske. The armour was 6mm thick, and the overall weight of the Romfell was around 3 tons. It was 5.67m long, 2.48m high and 1.8m wide.
Only one Romfell was built in 1915. Of the first Romfell's operational history almost nothing is known, except that it could have been used in both the Balkans and in Russia. The only certain spotting of the first Romfell is on the Italian front in 1918, where it was a part of K.u.K. Panzerautozug No.1, a unit that consisted of this one Romfell, two Junovicz, one ex-Italian Lanzia IZ and one ex-Russian first-series Austin. The unit was based in the vincinity of Udine, in the mid-sections of the Italian Front.
Yet another Romfell was built in 1917, or even as late as 1918. It obviously used another chassis: according to Jung a M09 Goliath with a 6-cylinder 90hp motor. Again according to Jung, one or even both were rebuilt using captured 2-ton Fiat chassis - it is possible that these Fiat chassis was the basis for even more Romfells that could have been under construction when the war ended. Anyway, these rebuilding suggest the probable problem with the Romfell: that it was a bit too heavy, maing it either a bit too slow, or anyway reducing it's use beyond good roads. (Notice that there are some confusion as to the actual performance of the first vehicle. One source states that the first Romfell weighed no less than 7 tons, which of course is too heavy for such a vehicle.)
Below you can see a Romfell. The place is the Army Barracks in Klagenfurt. The date is unknown. In the middle of the picture, with his arms crossed, is the commander of the Panzerwagenzug, Fähnrich Jack. The head of the commander of the Romfell, Zugsführer Schroderböck, is popping out of the hatch of his vehicle. The names of the others are unknown.
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