Czech hedgehog: 1930s anti-tank obstacle also seen in today’s Ukraine

Czech hedgehog

World War II, Cold War borders and more recently Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine – the “Czech hedgehog” has been common to all of them. The anti-tank obstacle made of metal beams is, as the name suggests, a Czech invention and dates back to the 1930s, when it was intended for border protection.

Jan Fedosejev | Photo: Archiv Jan Fedosejev

At the Military Technical Museum in Lešany, Central Bohemia, curator Lieutenant Colonel Jan Fedoseyev is surrounded by “Czech hedgehogs”.

“It’s a steel anti-tank obstacle. It was made to repel the tanks and armoured vehicles of that era. Development on it started in 1935 or 1936, when the Germans already had the Panzer I, II and III, and it was created to repel just such tanks. It was tried and tested – and full production began in 1937 and continued in 1938.”

Up to around 200,000 hedgehogs were made for Czechoslovakia’s border fortifications, intended to protect the young republic from hostile neighbours.

František Kašík | Photo: Archiv Eduard Stehlík/Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

“Major František Kašík came up with the idea. In 1935, he started working at the newly established Directorate of Fortification Works. At that time, the task of this agency was to build field fortifications along the border. It was to defend our borders with neighbouring countries with which Czechoslovakia did not have good diplomatic relations. At first this meant Germany – and later Austria, Poland and Hungary.”

However, Czechoslovakia’s border defence system was never completed – and what had been installed became redundant with the occupation of the Sudetenland by Nazi Germany following the Munich Agreement of 1938.

Czech hedgehog in front of Prague Castle | Photo: Ferdinand Hauser,  Radio Prague International

Nevertheless the obstacles, which resemble larger versions of the ancient game knucklebones, were used by countries such as the Soviet Union in tank defence during the war. Lieutenant Colonel Jan Fedoseyev continues.

Photo: Ferdinand Hauser,  Radio Prague International

“Other states took inspiration from the Czech hedgehog. The USSR followed suit and produced their own hedgehogs, either in the same form as ours, or creating their own improvised ones – for instance from railway tracks. But still it was the same philosophy of anti-tank barriers; if they were hit by artillery fire they were perhaps shaken, but they remained stable. They were very effective in cities, where two or three could help defend a street.”

They were also used during the Cold War, for instance as one element in the defence of the Berlin Wall. They were also deployed along Czechoslovakia’s borders with West Germany and Austria.

Czech hedgehog from the Berlin Wall | Photo: Ferdinand Hauser,  Radio Prague International

Many decades later “Czech hedgehogs” are still proving effective. For instance, early in Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, locals in Ukraine were reported to be fashioning as an obstacle to the assailants. Lieutenant Colonel Jan Fedoseyev of the Military Technical Museum in Lešany also registered this development.

“From what I could see, various anti-tank obstacles were being employed, whether mass produced or improvised. The fact is that they are simple but also effective – and the inspiration is there to see. My sense is that they are not always hedgehogs as such, but something very similar made from various materials.”

Photo: Ferdinand Hauser,  Radio Prague International
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