A Thin Disguise
When first flown in 1937, the sleek and swift Zlín Z-XIII was promoted as a sport and liaison aircraft. Designed by Jaroslav Lonek at the request of Czech industrialist Jan Antonín Bat’a; the Z-XIII was, on the surface, intended as a high speed courier aircraft to shuttle documents and people connected to his business interests.
The Z-XIII had a top speed of around 350 kph, which was very fast for an aircraft of its class at the time. With a very high landing speed of around 140 kph, it also required a very skilled pilot to handle it.
From a design standpoint, the aircraft was primarily wood construction and incorporated some very modern technical aspects in its design. It was one of the first aircraft to feature wing flaps and a variable pitch propeller. The wings were also built as a single unit to which the fuselage could be attached. The Z-XIII was also designed to be switched from single seat to two seat configuration with relative ease.
However, the high speed of the aircraft and several quite modern design aspects not normally seen in aircraft of the sport or liaison categories betrayed the fighter that lurked just under the Z-XIII’s skin. J.A. Bat’a had intended it to be so.
Almost as soon as Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany in 1933; Bat’a, like so many other Czechs, realized the threat that Hitler’s regime posed to Czechoslovakia and put in motion various appeals and efforts to support the training of a strong military force to defend the country.
The Saga of the “Bat’a Fighter”
The Z-XIII was offered to the Czechoslavak military by Bat’a as a prospective fighter to defend the nation with; however, it was too late. The Munich Agreement of 1938 assured that no outside military assistance would be given to Czechoslovakia and that Germany could occupy the country with little opposition. Any dreams of turning the aircraft into a fighter were dashed. Shortly before the Second World War began, Bat’a and his family fled to the Americas and eventually settled in Brasil.
In March of 1939, the Zlín airfield and factory were annexed by German forces and would be forced to build training aircraft for the German military, primarily the Bucker Bu-181 and Klemm Kl-35.
Great efforts were made on the part of Zlín employees to distract German attention from the Z-XIII lest they should commandeer the aircraft for their own purposes. Initially, the aircraft was placed in an inconspicuous corner of the factory and its appearance altered. This ruse only lasted a short time before the Germans learned of the Z-XIII and an alternate plan had to be made to keep the plane safe from them.
A secret plan was devised to fly the aircraft to the relative safety of Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, this plan came to nothing after the arrest of one of the people involved in it.
The Z-XIII was put under deeper disguise, as a derelict, and German interest in it soon faded as production of the Bu-181 and Kl-35 became their priority. The Zlín design would remain in its disguised state, untouched by the Germans, until the end of the war.
What Remains Today
Ultimately, the Z-XIII only ever existed as the single prototype and never flew again after the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia.
Happily, thanks to the efforts of Zlín employees of the period, we still have the original prototype to enjoy today as it was taken into the care of the National Technical Museum in Prague shortly after the war and has remained in their hands ever since.
Through 1989 and 1990, the aircraft was restored and placed on permanent display in the museum’s transportation hall. Should you find yourself in Prague, I highly recommend a visit to this museum.
Given the Z-XIII’s short life and flying career, and that it only existed as a single prototype, there is actually a respectable amount of information regarding it online:
The website of the Czechoslovak Historic Flight contains a short summary of the Z-XIII, including details of its dimensions and performance.
This is a very well written article at the Free Czechoslovak Air Force Associates website that contains information about the Z-XIII’s development and history.