The 1960s TAM
Before the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) [Eng. Argentinian Medium Tank] project had even been imagined, and before the birth of the Sherman Repotenciado [Eng. ‘Repowered’, meaning it received an increase in firepower], the Ejército Argentino [Eng. Argentine Army] had been looking to upgrade its tank fleet after years of neglect and political turmoil. The Nahuel project had failed decades ago and Argentina only had a few hundred Sherman tanks, of which 206 were Sherman Fireflies, at its disposal.
Eventually, the modernization project designed to fully obtain Argentine military procurement independence from the US, Plan Europa [Eng. Plan Europe], authored by General Eduardo J. Uriburu, resulted in the adoption and production of the AMX-13.
However, before Plan Europa, another fully indigenous tank project sprang into existence, the Alvarez Condarco tank. Although brief, possibly less than five years, throughout its short development, the Argentine Army had shown insight into contemporary AFV development which had not, and still is not, well known to the public. Sadly, no blueprints of the vehicle have surfaced, leaving its appearance and most of its specifications a complete mystery.
History and Development
The Alvarez Condarco project was initiated around 1966 by the Jefatura de Investigación y Planeamiento del Estado Mayor General del Ejército (JEMCFFAA) [Eng. Investigation and Planning Headquarters of the Army General Staff], the Argentine Army’s military research institute. Brigade General Alcides López Aufranc was initially in charge of the project, but it is not known when it commenced. At a later date, General Uriburu became involved with the project, but once more, it is unclear what progress had been made up to that point.
Of these two men, there is very little known about General Uriburu, but he is most likely completely unrelated to either José Felix Uriburu or José Evaristo Uriburu, and his middle name might be Juan. There are a few online sites that list Eduardo Juan Uriburu, born in 1918 and deceased in 1978, so there is a possibility that this General Uriburi might be the same who authored Plan Europa.
However, Aufranc is better known. Born in Santa Fe in 1921, he was loyal to Perón and Peronism, being a major part of the Azules [Eng. Blues] or loyalist faction of the Argentine Army in the military power struggles of 1962 to 1963. Whilst based in Paris in 1958, he studied French counterinsurgency methods employed during the Algerian War, which might have had some influence in his AFV design choices. He was most likely aware of the AMX-13 light tank used during the conflict. His initial intention with the Alvarez Condarco was to create a lighter than average tank for the Army of a similar purpose.
The Alvarez Condarco project called for an “armored vehicle of reduced weight, tracked, and with a 40 mm cannon.” According to Aufranc, the specifications could change or progress beyond this, but the funding costs could not be met, and the project moved slowly. Without government support, the industrial base in Argentina was not willing to undergo production.
For Uriburu, the concept was flawed from the start. In his opinion, to make a prototype, the industry first had to learn how to build tanks according to the Japanese development of the Type 61 MBT: copying a foreign tank model and obtaining the experience throughout the process of building and understanding the design choices. However, he knew the Argentine Army could not afford the costs, especially without the cooperation of the national industry, which was quite reluctant to contribute.
This vehicle was named after José Antonio Álvarez Condarco, a 19th-century Argentinian soldier who was the first director of the gunpowder factory in Córdoba and also instrumental in the planning of the campaign that would liberate Chile from the Spanish.
Whatever original blueprints or information existed regarding the vehicle have sadly been lost to history. Most of the tank’s specifications can only be inferred based on what equipment and materials were available in Argentina at the time and what they could have imported. Thanks to Uriburu’s understanding of how to manage the military economy and the necessity of importing components for its design, there is a wider variety of possibilities for how this design might have appeared. However, any designs or models of the Alvarez Condarco tank are currently purely based on conjecture, with no hard sources available yet.
The Alvarez Condarco’s common representation is a 3D design of a tank with a rear-mounted turret, six road wheels, and an elongated, heavily sloped front hull, much like the vehicles that Argentina produced after its inception, the AMX-13 and the TAM. Judging by the plans to keep the vehicle low in weight and the interest in procurement of the AMX-13, it is most likely that the tank weighed less than 20 tonnes, and probably far less given the choice of armament, however, its armor layout and thickness are unknown.
While the engine the Alvarez Condarco would have used is never stated, there were a few options available to Argentina at the time. The most likely option would have been to reuse an aircraft engine, like they had done with the Nahuel in the past, which opens many options. The Lorraine 12E Courlis engine, modified for greater output, was not out of the question, but there was a better option, made by Argentina, at the time.
Argentina had a modified version of the Wright R-975 Whirlwind 9 engine at its disposal, the 450 hp I.Ae. 16 ‘El Gaucho’ engine, already used in aircraft like the I.Ae. 38 ‘Naranjero’. With production figures around a few hundred, it could have been procured for the prototype vehicle. For the Alvarez Condarco’s lower weight, it would have been more than enough, at a power to weight ratio of around 22 hp/tonne if the weight is correctly estimated.
A more powerful yet highly unlikely option was the obscure I.Ae. 19 ‘El Indio’ engine with 620 hp. This was a hard-to-produce engine for the Argentine industry. It was reserved for airplane use and would have likely not been available for testing in the Alvarez Condarco project. Additionally, the remaining options would simply have been to reuse the engines available on the available Shermans and Fireflies, such as the Chrysler A57 Multibank. However, these were due for replacement just a few years later, as was seen in the Sherman Repotenciado.
The armament intended for the Alvarez Condarco was a 40 mm gun used as an anti-air weapon and field gun. It can be concluded that it was one of the six Bofors L/60 cannons that Argentina had in service at the time. The reason for the odd choice for its armament was a desire to keep the stability and weight of the chassis at levels deemed acceptable by the JEMCFFAA.
Uriburu notes that he was not fully convinced by the 40 mm Bofors due to his knowledge of “an English [sic] armored car mounting a 75 mm cannon [Alvis Saladin], a French and a Belgian armored car with a 90 mm [AML-90 and FN 4RM], and a Swiss armored car with a 75 mm cannon [possibly the Radfahrzeug MOWAG (7,5 cm)].”
His suggestion was to equip a different, more potent armament due to the obsolescence of the 40 mm cannon in most roles. In Argentina, at the time, options were limited for a 75 mm cannon. The Krupp cannons used in the Nahuel were out of the question, but there were a few additional options, such as the 17-pounder mounted in the Fireflies Argentina had, or the 75 mm M3 mounted in the regular M4s. However, what Uriburu most likely had in mind, given how he entertained the idea of the 90 mm cannons that the French used and his appreciation for its capabilities in infantry support and anti-tank roles, were the F1 or the F3 90 mm cannons that were in service at the time.
Other Design Features
Unfortunately, due to the lack of reliable sources about this vehicle, there is little that can be said about the rest of the design.
The suspension on the Alvarez Condarco is unknown. It is possible that the Argentinians would have stuck to the Sherman-based Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS) already present on the Nahuel. There is also a possibility the Argentinians might have wanted to use a torsion bar suspension.
There is similarly little information available about the crew layout. While it is clear a driver had to be present, the rest is not as clear. While at least two crew members, a gunner and a commander, would have been located in the turret, it is unclear if a loader would have been present in the turret to handle the ammunition boxes for the 40 mm gun.
As for the armor, it was probably quite light. While the Argentinians were well capable of building 80 mm thick plates, as seen on the Nahuel, this would have been too light to offer protection from most guns in service at the time and would come with significant penalties in cost and weight. As the requirements stipulated for a lightweight vehicle, regardless, armor would have been at a minimum.
In the end, the forerunner to the TAM was never produced. While being inadequate and outdated in its original design, it could have been acceptable for South America in the 1960s and early 1970s when considering the armor capabilities of Argentina’s neighbors. By the mid-1970s, the TAM, the M-60, the Sherman Repotenciado, and the birth of the Brazilian tank industry, meant that it would only have had a short service life.
The lessons learned from its development were refined further with the production of the nationally-built AMX-13s, and the future TAMs, which might have benefitted from the experience gained of the Alvarez Condarco project.
However, there is a footnote to this story. While most likely talking about the AMX-13s produced in Argentina, due to a redaction error, Plan Europa states that at least two prototypes of an AFV were produced utilizing nationally-built components. It is very unlikely that this was the Alvarez Condarco. No pictures or even blueprints of the Alvarez Condarco have surfaced so far.
Alvarez Condarco specifications
|Total Weight, Battle Ready||Around 20 tonnes|
|Propulsion||Most likely: 450 hp I.Ae. 16 El Gaucho
Other possibilities: 370 hp Chrysler A57 Multibank
620 hp I.Ae. 19 El Indio
500 hp Lorraine 12E Courlis
|Armament||Primary: 40 mm Bofors L/60
Other Possibilities: 90 mm F3
75 mm Bofors mod. 1935
75 mm M3
76.2 mm 17-pounder
|Armor||Lightly armored, specific arrangement or thicknesses unknown|
|Total Production||Project only|
Eduardo J. Uriburu, Plan Europa, p.20-23.
Eduardo S. Fogliani, Blindados Argentinos.
Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)