Western Germany (1978-89)
Prototype Light Main Battle Tank – 3 Built
After designing and building the prototypes of the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) for Argentina, Thyssen-Henschel decided to improve the vehicle with more modern equipment, while maintaining almost the same exterior appearance. The resulting vehicle, the TH-301, was intended for the export market, though it was unable to attract any foreign interest.
In military terms, Argentina had a large army. Taking advantage of the end of WWII and the availability of a large stock of surplus and extremely cheap American and British armored vehicles, Argentina became a considerable military power in the region. Between 1946 and 1949, Argentina purchased or acquired at least 250 Universal Carriers, around 400 Shermans, 18 Crusader II Gun Tractors, 6 M7 Priests, and 320 M-series half-tracks of varying types.
By the mid-1960s, these vehicles were becoming obsolete and needed replacing. Tensions with the USA following the 1966 military coup in which General Juan Carlos Onganía and a military junta replaced the democratically elected Arturo Umberto Illia meant that the purchase of a large number of M41 Walker Bulldogs failed. The failure to obtain more modern tanks from the USA to replace their current inventory led to Argentinian military officials launching ‘Plan Europa’ [Eng. Plan Europe] in 1967. The intention of this plan was to modernize and diversify Argentina’s armored vehicles with the purchase of European vehicles. The ultimate goal, however, was to be able to be independent of any foreign power as far as the procurement of armored vehicles went. As set out by the Estado Mayor General del Ejército (EMGE), the plan was to acquire vehicles but also the license to produce them in Argentina. Argentina acquired a number of military vehicles from France and Switzerland, most notably the AMX-13, and the license to assemble some additional vehicles.
Despite this, none of these vehicles were found sufficient to replace the Sherman Firefly as the main tank for the Argentinian forces. During the trips to Europe, the French AMX-30 and the West German (FRG) Leopard 1 were studied and considered, but for unknown reasons, negotiations for their purchase were not continued. In 1973, and still without a tank to replace their WWII vintage tanks, EMGE got serious and set out the requirements for a medium tank to equip Argentinian forces from the 1980s onwards.
‘Potencia de Fuego, Movilidad y Protección’
In 1974, unable to produce a tank themselves, the Argentinian Ministry of National Defense reached an agreement for co-production and technology sharing with the West German company Thyssen-Henschel. Thyssen-Henschel, with the participation of Argentinian technicians, designed the tank based on EMGE’s requirements, built three prototypes (including one for what would become the Vehículo de Combate Transporte de Personal (VCTP) [Eng: Combat Vehicle Personnel Transport]) and manufactured a pre-production series and of the production series in Argentina. EMGE’s three basic factors were ‘Potencia de Fuego, Movilidad y Protección’ [Eng. Firepower, Mobility and Protection]. In a document, they set the requirement priorities:
A modern canon of at least 105 mm
Secondary armament consisting of two machine guns and smoke dischargers
Integrated automatic fire-control system
Over 500 km range
70 km/h speed on roads
A power to weight ratio of 20 hp/t
Weight under 30 tonnes
Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) warfare protection
Crew of 3 or 4
It was agreed by both sides that, for ease of production, speed of development and presumably cost, it was best to base the new vehicles on pre-existing and tested technology. To that end, the Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicle, which equipped the West German Army, was chosen as the basis for the new vehicles.
The following two years were dedicated to the design and development of the TAM, until September 1976, when the first prototype was completed, followed by the second in January 1977. The prototype for the VCTP was finalized in 1977.
The finished prototypes were tested at Thyssen-Henschel’s facilities before being sent by ship to Argentina (1 VCTP and either 1 or 2 TAM), where they were presented to the military authorities. EMGE then took over a prototype of the TAM and VCTM to test. These were thoroughly tested for 24 months.
In 1979, the first production TAM was completed for the Argentinian Army. After the production of 193 tanks plus a few other variants, production of the TAM ceased, though they still remain in service.
Thyssen-Henschel continued testing the prototype(s) they retained and decided to privately develop a more sophisticated version of the TAM tank for the export market. Initially known as the TAM-4, the first prototype of this improved version was completed in 1978. Thyssen-Henschel also produced a prototype equipped with a 120 mm gun. The vehicle soon became known as TH-301.
It is important to note that the TH-301 was not the prototype or predecessor to the TAM, but in a way, a subsequent development. This myth has been propagated by poor research and can be found in books such as TAM: The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano by Juan Carlos Cicalesi and Santiago Rivas, published by the prestigious tank-specialized publisher Tankograd. This myth is even more prevalent in online sources.
External Appearance and Armor
The TH-301 was simply a modified Marder IFV hull with a turret to fulfill the role of a medium tank. Thus, externally, in appearance and design, they were both very similar. The frontal plate was at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates were positioned at 32º. The turret is rear mounted. The sides had several attachments for tools, spare tracks, spare machine gun ammunition, water cans, medical kits, etcetera.
On the gun’s right, sat atop the mantlet, was a Xenon searchlight to improve nocturnal capabilities which was not included in the TAM. At the front of the tank were headlights on each side. Behind these, also on each side, were wing mirrors.
The first TH-301 retained the side-skirts of the Marder 1, but these were removed on the TAM, and are an optional addition on the export variant. The TH-301’s armor was made out of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front plate was 50 mm thick and the sides and rear 35 mm. As such, the tank’s best protection was its speed, mobility and low silhouette. In its export brochure, Thyssen-Henschel offered supplementary armor as an option.
Additionally, the TH-301 was equipped with an NBC protection system which allowed the crew to operate in a contaminated area for up to 8 hours. The vehicle is also able to operate in very harsh temperatures, from as low as -35ºC to as high as 42ºC. There was also an automatic fire extinguishing system which could also be triggered manually from the interior or exterior.
The turret of the TH-301 was what took TH the longest to design and develop, as it was a new element. A simple glance at it demonstrates the heavy influence of the Leopard 1 and 2 on the design, combining two elements, low silhouette and ample interior capacity. It was shaped as a frustum and, like the hull, was made out of sheets of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front of it was 50 mm thick, the sides 22 mm and the rear and top 7 mm. The sides, rear and front were all at a 32º angle.
The top of the turret housed several mechanisms. At the front right, the gunner’s gyro-periscope was located behind which was the commander’s own PERI-R12 periscope. On the opposite side to the latter was the loader’s periscope. Behind the commander and loader’s periscopes were their respective hatches. The commander’s hatch, serving as a cupola, had an anti-aircraft machine gun on it. The commander’s cupola had eight angular periscopes.
The rear of the turret housed the electrical unit for the commander’s periscope, which could be accessed from the exterior. On the rear of the left side wall, at the same height as the loader’s hatch, was another hatch through which to insert ammunition, but more importantly, eject spent shells. Each side had four smoke launchers.
Armament and Fire Control System
Initially, the tank designed for Argentina was equipped with the Rheinmetall Rh-1 105 mm gun, a German variant of the British Royal Ordnance L7A1. Eventually, Argentina would upgrade their TAM with the FM K.4 Modelo 1L, itself also a license production variant of the L7, in this case, built in Argentina.
Likewise, Thyssen-Henschel upgraded the TH-301 to use the Rheinmetall Rh 105-30, a German license production of the L7A3 also used on the Leopard 1.
In total, 50 rounds were carried, 18 in the turret and the remaining 30 in the hull. These were NATO compatible and consisted of HESH (High Explosive Squash Head), HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank), and APDS (Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot). The rate of fire for the TH-301 was 10 rounds per minute.
The computerized fire control system of the TH 301 is much more sophisticated and advanced than the austere system of the TAM. The stabilized PERI-R12 dual magnification panoramic sight is provided for the commander. The gunner is provided with a fully stabilized eight power all-aspect periscope with integral neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet laser rangefinder. For night engagements, a PZB 200 low light level electro-optic viewing system is mounted on the mantle, with both the commander and gunner being provided with monitors. All these components are slaved to the digital fire control computer which receives target data manually through the gunner or automatically from the laser rangefinder, other data being fed automatically while the ammunition type is entered manually. These improvements in the fire control system allow the TH-301 to fire accurately on the move.
The vehicle’s lightweight means that there is substantial recoil from the powerful gun. A solution to these issues can be found in the original suspension and running gear of the Marder 1, which consisted of a torsion bar type suspension with six dual tired road wheels and three return rollers on each side. The first, second, fifth, and sixth road wheel stations had hydraulic shock dampers which absorb a significant part of the stress created by firing the main gun.
Secondary ammunition consisted of a coaxial 7.62 mm Rheinmetall MG 3 machine gun and another MG 3 for anti-aircraft duties placed on the commander’s hatch. Between the hull and the turret, 6,000 rounds for the machine guns were carried.
The interior of the TH-301 was divided into two main sections. The frontal section itself was also divided into two sub-sections. The bigger of these, occupying 2/3 of the space, housed the engine, whilst the smaller one was for the driver and driving mechanisms to his left. The bigger rear section occupied the central and rear part of the tank and housed the combat area and turret basket, with the commander, gunner, and loader sat in this area, along with all the ammunition.
At the rear of the vehicle there was a small door for the crew to enter and exit and to replenish ammunition and other things the tank may need.
Engine and Performance
One of the other improvements over the vehicle designed for Argentina was the engine. The TH-301 was fitted with the Motoren-und Turbinen-Union MB 833 Ka 500 diesel engine, a six-cylinder supercharged diesel engine rated at 588 kilowatts (800 hp) at an engine speed of 2,400 revolutions per minute (rpm). This engine gave a power-to-weight ratio of 25.3 hp per tonne. Considering the vehicle’s weight (29.2 t or 31.6 t when combat laden), the ground pressure of the tank is 0.74 kgf/cm3. The maximum torque was 2,550 Nm at 1,600 rpm. The electrical fit consisted of a 24-volt electrical system with eight 12-volt 100 ampere-hour batteries. The engine on the TAM was an inferior version of this engine, and was only capable of developing 537 kilowatts (720 hp) at 36.67 revolutions per second or 2,200 revolutions per minute and had a power-to-weight ratio of 17.89 kilowatts per tonne or 21.77 hp per tonne.
The gearbox on the TH-301 and the TAM was the HSWL 204 automatic planetary gearbox with torque converter and four forward/four reverse gear ratios.
The maximum road speed was a very impressive 78 km/h which could be achieved after 35 seconds of acceleration. After just 5 seconds, the TH-301 could achieve a reasonable 30 km/h. The maximum range on the road was 820 km, whilst off-road it was 600 km. The fuel capacity inside the tank was a meager 650 l, but with the addition of two 200 l fuel tanks on the back of the tank, this could be extended to over 1,000 l.
Among other performance indicators, the TH-301 could overcome 60% gradients, 30% side slopes, 1 m tall obstacles and 2.9 m trenches. When it came to fording, it was capable of fording 1.4 m deep waters without preparation, increased to 2.25 m with preparation and 4 m with a snorkel.
As early as 1978, Thyssen-Henschel apparently developed a version of the TH-301 equipped with the smoothbore Rheinmetall Rh-120 gun, presumably the L/44 version which equipped the first Leopard 2 versions. Not much is known of this variant. The 120 mm was actually shorter than the 105 mm gun on the normal variant, though the larger caliber of the gun and increased recoil would have resulted in a larger breech. The existing hydraulic shock dampers should also have been enough to withstand the increased caliber.
Curiously, Argentina also made plans to upgrade their TAM with a 120 mm gun, presumably the Rh L/44. The Tanque Argentino Pesado (TAP) was envisioned to have a Leopard 2 turret atop an elongated TAM chassis with an extra road wheel.
The TH-302 was the export designation of the VCTP. In essence, it was an austere version of the Marder 1. It was armed with the same 20 mm Rheinmetall Mk 20 Rh-202 automatic cannon as the Marder 1, which was fitted in a 2-man turret, a Hecklafette 7.62 mm machine gun on a mount on the rear of the vehicle, and a MG 3 for anti-aircraft duties of the same caliber on the turret. It carried a 3-man crew with an additional 9 passengers. Sliding hatches on each side of the vehicle allowed the occupants of the rear combat compartment to conduct the battle under armored protection. Presumably, as the TH-301 was a more advanced version of the TAM, the TH-302 was an improved version of the VCTP with a more powerful engine and sophisticated components, but very similar in all intents and purposes. Curiously, all known pictures of it show it without the Marder 1 side skirts. At least one vehicle was built.
The TH-325 DRAGON was an anti-aircraft vehicle developed on the TH-301 chassis in co-production with the companies Thomson CFS, GIAT/SAMM, Oerlikon, and Hispano-Suiza. Its 2-man casemate turret carried two 30 mm Hispano-Suiza 831 A autocannons. It was equipped with a combined search and tracking radar which was able to detect targets within the range of 1-15 km and to engage them at altitudes of up to three kilometers. The TH-325 weighed 31 tonnes and had a 3-man crew. At least 1 vehicle was built and its current status is unknown, though the program was terminated in mid-1986.
The main purpose of the TH-301 was export. In 1997, the unit price of the 105 mm equipped TH-301 was US$3.211 million and US$3.321 million for the 120 mm TH-301. This price made it affordable for nations with tight budgets to acquire a MBT (albeit a light/medium weight one) with proven technological components. The TH-301 was also easy to modify and could be turned into multiple variants, as seen with the TH-302 and TH-325, but more notably with the multiple variants of the TAM. Thyssen-Henschel also offered the possibility of producing it under license, as it had done with Argentina. Thyssen-Henschel also encouraged buyers that they could sell tanks they produced abroad too.
Not much is known, but in 1981, Indonesia ordered 102 vehicles from TH in three versions, presumably the TH-301 105 mm, TH-301 120 mm, and TH-302. However, this did not go through as an export license could not be issued.
The second potential client was Thailand. During the mid-80s, Thailand had considered completely restructuring its tank force by upgrading their M41 Walker Bulldogs and purchasing a number of new tanks. The total cost of this project was 14,000 million baht (approximately US$451 million), which was considered too much, and thus, a self-sustainable solution was sought.
Thyssen-Henschel offered the TH-301, which along with the Austrian SK-105 Kürassier, French AMX-30, German Leopard 1, and American Stingray, were tested at the Cavalry Center. The TH-301 was viewed satisfactorily. Thyssen-Henschel also offered the possibility of assembly and production of some parts in Thailand itself, technology transfer, and the possibility of exporting it abroad, as Argentina was trying with the TAM. Thai factories would produce 40% of the tank components and were predicted to be able to build 20 chassis and turrets each month.
However, for some reason, the Stingray was preferred and Thailand became the only user of that light tank.
Special thanks to Kittichart Boonyapakdi for his contribution to this section of the article.
Apparently, around 1995, there was an increased interest in the TH-301 for potential exports to an unknown country or countries, but nothing came of it. Considering its intended purpose, the TH-301 was a failure. Thyssen-Henchel wanted a light or medium MBT to export to the market but was unable to get any customers. The TAM went on to be a success with Argentina, and the TH-301, effectively being an improved version of the TAM, would have successfully filled the gap of any nation wishing to modernize their tank fleet on a tight budget in the 1980s and even the 1990s. As of 2020, Argentina still operates over 200 TAM which they have intended to modernize several times in the last two decades.
Illustration of the TH-301 produced by Brian Gaydos, based on work by David Bocquele, funded by our Patreon campaign.
8.45 x 3.31 x 2.44 m
Total weight, battle ready
4 (commander, driver, loader, gunner)
MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp (540 kW)
72-79 km/h on road
370 miles/590 km or 500 miles/800 km with external FT
105 mm Rheinmetall Rh 105-30
2 x 7.62 mm Rheinmetall MG 3
Light Main Battle Tank/Medium Tank – 231 Built
The Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) has, since the early ’80s, equipped the forces of the Ejército Argentino [Eng. Argentinian Army]. Designed and developed by the West German company of Thyssen-Henschel, the TAM’s history is full of inconsistencies and exaggerations, primarily the fact that it is an Argentinian indigenous tank. Whilst some important components have been produced in Argentina and most assembly took place there, too much of it is dependent on foreign companies to consider it fully indigenous.
Context – Plan Europa
Argentina had remained neutral during most of World War Two. Although it declared war on Germany and Japan in March 1945, the country had previously held strong sympathies towards Germany. On June 4th 1943, a coup took place which in time gave rise to Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, the most divisive character in Argentinian history, who became the country’s president in 1946.
Perón would be overthrown by a military coup in 1955. For the following two decades, there were several other military coups, stagnating Argentina.
In military terms, Argentina had a large army. Taking advantage of the end of WWII and the availability of a large stock of surplus and extremely cheap US and British armored vehicles, Argentina became a considerable military power in the region. Between 1946 and 1949, Argentina purchased or acquired at least 250 Universal Carriers, around 400 Shermans (M4A4 and Firefly tanks), 18 Crusader II, Gun Tractor Mk I, 6 M7 Priests and 320 M-series Half-tracks.
By the mid-1960’s, these vehicles were becoming obsolete and needed replacing. Tensions with the USA following the 1966 military coup meant that the purchase of a large number of M41 Walker Bulldogs failed, leading Argentinian military officials to launch ‘Plan Europa’ [Eng. Plan Europe] in 1967. Led by General Eduardo J. Uriburu, the intention of this plan was to modernize and diversify Argentina’s armored vehicles with the purchase of European vehicles. The ultimate goal, however, was to avoid dependence on any foreign power to provide armored vehicles. As set out by the Estado Mayor General del Ejército (EMGE) [Eng. General Staff of the Army], the plan would be not only to acquire vehicles but also the license to produce them in Argentina. Before the end of the decade, the purchase of 80 AMX-13’s armed with a 105 mm gun, 180 AMX VCI Armored Personnel Carriers, 14 AMX-155 F3’s and 2 AMX-13 PDP (Poseur De Pont) Modèle 51’s from France and around 60 or 80 Mowag Grenadier and possibly a number of Mowag Roland from Switzerland was agreed. Additionally, 60 Mowag Rolands and 40 AMX-13’s were assembled under license in Argentina.
Despite this, none of these vehicles were sufficiently powerful to replace the Sherman Firefly as the main tank for the Argentinian forces. During the trips to Europe, the AMX-30 and the Leopard 1 were studied and considered, but for whatever reason, negotiations for their purchase were not continued. In 1973, and still without a tank, EMGE got serious and outlined the requirements for a medium tank to equip Argentinian forces from the 1980s onwards.
‘Potencia de Fuego, Movilidad y Protección’
‘Potencia de Fuego, Movilidad y Protección’ [Eng. Firepower, Mobility and Protection] were the three main basic criteria determined by EMGE for this new tank in 1973. In a document, they established the requirement priorities:
A modern canon of at least 105 mm
Secondary armament consisting of two machine guns and smoke dischargers
Integrated automatic fire-control system
Over 500 km range
70 km/h speed on roads
A power to weight ratio of 20 hp/t
Weight under 30 t
Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) warfare protection
Crew of 3 or 4
The low weight needed for the new tank was determined by the existing infrastructure. A heavy tank would not fare well on the roads and bridges of the likely deployment areas (in the south and along the border with Chile), so weight had to be limited. Additionally, the rail network, though extensive, was quite old and again would not have been able to carry heavy vehicles.
At the end of 1979, the Jefatura IV Logística [Eng. Logistics Headquarters IV] of EMGE, following the set requirements, created the Proyecto de Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) [Eng. Argentinian Medium Tank Project] which set out to study the feasibility of designing and developing the new tank.
They soon found out that a project of that magnitude and with such strict requirements could not be developed in Argentina. Argentina had very limited know-how of the development of tanks, having only previously built the Nahuel in 1943 and done some minor to major modifications of British and US vehicles, but this was another matter altogether.
In 1974, the Argentinian Ministry of National Defense reached an agreement for co-production and technology sharing with the West German company Thyssen-Henschel. Thyssen-Henschel, with the participation of Argentinian technicians, would design the tank based on EMGE’s requirements, build three prototypes (including one for the Vehículo de Combate Transporte de Personal – VCTP) and carry out the construction of a pre-production series and of the production series in Argentina.
It was agreed by both parties that, for ease of production, speed of development and presumably cost, it was best to base the new vehicles on pre-existing and tested technology. To that end, the Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicle, which equipped the West German Army, was chosen as the basis for the new vehicles.
The following two years were dedicated to the design and development of the TAM, until September 1976, when the first prototype was completed, followed by the second in January 1977. The prototype for the VCTP was finalized in 1977.
The vehicles were tested at the Thyssen-Henschel facilities before the VCTP and at least one of the TAM’s were sent to Argentina for further testing and evaluation under the supervision of EMGE. Thyssen-Henschel would keep one of the prototypes and improve it with more expensive equipment. This vehicle, the TH-301, was intended for the export market, but unfortunately for the West German company, it was unable to find any additional customers. It is very important to establish that the TH-301 was not a prototype to the TAM as many sources state, but rather a development of the TAM prototype by Thyssen-Henschel.
Over the next 2 years, the VCTP and TAM drove almost 10,000 km over all the types of terrain and in all the climates found in Argentina. For context, Argentina has a very varied geography: mountainous and very high peaks in the west, arid deserts across the middle at all lengths of the country, wetlands in the northeast and polar tundra in the south.
The final assessment by EMGE was satisfactory and it authorized the series production of the TAM, though it recommended a total of 1,450 modifications.
Whilst trials were taking place, EMGE ordered the construction (though this was most likely more of an assembly job) of 4 more prototypes (2 TAM and 2 VCTP) in the General San Martín and Río Tinto factories to carry out more tests and evaluate the factory’s capacities before producing the serial version.
Although designed abroad, the whole idea EMGE had in mind was to be able to produce, or at least assemble, the new tank in Argentina. So, a whole new infrastructure had to be created incorporating state-run enterprises and also private companies. Arms factories were repurposed to produce the TAM components to be developed in Argentina, with General San Martín factory building the hulls and Río Tercero factory building the turrets and armament. The Argentinian Company Bator Cocchis SA also produced the torsion bars and rubber pads. However, many components were still produced in West Germany or other countries with several different companies working on different elements, including:
Feinmechanische Werke Mainz GmbH – electro-hydraulic system for gun stabilizer
Motoren- und Turbinen-Union (MTU) GmbH – engine
Renk – transmission
Diehl – tracks
Standard Elektrik Lorenz – communications
AEG-Telefunken – fire-control system
Carl Zeiss – optics
Pescarmone and Fiat – some elements of the undercarriage
In all, according to Mazarrasa and Sigal Fagliani, by 1983, 70% of all TAM components were produced in Argentina.
In March 1980, with the objective of having one company that would coordinate the whole TAM program, Tanque Argentino Mediano Sociedad del Estado (TAMSE) was created. TAMSE was established as the main contractor of the TAM (and VCTP) and given the task of overseeing the final assembly, delivery integration of the tanks into the army, trials, homogenization of the optics and armament and potential exports.
TAMSE was given a 9,600 m2 covered assembly plant in Boulogne sur Mer, just outside Buenos Aires. The installations at Boulogne sur Mer also housed two warehouses to stock vehicle components, offices, laboratories for quality control evaluation, engine test benches, a pit for trials, and a shooting range.
Production had begun beforehand in April 1979, with most components coming from West Germany and assembly taking place in already existing factories. The initial order was for 200 TAM and 312 VCTP, though this number would not initially be fulfilled.
External Appearance and Armor
The TAM is simply a modified Marder IFV hull with a turret to occupy the role of a medium tank or light Main Battle Tank. Thus, externally, in appearance and design, they are very similar. The frontal plate is at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates are positioned at 32º. The turret is rear mounted. The sides have several attachments for tools, spare tracks, spare machine gun ammunition, water cans, medical kits, and various other ancillary equipment. At the front of the tank, on each side, are headlights. Behind these, also on each side, are wing mirrors.
Some early TAM prototypes retained the side-skirts of the Marder 1, but these were removed on the series TAM. The TAM’s armor is made out of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front plate is 50 mm thick and the sides and rear 35 mm. With such feeble armor, the tank’s best protection is its speed, mobility and low silhouette.
Additionally, the TAM is equipped with an NBC protection system allowing the crew to operate in a contaminated area for up to 8 hours. The NBC system feeds the main and driver’s compartment with filtered air that can absorb solid or gaseous elements from poisonous or radioactive substances. The vehicle is able to operate in very harsh temperatures, from as low as -35ºC to as much as 42ºC. There is also an automatic fire extinguishing system that can be triggered from the interior or exterior.
The turret for the TAM was what took Thyssen-Henschel the longest to design and develop, as it was a new element. A simple glance at it demonstrates the heavy influence of the Leopard 1 and 2 on the design, combining two elements: low silhouette and ample internal volume.
It is shaped as a frustum and, like the hull, is made out of sheets of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front of it is 50 mm thick, the sides 22 mm and the rear and top 7 mm. All of it is at a 32º angle. Full turret traverse takes 15 seconds.
The top of the turret houses several mechanisms. At the front right, the gunner’s gyro-stabilized panoramic periscope, behind which is the commander’s own PERI-R/TA periscope. On the opposite side to the latter is the loader’s periscope. Behind the commander and loader’s periscopes were their respective hatches. The commander’s hatch, serving as a cupola, has an anti-aircraft machine gun on it. The commander’s cupola has eight angular periscopes.
The rear of the turret housed the electrical unit for the commander’s periscope, which could be accessed from the exterior. On the rear of the left side wall, at the same height as the loader’s hatch, was another hatch through which to insert ammunition, but more importantly, eject spent shells. Each side has four Wegman 77 mm smoke launchers.
Armament and Fire Control System
Initially, the TAM was equipped with the rifled Rheinmetall Rh-1 105 mm gun, a German variant of the British Royal Ordnance L7A1. However, this was deemed insufficient and Argentina upgraded it to the more modern FM K.4 Modelo 1L, similarly rifled, itself also a license production variant of the L7, in this case, built in Argentina by Río Tercero.
The whole gun weighs 2,350 kg and the barrel is made out of one forged steel piece. There is no muzzle brake on the barrel, but rather a bore evacuator in the middle. The gun has a maximum depression of -7º and a maximum elevation of +18º, a somewhat limited arc of fire and the consequence of having the turret so far back. Maximum effective range when firing is 2,500 m. The rate of fire for the TAM is 10 rounds per minute. The recoil distance is between 560 to 580 mm at a recoil force of 300 kN.
In total, 50 rounds are carried, 20 in the turret and the remaining 30 in the hull. 13 of the turret rounds are carried on holding brackets for immediate use. The TAM carries five different types of rounds, all NATO standard:
The fire control system on the TAM is quite austere to keep costs down. The main gun is stabilized with four gyroscopes designed and built by Feinmechanische Werke Mainz GmbH. It operates via an electro-hydraulic system controlled by the gunner or commander, who also has the capacity to override priority over the gunner. Gunners on the TAM have at their disposal a TZF-LA sight designed and produced by Zeiss weighing 40 kg and 1,320 mm in length. It is situated on the gun mantlet to the right of the gun with a 6,000 m range (9,000 m according to Mazarrasa) laser-rangefinder which is stabilized with the gun and has a precision of up to +/-5 m. If the commander is firing the gun, he has an independently stabilized periscope that can align with the gunner’s sight, aim the gun or observe the surroundings. This is done with the commander’s periscope, the PERI-R/TA, also produced by Zeiss. Its control panel can be used instead of the ballistic computer, but only as a last resort. The ballistic computer in the TAM is a FLER-HG produced by AEG-Telefunken, which makes calculations for firing the gun considering the ammunition being used, distance to target, gun elevation, and other relevant factors. The ballistic computer is connected to the four gyroscopes that stabilize the main gun and the gunner’s control panel. The fire control system has three modes: manual, electro-hydraulic and stabilized.
Secondary armament consists of a coaxial 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine gun and a 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-20 for anti-aircraft duties placed on the commander’s hatch, both of which are license-produced in Argentina by Dirección General de Fabricaciones Militares. The machine guns have a 1,200 m range and are able to fire between 600 and 1,000 rounds per minute. Between the hull and turret, 5,000 rounds for the machine guns are carried. Inside the TAM, 8 hand grenades are carried.
Each side of the turret has four Wegman 77 mm launchers which can launch anti-personnel grenades or the more conventional smoke grenades, the latter creating a smokescreen 200 m wide, 40 m deep and between 8 and 20 m high.
Suspension and Undercarriage
The vehicle’s lightweight means that there is substantial recoil from the powerful gun. A solution to these issues can be found in the original suspension and running gear of the Marder 1, which consisted of a torsion bar type suspension with six rubber-tired dual road wheels and three return rollers on each side. The first, second, fifth, and sixth road wheel stations had hydraulic shock dampers that absorb a significant part of the stress created by firing the main gun.
The tracks are of a Vickers system, each track consisting of 91 links with rubber tank treads. These can be substituted by snow cleats if required.
The interior of the TAM is divided into two main sections with the frontal section being further sub-divided into two subsections. The bigger of these subsections, occupying 2/3 of the space, houses the engine, whilst the smaller one is for the driver and driving mechanisms to his left. The driver has a hatch above his position and the whole section of the frontal hull covering the engine can be opened for engine maintenance. The bigger rear section occupies the central and rear part of the tank and houses the combat area and turret basket, with the commander, gunner and loader sitting on folding seats in this area, along with all the ammunition.
At the rear of the vehicle there was a small door for the crew to enter and exit and to replenish ammunition and other things the tank may need.
Communications are by means of VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems and a SEL SEM-170 radioreceptor. For communication between the different crew members, each has intercom headphones and a telephone to communicate externally.
Engine and Performance
Mobility was one of the most important aspects considered by EMGE when setting the TAM requirements. The engine on the TAM is the MTU MB 833 Ka 500 diesel engine, a six-cylinder rated at 537 kilowatts (720 hp) at 36.67 revolutions per second or 2,200-2,400 revolutions per minute and with a power-to-weight ratio of 17.6 kilowatts per tonne or 24 hp per tonne.
The engine is kept cool by two ventilators at its rear powered by a 33 hp engine of their own. The gearbox on the TAM is the HSWL 204 automatic planetary gearbox with torque converter and four forward/four reverse gear ratios. The first three are epicyclic gear trains (also known as planetary gears) and the fourth is a clutch disc.
The maximum road speed is a very impressive 75 km/h forwards and backward. Off-road or cross-country speed was limited to 40 km/h. The maximum range is limited to 590 km, but can be increased by 350 km to 840 km with the additional fuel tanks. The fuel capacity inside the tank is a meager 650 l, but with the addition of two 200 l fuel tanks on the back of the tank, this can be extended to over 1,000 l.
Among other performance indicators, the TAM can overcome 60% gradients, 30% side slopes, 1 m tall obstacles and 2.9 m trenches. When it comes to fording, it is capable of fording 1.5 m deep waters without preparation, increased to 2 m with preparation and 4 m with a snorkel, which takes 45 minutes to set.
Additional Optional Equipment
While it is uncommon for TAMs to be equipped with one, all vehicles in the TAM family can carry an Israeli-built RKM mine roller for mine-clearing duties; however, this task would more likely be given to a VCTP or, especially, a VCTM.
One of the TAM’s main disadvantages resulting from its small size is its meager fuel capacity. Argentina is a large country with extensive plains and a long border with its potential adversary, Chile. Therefore, an Argentine tank needs either a good road or rail network and an extensive operative range. The TAM has just a 650 l fuel capacity, so this is extended by additional fuel tanks carried on the TAM’s rear. These are not standard and there are many variations. There are two types of fuel tanks: 200 l and 175 l, and tanks carry either one or two, or as already stated, none at all.
Some of the TAM prototypes built in Argentina were equipped with Marder 1-style side-skirts. On a small number of TAMs, non-standard side-skirts have been added by their crews.
When production began in April 1979, it was expected that 200 TAM and 312 VCTP would be completed by April 1985, when the project was expected to terminate. However, economic difficulties meant that in 1983 production was stopped at 150 TAM and 100 VCTP. Additionally, 70 unfinished vehicles were left in the factory. The first serial production vehicles left the factory in 1980.
Having built the facilities and invested a considerable amount of money in them but with production terminated, it was decided to try to find success in exporting both types of vehicles. However, several deals with Arab and Latin American countries fell through and to date no vehicle has been exported. In the meantime, the Ejército Argentino incorporated 20 TAM and 26 VCTP which had been built for export.
During the 1982 Falklands War, the recently introduced to service TAM were deployed to the southern region of the country to deter a potential invasion by British forces.
Although the TAM’s were never used for their intended purpose, they were kept busy by the multiple military coup attempts (levantamientos carapintadas) which shook Argentina between 1987 and 1990. In the third attempt, between December 1st and 5th 1988, TAMs were used by the loyal government forces to break the siege at Villa Martelli where the uprising was strongest and detained the leaders of the uprising.
In the last of this series of coups (December 3rd 1990), rebellious forces under Captain Gustavo Breide Obeid took over a series of military installations, among them TAMSE. The officer who took the factory, Colonel Jorge Alberto Romero Mundani, ordered 9 or 10 TAM in the factory to head to Buenos Aires. On route, the tanks ran over a group of civilians, killing 5 of them before heading off to Mercedes. Seeing that the attempted coup was heading for failure, Romero Mundani committed suicide, one of 8 military casualties of the failed coup.
In 1994, after an effort from the Ministry of Defense, TAMSE was repurposed to build a total of 120 vehicles – TAM and VCTP – to phase out older equipment, among them Sherman Repotenciados. According to Mazarrasa, by 1995, there were a total of 200 TAM. During this period, other variants of the TAM family were built. Total production numbers are often cited at 231, but the exact number is far from clear.
After a few more years of negligence, the Argentine company Champion SA worked on a series of maintenance and modernization programs on the TAM in the early 2000’s.
The TAM of the Ejército Argentino are divided among six tank regiments in two brigades:
I Brigada Blindada «Brigadier General Martín Rodríguez» based in Buenos Aires province.
Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 2 «Lanceros General Paz» (RC Tan 2)
Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 8 «Cazadores General Necochea» (RC Tan 8)
Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 10 «Húsares de Pueyrredón» (RC Tan 10)
II Brigada Blindada «General Justo José de Urquiza» based in Entre Ríos province, on the Uruguayan border.
Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 1 «Coronel Brandsen» (RC Tan 1)
Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 6 «Blandengues» (RC Tan 6)
Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 7 «Coraceros Coronel Ramón Estomba» (RC Tan 7)
Each regiment is equipped with three squadrons of 13 tanks each, sub-divided into three sections of 4 vehicles plus an additional command vehicle.
All things considered, the TAM is a product of its time, a late-70’s tank based on mostly 1960’s technology and so it has become seriously outdated. When first introduced, the tanks equipping the armies of its neighbors were the M41 Walker Bulldog and M-51 Sherman, for Brazil and Chile respectively. At this point, the TAM could claim to be the most advanced tank of the region. However, by the late 90’s, Brazil had the M60A3 and would go on to purchase the Leopard 1A5 and Chile had several variants of the AMX-30 and Leopard 1V. By this point, the TAM was lagging behind its regional rivals and was in desperate need of modernization.
TAM S 21
In 2002, the Argentinian military and political authorities decided that it was a matter of urgency to reorganize the military industrial capacity. In a document titled Simposio sobre la Investigación y Producción para la Defensa, a project for the modernization of the TAM and other TAM-based vehicles was outlined in a project designated ‘TAM S 21’ – the TAM for the 21st Century. The Argentinian company Champion SA was put in charge of this modernization project. Due to the closure of TAMSE, many TAM had fallen into a state of disrepair and repairs were being carried out in regimental and battalion workshops. The initial projections were for 20 TAM to be maintained and modernized each year.
Four different features were to be modernized:
Fire Control System: To make the TAM able to perform and fire in all weather conditions and times of day, a thermal sight was to be installed. The selected model was Israeli and was built in Argentina by CITEFA. Fitted to the right of the main gun, it significantly increased the TAM´s range, being able to detect enemy targets at 7 km, recognize them at 2.8 km, and identify them at 1.6 km. Curiously, the improved TH-301 by Thyssen-Henschel was equipped with a thermal sight from the very beginning.
Device for stationary battery maintenance: Improved performance of the tank’s batteries by extending their lifespan.
GPS: The incorporation of a GARMIN 12 GPS and outside antenna.
The initial projection for 20 was reduced to 18, before the project was canceled after only 6 vehicles had been modified, 3 per regiment of the first brigade.
By the mid-2000’s, the age and obsoleteness of the TAM was beginning to be a major concern for the Argentinian political and military authorities, who set out several plans to bring the main battle tank of the Argentinian forces up to date. This was especially a concern when Chile, historically Argentina’s major rival, acquired Leopard 2A4’s in 2007. There were two options: either modernize the TAM (A) or acquire a new vehicle (B).
With option B, the M1 Abrams, Challenger 2 (despite the fact that since 1982, Britain had an arms embargo placed on Argentina), Leclerc, Merkava Mk. I and T-90 were all considered and the plan was to buy 231 tanks and allow technology transfer. With an estimated cost per unit of $8,185,517 for a new tank, option A became financially the most viable, with a unit cost of $3,446,800.
EMGE laid out the requirements in 2010 in a document titled Documento de Requerimiento Operacional, stipulating many compulsory requirements, most of which were intended to increase the TAM’s lethality by modernizing and improving the tank’s fire control system and gun stabilization. There were several optional and preferable requirements including improved armor and more modern communication systems, among others.
Three foreign companies put in bids for the TAM’s modernization: Carl Zeiss Optronics with ESW GmbH, Elbit Systems, and Rheinmetall with ESW GmbH. Elbit Systems was the cheapest option, and was given a contract at some point between 2010 and 2011 with the initial plan for the modernization of one prototype vehicle and 108 serial vehicles, almost half of the total TAM in service, for a total of $133,460,000.
In March 2013, the first prototype was presented. Some of the principal characteristics on this vehicle not present on the TAM were:
All-round vision for the commander and gunner with the addition of a COAPS (Commander Open Architecture Panoramic Sight)
All-round vision for the driver
Automatic target tracking
Auxiliary power unit allowing the TAM’s mechanism to work without the need of the engine being on
ELBIT laser threat detection system
Digitization of the firing control system
Electric drive for azimuthal rotation of turret and barrel elevation instead of the old hydraulic system
Battle management and state-of-the-art communications and intercom equipment
Automatic fire suppression system in the fighting compartment
Thermal sleeve on the FM K.4 Modelo 1L main armament
Addition of side skirts for increased protection
In short, the modifications were mainly in the fire control system in an attempt to bring the TAM closer to modern standards.
Despite one prototype being satisfactorily presented, the project with Elbit Systems did not go ahead. However, on June 26th 2015, the project was revived when the Argentinian government, now under the leadership of Mauricio Macri, reached an agreement with the Israeli government for the modernization of 74 TAM along the lines presented by Elbit two years previously with some extra additions, such as the substitution of the FLER-HG analogic ballistic computer with a digital one.
In March 2019, Minister of Defense Oscar Aguad highlighted the fact that the modernization of half the TAM fleet to the TAM 2C standard would prolong the TAM’s service life for another 20 years. However, as of March 2020, only one tank has been fully modernized. The latest communications from Argentinian state officials suggest that the modernization is going to be canceled, and instead, Argentina will look into substituting the TAM with a wheeled vehicle.
At the same time as the TAM 2C project stalled, in May 2016, Argentina presented a new modernization pack for the TAM, the TAM 2IP. Whilst the TAM 2C was an improvement in the fire control system and general performance of the TAM, the TAM 2IP was intended to overcome one of the TAM’s greatest weaknesses, its armor. Fulfilling EMGE’s initial requirements in the mid-70’s, the TAM was light and fast, which was achieved with thin armor, 50 mm at its thickest. The TAM 2IP was designed by the state-owned Israeli IMI Systems. This project presumably originated following the TAM 2C negotiations between the Argentinian and Israeli governments in June 2015. The main improvement was the addition of an add-on armor kit all along the hull and the front and sides of the turret. Side skirts were also added. It is unclear if the upgrades from the TAM 2C were also continued on the TAM 2IP. As far as can be established, only the one prototype of the TAM 2IP was ever built and it was mainly used to test and evaluate the possibilities of add-on armor on the TAM.
Having invested large amounts of money into the development of the facilities for assembling the TAM but with production for the Argentinian Army finished, the state-owned TAMSE was an expensive asset funded by the state. So, it was decided that rather than waste the facilities and run at a loss, the TAM should be offered for export. Several countries were interested and Peru and Ecuador even trialed it. Several other countries allegedly negotiated or showed interest in the tank, but sources are inconsistent and vague. As things stand, no other country apart from Argentina uses the TAM or any of its derivatives.
In mid-1983, Peru made an effort to purchase 100 TAMSE vehicles (TAM and VCTP). However, financial reasons meant that they would cancel the order and stick with the T-54’s and T-55’s already in service. The 20 TAM and 26 VCTP which had been already built for this delivery were canceled and transferred to the Argentinian Army.
In 1984, Panama ordered 60 vehicles, again, divided between TAM and VCTP. However, this would not materialize. It is possible that the sources about this are incorrect, and that the tanks for Panama were actually for Iran.
In the mid-80’s, an ambitious order was allegedly placed by Iran for 100 TAM, or even as many as 1,000, which seems extremely disproportionate, and these numbers and dates seem confused.
What is known is that in 1983, Diego Palleros, whose company Agrometal was based in Panama, offered to act as an intermediary between TAMSE and Iran in an operation worth $90 million for the purchase of 60 TAM. Palleros himself may have been in line for a $9 million commission. In 1984, the Argentinian government tried to alter the deal which prompted the Iranian delegation to cancel the purchase. Presumably, the use of an intermediary would have been because West Germany would not have sanctioned the selling of West German technology and components to Iran.
Rumors that as many as 10 TAMs made their way to Iran are most likely untrue.
The closest Argentina got to selling the TAM was to Ecuador in 1988-89. Ecuador was looking for a tank for its armed forces and had a competition between different tanks to inform and determine their decision. The TAM’s competitors were the Austrian SK-105, the American Stingray and the French AMX-13. The TAM was the comfortable winner, scoring 950/1000 points.
The deal was going to be for the purchase of 75 vehicles (TAM, VCTP and VCRT) for $108 million, but fell through, according to Sigal Fagliani, because of the threatened closure of TAMSE. In the end, Ecuador did not purchase any tanks.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait
Allegedly, during a tour of the Middle East in 1990, an Argentinian delegation offered the TAM to different countries of the region. Saudi Arabia was in line to make an offer for 400 tanks and went as far as extensively testing a vehicle. However, no purchase was ever made, and there are two versions of the events: 1. Israel protested to Germany that German technology was being sold to Saudi Arabia and Germany blocked the transfer. This seems very unlikely as Germany sold a number of TPz Fuchs Armored Personnel Carriers to Saudi Arabia in 1991 without any Israeli protests. 2. The USA, which had Saudi Arabia as a traditional weapons customer, did not want competition. In the same period, the USA was negotiating a deal worth $1.5 billion including investments in the Saudi arms industry and Saudi production of some components for the M1A2 Abrams. This latter explanation is the most likely reason why Saudi Arabia did not purchase the TAM, but it is hard to determine if they were even interested in buying the TAM in the first place.
On this same tour, another potential customer was Kuwait, who again, allegedly, was interested in acquiring 200 tanks. A TAM was tested in Kuwait where it impressed with its ability to overcome gradients and was required to fire 400 consecutive shots, which it achieved. Regardless, Kuwait did not end up purchasing the TAM and bought 149 M-84’s from Yugoslavia instead.
It is unclear how much truth there is in the negotiations to sell the TAM to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, however, it is known for certain that the government of Carlos Menem did make an effort to sell the TAM in the Middle East. In 1998, when being tried for his involvement in selling weapons contraband to Ecuador and Croatia in the mid-90’s (both nations were involved in wars at the time), the former Ministry of Defense, Oscar Camilión, admitted that the Argentinian government had used the Syrian arms trafficker Monzer Al Kassar to sell the TAM to the Middle East.
United Arab Emirates
Just before the Gulf War, a relative of the sheik of Abu Dhabi supposedly visited Argentina with the intention of purchasing weapons. Whilst convinced by the TAM, he requested some modifications so it could also carry 4-6 troops. Roberto Ferreiro, a senior engineer at TAMSE, was put in charge of carrying out these modifications, which were achieved by installing a bench from the VCTP instead of the electric batteries and the ammunition racks. This would have meant that the TAM’s ammunition capacity would have been severely reduced. In the end, no order was placed and the modified TAM was put back in its normal configuration. Some of the sources regarding the TAM purchase by the UAE are inconsistent, and it is possible that the UAE negotiations were actually with Kuwait.
Others: Iraq, Libya, Malaysia and Taiwan?
There are other alleged potential customers of the TAM for which information is very limited.
In Bartrones’ thesis, he claims Iraq was interested in purchasing 400 TAMs in the early 80’s but international pressure made the deal impossible.
According to Sigal Fagliani, in early 1986, TAMSE contacted Libya to try to sell the TAM, but were unsuccessful.
Cicalesi and Rivas state that the TAM was “exhibited and tested” by Malaysia. No other source mentions Malaysia, apart from Wikipedia in English (as of February 23rd 2020) which claims the South East Asian country “signed a contract for 102 vehicles of the TAM family, including the tank, VCTP and VCRT (renaming these Lion, Tiger and Elephant, respectively)”. This seems very unlikely, as it goes on to claim that the PT-91 ‘Twardy’ was acquired instead, which is completely untrue, as this purchase was not done until the mid-2000’s.
In 1993, Admiral Fausto López, with the knowledge of the Argentinian government, offered the TAMSE installations and 500 vehicles to Taiwan, an offer that was not accepted by Taiwan.
La Familia TAM – Derivatives
One of the most distinguishing factors of the TAM is how flexible a platform it is, having spawned several derivatives, including recovery vehicles, self-propelled guns and mortar carriers. Whilst this flexibility was not one of the initial requirements set by EMGE, it was very much appreciated and was in line with the initial wishes of the Argentinian military authorities, to reduce or limit the reliance on foreign vehicles.
VCTP (Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal)
Hardly a derivative, the VCTP is an infantry fighting vehicle and personnel carrier developed alongside the TAM by Thyssen-Henschel. Very similar to the Marder 1, on which it was based, it is equipped with a 20 mm Oerlikon KAD 18 automatic cannon in a turret and can transport 10 troops. 124 vehicles have been built, with a number seeing service in Bosnia and Croatia as part of UNPROFOR peacekeeping forces.
VCTM (Vehículo de Combate Transporte Mortero)
Produced from 1980’s onwards, it was the first TAM family vehicle to have been designed in Argentina. Eliminating the turret of a VCTP, it carries a 120 mm Brandt MO-120-RT mortar which fires through the hole where the turret once stood. 36 VCTM’s have been built and are still in service.
VCPC (Vehículo de Combate Puesto de Comando)
A variant of the VCTP developed in 1982, the VCPC is a command vehicle which substitutes the turret of the VCTP for a hatch for the commander. It has additional radio and communications systems and a map table in the middle of the vehicle. Only 9 have been built.
VCA (Vehículo de Combate Artillería)
One of the most adventurous derivatives, development for the VCA began in 1983, though production would not start until 1990. Designed to overcome a dependence on towed artillery, the VCA is an elongated TAM chassis where the main turret is substituted by one designed by OTO Melara. Equipped with a powerful Palmaria 155 mm gun, 20 VCA have been built and are in service.
VCAmun (Vehículo de Combate Amunicionador)
With a limited load capacity and the weight of its ammunition, the VCA was found to be impractical in some aspects. Thus, in 2002 a vehicle to transport and load the VCA’s ammunition was built. Only 2 VCAmun have been built to date. Due to these low numbers, M548A1’s are used in a similar fashion.
VCCDF (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Fuego) and TAM VCCDT (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Tiro)
Two identical vehicles derived from the VCTP were built for artillery fire control in the mid-90’s. The difference between them comes down to their roles; whereas the VCCDF is used by artillery groups, the VCCDT is used at battery level. Built in small numbers, there are 2 VCCDF and 4 VCCDT.
VCRT (Vehículo de Combate Recuperador de Tanques)
Originally envisioned in 1982 for the support and recovery of TAM and VCTM equipped units, the VCRT has a long crane, a winch, an auxiliary winch and a dozer blade. Only one was built and it is still in service.
VCLC (Vehículo de Combate Lanza Cohetes)
Developed in 1986 at the request of EMGE to have an armored vehicle equipped with rocket launchers. Originally intended to have two versions equipped with light CAL-160 rockets or medium CAM-350 rockets, only a prototype for the light version was built. Budget limitations meant that this example, which survives to this day as a static display, is the only one.
VCA (Vehículo de Combate Ambulancia) and VCAmb (Vehículo de Combate Ambulancia)
Two different derivatives were manufactured to fulfill the role of an armored ambulance.The VCA was developed in the 80’s and is a turretless VCTP with internal modifications to carry stretchers. Several VCTP retained the turret but had their armament taken away.
One mock-up VCAmb was built in 2001 sharing a chassis with the VCAmun, but not even a prototype was built.
TAP (Tanque Argentino Pesado)
It is unclear when the TAP was envisioned, but it is possible that it dates as far back as the early to mid-80’s. Using the elongated TAM chassis as in the VCA, its main armament was a 120 mm gun in a Leopard 2-like turret. No prototypes were built and there is very little trace of a design.
VCDA (Vehículo de Combate Defensa Aérea)
The VCDA was a TAM derivative designed for air defense and would have been equipped with twin 35 mm guns. Almost no details exist about this derivative.
VCLM (Vehículo de Combate Lanza Misiles)
The VCLM was to be a TAM derivative intended to launch Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs). Roland and locally-designed Halcón missiles were considered. Almost no details exist about this derivative.
VCLP (Vehículo de Combate Lanza Puentes)
The VCLP was to be the armored vehicle-launched bridge derivative of the TAM. Again, hardly any details exist about this derivative.
The TAM has become a piece of Argentinian folklore and a source of pride. Although claims that it is an indigenous tank are untrue, the TAM has hugely benefited Argentinian industry and limited the dependence on foreign suppliers to equip its armed forces. When first introduced in 1980-81, the TAM was a decent tank, packing a strong punch with its 105 mm main armament and a mesmerizing speed and mobility which would have served it well along the vast Argentinian plains. Put simply, at the time, in the region, it was unrivaled. However, financial difficulties meant that the TAM was never built in the numbers intended and the failure to export it doomed any future progress on the tank. By the 1990s, the TAM’s age, and more importantly the technology it was based on, meant that other nations in the region had caught up or surpassed Argentina and the TAM. This is even more accentuated the further we go into the new millennium. Modernization programs, as sound and well-intended as they may have been, have been stuck by Argentina constantly being held back due to a lack of liquidity and corruption. Taking this into consideration, a 20-year prolongation of the TAM may not be what Argentina’s armored forces necessarily need, and issues such as weak armor are never going to be fully resolved. The time may be coming to bid farewell to the TAM and find a more suitable replacement for the Argentina of the twenty-first century.
Tanque Argentino Mediano, Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 1 «Coronel Brandsen» two-tone green camouflage. Illustrated by David Bocquelet
TAM call sign number 224, serial number EA 435488, ‘GBD ACUNA’, of the Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 8 «Cazadores General Necochea». Illustrated by David Bocquelet with modifications by Brian Gaydos, funded by our Patreon campaign
TAM call sign number 322, serial number EA 435506, ‘CHACABUCO’, with snorkel and different ammunition types. Illustrated by Pablo Javier Gomez
TAM S 21 call sign number 200, serial number EA 433836, ‘TCRL AGUADO BENITEZ’, in Magdalena (Buenos Aires province) September 2005. Illustrated by Pablo Javier Gomez
TAM 2C prototype, 2013. Illustrated by David Bocquelet
The TAM 2C prototype in a slightly different livery. Illustrated by Pablo Javier Gomez
TAM 2IP prototype. Illustrated by Pablo Javier Gomez
8.23 (6.77 without gun) x 3.12 x 2.42 m
27′ (22’2″) x 10’2″ x 7’9″
Total weight, battle ready
30.5 tons (61,000 lbs)
4 (commander, driver, loader, gunner)
MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp (540 kW)
75 mph (47 mph) on road
370 miles/590 km or 500 miles/800 km with external FT
105 mm (4.13 in) FM K.4 Modelo 1L
2 x 7.62 mm NATO FN MAG GMPG (0.3 in) coax/AA
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Fuerzas Armadas Españolas (Eng: Spanish Armed Forces) were looking for a new Combat Engineering Vehicle (C.E.V.) to support the troops and tank units of the Ejército de Tierra (Eng: Spanish Army). CEVs can trace their heritage back to the British AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) that landed on the invasion beaches on D-Day. They are designed to be operated by battlefield engineers and are used to construct fortifications, clear obstructions, and assist ground troops as well as armored vehicles.
Having received a large number of surplus vehicles from American stocks in Europe, the Spanish Army decided to base this new CEV on the M60A1 tank. The conversion was extensive and consisted of, among other things, replacing the main gun with an excavator arm and the installation of a large dozer blade.
In all, 38 M60A1s were converted into what was designated the CZ-10/25E Alacrán. Alacrán means “scorpion” in Spanish and comes from the Arab word ‘al’aqráb’. With a prototype appearing in 1995, the CEV entered service with the Spanish Army in 1997.
M60s in Spain
The M60A1 was the second version of the 105 mm Gun Tank M60. The A1 was produced from 1962 to 1980 and was armed with the same M68 105 mm Gun, and powered by the same 750 hp Continental AVDS-1790-2 V12, air-cooled twin-turbo diesel engine. It had improved armor over the initial model, with 109 mm to 250 mm (4.29 – 10 in) of protection. It had the same top speed of 48 km/h (30 mph) and rolled on the same suspension, which consisted of 6 road wheels attached to a torsion bar suspension, 3 return rollers, a forward idler, and drive sprocket at the rear. The idler wheel was of the compensating type, meaning it was attached to the closest roadwheel by an actuating arm. When the roadwheel reacts to terrain the idler is pushed out or pulled in, keeping constant track tension.
Spain had used the M60 AVLB (Armored Vehicle-Launched Bridge) since as far back as 1967 and the M88A1 Armoured Recovery Vehicle since 1982, but the new international context in the twilight years of the Cold War saw Spain receive the main variant of the famous US tank. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) negotiated in 1988 aimed to establish comprehensive limits on key categories of conventional military equipment in Europe. To reduce their tank numbers, the US armed forces in Europe would transfer older tanks and other materiel to their NATO allies. Spain, according to the CFE treaty signed in Paris in November 1990, was scheduled to receive 170 M60A1 RISE and RISE Passive and 270 M60A3 TTS. However, by the time Spain accepted the transfer in June 1991, the numbers had risen to 272 M60A1 and 260 M60A3.
With the effective end of the Cold War following the dissolution of the USSR, the Spanish Army reorganized its structure in 1991. They considered that such high numbers of outdated tanks were not needed, and decided to renounce their rights to 110 M60A1.
In the end, Spain received 48 M60A1 RISE, 2 M60A1 RISE Passive and 260 M60A3 TTS in five batches between September 1992 and March 1993. As they had done in the US Army, they replaced the M47 and M48 in the Spanish Army. However, they would have a very short career, being partly replaced by the Leopard 2A4 before the end of the Millenium and then completely by the Leopard 2E in the early 2000s. Sixteen M60A3 TTS were destined to the Infantería de Marina [Eng. Spanish Marine Infantry] where, as of 2019, they are still serviceable, although they are scheduled to be replaced.
Since the early 80s, the Jefatura de Ingenieros del Ejército [Eng. the Headquarters of the Army Engineers] had seen the need to equip the Engineers Branch of the army with a modern engineering vehicle.
In 1981, Peugeot Talbot España was requested to design two vehicles based on the M47 Patton II, one for engineering and one for recovery. The engineering vehicle, the M-47E2I, had the turret removed and was equipped with a bulldozer blade, a hydraulic crane, and a 3-meter long hydraulic post hole digger. Only one prototype was built and was put in service in 1984. In 1986, new requirements were set for an engineering vehicle, or ‘carro de zapadores’ [Eng. sapper tank], without a crane or post hole digger, but with a backhoe, or excavator arm. Peugeot Talbot España again designed a vehicle for this role, but with the expected arrival of the M60, there was no need to modify such an old vehicle when a newer one was available.
The initial requirements from the Army for the zapador vehicle based on the M60 were less complex than the ones Peugeot Talbot had presented based on the M47 in 1988. The tank’s turret would be replaced by a fixed rectangular structure that would maintain the commander’s cupola from the M60. At the front, there was a winch mounted, and situated on the right would be the excavator arm which could turn 180º. After some further modifications, the final requirements were set by the Estado Mayor del Ejército [Eng. General Staff of the Army] in 1994. These requirements were published by the Ministerio de Defensa [Eng. Ministry of Defense] who set a tender for the delivery of a prototype of a vehicle fitting those requirements with an M60A1 facilitated by the Army before December 31st 1995.
Only two companies showed interest in this project: Peugeot Talbot España and Grupo Auxiliar Metalúrgico. The latter company was unable to complete the prototype (M-60VZ) before the cut-off date and was thus not considered. In the hope of gaining enough time to finish their prototype, Grupo Auxiliar Metalúrgico sued the Ministry of Defense, which only delayed the whole process.
The prototype by Peugeot Talbot España was designated as the PTE CZ-10/30E and was quite different from their previous designs and army requirements. The vehicle was trialed for a few months with different equipment before a series of modifications and improvements were sent to Peugeot Talbot by the Estado Mayor. Once these were satisfactorily met, Lieutenant General José Faura Martín, on behalf of the Estado Mayor, made a formal request to the Ministerio de Defensa for the continuation of the project. On November 29th, 1996, the Spanish Government officially authorized the serial production of the now designated ‘Carro de Zapadores M-60A1 CZ.10/25E’. The abbreviation in the vehicle’s name is a description of what it is. ‘CZ’ stands for Carro de Zapadores [Eng. sapper tank], ‘10’ for maximum hoist capacity in tonnes, ‘25’ for maximum towing capacity in tonnes, and ‘E’ for ‘España’ or ‘español’ [Eng. Spain or Spanish]. The nickname ‘Alacrán’ was given to the vehicle by Peugeot Talbot España due to its similarity to a scorpion. Twelve days later, the contract was signed with Peugeot Talbot España worth 3,441 million pesetas (Ptas.) (around $22.5 million modern-day) for the transformation and delivery of 38 of these vehicles in three batches:
3 in 1997
15 in 1998
20 in 1999
Design and Equipment
As CEV conversions of existing gun tanks go, the Alacrán is one of the less extensive examples. Much of the vehicle remains identical to the base vehicle, the only main exceptions being that the 105 mm gun has been replaced by a large excavator arm and a bulldozer blade has been installed on the bow. The crew of the vehicle was reduced to three, consisting of the commander and operator in the turret, and the driver in the hull. The commander of the vehicle is responsible for directing the use of the excavator arm, providing navigation, and communications. The commander is also responsible for manning the Alacrán’s single armament, a .50 cal. (12.7 mm) M85 heavy machine gun. This was housed in the M19 Commander’s Cupola, a fully rotating ‘mini-turret’ held over from the M60. The operator is responsible for the operation of the excavator arm and winch.
The excavator arm that replaced the gun was fixed directly into the space once occupied by the mantlet. It is controlled by the ‘operator’, positioned at the left front of the turret. Thanks to the fully rotating turret, the arm could reach around the entirety of the vehicle without the need for the vehicle to move. The arm was made by Case Poclain, an American company that specializes in the construction of excavators. It has a reach of 7.2 meters (23.6 ft) and can dig to a maximum depth of 2.65 meters (8.6 ft).
Because of its universal coupling, other tools can be attached to the end of the arm, among which are:
H-7XA NPK Pneumatic Jack-Hammer: used to break through concrete or rock. For example, if a road was blocked by boulders, the jackhammer could break them up so the Alacrán could push through the smaller debris with its bulldozer blade.
Verachert VTC-30 Hydraulic Jaws: widely known as ‘Demolition Jaws’, this piece of hardware can chew through anything, be it metal or concrete. These would be used to break down blockades, tear through stubborn emplacements, and destroy railway tracks.
Verachert Hydraulic Claws: these claws provided the vehicle some dexterity, allowing it to grasp and clear logs or large chunks of debris.
It is unclear as to what effect the stresses and strains of using the excavator arm would place on the turret and turret ring of the vehicle. After all, the turret was designed to stand up to the force of a firing 105 mm gun, or the impact of an incoming shell. The turret’s weight was balanced for the ring to allow smooth rotation. The turret and ring were not designed to swing a long, heavy arm and dig into the ground and pull up buckets full of debris, which would have placed great lateral stresses on the turret ring. Also, to what degree can the turret ring handle the 25 tonne pulling power of the winch mounted on the turret is unknown.
When use of the excavator arm is not required, the turret is traversed to the rear. The bucket is detached and placed in a cradle on the left-rear fender. The arm would then be folded low over the engine deck, with the universal joint resting at the level of tow pintle at the base of the radiator grills.
Mounted on the bow of the Alacrán is a hydraulically activated bulldozer blade. The blade is 4 m (13.1 ft) wide and 80 cm (2.6 feet) high. The depth of the blade is 30 cm (11 in). It has the capacity to push 35 tonnes. On CEVs, bulldozer blades are used for multiple tasks, such as carving out hull-down positions for gun tanks, digging gun emplacements (the Alacrán has the capacity to dig 30 cm at a time), route denial (creating and filling anti-tank ditches), and improving bridge approaches. It can also be used aggressively to push barricades or debris from the path of attacking allies. On the Alacrán, the blade also acts as a stabilizer when the excavator arm or winch are in use by being planted into the ground, lifting the front section of the tank off the ground.
The driver of the vehicle is responsible for the bulldozer blade, all controls for it are located in his position. Additionally, a three-tooth dethatcher can be added on the bottom of the dozer blade to abrade grounds from organic matter. The bulldozer blade can also be exchanged for mine-clearing devices.
On the rear of the Alacrán’s turret, where the ammunition stowage once was, a small hydraulic winch was added. To incorporate this, the stowage basket on the bustle was cut in half, and the winch mounted directly to the armor in between the two sections. This winch has a raw capacity of 25 tonnes (24.6 tons), however, this can be increased to 50 tonnes with the use of pulley blocks. These are stored around the exterior of the vehicle, the largest being stowed on the left turret cheek. The steel cable is 80 m long and 26 mm wide and can be actioned automatically.
The winch’s primary role is to recover other vehicles. As the turret spends most of its time traversed to the rear, this allows the winch to be used over the front of the CEV. In turn, this allows the Alacran to anchor itself with the bulldozer blade when pulling a heavy object such as a tank.
There is also an auxiliary pulley or cable which is 10 m long and has a maximum pulling capacity of 15 tonnes (16.5 tons).
As an engineering vehicle, the Alacrán also has the role of clearing and marking space through a minefield or other obstacles.
To clear a minefield, the vehicle can use a Rampta Anti Magnetic Mine Activation Device (AMMAD) mine plow instead of the bulldozer blade. The system consists of a strong steel frame with two parallel plows with five plowshares each. Each plow can be elevated and controlled independently. Between the plows, there is a roller that magnetically deactivates mines 2 to 5 m in front of the vehicle.
Once mines are cleared by the Alacrán or another vehicle, the Alacrán can also mark the path cleared which allows troops and other vehicles to safely cross. The Alacrán incorporates a IMI/Rampta CLAMS SP-06133 system for placing ranging rods. Situated at the back of the tank and actuated automatically by a 24-volt electric drive, it has a total capacity of 150 rods, which consist of either flags for day use or luminous tubes for night use, which are placed at a distance of either 6, 12, 18, 24, 36, or 48 m. This same system is used on the German Keiler mine-flail.
Inside the Alacrán is a GPS (Global Positioning System) which allows the crew to accurately determine where known minefields are placed not only for itself but it can also communicate to other units where one is and where a path has been cleared through one.
The interior was mostly left unchanged, however, some new components for the engineering equipment had to be added. In the driver’s compartment, the only additions were the mechanisms for controlling the bulldozer blade.
Beneath the turret, the hydraulic system producing 70.1 kW was placed, through which a transfer case transfers power to the excavator arm on the one hand, and the winch on the other. The system consists of a variable flow axial piston pump which powered all systems except for the bulldozer blade and the turret’s rotation, a fixed flow axial piston pump for the turret’s rotation and a third pump for the driving mechanisms. There is also an auxiliary hydraulic system for the bulldozer blade which can also serve as an emergency pump powered by a 24 volts electric engine to start any of the hydraulic systems, albeit at a reduced speed.
As other Spanish vehicles, the Alacrán is equipped with a Thales PR4G model 2 tactical radio phone, an external phone and intercom for all three crew members.
Being an engineering vehicle, the Alacrán is not intended to do any actual fighting, but it is always a good precaution to mount equipment for defensive capabilities.
The main form of defense is the .50 M85 machine gun (12.7 mm) which was retained from the original M60. 900 rounds are carried. Inside, eight handgrenades, a disposable 90 mm Instalaza C-90 rocket-propelled grenade launcher and the crew’s assault rifles, presumably the Heckler & Koch G36, are carried.
For passive defense, on each side of the turret there is a set of four smoke grenade launchers and a smoke generator. Each of the crewmembers has a NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) suit.
The expected timetable for deliveries of the Alacrán was not met, as by February 2nd 1999, only nine vehicles had been delivered for inspection by the Inspección de Ingenieros [Eng. Engineers Inspection]. The following engineer and sapper units were equipped with the vehicle as of 2003:
Batallón de Zapadores X, Brigada “Guzmán el Bueno” X based outside Córdoba
Batallón de Zapadores XI, Brigada “Extremadura” XI based in Badajoz
Batallón de Zapadores XII, Brigada “Guadarrama” XII based in Madrid
Batallón de Zapadores XXII, Brigada de Caballería “Castillejos” II based in Zaragoza. Now defunct, its units have become part of the División “Castillejos”
Regimiento de Ingenieros n.º 1, Mando de Ingenieros based near Burgos
Regimiento de Ingenieros n.º 7 based in Ceuta
Regimiento de Ingenieros n.º 8 based in Melilla
Academia de Ingenieros based in Hoyo de Manzanares, north of Madrid
The Alacrán has not been deployed to Bosnia, Lebanon, Afghanistan, or Iraq, as these are peacekeeping missions in which Spain has not sent heavy armor. As such, the most action the Alacrán has seen has been in training missions and army exercises.
In the summer of 2018, Integración Tecnológica Empresarial (ITE) won a bid put forward by the Ejército de Tierra for a 3 year project worth almost €5 million for the extensive maintenance of several of its engineering vehicles, including the Alacrán. The project is due to finish in 2020.
However, despite these efforts, the Ejército de Tierra is looking to replace the Alacrán and other engineering vehicles with a common platform based on the ASCOD and developed by General Dynamic European Land Systems and Santa Bárbara Sistemas known as VCZAP Castor. Five vehicles are expected to be delivered to the Ejército in May 2020. An earlier plan to replace the vehicle with the AEV3 Kodiak was abandoned because of budget constraints.
One vehicle is kept as a static display at the Museo de los Medios Acorazados (MUMA) at El Goloso military base, just outside of Madrid.
The Alacrán has proven to be yet another ingenious Spanish-based modification to complement the less famed but equally important role of engineering vehicles. Whilst crude in appearance, it has satisfactorily fulfilled its intended role. However, the base of the vehicle, the M60 tank, is quite old technology, so the need for a more modern basis has become apparent.
An article by Gareth Lynn Montes & Mark Nash.
The CZ-10/25E Alacrán, illustration by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
6.94m (without excavator arm) x 3.63m x 3.27m (22’8″ x 11’9″ x 10’7″)
Not many tanks in history have achieved the legendary status of the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf.B or ‘Königstiger’. Despite all the research on this tank, not many know that after the war, several nations, among them Sweden, acquired examples to evaluate and test.
The Swedish Mission
During World War Two, Sweden had declared neutrality but was sandwiched between the invading Germans in Norway and the Soviet offensive in Finland, the latter probably being of more concern to Swedish authorities. Sweden aided both the Axis and the Allied powers during the conflict. For example, Germany was allowed to transport the whole 163rd Infantry Division, along with all its equipment and supplies, from Norway to Finland across Sweden to fight the Soviets in June-July 1941 and iron reserves continued to be sold all the way up to 1944. On the other hand, military intelligence was passed on to the Allies, and Danish and Norwegian clandestine resistance groups were trained on Swedish soil. From 1944 onward, Swedish air bases were open to Allied aircraft. In spite of its neutrality, Sweden was always afraid of a potential invasion, and as a result had developed a number of indigenous tanks in the period leading up to the war and during the war itself. Along with this, Sweden possessed a powerful navy which could have discouraged an invasion.
After the end of the war, sometime between 1946 and 1947, Swedish military authorities sent personnel across Europe to acquire intact or semi-intact German tanks for the purpose of testing. One of the main aims of these tests were to see how anti-tank mines and other weaponry in the Swedish arsenal fared against heavily armored tanks.
The first tank they acquired was a single Panzer V Panther at a tank depot outside Versailles, with a Königstiger as their next objective. Finding one of these famed tanks proved to be harder than anticipated until August 1947, when one was found in Gien, south of Paris.
Another burnt-out example, allegedly having belonged to sPz.Abt. 503, 1.Kompanie, was found near the town of Vimontiere (Normandy) and was rejected in October 1946, as it did not meet the requirements of the Swedish authorities. Both the Panther and the Gien Königstiger were handed to the Swedish by the French authorities free of charge.
Skandinavisk Express was commissioned to provide transport for the tank to Stockholm as soon as possible. However, it would not be until 27th November 1947 that the Königstiger would be unloaded at Stockholm docks.
Initial Testing and its Journey
The Königstiger was transferred to the P 4 Regiment, also known as Skaraborgs regemente, in Skövde, 265 km (164.7 miles) west of Stockholm. There is no indication as to how the vehicle was transported to Skövde. After some time in which the tank was left in poor condition outside a workshop, work began to put the tank in running order, during which a German grenade was found within its hull. It would seem that the German crew or personnel in charge of the vehicle had in mind to destroy it rather than allow it to fall into Allied hands when they abandoned their tank. Once the engine was re-assembled, a short test run around the workshop grounds proved the vehicle was still capable of moving.
The vehicle was further tested in Skövde, being subjected to several terrain driving tests. In one of them, the swing arm of one of the end-wheels broke. It was soon welded back together, but the testing team had to be more careful in subsequent tests.
After its restoration, some sources suggest that the L/71 KwK 43 8.8 cm gun was removed for testing, provided that suitable ammunition could be found. However, later photographic evidence suggests otherwise, and that unless the gun was removed, then re-fitted and then removed for one last time, the gun remained attached until early 1949.
In late 1948, it was decided to move the tank to the Karlsborg testing area, roughly 60 km to the east. There, the Königstiger would fulfill its intended role as a guinea pig for gun tests. This operation proved to be of a gargantuan scale and full of complications. The transport had originally been planned for between 24th and 29th September 1948, but the swing arm incident postponed the transport indefinitely. Due to the weight of the vehicle, the easy option, to transport it by train directly to Karlsborg and then tow it to the facilities, was not plausible, as the line crossed a canal bridge which would not support the extra weight of the tank. In the end, the tank was transported by train to Finnerödja and then transported by a convoy to its final destination in Karlsborg, 60 km away. The convoy needed to transport it was made up of a turretless M4A4 Sherman, the tractor unit of an M26 Dragon Wagon, a terrängdragbil (tdgb) m/46 (a Swedish Brockway B666), a 10-tonne (11 tons) recovery vehicle, a fuel truck, two cars for personnel and four motorbikes. The roads, not having been built to take this kind of weight, and the abundance of forest meant that the journey took between November 10th and 15th and cost a staggering SEK10,000 and a total consumption of 6,000 liters of gasoline. Once in Karlsborg, testing could resume.
Tests in Karlsborg
Throughout 1949 and up until 1951, the vehicle was subject to mine detonations and barrage tests to gauge the strength of the Königstiger’s armor and the effectiveness of Swedish ammunition. As far as can be confirmed, there were seven tests:
Tests no. 1, 1st-2nd December 1948: The Königstiger and Sherman armor were fired upon by a variety of weapons and calibres, among which were: a 8 cm raketgevär m/49 bazooka, 8.4 cm granatgevär m/48 ‘Carl Gustaf’ recoilless rifle, 10.5 cm pansarskott m/45 and m/46 disposable recoilless rifles, 10.5 cm infanterikanon m/45 and 7.5 cm pvkan m/43 onboard a pvkv m/43. The Könisgstiger was fired upon seventeen times and it was found that the majority of weapons could not penetrate it frontally, with the exception of the disposable recoilless rifles, which could disable the tank with just one or two hits. However, when fired upon from the side, the damage was noteworthy. After this first test, the engine and gearbox were removed.
Test No. 2, 7th-21st November 1949: The vehicle was shot at 26 times to test different 8 cm and 12 cm HEAT ammunition and 10.5 cm ‘Wallburster’ HESH rounds. The latter rounds were discarded for future tests due to their limited success, despite creating some splits in the hull.
Test No. 3, 25th-27th January 1950: This test studied the effects of sub-calibre projectiles on heavy armor and were overall disappointing, with several projectiles breaking on impact. This was attributed to the use of sub-standard materials in their construction and production method.
Test No. 4, 1st-2nd March 1950: Artillery pieces firing HE, two 10.5 cm and one 15 cm, were tested against the front of the vehicle and the side and front of the turret. HEAT mines were also tested. The 15 cm rounds caused ‘considerable but not serious’ damage to the welds, though this was put down to faulty construction, not to the merits of the gun firing. Some sources suggest that, after this test, the main gun was removed.
Test No. 5: No details are known.
Test No. 6, 12th December 1950: This test was carried out to assess the damage different shells, grenades and launched projectiles had on a vehicle’s mobility from which the testing crew could calculate the average repair time. They found that, of the weapons, at the very least, a 57 mm HE round from a 57 mm pvkan m/43 was useful for stopping a vehicle such as the Königstiger, as long as the detonation happened near the tracks or at the front.
Test No. 7, 10th-11th May 1951: Again, for this test, a Sherman was used alongside the Königstiger to test different ammunition of the 7.5 cm lvkan m/37 anti-aircraft gun and the 15.2 cm fältpjäs M/37 coastal artillery cannon.
By the end of testing, this intense firepower turned the vehicle into a small pile of scrap that would have fitted into “the backseat of a Volkswagen Beetle” and what was left of the hull was scrapped.
The turret was sent to the firing range in Kråk to be used as target practice, becoming a popular target for the crews of the newly arrived Strv 81 (Centurion Mk. 3). It was common to use training rounds for the 20 pdr (84 mm) gun armed Strv 81 which penetrated the turret all the time.
The gun was kept for some time in Karlsborg until it was sent to the Bofors HQ in Karlskoga, where it remained until eventually being scrapped in the late 80s. Unfortunately, two weeks later a member of the Swedish Armor Historical Society arrived enquiring about the gun. Had they arrived a fortnight earlier, the Kwk 43 would quite likely be found today at Arsenalen. The only pieces remaining are the original engine, the gearbox and the rear hatch, which was found lying about Kråk firing range in the 1970s. The engine and gearbox can now be found at the Swedish Tank Museum, though they have an exciting yet mysterious and confused story themselves. Allegedly, after having been removed and stored at the Garrison Museum Skaraborg in the tiny town of Axvall, under dodgy circumstances and poor communication, the engine and gearbox were lent to Kevin Wheatcroft, a collector in the UK. When the return package from the UK arrived, a shell and a scrap engine were found inside. Eventually, the original engine and gearbox were found by British police in 2010 in the workshop of Mr Wheatcroft, who denies any wrongdoing and has collaborated with the authorities. Contrary to what some internet sources have claimed, Mr Wheatcroft has at no point been trialed or convicted of any crime. The intermediary between the museum and the collector, Daniel Misik, was convicted of fraud and embezzlement.
It is unusual to have an origins story after the fate section. For decades, there was a debate over which German unit the Swedish Königstiger had previously belonged to or what exact model it was and there was no general consensus in the historiography.
It would not be until the excellent work of Herbert Ackermans and Per Sonnervik that the mystery would finally be solved, finding that the Swedish Königstiger was a test vehicle marked 211 from Kummersdorf, which was the sixth series-produced King Tiger tank with chassis number ‘280 006’.
The Swedish Königstiger had three main characteristics:
It had a pre-production turret: The first 50 vehicles were produced with the pre-production turret (the incorrectly termed ‘Porsche turret’), while the subsequent tanks were equipped with the production turret (again, often incorrectly referred to as the ‘Henschel turret’).
The gun was a single-piece barrel tube: The first version of 8.8 cm KwK 43 (L/ 71) consisted of an integral one-piece barrel tube with a larger muzzle brake (taken from the Tiger I). In May 1944, it was replaced by a two-piece barrel tube, which was easier to produce in quantity without deteriorating firing capabilities. According to production statistics, eleven tanks were produced before the barrel was changed and during the month when the barrel tubes were changed, 19 tanks were manufactured, so it is possible that some of these also had the single-piece barrel. So between 11 and 30 King Tigers had the early barrel.
The turret had ‘two-eyed’ sights: The Swedish Königstiger had the early ‘two-eyed’ Turmzielfernrohr 9b/1 sight. This type of sight was changed in May 1944 to a newer model, the type Turmzielfernrohr 9d, which used only one opening in the frontal turret armor.
This allows the identification of the Swedish Königstiger as one of the first 50 tanks with the pre-production turret. With a one-piece gun barrel, the number of potential tank individuals is further reduced and production time can be set to May 1944 at the very latest.
Additionally, the Swedish Königstiger had eleven details which make it such a fascinating example:
Two Flammenvernichter mit AbsatzKrümmer (flame suppressor with a bend): One of the most striking features at first glance on this tank are the horizontally placed flame suppressors, as these, on the Panther, were placed vertically.
‘Kgs 73/800/152’ track links and the 4th version drive sprockets: sPz. Abt. 506 unit had tested these new track links in the Winter of 1944-45 before they were standardized in March 1945. It is also likely that pre-production turret tanks in Germany could have been modified in a similar way. The drive sprocket is of the version 4 variant which was not introduced until March 1945, meaning that it was replaced from the original version 1 at some point.
Armor protection over the snorkel: this was only seen in the first 11 vehicles before February 1944.
Rain drainage at the loader’s hatch: a common feature in the first series vehicles.
Zimmerit on both turret and chassis.
Pistol ports on both sides of the turret (welded shut) but not the port for discarding empty shells.
No turret ring protection.
No opening for the pre-heating of the engine cooling system: This featured in tanks built after February 1944, so cannot be found in the first eleven vehicles.
No fittings to lock the front flat track guards: Prototypes V1, V2, and V3 featured this, so this is firm evidence the Swedish Königstiger was not one of the three prototypes.
No center mount on rearmost side mudguard: the prototypes and some early production vehicles lacked this feature.
No recess in the front armor on the right hand side at the machine gunner’s periscope: There is evidence this featured on vehicle ‘no. 280 009’, so the Swedish Königstiger predates this.
A combination of all these details means a few long-held theories on the origin of this vehicle can be discarded.
One such theory is that the vehicle had belonged to s.Pz.Abt. 503 (schwere Panzerabteilung 503 [trans. 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion]) which was equipped with Königstigers and had fought in Normandy during Operation Overlord and the subsequent Allied push inland. However, this can easily be discounted as the unit would not have had access to the late tracks, gear ring, and muzzle brake because these had not been manufactured at that time. It is unlikely that, for some bizarre reason, French military authorities would have made these modifications on an abandoned vehicle. For similar reasons, the theory suggesting it belonged to Fkl 316 (PanzerKompanie Funklenk 316) can be rejected
Another theory suggests that it had belonged to s.Pz.Abt. 506 (schwere Panzerabteilung 506 [trans. 506th Heavy Panzer Battalion]), a unit that never fought in France. It is unlikely that a vehicle from this unit would have been moved to Gien from either the Netherlands or Germany. Even so, the muzzle brake could hardly have been in the field at the time when s.Pz.Abt. 506 was active with these tanks as the muzzle brakes had only just been fitted to the factory tanks.
Lastly, one theory points out that it was of the prototype (V1-3) tanks, though, as has been explained, this is not possible as it lacked an opening for pre-heating of the engine cooling system and it did not have the fittings to lock the front flat track guards.
A combination of factors sets this Königstiger as an early vehicle (pre-production turret, single-piece barrel, ‘two-eyed’ sights, etcetera) with some late modifications (version 4 sprocket and late-war track links). This means the vehicle was an early vehicle kept in Germany throughout the war for tests and modifications which explains the late-war features. As a result, it is safe to conclude that the Swedish Königstiger was a test tank marked with number 211 from Kummersdorf which was the sixth series-produced tank with chassis number ‘280 006’. The vehicle was sent to the winter testing facility in Sankt Johann (Austria) at some point, probably late-1944.
After the end of the war in Europe, the vehicle was transported to a ‘gathering place’ in Gien.
Unfortunately, the Swedish Königstiger is a product of a bygone era when the heritage of armored vehicles was hardly at the forefront of anyone’s agenda. Despite its peculiarities, the vehicle did not stand out among the scores of destroyed and abandoned vehicles and debris which occupied most of Europe in 1945. The vehicle served its purpose: first as a German fighting vehicle, and secondly, as a target for Sweden to test its weapons.
Swedish Königstiger based on the tank shown in the available photos. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
The M4 Sherman is, without doubt, one of the most recognizable and well-known tanks of the Second World War. Entering service in 1942, the tank would be mass-produced in many different variants and saw service with all the major US allies. After the war, the large number of surplus tanks meant that nations with little-to-no armor and limited budgets could purchase a decent and reliable tank in substantial numbers. Some of these, such as Argentina or Israel, would eventually modify and update their tanks to keep them in service. The Sherman tank would go on to see service and combat for many decades after its debut, with one of the last occasions being the Uganda-Tanzania War of 1978-79.
Context and History
In October 1962, the Protectorate of Uganda achieved independence from Britain. The following decades would be turbulent and marked by instability. To counter new leader Milton Obote’s adoption of Socialism, Great Britain and Israel backed a military coup led by Colonel Idi Amin. This led to eight years of brutal military rule ending with the overthrow of Amin’s regime after defeat in the Uganda-Tanzania War.
Uganda and Tanzania share a border which, during the Nineteenth Century ‘Scramble for Africa’, had served as the border between the British and German empires. These boundaries, drawn on a map, often divided ethnicities and put together a mixture of ethnic groups ruled by ‘divide and conquer’, creating decades of conflicts after independence. The northern Tanzanian province of Kagera, with a landmass of 695 square miles (1800 square kilometers) and bordering Lake Victoria to its East, Rwanda to the West, and Uganda to its North, was, at least according to Amin, rightfully Ugandan territory. Coincidentally, the province also housed around a thousand Ugandan dissidents, opponents to Amin, who had moved there after a failed coup against the dictator in 1978. From Kagera, they mounted cross-border raids with the collusion of Tanzanian authorities. After a short build-up campaign, in order to crush the dissenters and the Tanzanians who aided them, Amin launched Operation Liberation in October 1978 without a declaration of war.
The Israeli Connection
In the early years of Obote, Uganda enjoyed very friendly relations with Israel. Because of its strategic location south of what was then Sudan, Uganda was a useful ally for Israel. Sudan had supported Egypt in the Six-Day War and would send troops to fight Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Uganda received Israeli military advisors and surplus Israeli equipment during this period, most notably, 12 M4A1 Shermans equipped with the M1A1C 76mm gun, and a number of M38 Jeeps in 1969. It is not known how the tanks got all the way from Israel to landlocked Uganda, but an informed guess is that they were ferried to Kenya and then rail transported.
In early 1972, shortly after Amin had taken over, and with the intention of waging war with Tanzania to obtain a land corridor to the Indian Ocean, there were some talks regarding acquiring a second batch of tanks and 24 McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II fighter-bombers. Negotiations would not materialize and in revenge, Amin closed the Israeli embassy and severed diplomatic relations. The deterioration of relations would culminate in the Israeli raid on Entebbe airport on July 4th 1976 to free the hostages from the Palestinian PFLP-EO hijacked Air France Tel Aviv-Paris flight after Amin had allowed the hijackers to use Entebbe as a destination. After this, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya became Amin’s main backer and supplier.
“Tankensteins” from Israel
The 12 Shermans Uganda purchased from Israel were the first tanks in the country’s inventory. Although all of them were of the M4A1 variant, they were a variety of sub-variants and not one was exactly the same as another. Israel had got their hands on their Sherman tanks in the first place from US Army depots in Italy and the Philippines through legal and illegal means. To modernize them, Israel had heavily modified their Shermans. Modifications included: the addition of French-made smoke dischargers on each side of the turret (presumably from the French supplied AMX-13); the addition of spare track carrying brackets on the side of the turret, and at the front of the hull; the fitting of aftermarket radio antennas; and the fitting of a bracket holding a searchlight on the gun mantle. In images of these tanks in Ugandan service though, the searchlights seem to have been removed, either by the Israelis before delivery or through wear and tear in Uganda.
Camouflage and Markings
Once they arrived in Uganda, the tanks were painted deep bronze green. Black and white photos taken in 1987 of a knocked out M4A1 on a road north of Kampala show what appears to be two-tone camouflage on the tanks, rather than just plain bronze-green. There are two possible explanations for this: 1. the locals have applied their ‘own camouflage’ or it has been covered in graffiti (See Cuban Comets for similar artistic expressions by locals); or 2. and most likely, the camouflage has weathered.
For markings, the tanks were given red and green diagonally halved rectangles on the sides, on the rear left mudguard, and on the frontal curving of the hull next to the tracks. The rear right mudguard seemed to bear a unit emblem. The tanks’ serial numbers were written in white on the rear.
It is not known if the tanks played any part in the Amin-led coup in 1971 nor the brief border clash with Tanzania in 1971. They would, nevertheless, play a key role seven years later in the Uganda-Tanzania War. The twelve M4A1’s, along with ten T-34/85’s from Libya, a number of British Ferret Armoured Cars, thirty-six Czechoslovakian OT-64C’s and around sixty Soviet BTR-40’s, composed the armored forces of Amin’s army and led the attack into Tanzania in October 1978. All the M4 Shermans and T-34/85’s were part of the 5th Mechanized Specialist Reconnaissance Regiment ‘Suicide Regiment’ or ‘Malire Mechanized Regiment’ under the command of Colonel Bernard Rwehururu. The ‘Suicide Regiment’ was ordered to attack the bordering town of Mutukula along the Kyaka Road before meeting other forces Bumazi and advance to Bukoba. By October 30th, Ugandan troops were 20 miles inside Tanzanian territory and outside the city of Kyaka where their advance stalled. Uganda had not planned for a long war and hoped that their initial strike would make Tanzania sue for peace.
However, their initial advance had been met with fiercer resistance than expected and soon after, Tanzania sent their own forces and armor, consisting mainly of Chinese Type 59A’s, a Chinese copy of the Soviet T-54/55. With their stronger armor, lower profile and superior firepower, these tanks outclassed all of the Ugandan armor, forcing them to retreat. No M4A1 is believed to have been lost in the invasion, but one or two were destroyed during the November-December Tanzanian counter when stationed around the border in Mutukula. On December 24th 1978, Ugandan forces crossed the border back into Uganda. By this point, the M4A1’s had been fighting for almost three months with no maintenance.
On January 20th, Tanzanian troops crossed the border and commenced their drive up north. On the Ugandan side of the border of Mutukula, troops of the 208 Brigade of the Tanzanian Army engaged a platoon of Shermans, knocking one out before the rest retreated. In March, three M4A1’s along with around twelve Libyan T-55’s attacked the Tanzanian 201st Mechanized Brigade. Without previous scouting, the two forces collided into each other in the Lukaya swamps on the 10th. After initial success by the Ugandans, the Tanzanian forces regrouped and pushed all the way up to Entebbe, which fell on April 7th, and Kampala falling on April 10th. Two M4A1’s were knocked out in skirmishes on the outskirts of the Ugandan capital. There is no further recorded deployment of the M4A1’s and the war would end on June 3rd 1979. There are no official records, but it is presumed that six or seven out of the twelve Shermans were knocked out by Tanzanian forces or left un-operational.
Some of the remaining Shermans were again used in 1985 during the coup of General Tito Okello in the closing stages of the Ugandan Bush War. In June 1985, Okello ordered his brigade to march on Kampala to overthrow Milton Obote. One of the two Shermans of this brigade was knocked out in the minimal fighting which took place.
The M4A1’s would remain in Uganda’s inventory according to some Western visitors until at least 1999, when three were reported to still be operational.
Even by the time of the Uganda-Tanzania War, the Shermans were obsolete and had little-to-no chance against Tanzania’s more modern equipment. Despite this, the Shermans showed their resilience and longevity during the war.
Illustration of a Ugandan M4A1 (76) HVSS produced by Andrei Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
6.15m x 2.42m x 2.24m
(20’1″ x 7’9″ x 7’3″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready:
35 Tons (26000 ibs)
4 (2 Drivers/gunners, Commander, loader)
Continental R-975 Radial Engine
Horizontal Volute Springs Suspensions (HVSS)
40-45 kph (25-27 mph) M51/M50
Range (road)/Fuel consumption
400 km (250 mi) for 380L – 50L/100
Armament (see notes)
Main: 76 mm (4in) Tank Gun M1
Sec: 1 x .50 Cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2HB Heavy Machine Gun, 2 x .30 Cal (7.62mm) Machine Guns.
Hull nose and turret 70, sides 40, bottom 15, rooftop 15 mm
This 1974 French footage shows an M4A1 being ridden by Idi Amin in a mock training which concludes with Amin claiming it represents the retaking of the Golan Heights from Israel.
Chill with this cool Sherman shirt. A portion of the proceeds from this purchase will support Tank Encyclopedia, a military history research project.Buy this T-Shirt on Gunji Graphics!
American M4 Sherman Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt
Give ’em a pounding with your Sherman coming through! A portion of the proceeds from this purchase will support Tank Encyclopedia, a military history research project.Buy this T-Shirt on Gunji Graphics!
Argentina is known in military circles for being one of the few South American states having in its arsenal a domestically-built tank, the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM), which has spawned a family of vehicles including Self-Propelled Guns, rocket launchers, and ambulances, all based on the same chassis. However, less well-known is a similar idea which dates back to 1943 – the Nahuel DL 43.
Context – A Tumultuous Country
Between 1916 and 1930, Argentina was governed by different brands of the ‘Radicals’ of Unión Cívica Radical, which, despite introducing some progressive measures, were also responsible for some of the most brutal repressions of worker and student movements. During this time, Argentina acquired its first military vehicle, the Model 25 Vickers Crossley armored car.
By 1930, economic stagnation and constant political violence would lead to the first of the many military coups which would hamper Argentina’s progress. The following period is remembered as ‘the infamous decade’ and was characterized by corruption and political persecution. The regime had deep fascist sympathies and the army’s appearance became very similar to that of Germany. In 1937, Argentina acquired a number of Vickers Carden-Loyd Model 1934 light tanks from Britain, intended to be used as training vehicles in preparation for acquiring bigger and more powerful tanks. The initial plan to buy a number of LT vz. 38’s from Czechoslovakia was scuppered by the Munich Agreement (1938). Argentina was unable to procure tanks from its traditional vendor, Britain, nor its ideological associate, Germany. With the eruption of the Second World War, Argentina’s pro-Nazi sympathies were not approved of by the USA, thus leading to a short period of political isolation and making the importation of foreign tanks impossible. A local solution therefore had to be found.
Alfredo Aquiles Baisi
Lieutenant Colonel Alfredo Aquiles Baisi was a second-generation Italian immigrant with a distinguished career. From a military family, he had been a military attaché to the Argentinian mission to the USA. He would go on to design the uniform for Argentinian tank crewmen and had overseen the modification of some tractors into assault vehicles named ‘Vinchuca’.
In 1942, the Argentinian regime passed Ley 12.709, a law which created the Dirección General de Fabricaciones Militares [Eng: General Directorate for Military Manufacturing]. This institution was tasked with organizing different industries across the country for the production of a domestic tank to fulfill the role of main armored vehicle in the Argentinian armored forces. In 1943, the Directorate gave the job of building a 35-tonne (38.5 tons) tank to Baisi.
Development and Prototype
Remarkably, Baisi and his team were able to deliver a 1:1 scale wooden model, designated ‘251’, within forty-five days.
The wooden model was considered satisfactory and the relevant authorities asked for a prototype. Work on this prototype, and presumably the wooden model too, took place at the Esteban de Luca Arsenal in Boulogne Sur Mer, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The prototype, numbered ‘C 252’, short of its turret, was finished after two months work and shown to impressed military authorities at the arsenal where it was being built. Not long afterward, it was tested in front of a crowd including the President and other civilian and military leaders. The results were favorable enough for a production series to be requested.
Allegedly, according to some of the sources, Baisi’s dream was to create a family of military vehicles based on the Nahuel chassis.
Regarding the design and vehicle specifications, it is worth noting that these are as stated in the secondary sources popularised by authors such as Ricardo Sigal Fagliani. These are prone to exaggerations and chauvinistically overstate the abilities of Argentinian produced vehicles and Argentina’s capabilities in general. Alternatively, the original specification may have been incorrectly recorded by some author and then the mistake has been passed on as the correct data over the years. Because of this, specifications must be taken with a pinch of salt.
External Appearance and Armor
Despite claims by Argentine military authorities that the Nahuel was an indigenous project which was not inspired by any foreign tank, in appearance, it resembled an M4 Sherman and M3 Lee/Grant hybrid. The front of the tank consisted of a flat inclined plate forming a beak at the front where it met the bottom plate. At some point, presumably between 1947 and 1948, a slit with a sliding panel was retrofitted on the frontal plate to improve the driver’s vision. There was a headlight on each side of the front of the tank just above the tracks.
The frontal armor was 80 mm (3.1 in) thick, which according to some sources was the same thickness on the sides and the turret, though this seems unlikely, and the bottom and rear were 25 mm (0.9 in) thick. The armor was welded and riveted and made out of homogenous nickel steel. The steel plates were of good quality, although at first several US reporters had claimed that the tank’s armor had been made using scrap metal from old warships.
However, it is worth noting that according to the sources, the vehicle had roughly the same dimensions and weight as the M4 Sherman, yet supposedly had more armor on the side of its hull and side of its turret. This is very unlikely if not impossible: either the vehicle weighted substantially more or the armor on its sides and turret was not as thick as the sources claim.
The turret turned 360º and was cast in one piece. Inside was the turret basket which housed the commander, gunner (right), and loader (left). In front of the turret, at the top of the roof of the hull, were two entry and exit hatches. At the top of the turret was a two-piece hatch for the commander.
Carried on the sides of the Nahuel were a number of tools, such as shovels and pickaxes, among others.
Undercarriage and Suspension
The track system consisted of three suspension bogies per side, with two wheels at the bottom and a return roller at the top, basically, a Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS) as seen on the M4 Sherman. Additionally, each side had two extra return rollers at the top, a drive sprocket wheel at the front and an idler wheel at the back. The tracks had seventy-six individual steel links on each side.
The main armament of the Nahuel was the Krupp 1909 Model 75 mm gun. The Dirección General del Ejército [Eng: General Army Directorate] had initially made ten available from stocks, though there were many more in depots, some of which had never been used and were still boxed. The gun itself weighed 130 kg (287 lb).
The 75 mm Krupp gun had a maximum range of 7,700 m (8,420 yds) and was able to fire ten rounds per minute. There was a plan to replace this gun with the Bofors Model 1934 75 mm gun which had a higher muzzle velocity, though it never materialized.
Initially, secondary armament consisted of four machine guns. One 12.7 mm (.50 Cal) was placed coaxially and three 7.63 mm Madsens in the front plate, one slightly to the left of the right track and two placed centrally. In 1948, the two central machine guns were removed, as they were impractical and of limited use.
The interior was divided into three sections: front, middle/combat section, and rear/engine compartment. The front section housed the driving mechanisms (transmission and steering gear) and radio. The driver was seated to the left, whilst the radio operator, who was also the machine gunner, was on the right. The radio was locally manufactured by Dirección Material de Comunicaciones del Ejército [Eng: Army’s Communications Material Directorate] but was based on a Telefunken model. All crewmembers could communicate with each other by means of phono-electric circuits.
Behind the driving compartment, in the middle section, were the commander, gunner, and loader, all having to share the space in the turret. The Nahuel’s ammunition was stored in containers in the turret ring. Discarded shells were also placed in these containers, but always at a safe distance from the live rounds, as the heat of the discarded shells could set the live ones off. With three crew members, the main gun breech, a heavy machine gun and ammunition, it is worth re-evaluating the sources’ claim that the turret was 80 mm thick all round, the same thickness as the turret on the Tiger I.
Internally, there was central heating, ventilation, gas ejectors, and hand weapons for the crew.
The engine on the Nahuel was a modified aircraft Lorraine-Dietrich 12 E.B. 12 cylinder V-shaped engine, also known as the Lorraine 12E Courlis. In normal conditions, the engine had an output of 450 hp, but back in 1931-32, the engines had been modified by Fábrica Militar de Aviones [Eng: Military Aircraft Factory] to an output of 500 hp. The engine had a carburetor fuel system, ran on petrol (gasoline), had a liquid cooling system, and was ventilated by a fan. This engine was most likely taken from the Bréguet 19 aircraft Argentina had in service. The tank had a top-speed of 40 km/h (25 mph) and range of 250 km (155 mi).
The hydraulic gearbox had four forward gears and one reverse, and was built by the small Pedro Merlino mechanical workshop just outside Buenos Aires.
Color Scheme and Markings
The Nahuel was painted entirely in olive earth brown.
On each side of the turret was a sky blue and white roundel, above which was written in white ‘Ejército Argentino’ [Eng: Argentinian Army]. Underneath, also in white, was written ‘Agrup. Patag.’, short for Agrupación Patagónica [Eng: Patagonia Group]. Originally, on a number of vehicles which had paraded Buenos Aires in 1944, the bottom writing was ‘Escl. Bl. Cdo.’, short for Escuela Blindados Comando.
On either side of the rear of the hull and on the right side of the upper rear plate were identification numbers written in white consisting of a superscript lower-case ‘c’ and a number, for example ‘c 130’. On the side of the hull, above the first road wheel, ‘D.L. 43’ was written in white and, just behind this, a picture of a tiger or a jaguar.
Production and Numbers Built
After the first prototype had been constructed, a short series was ordered. A total of eighty different state and private enterprises collaborated on producing different parts for the tank and all branches of the armed forces provided assistance. For example, the Air Force supplied the aforementioned engines, whilst the Navy contributed the communications system, which Oscar Baisi, Alfredo Baisi’s bother, had helped to develop and offered their armor laboratory for different tests.
There is some discrepancy among sources on the exact number of vehicles built. Most commonly, twelve is the accepted amount, though Ricardo Sigal Fogliani, who has written extensively about the vehicle and has had some access to official documentation, claims that as many as sixteen were built. Other sources do state, however, that only twelve were completed and that an additional four were never finished, meaning that both numbers could be correct. Sigal Fogliani asserts that a 1950 army inventory indicates the availability of thirteen Nahuel.
The background of the vehicle’s name is one of myths and contentious truths. The vehicle was officially designated ‘Tanque Nahuel Modelo Baisi 1945’, after its creator, by the Argentine military authorities in the Military Bulletin No. 210 of June 26th 1944. However, it is more commonly known as Nahuel DL 43 or more simply as just Nahuel.
Nahuel means tiger, puma, or jaguar in the Mapudugun language of the native Araucanian Mapuche people who inhabited parts of modern Argentina in pre-Columbian times. It is not exactly known why this name was chosen. There are two versions of the same story: 1. According to US intelligence reports which were somehow acquired by the Argentines, Argentina was referred to as a ‘lion without teeth’, alluding to its great capacity but poor military; and 2. In a US communiqué to Brazil outlining potential plans for an invasion of Argentina if it were to steer to closely to the Axis powers, which was allegedly intercepted by German spies and then passed on to Argentina, it said that Brazil should be confident as ‘the tiger [Argentina] does not have any teeth’. Both versions seem unlikely as either variation of the feline not having teeth are not common sayings or idioms in the English language. This story may just be a product of chauvinistic propaganda, which is not uncommon for the place and period, and the exact reasons for choice of name remain unclear.
The ‘DL’ in the name is also a product of much speculation. Allegedly, when the tank project was presented to de facto President Edelmiro Julián Farrell, he enthusiastically responded shouting “¡Déle, déle nomás!”, roughly translating to ‘go ahead without hesitation’. ‘Déle’ in Spanish sounds very much like ‘DL’. This is highly unlikely.
Lastly, the number 43 in the name most probably refers to the year the project began, 1943, but some have claimed that the 43 was chosen in honor of the year of the 1943 Revolution.
On June 4th 1944, on the first anniversary of the 1943 Revolution which had ended the ‘Infamous Decade’ and had given rise to Juan Domingo Perón, two engine-less Nahuels (numbers ‘c 73’ and ‘c 74’) were placed in a commemorative exhibition on the Buenos Aires Avenida 9 between Sarmiento and Cangullo streets. One of the highlights for visitors was when the two tanks fired their main guns to inaugurate the event.
The next public appearance of the Nahuel was on July 9th 1944, when ten Nahuels rolled down the streets of Avenida del Liberador in Buenos Aires as part of a military day event. The lead tank (‘c 121’) was driven by Baisi himself.
Whilst the idea had been to create a longer series and adapt the chassis to create a family of vehicles for different purposes, in the end, none of this came to fruition. With the end of the Second World War, and Argentina, following the 1943 revolution and the fortunes of war, having abandoned its pro-Axis sympathies, buying cheap American and British tanks became a more economically viable option. Argentina was also able to exchange their abundant agricultural products with countries lacking foodstuffs, such as Britain, for tanks. Argentina would purchase around 300 Sherman tanks, of which more than 1/3 were Sherman ‘Fireflys’. This made the Nahuel obsolete, as the later model Shermans were better overall tanks with superior firepower, thicker armor, superior design, and much cheaper.
In a cruel turn of fate, several Nahuels were used as target practice for Sherman tanks. By 1962, not one Nahuel was left on the army inventory and most were scraped. Despite the best efforts of individuals to find remnants of a Nahuel, it can be safely said that none survive to this day.
The Paraguayan Nahuel?
In the 1960’s or 70’s, writing for a Spanish military magazine, historian Georg von Rauch claimed that during Peron’s visit to Paraguay in 1953, two Nahuels and other pieces of military equipment were donated to Paraguay as a symbol of goodwill between the two nations. von Rauch has since claimed that he found this information in a US G2 report. Efforts to verify this have proved unsuccessful and it is most likely that this never actually happened. At that time, Paraguay only had fifteen M3/M5 Stuarts provided by the USA at the end of the Second World War, meaning that the Nahuel would have for some time been able to provide an increase in firepower and armor for the Paraguayan armed forces. Ultimately, Paraguay would receive nine second-hand Shermans from the USA in 1960.
The Nahuel was a brave and competent effort from a designer and workforce with no experience in building modern armored fighting vehicles. However, it is not as unique and remarkable as the chauvinistic Argentine press and amateur or military historians like to claim. Baisi’s dream of creating a family of indigenous military vehicles on a common chassis would have to wait.
Illustration of the Nahuel DL 43 medium tank, produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
Nahuel D.L.43 specifications
6.22 x 2.33 (or 2.63, contested) x 2.95 m (20.7 x 7.8 x 9.8 ft)
Asturias Commune (1934)
Improvised Armored Truck – at least 6-7 built
Popular insurrections often lack the material capabilities of national armies. This desperation to provide armor can lead to creative alternatives by placing armor plates on truck, bus, or car chassis’ and equipping them with armament, thus creating an armored car or truck. In October 1934, leftist revolutionaries in Asturias used their industrial skills and know-how to create different models of armored (or semi-armored) cars and trucks in their efforts to establish and maintain the short-lived Socialist Asturias Commune.
The Asturias Revolution of October 1934
Popular myth and culture have led to an image of the Second Spanish Republic, established in April 1931, as a radical, progressive, and left-wing state. Whilst there is some substance behind this, it is not entirely true. In the second elections held in November 1933, the centrist Partido Radical Republicano (PRR) of Alejandro Lerroux came to power with the support of the right-wing Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (CEDA). Following a crisis of government in September 1934, CEDA removed their support and demanded that the PRR enter a formal coalition with 3 CEDA members to take a ministerial portfolio. Despite opposition from the left, this was done, and as a consequence, the most left-wing elements began to mobilize.
An indefinite revolutionary general strike organized by radical elements of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (POSE) [left-wing social democrat] and Union General de Trabajadores (UGT) trade union with the support of elements of the Anarchist Party and trade union (FAI and CNT) and the Communist Party (CP) was called for October 5th 1934. Following a few days of strike, the revolution was brutally put down in most of Spain, except in Catalonia, where an independent state was declared by the strikers, only to be toppled by Republican forces a few days later, and in Asturias.
Map of Asturias showing the location of several places named in the article, such as Gijón, Oviedo, Trubia, Mieres, and El Berrón – Source.
In contrast to those in other parts of the country, the Asturias revolutionaries were well organized and armed. They took their weapons from the Trubia and Oviedo arms factory in the region and dynamite from the many coal mines in the region. By October 8th, half of Asturias was under the control of the revolutionaries. According to historian Hugh Thomas, by the 17th, the revolutionaries numbered 30,000 men, though this figure may be exaggerated.
The revolutionaries managed to take most of Oviedo by the 9th, with the exceptions of two military barracks which would remain under siege for the rest of the conflict. Whilst the revolution was unsuccessful in Gijón, the revolutionaries managed to take Avilés and Trubia.
The government response was left to Generals Francisco Franco (who would later become the country’s dictator) and Manuel Goded. The attack on Asturias was made on four fronts. Moroccans and legionnaires from the Army of Africa under the command of Colonel Victor Yagüe landed in Gijón on October 7th and headed towards Oviedo, brutally quelling any resistance in the way. From the south, troops under General Bosch advanced into Asturias through the Puerto de Pajares [Pajares mountain pass] and combated revolutionaries around Mieres until the 15th. Troops under General Eduardo López Ochoa advanced from Galicia in the west and advanced on Trubia. The last front was to the east and was made up by army columns under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Solchaga, who clashed with revolutionaries in El Berrón, outside Oviedo.
On the 11th, the government troops advancing from the south entered Oviedo, promoting the revolutionary committee in charge of the Asturias comune to order a retreat from the city and to dissolve. Not all revolutionaries would follow these orders and a second revolutionary committee was formed to continue the fight. Despite this, Oviedo would fall completely on the 13th and the revolutionaries retreated to a coal pit of Langero where a third revolutionary committee was formed under the leadership of Berlamino Tomás. By the 15th, the revolutionaries sought a negotiated settlement with the priority of not surrendering to Yagüe’s troops, who had used brutal tactics in putting down the revolution. The terms were accepted by General López Ochoa and the last enclave would surrender on the 18th.
Over 1,500 had died on either side in the fortnight the revolution had lasted.
Map showing the main events of the Asturias October 1934 revolution – Source
The Plans for Armor
Except in Trubia (see Trubia Serie A and Tractor Landesa), there was no experience in the region of building armored vehicles, but, as Artemio Mortera Pérez (one of the better known authors of Spanish Civil War AFVs) points out, revolutionary elements had grown up with propaganda, newspapers, and films from the Soviet Union showing improvised armored vehicles built during the Revolution and Civil War, though how correct this is, is hard to determine.
Furthermore, Asturias was one of the most industrialized regions of Spain and had several metalworking factories, coal mines, and arms factories. As such, although mostly lacking specific experience in building armored vehicles, the workforce was industrially adept.
The Revolutionary authorities established requirements for armored cars in a revolutionary action plan as follows:
Sloped frontal armor from the mudguards to the top of the engine radiator so as to use less steel in thickening the plate, as it was believed sloped armor, even if using less steel, had a better chance of deflecting bullets than straight sheets.
A frontal plate with a small peephole, 4 mm in diameter, for the driver. 4 mm was chosen, as the minimum caliber of Spanish Army rifles and machine guns was 6 mm. This plate also had to have a loophole for a frontal firing machine gun.
The rear to be protected by steel plates and to have loopholes for infantry inside the trucks to fire from.
The Revolutionary authorities intended to use the vehicles aggressively. The trucks were to use their speed to surprise the enemy and catch them off guard, with infantry inside firing the guns and throwing grenades and dynamite. With their armor, they were also to be used to provide cover for advancing troops. The Revolutionary authorities believed that the trucks’ armor would be impenetrable and immune to enemy fire.
All vehicles crudely followed the same principles and design.
The idea was to provide armor to civilian trucks with steel sheets and provide them with a frontal firing machine gun. The vehicle was also to have enough space at the back, also covered in steel sheets, for troops to be transported. Loopholes were to be made so they could fire from the inside.
The vehicles’ engines were covered with sloped armored plates. This sometimes also extended into mudguards for the frontal wheels. The positions of the driver and co-driver were made into an armored box, and the open-top behind them was surrounded with armored plates. The lower sides were often given armored plates too, as were the rear wheels. The materials used for the armor were steel sheets and railway rails. The vehicles were covered in grease, which the revolutionaries believed would enable them to repel more enemy bullets. This gave the vehicles a blackish aspect, hence the ‘tiznao’ nickname they received – from the adjective tiznado, meaning sooty.
The exact model of truck used for each vehicle is unspecified, so it is almost impossible to determine. Had these vehicles been converted from military trucks, it would be easier to determine as the options would be narrower.
Overall, their design was rather poor and the armor plates did not offer as much protection as expected.
Note – the different models are so named by the author based on available information and general nomenclature of this type of vehicles up to that point and in the Civil War which took place two years later. None of the vehicles are given a name in the literature and specific details are lacking.
Semi-blindado ‘Duro Felguera’
This was the first vehicle converted and used in action. Very minimally armored, with a metal plate put at the front of the cabin and the sides left unprotected. From photographic evidence, it cannot be seen if the engine position was covered in metal plates. The open-topped rear was covered with plates assembled in a triangular shape, though the rear seems to have been unprotected.
Built in the Duro Felguera metallurgical factory by anarchists of the CNT and FAI, it was first used in Oviedo on October 7th. Under the command of Arturo Vázquez (a PSOE member), it was used in the successful attack on the carabineers HQ’s on Calle Magdalena no. 15, after which it continued down the same street and helped to take the town hall. Its last mission was to head to the Civil Government building and help in its capture, but the driver was killed by a stray bullet, and the co-driver, also wounded, retreated the truck to the corner between Calle Cimadevilla and Calle San Antonio. It can be assumed that the vehicle suffered a breakdown of some kind as it was abandoned. The vehicle would remain in this position until after the revolution was crushed.
Civilians posing for a photo with the semi-blindado Duro Felguera once the revolution had been put down- The FAI and CNT graffiti indicated that the vehicle was converted in the Duro Felguera metallurgical factory as it was taken over by anarchist forces – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 14.
Blindado ‘Duro Felguera’
This vehicle had a very distinctive rounded armor. It seems to be much smaller than the other vehicles and not based on a truck. There was a semi-cylindrical armored structure on each side of the cabin, which resembled a sentry box and had a large hinged door to the left side. The front of the cabin had an aperture with a forward-opening hatch to provide vision for the driver and to fire from. It seemed to have a crank to start the engine behind the cabin. The sides of the frontal semi-cylindrical structure were decorated with FAI graffiti, whilst on the front, Felguera (the metallurgical factory where it was built) and CNT were written.
This vehicle may have been used on the 10th to attack the Civil Government building down the Calle Rúa approach. In the cross-fire, its two operators were wounded.
Blindado Duro Felguera being inspected from its rear. This conversion was smaller than other vehicles and had a very distinctive appearance. The graffiti indicated that this vehicle too was built by Duro Felguera – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 15.
Blindado ‘El Aguila Negra’
Not much is known about this vehicle apart from the fact that it was based on a truck used by the El Aguila Negra brewery of Colloto, on the outskirts of Oviedo. The vehicle seems to be wider than the others and has a rounded top. The sides do not appear to be armored.
Blindado ‘El Aguila Negra’ (at the front), another converted vehicle behind it (a Blindado ‘Oviedo’ model ‘b’), and several artillery pieces being inspected by government troops outside the Oviedo arms factory. Their armor of the armored truck is being stripped – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 18.
Blindado Oviedo Model A illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma. Funded by our Patreon campaign.
There were two different models (in this article called ‘A’ and ‘B’) and they were extensively photographed after their capture. Given the lack of graffiti on them, it can be assumed that they were not built by Duro Felguera but rather in the Fábrica de Mieres or Hulleras de Turón factories. However, there is also the possibility they were built in Duro Felguera but not given graffiti.
The ‘A’ variant was the best armored of all the revolutionaries’ vehicles. The frontal wheels were covered all round in a similar fashion to 1930s and 1940s cars. From these, some sort of metal bar joined them with the top of the crew cabin holding them in place. There was a plate at the front with two-louvered grills for the engine placed at an angle in front of the engine cover between the mudguards. On each side of this was a headlamp. The frontal plate in front of the crew cabin consisted of two sheets which met at the center forming a peak, and each had a horizontal vision slit in the middle of them. The cabin had a door to the left side and a hatched-window on the left. The truck’s open-topped rear was covered with a triangular-like shaped structure. The rear wheels were protected by an armored box-like structure.
A short film and photographs taken of it in various locations after the revolution had been put down prove that it was still mobile. As it was one of the sturdier built models, it attracted plenty of interest from government troops and civilians alike.
The ‘A’ variant of the Blindado ‘Oviedo’ pictured in the courtyard of the Oviedo Arms Factory following the end of the revolution – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 13 and 18.
A soldier poses with the Blindado ‘Oviedo’ serie ‘A’ variant after the end of the revolution – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 17.
More photos of the vehicle in the Oviedo Arms Factory courtyard with other captured military materiel and government forces posing with them – Source
Soldiers posing in front of a Blindado ‘Oviedo’ serie ‘A’ with the Convento de Santa Clara on Alonso de Quintanilla street in Oviedo in the background- Source
The ‘B’ version was not as well armored as ‘A’ at the front, with its wheels and engine cover exposed. The cabin’s front was protected by a big two-part metal sheet. Each side had a slim vision slit in the lower center half. The plate covered the sides of the cabin too, with a small window hatch on the side. The open-topped back was also covered in a triangular-shaped structure, which had at least one loophole for militiamen to fire from on the left side. The rear had a door for entry and exit, which had an opening for rear fire.
Government forces pose with the Blindado ‘Oviedo’ serie ‘B’ in the aftermath of the Asturias Revolution. Note the soldier pointing his pistol out of the cabin – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 17.
Front, side, and rear view of the Blindado ‘Oviedo’ serie ‘B’ in the Oviedo arms factory in the aftermath of the failed revolution of October 1934 – Source
According to a contemporary newspaper this vehicle was supposedly captured in Mieres, a town south of Oviedo, by government forces. If it was built in Mieres, it was most likely also built by Duro Felguera, which had their main installations in the town. This vehicle is slightly different to other vehicles of the revolution and is armored on all sides and it appears to be even riveted in some places. The frontal cabin area has a small hatch which would have allowed for the driver to see forward.
Civilians and troops inspect an armored vehicle in what appears to be Mieres, south of Oviedo. The vehicle seems to have parts of its armor riveted – Source
Only one not very detailed photo of this vehicle exists. It has two headlamps, a three-louver grill in its engine cover, and at least one vision slit in its frontal cabin.
Not much is known of this vehicle. Note the grease liberally applied to the mudguards – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 15.
Apart from the aforementioned use of the ‘Duro Felguera’ vehicles, very little is known about the operational use of these improvised vehicles.
On the morning of the 10th, one was used in an unsuccessful attack on government positions in Lugones, northwest of Oviedo, and was captured by the troops under General López Ochoa in the process. The identity of this vehicle is difficult to determine and there is a possibility that it was one which has not been described in this article.
On the 17th, the day before the revolution was finally crushed, a group of CNT anarchist militiamen attacked government forces who had advanced from the east in the town of El Borrón. They were supported by a converted truck allegedly equipped with four machine guns. This vehicle was initially successful and forced the government forces to retreat from their stronghold in the town railway repair facilities and abandon their artillery pieces. Concentrated fire forced the converted truck to retreat, but only after its crew and troop detachment blew up the railway lines. According to Francisco Aguado Sánchez, a leading historian of the 1934 Revolution in Asturias, the vehicle was destroyed by artillery fire.
Following the failure of the revolution elsewhere in the country, the revolutionaries in Asturias were doomed, and no matter how inventive they were with their improvised armored cars and personnel carriers, they were not going to succeed. The improvised vehicles themselves were brave efforts by inexperienced men, but ultimately, they were of poor combat effectiveness. After the revolution was put down they were most likely reconverted into their original truck or lorry form.
Nationalist Spain/Italy (1937-1939) Light Flamethrower Tank – 8 converted
In the everlasting quest of improving firepower, some of the tank manufacturing nations came to the conclusion that this could be achieved by equipping tanks with flamethrowers. In the 1930s, Italy decided to improve the firepower of their aging fleet of tanks by this method and modified at least one of their Fiat 3000’s with a flamethrower.
The CV-33 and CV-35 series would also have flame-throwing variants, this time by means of an attached trailer carrying the flammable liquid. These saw use in Ethiopia and well into WWII, with a few being sent to Spain for deployment with the Corpo Truppe Volontarie (C.T.V.) alongside Franco’s forces.
However, trailer equipped tanks had their limitations as maneuverability and combat value was restricted and, thus, alternatives had to be found.
Italian Tanks and Flame-Throwing in the Spanish Civil War
Soon after the Generals’ coup against the Spanish Republic in July 1936, Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany sent aid to Franco and airlifted his main fighting force from the Spanish possessions in North Africa to southern Spain and the road to Madrid. There was a very limited number of tanks in Spain at this time and those that were available were effectively obsolete. Therefore, Italy and Germany provided Franco with modern tanks (CV series and Panzer I respectively), whilst the USSR did likewise with the Republic (T-26’s and BT-5’s).
From the very first tank engagement between the forces, the Soviet T-26 proved superior, wreaking havoc at Seseña in October 1936 by destroying 11 Italian tanks (CV-33’s including flame-throwing variants). The only Nationalist tanks able to counter the Soviet tanks were those Italian ones equipped with flamethrowers, or at least, when within the 60-70m of its firing range.
As a result, a series of projects to improve firepower by including more powerful guns such as the 20mm Breda (Pz.I Breda and CV 33-35 Breda) and flamethrowers were proposed.
As early as October 1936, the first experiments were carried out with the German Panzer I by equipping it with the Flammenwerfer 35 flamethrower with the flammable liquid container inside the tank. Its firing range was a mere 25-30 m, so plans were made to equip it with larger, more powerful flamethrowers, but, due to the cramped space within the tank’s turret and interior, this was abandoned. The idea of attaching external flammable liquid containers was rejected as it had limited construction and usage value. However, with time this idea was revived for the Italian CV series tanks.
Topolino gets a Flamethrower
In total, 155 tanks of the Carro Veloce L3/33 (CV-33) and L3/35 (CV-35) variants (including flame-thrower versions [L.f.]) were sent to Spain. These tanks did not gain much of a reputation there and were nicknamed ‘lata de sardinas’ (sardine tin) because of their small space and poor armor, and ‘topolino’, the Italian name for Mickey Mouse.
The new ‘compact’ flame-thrower version did not undergo many changes from the main L.f. variant; the trailer was replaced by a smaller capacity flammable liquid container placed atop the engine deck. The container could be removed to access the engine or to reinstate the original trailer version. This was not a completely new idea as the Italians had used CV’s using the same principle in Ethiopia, though in a more improvised manner by utilizing a metal barrel as the container. Furthermore, the first two transformations carried out in Spain, according to Colonel Babrieri of the C.T.V., were based on plans he had designed himself back in Italy for the modification of tanks planned for the 3rd tank regiment Bologna.
Only known photo of a ‘lanzallamas compacto’ in action in Spain, presumably taken during the Catalan Offensive – Photo: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 109.
In Spain however, the building of the containers and future transformations was requisitioned in ‘escrito nº455’ by Colonel Roberto Olmi of the C.T.V. to the Comandancia General de Artillería Nacional on December 14th, 1938. The construction of the armored containers, authorized on December 22nd, was undertaken in the recently captured Trubia factory, which had plenty of experience with heavy machinery.
The first two modifications were carried out with Babrier’s design and tested in front of a joint Italian and Spanish committee of members of the Reagruppamento Carristi (Tank regiment) of the C.T.V. and Comandancia General de Artillería Nacional who found the transformations satisfactory and drew up the final production plans.
After an additional six vehicles were transformed, production finished. The Italians found the vehicles satisfactory enough to transform more vehicles for the Regio Esercito.
Illustration of the Fiat-Ansaldo CV.35 L.f. ‘Lanzallamas compacto’ by Alexe Pavel, based on an illustration by David Bocquelet.
Spot the Difference
Given that there are two different versions of this ‘compact’ modification (Spanish and Italian versions), confusion can arise in distinguishing them, but the differences are easy enough to spot. The key is in the flammable liquid container. The Spanish containers are bigger, making them stand higher than the top of the tank, whilst the smaller Italian ones are in line with the height of the tank. Even though this limited the flammable liquid capacity of the container to 100 liters, it meant it was less vulnerable to enemy fire. The capacity of the ‘Spanish’ containers is unknown, but it can be assumed to be more than 125 liters.
Side photo of an ‘Italian compacto’ with the substantially smaller flammable liquid container. Note that the height of the container is in line with the top of the tank. Photo: Molina Franco & Manrique García, p. 47.
The ‘Spanish compacto’ with the bigger flammable liquid container. Photo: Mortera Pérez (2013), p. 156.
Not much is known about their active use or how successful they were, but there is a picture of one being used during the Catalonia Offensive of November 1938-February 1939, and it is possible they were also used during the Aragón and Ebro offensives earlier in 1938.
The ‘compactos’ were seen during the victory parades in Barcelona and Madrid along with other Italian tanks. It can be assumed that like much other Italian equipment, the remaining ‘compactos’ were left in Spain.
The vehicle leading in the center was a ‘Spanish’ modified ‘compacto’ recognizable by its larger flammable liquid container. The photo was taken during the victory parade in Madrid and shows the tanks next to the Cibeles fountain. Photo: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 109.
The main principal advantage the ‘compactos’ had over the normal flamethrower variant was their increased maneuverability, but they also had their drawbacks; increased mobility was gained at the expense of removing the trailer and thus, reducing the capacity for the flammable liquid (520 liters). Smaller capacity meant reduced operational time of the flamethrower, resulting in the vehicle having a very limited usage.
3.17 x 1.4 x 1.3 m (10.4×4.59×4.27 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
2 (driver, flame thrower operator)
Fiat SPA CV3, 6 cyl, 43 hp
42 km/h (26 mph)
125 km (78 mi)
From 6 to 12 mm (0.24-0.47 in)
Links & Resources
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Aragón, Cataluña Y Levante 36/39 Parte I (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno’s editores, 2011)
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Aragón, Cataluña Y Levante 36/39 Parte II (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno’s editores, 2013)
Javier de Mazarrasa, La Máquina y la Historia Nº2. Blindados en España 1ª Parte: La Guerra Civil 1936-1939 (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1991)
Lucas Molina Franco and José M Manrique García, Blindados Italianos en el Ejército de Franco (1936-1939) (Valladolid: Galland Books, 2009)
Nationalist Spain (1937-1938) Light tank – 1 Prototype
The Carro de Combate de Infantería tipo 1937, more commonly known as C.C.I. tipo 1937, was one of many Spanish attempts to create an indigenous tank superior to all the available tanks by cannibalising them. However, sometimes over-enthusiasm and a desire for quick results came at the expense of a well-thought-out design.
The ‘Carro de Combate de Infantería tipo 1937’ also known as the ‘CCI tipo 1937’. This photo shows the vehicle factory-fresh, without a coat of paint – Photo: Molina Franco & Manrique García (2009), p. 44.
Context – The Spanish Civil War in 1937
In mid-July 1936, a group of Spanish Army officers initiated a coup against the democratically elected government of the Second Spanish Republic. They failed in their initial goals and consequently, the country was divided in a civil war fought between the Republicans (also known as the ‘Loyalists’), and the Nationalists (the ‘Rebels’). Soon enough, foreign powers would become involved providing material and in some cases, troops. Italy and Germany came in support of the Nationalist and airlifted the core of their forces from Spanish North Africa onto the Peninsula, whereas the USSR supported the Republic. The Nationalists, led by General Franco, attempted to take Madrid and end the war in November 1936, but the city resisted.
Map showing the progress of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, March 1937, March-April 1938, and February 1939. Note the Nationalists are in blue and Republicans in purple – Photo: SOURCE
By 1937, the Nationalists had the upper hand. Beginning in March that year, they commenced the ‘War in the North’, an operation to take over the Republican positions along the north coast. They would be successful in this, with Bilbao falling on June 19th, Santander on August 25th, and Gijón, the last main Republican holdout in the region, on October 21st.
This northern region of Spain was one of the only industrialized regions in the country and it also had important mineral resources. This area had also produced several armored fighting vehicle (AFV) designs over the years, including the Trubia Serie A, The Bilbao Armored Car, and the Trubia-Naval.
In this context, when Nationalist troops took the North, two unrelated tank projects would emerge, the Verdeja, and the CCI tipo 1937.
After capturing Bilbao and the Vizcaya region in June 1937, the Nationalist wanted to take advantage of the facilities which came to be at their disposal for the purpose of tank production. One of these facilities was the Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval (SECN), located in Sestao, northern Bilbao. Until the city fell, the factory had been building and repairing Trubia-Naval tanks for the Republicans. Nationalist authorities however, declined to continue the production of this tank given how unreliable and deficient it was. They would, though, use the expertise of the factory workers. For this purpose, a Panzer I, a Fiat-Ansaldo CV.33, and a T-26B, the three most common tanks in the conflict, were taken to Sestao to be studied with the goal of creating a new tank based on the best features of each, although it seems no features of the T-26 were actually adapted. A cursory glance at the Trubia-Naval should make it obvious that it also had some influence, with the rear being almost an identical copy and sharing the same engine. The separate Verdeja project which began a year later would commence in a very similar way.
The CCI tipo 1937 resembled the Trubia-Naval in several ways – Photo: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 66.
The design for the new tank was agreed upon at some point in August-September 1937. On September 15th 1937, the Nationalist army gave a contract to SECN to build an initial series of 30 tanks, soon after, construction of a prototype began.
The tank’s sides consisted of slightly angled plates. To the front, below the turret, to each side were double-hinged-doors for crew access. At the very back of the tank was a ventilation radiator with eight louvres. The rear resembled a Trubia-Naval in appearance. Atop the rear was another radiator to allow the engine fumes to leave the tank. Behind the turret was a hinged hatch to access the engine from the outside. In appearance, the welded turret resembled that of a Renault FT, though the cupola was rather different. The upper frontal plate had a vision slit for the driver on the left and on the right, a position for two machine guns copied from the Italian Fiat CV’s, though on a different side of the vehicle.
Armor was poor overall and was incapable of deflecting 7.92mm rifle fire. Inferior materials were used for its construction, as initially, chromium nickel steel for the armor was not available. The area where this was produced was still under Republican control. Whilst the exact armor thickness is unspecified, but given the factories experience with AFV production, they would have known that anything under 10mm was totally unsuitable. An educated guess on the armor thickness based on weight and dimensions of the vehicle would indicate that it did not exceed 10-12mm. The 12mm bottom plate of the CV.33-35 was sufficient enough to withstand 7.92mm rifle fire, so it can almost certainly be assumed that the armor was of an inferior thickness to this.
Rear view of the CCI tipo 1937, the bit which most resembles the Trubia-Naval – Photo: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 110.
Suspension and Tracks
The suspension was copied from the CV, only it was slightly longer. This could have been done by adding links to lengthen the tracks. It consisted of two sets of three bogies and an additional solitary auxiliary wheel at the rear by the idler wheel. There were no return rollers at the top, instead, there was a simple wooden beam holding the track into place.
Side view of the CCI tipo 1937 which shows the the tracks to be almost identical to those of the CV33-35 – Photo: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 111.
Illustration of the ‘Carro de Combate de Infantería tipo 1937’ or ‘CCI tipo 37’, produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet (click to enlarge).
The main gun, the 20mm gas-operated Italian Breda M-35, was in the turret. The 20mm Armor-Piercing (AP) round weighed 147 grams and could penetrate up to 40mm of armor at 250m at a 90º angle of impact. This gun had been used in the joint Spanish-Italian Fiat CV.33/35 ‘Breda’ prototype and the very limited production Panzer I ‘Breda’. The idea to equip the CV and the Panzer I with the Breda gun was to give them the capability to engage the Soviet-supplied T-26 of the Republican forces. Initially, there had been plans to equip the CCI tipo 1937 with a 45mm main gun similar to that of the T-26, but this did not materialize. This was probably rejected as the turret was not big enough to house it and the gun was not available in large enough numbers. Furthermore, the suspension was probably not adequate enough to absorb the gun’s recoil. The frontal machine gun position housed two Hotchkiss Mod. 1914 7.92mm machine guns which appear to be magazine fed from above.
Frontal-side view of the CCI tipo 1937 showing its 20mm Breda machine gun main armament and mount for two Hotchkiss machine guns – Photo: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 111.
The hull was divided into three sections: the driving compartment at the front, the fighting compartment in the center, and the engine compartment in the rear. It is not specified how many crew-members the tank had, but it can be assumed that at least three: a driver, a frontal gunner in charge of the dual 7.92mm machine guns, and a gunner in charge of loading and firing the main gun who was presumably also the commander. The engine was a 6-cylinder MAN 100 hp truck engine as used in the Trubia-Naval which was readily available in numbers in the factory. It is not known if this was a petrol or diesel engine though. The tank had three forward gears with a maximum speed of 24 km/h, and one reverse giving 5.5 km/h. Other mechanical elements of driving were probably taken from the Fiat CV tank.
Tests and Demise
Initial reactions to the prototype by those testing it, in spite of the feeble armor, were very satisfactory. Even in June 1938, by which point the serious deficiency of the CCI tipo 1937’s armor should have been noted, the template for the Bandera de Carros de Combate de la Legión [The Spanish Legion’s Tank Division] indicated that the unit was to have 30 CCI tipo 1937’s. However, despite the tank having successfully passed most of the tests with flying colors, including firepower, mobility, and obstacle evasion, the Army, by this point realizing the tank’s clear deficiency in regards to its armor, could simply not accept a tank with such thin armor, and thus rejected it. Furthermore, the Nationalists had, by this time, captured enough Republican T-26’s to make up a capable tank force for the conditions and circumstances of the Spanish Civil War. A few years later, General Joaquín García Pallasar, an artillery officer and close friend of Franco, who had also been very closely involved with the Fiat CV ‘Breda’ project, wrote his reflections on the CCI tipo 1937 project. Writing in August 1940 for the ‘Ejército‘ magazine, he claimed that the tank had not been properly studied by its creators and they put their will to help and create a tank before taking the time to think how best to build it.
Side view of the CCI tipo 1937 – Photo: Molina Franco & Manrique García (2009), p. 45.
The experience of the CCI tipo 1937 would not be wasted though. Following the rejection of the CCI tipo 1937, SECN decided to build a lightly armored tank destroyer using a similar, but improved chassis and suspension. The Spanish Army showed no interest in this vehicle. After this, SECN took the gun off and presented it as an artillery tractor which was tested by the Spanish Army, though, with the Spanish Civil War ended and the country in ruins, there was no need for military investment.
The Controversy Over Who Built The Tank
Whilst photographic evidence of the tank being tested clearly shows it at the SECN factory in Sestao, it is important to note that according to Artemio Mortera Pérez, Lucas Molina Franco, and José María Manrrique García (three of the leading historians of AFV use in the Spanish Civil War) some Italian publications claim the tank was built by the Italian company of Ansaldo to be sold to Spain. They do not specify which publications make this claim, making their initial claim not stand as strong. If this is the case, however, it is patently not true.
Interviewed factory workers are adamant that there was no foreign (German or Italian) contribution to the project. However, Colonel Valentino Babini, the commander in charge of the Raggrupamento Carristi of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie [Tank Regiment of the Volunteer Troop Corp], writes in his documents of an Italian artillery technician supporting the Spanish engineers building the tank, and highlights the fact that the CCI tipo 1937 copied some features from Italian tanks. This is by no means the only controversy between Italian and Spanish claims surrounding tanks during the Spanish Civil War, with the Fiat CV.33/35 ‘Breda’ being a notable example. This shows that alliances are not always as straightforward as it may seem and that tensions always exist.
The CCI tipo 1937 did not provide Nationalist forces with a significant improvement over the T-26’s they had. Its main armament was sufficient enough at the time to deal with Republican armor (including the Soviet T-26, BA-6 and FAI, and Spanish-built vehicles such as the UNL-35 or AAC-1937), but its speed was disappointing for a light tank, and its armor was simply appalling, being easily penetrated by 7.92mm rifle fire. It was a decent idea in principle, just poorly delivered. Although in most aspects superior to the Fiat CV (overall) and Panzer I (firepower and mobility), it could not compete with the T-26, and when the latter became available in sufficient number to the Nationalists, there was no need for a newer tank.
Total weight, battle ready
3 (Driver, frontal gunner, gunner/loader)
6 cylinder MAN 100 hp
24 km/h (14.91 mph)
1 x 20mm Italian Breda M-35
2 x 7.92mm Hotchkiss Mod. 1914 machine guns
Not specified, unlikely to exceed 10-12mm
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Carros de Combate “Trubia” (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1993)
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Aragón, Cataluña Y Levante 36/39 Parte I (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno’s editores, 2011)
Joaquín García Pallasar, “Progresos de la Artillería”, Ejército, August 1940
L. Curami and A. Ceva, La Meccanizzazione Dell’esercito Italiano Dalle Origini al 1943 (1994)
Lucas Molina Franco and José Mª Manrique García, Blindados Españoles en el Ejército de Franco (1936-1939) (Valladolid: Galland Books, 2009)
Second Spanish Republic (1936)
Light Tank – Paper Project
The Carro de Combate Ligero Para Infantería Modelo 1936, also known as the ‘Trubia L.A. nº1’, is one of the many tanks that were imagined but never delivered. Although it never left the drawing board, it went on to heavily influence the Trubia-Naval, the most heavily produced tank of the Second Spanish Republic.
Original blueprint of the tank from Trubia arms factory showing the side profile of the vehicle. Drawn by Victor Landesa Domenech and Rogelio Areces.
Context – The Landesa Domenech-Areces Partnership
In 1935, Commander Victor Landesa Domenech, an artillery officer attached to the Trubia arms factory in Asturias (Northern Spain) and Rogelio Areces, the Trubia arms factory’s Chief Engineer, teamed up with Captain Carlos Ruíz de Toledo, a Commander in charge of Batería de Carros de Asalto de Artillería [Artillery Tank Battery] in its first engagements during the Rif War, to design what would become Spain’s first indigenous tank on their own initiative . The idea was to design a tank to overcome the major faults of the Renault FT, Spain’s most readily available tank at the time. With increased firepower in an innovative system involving two overlapping, independently moving turrets, each armed with a Hotchkiss M1914 7mm machine gun and marginally better armor and engine power, the prototype improved upon the FT.
The design was deemed a success and a new improved model was ordered; this would be the Trubia Serie A. The main difference of the serial version compared with prototype was a larger size, an additional crew-member, and most importantly, a new suspension system (‘Orion’) and engine acquired in Germany. This system was supposed to improve upon traditional systems in addition to enhancing turning capabilities and minimizing the effects of the tracks on roads. In this integrated track design, the links were suspended from the chassis and held together by a lateral metal wall. This system was designed to prevent the tracks from coming off when maneuvering.
The first serial Trubia Serie A in the factory it was built. Photo: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 8
Four of these tanks were built and tested in 1926. During the tests, deficiencies in the tank (especially in the new suspension system which kept breaking) were noted, and modifications were recommended, with at least one of the tanks being modified and re-tested far more successfully in May 1928. Although there was some interest in the tank, political instability and lack of funding condemned the vehicle.
Despite this setback, Landesa Domenech and Areces would collaborate again and in 1930-32 designed a tractor for military and agricultural use, which they christened ‘tractor Landesa’. This tractor would be pressed into Army service in 1935 following a series of successful trials. It also had a military upgrade which saw service in the October Revolution of 1934 in Asturias and during the Spanish Civil War.
The success of their tractor design (based on the same principles of the Trubia Serie A), prompted the two engineers to design a new light tank which they intended to exhibit to the Army.
The design of the L.A. nº1 owed much to the Landesa tractor and shared many of its features.
It was basically the Landesa tractor but in reverse, with the engine at the back and the crew compartment at the front. The rearmost part had the engine ventilation consisting of eleven or twelve vertical lats in the front grille, with an additional twelve-lat grille placed horizontally on each side tilted slightly inwards. The hull side was angled at 64º-66º and had two large hatches on each side for crew access. The large size in comparison to the rest of the tank would have most certainly affected armor effectiveness.
An original blueprint from the Trubia arms factory showing a face on view of the tank with the turret traversed to the left. Drawn by Victor Landesa Domenech and Rogelio Areces.
The turret was placed atop the hull and consisted of a circular structure with a shallow dome at the top. To the front was the main armament and on each side, there appear to be oval stroboscopes with horizontal turn allowing for continual vision.
The uppermost frontal plate raises some questions. There appears to be both a vision slit on the left and another oval stroboscope on the right. This position would be used only by the driver, so it is difficult to understand why the designers considered two different vision devices. From this plate, the armor extended almost horizontally and then almost vertically creating a slightly angled plate which had a machine gun. Below this, the armor took a rounded shape.
The Carro de Combate Ligero para Infanteria Modelo 1936 compared to an Average height (1.7 meters/ 5 feet 9 inches) person.
Four-angle illustration of the Carro de Combate Ligero para Infanteria Modelo 1936
Both of these illustrations are by Saiful ‘Giganaut’ Adli Azari, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
The armor on the L.A. nº1 was one of the tank’s most innovative, interesting and distinguishable features. It consisted of conventional armor and composite armor.
The sides and front of the vehicle consisted of an outer layer which was 13mm thick and the inner layer a mere 3mm thick with a 25mm space in between. The rear was angled at 66º whilst the front was angled at 64º. It is unknown if the spaced section of the armor was filled with wood, cotton, sand, glass, or if at all. Due to simplicity, wood would have most likely been used as the filler. This type of armor would have been effective against HE rounds and small arms fire. The rear, top and bottom of the tank were 3mm thick. The turret armor thickness is unspecified. All armor was made from chromium-nickel steel.
Original blueprint from the Trubia arms factory, showing a top-down view of the Carro de Combate Ligero Para Infantería Modelo 1936 as drawn by Victor Landesa Domenech and Rogelio Areces
The tank was supposed to mount a 40mm gun but there are no details as to which one. However, considering that Landesa Domenech and Areces had intended their previous design (Trubia Serie A) to be equipped with a 40mm Spanish-built modified Ramírez Arellano 40mm infantry gun, it is not too far-fetched to imagine they would consider this gun again. The gun was to have 8º depression and 30º elevation.
To the right of the driver was a 7mm Hotchkiss machine gun.
Body-on-Frame and Tracks
Each track consisted of a long ellipse-shaped structure formed by two parallel steel sheets and was covered by a mudguard. Between the two sheets, there was a track for the track rollers to travel through. Between the steel sheets, there was some sort of drum brake.
Unlike in most other vehicles, the track rollers were integrated into the tracks and moved in unison with the track links along the tracks set between the two sheets.
This was an updated copy of the one on the Trubia Serie A and Landesa tractor, albeit, smaller.
The driving and combat compartment housed the driver, who sat at the front, and the gunner/loader, who was positioned behind him. Given the small size of the tank, the gunner/loader would have had to sit or crouch when inside the tank. Behind them was the engine compartment which housed the engine, an 80hp 6 cylinder MAN D-0530 engine. This engine was supposed to give the tank a top speed of 42 km/h. The gearbox had 3 forward gears and one reverse.
What Became of the Project?
Although the ascension of José María Gil-Robles to the Ministry of War in May 1935 revitalized interest in tank development, this would not last, and with the leftist Popular Front taking office in February 1936, the appetite would be satisfied for the time being.
The design did, however, resurface a few months later in August 1936 in the shape of a new almost identical tank, the Trubia-Naval. As such, this paper design could almost be considered its genesis.
How effective this tank would have been in the early stages of the Spanish Civil War is impossible to tell. Armament-wise it would have been the most powerful available and its speed was superior to any other Spanish tank at the time.
Nevertheless, there were some major flaws in the design as later demonstrated by the Trubia-Naval. The experimental suspension system was outdated and proved not to work, as its complexity meant it had a tendency to break. The armor, although innovative, had not been tested and what results it may have had in test conditions can only be speculated. The tank was probably too small and the crew was overburdened. Nonetheless, the design remains a brave and courageous attempt to modernize Spain’s armed forces and avoid dependence on foreign tanks.
Trubia Naval specifications
3.55 x 1.85 x 1.7 m (11.65 x 6.07 x 5.58 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
2 (Driver/frontal gunner and Gunner/loader)
6 cylinder MAN D-0530 80hp
42 km/h (26.1 mph)
40mm main gun
Outer plate 13mm; space between plates 25mm, inner plate 3mm
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Carros de Combate “Trubia” (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1993)
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española. Teatro de Operaciones del Norte 36/37 (Valladolid: AF Editores, 2007)
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