Categories
Argentina Cold War

Vehículo de Combate Puesto de Comando (VCPC)

Argentina Argentina (1982-present)
Armored Command Vehicle – 9 built

With the introduction of the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) and the Vehículo de Combate Transporte de Personal (VCTP) in the early 80’s and the infrastructure to produce more vehicles using the same technology, Argentina was in a unique position to produce a family of vehicles based on the same chassis. After a mortar carrying vehicle and plans for a Self-Propelled Gun, the next step was a command vehicle to coordinate the units of the Ejército Argentino: the Vehículo de Combate Puesto de Comando (VCPC).

Context – The Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal (VCTP)

Whilst working on the TAM for Argentina, Thyssen-Henschel delivered another vehicle, effectively just a modified Marder 1 IFV, known as the Vehículo de Combate Transporte de Personal (VCTP). The VCTP’s role was dual: Armored Personnel Carrier and Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Armed with a 20 mm autocannon in a fully rotatable turret and two machine guns, the VCTP had considerable firepower and carried a contingent of 10 infantry. Initially, these vehicles would have also been used as command vehicles by reducing the offensive capabilities. However, to be effectively used as a command vehicle, there had to be an increase in logistic and communication capabilities.

The VCTP ploughing through the Argentinian Pampa – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 65

The first plans to adapt the common TAM family chassis into a command vehicle were drawn in 1982, and production began in 1984. Only 9 would be built in addition to 2 VCCDF (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Fuego) and 4 VCCDT (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Tiro) artillery fire control variants.

Design

External Appearance and Armor

The VCPC is essentially a turretless VCTP with a command cupola. The frontal plate is at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates are positioned at 32º. At the front of the tank, on each side, are headlights. Behind these, also on each side, are wing mirrors. On each side of the front-middle section of the hull are a set of 4 Wegmann 76 mm smoke launchers. On the left of the frontal section is an antenna for the radio equipment. The VCPC carries several pieces of pioneer equipment on the sides of the hull and on top of the frontal chassis.

When static, for added camouflage, the VCPC can deploy a camouflage net held by two poles placed on the top of the vehicle. There are several hatches on the vehicle: one on top of the driver’s position on the front left; one behind this position; a command cupola on the right towards the middle of the vehicle with 1 episcope; and a large hatch in the middle rear, which consists of two outwards opening doors. Armament consists of a single 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine gun placed in the commander’s cupola. The 7.62 × 51 NATO-standard ammunition for the machine gun fired has a muzzle velocity of 840 m/sec and a firing range of around 1,200 m. Additional weaponry consists of the crew’s personal weapons and 9 hand grenades.

A VCPC acting as a command post. Notice that only one of the poles for the camouflage net has been employed. Note the radio antenna at the forefront – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 52

Although not meant for combat, the VCPC’s armor is made of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front plate is 50 mm thick and the sides and rear 35 mm.

Additionally, the VCPC 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 compartments 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 high as 42ºC, ideal for the varied terrain in Argentina. There is also an automatic fire extinguishing system which can also be manually triggered from the interior or exterior.

Suspension and Undercarriage

The VCPC retained the suspension and running gear of the Marder 1, a torsion bar-type suspension with six rubber-tired paired road wheels and three return rollers on each side. The first, second, fifth, and sixth road wheel stations have hydraulic shock dampers, a legacy of the Marder 1 design.

The tracks are of a Vickers system, each track consisting of 91 links with rubber tank treads. These can be substituted with snow cleats if required.

Interior

The interior of the VCPC is divided into two main sections, with the frontal section being further sub-divided into two sub-sections. The bigger of these sub-sections, occupying 2/3 of the frontal space, houses the engine, whilst the smaller one is for the driver and driving mechanisms. There is a hatch above the driver’s position and three episcopes, and another one behind for another of the crew members or one of the passengers with 1 episcope. 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 vehicle and is where command operations are carried out. It is divided in two compartments by a metal screen: a smaller one for the VCPC’s commander; and a larger one for the passengers. In the middle of this larger section is a map table with seats on both sides.

The interior of the VCPC. Notice the map table in the center – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 52

In addition to the VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems and the SEL SEM-170 radio-receptor on all TAM family vehicles, for command duties, the VCPC has an SEL UHF and SEL unique multi-band radio systems provided by Fabricaciones Militares with Israeli aid. The UHF radio has a 4,000 km range and was allegedly used to communicate with an Argentinian base in the Antarctic from a VCPC based in Buenos Aires. The multi-band radio system is used to communicate with airborne units, such as planes and helicopters, allowing modern cross-branch cooperation and communication.

The crew is either 3 or 4: driver, commander, and up to two radio operators. Additionally, 6 regimental staff are carried. An improved air conditioning system not seen in other TAM family vehicles was incorporated on the VCPC.

Engine and Performance

The engine on the VCPC 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. This, alongside a weight of under 25 tonnes compared to the VCTP’s 28.2 tonnes, gives the vehicle a power-to-weight ratio of 21.2 kilowatts per tonne or 28.8 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 VCPC 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 75 km/h forwards and backward. Off-road or cross-country speed is limited to 40 km/h. The VCPC carries 650 liters of fuel for a maximum range of 590 km. This can be supplemented with 200-liter fuel tanks on each side of the hull for a total of 1,050 liters extending the maximum operating range to 840 km. However, these are not often added to the VCPC.

Among other performance indicators, the VCPC can overcome 60% gradients, 30% side slopes, 1 m tall obstacles, and 2.9 m trenches. It is capable of fording 1.5 m deep water without preparation, increased to 2 m with preparation.

Organization and Service

Each of the Regimentos de Infantería Mecanizados (RI Mec) [Eng. Mechanized Infantry Regiments] equipped with TAM family vehicles has a VCPC leading it. In the RI Mecs that are not equipped with TAM family vehicles, this role is carried out by M577A2. The regiments have two companies, each with three sections. Each section has four VCTPs plus an additional one for section command (total of five). The regiment’s headquarter section has the aforementioned VCPC, a VCTP for the second in command, and four Vehículos de Combate Transporte Mortero (VCTM) for fire support. The VCPC of each RI Mec has the role of coordinating the regiment’s infantry, VCTPs and VCTMs during operations with the regiment’s commander and headquarters staff being on board. The advanced radio and communications equipment on board allows for constant communication and coordination with other regiments and units.

There are almost no details for the VCPC’s service, but they may have seen action in 1989 during the attack on La Tablada barrack in Buenos Aires province. In this incident, the left-wing Movimiento Todos por la Patria (MTP) [Eng. All for the Fatherland Movement], which was heavily inspired by the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, took over the La Tablada barracks of the Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 3 on January 23rd. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the reasons behind this attack, but during the subsequent court hearings, MTP members claimed that they were attempting to prevent another carapintada military coup, of which there had already been three between April 1987 and December 1988. Others would claim that the attack on the barracks was a failed attempt to instigate a popular uprising. To quell the revolt, the VCTPs and infantry of the Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 7 «Coronel Conde» were sent to La Tablada, thus it is easy to assume that there would have been one VCPC among them. In the end, after several hours of fighting, MTP was defeated after losing 32 fighters.

A VCPC leading forces during Ejercicio Reconquista in July 2006 – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 52

Variants – The VCCDF (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Fuego) and VCCDT (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Tiro)

Two almost identical vehicles derived from the VCPC were built for artillery fire control in the mid-90’s. The main difference between them and the VCPC comes down to their roles; whereas the VCCDF is used by artillery groups, the VCCDT is used at battery level. An easy way to identify them is by looking at the top of the vehicle. The VCPC has two antennas and the VCCDF and the VCCDT have four. They were built in small numbers: there are 2 VCCDFs and 4 VCCDTs.

Both vehicles are used in the armored artillery groups Grupo de Artillería Blindado 9 and Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne», both of which are equipped with the TAM-based Vehículo de Combate Artillería (VCA). GA Bl 9 is based in Chubut province in the middle of the Patagonian plateau, whilst GA Bl 11 is based in the town of Comandante Luis Piedrabuena, Santa Cruz province, the southernmost point of Patagonia. Each GA consists of two batteries of 4 VCAs. Additionally, each battery has a VCCDT to command operations at battery level, whilst there is a single VCCDF per GA to command the operations of the whole group.

A battery of the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne», showing 4 VCAs, a VCCDT and a VCCDF – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 44
A VCCDF unloading from a tank transporter. Notice the VCA in the background – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 49
A VCCDT followed by a VCCDF which a part of a battery of the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne» – Cicalsei & Rivas, p. 49

Conclusion

The VCPC is proof of the flexibility demonstrated by the Ejército Argentino in procuring new equipment. It is a simple yet effective conversion on tested and trusted technology to fulfill new roles without reducing the number of TAMs and VCTPs already in service. There is no reason the VCPC will go out of service soon, even if the TAM, VCTP or VCA are substituted for more modern equipment.

Vehículo de Combate Puesto de Comando (VCPC), EA 435196, ‘KELLER’ illustration produced by Pablo Javier Gomez

Bibliography

Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)
Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)
Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)

VCPC specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.83 x 3.29 x 2.03 m
Total weight 25 tonnes
Crew 3-4 (driver, commander and one or two operators) + 6 regimental staff
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp
Maximum speed 75 km/h
Range 590 km without external fuel tanks
Armament Main – 7.62 mm NATO FN MAG 60-40
Armor Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm
Categories
Argentinian armor

Vehículo de Combate Amunicionador (VCAmun)

Argentina Argentina (2002-present)
Ammunition Supply Vehicle – 2 built

One of the biggest problems with Self Propelled Guns (SPGs) is that they can only carry a limited amount of their precious and delicate ammunition, so other vehicles have to be tasked with supplying it to the SPGs. Argentina did exactly that at the beginning of the current millennium when they converted the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) chassis into the Vehículo de Combate Amunicionador (VCAmun) to supply the Vehículo de Combate de Artillería (VCA).

A TAM with side skirts on a trailer. The TAM was the basis for the VCAmun – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 10

Context – Never a Failure, Always a Lesson

The origins of the VCAmun lay in the failures of another project, the Vehículo de Combate Ambulancia (VCAmb). In 2001, Comando de Arsenales, which had taken over from TAMSE (Tanque Argentino Mediano Sociedad Estatal) as the company in charge of the tank assembly facilities in Boulogne sur Mer, built a mock-up for a chassis to go on a TAM running gear and fulfill the role of combat ambulance. Whilst this vehicle had some potential, it did not get past the mock-up stage and was rejected. However, the lessons learned were not lost. The following year, Comando de Arsenales presented a new vehicle that used the same chassis for the purpose of resupplying the VCAs which had entered service in 1997 with ammunition. The main difference is that instead of medical equipment, the VCAmun had a conveyor belt to feed the ammunition into the VCA’s turret. Two were built by Comando de Arsenales and the plan was to build at least 16 more to supply and assist every single VCA attached to an armored artillery group.

The VCAmb mock-up in the warehouse of Comando de Arsenales – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 10

Design

External Appearance and Armor

Given that the VCAmun is based on the TAM, it shares many of its characteristics and, by extension, also with the Marder 1 IFV the TAM is based on. The frontal plate is at a pronounced 75º angle and the front half of the sides are positioned at 32º. The second half of the vehicle has a tall superstructure instead of the turret, tall enough to house the 155 mm ammunition the VCAmun carries. At the front of the tank, on each side, are headlights. Behind these, also on each side, are wing mirrors. On each side of the front-middle section of the hull are a set of 4 Wegmann 76 mm smoke launchers. On the sides of the VCAmun’s superstructure, the crew’s backpacks are carried, along with towing equipment.

Given that the VCAmun is based on the TAM, the armor is made of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front plate is 50 mm thick and the sides and rear 35 mm. There are no details for the superstructure’s armor, but an informed assumption would put it at 35 mm.

It can also be supposed that, additionally, the VCAmun is equipped with the same NBC protection system as the TAM, which allows the crew to stay or pass through a contaminated area for up to 8 hours, but not operate in it. 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 high as 42ºC. There is also an automatic fire extinguishing system that can be triggered from the interior or exterior.

On the top of the superstructure is the only armament the VCAmun carries, a 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine gun on the commander’s cupola. The 7.62×51 NATO-standard bullets the machine guns fire have a muzzle velocity of 840 m/sec and a firing range of around 1,200 m. The crew also carry their personal weapons and presumably between 8 or 9 hand grenades.

A VCAmun of the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne». Note that the crew’s backpacks are kept outside the vehicle – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 47

Suspension and Undercarriage

The VCAmun retained the suspension and running gear of the Marder 1, a torsion bar-type suspension with six rubber-tired paired roadwheels and three return rollers on each side. 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.

Interior

The interior of the VCAmun is divided into two main sections, with the frontal section being further sub-divided into two sub-sections. The bigger of these sub-sections, occupying 2/3 of the space, houses the engine, whilst the smaller one is for the driver and driving mechanisms to his left. There is a hatch above the driver’s position and three episcopes, and the whole section of the frontal hull covering the engine can be opened for engine maintenance.

The engine on the VCAmun 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 which is used on all TAM family vehicles. The engine is kept cool by two ventilators at its rear powered by a 33 hp engine of their own.

The gearbox on the VCAmun is the HSWL 204 automatic planetary gearbox with a 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. Again, this gearbox is used on all TAM family vehicles.

The rear section carries the ammunition, 80 rounds of 155 mm ammunition of the different types the VCA fires. These are supplied to the VCA by means of a 3 m-long conveyor belt which is powered by a 24 V electrical engine. The conveyor belt exits the VCAmun through the rear door, originally designed for entry/exit of the crew on the TAM, and enters the VCA through a rectangular hatch at the top rear of the turret. A total of 28 rounds, the VCA’s capacity, can be supplied in only two minutes. This process is carried out by two of the VCAmun’s crew and the two loaders on the VCA. The total crew consists of four: driver, commander, and two ammunition porters.

It can be assumed that communications are by means of VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems and an SEL SEM-170 radio-receptor, as this is used on most other TAM family vehicles.

Two photos of a VCAmun resupplying a VCA. Note the conveyor belt – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, pp. 44 and 48

Service

Despite its merits, the VCAmun is yet another lost opportunity in a long list of Argentinian military projects terminated too early because of budgetary constraints or lack of interest. Only two vehicles were built and serve the armored artillery groups equipped with VCAs stationed in the southern part of the country. These are the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 9 and the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne». GA Bl 9 is based in Chubut province in the middle of the Patagonian plateau, whilst GA Bl 11 is based in the town of Comandante Luis Piedrabuena, Santa Cruz province, the southernmost point of Patagonia. The VCAmuns carry out their tasks alongside modified M548A1s.

A VCAmun at full speed across the open vast Patagonian meseta – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 48

Conclusion

The VCAmun has fulfilled the role it was initially set out to do, supply the VCA with ammunition. Unfortunately, financial and administrative issues have meant only two have been built. It is unlikely any more will ever be constructed but the remaining two will probably serve in the Ejército Argentino for as long as the VCA does.

Vehículo de Combate Amunicionador (VCAmun) EA 437903 of the Ejército Argentino illustrated by Pablo Javier Gómez

Bibliography

Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)
Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)
Marcelo Javier Rivera, El Tanque Argentino Mediano – TAM, Universidad Federal de Juiz de Fora, 2008
Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)

VCAmun specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.75 x 3.29 x 2.74 m
Total weight, battle-ready 30 tonnes
Crew 4 (driver, commander and 2 ammunition porters)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp (540 kW)
Maximum speed 75 kmh? (47 mph) on road
Suspensions Torsion bar
Range (Fuel) 520 km
Armament 7.62 mm NATO FN MAG 60-40
Armor Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm
Categories
Argentina Cold War

Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal (VCTP)

Argentina (1976 – present)
Infantry Fighting Vehicle/Armored Personnel Carrier – around 124-216 built

Whilst the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) has become the most celebrated armored vehicle of the Argentine Armed Forces, the Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal (VCTP) has, perhaps unfairly, not achieved such fame. Despite the fact that the development of both vehicles took place at the same time, much information regarding the history of the VCTP is hard to come by. This is quite surprising given that the VCTP is the only vehicle of the TAM family to have seen service outside of Argentina.

Context – Plan Europa

Argentina had remained neutral during most of WWII. 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, becoming the country’s president in 1946.

In military terms, Argentina had a large army for its region. 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 zone. Between 1946 and 1949, Argentina purchased or acquired at least 250 Universal Carriers, around 360-400 Shermans (M4A4’s and Firefly tanks), 18 Crusader II, Gun Tractor Mk I, 6 M7 Priests and 320 M-series Half-tracks.

By the mid-1960s, these vehicles were becoming obsolete and a plan to replace them was put into action. Led by General Eduardo J. Uriburu, the intention of this project 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), the plan would be to not only acquire the vehicles but also the authorization to produce them under license 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 and 2 AMX-13 PDP (Poseur De Pont) Modèle 51’s from France and around 60 or 80 Mowag Grenadiers 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.

The main purpose was to find a modern and adequate replacement for the Sherman Firefly as the main battle tank for the Argentinian armed forces. In 1973, EMGE set out the requirements for a medium tank to equip Argentinian forces from the 1980s onwards.

The Tanque Argentino Mediano, the VCTP’s tank cousin, which since 1979 has been Argentina’s main battle tank – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 27

Enter Thyssen-Henschel

The company which met EMGE’s requirements for a new tank was the West German Thyssen-Henschel. This would be an agreement for co-production and technology-sharing with Argentine engineers collaborating from the very beginning.

At some point, once Thyssen-Henschel had got involved, the West German company decided to also produce an Infantry Fighting Vehicle/Armored Personnel Carrier which would become the VCTP. It was built with the purpose of mechanizing the infantry whilst also being able to provide fire support.

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. In essence, the VCTP is an up-gunned and higher troop capacity Marder.

Thyssen-Henschel finished the first VCTP in 1977.

Trials

The VCTP was tested at the Thyssen-Henschel facilities along with two TAMs before being sent to Argentina for further testing and evaluation under the supervision of EMGE. The vehicle was shown to the public for the first time on May 25th 1977. Thyssen-Henschel built another prototype and improved it with more expensive equipment. This vehicle, the TH-302, 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, like the TH-301 and the TAM, the TH-302 was not a prototype for the VCTP, but rather a development of the 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 very varied geography: mountainous and very high peaks in the west, arid deserts across the middle of the country, wetlands in the northeast and polar tundra in the south.

The TAM and VCTP prototypes during trials – source: Mazarrasa, p. 14

The tests were deemed very satisfactory and, during the trials, 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. One of the main changes from the prototype to the serial production version was the reduction of the crew from 3 to 2, with the vehicle’s commander giving way to an extra infantry trooper. Additionally, the rear weapons station was changed.

The VCTP prototype. Note the different weapons platform at the rear to that of the serial production vehicle – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 62

Towards Serial Production

EMGE wanted to produce, or at least assemble, the new vehicles in Argentina. So, a whole new infrastructure had to be created, incorporating state-run enterprises and also private companies. Although the industrial development Argentina put into motion was mainly for the purpose of assembling and producing elements of the TAM, due to the nature of the VCTP, which used the same components and was based on the same chassis, these were also essential in the production of the VCTP. For example, the General San Martín factory built the hulls for the VCTP and TAM, and Río Tercero was put in charge of building the turrets and armament. The Argentinian Company Bator Cocchis SA produced the torsion bars and rubber pads. However, many components were still manufactured in West Germany or other countries, with several different companies working on different elements, including:

– Motoren- und Turbinen-Union (MTU) GmbH – engine
– Renk – transmission
– Diehl – tracks
– Standard Elektrik Lorenz – communications
– Carl Zeiss – optics
– Tensa
– Bertolina
– Pescarmone and Fiat – some elements of the undercarriage

In all, according to Mazarrasa and Sigal Fagliani, by 1983, 70% of all TAM components were being produced in Argentina, so it can be estimated that a similar percentage was also applicable to the VCTP.

In March 1980, with the objective of having one company that would coordinate the whole 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 km2 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 would not initially be fulfilled.

Numbers Built?

One of the hardest facts to establish about the VCTP is the exact number built, as there are widely differing figures. In his book La Familia Acorazada TAM, Spanish author Javier de Mazarrasa states that, in 1995, as many as 216 VCTPs and Vehículos de Combate Puesto de Comando (VCPC) had been built. A much more conservative estimate is given by Juan Carlos Cicalesi and Santiago Rivas in TAM (published in 2012), who state that only 124 were built, in addition to 9 VCPCs.

A veteran of the wars in Yugoslavia. Note the remnants of UN whitewash paint on the wheels – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 62

Design

External Appearance and Armor

As stated previously, externally, in appearance and design, the VCTP is very similar to the Marder IFV. The frontal plate is at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates are positioned at 32º. At the front of the tank, on each side, are headlights. Behind these, also on each side, are wing mirrors. On each side of the front-middle section of the hull are a set of 4 Wegman 77 mm smoke launchers.

In the center of the vehicle is the turret. On the front of the right-hand side of the turret is a small hatch to dispense used cartridges. On top of the turret are two hatches, one for an infantry commander and the vehicle’s gunner.

The VCTP’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. Turret armor is 35 mm at the front.
Additionally, the VCTP 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 compartments 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, ideal for the varied terrain in Argentina. There is also an automatic fire extinguishing system which can also be manually triggered from the interior or exterior.

Armament

The VCTP has a variety of armaments. Its main gun is located in the fully rotating turret and consists of a Rheinmetall Mk 20 Rh-202 20 mm autocannon, which has a total length of 2,612 mm (2,002 mm barrel length) and a weight of 75 kg. The gun’s depression is -11º, whilst its elevation is +60º. Effective firing range is deemed at 2,000 m, though maximum firing range far exceeds this. The Mk 20 Rh-202 fires 880 rounds a minute, which can be increased to 1,030 rounds a minute on quick-fire mode.

Some sources (Sigal Fagliani) suggest that Argentina encountered issues with Rheinmetall regarding a weapons embargo and turned to the Swiss Oerlikon KAD 20 mm autocannon, the new name of the Hispano-Suiza HS.820 following Oerlikon’s purchase of Hispano-Suiza, as the main weapon for the VCTP. Regardless, the Oerlikon KAD and the Rh-202 could fire the same projectiles.
A total of 1,000 cartridges of two types of ammunition for the main gun are carried in the VCTP: the High Explosive DM81 and the Armor-Piercing DM63. These are placed in ammunition clips with 325 DM81 cartridges and 75 DM63 cartridges.

Name DM81 DM63
Muzzle Velocity (m/s) 1,045 1,150
Weight (g) 120 108

The fire control system for the main gun on the VCTP is hydraulic. The gunner has a Zeiss PERI-Z11A1 sight with ×4 magnification and an LRP-2100 panoramic periscope.

Secondary armament consists of two 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine guns, one placed on top of the turret and a second-placed in a TPA-1 remote-controlled weapon station at the rear of the vehicle. The 7.62 × 51 NATO-standard ammunition for the machine guns has a muzzle velocity of 840 m/sec and a firing range of around 1,200 m. A total of 5,000 rounds are carried inside. Additional weaponry for the crew includes their personal weapons and 9 hand grenades.

Suspension and Undercarriage

The VCTP retained the suspension and running gear of the Marder 1, a torsion bar-type suspension with six rubber-tired paired road wheels and three return rollers on each side. The first, second, fifth, and sixth road wheel stations have hydraulic shock dampers.
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.

Interior

The interior of the VCTP 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 frontal space, houses the engine, whilst the smaller one is for the driver and driving mechanisms. There is a hatch above the driver’s position and three episcopes, and another one behind for one of the passengers. The whole section of the frontal hull covering the engine can be opened for engine maintenance.

The driver’s position inside the VCTP – source: Wikipedia Commons

The bigger rear section occupies the central and rear part of the tank and is where the 10 infantry (1 commander and 9 troopers) the VCTP carries sit. Bizarrely, the infantry platoon commander also acts as the vehicle’s commander and usually sits in the turret, where there are seven episcopes and one periscope to observe the vehicle’s surroundings. The infantrymen are seated on a central bench back-to-back with five on each side. Furthermore, they can provide fire from inside the vehicle through the three hatches placed on each side of the hull. One of the infantry also has the task of operating the TPA-1 remote-controlled weapon station at the rear. This role is assisted by four periscopes and 3 episcopes, crucial to know where and what to fire at.

At the rear of the vehicle, there is a small door for the crew and infantry to enter and exit and to replenish ammunition and other things the VCTP may need.

Infantry exiting the rear of the VCTP prototype – source: Top Gun
The VCTP prototype with its crew of 3 (changed to 2 in the serial production vehicle) and 9 infantry passengers (later increased to 10) – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 62

Communications are by means of VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems and a SEL SEM-170 radio-receptor.

Engine and Performance

The engine on the VCTP 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. This gives the vehicle a power-to-weight ratio of 17.6 kilowatts per tonne or 24 hp per tonne.

The engine is kept cool by two fans at its rear powered by a 33 hp engine of their own.

The gearbox on the VCTP 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 75 km/h forwards and backward. Off-road or cross-country speed is limited to 40 km/h. The VCTP carries 650 liters of fuel for a maximum range of 590 km. This can be supplemented with two 200 liter tanks for a total of 1,050 liters which extends the maximum operating range to 840 km. However, these are not often added on the VCTP. Other capacity fuel tanks have also been used.

Among other performance indicators, the VCTP 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.

Operational Service

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 production was stopped at 150 TAM and 100 VCTP in 1983. 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 but with production terminated, it was decided to try to seek 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 TAMs and 26 VCTPs which had been built for export to Peru.

The VCTP would see its combat debut in January 1989 during the attack on La Tablada barrack in Buenos Aires province. In this incident, the left-wing Movimiento Todos por la Patria (MTP) [Eng. All for the Fatherland Movement], which was heavily inspired by the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, took over the La Tablada barracks of the Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 3 on January 23rd, 1989. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the reasons behind this attack, but during the subsequent court hearings, MTP members claimed that they were attempting to prevent another ‘carapintada’ military coup, of which there had already been three between April 1987 and December 1988. Others would claim that the attack on the barracks was a failed attempt to instigate a popular uprising. To quell the revolt, the VCTPs and infantry of the Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 7 «Coronel Conde» were sent to La Tablada. In the end, after several hours of fighting, MTP was defeated after losing 32 fighters.

Two VCTPs belonging to Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 7 «Coronel Conde» which intervened during the assault on La Tablada barracks in January 1989 – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 60

Extract of a video showing a VCTP and infantry advancing on La Tablada barracks in January 1989

The VCTP would also see some action during one of the ‘carapintada’ military coups which shook Argentina between 1987 and 1990. 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 1992, 15 VCTPs were sent to Yugoslavia as part of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR). The vehicles were painted in UN white and departed Argentina on March 24th, 1992 on the ship ARA Cabo de Hornos, arriving in Bar, in modern-day Montenegro, in May. Within Yugoslavia, they were sent as part of the Batellón Argentino to Western Slavonia, on Croatia’s northern border with Bosnia. En route to Slavonia, when the contingent was outside Osijek, two VCTPs were shelled by enemy forces resulting in the deaths of some civilians. In October 1982, VCTPs were deployed to prevent Croat militias from attacking Serb civilians. Most of the actions in late 1992 involved controlling the large groups of refugees. No exact details are known of the exact role the VCTP’s played, but starting in January 1993, the Batellón Argentino and other UNPROFOR units in the sector were kept busy during the Croat Operation Maslenica to retake territory in northern Dalmatia and Lika from Krajina Serb forces.

Unfortunately, not much more is known about their actions in the crumbling former Yugoslavia, but they finished their service and returned to Argentina in 1995 when UNPROFOR was ended and replaced by three different missions.

The 15 VCTPs which were sent to Yugoslavia undergoing maintenance – source: Wikipedia Commons
One of the VCTPs sent to Yugoslavia representing the Batellón Argentino of UNPROFOR – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 62

Since then (as of April 2020), the VCTP has served alongside the M113 as the main armored personnel carrier of the Ejército Argentino. In 2008, a small number of VCTPs were refurbished by Comando de Arsenales in the former TAMSE installations at Boulogne sur Mer.

As of 2019, there was a plan to modernize the VCTP by bringing some of its components up to date, including its hydraulic, electronic and optic systems, fire control system and ballistic computer. Exact details are unknown and neither is how many, if any, have been modernized.

A VCTP post-2008 refurbishment at Comando de Arsenales – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 61

Organization

The VCTP equips the Regimentos de Infantería Mecanizada of the Ejército Argentino, in other words, the mechanized infantry regiments. Those regiments equipped with VCTPs, such as the Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 7 «Coronel Conde», have two companies each divided into three sections, with 4 VCTPs per section and an additional one for the company commander. This is a total of 29 VCTPs per regiment. Additionally, each regiment is led by a VCPC and is accompanied by 4 Vehículos de Combate Transporte Mortero. Other mechanized infantry regiments use M113’s under the same organization.

A column of VCTPs led by a VCPC. Note the overhead hatches for the infantry inside to fire from – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 59

Export Failure

As with the TAM, once production of the VCTP was terminated two years early, EMGE unsuccessfully attempted to export the vehicles. Their intention was to try to make TAMSE financially viable to recoup the heavy investment in its set-up and infrastructure.

In mid-1983, Peru made an effort to purchase 100 TAMSE vehicles (TAM and VCTP). However, financial reasons meant that they canceled the order and stuck with vehicles already in service. The 20 TAM and 26 VCTP already built for this delivery were transferred to the Argentinian Army.

In 1984, Panama ordered 60 vehicles, again, divided between TAMs and VCTPs. 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.

The closest Argentina got to selling a TAMSE vehicle 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 (TAMs, VCTPs and VCRTs) for US$108 million. It fell through, according to Sigal Fagliani, because of the threatened closure of TAMSE. In the end, Ecuador did not purchase any tanks.

Variants

Since its inception, the VCTP has played a variety of roles in the Argentinian Army. Mainly due to financial constraints, purpose-built or modified vehicles for those roles have been unavailable.

Ambulance

Originally, several VCTPs had their turrets removed, thus becoming Vehículo de Combate Ambulancia (VCA). In 2001, there was an effort to create a purpose-built ambulance vehicle, the VCAmb, but after only one wooden mock-up, the project was canceled. As a consequence, the VCTP continued to be used in this role, either without its turret or just without the main armament. It is possible only the driver is retained, as the gunner is no longer needed. In addition, in its ambulance configuration, the VCTP, or VCA, carries two medics and medical equipment. The vehicle carries 4 people on stretchers, two on stretchers and four sitting down, or eight sitting down.

A VCTP in ambulance configuration during Ejercicio Reconquista 2006. Note the main armament has been removed and a big red cross has been painted on the turret – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 61

Mine Clearing

All vehicles in the TAM family, more often than not, the VCTM, can carry an Israeli-built RKM mine-roller for mine-clearing duties.

Engineering

A small number of VCTPs have been repurposed as engineering vehicles by having their turrets and TPA-1 rear weapons platforms removed. The interior has been reconditioned so as to act as a small workshop. Additionally, a ladder has been added on the left-hand side of the hull.

Derivatives, the TAM family

One of the most distinguishing factors of the TAM family 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. Several of the vehicles belonging to the TAM family seem to be direct derivatives or variants of the VCTP itself.

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 VCTMs have been built and are still in service.

Two VCTM firing during a military exercise – source: Thai Military and Asian Region

VCPC (Vehículo de Combate Puesto de Comando)

A variant of the VCTP developed in 1982, the VCPC is a command vehicle that 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.

Entering service in 1982, the VCPC has served as a command vehicle – source: Taringa

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-’90s. The difference between them comes down to their roles; whereas the VCCDF is used by artillery groups, the VCCDT is used at the battery level. They were built in small numbers, there are 2 VCCDFs and 4 VCCDTs.

Conclusion

The VCTP has played an important role in the Ejército Argentino since it first entered service at the beginning of the 1980s. It has also been the only TAM family vehicle to have seen service outside of Argentina given its role as part of the Batellón Argentino in Yugoslavia. However, whilst not as urgently as the TAM, the VCTP should soon be replaced with more modern equipment, as it is heavily based on the 1960’s technology. The chances of this happening are slim, as there is no imminent threat to Argentina where the VCTPs age would show, and the limited budget will probably be used on finding an alternative to the TAM. As such, it is likely that the VCTP will continue to see service with Argentina for the foreseeable future.

A VCTP plowing through the Argentinian Pampa. Whilst mostly based on 1960’s technology, short of some minor modernizations, the VCTP is still going to provide support for the Argentinian infantry for the foreseeable future – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 65
VCTP in two-tone green camouflage – illustrated by David Bocquelet
VCTP in a rare green-pink camouflage pattern – illustrated by David Bocquelet
VCTP call sign 313, serial number EA 434036, ‘MTE LONGDON’ in traditional sand-green camouflage with open rear entry door – illustrated by Pablo Javier Gómez
VCTP in UN livery as part of UNPROFOR in Slavonia, Croatia 1992-1995 – illustrated by David Bocquelet
Another view of a UN VCTP, this time with external fuel tanks, a UN and Argentinian flag at the rear and one painted on the hull – illustrated by Pablo Javier Gomez

Bibliography

Anon., “Advierten que Panamá podría embargar la fragata Libertad,” Clarín, 09 September 1999

Anon., Military Vehicle Forecast, TH 300 (TAM – Tanque Argentino Mediano) and TH 301 [archived report]

Guillermo Axel Dapía, El Desarrollo de la industria de blindados en Argentina y Brasil: un estudio comparado de integración económico-militar, Thesis, Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2008

Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)

Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)

Marcelo Javier Rivera, El Tanque Argentino Mediano – TAM, Universidad Federal de Juiz de Fora, 2008

Michael Scheibert, SPz Marder und seine Varianten (Friedberg: Podszun-Pallas-Verlag GmbH, 1987)

Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)

VCTP Specifications

Dimensions (L/w/h) 6.83 x 3.29 x 2.68 m
Total weight, battle ready 28.2 tonnes
Crew 2 (driver and gunner) + 10 infantry (1 commander and 9 troopers)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cylinder diesel, 720 hp
Range 590 km without external fuel tanks
Armament Main – 20 mm Rheinmetall Mk 20 Rh-202 / Oerlikon KAD
Secondary – 2 x 7.62 mm NATO FN MAG 60-40 (one on top of turret, one in TPA-1 weapon platform in rear)
Armor Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm
Turret – 35 mm
Categories
Argentina Cold War

Vehículo de Combate Transporte Mortero (VCTM)

Argentina Argentina (1980-present)
Mortar Carrying Armored Vehicle – 36-50 built

As early as the Great War, the British Army experimented with mounting a mortar between the rear horns of a Mark IV Tadpole. Placing a mortar on an armored vehicle has the advantages of the extra protection offered by the armor and the mobility of the platform. These vehicles became more common in the Cold War era and continue to be used by modern militaries. Among the many nations around the world developing their own mortar-carrying armored vehicles is Argentina. Using the development of the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) and Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal (VCTP) carried out by Thyssen-Henschel, the Argentinians designed their own vehicle, the Vehículo de Combate Transporte Mortero (VCTM).

The VCTM during a military exercise – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 56

The Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) and Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal (VCTP)

In the 1970s, Argentina set up an ambitious program to find an adequate replacement for its aging fleet of WWII vintage armored vehicles. After several previous programs, including the up-gunning of its Shermans to ‘Repotenciado’ standard and purchasing French AMX-13s, including the licensed production of a small number of them, Argentina reached an agreement with the West German company, Thyssen-Henschel. Thyssen-Henschel then proceeded to develop a tank, the TAM, and an Infantry Fighting Vehicle/Armored Personnel Carrier, the VCTP, based on tried and tested components on a Marder 1 IFV chassis. Whilst the technology and many of the components would be produced in West Germany, assembly would take place in Argentina, along with the construction of armament, turrets and hulls.

In March 1980, with the objective of having a single company that would coordinate the whole program, Tanque Argentino Mediano Sociedad del Estado (TAMSE) was created. TAMSE was established as the main contractor of the TAM and VCTP and was given the task of overseeing the final assembly, delivery and integration of the tanks into the army, trials, homogenization of the optics and armament and potential exports.


The TAM (left) and the VCTP (right) – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 21 and 61

TAMSE was given a 9,600 km2 covered assembly plant in Boulogne sur Mer, just outside Buenos Aires. This installation 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.

Even at this early stage, it was decided to use these facilities and acquired technologies and know-how to develop a family of armored vehicles based on this common chassis and components, easing production and familiarity. The first of the Argentinian produced vehicles, soon to be known as the TAM family, was a mortar carrying vehicle, the VCTM. With the design dating from 1980, the VCTM is essentially a turretless VCTP which carries a large 120 mm mortar. It is not known exactly when the project began, however, it originated with an order from Jefatura III del Comando del Ejército [Eng. Army Headquarters]. 2,000 blueprints were produced by the engineering department, apparently without foreign assistance. Nevertheless, Michael Scheibert, author of SPz Marder und seine Varianten, states that the VCTM was also a Thyssen-Henschel design. Sigal Fagliani, who adamantly defends this as the first TAM Argentinian project, gives the figure of 30 months between the production of the first prototype and the serial production vehicles. Unfortunately, most of the relevant authors do not provide dates.

Design

External Appearance and Armor

Externally, in appearance and design, the VCTM is very similar to the VCTP, and thus, the Marder IFV. The frontal plate is at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates are positioned at 32º. At the front of the tank, on each side, are headlights. Behind these, also on each side, are wing mirrors. On each side of the front-middle section of the hull is a set of 4 Wegman 77 mm smoke launchers. In the center of the vehicle is a large hatch for the mortar to fire. This hatch consists of three sections, one opening to the front and two opening to the sides.

The VCTM’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.

Additionally, the VCTM is equipped with an NBC protection system allowing the crew to operate in a contaminated area for up to 8 hours, although they cannot fire without losing NBC protection. 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.

All vehicles in the TAM family, though more often than not, the VCTM, can carry an Israeli-built RKM mine-roller for mine-clearing duties on a fitting placed on the front of the hull. Mortar vehicles are not often used in these duties, but Argentina seems to have. However, if Argentina were to ever actually enter any real conflict, it may be unlikely that the VCTMs continue to carry out these duties.

A VCTM carrying an RKM mine-roller during a test on a minefield – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 57

Armament

The VCTM carries a French 120 mm Brandt AM-50 mortar as its main armament, which is 1,746 mm long and weighs 242 kg. It has a maximum elevation of 85º but is limited to 17º horizontal traverse, meaning that to fire at different angles, the VCTM has to move. The aiming optic is an AOP-1. These figures are those given by Mazarrasa, whilst Sigal Fagliani produces different data. To start with, Sigal Fogliani denominates the mortar as LR and claims ‘it is completely constructed by Dirección General de Fabricaciones Militares’. The dimensions and weight provided by Sigal Fogliani are a tube length of the mortar of 1.5 m weighing 44 kg, with an additional 22.5 kg from the mount, 35.6 kg from the base plate, and 1.3 kg from the aiming optics. Sigal Fogliani also assesses that the mortar is on top of a rotating base which allows it to fire at 360º with an elevation of between 45º and 80º. Sigal Fogliani’s claims are spurious as he designates the mortar wrongly and mentions that there are only two crew members operating the mortar. All photographic evidence points towards 5 mortar operators. Regardless, the AM-50 fires between 8 and 12 rounds a minute. A total of 49 rounds are carried inside the VCTM behind the mortar stored in 7×7 racks. There are four ammunition types:

  • PEPA-LP (Projectile Empané à Propulsion Aditionale-Longue Portée): a long-range rocket-assisted high explosive shell weighing 13.4 kg, with a range of 9,500 m and an initial firing velocity of 240 m/sec.
  • M44: a high explosive shell weighing 13 kg and limited to a 6,650 m range.
  • M62: a smoke round also weighing 13 kg.
  • M62ED: an illuminating shell weighing 13 kg.
Fire! By pulling a long lanyard, the mortar operator is firing the 120 mm Brandt AM-50 mortar inside the VCTM – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 58
Photo showing the ammunition racks inside the VCTM. Also note the episcopes for the remote-controlled weapon station – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 58

Secondary armament consists of a 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine gun placed in a TPA-1 remote-controlled weapon station at the rear of the vehicle. The 7.62×51 NATO-standard bullets the machine guns fire have a muzzle velocity of 840 m/sec and a firing range of around 1,200 m. Additional weaponry for the crew includes their personal weapons, an 88.9 mm Instalaza M65 rocket launcher, and 9 hand grenades.

Suspension and Undercarriage

The VCTM retained the suspension and running gear of the Marder 1, a torsion bar-type suspension with six rubber-tired paired roadwheels and three return rollers on each side. The first, second, fifth, and sixth road wheel stations have hydraulic shock dampers to absorb a significant part of the stress created by firing the mortar.

The tracks are of a Vickers system, each track consisting of 91 links with rubber tank treads. These can be substituted with snow cleats if required.

Interior

The interior of the VCTM 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. There is a hatch above the driver’s position and three episcopes, a hatch, and a periscope for the vehicle’s commander, and the whole section of the frontal hull covering the engine can be opened for engine maintenance.

The central area is open-topped and houses the large mortar. This area is also occupied by four of the five mortar operators, with the other one, the aimer, positioned behind them with a hatch of his own. Behind the mortar are the ammunition racks. One of the mortar’s operators is also in charge of operating the TPA-1 remote-controlled weapon station and has 2 episcopes to assist in those duties.

Communications are by means of VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems and an SEL SEM-170 radio-receptor.

The rear of a VCTM showing the ramp for entry and exit from the vehicle and two additional fuel tanks – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 58
Six of the seven crew members aboard a VCTM. Note the numerous VCTPs in the background – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 55

Engine and Performance

The engine on the VCTM 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 VCTM 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 75 km/h forwards and backward. Off-road or cross-country speed is limited to 40 km/h. The maximum range is limited to 590 km, but it can be increased by 350 km to 840 km with the additional 200 l 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. However, these are not usually added to the VCTM. Fuel tanks with other capacities have also been used.

Among other performance indicators, the VCTM 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.

Service

Not much is known about the service of the VCTMs, but it can be assumed that, as with the TAM and VCTP, they were used during several of the attempted coups that rocked Argentina in the late 1980s and early ’90s, the ‘carapintada’ military coups. 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. Some sources (Cicalesi & Rivas) claim that Romero Mundani was actually commanding a VCTM.


Video showing a number of TAMs, a VCTP, and a VCTM at the front of the TAMSE installations during the 1990 ‘carapintada’ coup. The officer commanding the VCTM which appears mid-way through the video may well be Romero Mundani – source: DiFilm on YouTube

There is a slight divergence in the sources over the numbers built, with Cicalesi & Rivas putting the number at 36 and Mazarrasa at 50. Notwithstanding, each of the mechanized infantry regiments equipped with VCTMs have them in groups of 4 to provide fire support to infantry units. In other mechanized infantry regiments without VCTMs, this duty is carried out by the M106 mortar carrier, which instead of the usual 107 mm mortar, has a 120 mm mortar.

A column of VCTMs during operations – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 55

Conclusion

Whilst experiencing a not too noteworthy career, the VCTM provided a valuable lesson to the Argentinian military authorities, and that was that they could apply their newly acquired technology to produce their own vehicles with a commonality of mechanisms and pieces for different roles. This not only supposed an easier retraining of crews and more common and faster production of replacement parts but eliminated reliance on foreign military hardware. However, as with other vehicles of the TAM family, the resources have not always been there to domestically sustain the production of these specialized vehicles, thus vehicles have to be imported to make up the numbers.

VCTM, call number 132, ‘CARAPANGUE’, with its ramp open
VCTM with RMK mine-roller. Both illustrations produced by Pablo Javier Gomez

Bibliography

Anon., Military Vehicle Forecast, TH 300 (TAM – Tanque Argentino Mediano) and TH 301 [archived report] Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)
Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)
Marcelo Javier Rivera, El Tanque Argentino Mediano – TAM (Universidad Federal de Juiz de Fora, 2008)
Michael Scheibert, SPz Marder und seine Varianten (Friedberg: Podszun-Pallas-Verlag GmbH, 1987)
Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)

VCTM specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.83 x 3.29 x 2.59 m
Total weight, battle ready 26 tonnes
Crew 7 (driver, commander and 5 gun servants)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp
Maximum speed 75 kmh
Range 590 km without external fuel tanks
Armament 120 mm Brandt AM-50 mortar
7.62 mm NATO FN MAG 60-40 in TPA-1 weapon platform in rear
Armor Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm
Categories
Argentina Cold War

Vehículo de Combate Artillería (VCA)

Argentina Argentina (1983-present)
Self Propelled Artillery – 20 Built

The Vehículo de Combate Artillería (VCA) is an elongated Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) chassis that carries a large OTO Melara turret housing a powerful 155 mm gun. This has allowed the Ejército Argentino (Eng: Argentinian Army) to have its heaviest artillery piece on a mobile and tested platform that is able to cover the vast areas of terrain in the potentially conflictive southern tip of the country.

Context – Lessons from War

The late ’70s and early ’80s were a period of great international instability for Argentina. In 1978, Argentina’s long-standing border dispute with Chile over the strategic Picton, Lennox, and Nueva islands off the southern tip of the continent almost got violent. An eleventh-hour papal mediation halted Operation Soberanía, the Argentinian invasion of Chile, in its tracks. Four years later, in 1982, Argentinian forces landed on the Falkland Island/Las Islas Malvinas to claim them from the British. After a short war, The British ejected the Argentine forces from the islands.

The area of operations for both confrontations was the southern part of the country, a large, flat sparsely populated area. Border disputes with Chile would not be fully solved for another decade and the ultimate goal of successive Argentinian governments was to take over Las Malvinas. Argentina had found that it lacked the capacity to transport large-caliber weaponry over such long distances. Argentina did have some vehicles capable of playing this role: a small number of AMX-13-based Canon de 155 mm Mle F3 Automoteur, but these were in limited numbers and were very limited due to their small size. The solution would be to put such heavy weaponry on a mobile platform. With the introduction of the TAM and VCTP in the early ’80s, it seemed that the platform would be available if adapted.

A Canon de 155 mm Mle F3 Automoteur in Argentinian service – Sigal Fogliani, p. 47
The Tanque Argentino Mediano – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 27

Development

The exact details behind the VCA’s development are unclear. According to Mazarrasa (La Familia Acorazada TAM), in 1983, Tanque Argentino Mediano Sociedad del Estado (TAMSE), the company which had been set up in March 1980 to coordinate the development and assembly of the TAM program, began thinking about adapting a TAM to mount a heavy 155 mm gun. A first prototype appeared in 1984, but delays meant that an initial serial production for 25 vehicles would not begin until 1990.

Cicalesi and Rivas (TAM) on the other hand, propose that the VCA’s development began as an offshoot of the abandoned Tanque Argentino Pesado (TAP) project. The TAP was to be a heavier version of the TAM with a stretched chassis and a 120 mm gun. Once the TAP project was canceled, the elongated chassis was used on the VCA instead. Cicalesi and Rivas also suggest that the VCA was not presented to the public until July 9th, 1989, when a prototype took part in a military parade to celebrate the nation’s independence day. According to these authors, only 20 vehicles were built.

Assembly took place at the TAMSE facilities in Boulogne sur Mer. It is worth noting that some early sources refer to it as VCCñ, or Vehículo de Combate Cañón.

The TAP, according to Cicalesi and Rivas, the starting point for the VCA – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 11
The first public appearance of the VCA, Buenos Aires, July 9th, 1989. Note that this first vehicle had a sand camouflage scheme not adopted in service – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 47
A recently assembled VCA in the TAMSE facilities in Boulogne sur Mer – source: Sigal Fogliani, p. 113

Design

External Appearance and Armor

The most distinguishable aspect of the VCA in respect to the TAM is its large size. Whereas the TAM’s chassis is 6.75 m long, the VCA was elongated by 860 mm to take the larger turret, gun and ammunition. As with the TAM it was based on, and by extension, the Marder 1, the frontal plate is at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates are positioned at 32º. At the front of the tank, on each side, are headlights. Behind these, also on each side, are wing mirrors.

The VCA’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.

As with all vehicles of the TAM family, the VCA is equipped with an NBC protection system allowing the crew to operate in a contaminated area for up to 8 hours, although they cannot fire without losing NBC protection. 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 high as 42ºC. There is also an automatic fire extinguishing system that can be triggered from the interior or exterior.

Turret

One of the biggest changes for the VCA was the much larger turret, which could hold a 155 mm gun. The turret was of the Palmaria type developed by the Italian company OTO-Melara. A private venture purely for export, OTO-Melara began development of the turret in 1977 to mount on the OF-40 platform. Argentina took delivery of the last of 25 Palmaria turrets in 1986. The turret is made of duralumin of an unspecified thickness and weighs 12 tonnes. The turret’s drives are hydraulic with manual backup and are operated by a Siemens System 300S Programmable logic controller (PLC).

On the top-right of the turret is a circular hatch for the commander with eight episcopes and a machine gun mount. The top-left side has the gun optics. The left side of the turret has a large hatch/door which opens backward, whereas, on the opposite side, a smaller door/hatch opens to the front. These hatches/doors serve as entrances/exits for the VCA’s crew. Behind the smaller door, there is a rectangular hatch that serves to load the VCA’s ammunition. At the rear, there is a smoke evacuator and two baskets to carry the crew’s equipment. On each side of the frontal cheeks of the turret are a set of 4 Wegman 77 mm smoke launchers.

The large OTO-Melara Palmaria turret during tests in Italy – source: Mazarrasa, p. 46

Armament and Gun Optics

The main armament on the VCA is the 155 mm howitzer also developed by OTO-Melara. The gun has a monobloc tube with a double-baffle muzzle brake and a fume extractor. The gun depression is -5º and the elevation +70º, whilst it can fire 360º horizontally in a fully rotatable turret.

Ammunition capacity consists of 28 shells, 23 of which are in the rear part of the turret and 5 in the hull according to Mazarresa, or 30 shells, 23 in the turret and 7 in the hull according to Cicalesi and Rivas, and are of a variety of NATO-standard types produced by Simmel Difesa:

Name P-3 P-3BB P-3RAP
Type High Explosive High Explosive hollow-base High Explosive Rocket Assisted Projectile
Explosive charge 11.7 kg Over 11.7 kg 8 kg
Total Weight 43.2 kg Over 43.2 kg ?
Range 24 km 24.6 km 30 km
Name P-4 ILUM P-5
Type Illumination Smoke
Operating Inside the shell is a flare ‘package’ which burns for 65 seconds descending at 5 m/s with a non-flammable parachute illumination and 1,600 diameter circle Inside the shell are four smoke canisters weighing 7.9 kg each which burn for 2.5 minutes providing a smokescreen 200 m long, 50 m wide, 10-15 m deep at a distance of 150 m from the point of impact

According to Cicalesi and Rivas, Argentina has developed its own rounds of ammunition, too.

Most sources do not mention the automatic loader originally designed by OTO-Melara being retained on the VCA. Four rounds per minute can be fired, but the sustained rate of fire is just one per minute. However, Sigal Fogliani does mention an automatic loading system with three modes: a round every 15 seconds for 3 minutes; 1 round a minute for an hour; and 1 round every 3 minutes. He also notes a round every 30 seconds for when the process is done manually.

The 155 mm howitzer is aimed using an Aeritalia P170 thermal sight with two settings (x1 and x8 magnification) or an Aeritalia P164 during nighttime. To correctly establish the angle to fire, a Aeritalia P186 goniometer with one setting (x4) is used.

Secondary armament consists of a 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine gun placed on the commander’s cupola at the top of the turret. The 7.62 × 51 NATO-standard bullets the machine guns fire have a muzzle velocity of 840 m/sec and a firing range of around 1,200 m. Additional weaponry for the crew includes their personal weapons and 8 hand grenades.

The VCA, Argentina’s heaviest armored vehicle – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 45

Suspension and Undercarriage

The VCA had a modified suspension to that of the TAM. Two torsion bars were added, totaling fourteen for the suspension with seven rubber-tired paired road wheels and four return rollers on each side. All except for the fourth road wheel station have hydraulic shock dampers which were also features present on the Marder 1, the vehicle the TAM was based on. On the VCA, they have the important role of absorbing the VCA’s firing recoil force of 55 tonnes.

The tracks are of a Vickers system, each track consisting of 102 links with rubber tank treads. These can be substituted by snow cleats if required.

A VCA crosses an M4T6 pontoon bridge during a training operation in Patagonia – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 46

Interior

The interior of the VCA is divided into two main sections, with the frontal section being further sub-divided into two sub-sections. The bigger of these sub-sections, occupying ⅔ of the space, houses the engine, whilst the smaller one is for the driver and driving mechanisms to the left. There is a hatch above the driver’s position and three episcopes, and the whole section of the frontal hull covering the engine can be opened for engine maintenance.

The central and rear sections contain the fighting compartment and the turret where the other four crew members are: the commander, sat in a foldable chair to the right of the gun breech; the gunner, in the same position as the commander but to the left; and two loaders sat behind the commander and gunner.

The rear of the vehicle has a door for the crew to enter and exit and resupply the vehicle. In the hull, there is an auxiliary engine which provides energy for the turret’s rotation and the gun, meaning the VCA can fire even if its main engine is off or non-operational.

Communications are by means of VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems, and a SEL SEM-170 receiver.

Engine and Performance

The engine on the VCA is the German-built MTU MB 833 Ka 500 diesel engine. This six-cylinder engine is rated at 537 kilowatts (720 hp) at 2,200-2,400 revolutions per minute. This engine is used on all TAM family vehicles, with a power-to-weight ratio of 13.3 kilowatts per tonne of 18 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 VCA 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 55 km/h forwards and backward. Off-road or cross-country speed is limited to 40 km/h. The maximum range is limited to 520 km, but it can be increased by 350 km with additional 200-liter fuel tanks, though these are hardly ever used. The fuel capacity inside the tank is 873 liters, more than in other TAM family vehicles, and the fuel consumption is 1.7 liters per km.

Among other performance indicators, the VCA can overcome 60% gradients, 30% side slopes, 1 m tall obstacles, and cross 2.9 m wide trenches. When it comes to fording, it is capable of fording 1.5 m-deep waters without preparation, increased to 2 m with preparation.

Despite the fact it has more fuel capacity than other TAM vehicles, the VCA still needs some help getting places. Pictured, a VCA being carried by an Iveco Euro Trakker truck – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 46

Organization

The VCAs of the Ejército Argentino equip two units of the armored artillery groups, the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 9 and the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne». GA Bl 9 is based in Chubut province in the middle of the Patagonian plateau, whilst GA Bl 11 is based in the town of Comandante Luis Piedrabuena, Santa Cruz province, the southernmost point of Patagonia. Each GA consists of two batteries of 4 VCAs. Additionally, each battery has a Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Tiro (VCCDT) to command operations at battery level, whilst there is a single Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Fuego (VCCDF) per GA to command the operations of the whole group. Originally, the plan was to equip each battery with 4 VCAmun to carry and supply the VCA with ammunition. However, after 2 VCAmuns entered service in 2002, no more of these vehicles have been built. Thus, the VCAs are supplied by modified M548A1s.

A battery of the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne», showing 4 VCAs, a VCCDT and a VCCDF – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 44


Two photos showing a VCA being resupplied from a VCAmun during a training exercise. Note the open hatch in the picture to the right – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, pp. 44 and 48

Service

After a long development process, the VCA was first presented to the public in a military parade celebrating Argentina’s independence day on July 9th, 1989. Serial production took some time, and in May 1997, the first of 20 VCAs equipped their designated armored artillery groups stationed in the southern part of Argentina. They have not been engaged in any action since they were brought into service.

Two VCAs operating in the vast open Patagonian meseta – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 45

Modernization

Despite only entering service in 1997, the VCA has already been subject to some modifications. In November 2014, a single VCA of the GA Bl 11 was modernized with a more advanced gun optic. In October 2016, 18 VCAs were transferred to Boulogne sur Mer, the former headquarters of TAMSE, for more widespread modifications. The older turret hydraulic drive was replaced with a Siemens System 300S PLC and a new LCD Touch Screen replaced the older touch sensors.

Conclusion

The VCA has proved to be a successful development for the Argentinian forces, far surpassing the older Canon de 155 mm Mle F3 Automoteur in range and self-sufficiency. It is unlikely that enough will be built to fully equip the remaining armored artillery groups of the Ejército Argentino, but they will undoubtedly continue in service for many decades, providing Argentina with a match to the M109s of its most important regional rivals, Brazil and Chile.

Illustration of the VCA number EA 437290 call sign “SUIPACHA” by Pablo Javier Gomez

Sources

Anon., Desarrollo y Defensa, Concluyeron los trabajos de modernización en los primeros VCA Palmaria, (28 October 2016) [accessed 24/04/2020] Anon., GRUPO DE ARTILLERIA BLINDADO 9 RESEÑA HISTORICA [sic], (17 May 2008)  [accessed 24/04/2020] Anon., Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 “Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne” Reseña Histórica de la Unidad, (23 May 2016) [accessed 24/04/2020] Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)
Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)
Luís María Maíz, “Nuevos Integrantes de la Familia TAM”, Revista Defensa, No. 74 (June 1984)
Marcelo Javier Rivera, El Tanque Argentino Mediano – TAM, Universidad Federal de Juiz de Fora, 2008
Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)

Specifications

Dimensions 7.69 without gun x 3.29 x 2.85 m
Total weight, battle ready 40 tonnes
Crew 5 (commander, driver, 2 x loader and gunner)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp
Speed 55 km/h
Operational range 520 km
Primary Armament 155 mm OTO-Malera howitzer
Secondary Armament 7.62 mm NATO FN MAG 60-40
Armor Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm
Turret – Aluminium
Categories
Cold War West German Prototypes

TH-301

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.


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Context – Why the TAM?

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.

The Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM), which since the early 80s has equipped the Argentinian armed forces. The TAM was designed by Thyssen-Henschel for Argentina. After building two prototypes, Thyssen-Henschel improved the TAM, becoming the TH-301 with the aim of exporting it to other countries. Source: defensanacional.foroactivo.com

‘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
    • Low silhouette
    • 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 Marder 1 IFV of the Bundeswehr used as the basis for the TH-301, TH-302, TAM and VCTP. Note that the hull was the same on all 5 vehicles. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Next Steps

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 VCTP 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.

The TH-301. Several sources state this vehicle is the TAM, when in fact it is the TH-301. Source: www.army-guide.com

Design

Schematics of the TH-301’s design. Source: Thyssen-Henschel MBT TH-301/A4 – Main Battle Tank Export Brochure, p. 2.

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.

Side view of the TH-301 . Source: Thyssen-Henschel MBT TH-301/A4 – Main Battle Tank Export Brochure, p. 2.

Turret

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.

Ambush! Due to its small size and weak armor, the TH-301 would have had to engage in a different type of warfare than confronting enemies head on. Its high speed would have allowed the tank to perform hit-and-run missions. Source: Thyssen-Henschel MBT TH-301/A4 – Main Battle Tank Export Brochure, p. 4.

Interior

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.

Rear view of the TH-301. Notice the rear door and external fuel tanks to increase the low fuel capacity. Source: Thyssen-Henschel MBT TH-301/A4 – Main Battle Tank Export Brochure, p. 2.

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.

Diagram showing the TH-301’s acceleration. The Y axis shows the speed in km/h, whilst the X axis shows the time in seconds. Thus, the TH-301 is able to reach 30 km/h after 5 seconds, 60 km/h after 20 seconds and almost 80 km/h after 35 seconds. Source: Thyssen-Henschel MBT TH-301/A4 – Main Battle Tank Export Brochure, p. 3.

Variants

TH-301/RH 120

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.

TH-302

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-302. Source: Thyssen-Henschel TH-302 Data Sheet, p. 1.

TH-325 ‘DRAGON’

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.

Schematics for the TH-325 ‘DRAGON’ designed by Thyssen-Henschel in collaboration with other companies. Source: SPz Marder, p. 39
What was presumably the only TH-325 ‘DRAGON’ ever built. Source: SPz Marder, p. 39

Export

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.

Destined for export. Here is the cover sheet of Thyssen-Henschel’s data sheet which would have presumably been provided to potential customers. Source: Thyssen-Henschel TH-301 Data Sheet, p. 1.

Indonesia

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.

Thailand

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.

A TH-301 during tests in Thailand. Note the side of the turret with the West German and Thai flags. Source: Battlefield Weekly, p. 40.
The TH-301 being tested in Thailand. Source: Battlefield Weekly, p. 48.
The team from Thyssen-Henschel sent to Thailand to assist with the TH-301’s trials. Source: Battlefield Weekly

Conclusion

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.

TH-301

Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.45 x 3.31 x 2.44 m
Total weight, battle ready 31 tonnes
Crew 4 (commander, driver, loader, gunner)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp (540 kW)
Maximum speed 72-79 km/h on road
Suspensions Torsion bar
Range (Fuel) 370 miles/590 km or 500 miles/800 km with external FT
Armament 105 mm Rheinmetall Rh 105-30
2 x 7.62 mm Rheinmetall MG 3
Armor 35 – 50 mm
Production 3

Sources

Anon., Military Vehicle Forecast, TH 300 (TAM – Tanque Argentino Mediano) and TH 301 [archived report] Anon., Battlefield Weekly Ausnu, Number 295 (Monday 16 1986)
Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)
Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)
Michael Scheibert, SPz Marder und seine Varianten (Friedberg: Podszun-Pallas-Verlag GmbH, 1987)
Thyssen-Henschel MBT TH-301/A4 – Main Battle Tank Export Brochure
Thyssen-Henschel TH-301 Data Sheet
Thyssen-Henschel TH-302 Data Sheet


Categories
Argentina Cold War

Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM)

Argentina Argentina (1979-present)
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.

Old and new. A TAM races a horse during an exhibition. Source: Fagliani, p. 103

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
    • Low silhouette
    • 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.

A TAM driving through a stream at top speed in La Pampa province in central Argentina. Argentina’s varied terrain was a consideration in the design of the TAM. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 17

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 TAM being presented to the Argentinian public at the Plaza de Mayo on May 25th 1977. The commander in charge is General Suárez Mason. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 8

Trials

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.


The TAM A PROTOTIPO, in other words, the first prototype of the TAM, during military trials. Note that “E.A. TAM A PROTOTIPO” is written beneath the Sun of May. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 8

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.

Left, The first TAM during trials at what would become TAMSE, in Boulogne sur Mer. Right, the same vehicle, accompanied by the first VCTP, during one of the extensive trials before being accepted into service- source: Mazarrasa, p. 13 & p. 14

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.

Industrialization

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
    • Tensa
    • Bertolina
    • 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.

Two photos of a turret for the TAM being produced at Río Tercero. Source: Fagliani, p. 103

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.

Design

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.

Turret

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 turret of TAM ‘EA 435498 GRL ROCA’ being removed by a crane. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 19

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 barrel of a TAM (EA 435388) which has blown-up after a malfunction whilst firing. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 32

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:

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A column of TAMs belonging to the Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 6 «Blandengues» heading to a shooting range at Monte Caseros, on the Uruguayan border, in September 2005. Note the distinctive pinkish camouflage pattern. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 18

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.

The different elements of the fire control system in the TAM . Source: Mazarrasa, p. 27
Inside of the turret showing different components of the fire control system. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 43

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.

Two TAMs (231 and 234) of Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 8 «Cazadores General Necochea» using their 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine guns during a firing exercise. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 21

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.

Close-up of one of the two sets of Wegman 77 mm launchers on the side of the TAM’s turret. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 42

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.

Interior

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.

The crew positions inside the TAM. Conductor = Driver; Tirador = Gunner; Jefe de Carro = Commander; and Cargador = Loader. Source: Mazarrasa, p. 26
The driver’s seat inside the TAM. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 43
An overturned TAM after an accident. Note the escape hatch at the bottom of the tank. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 32

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.

The small door at the rear of the TAM, in this case ‘EA 433998 Perdriel’. It is used for entry and exit of the crew and replenishment of ammunition and other equipment the tank may need. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 42

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.

The telephone on the rear of the TAM for infantry to communicate with the tank’s crew. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 42

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.

A TAM with its engine deck open and its MTU MB 833 Ka 500 diesel engine by its side. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 19

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.

Due to its small size, the TAM carries only a small amount of fuel. This can be increased by using external fuel tanks, as with these two TAMs of Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 2 «Lanceros General Paz» near their headquarters in Olavarría, Buenos Aires province. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 21

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.

The TAM prototype using its snorkel to ford a river. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 9

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.

Rare sight of a TAM equipped with a RKM mine roller. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 36

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.

A bright, rudimentary additional fuel tank on a TAM. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 36

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.

Two early TAMs with Marder 1-style side skirts. These have not been widely adopted. Source for both photos: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 10

Operational Service

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.

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The state of what was once TAMSE in 1999 with uncompleted TAM hulls. Many of these chassis were used to create TAM derivatives. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 11
Abandoned and forgotten, this early TAM was repurposed in the early 2000’s after decades of neglect. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 9

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.

Organization

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.

A TAM of the Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 1 «Coronel Brandsen» in the early 80’s with a two-tone camouflage. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 9

Modernization

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.

A group of TAM of the Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 1 «Coronel Brandsen» at the end of a military exercise in Corrientes province, on the border with Brazil and Paraguay in September 2005. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 17

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.

Close-up of the CITEFA thermal sight equipped on 6 TAM after the modernization by Champion SA. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 15
The TAM S 21 built by Champion SA. This much needed modernization was supposed to bring the TAM feet up to date, however, only 6 vehicles were modernized before the project was canceled. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 15

TAM 2C

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.

The TAM 2C parading in front of units of the Argentinian Army dressed in traditional uniforms. The TAM 2C was designed by Elbit Systems as a modernization of the TAM which mainly focused on improving the fire control system, thereby increasing the tank’s lethality. Source: r/TankPorn

TAM 2IP

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.

The TAM 2IP, the up-armored modernization project on the TAM developed by IMI Systems, as presented in May 2016. Source: defence-blog.com

Export Failures

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.

Peru

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.

A TAM during its unsuccessful trial with Peru. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 34

Panama

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.

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.

Ecuador

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.

The TAM and some of its competitors (Stingray – top, SK-105 – bottom) during trials in Ecuador. Ecuador ended up not purchasing any tanks after all. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 34

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.

The VCTP was developed alongside the TAM and has been the main tracked infantry fighting vehicle of the Argentinian Army since the early 80’s. Source: www.military-today.com

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.

Two VCTM firing during a military exercise. Source: thaimilitaryandasianregion.wordpress.com

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.

Entering service in 1982, the VCPC has served as a command vehicle. Source: www.taringa.net

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.

A VCA in 2002 showing off its impressive 155 mm main armament. Source: www.military-today.com

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.

Developed to assist the VCA, the VCAmun has not been built in large numbers. Source: www.fundacionsoldados.com.ar

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.

The VCRT was intended to have been the recovery vehicle that would assist the TAM, however, only one was ever built. Source: razonyfuerza.mforos.com

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.

The CAL-160 armed VCLC never entered service and only one prototype exists. Source: www.military-today.com

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.

The mock-up of the VCAmun. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 10

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.

Artist’s impression of what the TAP may have looked like. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 11.

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.

Conclusion

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.

A TAM recovering another TAM which has become bogged-down during a military exercise. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 17
Still going strong. Two TAMs taking part in Exercise Reconquista in 2006. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 27


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

TAM specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.26 (6.75 without gun) x 3.29 x 2.66 m
Total weight, battle ready 30.5 tonnes
Crew 4 (commander, driver, loader, gunner)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp (540 kW)
Maximum speed 75 mph
Range (Fuel) 590 km without external fuel tanks
Armament Main – 105 mm (4.13 in) FM K.4 Modelo 1L
Secondary – 2 x 7.62 mm NATO FN MAG GMPG (0.3 in) coax/AA
Armor Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm
Front turret – 50 mm
Side turret – 22 mm
Rear turret – 7 mm
Top turret – 7 mm
Production 231

Sources

Agustín Larre, Infodefensa.com, Aguad destaca el avance en la modernización de los tanques argentinos (27 March 2019) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Anon., “Admiten que el sirio intentó vender tanques,” Clarín, 03 June 1998

Anon., “Advierten que Panamá podría embargar la fragata Libertad,” Clarín, 09 September 1999

Anon., Infodefensa.com, El Ejército de Argentina presenta el TAM modernizado por Elbit (09 May 2013) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Anon., Infodefensa.com, El Ejército Argentino presenta un segundo prototipo mejorado del TAM (03 June 2016) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Anon., “Involucran a Menem y a Kohan en una venta de submarinos a Taiwán,” Clarín, 16 June 2001

Anon., Military Vehicle Forecast, TH 300 (TAM – Tanque Argentino Mediano) and TH 301 [archived report]

Anon., Zona Militar, TAM 2C: más incertidumbres que certezas (19 February 2020) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Anon., Zona Militar, TAM 2C momento de definiciones (5 February 2020) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Diego F. Rojas, VC TAM Vehículo de Combate Tanque Argentino Mediano (Buenos Aires: Monografías Militares, 1997)

Dylan Malyasov, Defence Blog, Argentine Army has unveiled upgraded model of TAM 2IP medium tank (1 June 2016) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Fernando A. Bartrons, “Modernización del Vehículo de Combate TAM 105 mm”, Thesis, Ejército Argentino Escuela Superior de Guerra, 2012

Gabriel Porfilio, Infodefensa.com, Argentina firma un convenio con Israel para modernizar 74 tanques TAM (30 June 2015) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Gabriel Porfilio, Infodefensa.com, Fabricaciones Militares y Elbit Systems modernizan el TAM 2C (29 September 2015) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Guillermo Axel Dapía, “El Desarrollo de la industria de blindados en Argentina y Brasil: un estudio comparado de integración económico-militar”, Thesis, Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2008

Irene Valiente, Infodefensa.com, Argentina avanza en la modernización de sus TAM (10 August 2017) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)

Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)

Marcelo Javier Rivera, El Tanque Argentino Mediano – TAM, Universidad Federal de Juiz de Fora, 2008

Michael Scheibert, SPz Marder und seine Varianten (Friedberg: Podszun-Pallas-Verlag GmbH, 1987)

Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)


Categories
Spanish Armour

CZ-10/25E Alacrán

Spain (1997-present)
Combat Engineer Vehicle – 38 converted

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.

An M60A3 TTS of the Infantería de Marina taking part in a mock beach assault. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Precedents

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.

Precedents. The M-47E2I designed and built by Peugeot Talbot España to serve as an engineering vehicle, which entered service in 1984. The vehicle in the background is the M-47VLPD ‘Lanzador’ also designed by Peugeot Talbot España – source: unknown
Concept art for the proposed M-47E2Z by Peugeot Talbot España. The planned arrival of the M60 put this project based on an M47 chassis on hold – source: Peugot Talbot

Development

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 two contenders for the new carro de zapadores of the Ejército de Tierra, the M-60VZ designed and built by Grupo Auxiliar Metalúrgico (left) and the winning prototype, the PTE CZ-10/30E (right) – source: Mazarrasa, p. 17 and 18.

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
Two different views of the PTE CZ-10/30E during tests before being accepted into service – source: Mazarrasa, p. 16.

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.

Simple schematics of the PTE CZ-10/30E prototype which did not vary substantially from the serial Alacrán. Emphasis is given to the crew positions and some of the main components – excavator arm, dozer, hydraulic system, winch and ranging rods – highlighted – Source: Mazarrasa, p. 41.

Equipment

Excavator Arm

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).

Digging a trench with the Case Poclian excavator arm, equipped with the 430 liter (.68 square-yard) bucket. This is the PTE CZ-10/30E during trials before being accepted by the Ejército de Tierra – source: Mazarrasa, p. 19.

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.
The tools available to the Alacrán, L to R: Jackhammer, ‘Demolition Jaws’ and Hydraulic Claws. Photos: Super Weapons, Facebook

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.

The digger bucket resting in its cradle at the rear of the Alacrán. Photo: Super Weapons, Facebook

Dozer Blade

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.

The bulldozer on the front of the Alacrán. This vehicle is a static outdoors display at the Museo de los Medios Acorazados (MUMA), near Madrid. Photo: Gareth Lynn Montes

Winch

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).

The winch on the left, and the stowed pulley block on the right. Photos: Super Weapons, Facebook

Anti-Mine Warfare

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.

Interior Modifications

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.

Defense

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.

Service

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
Three Alacráns of the Arma de Ingenieros del Ejército de Tierra during the Día de la Hispanidad military parade celebrating Spain’s national day on October 12th 2001 – source: Mazarrasa, p. 5.

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.

Alacrán in operation in February 2020. Photo: Public Domian

Conclusion

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.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.94m (without excavator arm) x 3.63m x 3.27m (22’8″ x 11’9″ x 10’7″)
Total weight, battle-ready Aprx. 47.7 tonnes (52.6 tons)
Crew 3 (commander, operator, driver)
Propulsion Continental AVDS-1790-2 V12, AC TT diesel, 750 bhp (560 kW), 15.08 bhp/t
Transmission General Motors, CD SD 2 fw/1 rv ranges
Maximum speed 30 mph (48 km/h) on road
Suspensions Torsion bars suspensions, shock absorbers
Range (fuel) 300 miles/500 km (1457 liters)
Armament .50 Cal. (12.7 mm) M85 Heavy Machine Gun
Equipment Case Poclain Excavator Arm
H-7XA NPK Pneumatic Jack-Hammer
Verachert VTC-30 Hydraulic Jaws
Verachert Hydraulic Claws
35 tonne capacity dozer blade
25 tonne capacity winch
IMI/Rampta CLAMS SP-06133 lane marker system
Armor RHA max. 6.125 in (155 mm)
Total Production 38

Sources


Anon., Carro de Zapadores “Alacran” CZ-10/25 E
(22 January 2013) [accessed 03/02/20] Antonio J. Candil, “Spain’s Armor Force Modernizes”, Armor Magazine, March – April 1998
Javier de Mazarrasa, M-60A3 (Barcelona: Reserva Anticipada Ediciones, 2003)
José Mª Navarro García, “El nuevo Vehículo de Combate de Zapadores del Ejército de Tierra”, Revista Defensa No. 470, June 2017

José Mª Navarro García, Importante esfuerzo de mantenimiento de medios acorazados de ingenieros del Ejército de Tierra
(24 August 2017) [accessed 10/02/20]
José Mª Navarro García, Integración Tecnológica Empresarial se encargará del mantenimiento de los vehículos de ingenieros del Ejército de Tierra
(22 August 2018) [accessed 10/02/20]


Categories
Cold War Swedish Prototypes

The Swedish Königstiger

Sweden (1947-1951)
Heavy Tank – 1 Tested

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.

Two photos showing the Vimontiere Königstiger being inspected, however, it was deemed unsuitable and was not acquired. Source: www.sphf.se

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.

Swedish authorities inspecting the recently arrived Königstiger in Stockholm harbor, with the ship that transported it in the background (November 27th, 1947). Source: www.sphf.se

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.

Part of the crew that had put the tank back into shape in Skövde. Source: www.ointres.se

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.

The tank as it arrived in Skövde in December 1947. Note the missing tracks. Source: Carrasco
The Köingstiger following restoration and ready for testing. Source: Carrasco

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.

A photo of the convoy transporting the Köingstiger from Skövde to Karlsborg. Source: www.sphf.se
The front of the convoy during a break. Source: www.ointres.se

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.
Collection of test sheets recording the impact and trajectories of the different weapons used against the Köngstiger during test no. 1. Note that there are similar sheets for other tests which have not been included in this article but can be found in the link. Source: www.ointres.se
  • 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.
The condition of the Köngstiger during test no. 3, showing several impact holes on the side of the hull and a destroyed track. Source: www.ointres.se
  • 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.
By test No. 4, the barrage to which the Königstiger had been subjected began to take its toll, with part of the frontal plate cracking. Source: www.ointres.se
  • 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.
Two photos at some point between test no. 4 and no. 7 showing the extent of the damage inflicted on the Königstiger, including a rather large section of the frontal turret plate. Source: Sven Olof Ericsson via Arsenalen

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.

Final Fate

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.

The engine and rear hatch at the Swedish Tank Museum in Arsenalen. Source: www.ointres.se

Origins

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.

The front of the Swedish Königstiger showing the pre-production turret (yellow), single-piece barrel (light blue) and ‘two-eyed’ sights (red). Source: The Swedish Tiger Ausf. B on Panzer Fatken with highlights by author

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.
Rear-view image of the Swedish Königstiger with flame suppressors (blue), armor protection over snorkel (red), lack of center mount on rearmost side mudguard (yellow) and early pre-production turret (green). Source: The Swedish Tiger Ausf. B on Panzer Fatken with highlights by author

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.

Vehicle chassis number ‘280 006’ in Sankt Johann (left) and Skövde (right). Source: www.sphf.se
Side-view of the vehicle in Sankt Johann. Note the version 4 drive sprocket. Source: www.sphf.se

Conclusion

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.

Sources

Antonio Carrasco, Königstiger en combate (Madrid: Almena, 2013)
Anon., The Swedish King Tiger, (February 2019) [accessed 01/08/2019]
Anon., Wheatcroft-Tiger Tank Legal Statement, War History Online, (24 March 2011) [accessed 08/12/19] www.warhistoryonline.com
Rickard O. Lindström, Kungstigern i Sverige, (4 November 2016) [accessed 01/08/2017]
Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle, Germany’s Tiger Tanks VK 45.02 to Tiger II: Design, Production & Modifications
Private correspondence with Stefan Karlsson, Museum Chief of the Arsenalen Tank Museum in Sweden.
Special thanks to Wilhelm Geijer for assistance in this article

Categories
Ugandan Armor

Medium Tank M4A1 (76) Sherman in Ugandan Service

Uganda (1969-79)
Medium Tank – 12 Purchased

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.

A Ugandan tank crewman reading a newspaper atop his M4A1 on January 25th 1971. The vehicle, registration number 05UA85, is parked outside Idi Amin’s Kampala house and belongs to the 5th Mechanized Regiment. Photo: SOURCE

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.

Idi Amin congratulating crewmen from Uganda’s M4A1’s. Photo: SOURCE

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.

Map of the region. Photo: SOURCE
One of the Ugandan M4A1 Shermans with HVSS suspension driving through the African bush. Photo: SOURCE

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.

This image shows a close up of some of the Israeli added turret modifications. These include the pair of smoke dischargers, extra radio antenna, the bracket for the spare US Army-standard T54E1 tracks and the canvas gun mantle cover. In addition, there was a mix of suspension types, turret hatches, hull fittings and track types. The crewmen have a variety of US (Israel supplied) and Soviet (Libyan supplied) helmets and the man furthest to the left in the sunglasses is Idi Amin. Photo: Still from THIS video.
A photo of three Ugandan M4A1’s on parade in the capital city, Kampala, which shows the differences between them. The lead tank shows the original WWII-style ‘split’ hatch for the loader in the turret, while the one at the rear appears to have the later style oval hatch. The Sherman in the center is missing the steel tow cable which can be seen on the left side of the other two tanks. The photo was probably taken in 1969 and all three vehicles belonged to the 5th Mechanized Regiment. Photo: SOURCE

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.

The rear of a Ugandan M4A1 showing the serial number in white, the green and red rectangle on the left mudguard and a unit emblem on the right mudguard. Photo: Still from THIS video.

Service History

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.

A rare and blurry photo of a Ugandan M4A1 Sherman being transported to the border with Tanzania before Operation Liberation. Photo: SOURCE

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.

An Australian military advisor to the re-instated Obote government poses with a non-operational M4A1 in Kampala in 1983. The photo shows the bronze-green camouflage, the attached turret smoke dischargers and the bracket for a searchlight on top of the gun mantle. Note the missing bow machine-gun. This is most likely due to it being removed by Ugandan forces once the tank was rendered non-operational to avoid it being stolen. Bow machine-guns were easy to remove. Photo: SOURCE

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.

Conclusion

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.

A photos taken north of Kampala in 1987 by a Western visitor showing a HVSS suspension M4A1. As usual, note the lack of bow machine-gun, the turret smoke dischargers and the bracket for a searchlight on top of the gun mantle. Exposure to weather has eroded the camouflage which now appears to be a two-tone scheme. Also note that the gun is still within its travel lock, meaning that it was probably not knocked out by Tanzanian fire, but by a breakdown. Photo: SOURCE
What appears to be the same vehicle in a photograph taken a few years later demonstrating the effects of weathering on the camouflage. Photo: SOURCE

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.

An abandoned M4A1 with HVSS suspension being repurposed as a washing line in Kampala. Photo: SOURCE


Illustration of a Ugandan M4A1 (76) HVSS produced by Andrei Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 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)
Crew : 4 (2 Drivers/gunners, Commander, loader)
Propulsion: Continental R-975 Radial Engine
Suspensions: Horizontal Volute Springs Suspensions (HVSS)
Top Speed 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.
Armour Hull nose and turret 70, sides 40, bottom 15, rooftop 15 mm
Total Purchased 12

Sources

Tom Cooper and Adrien Fontanellaz, [email protected] 23: Wars and Insurgencies of Uganda 1971-1994 (Solihull: Helion & Company, 2015)
Esoteric Armour, Ugandan M4A1 (76)w/M.1 Sherman (2011) esotericarmour.blogspot.com [accessed on 22/05/2018] wwiiafterwwii, Idi Amin’s Shermans (2015) wwiiafterwwii.wordpress.com [accessed on 22/05/2018] wwiiafterwwii, WWII weapons in Tanzania (2017) wwiiafterwwii.wordpress.com [accessed on 31/05/2018]

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.


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