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 VCTM to test. These were thoroughly tested for 24 months.

In 1979, the first production TAM was completed for the Argentinian Army. After the production of 193 tanks plus a few other variants, production of the TAM ceased, though they still remain in service.

Thyssen-Henschel continued testing the prototype(s) they retained and decided to privately develop a more sophisticated version of the TAM tank for the export market. Initially known as the TAM-4, the first prototype of this improved version was completed in 1978. Thyssen-Henschel also produced a prototype equipped with a 120 mm gun. The vehicle soon became known as TH-301.

It is important to note that the TH-301 was not the prototype or predecessor to the TAM, but in a way, a subsequent development. This myth has been propagated by poor research and can be found in books such as TAM: The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano by Juan Carlos Cicalesi and Santiago Rivas, published by the prestigious tank-specialized publisher Tankograd. This myth is even more prevalent in online sources.

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
Cold War West German Prototypes Indian armour

Indien Panzer

West Germany/India (1953-55)
Medium Tank – Blueprints Only

The Indien Panzer (Indian Tank) was a tank designed by the German firm Porsche KG in the mid-1950’s in which the Indian Army showed interest. The Indian Army was looking for a tank to equip its army with, but also wanted to be able to produce it in India, so an easy to build design was necessary. The first plans were laid out in 1954, seven years after India gained its independence, but the project was soon abandoned in 1955.

Artist impression of two Indien Panzers in action. Photo: Motorbuch Verlag

India’s Military

When the British Raj became independent in 1947, it was split into India and Pakistan to create separate states for Muslims and Hindus to prevent tensions between both religious groups. This also meant that the British-Indian army was split up between the dominions of India and Pakistan, and went through a chaotic period with several military actions, with the main conflict being the Indo-Pakistani War in 1947-48.
After the war, tensions between Pakistan and India remained high. Fearing a Pakistani invasion, a modern powerful Indian army was desired. However, the army lacked modern armored vehicles as it only possessed some older Second World War tanks, such as the M3 Stuart, M4 Sherman and various British armored vehicles. The Indian government, which wanted to be as independent of other countries as possible, did not want to just buy vehicles abroad but desired that new armored vehicles were to be produced in India.

Two Sherman tanks of the Indian Army, they saw service until the 1970s. Photo: SOURCE

Post-War (West) German Industry

After the German Army was defeated in 1945, Germany was put under Allied control. However, due to growing tensions between the Allies (France, UK, US, USSR), the original plan to govern Germany as a single nation broke down. The main points that caused tension were the amount reparations that had to be paid by Germany, and what kind of new government was to be established. Instead, Germany remained divided in four occupation zones until 1949, when it was divided into the western capitalist Federal Republic of Germany (also called Bundesrepublik or West Germany), and the socialist German Democratic Republic (also known as East Germany). In 1955, they would join NATO and the Warsaw Pact respectively.
Already in 1945, after Germany’s defeat, not only its military was disarmed, but plans were made to disarm the industry as well. Military factories and civilian factories with military potential were closed down or heavily restricted until 1951. However, since 1946, several members of the Allied Commission considered it hurtful that Germany’s industry was so heavily restricted, as it not only worsened the social situation and living conditions in Germany, but it restricted economic recovery and growth of other European nations as well. After the division between East and West, further steps were taken to halt the closing down of the industry. Combined with the resistance of German civilians, the Allied control finally decided that West Germany’s industry was important for the prosperity of Europe, and combined with a growing threat from the USSR, it was concluded that the industry should be built up again. In the end, only a quarter of the 1,800 factories planned to be closed down were actually closed down. The industry could recover and was in such a position in 1954/55 that the Indian government had enough confidence in them being able to design a modern tank.

Development

Since 1953, Porsche designed several tanks which included:
– B-PS 100, a 36-tonne turreted tank, armed with a 90 mm gun with loading assistance and a crew of 3.
– B-PS 101 Ausf. A, a 36-tonne assault gun, armed with an autoloading 88 mm gun, and a crew of 3.
– B-PS 101 Ausf. B, a 36-tonne turreted tank, armed with a 55 mm quick-firing gun, and a crew of 3.
– B-PS 102, a 39.5-tonne turreted tank, armed with a 90 mm gun, and a crew of 4.
In 1954, the Indian government showed interest in the B-PS 102, which became known as the Indien-Projekt, or Indien Panzer. Porsche could obviously fall back on their experience gained by tank development during the Second World War. There are indeed some similarities between the E 50/75 and the Indien Panzer, especially in regards to the suspension. However, it has to be taken into account that tank technology had advanced in the nearly ten years that Porsche was not allowed to design a tank. Nevertheless, the Indian government opted for a German designed tank. Porsche KG, responsible for the overall design, relied on other German companies for the production of components. Daimler-Benz would deliver the engine, ZF Friedrichshafen the transmission and possibly the suspension, and Ruhrstahl would deliver the gun and turret. It was envisioned that the tank would be assembled in India by TATA, where equipment like optics and sights were to be made as well.
Why the Indian government approached German firms who were still recovering from the war is not completely clear. Maybe they based this decision on the performance of German tanks in World War 2. It is possible they wanted to get access to the more advanced industry in West Germany. Maybe they thought existing tank designs in the UK, France, or the US were just not good enough. Another reason could be that the Indian government did not want to order a tank from a NATO or Warsaw Pact member (India was not a member of NATO or WP) and in 1954 West Germany was also not part of NATO. West Germany would only join NATO until May 1955, around the same time the Indien Panzer project was canceled. Further research is needed to settle this question.

Design

Although the Indian Army requested a weight of 36-39 tons, Porsche envisioned the tank to be nearly 40 tons. The hull and turret were to be made of cast steel with 90 mm on the front hull, and up to 130 mm on the turret front. The vehicle was to be propelled by a Daimler-Benz MB837A 8-cylinder diesel engine, producing 600-700 horsepower. As a side note, this type of engine was later experimentally installed in an M47 Patton tank by the Bundeswehr.
The main armament was to be a 90 mm gun (type is unknown), and secondary armament consisted of two machine guns. One machine gun was located in the front of the turret, left to the main gun, and was to be operated by the loader, while the other was mounted in the back of the turret and operated by the commander. Ammunition was stowed in a rack on the bottom of the turret basket and on both sides of the hull with a combined ammunition storage of sixty-one shells.
The crew consisted of four men; driver, commander, gunner, and loader. The driver sat in the right front hull, he had one periscope and one hatch. Traffic drives on the left side of the road in India, hence the driver was planned to sit on the right. The other three crew members sat in the turret, with the loader on the left side of the gun, the gunner on the right side of the gun, and the commander behind the gunner. The loader had one hatch above him, while the commander sat in his cupola with hatch. Furthermore, one hatch was located in the back of the turret, besides the machine gun. The gunner aimed through a periscope which was located on the roof of the turret.
The machine gun in the back of the turret is a feature that stands out as it was rather uncommon during the post-war period. During World War 2, many Soviet and Japanese tank designs incorporated a rearward-firing machine gun and German Panther tanks, for example, had a pistol port in the back. Their main job was to prevent enemy soldiers from climbing on the back of the tank, a situation especially common during guerilla or street fighting.

Original blueprints of the Indien Panzer, unfortunately, the text on the side is unreadable. Source: Hilary L. Doyle

No Link to Panzer 58

Considering similarities with the Swiss-developed Panzer 58, it is often assumed that this project must be related to the Indien Panzer, especially since World of Tanks players started to note similarities between both tanks, but that is incorrect. In fact, development of the Swiss tank already commenced before the Indien Panzer was designed and Swiss documents never mention the Indien Panzer. The first Swiss design that would lead to the Panzer 58 was the 30 t Panzer, already drawn up in 1950, three years before the Indien Panzer was drawn for the first time. To conclude, they were two different projects that are not related with each other.

Potential Bundeswehr Tank?

Due to the Soviet threat and with West Germany in the ‘frontline’, the desire arose in Western countries to reinstitute the Germany Army and let it join NATO. Eventually, a new army was formed on May 5th, 1955, named Bundeswehr, and West Germany joined NATO on May 9th during the same year.
The newly formed Bundeswehr would receive its first main battle tanks in 1956, in the form of American M47 Patton II tanks (M41 Walker-Bulldog light tanks were also acquired). Although built in 1951, these M47 tanks were technically already obsolete in 1953, and the Bundeswehr was not fond of them, which led them to look for something better. This would lead to an agreement between West Germany and France to develop a ‘Europanzer’ in 1957 which in turn would be the basis for the Leopard 1 in Germany and the AMX-30 in France. However, the Indien Panzer seems to never have been into consideration to equip the German Army. It is rather likely that Army officials did not even know about the existence of such a design unless it was offered by Porsche KG, but that is never mentioned. However, Porsche KG was involved in the design process for the Europanzer and Leopard 1, so the experience gained with designing the Indien Panzer was probably more than welcome.

The French Europanzer. Built by AMX, it would become the forerunner of the AMX 30 French MBT. Sometimes, the vehicle is claimed to be designed by Porsche. Source: jedsite

Conclusion

All in all, little is known about this German designed tank meant for the Indian Army. Some thorough archive research is needed to bring information to light concerning its characteristics, development, and military potential, especially given the design period of the tank which was during a turning point in Germany’s history and the start of a new age of German tank development. After the project was abandoned in 1955, the Indian government continued the search for a tank to produce in India. As that took a long time, foreign tanks were acquired, such as the British Centurion and French AMX-13. Eventually, in 1961, six years after the Indien Panzer project was abandoned, they found their solution in the Vickers Mk. 1 Main Battle Tank (MBT) which was then license-built in India as the Vijayanta (Victorious) and entered service in 1965.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) Aprx. 10.6 (6.3 w/o gun) x 3.3 x 2.9 meters
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Armament 90mm Cannon, 2 x Machine Guns
Armor 90 mm hull, 130mm gun mantlet

Sources

Die Kampfpanzer Leopard und ihre Abarten (Militärfahrzeuge Band 1), Walter J. Spielberger, Motorbuch-Verlag, 1988.
Typenkompass: KPz Leopard 1 1956-2003, Rolf Hilmes, Motorbuch Verlag, 2011.
Duitsland na 1945, Ruud Slotboom, Uitgeverij Koninginnegracht, 1994.
The Evolution of Modern Indian Tanks, April 8, 2015.
Overlord’s Blog, Transmission Response from Mr. Doyle, June 12, 2012.
Pattonhq.com, The M-47 “Patton” Tank, Colonel Robert Icks, taken from Armor in Profile Series, originally published in 1967.
usembassy.de, Joachim von Elbe, Berlin, Frankfurt, Bonn 1946-1969.

Illustration of the Indien Panzer in a speculative green livery. Produced by Brian Gaydos, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Categories
Cold War West German Prototypes

Begleitpanzer 57

Western Germany (1977)
IFV Prototype – 1 Built

Believing they had identified a niche in the market, the Thyssen-Henschel and Bofors companies began a private venture (without funding or official support from the West-German military) to develop an ‘Infantry Escort Vehicle’.

The resulting vehicle, debuted in November 1977, was based on a modified hull of the recently introduced Marder IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). It was designated the Begleitpanzer (Accompanying Tank) 57 and was classified as an Armored Infantry Fire Support Vehicle, or ‘AIFSV’.

Side on schematics of the vehicle with turret straight forward and turned 90 Degrees to the left. Photo: Public Domain

The Marder

The Marder (German word for the weasel-like creature, the Marten) IFV entered service with the West German army or ‘Bundeswehr’ in 1971. It was developed as part of the rebuilding effort of Germany’s armored vehicle manufacturing industry. Though it was not a remarkable vehicle according to its features, the design has succeeded in being a versatile and well rounded IFV. It was a simple vehicle that had armor up to 20mm thick over the frontal arc, with the frontal upper plate steeply angled. This frontal plate was designed to withstand 20mm Armor-Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) rounds. It had rear access doors for carried infantry to disembark from and rifle ports in the hull side which allowed the infantry to fire through, while safely inside.

It had a small two-man turret which carried the IFV’s main armament, a 20mm Rheinmetall MK 20 Rh202 autocannon and a coaxial 7.62 mm MG3 machine gun. The 20mm can fire either Armor-Piercing (AP) or High-Explosive (HE) round.

The IFV was powered by an MTU MB 833 Ea-500 diesel engine, which developed 591 hp. This propelled the vehicle to a top speed of 47 mph (75 km/h) on road. It runs on six road-wheels connected to a torsion bar suspension. The idler wheel is located at the rear, with the drive sprocket at the front.

A view of the rear of the single Begleitpanzer prototype. Photo: topwar.ru

Design of the Begleitpanzer

The overall design of the vehicle was largely unchanged from the original Marder IFV. As such, the engine, transmission, suspension, tracks, and armor remained the same. The biggest modification to the Marder chassis was the replacement of the standard turret with a larger one mounting the vehicle’s main armament which consisted of an automatically cycling Bofors 57mm (2.24in) L70 Mk.1 gun, traditionally used in the anti-aircraft role on ships. This necessitated internal modifications. The entirety of the gun was open to the elements. When the gun was depressed the breach would rise out of the turret when elevated it would sink inside the hull. Depression/elevation range was – 8 to + 45 degrees. There was also a coaxial MG3 machine gun mounted on the right side of the main gun. The gun was fed from an ammunition can mounted on the gun cradle, meaning it would have to be reloaded from outside the tank. This gun was intended to engage with lightly armored enemy vehicles and troops.

Front view of the vehicle showng the well angled upper plate. Photo: topwar.ru

The weapon was mounted centrally in the uneven turret. The left of the turret was raised to accommodate the commander’s position. Above this position was a periscope ring for all-round observation. The right half of the turret was much lower to accommodate the vehicle’s secondary armament, a Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) launcher, which could fire the BGM-71B missile. This was installed to give the vehicle some anti-armor capability. After firing, the launcher tube rotated backward until it was vertical, and the exhaust end was in line with the turret roof. A small circular hatch would then open. Through this, a fresh ATGM would be loaded in. The tube would then rotate back to firing position. The gunner was located underneath the ATGM launcher tube. He operated both the main gun and the ATGM with controls in his position.

Two loaders were positioned in the rear of the tank. The loader on the left would be responsible for loading clips into the 57mm main gun. The loader on the right would be responsible for handling the ATGMs. The ammunition load-out consisted of 48 rounds for the 57mm gun and 6 TOW-ATGMs. The driver was located at the front left of the vehicle.

Fate

A mock-up of the Begleitpanzer was displayed in November 1977. A prototype was tested in 1978. Due to a lack of interest from the German Military, the project was not accepted for construction.

The project did start a string of other attempts to increase the lethality of the Marder. A similar project by Thyssen-Henschel saw the addition of a 105mm L7 gun, as found on Leopard 1, to the top of the Marder chassis. This was designated the VTS1, but like the Begleitpanzer, it did not progress past prototype stages.



Illustration of the Begleitpanzer 57 by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.79 m x 3.24 m x 2.98 m
(22′ 3″ x 10′ 8″ x 9′ 9″)
Total weight, battle ready Aprx. 33.5 tons
Crew 5 (driver, commander, gunner, x2 loaders)
Propulsion MTU MB 833 Ea-500 diesel, 561 hp.
Suspension Independent torsion bars
Speed (road) 47 mph (75 km/h)
Armament Bofors 57mm (2.24 in) L70 Mk.1
Armor 20mm (0.78 in)
Total Production 1 Prototype

Sources

Arms and Armour Press, Tanks of the World 1983, Ferdinand Von Senger.
On topwar.ru


Categories
Cold War Italian Prototypes Cold War West German Prototypes

Leone Main Battle Tank

Italy/West Germany (1975-77)
Main Battle Tank Prototype – 1 built

The Carro da Combattimento Lion was developed at a time when the serial production of the Leopard main battle tank was still underway in Italy and West Germany. The need for such a vehicle was born from the strong desire from both Italian and West Germany industry to be able to offer a tank for foreign export, specifically for the Middle-East and third-world markets.
OTO Melara had already been heavily involved in the serial production of the American designed M60A1 main battle tank (MBT) and had also worked on various upgrades to the M47 Patton. Those M47 were to remain in service in Italy until production of Leopard was completed and fully in service with the Italian army. The first information about this new project came out in 1976. The project started in 1975 as a consortium was formed from Krauss-Maffei, Blohm and Voss, Diehl, Jung-Porsche, MaK, Luther-Werke, OTO Melara, Fiat, and Lancia with the single purpose to construct a cost-effective tank for export. Namely, a cost-effective version of the Leopard.

Artwork advertising the Lion Main Battle Tank (It is a retouched image of a Leopard 1). Photo: Caiti

A Consortium is Formed

In Italy, this project was initially known as the ‘Leopardino’ (“little leopard”) and then as the ‘Leone’ (Lion). The split for manufacturing would be 50-50, with the hull, engine, transmission, and running gear made in Germany and the turret, armament, and electrical equipment by the Italians. Assembly of all of these components was to take place at the OTO-Melara plant at La Spezia with the goal of having a functional prototype by March 1977 and the goal of serial production pending orders for 1978 and beyond. It is unusual that the turret, bearing a striking similarity to the new Leopard 1A3 turret from Germany would be made in Italy just a few years after the development of it had started, in around 1973.

Protection

The hull was essentially that of the Leopard 1 but it was tropicalized, optimised for use in hot, dry, dusty conditions with improved ventilation and filtration systems. With improved cooling, the tank could operate in temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius. Like the Leopard 1, the hull was made from welded rolled homogenous steel armor plate. The distinctive angular rippled side skirts from the Leopard 1 were retained for the Lion.
The turret, like that of the Leopard 1A3, was also made from welded rolled homogenous steel armor and featured spaced armor across the front arc for additional protection. The only major difference in the turret was the traverse system. The Leopard was using the Cadillac-Gage electro-hydraulic system but the Lion was instead to use a new, cheaper, and less complicated Swiss system

Fiat Lion still in the factory, circa 1975-77. Photo: Pignato

Armament

The Lion was fitted with a 105mm rifled main gun made by OTO-Melara which would have been capable of firing NATO standardized 105mm ammunition. Based on the fact the sights of the OF 40 MK.1 were only graduated for Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS), High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), and High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) and that the OF 40 was heavily based on the Lion it is likely that only APDS, HEAT, and HESH were to be the primary ammunition types. The number of main gun rounds carried is not known but if compared to the OF 40 Mk.1 which followed this design closely it is likely to be 19 rounds in the turret and 42 rounds in the front left of the hull next to the driver. A coaxial machine gun was fitted, likely 7.62mm caliber and a mounting point on the roof for an additional machine gun for anti-aircraft defense.

Crew

A crew of four consisting of a commander on the right-hand side of the turret and in front of him the gunner. The loader was the third member of the turret crew and was positioned on the left of the gun. The fourth crew member was the driver and sat in the front right-hand side of the hull.

Automotive

The engine and transmission were to be German although Fiat had a contract for the license construction of the German engine for the Leopard. This would be a version of the Motoren und Turbinen Union MB 838 CA M500 multifuel engine which was supercharged to produce 830hp at 2200 rpm producing 19.3 horsepower per tonne.

Fiat Lion during trials. Photo: Pignato

Conclusion

The Lion was a perfectly good MBT at the time and was effectively a license-built Leopard 1A3 made in Italy for the sole purpose of obtaining export orders for both German and Italian industries. Why the sales did not materialize is hard to gauge as the Lion does not appear to have been offered widely for sale. The only interest from an export point of view had come from a delegation from Pakistan who was looking at modernizing their own tank fleet at the time. Machinations over export controls and the price of the tank are most likely either together or combined to have killed it off. No serial production ever took place and only the single prototype was ever completed. The whereabouts of the vehicle are unknown.
The project though reappeared by 1980 as the OF 40 project, a collaboration between OTO-Melara and Fiat. The lack of major German involvement in the OF 40 (the engine for the OF 40 was still a German engine but built under license in Italy) suggests that the reason the Lion project failed was that the Germans pulled their support. With no German support, the Italians would not be able to export the Lion on their own as their Leopard manufacturing license specifically prevented them from doing so. The outcome was a delay of a couple of years for the project to be reworked with a newly designed hull with very similar features but different enough to work around the license restrictions. The OF 40 would still look very similar to both the Lion and the Leopard but this time was an Italian project.

OF 40 Mk.1 Photo: OTO Melara

Leone Main Battle Tank

Total weight 43 tons
Crew 4 (driver, gunner, commander, loaders)
Propulsion Motoren und Turbinen Union MB 838 CA M500, 830hp, multifuel
Speed (road) 37 mph (60 km/h)
Armament 105mm rifled main gun
coaxial 7.62mm machine gun
turret roof mounted 7.62mm machine gun

Links, Resources & Further Reading

OF 40 Mk.1 Manual – Oto Melara April 1981
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Nicola Pignato & Filippo Cappellano
Modern Armor, Pierangelo Caiti

Leone MBT
Illustration of the Leone (Lion) Main Battle Tank by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet