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Hungarian tanks

Toldi I and II

Hungarian Tanks Hungary (1940)
Light tank – 190 built

In an attempt to replace their ineffective tankettes, the Hungarian Army obtained a licence from Sweden for the production of the L-60 light tank, which would be known in Hungary as the Toldi. From April 1940 to December 1942, just under 200 Toldi light tanks would be locally produced by the Hungarian firms MAVAG and Ganz. While having weak armor protection and firepower, the Toldi light tanks would represent the backbone of Hungarian armor up to the end of 1941.

Toldi light tank
Toldi light tank. Source: Pinterest

Context and Development

After the First World War, the Hungarian Army (Honved) was forbidden by the Treaty of Trianon from developing and using tanks. This prohibition did not prevent Hungarians from acquiring armored vehicles from abroad in the thirties. During the mid-1930s, the Hungarian Army had purchased over 100 Italian light tankettes for its armored forces. These tankettes were fairly obsolete as fighting vehicles even before the start of the war, as they lacked a turret, sufficient armor protection and were weakly armed, with only two machine guns.

In 1936, the Hungarian Army made attempts to find more modern types of tanks, to, if not replace, at least supplement the tankettes with more firepower. A few countries, like Italy, Germany and Sweden, were approached for this reason. Eventually, Hungary managed to acquire a single Swedish L-60 light tank (with the serial number H-004) in 1937 (or 1936, depending on the source). Once the Swedish vehicle actually arrived (according to some sources it was built in Hungary), test trials were conducted from mid-June to 1st July 1938 at the Haymasker and Varpalota proving grounds. After these tests were completed, the Hungarian General Garandy Novak, satisfied with its performance, gave a preliminary suggestion for production of some 64 vehicles. These were to be allocated to the two mechanized and two cavalry brigades. A piece of interesting information worth mentioning here is that, during these trials, a Hungarian V-4 was also tested. After comparing the performance of these two vehicles, the V-4 was not adopted for service.

 Swedish L-60 light tank being field tested in Hungary
The single Swedish L-60 light tank being field-tested in Hungary. Source: G. Finizio (Hungarian Armor, Wheels and Tracks)

Following successful negotiations with Sweden, Hungary managed to obtain a licence for the production of this vehicle. At a meeting of the Hungarian War Ministry held on 2nd September 1938, it was decided to start production of this vehicle with some modifications, mostly regarding its armament. A first production order of 80 vehicles was awarded to MAVAG and Ganz.
After observing the lighting-fast German success on the Western Front in May 1940, the Hungarian Army was well impressed and saw that the use of highly mobile motorized units was the future of modern warfare. With the future expansion of their armored force in mind, there was a general demand for more Toldi tanks. For this reason, another order for 110 new vehicles was placed in 1940. The second production series vehicles were simply marked as Toldi II. While, in some sources, it is noted that the Toldi II was better protected, this is false, as, in reality, the only difference was the use of domestically built parts along with some small changes to the suspension. Besides these, the two vehicle types were, in essence, one of the same.

The Name

This vehicle was named 38M Toldi. In some sources, it is also known as 38M Toldi Konnyii Harckocsi, which stands for light tank. Toldi was actually the name of a Hungarian medieval warrior. The second production series received the simpler Toldi II designation. With the later Toldi IIa being armed with a 40 mm gun, the Toldi I and II received the additional A20 and B20 designations in 1944, which stand for the 20 mm main weapon.

Production of the Toldi I and II

Production of the Toldi I light tank was carried out by the MAVAG and Ganz companies. Almost from the start, there were difficulties with the production, as the Hungarians lacked the experience and production capabilities. Another issue was the need to import some parts from Germany and Sweden, which were essential for the completion of these vehicles (like the Büssing engine, for example). The production order was divided between MAVAG and Ganz, with each company receiving contracts for producing 40 vehicles. The production run lasted from April 1940 (or March, depending on the source) to May 1941. The first 80 vehicles built received the H-301 to H-380 registration numbers.
Once the first series of 80 vehicles was completed, MAVAG was able to locally produce the needed engine. To help speed up the production, the transmission was built by Ganz and the rubber wheel rims by Ruggzantaarngyar. Thus, it was possible to complete the second Toldi II series with Hungarian made parts, which was important, as it was impossible, due to the war, to obtain additional parts from aboard. The Toldi II vehicles had registration numbers ranging from H-281 to H-490. The vehicles that had the registration numbers from H-381 to H-422 were built by Mavag and H-424 to H-490 by Ganz. The second production run lasted from May 1941 to December 1942.

Author A. T. Jones (Armored Warfare and Hitler’s Allies 1941-1945) mentions that only 120 were built. This is highly unlikely, as the majority of sources stated that 190 in total were built.

Technical characteristics

Hull and the turret

The Toldi hull had a standard layout, which consisted of the forward-mounted transmission, the central crew compartment, and the rear engine compartment. On top of this hull, an armored superstructure that narrowed as it went toward the engine compartment was placed. On the vehicle’s left front side, the fully protected driver position was located. The driver was provided with an escape hatch on top of it. For observing the surroundings, a front and a left side observation port were installed. On the front upper glacis, a headlight was placed inside a protecting housing, with a grill door that could be lowered or closed depending on the need.

The Toldi turret had two single-piece crew hatches located on each side. Additionally, on each side, two observation ports without visor slits were installed. On top of the turret, a command cupola with a large one-piece hatch was placed.

A good view off the Toldi’s front side
A good view off the Toldi’s front side. Just above the large hull painted cross marking is the protected driver position. Source: Magyar Pancel

Dimensions of this vehicle are different depending on the source. While most sources agree about its length of 4.75 m, the situation with width and height is different. Depending on the source, the width goes from 2.05 m to 2.14 and the height from 1.87 to 2.14 m. Regarding the height, some sources may take into account the extended round-shaped antenna.

Armament

When the Toldi was adopted for service with the Hungarian Army, the 20 mm 36M anti-tank rifle was chosen as its main armament. The 20 mm 36M was, in fact, a Solothurn S 18-100 anti-tank rifle. This was done primarily for logistical reasons, as this weapon was already domestically produced under license and, thus, spare parts and ammunition were available in sufficient numbers. The 36M anti-tank rifle had a rate of fire ranging from 15 to 20 rounds per minute. The armor penetration with the 36M anti-tank rifle (at 60°) at ranges of 600 m was only 10 mm. The Hungarians briefly considered using 3.7 or 4 cm caliber guns, but, as this would lead to redesigning the turret, it was not adopted for the production. The ammunition load varies depending on the source. G. Finizio (Hungarian Armor, Wheels and Tracks) suggests a very low estimate of 52 rounds, whilst, one the other hand, P. Chamberlain and C. Ellis (Axis Combat Vehicles, Arco Publishing Company) proposed the number of rounds as 208. It is possible that the 52 rounds figure is wrongly attributed to the Toldi I and II and instead it refers to the later 4 cm gun used on the Toldi IIa vehicles.

Secondary armament consisted of one 8 mm Gebauer 34/37 machine gun. This machine gun could be dismounted and used in an anti-aircraft role. Inside the tank, some 2,400 rounds of ammunition for the machine gun were carried.

Close up view of the Toldi’s anti-tank rifle and the machine gun
Close up view of the Toldi’s anti-tank rifle and the machine gun. This picture was taken during the April War in 1941. Source: Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu
A licence production version of the Solothurn S 18-100
A license production version of the Solothurn S 18-100 was chosen as the Toldi’s main weapon. Source: Wiki

Armor protection

The Toldi was lightly protected. The hull front and side armor were only 13 mm thick. The top, bottom and rear armor was even thinner, at 6 mm. The turret was similar, with the front and side armor being 13 mm thick and the rear and top only 6 mm. As this armor was clearly insufficient, it could be easily pierced even by Soviet anti-tank rifles. In an attempt to increase the protection against these anti-tank rifles, one vehicle, with serial number H-423, was used to test German side armor skirts. While some Toldis would receive this armor, it was employed more on the larger Turan tanks.

Due to the low armor thickness, the Toldi could be easily destroyed by any type of anti-tank weapons, including the anti-tank rifles
Due to the low armor thickness, the Toldi could be easily destroyed by any type of anti-tank weapons, including anti-tank rifles. Source: C. Bescze (Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II)
German-inspired side skirt armor
In order to increase protection from Soviet anti-tank rifles, some Toldis (note this is a picture of a later Toldi IIa) were equipped with German-inspired side skirt armor. Source: hungarianweaponryww2.wixsite.com

Engine

The Toldi was powered by a German-built Büssing NAG L8V 160 hp @2200, eight-cylinder petrol engine. With a weight of some 8.5 (or 8.7 depending on the source) tonnes, the Toldi was capable of achieving a top speed of 50 km/h. While this was certainly impressive speed for its time, the engine proved to be problematic for these vehicles and needed constant maintenance and repair. With a fuel load of 253 liters, the operational range was around 220 km. While, initially, this engine had to be imported, from 1941, the Hungarian manufacturers were able to locally produce it.

rear engine deck
A good view of the Toldi rear engine deck. Source: Pinterest

Suspension

There were initially no changes to the construction of the suspension and the transmission compared to the Swedish model. The suspension used a torsion bar system. It consisted (per side) of one front drive sprocket, one rear idler, four larger road wheels and two return rollers. While this suspension did the job, it did not provide a gentle ride. The second Toldi production run used mostly domestically built suspension parts, which were noted to be of somewhat better quality than those originally used.

 Toldi’s suspension used torsion bars
The Toldi’s suspension used torsion bars, which were easy to maintain, but the Hungarians were not completely satisfied with the performance. The Toldi II series received some minor modifications to the suspension.

Crew members

The Toldi I and II had a crew that consisted of three crew members. In the left front side of the hull, the driver was positioned. To his rear, in the turret, the remaining two crew members were positioned. Left of the main gun, the gunner/loader was seated. Right of the gunner was the commander of the vehicle. He was provided with a command cupola for a better view of the surroundings. In addition, if the vehicle had radio equipment, the commander’s secondary role was to act as a radio operator.

Tank crew
The crew of a Toldi during a short break.

Radio equipment

While the Toldi I and II were mostly identical, they used different radio equipment, thanks to which they can be distinguished. The Toldi I, which were equipped with R-5 radios, had a large round-shaped radio antenna mounted on the right side of the turret. This antenna could be folded down if needed. The Toldi II was equipped with a stronger R-5a radio. This variant had a much simpler radio antenna, also mounted on the turret right side.

round antennae
A Toldi I with a round-shaped radio antenna. Source: panzer-bau.de
Turret round antennae
A Toldi I with the large round antenna folded down. Source:ritastatusreport.live
Toldi II could be identified by the use of a much smaller and simpler radio antenna
The Toldi II could be identified by the use of a much smaller and simpler radio antenna. Source:ritastatusreport.live

Distribution to units

The majority of the first 45 vehicles that were completed by September 1940 were allocated to the tank companies of the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Brigades. Following the expansion and modernization of the Hungarian Army, additional units were to be formed. This included the 9th and the 11th Bicycle Battalions, which were to be reorganized into tank battalions. According to author G. Finizio (Hungarian Armor, Wheels and Tracks), these two Battalions were to have three Toldi companies and one company equipped with the domestically designed and produced Turan tanks. In addition, the strength of the companies that had Toldi tanks was to be increased from 18 to 23 vehicles. As the production of the Turan was unable to start on time, as a temporary solution, these two Battalions were to be equipped with four Toldi companies. Due to a lack of Toldi vehicles, these two Battalions were eventually equipped with only two incomplete 18 vehicle strong companies.

Field exercises with Toldi tank
Toldi light tank during combat field training in May 1941. Source: C. Bescze (Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II)

Some of the Toldi light tanks of the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Brigades were used as occupying forces in the Transylvania region, which was taken over from Romania in September 1940 after the Second Vienna Award.

Toldi tank
Some Toldi light tanks were used as occupying forces in the Transylvania region. Source: shop.kagero.pl

Occupation of Yugoslavia

The Hungarian government officially joined the Axis forces on 27th September 1940. Its first joint military operation with other Axis allies was the occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. For this operation, the Hungarian Army mobilized its Fast Corp (Gyorshadtest), which consisted of the 1st and 2nd Motorized Brigades, together with the 2nd Cavalry Brigade. Each of these units had a 18 vehicles strong Toldi company, for a total of 54 tanks. While the 1st Cavalry Brigade was also part of this Fast Corp, it was not used during this war.

The Toldi’s first real combat use was during the short April War (Axis occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) that lasted from the 6th to 17th April 1941. During this short campaign, many Toldi tanks were left un-operational, mainly due to engine problems.

Toldi in Bečej, Yugoslavia, 1941
Toldi in Bečej, Yugoslavia, 1941. Source: Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu

In the Soviet Union

While the Hungarians were not eager to wage war with the Soviets, they nevertheless joined the Axis forces during Operation Barbarossa. The Hungarians officially declared war on the USSR on 27th June, after Soviet air bomb raids into Hungary occurred the previous day. For the Invasion of the Soviet Union, the Hungarians allocated the 1st and 2nd Motorized Brigades and the 2nd Cavalry Brigade. By this time, the number of Toldis had increased to 81 vehicles. Due to insufficient numbers of Toldi tanks, some 60 Italian-bought tankettes had to be used to supplement the three Brigades.

Toldi tank by bridge
Two Toldi tanks advancing, possibly somewhere in the Soviet Union. Source: Magyar Pancel

On 13th July 1941, elements from the 9th Tank Battalion (from the 1st Motorized Brigade) attacked the Soviet positions on the hills near Khmelnytskyi (Хмельни́цький). During this fight, one Toldi, belonging to Captain Tibor Karparthy, was hit by a Soviet anti-tank gun. The vehicle was immobilized and the two other crew members were killed on the spot, while Captain Tibor was injured. A second Toldi tank (commanded by Sergeant Pal Habel) that was nearby, in an attempt to protect the Captain’s damaged vehicle, took position in front of it. While this provided protection for the damaged tank, Sergeant Pal’s tank became the new main target for the Soviet anti-tank guns. This resulted in the loss of the tank with its crew, but this action saved the life of the wounded Captain Tibor. In the following Hungarian attack, the hill was taken with the destruction of three Soviet anti-tank guns. By late July 1941, the 1st Motorized Brigade managed to destroy some 24 Soviet armored vehicles. But, despite initial successes, the Toldi losses began to rise, mostly due to mechanical breakdowns. Due to the rapid increase of losses, in July 1941, the Hungarians were forced to send a further 14 Toldi tanks, along with many spare parts and engines.

By August, there were 57 operational Toldi tanks on this front. By the end of October 1941, the Hungarian force had advanced nearly 1,000 km into the Soviet Union, up to the Donets River. Supplying and reinforcing these units became more and more difficult, and with the rising losses and urgent need for repair, the Hungarians ordered that these forces be pulled back home for recuperation and rearmament.

While the Hungarian tank losses were high, with all the tankettes being lost together with 80% of Toldis. While some 25 were damaged in combat, a greater number of 62 was lost due to mechanical breakdowns. Almost all could be recovered. While these could be repaired, it took some time to do so and, for this reason, only a small number of Toldi tanks were available for the 1942 campaign. The fighting in 1941 also pointed out the Toldi’s shortcomings, mostly regarding its armament and armor. While the main gun did have a chance against the lightly protected Soviet pre-war designs, it was useless against the T-34 and the KV series. The armor was also insufficient and could be defeated easily with any Soviet anti-tank weapon, including the anti-tank rifles. From 1942 on, the Toldi was relocated to be used for reconnaissance, command, liaison, and even as ambulance roles.

Damaged Toldi tank
A heavily damaged Toldi, lost during the battles around Gordiyewka in late July 1941. Source: C. Bescze (Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II)

In 1942, the 1st Armored Division was formed, using mainly T-38s (German-supplied Panzer 38(t)) which were supplemented with a smaller number of Toldi tanks. Some 14 were given to the 1st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and 5 vehicles to the 51st Anti-Tank Battalion, but, in reality, only 17 were available for service. By the end of August 1942, the Toldi units suffered losses, with only 5 being fully operational. As 1942 proved disastrous for the Axis forces on the Eastern Front, 11 Toldi tanks were lost (depending on the source, the losses may have been higher).

A damaged Toldi tank and two T-38s just behind it
A damaged Toldi tank and two T-38s just behind it. These vehicles belong to the 30th Tank Regiment stationed in the Soviet Union in 1942. Source: C. Bescze (Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II)

In 1943, due to losses in equipment and men, the Hungarians did not send new armored units to the Soviet Union. By April 1944, there were 176 Toldi (all types) light tanks still operational. At that time, the front line units using them were the 2nd Armored Division in Galicia and the 1st Cavalry Division fighting near Warsaw. In June 1944, there were some 66 Toldi I and II and 63 Toldi IIa operational.

toldi tank crossing a river
A Toldi crossing a river in Eastern Poland during 1944.

Modification

During its operational service life, the Toldi chassis was used for a number of improvements and tests. These include the ambulance transport, anti-tank hunter and up-gunned and better-protected versions.

Ambulance transport version

Between 1942 and 1944, a small number ) of Toldi tanks, perhaps 9, were modified by Ganz as ambulance vehicles named Toldi eü20. These could be identified by the larger sizes of right turret doors. Additionally, they had a red cross painted on the turret sides for identification. Their primary mission was to help with the evacuation of any injured tank crewman during combat. G. Finizio (Hungarian Armor, Wheels and Tracks) notes that these were originally used as troop transports, but due to their ineffectiveness, they were later modified as mobile ambulances.

Toldi Ambulance modification
The Toldi eü20 could be identified by the small red cross painted on the turret sides. Few such vehicles served with the 1st Armored Division that operated in the Soviet Union during 1942. Source: C. Bescze (Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II)

Toldi páncélvadász

In order to increase the firepower of their Toldis, one tank was modified to act as an anti-tank vehicle armed with the German Pak 40 7.5 cm anti-tank gun. This modification is often called ‘Toldi páncélvadász’ (Toldi tank destroyer/hunter). As the Hungarians lacked production capacity, only one prototype was made.

Toldi SPG
Possibly the only known photograph of this prototype. Source: forum.warthunder.com

Toldi IIa and III

In an attempt to increase the combat efficiency of the Toldi tanks, the Hungarians made two attempts to improve their firepower and armor protection. The Toldi IIa version had a new 40 mm gun and stronger armor. Some 80 Toldis were modified for this configuration. The Toldi III was similar to the Toldi IIa, but with 35 mm of frontal armor, but less than 20 were eventually built.

Toldi tank IIa
The Toldi IIa had a 4 cm main gun. Source: armedconflicts.com

Surviving Toldi tank

Today, there is only one surviving Toldi I and one Toldi IIa light tank. Both can be seen in the well known Kubinka Military Museum in Russia.

Toldi tank in Kubinka Russia
The only known surviving Toldi I light tank. Just right of it is the Toldi IIa, which can be easily identified by the extended rear part of the turret. Source: Wiki

Conclusion

While Hungary was not a superpower, it managed to produce relatively high numbers of domestically-built tanks, including 190 Toldi light tanks. While the Toldi I and II were the backbone of the Hungarian armored units in 1941, by that time, they were already obsolete. Their low armor protection and small-caliber main weapon were almost useless against Soviet armor. But, somewhat surprisingly, despite their obsolescence, the majority were lost to breakdowns and not to enemy fire. This is the second large issue that this tank had. It was not completely reliable and prone to engine breakdowns. From 1942 on, they would be mostly used in secondary combat roles.

Toldi I M1938 suspension and tracks blueprint
Toldi I M1938 suspension and tracks blueprint (source David Zilahy)

Toldi I and II specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 4.75 x 2.05 x 2.14 m
Total weight, battle-ready 8.5 tonnes (9.3 Tonnes Toldi IIa)
Crew 3 Commander/Gunner, Loader, and the Driver
Propulsion Bussing-NAG LV8 8-cylinder 160 hp petrol/gasoline engine
Top speed 50 km/h
Range 220 km
Armament 20 mm (0.79 in) QF 36M L/55 Solothurn auto-cannon
8 mm (0.31 in) 38M Gebauer machine-gun
Armor 6-13 mm
Total production (all types) 190

 

Toldi I
Hungarian light tank 38M (A20) Toldi I. Notice the early Hungarian cross. The usual three-tone pattern was applied over the factory sand beige.
Toldi I late
Late Toldi I of the 2nd Armored Division in Poland, summer 1944.
Toldi II 40M
Toldi II (B20) in Ukraine, summer 1942. 80 of these were later rearmed with a new 40 mm (1.57 in) gun.

Source

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
C. Bescze (2007) Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II, STRATUS.
B. Adam, E. Miklos, S. Gyula (2006) A Magyar Királyi Honvédség külföldi gyártású páncélos harcjárművei 1920-1945, Petit Real
S.J.Zaloga (2013) Tanks of Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941-45, New Vanguard.
N. Thomas and L. P. Szabo (2010) The Royal Hungarian Army in World War II, Osprey.
A. T. Jones (2013) Armored Warfare and Hitler’s Allies 1941-1945, Pen and Sword
Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu,, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd
G. Finizio (1987) Hungarian Armor, Wheels and Tracks.
P. Chamberlain and C. Ellis (1977) Axis Combat Vehicles, Arco Publishing Company

Categories
Hungarian tanks

Tiger in Hungarian service

Co-Author Alex Tarasov

Hungary WW2Hungary, 1944, Heavy Tank – Up to 15 received

During WWII, Hungary was one of Germany’s allies with a significant domestic production of armored vehicles. While these locally produced vehicles were fine by the standards of the early war, unfortunately for the Hungarians, by the time these were fielded in larger numbers, they were already obsolete. To bolster their ally’s firepower, during the war, the Germans supplied the Hungarians with a selection of armored vehicles, including a small number of the famed Tiger tanks in 1944.

The formidable Tiger tank in Hungarian hands. Source: Magyar Pancel

History

By 1944, it was obvious that the Axis were on the losing side of the war, and due to the huge losses sustained while fighting on the Eastern Front, the overall military and political situation for Hungry was dire. In an attempt to leave the war, the Hungarian Regent Vice-Admiral Miklós Horthy secretly began negotiations with the Allies. It seems that this was not kept a secret, as the Germans found out about it and launched the Margarethe Operation. This was the German secret contention plan to deal with Hungary in the case its government attempted to change sides during the war. Horty was arrested and a puppet government was formed under the leadership of Dome Sztojay instead. This way, the Germans managed to force Hungarians to stay active on the Eastern Front.

The Hungarians deployed their 1st Army in support of the German front line in eastern Galicia. The 2nd Armored Division (which was part of the 1st Army) was equipped with obsolete Hungarian-built vehicles such as the Turan I and II tanks. During its first engagement with the Soviet Armor, the Turan II tanks claimed to have destroyed two T-34/85 tanks. During a short Axis offensive in this area in April, despite having a disadvantage in armor and firepower, the Hungarian tanks claimed to have destroyed 27 Soviet tanks (26 T-34/85 and 1 Sherman) with the loss of 22 of their own vehicles (8 Turan I, 9 Turan II, 4 Nimrods, 1 Toldi, and 1 Csaba armored car).

It appears that the bravery of the Hungarian tank crews was noted by the Germans. By the direct orders of General Walter Model, the Hungarian 2nd Armored Division was to be reinforced with 10 to 12 (depending on the source) Panzer IV Ausf. H, a smaller number of StuG III and even with a group of Tiger tanks.

Panzerkampfwagen ‘Tiger’ Ausf. E

The German Tiger tank is one of the most iconic tanks in history. While the development of a heavy tank began in Germany prior to the war, only after encountering the advanced Soviet tanks in 1941 was the whole program sped up. Two firms, Porsche and Henschel, were involved in designing the chassis of the new heavy tank, with Krupp being responsible for the turret and gun. While the Porsche design was favored, in the end, due to mechanical problems, the Henschel design would be adopted. The heavy tank that would be known as the Tiger was an immense vehicle, armed with the deadly 8.8 cm gun and well protected by a 100 mm thick frontal and 80 mm side armor. With its weight of 57 tonnes, it was also a fairly mobile vehicle thanks to its strong 650 hp engine and wide tracks. By the time of its introduction in 1942, few enemy weapons were able to do anything against it and, with its gun, it could efficiently destroy any enemy tank type. Its production began in August 1942 and ended in August 1944. By that time, only slightly more than 1,340 vehicles had been built.

The Panzerkampfwagen Ausf. E ‘Tiger’ Tank. Source: Wiki

While certainly a terrifying tank to be encountered on the battlefields, it was far from perfect and was plagued with many problems. The cost to build one was significant and this was one of the reasons why only small numbers were built. As there were never enough of them, they were allocated to separate special units that would be, depending on the need, attached to other units. The maintenance of these vehicles was time-consuming. The suspension system, while providing good drive, was overly complicated. Despite these issues, the Tiger tanks remained a potent threat to Allied tanks right up to the war’s end. Due to the small numbers available, they were regarded as elite vehicles reserved only for the German Panzerwaffe, but surprisingly few would be supplied to Germany’s allies.

Origin of the Hungarian Tigers

It is common to find information that the supplied Tiger tanks belonged to the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion (schwere Panzerabteilung, s.Pz.Abt. 503). The 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion was created in late 1942 and was initially equipped with 20 Tigers and 25 Panzer III Ausf. N. From early 1943 until April 1944, this unit was mainly engaged on the Eastern Front. Then, it was transferred to France for recuperation and conversion to Tiger II tanks. By that time, only 12 Tiger IIs were available for this unit. In order to fully equip it, 33 additional Tiger Is were allocated to this unit.

Tiger tanks belong to the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany

According to T. Jentz and H. Doyle (Tiger I Heavy Tank 1942-45), three Tiger tanks from the ordnance depot were delivered to the Hungarian Army on 22nd July 1944. In addition, an unknown number of Tigers were acquired from the 503rd and 509th Heavy Panzer Battalion. The 509th Heavy Panzer Battalion was formed in September 1943 and had 45 Tiger tanks. It was engaged on the Eastern Front up to September 1944, before being sent back to Germany to be reequipped with the Tiger II.

Number supplied

The total number of supplied tanks is not clear, but most sources give a number of around 10 vehicles. For example, authors C. Bescze (Magyar Steel, Hungarian Armour in WWII) and S.J.Zaloga (Tanks of Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941-45) mention that 10 vehicles were supplied.

But, according to Dr. M. Durden (Leopard’s guide: The Tiger I tank), between 6 and 12 Tigers were used by the Hungarians. Authors C. K. Kliment and D. Bernard (Maďarská armáda 1919-1945) note that up to 15 Tiger were supplied.

To complicate matters more, authors F.W. Lochmann, R. Freiherr Von Rosen and A. Runnel (The Combat History of German Tiger Tank Battalion 503 in World War II) noted that no Tigers were ever supplied to the Hungarians! They also state that the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion gave all its surviving Tiger tanks to the 509th Heavy Panzer Battalion on 14th May 1944. While they state that Hungarian crew members were trained, due to a shortage of tanks, no Tigers were given to the Hungarians. They were instead issued with Panzer IV vehicles.

Interestingly, author G. Finizio (Wheels and Tracks No.27) suggests the possibility that some Hungarian tank crews operated Tiger tanks but in German units. This significant disagreement between different authors shows how difficult finding accurate and precise information can be.

Another issue is which type of Tigers were provided by the Germans. As it was late in the war, we can assume that any Tiger that was available was used for this purpose. So it would not be a surprise if this was a mix of early to late production types.

Training

Regardless of how many vehicles were supplied by the Germans, it was essential for the Hungarian crews to receive necessary training before they could even see combat. For this reason, some members of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion served as instructors for their allies. While the majority of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion was repositioned in France, the 3rd Company was chosen for this task.

Hungarian crew members beside their German instructors. Source: Magyar Pancel

What was available of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion’s vehicles and equipment (including the 3rd Company) was therefore renamed to the 1st Tiger Demonstration Company of the 1st Panzer Demonstration Group North Ukraine. The main base of this unit was Nadworna near Stanislau in South Poland. The Hungarians provided a group of tank crew members to be trained there. The training only lasted from 6th to 14th May 1944, before the unit was disbanded. Interestingly, while it appears that during this occasion, the Hungarians did not receive any Tigers, their High Command awarded several German instructors with high military recommendations. These include Feldwebels Fritz Großmann and Herbert Schünrock, Obergefreiters Ernst Reinhardt, Gotthold Wunderlichn and Gefreiter Hans Bartels. Ironically, while the information about these recommendations was found in Hungarian archives, these awards were never actually given to the Germans instructors due to political machinations.

The Germans provide the Hungarian tankers with training in the proper use of these heavy vehicles. Here, Unteroffizier Gartner gives instructions about all the parts of the turret to his Hungarian tanker group. This turret is actually detached from the hull and is suspended in the air by a crane. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany

In combat

The Hungarian Tigers, alongside the remaining German supplied vehicles, were allocated to the 2nd Armored Division, 3rd Battalion. They were divided into two Tank Squadrons. The 2nd Tank Squadron was commanded by First Lieutenant Ervin Tarszay, probably the most famous Hungarian tank commander, and the 3rd by Captain Janos Verdess. Besides the German vehicles, the 2nd Armored Division also had some 40 Turan I and 20 Turan II tanks.

Unfortunately, information about the Hungarian Tigers’ performance in combat is hard to find. The following information is from C. Bescze (Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WWII) supplemented with Russian archive documents. The Hungarian Tigers’ first combat engagement took place on 26th July 1944 near Nadvornaya. It was a triumph. A single Hungarian Tiger ambushed a Soviet armored column, destroying 8 Soviet tanks, several guns, and several transport trucks. For this successful action, the Tiger’s gunner, Istvan Lavrencsik, was awarded with the Gold Medal for Bravery.

The position of the Hungarian 2nd Armored Division near Nadvornaya during late July 1944. Source: TsAMO

According to Russian archive sources, elements of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment (Samokhodno-Artilleriyskiy Polk) were caught in this ambush. A group of 5 self-propelled guns, which was supported with a reconnaissance detachment of the 985th Infantry Regiment, after leaving Nadvornaya, were on 26th July advancing toward Bogorodchany.

The Hungarians forces prepare an ambush just before the position recorded as Hill 386. After letting the infantry support pass by, they waited for the advance of the Soviet armor. When the advancing Soviet armored vehicles approached at a distance of about 200 m, the Hungarian tanks opened fire. In the ensuing engagement, the Soviets lost 2 self-propelled guns which were burned, and 2 which were knocked out, with the loss of 4 men dead and 5 more wounded. The fate of the fifth Soviet self-propelled vehicle is not clear. It could have already passed by with the reconnaissance detachment of the 985th Infantry Regiment or was left behind for some reason, but these are only speculation.

The war diary of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment mentioned that there were 5 enemy tanks (3 of them were Tigers) supported by an infantry company. The precise type of the Soviet vehicles participating in this encounter is not clear, but it is likely that these were the SU-122, as the Hungarians could easily misidentified them as T-34 tanks (the SU-122 was based on the T-34 chassis).

1 – Hill 386.0; 2 – the approximate place of the ambush; 3 – Ostre, where the counterattack took place. Source: TsAMO

The Hungarians attempted a counterattack against the Soviets near the Ostre region. The counterattack failed and the Hungarians were forced to abandon two Tigers and one Turan II tanks at the intersection of the road in Lyakhovitsa. In total, the Soviets reported to have lost 4 self-propelled guns with 4 men dead and 8 wounded. The Soviets also reported to have burned down two enemy tanks in the Banya district. In addition, they captured 4 enemy tanks, with one Panzer IV in working condition (which was used against the enemy), destroyed 12 machine guns and 3 mortars, killed up to 150 soldiers and officers, and captured 75 enemy soldiers.

The question remains which sources to trust. For both sides it was in their interest to falsify the data for propaganda reasons.

The Hungarians Tigers are also claimed to have managed, during a 30-minute long fight, to take out around 14 Soviet tanks near “Hill 514” (possibly near Dolina), but the precise location and date of this action are not specified in the source, unfortunately. If these numbers of destroyed tanks were real or exaggerated for propaganda purposes is almost impossible to tell.

In the following days, despite these short term successes, the few Tigers could not change the overall war situation for the Hungarians. By the middle of August 1944, the Axis forces, including the Hungarian 1st Army, were pushed back to the Carpathian Mountains. It seems that, by this time, the Hungarians had lost at least 7 Tigers. While not all were combat losses, some were lost due to a general lack of fuel and spare parts. The Hungarians did not have any kind of towing vehicle capable of moving the huge Tigers, which also presented a problem with recovering any damaged vehicle. From this point on, it seems that the surviving Tiger were probably pulled back to Hungary. They may have been also returned to the Germans as author Dr. M. Durden (Leopard’s guide: The Tiger I tank) suggests, but once again the sources are conflicting.

In late August 1944, the Romanians changed sides and joined the Soviet Union and almost immediately engaged with the Hungarians in combat. The 2nd Armored Division was part of the Hungarian offensive toward Romania. If the Tigers were used there is unknown, but it is unlikely. Due to the increasing presence of the Soviet Army, the Hungarians were beaten back.

The 2nd Armored Division would be reinforced with new German vehicles, including Panther tanks. The Panthers were used by the 2nd Tank Squadron commanded by First Lieutenant Ervin Tarszay. The majority of the 2nd Armored Division would be destroyed during the siege of Budapest. The few elements that avoided destruction managed to reach Slovakia, where the last armored vehicles were blown up by their crews.

The final fate of the Hungarian Tigers is not clear. Author C. Bescze (Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WWII) notes that the last three vehicles were lost in Transylvania due to a lack of fuel and supplies.

Author G. Finizio (Wheels and Tracks No.27) claims that at least 4 Tigers were reported to be in repair in December 1944. By the end of January 1945, one Tiger was reported to be still operational.

A late production Tiger tank covered in Zimmerit, The commander of this vehicle (number 214) was Lieutenant Ervin Tarszay. Source: Magyar Pancel

Conclusion

The Tigers were the strongest armored vehicles that the Hungarian tank armored force operated during the war. While certainly deadly, it was supplied in too small numbers and too late to really have an influence on the war’s development. Despite fielding obsolete tanks, the Hungarians managed to destroy many Soviet tanks. This shows that, while the Hungarians lacked modern equipment, they did not lack effective tank crews. Had the Germans supplied them much earlier in the war with more modern equipment, the Hungarian tank force may have been a more important element in the war in the East.


Hungarian Ausf.E from the 3rd Regiment, Ukraine, near Nadvirna, May 1944

Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Sd.Kfz.181, ‘Tiger I’ specifications

Dimensions Height: 8.45 m Long x 3.23 m Wide (rail transport) x 3.547 m Wide (normal tracks) x 3 m Height
Weight 54 tonnes (combat), 57 tonnes by February 1944
Crew 5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver, and radio operator)
Engine Maybach model HL 210 TRM P45 21-litre V-12 petrol engine producing 650 hp at 3000 rpm (early production vehicles), Maybach model HL 230 TRM P45 V-12 700 hp petrol engine (later production vehicles)
Ford 1.5 m without preparation – submersible to 4.5 m with preparation (vehicles prior to August 1942)
Performance 45 km/h (road max.), 30 km/h (road sustained), after February 1944 this was 40 km/h, 20-25 km/h (firm ground sustained)
Fuel 348 litres sufficient for a range of up to 120 km road, 85 km firm ground. Two spare 200-litre fuel drum could be carried on the back deck for long road marches.
Armament 8.8 cm Kw.K. 36 L/56 gun, coaxial 7.92 mm M.G. 34, hull mounted M.G. 34, roof mounted anti-aircraft M.G. 34
Ammunition 92 rounds 8.8 cm, ~4,500 – 4,800 rounds 7.92 mm ammunition
Armor Hull:
Driver’s plate 100mm @ 9º
Nose 100mm @ 25º
Glacis 60mm glacis @ 80º
Hull Sides Upper 80mm @ 0º
Hull Sides Lower 60mm @ 0º
Rear 80mm @ 9º
Roof and Belly, 25mm
Turret:
Mantlet 120mm @ 0º
Front 100mm @ 5º
Sides and Rear 80mm @ 0º

Sources

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
C. Bescze (2007) Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II, STRATUS.
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
B. Adam, E. Miklos, S. Gyula (2006) A Magyar Királyi Honvédség külföldi gyártású páncélos harcjárművei 1920-1945, Petit Real
S.J.Zaloga (2013) Tanks of Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941-45, New Vanguard.
N. Thomas and L. P. Szabo (2010) The Royal Hungarian Army in World War II, Osprey.
T. Jentz and H. Doyle, Tiger I Heavy Tank 1942-45, Osprey
T. Jentz and H. Doyle (2001) Panzer Tracts No.6 Schwere Panzerkampfwagen.
Dr. M. Durden Leopard’s guide: The Tiger I tank
C. K. Kliment and D. Bernard (2007) Maďarská armáda 1919-1945, Naše vojsko.
F.W. Lochmann, R. Freiherr Von Rosen and A. Runnel (2000) The Combat History of German Tiger Tank Battalion 503 in World War II, Stackpole Book.
G. Finizio (1989) Wheels and Tracks No.27, Battle of Britain prints.
War Diary of the 18A, 4th Ukrainian Front, 31.07.1944, TsAMO, F 244, O 3000, D 890, PP 1-72
War Diary of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment, TsAMO, F 4438, O 0445095с, D 0003, PP 19-30
TO&E of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment

Categories
Hungarian tanks

Pz.Kpfw.II als Sfl. mit 7.5 cm PaK 40 ‘Marder II’ (Sd.KFz.131) in Hungarian Service

Hungary (1942) Self-propelled anti-tank gun – 5 supplied

Hungary was after Italy, Germany’s European ally with the most significant domestic production of armored vehicles. While these vehicles were fine by the standards of the early war, unfortunately for the Hungarians, by the time these were fielded in larger numbers, they were already obsolete. To bolster their ally’s firepower, in 1942, the Germans supplied the Hungarians with a group of five Marder II tank destroyers.

History

The Hungarians officially signed the Tripartite Pact to join the Axis forces on 27th September 1940. By the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Hungarians had the largest armored force of all German allies on this front. By the end of 1941, their armored formations had been decimated by the more advanced Soviet T-34 and KV tanks. The Hungarian mostly fielded lightly armed tanks, such as the Toldi and T-38, which were almost useless against the Soviet tanks. To rebuild its shattered force, the Hungarian high command tried to implement the ‘Huba II’ military plan. This plan involved the formation of two new units, the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions.

Despite being unprepared, having suffered heavy losses and losing most of its armored formations, the Hungarian high command was hard-pressed by the Germans to send additional forces to the Eastern Front. The Hungarian high command chose to send the 2nd Army, which consisted of 9 light divisions and the 1st Field Armored Division. As there was a general lack of modern equipment, especially tanks, the formation of the 1st Field Armored Division was too slow. Despite German promises of modern equipment, the Hungarian were instead supplied with 102-108 (depending on the source) Panzer 38(t)’s (known in Hungarian service as T-38) and 22 better armed Panzer IV Ausf. F1’s. These vehicles were attached to the 30th Tank Regiment. The 1st Field Armored Division was also supplied with 19 Nimrod anti-tank/aircraft vehicles, 14 Csaba armored cars and 17 Toldi light tanks, with 4 rebuilt Toldi tanks that were used for medical roles.

By October 1942, due to heavy losses, only 4 Panzer IV and 22 T-38 were reported to be operational. To reinforce the Hungarian allies, the Germans provided them with 10 Panzer III Ausf. N’s, and a small number of Panzer IV Ausf. F2’s and G’s. In December (September and even January 1943 depending on the source) 1942, the Germans supplied the Hungarians with five Marder II vehicles.

Marder II

The Marder II was a tank destroyer (panzer jager – tank hunter) based on a modified Panzer II Ausf. F tank chassis. The Panzer II was developed to overcome the many shortcomings of the previous Panzer I model. While the Germans would eventually develop more powerful and advanced vehicles, such as the Panzer III and IV, due to their initial slow production, the Panzer II served as the backbone of the Panzer formations in the early stages of the war. By 1942, due to attrition and obsolescence, Panzer II numbers began to dwindle and the surviving vehicles were reused for other purposes, most notably for the Marder II and Wespe self-propelled guns.

The Panzer II Ausf. F. Source: Pinteres

The Panzer II could be easily converted into Marder II by simply removing most of the upper superstructure and the tank turret. In its place, a 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun with a three-sided shield was placed instead. In total, some 531-576 new Marder II would be built, but smaller numbers (68-75) would be built by converting older and damaged vehicles and few would even be built by frontline troops. While the Marder II had many issues, it did solve the problem of the lack of mobility of the strong but heavy 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. While this vehicle had several different official names, like Pz.Kpfw.II als Sfl. mit 7.5 cm PaK 40 (Sd.KFz.131), it is generally best known today simply as the ‘Marder II’.

Marder II in German service. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In combat

The Marder IIs supplied to the Hungarians were used to form an 1. Önálló páncélvadász század (1st independent tank-destroyer company) under the command of Captain Pál Zergényi. This unit base of operation was near Pushkino (Пушкино), where few German officers were present to help with the necessary crew training.

At the start of 1943, the Hungarian 1st Armored Division was put under direct German command as part of the Cramer-Corps. At that time, the total armored strength of this unit consisted of 9 Panzer III Ausf. N’s, 8 Panzer Ausf. IV F2’s and G’s, 8 Panzer IV Ausf. F1’s, 41 T-38’s and the 5 Marder II’s. The Cramer-Corps, beside the Hungarian Armored Division, consisted of the 26th and 168th Infantry Divisions, the German 190th Assault Gun Detachment and 700th Armor Detachment. The commander of the Cramer-Corps was Major General Hans Cramer.

Only five Marder II vehicles were supplied by the Germans at the end of 1942. The Hungarian Marder IIs managed to achieve some limited success by destroying several Soviet tanks. Source: Pinterest

In mid-January 1943, the Soviets launched an offensive against the Hungarian positions and, after heavy losses, forced them to retreat. The fighting was extensive around the city of Alekseyevka (west of the Don River, between Voronezh and Kharkov), which the Hungarian 1st Armored Division, with the help of the German 559th Anti-Tank Battalion, were ordered to take back. The attack began on 18th January 1943 and, during this attack, a Hungarian Marder II managed to destroy a Soviet T-60 tank. The next day, the Soviets made a counter-attack which was repelled with the loss of a T-34 destroyed by a Marder II and a T-60 destroyed by a Panzer IV. But, despite their success, the Axis forces were forced to retreat out of Alekseyevka.

On 21st January, the Axis forces again managed to enter the western parts of Alekseyevka. The Soviet attempts to drive them out were unsuccessful, with the loss of 150 to 200 men and one armored car destroyed by a German Marder II. The next day, the Hungarian Marder II’s managed to destroy one T-34 and a T-60 tank and stop the Soviet counter-attack. During the period of late January and early February 1943, the Hungarian 1st Armored Division saw extensive combat action against the advancing Soviet Forces. By 9th February 1943, three Marder II were lost, and only two were left operational. These were one of the last armored vehicles that the 1st Armored Division still had as it was withdrawn from the front in February 1943.

The remaining Marder IIs were returned to Germany in the summer of 1943. Their usage between their withdrawal from the front and their return to the Germans is unknown. At least one was used for evaluation purposes by the Hungarians. This may suggest that the two surviving vehicles may have been withdrawn from the front.

The gunner of this Marder II is observing the surroundings for potential targets. Source: Pinterest
Crew of a Marder II pose for a photograph during a rare break. Source: Pinterest

Other Marder series vehicles in Hungarian service

According to some internet sources, it appears that the Germans also provided the Hungarian with at least one (or more) 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fgst. PzKpfw.II(F) (Sfl.) (Sd.KFz. 132) Marder II, which was based on the Panzer II flamm tank chassis. This vehicle had a completely different suspension system and was armed with modified captured Soviet 7.62 cm field guns. This was probably supplied with the other Marder IIs at the end of 1942. It is not clear if this vehicle is included in the five previously mentioned Marder II. Sadly there is no more information about this vehicle in Hungarian service.

Tank historian S. J. Zaloga (Tanks of the Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941-45) also mentions that, in August 1944, the Germans reinforced the Hungarian 1st Cavalry Division with a battery of Marder vehicles. While he does not mention precisely which Marder version is in question.

A single 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fgst. PzKpfw. II(F) appears to have been supplied to the Hungarians by their German allies. Source: Magyar Pancel www.arcanum.hu
Another photograph of the Marder II based on the Panzer II flamm. Source: Magyar Pancel

Toldi páncélvadász

During 1943, while the two surviving Marder II were transported back to Germany, at least one of them was instead sent to the Haditechnikai Intézet (Hungarian Institution of Military Technology) for further studying and evaluation. Very soon, an idea to mount the German 7.5 cm PaK 40 on an obsolete Toldi tank chassis was formed. One prototype would be built, which greatly resembled the Marder II. While it appears that this project did not receive any official designation, it is referred to as Toldi páncélvadász (Toldi tank hunter). The Toldi turret and most parts of the upper structure were removed and, in their place, a new three-sided armored superstructure was added. The 7.5 cm gun was then placed on top of the Toldi hull, with the ammunition bin stored in the back, on top of the engine compartment. The one prototype would be tested but the results were probably unsatisfactory and the project was never implemented.

Rear view of the Hungarian Toldi páncélvadász prototype. Source: Karoly Nemeth
A single Marder II was used for a brief time for trials in Hungary. Source: Karoly Nemeth

Conclusion

The Marder IIs provided the Hungarian with a means to effectively fight the Soviet Armor. But, as only a few were supplied, their impact on the overall poor condition of the Hungarian Armored Formations in the Soviet Union was essentially imperceptible. The Hungarian attempts to develop and build their own self-propelled anti-tank vehicles based on the Marder II did not take them anywhere.

Illustration of a Pz.Kpfw.II als Sfl. mit 7.5 cm PaK 40 ‘Marder II’ (Sd.KFz.131) in Hungarian Service, showing the Hungarian cross on the side. Illustration by David Bocquelet.

Source

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
T.L. Jentz and H.L. Doyle (2005) Panzer Tracts No.7-2 Panzerjager
C. Bescze (2007) Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II, STRATUS.
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
B. Adam, E. Miklos, S. Gyula (2006) A Magyar Királyi Honvédség külföldi gyártású páncélos harcjárművei 1920-1945, Petit Real
S.J.Zaloga (2013) Tanks of the Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941-45, New Vanguard.
N. Thomas and L. P. Szabo (2010) The Royal Hungarian Army in World War II, Osprey.
D. Doyle (2005). German military Vehicles, Krause Publications.
Z. Borawski and J. Ledwoch (2004) Marder II, Militaria.

Specifications

Dimensions 6.36 x 2.28 x 2.2 m
Total weight 11 tonnes
Crew Commander/Gunner, Loader and the Driver/Radio operator
Propulsion Maybach HL 62 TR 140 HP @ 3000 rpm
Top speed 40 km/h, 20 km/h (cross country)
Range 190 km, 125 km (cross country)
Armament 7.5 cm PaK 40/2 L/46
7.92 mm MG 34
Armor Superstructure: 4-10 mm
Hull: 10-35 mm
Elevation -8° to +10°
Traverse 25° to the right and 32° to the left
Categories
Hungarian tanks

T-38 – Panzer 38(t) in Hungarian service

Hungary (1942) Medium tank – 105-111 supplied

During WWII, the Hungarians were one of Germany’s allies which had a significant domestic production of armored vehicles. While these locally produced vehicles were fine by the standards of the early war, unfortunately for the Hungarians, by the time they were fielded in larger numbers, they were already obsolete. To bolster their ally’s firepower, in 1942, the Germans supplied the Hungarians with a selection of armored vehicles, including over 100 Panzer 38(t) tanks.

Military field exercise involving Hungarian armored vehicles prior to the start of the military operations on the Eastern Front in 1942. In front are the T-38s, while in the back are anti-tank/aircraft Nimrods. All the way back, a few Toldis are also visible. Source: Pinterest

History

The Hungarians officially signed the Tripartite Pact to join the Axis forces on 27th September 1940. By the time of the Invasion of the Soviet Union, in June 1941, the Hungarian Army (Honvéd) had the largest armored force of all the German allies on this front. By the end of 1941, the Hungarians fielded light tanks, which were of little use against the newer Soviet tanks. To rebuild its shattered force, the Hungarian High Command tried to implement the ‘Huba II’ military plan. This plan involved the formation of two new units, the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions.

A T-38, possibly during an exercise. Source: unknown

Despite being unprepared and having suffered heavy losses, including much of its armored formations, the Hungarian High Command was hard-pressed by the Germans to send additional forces to the Eastern Front. The Hungarian High Command chose to send the 2nd Army, which consisted of 9 light divisions and the 1st Field Armored Division (1.páncélos hadosztály). As there was a general lack of modern equipment, especially tanks, the formation of the 1st Field Armored Division was too slow. Despite German promises of modern equipment, the Hungarians were instead supplied with 102-108 (depending on the source) Panzer 38(t) Ausf. F and G (known in Hungarian service as the T-38, but also classified as a medium tank) and 22 better armed Panzer IV Ausf. F1 (classified as a heavy tank in Hungarian service). Among the acquired T-38s, some 38 were command vehicles with better radio equipment (Fu 2 radio receiver which was standard for all T-38 and a Fu 5 transmitter) and reduced secondary armament of one machine gun. The Germans also provided the Hungarians crews with necessary training at the Wünsdorf military school.

In Hungarian service, the T-38s received three-digit numbers, which was painted on the turret rear side. In addition, on the hull, a slightly modified German Balkenkreuz was painted. The difference is the color of the central cross was painted in green (instead of the original black) on a red background.

The 1st Field Armored Division had, in total, 89 T-38s and all the 22 Panzer IVs, which were allocated to the 30th Tank Regiment. The 1st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of this division was equipped with 14 Csaba armored cars and 17 Toldi light tanks, with 4 rebuilt Toldi tanks being used for medical support roles. In addition, there was the 51st Armored Autocannon Battalion, also known as the 51st Tank Hunter Battalion, which was equipped with 18-19 Nimrod anti-tank/aircraft vehicles. The Hungarian 2nd Army was tasked with supporting the German left flank advancing toward Stalingrad.

The Hungarian Balkenkreuz variant. Source: Pinterest
The three-digit number painted on the turret is visible here. Source: Magyar Pancel

The Panzer 38(t)

The TNH – LT vz. 38 tank was developed and built by the Czech ČKD company (Českomoravska Kolben Danek) in the second half of the nineteen-thirties. Production of the vz. 38 began in late 1938 but, by the time of the German annexation of Czech territory, not a single tank had been taken over by the Czech Army. Germany captured many brand new vz.38 tanks and, in May 1939, a delegation was sent to the ČKD factory to examine their operational potential. The Germans were so impressed with this tank that they were quickly introduced into Wehrmacht service under the name Pz.Kpfw.38(t) or simply Panzer 38(t). The ČKD factory was completely taken over for the needs of the German Army under the new name BMM (Bohmisch-Mahrische Maschinenfabrik).

The Panzer 38(t). Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzer-38t/

The Panzer 38(t) was built in relatively large numbers, saw combat action from Poland to the end of the war and was considered an effective tank for its class. But, from late 1941 on, it became obvious that it was becoming obsolete as a first-line combat tank. The Panzer 38(t) chassis, on the other hand, was mechanically reliable and was highly suitable for use for other purposes, a fact which the Germans exploited to the maximum. Over 100 Panzer 38(t) Ausf. F and G tanks, which had stronger 50 mm armor, were supplied by the Germans to their Hungarian allies in an attempt to rebuild their armored formation.

A Panzer 38(t) in German service. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In combat

The majority of the Hungarian 2nd Army was engaged in the advance toward the city of Stalingrad, ‘Operation Blau’, in May 1942. The 1st Armored Division was not involved in these initial combat operations, as its elements did not reach the front line until June and July. The reason for this delay was the general lack of fuel and transport vehicles.

The 1st Armored Division’s initial position was in the Uryv-Pokrovka, Storozhevoye area, on the western banks of the Don River. Its first orders were to crush a Soviet bridgehead defended by the 130th Tank Brigade. The Hungarian attack, which began on 18th July, was spearheaded by elements of the 30th Tank Regiment and 51st Tank Hunter Battalion. The Hungarian Panzer IVs managed to destroy a Soviet T-34, followed by more Soviet tank losses, mostly T-34s and American supplied M3 Stuart tanks. Being lightly armored, the M3 Stuart tanks could be destroyed by the T-38’s 3.7 cm guns. A Hungarian correspondent who was in one of the T-38s during this offensive later wrote down in his memories:

“… We carried on and entered the light of a burning farm just at the worst moment. A stack stirred and approached us. As the straw fell behind a Soviet tank appeared in front of us…. It was a medium tank (a M3 Stuart tank) firing two shots at us. None of them got us, we were still alive! But our second shot did hit it! … As I spied out of the turret I couldn’t see any Hungarian tank losses. But my joy was too early: my headphones asked for a doctor. ‘Tank number 591 got hit. We need a doctor!’ I could see through my binoculars that a major from the staff reached the damaged vehicle and lifted the injured men over into his tank under heavy fire. Quite a few enemy tanks opened fire on them and we tried to cover them as well as we could from the distance. We were much relieved when the doctor’s tank arrived and that the damaged tank hadn’t fallen into enemy hands. It didn’t catch fire either and was towed away. ”

The Soviet bridgehead was eventually destroyed by the afternoon. The Soviet losses were 21 destroyed tanks. The majority of these were destroyed by the Panzer IVs. The Nimrod vehicles destroyed 6 tanks and the remaining 3 were destroyed by the T-38s. During the Soviet retreat, their losses climbed to 35 tanks, with at least 4 captured M3 light tanks. The Hungarian losses were minimal, with only two damaged but recovered T-38 tanks. Of the 4 captured M3s, one was sent back to Hungary for evaluation and the remaining were used to tow the damaged T-38’s.

The Hungarians managed to capture four M3 Stuart light tanks and put them in limited use. Here it is used to tow a damaged T-38. Source: http://www.surfacezero.com/g503/showphoto.php?photo=70408

By the end of July, the Hungarians were confronted by the 261st and the 260th Tank Battalions (both belonging to the 130th Tank Brigade). The 260th Tank Battalion had organized two centers of resistance. The first ,supported with 3 M3 and 5 T-60 tanks, was located 1.2 km northwards from the forest which lies 2 km northwards from the village of Miginevo. It was intended to support the actions of the composite battalion of the 24th Motor Rifle Brigade. The second point of resistance was supported with 7 T-34, positioned in the North-Western outskirts of Miginevo, ready to provide fire support in the direction of Titchiha – Selyavnoe. The total armored strength of the 260th Tank Battalion was 3 M3, 5 T-60 and 7 T-34 tanks. The 261st Tank Battalion had its 10 T-60 concentrated at the North-Eastern edge of the wood 2 km westwards from the village of Davydovka. Another 17 T-60 tanks were concentrated in the woods 500 m to the South-East from the village of Drakino. In total, this unit had 27 T-60 tanks.

Some elements of the 1st Armored Division were engaged in the battle for Storozhevoye on 10th August. There, a poorly prepared attack led to the loss of 10 T-38s, of which 3 could not be recovered. Interestingly, these three abandoned Hungarian T-38 tanks (known by the Soviets as 38T) would be evacuated during the night of 10/11 August by the Soviet 260th Tank Battalion. The 1st Armored Division’s next action was the attempt to stop the Soviet attack near the city of Korotoyak. For this, elements from the 1st Armored Division were sent to support the Hungarian defensive.
The battle against Soviet forces resumed on 15th August, when the Hungarian forces managed to inflict on the Soviets the following losses: 3 knocked out M3 Stuarts, 3 burned and 3 knocked out T-60s, 1 knocked out 38T (reused by the Soviets) and one T-34, which took severe damage including a jammed turret and bent gun barrel.

The Hungarians also lost a Panzer IV and at least three T-38s. One of these T-38s was destroyed by a Soviet Sergeant, V. Panganis, who, after his 45 mm anti-tank gun was destroyed, took a few AT grenades and jumped under the tank, blowing himself and the Hungarian vehicle up. Two more Soviet tanks were destroyed by the end of the day, with the loss of three additional T-38s. One was destroyed by a Soviet T-34 and the remaining two, ironically, by German anti-tank fire. In the following days of harsh battle for Korotoyak, the Hungarian losses increased to 55 T-38s and 15 Panzer IVs. Of these numbers, some 35 vehicles were under maintenance and repairable. The 1st Armored Division was eventually pulled back from Korotoyak due to increased losses. The Germans provided the Hungarians with four Panzer Ausf. F2 tanks fitted with the longer 7.5 cm gun. By the end of August, the 1st Armored Division total strength was around 85 T-38s, 22 Panzer IVs and at least 5 Toldi tanks.

T-38 destroyed a T-34

At the start of September, the Hungarians made another attempt to crush the Soviet positions around Uryv-Korotoyak. The attack began on 9th September, supported by the German 168th Infantry Division and the 201st Assault Gun Detachment. As the Soviet positions were well defended, the attack was proceeding at a slow pace. A Hungarian Tank Battalion was sent to support the attack on the Soviet positions at Storozhevoye, which were defended by T-34 tanks. During the fighting, a T-38 commanded by Sergeant Janos Csizmadia came across a T-34 that was attacking the German rear positions. Sergeant Janos Csizmadia reacted quickly and fired at the T-34 at close range. The T-38’s 3.7 cm armor-piercing round managed to pierce the T-34’s rear armor and the tank exploded. This was one of the few occasions where the T-38’s weak gun managed to destroy a T-34. By the end of the day, Sergeant Janos Csizmadia, encouraged by this success, managed to personally destroy two enemy bunkers with hand grenades but also to capture at least 30 demoralized Soviet soldiers. For his action, he was awarded the Great Silver Medal for Bravery.

A T-38 driving through Hungary in the Spring of 1942. Source: Pinterest
A T-38 column. The front vehicle is a command tank. It can easily be identified by the lack of a hull machine gun. Source: unknown

Continuous battle for Uryv and Korotoyak

After two days of hard fighting, the Axis forces finally managed to capture the entirety of Storozhevoye on 11th September, with the further loss of two Hungarian T-38s. The Axis attacked the Soviet bunker positions in the Otitchiha hamlet.

A part of the Soviet 6th Army operational area map with the Otitchiha hamlet where the Hungarian Armored force was heavily engaged. Source: Archive file TSAMO, F 203, Op. 2843, D. 182 Major Semyonov, 6th Army

Because they were too well defended, the first attack was repulsed, with many Hungarian tanks being damaged or put out of action. The next day, the Axis forces attacked from another direction. As the heavy Soviet bunkers were immune to the 3.7 cm guns, the crews would often destroy these bunkers by using hand grenades. The attack eventually succeeded and the German 168th Infantry Division set up defensive positions there. The Soviets made a counter-attack supported by heavy KV-1 and T-34 tanks. The Hungarian tanks were ordered to resist this attack. The following engagement was mostly one-sided, as the Hungarian 3.7 cm guns proved useless during this combat. The desperate situation was later described by Corporal Moker in his diary.

“ …. We pushed ahead until we reached the Headquarters of the German Infantry… A Russian tank (KV-1C) appeared ahead of us from the wheat-field and opened heavy fire on us. Yet comrade Nyerges, our gunner, was quick to answer. He managed to gun superbly and we watched his moves trustfully. We retired a few meters and so did the enemy. Nyerges sent one tank-grenade after the other. He shook his head, something must have been wrong. He kept on loading and firing and we were stifling from the smoke. It seemed that we were unable to break the armor of that tank, its thick and slanting skin resisted everything, thus all our efforts were in vain. Nyerges stopped for a moment and took a deep breath. He was dripping with sweat. This helplessness was terrible! … In the meantime, the enemy tank retired. We started to hope. I could hear a terrible detonation and felt as if I was rising. I was struggling desperately to stand up and open the roof but my throat microphone’s cord held me back. Helping hands rescued me from my imprisonment, pulling me out by the arm. I fell in front of the vehicle. I felt a burning pain at the back of my head but I didn’t pay attention to it… “

Rear view of a Hungarian T-38. Source: Unknown

The same KV-1 destroyed another T-38 which was nearby. By the end of the day, the Hungarian losses were extensive and only 22 T-38s and 4 Panzer IVs were still operational. The Soviets lost 8 T-34 tanks and two KV-1s were damaged. Between 14th to 16th September, all Soviet counter-attacks were repulsed with losses of 18 T-34 and 6 KV-1 tanks. Some fell victim to Hungarian fire, but also to the firepower of German supporting assault guns. Nevertheless, on 16th September, the Hungarian 30th Tank Regiment had only 12 T-38s and 2 Panzer IVs operational.

By October 1942, in order to reinforce their Hungarian allies, the Germans provided them with 10 Panzer III Ausf. N tanks and 6 Panzer IV Ausf. F2 and G. The next larger engagement of the Hungarian armor with the Soviet happened on 19th October near Storozhevoye. The Hungarian tankers managed to destroy 4 Soviet tanks.

Advance of Hungarian T-38s through the Soviet Union in 1942. Source: https://www.ww2incolor.com/hungary/Hung_001.html

From that point on, the 1st Armored Division was put into reserve for rest and refurbishment. In December (or September depending on the source) 1942, the Germans supplied the Hungarians with five Marder II vehicles and at least three more Panzer 38(t) Ausf. C tanks. At the start of 1943, the Hungarian 1st Armored Division was put under direct German command, under the Cramer-Corps. At that time, the total armored strength of this unit consisted of 9 Panzer III Ausf. N, 8 Panzer Ausf. F2 and G, 8 Panzer IV Ausf. F1, 41 T-38s and the 5 Marder II tank destroyers. The Cramer-Corps, beside the Hungarian Armored Division, consisted of the 26th and 168th Infantry Divisions, the German 190th Assault Gun Detachment and 700th Armor Detachment. The commander of the Cramer-Corps was Major General Hans Cramer.

The Soviet Winter offensive

In mid-January 1943, the Soviets launched an offensive against the Hungarian positions and, after heavy losses, forced them to retreat. The Soviet tanks caused chaos in the Hungarian lines. The German 700th Armored Detachment (equipped with Panzer 38(t) tanks) was also decimated on the way. The Soviets then engaged the Hungarian 12th Field Artillery Regiment, which they destroyed, but the Soviets lost 9 tanks in the process. The low temperatures of -20 to -30°C also caused important losses to the Hungarians. Nevertheless, the Soviets were forced to stop their attack due to significant tank losses. During the Soviet offensive, many T-38s were blown up by their crews due to a general lack of fuel and breakdowns. For example, the 1st Tank Brigade alone had to blow up 17 T-38 tanks.

The fighting was extensive around the city of Alekseyevka (west of the Don river), which the Hungarian 1st Armored Division, with the help of the German 559th Anti-Tank Battalion, were ordered to take back. The attack began on 18th January 1943, and after heavy fighting, Alekseyevka was taken by the Axis forces. The next day, the Soviets made a counter-attack which was repelled with the loss of a T-34 destroyed by a Marder II and a T-60 destroyed by a Panzer IV. Despite their success, the Axis forces were forced to retreat out of Alekseyevka. On 21st January 1943, the Axis forces again managed to enter the western parts of the city of Alekseyevka. But the 1st Armored Division had to retreat and, on 25th January, reached Noviy Oskol. For the remainder of January and early February, the 1st Armored Division fought many hard battles with the advancing Soviets. During the fighting around the city of Korocha, the last operational T-38 was lost. Without ammunition, it was attacked by two T-60s and one T-34. By 9th February, the 1st Armored Division reached the river Donets and eventually reached Kharkov. Due to extensive losses, this division had to be pulled back from the front. The last remaining operational vehicles were two Marder II tank destroyers.

The remaining T-38s that managed to avoid destruction were mostly used in Hungary for crew training. They may have seen some more action during the Soviet advance towards Hungary by the war’s end, but in any case, these were already obsolete.

A small number of T-38s that survived the fighting around Stalingrad were used for crew training until the end of the war. Source: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/germany/tanks-2-3/panzer-38t/

In Russian hands

It appears that the Soviet 130th Tank Brigade, during their fighting with the Hungarian armed forces, managed to capture at least three T-38s tanks. The war diary of the Soviet 260th Tank Battalion (which was part of the 130th Tank Brigade) stated that, on 9th August 1942, the unit had three T-34, three M3 Light and fifteen T-60 tanks (21 operational tanks in total). On the same day, the battalion took up a defensive position at the edge of the forest northwards from Hills 171,6 and 195,5. By 18:00, the battalion, including tanks, was ‘fully entrenched’. Three T-34 tanks were allocated to defend the village of Miginevo. On the next day, 10 August, at 5:30 in the morning, the battle started with heavy shelling. At 9:00, the enemy put into action 27 tanks, but after losing 16 of them, the enemy was forced to retreat. The 260th Tank Battalion reported no losses during this engagement.

On the 10th August 1942, the Axis forces advanced in the area Storozhevoye – Hill 186,6. Multiple tank-infantry attacks were repulsed. The 260th Tank Battalion, acting as a part of the 24th Motor Rifle Brigade, defended an area in the South-Western part of the forest to West of the hamlet of Titchiha (Otitchiha). As a result of the engagement, the 260th Tank Battalion reported 1 enemy tank knocked out and 1 burned. Also, 25 enemy soldiers were reported as casualties.

The report also noted that First Lieutenant HOMENKO (originally ‘HOMENK’, one letter probably missing), commander of the tank company of the 260th Tank Battalion, ‘organized defense right’, which eventually helped to hold the ground. On the same day (10th August), the I/130 MSPB (Motostrelkovo-Pulemyotnyj Bataljon, Motor-Rifle Machine-Gun Battalion) took up a defensive position near the Hill 187,7 and also fought as a part of 24 Motor Rifle Brigade.

On the night of 10/11 August, the 260th Tank Battalion managed to evacuate from the battlefield 3 knocked-out 38T tanks. Two of them were repaired during the next day (11 August 1942) and put into Soviet service. On the 13th August, the 260th Tank Battalion had three T-34, three M3 Light, 15 T-60 and 2 captured 38T tanks (one of the 38Ts finished repair by 18:00 on the same day).

The Soviet forces on the 14th August received a verbal order to move during the night and concentrate in the area south-west of the village of Goldayevka. The task was to advance in the direction of Hill 160,2 – Goldayevka. The force allocated to that attack consisted of one T-34, three M3 Light, ten T-60 and the two captured 38Ts.

On the next day, 15th August, at 5:00, the 260th Tank Battalion arrived at the area of operations and reconnoitered it. At 6:00, the Battalion started to advance in the direction of Hill 160,2 keeping the line formation. After heavy fighting, the battalion commander reported that the enemy lost 4 anti-tank guns, 3 machine guns, 2 mortars and at least 25 soldiers and officers.

The 260th Battalion had lost two T-60 tanks, with one completely burned out. The second tank was recovered and repaired. The 260th Battalion managed to eventually capture Hill 160,2, but was later forced to retreat as it was lacking infantry support.

Another attack started at 15:30. The Battalion still possessed one damaged T-34, three M3, eight T-60 and one captured 38T. Again, the commander reported enemy losses as follows: 6 anti-tank guns, 2 mortars, 3 cars, and up to 100 enemy soldiers and officers. Soviet losses included at that time three knocked-out M3 (all later recovered), one knocked out 38T and one destroyed T-60 which was left on the battlefield. In the following attack, despite having infantry support, Hill 160,2 was not captured and Soviet forces fell back. At 18:00, the Battalion withdrew from the battle. Its War Diary mentioned another one 38T “destroyed and left on the battlefield” as well as stress, that ‘T-60s don’t fit to be used in the first line of attack’.

A page from the 260th Tank Battalion War Diary which mentions the fate of the 38T tanks. Source: War Diary of the 260th Tank Battalion. TsAMO, F 3107, Op. 1, D. 90, l. 66 (ob.)

This information could be corroborated with the 130th Tank Brigade report. According to that document, on the 15th August, the 260th Tank Battalion lost one of two operational 38T tanks during the first attack on Hill 160,2 which commenced at 7:00. The second 38T was lost during the next attack initiated at 15:30 in order to recapture the same hill.

Total claimed enemy losses at the end of the 15th August were 12 AT-guns, 3 cars, 4 mortars, 6 machine guns and more than 160 men and officers. Total Soviet losses were 5 men and officers killed in action, 1 severely damaged T-34, 3 knocked out M3 Light, 2 knocked out 38T and 6 T-60, of which 3 burned and 3 knocked out.

Report on the 130th Tank Brigade’s combat losses during the period from 1st August 1942 to 21st August 1942. One 38T (captured) listed as ‘burned’ Source: 130 Tank Brigade Combat Report. TsAMO, F 3107, Op. 0000001, D. 0006, l. 34

On 16 August, the 260th Tank Battalion had 5 T-34 (3 tanks in Migenevo) and 12 T-60 tanks. Most of them did not take part in the attacks on the previous day.

According to the 130th Tank Brigade report, on 16th August, the 260th Tank Battalion formed a Tank Company from remaining operational tanks. The Company had five T-34s, ten T-60s, three M3 Light and one 38T. Three days later, the Brigade still had one 38T but with a jammed turret.

According to the 6th Army report dated from 21st September 1942, one 38T (previously belonging to the 260th Tank Battalion) was to be allocated to the 3rd Barrier Troop (in essence an anti-retreat unit) Detachment which was stationed at Davidovska. In total, it seems that the Soviet units engaged in this area operated around three captured 38Ts captured from the Hungarian forces.

The Soviet 6th Army report, in which one T-38 was to be given 3rd Barrier Troop Detachment. Source: https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents

While the 260th Tank Battalion had three 38T tanks, only two were ever used. The fate of the last vehicle is unknown but it was either unusable or more likely simply cannibalized to get spare parts.

The Soviet Army did use some captured Panzer 38(t)/T-38 Source: http://wio.ru/tank/capt/capt.htm

Conclusion

The T-38s provided the Hungarians with means to equip their shattered armored forces after the hard battles of 1941. Over 100 were acquired but their performance was inadequate by the standards of 1942. While they did achieve some success, they simply did not have any chance against more modern Soviet armor.

Hungarian Panzer 38(t)
Panzer 38(t) Ausf.G, Royal Hungarian Army, 30th Tank Regiment, 6th Company – 1942, Don area, Russia.

Sources

D. Nešić, (2008), Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka, Beograd
C. Bescze (2007) Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II, STRATUS.
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
B. Adam, E. Miklos, S. Gyula (2006) A Magyar Királyi Honvédség külföldi gyártású páncélos harcjárművei 1920-1945, Petit Real
S.J.Zaloga (2013) Tanks of the Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941-45, New Vanguard.
N. Thomas and L. P. Szabo (2010) The Royal Hungarian Army in World War II, Osprey.
War Diary of the 260th Tank Battalion. TsAMO, F 3107, Op. 1, D. 90, ll. 64-67 (ob.)
130 Tank Brigade Combat Report. TsAMO, F 3107, Op. 0000001, D. 0006, ll. 30-34
Soviet 6th Army operational area map. TsAMO, F 203, Op. 2843, D. 182

The author would like to express special thanks To Alex Tarasov for providing translation and information from Russian sources!

Specifications

Dimensions 4.61 x 2.14 x 2.4 m
Total weight 9.8 tonnes
Crew Commander/Gunner, Loader, Driver and Radio operator
Propulsion Praga Type EPA 125 hp @ 2200 rpm, six-cylinder gasoline engine
Top speed 42 km/h, 20 km/h (cross country)
Range 250 km, 160 km (cross country)
Armament 29/44M. 80 mm (3.15 in) Bofors/DIMÁVAG L/58
2x 34/40AM. 8 mm (0.31 in) Gebauer machine guns
Armament, prototypes 3.7 cm KwK 38(t) L/48.8
2 x 7.92 mm MG 37(t)
Armor 8-50 mm
Elevation -10° to +25°
Categories
Hungarian tanks

40M/41M Turán

WW2 Tanks Hungary Hungary (1939-42) Medium tank – 424 built

The Czech S-II-c

As early as 1937, Škoda’s workshops began work on a new medium tank. This was an upgraded version of the successful LT vz. 35 light tank. This led to the assembly of two prototypes, designated S-II-c. But their construction dragged on until the Czech Republic was annexed by Nazi Germany, and the factory was taken over. As designed, the S-II-c weighed 16.5 tons, still light by medium tank standards, and equipped with a 47 mm (1.85 in) Škoda A9 vz. 38 gun, two machine guns (one coaxial with the gun, one in the hull).

The armor was improved to 30 mm (1.18 in), and the engine was upgraded to 13.8 liters, giving 250 hp (183.87 kW), providing a max speed in excess of 50 km/h (31 mph). After the German occupation and Škoda being controlled by the Waffenamt, both prototypes were redesignated T-21 and work was resumed. In turn, a new prototype, designated T-22, was given to Hungary in 1941. Hungarian engineers then devised a whole range of modifications.

Design: The Turán

The T-22 was completely overhauled, starting with the fitting of a new gun, of lesser caliber, but much higher velocity and faster reloading, the 40 mm (1.57 in) Škoda A17, which was also the main Hungarian anti-tank gun. Thus, ammunition supply was not a problem. More so, the armor was revised and new plates were bolted-on, giving a total thickness of 50 mm (1.97 in) instead of 30 mm (1.18 in), equivalent to the new upgraded versions of the Panzer III and IV. The weight rose to 18 tons. The design was largely based on the previous LT vz. 35, and the suspension was similar, with two sets of bogies on each side, each with four paired roadwheels, sprung by leaf springs.

There was also a single set of tender wheels at the front. The drive sprockets were also at the front, idlers at the rear. However, the upper part of the hull was completely rebuilt, with the rear engine compartment being roomier and better ventilated. There was also a brand new turret, large enough for three men, but lower than the LT vz. 35 turret. The entire hull was bolted and slightly longer. The tracks were enlarged and supported by five return rollers.

Production: The 40M Turán I

The Turán I was armed with the standard Hungarian anti-tank and anti-aircraft gun, which used Bofors ammunition, supplied by Sweden and already available in large stocks. With the added armor, the maximum speed was reduced to 47 km/h (29.2 mph). However, this armor was not sloped and presented near-flat surfaces to incoming rounds. Production started at the end of 1941 and ended in 1943, after 285 had been built. The factories involved were Weiss Manfréd (70), Magyar Waggongyár (70), Mávag (50) and Ganz from Budapest (45). By 1943, many Turán Is received spaced side skirts, similar to the German Schürzen system.

The 41M Turán II

The standard 40 mm (1.57 in) gun was completely inefficient against the Russian T-34 and KV-1. Hungarian designers attempted to mount a 75 mm (2.95 in) M41 short barreled gun, derived from the Bohler M18 field gun, on a prototype, in order to perform various tests on flat and sloped armors. The turret was enlarged to house the massive breech loading system and a special armored recoil piston was adapted to the gun. This made the turret interior cramped and crowded. New vents were designed to extract the massive fumes that followed the blast. The 41M Turán II first appeared in May 1943, was produced to an extent of 139 between 1943 and 1944, ending with the Soviet occupation of Hungary.

The 43M Turán III and Zrinyi I/II

The Turan III was the last, upgraded version, equipped with a derivative of the German 75 mm (2.95 in) KwK 40 L43 gun used on the Panzer IV Ausf. J, and a revised turret which integrated large side covers around the commander cupola. It was designed to receive side skirts from the start, which were also later mounted on Turán’s I/II. A single prototype was built in 1944, but the development was stopped as Panzer IVs were now supplied in large numbers. Another vehicle using this gun was an attempt to imitate the success of the German StuG, by using the chassis for a SPG.
Two were built using the same modified hull. The Zrinyi I, a tank hunter fitted with a local version of the KwK 40 L43, remained a prototype, since the Jagdpanzer 38(t) and other German tank hunters were available in sufficient numbers. The Zrinyi II was equipped with a short barrel 105 mm (4.13 in) MAVAG 40/43M L20.5 gun and improved protection (75 mm/2.95 in sloped glacis). 60 were built between 1943-44.

The Turán in action

All the Turán I/IIs built were used by the 1st and 2nd Hungarian Armored Divisions, but also the 1st Cavalry Division. They saw their first operational commitment early on in 1944, in Galicia, were they were completely outclassed by Russian T-34s and IS-1/2s. They failed to achieve their objectives and were butchered by the dozen. The 2nd Armored Division lost, in this counter-offensive, three quarters of its strength in a matter of hours. They also fought at Debrecen with the same results. The remnants tried to stop the Soviet advance towards Budapest or were simply abandoned on the spot. When the campaign was over in February 1945, the Soviets managed to capture many Hungarian tanks. One is now displayed at the Kubinka museum.

Links about the Turán

The Turan on Wikipedia
Global overview of Hungarian tanks – Wio.ru
Exhaustive information on Military Factory
The Turan on WWIIVehicles

Turán I specifications

Dimensions 4.55 x 2.44 x 2.39 m (14 x 8x 7.8 ft)
Maximum weight, battle ready 18.2 tons
Crew 5 (driver, commander, gunner, loader, co-gunner/radioman)
Propulsion Gasoline Manfred Weiss-Z, 260 hp (195 kW), 14 hp/ton
Top speed 47 km/h (29 mph)
Operational Range 165 km (102 mi)
Armament Main : 40 mm (1.57 in) Škoda A17
Secondary: 2x 7.92 mm (0.31 in) 38M Gebauer machine guns
Armor Maximum 50 mm (1.97 in)
Production (Turán I) 285

Turán I
A Turán I from the 1st Armored division, in basic sand livery, late 1942.
Turán I 1943
A Turán I from the 3rd Tank Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Armored Division, in 1943. Notice that the cross had been smeared with mud, like all other markings except the large national cross painted on the engine deck, intended for identification by friendly aircraft.
Turán II with sideskirts
A late 1944 Turán I with spaced armor, 2nd Armored Division, battle of Debrecen, August 1944.
Camouflaged Turán II
A camouflaged Turán II, 2nd Armored Division, Galicia campaign, 1944.
Turán I 1943
A Turán II from the 1st Armored Division in 1944.
Turán III
The Turán III prototype on trials, 1943. The spaced armor designed for it was used with regular Turáns.