Categories
WW2 Argentinian Armor

Tractor de Artillería a Orugas Yacaré

Argentinian armor Argentina (1944-Late 1940s)
Artillery Tractor – 18 Built

Argentina’s Artillery Mover

The Ejercito Argentino sought to speed up the mechanization of its force during the later part of the Second World War. Acquisition of new foreign equipment had been impeded by the necessities of the countries at war, so the Argentine Army decided to take matters in its own hands, and devised a small family of armored vehicles, including an artillery tractor. It had modest success, but much like other armored fighting vehicles developed by Argentina during the period, it was relegated to being a parade vehicle, and would soon be phased out in favor of more modern equipment available once the war had finished.

Argentina found itself stuck in the middle of an arms embargo during the later years of the Infamous Decade of the 1930s. President Roberto Marcelino Ortiz sought to establish ties with the Allies, but his political isolation due to the fascist tendencies of the military led to the adoption of neutrality. As a result, in this period, there was an inclination towards diplomacy with the Axis powers and neutral states, such as Switzerland. Germany had long held influence on Argentina, especially in military terms, supplying its cannons since the 1890s, which helped strengthen the country against its regional rivals.

However, the Army lacked armored vehicles, being stuck with 12 obsolete Vickers mod. 1934 light tanks armed only with machine guns, along with 6 Criollo and 6 Crossley mod. 1926 armored cars. This led to the construction of a series of vehicles which included the Tanque Mediano Nahuel [Eng. Medium Tank Nahuel], the Vehículo de Asalto de Infantería Vinchuca [Eng. Infantry Assault Vehicle Vinchuca], and the Tractor de Artillería a Orugas Yacaré [Eng. Yacaré Tracked Artillery Tractor] in the 1940s. They were an attempt to modernize the mechanized forces of the Army, but also subjects of national pride and independence, experimentation in armored vehicle design, and attempts to industrialize Argentina further, which sought expansion from its old economic model, mostly focused on exporting agricultural products.

Yacaré artillery tractor “R 81”, June 4th 1944. Source: zona-militar.com

Unlike the Nahuel, another of Lieutenant Colonel Alfredo Aquiles Baisi’s designs during the 1940s, the development of the Yacaré is obscure, mostly due to the low numbers produced, without much information available. Instead, most knowledge of the Yacaré has been obtained through surviving pictures that shed some light on the design choices utilized by Baisi and the Army.

Like its indigenously-designed contemporaries in the Argentine Army, the Yacaré was named after an animal endemic to Argentina. In this case, the yacaré is a species of caiman, and while it is generally non-aggressive, it is also more than capable of harming rodents and other small prey, much like the artillery tractor that takes its name.

A yacaré. Like the rest of the animals in Baisi’s AFV family, the vinchuca (kissing bug) and the nahuel (jaguar), it can be quite dangerous. Source: infocampo.com.ar

History and Development

On February 20th 1938, Roberto Marcelino Ortiz was elected President of Argentina after presidential elections that were tainted by fraud, part of the Infamous Decade which had begun with the 1930 coup d’état. The conservative-supported president sought to reverse the political turmoil through the use of reformist policies, opting for neutrality during the Second World War and engaging in protectionism to strengthen the Argentine industry. His presidency was hampered by health issues caused by type 2 diabetes and distrust of his liberal tendencies from his conservative colleagues. In 1940, Ortiz left the presidency in the hands of his vice president, Ramón Antonio Castillo, who, while seeking a return to conservative policies, continued the industrialization supported by his predecessor. Ortiz resigned on June 27th, 1942 due to blindness caused by his condition, followed by his death less than three weeks later, on July 15th, 1942.

On October 9th, 1941, with Ramón Castillo acting as president, Ley 12.709 [Eng. Law 12.709] was passed, arranging the creation of an indigenous military industry under the Dirección General de Fabricaciones Militares (DGFM) [Eng. General Directorate of Military Fabrications]. It was given control of military ordnance planning, mines to extract resources from, and the capacity to produce AFVs, small arms, and munitions. It would be responsible for the creation of the Nahuel tank, the Vinchuca troop transport, the Yacaré artillery tractor, the ALAM.1 machine gun, the FMK-3 submachine gun, the FARA-83 assault rifle, and the 75 mm and 105 mm Czekalski series of recoilless rifles.

Baisi had already been involved in the conversion of a few unspecified agricultural tractors into Vinchuca armored vehicles, which made him, in the eyes of the Army, the best candidate to create designs for the nascent industry. In 1943, along with Major Francisco A. Villamil and his team, Baisi received the task of designing a 35 tonnes medium tank. Forty-five days later, the team built a 1:1 wooden mock-up, designated “251”, of the future Nahuel tank.

Wooden mock-up of the Nahuel tank, which is not “251”.  Note the tractor’s suspension, which appears to be the same as the TD-35 the Yacaré is based on. Source: reportedebatalla.wordpress.com

The Yacaré appears to have been conceived around the same time as the Nahuel. Both the mock-up of the Nahuel and the Yacaré utilized the same model of tractor as a base, being the chassis chosen for experimentation by the Argentine Army, of which 30 models were imported. Taking into account the Vinchuca’s use of agricultural tractors for conversion into AFVs, it is also possible that the Yacaré was based on the design of the Vinchuca.

The modification of the tractor was carried out in the Esteban De Luca Arsenal in San Cristóbal, Buenos Aires, and according to archives 18 were produced, with known serial numbers “R 81”, “R 82”, and “R 83”. The Yacaré was revealed to the public in an Army Exposition on June 4th, 1944, along with the Nahuel. There are pictures available of the same Army Exposition where the Nahuel and Yacaré were displayed to the public.

However, there are sourcing issues with the date of the exposition, given that there are some misdated pictures of a parade that would have taken place on the same day. The Nahuel models shown in the parade are of a later type that lacked two of the glacis-mounted machine guns and featured a new vision block for the driver, introduced around 1947, during the first presidency of Juan Domingo Perón.

The June 4th, 1944 Army Exposition. Notice the sign commemorating the coup d’état and the newly built vehicles. This is more akin to an exposition than the parade pictures which allegedly happened the same day. Source: zona-militar.com
Higher resolution version of the poster. Written in Spanish, the poster says “Exposition in the Plaza de la República”, “One year of the government work of the revolution”, and “Ministry of the Interior”. Source: reportedebatalla.wordpress.com

The reason for this mistake is the scarcity of images on both vehicles, as Nahuel pictures are rare, and those of the Yacaré even more so. The parade happened during or after 1947 and the modernization of the Nahuel tank. The Yacarés also participated, towing 20 mm Oerlikon autocannons. Interestingly, during these events, no Vinchucas were apparently present, which had most likely already been scrapped or modified into Yacarés before they were shown off to the public. These are the last known whereabouts of the Yacaré, as after this parade, they faded into obscurity.

Three Yacarés on parade, the date is often labeled as June 4th, 1944, but the correct date is around or after 1947. It was shown alongside the Nahuel and various Crusader SPGs in the same event. Source: zona-militar.com

Alfredo Aquiles Baisi

Lieutenant Colonel Alfredo Aquiles Baisi was a second-generation Italian immigrant born in 1902, the son of Captain Adolfo Vincenzo Baisi, an officer in the Royal Italian Army, and his wife, Carlota Allende. His brother was Oscar Baisi, who entered the Argentine Navy.

Lieutenant Colonel Adolfo Vincenzo Baisi, father of the creator of the Nahuel, Alfredo Aquiles Baisi. Source: Blindados de Argentina, Uruguay y Paraguay, Ricardo Sigal Fogliani.
Major Adolfo Baisi, the epigraph describes him as the inventor of the artillery slide ruler (in Argentine service). Source: foro.aacvm.com.ar

Adolfo Baisi was born in the latter half of the 19th Century in Alvito, Italy. He graduated from the Accademia Militare di Modena [Eng. Military Academy of Modena], and enlisted in the Royal Italian Army, being promoted to the rank of Captain. Attracted by America, he emigrated to Uruguay, where he would work as a Professor of Mathematics, Greek, and Latin. When he arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Adolfo Baisi joined the Argentine Army and revalidated his rank as Captain, working as an Artillery and Ballistics Officer, introducing mathematics and statistics into his discipline. In Cordoba he met Carlota Allende, marrying her and having two children. He remained in the Army for years before retiring and ending his career as a professor in the Colegio Militar de la Nación [Eng. National Military College], with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Lieutenant Colonel Alfredo Baisi. Source: militariarg.com. Colorization by Smaragd123.

Alfredo Baisi followed in his father’s footsteps, with the first recorded event of his career being his role as a military attaché for the Argentine Embassy in the USA. He introduced indirect fire into the artillery units, and designed the outfits for Argentine Army tankers and infantry in 1935. German influence permeated the Argentine Army since the early 20th century, determining political affiliations, weapons, uniforms, and parades, which reflected in his own choices for the newly-made uniform, which sported Stahlhelm-style helmets and tunics inspired by the summer Wehrmacht outfit.

Baisi’s power began to grow, and he represented his country in the Inter-American Defense Board, created on March 30th 1942, with Argentina as a founding member. He held the position of director of Arsenal Esteban de Luca and Subsecretario de Industria y Comercio [Eng. Under Secretary of Industry and Commerce]. He also became Interventor de la Dirección Nacional de Vialidad [Eng. Interventor of the National Traffic Direction], which gave him the task of examining documents, accounting books, and inventories to inform the Tribunal de Cuentas [Eng. Court of Accounts], which had the task of approving the DNV’s budgets.

The crew of a Vickers mod. 1934 wearing Baisi’s tanker uniform. Some tankers also utilized the regular mod. 1935 infantry helmet. There is a notable German influence in the uniforms. Source: foro.aacvm.com.ar
The outfit designed by Baisi for tanker use. Source: militariarg.com

Baisi was one of the original founders of the GOU or Grupo de Oficiales Unidos [Eng. United Officers’ Group] alongside Juan Domingo Perón, which overthrew Ramón Castillo’s presidency in the country’s second coup d’état in 1943.

By 1944, Baisi held the rank of lieutenant colonel and had opposed Perón, who was not yet president, when he decided to cut diplomatic ties with the Axis powers. This disagreement led to Baisi’s support of Colonel Luis César Perlinger, along with a few officers, in a power struggle with Perón for political leadership in anticipation of the next democratic period in Argentina. The incident led the Peronist government ordering his retirement from the Army in 1950 before he could be promoted to general.

During the next years, he was involved in scientific magazines as a publisher and researcher, developing a calculator for indirect fire for the Argentine artillery. He passed away aged 73 in 1975. He had one son, also named Adolfo Baisi, who worked as an engineer.

Design

The vehicle was fully tracked, based on the TD-35 tractor produced by the International Harvester Company from 1937 to 1939, of which the Argentine Army acquired 30 units.

Two TD-35 tractors in front and behind a Nahuel hull in the Esteban De Luca Arsenal. Source: zona-militar.com
An International Harvester Company TD-35. Source: cfgphoto.com

The TD-35 weighed 4.785 tonnes, and the Yacaré was significantly heavier, at 8 tonnes. Unlike contemporary tractor-tank designs, the design was not crude, and it was composed of welded armor plates, indicating that it was not an improvised vehicle, and of superior quality to comparable designs, such as the Sutton Skunk. The only exceptions were the armor plates, which included the front grill, which were riveted to the side plates.

The suspension was also armored with a side skirt, the sides had ventilation grills for engine cooling, while the roof was open-topped. The absence of an exhaust on top of the tractor is noticeable, which indicates that it was either cut off or repositioned elsewhere. It was equipped with a trench-crossing roller in front of its tracks and two headlights placed in front of the machine guns, the same model the Nahuel used. Similar to the Nahuel, which had a jaguar design on its hull’s side, the Yacaré had a yacaré caiman painted in a similar position.

A colorized Yacaré. The drawing of the yacaré caiman can be clearly appreciated. Source: militariarg.com

For the crew, there was a seat for the driver in the center and two seats to the sides for machine gunners. It could tow an Oerlikon 20 mm L/70 on a two-wheeled trailer. It is possible it would have been able to carry heavier armament, for example, the Bofors 40 mm L/60, which had been available since 1938 and was shown off in the June 4th Exposition.

A Yacaré tractor with its towed anti-aircraft gun in the 1944 Army Exposition. The drawing of a caiman, a yacaré, with an open mouth can be seen at the side, near the engine grills. The trench crossing roller is visible in front of the tracks. The number is not clear, but it appears to be “R 81”. Source: Fogliani, Blindados Argentinos

Armor

The TD-35 was initially produced with a metal shell that would have provided inadequate protection for an artillery tractor, instead, the Army chose to upgrade it with a new armored hull, which gave extra protection to the crew and the engine. Unlike the earlier Vickers mod. 1934 tank, it was almost fully welded, and changes were done to enlarge the body of the tractor and widen it, with the tracks sitting below the hull. The front had a flat, exposed grill riveted to the side armor, with the driver’s cabin and the machine gunners being protected by a sloped sheet of armor, angled at 45°. This is where armor would have been the thickest, at 12.7 mm. This meant that at best, it had 18 mm of line-of-sight armor thickness, which would have protected the crew from small arms fire.

The sides were flat, with grills covering the engine area, and the side skirts were close to the same thickness. The crew was exposed, but considering the tractor’s role as an artillery mover, this was not much of a problem. The back was where armor was thinnest, at 5 mm or even thinner.

The entire up-armoring of the Yacaré, minus the machine guns, which weighed 10.5 kg, added 3.194 tonnes, which seems to confirm that the armor was no thicker than 10 mm. This did not protect the open front grill though, which would have been very vulnerable to enemy fire. Even so, the rest was merely shrapnel and small arms fire resistant.

Mobility

As the Yacaré was a modified tractor, it kept the same transmission as the TD-35, an International Harvester Torque Amplifier. The sliding gear transmission had 6 gear shifts, 5 forward and 1 reverse, with the five-speed ratios, in order, being 1.8, 2.3, 2.8, 3.3, 4, and for the reverse, 2.3. The tracks were relatively wide for a tractor of its size, 16 inches or 40.64 cm in width, decreasing ground pressure and allowing it to withstand the extra weight of the armor, weaponry, and crew.

The suspension and tracks of a TD-35. Source: pinterest.com

The engine was an International Harvester diesel engine, with 4 cylinders, 6.8 l of displacement, liquid cooling, 49.2 l of coolant capacity, and an overhead valve design. Its output was 42.2 horsepower at 1,100 rpm, with 37.09 drawbar horsepower, and it allowed the TD-35 to tow a load of 3739 kg, easily enabling it to tow the larger Bofors 40 mm L/60, weighing 522 kg, and the Bofors 75 mm L/40, weighing 1,435 kg. Even with the added weight of the Yacaré armor, it was an effective artillery mover for the Argentine Army’s needs, only struggling with the largest artillery pieces at their disposal, such as the Schneider 155 mm L/30 mod. 1928.

While the TD-35 was outfitted with return rollers, it appears to have had an unsprung suspension, which did not do much to help its off-road capabilities, and while the Yacaré’s could have been improved from the TD-35, it is rather unlikely that it was worth the effort. The power to weight ratio for a TD-35 was 8.82 hp/tonne, and the top speed would have been low, around 20 km/h. The Yacaré was heavier and the power to weight ratio would have been a rather poor 5.28 hp/tonne, lowering the top speed even further.

Armament

The gunners to each side of the driver were provided with one Madsen 11.35×62 mm machine gun each for anti-infantry use. The Madsens were already used by the predecessors of the Argentine Air Force in their Curtiss H-75O Hawk fighters and Ae.MB Bombi light bombers. It was an enlarged version of the regular 7.65 mm Madsen machine gun, fitted with spade grips and belt fed, as used in the Yacaré, but there were variants fitted with regular box magazines.

A spade grip Madsen heavy machine gun. The mounting appears to point to its usage in aeronautic duties. Source: zona-militar.com

The 11.35 mm Madsen machine guns gave the Yacaré a limited anti-tank capability. Nonetheless, they were helpful against the limited armored forces of Argentina’s neighboring countries, of which the only tank that offered enough protection from the Madsen at all ranges at the time was the LTP in use in Peru. It had a cyclic rate of fire of 900 rpm, a barrel length of 750 mm, and a weight of 15.9 kg when fully loaded with 100 rounds of 11.35 mm ammunition.

Kynoch was the main manufacturer of 11.35×62 mm ammunition through most of the Madsen’s service history with the Argentine Army, but from 1940 to 1946, it was manufactured by the Fabrica Argentina Militar de Municiones y Armas Portátiles [Eng. Argentine Military Factory of Munitions and Firearms], which would later be integrated into DGFM. Two million rounds of ammunition were produced by FAMMAP, of which there were Ball, Armor Piercing, and Incendiary Tracer variants. The shells weighed 19.83 g, and they were fired at a muzzle velocity of 850 m/s. Using AP rounds, it had a penetration of approximately 20 mm of RHA at 10 m.

From top to bottom: Ball, Armor Piercing, and Incendiary Tracer varieties of 11.35×62 mm ammunition. Both Kynoch and FAMMAP produced these variants. Source: old.municion.org
Madsen HMG (11.35×62 mm)
Projectile and Type Velocity Weight Filler Fuze Penetration (10 m at 0°)
Ball ~850 m/s 19.76 g None None Unknown
AP 850 m/s 19.83 g None None 20 mm
I-T ~850 m/s 19.76 g 5.76 g None Unknown

The Oerlikon 20 mm L/70 mod. 1938, the only artillery piece seen towed by the Yacaré in pictures, can easily be confused with the Bofors 40 mm L/60 mod. 38 also obtained around the same time, but the 20 mm cannon was much smaller and manned by one crew member instead of two. Switzerland donated 175 cannons to Argentina, which were of the earlier Oerlikon SS variety. Strangely, the only images in this time period of the Oerlikon that have survived were the ones in which it was towed by the Yacaré.

The most detailed picture currently available of the 20 mm Oerlikon in Argentine service. Source: zona-militar.com

Chambered in 20×110 mm RB Oerlikon, the gun had a cyclic rate of fire of 450 rpm, weighed 68.04 kg, and had a muzzle velocity of 820 m/s. While ammunition was produced by Argentina for the cannon, it was only produced from 1972 onwards, so all rounds utilized in the 1940s were foreign-made. Due to the Allied embargo put in effect against Argentina, the sources of ammunition were either Swiss or German. It is possible armor-piercing rounds were provided, and the projectiles weighed between 232 and 250 g.

Representation of a Swiss HE 20×110 mm RB round. Source: deviantart.com/claveworks
German 20×110 mm shells. The round in the bottom seems very similar to the Swiss round. Source: ordnanceandmilitaria.com

Vinchuca

Before the Nahuel and the Yacaré were completed, a predecessor was designed, also built by Baisi, the Vehículo de Asalto de Infantería Vinchuca [Eng. Infantry Assault Vehicle Vinchuca]. It followed the same idea as the Yacaré, designed as an infantry carrier based on an agricultural tractor. Sources vary on the model of tractor utilized, with candidates being “English tractors”, the TD-35, or impossibly, the Nahuel chassis, which at the very least would not be manufactured until two years later. Due to the TD-35’s use as a Nahuel mock-up, it was likely the tractor model used as a base. Other rumors suggest that it was equipped with the same Madsen machine guns, or even mounted the Oerlikon 20 mm.

No images seem to have remained of the Vinchuca, but there is an outlier to the 18 Yacarés manufactured. Unlike the rest of the Yacarés, “R 83” does not appear to have headlights, Madsen machine guns, or the yacaré painted on its side. Whether it was still ongoing construction or not is unknown, but as its serial number and the Argentine roundel were already painted on, the lack of any animal appears to point towards being an earlier version, possibly even a prototype Yacaré or a Vinchuca awaiting conversion into a Yacaré.

Yacaré number “R 83” in construction. The Madsen machine guns, headlights, roller, and the Yacaré painted on the side are missing. Note the number was moved to the upper part of the front plate. Source: militariarg.com

Conclusion

The Yacaré did not survive for long, as it was discarded in favor of newer, more powerful M4 High Speed Tractors purchased extremely cheaply by Argentina after the Second World War. It was a step in the right direction for a nation that did not have an industry strong enough to manufacture more modern equipment, and for all its faults, it was a worthy effort, although overshadowed by the more successful and recognized Nahuel.

Unfortunately, the brief period of stability in the country could not last, and with Baisi stepping away from his role in AFV design, the following years, further affected by Juan Domingo Perón’s lack of experience with industrialization and protectionism, led to an early death for the Argentine tank industry. It would be decades later, in the 1960s, when Argentina picked up the idea of building indigenous AFVs again, and even more time would have to pass until Argentina began the construction of vehicles capable of moving artillery, with the TAM VCA built in 1990.

The M4 High Speed Tractor in Argentine service. It was large, it could carry the anti-air M1A1 90 mm cannon, and it replaced the Yacaré in the artillery tractor role. Source: militariarg.com

There are no records of the Yacaré’s performance or its use apart from the publicly shown parades and expositions, but from what information is available, it most likely fulfilled its role well, being able to move the artillery pieces and anti-tank guns the Argentine Army had at its disposal at the time effectively. However, the mobility issues from the up-armoring and the underpowered engine would have made its use complicated for the Army. In addition, it might not have been able to carry its own ammunition, and might have been unable to carry additional crew if it had to tow any cannon other than the Oerlikon. The Oerlikon 20 mm cannons saw use far after being taken out of Swiss service, with Argentine 20×110 mm RB ammunition being manufactured as late as 1981.

The Yacaré artillery tractor, the animal motif at the side is speculative, based on the few low-quality images available. An illustration by AMX-13.

Sources

Ricardo Jorge S. Fogliani, Blindados Argentinos, de Uruguay y Paraguay.
DIA, Small Caliber Ammunition Identification Guide, Volume 2, 20-mm to 40-mm cartridges.
Ricardo Jorge S. Fogliani, Nahuel DL 43.
Georg V. Rauch, El Tanque Nahuel DL-43.
https://www.zona-militar.com/foros/threads/tanque-nahuel-dl-43.5777/page-7
https://www.jensales.com/International-Harvester-McCormick-Deering-TD-35-Tractor-Data_p_116362.html
https://www.zona-militar.com/2020/05/13/el-tractor-de-artilleria-argentino-yacare/
https://www.tractordata.com/farm-tractors/003/4/2/3420-mccormick-deering-td-35.html
https://tractors.fandom.com/wiki/McCormick-Deering_TD-35
https://www.zona-militar.com/2020/08/23/los-antiaereos-bofors-40mm-l-60-argentinos/
http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/15000-19999/19622/norma.htm
http://www.argentinahistorica.com.ar/intro_cronica.php?tema=6&titulo=38&subtitulo=173
https://www.forosegundaguerra.com/viewtopic.php?t=22329&p=431619
http://www.militariarg.com/tanks-support-combat-self-propelled-artillery-mech-infantry-armored-cavalry-and-other-recce-engineering-and-recovery-vehicles.html
https://web.archive.org/web/20070213224602/https://europa1939.com/documentos/tanqueargen.html
https://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/o/ortiz_roberto_maria.htm
https://tractor-data.com/mccormick-deering-td-35/
https://es.topwar.ru/86640-nauel-tank-dlya-bednyh.html
http://www.militariarg.com/uniforms–field-gear.html
https://www.cascoscoleccion.com/argentin/arg18.html
https://www.zona-militar.com/foros/threads/viejas-ametralladoras-de-la-fuerza-a%C3%A9rea-argentina.20386/
https://www.fm.gob.ar/index.php/unidades-de-negocios/
http://old.municion.org/Madsen/11x62Madsen.htm
https://desarrolloydefensa.blogspot.com/2008/04/el-can-oerlikon-20-mm-ejrcito-argentino.html
http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/WNUS_2cm-70_mk234.php
https://ordnanceandmilitaria.com/20mm-ammo
http://www.navsource.org/archives/01/57u.htm
http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/25000-29999/25716/norma.htm

Yacaré Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.66 x 1.52 x 1.22 m (12.00 x 4.98 x 4.00 ft)
Total Weight, Battle Ready 8 tonnes
Crew 3 (Driver and 2 Gunners)
Propulsion International Harvester diesel engine, 4 cylinders, 42.2 hp at 1100 rpm
Speed Roads: Around 15 km/h
Range Unknown
Power to weight ratio 5.275 hp/tonne
Suspension Unsprung
Transmission gearing 5 forward (1-2-3-4-5): 1.8, 2.3, 2.8, 3.3, 4.0
1 reverse: 2.3
Fuel capacity 151.4 L (40 gal)
Ground clearance Unknown
Trench crossing capability Around 2 m (est.)
Armament Primary: Oerlikon 20 mm L/70 mod. 1938
Secondary: 2 x Madsen 11.35 mm HMG
Elevation and traverse (Madsen HMG) 70° traverse (est.), 0 – 80° elevation
(Oerlikon 20mm) 360° traverse, -5 – 87° elevation
Gunsight Mechanical/Iron Sights
Ammunition capacity Unknown
Armor 12.7 mm
Communication None
Production 18
Categories
WW2 Argentinian Armor

Nahuel DL. 43

Argentinian armor Argentina (1943-1950s)
Medium Tank – 12-16 Built

Argentina is known in military circles for being one of the few South American states having in its arsenal a domestically-built tank, the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM), which has spawned a family of vehicles including Self-Propelled Guns, rocket launchers, and ambulances, all based on the same chassis. However, less well-known is a similar idea which dates back to 1943 – the Nahuel DL 43.

Context – A Tumultuous Country

Between 1916 and 1930, Argentina was governed by different brands of the ‘Radicals’ of Unión Cívica Radical, which, despite introducing some progressive measures, were also responsible for some of the most brutal repressions of worker and student movements. During this time, Argentina acquired its first military vehicle, the Model 25 Vickers Crossley armored car.

By 1930, economic stagnation and constant political violence would lead to the first of the many military coups which would hamper Argentina’s progress. The following period is remembered as ‘the infamous decade’ and was characterized by corruption and political persecution. The regime had deep fascist sympathies and the army’s appearance became very similar to that of Germany. In 1937, Argentina acquired a number of Vickers Carden-Loyd Model 1934 light tanks from Britain, intended to be used as training vehicles in preparation for acquiring bigger and more powerful tanks. The initial plan to buy a number of LT vz. 38’s from Czechoslovakia was scuppered by the Munich Agreement (1938). Argentina was unable to procure tanks from its traditional vendor, Britain, nor its ideological associate, Germany. With the eruption of the Second World War, Argentina’s pro-Nazi sympathies were not approved of by the USA, thus leading to a short period of political isolation and making the importation of foreign tanks impossible. A local solution therefore had to be found.

Alfredo Aquiles Baisi

Lieutenant Colonel Alfredo Aquiles Baisi was a second-generation Italian immigrant with a distinguished career. From a military family, he had been a military attaché to the Argentinian mission to the USA. He would go on to design the uniform for Argentinian tank crewmen and had overseen the modification of some tractors into assault vehicles named ‘Vinchuca’.

In 1942, the Argentinian regime passed Ley 12.709, a law which created the Dirección General de Fabricaciones Militares [Eng: General Directorate for Military Manufacturing]. This institution was tasked with organizing different industries across the country for the production of a domestic tank to fulfill the role of main armored vehicle in the Argentinian armored forces. In 1943, the Directorate gave the job of building a 35-tonne (38.5 tons) tank to Baisi.

Alfredo Aquiles Baisi in his military uniform. Source: www.taringa.net

Development and Prototype

Remarkably, Baisi and his team were able to deliver a 1:1 scale wooden model, designated ‘251’, within forty-five days.

The wooden model was considered satisfactory and the relevant authorities asked for a prototype. Work on this prototype, and presumably the wooden model too, took place at the Esteban de Luca Arsenal in Boulogne Sur Mer, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The prototype, numbered ‘C 252’, short of its turret, was finished after two months work and shown to impressed military authorities at the arsenal where it was being built. Not long afterward, it was tested in front of a crowd including the President and other civilian and military leaders. The results were favorable enough for a production series to be requested.

Allegedly, according to some of the sources, Baisi’s dream was to create a family of military vehicles based on the Nahuel chassis.

Design

Regarding the design and vehicle specifications, it is worth noting that these are as stated in the secondary sources popularised by authors such as Ricardo Sigal Fagliani. These are prone to exaggerations and chauvinistically overstate the abilities of Argentinian produced vehicles and Argentina’s capabilities in general. Alternatively, the original specification may have been incorrectly recorded by some author and then the mistake has been passed on as the correct data over the years. Because of this, specifications must be taken with a pinch of salt.

External Appearance and Armor

Despite claims by Argentine military authorities that the Nahuel was an indigenous project which was not inspired by any foreign tank, in appearance, it resembled an M4 Sherman and M3 Lee/Grant hybrid. The front of the tank consisted of a flat inclined plate forming a beak at the front where it met the bottom plate. At some point, presumably between 1947 and 1948, a slit with a sliding panel was retrofitted on the frontal plate to improve the driver’s vision. There was a headlight on each side of the front of the tank just above the tracks.

Two Nahuels on parade. In the page this photo has been taken from, it is labelled as being taken on a parade in July 1944, though this cannot be the case. Other photos in 1944 show the Nahuel with the twin machine guns in the front of the hull, whereas in this photo, they have been removed. Additionally, the vision slit for the driver can be seen in both Nahuels and these were not added until about 1947 or 1948. Source: www.militariarg.com

The frontal armor was 80 mm (3.1 in) thick, which according to some sources was the same thickness on the sides and the turret, though this seems unlikely, and the bottom and rear were 25 mm (0.9 in) thick. The armor was welded and riveted and made out of homogenous nickel steel. The steel plates were of good quality, although at first several US reporters had claimed that the tank’s armor had been made using scrap metal from old warships.

However, it is worth noting that according to the sources, the vehicle had roughly the same dimensions and weight as the M4 Sherman, yet supposedly had more armor on the side of its hull and side of its turret. This is very unlikely if not impossible: either the vehicle weighted substantially more or the armor on its sides and turret was not as thick as the sources claim.

The turret turned 360º and was cast in one piece. Inside was the turret basket which housed the commander, gunner (right), and loader (left). In front of the turret, at the top of the roof of the hull, were two entry and exit hatches. At the top of the turret was a two-piece hatch for the commander.

Carried on the sides of the Nahuel were a number of tools, such as shovels and pickaxes, among others.

Undercarriage and Suspension

The track system consisted of three suspension bogies per side, with two wheels at the bottom and a return roller at the top, basically, a Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS) as seen on the M4 Sherman. Additionally, each side had two extra return rollers at the top, a drive sprocket wheel at the front and an idler wheel at the back. The tracks had seventy-six individual steel links on each side.

Edited photo focusing on the Nahuel’s undercarriage showing the VVSS suspension. Source and edit: www.militariarg.com

Armament

The main armament of the Nahuel was the Krupp 1909 Model 75 mm gun. The Dirección General del Ejército [Eng: General Army Directorate] had initially made ten available from stocks, though there were many more in depots, some of which had never been used and were still boxed. The gun itself weighed 130 kg (287 lb).

The 75 mm Krupp gun had a maximum range of 7,700 m (8,420 yds) and was able to fire ten rounds per minute. There was a plan to replace this gun with the Bofors Model 1934 75 mm gun which had a higher muzzle velocity, though it never materialized.

Initially, secondary armament consisted of four machine guns. One 12.7 mm (.50 Cal) was placed coaxially and three 7.63 mm Madsens in the front plate, one slightly to the left of the right track and two placed centrally. In 1948, the two central machine guns were removed, as they were impractical and of limited use.

Interior

The interior was divided into three sections: front, middle/combat section, and rear/engine compartment. The front section housed the driving mechanisms (transmission and steering gear) and radio. The driver was seated to the left, whilst the radio operator, who was also the machine gunner, was on the right. The radio was locally manufactured by Dirección Material de Comunicaciones del Ejército [Eng: Army’s Communications Material Directorate] but was based on a Telefunken model. All crewmembers could communicate with each other by means of phono-electric circuits.

Behind the driving compartment, in the middle section, were the commander, gunner, and loader, all having to share the space in the turret. The Nahuel’s ammunition was stored in containers in the turret ring. Discarded shells were also placed in these containers, but always at a safe distance from the live rounds, as the heat of the discarded shells could set the live ones off. With three crew members, the main gun breech, a heavy machine gun and ammunition, it is worth re-evaluating the sources’ claim that the turret was 80 mm thick all round, the same thickness as the turret on the Tiger I.

Internally, there was central heating, ventilation, gas ejectors, and hand weapons for the crew.

Engine

The engine on the Nahuel was a modified aircraft Lorraine-Dietrich 12 E.B. 12 cylinder V-shaped engine, also known as the Lorraine 12E Courlis. In normal conditions, the engine had an output of 450 hp, but back in 1931-32, the engines had been modified by Fábrica Militar de Aviones [Eng: Military Aircraft Factory] to an output of 500 hp. The engine had a carburetor fuel system, ran on petrol (gasoline), had a liquid cooling system, and was ventilated by a fan. This engine was most likely taken from the Bréguet 19 aircraft Argentina had in service. The tank had a top-speed of 40 km/h (25 mph) and range of 250 km (155 mi).

The hydraulic gearbox had four forward gears and one reverse, and was built by the small Pedro Merlino mechanical workshop just outside Buenos Aires.

Color Scheme and Markings

The Nahuel was painted entirely in olive earth brown.

On each side of the turret was a sky blue and white roundel, above which was written in white ‘Ejército Argentino’ [Eng: Argentinian Army]. Underneath, also in white, was written ‘Agrup. Patag.’, short for Agrupación Patagónica [Eng: Patagonia Group]. Originally, on a number of vehicles which had paraded Buenos Aires in 1944, the bottom writing was ‘Escl. Bl. Cdo.’, short for Escuela Blindados Comando.

On either side of the rear of the hull and on the right side of the upper rear plate were identification numbers written in white consisting of a superscript lower-case ‘c’ and a number, for example ‘c 130’. On the side of the hull, above the first road wheel, ‘D.L. 43’ was written in white and, just behind this, a picture of a tiger or a jaguar.

Rear side view of Nahuel ‘c 73’ at the exhibition held in Buenos Aires to commemorate the first anniversary of the 1943 Revolution. Note the ‘c 73’ written at the side and rear of the vehicle. Also note the jaguar painted towards the front of the hull side. The photo quality does not allow to fully appreciate the roundel on the side of the turret. Source: www.fundacionsoldados.com.ar

Production and Numbers Built

After the first prototype had been constructed, a short series was ordered. A total of eighty different state and private enterprises collaborated on producing different parts for the tank and all branches of the armed forces provided assistance. For example, the Air Force supplied the aforementioned engines, whilst the Navy contributed the communications system, which Oscar Baisi, Alfredo Baisi’s bother, had helped to develop and offered their armor laboratory for different tests.

There is some discrepancy among sources on the exact number of vehicles built. Most commonly, twelve is the accepted amount, though Ricardo Sigal Fogliani, who has written extensively about the vehicle and has had some access to official documentation, claims that as many as sixteen were built. Other sources do state, however, that only twelve were completed and that an additional four were never finished, meaning that both numbers could be correct. Sigal Fogliani asserts that a 1950 army inventory indicates the availability of thirteen Nahuel.

Name

The background of the vehicle’s name is one of myths and contentious truths. The vehicle was officially designated ‘Tanque Nahuel Modelo Baisi 1945’, after its creator, by the Argentine military authorities in the Military Bulletin No. 210 of June 26th 1944. However, it is more commonly known as Nahuel DL 43 or more simply as just Nahuel.

Nahuel means tiger, puma, or jaguar in the Mapudugun language of the native Araucanian Mapuche people who inhabited parts of modern Argentina in pre-Columbian times. It is not exactly known why this name was chosen. There are two versions of the same story: 1. According to US intelligence reports which were somehow acquired by the Argentines, Argentina was referred to as a ‘lion without teeth’, alluding to its great capacity but poor military; and 2. In a US communiqué to Brazil outlining potential plans for an invasion of Argentina if it were to steer to closely to the Axis powers, which was allegedly intercepted by German spies and then passed on to Argentina, it said that Brazil should be confident as ‘the tiger [Argentina] does not have any teeth’. Both versions seem unlikely as either variation of the feline not having teeth are not common sayings or idioms in the English language. This story may just be a product of chauvinistic propaganda, which is not uncommon for the place and period, and the exact reasons for choice of name remain unclear.

The ‘DL’ in the name is also a product of much speculation. Allegedly, when the tank project was presented to de facto President Edelmiro Julián Farrell, he enthusiastically responded shouting “¡Déle, déle nomás!”, roughly translating to ‘go ahead without hesitation’. ‘Déle’ in Spanish sounds very much like ‘DL’. This is highly unlikely.

Lastly, the number 43 in the name most probably refers to the year the project began, 1943, but some have claimed that the 43 was chosen in honor of the year of the 1943 Revolution.

Service History

On June 4th 1944, on the first anniversary of the 1943 Revolution which had ended the ‘Infamous Decade’ and had given rise to Juan Domingo Perón, two engine-less Nahuels (numbers ‘c 73’ and ‘c 74’) were placed in a commemorative exhibition on the Buenos Aires Avenida 9 between Sarmiento and Cangullo streets. One of the highlights for visitors was when the two tanks fired their main guns to inaugurate the event.

Nahuel ‘c 74’ and Nahuel ‘c 73’ (in the background) at the exhibition held in Buenos Aires to commemorate the first anniversary of the 1943 Revolution. Source: fdra-terrestre.blogspot.com

The next public appearance of the Nahuel was on July 9th 1944, when ten Nahuels rolled down the streets of Avenida del Liberador in Buenos Aires as part of a military day event. The lead tank (‘c 121’) was driven by Baisi himself.

Nahuel ‘c 121’ being driven along Avenida del Liberador in Buenos Aires by Baisi on July 9th 1944. Source: www.militariarg.com

Whilst the idea had been to create a longer series and adapt the chassis to create a family of vehicles for different purposes, in the end, none of this came to fruition. With the end of the Second World War, and Argentina, following the 1943 revolution and the fortunes of war, having abandoned its pro-Axis sympathies, buying cheap American and British tanks became a more economically viable option. Argentina was also able to exchange their abundant agricultural products with countries lacking foodstuffs, such as Britain, for tanks. Argentina would purchase around 300 Sherman tanks, of which more than 1/3 were Sherman ‘Fireflys’. This made the Nahuel obsolete, as the later model Shermans were better overall tanks with superior firepower, thicker armor, superior design, and much cheaper.

In a cruel turn of fate, several Nahuels were used as target practice for Sherman tanks. By 1962, not one Nahuel was left on the army inventory and most were scraped. Despite the best efforts of individuals to find remnants of a Nahuel, it can be safely said that none survive to this day.

The Paraguayan Nahuel?

In the 1960’s or 70’s, writing for a Spanish military magazine, historian Georg von Rauch claimed that during Peron’s visit to Paraguay in 1953, two Nahuels and other pieces of military equipment were donated to Paraguay as a symbol of goodwill between the two nations. von Rauch has since claimed that he found this information in a US G2 report. Efforts to verify this have proved unsuccessful and it is most likely that this never actually happened. At that time, Paraguay only had fifteen M3/M5 Stuarts provided by the USA at the end of the Second World War, meaning that the Nahuel would have for some time been able to provide an increase in firepower and armor for the Paraguayan armed forces. Ultimately, Paraguay would receive nine second-hand Shermans from the USA in 1960.

Conclusion

The Nahuel was a brave and competent effort from a designer and workforce with no experience in building modern armored fighting vehicles. However, it is not as unique and remarkable as the chauvinistic Argentine press and amateur or military historians like to claim. Baisi’s dream of creating a family of indigenous military vehicles on a common chassis would have to wait.



Illustration of the Nahuel DL 43 medium tank, produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Nahuel D.L.43 specifications

Dimensions 6.22 x 2.33 (or 2.63, contested) x 2.95 m (20.7 x 7.8 x 9.8 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 35 tons (77,160 lbs)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, co-driver/machine-gunner, gunner, loader)
Propulsion FMA-Lorraine-Dietrich 12 Eb, W12, WC, 500 hp, 14.3 hp/tonne
Maximum speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Suspension Vertical Volute Springs (VVSS)
Range on road 250 km (155 mi)
Armament Main: 2.95 in (75 mm) Krupp M1909
Secondary: 1 x 7.62 mm (0.3 in) Allan machine gun
3 x Madsen 7.62 mm (0.3 in) light machine-guns
Armor Maximum glacis front 80 mm (3.3 in)
Total production 12-16

Sources

Anon., Armas Argentinas: El tanque Nahuel, FDRA – Fuerza Terrestre, (1 June 2015) [accessed 06/08/2019] Anon., Militariarg [accessed 06/08/2019] Javier de Mazarrasa, La Maquina y la Historia Nº11: La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)
Juan Carlos Heredia, Siguiendo las huellas del Nahuel para reconstruirlo en 1:35, Fundación Soldados, [accessed 06/08/2019] ‘PanzerArg’, El primer tanque argentino: Nahuel DL-43, Taringa!, (23 November 2016) [accessed 06/08/2019] Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)