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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)


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