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TAR-76

Socialist Republic of Romania/Romania (1977-2005)
Light Artillery Tractor – Around 100 Built

The TAR-76 (Tractor de Artilerie Românesc, Eng: Romanian Artillery Tractor) was a light Romanian artillery tractor meant for towing 122 mm, 152 mm howitzers and their crews, as well as 57 mm AA guns. It was based on recycled Soviet AT-L tractors and used the same running gear and powerpack, but had a larger cabin. Around 100 were produced through the 1970s and 1980s, however, due to the much cheaper operational cost, better reliability, and lower fuel consumption of domestically produced DAC-665T trucks, they were gradually retired after the fall of the Communist regime.

New Artillery

In 1948, the newly formed Romanian People’s Republic (RPR) began the reconstruction of its military. At the time, this consisted of whatever material was leftover from the war, of which the majority was damaged and non-functional. A report from 1950 unveiled that, in terms of artillery howitzers, from those functional to begin with, 55% were from before 1914. Thus, in 1949, with the budget for new armament purchases increased by 900%, and the signing of the “General Costescu” Accord on 4 June 1949, Romania would purchase a wide variety of modern Soviet artillery. Between 1949 and 1950, 84 ML-20 152 mm howitzers and 100 M-30 122 mm divisional howitzers were purchased. To tow the weapons, 22 Stalinets S-80 tractors and 135 ZiS-151 6×6 trucks were purchased, effectively doubling the number of available prime movers within the military. By 1952, another 50 M-30 122 mm howitzers were received. Lighter armament was towed by the 154 ZiS-150 trucks purchased in 1949. By 1957, the RPR had bought 35 AT-L light artillery tractors for towing S-60 57 mm AA guns and 37 AT-S 712 heavy artillery tractors for towing the 152 mm ML-20 howitzers.

Romanian AT-L light artillery tractors towing S-60 57 mm AA guns on 23 August parade, 1964.
Source: Life

It is important to highlight that, during this period, the RPR had just begun the mass industrialisation of a country that previously had no refined industry, and relied mostly on agriculture, raw material exports, and oil. Thus, an array of factories were built with the scope of producing military and automotive products. These factories were based in the halls of the few factories Romania had prior to the war, and whatever was left of them. It was not until after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Romanian leader Ceausescu’s strong criticism of it, that Romania focused heavily on industrial and military independence, leading to the creation of various domestically designed tanks, APCs, aircraft, helicopters, and ships, though most would be modifications of foreign patents, both of Soviet and Western origin.

Romanian AT-S 712 heavy artillery tractor towing a 152 mm M-20 mod.1937
Source: Cartula

Development

As such, at the beginning of the 1970s, the Institutul de Cercetare și Inginerie Tehnologică al Armatei din București (ICITA) (Eng: the Army Development and Technological Engineering Institute in Bucharest) drew up the specific design of a medium artillery tractor. When designing the vehicle, minimizing reliance on imports and use of existing systems was emphasized. Thus, the running gear and engine of the Soviet AT-L were recycled, but an entirely new larger cabin was added, as well as an all-metal flatbed. The 102nd Truck Maintenance Base (nowadays 102nd Maintenance Battalion) in Bucov was tasked with the initial production of said vehicles, yet the majority were built at the Mizil Mechanical Factory. The military received the first vehicles in 1977.

TAR-76 exhibited at the Military History Museum King Ferdinand I in Bucharest. The golden plate and the L-shaped arm holding it were welded on for the museum.
Source: Maquetland.com

Design

In contrast to popular belief that the TAR-76 was 100% a Romanian designed vehicle, it was actually built upon the chassis of the Soviet AT-L light artillery tractor. The entirety of the track and running gear ensemble remained unchanged. The cabin was lengthened and mounted directly over the engine and gearbox ensemble, splitting the cabin in half. The cabin could house 4 men, including the driver as well as their equipment and radio, and was constructed out of thin sheet metal. It had 2 hatches on the roof for observation and self-defense with the troop’s personal weapons. Each seat had an individual entry/exit door. In the flatbed, 8 soldiers could be carried or dozens of ammunition boxes. The pulling weight capacity was 7.6 tonnes, while the vehicle itself weighed 7.8 tonnes. As the AT-L chassis was used, it had 5 stamped steel roadwheels with rubber padding per side, sprung by torsion bars.

Front view of a TAR-76, without the nighttime masking light covers.
Source: Ebay

The engine was a 135 hp V-6 diesel D120 built at the Timpuri Noi factory in Bucharest. It had a fuel consumption of 80 l/100 km. In terms of steering, the driver had 2 tillers that would control the 2 multi disc clutch brakes. Maximum speed was close to 42 km/h. Fuel reserve was enough for 300 km.

TAR-76 towing an M-10 152 mm howitzer in a promotional video.
Source: Prague Military History Institute

Use and Retirement

Initially, the tractors were used to tow various guns purchased during the artillery restructure of the 1950s, from the heavy 152 mm M-20 and M-10 howitzers and A-19 122 mm howitzer to the 57 mm S-60 AA guns, effectively replacing the AT-L. However, with the beginning of the 1980s, Romania was developing its own field howitzers, the most common being a variant of the Soviet D-20 152 mm gun, the Ob. Md.1981, which the TAR-76 ended up towing after the older heavy howitzers were used for training and reserve purposes.

TAR-76 tractors towing Ob. Md.1981, 23rd August parade, 1984. Note the tricolor Romanian roundel on the door.
Source: Agerpres

In parallel with the development and production of the TAR-76, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Romanian military would purchase the ATS-59 and ATS-59G prime movers from the Soviet Union for towing heavy artillery. While the TAR-76 and ATS-59 would often work together and be used for the same roles, the ATS-59G inspired the development of a heavier Romanian artillery tractor. After just 3 years, the TAR-76 was taken out of production to make place for the TMA-79 (Tractor Mediu de Artilerie Eng: Medium Artillery Tractor) but it was delayed because of mechanical issues, and entered production in only 1984, as the TMA-83. Heavier and stronger, it offered a wider and more versatile platform, and it formed the base for various engineering vehicles, such as the MHS-125 crane and MST-802 trench digger.

Comparison of some artillery prime movers in Romanian service
Name AT-L TAR-76 ATS-59 DAC-665T
Type Light artillery tractor Light artillery tractor Medium artillery tractor 6×6 transport truck
Country of origin USSR Romania USSR Romania
Production (year) 1947-1967 1978-1981 1959-1967 1978-1990s
Service in Romania 1955-1970s 1978-2005 1960s-2005 1978-present
Mass (kg) 5,800 7,800 13,000 5,800
Engine (hp) 135 135 300 215
Fuel consumption (l/100km) 100 80 150-160 32
Range (km) 400 300-600 350 (500 with external fuel tanks) 800-1,000
Max. speed (km/h) 42 42 41 85
Pulling weight (kg) 6,000 7,600 14,000 5,000
Capacity (cabin + flatbed) 3+8 4+4 2+14 3+4 (8 in flatbed if configured)

Both Romanian artillery prime movers were rather unsuccessful. Despite moderate production numbers, they began retirement as soon as the Communist regime fell and military budgets were decimated. They were unreliable, slow, and had high fuel consumption. They were also considered underpowered, struggling to pull 152 mm howitzers over rough terrain or hills. Even their Soviet counterparts, ATS-59 and ATS-59G, while suffering from the same fundamental issues, were more refined and reliable. Instead, heavy artillery would get towed by the DAC 665T truck, much cheaper, refined, faster, and versatile. The Ob.Md.1981 152 mm howitzer, which is the most used field howitzer, is still towed by DAC 665T trucks to this day. In terms of tracked tractors, only a small number of ATS-59G still operate, towing the 152 mm Ob.Md.1985, which is too heavy to be towed by the DAC 665T.

DAC 665T 6×6 trucks pulling Ob.Md.1981 howitzers, belonging to the 15th Mechanized Brigade “Podu Înalt”, during an exercise in April 2022.
Source: 15th Mechanized Brigade Facebook

Most TAR-76s began to be retired after 1990, partly because large quantities of field artillery were taken out of service, but also because of the aforementioned issues. The last examples were retired in 2005. One vehicle was sent to the King Ferdinand I military museum in Bucharest, where it can be seen today. At least another 2 had been restored at Faur works and sent to Arsenal Park in Orastie. Several other tractors, unable to be scrapped due to their service life not being fully exploited, were donated by the military to several isolated communes for use during meteorological hardships, such as heavy snows. For example, the Mircea Vodă commune in Brăila county received 2 such tractors for snow removal and firefighting. The military still retained a handful of tractors. One is kept in pristine condition, alongside mechanical components and drawings, at the school for tank and auto officer training in Pitești. A TR-125 in running condition and a prototype MLVM are also kept here, amongst others.

A TAR-76 from Arsenal Park used for tourist rides. Note the hatches in the roof.
Source: Nebuloasa.info

Conclusion

Despite the unreliability of the mechanical components, high fuel consumption, and slow speed, the TAR-76 was a legitimately good way to revamp and recycle obsolete AT-L tractors. The Romanian defense industry was still in its infancy, and the TAR-76 was the first domestically produced (or rather, converted) artillery tractor. It served as a basis for the more advanced TMA-83, but which suffered from similar problems. In turn, the entire class of tracked artillery tractors has become obsolete when faced with the considerable improvements of military trucks, like the DAC 665T.

Special thanks to Lt. (r) Aurel Chiriac

Sources

Artileria Romana in date si Imagini – Col. conf. Univ. Dr. Adrian Stroea, Lt. Col. Gheorghe Băjenaru
Tractorul Mijlociu de Artilerie Românesc – Major Eng. Eugen Petre
(PDF) Contribuții la istoria dotării cu armament a armatei române între 1944 și 1959 | Sămușan Alin Bogdan – Academia.edu
(DOC) Evoluția dotării cu automobile a armatei române între 1948 și 1957 | Sămușan Alin Bogdan – Academia.edu
(PDF) Motorizarea tracțiunii în armata română între 1948 și 1957 | Sămușan Alin Bogdan – Academia.edu
Adaptare: Gospodarul îşi face iarna car şi vara, tanchetă | adevarul.ro
ROM – TAR-76 (tracked artillery tractor) : Other – not yet classified (valka.cz)
Tun-obuzier cal. 152 mm (arsenal.ro)
Tractor ATS-59 | Encyclopedia of Military Equipment (war-book.ru)
SAGETILE DACIEI (2) – Romania Military (rumaniamilitary.ro)

TAR-76 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.10 – 2.20 – 2.50 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 7.8 tonnes
Crew 8 (4 in the cabin, including driver, 4 on flatbed)
Propulsion 135 hp diesel D120 V-6
Speed 42 km/h
Suspension Torsion bar, 5 wheels per side
Total Production Ca. 100

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