By early 1943, due to the heavy casualties and overall bad experiences gained on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union, it became clear to the leaders of the Royal Hungarian Army that their armored units had become almost hopelessly obsolete. The Hungarian forces were in dire need for better equipment, especially medium/heavy tanks which would be able to compete against the Soviet T-34 and KV series of tanks.
To resolve this issue as soon as possible, the Hungarians first turned to their ally, Germany. They asked if they could buy the manufacturing rights for one of Germany’s more advanced tanks, for example a late Panzer IV variant with the long 75 mm (2.95 in) gun or the Panzer V Panther. The Germans turned down this wish in a short time, firstly because these variants were in an immature state at the time and secondly, they were fully aware – unlike the over-optimistic Hungarian military leaders – that the Hungarian heavy industry would not have been able to manufacture such sophisticated designs in the foreseeable future anyway.
Soon after the failed negotiations, the Hungarian Ministry of Defense (Hadügyminisztérium, HM) decided to solve the problem domestically. In April 1943, as a temporary solution, the HM started a modernization program for the Turán tanks. This program would add bolt on armor plates to increase its frontal protection and would mount the long barrel 43M 75 mm tank gun in a new enlarged turret. This project become the 43M Turán III.
However, as a long-term solution in the same month the HM commissioned the Weiss Manfréd corporation (WM) to lay out and assemble a new type of tank as a replacement for the obsolescent Turán series. The new vehicle should have been able to carry a high velocity tank gun and have similar protection and mobility characteristics as the Soviet T-34 or the German Panther. This new project has become the 44M Tas.
It was named after chieftain Tas, a historical figure who – according to tradition – was one of the leaders of the seven Hungarian tribes in the 9th century.
The preliminary blueprints for the Tas prototypes were ready in record time, by the end of August 1943.
The Tas ‘heavy’ tank
According to the Hungarian tank classification system during WWII, any tank mounting a 75 mm or larger caliber gun was classified as a ‘heavy tank’, regardless of its weight or size. Therefore, the 44M Tas would also have been a heavy tank according to the Hungarian terminology much like how even the 41M Turán II with its short barreled 75mm gun was often referred to as the ‘Heavy Turán’. However, its size, weight and basic combat role would have been much closer to what is considered as a ‘medium tank’ in the Western Allied, German or Soviet terminology.
Hull and turret
The overall design of the 44M Tas was heavily influenced by the Panther. This can be traced back to the fact that a few officers from the Institute of Military Technology (Haditechnikai Intézet, HTI) had had the opportunity to examine the exterior of the new Panther and Tiger tanks in early 1943 in Kummersdorf. They were later deeply involved in the design process of the new Hungarian vehicle.
The shape of the welded hull mostly followed the general shape of the Panther, except on the front, where a thick near vertical middle front plate had been designed along with two ‘cheeks’ angled backwards on the sides of the upper front plate. The armor thickness ranged from 120 to 75 mm (4.72-2.95 in) on the front and around 50 mm (1.97 in) on the sides and the rear. The overall armor protection of the Tas would have been on par with the Panther’s.
Unfortunately though, very little documentation about the turret of the Tas survived the war other than a few photographs of its 1:10 scale factory mockup and several other written descriptions. What is known is that it was octagonal, it closely resembled the Panther’s turret with its wide gun mantlet, and it had 100 mm (3.94 in) all around armor thickness. There was a cupola with a hatch for the commander and another hatch for the gunner on top of the turret. Two other hatches were added to the sides sometime after the above-mentioned mockup was made.
Dimension wise – according to the most recent studies – the 44M Tas would have been somewhat smaller than the Panther, although because of the sometimes contradictory values in the still existing documentations (or the lack of such sources), some of the values are unclear or just estimates and should be treated with caution.
The Tas would have been manned by a crew of five, also resembling the Panther.
The selected main armament for the Tas was the 29/44M 80 mm (3.15 in) L/58 gun. It was a heavily modified, license produced version of the Swedish Bofors 80 mm anti-aircraft gun, developed by DIMÁVAG as a replacement for the obsolescent 29/38M 80 mm L/48 anti-air guns of the Hungarian air defense at that time. The above-mentioned 1:10 scale mid-development Tas mockup – which most likely was made sometime around the end of 1943 – was armed with this gun.
The first prototype of the 29/44M gun was ready in October 1943 but its first firing trials pointed out some serious flaws. This delayed its development significantly and its developer estimated that the mass production could not start earlier than the summer of 1944. Whereas the Tas development could not wait for that long, its designers had to make a compromise, and use what was at least available for the Tas prototypes in order to progress until the 80 mm gun would have been ready.
The chosen temporary armament was the 43M 75 mm L/43 tank gun, which was also only in a prototype form at that time. Only two pieces had been produced until then and both of them were already used in the prototypes of the 43M Turán III medium tank and the 44M Zrínyi I assault gun. Thus, the Tas project still had to wait precious weeks until a third one could be manufactured and mounted.
As secondary armament, the Tas received a coaxial 34/40AM 8 mm (7.92 mm to be exact or 0.31 in) Gebauer machine gun in the turret. A second 8 mm machine gun to be placed in the hull and operated by the radioman was also considered although it is not present on the factory mockup.
Right at the start of the development, some developers from WM allegedly wanted to create a new V12 engine with at least 700 hp power output for the Tas project. The idea was abandoned almost immediately because in reality neither the time nor the resources were available to create it before the deadline.
Instead, the Hungarian developers used what they had at hand and put two connected Turán tank engines in the relatively large engine compartment of the Tas. On the upside, this solution would not require too much time or effort to be put into mass production but on the downside, these engines only produced 520 hp combined, which would have been barely adequate for such a heavy (almost 37-ton) vehicle. Even so, in theory the Tas was estimated to reach 45-47 km/h on road according to the available documentation.
The suspension of the Tas was a native design, but it was inspired by the suspension of the Panzer 38(t). The drive wheel was at the front, idler wheel at the back, and the 6 medium-sized road wheels were combined together in pairs of leaf sprung bogies. Unlike on the original Czechoslovak vehicle, the bogies were amended with shock absorbers, and the system was supplemented with 5 return rollers.
Soon after the baseline of the Tas was accepted, the HM ordered two prototypes from Weiss Manfréd – one ‘iron’ prototype with mild-steel body for further experiments and one ‘finalized’ prototype with armor plate superstructure. The assembly of the first mild-steel prototype started in May 1944 and its chassis with the suspension and the built-in twin-engine was ready in June. Shortly after that the raw assembly of the turret with the 43M 75mm tank gun also started, presumably along with the preparatory works on the second prototype vehicle.
However, on July 27, 1944, the WM factory on the Csepel Island was seriously hit by an Allied bombing run. The main assembly hall collapsed and the mild-steel prototype of the Tas was buried underneath and burnt out. Along with that most of its spare parts, the heavy machinery and numerous mid-assembly Zrínyi II assault howitzers and Turán medium tanks were also destroyed.
As the WM was unable to finish or redo the Tas prototypes, the design work was halted. In August 1944, WM gave the whole project to the Ganz company, which still had some manufacturing potential at that time. Even though the development restarted for some time after that, substantial work on it had not been carried out before the advance of the Red Army in the Hungarian territories and the political changes in the Hungarian government after October 1944 made it impossible to continue the whole project.
The last domestically designed and manufactured Hungarian tank design practically ceased to exist in the summer of 1944 with the destruction of its prototypes.
An article by Károly Németh
44M Tas Specifications
|Approximate dimensions||6.3 x 3.15 x 2.7 m
(20’8” x 10’4” x 8’10”)
|Total weight||36.6 t|
|Crew||5 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, radioman)|
|Propulsion||2x Weiss Manfréd V-8H, water cooled V8 petrol, 520 hp (2×260 hp, 388 kW), 14 hp/t|
|Estimated maximum speed||45 km/h (28 mph)|
|Armament, planned for series production||29/44M 80 mm (3.15 in) Bofors/DIMÁVAG L/58
2x 34/40AM 8 mm (0.31 in) Gebauer machine guns
|Armament, prototypes||43M 75 mm (2.95 in) L/43
coaxial 34/40AM 8 mm (0.31 in) Gebauer machine gun
|Armor||20 to 120 mm (0.79-4.7 in)|
|Total production||Two partially completed prototypes|
Sources and further read
Barczy, Zoltán – Sárhidai, Gyula: A Magyar Királyi Hovédség légvédelme 1920-1945. 96.
Bíró, Ádám – Sárhidai, Gyula: A Magyar Királyi Honvédség hazai gyártású páncélos harcjárművei 1914–1945. 249-264
Bonhardt, Attila – Sárhidai, Gyula – Winkler, László: A Magyar Királyi Honvédség fegyverzete. 94-95
Hajdú, Ferenc – Sárhidai, Gyula: A Magyar Király Honvéd Haditechnikai Intézettől a HM Technológiai Hivatalig 1920-2005. 48-56
Hatala, András: Lövegcsőcserével továbbfejlesztett magyar tüzérségi eszközök 1945-ig. II. rész. In: Haditechnika 2014/1. 73-75
Kovácsházy, Ernő: A Tas nehéz harckocsi műszaki ismertetése I. rész. In: Haditechnika 2006/4. 86-87
Kovácsházy, Ernő: A Tas nehéz harckocsi műszaki ismertetése II. rész. In: Haditechnika 2006/5. 82-85
Sárhidai, Gyula: Kiegészítés a Tas nehéz harckocsi leírásához. In: Haditechnika 2006/6. 84-85
Turcsányi, Károly: Nehézharckocsik – Összehasonlító értékelések, műveleti alkalmazások és a magyar TAS tervezése. 199-238