Monday, 27 June 2022

An Independent Heavy

Hungary put considerable effort into the creation of its tank industry before and during WW2. The light Toldi and medium Turan tanks were further developments of foreign projects, but the heavy Tas tank was an original tank, or at least was going to be if it was finished in time.

Hungarian army command had no illusions about the state of their armoured forces by 1943. The Turan (both the 40M Turan I with a 40 mm gun and the 41M Turan II with a short 75 mm gun) were powerless against Soviet T-34 tanks, let alone their heavies. They turned to the Germans for a license to produce either the Pz.Kpfw.IV with a long 75 mm gun or the Panther. The response was the same in both cases. The Germans did not consider Hungarian industry capable of producing complex tanks. The Hungarian Ministry of Defense decided to find its own way.

Self reliance

The Hungarian Ministry of Defense initiated a two-step program to renew its armoured forces in April of 1943. The first step called for the creation of the 43M Turan III armed with a long 75 mm gun. This was only a transitional model on the way to a completely new fighting vehicle: the 44M Tas. This name was rooted in history, as Tas was one of the legendary chieftains of the seven Hungarian tribes in the 9th century. The classification of the tank also had a national twist to it. It was considered to be a heavy tank, although its weight and dimensions were on par with those of German and Allied medium tanks. Hungary classified its tanks by armament, not by weight. Tanks with 75 mm guns and larger counted as heavies (even the Turan II and Turan III). The Tas project was given to the Manfred Weiss company in April of 1943. The development process was quick and blueprints were ready by August of 1943.

Modern reconstruction of the Tas tank's hull.

The overall layout and design of the Tas were heavily influenced by the Panther. This is not surprising, as a group of the Hungarian Military Technical Institute had a chance to familiarize themselves with the tank at the Kummersdorf proving grounds in early 1943. With the exception of the front hull, the design was very close to the Panther's. The front part consisted of one sloped central plate and two "cheeks". The front armour was 75-120 mm thick, the sides and rear were 50 mm thick.

Armour layout of the 44M Tas.

The look of the hull can be reconstructed using period blueprints, but no drawings of the turret remain. The only source of information on the turret is the 1:10 scale model built at the factory, photos of which were discovered in Czech archives in the 90s. According to them, the hexagonal turret had a wide gun mantlet covering almost the whole turret front, very similar to the Panther. The thickness of the turret armour was 100 mm.

The tank would have looked something like this.

The layout of the tank with a rear engine and front transmission was also very German. The suspension was original, although not dissimilar from that of the Pz.Kpfw.38(t). Each side had a front drive sprocket and rear idler with six road wheels (coupled into bogeys with leaf springs and shock absorbers) and five return rollers. This system was much simpler than the double torsion bars and interleaved wheels of the Panther.

The dimensions of the Tas were smaller than that of the Panther, but it had the same size crew. A driver and radio operator sat in the driver's compartment. The commander, gunner, and loader were located in the turret.

Engine and armament

The designers of the Tas had to find a compromise between their desires and the abilities of their industry. Manfred Weiss was expected to develop a 700 hp V-12 gasoline engine. It quickly turned out that it would be impossible to do this in time, so they had to make do with dual V-8H engines (watercooled V-8s) produced by Manfred Weiss for Turan tanks and Zrinyi SPGs. The resulting engine came on time, but lacked in power. 520 hp was not enough for a 37 ton tank.

Model of the 44M Tas.

The 80 mm L/58 29/44M AA gun was initially chosen as the main weapon. This gun was created by the DIMÁVAG company as a further evolution of the 29/38M AA gun, which was in turn an improvement over a Bofors gun. A prototype of the 29/44M was ready in October of 1943, but the first trials revealed many drawbacks. It would take a lot of time to improve the gun, and it was not expected to enter production before the summer of 1944. The 75 mm L/43 43M gun used for the 43M Turan III tank and 44M Zrinyi I SPG was taken instead. This gun was still in the prototype stage and only two units were built, one each for the prototypes of the Turan and Zrinyi respectively. Auxiliary armament consisted of two 8 mm Gebauer 34/40AM machine guns, one coaxial and one in the front hull. The model of the tank had no hull machine gun.


Soon after the Tas project was approved by the military, Manfred Weiss received an order for two prototypes: one made from mild steel and one from armour steel. Assembly of the mild steel prototype began in May of 1944. Assembly of the hull, chassis, and engine was finished by the end of June. The second prototype was being assembled in parallel, but there was no news of the 75 mm gun. The tank's end came at the hands of American bombers that levelled the Manfred Weiss factory on the Csepel island. The tank prototype was buried under the rubble and destroyed in the resulting fire. Manfred Weiss transferred all of its documentation to the Ganz company, which partially survived the bombings. The arrival of the Red Army and government overthrow in October of 1944 left the project no chances of survival.

Photographs of the Tas tank model.

Various publications claim that there was a self propelled gun developed on the Tas chassis called Tas rohamlöveg (literally "assault Tas"). The Jagdpanther-like tank destroyer was to be armed with a long German gun, either the 75 mm KwK 42 or 88 mm KwK 43. The only source of this claim was Pal Korbel, son of the chief engineer at Manfred Weiss. In his opinion, the second prototype of the Tas was (or at least was supposed to be) actually a prototype of the tank destroyer. Further archive research carried out in the 2000s established that both prototypes were clearly tanks. If there was an SPG, it only existed in drafts.

Production 44M Tas tanks could have looked like this.

The Tas tank is a good example of how to create a competitive tank in a country without its own tank building school. It was shaped by two forces: foreign experience (chiefly German) and compromises between the customer's wishes and production realities. It is hard to say how successful the result was since the prototype never even saw trials. One thing is certain: this was the only way to get a competitive tank in those conditions.

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