Saturday, 23 February 2019

Romanian Czech with a Russian Accent

The Romanian tank fleet was largely composed of Skoda Š-II-aR tanks (an export version of the LT vz. 35), accepted into service as the R-2. 126 units were purchased in 1938-1939. Fighting on the Eastern Front served as a cold shower for the Romanians. For instance, the 1st Tank Division lost 81 R-2s by the end of 1942. It was clear that these tanks could no longer be used in their initial form. The surviving 40 tanks were pulled out into the reserve.

Pz.Kpfw.III, Pz.Kpfw.IV, and StuGs were ordered from Germany to restore the 1st Tank Division (indexed T-3, T-4, and TA in the Romanian army, respectively). However, shipments were delayed, and the Romanians had to improvise. Captured Soviet T-60 tanks went into use first to make the TACAM T-60 tank destroyer. Work on developing the "Romanian Marder" on the R-2 chassis began in December of 1942. As with the TACAM T-60, work was done at the Leonida factory in Bucharest. Lieutenant-Colonel Konstantin Giulai headed the development. The project consisted of installation of a captured F-22 gun into an immobile casemate, open from the rear and partially from the top.

The TACAM R-2 SPG had a rather high silhouette.

The conversion was rather simple from a technical standpoint, but it was being delayed by a lack of chassis for conversion. The surviving R-2s were being used for training. One sample was sent to the factory only in July of 1943, and the prototype tank destroyer was ready by the end of September. Trials at Suditi showed that the new gun did not overload the chassis, as was feared. On the other hand, trials against a captured T-34 showed that Romanian armour piercing shells could only penetrate it from 500-600 meters. Another drawback was the height: the 2.32 m tall SPG would be hard to conceal on the battlefield. Nevertheless, the commission recommended the SPG for service under the index Tun Anti Car cu Afet Mobil R-2 (anti-tank gun on the R-2 self propelled chassis), or TACAM R-2.

Leonida received an order for conversion of 40 R-2s, but supplies of the chassis were limited for the same reason as before, the need to train tankers. Mass production began only in February of 1944. However, the delay allowed an improvement to be made by installing the superior ZIS-3 instead of the F-22. By June of 1944 the order was satisfied by 50%. Leonida produced 20 TACAM R-2, not counting the prototype, at which point production stopped. Remaining chassis were supposed to either carry Resita mod. 1943 anti-tank guns or flamethrowers, but these plans were never brought to life. The plans to convert 50 Pz.Kpfw.38(t) tanks (T-38 in Romanian nomenclature) were never brought to life either.

Design

The hull, engine, and suspension of the TACAM R-2 were identical to its base chassis. The hull was assembled from rolled armour, attached to a steel frame with rivets. The front armour was 25 mm thick, the sides were 16 mm, the rear was 12-16 mm, and the roof was 8 mm thick. The hull was split into the parts: the combined fighting/driver's compartment and the engine compartment. The two were separated with a fire resistant bulkhead.

The TACAM R-2 had a riveted hull and a welded superstructure.

The crew of the TACAM R-2 consisted of three men: the driver, commander/gunner, and loader. The driver's station was located to the front right. On the left was the machinegunner's station, who operated the 7.92 mm ZB vz. 37 machinegun. The tank destroyer had no machinegunner, but the machinegun remained. The driver fired it using a Bowden cable. A radio station was also located on the left. The two piece entry hatch on top of the driver was removed. That part of the turret platform was overtaken by the casemate. A 500 mm escape hatch in the floor was preserved.


Drawings of the TACAM R-2.

The casemate, open from the rear and partially from the top, was welded. It was built from available parts: 10-17 mm thick plates obtained during disassembly of captured T-26 and BT-7 tanks. It housed a captured 76.2 mm ZIS-3 gun. It could be aimed 30 degrees to the left and right, up to +15 degrees up and -5 degrees down. The ammunition capacity was 30 rounds, carried in racks on the sides and front of the casemate, as well as inside the hull.

The engine of the TACAM R-2 was the six cylinder 8.52 L 120 hp linear Skoda T-11. A planetary Praga-Wilson-Skoda gearbox offered six gears forward and six reverse. The electrical equipment was installed in series. A Chinchilla 600 W generator and two nickel-iron batteries powered the 12 V electrical system.

The running gear consisted of nine rubber rimmed doubled up 350x95 mm road wheels per side. Eight of them were combined into four bogeys. The suspension element was provided by leaf springs. The drive sprocket was in the rear, the adjustable idler was in the front. There were also four 200x60 mm return rollers. The tracks consisted of 111 links per side and were 350 mm wide.

Combat career

Unlike the TACAM T-60, the TACAM R-2 never fought against the Red Army. Ten TACAM R-2 were gathered into the 63rd Tank Destroyer Company (Compania de Vânători de tancuri), assigned to the 1st Training Tank Division in July of 1944. Romania switched sides on August 23rd, 1944, and its army had to fight against yesterday's allies. A mechanized corps was formed in late August-early September, which included the 8th Motorized Cavalry Division, 1st Cavalry Division, the 9th Infantry Division, and the "Nicolescu" independent unit. The last included the 63rd company, which by then had 12 tank destroyers.

The casemate was open from the rear and, partially, from the top. Ammunition racks can be seen inside the turret.

By September 4th, the main forces of the Mechanized Corps were hurriedly transferred to the city of Blaj at the Transylvanian border. On September 5th, they took part in defending from a counteroffensive by the Hungarian 2nd Army from Cluj and Târgu Mureș. On September 6-7th, the Mechanized Corps fought to stop the Hungarian 2nd Tank Division, which the "Nicolescu" unit took an active part in. The SPGs then supported the counterattack of the Mechanized Corps, which threw back the 2nd Tank Division and 8th SS Cavalry Division back past the Mureș river.

During the clearing of northern Transylvania from German and Hungarian forces, an improvised tank group was formed using elements of "Nicolescu" and "Matei" units on September 29th. The group included a tank battalion (a company of T-4, a company of TA, and a company of 16 TACAM R-2), a motorized infantry battalion, an artillery battalion, a reconnaissance company, an anti-tank company, and an AA company, subordinate directly to the Romanian 4th Army. The group supported the 6th Army Corps during fighting at the river Someș. On October 14th, it was pulled out to rest and reform, but returned to battle on the 20th. Five days later, after the liberation of northern Transylvania, the group was disbanded.

A TACAM R-2 SPG.

12 TACAM R-12 SPGs were received by the 2nd Tank Regiment in February of 1945, which had a rather heterogeneous population. In addition to 8 T-4 tanks and 12 TA assault guns, the 2nd regiment contained obsolete R-2, T-38, R-35, and even downright antique Renault FT tanks. On February 8th, the regiment was sent to the front in Czechoslovakia, where it was attached to the Soviet 27th Guards Tank Brigade. The obsolete tanks of the regiment quickly dissolved in battle. By March 26th only five TACAM R-2 remained in service.

Several weeks later, the remains of the regiment were combined into a tank company. As of April 24th, it contained two TACAM R-2, in addition to other vehicles. One of them was destroyed in battle near Pasohlávky, another near Brno. When the remains of the 2nd Tank Regiment returned to Bucharest on May 14th, 1945, not a single TACAM R-2 remained in its ranks. A number of TACAM R-2s in various condition remain in Romania to this day. One of them is currently on display at the National Military Museum in Bucharest.

The only fully preserved TACAM R-2. The bow machinegun is missing.

The TACAM R-2 (as well as the RACAM T-60) is a relative of the German Marder series. The Romanian vehicles have the same weaknesses as the German tank destroyers: high silhouette, weak armour, open casemate. In 1942 this improvisation had its place, but by the second half of 1944, when the TACAM R-2 finally went into battle, it was an obvious anachronism.




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