Saturday, 17 September 2016

TACAM T-60: SPG, Transylvanian Style

Romania joined WWII with a very marginal tank force, both in numbers and capability. The first battles on the Eastern front showed that their tanks were incapable of engaging Soviet medium tanks, let along heavy ones. The Romanian army was in desperate need of new more powerful anti-tank means. In a very short amount of time, they could only be built on captured platforms.

Romania only have one tank unit in the summer of 1941: the 1st Tank Division. It consisted of the 1st and 2nd Tank Regiments, reinforced by two regiments of motorized infantry, a motorized artillery regiment, a recon battalion, and a sapper battalion. The 1st Tank Regiment was equipped with Czechoslovakian S-II-aR (an export variant of the LT vz. 35), 126 of which were purchased in 1938-1939. These tanks served in the Romanian army under the index R-2. The 2nd Tank Regiment consisted of French Renault R35 tanks. In August-September of 1939, 41 tanks were received from France. 34 more tanks arrived from Poland: these were tanks from the Polish 21st Battalion that crossed the Romanian border on September 18-19th, 1939. If the R-2s could at least fight Soviet light tanks, the R35s with their short barreled guns were helpless against any armoured opponent.

Romanian tankers took significant losses in the first battles at Odessa. The higher ups understood that something had to be done, or the kingdom will be quickly left without an armoured force. The Prime Minister and de facto dictator Ion Antonescu brashly ordered the development of a domestic T-34 equivalent, but this idea was completely incompatible with the capabilities of Romanian industry. It was much more realistic to produce an improvised vehicle like the German Marder series of tank destroyers: the installation of a gun with acceptable armour piercing performance on the chassis of an obsolete light tank.

Captured gun, captured chassis

In late 1941 and early 1942, the Romanians captured over 150 Soviet 76.2 mm model 1936 guns (F-22). Despite being classified as field guns, the gun had excellent armour piercing characteristics, which were fully exploited by the Wehrmacht. The Germans used PzII and Pz38(t) tanks to create tank destroyers. The Romanians picked another platform: the T-60 Soviet tank. This vehicle was available in significant amounts and had decent off-road performance. The GAZ-202 engine on the T-60 was a copy of the American Dodge FH2 engine, which was very common in Europe. Spare parts could be found in Germany and in Romania.

The design of the tank destroyer was headed by engineer Lieutenant Colonel Konstantin Giulai, who already had experience with tank design (he participated in a modernization project for the R35). Work was done at the Leonid factory in Bucharest. In 1942, 23 T-60 tanks arrived at the factory for conversion, and 11 more in the start of the next year.

In January of 1943, the first prototype of the tank destroyer was ready. It was named Tun Anti Car cu Afet Mobil T-60 (anti-tank gun on a self propelled T-60 chassis), or TACAM T-60 for short. 34 tank destroyers of this type were built in total: 17 were finished before June of 1943, and 17 more in the second half of the year.

Design

The chassis of two types of T-60 were used: early and late, which had improved armour (these tanks are called T-60A in Western publications). The welded hull had a varied armour thickness. The front was 15-20 mm thick (the T-60 had up to 35 mm), 15 mm sides, and 13 mm rear (the T-60 had 25 mm). The floor and roof were 10 mm thick. The front of the vehicle had the combined driver and transmission compartment. The driver's station was shifted to the left, and his head and upper body were inside an armoured casemate. During conversion into an SPG, the casemate was modified by welding the driver's hatch shut.

The TACAM T-60 had a casemate that was open from the top and rear.

Behind the driver and transmission compartment was the joint engine and fighting compartment. During conversion, the turret and turret platform was removed. Instead, an immobile casemate, open from the top and rear, was installed. It was also built from secondary parts: 15 mm thick armoured plates obtained by disassembling captured BT-7s. The crew and equipment could be protected from the weather by a tarp that could be stretched over a frame.

The casemate housed the 76.2 mm F-22 gun and seats for two crewmen: the commander (also working as a gunner) and loader. The lower part of the mount was replaced with a steel plate, produced at the Concordia factory in Ploesti and processed by the Astra and Lemetr companies. The Romanians moved the aiming mechanisms to one side of the gun, the same thing the Germans did when converting the F-22 into the Pak 36(r). Thanks to this modification, the gun only needed one gunner, not two. The vertical range of the gun was -5 to +8 degrees, and the horizontal range was 32 degrees to each side. Auxiliary armament consisted of a 7.92 mm ZB vz. 37 (ZB53) machinegun carried inside the casemate.

The ammunition capacity of the tank destroyer consisted of 44 rounds. Along with captured shells, armour piercing shells "Kostinescu" shells were used. At a mass of 6.6 kg and muzzle velocity of 751 m/s, these shells could penetrate 72 mm at 30 degrees from a range of 1000 meters, and thus were dangerous for T-34s.

The engine (70 hp GAZ-202) was not changed, only the radiator was reshaped to make more room for ammunition. The engine roof with an air intake was replaced with a metal mesh. The suspension had to be reinforced, as the vehicle's mass grew from 6.5 to 9 tons, plus it had to bear the recoil of a powerful 3 inch gun. The torsion bars were reinforced, and new road wheels were used, produced in Romania based on the Soviet design. Even though relatively few TACAMs were made, three companies produced these wheels: Industria Sirmei in Turda, IAR in Brasov, and Concordia in Ploesti. The vehicle was also equipped with a brake that locked the wheels when it was time to fire.

Use in combat

TACAM T-60 tank destroyers were presented to the public during a parade in Bucharest on May 19th, 1943. In June, these vehicles were sent to the Mechanized Training Center (Centrului de instructie Mecanizat) and the 1st Tank Regiment, where they were used to train crews. By the end of 1943, two tank destroyer companies (Compania de Vânători de tancuri) were equipped with these tank destroyers: the 61st in the 1st Tank Regiment (16 vehicles) and 62nd in the 2nd Tank Regiment (18 vehicles).

TACAM T-60 tank destroyer on parade in Bucharest, May 10th, 1943.

The TACAM T-60 first saw combat in 1944, when two batteries with 14 tank destroyers in total were added to the Kantemir battle group, and improvised unit made from elements of the 1st Tank Division to defend Northern Transnistria. Aside from tank destroyers, this group contained 30 PzIV tanks, 2 PzIIIs, and 10 StuGs, as well as a company each of R-2 and R-35 light tanks. The specifics of the participation of TACAM T-60s is unclear, but it was likely a difficult fight. By the time that battle group Kantemir was transferred to North Bessarabia on March 28th, 1944, only seven vehicles of this type remained.

Knocked out TACAM T-60.

In April of 1944, the remainder of Kantemir group was reintroduced into the 1st Tank Division. After reorganization, a tank destroyer battalion was made, consisting of a battery of TACAM T-60s and a battery of German assault guns. A battery consisted of 10 SPGs (three platoons of three each and one commander's vehicle), one reconnaissance armoured car, one light commander's car, and 14 supply trucks.

TACAM T-60 on the march with a Hungarian Turan tank.

On April 7th, 1944, the Cojocaru battle group was formed from units of the 8th Motorized Cavalry Division. The group included the 12th Motorized Regiment, 3rd Motorized Artillery Regiment, three independent infantry battalions, and three TACAM T-60 tank destroyers from the 62nd company. This unit fought until June 30th, 1944, at which point it was returned to its "home" division.

Little is known about the subsequent fate of TACAM T-60 tank destroyers. Romanian sources briefly mention their participation in the defense of Bessarabia in August of 1944. There is no mention of these vehicles after Romania switched sides on August 23rd, 1944. It is likely that these vehicle were returned to the USSR, as the chassis and guns came from there. At the very least, one TACAM T-60 was tested in Kubinka.

TACAM T-60 during trials in Kubinka.

Like the German Marder tank destroyers, the TACAM T-60 was a typical improvisation. Their drawbacks consisted of a tall silhouette, weak armour, and an open casemate. These "hybrids" were also very late. Useful in 1942, they were archaic by 1944.


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