today, we are going to have a look at one of the best known Hungarian tanks, the Turán.
The year 1940 was critical for the Hungarian forces, because they were caught somewhat by surprise by the stunning success of German attack on Poland. The Hungarians were well aware of how effective the armored fist of the Blitzkrieg could be, but even they (or the Germans for that matter) could imagine the extent of the success. Whetever we might think of the Polish army, it was a force to be reckoned with and for a major regional power to fall so quickly was unheard of.
The Hungarian conclusion from that war was that the future of the war lies in independent mixed units, with armor being essential to success. However, the Hungarians noted that especially tankettes and light tanks in general took heavy losses during the campaign and as such, they are not capable of being the hammer, that would smash enemy defenses. Something heavier would be needed to do that. A medium tank. As we learned in the earlier parts, Hungarians in the end decided to reform the armored units into German-style divisions. And for that, they needed tanks. A lot of them.
As we already know, the Manfréd Weiss-produced Straussler tank was not found viable. Hungary contacted Swedish Landsverk and the result of the cooperation was the Toldi tank I described in previous parts, but still something heavier was needed. Next people to turn to were the Italians. Hungary had some Italian CV tankettes, that got used (with disastrous results) later in the East – but otherwise, neither Italians nor Swedes were able to offer a decent medium tank. Italian Ansaldo offered the M13/40 tank to Hungary, but it was found to be too light and its 37mm armament was found insufficient. Landsverk also had a project of a 20-ton medium tank, armed with a 47mm gun, but by early 1940 there wasn’t even a prototype available yet. The Hungarians tried to secure some Panzer III and IV vehicles from Germany, but were quickly rebutted: Germany was preparing for an all-out war with its greatest rival and didn’t have enough to spare. And so, as it was usual for the allies of Germany, it was the Czechoslovaks who had to save the day. Czechoslovak vehicles had also one more advantage: they were not as difficult to produce as the German ones. For example, it was practically impossible even for late-war Hungarian industry to produce the Panther, they had to go with something a bit more low-tech.
Czechoslovakia’s weapons production was well-known to the Hungarian army staff. After all, the Czechoslovak artillery (some pieces left over from WW1) was still used in Hungary. The Hungarians were watching the Czechoslovak light/medium tank development with interest and by late 1939, they decided to ask Czechoslovakia for help. At that time, former Czechoslovakia (now occupied by Germany) had two notable medium tank projects. The V-8-H by Praga (ČKD, now called BMM) and the T-21 (formerly Š-IIc by Škoda). Both options were considered, but in the end, the Škoda project won.
Now would be a good time to have a quick look at both competitors. The V-8-H can be checked out here in detail, it is a tier 4 tank of the proposed Czechoslovak medium branch. The T-21 by Škoda also underwent some development, I wrote an earlier post about it. It is worth noting that both Czechoslovakia and Hungary developed the T-21 in parallel – Hungarian evolution was T-21 to Turán, Turán II and Turán III, while Czechoslovak development was T-21 to T-22 and T-23M. However, from Turán I on, both development lines are very loosely connected and are by no means equal – T-22/23M and Turán II are quite different tanks.
Back to Hungary. The negotiations with Škoda started with an offer by Škoda from 12.10.1939, proposing the sale of T-11 and T-21 tanks to Hungary. In case you are wondering what a T-11 is, it is an improved version of LT-35. I wrote about it in the Bulgarian armor post. At the same time, the Hungarians – who captured two LT-35 tanks during the Slovak border skirmishes with Czechoslovakia in March 1939 – wanted these captured tanks refitted and pressed in service. As a sort of offtopic, both of these tanks were indeed refitted by Škoda, returned to Hungary on 5.3.1941 and served as training vehicles until 1943.
By the end of October 1939, Škoda offered the list of vehicles approved by Germany for export. As for the medium tanks, the T-21 was there. Basically, there were two options: directly importing the vehicles, or local licensed production with Weiss Manfréd as the chief producer and organizer of such an effort (since it was probably the biggest and most capable Hungarian company at that point). In May 1940, a Hungarian delegation (led by Weiss Manfréd general director János Korbuly) came to Škoda, witnessed the T-21 prototype in action and recieved the blueprints for consideration. Manfréd Weiss in turn asked its subcontractors about their opinions and most were positive, although some of the subcontractor companies still preferred the Swedish tank project until like August 1940. By the end of May 1940 however, the issue was pretty much decided: German Heereswaffenamt issued a permit to allow the licensed production of T-21 in Hungary and that act convinced the Hungarians the T-21 would be the way.
In June 1940 the T-21 prototype was transferred by train (along with Czechoslovak driver and engineers) to Hajmáskér proving grounds in Hungary in order to be officially trialled before the Hungarians (including deputy commander of Hungarian Technical Institute, col. János Vértessy). The trial was successful, the first 400 kilometers were absolved without problems. At that point, on 20.6.1940, the prototype was moved to Budapest to undergo its first modification. The HTI workers removed the frontal turret plate and the gun here and replaced it with a locally made armor plate and the 40mm 37M locally-produced gun (originally intended for Straussler V-4). The gun was essentially a license-produced 40mm Bofors. As you might remember from the previous article, it was a 40mm L/45 with muzzle velocity of 800 m/s and the rate of fire 16 rounds per minute. The shell (originally meant for the Bofors AA guns) could penetrate 64mm of armor (30 deg slope) at 100 meters (in WoT terms it’s 74mm PEN) and 30mm of armor (same slope) at 1000m.
T-21 during trials in Hungary:
Another thing that got removed were the ZB-37 machineguns, they were replaced by 8mm Gebauer MG’s (same as Toldi used). The radio was switched for the Hungarian R-5. The trials continued with these changes in early July 1940. The results of the trials were excellent. The Hungarians did put it through some very hard tests, including rocky terrain and desert “pusta” in Bugac. The tank proved to have excellent maneuverability, speed and terrain passability for a medium tank. The testing committee recommended replacing the original frontal plate (30mm) with a 35mm one (later the frontal plate thickness was increased to 50mm), to somewhat rework the turret internal space and to replace the electrical Scintilla devices and wiring with Bosch ones like the other Hungarian tanks had. The armament was supposed to be stay Hungarian too. With these changes, the committee recommended the tank to be accepted in Hungarian service and the Hungarian army agreed.
In late July 1940, the negotiations over the production license began. The Hungarians also showed interest in purchasing the 40mm Škoda A17 tank gun, to replace the original 47mm Škoda A9. The contract for unlimited licensed production was signed on 14.8.1940 in Budapest (after being previously confirmed by Czech officials) – the final price was 1184200 pengö (6750000 protectorate Crowns). The Hungarians were obliged this contract not to produce for or offer this tank to 3rd parties. Both sides agreed to inform each other of the improvements in vehicle development.
In following weeks, the blueprints were transferred and on 3.9.1940, HTI officially proposed the new name for the Hungarian-made T-21 tanks: Turán (referring to the ancient homeland of Hungarian tribes in Central Asia).
On 23.9.1940, the Hungarian high commend ordered (as a part of the “Huba” modernization army program) 230 of these medium tanks. Weiss Manfréd and Rába were to produce 70 each from August 1941 to July 1942 (!), MÁVAG was to produce 40 and Ganz 50 vehicles from April to August 1942. The tank was officially accepted in service on 28.11.1941 under the designation of 40.M Turán közepes harckocsi (medium tank). This version is often (unofficially!) referred to as Turán I or Turán 40. At the same time, it was decided for the Turán to be armed with a 40mm cannon. The only demand was for it to use the same ammo as the 40mm Bofors on the Hungarian Nimród tank destroyer. Obviously, one option was the 40mm licensed Bofors gun, but the other option was the Czechoslovak 40mm A17 gun, that had better overall characteristics, so the Hungarians decided to license-produce that too.
In the meanwhile the negotiations and preparations for the T-21 license production took the rest of 1940. On one hand the army desperately needed new tanks, on the other hand, there was (just like in Toldi case) some bickering amongst the producers and subcontractors and there were also further delays by the fact the T-21 construction was simply not proven yet and more “bugs” were uncovered during the mass production preparations. The first company to produce the tanks would be Manfréd Weiss in Csepel, ordering sets of tools and complete blueprints, last of which arrived from Pilsen however in March 1941. This delay was caused by the fact that some of the T-22 imrovements by Škoda were incorporated into them at the last moment (specifically, improved cylinder heads – in fact, the new type was so much better the Hungarians decided to scrap the 176 heads already produced by May 1941, along with other already produced parts, like 113 engine blocks).
Another problem that kept on plaguing the newborn Turán was the overheating. The original Škoda radiator was too small and the tank kept having problems. Škoda decided to fix it by preparing a new radiator, but that was also a failure – when tested in December 1941 in very cold weather, the engine water temperature was still nearing the boiling point. In the end, Manfréd Weiss had to produce their own local larger version of radiators, but its production did not start before March 1942. Further delays were caused however by the Hungarian designers themselves – the design works of the modified 3-man turret with new armament for Turán kept being delayed. Another issue was the fact that Hungarian steelworks were not used to produce thick armor plates (thicker than 13mm anyway) and – later, during wartime – lacked metals for armor alloys, such as Nickel and Vanadium. However, the workers in the Diosgyör steel mill manged to develop a Mester-type chrome seel, hard enough after tempering to be used for armor. This armor was produced from May 1941. In October 1941, Rába company managed to produce a chrome-titanium steel Ajax armor, as much shot-resistant as Mester was, but with less metal wasted during the process (titanium was at premium during wartime, Hungary was getting it from occupied Belgium and from Switzerland). In the end, the company could produce even 75mm thick plates. Compared to Germany, it might not seem that much, but you have to understand that Czechoslovakia inherited most of the industrial capacity of the Austro-Hungarian empire (in Pilsen and Prague) and Hungary was left with very little. For such a country, it was quite a success. Of course, that was already late 1941, Soviet Union was being invaded (Toldi tanks were already having trouble) and the pressure was on. And of course, there were the ubiquitous issues with Germans not sending the Bosch components on time.
The first prototype of Turán was assembled by Manfréd Weiss (still with Škoda radiator) on 8.7.1941. On 22.7. it was trialled and shortly afterwards, 2nd prototype was built. Apart from the overheating issue, the trials uncovered further issues with the suspension and transmission and the prototypes had to be sent back for improvements. Because of that, the mass production was delayed until early 1942. These delays proved to be critical (at the point of its first combat experiences, Turán was already obsolete).
In the end, the first mass-produced Turán went off the assembly line on 28.4.1942. Other companies started producing the Turán too at that point and it is worth noting that single pieces of Turán tanks were quite different from one another, because each company assembled them with available armor plates of various quality and sometimes even thickness. The first vehicles were used for what could be called a “crash course” in Turán driving. The fact they were used by inexperienced drivers and the fact the first series vehicle still had issues led to the fact the tank was considered (and rightfully so) very unreliable, it broke down often and the situation was so dire that in February 1943, ALL the Turáns had to be pulled back to factories for complete refits, that went on for months.
Even though the first batch of 230 vehicles production was not even started yet, on 24.7.1941, 207 more Turán tanks were ordered (most by Rába and Ganz). This order was however (based on the experiences with delays and issues) reduced to 124 pieces in May 1942. Even that proved to be too much for the manufacturers and on 24.2.1943, this number was further reduced to 70. In the end, the number reached 55 pieces (39 for 1943, 16 for 1944) with the only producers being MAVAG, Rába and Ganz (Manfréd Weiss was producing the Zrinyi assault guns at that point). In the end, the Hungarian army recieved 285 Turán I tanks altogether, quite a high amount considering the state of Hungarian industry. It’s also worth mentioning there were Turán I command tanks (Turán I P.K.) with an additional radio instead of a part of the ammo rack. Only 20 of the 285 vehicles were modified so.
Back to 1942 – at this point, the Turán tanks were available for service. How they fared in Russia will be the subject of the next post.