The phrase "Hungarian tank building" in itself evokes a smile today. In fairness, it should be noted that in the 1940s, not many European countries could afford to produce tanks. Despite all attempts, Hungarian designers failed to create competitive combat vehicles, they always lagged behind the leading tank-building powers. The Hungarian Turan tank had no chance of catching up with Soviet tanks in terms of protection and firepower.
For all their shortcomings, Turan tanks took an active part in the hostilities on the Eastern Front, and Hungary itself was one of the most loyal allies of Nazi Germany. Hungarian troops fought on the side of the Nazis almost until the very end of the war in Europe. In total, during serial production from 1942 to 1944, according to various estimates, up to 459 Turan tanks of various modifications were assembled in Hungary. The last combat operation of the Second World War, in which the Turan tanks took part, were the battles at Lake Balaton in March-April 1945. It was in this area that the last combat-ready Hungarian tanks were lost, and some of the vehicles were captured by Soviet troops.
Czechoslovak roots of the Hungarian Turan tank
Despite the fact that the Hungarian troops took an active part in the battles on the Eastern Front, they did not gain any glory in these battles with the Soviet troops, and the Hungarians did not have very many noticeable successes in the battle with the soldiers of the Red Army. The Hungarian units were most actively used in the southern direction of the Eastern Front, and the main theater of operations for the Hungarian army was the steppes, on which the capabilities of motorized and tank units were best revealed. But the Magyar units had serious problems with armored vehicles; Hungarian armored vehicles simply could not oppose the Soviet T-34 medium tanks and heavy KVs on equal terms. This is not surprising, given that the history of Hungarian tank building dates back only to the late 1930s.
Prior to this, the Hungarian government tried to conclude contracts for the supply of armored vehicles with several countries at once. For example, a light tank "Toldi" was ordered in Sweden, the main armament of which was a 20-mm anti-tank rifle. The mass of these combat vehicles did not exceed 8.5 tons, and the booking of the first series was 13 mm. The tank was created on the basis of the Swedish Landsverk L-60, one copy and the production license of which were purchased by Hungary. Naturally, the Hungarian military dreamed of getting more advanced tanks with better weapons and protection at their disposal. But attempts to negotiate with Germany on the purchase of Pz. Kpfw. III and Pz. Kpfw. IV ended in nothing. The same fate awaited negotiations with Italy on the transfer of a license for the production of medium tanks M13 / 40, negotiations dragged on until the summer of 1940, when the need for Italian vehicles simply disappeared.
The savior of the Hungarian armored forces was Czechoslovakia, which was completely occupied by Nazi troops in March 1939. In the hands of Germany was the well-developed industry of the country, as well as numerous military developments, among which was the S-II-c or T-21 tank, developed by the designers of the Skoda company. The combat vehicle was developed on the basis of the successful Czech tank LT vz. 35, which was widely used in parts of the Wehrmacht. The Germans were not interested in the T-21, so they were not against the transfer of ready-made prototypes to Hungary. In turn, Hungarian specialists considered the tanks to be the best among all models of medium tanks available for the country. At the same time, the Hungarians could not place an order for the production of tanks at the Skoda factories, since they were fully loaded with German orders.
The first prototype of the future Turan tank arrived in Hungary in early June 1940. After testing and passing 800 km without breakdowns, the car was recommended for adoption in July of the same year after a number of improvements and improvements were made to the design. Important changes included: the appearance of the commander's cupola; increase in frontal booking up to 50 mm; and an increase in the crew of the tank to five people, with the placement of three people in the tower. An example for the Hungarians when making changes to the design of the tank were the Germans, who were considered recognized authorities in tank building and the use of tank troops.
The version of the tank, modernized by the Hungarians, was put into service on November 28, 1940 under the designation 40. M, and the tank received its own name "Turan". Delays in the transfer of technical documentation and the deployment of serial production of tanks, which simply did not exist in Hungary until the end of the 1930s, led to the fact that the first serial Turan tanks ended up in a tank school in the Hungarian city of Esztergom only in May 1942.
Tank late for the war
For its time, Turan was not at all the worst combat vehicle in the world. It is important to understand that the first prototype of the future Hungarian tank was presented by Czechoslovak engineers back in the winter of 1937. The tank was originally developed for export, it was planned that the armies of Italy, Romania and Hungary would become its buyers. In May 1939, the tank changed its designation to T-21 and ended up in Hungary under this index a year later. For the late 1930s, the combat capabilities of the Czech tank were still good. Reinforced up to 30 mm frontal armor (compared to the LT vz. 35) and the presence of the 47 mm Skoda A11 cannon made the vehicle quite a formidable weapon on the battlefield.
The main problem was that the tank, developed in the late 1930s, was late for the war for which it was created. The Hungarian adaptation, although it received a frontal booking reinforced to 50-60 mm (all armor plates were installed vertically or with insignificant angles of inclination) and a commander's cupola, was distinguished by the installation of a 40-mm semi-automatic cannon of its own production 41. M, created on the basis of the German anti-tank gun PAK 35 / 36. Despite the good barrel length of 51 caliber, the gun could not boast of great armor penetration. At a distance of 300 meters at an angle of encounter with the armor of 30 degrees, the armor-piercing projectile of this gun penetrated only 42 mm of armor, at a distance of a kilometer - 30 mm. The capabilities of the 40-mm cannon were more than enough to combat the light Soviet T-26 and BT-7 tanks, which formed the basis of the Red Army's tank fleet in 1941, but could not resist the new Soviet T-34 and KV Turan tanks.
The problem was aggravated by the fact that the first serial Hungarian tanks began to roll off the assembly line only in 1942, they did not have time to take part in the attack on Stalingrad and the Caucasus. But this also saved them from the subsequent disaster, in which the 2nd Hungarian Army, which fought on the Eastern Front, according to various estimates, lost up to 150 thousand personnel, up to 70 percent of its materiel and all heavy weapons.
Assessment of the capabilities of the Turan tank
The full-fledged combat debut of Turan tanks dragged on for two years, they took part in battles with Soviet troops only in April 1944. By that time, the tanks that were late for the war tried to modernize them. Already in 1942, in parallel with the Turan I, Hungary decided to start assembling the Turan II tank, the main difference of which was the presence of a 75-mm short-barreled gun with a barrel length of 25 calibers. The mass of this version of the Hungarian tank increased from 18.2 to 19.2 tons. At the same time, the remaining 8-cylinder petrol engine with a capacity of 265 hp. accelerated the car to 43 km / h when driving on the highway, the version with a 40-mm cannon had a slightly better performance - 47 km / h. The updated modification received the designation 41. M Turan II.
The attempts of the Hungarian military to give a second life to the tank project from the late 1930s should be considered unsuccessful. But they were unsuccessful precisely because of the time the tank appeared on the battlefields. Back in 1940 and 1941, the vehicle would have looked advantageous in comparison with light tanks with bulletproof armor, which formed the basis of the armored forces of the Red Army. But in 1944, the main opponents of the Turan were medium tanks T-34 and T-34-85, which Hungarian tankers simply could not fight on equal terms. The 40-mm cannon did not penetrate the frontal armor of the T-34 from any distance, at least somehow effectively it was possible to penetrate only the lower part of the T-34's side armor plates. The transition to a short-barreled 75-mm cannon did not significantly change the situation. In fact, in 1944, the Hungarian analogue of the German Pz. Kpfw tank entered the battlefields. IV, with which Germany began a war against the USSR. As an infantry support tank 41. M Turan II could be called a good vehicle, the 75-mm projectile had a good high-explosive fragmentation effect, but fighting modern Soviet armored vehicles and Lend-Lease Shermans was a very difficult task for the Hungarian tank.
Projectile armor of 50-60 mm frontal armor looked good in the early 1940s. This was enough to withstand most of the pre-war anti-tank guns up to and including 45 mm. In fact, the Turans were faced with the massive use of 57-mm and 76-mm cannons by Soviet troops, which were guaranteed to penetrate their armor at a distance of up to 1000 meters, and the 85-mm cannon of the updated T-34s did not leave any chance for Hungarian tankers at all. The anti-cumulative screens, which the Hungarians began to install on their armored vehicles in 1944, could not correct the situation either. At the same time, the outdated riveted design of the installation of armor plates also did not increase the combat effectiveness and survivability of the vehicles. When a projectile hit the armor, the rivets flew off and even if the armor was not penetrated, they could hit the equipment and the crew of the combat vehicle. The three-man tower with a commander's cupola, which made it possible to unload the commander, who was able to lead the battle without being distracted by other tasks, did not save the situation either.
A worthy response to the Soviet T-34 tanks could be the third version of the Turan modernization, designated 43. M Turan III. But this tank, armed with a long-barreled 75-mm cannon (barrel length 43 caliber), with reinforced frontal armor up to 75-mm, was represented by only a couple of prototypes, it was never mass-produced. In reality, when meeting with Soviet armored vehicles, which were presented in 1944 not only with the new T-34-85 and IS-2, but also with various self-propelled artillery, the Hungarian Turan tanks quickly passed from the category of military vehicles to the category of scrap metal and fraternal graves for a crew of five.