Before Romania’s involvement into the 2nd World War, its Army had been trying to establish a solid effective tank corp for decades. At the time, Romania was only armed with measly Renault FTs. British Whippets, Disston tractor tanks, Polish 7TPs, Czechoslovakian V8Hs, etc had all been explored as possibilities. However, questionable offers, 3rd party involvement, unfair agreements, lack of interest and so on had meant that none of them entered service with the Romanian Armed Forces.
A Vânătorul de Care R35 with the turret traversed to the rear sitting seemingly intact in Znojmo Railway in 1945. Source: AFV Photo Album: Volume 2
Tensions between European nations and Romania’s neighboring countries became even more clear. Consequently, trade agreements by Romania were created, particularly with the French and Czechoslovakians. The initial trade negotiations between the Czechoslovakians involved LT vz. 35s and AH-IVs. As a result, 126 LT vz 35s and 35 AH-IVs were bought in 1937 and redesignated as the R-1 (AH-IV) and the R-2 (LT vz 35). Additionally, the R-1 was chosen as the first vehicle to be made by the Romanians, but the German occupation of Czechoslovakia extinguished this prospect. Between the French and Romanians, negotiations were deeper. There were discussions about the production of two-hundred R35s in Romania by Franco-Romanian factories and factories owned by the infamous Romanian industrial tycoon, Nicolae Malaxa.
The agreements fell through and France chose to slowly deliver forty-one R35s in 1939, before the 2nd World War, instead. In September 1939, during the invasion of Poland by the Germans and Soviets, the Romanians helped the Polish Government, its gold reserves, 40,000 people, and 60,000 troops escape. However, the Romanians kept thirty-four R35s after a Polish tank battalion escaped to Romania. Now Romania was armed with seventy-five R35s. Sometime between 1939 and 1940, they redesignated the R35 as the Carul de Luptă R35. Due to the fall of France in 1940, R35s could no longer be delivered. Romania looked to the Czechs for an alternative. The Romanians asked the Germans for the license of the Czech T-21 (provisionally named as the R-3), however, they were denied as they had not yet joined the Axis. They were denied again when the Romanians asked to buy T-21 directly from them.
In early to mid 1940, the border between Romania and the Soviet Union was plagued with relatively minor attacks from the Soviets. Since a Soviet invasion was a guarantee, the Romanians renounced their defense pacts with the British and the French as it did no good to the Polish who had a similar pact with the British. Instead, Romania decided to align its foreign policy with the German one, a move by Romania that pleased the Germans.
In 1941, war was heating up between the Soviets and Romanians. Romania’s involvement in Operation Barbarossa ensured Romania’s position as a major participant of the 2nd World War.
Obsolete upgrade for an obsolete tank
Around mid-1942, the 1st Armored Regiment, one of the two Romanian tank regiments that made up the 1st Armored Division, expressed their discontent with their Carul de Luptă R35 tanks during the Battle of Stalingrad. The armament and armor proved to be ineffective against contemporary Soviet vehicles such as the T-34. The T-34 featured sloped 45 mm (1.77 in) of armor while the R35 had 40 mm (1.57 in) of poorer quality cast armor and the R35’s 37 mm (1.46 in) SA18 was no match for the T-34’s 76.2 mm (3 in) F-34.
Romanian tankers parading in their Carul de Luptă R35 tanks after their successful invasion of Odessa.
The command of the second half of the 1st Armored Division, the 2nd Armored Regiment, sent their suggestions on how to modernize their Carul de Luptă R35 tanks to higher authorities, presumably the Romanian Ministry of Supply. The 2nd Armored Regiment went as far as to develop a prototype of an R35 with the turret and armament of an unknown Soviet T-26 variant. This was done in their own workshops to show that a modernization of the R35 was possible.
The 2nd Armored Regiment suggested that, if the marriage of the R35 hull and T-26 turret was to be kept, the French-designed, Romanian-manufactured 47 mm (1.85 in) Schneider Model 1936 anti-tank gun should be used as the replacement for the Soviet 45 mm (1.77 in) 20K, the main gun on the T-26. As for the secondary co-axial weapon, the 7.92 mm (0.31 in) ZB-53 machine gun was proposed as a replacement for the co-axial Soviet 7.62 mm (0.3 in) DT machine gun. The alternate proposal left out the T-26 turret and kept the R35 turret. This time, the 45 mm 20K or the 47 mm Schneider Model 1936 were proposed as replacements for the R35’s 37 mm SA18 gun. As for the secondary weapon, the 7.62 mm DT machine gun or the 7.92 mm ZB-53 machine were proposed as substitutes for the Carul de Luptă R35’s 7.62 mm ZB-30 machine gun.
This eventually caught the attention of the Romanian Ministry of Supply. Its technical department suggested that studies should be made on the best possible way to cram a 45 mm 20K gun into the rather small turret of the R35. Sufficient Soviet BT-7s and T-26s were captured to provide enough 45mm guns for the conversions to become a reality.
Quart in a pint pot
In early December 1942, the seemingly omnipresent Colonel Constantin Ghiulai, the man who designed most of Romania’s domestically converted tanks, was studying the proposal along with Captain Dumitru Hogea. They were eventually endowed with the project that would later become the Vânătorul de Care R35. Meanwhile, the “Direction” would commence work on the new project after the conversions of the TACAM T-60s were complete. The studies (presumably, the studies mentioned earlier by the Romanian Ministry of Supply’s technical department) concluded that the best possible manner to mount the Soviet 45mm 20K was to extend the front of the turret to accommodate the recoil system, similar to what the Soviets had done with the T-26 and BT-7.
The proposed co-axial ZB-53 machine gun would have remained unchanged with the exception of the gun sights. It would have used some of the seven-hundred long range peep sights (tall gun sight used for long range fire) left over from western fortifications in Romania. However, the long range peep sight would have had to be cut down in height in order to fit in the turret.
The project was found to be very difficult. Eventually, the 2nd Armored Regiment’s proposal for a belt-fed 7.92mm co-axial machine gun, or alternatively, a 7.62 mm DT co-axial machine gun with a sixty round drum, was no longer considered as a possibility. The reduced interior space caused by the 45 mm shells being three-four times as large compared to the SA18’s 37 mm shells meant that there was little room for any co-axial machine gun and its ammunition. Additionally, the amount of ammunition carried for the main gun was drastically reduced from ninety 37 mm shells to around thirty to thirty-five 45 mm shells.
A prototype of a 45mm 20K armed Carul de Luptă R35 was ready by the end of February, 1943. It featured the Septilici optics produced by I.O.R., a major Romanian gun optics manufacturing company owned by Nicolae Malaxa. The Septilici optics were also mounted on the TACAM T-60, TACAM R-2, and the Vânătorul de Care Mareșal prototypes. After trials of the prototype were held in the summer of 1943, the Mechanized Troop Command found the tank to be an overall improvement. They ordered the conversion of thirty of these new upgraded Carul de Luptă R35 vehicles.
Production of the Vanatorul de Care R35
The 45 mm 20Ks were refurbished by the Tîrgoviște branch of the army arsenal while the new mantlets were cast and finished by the Concordia factory of Ploiești. The mantlets were important since they would cover up the gaping hole caused by the extension of the R35 turrets for the new guns. The integration of the new mantlets and 45 mm 20K guns onto the R35s took place at the Leonida factory under Colonel Ghiulai’s supervision.
Thirty pieces were converted and assigned to the 2nd Armored Regiment in June, 1944. Their moniker was officially changed from Carul de Luptă R35 to “Vânătorul de Care R35” (which translates to “Tank Hunter R35”). However, it does seem like the designation was rarely used during World War II, but widely used in modern times to easily distinguish the regular R35 from the converted R35. Unfortunately, it is often unclear whether contemporary documents are referring to the Carul de Luptă R35 or the Vânătorul de Care R35, unless it is explicitly stated, or the document refers to deliveries of the ammunition. The ammunition deliveries show what type of ammunition was being delivered to which tank. If 37 mm shells were being delivered to R35s, it is very likely that it was referring to Carul de Luptă R35 tanks. If 45 mm shells were being delivered to R35s, then it is likely referring to Vânătorul de Care R35 tanks.
The Mechanized Troop Command authorized the conversion of more R35s. Conversions promptly began at the Leonida factory, but the process was halted due to Romania’s defection to the Allied side in August 1944. This event, in turn, caused Romania to practically become an occupied country by the Soviets. The Soviets dictated what was allowed and not allowed to be manufactured and the Vânătorul de Care R35 was not on their list.
Vânătorul de Care R35’s characteristics
While the Vânătorul de Care R35 was considered obsolete, an argument can be made that the upgrade was necessary in the end. The 37 mm SA18 (the Renault FT was one of the first adopters of this gun) is said to have struggled against lightly armored vehicles, let alone middle to late World War II tanks the Vânătorul de Care R35 might’ve fought. It could have been faced with T-34-85s, late Panzer IVs, Turan IIs or Panthers. The R35’s original armament was already considered obsolete by the French by 1926. The sole reason why R35s were equipped with 37 mm Puteaux Model 1918s was to do with financial reasons and the availability of these guns. While it may lack in the anti-tank department, it is still able to perform the infantry support role.
The Vânătorul de Care R35’s 45 mm 20K gun model depends on what variant of BT-7 or T-26 it came from. There was probably no single variant that it used. It may be reasonable to assume that it carried over the Septilici gun sight from the prototype, but this hasn’t been verified. The gun was able to depress a healthy -8 and elevate to +25. The Vanatorul de Care R35 only carried thirty-five 45 mm rounds. The 45 mm 20K model 1938, with an unspecified armor-piercing round, could penetrate 57 mm (2.24 in) of armor at 90 degrees from 100 meters according to one Soviet penetration test. This meant that it could now tackle opponents with light armor such as Toldis, T-60s, and T-70s with greater ease, but it would still struggle against mediums such as Turans, T-34s, and late Panzer IVs.
The 45 mm 20K gun can be clearly seen. This photograph was taken from inside the only known Vânătorul de Care R35 turret.
Unfortunately for the Romanians, the Vânătorul de Care R35 may have had a problem similar to that of the German Ferdinand tank destroyers. It lacked the means to effectively combat infantry. It had no secondary weaponry at all and it theoretically exclusively used armor-piercing ammunition. Granted, the sole purpose of the Vânătorul de Care R35 was to combat armored vehicles, but by 1944 and 1945 the effectiveness of the 45 mm 20K was most likely negligible. This limited the roles the Vânătorul de Care R35 could perform.
Overall, the armor was mostly the same as any R35 with the exception of the mantlet. The tank was protected with 40 mm (1.57 in) of armor on the front, sides of the hull and turret, turret rear and cupola. The thickness of the top of the tank was 25 mm (0.98 in). The rear hull was 32 mm (1.26 in), and the bottom hull was 10 mm (0.39 in). Unfortunately, there is currently no data on the thickness of the mantlet, however, the mantlet was made up of two layers of cast armor. After scrutinizing the interior part of the two-piece mantlet from the photographs of the remaining turret, some estimates place the thickness of the internal mantlet to be around 20 mm (0.79 in).
The only known remnant of the Vânătorul de Care R35. The mantlet has the illusion of being thick, but it has a shape similar to the top of a shoe box. However, the mantlet would be thicker if it had the exterior mantlet.
While the measured thickness seems acceptable against at least some lower caliber guns, in practice, the armor was 10-15% less effective than what was measured. The French were known to produce weak cast armor and the R35 was no exception. The cast armor proved to be less effective than rolled armor according to the French. In June of 1937, the French conducted test firing against an R35 with a German 3.7cm Pak 36 and a French 25 mm (0.98 in) gun (possibly referring to the Hotchkiss 25 mm anti-tank gun). Fourteen of the eighteen shells from the Pak 36 and thirteen of the twenty-two shells from the 25mm French gun penetrated the R35. Lastly, it is not known if the cast mantlet from the Vânătorul de Care R35 suffered the same issue. All in all, the armor was generally insufficient against tanks and anti-tank guns by 1944 and 1945.
Mobility, logistics, and reliability
The R35 was plagued with issues regarding mobility, logistics, and reliability. This was especially prevalent during the Romanian mountain trials on the 29th of May, 1939. The Carul de Luptă R35 overheated easily, had fragile rubber roadwheels, and the differentials deteriorated easily. The R35’s suspension was initially designed for cavalry purposes and performed to its zenith on flat ground, but performed worse on off-road and was considered unsuitable for uneven ground.
Fortunately for the Romanian Army, after the invasion of Odessa in October 1941, the 2nd Armored Regiment’s Carul de Luptă R35 tanks were sent back for repairs. Most of the parts used in the mending process were domestic. One important issue emphasized by the 1939 mountain trials of the Carul de Luptă R-35 was resolved by exchanging the rubber roadwheels with metal trimmed roadwheels along with new tracks designed by Constantin Ghiulai and manufactured by the Concordia Works which were said to be ten times as durable. New drive sprockets were manufactured by the Reşita factory and cylinder heads and drive shafts were cast by the Basarab Metallurgical Works from Bucharest and finished at the IAR factory from Brașov. Overall, some of these repairs might have improved reliability and carried over to the Vânătorul de Care R35.
The last remaining Carul de Luptă R35 at the National Military Museum at Bucharest received the upgrades as mentioned above. The roadwheels are metal trimmed and the tracks seem different. – Photograph source: Stan Lucian
The Vânătorul de Care R35 was stuck with the same 82-85 hp water-cooled Renault 447 4-cylinder, 2200 rpm petrol engine used on the regular R35. With a 82-85 hp engine (horsepower varies between sources) and the weight of 11.7 tons compared to the Carul de Luptă R35’s 11 tons, the theoretical power-to-weight ratio was reduced to 7-7.25 horsepower-per-ton and the speed to 20 km/h. Lastly, the Vânătorul de Care R35 was still a two-man tank. The commander also had to man and load the gun, while also directing the driver and possibly other tanks as well.
Vanatorul de Care R35 in service
As stated earlier, the moniker, “Vânătorul de Care R35”, was not used very often, so it is often impossible to know whether documents are referring to a regular Carul de Luptă R35 or a Vânătorul de Care R35. From what is known, the 1st and 2nd Armored Regiment used the Vânătorul de Care R35 when the two units were combined in December 1st, 1944. The Vânătorul de Care was most likely initially painted in the standard khaki color with Michael I’s cross on the rear or the side of the turret, but later changed the cross to a five-pointed star in a white circle to avoid friendly fire from the Soviets after Romania switched sides. The Vânătorul de Care R35 fought alongside the Soviets in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Some skirmishes most likely have happened near the Hron River in modern-day Slovakia (where a Vânătorul de Care R35 turret remains) and they were last photographed in service patrolling or abandoned near destroyed Hungarian, German, and Soviet armored vehicles in Znojmo, Czechoslovakia in 1945.
Another angle of the same Vânătorul de Care R35 shown in the introductory paragraph in Znojmo Railway, 1945.
Possible photographs of Vânătorul de Care R-35 prototypes?
The likely Vânătorul de Care R35 prototype
The photograph below is likely the prototype of the Vânătorul de Care R35. It shares common features such as the trunnions (mounting points for the mantlet or gun) being placed on the extension of the turret along with the gun obviously being the 45 mm 20K. This picture appears in primary sources such as “Armata Română şi Evoluţia Armei Tancuri. Documente. 1919-1945” and is referred to as the “Carul de Luptă R35 Modern”, a possible name given to the prototype. The elongated mantlet looks welded, though it is difficult to tell. There were only mentions of the mantlets being cast at the Leonida factory. Additionally, this is the only picture of this tank. There are no markings to suggest it is being used as a tank in service.
The elongated mantlet of this possible prototype above is clearly different to the Vânătorul de Care R35’s flat mantlet. Photograph source:
Trupele Blindate din Armata Română 1919-1947
The alleged Vânătorul de Care R35 prototype
On the internet, these photographs below are commonly cited as portraying the Vânătorul de Care R35 or its prototype. They came from a person named Denes Bernard who has authored many books on the equipment of World War II. Most of these photos appeared in an edition of Trackstory by Edition du Barbotin about the R35 and the R40. Edition du Barbotin never confirmed the photographs to be related to the Vânătorul de Care R35, but they did say it’s most likely related to it.
However, there is a reasonable amount of evidence that this has no relations to the Vânătorul de Care R35 and may well be an upgunned prototype for the R35 from France or any other country. The trunnions are unchanged, remaining where they were on the regular R35 while the trunnions on the Vânătorul de Care R35 and its likely prototype were placed on the horizontal extension of the mantlet. So they’re most likely not related at all. There is currently no substantial evidence for this being related to the Vânătorul de Care R35. At best, it could be some sort of early mockup by Colonel Ghiulai.
Notice how the trunnions are located at different positions than the trunnions on the VDC R35 and its likely prototype. The gun is also not stepped like the 45mm 20K. – Photograph source: Trackstory: Renault R35/R40
Photograph of the 2nd Armored Regiment’s R35/T-26?
There may be a single photograph of the 2nd Armored Regiment’s prototype. The recently discovered R35/T-26 (round turret version, not the similar conical turreted version, which is likely a German field conversion), may be this vehicle. In the only known photograph, two soldiers (of unknown nationality) are seen with the vehicle on a train. The vehicle appears to have a sort of camouflage on it, although the image is too unclear to tell for certain. While this vehicle may, indeed, be a second German field conversion, it is possible, due to the above information, that this vehicle is the 2nd Armored Regiment’s prototype.
The R35/T-26 appears as though it’s being transported by rail with another T-26 as a companion.
The Vânătorul de Care R35 was not at all a vehicle that revolutionized tank designing doctrine nor was it built in large numbers to become relevant. It was a tank that reminds us how poorly equipped the Romanian Armed Forces were in World War II and how this tank probably would not have existed if the Germans had not directly and indirectly stifled agreements between the Czechs and Romanians. While Romania did receive the occasional batch of Panzer IVs or StuG IIIs, it was not sufficient. This lead Romania to develop its own anti-tank platforms from tanks they already had and captured.
It was not until late in the war that Germany started to somewhat value its allies and increase the cooperation after they showed themselves to be capable of developing impressive weaponry such as Romania’s Vânătorul de Care Mareșal tank destroyer prototypes. The Vânătorul de Care R35 was simply a natural outcome due to the scarce amount of effective armored vehicles Romania had in its arsenal.
Only one Carul de Luptă survives and now resides at the National Military Museum in Bucharest. The turret of a Vânătorul de Care R35 in poor condition is located in a village named Stary Tekov in the Levice district of Slovakia, in a place where they host reenactments for the Battle for the River Hron and show off some military equipment.
Most of the information in the sections regarding the development of the Vânătorul de Care R35 is mostly based off “Third Axis, Fourth Ally” by Mark Axworthy, Cornel Scafeș, and Cristian Craciunoiu. However, primary sources such as “Armata Română Şi Evoluția Armei Tancuri. Documente (1919 – 1945)“ have contributed to the article and closely correlate with some of the information in “Third Axis, Fourth Ally”. Because of this, most of what is said in “Third Axis, Fourth Ally” is likely to be accurate. Additionally, Mark Axworthy claims to have used the Romanian Ministry of Defense’s archives as a major source for his book.
Two photographs of the same Vânătorul de Care R35 besides a plethora of destroyed tanks in Znojmo Railway, 1945.
Similar photographs of the same Vânătorul de Care R35 with an unidentified Romanian or Soviet soldier in Znojmo Railway, 1945.
Vânătorul de Care R35 specifications
|Dimensions (L x W x H)||4.02 x 1.87 x 2.13 m (13.19 x 6.13 x 7.99 ft)|
|Total weight, battle ready||11.7 tons|
|Propulsion||82-85 hp water-cooled Renault 447 4-cylinder, 2200 rpm petrol engine|
|Suspension||Rubber springs placed horizontally|
|Speed (road)||20 km/h (12.4 mph)|
|Armament||45 mm (1.77 in) 20K|
|Armor (cast steel)||Hull & turret front and sides: 40 mm
Upper hull front: 43 mm
Turret rear: 40 mm
Hull rear: 32 mm
Turret & hull top: 25 mm
Hull bottom: 10 mm
Cupola: 40 mm
Driver’s hatch: 40 mm
|Total production||30 converted|
- Soviet penetration tests posted on Overlord’s blog
- R35 article by Yuri Pasholok
- R35 stats at tbof.us
- “The Romanian Army and the Evolution of the Tank branch. Documents. 1919-1945” by Commander Doctor Marian Moşneagu, Doctor Lulian-Stelian Boţoghină, Professor Mariana-Daniela Manolescu, Doctor Leontin-Vasile Stoica, and Professor Mihai-Cosmin Şoitariu (Armata Română Şi Evoluția Armei Tancuri. Documente (1919 – 1945)
- “Trupele Blindate din Armata Română 1919-1947” by Cornel Scafeș, Ioan Scafeș, and Horia Şerbănescu
- “Third Axis, Fourth Ally” by Mark Axworthy, Cornel Scafeș, and Cristian Craciunoiu