Maresal Tank Destroyer – the project that could’ve changed the course of WWII, Infographic

Spread the knowledge

Introduction

Maresal Tank Destroyer infographic


The Maresal Tank Destroyer represented Romania’s greatest ambition in developing and building its own modern light tank destroyer in WWII, capable of standing against the Soviet tanks.
Since the start of WWII, the Romanian Army suffered from a chronic lack of anti-tank means. Most of its tank forces were of French or Czech origins.


After the start of Operation Barbarossa, Romania, who joined the Axis side, had to rely heavily on German support or captured Soviet AFVs to fill the lack of proper anti-tank vehicles.
Like their German Allies, the Romanians were also surprised by the effectiveness of the Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks. After heavy fighting, at the end of August 1941, from a total of 105 Romanian AFVs(armored fighting vehicles), only 20 R-2 tanks were still operational.


By the end of the year, other 26 armored vehicles were also lost in combat, while 60 were broken down due to technical problems.
It is important to note, that most of the Romanian armored vehicles were not knocked in combat, but rather lost due to technical issues, and most of them had to be resent in factories for repairs.


After the major military defeat at Stalingrad, the Romanians suffered heavy losses in both soldiers and armored vehicle units( most of the 111 R-2 tanks, and 19 PzKpfw III and PzKpfw IV tanks provided by the Germans).
It became obvious for the Romanians that their fighting vehicles were obsolete, totally inadequate for the fighting against heavy armored Soviet tanks.


The Romanian Army was forced to rethink its strategy and focused initially on refitting the obsolete armored vehicles with improved anti-tank guns, later the Romanian experts started designing their own tank destroyer.
The Maresal tank Destroyer represents the culmination of all the efforts of the Romanian forces to create a capable anti-tank vehicle for the fight against the Soviets.


Maresal Tank Destroyer: Initial Project

Maresal Tank Destroyer M-00 prototype, completely built
Maresal Tank Destroyer M-00 prototype


The project began at the request of Marshal Ion Antonescu, leader of Romania, in December 1942. He believed – and this proves his high professionalism – that the weak AT defense of Romanian troops can be radically improved by developing a light tank destroyer, very mobile, fast to repair, and with very good firepower, which can also be easily built by the local industry.
This hard task fell on the shoulders of a research team made up of Major Nicolae Anghel, Captain Gheorghe Sambotin, and engineer Constantin Ghiulai.
The research team was faced with the daunting task of creating a new vehicle, never seen before and without equivalent in any other army in the world then.
Because of the limited time and resources, the research team had to skip some of the theoretical military plans and decided to unite an existing anti-tank gun with an existing military chassis and started the military tests.
With the support of Ghiulai and engineer Radu Veres(chief at Rogifer factory, formerly Malaxa), the research team used captured military Soviet equipment for creating and testing the first prototype of the Maresal tank destroyer.
By using the chassis of a T-60 and adding a 122 mm Putilov-Obukhov cannon and a 7.92 mm ZB-53 coaxial machine gun.

Maresal Tank Destroyer M-00, building phase
Maresal M-00, building phase

The protection of the armor was provided by slopped plates, 20-30 mm thick, which gave it an unusual bottom profile, in the shape of a tortoise, something not found in other projects of the time.
Baptized “Maresal”(Romanian term for Marshall) in honor of Marshal Ion Antonescu, leader of Romania at that time, this first prototype was designated in official documents “M-00”.
Testing of the first prototype began in July 1943, at the firing range at Suditi, near the Romanian town of Slobozia.
Before the first tests, there were many pessimistic opinions among some Army specialists that the vehicle could not withstand the power of the gun and it could even turn over during the tests.
In the end, it turned out that they were wrong, but after the first tests, several technical deficiencies came to light, such as a weak engine, track slippage, and problems with the support of the gun mounting.


However, these firsts tests were promising enough for the Romanian specialist and Army and even encouraged them to continue the development of the project.


At the orders of Marshall Ion Antonescu, a special commission designated “M staff” was created in August 1943, with the purpose of supervising the development and production of the Maresal Tank Destroyer.
A workshop from the Rogifer factory was specially allocated only for building and improving the future “M” tank destroyer projects.
By the middle of October 1943, 3 new models were constructed (M-01, M-02, M-03), which from the armor point of view it retained the characteristics of the initial project M-00. At the same new these new projects solved most of the initial technical problems of the first vehicle.
By comparison with the initial M-00 project, which used a T-60 chassis, the chassis of the M-03 was 34.2 cm longer and 13.4 cm wider.
For the M-03 prototype, the Romanians even developed a shaped-charge projectile for the 122mm howitzer only for anti-tank use.
All three prototypes were tested at the same firing range from Suditi on 23 October 1943, in the presence of Marshal Ion Antonescu.
Exactly on the same day, Ion Antonescu participated in the firing demonstration of the Romanian anti-tank gun called Resita M1943 75 MM AT, which proved to be exceptional during the firing range tests.
According to Romanian sources, the best Resita 75 MM anti-tank gun model manages to penetrate a 10 cm(100 mm) steel plate at 1000 meters(1093 yards).
The Resita M1943 75 MM AT also successfully manage to penetrate 10 cm steel plates at 300 and 500 meters, which were angled at 30º.
One of the constructors who participated in the “Maresal program”, proposed the replacing of the 122 mm howitzer gun with the new Resita anti-tank gun, the proposal was approved by Ion Antonescu and this modification will take effect on the new M-04 prototype.


Planned mass production

After the promising development of the first prototypes, it was time for the Romanian experts to analyze how to introduce the Maresal tank destroyer into mass production.
For this purpose, the leader of the “M” staff and chefs from the Rogifer factory were sent to several German military factories to study the developments in the field. They concluded that the design was correct and that their project was quite advanced for that time.
The preparations for serial production began in November-December 1943.
A team of experts was sent to France to conclude an agreement for purchasing 1000 Hotchkiss engines. At the same time, similar agreements for supplying tools and components for the vehicle were also secured with factories from Bohemia, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden.
A Romanian representative was also dispatched to the OKH to present the Maresal tank destroyer project in order to discuss the possibility of purchasing other military components. Starting with this meeting the Germans become interested in the technical and military performance of this vehicle.
On January 06, 1944, Ion Antonescu presented the M-04 prototype plans to Adolf Hitler, during an official meeting.
On May 10, 1944, the Romanian High Command requested the production of 1,000 Marshal tank destroyers who were to form 32 anti-tank battalions. In addition to the 2nd Combat Regiment, a training battalion was created, the M battalion.
It was believed that the first armored vehicles would come out from the production line in June and that by September 1944 it would be possible to reach a production of 100 tank destroyers per month. However, the Allied bombings which began in April 1944, had seriously disrupted the production capacity of the Maresal programme. Not only it halted production for a few months, but it also forced the Romanians to disperse the Rogifer production facilities in several towns: Brasov, Sibiu, and Fagaras.
Another major event that slowed the Maresal production, was the overrunning by the Allies of the French Plant which had to supply the Hotchkiss engines. The Germans tried to solve this issue by supplying the Romanians with 220 hp diesel engines.
As a result, the production for Series 0 was delayed for November 1944, while Series I and II production were rescheduled for January 1945.
From the total planned production of 1000 Maresals, 200 were designed to follow the specifications of the M-05 prototype, while the remaining 800 would’ve been constructed after the final prototype M-06 and Series 0.
Only between 10 and 12 Maresal tanks destroyers from the “Series 00” were built while other approximately 90-100 vehicles were still on the assembly line before the Soviets invaded Romania in August 1944.
As we all know, on 23 August 1944, Romania switched sides and joined the war against Nazi Germany.
Now being in the sphere of influence of the USSR, the Soviets confiscated everything related to the Maresal programme: plans, equipment, SDVs, prototypes, including the 0 series, which was to be produced in November 1944 and it was on the production line phase.


Maresal Tank Destroyer Prototypes


In total 7 prototypes were created, with different specifications in terms of armor, firepower, and other technical details:
M-00 specifications:
Main Gun: Soviet 121.9 mm, Putilov M1904/30 howitzer
Armor: 20-30 mm slopped steel plates
Armour shape: turtle
Crew: 2
Chassis: T-60
Optics: Ior Septilici A/T sight
Weigh: around 6.7 tons
Engine: Ford V8 85 HP
Electrics: T-60
Side notes: As we have already mentioned the first tank prototype of the Maresal programme, nicknamed M-00, relied on a soviet artillery gun of 121.9 mm mounted on a T-60 chassis which was stripped of its original turret, and then shaped like a turtle so it can deflect enemy shells.
The Romanians adopted the Soviet 121.9 mm, Putilov M1904/30 howitzer by mounting a muzzle brake. At the first test, some specialists considered that the vehicle could not resist to the firing tests and it will turn over. On the contrary, the results of the first tests at the Suditi firing range proved promising and the Romanians agreed to continue the development of the Maresal tank destroyer.
M-01 specifications
Main Gun: Soviet 121.9 mm, Putilov M1904/30 howitzer
Armor: 20-30 mm slopped steel plates
Armour shape: turtle
Crew: 2
Chassis: enlarged and reinforced T-60
Optics: Ior Septilici A/T sight
Weigh: around 6.7 tons
Engine: Buick 120 HP
Electrics: Rogifer
Side notes: the M-01 tank destroyer retained many of the specifications of the original design with the exception of the engine, and electrics. Some components from the T-60 chassis were also improved by the Romanians for better combat performance. It was tested on October 23, 1944, at the Suditi proving ground along with the M-02 and M-03 prototypes.
M-02 specifications:
Main Gun: Soviet 121.9 mm, Putilov M1904/30 howitzer
Armor: 20-30 mm slopped steel plates
Armour shape: turtle
Crew: 2
Chassis: enlarged and reinforced T-60 chassis, built by Rogifer
Optics: Ior Septilici A/T sight
Weigh: around 6.4 tons
Engine: Buick 120 HP
Electrics: Rogifer
Side notes: with the development of the M-02 prototype we can observe a tendency to give up the Soviet equipment and components in favor of local industry parts. The chassis used a T-60 model but build and improved by the Rogifer factory. The pedal-steering control was also built by Rogifer and was geared with an accelerator and a manual clutch.
M-03 specifications:
Main Gun: Soviet 121.9 mm, Putilov M1904/30 howitzer
Armor: 10mm slopped steel
Armour shape: turtle
Crew: 2
Chassis: Rogifer design
Optics: Ior Septilici A/T sight
Weigh: around 6.6 tons
Engine: Buick 120 HP
Electrics: Rogifer
Side notes: the chassis was 34.2 cm longer and 13.4 cm wider and it was entirely built by Rogifer, unlike the previous prototypes, thus for the first time the T-60 chassis didn’t represent the basis of this tank destroyer.
Among all other prototypes, the M-03 had the thinnest armor, of only 10 mm.
M-04 specifications
Maresal M-00 prototype, wood model
Main Gun: 75 mm, DT-UDR, M1943 Resita AT gun
Armor: 10-20 mm, Resita armor plate
Armour shape: half hexagon
Crew: 2
Chassis: Rogifer design
Optics: Ior Septilici A/T sight & IOR panoramic telescope
Weight:?
Engine: Hotchkis H-39 120 HP
Electrics: Rogifer
Side notes: the development of M-04 began in November 1943 and it ended in January 1944.
It was the first prototype equipped with the Hotchkiss H-39 engine, supplied by a specialized factory from France. The transmission is also from Hotchkiss.
From all Maresal prototypes, the M-04 is the first one equipped with the 75 mm, DT-UDR, M1943 Resita AT gun, instead of the initial 122 mm soviet anti-tank gun from the previous versions.
The armor was 10-20 mm thick and was produced by Resita. Lieutenant Colonel Ventz, later proposed that the armor should be increased to 30 mm.
Unlike the previous models, which had a turtle shape, the M-04 had a half hexagon shape.
The weight of the vehicle is unknown, but looking at the previous prototypes, most probably it was under 10 tonnes.
The optics from the previous vehicles were kept, the only difference is represented by an improvement on IOR panoramic telescope.
The only remaining component from the basic T-60 is the track, but also improved by widening it with 26 cm.
Most of the parts from this vehicle that were not imported were locally produced by the Rogifer plant.
M-05 specifications
Maresal M-05 tank destroyer
M-05 prototype
Main Gun: 75 mm, DT-UDR, M1943 Resita AT gun
Armor: 10-20 mm, Bohler armor plate
Armour shape: half hexagon
Crew: 2
Chassis: Rogifer design
Optics: Ior Septilici A/T sight & IOR panoramic telescope
Weigh: 10 tons
Engine: Hotchkis H-39 120 HP
Electrics: Rogifer
Side notes: starting with March 1944, the design team, now including Wohlrath of the Alket company of Berlin and one of the designers of the Resita 75 mm anti-tank gun, Locotenent Colonel Valerian Nestorescu, were working on the latest prototypes of the tank destroyer: M-05 and M-06.


The biggest innovation of the M-05 is represented by the fact that it was largely built with Romanian parts, unlike the previous projects, which relied heavily on T-60 components.

The only parts that were imported, because the Romanians weren’t able to produce them were: the Hotchkiss engine and gearbox, the CKD tranks, the German radio, and sights.
The M-05 was ready in May 1944 for the first tests.


In June 1944, the Maresal M-05 was presented to the Leader of Romania, Maresalul Ion Antonescu, during a competition against a German STUG III and a Resita 75 mm gun.


All three weapons were subjected to a range of tests: speed, handling, slope management, obstacle clearance, and firing range.
The Maresal Tank Destroyer M-05 proved to be the best at all tests and earned even the praise of the German officers that were also attending this event.
The M-05 prototype was subjected to more tests between July 24 and August 21, 1944. The only issue during these field tests was found at the gun mounting.
From the total of 1000 planned tank destroyers, 200 would’ve been built after the M-05 technical specifications.
When Romania switched sides and joined the Allies on August 23, 1944, the M-05 almost completed all proving programme, the only exception was represented by the endurance trial. The production was suspended on August 29, because of the Soviet troops’ presence in Romania.
Firing tests and endurance trials for the M-05 were resumed on September 21, 1944, the initial results were very good.
M-06 specifications
Main Gun: 75 mm, DT-UDR, M1943 Resita AT gun
Armor: 10-20 mm, Resita under Bohler armor plate
Armour shape: half hexagon
Crew: 3
Chassis: Rogifer design
Optics: Ior Septilici A/T sight & IOR panoramic telescope
Weigh: 10 tons
Engine: Hotchkis H-39 120 HP
Electrics: Rogifer
Side notes: it was the only Maresal tank destroyer with a crew of 3 people. Many of the components like the M-05 were to be produced in Romania.
800 M-06 units would’ve been produced from a total of 1000 planned tank destroyers, if the mass production started earlier, which didn’t happen.


Inspiration for the Hetzer tank destroyer?


There are two historians who strongly support the theory that the Maresal Tank Destroyer prototype has inspired or at least had a great impact on the development of the Hetzer.
British historian Mark Axworthy supports this theory based on the statement of a German High Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ventz, delegate of the Waffen Amt. In May 1944, Ventz declared that the design of the Jagdpanzer 38(t) was inspired by the Romanian prototype.


Steven Zaloga, in his book “Tanks of Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941-45” supports the theory that the Maresal was the source of inspiration for the Hetzer: “The Germans were impressed with the overall layout of the Maresal, and it is credited with being the inspiration for the German Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank destroyer”.


Let’s quickly remember the actual timeline of the development of both projects. The design of the Maresal began in December 1942, it was first tested in July 1943 and then the project was first presented to Hitler, by Maresal Ion Antonescu, leader of Romania, in December 1943. Later on January 06, 1944, Hitler saw the plans of the M-04 prototype.
For the Hetzer the timeline is the following: the project was approved by Hitler on December 07, 1943; on January 08, 1944, the final design of the final model was ready, and in April 1944 it entered the mass production process. In July 1944 it also entered into service, way before the Maresal Tank Destroyer.


It is important to mention, that although the Germans were impressed with the performance of the Maresal, the idea of creating a tank destroyer with superior firepower and sloped armor for good protection was not a strange concept for German military experts. The Jagdpanther and the Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyers, which are the best examples, were developed before the Hetzer. So even, if the Maresal tank destroyer wasn’t developed, the Germans already had more than enough knowledge about developing modern tank destroyers so they can fight against superior enemy tanks.
It is best to say, that both tanks destroyers, followed the same basic concepts that granted them their success on the battlefields: easy to produce, cost-effective, good mobility, superior firepower, and not last good protection offered by the slopped armor.


Maresal Flakpanzer?

The Germans intended to buy Maresal chassis produced by the Romanians so they can later equip them with Rheinmettal 37 mm AA guns. This idea was never finalized because the original Romanian Maresal programme was never completed.


CONCLUSION:


None of the Maresal tank destroyers that were built ever saw combat. On August 23, 1944, Romania switched sides and joined the fight against the Axis Powers. The events that followed this decision, meant also the end for the Maresal tank destroyer project.
On October 26, 1944, the Soviet Armistice Commission, added a secret protocol to the Armistice Agreement between Romania and the USSR.
The Soviets used this additional protocol as an excuse and demanded the dissolution of all Romanian mechanized units, thus everything related to the Maresal destroyer project(prototypes, documents, photographs, plans) were either confiscated or destroyed.
Undoubtedly, the Maresal tank destroyer was one of the most ambitious Romanian engineering projects during WWII. Although it didn’t saw actual combat, the introduced features, and technical innovations, contributed to the development of the German Hetzer tank destroyer, which proved to be a serious opponent for the Soviet T-34 tanks.

SOURCES:

Mark Axworthy; Third Axis Fourth Ally: Romanian Armed Forces in the European War, 1941-1945; Arms & Armour; 1st edition

Steven J.Zaloga; Tanks of Hitler’s Eastern Allies; Osprey Publishing

ARMATA ROMÂNĂ ŞI EVOLUŢIA ARMEI TANCURI.DOCUMENTE (1919 – 1945)


Leave a Comment