Despite Romania’s small industry it still tried to improve many of it’s vehicles in service regardless of how futile the attempts would be against the onslaught of the Soviets armour, the Vânătorul de Care R35 serves as a great example of trying to improve the firepower of the Renault R35.
Like many of the interwar vehicles used by the Romanians the Renault R35’s was bought towards the end of the 1930’s to support the fleet old a variety of light tanks already in service, initially there was an order of 200 R35’s however only 41 would be delivered to Romania by the time France went to war with Germany and eventually capitulated in 1940. A further 34 R35’s were gained from Poland in 1939 after they retreated into Romania in which the Romanians acquired the additional R35’s.
With 75 R35’s in service by the time of operation Barbarossa in which the R35’s alongside R2’s (LT vz 35/Panzer 35t) would be some of the most powerful tanks Romania could field however this would become apparent quickly how obsolete they had quickly become. Although both of these light tanks could take on a T-26 or a BT series tank they were no match for the T-34 medium or KV-1 Heavy tanks which could not be effectively dealt with.
R35’s in Romanian service
By the end of 1942 it became apparent that the vehicles needed to be equipped with more potent guns however due to the limitations of the vehicles the Romanians had they could either convert the vehicles into tank destroyers to fit medium calibre cannons or up-gun the vehicle to have a slightly better chance of longevity and also to utilise all the light vehicles captured by the Romanians during the beginning of the war. One of these attempts would create a hybrid of the R35 hull and T-26 turret used by the 2nd Armoured Regiment, this design proposed the T-26 turret to be equipped with the Romanian manufactured 47mm Schneider 1936 anti tank gun to replace the 45mm 20k and add the 7.92mm ZB-53 machinegun in the place of the 7.62mm DT machinegun.
Another proposal was to cram the 45mm 20k into the R-35 turret which became a very probable reality due to the amount of T-26’s and BT series tanks captured and studied with similar sized turrets. However due to many arguments and technicalities in regards to the R35 and the 45mm 20k proved to be difficult with figuring out how many of the 45mm shells would be equipped into the R35 due to the size difference of the shells compared to the 37mm’s shells, equipping a peep sight for the vehicle and also the ideas of extending the turret to accommodate the recoil of the 45mm.
Compared to the standard R35 the upgrade served as a new lease of life however a futile one if engaged against Soviet or later German vehicles but could now be more effective against T-60, T-70 and Toldi tanks unlike before regardless of that the tank still had a decent amount of 35 rounds to use despite how much larger the 45mm shells were compared to the original 37mm shells of the tank, the elevation of the gun was -8/25°. The amrour remained the same apart from the addition of the mantlet which was two layers but unfortunately no data regarding the mantlelt’s armour exists other than estimations from the existing turret still existing which is 10mm thick from estimations. The original rubber roadwheels where changed to metal trimmed roadwheels which increased the reliability of the tanks which performed poorly on their trails in 1939 whilst the engine remained the same as the regular R35’s.
The first prototype was ready in February 1943 which was successful as an upgrade to the original R35 with the trials ending in the summer of 1943 with the production of 30 conversions ordered where they would fight alongside the regular R35’s in battles. The order for more upgrades had gone through but they were cancelled due to the occupation of the Soviets dictating what could be produced later on in 1944. The last known Vânătorul de Care R35 in service fought in Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1945. None of the vehicles of this modification have survived the war. The turrets of one of the vehicles was discovered at Hron river valley in Slovakia.
Surviving R35 VDC turret
Dimensions (L-W-H): 4.02m x 1.87m x 2.13m (13’19’’ x 6’13’’ x 7’99’’ ft)
Total Weight: 11.7 tons
Propulsion: Renault 447 4 cylinder petrol engine, 82-85hp 2200rpm engine.
Transmission: 4 forward 1 reverse
Power to Weight Ratio: 7-7.25hp/ton
Suspension: Rubber springs placed horizontally
Top Speed: 20km/h (12.4 mph) (15km/h off road (9.3mph))
Main Armament: 45mm 20k (35 rounds)
Vertical Guidance: -8°/25°
Secondary Armament: 1x 7.92mm ZB-53 (hull mounted)
Armour: 40-43mm frontal, 40mm sides and 32mm rear (Hull)
40mm front, sides and rear (turret)
25mm turret roof and hull top