Ingenuity was in full swing during World War 2 (1939-1945) when countless expiring vehicle designs found renewed service lives as all-new battlefield systems. For Romania, this was the case with several systems it was forced to devise due to ongoing requirements. It was a neutral party when Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939 and formally joined the Axis in November of the following year due to both internal and external circumstances. It committed more souls to the East Front than any other non-German participant and was a critical supplier of oil to the German war machine going forward.
While progress along the East Front was initially good for the Axis, the Soviet winter and strained supply lines halted the advance long enough to allow the enemy to recoup and rearm. This led to many-an-operation to regain lost territory for the Soviets and ultimately the advantage once held by the Axis powers was lost. By late 1942, the Romanian Army lacked much in the way of heavy-hitting firepower to contend with the rise of better armed and armored Soviet tank systems - namely the classic T-34 Medium Tank and the IS-2 Josef Stalin Heavy Tank (both detailed elsewhere on this site).
Several indigenous programs were undertaken to strengthen the Romanian ground forces as there was no guarantee from the Germans that any of their good hardware would make it to Bucharest in time. As such the Romanians looked at their captured stocks of former Soviet tanks and guns to produce several lesser-known weapon systems of the war: the TACAM T-60 was the Soviet T-60 Light Tank mated to the Soviet 76.2mm M1936 Anti-Tank (AT) gun to be used as a tank destroyer. The TACAM R-2 followed suit as a dedicated tank destroyer but used the chassis of the Romanian R-2 tank and coupled this with the Soviet 76.2mm ZiS-3 AT gun. Production of both systems was extremely limited by war standards, just 34 and 21 respectively being completed before the end. Leonida handled both conversion programs.
The R-2 Light Tank came to the Romanians as the "Lehky Tank vzor 35", an original Czechoslovakian design ordered by the Romanian government before the start of the war in 1936. With the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, these tanks became known as Panzer 35(t) and served other German-aligned parties including Bulgaria and Hungary. Some 434 of the type were ultimately produced by Skoda CKD. The original Romanian order numbered 126 units and the first was delivered during April of 1937.
This compact tank, despite its early issues, was a sound and competent vehicle for its role and its availability meant that the Romanians could continue to make good use of it with some thought. Another key element in the Romanian inventory was the Soviet 76.2mm ZiS-3 AT gun system which saw widespread use and high production totals (about 103,000 being made) from 1941 on. The weapon was a true armor-defeating piece and a central component to the thinking that the R-2 could be modified to serve as an effective tank destroyer.
The R-2 began its conversion process by having its whole turret structure removed. The Soviet M1936 AT gun was then fitted atop an all-new mount and a basic three-sided, open-air fighting compartment was built atop the revised hull structure. Drive power remained a Skoda 4-cylinder, water-cooled T11/0 engine of 125 horsepower which allowed for road speeds of up to 20 miles per hour and operational ranges out to 100 miles to be reached.
The R-2 origin was clear throughout the appearance of the running gear arrangement and hull lines with the sole design exception being the new fixed superstructure for the gun and crew. The crew numbered three and armor protection reached up to 25mm thick. A 7.92mm ZB-53 machine gun could be mounted for local defense. From the design phase of 1943, which produced a pilot vehicle for testing, the tank entered manufacturing in 1944 and twenty examples followed (despite the forty originally envisioned, new Soviet armor ending the new vehicle's expected reach). Before the vehicles made to the front they were up-gunned to carry the more potent ZiS-3 series AT gun, another Soviet-originated 76.2mm weapon system available to the Romanians.
In August of 1944, the Romanians switched allegiance to the Allies and it was only then that these new tank destroyers saw their baptism of fire when they engaged German and Hungarian forces. The types were in local Army service until Romania was declared clear of the Axis presence by late October. Nearly all of the TACAM R-2 Tank Destroyers - save for one becoming a museum showpiece - were lost or scrapped before the end of the war in Europe in May of 1945.
The twenty production examples and the sole pilot vehicle were all that were realized of this Romanian tank initiative.