Romania, as one of the Axis powers, is often underestimated by people interested in WW2 history. The general feeling is that the Romanian soldiers were not skilled, not motivated and incompetent, their weapons were obsolete and their armor a laughing stock.
This is not true - at least not to the extent believed on various forums. Generally it can be said that Romanian soldiers were not any less brave or skilled than their counterparts from other nations. While the Romanian armor was quite obsolete indeed by the middle of the war (moreso than that of Hungary for example), one can only admire the courage it took to fight on such vehicles with enemies such as the Soviet T-34, that completely outclassed everthing the Romanians had, apart from several Panzer IV's. Romanian army however suffered a lot from outdated doctrines, terrible troop supply (partially caused by the lack of motor vehicles - a lot of the cargo had to be towed by horses) and low quality of Romanian steel industry
After World War I, in which Romania fought on the Allies' side against the Central powers, it was clear to Romanian officers that the tanks are the weapon of the future, because their role in breaking thru the trench nightmare of WW1 battlefields is invaluable. Therefore, in Spring 1919, it was decided to arm the Romanian army with armor, especially with tanks.
Ever since WW1, Romania had 34 armored cars in its posession. They were mostly various types of Soviet origin, built on various suspensions (Austin, Garford, Peugeot, Fiat) and they were very worn from the war. Two companies were made of them in 1919, but there was no unification of equipment whatsoever and combined with their poor shape, their combat effectiveness was very low (and the Romanians knew that).
Therefore, to do things properly, the Romanians basically decided to start from scratch, by founding a new tank combat school. They asked their allies - the French - and the French happily obliged. The school, named "Scoli de Care de asalt" (Assault vehicle school), situated in Giorgiu started to teach new vehicle officers on 21.7.1919 and a week later (1.8.1919), a new Combat vehicle batallion (batalionul de care de lupta) was formed. Along with that, Romania bought 76 FT-17 light tanks from France (45 of which had the 37mm Puteaux gun, the rest was armed with machineguns), assigning them to the bataillion. The batallion itself was divided into 4 companies and fell under artillery command (later in 1922, it was reassigned to the infantry command). While the crews practiced on the vehicles dilligently, the tanks suffered from the intensive training and by 1925 they were quite worn out. By 1930, only 34 tanks and armored cars were still operational, but often in very bad condition.
In general it can be said that the Romanian army was large, but not modern. It was equipped with various foreign weapons of various calibers, making the logistics a nightmare. There were wide quality differences between various units. Plus, what was even worse, the army was very poorly motorized and mechanized and relied on horses for most of the heavy lifting, which was something the Romanian army never got rid of, at least not until WW2 was over.
Vehicle repair and manufacture possibilities were also extremely limited - Romania was an agricultural army, there was no large heavy industry, that could produce tanks on its own. The only vehicle plant in the country was Ford Romania, which was completing automobiles from imported parts. Repairs of acquired vehicles were often made "ad hoc" in small garages, belonging to the Leonida company and to Central army repair workshops. In 1934, after an inspection, Romanian command came to conclusion that Romania is in no state to produce any complicated armored vehicles on its own and in the light of that fact, Romanian armor will never become a dominant force in the army.
Furthermore, cooperation with France had one more nasty side-effect: the French officers and instructors, who taught the Romanian tankers, brought the French doctrine with them. The French tank doctrine of that time basically did put emphasis on infantry combat. According to it, it is the infantry that wins or loses the battles and therefore, the role of the tank is to support infantry, not to act on its own (as the Germans later practiced during the blitzkrieg). Therefore, Romanian tank units were from the start built as infantry support units and the vehicles they employed reflected that fact. And so the Romanian tank forces were broken down to smaller units - and served under infantry and artillery command. Under such circumstances, no tank tactics were developed.
Such was the state of the Romanian armor in 1934 anyway - but things were to change. In 1935, a new ambitious 10-year re-arm program for the army was approved. Financed by the Ploesti oil exports, its main goal was to re-arm the army with unified weapons, better motorisation and mechanisation of infantry and artillery units and also (not as a main goal though) improvement of Romanian armored units. Interestingly enough, the program (unlike those of many other countries) was realistic and its goals were met every year up until like 1940, when the war intervened. It is worth noting that practically all the weapons acquired in this program were either imported or licensed, mostly from Czechoslovakia (in infantry and artillery weapons, 70 percent of everything was of Czechoslovak origin, due to strong ties within the Petite Entente (an alliance between Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia, supported heavily by France)).
When it came to armor, Romanian officers visited several companies, including Vickers, Renault, Polish Ursus and ČKD plus Škoda. In the end (for both quality, but also political reasons), Czechoslovak ČKD and Škoda were asked to make an offer for rearming the Romanian tanks with Czechoslovak vehicles on 8.1.1936. On 30.5.1936, vehicles from both companies were approved and on 14.8.1936, preliminary contracts were signed in Prague (under very strict conditions for the Czechoslovak companies). In the end, ČKD recieved a contract for 35 Praga AH-IV tankettes (redesignated R-1 by the Romanians and AH-IV-R by the company) and Škoda recieved a contract for 126 modified light tanks LT-35 (redesignated R-2 by the Romanians and Š-IIa-R by the company).
R-1 was basically a modified AH-IV tankette. Its designation (tankette/light tank) varies, the vehicle itself is kinda borderline (it weighted 3,5 tons). It is armed with a heavy 7,92mm ZB-37 machinegun and a light ZB-30 machinegun of the same caliber. It's a very light vehicle, the armor is only 12mm thick in the front (original AH-IV had 15mm, this was a demand from the Romanians to make the vehicle as light as possible in order to improve its reliability even further). The vehicle was also equipped with a different engine (Praga RHR V6, 60hp, 45km/h on the road, 20km/h offroad) and improved transmission (Praga-Wilson). Some sources claim that the Romanians detuned the engine locally to cca 50hp in order to improve its durability even further. Furthermore, Romanian vehicles generally didn't have commander's copula.
The first vehicles reached Romania in the beginning of 1937 and the whole series was completed by the end of the year. The vehicles arrived in Romania in April 1938, but for various (mostly political) reasons, they were officially transferred to Romanian ownership in August 1938.
By 1939 however, since the French couldn't supply Romania with enough tanks, Romanians returned to Czechoslovakia to strike a deal for license production of the AH-IV. On 22.2.1939, a license agreement was closed for production of 380 AH-IV tanks by the company called Malaxa (see further) under the designation of R-1-a. These vehicles also used the Praga RHR engine (standardized for Romania, because Praga AV and RV trucks, exported to Romania, used it too). In the end however, the R-1-a's didn't get to be license produced, because the Romanians basically changed their minds after seeing the German tankettes perform poorly in Poland. One prototype was made by Czechoslovaks, but it was never sent to Romania, while the Romanians themselves built a prototype (from earlier R-1 spare parts).
These vehicles served in the Romanian army actively until Stalingrad, after which the surviving tanks were returned to Romania for training. The picture shows a typical Romanian olive colour scheme with Romanian tricolor.
R-2 was a development of the famous Czechoslovak LT-35 light tank (Czechoslovak factory designation was Š-IIa-R, but there are more versions of this transcription, as the Czechoslovak designation was basically a huge mess, it was simplified only after 1938, after which several LT-35 variants were renamed to T-11, including this one).
Compared to the original LT-35, R-2's had slightly modified armor and turret shapes, but the armor remained the same. It was armed with the 37mm A-3 gun and propelled with the same 118hp Škoda T-11/0 engine, allowing it to go as fast as 35 km/h. The armor was only cca 25mm thick, with 16mm on the sides.
The R-2 development was in the beginning plagued by problems, caused by two factors. First one was the fact that in the Czechoslovak army, Škoda tended to fix the initially not-so-reliable vehicles "on the move", with many improvements being made over the years (this is why they were considered to be fine by the time the Germans took them over from the disbanded Czechoslovak army). By 1937 however, they still had reliability problems and the prototype didn't perform too well reliability-wise during the trials. Second reason was that several Romanian officers, interested in the program for "prestige reasons", tended to make additional (and sometimes ridiculous) demands, which caused the development to be delayed several times.
In the end, the vehicles manufactured for Romania came in 2 different versions: the common R-2 with homogenous armor and the R-2c with cemented armor (a half of the vehicles belonged to one and the other half to the other version). Visually, they can be distinguished only by different shapes in rear turret and rear hull armor.
Because the Romanians wanted to train on these tanks as soon as possible, Czechoslovakia lent 15 (standard) LT-35 tanks to Romania in May 1937. They served as training and parade vehicles until July 1938, when they returned to Škoda factory for additional refit and R-2 modifications. In the meanwhile, 3 other vehicles (this time in the R-2 version) were transported to Romania for testing near Suditi on the steppes of Baragan.
However, the in 1938/39, the tanks were supplied only irregularily because of the turbulent political situation. 27 were finished by mid-September 1938, but they were seized during the Czechoslovak mobilization as defense assets (same fate awaited all the tanks intended for export at that time), by mid-October the production of R-2's was renewed, but it was again paused because of the explosive situation on Czechoslovak-Hungarian borders (the transports to Romania went over Hungary). After that it was again renewed (this time over Poland) in December 1938 and the last transport of 32 tanks left Pilsen on 22.2.1939 (this time under completely different political conditions however). As for the vehicles performance in battle... we'll get to that.
Considering the fact that Romania had only very few resources to manufacture armor with, it is no surprise the Romanians went for simple and cheap vehicles (they were generally interested in Czechoslovak heavier designs too, but in the end, refused them because they were too complicated). One of the very few license-produced vehicles in Romania was the Renault UE.
In 1937, Romanians acquired the license for the Renault Chenillette d'Infanterie Type UE (Renault UE) armored artillery tractors (intended to tow the 47mm Schneider AT guns). Some were imported as early as 1931, but the license production itself was started in September 1939 by the company Malaxa in Bucharest. As a result, these vehicles were generally called "Malaxa" by the Romanians (the official designation was Senileta Malaxa Tipul UE - tracked vehicle Malaxa type UE). The production was never self sufficient - Renault itself provided the parts from (later occupied) France. In 1941, the production was stopped, because the Renault company stopped supplying Romania with parts (by that time, 126 were already made by Malaxa). Additional vehicles were however given (or sold) to Romania by the Germans from the captured stock left by the French army.
Another French vehicle in Romanian service was the Renault R-35 infantry tank. At first (in the beginning of 1938), the Romanians wanted to license-complete 200 R-35's from parts supplied by the French, but this plan failed because the French didn't have the capacity to produce parts for Romania by that time (other contracts for Yugoslavia, Poland and Turkey were already closed). In order to appease the Romanians however, French government decided to sell 41 R-35's to Romania from the French army stock - it would be redesigned to Care de Lupta Tip R-35 (combat vehicle type R-35).
This tanks was hated by the Romanians - it was well armored for its time, but very slow and unreliable. It didn't even have a radio set. It was used only for training the crews. Later on, these vehicles were partially modified (by for example removing the original 7,5mm Chatellerault MG and replacing it with the Czechoslovak ZB-30). Suspension was also improved and the roadwheels recieved steel bandages for better survivability.
As mentioned earlier, by 1938/39, Romania still needed more tanks. After the failure of the French to deliver enough of their tanks, Romanian turned back to Czechoslovakia with medium tanks on their mind. ČKD showed the Romanian delegation the new improved AH-IV-S, TNH-S light tank and also the V-8-H, while the Škoda company tried to catch their attention with Š-I-D and Š-I-j light self-propelled guns and with the Š-IIc medium tank. Nothing came of it - the only thing that was somewhat followed was the AH-IV-a deal, mentioned earlier. The main reason was that most of these vehicles were simply too complicated for Romanian industry.
The Romanians were mostly interested in R-2a (improved R-2 with better engine, radio and improved armor) light tank, V-8-H and T-21 medium tanks (T-21 was licensed to Hungary and later fought under the Turán I designation) and in May 1939, these tanks were sent to the test polygon near Suditi, where they passed the Romanian tests with flying colours. However, at this point, Germans intervened. Germans were interested in "divide and conquer" tactics in the Balkans. Basically, they sort of pushed Romania, Hungary and Slovakia against each other. The Romanians ordered 216 T-21 medium tanks from Škoda (seeing as the Hungarians went for them too), they also ordered 395 TNHPS light tanks from ČKD, but the Germans intervened and didn't approve any exports.
Third way how to improve their armor for the Romanians was the use of various captured armor. Naturally, this by itself was a logistics problem, as captured tanks had little to do with each other and spare parts could be obtained only by cannibalizing other vehicles, but in 1939/1940 the Romanians took whatever they could get their hands on.
The first vehicles they recieved this way would be several Czechoslovak armored cars from the Czechoslovak 7th light tank batallion, that crossed Romanian borders in order to avoid letting the Germans have their tanks after Czechoslovakia became a part of the Reich. These vehicles included one LT-35 and several OA vz.27 and OA vz.30 armored cars.
Romania also gained 34 R-35 tank from Poland, because some Polish units crossed the Romanian borders to escape the Germans and were interned. Their tanks were incorporated into the Romanian army. More captured tanks came from Soviet Union, but that will be in the second part.
I.Pejčoch - Obrněná Technika
Francev, Kliment - Škoda LT vz.35
Francev, Kliment - Československá obrněná vozidla
P.Pilař - Lehké tanky Škoda T-11, T-12 a T-13M