Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Forgotten Designs: The Turkish Cemal Tural APC

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans in collaboration with Alper Akkurt
Turkey's arms industry currently offers a variety of both wheeled and tracked APC designs for sale to clients home and abroad. Many of these incorporate features such as remote weapon stations or even electric drive propulsion. Undoubtedly owing to their advanced capabilities and their proven quality, Turkish APCs have found commercial success in Georgia, Bahrain, the Philippines, Oman, the UAE and Malaysia. We previously reported on Turkey's first (truly indigenous) APC design, the Nurol Ejder 6x6 produced by Nurol Makina, which was later acquired by Georgia. While respectable in its own right, the Ejder 6x6 is actually not the first APC design to have come out of Turkey.
In the 1960s, Turkey set out to convert a small number of M19A1 self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (SPAAGs) to armoured personnel carriers (APCs). The resulting vehicle became known as the 'Orgeneral Tural Kariyeri' (or the General Cemal Tural APC in English), named after Major General Cemal Tural who ordered its design. Likely as a result of their short service career, which isn't believed to have lasted for more than a few years, the Cemal Tural APC remains largely unknown outside Turkey. Its elusiveness set aside, the Tural APC is an interesting attempt at turning an otherwise outdated AFV into a useful new vehicle type.

The Turkish Army is reported to have acquired a limited number of M19A1 SPAAGs from the United States in the late 1950s or early 1960s. [1] While Japan would go on to keep the SPAAG in active service for several more decades, a steady supply of U.S. armoured fighting vehicles to Turkey meant that the country could phase out its M19A1s and retire them to long-term storage, being replaced by modern SPAAGs (for the time at least) like the M42 Duster. A decision was subsequently taken to convert some of the now redundant M19A1s to APCs. 
During the 1960s, Turkey was operating large quantities of U.S. M59 APCs and was in the process of taking delivery of even larger numbers of their replacement vehicle, the M113 APC. [2] The decision to introduce a third APC design was a curious one, and might have been motivated more by an opportunity to gain experience in the design of AFVs rather than an actual operational requirement for more APCs. Interestingly, the M24 Chaffee tank on which the M19A1 and thus the Cemal Tural APC is based continued to see service in the inventories of Norway and Chile well into the 1990s, while Uruguay retired the last of its M24s only in 2019! [3]

For the conversion to an APC, the turret and the 40mm cannons inside it was removed from the M19A1 and an armoured cabin was installed on the rear of the tank. The infantry cabin that resulted was reportedly large enough to hold ten passengers and two crew for a total of twelve occupants. The boxy structure was fitted with a gunner station with a pintle-mounted 12.7mm M2HB heavy machine gun and two hatches farther to the rear, with infantry dismounting from either a single or two rear doors. It is unknown to what extent these modifications changed the performance of the vehicle, but the M19A1's original range of 240km and speed of 56km/h was likely retained if not improved on due to a reduction in weight. 
The M19A1 hull was also modified to incorporate the 7.62mm M1919 bow machine gun position from retired M24s, which means that the Cemal Tural APC was actually better armed than the M113 APC, which only sported a single 12.7mm M2HB HMG. The fitting of new side skirts and mudguards further show that the design was anything if not a serious attempt at producing a professional AFV. Unfortunately, the Cemal Tural APC's career would prove to be an exceptionally short one, already being retired in the early seventies. Of course, with plenty of M113s available, this decision was rather understandable, with another vehicle type serving alongside complicating logistics, maintenance and operations. Luckily, one example of the Cemal Tural APC was saved from the scrapper and preserved at the Etimesgut Tank Müzesi near Ankara.
Major General Cemal Tural, the namesake of the APC design, was commander of the Turkish Armed Forces in the period between 1966 and 1969. Reportedly a great advocate of mechanised warfare, Cemal Tural must have taken a personal interest in the production and conversion of armoured fighting vehicles in Turkey. [4] Tural retired from his post in 1969 before attempting a career in politics. He later served as the ambassador to South Korea in 1976 and Pakistan in 1981, passing away that same year in Istanbul.

A Cemal Tural APC is paraded in front of several M113s. Also note the M48 Patton MBTs further to the rear and the portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on the apartment complex.

A single Cemal Tural APC survives at the Etimesgut Tank Müzesi near the capital Ankara. Here it serves as a reminder of past Turkish defence projects that till thus far have largely escaped attention, but that heralded the birth of Turkey's now abundantly successful defence industry. It would take several more decades before Turkey's APC and AFV designs finally took off. These designs are now in service with Turkey and several other countries abroad, set up for careers the humble Cemal Tural could unfortunately not have dreamed of.

A Turkish-designed Otokar Arma 6x6 APC in service with the Royal Bahraini Army.

[1] Based on data obtained by Alper Akkurt.
Header image by Alper Akkurt. 
Special thanks to Arda Mevlutoglu and Secret Projects.