Armor: Where World War II Tanks Still Have Work

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September 5, 2018: In South America, Brazil is giving tiny neighbor Uruguay (population 3.5 million) 25 retired M41C light tanks. These will replace 17 M24 light tanks Uruguay has had since 1958. The Brazilian military is the largest and most modern in South America but older military equipment still finds uses because there have not been a lot of wars in South America since the 19th century. In fact, the last major war between two South American nations was in the 1930s, between Bolivia and Paraguay. This Great Chaco War was fought over a desert area thought to contain oil deposits but these were never found. The Chaco region is hot, sparsely populated and a popular tourist attraction.

Because of the lack of wars between nations for in South America the military budgets tend to be small and the military, especially the army, is seen as backing for the police. New military equipment is recognized as an unnecessary expense and South American nations have become quite adept at maintaining, often by rebuilding and upgrading, older equipment.

The Uruguayan army has 15,000 personnel and the ancient M24 first entered service in 1944 and were retired by the U.S. Army in 1953 and replaced by the 21 ton M41 which entered service in 1951 and was used by the United States until the late 1960s. Many of the 5,700 built were sold or given to American allies and there are at least six nations still using several hundred of them. Uruguay already has 22 M41s which it has upgraded to include a 90mm gun replacing the 76mm gun all M41s originally had. The 25 Brazilian M41Cs are also upgraded but still have the 76mm gun. Most of the Brazilian M41Cs will be used for spare parts to keep about 40 M41s in service for another decades or so.

The Uruguayan Army has over 400 armored vehicles, most of them wheeled vehicles. While it has fifteen refurbished (by Israel, after capturing them and selling them to Uruguay) Russian T-54 tanks the most frequently used Uruguayan tanks are the M24s and M41s. Because the wheeled armored vehicles are cheaper to maintain and operate they are the most frequently used armored vehicles. Uruguay armored vehicles don’t much use besides training. Some Uruguayan troops do have combat experience, but not in Uruguay.

Uruguayan soldiers often serve on peacekeeping missions and the country has not been at war with another nation since War of the Triple Alliance (allied with Brazil and Argentina against neighbor Paraguay) that ended in 1870 with Uruguay losing about 3,000 dead. Paraguay lost much of its territory and over half its population killed. For most of the last 150 years, Uruguay was ruled by elected governments but there was always a strong military, relative to its size, in part because there was one civil wars and major insurrections before elected government became the norm in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the military is more a way to provide jobs than to create a modern military force. That “civil service” approach tends to work in South America because of the lack of external enemies and the American “Monroe Doctrine” discouraging nations from outside the Americas from being a threat. The last time there was a war between a South American nation and one from outside the Americas was the 1982 Falklands War when Argentina seized the British Falkland Islands (which Argentina had long claimed) and Britain quickly took them back and that was the end of that. The Americans did not intervene (although they did render some assistance to NATO ally Britain). Uruguay is one of the most prosperous and corruption free nations in South America and, per-capita, the largest contributor of peacekeepers in the world.

 


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