Categories
WW2 American Fake Tanks

Mobile Pill-Box Fortress

U.S.A. (1940)
Proposed Vehicle Design

The early 20th century was dominated by new technologies being developed in large numbers. To capitalize on these rapid advancements, monthly magazines were published that focused on bringing these new technologies to the general public’s attention. This proved to be a great success. The most popular example of these magazines is Popular Mechanics, which published its first issue in 1902 and continues to be published today. Another popular example was Modern Mechanix, which went through several name changes since its first issue in 1928 before its final issue in 2001.

The technologies featured in these magazines varied greatly in their application. Power sources, home gadgets, farming equipment and flying machines are but a few examples of the kinds of inventions and concepts featured. Most notably, particularly during both World Wars, was the inclusion of conceptual weaponry and armored vehicles. These were rarely competently designed. Due to a total lack of practical insight into the use of military equipment, the end result was often a design more appropriate for a science fiction setting than a real battlefield. Some designs featured in these magazines are notable for their relative practicality however, at least when compared to the rest, and their intended usage is somewhat reasonable for being designed by illustrators as nothing more than magazine filler.

Firepower Required

Before the United States entered the War in 1941, it faced a distinct lack of dedicated tank destroyers. While it would not be until late 1941 when the US finally adopted such a vehicle – the 75 mm gun-armed M3 Gun Motor Carriage – designs already existed in the previously mentioned magazines that were intended to fill a similar role.

The November 1940 issue of Modern Mechanix features a drawing of a large armored truck with two guns in an even larger turret-mounted behind the cab. This Mobile Pill-Box Fortress, as it is referred to in the magazine, by virtue of having a single turret on a sensible and presumably existing truck chassis, is on the higher end of practicality regarding conceptual designs found in these magazines. No other name is given to the vehicle and no further information on it can be found despite supposedly being based on a prototype built by a truck manufacturer based in Los Angeles, California.

The single page showing the Mobile Pill-Box Fortress and its description. Note the inconsistency in scale between the crewmen in the cab and in the turret, making judging the size of the vehicle difficult. Source: Modern Mechanix, Issue November 1940.

Design

The Mobile Pill-Box Fortress is based on a large truck chassis with two single wheels at the front and two pairs of triple wheels at the rear. The reason for two pairs of triple rear wheels should be clear, as directly above them is a huge domed turret housing a pair of 6 inch (152 mm) guns, presumably naval in origin.

Turret

The turret can rotate a full 360 degrees, but gun elevation and depression are not known. Depression would inevitably be limited in the forward arc due to the roof of the cab and the bizarrely located headlight mounted to it. Ammunition for the guns is stored in two racks, one upper and one lower. The shells are stored nose-up in two racks that run the full circumference of the interior turret wall. This allows a large number of projectiles to be stowed despite their great size. It is not shown in the drawing where the propellant charges are stored. It is possible they are stored at the front of the turret or on the right side of the guns where they would be obscured, but the most likely explanation is either that they were never considered by the artist or the shells are one-piece. No access hatch or door is visible on the turret.

Due to the great recoil generated by such large guns, the vehicle features four large outriggers around the turret ring. These outriggers appear to be telescopic in extension and fixed in place with no articulation, apart from being capable of extending and retracting their feet up and down. The outriggers are an appropriate design choice for a vehicle that, as the name suggests, acts as a stationary pillbox instead of a more mobile vehicle, capable of quickly relocating during combat.

The turret’s gunner is located on the left side of the guns and has no seat. He has a direct vision telescope that is mounted unusually far back in the turret which is aiming through a thin visor in the turret’s mantlet. Even though the sight would most likely move with the mantlet, and stay lined up to see through it, the field of vision as a result of being mounted so far back would be incredibly narrow. Only two other crewmen are shown in the turret, those being the loaders, who are each loading their respective guns. As 6 inch guns, each projectile would have been very substantial, at likely 45 kg (99 lb) or more in weight. With the turret having a pair of guns, this means that each loader has to lift and load projectiles by himself, which during sustained fire would be incredibly tiring without any loading aides such as a winch or conveyor, neither of which are shown.

Cab

The cab is located at the front of the vehicle. The driver’s position is assumed to be on the right side due to the placement of the only seat visible in the drawing, an unusual choice for an American vehicle. However, due to the perspective of the drawing, the seat may actually be more centered in the cab. On the left side of the cab is the assistant driver who operates at least one of the two machine guns present in the vehicle, both of which are in the front corners of the cab. Ammunition for the machine guns is stowed above the engine in the center of the cab. Due to the placement of the driver, it is likely that he operates the right-side machine gun instead of the assistant driver having to move back and forth between the two guns. Like some tanks with an assistant driver, it is likely that he would be expected to take over driving the vehicle should the driver be injured. They may also alternate duties each day.

There are a number of vision ports around the cab. There are two ports on the front slope which can be hinged open. Similarly, there is a large hinged port on the sloped roof. It can be assumed there is a second port on the right side which is obscured, but what these upwards-facing ports would be for is not clear. Each of the two machine guns in the front corners had their own fixed vision ports above them, which, like that on the turret, would provide undoubtedly poor visibility for those operating the guns. There is a fixed port on the left side of the cab, again it is likely the right side has the same. Lastly, there is a vision port in what appears to be an access door in the back left corner of the cab. A step is present below it on the outside, as is a handle. What appears to be two hinges spanning the width of the cab roof are also present. It is not clear how these panels would open.

Armor

No specific armor values for the vehicle are given, but while the drawing is poorly scaled it is clear that the armor of the turret is supposed to be very thick by standards of the time. The turret armor is intended to protect against shells and bombs (no specific shell or bomb is described), whereas no such requirement is given for the cab armor, but it is reasonable to assume it would be at least capable of resisting small arms and shrapnel. The engine has its own armored housing within the cab, and it is not known if the covers over the wheels are simply mudguards or if they too are supposed to be armored.

Fate And Conclusion

While at its core the Mobile Pill-Box Fortress is reasonably designed by the standards of the magazine it was featured in, no information can be found regarding the claim that it was based on a real prototype that underwent four months of testing by the US Army. After the United States joined the war, a great deal of effort went into developing and testing trucks carrying anti-tank guns in a wide variety of configurations.

The purpose of these vehicles was to be fast and easy to manufacture due to being built on existing chassis, as well as fast on the battlefield, able to quickly respond to reports of enemy tanks in an area and move to engage them. This manufacturing and doctrinal need are incredibly similar to the description of the Mobile Pill-Box Fortress, a truck-based vehicle capable of traveling up to 65 mph (105 km/h) to any threatened area to counter both tanks and infantry, and afterward, relocate to any other area in need of anti-tank support. However, due to the great weight of the vehicle, it is reasonable to expect it to be incapable of reaching such high speeds outside of long straight roads.

The choice of a 6 inch gun would be questionable, let alone a pair of them. The incredible capability of such weapons against both tanks and infantry cannot be understated, especially for 1940, but their immense size and weight directly influences the size of the vehicle, which in turn condemns it as almost entirely impractical. For the vehicle’s time, it can be argued quite easily that no practical advantage comes with having such large weapons in a vehicle like this, simply because far smaller and lighter anti-tank guns already existed that were perfectly capable of defeating any tank of the period. At the very least it would be easy to invent a more sensible gun for the drawing.

Despite the similarities between the purpose of the Mobile Pill-Box Fortress and the actual tank destroyers the United States would come to use, the sheer unwieldiness and weight of the vehicle would undoubtedly restrict it to roads only, greatly limiting its application as a strategically mobile weapon. The design, like so many from these magazines, is a great example of theory detached from reality and it is no surprise that none were ever built – this vehicle was purely for the readers of the magazine rather than actual use.



Representation of the ‘Mobile Pill-Box Fortress’ produced by the Author, Mr. C. Ryan, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Crew At least 5 (Driver, Assistant Driver, Gunner, Two Loaders)
Speed 65 mph (105 km/h)
Armament Two 6 inch (152 mm) guns, Two machine guns

Source

Modern Mechanix, November 1940

Categories
WW2 American Prototypes

Pelican Project and Half-Track Amphibian Cargo Carrier T32

USA (1942-44) Amphibious Utility Vehicle – Scale model only

By July 1942, the US National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), while working on developing the DUKW amphibious transport, concluded that a larger amphibious vehicle would be needed. They presumably expected that the DUKW’s limited capacity of 2.3 tonnes would be inadequate during large scale landings. Testing was done on a number of converted trucks, however, it was found that wheeled vehicles with payloads over 6 tonnes faced severe problems due to the increased ground pressure and unsatisfactory traction on beaches, their most likely landing point. It was therefore decided that a new project would be started, looking at developing amphibious half-tracks. These were meant to provide forces with larger supply payloads during landings in Europe and the Pacific without the inherent problems that wheeled vehicles faced.

The GMC DUKW (“D” – year 1942, “U” – utility, “K” – all-wheel drive, “W” – twin rear axles), designed in 1941, started production at the end of 1942 and was to be the US Army’s backbone during naval landings. Source: warhistoryonline

The Pelican Project

As a result of converted trucks failing evaluation, a number of half-track designs were drawn up for the newly started Pelican Project. These ranged from payloads as little as 2 tonnes, all the way up to an ambitious 25 tonnes. Some designs, in an effort to lower ground pressure and increase traction even further, featured an extra set of front wheels. These extra wheels, if powered, could have increased off-road performance, but none of the designs with them were given any further consideration.
It is not known exactly how all these designs were judged, but the final design that came out of the project did at least see significant evaluation. As well as being the last design in the project, it was also one of the largest. Weighing an estimated 9 tonnes empty, with a 9-tonne maximum payload, the vehicle was to be 15.3 m long and 4.4 m wide, larger than any other amphibious vehicle at the time. The design was to use a Ford 400 hp V8 petrol engine powering a pair of either Kirsten-Boeing or Voith-Schneider vertical propellers, giving the vehicle a water speed of 13km/h.

Blueprint of the final design of the Pelican Project Source: Half-Track: A History of American Semi-Tracked Vehicles, by R. P. Hunnicutt
To take advantage of the large number of new M4 Sherman tanks being produced and to potentially ease the logistical burden of developing a brand new tracked vehicle, the Pelican half-track was to share its VVSS (Vertical Volute Spring Suspension) bogie design. It was to have two bogies per side, totaling four road wheels per side with a central separate return roller, as well as the same track link design as on M4.

VVSS suspension was the standard suspension design of most US armored vehicles until it was replaced on the M4 Sherman by HVSS (Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension). This surviving M4A4 can be found at the Portland D-Day Center, UK. Photo: Mark Nash
A full-width ramp at the rear of the vehicle provided access to the cargo hold which was large enough to accommodate a 6-ton 6×6 truck of any model. Unlike regular half-tracks, the 2.7m wide driver’s cab was placed at the very front of the vehicle in front of the engine. The driver was on the left and on his right would be seated the rest of the vehicle’s crew.
A number of scale models of the Pelican half-track were built and used in water tests, but the project was soon canceled and no working prototypes were built.

Half-Track Amphibian Cargo Carrier T32

In May 1944, the NDRC was requested by the Ordnance Department to once again design an amphibious half-track to assist during landing operations. One main difference with this new program, however, was that the vehicle was required to have a three quarter length track. This was similar to that of German half-tracks, instead of the much shorter two-bogie design of the earlier Pelican half-track and other US half-tracks. This design would reduce ground pressure by having significantly more track in contact with the ground and more road wheels to support to vehicle.
Sparkman & Steven, Inc., contracted by the OSRD (Office of Scientific Research and Development), drew up an initial half-track design with an empty weight of 17 tonnes, and a payload of 13.6 tonnes. At a maximum weight of 30.6 tonnes, this design greatly outweighed the earlier Pelican’s 18 total tonnes. This could be credited to the three quarter length track, but at 12.7 m in length and 3 m in width, the vehicle managed to stay significantly smaller in size.

Blueprint of the initial vehicle design. Note the sloped top edge of the hull, and the matching sloped waterline, suggesting the vehicle would be tilted back slightly when in the water. Source: Half-Track: A History of American Semi-Tracked Vehicles, by R. P. Hunnicutt
The vehicle was to be powered by the Continental R975-C4 petrol engine, coupled with the General Motors 900T Torqmatic Transmission. This combination, the same as on the M18 Hellcat, would have given the vehicle 400 hp with an estimated top speed of 48 km/h on land, and 13 km/h in water. The front two wheels were powered, and propulsion in water was provided by a pair of 711 mm (28 inch) diameter propellers underneath the rear of the cargo bed.


Scale model of the initial vehicle design. It is unclear why the model lacks the sloped top edge of the hull, the rounded bow, and the cover plate over the wheels that are present in the blueprint. It is possible these modifications were done in the time between the initial blueprint and the model being made. Source: Half-Track: A History of American Semi-Tracked Vehicles, by R. P. Hunnicutt
The tracks, being longer than those of the Pelican half-track, allowed the design to have 5 dual road wheels which were also substantially larger. The wheels were on independent torsion bars instead of VVSS bogies, giving them more vertical travel and providing a smoother ride. The tracks also differed from the earlier Pelican in that they were without return rollers, an unusual feature on US vehicles. The design of the links was the same as on the T87 105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage, an ongoing project to have an amphibious vehicle using M18 Hellcat components armed with a 105 mm howitzer, a project that ended soon after the war did.
The design was later modified to include an additional road wheel by moving the drive sprocket forward. The rear ramp was also reshaped to provide clearance when entering an LST (Landing Ship Tank), reducing its overall length to 11 m and its overall height to 3.05 m. On the 29th June 1944, the improved design was designated Half-Track Amphibian Cargo Carrier T32. It was requested that three prototypes be built for testing, but Army Service Forces denied the request and the entire project was canceled, just over one month after the project was started.

The revised design that was submitted for prototype testing designated T32. Source: Half-Track: A History of American Semi-Tracked Vehicles, by R. P. Hunnicutt


The ‘Pelican Project’ amphibious Half-Track.


Early version of the Half-Track Amphibian Cargo Carrier T32.


Later version of the T32.

These illustrations were produced by this article’s author, Mr. C. Ryan, and were funded by our Patreon Campaign.


Conclusion

While the Pelican design, had it been built, might have suffered to a degree because of its small ground contact area for its weight, both the Pelican and the T32 seem to have been reasonable designs for their requirements. Ultimately, the sheer number of DUKWs being produced from late-1942 onwards outmatched any potential production numbers of the two vehicles, making them largely redundant apart from their valuable ability to bring regular trucks and other large vehicles to shore.
The failure of both projects did not end the US’ interest in large amphibious cargo vehicles however, as they would go on to attempt others after the war. One such vehicle was the capable 7.3-tonne, 8-wheeled XM157 Drake in 1956, which did succeed at reaching the prototype stage. It failed to reach production, however, as the army’s interest became focused entirely on the far larger LARC-LX for its amphibious heavy cargo needs. A 4-wheeled vehicle with a 54-tonne payload, it would go on to serve in the Vietnam War and stay in service until 2001.
Dimensions (L-W-H)15.3 x 4.4 x 3.94 meters

Specifications (Pelican)

Total weight, battle-ready 9 tonnes approx.
Propulsion Ford 400 hp V8
Speed (water) 13 km/h

Dimensions (L-W-H)11 m – 12.7 x 3 x 3.05 – 3.34 meters

Specifications (T32)

Total weight, battle-ready 17 tonnes approx.
Propulsion Continental 400 hp R975-C4
Speed Est. 48km/h (land), 13km/h (water)
Payload 13.6 tonnes, several dozen passengers, or a single 6-ton 6×6 truck

Sources

R. P Hunnicutt, Half-Track: A History of American Semi-Tracked Vehicles, Presidio Press