Categories
Cold War French Tanks

AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11

France (1954)
Improvised Light Tank – 5 Built

By February 1952, the French had been fighting in the First Indochina War (1946 -1954) for six years. This war was fought between the French and Việt Minh (Việt Nam độc lập đồng Minh, Fr: Ligue pour l’indépendance du Viêt Nam, Eng: League for the Independence of Vietnam). The Việt Minh wanted to put an end to French rule and take control of Indochina. The French Minister of State for Relations with Associated States, Jean Letourneau, requested that the French Military’s latest tank, the AMX-13, be sent to Cavalry units battling the Việt Minh. The tanks equipping the Cavalry at the time – namely the M5A1 and M24 Chaffee light tanks – were too heavy and poorly armed to fight a guerilla war in a dense jungle environment.

However, the AMX-13 was also unsuitable for such warfare in its current configuration. Its large FL-10 turret and long, high-velocity 75 mm (2.9 in) gun was simply impractical for this Asian environment. There was also a requirement for air-transportability, but the AMX was just a bit too heavy to achieve this.

To meet the requirements, it was decided that modifications were needed for the AMX-13 to be suitable for constricted environments and light enough to be transported by air, thereby allowing it to be fielded in colonial policing operations, no matter the environment or enemy. This was achieved by mating the newly developed FL-11 turret – designed for the Panhard EBR (Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance, Eng: Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle) – with the existing AMX hull. This created the AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11 (AMX-13 with FL-11 Turret). While it was a successful conversion that saved 1.5 tonnes (1.6 tons) of weight, the vehicle, for a number of reasons, would not go into large scale production.

The AMX-13 with FL-11 turret. This mated the hull of the AMX light tank with the turret of the Panhard EBR armored car. Photo: Pen & Sword Publishing

The AMX-13

Designed and built by Atelier d’Issy les Moulineaux or ‘AMX’, the officially titled Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51 (Tank, 13 tonnes, 75mm gun, model of 1951) – often shortened to Mle 51, was more commonly known as the ‘AMX-13’. The tank was designed in the late 1940s and appeared in service in the early 1950s. It was designed to be a lightweight, highly mobile tank destroyer that could also perform the reconnaissance tasks of a light tank.

It was lightly armored, with the toughest plates being just 40 mm (1.57 in) thick. Its main armament consisted of the 75 mm Canon de 75 S.A. Mle 50, often known simply as the CN 75-50 or SA-50. The design of this gun was derived from the powerful Second World War German KwK 42 gun mounted on the Panther. The gun was mounted in an innovative oscillating turret and was also fed via an autoloading system.

The AMX weighed in at around 13 tonnes (14 tons) and was 6.36 m (20 ft 10 in, with gun) long, 2.51 m (8 ft 3 in) wide, and 2.35 m (7 ft 9 in) tall. It was operated by a 3-man crew consisting of the Commander, Driver, and Gunner. The tank went through many upgrades with many variations based on its highly adaptable chassis. The French Military only retired the AMX in the 1980s, but many other nations retain it in service.

The Standard AMX-13 Light Tank or, as it is officially known, the Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51. Photo: weaponscollection.com

Fives-Lille (FL) Turrets

The engineering company Fives-Lille – shortened to FL – was responsible for the design of the turrets used on the AMX-13 series of light tanks. They were based in Fives, a suburb of Lille in Northern France.

The FL-10 turret. Note the long, high-velocity 75 mm SA 50 gun and the large turret bustle containing the autoloading system. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publishing

For the AMX-13 program, FL produced the 2-man FL-10 turret. This became the standard turret for the 75 mm armed Mle 51s. The high-velocity 75 mm Canon de 75 S.A. Mle 50 was fed via an auto-loading system which consisted of two revolving cylinders located in the turret bustle. It was an oscillating turret. These consist of two parts that move on a separate axis. The first is the top ‘roof’ section which holds the rigidly mounted main armament which moves up and down. In a conventional turret, the gun moves separately from the turret body, on its own trunnions. The second is the bottom ‘collar’ part attached to the ‘roof’ via trunnions and fixed directly to the turret ring, allowing conventional 360-degree traverse. The gap between the ‘collar’ and ‘roof’ could be covered with either a canvas or rubber covered material screen known as bellows. The FL-10 turret was the source of the problem for military heads that wanted the tank to operate in constricted environments, such as the dense jungle of Indochina, to provide close infantry support, not an ideal task for the SA 50. The high-velocity gun was long and, due to the autoloading mechanism, the turret bustle was large.

The FL-11 Turret

As the AMX-13 was in development, so too was the Panhard EBR armored car, which utilized a smaller oscillating turret produced by Fives-Lille – the FL-11. These turrets were manufactured alongside those destined for the EBR by Société des Ateliers de Construction du Nord de la France (SACNF, Eng: ‘Society of Construction Workshops in Northern France’) and the Société Alsacienne de Constructions Mécaniques (SACM, Eng: ‘Alsatian Society of Mechanical Constructions’).

It was decided that the FL-11 turret would replace the FL-10 on the AMX-13 hull. The FL-11 had the same level of armor protection as the FL-10 at 40mm (1.57 in) thick. The FL-11 turret was much smaller than the FL-10. This was because it lacked the bustle, due to the fact that the FL-11s gun was manually loaded.

Production diagram of the FL-11 turret. A: roof section, B: collar, C: turret basket. Note the lack of bustle and shorter 75mm SA 49 gun. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publications

The new gun was the 75 mm SA 49. It was shorter and had a lower velocity of 625 m/s (2050 fps) compared to the 1000 m/s (3280 fps) of the 75mm SA 50. This made the use of High Explosive (HE) shells far more effective, making the tank far more appropriate for close support tasks. The lower velocity, however, made it less effective against armored targets. Even so, firing Armor-Piercing Ballistic Capped (APBC), the gun could punch through 80 mm (3.14 in) of armor at 1000 meters (1093 yards). Secondary armament consisted of a coaxial 7.5 mm MAC31 Reibel machine gun located on the left of the main gun. Elevation range of the gun in this turret was +13 to -6 degrees. Four smoke-grenade launchers were also installed with two on each side of the ‘collar’.

The manually loaded 75 mm SA 49 gun. It was much shorter and had a lower shell velocity than the 75 mm SA 50 gun. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publishing

Like the FL-10, the FL-11 was a two-man turret with the crew consisting of the Commander and Gunner. However, with the lack of an auto-loader, the Commander also had the responsibility of loading the SA 49 gun. The Commander sat on the left of the turret with the gunner on the right. Both men had their own turret hatch. The Commander sat under a large cupola featuring 7 periscopes around its circumference. A mounting for an external machine gun could be installed on the cupola but, while it was used occasionally on the EBR, it is unknown if it was utilized on the AMX. The vehicle’s antennae were installed into the turret’s ‘collar’ with a base on the left and the right side.

Production diagram of the rear of FL-11 turret. Note a few details such as B: Commander’s cupola, H: Gunner’s hatch, P: smoke grenade launchers, K: ventilator, and J: stowage straps. Photo: Peter Lau, Rock Publishing

The AMX Hull

The AMX hull went through no alterations. It retained the same dimensions, as well as its forward-mounted engine and transmission. The tank was powered by a SOFAM Model 8Gxb 8-cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine developing 250 hp, propelling the tank to a top speed of around 60 km/h (37 mph). The vehicle ran on a torsion bar suspension with five road-wheels, two return rollers, a rear-mounted idler, and a forward-mounted drive-sprocket. The driver was positioned at the front left of the hull, behind the transmission and next to the engine.

Production

The conversion was approved by the French Military, with an order for 5 vehicles being placed in February 1954. One was to be built immediately for test purposes. Air transport tests then commenced in March of 1954. By May of that year, the remaining 4 vehicles had been built and troop testing was underway. At this time, an additional 15 vehicles were also ordered.

Left side view of the AMX-13 FL-11 test model. The FL-11 turret was placed on an unmodified AMX hull. Photo: chars-francais.net

Air Transportability

One of the key aspects of this conversion was to give the AMX-13 the ability to be air-transportable in the Armée de l’Air’s (French Air Force’s) cargo aircraft. The typical cargo aircraft of the Air Force’s fleet at this time was the Nord ‘Noratlas’. The original AMX-13, weighing in empty at 13.7 tonnes (15.1 tons), was too heavy. Replacing the FL-10 for the FL-11 resulted in the vehicle losing 1.5 tonnes (1.6 tons) of weight, making the new variant 12.2 tonnes (13.4 tons). This was still too heavy for the Nord, which had a load capacity of 6.7 tonnes (7.5 tons). Because of this, further tests were carried out using the larger English-built Bristol Type 170 Freighter, with a capacity of 7.9 tonnes (8.75 tons).

In the end, it was found that the vehicle was compatible with air transportation, but there was one small snag; the vehicle had to be completely stripped down and disassembled. The only way engineers could achieve the task of transporting the AMX was to take it apart and strap it down to three separate pallet loads of roughly 4 tonnes (4.4 tons) each. One pallet carried the entirety of the turret and rolled up tracks, the second carried the suspension and most of the automotive components, and the last pallet carried the entire hull unit with integral components. One aircraft could only carry one pallet, this meant that there would three aircraft to one tank, assuming three were available. If not, one craft could be making three round trips.

The AMX-13 FL-11 disassembled into three separate loads. Left to right we have the hull unit, suspension components, and the turret and track. Photo: Pen & Sword Publishing

Not only did this result in the logistical nightmare of transporting the loads, but also of reassembling the thing at the destination. This may not have been an easy task depending on the environment of said destination. The split also presented the risk of things going missing, not ideal when you need an operational tank on the front lines.

Service

Unfortunately, not much is known about the service history of this AMX-13 variant. By the time the initial batch was built in 1954, the First Indochina War had come to an end and the need for this tank had evaporated, resulting in the cancellation of the order for 15 more units.

An AMX-13 FL-11 is taken down a steep embankment. Both the driver and gunner are visible in this photo. Date and location unknown. Photo: chars-francais.net

The 5 vehicles that were built were dispatched to Morocco (still a French Protectorate in the early-mid-1950s) to be operated by the 2e Régiment Étranger de Cavalerie, (2e REC, Eng: 2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment), a cavalry regiment of the French Foreign Legion, based in Oujda, Northeast Morocco. Their time here is not well documented, but it is known that in 1956 – when Morocco gained independence – the tanks were sold to the fledgling Moroccan Army. Details of their service here are also unknown. They were still present in the Moroccan arsenal in 1973.

There is a possibility that the Moroccan Army used the tanks in combat. In 1963, Morocco fought a border war with Algeria – the ‘Sand War’. Morocco fielded AMX tanks in that conflict, so the FL-11s may well have been among them.

In a typically French fashion, the crew (the three closest to the tank) of this AMX-13 FL-11 relax with what appears to be a bottle of wine next to their vehicle with an unknown guest. Date and location unknown. Photo: chars-francais.net

Conclusion

It is currently believed that no examples of the AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11 survive today. How long they served and what happened to them in Morocco is currently a mystery.

This variant of the AMX-13 highlights what can happen when tanks that are designed for a specific purpose arrive too late to serve that purpose. They become destined to see out their service in obscurity, never having the chance to prove themselves in combat. The vehicle was also a bit of a failure when it came to the illogical air-transport element of its design. A feature that was one of its most important aspects. Despite this, however, the vehicle was a stepping stone to more French experiments with the concept of an air-transportable tank. These experiments would lead to the ELC EVEN and AMX-ELC programs.

As for the FL-11 turret, that too was destined for a short service when it came to its initial host, the Panhard EBR. Numerous upgrade programs were undertaken during the EBR’s service life. Early programs resulted in the 75 mm gun being replaced with a short 90 mm gun, while later programs saw the FL-11 completely replaced by the AMX-13’s original turret, the FL-10.



The AMX-13 Avec Tourelle FL-11. This was a mating of the AMX’s 13-tonne light tank and the Fives-Lille FL-11 turret, more often found on the Panhard EBR. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet, modified by Andre ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.36m (4.88m without gun) x 2.5m x 2.3m
(20’9″ (16’0″) x 8’2″ x 7’5″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready Aprx. 15 tons
Crew 3 (Commander, Gunner, Driver)
Propulsion Renault gasoline, 8-cylinder water-cooled 250 hp
Suspension Torsion arms
Maximum speed 60 km/h (40 mph)
Range (road) 400 km (250 mi)
Armament 75 mm SA 49
7.5 mm MAC31 Reibel machine gun
Armor Hull & turret 40 mm (1.57 in)
Production 5

Sources

M. P. Robinson, Peter Lau, Guy Gibeau, Images of War: The AMX 13 Light Tank: A Complete History, Pen & Sword Publishing
Peter Lau, The AMX-13 Light Tank, Volume 2: Turret, Rock Publications
Olivier Carneau, Jan Horãk, František Kořãn, AMX-13 Family in Detail, Wings & Wheels Publications.
R. M. Ogorkiewicz, Profile Publications Ltd. AFV/Weapons #39: Panhard Armoured Cars
National Intelligence Survey #48, Morocco; Armed Forces, March 1973.


Categories
Cold War French Tanks Improvised AFVs

AMX-US (AMX-13 Avec Tourelle Chaffee)

France
Improvised Light Tank (1957) – 150 Built

In 1956, the French Army and the Direction des Etudes et Fabrications d’Armements (Directorate of Studies and Manufacture of Armaments, DEFA, an institution within the French Military) were looking into affordable methods of modernizing their fleet of aging M24 Chaffee light tanks. One method was to somehow combine France’s new domestic light tank, the AMX-13, with the M24.

The officially designated AMX-US was a result of this. It would ‘mate’ the turret of the M24 with the hull of the AMX-13. The AMX-13 would become one of the world’s most popular light tanks to come out of the Cold War era, appearing in the early 1950s. While this particular variant goes by the official name of ‘AMX-US’, there are many other unofficial names, including ‘AMX-13 Chaffee’ – as it was known by troops – or ‘AMX-13 Avec Tourelle Chaffee (with Chaffee Turret)’.

Just a small number of these vehicles were produced. They initially found service in French Military Units tasked with policing colonies such as Algeria. They eventually found use as driver training vehicles once they were discharged from frontline service.

Two AMX-US’, ‘Lamarck’ and ‘Lagalissoniere’, sit side by side in Algeria in the early 1960s. The AMX-US was a convenient improvisation, ‘mating’ the new AMX-13 hull, with the older turret of the M24 Chaffee. Photo: chars-francais.net

French Chaffees

After the Second World War, France’s armored force consisted, almost entirely, of US-built vehicles, such as the M4 Sherman, M26 Pershing, and M24 Chaffee (among others). France received these vehicles as aid as part of the Marshall Plan and the Mutual Defense Assistance Act (MDAA). These aid pacts also financed the reconstruction of France’s economy and armed forces from 1948 until the late 1950s. In April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, and NATO was born, resulting in the United States extending the MDAA. This resulted in France receiving newer vehicles, such as the M47 Patton II tank.

In total, France would operate around 1,250 M24s which were identical to their US counterparts. It was a small tank at 5.45 meters (16 ft 4 in) long, 2.84 meters (9ft 4in) wide, and 2.61 meters (9ft 3in) tall. It weighed 16.6 tonnes (18.37 tons), utilized a torsion bar suspension, and was armed with a 75 mm gun. The tank had a 5 man crew: Commander, Gunner, Loader, Driver, Bow Gunner. The ‘Chaffee’ was named after WWI US Army General, Adna R. Chaffee Jr.

The French Army deployed its M24 in both the 1954-1962 War in Algeria, and the 1946-1954 First Indochina War. It served with distinction in both theatres but would ultimately end up being fully replaced by the AMX-13.

M24 Chaffee of the French Army’s 3rd Company, 1st Light cavalry Regiment (3/1 RCC), in Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam. Photo: Osprey Publishing

The AMX-13

Designed and built by Atelier d’Issy les Moulineaux or ‘AMX’, the officially titled Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51 (Tank, 13 tonnes, 75mm gun, model of 1951) – often shortened to Mle 51, was more commonly known as the ‘AMX-13’. The tank was designed in the late 1940s and appeared in service in the early 1950s. It was designed to be a lightweight, highly mobile tank destroyer that could also perform the reconnaissance tasks of a light tank.

It was lightly armored, with the toughest plates being just 40 mm (1.57 in) thick. Its main armament consisted of the 75 mm Canon de 75 S.A. Mle 50, often known simply as the CN 75-50 or SA-50. The design of this gun was derived from the powerful Second World War German KwK 42 gun mounted on the Panther. The gun was mounted in an innovative oscillating turret and was also fed via an autoloading system.

The AMX weighed in at around 13 tonnes (14 tons) and was 6.36 m (20 ft 10 in, with gun) long, 2.51 m (8 ft 3 in) wide, and 2.35 m (7 ft 9 in) tall. It was operated by a 3-man crew consisting of the Commander, Driver, and Gunner. The tank went through many upgrades with many variations based on its highly adaptable chassis. The French Military only retired the AMX in the 1980s, but many other nations retain it in service.

The Standard AMX-13 Light Tank or, as it is officially known, the Char de 13 tonnes 75 modèle 51. Photo: weaponscollection.com

Char Meets Chaffee

In 1956, DEFA and the French Military were investigating ways to efficiently upgrade the aging Light Tank M24. Initially, this led to the mating of the Mle 51’s FL-10 oscillating turret to the hull of the Chaffee. While cheap and feasible, this configuration never went further than trials. This was largely due to a perceived safety issue with the High-Explosive (HE) rounds fired by the CN 75-50 cannon. Inside the FL-10 turret, the CN 75-50 gun was fed via an automatic loading system, which was reloaded externally. If an alternate shell-type needed to be fired, HE, for example, it had to be loaded into the breach manually by the Commander. This was a tricky task in the tight confines of the turret on the standard AMX, made worse by the notoriously sensitive fuze of the HE rounds. This process would be even more dangerous on the smaller hull of the Chaffee. As a result, the inverse of this mounting was decided upon, mounting the Chaffee’s turret on the Mle 51’s hull.

M24 Chaffee hull fitted with the Mle 51’s (AMX-13’s) FL-10 Oscillating turret. This version of the mating of the two tanks was not pursued, largely due to the sensitivity of the fuses on the HE shells fired by the CN 75-50 gun. Photo: reddit

Avec Tourelle Chaffee

By 1957, work on the inverse of mounting the Chaffee turret to the AMX hull had begun. This was seen as a safer and easier alternative. It was also a convenient way of recycling useful Chaffee turrets by separating them from their worn hulls. It also created a vehicle lighter than the regular Chaffee, meaning it was easier to transport.

The M24 turrets went through very little modification for their installation, retaining all the same main features. The only modification necessary was the introduction of an adapter or ‘collar’ to the AMX hull’s turret ring. This was needed as the Chaffee turret had quite a deep basket. The collar granted the basket clearance from the hull floor for uninterrupted, full 360-degree rotation.

This photo shows what happened to these tanks once they were retired from active service. They were disarmed and became training vehicles. However, this photo also shows the adaptor ‘collar’ installed on the Mle 51s turret ring to allow the attachment of the Chaffee’s turret. Photo: chars-francais.net

Turret Details

The Chaffee turret was a standard design with a typical 3-man crew of the time: Gunner, Loader, and Commander. The Commander sat at the left rear of the turret under a vision-cupola, the gunner sat in front of him. The loader was located at the right-rear of the turret under his own hatch. Armor on the turret was 25 mm (.98 in) thick on all sides, with the gun mantlet being 38 mm (1.49 in) thick. Armament consisted of the 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6 which had a concentric recoil system (this was a hollow tube around the barrel, a space-saving alternative to traditional recoil cylinders). Variants of this gun were also used on the B-25H Mitchell Bomber, and the T33 Flame Thrower Tank prototype. The shell velocity was 619 m/s (2,031 ft/s) and had a maximum penetration of 109 mm. The elevation range of the gun was around -10 to +13 degrees. Secondary weapons were also retained. This included the coaxial .30 Cal (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 Machine Gun, and the .50 Caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning Heavy Machine gun which was mounted on the rear of the turret roof.

A regular M24 Chaffee (left) sits alongside a Mle 51 ‘Avec Tourelle Chaffee’. The Mle 51 is noticeably lower. Photo: chars-francais.net

The AMX Hull

Apart from the adaptor or ‘collar’, the AMX hull went through no alterations. It retained the same dimensions, and forward-mounted engine and transmission. The tank was powered by a SOFAM Model 8Gxb 8-cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine developing 250 hp, propelling the tank to a top speed of around 60 km/h (37 mph). The vehicle ran on a torsion bar suspension with five road-wheels, two return rollers, a rear-mounted idler, and a forward-mounted drive-sprocket. The driver was positioned at the front left of the hull, behind the transmission and next to the engine.

Service

Trials with what would be designated the ‘AMX-US’ were undertaken between December 1959 and January 1960. The vehicle was well received, with an order for 150 conversions being placed by the French military in March 1960. Conversion work was carried out at a plant in Gien, North-Central France.

A French tank platoon consisting of 3 AMX-US’ and a single M8 HMC enter an urban area in Algeria during the conflict. Photo: Pen & Sword Publishing

The AMX-US was operated by a four-man crew, as opposed to the three-man crew of the standard Mle 51, due to the three-man turret of the Chaffee. The AMX-US saw brief service in the War in Algeria – otherwise known as the Algerian War of Independence or Algerian Revolution. They served well, but a few were lost in combat. One known operator was the 9e Régiment de Hussards (9th Hussar Regiment) based in Oran. There is no evidence to suggest they served in any other location with the French military, such as in France or West Germany based regiments.

After the conflict in Algeria, the vehicles were returned to France. They did not last long in active service after this, with many vehicles being repurposed into driver trainers. For this, the vehicles were disarmed, with the 75 mm gun and mantlet removed from the turret face. In its place, a large plexiglass windscreen was installed. In this capacity, the AMX-US stayed in service until the 1980s, when they were finally completely retired. After this, many were ‘sentenced to death’ as range targets or simply scrapped.

An AMX-US Driver Trainer with removed armament. Photo: chars-francais.net

Conclusion

The AMX-US is an example of an effective improvisation. It ‘mated’ old technology with new technology, creating a cheap yet effective light tank that did its job without issue. It also solved the problem of what to do with useful surplus and excess material. An interesting observation is that this is the only AMX-based upgrade or conversion that resulted in the hull being used and not the turret – apart from the AMX-13 (FL-11). The M4/FL-10 is a successful example of this.

Due to the AMX-US’ fate, the vehicles are now extremely rare, with almost none surviving. Some, however, do still sit rusting away on military ranges.

The crew of two AMX-US tanks take a break in Algeria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


AMX-US ‘Lamarck’ during the Algerian Conflict of the early 1960s. The combination of the Mle 51’s hull with the M24 Chaffee’s turret was achieved with a simple adaptor ‘collar’ placed on the turret ring.


When they were retired from active service, many AMX-US’ were turned into driver trainers. They were completely disarmed, with a large window on the front of the turret replacing the gun and mantlet.

These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.36m (4.88m without gun) x 2.5m x 2.3m
(20’9″ (16’0″) x 8’2″ x 7’5″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle-ready Aprx. 15 tons
Crew 4 (Commander, Loader, Gunner, Driver)
Propulsion Renault gasoline, 8-cylinder water-cooled 250 hp
Suspension Torsion arms
Maximum speed 60 km/h (40 mph)
Range (road) 400 km (250 mi)
Armament 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6
.30 Cal. (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 Machine Gun
.50 Caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning Heavy Machine gun
Armor Hull 40 mm (1.57 in), turret 38 mm (1.49 in)
Production 150

Sources

M. P. Robinson, Peter Lau, Guy Gibeau, Images of War: The AMX 13 Light Tank: A Complete History, Pen & Sword Publishing, 2019.
Olivier Carneau, Jan Horãk, František Kořãn, AMX-13 Family in Detail, Wings & Wheels Publications.
Steven J. Zaloga, New Vanguard #77: M24 Chaffee Light Tank 1943-85, Osprey Publishing
Jim Mesko, M24 Chaffee in Action, Squadron/Signal Publications
www.chars-francais.net


Categories
Cold War British Other Vehicles

FV4003 Centurion AVRE

United Kingdom (1955)
Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) – Aprx. 40 Built

In 1944, a new type of armored vehicle, designed specifically for use by the Royal Engineers (RE), entered service. This was the Churchill AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers). It was based on the Mk. III and IV model of the Infantry Tank, and was famously armed with the devastating 290 mm Petard Mortar.

The Churchill AVRE served honorably throughout the Second World War as part of the 79th Armoured Division, famous for being the home of ‘Hobart’s Funnies’. In 1947, it underwent a limited upgrade program based on the Churchill Mk.VII. This vehicle was designated the FV3903 and was armed with a new 165 mm Demolition Gun. By the mid-1950s, however, the Churchill was obsolete and the Royal Engineers were in need of a new, modern vehicle.

In the late 1940s, the British Army’s new Universal Tank, the FV4007 Centurion, entered service. In 1953, the Engineers’ needs were answered in the form of this new vehicle. At the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE) in Chertsey, design work began on a new generation of AVRE (The nomenclature now being ‘Assault Vehicle Royal Engineers’), based on the Centurion. Once designs were approved, production began with the AVREs based on the Mk. 5 Centurion.

The Centurion AVRE. This is a preserved example kept at the Norfolk Tank Museum. Photo: Norfolk Tank Museum.

The Mk. 5 Centurion

At the time of the Centurion AVRE’s development, the Mk. 5 gun tank was a brand new tank, only entering service in the summer of 1955. The biggest difference between this model and its predecessors was a change in coaxial machine guns. The BESA 7.92 mm machine gun had been used on British tanks since the Second World War, but in an effort to standardize ammunition types, it was replaced by the American Browning 7.62 mm (.30 Cal).

In all other major aspects, the Mk. 5 was almost identical to the Mk. 3. The standard main armament of the Mk. 5 consisted of the Ordnance QF 20-Pounder (84mm) gun. It had armor from 51 mm up to 152 mm thick. The vehicle was powered by a Rolls-Royce Meteor engine producing 650 hp and giving the tank a top speed of 22 mph (35 km/h). The tank’s weight of 51 tons was supported on a Horstmann suspension with three two-wheel bogies per-side. The Centurion had a 4 man crew, consisting of commander, gunner, loader and driver. The fact that this variant was based on the Mk.5 tank led it to sometimes being called the ‘Centurion Mk. 5 AVRE’.

Development

Obviously, the Centurion AVRE carried much the same equipment as its Churchill predecessor. This included a dozer blade, fascines (large bundles of branches or pipes to fill in a trench) and, of course, a powerful demolition gun. After designs were finalized at the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE), trials were undertaken in 1954. A standard Centurion was used to test the chassis with the additional weight of a load of fascines and other equipment. The design met the approval of the War Office in July of 1955, and the first prototype Centurion AVRE was delivered to the FVRDE in August 1957.

165mm L9A1 Demolition Gun

Though the 290 mm Petard Mortar of the Churchill AVRE was an extremely powerful demolition weapon, it had had a few flaws. Namely, a limited range of just 100 yards (91 meters) and the fact that the weapon was loaded externally.

Close up of the L9 gun on ‘Bombastic’, a surviving AVRE preserved at the Cobbaton Combat Collection, North Devon, UK. Photo: Authors own.

The Petard was replaced by the Ordnance BL 165mm (6.5 in) L9A1 Demolition Gun. This weapon was a vast improvement over the Petard in both respects. It was breech loaded and had a vastly improved range. The gun fired a 64 lb (29 kg) High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) shell up to 2,400 m (2,600 yds). The gun was reportedly accurate enough to blast a bridge girder at 600 yards (549 meters) or hit a pillbox or bunker at 1400 yards (1280 meters). At greater ranges, it was an effective Area-Of-Effect (AOE) weapon. The gun could elevate 20 degrees, and depress 10 degrees, though depression was limited over the engine deck.

The shell contained around 32 lbs (14.5 kgs) of PE4 explosives, equivalent to six 120mm HESH rounds. The round had no shell case in the traditional sense. Instead, the charge was placed inside a perforated base connected directly to the warhead and remained attached to the projectile as it flew. The gun and shell were never intended for use as an Anti-Armor weapon. This is not to say that a 165 mm HESH round from the L9 wouldn’t have been able to do so in an emergency, but it was never meant for that purpose.

Cross-section of a 165mm HESH shell. Photo: David Lister

Equipment

The role of the Centurion was much the same as the original Churchill. As well as its demolition gun, the AVRE carried a vast array of battlefield engineering equipment.

Fascines

Just like the Churchill before it, the Centurion could carry a large fascine over its front end in a cradle mounted on the upper glacis. Fascines had been carried by tanks since their earliest days on the devastated battlefields of the First World War, most notably at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. Fascines are used to fill wide trenches or ditches to allow tanks to cross. They are usually fabricated from brushwood, bound tightly together into a cylinder. These wooden fascines were 8-10 feet (2.4 – 3 meters) in diameter, and up to 16 feet (4.8 meters) wide. They were heavy at six to seven tons, increasing by an extra ton when wet. They also had the effect of damming when placed in boggy ground or in a stream. This was not ideal as it caused the bundle to shift or even float away. The Royal Engineers soon developed a new type, fabricated from large sections of PVC piping. This new type only weighed around two tons, and fixed the damming issue as water passed straight through the pipes.

The new PVC pipe fascine. They were also known as ‘Maxi-pipes”. Photo: Haynes Publishing

The fascine was held in place by cables connected to explosive blow-off pins with the turret traversed to the rear. Carrying the fascine, the vehicle was limited to a speed of 10 mph. Usually, the commander would have to sit atop the turret to guide the driver. This precarious option was rarely used, however, as the driver had suitable vision under the bundle. The technique to deploy the fascine was to drive up to the ditch and brake sharply, simultaneously setting off the blast pins. The inertia of the braking would thereby propel the fascine off the front of the tank and into the ditch.

Dozer Blade

This hydraulically operated dozer blade was shared by the FV4019 Centurion Mk. 5 Dozer, and was made by T.B. Pearsons Limited of Newcastle. It was a standard part of the AVRE’s loadout, being permanently fitted to almost every vehicle. However, they were sometimes removed to make way for mine clearing plows. The blade was fitted directly to the upper glacis at the front of the Centurion. In its raised position, the Dozer had the added bonus of acting as extra armor.

The large dozer blade of the AVRE was the same as the blade on the Centurion Mk. 5 Dozer. Above it can be seen the fascine cradle. Photo: Haynes Publishing

The blade had an output capacity of 30 cu yds (23 cu m) per hour and was used for a number of tasks. These included carving out hull-down positions for gun tanks (this could be achieved within 7 minutes), digging gun emplacements, route denial (creating and filling anti-tank ditches), and improving bridge approaches. It could also be used aggressively to push barricades or debris from the path of attacking allies, and even clear inert and unexploded mines. The blade was also used to flatten ground for the application of Class 60 Trackway by ‘back-blading’, dragging the blade back over the ground to grade a uniform surface for the roadway to lie on.

12 BA 55, a preserved AVRE at the Wight Military and Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight, UK. Note the attachment points on the lower glacis for the Dozer blade at the front of the tank. Also, note the cradle for the fascine atop the upper glacis. Photo: Author’s own

Class 60 Trackway

An extremely versatile piece of kit, this portable metal matting could be used for a number of roles. These included forming a safe bridge approach, helicopter landing pad, stable road over boggy or soft ground, and a safe riverbank exit. The trackway was carried in the same cradle used by the fascine and was deployed in the same manner.

Towed Equipment

Trailer

The AVRE could haul a 7½-ton four-wheel trailer designed to carry a fascine roll, two rolls of Class 60 Trackway, demolition charges, No. 7 Anti-Tank mines, RDD (Radiological Dispersal Device) explosives, and other engineering equipment. The trailer could traverse any terrain the tank could, without hindering it. It could be jettisoned when required via an exploding pin in the jointed towing hook.

The 7½-ton four-wheel trailer carrying two rolls of Class 60 Trackway. Photo: Haynes Publishing

Barmine Mechanical Minelayer

Two of these devices could be towed by the AVRE. These were attached to the back of the trailer for mine laying operations. The trailer could carry and deploy 864 mines, compared to the 114 of the FV432 APC when it was fitted with the minelayer.

Giant Viper

Another trailer borne-device which was towed by the AVRE. A development of the World War Two ‘Conger’, the ‘Giant Viper’ was a mine clearing device used to clear large areas of explosive devices such as IED’s or landmines or clear a path through barbed wire. The Viper was mounted on a trailer that was towed by the tank. It consisted of a 750ft (229 m) long, 2 ⅝ inches (6.6 cm) diameter hose filled with plastic explosives. The Viper would be launched over the tank via a cluster of eight rocket motors, then landing in the area that had to be cleared and exploding. The blast would clear a pathway 24ft (7.3m) wide and 600 ft (183 m) long. The device was carried on the back of a unique two-wheel trailer.

The Giant Viper trailer. Photo: Haynes Publishing

Designations

There would be two variants of the Centurion AVRE. These were the standard 165 mm Demolition gun armed version, known as the Centurion 165 AVRE, and the 105 mm L7 armed Centurion 105 AVRE. Both vehicles shared common AVRE equipment.

The 105 AVREs appeared in the early 1980s and were based on Mk. 12 Centurions, apart from a solitary Mk. 13 used for tests. There were two versions, the standard AVRE Mk. 12, and the AVRE Mk. 12 H (H for Hydraulic). These versions were equipped with hydraulic systems that allowed them to use the Dozer Blade or Mine Plough. The standard Mk. 12 AVREs could only carry the Mine Plough. They retained the standard 105 mm L7 tank gun, but they were limited to just firing HESH rounds. This gave the 105 AVREs the ability to carry out the same demolition jobs like the 165 AVREs at a greater range, but with slightly less explosive power.

The 105 AVRE could still carry a fascine with the turret traversed. The standard Mk. 12s became specialized mine-clearing variants of the AVRE. Instead of the standard dozer blade, the tanks were fitted with track-width mine ploughs. The AVRE would use this in conjunction with the Giant Viper. The AVRE, with mine plow lowered, would drive the path cleared by the Viper’s detonation. The turret would be traversed so the gun was off to one side or positioned over the engine deck to protect it from any detonations. The plough would push any unexploded or pressure-insensitive mines to the side of the path, out of the way of following allied armor.

The Centurion 105 AVRE outfitted for anti-mine operations with Giant Viper trailer and mine plow. As this is a demonstratory photo, the turret remains pointed forwards. In actual operation, the turret would be turned away from any possible explosions. Photo: Haynes Publishing

Service

Trials with the Centurion AVRE began in February 1962. It finally entered service with the Royal Engineers in 1963 alongside the FV3903 Churchill AVRE, as it gradually took its place. It was assigned to the three Armoured Engineer Squadrons of the 32nd Assault Engineer Regiment. These consisted of the 26th, 31st, and 77th Armoured Engineer Squadrons. Originally, each squadron’s arsenal consisted of three AVREs (105s and 165s), two Centurion Bridge Layers and a troop of four FV4016 Centurion ARKs (Armoured Ramp Carriers). This would later become more flexible to suit the tactical situation at hand. The AVRE’s roots in the 79th Armoured Division and ‘Hobart’s Funnies’ were never forgotten. To this end, most of, if not all of the Centurions had the famous Bulls Head insignia of the 79th applied somewhere on their armor.

Only the British Army would ever use the Centurion AVRE. It took part in annual training exercises in the UK, Germany, and even BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) in Canada. It famously saw action in ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, and later in the First Gulf War in the 1990s. It is these situations that will be focussed on in this article.

AVRE of the 32nd Armoured Engineers, part of the BAOR (British Army of the Rhine). Photo: Tankograd Publishing

Operation Motorman

In response to the ‘Bloody Friday’ bombings of Belfast, the British Army initiated Operation Motorman. The aim of the operation was to take back the ‘no-go’ areas in Irish Nationalist (A group that wanted Ireland to be a unified country, free from the rule of the UK) communities and dismantle the barricades that surrounded them. Barricades had sprung up in many Northern Irish Communities in response to sectarian attacks. The Irish Nationalists built barricades in their communities to defend from attacks by Loyalists (A group that wanted Northern Ireland to remain British) and to deny access by the Police force in Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Although some Loyalist communities also erected barricades, the most famous ‘no-go’ area was in the Bogside neighborhood of Londonderry, known simply at the time as ‘Derry’ to the Nationalist community.

Preparation for the commencement of Operation Motorman started with the drafting in of an extra 4,000 troops. This brought the estimated total of troops in the area to 21,000, including 27 infantry and two armoured battalions. With the cover of darkness, HMS Fearless, an amphibious assault ship, unloaded a number of Centurion AVREs with Dozer Blades ready.

Centurion AVRE of the Royal Engineers traverses the debris left by the destruction of the Nationalist barricades in the Creggan Estate of Londonderry. The AVREs never fired a shot from their 165 mm guns, which remained fully traversed and under their protective canvas covers. Photo: Ed Francis

At 4 am on the morning of 31st July 1972, the Army moved into all ‘no-go’ areas. The AVREs would not fire a shot during the operation. Instead, they advanced with turrets fully traversed and used their heavy dozer blades to smash through the barricades. They then swept a path through the debris, pushing brickwork, bollards, concrete metal scrap, and even cars from the roads of the neighborhoods, clearing the way for the Army’s smaller wheeled armored vehicles.

The operation was intended to be a bloodless one as, knowing they were outgunned and outnumbered, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) had mostly fled the areas putting up little resistance. Unfortunately, two local teenagers were shot and killed which, regardless of the circumstances, simply further inflamed the community. However, the operation did substantially quell the levels of violence in the province.

An AVRE passes an FV604 Armoured Command Vehicle (ACV) – a variant of the FV603 Saracen – on an estate in Belfast. Photo: Belfast Telegraph

Gulf War

The AVRE remained in service long after its gun tank cousins had been retired by the British Army. The Centurion AVRE was still a key part of the Royal Engineer’s arsenal in the early 1990s. By this time, however, it was a struggle to keep them going due to lack of spare parts, and the age of the vehicles. Some were almost 40 years old at this point. Units operating them became known as the ‘Antiques Roadshow’. Even so, 12 Centurion AVRE’s were sent to the Gulf for Operation Granby, the codename given to British operations in the 1990-1991 Gulf War. It is known that one of the Centurions that went to the Gulf had also been part of Operation Motorman some 19 years prior.

With the expectation that the Armoured Engineers would lead the charge against the Iraqi Army’s formidable field fortifications and anti-tank defenses, the AVRE were drastically up-armored. This was one of the first tasks undertaken by the Engineers. Explosive-Reactive Armor (ERA) was applied all over the front half of the vehicle in an attempt to defend it against most of the enemy’s anti-tank weapons. In the event, the breaching would actually be achieved by the United States 1st Infantry Division.

AVRE with added ERA armor is worked on in a maintenance area. Photo: Haynes Publishing

The second task undertaken by the Engineers was training to operate the 165 mm gun. Because of safety regulations, the 165 mm on the AVREs had not been fired under-armor (from inside) since the late 1960s. Instead, the crew would load the gun while the tank was in a static position, and then fire via lanyard from outside. Due to an end of production of the 165 mm ammunition in the UK, stocks were low. To solve this, a number of AVREs were issued American 165 mm ammunition, usually issued to the M728 CEV (Combat Engineer Vehicle). The American ammunition was two inches longer than the British ammo, so storage became limited inside the tank.

The AVREs didn’t have the best of times in the Gulf. Three were lost in two separate training incidents, both involving vehicle fires and subsequent detonation of ammunition stored inside the tank. A single AVRE was destroyed in the first incident on 5th February 1991 and two were destroyed in the second incident on 6th February 1991. The incident on the 5th seems to have been caused by petrol fumes that ignited whilst cooking took place in the vehicle. The incident on the 6th was due to accidental ignition of the Giant Viper launch rockets while testing the firing circuits. There was a gigantic explosion, with debris flying hundreds of meters away. Fortunately, the crew only sustained minor injuries.

The catastrophic explosion that claimed two Centurion AVREs. Fortunately, no crew members were killed in the incident. It was claimed by some witnesses that road wheels were landing in artillery bases up to two miles away. Photo: SOURCE

In the event, the AVREs would never take part in a combat operation. After the cease-fire, however, they did take part in an important mission. The Multa Pass, North of Kuwait, was the Main Supply Route (MSR) to the Northern Border with Iraq and it was heavily blocked with wrecks of tanks, trucks, artillery pieces, civilian vehicles, rubble, and all kinds of unexploded ordnance thanks to numerous attacks by marauding US A-10 Warthog ground-attack aircraft. All other routes were compromised as there were minefields everywhere on the side of the Basra Road connecting Kuwait City to Iraq. Centurions were dispatched to the area as well as Chieftain AVREs. The Chieftains were used to haul vehicles that were still able to roll out of the area, while the AVREs were used to shunt armored vehicles around with crew under armor just in case they ‘cooked-off’ (ammunition blew). The US Graves service was supposed to have cleared the area of the dead, but numerous corpses littered the site. For example, when one of the Centurions tipped over a mangled bus, 30 bodies of people attempting to hide from the A-10 strikes were exposed.

The old engineering workhorses completed the grisly task, and the crews were commended for their work. It was the last military operation undertaken by the Centurion AVREs.

‘Easy Posse’ shunts a wreck of a T-54 off the highway. Photo: Haynes Publishing

Fate

Upon their return from the Gulf, the AVREs were gradually phased out. By 1992, both 165 and 105 AVREs had been retired. The AVREs had extended the service life of the Centurion to 45 years. Only the Centurion BARV (Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle) exceeded this lifetime, remaining in service until 2003.

The Centurion AVRE would be replaced in service by the Chieftain AVRE, also known as the ‘CHAVRE’, which started life in 1989. The CHAVRE was however, unarmed, making the Centurion the last armed AVRE to serve in the British Army. It continued to carry fascines, trackway and also retained the ability to clear mines and tow heavy loads. The CHAVRE also served in the Gulf alongside the Centurion.

Fortunately, a number of AVREs do survive in a number of museums across the UK. One can be found in the desert colors of the 1990-1991 Gulf War at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire. The Norfolk Tank Museum has an almost pristine running example that they run at the ‘Armourfest’ festival. It has the ID number 02 BA 58 and is known to be a veteran of the Gulf War. Another AVRE can be found at the Wight Military and Heritage Museum on the Isle of Wight. Its ID number is 12 BA 55. It is a Gulf War veteran and remains in Desert colors. One more AVRE can be found at the Cobbaton Combat Collection, North Devon. Their vehicle, named ‘Bombastic’ had survived action in the Gulf War, but while it was being craned onto a transport ship to head back the UK, a lifting lug broke and it plunged into the ocean. It was recovered, and some years later ended up in the Collection. Despite its salty bath, and its age, the vehicle is still running.

12 BA 55 at the Wight Military and Heritage Museum on the Isle of Wight. Note the attachment points for the Dozer blade. The vehicle does retain the blade but is not attached when the vehicle is usually displayed inside the museum. It is often placed in front of it to present the illusion though. This photo was taken in May 2019, when the museum was going through a reshuffle. That is why it is outside. Photo: Author’s own
‘Bombastic’, Cobbaton Combat Collection’s preserved AVRE. Photo: Author’s own
An article by Mark Nash, assisted by David Lister



The standard Centurion AVRE entered service with the Royal Engineers (RE) in 1963. It was armed with the 165mm L9A1 Demolition Gun and equipped with a bulldozer blade. Also, note the fascine cradle on the bow.


A Centurion AVRE of the Royal Engineers as seen during Operation Motorman, Creggan Estate, Londonderry, Northern Ireland 1972. The L9 guns never fired a shot and only the tank’s dozer blades were used.


A Centurion 105 AVRE with mine-plow and Giant-Viper trailer. The 105 AVREs started to appear in the early-1980s. These variants of the AVREs were based on Mk. 12 Centurions and retained their 105mm L7 guns.


Centurion AVRE ‘Easy Posse’, Operation Granby, 1990-1991. The last operational use of the Centurion AVRE came during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The tanks were so old that units operating them became known as the ‘Antiques Roadshow’. While here, the tanks were up-armored with panels of Explosive-Reactive Armor (ERA) over the front of their hulls and turrets.

These four illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 7.82 m without gun x 3.39 m x 3 m
(25’7″ x 11’1″ x 9’87” ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready 57.1 tons (114,200 lbs)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader).
Propulsion Rolls-Royce Meteor; 5-speed Merrit-Brown Z51R Mk. F gearbox 650 hp (480 kW), later BL 60, 695 bhp
Speed 48/30 km/h road/cross-country (29.82/18.64 mph)
Range/consumption 190 km (118 mi)
Armament 165 AVRE: 165mm L9 Demolition Gun, 105 AVRE: 105mm L7 gun.
One coaxial 7.62 mm L8A1 (0.3 in) machine-gun
Armor Turret front 7.6 in, glacis 4.72 in, sides 1.37 in (195/120/35 mm)
Ammunition used High explosive squash head (HESH), Armor-piercing discarding sabot (APDS)
Total production Aprx. 40

Resources & Links

Account of ‘Operation Motorman’ (PDF)
www.militaryimages.net
norfolktankmuseum.co.uk
www.arrse.co.uk
Shortest Gap, Story of the Armoured Engineer Vehicles of the Royal Engineers, Micheal Osbourne
Pen & Sword Books Ltd., Images of War Special: The Centurion Tank, Pat Ware
Haynes Owners Workshop Manual, Centurion Main Battle Tank, 1946 to Present.
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #68: Centurion Universal Tank 1943-2003
Dorling Kindersley/The Tank Museum, The Tank Book: The Definitive Visual History of Armoured Vehicles
The Tank Museum, Bovington
The Cobbaton Combat Collection, North Devon
Imperial War Museum (IWM)


Categories
Irish Cold War

M113 APC in Irish Service (Congo Crisis, 1960 – 65)

IrelandRepublic of Ireland (1960-64)
Armored Personell Carrier – 6 Used

Militarily speaking, the Republic of Ireland is officially a ‘non-aligned state’. This means that the country is mostly neutral but it will engage an enemy if necessary, or if the country is threatened. The Republic of Ireland is, however, an extremely active member of the United Nations (UN), and has taken part in numerous UN peacekeeping missions.
In the early 1960s, Irish Troops, under the UN flag, fought with distinction during the Congo Crisis as part of UNOC (United Nations Operations in the Congo). It was during this time that the Irish would get a chance to utilize a small number of the ubiquitous American Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), the M113.

This poor quality photo is thought to be the only visual record of the M113’s in Irish use, in the Congo. The vehicle is parked next to three of Ireland’s own Ford Mk. VI Armoured Cars. The soldier crouching atop the nearest armored car is an Irish Serviceman. Photo: Sgt. John ‘chubby’ Griffin.

The M113

The M113 is one of the most famous armored personnel carriers ever built and continues to serve in not only the US Military but also in the inventory of many of the world’s militaries. The vehicle has been in service for 60 years, making it one of the longest-serving armored vehicles in history.
Developed and built by the Food Machinery Corporation (FMC), the M113 is a basic vehicle, little more than an armored box on tracks. It is 15 ft 11.5 in (4.8 m) long, 8 ft 9.7 in (2.6 m) wide, and 8 ft 2 in (2.5 m) tall. The vehicle’s structure is almost completely fabricated from aluminum, including the armor, which is between 0.4 and 1.4 inches (12 – 38 mm) thick. The vehicle started out with a Chrysler 75M petrol engine, although this would later be changed to a General Motors 6V53 diesel type. The power plant is located at the front of the vehicle, along with the transmission. The vehicle is supported by torsion bars connected to five road-wheels. The idler wheel is at the rear with the drive sprocket at the front.
The APC has a crew of two, a Driver and a Commander, who are located at the front of the vehicle, with a passenger compartment taking up the rear of the vehicle. Eleven passengers can be carried in the vehicle. The APC’s usual armament would be a single Browning M2 .50 Cal (12.7 mm) heavy machine gun, located at the commander’s position.

The American M113 Armored Personel Carrier (APC). Photo: Wikimedia

The Congo Crisis

The Congo Crisis (also known as the Congo Civil War) was a period of political unrest and violence which began in the Republic of Congo (the largest country in the center of the African Continent) in 1960. It began soon after the country gained its independence from Belgium.
In June 1960, Belgium negotiated mining rights with the future independent ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’. Within days of this, Congolese troops mutinied, demanding increased pay and removal of white officers. Belgium launched a military retaliation, resulting in the rebellion of more Congolese troops. Then, with Belgian support, Katanga seceded from the DRC. Congolese President Joseph Kasavubu and Prime Minister Lumumba asked and received a peacekeeping force from the United Nations (UN).
Five years of conflict would follow this, eventually resulting in the rise of the Democratic Republic of Congo under the rule of a dictator, and 100,000 deaths. This was also a proxy war between the USA and USSR. Both super-powers were supporting opposite sides during the conflict; the Congo was sympathetic to the Soviets, while the US favored the Kantangese due to its mineral exports, one being Uranium.

Irish Involvement

Irish troops arrived in the Congo between 1960 and 1961. Their most famous engagement during the conflict was the Siege of Jadotville on September 13th, 1961, when “A” Company, 35th Battalion (UN service) of the Irish Army ONUC contingent was attacked by Katangese forces. Despite a valiant, four-day stand, the Irish troops were overwhelmed. Remarkably, no Irish troops were killed in the battle, although they were all taken prisoner for a month.
There were other Irish engagements during the conflict, such as the Ambush at Niemba in November 1960, and the Battle of the Tunnel in December 1961. A total of 6,000 Irish troops served in the Congo from 1960 to 1964. Of this number, 24 men lost their lives.


The American M113. It is unknown what markings adorned the vehicle while it was in Irish use. All that is known is that the US markings were painted over, and the vehicle was without its Browning .50 Cal (12.7mm) Machine Gun. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Leander Jobse.


Irish M113s

The story behind Ireland’s procurement of the M113’s is not very well documented. While in the Congo, the Irish Contingent obtained six M113s. Allegedly, these vehicles were US Army vehicles, donated to the UNs armored vehicle inventory sent to the Congo. It is from here that the vehicles were subsequently loaned to the Irish. It is unknown as to when the UN received these M113s but it would have to have been after 1961, as that is when the vehicles first entered service with the US Military. The Congo Crisis, therefore, may well prove to be one of the first combat deployments of the M113. When the Irish deployment came to an end in 1964, the vehicles were returned to the UN inventory. The Irish would never use the M113 again, although it would become a staple UN vehicle.
The M113 would have been a quantum leap compared to what the Irish Military was used to at this time. It was the only tracked APC to ever see use by the Irish. The only previous experience the Irish had with a tracked APC-like vehicle would have been the long-outdated Universal ‘Bren’ Carrier which was, remarkably, only just leaving service with the Irish at the time of the Congo Crisis. The M113 was a far cry from the only armored vehicles that Irish Military deployed in the Congo, the archaic Ford Mk. VI Armoured Cars which had been in service since 1941. These were little more than Ford commercial trucks up-armored by the Irish military, who also installed a machine gun turret.
Due to a lack of photographic and literary records, it is unknown what markings would have adorned the M113s or whether it was even painted white like most UN vehicles. It is known that the US markings were painted over. There is no evidence to suggest that the Browning M2 .50 Cal (12.7 mm) machine gun being installed, though a .30 Cal (7.62mm) may have been.

Conclusion

The six M113s utilized by the Irish Contingent would be the only time an American-built combat vehicle would be used by any element of the Irish Military. The Ford Armoured Cars, despite their archaic nature, served the Irish well in the Congo. They may just have been little more than up-armored trucks with a mounted machine gun, but they were more than capable of dealing with an enemy armed almost exclusively with small arms and no heavy, or anti-tank, weaponry.
The blend of mobility and armor protection granted by the M113 were unparalleled by anything in Ireland’s own arsenal, which was still full of outdated vehicles such as the Universal Carrier and Comet tank. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Irish Military would have a modern Armoured Personel Carrier. This came in the shape of the wheeled 4×4 Panhard M3 VTT (Véhicule de Transport de Troupes) armored personnel carrier, a wheeled vehicle built by the French.

The M113 became a staple UN vehicle after the Congo, as this Canadian Operated vehicle shows. Photo: captmondo.com

Specifications

Dimensions (L-w-H) 4.86 x 2.68 x 2.50 m (15.11 x 8.97 x 8.2 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 12.3 tonnes (24,600 lbs)
Crew 5 (Commander, Driver, 11 infantry)
Propulsion Detroit 6V53T, 6-cyl. diesel 275 hp (205 kW) P/w 22.36 hp/tonne
Transmission Allison TX-100-1 3-speed automatic
Maximum speed 42 mph (68 km/h) road/3.6 mph (5.8 kph) swimming
Suspensions Torsion bars
Range 300 miles/480 km
Armor Aluminum alloy 12–38 mm (0.47–1.50 in)
Used 6

Sources

Karl Martin, Irish Army Vehicles: Transport and Armour since 1922
Adrian J. English, Irish Army Orders of Battle 1923-2004, Tiger Lily Publications,
Ralph A. Riccio, AFVs in Irish Service Since 1922, Mushroom Model Publications

Categories
Cold War British Other Tanks

FV433 Abbot SPG

United Kingdom (1958)
Self-Propelled Gun – 234 Built

In the late 1950s, the United Kingdom was looking for a new Self-Propelled Gun (SPG). It was envisioned that this would replace the Ram-based Sexton, a Second World War-era 25-Pounder gun-armed SPG that was still in service with the Royal Artillery. It was also planned that it would somewhat replace the 25-Pounder gun in general, as the towed version was also still in service. Even so, there were some developments with 25-pounder armed SPGs, such as the Centurion-based FV3805. This was unsuccessful, however.
A 105 mm gun would be developed to replace the 25-Pounder. For ease of production, it was decided that this new SPG would be based on the FV432 ‘Trojan’ Armoured Personnel Carrier, then coming into service. The SPG would receive the designation ‘FV433’ and would be designed and constructed by Vickers. They would go on and build a total of 234 vehicles, the majority of which would see service with the British Army, though a few simpler, ‘Value Engineered’ versions would also be designed and sold to the Indian Army.
The FV433 would be the last Self-Propelled Gun to be named – in British tradition – after a religious title. In this case, ‘Abbot’. An Abbot is a man in charge of an abbey of monks. As well as the above mentioned Sexton, there were others named in this way, such as the Deacon, Bishop, and M7 ‘Priest’.

FV433 Abbot on the move in 1970. The wheeled vehicle in the background is an FV620 Stalwart. Photo: Profile Publications

Foundation, The FV432

The FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) was a small vehicle at 17 feet 2 inches (5.25 m) long, 9 feet 2 inches (2.8 m) wide and 7 feet 5 inches (2.28 m) tall. It had a two-man crew (Commander & Driver) and had the ability to carry up to ten troops.
The FV432 weighed 15 tons (15.3 tonnes) and was powered by the 240 hp Rolls-Royce K60 multi-fuel engine. This gave it a top speed of 44 mph (70 km/h). A torsion-bar suspension gave the vehicle a smooth and comfortable ride. It had five road-wheels per-side, with the drive sprocket at the front and the idler at the rear.
The Abbot would utilize the exact same powertrain and suspension as the FV432 APC. This SPG was one of many variants that would be born from the FV432, or ‘Battle Taxi’, as it would come to be known throughout its service life.

The FV432 APC, the basis of the FV433 Abbot – one of which can be seen in the background. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Development

Development of the FV433 took place between 1958 and 1960 at the Fighting Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE) located in Chertsey, Surrey. Basing a vehicle on an existing model has a number of benefits: It allows for a commonality of parts making maintenance easier, but also allows possible operators to familiarize themselves with the particulars of the vehicle when it comes to driving, for example. It also lowers costs and simplifies the logistical train required.
Vickers came up with a design for this new Self-Propelled Gun. The aim was to create a small, mobile SPG that was flexible and could be deployed quickly. It would be armed with a large caliber, quick-firing gun to enable saturation of a target in a short time.
They would utilize as many components from the FV432 APC as possible for the hull. For the gun, the new 105 mm L13A1 gun was chosen although at the time there were several contenders to be the new standard artillery caliber. This was placed in a turret towards the rear of the vehicle. As in the FV432, the engine and transmission were located at the front of the vehicle. A unique feature to the ‘Abbot’ compared to other SPG’s of the time was the fact that it was amphibious. This was possible via a flotation screen, like those used on the famous Sherman DD tanks of D-Day. The SPG would also have Nuclear, Biological & Chemical (NBC) protection.
By 1961, Vickers had produced 12 prototypes of the FV433. Six of these were fitted with the Rolls-Royce B81 petrol engine before the multi-fuel K60 of the FV432 was chosen as the production standard. This was a 6-cylinder horizontally opposed engine. These engines consist of two pistons per cylinder, working against each other in opposite directions. The idea behind multi-fuel engines was that in an emergency, the engine could run on either petrol (gasoline), diesel, or other fuel types. A similar, although less successful and more troublesome, engine was installed on the FV4201 Chieftain.
Vickers began full-scale production of the FV433 Abbot at their Elswick facility in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1964.

One of the prototype FV433s. The prototypes can be identified by having only two headlights, a straight flotation screen top, and the gun travel lock on the left front corner of the hull. Photo: Profile Publications

Design

Hull

Sharing the same hull as the FV432 APC, the Abbot gained similar dimensions at 19 feet 2 inches (5.8 m) long, 8 feet 8 inches (2.6 m) wide, and 8 feet 9 inches (2.7 m) high. The vehicle would weigh around 16 tons (16.2 tonnes). It utilized the same running gear and track.
The general shape of the hull was also similar, small and boxy, but sloped down towards the front. This sloping front housed the engine, gearbox, transmission, and fuel tanks. The driver was also located at the front, to the right. On the front of the hull, there were four large headlights mounted in two double-light units (the prototype only had two lights).

Head-on view of an FV433 Abbot found at the Wight Military & Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight, UK. Photo: Author’s own.
On the rear of the hull, there was a large hatch that opened out to the right. This hatch was used while the gun was in operation. It allowed the crew easy access to the fighting compartment and provided ventilation. It would also provide an opening to discard spent cartridges, instead of letting them pile up in the confined space of the turret. Obviously, this door would not be used in hazardous situations. There was stowage above the door for some pioneer tools.
The exhaust was located on the left of the hull. On the prototypes, this was placed above the flotation screen. On the production model, this was moved to between the flotation screen and top of the fender.

A view of the rear and left side of the Abbot. Note the exhaust on the left and the large rear hatch. Photo: Author’s Own
As mentioned above, the ‘Abbot’ was equipped with a flotation screen. This allowed the SPG to negotiate through calm waterways. Propulsion was provided by the revolution of the tracks, as was steering. When not in use, the screen collapsed onto the hull. On the prototypes, this sloped from the back to the front of the hull as one piece. On production models, this was adapted so it followed the shape of the hull. In later years of its use in service, however, this screen was removed.

The Abbot with flotation screen erected. Photo: Tankograd Publishing

Turret

The turret was capable of 360-degree horizontal rotation, allowing for great flexibility in fire-missions. It was rather small and took the shape of a non-equal octagon. It was also slightly frustoconical, narrow down towards the roof, meaning all panels sloped back a few degrees. The right turret cheek had a triangular bulge incorporated to make way for the gunnery equipment inside the turret. The turret face had a bolted-on reinforcing plate around the gun slot. At the top of this, there was a semi-circular cut-out that allowed the gun to reach maximum elevation. There were hatches at the left and right rear for the commander (right) and loader (left). There was also a small ‘ammunition supply’ hatch on the rear of the turret. When open, it revealed a tray with grooves for two 105 mm rounds.

An Abbot of the 27th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, at the Sennelager Training Area in 1992. Note the two-shell loading tray in the rear of the turret. Photo: Tankograd Publishing.
The outer circumference of the turret was covered in stowage. On the left and right turret sides, there were fastening points that would allow the attachment of large ‘soft’ bins. Smaller boxes were scattered around, with a shovel being stored on the right turret cheek. On the right rear corner, the large ventilation unit for the NBC system was installed. On the left rear corner, a wire reel was hung. This was a spool of telephone wire that was carried by most British tanks at the time. It would be used in bivouac areas when the tanks were in their defensive positions. The wire was hooked up to each tank and allowed them to discreetly communicate without broadcasting their positions via radio comms.

Crew

The driver was located at the front right corner of the hull. He was provided with a two-part hatch cover which opened to the left and right. For closed-down driving, he was provided with a single wide-angle periscope built into the hull roof just in front of the driver’s hatch. This periscope was even equipped with twin wipers.

Three Abbot crew members, circa-1960s. Photo: militaryimages.net
Three crew members were stationed in the turret. These were the Commander, Gunner – also known as the Gun Layer, and Loader. The Gunner was located at the right front of the turret and was without a hatch. The Commander was positioned directly behind him. He had override controls for the rotation of the turret. This allowed him to quickly lay the gun onto a target in an emergency. The commander sat under a rotating vision cupola with a hatch that opened up and rear and three vision periscopes. The Loader was positioned in the left rear corner of the turret, had a basic one-piece hatch over his head and also performed radio operator duties.
Although the vehicle technically had a six-man crew, only four were present on the tank at all times. There was not enough room for all six. The Driver, Commander, Gunner, and the Radio-Operator/Loader would travel with the SPG. The other two men were the Ammunition Handler and the Second in Command, who was responsible for correct ammunition preparation (setting charges and fuses correctly). These men would travel in an accompanying support vehicle and would join the rest of the crew upon reaching the designated firing position.

Armor

The ‘Abbot’ was only lightly armored, as it was not intended to combat enemies head-on. Armor on the hull consisted of 12 mm (0.47 inches) on the front and sides, 10 mm (0.39 inches) at the rear and 6 mm (0.23 inches) on the floor. Armor on the turret was 10 mm around the sides and 12 mm on the roof. This armor was simply intended to protect the vehicle’s occupants from shrapnel and small arms fire.

Armament

The 105 mm L13A1 was a brand new design built by the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF). It was not only intended as the weapon of choice for Self-Propelled Guns but also as the main-stay towed piece of British artillery units. The 105 mm (4.1-inch) caliber was chosen after detailed examination showed it had an effective blend of weight, lethality and range.
The gun was 37 calibers (3.8 meters) long with a double-baffle muzzle break at the end and a fume extractor halfway down the length. The gun uses a semi-automatic, vertically sliding breech (a semi-automatic breach means the spent rounds are not ejected automatically after firing, but the breech closes automatically when loading) and is mounted in a ring-type cradle with twin hydraulic buffers. It was also equipped with a single hydro-pneumatic recuperator. The gun was mounted in the 360-degree-capable turret and had an elevation range of +70 to -5 degrees. Elevation was tended by hand wheels, although the rotation of the turret was powered. There was a travel lock located on the front of the hull, just off to the left of the centerline.

The 105 mm gun at full +70-Degree elevation. Note the exhaust system on the side of the hull, between the running gear and the flotation screen. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
For indirect-fire, the gun was laid via a periscope that protrudes from the turret roof and was protected by a small armored cupola. Thanks to its fully rotatable turret and wide elevation range, the ‘Abbot’ was also capable of direct-fire at enemy vehicles. This was an ability requested by Gunners themselves. For this, a telescopic sight was provided. It should be noted, however, that the ‘Abbot’s’ primary role was to provide fire-support. It was not designed to be in the front line or engage in combat with tanks. They were designed to fire shells over the heads of friendly troops from long range.

‘Guns to horizontal’. Four ‘Abbots’ in training using their guns in the direct-fire role. Photo: Profile Publications.
Because of the amount of ammunition carried and the compact nature of the turret, the FV433 did not have calibrating sights. To overcome this, the gun mount had both Tangent Elevation (TE) and Angle of Sight (AOS) scales with a separate gun rule to convert the range into TE in mils, with corrections made for the ammunition type in use. The single eye-piece sight used internal, illuminated scales.
Secondary armament consisted of a light machine gun installed on the Commander’s cupola. In the early years of the ‘Abbot’s’ service, this would have been the L4 7.62 Light Machine Gun – an upgraded version of the faithful Bren Gun of WW2. In later years, this was replaced by the General-Purpose Machine Gun, or ‘GPMG’, also chambered in 7.62 mm (.30 Cal). The FV433 was also equipped with smoke grenade launchers, three-per turret cheek.

Abbots on the range. The location appears to be somewhere in Germany, judging by the German warning sign on the cab of the FV620 Stalwart. The Stalwart – also known as ‘Stolly’ is being used to resupply the Abbots with ammunition. Photo: Tankograd Publishing.


The FV433 Abbot Self-Propelled Gun (SPG). Based on the FV432 APC, it had a 105mm gun in a fully rotating turret.


The ‘Value Engineered Abbot’ or ‘VEA’, a cheaper, simplified version of the Abbot developed for the Indian Army.


The ‘Falcon’ Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG), based on the Abbot chassis.

These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.


Ammunition

A wide range of ammunition was available to the ‘Abbot’. For indirect-fire, this consisted of L31 High Explosive (HE), L37, L38 & L45 Smoke, and L43 Illumination. For direct fire, the Abbot was equipped with L42 High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) shells and the L31 HE shell could also be used in the direct-fire role. The ammunition was two-part, meaning the projectile was separate from the propellant case, and that they were loaded separately. In this case, the projectile was loaded with the assistance of an electrically powered rammer, while the propellant was inserted by hand. The propellant for the 105mm gun was placed in brass cartridge cases. The primers were electrically triggered, rather than mechanically via a firing-pin. The propellant in the cases was contained in specific amounts in marked bags. A total of eight could be used in a cartridge; the more bags, the greater the range. There were, however, two cartridge types – supercharged and standard. The supercharged cartridge produced the greatest range and was filled with a much more potent charge. The standard cartridge contained 1-5 charge bags of equal size. There were also two lower-power charges known as ‘Sub zone A & B’. These were used in standard cartridge cases emptied of the standard charges. A maximum of 42 rounds were carried aboard the ‘Abbot’ (36 HE and 6 HESH). In normal operations, however, only 40 rounds were usually carried (32 HE and 6 HESH). The rounds were stored around the inside of the turret and the hull.

The various ammunition types used by the ‘Abbot’. Left to right: L42 HESH, L43 Illumination, L37 Marker-Red, L31 HE, L36 Smoke. Photo: Wikimedia.

Gun Performance

The ‘Abbot’ had an extremely high rate of fire, so much so that three ‘Abbots’ could saturate a target with about half a tonne (453 kgs, 6-8 rounds) of shells per minute. This rate of fire was achieved thanks to the rotating turret and the semi-automatic breech with a powered rammer. At the time of its introduction, the ‘Abbot’ was unrivaled when it came to its blend of firepower, accuracy, and range covered. Its rotating turret gave it the ability to engage any target, in any direction without the need to reposition the hull. The high elevation angle of the gun also gave the ability to engage targets behind the steepest covers. It was able to engage targets accurately up to its maximum firing range of 19,000 yards (11 mi, 17.3 km). The 105 mm gun had a service life of 10,000 rounds.

A battery of ‘Abbot’s’ conducting firing trials at Munsterlager Ranges, Germany, 1990. Photo: MiltaryImages.Net

Variants

The ‘Value Engineered’ ‘Abbot’ (VEA)

In 1965, Vickers presented the ‘Abbot’ to the Indian military. The Indians were impressed with everything about the SPG, apart from its price tag. This resulted in a full-scale investigation by the ‘Value Engineering’ Department of the Vickers Armament Division. Simply put, the Value Engineering process produces a cheaper vehicle, without impact to its tactical capability. The first ‘Value Engineered’ ‘Abbot’ was produced in 1967 and was taken to India for demonstration the same year.

The ‘Value Engineered’ Abbot at the Vickers plant in the late-1960s. Photo: Profile Publications
The VEA was different from the standard Abbot in the following ways:

  • The flotation screen was removed
  • The engine was exchanged for the Rolls-Royce K60 Mark G/1, a variant of the standard engine that only ran on diesel
  • No rubber pads on the tracks
  • No power traverse – turret traverse and gun elevation/depression were manual
  • No electric rammer
  • The armored cover of the roof-mounted gun sight was replaced by a canvas one, sights were replaced with a German model
  • The Commander’s cupola did not rotate and was only equipped with one periscope.
  • No smoke launchers or roof-mounted machine gun
  • Reduced external stowage

The Indian Army was happier with this cheaper ‘Abbot’, so much so that they accepted the vehicle for service. From 1967 onwards, a total of 88 VEAs were built. Twenty of these went to the British Army, specifically to the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Canada, as training vehicles. The remaining 68 SPG’s were sent to the Indian Army, where they were operated well into the late-1990’s.

An Indian Army ‘Value Engineered ‘Abbot’ in service. Photo: Public Domain
The VEA was not the only vehicle that Vickers sold to the Indian Army. In the mid-1960’s, Vickers developed a main battle tank (MBT) which they called the ‘Vickers Main Battle Tank’. While it never entered service in the UK, the Indian Military were extremely happy with it, becoming India’s first MBT, and was named the ‘Vijayanta’.

The ‘Falcon’

Developed in the late-1960s, the ‘Falcon’ was a Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) system based on the ‘Abbot. It utilized the VEA’s hull, but could easily be upgraded to standard ‘Abbot’ configuration (re-application of flotation screen, headlights, etcetera). A new turret was designed for the ‘Falcon’, which was armed with two Hispano Suiza HSS 831L 30 mm auto-cannons. These cannons utilized the same ammunition as the British-made 30 mm Rarden cannon, as used on the Scimitar and Fox light vehicles. The vehicle was operated by a crew of three, consisting of a Commander, Gunner, and Driver. Though designed to combat aircraft, it was also capable of combating lightly armored vehicles.

The ‘Falcon’ SPAAG prototype. Photo: Profile Publications
Despite extremely successful tests in the early-1970’s and favorable opinions from military officials, the ‘Falcon’ never entered service. This was largely due to a rather small ammunition capacity, caused by the small and cramped nature of the FV430-type hull.

Service

The ‘Abbot’ entered service in 1965, alongside around 140 M109 Howitzers purchased from the United States. The 3rd Battalion Royal Horse Artillery (3 RHA) became the first regiment to be equipped with it. The ‘Abbot’ spent almost all of its service life with British forces stationed in Germany. Its small size and good mobility allowed it to be deployed anywhere in a very short time, should the Cold War have turned hot. The ‘Abbots’ were placed in Field Regiments supporting Armoured Brigades, this would have been about 8 Regiments (142+) guns in the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR).

A British Army ‘Abbot’ of the Royal Artillery (RA) Hohne Range Road, Germany, 1985. Photo: Military Vehicle Photos
The ‘Abbot’ was an extremely reliable vehicle and was easy to maintain. As a result, the ‘Abbot’ became loved by its crews, despite it being very cramped internally. To describe how cramped it was inside, fellow amateur tank researcher and enthusiast, Rita Cardoso Sobral, has said “I am only 5′ 3” and it was nearly impossible for me to get in/out.”

A Convoy of Abbots from the 27th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery in Dortmund, Germany, mid-1990s. Photo: militaryimages.net
The ‘Abbot’ served the British Army for 28 years before it began to be replaced by the 155 mm gun-armed AS-90 in 1993.

Surviving Vehicles

Thanks to its reliability, many ‘Abbots’ still survive and are operated by private owners and/or companies. They are relatively easy to come by for private purchase at a relatively good price, and many can be found in museums across the world. These include the Wight Military and Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight (UK) and the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum (AAAM), Queensland, Australia, among many others. Many tank-driving attractions also feature ‘Abbots’ as part of their fleet. Such places include ‘Tanks-Alot’, based in Brackley, England, and ‘Drive A Tank’ based in Minnesota, USA.

A surviving Abbot located at the Wight Military & Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight, UK. Photo: Author’s Own
One of the best examples of a private company using the ‘Abbot’ is the ‘Grenade’ sports nutrition company. In the UK, they use an ‘Abbot’ covered in their brand logo as an advertisement. As of 2019, they have also started selling authentic ‘Abbot’s’, done up in ‘Grenade’ colors on their website for the price of £75,000 ($94,000). See HERE.

An example of one of the ‘Grenade’ ‘Abbot’ is selling for £75,000 ($94,000). Photo: Grenade

Conclusion

The ‘Abbot’ was an attempt by the British Military to create an effective SPG on a common platform. In doing so, it became one of the most successful Self-Propelled Gun platforms used by the UK, largely due to its firepower, flexibility, and ease of maintenance. It was also one of the first British SPGs to adopt the post-war move to turreted self-propelled artillery pieces. In its almost 30-year service life with the British Army, it never fired a shot in anger.
The Abbot is one of the best examples in the world of a military vehicle that has been successful in both military and private sector service. It was loved by its military crews, and continues to be loved by civilian crews.

A prime example of privately owned Abbot’s is this example by the British Comedian, Ross Noble. Photo: @realrossnoble

Another example is the ‘Glitter-Balled’ abbot used at the premiere of the 2009 Sacha Baron Cohen movie, ‘Brüno’. Photo: justjared.com

Specifications

Dimensions 19ft 2in x 8ft 8in x 8ft 9in (5.8 x 2.6 x 2.7 meters)
Total weight, battle-ready 16 tons (16.2 tonnes)
Crew 6 (Commander, Loader/radio operator, Gunner/Layer, Driver/Ammunition Handler, Ammunition Handler, Second in Command/Ammunition Prepper)
Propulsion 240 hp Rolls-Royce K60 multi-fuel engine
Suspension Torsion Bar
Speed (road) 29 mph (47 kph)
Armament 105mm L13A1 Gun
L4 7.62mm Light Machine Gun/GPMG 7.62mm Machine Gun
Armor 12 – 10mm (0.39 – 0.47in)
Total Production 234 (176 FV433s, 88 VEAs)

Sources

Rob Griffin, FV432 Variants, Tankograd Publishing
Profile Publications Ltd. AFV/Weapons #51: Abbot FV433 Self-Propelled Gun, Christopher F. Foss
www.forecastinternational.com
www.driveatank.com
Wight Military and Heritage Museum
Australian Armour and Artillery Museum (AAAM)

Categories
Cold War British Other Vehicles

FV219 and FV222 – Conqueror ARV Mk. 1 and 2

United Kingdom (1959-60)
Armoure Recovery Vehicle – 28 Built (8 Mk 1, 20 Mk. 2)

In the early years of the Cold War, the Western Powers began developing heavy tanks in response to the Soviet’s IS-3 heavy tank, unveiled at the end of the Second World War. The IS-3 sent a cold shiver down the spines of Western on-lookers. In response, the United States would produce the M103, while the French would experiment with the AMX-50. Great Britain – not to be outdone by these close allies – would develop the Conqueror, the last designated Heavy Tank operated by the British Army.
Weighing in at 63 tons (57 tonnes), the FV214 Conqueror – officially the ‘Tank, Heavy No. 1, 120mm Gun, Conqueror’ – was a monstrous tank. It was armed with a powerful 120 mm rifled gun and was protected by armor that was up to 10 inches (250 mm) thick. The weight of this tank presented a logistical issue, however – there were no recovery vehicles capable of moving it, other than heavy-duty tractors such as the FV1201A Heavy Artillery Tractor. The Americans faced a similar issue with the M103 and, as such, developed the M51, a heavy recovery vehicle built on the chassis of – and specifically designed to assist – the M103 tank.
The British would do the same and, in 1959, create the FV219 Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV), built using the chassis, propulsion and suspensions systems of the tank on which it was based. This would be followed, in 1960, by the FV222 Mk. 2 ARV.

The FV222 Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicle Mk. 2. Photo: Wikimedia

The Conqueror

The Conqueror was born out of the 1944 FV200 project, a proposed ‘Universal Tank’ platform that could be modified to perform various roles (ranging from gun tank to engineering vehicle and Self-Propelled Guns) which would all share the same chassis. A 55-ton (49 tonne) tank armed with a 20-pounder (83 mm) gun designated FV201 was chosen for further development into a heavy tank. This later evolved in 1952 into the FV221 Caernarvon which utilized a Centurion Mk. III turret and gun. In 1955, the 120mm L1 rifled gun was introduced to the chassis in a brand new turret, thus, the FV214 Conqueror was born.
The Conqueror was worthy of its name. It was an impressive vehicle at 38 feet (12 m) long (with the gun forward, 25 feet 4 inches/7.72 m otherwise), 13 feet 1 inch wide (3.99 m) and 10 feet 5 inches (3.18 m) tall. The vehicle was propelled by an 810 horsepower Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 engine, which allowed the 63 long-ton (57 tonnes) tank to achieve a top speed of 22 mph (35 km/h). The tank’s weight was supported on a Horstmann suspension with four, two-wheel bogies per side. The drive sprocket was at the back while the idler was at the front. Armor on the tank was a maximum of 7 inches (177 mm) thick on both the front of the hull and the turret. The track was 31 inches (78.7 cm) wide and had 102 links per side.
The Conqueror had an extremely short service life – which was spent almost entirely in West Germany – before being retired in 1966. It was found, by this point in time, that the Centurion – now armed with the famous L7 105 mm gun – was just as an effective tank as the larger Conqueror. As such, the behemoth became the last of its kind.

The FV214 Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank. ‘William the Conqueror’ is a surviving example found at the Wight Military and Heritage Museum on the Isle of Wight, UK. Photo: Author’s own.

Development of the ARV

The Conqueror ARV was the only variant of the FV214 gun tank to reach production and service. Other engineering vehicles that were based on its chassis – which were carried over from the FV200 project – were planned, such as the FV215A Heavy Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE), the FV216 Mine Flail, and the FV223 Armoured Ramp Carrier (ARK).
Another design to be recycled from the FV200 was the FV209, a design for an armored recovery vehicle. It was this design that the Conqueror ARV would be based on, using the chassis, suspension and automotive components of the FV214 gun tank. Production of three prototypes commenced in 1953. By this time, the vehicle had received the designation FV219 Conqueror ARV Mk. 1. These three vehicles took part in successful trials in 1955, resulting in an order for 20 vehicles. Production of the Mk. 1 would stop at just eight vehicles, as an improved design was soon unveiled. This became the FV222 Conqueror ARV Mk. 2. Lengthy trials were avoided as it was simply an improved version of the Mk. 1. The FV219 would enter service in 1959, four years after its gun tank relation. This would be followed in 1960 by the improved FV222.

FV219 ARV Mk. 1

The FV219’s chassis was almost identical to the regular FV214 Conqueror tank. It weighed 61 tons (56 tonnes), a few tons lighter than the gun tank thanks to the lack of a turret. It was 29 feet (8.9 meters, with the anchoring spade) long, 13 feet 1 inch wide (3.99 m) and 9 feet (2.7 meters) tall. The bow area of the hull was especially similar to the gun tank. In place of the turret, a small armored superstructure constructed from welded plates was installed. There were three stowage boxes installed on the exterior of this cabin; two on the left wall, one on the right. Behind the bow on the right was a small round access port. This superstructure housed the ARV’s main winch and its accompanying crew. It is also known as the ‘winch compartment’.

The FV219 Conqueror ARV. Photo: Tankograd Publishing/RAC/Micheal Neumann
A four-man crew operated the vehicle. This team consisted of the vehicle commander (who also acted as the winch operator), radio operator, recovery mechanic and driver. Two men sat in the bow and the other two in the superstructure. The driver’s position was identical to the gun tank; front and right. He sat under a hatch that opened up and pivoted to the right. Like the gun tank, the driver had three vision periscopes to see through while driving ‘buttoned-up’. Another man sat to his left under a two-piece hatch similar to that of the driver’s hatch on a Centurion. The commander was located at the left-rear corner of the superstructure, under a fully rotating vision cupola with a built-in hatch. The man to his left and a simple one-piece hatch that opened up and backward. As with the gun tank, the bow compartment was separated from the main crew compartment.
It was possible for a .30 Cal. (7.62mm) L3A1 machine gun – the British designation of the US Browning M1919A4 – to be mounted here. There was also provision for the mounting of smoke grenade launchers to the left and right cheek of the winch compartment, as well as the left and right corners of the hull rear. Each launcher consisted of five tubes, giving the vehicle a total of 20 smoke grenades. Both the machine gun and the grenades were purely a defensive measure.

Recovery Equipment

The ARV’s main recovery tool was a 49-ton (45 tonne) capacity winch. This main winch used a 450 foot (137-meter) long cable. This emerged from a small slit in the back of the superstructure. There was also a secondary, 4½ -ton (4 tonne) capacity winch. This used a 899 foot (274-meter) cable and was predominantly used to deploy and retrieve the heavier and stiffer cable of the main winch. This cable emerged from a void at the top of the upper front plate of the winch compartment. Both winches were mounted side-by-side in the superstructure. They were driven by a power-take-off from the vehicle’s engine. Numerous pulleys, guide wheels and fairleads (a device that guides a line, rope or cable) were dotted around the outside of the vehicle which allowed pulls to be made in any direction off of the front, right, left and rear of the ARV. The largest and strongest pulley and fairlead were located at the rear of the vehicle, as this was where the majority of tows would happen. To this end, a large spade was mounted beneath it. Operated hydraulically, this spade was used to anchor the vehicle into the ground when towing to stop the vehicle slipping.

Top-down view of the FV219 showing the various pulleys all over the vehicle. Photo: Tankograd Publishing/Archiv Pierre Touzin
Other recovery equipment included a jib on the rear of the hull, two tie-bars (metal bars with eyelets on each end, used together for towing), a wooden bumper/buffer bar (used when pushing) and two heavy-duty single-sheave snatch blocks for reeving a 3:1 tackle that would allow straight-pulls of up to 148 tons (135 tonnes). Secondary cabling and ropes were also carried, including a 98 foot (30-meter) tow rope, and two 15 foot (4.5 meter) towing cables. This equipment is stored around the exterior of the ARV. For instance, the 15-foot tow cables were stored on the armored skirts that protected the suspension bogies. These were carried over from the gun tank, but on the ARV they were removed more often than not. This led to the cables often being haphazardly being stored on the engine deck.

The rear of the FV222, note the large anchoring spade and pulley system. These parts of the vehicle were almost identical on the FV219 & FV222 Photo: Tankograd Publishing/Pierre Touzin


The Mk. 1 ARV, identifiable by the stepped front casued by the unchanged bow of the gun tank chassis. Photo: Tankograd Publishing/The Tank Museum

The Mk. 2 ARV, identifiable by the large sloping glacis plate at the front of the vehicle. Photo: Tankograd Publishing/Photo: Tankograd Publishing/Archiv Pierre Touzin

FV222 ARV Mk. 2

The Mk. 2 ARV featured a few upgrades over the Mk. 1. The most noticeable of these was to the front of the vehicle. A large sloping plate of armor now formed the front of the vehicle, completely changing the forward profile of the bow. This upgrade greatly improved the crew’s protection but also presents the researcher with the most noticeable means of distinguishing a Mk. 1 and Mk. 2 ARV. The Mk. 2 also carried four stowage boxes. Three were on the left of the winch compartment, one was on the right. The changes on the Mk. 2 were not just external, as it meant a slight re-arrangement of the crew positions was necessary. The ARV retained a four-man crew, though. The driver’s position had been raised into the superstructure, and the commander was now seated to his left. These two crew members are separated from the two other crew by a bulkhead. The driver now sat beneath a shallow cupola with three vision periscopes at its front. The hatch opened up and back to the 4 o’clock position. To his right, there was a smaller round hatch set in the right wall of the superstructure. Slightly back and left of the driver’s cupola was the larger commander’s cupola. This was also fitted with three vision-periscopes, with a mounting above them for the L3A1 machine gun. The built-in hatch opened up and back, and like on the Mk. 1, was capable of 360-degree rotation. Behind these two positions were the other crew positions. There were three round hatches in the rear half of the roof which allowed crew access and access to the winch mechanisms for maintenance. This back half of the superstructure roof could also be removed as one to allow greater access to the area.

Top down view of a Mk. 2 with all hatches open. Photo: Tankograd Publishing/The Tank Museum
Other than these alterations, the two vehicles were basically the same. Also, the Mk. 2 did lack the multiple pulleys around the outside of the hull. They had the same crew, same suspension and tracks, and an identical complement of recovery equipment. The Conqueror ARV Mk. 2 also seems to have received some automotive upgrades, however, at this time, it is unclear as to what exactly these upgrades consisted of.

Production and Service

Just 8 FV219 Conqueror ARV Mk. 1s were made before the upgrade to the FV222 Mk. 2. Entering service in 1959, the Conqueror ARV Mk. 1 – followed by the Mk. 2 in 1960 – would far surpass its gun tank cousin in terms of the length of its service life.

A Mk. 1 ARV in operation. Visible are the Commander and another crew member. The Commander is giving orders to the driver via a microphone. Photo: Tankograd Publishing/Archiv Pierre Touzin
While the FV214 gun tank was retired in 1966, the ARV continued to serve after this. Although it was officially replaced in service by the FV4006 Centurion ARV (a similar vehicle, just built on the Centurion hull) which entered service in the early 1960s, a few were retained in operation in various locations. Records show that at least one Conqueror ARV was still in operation in Germany in the 1990s. One is also reported to have been in operation at the Amphibious Experimental Establishment (also known as ‘AXE’), at Instow in North Devon. It was used for beach tank recovery practice. Its current state, however, is unknown.

Surviving Vehicles

With only 28 ARVs built in total, it is perhaps a miracle that a small number of these vehicles still survive, although only Mk. 2s. Even more remarkable is that one of these vehicles is still in running condition. This vehicle can be found at the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME) Museum, Lyneham, Chippenham. A couple, more unfortunate ARVs can be found at the Wight Military and Heritage Museum on the Isle of Wight. They are simply two rusting hulks that sit outside the museum, around its private track. One of the ARVs on the Isle of Wight (IOW) was rescued from Borden Camp in Hampshire in 1999 (see video below). It was hoped that the vehicle would be restored. Unfortunately, 20 years later, the vehicle remains in the state it was recovered. Another ARV can be found in storage at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. The one there is not in as bad a condition as the IOW examples, but it is still in a rather poor state.

The Surviving, running Mk. 2 found at the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME) Museum, Lyneham, Chippenham. Photo: leicestermodellers

One of the surviving Mk. 2 ARVs on the private track of the Wight Military and Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight. Photo: Author’s own.

Specifications

Dimensions 25.4 x 13.1 x 10.5 ft (12 x 3.99 x 3.19 m)
Total weight, battle ready 64 tons short (128,000 lbs)
Crew 4 (commander/winch operator, radio operator, recovery mechanic, driver)
Propulsion Rolls-Royce Meteor M120 810 hp (604 kW) – pwr 12 hp/t
Suspension Hortsmann suspensions
Speed (road) 22 mph (35 kph)
Equipment Jib hull rear
2x tie-bars
wooden bumper/buffer bar
2x heavy-duty single-sheave snatch blocks
2x two ropes, 1x 98 foot (30-meter), 2x 15 foot (4.5 meter)
Armament L3A1 7.62mm (Browning M1919) Machine Gun
Armor 7 in (180 mm) front glacis
Total Production 28 (8 Mk 1, 20 Mk. 2)

Sources

Profile Publications Ltd. AFV/Weapons #38: Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank, Maj. Michael Norman, RTR.
Tankograd Publishing, Conqueror Heavy Gun Tank, Britain’s Cold War Heavy Tank, Carl Schulze.
Surviving Mk. 2
REME Museum
Wight Military & Heritage Museum, Isle of Wight (IOW), UK.



The FV219 Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicle Mk. 1. Appearing in 1959, the Mk. 1 was the first iteration of the Conqueror ARV. Only 8 of these were built. It is identifiable by its stepped front end.


The FV222 Conqueror Armoured Recovery Vehicle Mk. 2. Appearing in 1960, the Mk. 2 had improved protection over the Mk. 1 thanks to a large sloping glacis plate at the front of the cab. 20 of these were built.

Both of these illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Categories
WW2 British Tankettes

Loyd Carrier

United Kingdom (1939)
Tankette – 26,000 Built

Carriers were a series of utility vehicles produced during the Second World War. They fulfilled a number of roles including troop transportation, reconnaissance, and towing guns. Though perhaps thought mundane compared to other armored vehicles, Carriers were the backbone of the British Army in the war. They even found use throughout the forces of the Commonwealth and the American Military. Captured examples were also used by the Germans. The Universal ‘Bren’ Carrier, perhaps the most famous of these light vehicles, still holds the record for the most produced armored vehicle of all time at around 113,000 built.
The Loyd Carrier, officially the ‘Carrier, Tracked, Personnel Carrying’, was designed by Captain Vivian G. Loyd (1894-1972) in the late 1930s. It was not his first foray into armored vehicle design. Loyd had previously worked with Sir John Carden on the famous Carden-Loyd series of Tankettes.

A Loyd Carrier in the Bocage, 1944. Photo: IWM

Design

The Carrier was part of a rapid-development program, so many of the carrier’s components were borrowed from other vehicles. The vehicle was designed around the drive systems of the 15cwt (0.84 US ton, 0.76 tonne) 4×2 Fordson 7V truck. This included the engine (an 85hp Ford V8 Side-valve), gearbox, transmission, and front axle. The track, drive sprockets, and suspension units were all taken from the Universal Carrier.
The chassis was also borrowed from the Fordson truck. Mild steel bodywork was added. A large, sloped, 0.27 inch (7 mm) thick armored plate (known as the ‘BP Plate’ in Loyd’s manuals) was placed at the front of the vehicle via bolts at the front and on the sides of the hull. This was enough to deflect small arms fire. Due to the sloping, it was also a little more effective than the flat structure of the Universal Carrier for example. A long stowage box was often placed in front of this sloped plate, above the exposed front axle. Pioneering tools were then stowed atop this box, with spare wheels stowed on the glacis.
The upper hull was enclosed at the sides and front but was open at the rear without a roof. This was not seen as an issue as the Carrier was not a fighting vehicle and, as such, did not need extensive protection or armament. A single Bren Light Machine Gun was sometimes carried for defensive purposes. There was an option to attach a canvas roof to protect the occupants from the elements. This was supported by a three-piece framework.

Mobility

The Ford V8 engine was located at the rear of the Carrier, with the radiator behind it. The engine was located centrally at the rear, in a box-like structure. Passage into the crew compartment could be gained on each side of the engine. The drive shaft took the power from the engine forward to the exposed front axle, to which the sprocket wheels that drove the track were attached. Steering was simple.
Both the drive wheels and idler wheels (which were also sprocketed) were fitted with brakes for steering. Steering was not as complicated as the track-bending method of the Universal Carrier and instead was actuated by means of the steering tillers in the driver’s position. Braking the left track would turn the vehicle left, and vice-versa.
The suspension was of the Horstmann type, consisting of two double-wheel bogies mounted at the center of the vehicle. Single rollers were mounted atop the bogies to support the return of the track.

Variants & Roles

There were three types of Loyd Carrier, all identified as ‘Numbers’. The only major difference between these was the engine type. The rest of the vehicle remained unchanged. There were also two ‘Marks’ with different braking systems. The vehicles were used in multiple roles during the War, all with their own designations.

Numbers

No. 1: 85hp British Ford V8 and gearbox
No. 2: 90hp US Ford V8 and gearbox
No. 3: 85hp Ford Canada V8 and gearbox

Marks

Mark I: Bendix brake system. A Brake system produced by the American Bendix Corporation.
Mark II: Girling brake system. A Brake system produced by the British company, Girling Ltd.

Roles

Tracked Personnel Carrier (TPC): Troop carrier variant. Able to transport 8 fully loaded troops or equal weight in cargo. Equipped with internal seating for troops, as well as seating on the track guards. Armor surrounded the entire compartment.
Tracked Towing (TT): The most produced variant of the vehicle. Predominantly used to tow heavy armament, such as the Ordnance ML 4.2 inch Mortar and the Ordnance QF 2 and 6 Pounder Anti-Tank Guns, as well as carrying their respective crews. It was equipped with four seats for the gun crew, and ammunition stowage on the track guards. Armor was only found on the front quarter of the variant. For a short time, this vehicle had its own unique title of ‘Tractor Anti-Tank, Mk. I’

Loyd Carrier used by the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium, 1940. Photo: RG Poulussen
Tracked Cable Layer Mechanical (TCLM): A variant used exclusively by the Royal Corps of Signals (RCS). It carried a large spool of telegraph wire. The vehicle was un-armored.
Tracked Starting and Charging (TS&C): A support vehicle to armored regiments. Used to charge flat batteries and help start tank engines. It was equipped with 30 and 12 volt DC dynamos driven from the gearbox. It also carried spare 30-volt, 300 amp/hr battery units. The vehicle was un-armored with the charging unit positioned against the hull plates on both sides. These vehicles were often nicknamed ‘Slaves’.


Illustration of the basic Loyd Carrier.


Illustration of the Loyd Carrier with canvas roof erected.

Both of these illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.


Production

The prototype vehicle was tested by the Army in late 1939. An initial order of 200 vehicles soon followed. Production started at Loyd’s own company, Vivian Loyd & Co. In later years, production moved to larger firms, including the Ford Motor Company, Wolseley Motors, Dennis Brothers Ltd, Aveling & Barford, and the Sentinel Waggon Works. In total, 26,000 Loyd carriers were built from 1939 to 1944.

Service

World War Two

Early in the War, the TT and TPC variants were used extensively by the Royal Engineer Chemical Warfare Companies. However, most of Chemical Units were disbanded or re-purposed by 1943 to free up their 4.2-inch mortars for the regular infantry. The carriers were then assigned to units equipped with the Mortars.
The TT variant was the most common of the Loyd Carriers and was deployed in the largest numbers. From D-Day onwards, they were used to tow weapons like 6-Pounder AT guns from battlefield to battlefield. They saw action throughout the fighting in Normandy, and even in the famous Battle of Villers-Bocage.

A Loyd Carrier TT towing a 6-Pdr Anti-Tank gun passes a knocked out Panther. Photo: themodellingnews.com
In service with the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME), the carriers were often paired with Caterpillar D8 tractors for tank recovery. The Carrier was used to carry spare parts and recovery apparatus.

Post War

Like most of the carrier vehicles, the Loyd continued to find use after the Second World War in other armies. The Belgian, Danish and Dutch armies purchased Loyd Carriers from the British. Sources suggest that the vehicle remained in service with the Belgian army as late as 1963.
The Belgian Army also created their own variant of the Loyd Carrier. This was the CATI 90 (canon antitank d’infanterie 90mm). The 90mm Gun was produced by MECAR and was designed to combat armored targets. It could also fire HE (High-Explosive) rounds in an infantry support role. The gun was mounted centrally in the vehicle, with the barrel protruding through the frontal plate. It was in operation between 1954 and 1962, and operated with another Loyd Carrier in an ammunition carrying role.

The Belgian CATI 90, preserved at the Royal Military Museum, Brussels. Photo: Alf van Beem

Experimental Variants

SPAAG
There was an attempt to develop an Anti-Aircraft vehicle on the Carrier. This consisted of mounting four-to-six Bren Light Machine Guns at the front of the vehicle on a gimbal that could elevate to point skywards. The vehicle was never mass produced.
SPG
A slightly more elaborate conversion was the attempt to introduce the 25-Pounder field gun to the chassis. The crew compartment was completely removed and the gun introduced directly onto the bare chassis. A second vehicle carrying just ammunition would have worked with it. The recoil of such a powerful gun on such a light chassis would no doubt have caused the vehicle to react violently. This variant was never mass produced.

A surviving Loyd Carrier TT at the Cobbaton Combat Collection, North Devon, England. Photo: Author’s own

Specifications

Dimensions 4.24 x 2.06 x 1.42 m
Total weight, battle ready 4.5 tons
Crew 1 Driver
Propulsion No.1 British Ford V8 petrol
85 bhp at 3500 rpm
Propulsion No.2 US Ford V8 petrol
90 bhp at 3500 rpm
Propulsion No.3 Canadian Ford V8 petrol
85 bhp at 3500 rpm
Speed 30 mph (48 km/h)
Armor up 7 mm (0.28in)
Total production 26,000

Links & Resources

Concord Publishing, Armor at War Series: British Tanks of WWII: (1) France & Belgium 1944, David Fletcher
aviarmor.net
www.mapleleafup.net
www.wwiiequipment.com
Cobbaton Combat Collection, North Devon, England

Categories
Cold War American MBTs

Medium Tank M45 (T26E2)

U.S.A. (1945)
Medium Tank – 185 Built

In 1945, after a long and convoluted development process, the T26E1 – that lead to the M26 Pershing – entered service, and saw action in the closing months of the Second World War in Europe. The T26/M26 was armed with a powerful, high-velocity 90 mm gun that was perfect for engaging armored targets but was not practical in infantry support roles.

One of the most successful Sherman types to see service in the Second World War was the M4 (105). As the name suggests, these M4s were armed with the 105 mm Howitzer M4. These tanks provided infantry teams with a mean of knocking out enemy positions or obstructions with their powerful High-Explosive (HE) rounds. With a new tank coming into service, it was only logical to develop a similar vehicle based upon it. After all, vehicles based on the same base chassis helped ease production, crew training and ensured a plentiful supply of spare parts.

What would emerge can be described simply as a howitzer-armed version of the T26E1, with a few other, smaller modifications. This vehicle was initially known as the T26E2, but would later receive the designation Medium Tank M45. Only a small number of these vehicles were produced, and they would arrive too late to see action in World War II. They would, however, go on to see limited service during the Korean War.

Period artist’s rendition of the M45 (T26E2). Photo: Hunnicutt’s Pershing

The T26/M26

The M26 Pershing was the result of a request for a new tank for the United States Army. The development process was long and complicated with numerous changes of direction. The initial request was for the tank to be armed with a 76 mm (3 in) gun from the start, but this was later changed to a 90 mm. There were three separate experimental vehicles, the T23, T25, and T26. Of course, it was the T26E3 that became the serialized vehicle, and would later be designated as the M26 Pershing, after General John J. Pershing, the Commander of American Forces in the First World War. The T26 started out as a Medium Tank, was reclassified as a Heavy Tank in 1944, and was then returned to Medium Tank status in 1945.

Other than the replacement of the T26/M26’s 90mm Tank Gun M3 with the 105mm Howitzer M4, very little changed between the M26 and M45. The hull, powertrain and suspension remained identical.

The tank was 20 ft 9.5 in (6.34 m) long, 11 ft 6 in (3.51 m) wide and 9 ft 1.5 in (2.78 m) tall and weighed 46-tons (41.7 tonnes). It was operated by a five-man crew, consisting of the commander, loader, gunner, driver, and bow gunner. It was propelled by the 450-500 hp Ford GAF 8-cylinder, gasoline engine. This and the transmission were placed at the rear of the tank. With this engine, the tank could achieve a top speed of 30 mph (48 km/h). The suspension consisted of a torsion bar system, with six paired road-wheels and five return rollers per-side. The drive sprocket was at the rear with the idler at the front.

Development of the T26E2

In 1944, designers initially turned to the T23 prototype for this new howitzer-armed tank. Work on this went as far as the development and construction of a new combination gun mount (a mount that includes the primary sight and coaxial machine gun) for the 105 mm Howitzer, based on that of the T23’s 76 mm gun. However, with attention turning to the T26E1, work on a T23-based howitzer-armed tank ceased.

The 105mm Gun in the combination mount developed for the T23. Work on this ceased once attention turned to the T26. Photo: Hunnicutt’s Pershing

This new development of the T26 was initially designated as the Heavy Tank T26E2. The new design incorporated a heavier gun shield. As the 105 mm was so much lighter the 90 mm, extra metal on the mantlet was required to properly balance the turret. The mantlet was also re-worked to protect the trunnions and trunnion bearings from the force of a shell impact.

Drawings of the howitzer mount, turret, and fighting compartment were prepared and sent to the builders of the T26/M26, Fisher Tank Arsenal and Chrysler, based at the Detroit Tank Arsenal, in October 1944. Wooden mockups of the new internal layout of the turret were also provided. There were a number of new internal features such as a stabilizer for the gun and new ammunition stowage. Fisher then went on to produce a pilot turret that would be tested on a chassis provided by the Detroit Arsenal.

Production pilot of the T26E2 in 1945. Note the words ‘HVY TANK T 26E2 WITH 105 MM HOW M4’ stenciled on the fender. Photo: Hunnicutt’s Pershing

The M45 in Focus

The 105mm Howitzer M4

The howitzer chosen for the M45 was carried over from the 105 mm-armed Shermans. This was the 105 mm Howitzer M4. This was simply a rework of the M2A1 towed artillery piece. It underwent a rework to allow it to be mounted and operated inside the confines of the turret. The biggest modification to the artillery piece was the breech block which was rotated 90-degrees. The vertically sliding breech block was also replaced with a horizontal one. The breech was of the manual type. Placing a round into the chamber would trigger it to start closing, but the loader would have to finish the job with the breech operating handle. The single recuperator located atop the barrel of the field gun was also replaced by two smaller ones on each side of the barrel. The barrel had a length of 22.5 calibers (93.05 inches/2.3 meters) and was fully rifled. Depending on the shell type used, maximum muzzle-velocity of the gun was 1,550 feet-per-second (470 meters-per-second).

A new mount for the gun was developed for installation in the T26E2. This included the coaxial machine gun and M76G gun site. It was initially designated the Combination Mount T117, but was later serialized as the Combination Mount M71. In this mount, the gun had an elevation range of +35 to -10 degrees. Unlike, the regular 90mm-armed T26E1, the T26E2 was equipped with a vertical stabilizer.

Diagram of the 105mm Howitzer M4. Photo: Public Domain

The ammunition used with the howitzer was semi-fixed, meaning the projectile is only loosely attached to the propellant case. This allowed the projectile to be removed and the propellant charge to be adjusted as required. A number of shell types were available: M1 HE (High Explosive), M67 HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank), and M60 WP (White Phosphorus ‘Willie Pete’). The M67 HEAT shell was capable of penetrating 4 inches (100 mm) of armor.

Secondary armament consisted of a coaxial Browning M1919A4 .30 Cal. (7.62mm) machine gun and a Browning M2 .50 Cal. (12.7mm) heavy machine gun placed on a pintle-mount towards the rear of the turret roof. This could also be placed in a similar mount in front of the commander’s cupola. There was also the bow machine gun which, again, consisted of a Browning M1919A4.

Turret

As mentioned above, the howitzer was lighter than the 90 mm gun. The M4 Howitzer weighed 1,140 pounds (520 kg) while the M3 Gun weighed 2,260 lb (1,030 kg). This unbalanced the turret. To remedy this and rebalance the turret, the mantlet was thickened from 4.5 inches (114 mm) to 8 inches (203 mm). The turret face was also thickened from 4 inches (101 mm) to 5 inches (127 mm), as was the armor on the side of the turret, which was increased from 3 inches (76 mm) to 5 inches (127 mm). This additional armor, of course, increased the tank’s overall weight by 645 pounds (292 kg).

This publicity photo of Major Harry Jost of Fort Benning, with his son, Stephen, sat on the barrel, is an excellent close up of the turret. It shows the gun as well as the thickened mantlet. Date unknown. Photo: Getty

The biggest internal change to the turret was the ammunition stowage. Room was found for 74 rounds of 105mm. These were stored in eight separate bins (4-per side) aligned perpendicular to the hull, versus the three longitudinal bin layout of the M26.

Limited Production and Service

It had been anticipated that the pilot T26E2 would be completed by April of 1945. However, interest in 105 mm Howitzer armed tanks had somewhat dropped at this point and it was not delivered to Aberdeen Proving Grounds (APG) until July, almost 2 months after the end of the War in Europe. Remarkably, the original plan was to produce more howitzer tanks than gun tanks. Battle experience in Europe soon highlighted the effectiveness of the high-velocity 90 mm gun, however, and as such, the trend was reversed.

The T26E2 at Aberdeen Proving Grounds (APG) in July 1945. Photo: war-book.ru

Both Chrysler and Fisher had been awarded contracts to produce the T26E2. With the end of the conflict in Europe – paired with the waning interest in howitzer tanks – Fisher’s contract was canceled and Chrysler’s was heavily reduced in number. Serial production started in July 1945 at the Detroit Tank Arsenal. During production, the order was cut back even further and by the end of production, and the year 1945, only 185 vehicles had been built.

Like its T26/M26 brother, the vehicle went through a period reclassification. During development, it was classified as a heavy tank (it received this classification in June 1944), and was designated ‘Heavy Tank T26E2’. After the war, it was reclassified as a medium tank. Following this, when the tank finally received its type-classification in May 1946, it was designated as the ‘Medium Tank M45’.

A photo of an M45 apparently taken on a test-range in Yakima, Washington. The flag flying from the turret does suggest that it is on a live-fire range. Other details are, unfortunately, unknown. Photo: Online Auction

The only combat service the M45 would ever see would be during the Korean War (1950-53), alongside its M26 brother and, later, its M46 nephew. Here, 105mm Howitzer tanks found a place as mobile light artillery and were used for indirect fire-missions. The M45’s compatriots, such as the M4A3 (105) and the M4A3 POA-CWS-H5 flame tank (this had a 105mm Howitzer with a coaxial flame gun) were often used in this role. They were dug into special positions in groups. Grooves were cut into the ground with a berm at the front that the tanks would sit on to increase their elevation angle. It is likely that the M45 was also used in this way. Unfortunately, information about their time in service on the Korean Peninsula is extremely scarce. It is known that the tanks were used solely by the US Army 6th Tank Battalion, 24th Division.

Colorization of the most well-known photo of an M45 in Korea. It shows two of the 6th Tank Battalion’s M45s crossing a river on September 11th, 1950, a day after the Inchon landings. Colorization by Jaycee ‘Amazing Ace’ Davis.

Thanks to a personal account, we do know that at least a few M45’s remained in Korea after the war:

“I saw two at Tongduchon in 1956, about a mile down the road from our unit (Tank Company 31st Inf. 7 Div). Supposedly, they were not on anyone’s property books and looked pretty ragged. They had belonged to the 6th Tank Battalion, who were supposed to turn them in for scrapping after the ceasefire. No one knew how they got to us and the crews had no information. According to a crew member of one of the tanks, the Ford V8 was ‘old and beat’ and used almost as much oil as gasoline. It was covered in jerry cans full of spare oil cans. I just wish they had considered converting a few M46s. With their better engine and transmission, they would’ve been an ideal infantry support tank.”

– Specialist William Campbel, 31st Infantry, 7th Division, US Army

An M45 in motion in Korea. Exact date and location are unknown. Photo: The Chieftain’s Hatch

Conclusion

The M45 was one of the last howitzer armed tanks to be produced by the United States. It may appear to some as a wasted effort. It was designed for the European theatre of the Second World War but arrived too late, then had to wait 5 years to see combat, by which time it was showing its age. Nonetheless, in its short, approximately 10-year career, it found a place although it never performed the role it was intended for.
Unfortunately, probably due to its extremely short production run, it is widely thought that no M45s survive today.



Pre-production pilot of the ‘Heavy Tank T26E2’ during testing in 1945, with the stenciling on the fenders. The Gun and mantlet are protected from the elements with the weather-proof canvas cover. The roof-mounted .50 Cal (12.7mm) machine gun is in the standard position for a T26/M26 type of tank.


A Medium Tank M45 as it served in the Korean War during the early-1950s. The .50 Cal machine gun has been moved to the position in front of the commander’s cupola and the fenders have been lost. This illustration is based on the description given by a Korean War veteran, William Campbell. All details are as he recalls, apart from the ’45’ number – this is speculation as he has forgotten the exact number of the tank he saw.

Both of these illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-w-H) 20 ft 9.5 in x 11 ft 6 in x 9 ft 1.5 in (6.34 x 3.51 m x 2.78 m)
Total weight, battle ready 46 tons (47.7 long tonnes)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, assistant driver, loader)
Propulsion Ford GAF 8 cyl. gasoline, 450-500 hp (340-370 kW)
Maximum speed 22 mph (35 km/h) on road
Suspensions Individual torsion arms with bumper springs and shock absorbers
Range 160 km (100 mi)
Armament 105mm Howitzer M4
Cal.50 M2Hb (12.7 mm)
2x Cal.30 (7.62 mm) M1919A4
Armor Glacis front 100 mm (3.94 in), sides 75 mm (2.95 in), turret face 203 mm (8 in)
Production 185

Sources

The Author wishes to extend his thanks to William Campbel, US Army, Retired
R. P. Hunnicutt, Pershing: A History of the American T20 Tank Series, Presidio Press
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #35: M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943-53
Jim Mesko, Armor in Korea, A Pictorial History, Squadron/Signal Publications
The Chieftain’s Hatch
Armored Fighting Vehicle Database
www.theshermantank.com
www.historyofwar.org

Categories
Improvised AFVs WW2 US Other Vehicles

USMC Improvised M4A2 Flail Tank

USA (1944-45)
Flail Tank – 1 Built

In 1944, the United States Army began testing British-built flail tanks such as the Crab and Scorpion. Mine flails like these consist of a rotating drum connected to a series of chains suspended from the front of the vehicle. The drum rotates at a high speed, causing the chains to pummel the ground, detonating any mines that may be buried.
Meanwhile, down on Maui, one of the Hawaiian islands in the central Pacific, members of the 4th Marine Division, United States Marine Corps (USMC), were recuperating from their time battling the Japanese on Saipan and Tinian. While on Maui in late 1944, the 4th Marines began to undertake experiments with their tanks, one of which was copying the Crab and Scorpion equipment they had seen in an article in an issue of ‘Armored Force Journal’ (or possibly ‘Infantry Journal’) that the division had received.

The result of this particular experiment was an improvised mine flail built using an old M4 Dozer and the back axle of a truck. While it was just an improvised vehicle built from scrap, it did make it to the ash-covered island of Iwo Jima. Its deployment there, however, did not exactly go to plan.

The Marine Corps’ improvised flail tank, built on a salvaged M4A2 Dozer with an added truck axle and Jeep parts. Photo: Sherman Minutia

Guinea Pig, an M4A2 Dozer

The Marine Corps began to receive the M4A2 in 1943. The tank was of a welded construction and was 19 feet 5 inches (5.9 meters) long, 8 feet 7 inches (2.6 meters) wide and 9 feet (2.7 meters) high. It was armed with the typical 75mm Tank Gun M3 main armament. Secondary armament consisted of a coaxial and a bow-mounted Browning M1919 .30 Cal. (7.62mm) machine gun. Armor thickness was pretty standard for the M4s with a maximum of 3.54 inches (90 mm). The tank’s weight of around 35 tons (31.7 tonnes) was supported on a Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS), with three bogies on each side of the vehicle and two wheels per bogie. The idler wheel was at the rear. Average speed was around 22–30 mph (35–48 km/h). The big difference of the A2 with respect to other M4’s was the fact that it was diesel powered, unlike other models which were mostly petrol/gasoline driven. The A2’s powerplant consisted of a General Motors 6046, which was a twin inline diesel engine producing 375 hp.

Dozer tanks are used for route clearance. Dozer kits were installed on a number of different Sherman types in the Pacific, not just the A2. Others included the M4 Composites and M4A3’s. They were able to push debris off roads or clear routes through the dense jungles of the Pacific islands. The Dozer blade, known as the M1, was 10 feet 4 inches (3.1 meters) wide and was attached via long arms to the second bogie of the suspension. On the transmission housing on the bow of the host tank, a hydraulic ram was placed to allow the blade a small degree of vertical traverse.

M4A2 gun tanks and M4A2 with M1 dozer of the 3rd Marine Division on Guam, Summer 1944. It is a dozer tank like this that was chosen for the flail experiment. Photo: Ed Gilbert

The Modifications

After reading the article about the flail tanks the Army had tested, Robert Neiman, the Commander of C Company, 4th Tank Battalion decided that it would be a good idea for the Marines to develop their own version. Nieman discussed this with his Officers and NCOs who agreed with the concept. They knew that, in the coming battles, it was highly likely that they would run into dense Japanese minefields, and there were not always enough engineer personnel to clear them. The guinea pig for this experiment was a salvaged M4A2 dozer tank named “Joker” that had previously served with the 4th Tank Battalion on Saipan. It was available for this experiment as, at this time, the Marine Corps was starting to be re-equipped with the newer gasoline/petrol engined M4A3 model. The modifications were undertaken by Gunnery Sergeant Sam Johnston and Staff-Sergeant Ray Shaw who was also the chief maintenance NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer).

A new welded frame was constructed and attached to the joint on the second bogie. At the end of this frame, they placed a salvaged axle and differential from a truck. Drums were placed where the wheels once were and it was to this that the flail elements were attached. Approximately 15 elements were attached to each drum. The elements consisted of a length of twisted metal cable with towing eyes at the end, short lengths of chain, approximately 5 links in length, were then attached to this cable.

A view of the improvised flail, clearing showing its truck axle origins – the differential is clearly visible. Gy.Sgt S. Johnston is at the controls. Photo: Tanks on the Beaches: A Marine Tanker in the Pacific War

A drive shaft extended from the differential housing to the glacis of the tank and passed through the armor just to the left of the bow machine gun position. On the inside, this meshed with a salvaged transmission from a jeep which was, in turn, connected to the tank’s own drive shaft. This is what provided drive to the flail, allowing it to spin. The bow-gunner/assistant driver would be in charge of controlling the rotation and speed of the flail.

A frame was built atop the vestigial hydraulic ram left over from the tank’s time as a dozer. This frame supported the drive shaft, but also allowed the flail assembly to be lifted up and down. Additional support when lifting was provided by a metal shaft bolted to the glacis of the tank. It had a joint at the glacis end, with the other end connected to the frame near the axle – also jointed.

A view of the tank with the flail at full elevation. Photo: Getty

Testing

On completion of the vehicle, tests were authorized. Division commanders authorized the laying of a live minefield for the vehicle to carve a path through. In this initial test, the vehicle successfully beat a 30 to 40-yard (27 – 36 meter) path through the minefield. The tank emerged unscathed, the only real damage received was to the differential housing. Shrapnel from an exploding mine had penetrated the underside of the housing, but there was no internal damage. To stop this happening again, the engineers encased the housing in welded metal plating and during the following tests, no more damage was received.

A head-on view of the flail tank. Note the crudely welded armor on the differential housing. S.Sgt Ray Shaw is standing next to the turret. Photo: Tanks on the Beaches: A Marine Tanker in the Pacific War

Robert Nieman informed other Officers and his superiors of the success of the tests. Pretty soon, a display for high-ranking Officers of other units and branches stationed on Maui was arranged. However, come the morning of the display, the man with all the experience driving the thing, Gy.Sgt Johnston was, to quote Nieman; “drunk as a skunk”. Luckily, another driver was found for the display, which proved to be a great success. So much so, that it was planned to use this improvised vehicle with the 4th Tank Battalion in the coming assault on Iwo Jima.

Iwo Jima

Despite being the only one of its kind (and being a purely improvised vehicle), the flail tank was deployed during the February 1945 invasion of the volcanic island of Iwo Jima. It was assigned to the 4th Tank Battalion’s 2nd Platoon, under the command of a Sergeant Rick Haddix. It caused a small logistical issue, as it was the only Diesel engined tank the 4th Battalion took to Iwo.

Robert Nieman (left) with his executive officer, Bob Reed (right) stand in front of the flail assembly of the improvised de-mining tank on Maui before the Iwo Jima campaign. Photo: Tanks on the Beaches: A Marine Tanker in the Pacific War

Iwo Jima was both the first and last deployment of the vehicle. It is commonly thought that the tank simply bogged down in the soft ashen terrain of the island, as was the case with many tanks during the assault. In actuality, the fate of the vehicle was much more detailed than that. The Flail tank managed to advance to the island’s first airfield – simply identified as ‘Airfield No. 1’. Near the airfield was a series of flags, Sgt. Haddix believed these to be markers for a minefield and ordered the tank forward. These flags, however, were actually range markers for Japanese heavy-mortars in an elevated but hidden position nearby. The tank was pummeled by a barrage of mortar bombs, critically damaging the flail assembly and the tank itself. Following this, Sgt. Haddix and his men bailed out and abandoned the tank.

Conclusion

Thus ends the story of this improvised mine flail. Despite making it to one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of the Pacific Campaign, it never got a chance to prove itself. Robert Nieman was of the opinion that there needed to be more, which would likely have become a reality if American Forces had gone on to invade the Japanese mainland. Nonetheless, this improvised vehicle is a testament to Marine ingenuity. The Marines at this time were used to receiving the Army’s hand-me-downs, so the ‘make do and mend’ nature came naturally to these men. Although, by 1944, the Corps was getting what it requested from its own supply system. It is unclear what happened to the flail tank after it was abandoned. The most logical guess is that it would have been salvaged and scrapped during the post-battle cleanup.

Other US Flails

Neither the United States Army nor Marine Corps ever officially adopted a mine flail, although many were tested; some even in theatres such as Italy. The most produced flail was the Mine Exploder T3, a development of the British Scorpion, built on the hull of the M4A4 – a tank that otherwise went unused in American forces, other than in training units. Just like the Scorpion, the flail assembly was mounted at the front of the tank and was driven by a separate engine mounted externally on the right side of the hull, encased in a protective box. This engine drove the flail to 75 rpm. The Pressed Steel Car Company undertook the production of the T3 and would construct 41 vehicles in total. A number of these were rushed into theatre overseas in 1943. They went on to be used in the Italian Campaign, most notably in the Breakout from Anzio and the fight towards Rome. The flails were operated by men of the 6617th Mine Clearing Company, formed from the 16th Armored Engineers of the 1st Armored Division. The vehicles were eventually declared unfit for service as mine detonations frequently disabled the flail – the flail also limited the tank’s maneuverability.

The Mine Exploder T3 prototype. No chains are installed on the flail. Photo: Hunnicutt’s Sherman

An improved design for a flail was unveiled in June 1943, designated the T3E1. This vehicle was similar to the British Crab as the flail drum was propelled via a power-take-off from the tank’s engine. Although it was an overall improvement, it was still a failure and disliked by operators. This was mostly because the flail threw rocks and dust into the vision ports and because the flail unit was too rigid to follow the contours of the terrain.

When the Second World War ended, work on mine flails in the US ceased. With the eruption of the Korean War in June 1950, however, attention was again given to such vehicles. In preparation for deployment to the Korean Peninsula, engineers stationed in Japan began working on flails built on late-model M4s, namely the M4A3 (76) HVSS. The most common type to emerge featured wire cutters at each end of the drum, and 72 flail chains. Like the Scorpion flails, the drum was propelled by an external engine mounted in a protective box on the right side of the hull. Other flails were improvised in the field, but information on these is scarce.

Seen in this photo from 1952 is one of the M4A3 (76) HVSS tanks converted to a mine flail in Japan prior to deployment in Korea. This vehicle was operated by the 245th Heavy Tank Battalion of the 45th Infantry Division.


Illustration of the Marine Corps’ improvised Mine Flail, built on the hull of a salvaged M4A2 Dozer, using a truck axle and a salvaged transmission from a jeep. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (not including flail) 5.84 x 2.62 x 2.74 m
19’2” x 8’7” x 9′
Total weight (flail not included) 30.3 tons (66,800 lbs)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, co-driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Twin General Motors 6046, 375hp
Maximum speed 48 km/h (30 mph) on road
Suspensions Vertical Volute Spring (VVSS)
Armament M3 L/40 75 mm (2.95 in)
2 x (7.62 mm) machine-guns
Armor Maximum 76 mm (3 in)

Sources

Robert M. Neiman & Kenneth W. Estes, Tanks on the Beaches: A Marine Tanker in the Pacific War, Texas A&M University Press
R. P. Hunnicutt, Sherman – A History of the American Medium Tank, Presidio Press
The Sherman Minutia
Evolution of Marine Tanks


Categories
US tech

7.2in Multiple Rocket Launcher M17 ‘Whiz Bang’

Though it did not have much of a chance to prove itself in action, the Rocket Launcher T34, famously known as the ‘Calliope’ after the steam organ, was a relatively successful weapon.
Mounted above the turret of the Medium Tank M4, the launcher was a great area-of-effect weapon. Despite this, work continued on upgrading the T34, specifically its firepower. This led to the development of a completely new weapon, which would be capable of launching 7.2-inch (183mm) demolition rockets. This weapon was the 7.2in Multiple Rocket Launcher M17.

M4A2 armed with the Launcher. Photo: Panzerserra

The Medium Tank M4

The tank started life in 1941 as the T6 and was later serialized as the Medium Tank M4. Entering service in 1942, the tank soon became a workhorse, not just to the US Army, but the Allies too.
The 7.2in Multiple Rocket Launcher was mounted on multiple iterations of M4, including M4A1s and A2s. All of the tanks the ‘Whiz Bang’ was fitted to were armed with the standard M4 weapon, the 75mm Tank Gun M3. This gun had a muzzle velocity of up to 619 m/s (2,031 ft/s) and could punch through 102 mm of armor, depending on the AP (Armor Piercing) shell used. It was a good anti-armor weapon, but it was also used to great effect firing HE (High-Explosive) for infantry support.
For secondary armament, the M4s carried a coaxial and a bow mounted .30 Cal (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 machine gun, as well as a .50 Cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2 heavy machine gun on a roof-mounted pintle.

Predecessor, the T34 ‘Calliope’

The Calliope was a bombardment weapon designed to clear paths for attacking infantry units. It was mounted above the turret of the M4 and was attached to the gun which would provide elevation and depression control. The launcher rack consisted of 60 launch tubes, each holding one high-explosive filled 4.5-inch (115mm) rocket.
The rockets had a range of 4200 yards (4 km). Though not accurate individually, when launched together, the rockets were a great area-of-effect weapon. The launcher was a demoralizing piece of equipment for an enemy on the receiving end. Just the shriek of the rockets slicing through the air was often enough to dissuade enemy troops from persisting in the fight.

More Firepower

The quest for increased firepower resulted in the development of the 7.2inch T37 demolition rocket. This 61-pound (27.6 kg) projectile was derived from a naval anti-submarine weapon known as ‘Mousetrap’. This was, in-turn, a development of the famous ship-mounted Hedgehog mortar – the difference being that the Mousetrap was rocket powered. This projectile carried 32-pounds (14.5 kgs) of plastic explosives. It had a low velocity of 160 feet-per-second (49 m/sec), resulting in a short range of just 230-yards (210 meters). A boost to the projectile range came with the T57. This was simply a T37 with the motor from the Calliope’s 4.5-inch rockets attached to the base. This increased the effective range to 1200 yards (1 km).
The 7.2 inch T37 rockets were designed to be used at a relatively close range as a demolition weapon that would breach enemy defenses or simply blow them away completely. To protect them during these close range engagements, the launchers would be armored. The T40 became the most popular of these armored launcher rigs, and it was soon serialized as the 7.2-inch Multiple Rocket Launcher M17.

The T37 Demolition Rocket. Photo: Presidio Press
Like the T34 Calliope, the launcher was mounted above the M4’s turret. Also like the Calliope, the tank’s 75mm gun controlled the launcher’s elevation and depression. In this case, the range was +25 to -5 degrees. When not in use, and for loading, the launcher would rest on the turret roof. For firing, the launcher would raise up and slightly forward, just under a meter clear of the turret roof. The launcher carried 20 of the 7.2in rockets on two rows of 10 rails that were 90-inch (2.2 m) long. Rockets could be fired individually or at ½-second intervals.
The launcher was completely encased in armor that was ½ inch (12.7 mm) thick. The front of the launcher was protected by two armored doors which open vertically to expose the launch rails. The doors were operated by hydraulics which was controlled from inside the turret of the tank. Empty, the M17 weighed 2.2 tons (2 tonnes) and could be jettisoned if required.

M4A1 ‘Whiz Bang’ in Italy being reloaded. Photo: US Archives


Illustration of an M17 ‘Whiz Bang’ equipped M4 Sherman, produced by Bernard ‘Escodrion’ Baker and funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Service

Little is reported about the M17s in service, but we do have a few points of note available to us.
The M17 did not see a great deal of action during the war. Like the Calliope, there was a plan to use tanks armed with the launcher during the D-Day landings. The plan was for them to clear beach obstacles for the attacking troops and armor. Delays in the development of the weapon, however, meant that the final model came too late to be incorporated in the invasion.

A ‘Whiz Bang’ armed M4A1 in Italy. Photo: US Archives
After the Normandy landings, the weapon did see the limited use in operations in North West Europe, as well as Italy. It soon received the nickname ‘Whiz Bang’ from troops. A small number of the launchers were put in reserve for use on the Ardennes Front, but the preemptive German assault meant the M17s went unused.
In 1944, the United States Marine Corps, fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, trialed both the Calliope and Whiz Bang. Despite positive tests, neither went on to serve with the Marines. This is, perhaps, a shame as the Whiz Bang may have proved to be an effective means of disabling the tough Japanese bunkers encountered later in the Pacific Campaign.

An M4 (left) and M4A1 (right) with M17s in Italy. Photo: Panzerserra

Further Development, T67 and T73

The T67 was a limited production upgrade of the M17, designed to be mounted on engineer vehicles. It also featured a new fire control system and the ability to fire the 7.2-inch rocket with either a 2.25 (57mm), 3.25 (83mm) or 4.5-inch motor.
The T73 was developed with the idea of protecting the launcher as much as possible. It differed in design quite drastically, as it only carried 10 rockets on 50-inch (1.2 m) rails. The armor thickness on this model was thicker than the M17s, with 1 inch (25 mm) of armor at the front and ½ inch (12.7 mm) of armor on the top and bottom. 1 inch of armor was enough to protect the rockets from .50 caliber (12.7mm) rounds. The mostly ½ inch armor of the M17 could only stop .30 Caliber (7.62mm). Like the T34 and M17, the launcher rotated with the turret, but this was the first launcher of the type to be independent in elevation and depression which was controlled by an electric drive. The launcher had an elevation range of +45 to -5 degrees. When no longer required, the launcher could be jettisoned by hydraulics controlled from inside the tank. This launcher could also take rockets with a 2.25 (57mm), 3.25 (83mm) or 4.5-inch motor.

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Presidio Press, Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank, R. P. Hunnicutt.
Osprey Publishing, American Tanks & AFVs of World War II, Micheal Green
Histoire & Collections Publishing, Sherman In The Pacific War 1943-45, Raymound Giuliani
Panzerserra Bunker
Overlord’s Blog