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

Categories
WW2 British Other AFVs

Morris-Commercial C9/B Self-Propelled 40mm Bofors

United Kingdom (1943-45)
SPAAG – 1680 built

This rare Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) began development in 1941 as a private venture by the Morris-Commercial company. Morris was one of Britain’s most famous motor companies, renowned for their cars. They also built a number of vehicles for the military, such as the Morris CS9 Armoured Car and the Morris Light Reconnaissance Car. One of their most famous military vehicles was the Morris C8 Field Artillery Tractor (FAT) also known as ‘Quad’. The Morris C9/B is based on this Tractor and was armed with the 40mm Bofors Anti-Aircraft Gun.
The British War Office liked the combination and placed an order. They were put into production in time for the D-Day operations of summer 1944.
The rarity of this SPAAG is somewhat frustrating to the researcher, as the contents of this article represent the majority of the available information out there, despite a relatively large number of produced vehicles.

A factory-fresh Morris C9/B. Photo: Historic Miltary Vehicle Forum

Development

A three-man team designed and developed the C9. They worked under the direction of Mr. Percy Rose at the Morris plant at Adderley Park in Birmingham. Construction of the first prototype was completed by late 1942, and subsequently took part in trials. The trials were successful and the SPAAG entered production. A total of 1680 vehicles were built in total.
The C9/B, officially designated the ‘Carrier, 30 cwt, SP, 4×4, 40 mm AA (Bofors)’ was intended to be a mobile gun platform for the defense of convoys and columns against air attack. Light anti-aircraft regiments were usually outfitted with a battery of six self-propelled guns.

British troops demonstrate the C9. Photo: Warlord Games

The Morris C8 FAT

The C8 Field Artillery Tractor (FAT), also known as the ‘Quad’, was a 4×4 utility vehicle used by British and Commonwealth forces during the Second World War, starting in 1939. It was used to tow weapons such as the 25-Pounder howitzer and 17-Pounder anti-tank gun.
A 70hp Morris EH, 4-cylinder 3.5 liter petrol engine propelled the vehicle to a top speed of 50 mph (80 km/h). It was an extremely reliable vehicle, seeing service in the European and South-Eastern theaters. Around 10,000 C8s were built in total.

The Morris C8 FAT or ‘Quad’ artillery tractor, towng a 25-pdr field gun. It is this vehicle that the C9/B was based on. Photo: IWM

Design

Gun, 40mm Bofors

The chosen armament for this self-propelled anti-aircraft gun was perhaps one of the most famous anti-aircraft (AA) guns in history. This 40mm autocannon, designed and built by the Swedish company Bofors, entered military use in 1934. It became one of the most reliable and deadly guns of the time, seeing use with multiple armies during and after the Second World War.
It had a number of uses, being placed on warships, towed into battle or mounted on various tank chassis. The gun fired a 40 mm (1.6 in) shell, weighing 0.2 kg (2 lbs), up to a maximum vertical range of 7,160 m (23,490 ft). The rate of fire was 120 rounds per minute. Elevation range was from −5 degrees to +90 degrees.

British troops operating the 40mm Bofors on the Morris. The exact location is not known, but judging by the uniforms it is a hot climate, suggesting the Far East. Photo: SOURCE:


Illustration of the Morris-Commercial C9/B Self-Propelled 40mm Bofors, produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Chassis

The C8’s chassis was lengthened slightly for this new variant. The engine and drive systems remained the same as the C8 base vehicle, retaining the 70 hp Morris EH, 4-cylinder 3.5 liter petrol engine mounted at the front. It also stayed a 4×4 vehicle.
A simplistic, almost skeletal body was installed on the frame, including a cab area at the front that was open to the elements, even lacking doors, with seats for four personnel. Two seats were placed on the right (one for the driver) and two on the left. A canvas cover could be placed over the cab area to provide some protection from the elements. Only the very earliest of vehicles had a windshield installed.
A fully enclosed cab was avoided as its addition would have prevented the gun from having a 360-degree arc of traverse. Even the steering wheel was hinged so it could be folded out of the way of the gun. The 40 mm gun, with a shield, was mounted centrally on the chassis. A flat platform was constructed behind the gun, with stowage for 40 mm ammunition boxes over each of the back wheels. Pioneering tools and crew stowage were located under this flat platform. Apart from the gun shield, the vehicle was completely unarmored.
To provide a stable gunnery platform, four jacks were added to the chassis. One was at the front under the bumper, one at the rear, and one on the left and on the right on arms that folded out. Four conical ‘shoes’ were also used under the jacks to spread the weight of the vehicle over a wider area, with the combination of the two lifting the C9 off its wheels. Only the engine compartment at the front of the vehicle bared any resemblance to the C8 base vehicle, yet even this was distorted thanks to the stowage of the conical ‘shoes’ in stacked pairs on the fenders over the front wheels.
The vehicle sometimes towed a small, wooden two-wheel trailer with a canvas cover. This was likely used to tow extra supplies for the vehicle such as ammunition and possibly fuel.

Service

The service life of this vehicle is not well recorded, unfortunately, despite a relatively large production total. The largest user of the C9/B was the Manx Regiment of the Isle of Mann. The Regiment was equipped with the Morris early in 1944, in preparation for operations in Europe. We do know that this SPAAG served in both theatres, fighting the Germans in Europe, and the Japanese in the East. At the point they were in Europe, their use as anti-aircraft vehicles would have continuously dwindled as the German Air Force gradually ran out of aircraft.
Such AA vehicles found alternate uses, however, as infantry support vehicles. The 40 mm Bofors would have been an extremely deadly weapon against enemy infantry, or light vehicles. It certainly would have been a devastating weapon against the thinly armored Japanese tanks in the Far East. Using it to engage both ground and air targets, the Manx Regiment became one of the highest scoring Anti-Air units of the Second World war.
At least one of the vehicles was sent to Australia. It took part in comparative testing alongside the locally produced self-propelled 40 mm SPAAG based on the Ford CMP chassis.

Surviving Vehicles

Thankfully, despite the rarity of the vehicle, a number do survive in the UK in various museums, but also in the hands of private restorers.
One such example can be found in the Cobbaton Combat Collection, near Barnstaple North Devon. Another can be found at the Douglas Aviation Museum on the Isle of Man.

The Cobbaton Combat Collection’s Morris C9/B. Photo: Author’s own.

An article by Mark Nash

Specifications

Weight Around 3 tons
Crew At least 4
Propulsion 70hp Morris EH, 4-cylinder 3.5 liter petrol engine
Speed (road) 50 mph (80 km/h
Armament 40mm Bofors AA Gun
Armor N/A
Total production 1680

Links & Resources

Cobbaton Combat Collection, North Devon, England.
www.maps.org.im
www.flamesofwar.com

Categories
Modern German Other Vehicles

Minenräumer ‘Minebreaker 2000/2’

Western Germany (1999)
Mine Clearing Vehicle – At Least 3 Built

In the late 1990s, the Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft (FFG, Eng: Flensburg Vehicle Manufacturing Company) unveiled a powerful new demining vehicle. It was designed to be capable of clearing large areas of ground quicker than existing vehicles.
This machine was called the Minenräumer (Eng: Mine Clearer) ‘Minebreaker 2000/2’ and was based on the heavily modified chassis of the old German Main Battle Tank (MBT), the Leopard 1. For the entirety of its existence, the mine clearer has been painted completely in bright red paint, with the exception of its bright blue control cab.
The big red Minebreaker is one of the largest and most powerful mine-clearing vehicles to have ever existed. Civilian demining organizations such as German Welt-Entminungs-Hilfe (Eng: German World Demining Aid) began using the vehicle in the late-1990s, but the machine also caught the eye of the world’s militaries. In September 2000, the South Korean Army became the first military to procure the vehicle, for the purpose of demining the inner-Korean border should the need arise. In 2002, the German Army purchased the machine seeing a need for a demining vehicle capable of clearing a larger area than the in-service Keiler Mine Flail. It had a very short service life with the German Army, being retired in 2014. It did, however, see minor service in Afghanistan around Kabul International Airport.

The Minebreaker 2000/2. Photo: Panzernet

The Big Red Beast

By the late-1990s, the Leopard 1 had long fallen out of service with the German Army. As such, it was the perfect candidate for the butchery that would take place converting it into the monstrous Minebreaker.
The Minebreaker was designed by Jorg Kamper, though unfortunately, not much is known about the man. The main feature of his Minenräumer is the large, combine harvester like plow at the front of the vehicle. The plow takes the form of a large tilling drum covered in long metal teeth. The plow is supported by giant arms that extend back to the center of the hull. In the middle of the arms is the command position, enclosed within a ballistically-protected, bright blue (or sometimes white) cabin. Behind the cab, protruding from the engine deck, are two, truck-like exhaust pipes or ‘smoke stacks’. Finally, at the very rear of the hull, hanging over the back of the engine deck is a large box housing the vehicle’s giant air ventilation system.

Hull

The Leopard’s chassis is barely recognizable as the hull of this vehicle. The only recognizable features are the vestigial exhaust vents on the sides on the engine deck, just above the sprocket wheels, and the running gear. The running gear did see a small addition in the form of a protective disc attached to the sprocket wheel. Exactly what purpose this disc has, however, is unknown.
The engine is one of the few unchanged parts of the Leopard 1’s anatomy. It remains the same 10-cylinder, 37.4-litre multi-fuel MTU MB 838 CaM 500 engine. This engine produces 819 horsepower and propelled the 40-tonne Leopard 1 to 65 km/h (40 mph). The Minebreaker is 9 tonnes heavier than the Leopard, weighing in at 49 tonnes. The Minebreaker travels at a fraction of the speed of the Leopard 1, though, with a top speed of just 4 km/h. This is because the plow, and the vehicle itself, is driven hydraulically via a multi-pump transfer drive. In the case of mine clearing operations, this is not a bad thing. It allows every inch of ground to be cleared, forming as safe an area as possible. This hydrostatic drive allows the Minebreaker to travel as slow as 1 meter-per-minute.

Mine Clearing Equipment

The mine plow of the Minebreaker takes the form of a large tilling drum. The drum is covered in around 50, long chisel-like teeth. As the vehicle’s designer once explained: “The tilling drum is fitted with heavy-duty tungsten carbide teeth. If a mine blows up these teeth are the only piece damaged, but [they] are cheap and can be exchanged within minutes…”. Teeth included, the drum is 1.8 meters in diameter and 3.69 meters wide. The drum is covered in a large hood to stop debris and undetonated mines hitting the vehicle.

The gargantuan tilling assembly located at the front of the Minebreaker. Photo: Uwe Hellmann, Tankograd Publishing
The tilling drum is carried by a large frame consisting of two huge arms on the left and right of the drum, and a crossbar that spans the gap between the two. Attached to the bar are two hydraulic rams that raise and lower the tiller as required. The arms are attached to pivot joints roughly halfway along the length of the hull, just above the fourth road wheel. The drum was rotated via chains housed inside the supporting arms. On the inner side of the arm, near the ‘elbow’, was a small motor, powered by the hydraulic drive. This could rotate the drum in both a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction. Anticlockwise is often the preferred direction as it lifts mines out of the ground. Clockwise rotation can result in pushing the mine further into the ground. Unfortunately, the rotational speed of the drum is currently unknown.

The large frame that carriers the tilling drum is raised to allow the vehicle to move around slightly easier. Photo: topwar.ru
Thanks to the hydraulic drive, the vehicle can clear mines at various speeds and various soil types. In light soil, the vehicle clears at 12-20 m/min, 5-12 m/min in medium soil, and 2-5 m/min in heavy soil. This was estimated as being 20 to 40 times faster than a squad of 20 experienced deminers. The vehicle has an approximate clearing rate of 15,000 mᒾ – 20,000 mᒾ (1.5 – 2 Hectares) per day. Clearance depth of the tilling drum is 300 – 500 mm. Due to the size and limited flexibility of the tilling drum, the vehicle can only clear reliably on predominantly flat ground. Ground sloped over 35 degrees cannot be cleared by this vehicle.

The immense tilling drum of the Minebreaker. At the end of each blade, there is a tungsten-carbide tooth. Photo: 270862 of Flickr

Control Cab

The Minebreaker is driven and controlled by a single operator, located in a small bright blue cab placed in the middle of the vehicle. The cab was positioned on a large metal plate that covered the empty, 198 cm diameter turret ring. The cab is ballistically protected by 20 mm steel armor and 70 mm of layered bulletproof glass on the four windows. There is a window on the front of the cab (with a wiper blade), one on each side, and one at the rear built into the armored door used to gain entrance to the cab.

The bright blue one-man control cab of the Minebreaker. Note Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft’s ‘FFG’ logo on the front plate. Photo: Public Domain
The Minebreaker is incredibly easy to control. There are two joysticks attacked to control units on the left and right side of the driver’s seat. One stick is used to drive the vehicle, the other operates the tilling rig. The ease of control means anyone with basic knowledge and qualifications in operating foundry or construction equipment can easily, and quickly, be trained to operate the Minebreaker. The Operator’s seat is mounted above shock-absorbers. These shock-absorbers cushion the Operator from the force of an exploding mine. For example, the G-force produced by the detonation of a 7kg explosive is reduced to just 2 Gs in the cab. This is comparable to a car mounting a curb at walking speed. The seat also rotates to allow the Operator to egress the cab through the armored door.

A view of the Minebreaker from the engine deck. The armored door to the cab is open and the operating seat rotated. Note also, the motor that drives the chain to the milling drum on the inside of the support arm. Photo: GICHD

Other Features

One other large, eye-catching feature of the Minebreaker is the air filter assembly at the rear of the vehicle. The Minebreaker is a large and powerful mine clearing vehicle, and as such, produces a lot of dust and debris when its tilling drum is at full speed cutting into terrain. The powerful MTU (Motoren und Turbinen Union meaning, Eng: Motor and Turbine Union) engine is air-cooled, and of course, requires oxygen for the combustion process. To provide the cleanest possible air in a cloud of dust, the air filters were made truly large. The whole assembly is housed inside a large box overhanging the rear of the vehicle, supported by welded framework. Clean air is pumped into the engine bay directly through the engine deck. A large ‘hump’ of metal plating protects the connection between the front of the filter box and engine deck. The exact model of the filter, or how it operates, is unfortunately unknown at this time.

The huge air-filtration system at the rear of the Minebreaker. Note the extensive supporting framework underneath, and the ladder that allows maintenance access. Photo: 270862 of Flickr
To accommodate the filtration system, the exhaust gasses had to be diverted from the usual grills on the left and right of the hull, at the rear. For this, new exhaust pipes were installed just in front of these grills. The pipes culminated in large, semi-truck-like smokestacks just over a meter high, complete with perforated, heat sinking cowling.
Climbing aboard the Minebreaker is easy. Just in front of the left smokestack is a ladder. When the operator is aboard, it is then folded up and locked in place to stop it getting tangled up with the running gear. There is also a folding ladder attached to the left rear corner of the air filter.

The folding access ladder and left smoke stack of the Minebreaker. Photo: 270862
The Minebreaker is not intended for use in active combat areas and as such, it is mostly unarmored. Also, as a slow moving vehicle, it is an easy target for an aggressor tank or anti-tank weapon. The vehicle’s protective cab is only meant to protect the vehicle from small arms fire and the detonation of mines. Although the Leopard 1 was never a heavily armored vehicle, with a maximum armor thickness of 70 mm, it still grants a good level of protection for the Operator and the internal mechanics.
Another feature of the Minebreaker is that – according to both the designer, Jorg Kamper, and the manufacturer, FFG – the Minebreaker is a modular system. Kamper as been recorded as saying “…it is [currently] mounted on a Leopard 1 chassis, but [it] is a modular system and can fit almost [any other tracked chassis] such as the T-55, T-72, M48, M60…”. There is nothing to say that this is not true, but, for now at least, the only built and used Minebreakers have been Leopard 1 based.

Service

SFOR: Bosnia and Herzegovina

The first uses of the Minebreaker were at the hands of private, non-military demining organizations. As already stated, this included German Welt-Entminungs-Hilfe. In 1999, this organization aided NATO’s ‘Stabilisation Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR)’ in the removal of mines from Vidovice, Kopanice and Jenjic. These were small towns on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s northeastern border with Croatia. These towns were in the Posavina Corridor, in the Sava River valley, some of the most hotly contested ground in the Bosnian War of 1992 – 1995. As such, the ground was heavily saturated with minefields.

The Minebreaker in Vidovice, Bosnia. Photo: Capt. Jesus Campuzano
For three years, the Minebreaker was used here in clearing operations. The Minebreaker was operated by personnel from Croatia’s 4th Guards Brigade ‘The Spiders’. The 4th Guards Bde. was under the supervision of the United States 1st Engineer Battalion, which was in the country as part of Task Force ‘Catamount’.

ISAF: Afghanistan

When it entered service with the German Army, the Teutonic Cross was added to the vehicle, on the tiller arms. The first use of the Minebreaker by the German Army came in September 2002, in Afghanistan. The Minebreaker was deployed with the German contingent of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, also known as ‘ISAF’. While part of this force, the ‘ISAF’ logo was applied to the tiller arms. The Minebreaker proved to be somewhat of a logistical headache as no military aircraft was capable of carrying the vehicle to Afghanistan. The Ukrainian based Antonov Airlines were contracted to transport the Minebreaker, using the world’s largest cargo aircraft, the Antonov An-225 Mriya.

The Minebreaker is unloaded from the Antonov 225 at Kabul International Airport in September 2002. Photo: Pioneer News
The Minebreaker was tasked with clearing mines from the area around Kabul International Airport. Similar missions took place in this area, undertaken by various nation’s armies. The US Army, for instance, deployed the remote-controllable M1 Panther II for this task. The Minebreaker was in operation in Afghanistan for two years, after which it was sent back to Germany where it was used as a training vehicle.

Conclusion

The Minebreaker was retired from German military service in 2014. It is unknown whether South Korea’s machine is still operational. The Minebreaker is still listed as being available to purchase from Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft (FFG), however.
It is not known whether there are any other Minebreakers currently in service in the world, or whether they have been based on other vehicles. For now, at least, the only known Minebreakers remain Leopard 1 based. It also still one of the most powerful mine clearing vehicles to have ever existed.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 10.94 x 4.51 x 3.31 meters
Total weight, battle ready 49 tonnes
Crew 1 (Operator)
Propulsion MTU MB 838 CaM 500 engine, 819hp
Suspension Independent torsion bars
Speed (road) 1 m/min – 4 km/h (2.4 mph)
Equipment 1.8 x 3.69 meter Mine Clearing Tilling Drum
Armor Max 70 mm on the hull, 70mm bulletproof gl.
Production At least 3

Sources

Ralph Zwilling, Minenräumfahrzeuge: Mine-clearing Vehicles from the Keiler to the German Route Clearance System, Tankograd Publishing
Pionier News, The German Corps of Engineers Magazine, Edition No. 5, December 2002. Page 28-29, an article by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Sponfeldner. (PDF)
Mechanical Demining Equipment Catalogue 2008 (PDF)
Mechanical Demining Equipment Catalogue 2010 ( PDF)
www.gichd.org
www.nato.int/sfor
www.ffg-flensburg.de
texogatech.com/minebreaker001.cfm



The Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft (FFG) Minenräumer ‘Minebreaker 2000/2’. The hull of the Leopard 1 is barely recogniseable under all of the added components and large mineclearing tiller drum assembly. This illustration was produced by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Categories
Cold War British Other Vehicles

FV4203 Chieftain AVRE

United Kingdom (1963)
Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers

While it was still under development in 1960, the Royal Engineers (RE) requested specialist conversions of the UK’s new Main Battle Tank (MBT), the FV4201 Chieftain to replace the Centurion models then in service. One of the requested specialist vehicles was a new AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) to replace the FV4003 Centurion AVRE. At this time, these specialist vehicles were still called ‘Funnies’, after their famous ancestors in the 79th Armoured Division, ‘Hobart’s Funnies’. It made sense to design these specialist vehicles based on the MBT of the time to ease production, training, and have a plentiful supply of spare parts.
Following feasibility studies in 1963, designs were put forward in May 1965, and September 1966. These designs were designated Armoured Engineer Vehicles (AEV)s. There were two versions. These were the ‘W’ and ‘G’. The AEV (W) would be an unarmed variant with no turret or large caliber armament. It would be equipped with a 30-ton capacity winch, hence the identifier ‘W’. It would also carry the No. 7 twin-track bridge, a short bridge able to be placed across ditches or trenches. It was intended to replace fascines. The AEV (G) retained its turret and carried the same 165mm Demolition Gun (hence the identifier ‘G’) as the Centurion AVRE. It would also carry an ‘A-frame’ crane on the turret in a configuration similar to the American M728 CEV (Combat Engineer Vehicle). An Armoured Vehicle Launched Bridge (AVLB) variant was also designed.
All of these were intended to replace the Centurion-based models then in service. Fifteen AEV (G)s, which had acquired the designation FV4207, were requested as well as 53 AEV (W)s. However, come 1967, the AEV (G) was canceled in favor of the (W). The cancellation of the (G) variant meant that the Centurion AVRE would have to remain in service for another 20 years. With development focussed on the AEV (W), it received the designation of Chieftain AVRE.

Design drawings for the Chieftain AEV (w) above, and the AEV (G) below. Photo: Haynes Publishing

The Chieftain

The FV4201 Chieftain, entering service in 1966, was designed as a replacement for both the Centurion and FV214 Conqueror. It boasted a powerful 120mm gun and tough armor that was up to 230 mm (9 in) thick. It was armed with the L11A5 120mm rifled gun. The tank was manned by a crew of 4, consisting of a commander, gunner, loader, and driver. The Chieftain was one of the first tanks in which the driver sat in a reclining, or supine, position, meaning the tank had a much lower silhouette than previous vehicles.
The tank weighed 55 tons. This weight was supported on a Horstmann suspension inherited from the Centurion. There were six road-wheels per side, attached to three, two-wheel bogies. The idler was at the front while the drive sprocket was at the rear. The tank was powered by the notorious 750hp Leyland L60 multi-fuel engine. The engine was designed to run on different fuels (Petrol, Diesel, even cooking oil) but it was extremely unreliable causing a lot of breakdowns.
After a number of upgrade programs resulting in 12 separate marks of the vehicle, the Chieftain was eventually removed from service with the British Army in the early 1990s. It was replaced by the Challenger I.

Non-Starter

Come 1969, the design of the Chieftain AVRE had been completed and two prototypes with No. 7 bridges were ordered. The basic configuration of the AVRE was similar to that of the Chieftain ARV (Armoured Recovery Vehicle) which was under simultaneous development and was equipped with the 3-ton winch and a dozer blade/earth bucket. The No. 7 Bridge was carried driving surface-down on top of the hull.
Development on the AVRE ceased in April 1969. This was due to the development of the Combat Engineer Tractor (CET) by the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) in Leeds, which was a fraction of the cost of the Chieftain variant. It soon became clear that funds would not be available for both vehicles. By the end of the 1960s, the development of both the AVRE prototypes was canceled, leaving the Chieftain AVLB (Armoured Vehicle-Launched Bridge) to be the only variant of the MBT under development for the Royal Engineers. The small CET, which became the FV180, would enter service in 1976.

Resurrected

By the mid-1980s, the Royal Engineers were even more eager to replace their now almost 40-year old Centurion AVREs. Also at this time, the Chieftain’s replacement, the Challenger I had started to be put into service. Realizing that a number of surplus Chieftain tanks would become available, the Chieftain AVRE program was resurrected.
A design not too dissimilar from the old AEV (W) concept, almost a simplified version, was drawn up and 13, later 17, surplus Chieftains were made available for the conversion program. Following the acceptance of the design, a wooden mockup was constructed. This was followed by the construction of two prototypes built on Chieftain AVLB Mk. 2 hulls. The conversions were done at Bovington Camp in 1984.

Design

This new AVRE would be operating alongside Challenger I. It was required that the vehicle maintain a high level of maneuverability and the best power-to-weight ratio possible. To achieve this, the turret was removed saving 12-tons. This, however, meant that the 165mm Demolition Gun was not added to the vehicle, making the Centurion the last armed AVRE used by the Royal Engineers.
It would have the ability to mount the standard-issue dozer blade or a modified version of the Centurion 105 AVRE’s mine plow. It could tow two four-wheel ‘AVRE Trailers’ or two Giant Viper (GV) mine clearing devices, doubling the capacity compared to the Centurion. On a UK road it was limited to 1 trailer however.
Atop the turretless hull, a three-piece superstructure was added. Known as the ‘roof-rack’ or ‘hamper’, it could carry three PVC ‘maxi’ pipe fascine rolls or six roles of Class 60 Trackway. Six welded legs secured the rack to the hull, the rearmost rack was fixed in place, but the back section of the middle and the front section of the forward rack could be raised or lowered hydraulically to drop fascines or Class 60 rolls off the front of the vehicle. It was also decided that the rack be capable of carrying a No. 9 Tank Bridge and other stores. Rollers were attached to the rack to facilitate the loading and unloading of the bridge. It must be stressed that the AVRE could not launch the bridge. It would only carry the No. 9 if it was operating in support of the Chieftain AVLB. A seventh roll of Class 60 could be carried on the rear of the hull. The vehicle could also stow its own dozer blade or mine plow in this location. A Rotzler hydraulic winch was also introduced. For close protection, a GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) light-machine gun was carried.
The vehicle had a crew of four. This consisted of the commander, driver and two engineers. The driver sat in the standard position at the front of the vehicle. The commander sat in the hull with the two engineers either side of him in very uncomfortable positions due to the low roof.

Production

To speed up the production of the vehicle and get it into service as quickly as possible, it was decided that all conversion work would be handled by the Army. Work started in February 1986 at the 21st Engineer base workshops in Willich, Germany. A total of 17 Chieftains were converted here. AVRE No. 1 was completed in August 1986, and was sent immediately for trials with the 32nd Armoured Engineer Regiment of the BAOR (British Army of the Rhine). This was to assess the design before full production started. This proved to be a wise endeavor, as a total of 40 modifications and additions were made to and for AVRE No. 2 & 3. The 4th converted vehicle became the finalized design. This was to avoid all 17 of the vehicles having different features and components. After No. 4, all of the AVREs were identical. The last Chieftain AVRE was completed by late 1987.
The completed AVREs were given the designations ‘AVRE Mk. 6/2C’. They were also sometimes known as the ‘Willich AVREs’. Sixteen of the AVREs were based on Mk. 2 Chieftains, with one solitary Mk. 1. The conversions were completed at the relatively cheap price of GB£80,000 each. Two further AVREs were completed at the base workshops of the 23rd Engineer Regiment in Wetter to fulfill the requirement of AVREs in BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield), Canada. This brought the total to 19 Chieftain AVRE produced and in service from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.

Equipment

The role of the ‘CHAVRE’ was much the same as its Centurion and Churchill predecessors, carrying a vast array of battlefield engineering equipment, but specifically not combat as it did not carry an obstacle destruction gun.

Fascines

Just like the AVREs before it, the Chieftain 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. The original fascines were fabricated from brushwood, bound tightly together into a cylinder. In the late 1950s, the Royal Engineers developed a new type, fabricated from large sections of PVC or ‘maxi’ pipe. This was lighter than the original wooden ones, but also allowed water to flow through stopping it from shifting or floating away when dropped in a ditch.

‘CHAVRE’ at Salisbury Plain in 2000. The vehicle is carrying two rolls of ‘maxi’ pipe fascine. It is also equipped with a mine plow, and is towing a 7½-ton trailer. Photo: T.J. Neate

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.

Dozer Blade

This hydraulically operated blade was fitted directly to the front of the Chieftain. The blade could be 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 unexploded mines. The blade was also used to flatten ground for the application of Class 60 Trackway by ‘back-blading’, dragging the blade backward over the ground to grade a uniform surface for the roadway to lie on.

A ‘CHAVRE’ of the 22nd Engineer Regiment, equipped with dozer, blade ploughs through a dirt pile. Perham Down, 1995. Photo: T.J. Neate

Towed Equipment

Trailer

The AVRE could haul one or two 7½-ton four wheel trailers that were 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.

An AVRE towing the 7½-ton trailer loaded with two trackway rolls. Photo: Haynes Publishing

Giant Viper

Another trailer borne-device which was towed by the AVRE. A further development of the World War Two ‘Conger’, the ‘Giant Viper’ was a mine clearing device use 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 inch (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 24 feet (7.3m) wide and 600 feet (183 m) long. The device was carried on the back of a unique two-wheel trailer.

Chieftain AVRE towing two ‘Giant Viper’ trailers, the rear of which is launching the Viper rocket. IT is also carrying 3 ‘maxi’ pipe fascines. Photo: Haynes Publishing

Service

Initially, nine of the AVREs went to the 23rd Engineer Regiment, five went to the 32nd Armoured Engineer Regiment, two went to BATUS (followed later by the two more built in Wetter) and a solitary AVRE went to Bovington Camp. Despite some initial teething problems with the general reliability of the Chieftain (the hulls converted were now around 30 years old), this new vehicle provided the Royal Engineers a flexible, hardworking vehicle able to support battle groups, armored divisions and even infantry with a range of engineering tools.

Gulf War

Fourteen Chieftain AVREs, accompanied by their older Centurion brothers, were part of the British contingent sent on Operation Granby, the codename given to British Operations in the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Here they received extra armor protection in the form of Explosive Reactive Armor or ‘ERA’, taken from Warrior MICVs. These were added to both sides of the crew compartment, adding a total of 1.2 tons to the vehicle. ‘Chain mail’ was added in the form of a net which was hung from the roof rack or ‘hamper’ as a defense against shaped-charge ammunition. This was not popular with the drivers as the chains reduced vision.

Sapper Matthew Newell, 39 Field Squadron, 23 Engineer Regiment, stands with a captured AK-47 assault rifle in front of his AVRE “Whoosh, Bang, Gone!”. Newell was the driver of this vehicle, its name came from the sound made when the Giant Viper mine clearing device was operated. Note the added chain net at the front of the vehicle, and stuffed toy decoration on the left. Photo: Matthew Newell Personal Collection
The AVREs proved very useful in operations in this theatre, serving admirably alongside the Centurion AVREs. Their only real mission, though, was clearing the Milta Pass, North of Kuwait. This 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. The Chieftains were used to tow and drag destroyed vehicles, while the Centurions shunted wrecked tanks off the road with their dozer blades in case any remaining ammunition cooked off (exploded).

Chieftain AVRE ‘Nice and Sleazy’, driven by Sapper Graham Aylward, 39th Field Sqn, 23rd Engr Rgt, in the Gulf. Photographed by Captain Neil Palmer RTR, Command Troop, 14/20th. Hussars, 4 Bde, RSO. Photo: Neil Palmer Personal Collection.

New Model

The AVRE’s success in the Gulf reinforced an idea from 1989, which called for the conversion of more surplus Chieftain hulls. These new AVRE would have a few improvements to the design. The rearmost hamper was fitted with hydraulics to allow the whole thing to tip backwards, allowing fascines or trackway rolls to simply roll off. A small, onboard hydraulic crane was also added. This would lift equipment onto the hull rear and was also used to load fascines and trackway rolls.

‘CHAVRE’ using the on-board hydraulic crane to steady roles of ‘maxi’ pipe fascines. The rear deck, carrying a roll of trackway, shows its abiliity to be tipped backwards. Photo: T.J. Neate
A total of 46 of these newer AVREs were constructed in two batches at ROF Leads, consisting of one batch of 30 and another of 16 constructed between 1991 and 1994. The vehicle received the official designation of ‘Chieftain Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers’, but this was often shortened to ‘CHAVRE’. Once these newer model AVREs entered service, most of the older ‘Willich AVREs’ were retired, though a few remained in service as training vehicles at various camps and bases.
The CHAVRE saw active service in the Kosovo War of 1998-1999. Here they served with the British Contingent of the NATO force dispatched. The ERA configuration used in the Gulf was also used on the vehicles in this theatre. They were mostly used for route clearance and were predominantly used to clear the way for Podujevo camp in the north of the country.

Chieftain AVRE ‘CHAVRE’ in Kosovo, 2000. Photo: Chieftain Tank Apreciation Society group on Facebook

Fate

The ‘CHAVREs’ were finally removed from service in the early 2000s. They were replaced by the British Army’s currently serving Armoured Engineer vehicle, the Trojan.
A few Chieftain AVREs do survive today. One of the earlier ‘Willich AVREs’ can be found outside the Tank Museum, Bovington. For a time, a later ‘CHAVRE’ was also kept here in a running condition. It was displayed in a few of the Tank Museum’s events. It is believed that it has now been moved to the Royal Engineers Museum, Kent. Another can be found on display at the Chatham Dockyards near London.
Total productionAprx. 70

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 25′ (Parx.) x 11’5″ x 9’5″
(7.5m x 3.5m x 2.89m)
Total weight, battle ready Aprx. 43 tons (39 tonnes)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, two engineers).
Propulsion British Leyland diesel BL 40, 450-650 bhp, later BL 60, 695 bhp
Speed 48/30 km/h road/cross-country (29.82/18.64 mph)
Range/consumption 500 km (310.68 mi)
Equipment PVC Pipe Fascine
Class 60 Trackway
Dozer Blade
Giant Viper
Armour Glacis 4.72in, sides 1.37in (120/35 mm)

Links & Resources

Haynes Owners Workshop Manual, Chieftain Main Battle Tank, 1966 to Present.
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #80: Chieftain Main Battle Tank 1965–2003
www.armedforces.co.uk
www.army-guide.com
The Tank Museum, Bovington
Esteemed members of the the Chieftain Tank Apreciation Society Facebook Group
Photo walk-around: www.net-maquettes.com


FV4203 Chieftain Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) in a two-tone camouflage pattern. The AVRE is equipped with a mine plow and is carrying two ‘maxi-pipe’ fascines. Illustration produced by Jarosław Janas, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Categories
Cold War American Other Vehicles

Self-Propelled Flame Thrower M132 ‘Zippo’

U.S.A. (1959)
Armoured Flame Thrower – 351 Built

Since its appearance in the late 1950s, the Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) M113 has continued to be one of the most versatile and universal armored vehicles to have ever existed. It has spawned numerous variants in its long service life, from mobile command posts and Self-Propelled Anti-Air Guns (SPAAGs) to firefighting vehicles.
One of the less well-known variants was the Self Propelled Flame Thrower M132. Entering service in 1963, the M132 – along with the Flame Thrower Tank M67 ‘Zippo’ – would be one of the last armored or ‘mechanized’ flamethrowers to see service in the United States Military. Whereas the M67 would serve in the US Marine Corps (USMC), the M132 would serve with the US Army. The vehicle saw action during the long years of the Vietnam War (1955-75), but its time in service was, however, short-lived. This is mostly due to the fact that, after Vietnam, flame throwing vehicles began to fall out of favor.
One of the first things the article will address is its unofficial ‘Zippo’ nickname – named after the lighter brand – which it shares with the M67. Its origin is somewhat mysterious. Just like the M60A2 tank and its ‘Starship’ name, a concrete source cannot be stated as to when this name came into use. It was likely given by the crews or infantry that operated with the vehicle. There is a suggestion, however, that the name originated from this particular lighter being used to ignite the napalm fuel when the electrical igniters failed.

The M113-based Self-Propelled Flame Thrower M132 ‘Zippo’. Photo: Hunnicutt Bradley

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 with the transmission. The vehicle is supported by a torsion bar suspension 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 by the vehicle. The APC’s usual armament would be a single Browning M2 .50 Cal (12.7mm) heavy machine gun, located at the commander’s position.

Development & Background, the CRDL

In June 1954, the Chemical Research and Development Laboratories (CRDL) began a study, conceptualized by the US Army Chemical Corps, looking into the conversion of serving tanks and armored vehicles into armored/mechanized flame throwers. As a result of this study, the E31-E36 flame thrower kit was developed. The nomenclature, which was unchanged from its debut in the Second World War, denotes that this is the combination of the E31 fuel and pressure unit and the E36 flame gun. The idea behind this kit was that it could be installed on serving vehicles with minimal effort.

One of the M59 prototypes during a demonstration for President Kennedy in 1961 at Fort Bragg. Photo: LIFE Magazine
Three E31-E36 kits were produced and tested on the M59 APC, the predecessor of the M113. In the M59, flame-fuel capacity was 400 gallons (1,818 liters) providing a total firing time of 70 seconds. Following the tests, improvements were made to the weapon and it received the new designation E31R1-E36R1. The modifications to this version of the weapon were intended to allow its installation not only on the M59, but also the brand new M113 APC.

Diagram showing the internal arrangement of the flame thrower system inside the M113. Photo: Hunnicut Bradley

Prototypes

In the summer of 1959, a contract was signed for the construction of three E31R1-E36R1 units and their installation aboard three M113s. The newer, and larger, M113 was found to be a far more suitable vehicle than the M59 and, as such, all work on an M59 based flame thrower ceased. This is despite the M59 having better flame fuel capacity, and as such, a longer firing time*. Logistically, however, it was only prudent to develop the vehicle on a new type which was then entering service. This would allow a degree of commonality, making it easier to manufacture and allowing spare parts to be shared between vehicles.
The three prototypes had the E36R1 installed inside an M1 Cupola – the machine gun armed cupolas found on the M48 and M60 tanks – with a coaxial machine gun. This cupola was then mounted over the commander’s position, with the fuel and pressure systems installed in the personnel compartment. Initially, the coaxial machine gun consisted of the .50 Cal (12.7mm) M85, this was later changed to the .30 Cal (7.62mm) M73.

Production artwork of the M132. The configuration of the flame projector in the cupola with the coaxial machine gun is clearly visible. Photo: Hunnicutt Bradley
Testing of the prototypes took place in 1961 at Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort Greely, Alaska. In March 1962, the E31R1-E36R1 was standardized by the Chemical Corps Technical Committee (CCTC) as the M10-8. This nomenclature denoted the M10 fuel and pressure unit, and the M8 flame gun or ‘Cupola Group’. A year later, in 1963, the United States Army Materiel Command (AMC) officially type-classified the vehicle as the Self-Propelled Flame Thrower M132. In December of 1963, a new Diesel powered version of the M113 was nearing the end of its development, this would become the M113A1. The natural progression for the M132 was for it to be built on the hull of the new M113A1. The new version was classified by the AMC as the M132A1. The M132A1 was also known as the ‘Standard A’ with the earlier M132 version known as the ‘Standard B’.

The M132

Overall Details

In total, the Food Machinery Corporation (FMC) would produce 351 vehicles, consisting of 201 M132s, and 150 M132A1s. The M132 was operated by a two-man crew consisting of the driver, front and left, and the flame gunner/commander, located behind the driver in the center with the flame gun. Overall, the dimensions of the M113 chassis were unchanged. It remained 15 feet 11 ½ inches (4.8 meters) long and 8 feet 9 ¾ inches (2.6 meters) wide. Due to the flame cupola, it is 2 ¼ inches shorter than the standard M113 at 7 feet 11 ¾ inches (2.4 meters) in height. This is due to the lack of a mount for a machine gun. The M132 retained the M113’s top speed of 42 mph (68 km/h).

Flame Equipment

In the cupola, the M8 flame projector is mounted on the left with the coaxial M73 .30 Cal (7.62 mm) machine gun on the right. The barrel of the projector is flat with a sausage-like aperture. The cupola is traversed by hand and has a 360-degree arc of rotation. Both the machine gun and flame gun share a vertical traverse of +55 to -15 degrees. The cupola was equipped with 4 vision blocks and an M28D sight for the flame gunner/commander.

Front view of the M8 cupola group atop the M132. Note the M73 7.92mm machine gun on the left, and the flame gun on the right. The flame gun has a flat barrel, with a sausage-like muzzle. Photo: Public Domain
The flame gun is fed by the M10 fuel and pressure unit, located in the rear of the vehicle in what would be the personnel bay of the standard M113. The drop ramp was retained on the M132 to allow easy access and refueling to the weapon systems. The M10 unit took the form of four snowman-like structures, consisting of a large, spherical 50 gallon (227 liters) pressurized fuel tank with a smaller, spherical compressed air tank on top. The fuel tanks were pressurized to 325 pounds per square inch (23 kg/cm²), with the air tanks pressurized to 3,000 pounds per square inch (210 kg/cm²). The fuel tanks are connected in series, with the last one connected to the rotating joint of the cupola group. The air tanks are also connected together and provide pressure for the flame gun and fuel tanks. The tanks were placed in a removal rack system to allow easy maintenance for both the tank system and the internal components of the vehicle.

Diagram of the snowman-shaped fuel and air units located in the rear of the M132. The large balls on the bottom contain the flame fuel, the smaller balls on top contain pressurized air. These components were all mounted to a single rack system to allow easy removal. Photo: Hunnicutt’s Bradley
In total, the M132 could carry 200 gallons (909 liters, *the dropped M59 version could hold 400 gallons/1818 liters) of thickened, gasoline-based flame fuel. This fuel could be propelled to ranges of 12 to 218 yards (11 to 200 meters).


Illustration of the Self-Propelled Flame Thrower M132 ‘Zippo’, produced by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Service

Where its bigger brother, the M67, found service almost exclusively with the United States Marine Corps (USMC), the M132 would enter service with the US Army, specifically in Armored Cavalry units. Based on ensuing combat experiences, the Army Concept Team in Vietnam (ACTIV) advised that four M132s and two regular M113s be attached to each regiment. Headquarter companies of U.S. Armor and Cavalry units were all assigned at least one M132. Also, armored regiments of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN, Viet: Lục quân Việt Nam Cộng hòa) were all assigned four M132s. The M132s were not limited to the US Army, however. Specific tactics were drawn up for operations with both the Army and Marine Corps, but also for the Navy.

Close up of the flame gun in action. This photo was taken with the Vietnam version of a ‘selfie-stick’. This being a camera attached to a metal pipe slotted over the coaxial M73 machine gun. Photo. LIFE magazine
Standard combat procedure for the M132 was thus: 1) the M132 would advance on a target, using the coaxial M73 machine gun to suppress the target. 2) continuing to fire, the vehicle will move into flamethrower range of the target. 3) the flame gun is fired. In some instances, this may first consist of a “wet burst” of unlit fuel, which would then be ignited by a second ignited burst. The “wet burst” method had been in use since the Second World War. Flame tanks, whether it be the Churchill Crocodile or POA-CWS H1 Sherman, would fire unlit fuel at defensive positions, allowing it to ‘soak’ into the structure. The second lit burst would then ignite the first burst, burning out the defenders. Due to the location of the flame gun behind the driver’s position, it was recommended that the driver keep his hatch closed in combat, for obvious reasons.
Due to the vehicle’s thin, aluminum armor, it was relegated to a strictly support role, operating only with the protection of infantry or armored support. Even so, the vehicle was a valuable asset to convoys. It served as protection against hidden attackers in the heavily vegetated roadsides of the Vietnamese jungle. There is also a recorded example of an M132 knocking out a Vietcong 57mm recoilless rifle team with a 3-second flame burst during the Battle of Ap Tau O in 1966.

M132 of 1/4th Cavalry “The Quarterhorse”, 1st Infantry Division “Big Red One” during Operation Cedar Falls. This M132 is burning a field in the “Iron Triangle” region of Ben Suc, January 1967. Photo: Jerzy Krzemiński
Unfortunately, not too much more is known about individual battles or skirmishes the M132 may have taken part in. The Vietnam War would be the only conflict that the M132 saw service in. The small paragraph below from the US Army report ‘Mechanized and Combat Operations in Vietnam’ published in March 1967, gives a little detail on the vehicle’s use in the conflict:

The M132 mechanized flame thrower has been successfully employed in offensive and defensive operations in Vietnam. In search and destroy operations, they are normally employed in pairs against bunkers and densely foliaged enemy-defended areas containing antipersonnel mines and booby traps. Flame directed at such areas may not destroy a protected enemy, but heat detonates mines and defoliates the area. In defensive positions, the flamethrower is employed to fill gaps not covered by direct fire weapons and to illuminate the area. During movements, the M132s can provide close-in flank protection to the column…

When being used in Naval operations, M132s would be backed onto Armored Troop Carriers (ATC, converted LCM-6 vehicle carriers) accompanied by a 2 ½ ton refueling truck. The M132s would fire over the sides of the vessel at targets on the river bank. There is at least one recorded example of this taking place on the Mekong River.

An Armored Troop Carrier (ATC) on a Vietnamese River, note the M132 in the cargo area at the front of the vessel. Photo: Photo: NHHC Photograph Collection, L-File, Vietnam

An M132 unleashes its firey breath at a river bank from the deck of an ATC. Photo: Quora.com

An Unquenchable Thirst

In operations, the M132 was accompanied by a specially adapted variant of the M548 Cargo Carrier. This was the Flame Thrower Service Vehicle XM45E1. As the M132 had such a small flame fuel capacity, it had a short burn time of just 32 seconds (*the dropped M59 version had a 70 second firing time). The XM45E1 was designed as a refueler for mechanized flamethrowers. The vehicle could mix and transfer thickened flame fuel. It also had an air-compressor to replenish air tanks and carried spare flame system parts. As well as the M132, the XM45E1 also supported the M67, but to a lesser extent.

The Flame Thrower Service Vehicle XM45E1. Photo: Hunnicutt’s Bradley

Fate

The M132 was a successful vehicle. Modified versions of its M10 flame turret even went on to be used on some smaller naval vessels. Despite its success, the M132 would share the same fate as the M67 Flame Tank, being one of the last mechanized flamethrowers to serve with the US Military. The M132 and M67 would be completely phased out by the early 1980s, by which point the controversial weapons had largely fallen out of favor in many of the world’s militaries due to humanitarian reasons. Flamethrowers were controversial with the operators as well as those on the receiving end. They were dangerous to use and the injuries caused by them were horrific. The United States officially stopped using all flamethrower types in 1978 and continued to phase them out after that date. The reason stated at the time was: “flamethrowers were not effective in modern combat scenarios”.

One of the later ATC that had turrets from the M132 installed. Photo: Michael Moore
A few M132s survive to this day. One can be found in Vietnam at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). One of the only surviving examples in the US can be found at the United States Army Chemical Corps Museum at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Surviving M132 at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

M113 APC 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 2 (Commander/Gunner, Driver)
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
Armament Main: M10-8 Flame thrower system.
Sec: Coaxial M73 .30 Cal (7.62mm) Machine Gun
Armor Aluminum alloy 12–38 mm (0.47–1.50 in)
Production 351

Sources

R. P. Hunnicutt, Bradley: A History of American Fighting and Support Vehicles, Presidio Press
Michael Green, Images of War: Armoured Warfare in the Vietnam War, Pen & Sword Publishing
Captain John Ringquist, U.S. Army Flamethrower Vehicles Part 3, Army Chemical Review
Fred W. Crimson, U.S. Military Tracked Vehicles, Motorbooks International
Armored Fighting Vehicle Data Base
www.globalsecurity.org
www.revolvy.com

Categories
Cold War American Engineering & Support

Medium Recovery Vehicle M88

U.S.A. (1961)
Armored Recovery Vehicle – Aprx. 3000

As a result of thicker armor, and the ever-increasing caliber of weaponry, tanks and armored vehicles in the aftermath of the Second World War became bigger and heavier. With the introduction of heavier vehicles throughout the Cold War, tanks would continue to gain weight and girth. Existing recovery vehicles based on the M4 Sherman, such as the M32 and M74, were reaching the end of their usefulness and proved inadequate to rescue a tank such as the 50 ton (44 tonne) M48 Patton III or the titanic 65 ton (58 tonne) M103 heavy tank.

In answer to the need for a new, more powerful recovery vehicle, the Chrysler Corporation, builders of the M103, produced a companion recovery vehicle for operation with the Heavy Tank. This was the Heavy Recovery Vehicle M51, itself based on the M103. This found use in the United States Marine Corps, the major users of the M103, but the US Army was still in need of a support vehicle for its medium tanks. Bowen-McLaughlin, Inc. came forward with a design for a ‘Medium Recovery Vehicle’ in 1954, based on the automotive components of the M48 Patton III medium tank.

After 7 years of development, the finalized vehicle was approved. It would be designated Medium Recovery Vehicle M88. It would enter service in 1961 and through various upgrade programs remains in service with the US Military to this day as the M88A2 ‘Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lifting Extraction System’, otherwise known as ‘HERCULES’. The M88 also continues to serve in the armed forces of various other nations, from Australia to Egypt.

M88A1 in the Gulf War, 1990-91. Photo: Military Today

Development

In October 1954, the desired characteristics of a ‘medium recovery vehicle’ were outlined by the United States Ordnance Committee. The project received the designation T88, and three pilot vehicles were ordered. In December of that year, a conference was held at the Detroit Arsenal (DA) to review designs for the T88. DA themselves and Bowen-McLaughlin, Inc (BM) put forward designs, two from DA, and one from Bowen-McLaughlin, which was reviewed first.

Concept 1: Bowen-McLaughlin’s design was based on a drastic conversion of the USA’s latest medium tank, the M48 Patton III. The conversion would necessitate the complete removal of the turret and the curved ‘beak’ that formed the bow. This was to provide ample space for a fixed, armored cab to be built at the front end of the hull. Hull extension would also be required to provide enough room for a new, more powerful engine. It was also suggested that the vehicle’s overall width be reduced from the original 12 feet (3.6 meters) to 11 feet 6 inches (3.5 meters). It was hoped that the addition of the narrower 27 inch (68cm) wide tracks of the M47 Patton II would prove sufficient for this. An ‘A’ frame boom forged from tubular steel was placed atop the armored cab capable of supporting 25 tons (23 tonnes). It was also equipped with a 50 ton (45 tonne) capacity winch. It had a single spade stabiliser at the front and two spade stabilisers on the rear that were positioned via cables. The cab would be constructed of 1 inch (25 mm) armor, with a ¾-inch (19 mm) thick roof. The cab would contain the vehicle’s four-man crew.

Bowen-McLaughlin’s initial design for the T88. The similarities between this and what would become the M88 are clearly visible. Photo: Hunnicutt Patton

Concept 2 & 3: DA’s designs were similar to BM’s. They utilized the same basic chassis with a cab at the front and an ‘A’ frame boom mounted atop it. On Concept 2, the cab would have a much lower profile and thinner, ½-inch (12.7 mm) armor. The cab on Concept 3 would be taller and have ¾-inch (19 mm) thick armor. Both designs had a four-man crew, but contained two extra seats for additional personnel. Also, the suspension differed slightly, being a ‘flat-track’ type. This is a suspension without rollers where the track return is supported by the road wheels. Such suspension was used on tanks such as the Soviet T-54. Concepts 2 and 3 were also designed with jettisonable external fuel tanks to increase the ARV’s operational range.

Findings

After considering the three designs, the conference held at Detroit Arsenal concluded that Bowen-McLaughlin’s design had many admirable features. However, doubt was cast over the conversion of the M48 tank. It was thought, as the M48 was the USA’s front line tank at this time, that there would not be enough tanks available for conversion. It was also suggested that it would probably be easier to build a completely new vehicle instead of trying to modify an existing hull. Although an M48-based vehicle was rejected, it was recommended that the T88 be equipped with the features installed on the Bowen design and follow a base tank design to permit maximum interchangeability between them, and standardization of component parts.

The Pacific Car & Foundry Company and the Food Machinery & Chemical Corporation put a spanner in the works by suggesting that all winching and lifting operations be undertaken from the rear of the vehicle. On the BM design, it was done from the front of the vehicle. Mock-ups of the two rear-end focused designs, and Bowen’s front end design were prepared. The mock-ups were reviewed by Continental Army Command (CONARC) who wholeheartedly supported the front end focused vehicle to maximize operator visibility.

After all of these pre-development trials, Bowen-McLaughlin’s design came through on top. In October 1955, authorization was granted for the manufacture of three pilot vehicles. A Contract was signed with BM in April 1956 to start work on constructing the pilots.

A Doomed Project?

A number of delays that arose during the manufacture of the pilot vehicles cast a shadow over the future of the entire T88 project. A meeting held at the Ordnance Tank Automotive Command (OTAC) in January 1957 noted that just 90% of a single vehicle had been constructed. At this time, the biggest threat to the T88 was a new medium tank project that was taking shape to become the USA’s next front line medium tank, the T95. It was suggested that the current T88 design be dropped in favor of a new design utilizing parts from the T95. This would’ve received the designation T88E1.

However, since the M48 was the most numerous tank then in service in the US Military, it was suggested that an interim recovery vehicle be produced by simply making an add-on kit for the M48A2.

T88 at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, 6th February 1958. Photo: Public Domain

The eventual delivery of the T88 pilot vehicles and subsequent tests did not do much to save the future of the recovery vehicle. The vehicles were designed to be powered by the Continental AVI-1790-8 (AVI: Air-cooled, V-configured, Fuel Injected) engine. Producing 580 horsepower, it was thought that the 1790-8 engine would provide enough power to straight-pull the 52 ton (47 tonne) M48 Patton. In tests with the pilot vehicles, however, it was found that it had a relatively mediocre performance. As the weight of tanks was projected to increase over the following years, it was decided to replace this engine with the more powerful AVSI-1790-6 (AVSI: Air-cooled, V-configured, Supercharged, & Fuel Injected.) which produced 690 horsepower. This was coupled with the XT-1400 transmission which was already installed on the M51 Heavy Recovery Vehicle. This was the most powerful propulsion setup available to the Ordnance Department at the time of the tests and a meeting held in October 1958 concluded that it should be installed in the pilot T88s for the remainder of the trials.

Serialisation and Production

In February 1959, approval was granted for the production of three production pilots with the new powertrain. At the same time, the T88 received the official designation and serialization as the ‘Medium Recovery Vehicle M88’.

Photo of one of the early production vehicles taken at APG in 1961. Photo: Hunnicutt Patton

At this point in time, the T95 had been replaced by the XM60 as America’s future front-line tank. As such, the need for a recovery vehicle in the weight and power-class of the M88 was once more highlighted. The M88’s initial designers, Bowen-McLaughlin, Inc (now known as Bowen-McLaughlin York Company – BMY) were granted a contract in 1960 for the full-scale production of the M88. This contract lasted until 1964, and in that period 1,075 vehicles were produced.

Design of the M88 in Detail

The production model of the M88 is 27 feet 1½ inches (8.27 m) long, 11 feet 3 inches ft (3.43 m) wide, and 10 feet 6 inches ft (3.23 m) tall. A Continental AVSI-1790-6A engine, running through an Allison XT-1400-2 transmission powered the M88. This engine produced 980 horsepower, propelling the 51 ton (46 tonne) recovery vehicle to a top speed of 26 mph (42 km/h). The vehicle consists of an armored cab at the front supported on an elongated M48-like running gear. The vehicle rolls on six road-wheels attached to a torsion-bar suspension with the drive sprocket at the rear and idler at the front. The idler wheel was of the compensating type, meaning it was attached to the closest roadwheel by an actuating arm. When the roadwheel reacts to terrain the idler is pushed out or pulled in, keeping constant track tension. The return of the track was supported by three rollers.

M88 ‘Hell’s Half Acre of the US Army in Vietnam. The vehicle’s four-man crew sit atop their positions on the roof of the cab. You can see five of the vehicles road wheels in this photo as it has somehow lost the sixth. Photo: SOURCE

The cab extended back to roughly the center of the chassis, just over the fourth road-wheel. The cab was constructed of 1 inch (25mm) armor on the front and sides, with a ¾-inch (19mm) thick roof. The front plate is slightly sloped backward. There were headlights on the left and right cheeks of the cab. On later models, smoke dischargers were added above these. There are large hatches on the left and right side of the cab, positioned just over the third roadwheel. The A-frame crane arm is attached on pivoting joints at the forward edge of the roof and folds backwards into a travel-lock on the engine deck. At the front of the vehicle is a dozer blade, roughly the same width as the vehicle. Behind the cab is the engine, the fenders of which are part of the same casting as the sides of the cab. This rear section of the vehicle is primarily used for the stowage of spare parts and towing/recovery equipment, pioneer tools, spare road-wheel halves, drive wheel sprockets, rollers, track links and towing bars. As the exhaust pipes from the engine emerged in the center of the engine deck, a cowling system was constructed around them that takes the gasses and smoke, and vents them off the rear of the vehicle. There is a plate under the ventilation grills that deflect the gasses and smoke skywards.

The exhaust cowlings at the back of the M88. Photo: Jochen Vollert/Tankograd Publishing

Crew and Their Positions

A four-man crew operates the M88. This consists of the Commander (positioned in the center of the cab), Rigger (behind the Commander), Mechanic (front right) and the Driver (front left). Atop the Commander’s position was a vision cupola. It is here that the vehicle’s only armament can be found; a single Browning M2 .50 Cal (12.7mm) heavy machine gun for defensive purposes. There is a smaller hatch behind the Commander’s was for the Rigger. Both the Driver and Mechanic have vision blocks molded into the upper-front plate. They each have their own hatch, and three vision blocks per-position. The Driver has an extra rotating periscope built into his hatch.

A good deal of equipment is stored within the crew compartment. This included: At least 1 rifle (either M14 or M16), 3x M72 LAW rocket launchers, 2x jerry cans of water, 2x jerry cans of oil, 2x fire extinguishers, 1x bolt cutter, 2x vehicle jacks (one of 11 ton/10 tonne & one of 27 ton/25 tonne capacity), boxes of .50 Cal (12.7mm) ammunition, and 3x toolboxes.

Recovery Equipment

There are three major pieces of recovery equipment present aboard the M88. These are a Winch, an ‘A’ frame boom, and a spade. As a recovery vehicle, the winch – A Pacific Car & Foundry manufactured Type U90B – is the main piece of equipment. The winch drum is located in a compartment below the cab at the front of the vehicle. The cable is around 200 feet (61 meters) long and 1 ⅕ inches (32mm) in diameter. It exits the vehicle via a small port in the front plate of the cab and has a maximum capacity of 45 tons (41 tonnes). There is a roller under the port to reduce wear on the cable. The winch is wound/unwound via a hydraulic motor with a winding speed of 42 feet (12.8 meters) per minute.

The M88’s main winch. On the left, the empty void where it is placed, on the right, the winch itself. Photos: Marcus Bach/Tankograd Publishing

Second to this winch, is the ‘A’ frame boom and accompanying hoist winch. The boom consists of tubular steel frame with a hoist at the end. The boom is raised and lowered via hydraulics found on the left and right side of the hull. The boom arm has a forward-reach ranging between 4 feet (1.22 meters) and 8 feet (2.44 meters). At 4 feet of reach, maximum lifting height is 25 feet (7.66 meters), at 8 feet, this is reduced to 22 feet (6.87 meters). Lift is provided via winch and cable. The winch is located below the crew compartment with the cable traveling through a tunnel in the cab and emerges from a porthole the roof. The port is protected by a winch cable access door with integral rollers to reduce wear. The cable, which is 200 feet (61 meters) long and ⅝ of an inch (16mm) in diameter, then stretches up to the pulley at the top. The cable has a maximum capacity of 25 (23 tonnes). When raised, the boom is supported by stayline cables which are anchored on the left and right rear of the engine deck.

An M88 uses its boom-hoist to list an M113 on a flatbed trailer. Vietnam, January 1971. Photo: Olive-Drab.com

With its 45 ton (41 tonne) capacity, the main winch is responsible for the recovery of heavy vehicles such as medium tanks, like the M60 or M48. With roughly half the capacity of the winch, the boom is mostly used for the recovery of lighter wheeled vehicles or light armored vehicles like the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC). It is predominantly used for the hoisting of heavy equipment, such as cannons or mine plows, and automotive components, such as engine and transmission units.

Located at the front of the vehicle, the hydraulically operated dozer blade, also known as the spade, has a number of roles. When the boom crane is deployed and lifting, the spade is utilized in a similar fashion to outriggers on a commercial crane. The blade is lowered underneath the front of the hull so far that the first set of road-wheels are almost touching the back of the blade. The blade is roughly the same width as the hull at 11.25 ft (3.43 m), and can, of course, also be used for light-bulldozer work, such as carving out hull-down positions for tanks, digging gun emplacements, route denial (creating and filling anti-tank ditches), improving bridge approaches, and leveling uneven ground. When not in use, the spade is stored in a horizontal position just above the idler wheels.

M88A1 ‘Grocery Getter’ of the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment. This photo shows the dozer blade at the front of the M88 in stabilizing position. Photo: Oliver Kroh/Tankograd Publishing

The M88 also carries a number of pieces of towing equipment. These include spare pulleys, tow-bars, towing chains and towing cables. This equipment is stowed on the left and right flanks of the engine deck. The M88 has a towing capacity of 45 tons (41 tonnes), and can safely tow at speeds up to 13 mph (21 km/h).

An M88A1 of the 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment tows an M577A2 Mobile Command Post, Germany, 2000. Photo: Clemends Niesner/Tankograd Publishing

Upgrades and New Models

M88A1

Although the M88’s Continental AVSI-1790-6A engine was powerful, it had a high rate of fuel consumption. A full, 445 gallon (1,684 liters) tank gave the M88 a range of 201 miles (322 km). In the 1960s, the Military began to upgrade their vehicles to have more economical diesel engines. In 1972, BMY received a contract to produce a diesel-powered version of the M88. A prototype was ready by 1973, and it was designated the M88E1. The new engine was the same as the one installed on the M60 tank. This was the Continental AVDS-1790-2DR (AVDS: Air-cooled, V-configured, Diesel, Supercharged), a turbocharged 12-cylinder V engine. This new engine produced 750hp, this was less than the 980hp of the original engine but it granted increased torque and was thus extremely beneficial to straight-pulling and towing operations. It also granted an increased range of 300 miles (483 km). A new, Allison XT-1410-4 transmission was also installed with the engine. A new hydraulic pump was added that allowed the boom and winches to operate should the vehicle’s engine fail. In 1975, the M88E1 was officially serialized as the M88A1. Of the original production of 1,075 vehicles produced by BMY, 878 were built to A1 with production ending in 1982. In 1989, 2,167 new M88A1s were built. The M88A1 entered service with the US military in the late 1980s.

An M88A1 taking part in a training exercise to flip an overturned Marine Corps M60A3 tank. Gulf War, Operation Desert Shield, December 1990. Photo: inetres.com

New Tank = More Power

The original purpose of M88, and then M88A1, was to support the M48 and M60 tanks. When these tanks entered service, they had an approximate weight of 45 tons (41 tonnes) each. By the time these vehicles reached their final forms of M48A5 and M60A3, they weighed 49 tons (44 tonnes) and 52 tons (47 tonnes) respectively. This already exceeded the recommended maximum weight capacity of the M88. Then, the M1 Abrams arrived. The M1 Abrams main battle tank – named after the WWII General Creighton Abrams – had a base weight of 54 tons (49 tonnes) and, over its service life, this weight would only increase. It was clear that the M88 and M88A1 would only be grossly over-burdened by the M1. As such, in 1982, a requirement was drafted to produce an improved, more powerful version of the M88.

M88AX

Bowen-McLaughlin-York had foreseen the appearance of heavier tanks and the logistical issues they would cause the M88 and M88A1. In 1982, the company started work on improving the M88A1. The resulting vehicle was designated the M88AX. It received a new AVDS-1790-8DR air-cooled, turbocharged, 12-cylinder V diesel engine which produced 1,050 hp. This was coupled with an Allison XT-1410-5X transmission. Ballast was added to the vehicle to bring its weight up to 59 tons (53 tonnes). From 1985 onwards, the M88AX was put through a series of trials, during which the AX reached a top speed of 35 mph (56 km/h) and was able to tow an M1A1 Abrams at 25 mph (40 km/h). Although it did not enter service, lessons learned were passed on to the next program.

The M88AX in testing pulling an M1A1 up an incline. Note the weight blocks added to the front and sides of the vehicle. Photo: BMY/Tankograd Publishing

M88A1E1

In 1987, BMY was granted a contract to produce five improved M88A1s, following the outlines of the M88AX. These vehicles were given the designation of M88A1E1 Improved Recovery Vehicle (IRV). Improvements also included a new hoist boom constructed from hollow, square-profile steel beams, replacing the old tubular steel boom. It also included an improved main winch with greater pulling capacity. Running parallel to the A1E1s development was a new Armored Recovery Vehicle based on the M1 Abrams. In summer 1988, trials were held between the M88A1E1 and a prototype M1 ARV. The winner of the trials was the M88, and additional funding was granted to Bowen-McLaughlin-York to allow quick development to production. In 1989 however, the M88A1E1 project was canceled due to budgetary limitations.

The M88A1E1 Improved Recovery Vehicle (IRV) photographed in the late-1980s. The similarities with the later M88A2 are clearly visible. Photo: BMY/Tankograd Publishing

M88A2 & M88A2 HERCULES

In October 1991, the program to develop a new version of the ARV was reinstated. BMY was contracted to continue development up to 1993 when the existing prototypes from previous trials were reworked and put through extensive trials. In 1994 BMY was contracted to produce the new vehicle but due to further budget limits, it was decided to upgrade the M88A1 rather than build a whole new vehicle. In 1997, after tests, this new upgraded version of the M88 was designated the M88A2, it shared a few of the features tested on the M88A1E1. It is also known as the M88A2 ‘Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lift & Evacuation System’, poetically acronymed as ‘HERCULES’ (this is also known as a ‘Backronym’). The conversion of M88A1 to M88A2 was a joint effort undertaken by United Defense LP (now part of BAE) and Anniston Army Depot.

The M88A2 ‘Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lift & Evacuation System’, also known as ‘HERCULES’. Note the boom arm now constructed of square steel pipes, the added armor on the sides and front, the two-piece hatch, and the armored side-skirts. Photo: BAE Systems

The M88A2 was far improved over the M88A1 model. It can lift heavier loads with its reinforced 35 ton (31 tonne) capacity hoist boom and can pull heavier loads with its 70 ton (64 tonne) capacity main-winch. The main winch now had a 321 foot (98 meter) long, 1 ⅖ inch (35mm) diameter cable. A new auxiliary winch was added on the front of the vehicle, under the port where the main winch cable emerges. This auxiliary winch has a capacity of 3.3 tons (3 tonnes) with a 654 foot (199) meter cable. The M88A2 is powered by a Continental (now L-3 Propulsion Systems) AVDS-1790-8CR, air-cooled, turbocharged, 1,050 hp, 12-cylinder V diesel engine coupled with an Allison XT-1410-5A transmission. This gave the ARV more brute force power than the previous power pack, but only improved the top speed by 4 mph (6 km/h). As well as automotive and recovery equipment upgrades, the A2 also received armor upgrades. The entire superstructure was covered in an extra layer of armor plate. Huge, one-piece plates were added to the flanks of the vehicle that covered the whole of the cab and sides of the engine compartment. New two-piece hatches were built into these plates to replace the old one-piece hatches of the earlier M88 models. Another plate was added over the front of the cab, with extra small plates placed in front of the Driver and Mechanic’s positions. Finally, the M88A2 was given armored side skirts comprised of eight separate panels, all hinged to allow access to the running gear. The thickness of this armor is unknown, but it is said to be immune to 30mm Armor-Piercing rounds. In some cases, smoke dischargers were added to the front of the vehicle as well.

The M88A2 HERCULES is now the dedicated companion and support vehicle to the M1 Abrams. It entered service in the early 2000s and continues to serve today. Production of the HERCULES continues today. In September 2017, the production of 20 new vehicles was ordered. In December 2017 a total of 775 vehicles were produced and delivered. Another 60 are expected to be delivered between 2018 and 2019, bringing the Army inventory to 835 M88A2 vehicles. Armored Brigade Combat Teams of the National Guard (ABCTs) are also now being equipped with the M88A2 HERCULES. Upon the completion of M88A2 HERCULES production, 237 older M88A1s will remain in use by non-Abrams equipped units.

An M88A2 HERCULES performing its duty as the support vehicle to M1A2 Abrams. Photo: SOURCE

Future: The M88A3

The M1 Abrams is set to get even heavier in the future with the increased addition of new, heavier modular armor packages. In 2015-2016, BAE Systems began work on a new version of the ARV, designated the M88A3. The vehicle will feature a number of upgrades, including the addition of a seventh road-wheel to increase stability, and hydro-pneumatic suspension that can lock. (Locking the suspension will grant greater stability in lifting operations, a similar system is used on Self-Propelled Guns (SPGs) to help absorb recoil). Currently, on the A2, a member of the crew has to exit the vehicle and place a wooden block behind the rear wheels to achieve the same result. In October 2018, at the AUSA (Association of the United States Army) exhibition of 2018, one of the first prototypes of this vehicle, which was simply a modified A2 featuring the added road wheel, was unveiled. Further upgrades planned for the A3 include the replacement of the A2’s 1,050 hp AVDS-1790-8CR engine with a 1,300 hp Caterpillar liquid-cooled diesel engine, and the installation of a new transmission based on that of the M1 Abrams. This version of the M88 remains in development.

The M88A3 prototype unveiled at AUSA 2018. Note the extra roadwheel. Photos: Shephard Media

Experimental Off-Shoot: The Counter Obstacle Vehicle (COV)

The ‘Counter Obstacle Vehicle’ or ‘COV’ was an experimental Combat Engineering Vehicle (CEV) based on the hull of the M88. The control cab was completely removed to make way for two digging arms on the left and right side of the vehicle. A large dozer blade that could also be used as a mine plow was added to the front. The vehicle would never go past the prototype phase, with the program canceled in 1986. Developments made in the program were, however, passed on to the M1 Grizzly, a project to build a CEV based on the chassis of the M1 Abrams.

The prototype ‘Counter Obstacle Vehicle’ also known as ‘COV’. Photo: BMY/Tankograd Publishing

Service

The M88 entered service in 1961, at first just with the M48 Patton equipped units of the US Army. At this point, the US Marine Corps (USMC) was still happy with its M103 based M51 Heavy Recovery Vehicle, and would continue to use them until 1977.
To go into detail about every combat situation the M88 found itself in would be an exercise in futility. Simply put, the M88 has served wherever the US Army has been deployed since 1961. We shall explore a few of its more famous deployments in the following sections. Perhaps its longest deployment was in West Germany with US forces. They were issued to all US tank units stationed in the country.

Civillians look on as an American M88A1 pulls the power pack of an M60A1 tank during Operation Carbine Fortress in Niederstetten, Germany, 1982. Photo: Manfred Garstka/Tankograd Publishing

The Vietnam War

Vietnam was the M88’s first combat deployment with the US Army. It proved itself invaluable in the dense, marshy jungles of the war-torn country. Such terrain was a headache for the tanks that easily became stuck. The M88 proved to be a life-line when recovering tanks and vehicles from these sticky situations. They also proved to be extremely useful in field-repair tasks, and in the preparation of terrain with the use of its dozer blade. While the M48 Patton was the main object of the M88s’ attentions, as it was intended, the ARV was also used in the support of lighter vehicles such as the M41 Walker-Bulldog light tank, and the M113 Armored Personel Carrier (APC). In Vietnam, the M88 would serve alongside the M51, its older, heavier cousin – which was still in service with the US Marine Corps – and the Light Recovery Vehicle M578.

A rather comical photo of two M88s lifting a fellow M88 of the 178th Maintenance Company, Dong Ha, Vietnam. Photo: 2nd Bat. 94th Art.

The Gulf War

By the 1990s, the newer M88A1 had entered service. At this point, the M48 Patton and M60 tanks had been largely removed from service in the US Army, with the heavier M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank taking its place. The US Marine Corps, however, continued to use the M60. Also, by this point in time, the USMC was now fully equipped with the M88 and M88A1. One of the first combat deployments of the newer model of the M88 was in the Middle East, supporting American forces in Operation Desert Shield, and the following Desert Storm, during the Gulf War of 1990-1991. The Gulf War was the M88’s first deployment in support of the M1 Abrams, as well as the M2 & M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

M88A1s in Iraq during the Gulf War 1990-91. Photo: Wikimedia

Bosnia & Kosovo

The next deployments of the M88 would be to southeastern Europe. Between 1992 and 1995, they were deployed with the US contingent taking part in the War in Bosnia. Later, between 1998 and 1999, the M88 supported the armored sections of the US forces deployed to Kosovo during the war. They were also present to support US tank units that remained deployed as part of NATO’s ‘Kosovo Force’ known as ‘KFOR’.

An M88A1 and M577A2 Mobile Command Post of the 1st Infantry Division ‘Big Red One’ in Kosovo, June 1999. Here, the M88A1 has just pulled the powerpack of the M577. Photo: Carl Schulze/Tankograd Publishing

Afghanistan & Iraq

At the beginning of the 21st Century, American forces would once more see deployment in the Middle East. In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2003, this was followed by the invasion of Iraq. Afghanistan and Iraq was the combat debut of the newly upgraded M88A2 HERCULES in both US Army and USMC service, as the Marine Corps was now fully equipped with the M1 Abrams. The M88A2 did not just support the Abrams in Iraq and Afghanistan; from 2008, it was also the support vehicle of the Abrams-based Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV). While here, the M88A2s were equipped with the ‘DUKE’ Electronic Countermeasure (ECM) system. This is a jammer that blocks signals to remote explosives or other devices to stop them detonating. Vehicles equipped with this system are identified by thick white antennas attached to the outside of the hull.

An M88A2 HERCULES follows an Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV) of the Mobile Assault Company, USMC 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion as it enters the staging area for Operation Dynamic Partnership. The ‘DUKE’ antennas can be seen in this photo. Photo: Corporal Alejandro Pena

Exports & Foreign Service

The M88 was a great export success, seeing service with around 23 countries around the globe. Next to the USA, Egypt is the second-largest user of the M88. The Egyptian Army currently operates 221 M88A1s and 60-70 M88A2s. The M88A1s were second hand, but the A2s however, were manufactured in the US, with final assembly taking place in Egypt.

Germany was the next largest user, operating 125 M88A1s from 1966 to 1992. Here, the M88 received the resignation ‘Bergepanzer 1’. The M88 was a necessary acquisition by Germany as it had a large fleet of M47 and M48 tanks. In 1985, the began upgrading there M88s to A1 standard. They also began upgrading the onboard radios. Vehicles fitted with new SEM25/35 radios were designated the M88A1 GE. Some vehicles were upgraded further with SEM 70/80/90 radios. Other upgrades included the addition of smoke dischargers on the sides of the cab. These were designated M88A1 GE A1s. In 1992, the vehicle was largely replaced by the Leopard 1-based Bergepanzer 2 and Leopard 2-based Bergepanzer 3 Büffel.

A Bergepanzer M88 being towed by a Bergepanzer 2A2 in a training exercise in the 1980s. Both vehicles served in the Bundeswehr for many years, at some points side-by-side. Photo: Yves Debay/Tankograd Publishing

The M88 and M88A1 saw long service in Israel, with a number of M88s upgraded to A1 standard. As is common, the Israelis heavily modified their vehicles to keep them up-to-date. In the case of the M88, this included the heavy application of bar and slat armor to protect against RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades) and shaped-charge ordnance. In addition, a large turret constructed from armored panels and bullet-proof glass blocks was installed over the commander’s position. The M88s are set to be retired in the coming years, and will be replaced by the Merkava-based Nemmera ARV.

Israeli M88 at Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Other international operators of the M88/M88A1 include Greece (fleet of 95 M88A1s), Pakistan (fleet of 52 M88A1s), Taiwan (fleet of 37 M88A1s), Austria (fleet of 35 M88A1s), Lebanon (fleet of 35 M88A1s), Turkey (fleet of 33 M88A1s), Jordan (fleet of 30 M88A1s), Israel (fleet of 25 vehicles, a mixed fleet of M88A1s and M88s brought to A1 standard), Brazil (fleet of 12 M88A1s), Morocco (fleet of 12 M88A1s), Portugal (fleet of 6 M88A1s), Tunisia (fleet of 6 M88A1s), Bahrain (fleet of 4 M88A1s), Sudan (fleet of 2 M88As), and Spain (1 M88A1).

The only users of the M88A2 HERCULES outside of the United States are Australia (fleet of 13 M88A2s), Egypt (fleet of 221 M88A1s & 60-70 M88A2s), Kuwait (fleet of 14 M88A2s), Iraq (20-30 M88A2s), Saudi Arabia (fleet of 20 M88A2s) and Thailand (fleet of 22 M88A1s & 6 M88A2s).

As Australia operates a fleet of M1A1 AIM Abrams Main Battle Tanks, it was necessary that they procure its intended support vehicle. Between 2004 and 2005, Australia ordered 7 A2s, which began to be delivered in 2007. In 2017, six more vehicles were purchased. As of 2019, the country operates 13 of the ARVs. The majority of the A2s serve with the 1st Armoured Regiment of the 1st Brigade in Darwin, where the largest force of Abrams is based.

M88A2 ‘Out on Bail’ of the Australian 1st Armoured Regiment, 1st Armoured Brigade. Photo: Gordon Arthur/Tankograd Publishing

In 2010, the Iraqi army requested the purchase and construction of the M88A2 HERCULES for their own use. Starting that year, eight A2s would be delivered with a second batch of eight following in 2012. Starting in 2010, Iraq began to receive a number of M1A1M Abrams as part of military aid, and currently operates around 140 of the tanks. To support these Abrams, a further quantity of M88A2s were also gifted. The Iraqi army currently operates 24 M88A2s.

The latest purchase of the M88 was by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who already had a large fleet of 50-60 M88A1s. In 2016, they procured 20 M88A1s and A2s with a plan for the Saudi Arabians to upgrade them to ‘HERCULES’ standard. It remains to be seen as to whether more countries will purchase the M88A2 in the coming years.

Conclusion

As a whole, the M88 is one of the longest-serving Armored Recovery Vehicles (ARVs) in the world and, quite possibly, one of the most successful in history.

During its 58 years of service, systematic upgrades have kept it in place as the backbone and lifeline of the United States military’s armored units. This ARV’s long service life shows no sign of coming to an end anytime soon, as the M88A2 HERCULES continues to provide support for the M1 Abrams until it is replaced by the M88A3. Likewise, the Abrams is projected to fight on for the foreseeable future, and as such will continue to be partnered with the M88A2.


The original Medium Recovery Vehicle M88 in a standard Olive Drab Livery. The standard M88 served with the US military from the late-1960s, to the late-1980s.  

M88A1 with A-frame boom raised in lifting position and hoisting an engine unit. The dozer blade is also lowered to provide support. With a new diesel engine, the M88A1 entered service just before the Gulf War, and would serve during the War in the middle east. The camouflage pattern is based on images of M88s from that time.

Bergepanzer M88A1 GE. The German Army fielded the M88 and M88A1 for a number of years, up to 1992 when it started to be replaced by Leopard-based ARVs. Note the smoke dischargers towards the front of the cab.

The M88A2 ‘Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lift & Evacuation System’, otherwise known as the ‘HERCULES’, entered service in the early-2000s. It continues to serve today supporting the M1 Abrams. Note the added armor plate to the cab of the vehicle and the armored side skirts. Note also, the two-part door which replaced the original one-piece, and the square bars of the A-frame boom.

M88A2 ‘Out on Bail’ of the Australian 1st Armoured Regiment, 1st Armoured Brigade. Note the red Kangaroo motif on the side of the cab. Australia operates a fleet of  M1A1 AIM Abrams, and as such, starting in 2004, began purchasing M88A2s to support them.

These Illustrations were produced by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications (M88, M88A1 & M88A2 HERCULES)

Dimensions (L-W-H) 27 ft 1 0.5 in x 11 ft 3 in x 10 ft 3 in (8.27 x 3.43 x 3.12 meters)
Total weight, battle ready M88 & M88A1: 50 tons (50.8 tonnes)
M88A2: 62.5 tons (63.5 tonnes)
Crew 4 (Commander, Rigger, Mechanic, Driver)
Propulsion M88: Continental AVSI-1790-6A, 980 hp
M88A1: Continental AVDS-1790-2DR, 750 hp
M88A2: L-3 Propulsion Systems AVDS-1790-8CR, 1,050 hp
Transmission M88: Allison XT-1400-2
M88A1: Allison XT-1410-4
M88A2: Allison XT-1410-5A
Maximum speed M88 & M88A1: 26 mph (42 km/h)
M88A2: 30 mph (48 km/h )
Suspensions Torsion bars
Range (Fuel) M88 & M88A1: 280 miles (450 km)
M88A2: 200 miles (322 km)
Armament 1 x Browning .50 Cal. (12.7mm) M2HB Heavy Machine Gun
Recovery Equipment M88 & M88A1:45 ton (41 tonne) capacity main winch
25 (23 tonnes) capacity hoist winch
22.5 ton (20 tonnes) capacity A-frame boom
Hydraulic Dozer Blade
M88A2: 70 ton (64 tonne) capacity main winch
35 ton (31 tonne) capacity A-frame boom
3.3 ton (3 tonne) capacity auxiliary winch
Hydraulic Dozer Blade
Armor M88 & M88A1: ¾-inch (19mm) – 1 inch (25mm) around the cab.
M88A2: As previous, with extra 30mm Ammunition-proof plating
Production (All) Aprx. 3000

Sources

R. P. Hunicutt, Patton: A History of the American Main Battle Tank, Volume 1, Presidio Press
Carl Schulze, M88 Armored Recovery Vehicle, Tankograd Publishing
David Doyle, M88 Armored Recovery Vehicle Walk Around, Squadron/Signal Publications
Ralph Zwilling, In Detail/Fast Track #8: M88A2 HERCULES, Tankograd Publishing
www.army-technology.com
www.inetres.com
www.defesanet.com.br
www.defense-aerospace.com
www.upi.com (1) (2)
M88A2 2019 Selected Acquisition Report (PDF)
www.janes.com


Categories
Cold War American Engineering & Support

Heavy Recovery Vehicle M51

U.S.A. (1951)
Armored Recovery Vehicle – 187 Built

As a result of thicker armor, and the ever-increasing caliber of weaponry, tanks and armored vehicles in the aftermath of the Second World War became bigger and heavier. Logistically, heavy vehicles are a nightmare for recovery teams. With the introduction of heavier vehicles following the end of the Second World War, these nightmares would only get worse for such teams. Their World War Two era recovery vehicles based on the M4 Sherman, such as the M32 and M74, were inadequate to rescue a tank such as the 42 ton (38 tonne) M46 Patton or the titanic 65 ton (58 tonne) M103 heavy tank.
The answer to this problem was building a new Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) based on the M103 itself. This vehicle would be designated the Heavy Recovery Vehicle M51. It featured a powerful 45 ton (40 tonnes) winch and a large, traversable crane arm capable of lifting 30 tons (27 tonnes).
This new vehicle would enter service from 1956-58 but would have a relatively short service life, after being largely replaced in the early 1960s by the M48-based Recovery Vehicle M88. The M51 still saw active service though. This was mostly in the Vietnam War with the United States Marine Corps (USMC), but also in smaller conflicts such as the US Occupation of the Dominican Republic in the mid-1960s.

The Heavy Recovery Vehicle M51. Photo: Public Domain

Development

The M51’s development began in February 1951 with a design study to produce a recovery vehicle capable of lifting and towing the new, heavier vehicles that were coming into service. A proposed concept meeting these requirements was shown to the Army Field Forces (AFF) in April of the same year. Construction of a full-scale mock-up and two pilot models began in the summer. By August, the design was approved and it received the designation ‘Heavy Recovery Vehicle T51’. The two pilot vehicles were dispatched to take part in tests. Pilot Number 2 was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for service tests, arriving in February 1953, while Pilot Number 1 was sent for engineering and endurance trials at Aberdeen Proving Grounds (APG), Maryland, in April.

Heavy Recovery Vehicle T51, the finalized design from 1954 to 1956. Note the original crane arm. Photo: Hunnicutt’s Firepower
In October 1953, the vehicle was officially standardized as the Heavy Recovery Vehicle M51. The Chrysler Corporation of Detroit, Michigan, builder of the M103 heavy tank, was handed the contract to build the M51 to a cost of around $150,000 (around $1.4 million today) per vehicle, about half the price of an M103 tank. The first production pilot began construction that month and was then tested at Fort Knox in March 1954. The first production vehicle, following the finalized design, was completed and released in August 1954. A total of 187 M51s were built by Chrysler between 1954 and 1955.

Rear view of the 1954/56 design. Note the original crane arm and the two separate outriggers on the rear. These were later replaced with a spade like the one at the front of the vehicle. Photo: Hunnicutt’s Firepower.
After further tests, it was found that the design still needed some adjustments and modifications as there were a number of defects in the engine, transmission, crane booms and winches. As such, Chrysler produced a pre-modification pilot incorporating no less than 52 alterations. The program to upgrade the vehicles started in June 1956, with the final vehicles being completed in July 1958. Each vehicle cost $26,000 (around $240,000 today) to upgrade. It would seem that only 177 of the vehicles received the modifications. It is unknown as to what exactly happened to the outstanding ten vehicles. It is possible they were kept for spare parts, but they may also have been completely scrapped.

Base: The 120mm Gun Tank M103

The M103 heavy tank was one of the largest and heaviest armored vehicles to ever serve with the United States Military during the Cold War. It was also the last heavy tank to serve, albeit almost solely, with the Marine Corps, as the US Army did not completely accept the tank.
The tank featured a 120mm main gun, and armor up to 5.1 inches (130 mm) thick. The vehicle was powered by an 810hp Continental AV-1790 12-cylinder air-cooled gasoline engine, which gave it a top speed of 21 mph (34 km/h). A slightly different, more powerful version of this engine was used for the M51, however. This was the AVSI-1790-6, accompanied by an XT-1400-2A cross-drive transmission. This was a supercharged, fuel injection version of the AV-1790, granting around 190 more horsepower, bringing the power up to 1000hp. The acronym ‘AVSI’ therefore stands for ‘Air-cooled, V-configured, Supercharged, Injected’. The Diesel engine upgrade that was installed on the M103A2 was not needed on the M51 with this supercharged engine installed.
The tank’s weight was supported on seven road wheels attached to torsion bar suspension. The drive sprocket was at the rear while the idler wheel was at the front. The idler wheel was of the compensating type, meaning it was attached to the closest roadwheel by an actuating arm. When the roadwheel reacts to terrain the idler is pushed out or pulled in, keeping constant track tension. The only difference between the running gear on the M103 and the M51 was the return rollers. The M103 had six while the M51 had four.

Schematic of the M51 ARV. Photo: Hunicutt’s Firepower

Design of the ARV

The M103 hull is almost unrecognizable as the foundation of the M51. The turret was completely removed and the upper hull extensively reworked. The engine location was the same as the M103, this being in the rear half of the vehicle. The engine deck, for the most part, remained unchanged, apart from the addition of smaller items of recovery equipment such as towing bars. These were stowed on the left-rear fender.

A USMC M51 in Dong Ha, Vietnam, 1968. Towing bars are installed at the front of the vehicle. Note also the extended winch cable. Photo: Unknown Source
The armored ‘beak’ of the M103 and the Driver’s position housed within were removed with the ARV’s main and most powerful winch taking their place. A large, armored superstructure was built over the front portion of the hull which extended back to around the center of the turret-ring on the M103, splitting to accommodate the crane. This structure was of a welded construction and was made out of rolled homogeneous steel. The armor on the superstructure was ¾ of an inch (19mm) thick, enough to stand against heavy machine guns, small caliber cannons, and shrapnel. There was stowage around the outside for various pieces of recovery equipment. These included jerry cans, fire extinguishers and oxy-acetylene bottles for cutting.
The superstructure is where the M51’s four crew members would operate the vehicle. The crew consisted of a Commander (front and center), Driver (front left), Rigger (center right) and Crane Operator (right rear). The Crane Operator, as his name clearly suggests, operated the 30-ton (27 tonnes) capacity crane, located directly at the rear and center of the superstructure. The Rigger was responsible for ‘rigging’ tow cables and the crane to whatever vehicle was in need of recovery. There were doors on the left and right side of the cabin, with ladders on the outside that extended down over the tracks. This allowed easy access for the crew. The Commander had a cupola above his position, to which was mounted the ARV’s only weapon, a single Browning M2HB .50 Caliber (12.7mm) Heavy Machine Gun. This was used specifically for self-defense.

The finalized M51 ARV. Note the .50 Cal (12.7mm) ‘Ma Deuce’ machine gun mounted atop the Commander’s cupola. Photo: AFVDB
At the front and rear of the ARV were deployable stabilizers. These were used when the crane was in operation to keep the vehicle secure and to stop it from shifting on its tracks by lifting slightly off the ground. They performed the same role as ‘outriggers’ on construction vehicles such as backhoes, excavators and cranes. The forward stabilizer spade was also a shallow dozer blade. This could be used for light excavation work such as smoothing terrain or building up gun/tank positions. The rear stabilizer went through a few changes over the vehicle’s development. Initially, on the T51, two individual, manually operated jacks were installed on the rear armor plate. At the end of the jacks was a large diameter metal disc, used to spread the weight of the vehicle over a larger area. For the M51, these were replaced with a single hydraulically operated spade like the one on the front.

US Marine Corps M51 A43 ‘Jolly Green Giant’. Vietnam, 1967/68. Photo: Vince Streech.


‘Jolly Green Giant’ rendering aid to a USMC M48A2 Patton. Vietnam, 1967/68. Photo: Vince Streech

Crane

The crane arm went through a few changes between the T51 phase and the 1956/58 modification. Originally, the crane consisted of a single arm with exposed cables and lacked the ability to extend. For the finalized M51 model, the cables were almost completely housed internally in the boom. The boom was mostly straight, lowering into a curve at the connection to the hull, and it also had a hump halfway along. This hump was necessary as the improved crane arm could extend about 4 extra feet (1.2 meters). This, however, meant that only half of the lift capacity could be achieved at 15 tons (13 tonnes).

This photo of M51 ‘Nadine’ of the 1st Marine Tank Division in Vietnam shows the crane at full elevation. Photo: SOURCE
The Crane was almost completely cable operated, with not a single piece of hydraulic equipment inside the boom arm. Everything from the crane elevation, extension, and raising of the hook was controlled by cables and winches. The only part of the crane controlled by hydraulics was its horizontal traverse and the winch drums. The crane could swivel 30 degrees to the left and 30 degrees to the right. This was achieved with a horizontally aligned hydraulic ram placed underneath the crane in the hull, directly where the center of the turret ring would be on the M103. To turn the crane over the right fender, the ram would be extended. To turn it over the left fender, the ram would retract.

A USMC M51 in Dong Ha, Vietnam, 1968. It is using its crane to hoist the barrel of an M53 Self-Propelled Gun. Photo: Unknown Source

Winches

The most powerful piece of recovery equipment installed on the M51 was its 45 ton (40 tonnes) capacity main winch. This winch was located internally, in the bow of the M51, where the Driver would be located on the M103. An armored door on the lower glacis protected the winch drum, and this was opened to allow its use.

The front of the M51. In this photo, we can see the large door on the lower glacis, behind which could be found the main 45-ton winch. On the left of the face of the superstructure is a smaller door. This is where the 5-ton auxiliary winch was located. Photo: Hunnicutt’s Firepower
There was also a 5 ton (4.5 tonnes) capacity auxiliary winch found high and right of the main winch, on the right side of the upper superstructure. This is also protected by an armored door, albeit smaller, which opened to allow access.

Service

The M51 would share the same fate as the M103 it was built upon. The United States Marine Corps (USMC) was more than happy with the vehicle, fully accepting it into service. The US Army, however, did not. This may be due to the fact that US Army tankers had no experience with the M103 type, so did not want to accept a vehicle based on it. The USMC, of course, did have experience with the M103. The US Army would instead adopt the M48/M60 based Recovery Vehicle M88, which began development in 1959 and entered service in 1961.

An M51 being reversed onto a landing craft at Dong Ha, Vietnam, 1967. Photo: Hunnicutt’s Firepower
The USMC would deploy their M51s in a number of theaters, including Vietnam, unlike its M103 cousin. They even served during the United States occupation of the Dominican Republic in 1965, during the Dominican Civil War. Unfortunately, no more is known about its time serving in combat zones.

An M51 assigned to B Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division towing a Dominican L-60 Light tank during the US intervention in the Dominican Civil War, 1965. Photo: Ampersand Publishing Company/Hobbylink Japan
The USMC would eventually retire their M51s and follow the Army into adopting the newer M88 in 1977, outlasting the M103 by two years. Even now, both branches retain the M88 in its latest incarnation, the M88A2 Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lifting Extraction System, otherwise known as ‘HERCULES’.

Conclusion

Much like its M103 brother, the M51 was very much an ‘ugly duckling’ of the armored vehicle world. It was rejected by the US Army, but found service in the Marine Corps where it proved itself versatile, reliable and popular with the crews and troops. A Marine Corps tanker who got his vehicle stuck in a ditch would certainly have wanted no other vehicle to come to his rescue.
A number of these Armored Recovery Vehicles do still survive today. One can be found at the American Military Museum in Los Angeles, another can be found at the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Once more can also be found at Fort Benning, Georgia. This example is currently going through preservation.

Surviving M51 at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds prior to the Museum’s closure. Photo: Richard S. Eshleman

Specifications

Dimensions (L-w-H) 33 feet 3 inches x 11 feet 11 inches x 10 feet 9 inches (10.1 x 3.76 x 3.2 meters)
Total weight, battle ready 60 tons (54 tonnes)
Crew 4 (Commander, Driver, Rigger, Crane Operator)
Propulsion 980hp Continental AVSI-1790-6 V12, Supercharged, Fuel injected
Transmission Cross-drive XT-1400-2A 3-Fw/1-Rv
Maximum speed 30 mph (48 km/h) on road
Suspensions Torsion bars
Armament 1x Browning .50 Cal. (12.7mm) M2HB Heavy Machine Gun
Recovery Equipment 30 ton (27 tonne) capacity crane
45 ton (40 tonne) capacity main winch
5 ton (4.5 tonne) capacity auxiliary winch
Dozer Blade
Armor 1 ½ inch – ¾ inch (38 – 19 mm)
Production 187
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Sources

Colonel Robert J. Icks, AFV/Weapons Profile #41: M103 Heavy Tank and M41 Light Tank (Walker-Bulldog)
David Doyle, M103 Heavy Tank, A Visual History of America’s Only Operational Heavy Tank 1950-1970, Ampersand Publishing Company/Hobbylink Japan
R. P. Hunnicutt, Firepower: A History of the American Heavy Tank, Presidio Press
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #197: M103 Heavy Tank 1950-74
www.historyofwar.org



Illustration of the Heavy Recovery Vehicle M51. Note the ladder for the crew, the oxy-acetylene bottle behind the cab, and the out-riggers on the front and rear of the hull. Produced by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Categories
Cold War West German Other Vehicles

Minenräumpanzer Keiler

West Germany (1977)
Mine Clearing Vehicle – 24 Built

The most effective and safe way of clearing a path through mine-laden ground has long been debated. Do you remove it from the ground, as with a mine plow? Or do you detonate it where it sits, as with a line charge or other means of sympathetic detonation? Mine Flails – which were first deployed by the British in the Second World War aboard tanks such as the Sherman Crab – are one of the less extreme methods of the latter technique. These flails consist of a rotating drum suspended from the front of the vehicle, to which are connected a series of chains. The drum rotates at a high speed, causing the chains to pummel the ground, detonating any mines that may be buried.
The German Minenräumpanzer Keiler is one of these tanks. It is known as a Mine Detection and Clearing Vehicle or ‘MDCV’. The Keiler was the Kaelble Company’s answer to a 1971 request from the West German Federal Ministry of Defence for a mine-clearing vehicle. The MOD asked a number of German arms companies to design such a vehicle, but it was Kaelble’s flail vehicle that received military approval in 1983.
After a period of further development, Rheinmetall was contracted for the construction of the vehicle which would be based on the American M48 Patton. Rheinmetall completed and unveiled the first prototypes in 1985. A full-scale production contract was awarded in 1993, with the vehicles finally entering service with the Bundeswehr between 1997 and 1998.

The Minenräumpanzer Keiler. This vehicle belongs to the Gebirspionier 8 and was photographed in 2014. Photo: Ralph Zwilling, Tankograd Publishing

Development

The 1971 request from the West German Federal Ministry of Defence was, in fact, a trilateral endeavor between West Germany, France and Italy, based on a mutually agreed tactical needs and requirements. Numerous companies were lobbied and a design contest was held. The companies that submitted designs were Rheinstahl, Industriewerke Karlsruhe, Krupp MaK Maschinenbau (now Rheinmetall Landsysteme), AEG/Telefunken, Dynamit Nobel and Carl Kaelble. In 1972, Italy pulled out of the project, followed in 1976 by France, leaving the project to become a solely West German endeavor.
Trials with functional prototypes of the clearing equipment from each company followed. Mine flail systems appeared to be the most successful, at it was Kaelble’s design that grabbed the MOD’s attention. It consisted of a complex flail rig, mounted atop a tank chassis. When not in use, the rig could be stored atop the vehicle, and then pivoted around and down for clearing operations. Several further contracts were signed with Kaelble to develop and produce further operational flail system prototypes based on this design. In 1982, Krupp MaK Maschinenbau was chosen as the overall contractor and was subsequently contracted to build two trial vehicles that Kaelble’s flail could be mounted on. These vehicles would be known simply as ‘01’ and ‘02’. They were constructed in close cooperation with MTU, Renk and of course, Carl Kaelble. MTU would handle propulsion, Renk the transmission and Kaelble the mine-clearing equipment.

Prototype of what would become the Keiler undergoing field trials. Photo: Bundeswher/Tankograd Publishing
By 1985, both ‘01’ and ‘02’ were ready for field, troop and technical trials. They took part in numerous tests at Bundeswehr (German Army, also known as ‘Heer’) field ranges and test centers in the first quarter of 1985. ‘01’ was sent for tests in Arctic conditions in Norway. After passing the trials, ‘01’ was given to Rheinmetall as a reference subject for series production. In Germany, where ‘02’ was under trial, the vehicle cleared a total of 54 live mines without any damage to the vehicle or mine clearing apparatus. In total, 25 kilometers (15 miles) of safe lanes were cleared in the tests without issue.

Prototype vehicle ‘01’ in operation in Mostar, Bosnia, 1996. Photo: military-today.com
On October 1st, 1991, authorization was given for the vehicle, now designated the Minenräumpanzer Keiler’ (MiRPz, Eng: Flail Tank, Wild Boar), to enter full-scale production and enter service.

Production Confusion

The latter part of the Cold War was an economically unstable period, which lead to some confusion and a number of re-evaluations of just how many MiRPz. Keiler vehicles should be produced. In 1975, around the time of the vehicle’s initial conception, it was expected that the Bundeswehr would purchase 245 vehicles. By 1982, the figure had been reduced to 157, with it dropping again in 1985 to 50. With the vehicle’s acceptance into service in 1991, the Bundeswehr pushed the order back up to 72 units. However, with the Cold War now coming to an end, the German Army went through a period of budget cuts and restructuring. This resulted in a single production run of a 24-vehicle batch, running from 1996 to 1998. These vehicles were delivered straight to Pionierkompanies, the engineer units of the Bundeswehr.

Base Vehicle, the M48

Kaelble’s mine clearing device needed a suitable carriage. The developers, not wanting to sacrifice the Bundeswehr’s serving tanks, opted for a recently retired tank. The tank they chose was the American origin M48A2GA2. The M48 Patton, designated the Kampfpanzer (KPz) M48 in Germany, was one of many American tanks supplied to the fledgling West German Army in the 1950s The GA2 was an indigenous German upgrade to the tank which, among other smaller things, replaced the original 90mm gun with the infamous 105mm L7 gun.

Body of the Beast

The M48 hull went through a complete metamorphosis to turn it into the Keiler. The only recognizable feature left over from the M48 is the bulbous nose, driver’s hatch and running gear. The running gear and suspension did not escape modification though. Although the torsion bar suspension was retained, vibration dampeners were installed into the suspension components to make the vehicle a little more pleasant to operate for the crew when the mine flail is in operation. Also, in a recent upgrade program that took place in 2015, the original American made rubber chevron T97E2 tracks were replaced by German-made flat rubber tile 570 FT tracks, as found on the Leopard 2 tank. These tracks allow the Keiler to operate without restriction in Arctic conditions and necessitated the addition of new teeth to the sprocket wheel.

Profile photo of the Keiler showing the distinctive M48 Patton running gear. This is, perhaps, the only recognizable feature of the M48 within. Photo: Ralph Zwilling
The engine compartment remained at the rear of the vehicle, and for the majority of its service life retained the same powerpack as the M48, this being the 750hp Continental engine and General Motors transmission. This propelled the vehicle to a top speed of around 45 km/h (28mph). Unfortunately, performance data of this engine while the flail was in operation is unavailable at the time of writing. As part of the 2015 upgrades, the old powerpack made way for an engine made by MTU (Motoren- und Turbinen-Union meaning, Eng: Motor and Turbine Union), and a 6-speed (4 forward, 2 reverse) transmission by Renk. The engine is the MB 871 Ka-501. It is liquid cooled, 8-cylinder, turbocharged diesel engine producing around 960 hp when in travel mode. When in mine-clearing mode, the engine produces 1112hp. This engine propels the 56-tonne vehicle to a top forward speed of 48 km/h (30 mph), and it can also reverse at a respectable 25 km/h (15 mph). Due to the fact that the engine was used to propel both the vehicle and the flail, the Keiler had a high fuel consumption. So much so that it has developed a bad reputation for being a ‘gas guzzler’.
The upper hull of the M48 saw the heaviest modification. The turret was removed and a new, shallow superstructure built up atop the vehicle. This structure had a completely flat roof on top to accommodate the flail equipment in the travel position. This roof extends forward into a protective overhang above the driver’s position. The commander’s position is located roughly halfway down the length of the vehicle, slightly off center to the right of the hull. There is a vision cupola above his station.

The Keiler in operational mode. Note the flat roof with Commander’s cupola, the smoke grenade launchers on the engine deck and the various air intakes. The large box hanging off the rear of the vehicle is the ‘CLAMS’ Clear Lane Marker System. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A number of different vents were added to the engine deck to provide air to the various pieces of equipment on board, including the new, more powerful engine. The most prominent of these are the large cooling-air intakes that hang over the fenders of the vehicle, just above the sprocket wheel. Further, smaller intakes can be found on the left and right of the vehicle, above the fifth and sixth road wheels. These provide air into the engine for combustion. An intake that brings air to the engine’s cooling fan can also be found on the left side of the vehicle. The large overhanging intakes can be folded to reduce the width of the vehicle when traveling under its own power or via transport.

The large cooling air intakes on the rear of the vehicle. Note also the smaller air intakes on the side of the vehicle. Photo: Ralph Zwilling
The Keiler is completely devoid of any offensive armament. The only defense the vehicle has is a rack of 76mm smoke grenade launchers mounted on the left of the engine deck, in front of the left overhanging air intake. It consists of a bank of 16 launchers, divided into two rows of 8 side-by-side barrels. The grenades are fired 1 side at a time, launching all 8 at once. The grenades fly around 50 meters and cover a 45 Degree arc on each side of the vehicle. For safety reasons, the launchers are electrically blocked from firing if the crew hatches are open.

The Boar’s Tusks

In the wild, the boar uses its specially adapted head to dig through the soil in search of food. Similarly, the mechanical beast that bears this swine’s name uses its specially adapted ‘head’ to detonate buried explosives, or throw them clear of the vehicle. Designed by Carl Kaelble, the flail installed on the Keiler remains one of the most sophisticated in existence.

The clearing apparatus of the MiRPz Keiler in travel mode, aligned horizontally atop the hull. The flail arms are lifted to a 90 Degree angle for storage so a travel lock (note the rod stretching from the hull to the central arm) can be attached. Spare flail elements are stored on the left sponson. This is an older photo, showing the Keiler with the original American tracks and sprocket wheel. Photo: Jürgen Plate
An innovative and rather unique feature of the Keiler is its fold-away flail that can be placed in a ‘travel mode’. The whole flail unit is attached to a single pivoting arm, rooted at the front left of the upper hull. For travel mode, the entire unit is stored horizontally along the length of the vehicle. For operation, the arm swings the equipment around 110 Degrees to the front end of the hull. The flail equipment is then lowered into place, locking into two horn-like supporting hydraulic rams. These control the up and down movements of the unit. A large shield underneath the bow of the vehicle protects these hydraulic ‘horns’ from exploding mines. In travel mode, this shield is stored up against the lower glacis and held in place by a chain. When clearing, the shield is hydraulically lowered into touching distance to the ground. Pitch of the flail is controlled by hydraulics connected to a crescent-shaped bar on top of the frame.

The bow of the Keiler. Note the tusk-like hydraulic rams on the left, and the lowered blast shield. Photo: Public Domain.
The flail assembly is supported by a carrier frame, consisting of three arms, all connected to one long cylinder which contains the axial-piston hydraulic engines which power the rotation of the clearing shaft. The shaft is in two parts, connected from the far right arm to the central arm, and the far left arm to the central arm. The shafts are staggered with the right shaft further forward than the left. Each shaft is equipped with 24 chains, at the end of each chain is a 25kg solid metal weight, or ‘element’, shaped like an elongated bell with notches cut into the end. Due to this shape, the metal weights have become known as ‘Elephant’s feet’. It is recommended that these elements are replaced after every 3,000 meters of clearance. Six spare elements are carried on board the vehicle during clearing operations. When in travel position the chains are wrapped around the rotating shafts and ratchet-strapped down.

The Keiler’s flail assembly. Note the 24 flail chains, each equipped with 25kg ‘Elephant’s foot. The rods at each end of the assembly are for measuring ground level. Photo: Ralph Zwilling
In the operational position, the flail is set at a permanent 20 degree oblique angle from the direction of travel (simply put, the left side of the carrier frame sits closest to the hull than the right side). The shafts rotate anti-clockwise at 400 revolutions per minute, meaning the ‘Elephants feet’ pummel the ground at a speed of around 200 km/h. Any mine encountered is either detonated, smashed beyond use, or kicked out of the path of the vehicle. It is estimated that between 98 and 100-percent of explosives are cleared during operation. Clearance depth is electro-mechanically governed by the ground level measuring rods found at the ends of the carrier frame. (These are stored on the rear of the vehicle in travel mode). They are in permanent contact with the ground, and the measurements they record are set via hydraulics, keeping a constant clearing depth. The flail clears a path 4.7 meters wide with a typical clearance depth that can be set between +50 and -250mm. When surface clearing at +50mm, the speed of the vehicle is 4 km/h, for deeper clearing this is reduced to 2 km/h. For -250mm (on hard ground), clearance speed is 300 meters/hour, in soft ground like sand, the speed is between 500 and 600 m/h. It can clear a 120-meter lane in 10 minutes. With the flail system forward (but not lowered into operational position), the Keiler can travel at 21 km/h (13 mph).

Close up photo of the Keiler’s flail operating at full speed. In operation, the flail kicks up a tremendous amount of debris that often results in the top deck being covered in a thick layer of muck. Photo: Ralph Zwilling


An impressive photo of the Keiler detonating a buried mine during a joint German and Dutch training exercise in 2014. Photo: Alexander Koerner

Lane Marker System

Located centrally on the rear of the Keiler is a large box. The box is the vehicle’s lane marking system known as ‘CLAMS’ or ‘Clear Lane Marking System’. Designed and produced by Israeli Military Industries (IMI), this system can drop markers down the center of a cleared lane automatically or manually every 6, 12, 24, 36 or 48m. The markers consist of round metal discs painted white, with a sprung red square on top. There is a clip on the back of the square that can accommodate a glow stick if operating in low visibility or darkness.

The ‘CLAMS’ marker system at the rear of the Keiler. Note also, on the air intakes, the stowage positions for spare track links and rods for the ground level measuring system. This is a pre-track upgrade Keiler, denoted by the fact the original American tracks are installed. Photo: Ralph Zwilling

Crew Positions

Driver

The Keiler is operated by a small crew of just two personnel, consisting of the Driver and Commander. Up until 2004, the original Driver’s hatch from the M48 was retained. It was found that this hatch was not strong enough to stand up to overpressure caused by a mine exploding on top of it. As such, it was replaced by a purpose-built detonation proof hatch. The protective overhang that extends forward from the flat upper hull is in place to stop soil and debris kicked up by the flail accumulating on top of the hatch.

The driver’s position at the front of the vehicle. Note the retractable shield on the bow is in the raised position. The ladder on the right was part of the 2015 upgrade which saw the addition of a ‘safe climbing kit. Photo: Ralph Zwilling
In mine-clearing operations, the driver operates almost blind due to the amount of debris kicked up by the whirling flail. The three vision blocks around his head become useless, as such a gyroscope was installed on the right of the steering wheel. There is a marker that shows forward direction and indicates when the vehicle is veering off course. The driver corrects direction with corresponding movements of the steering wheel. One of the three periscopes can be replaced with a BiV night vision device.

Commander

The Commander’s position is located in the middle of the vehicle, slightly off center to the right of the hull. His position is topped off with a cupola with eight periscopes installed – like the driver, one can be replaced with a BiV night sight. On the right of his position are the controls for the 76mm smoke launchers. The Commander is in overall charge of the mine clearing equipment. The controls for the hydraulics are controlled by the Commander’s operator panel, found in his position.

The commander’s position atop the Keiler. The roof is covered in debris thrown up by the flailing process. Photo: Tankograd Publishing
Due to the direction the flail rotates in, the roof of the Keiler often becomes covered in a deep layer of whatever muck and mire the vehicle happens to be carving through. As such, both crew members will often exit the vehicle through the Driver’s hatch to stop dirt and debris falling into the Commander’s position.

Operation

Before the Keiler even approaches the area that needs to be swept, a good deal of preparation has to take place at a safe location. First, the flail is unbolted from the travel lock. Next, the Commander, using his control panel, rotates the flail equipment forward from the travel position so it is aligned in front of the vehicle. The ratchet straps are then removed from the flail chains which are then unfurled from the rotating shaft. The detachable ground level measuring rods are then installed on each end of the clearing shaft (If they haven’t been left on from a previous job). The headlights – all German tanks are required by law to have these, as well as tail lights and wing-mirrors for driving on public roads – are removed from the fenders over the idler wheels at the front of the Keiler to prevent them from being damaged.

A pre-2015 upgrade Keiler traveling at speed. The driver is operating head out. Photo: SOURCE
Once preparation is complete, the Keiler will drive to the area of clearing. Once there, the Commander will lower the flail into clearing position and order the Driver forwards at whichever clearing speed is required. In mine-clearing operations, it could be said that the Keiler gains a third crew member in the form of an outside observer. As the crew operates mostly blind due to the kick up from the flail, a Troop Commander, stationed at a safe distance from the clearing area, guides the vehicle by radio communication to the Commander, who then relays the commands to the Driver.

Troops of the Bundeswehr stand before a Marder 1A3 (I) and Keiler. Photo: MDR

Service

In its 22 years of service, the Keiler has been deployed to various countries with the German Army. In the late 1990s, the German Army took part in NATO’s Implementation Force (IFOR) Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Bosnian War, codenamed ‘Operation Joint Endeavor’. They remained here for Stabilisation Force (SFOR) operations as well.

Keiler in operation in Butmire, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 1997. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Unfortunately, further details about its deployments are scarce. Recently in 2015, the Keiler was part of the German contingent that took part in NATO’s Trident Juncture ‘15. The exercises took place in San Gregorio in Spain.

Keiler in operation in Trident Juncture ‘15 in San Gregorio, Spain. Photo: Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum
The Keiler is projected to remain in service with the German Army for the foreseeable future and remains one of the most technically advanced and reliable mine clearing vehicles in the world today. It is part of a vast arsenal of Mine Clearing vehicles in service, such as the Wiesel 1 based Detektorfahrzeug Route Clearance System (DetFzg RCSys) and Manipulatorfahrzeug Mine Wolf MW240 (MFzg RCSys). One of the Keilers that was deployed to, and operated in, Bosnia as part of IFOR can be found in the Deutsches Panzermuseum, Munster. It is in running condition and is often part of the Museum’s displays.

The IFOR veteran MiRPz Keiler preserved in the Deutsches Panzermuseum, Munster. Photo: Public Domain

Specifications (Post 2015 upgrade)

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.4 x 3.63 x 3.08 meters
Total weight, battle ready 56 tonnes
Crew 2 (Commander, Driver)
Propulsion MTU MB 871 Ka-501 liquid cooled, 8-cylinder, turbocharged diesel, 960 – 1112hp
Transmission Renk 6 speed (4 forward + 2 reverse)
Speed Travel Mode (forward): 48 km/h (30 mph)
Travel Mode (reverse): 25 km/h (15 mph)
Flail Deployed: 21 km/h (13 mph)
Clearence Mode: 2 – 4 km/h (1.2 – 2.4 mph)
Suspensions Torsion bars
Equipment Mine Flial, 400 rpm, twenty-four 25kg elements impacting at 200 km/h, 98-100% clearence
IMI CLAMS (Clear Lane Marking System) marker system
76mm Smoke grenade launchers
Armor 110 mm (hull front)
Total Production 24

Sources

Ralph Zwilling, Minenräumfahrzeuge: Mine-clearing Vehicles from the Keiler to the German Route Clearance System, Tankograd Publishing
Ralph Zwilling, Tankograd In Detail, Fast Track #15: Keiler, Tankograd Publishing
www.rheinmetall-defence.com
www.military-today.com
tag-der-bundeswehr.de

The Minenräumpaner Keiler in travel configuration. In this mode, the entire flail unit is stored horizontally along the length of the vehicle. The protective shield on the bow is also raised so it is clear of the ground while the vehicle is in motion.

TheMiRPz Keiler in mine clearing mode with flail assembly deployed. Note the flail chains, each equipped with 25kg ‘Elephant’s foot’. The rods at each end of the assembly are for measuring ground level. The bow shield is also deployed. 

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

 

Categories
Irish WW2

Mk. IX Armoured Car (Standard Beaverette in Irish Service)

Ireland Republic of Ireland (1943)
Scout Car – 30 Purchased

The Standard Beaverette was a small armored car designed and built in Great Britain during World War Two, in the early 1940s. In 1943, halfway through World War Two – or ‘The Emergency’, as it was known in Eire – the Military of the Republic of Ireland, the Irish Defence Force (IDF, Irish: Fórsaí Cosanta, officially: Óglaigh na hÉireann), purchased 30 of these light armored cars to supplement the Irish Military’s rather small inventory of armored vehicles.
Ten Mk. III and twenty Mk. IV Beaverettes were purchased by the Irish Army. The vehicles were designated as the ‘Mk. IX Armoured Car’ in the Irish Military, and were distributed amongst the Motor Squadrons of the Cavalry Corps (Irish: An Cór Marcra). The Cavalry Corps are the operators of the Irish Army’s armored vehicles.
In theory, the Beaverette’s small size made it perfect for operation in a small country such as the Republic of Ireland, which is dominated by small villages and narrow country roads. However, much like its service in the British Army, the vehicle became somewhat loathed for its poor reliability, cramped interior and sluggish handling.

Men of the 3rd Brigade HQ staff, June 1945, Collins Barracks, Dublin. The car on the left is a Ford Model 81A saloon car, the car in the center is a Chevrolet Model EM40 saloon car. On the right is a Mk. III Beaverette in its original configuration with machine gun turret on the roof. It is this very car that now sits in the Cobatton Combat Museum in England. Photo: Irish Army Vehicles, Karl Martin

Ireland in WW2

On 1st September 1939, Nazi Germany launched its invasion of Poland, kickstarting the Second World War. In Ireland, this became known as “The Emergency” after the state of emergency that was imposed by the Irish Government and which was to last for the duration of the conflict.
Officially, Ireland was a neutral party during the War but had slight leanings towards the Allies. Although Ireland as a state never joined the war, Irish individuals did fight in the war. The island of Ireland was also not untouched by the war, however, as both the Republic’s capital, Dublin, and Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, were bombed by the German Luftwaffe.
During this time, the Irish Army had few new armored vehicles to its name. Its inventory included, among other things, two Swedish L-60 light tanks produced by Landsverk, a small amount of British Rolls-Royce armored cars, and a large number of Universal Carriers, also from Britain.

Eager Beaver

The Standard Beaverette was something of an emergency measure. With the British retreat from Dunkirk in the Summer of 1940, the British Army lost most of its armored vehicles, which were simply abandoned in France. To compensate, a plan was hatched to produce a simple, easily made armored car. Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, went to the Standard Car company with the idea of producing these vehicles, based on their existing saloon car chassis. These cars were called the Standard Beaverette, named after Lord Beaverbrook. The ‘ette’ part of the name was a play on the word tankette, a small tracked armored vehicle armed with at most a machine gun. Almost 3,000 cars were built spread between Mk. Is to Mk. IVs. It was the Mk. III and IV Beaverette that was purchased by the Irish.
The Mk. III and IV were small, squat, boxy cars. They consisted of a projecting, jeep-like bonnet attached to a larger box section that formed the two-man crew compartment. Armor on the vehicle was just .4 of an inch (12mm) thick. This was enough to protect from small-arms fire and shrapnel, but not much more. They were light vehicles, weighing in at 2.9 tons (2.6 tonnes). They were 10 feet 2 inches (3 meters) long, 5 feet 8 inches (1.7 meters) wide, and 6 feet 10 inches (2.1 meters) high (including the small turret). This turret would carry the vehicle’s main armament of a .303 machine gun. This would usually consist of a Bren, Vickers or Lewis light machine gun. The car was powered by a 46hp Standard 4-cylinder petrol engine. The vehicle managed a top speed of just 20 mph (32 km/h) and had only front-wheel drive. A special reduction gear was added to the rear axle to try and compensate for this, but it had a detrimental effect on the vehicle’s overall speed. The vehicle rolled on heavy 9 inch (22 cm) wide tires. These were excellent for grip but made steering heavy for the driver.
The only real difference between the Mk. III and IV was the front of the cab. The Mk. III had a flat front with two vision ports for the driver and gunner. The cab of the Mk. IV was stepped and featured three vision ports, one for the driver, two for the gunner.
Across Britain, the Beaverette was parceled out to Home Defense units of the British Army, airfield security units of the Royal Air Force (RAF), and finally, the Home Guard. It was found to be obsolete by 1943, and as such sold on to other countries including Ireland.

This photo shows just how small and light the Beaverettes were. The photo was taken in 1974, the Beaverette is being prepared for decommissioning, and is being hoisted by an Army Berliet TBU 15CLD 6×6 recovery truck. Photo: Bob Cantwell, MMP Publications

Irish Service

For the majority of their service, the Beaverettes were painted in the standard, solid ‘Quaker Grey’ livery that adorned Irish Armoured Vehicles from the 1920s to the 1950s. The Irish Military considered them ‘Light Reconnaissance Vehicles’. Fourteen of the Beaverettes were placed in service with the 4th Armoured Squadron who, in 1943, replaced the Universal ‘Bren’ Carrier equipped Cavalry Corps Carrier Squadron. The remaining 13 vehicles were divided between the Cavalry Corps’ Motor squadrons. At the end of ‘The Emergency’, the 4th Armoured Squadron was disbanded, and its Beaverettes distributed between various units to be used in support, but mostly training roles.

An Artillery Corps 18-Pounder Field gun in operation during an exercise. In the background, you can see three Morris Quad tractors and, just in front, a Mk. III Beaverette in its original configuration with machine gun turret. Photo: Irish Army vehicles, Karl Martin
Between 1951 and 1953, all 30 Beaverettes went through a conversion program and were turned into ‘Scout Cars’. This was an easy modification which saw the roof and accompanying turret completely removed. As scout cars, they would have a completely open top providing excellent vision, but no protection from bad weather (a common feature in the Republic of Ireland), let alone bullets or shrapnel. The removal of the turret and roof cut the overall height of the car down to just 4 feet 10 inches (1.4 m). Under where the turret would have been, a simple map table was placed. This table could also carry a No. 19 wireless radio set.

Beaverette Mk. III scout car at Mckee Barracks, Dublin, in 1967. This vehicle is one of the only surviving today and is maintained by the Cavalry Corps. Photo: Peter Leslie, MMP Publications
The newly designated scout cars were spread around various Cavalry Corps units. Four were placed into service with the 1st Armoured Car Squadron and the 3rd, 5th and 11th Motor Squadrons. The remaining 14 were kept at Cavalry Corps vehicle depots.
The Beaverettes were finally retired in 1965. They remained in service for so long simply because the Irish Army had nothing better to replace them with.


A Mk. III Beaverette that has been converted into the scout car role with the turret removed. The vehicle is painted in the typical ‘Quaker Grey’ paint scheme of the period. This illustration was produced by Leander Jobse, based on work by David Bocquelet, sponsored by our Patreon Campaign.

Surviving Examples

Only a small number of the Irish Beaverettes survive today. The Cavalry Corps Museum, the Curragh in County Kildare, holds the only running example of an Irish Beaverette, a Mk. III that is often run in parades. They also have a preserved Mk. IV inside the museum with a preserved interior.

Surviving Mk. IV Beaverette scout car in the Cavalry Corps Museum, Curragh Camp, County Kildare. Photo: The Curragh
Interestingly, an Irish Beaverette can also be found in England. The Mk. III Standard Beaverette kept at the Cobbaton Combat Museum in North Devon was once used by the Irish Army. Like the rest of the Cars, this example had its roof and turret removed to turn it into a scout car. The museum manufactured a replacement roof and turret for the vehicle to restore it to its original configuration.

The once Irish Beaverette at the Cobatton Combat Museum. Photo: Author’s own

Conclusion

As it did in the British Army, the Beaverette simply filled a need in the Irish Military for a light armored car when little else was available. While it was a mostly loathed little car, it served its purpose in the Irish Military for over 20 years.

A surviving Mk. III on display in 2006. Photo: Bob Cantwell, MMP Publications

Specifications

Dimensions (Mk.II) 2.16 m x 1.76 m x 1.74 m (7ft 1in x 5ft 9.5in x 5ft 9in)
Dimensions (Mk.III) 2.16 m x 1.76 m x 2.13 m (7ft 1in x 5ft 9.5in x 7ft)
Total weight, battle ready 2 (2.6) tonnes
Crew 2 (driver, gunner/radio)
Propulsion Standard 4-cyl petrol, 46 hp (34 kW), 17-23 hp/t
Suspension 4×2 leaf springs
Speed (Mark III) 38 km/h (24 mph)
Range (Mark III) 300 km (190 mi)
Armament 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Bren MG or 0.55 (13.97 mm) in Boys AT rifle
Armor 10 mm (Mk. III) – 12 mm (Mk.IV)
Total Purchased 30

Sources

Irish Army Vehicles: Transport and Armour since 1922 by Karl Martin
Tiger Lily Publications, Irish Army Orders of Battle 1923-2004, Adrian J. English
Mushroom Model Publications, AFVs in Irish Service Since 1922, Ralph A. Riccio
The Curragh Museum
Cobbaton Combat Collection, North Devon, UK