United Kingdom (1963)
Engineering Vehicle – Approximately 70 Built
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
4 (commander, driver, two engineers).
British Leyland diesel BL 40, 450-650 bhp, later BL 60, 695 bhp
48/30 km/h road/cross-country (29.82/18.64 mph)
500 km (310.68 mi)
PVC Pipe Fascine
Class 60 Trackway
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.
United States of America (1959)
Armored Flamethrower – 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 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.
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.
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.
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’.
Overview of The M132
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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 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”.
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.
Illustration of the Self-Propelled Flame Thrower M132 ‘Zippo’, produced by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon campaign
M113 APC specifications
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)
2 (Commander/Gunner, Driver)
Detroit 6V53T, 6-cyl. diesel 275 hp (205 kW) P/w 22.36 hp/tonne
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
United States of America (1961)
Armored Recovery Vehicle – Approximately 3,000 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Upgrades and New Models
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
United States of America (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 as 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
33 feet 3 inches x 11 feet 11 inches x 10 feet 9 inches (10.1 x 3.76 x 3.2 meters)
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
Federal Republic of 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
2.16 m x 1.76 m x 1.74 m (7ft 1in x 5ft 9.5in x 5ft 9in)
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
2 (driver, gunner/radio)
Standard 4-cyl petrol, 46 hp (34 kW), 17-23 hp/t
4×2 leaf springs
Speed (Mark III)
38 km/h (24 mph)
Range (Mark III)
300 km (190 mi)
0.303 in (7.7 mm) Bren MG or 0.55 (13.97 mm) in Boys AT rifle
State of Israel/Republic of Chile (1983)
Medium Tank – 65 Purchased & Modified
Simply put, the Chilean M-60 Sherman is a ‘modification of a modification’ of one of the most versatile tanks ever built, the American M4 Sherman. These Shermans had already been owned, upgraded and operated by the Israelis, who then sold them to Chile in the early 1980s. Chile bought 65 of these tanks, who in turn, requested that they be modified once more. This modification included the replacement of the main gun with a 60 mm (2.3 in) High-Velocity main gun, and a new Detroit Diesel engine.
By 1983, the M4 Sherman had been in active service with one country or another for 41 years. The Chilean Army (Spanish: Ejército de Chile) was about to extend this life further, only retiring their M-60 Shermans between 1999 and 2003. The 16 years of service the M-60 saw in Chile made it one of the last operational weaponized Sherman tanks to actively serve in any of the World’s militaries. The M-60s served alongside the far more modern French AMX-30, of which 21 were purchased in the early-1980s. The Shermans were replaced by the German Leopard 1V, in 1999.
Chile is a long, thin country located on the west coast of South America, with the Andes mountain range forming its eastern border. The country has seen a number of internal conflicts throughout its history. The last major conflict Chile fought was against Peru and Bolivia in what is known as the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). This resulted in a Chilean victory, but tensions between the three countries survive to this day. Chile has not taken part in any major international war in the 20th or 21st Centuries. In World War 2, Chile’s hesitation at declaring war on the Axis did not please the United States, who were pressuring the Latin American Countries to do just that. In 1943, Chile only broke diplomatic connections with Germany. It was not until 1945 that Chile would declare war on Japan as part of an agreement between the US and Chilean Governments. Diplomatic repercussions caused by the fact that Chile did not declare war on Germany resulted in reduced support from the US in the post-war years. Chile has maintained a very tense relationship with its neighbors, especially Argentina. However, it has taken – and does still take – part in a number of United Nations Peacekeeping missions across the globe. These included the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP, 1964-2013) and United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL, 1978-13). Throughout its history, the Chilean Army has been supplied by various countries, such as Israel, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, and Spain.
The M-60 variant was not the first type of Sherman to be employed by the Chilean Army. In 1947, following the signing of the Rio Treaty (Officially the ‘Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance) the United States supplied Chile with 30 M4A1 Shermans. This treaty, still in effect to this day, was signed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by multiple countries in the Americas. In a similar line to NATO, the principal article of the organization is that an attack against one is to be considered an attack against them all.
Chile then acquired a further 46 from commercial sources. In 1948, this Sherman force was bolstered further by the arrival of 48 M4A1E9 Shermans, again supplied by the USA. The E9 was a modified M4A1 which saw an addition of a spacer set between the hull and bogies of the Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS). There was another spacer on the drive sprocket. The spacers allowed the addition extended end connectors to be fitted on both sides of the track, giving it a wider track. The E9 was supplied to many friendly countries of the USA after the Second World War.
Other upgrades included the addition of the newer vision cupola for the commander and a new hatch for the loader. The tank retained the standard 75mm M3 gun. They remained in service with the Chilean Army into the mid-1970s.
Third Hand Shermans
By the time the Chilean Army got hold of their M-60 Shermans, the tanks had already changed hands at least two times during their existence, making the South American buyers the third owners of these specific tanks. Originally, of course, the Sherman was an American tank which entered service with the Allies in 1941. During the Second World War, the M4 was used by the British, Soviet, French, Chinese and many other Allied nations. They also continued to serve with numerous countries after the war had ended. In the late 1940s, Israel found itself in need of tanks but was unable to purchase any directly, so instead, started scouring the scrapyards of Europe and acquired demilitarised Shermans which they brought back into service, ironically some of which had German guns. Over the next 20 or so years, this hodgepodge of all varieties of Sherman – from M4 to M4A4 – went through several upgrade programs.
In the early 1950s, with help from the French Military, a program began with the intent to upgrade their M4s. This included the addition of the 75mm SA 50 gun, as used on the AMX-13 light tank, which led to them being renamed the M-50 Sherman. In the 1960s, the tanks were upgraded once more to fit the 105 mm Modèle F1 gun. These upgrades received the M-51 designation and are often incorrectly called the ‘Super Sherman’ or ‘Isherman’. Along with this gun, all tanks were given a mobility improvement with the addition of the Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS) system and the Cummins V-8 460 horsepower diesel engine.
By the early 1970s, the 75 mm armed M-50s were being phased out. The 105mm armed M-51 would stay in service until the early 1980s. Once retired, Israel chose to sell them. The Republic of Chile would purchase a mix of around 100 M-50 and M-51 Shermans from 1983 onwards. A few of the purchased M-50s had previously had their 75 mm guns removed when they were retired, however, Israel offered to install a 60 mm Gun developed by OTO-Melara of Italy and Israeli Military Industries (IMI) instead. Twenty-seven of these tanks were dispatched to Chile in 1988. The 27 tanks arrived and were disembarked at Iquique, a port city in Northern Chile. The first of these newly armed tanks were placed in service with the 9th Armored Cavalry Regiment ‘Vencedores’ (Triumphant). More of these modified Shermans would arrive in Chile throughout the following years. It is thought that as many as 65 Shermans were upgraded to this standard.
These 60 mm-armed Shermans were known by a few different names. The most popular of these is the ‘M-60’. The Chilean Army christened it ‘M-60’ after the 60 mm gun. However, it is also known as the ‘M-50/60mm’ or ‘M-50 (HVMS)’.
It is reasonable to suggest that one of the reasons the Chilean Army decided to purchase the Israeli Shermans was the fact that they had already gained experience in operating and maintaining Sherman tanks. This is the author’s own opinion, however. Also, in 1976, the United States had placed an arms embargo on Chile, which barred the sale and import of weapons which lasted until 1989. Furthermore, the French government had vetoed the sale of more weapons to Chile in 1981. This meant that the market for a new tank was restricted and Chile had to do with an obsolete tank.
The two identifying features of the Chilean M-60 Sherman are the 60mm gun and the modified engine deck. It is these modifications that will be focussed on in this section. There were other, smaller additions though, such as an Israeli-style stowage bin on the engine deck overhanging the rear of the vehicle or an air deflector which was also added below the overhang to deflect heat away from the stowage bin. A new folding travel lock compatible with the 60mm barrel was also added to the rear of the engine deck.
The 60 mm Gun
Officially, the weapon is known as the 60 mm High-Velocity Medium Support (HVMS) Gun. It was a joint development started in the late 1970s between Israeli Military Industries (IMI) and OTO-Melara of Italy. The 60 mm (2.3 in) gun was designed for infantry support, the idea being to give infantry units increased anti-armor firepower by giving them a powerful, but light gun that could be mounted on light vehicles. A joint project to develop a lightweight turret housing the gun, which could be mounted directly onto light vehicles, such as the M113 APC, was planned, but this did not come to fruition. The two companies split during the project, developing their own versions. Despite being a success, the weapons did not enter service with either the Italians or the Israelis.
The gun had a barrel length of 70 Calibers (4.2 meters), with a fume-extractor placed halfway down its length. The barrel was constructed using the autofrettage method of metal fabrication. In short, this allowed the barrel wall to be thin, but extremely tough. The gun utilized a hydrospring recoil system, meaning the spring surrounds the breach-end of the barrel, protected by a shroud. It is further protected from the elements by a truncated rubber – or possibly canvas – sleeve. The hydrospring system allows quick barrel changes as the gun and recoil system can be removed/installed as one unit.
The gun has the feature of being both manually and automatically loaded. Manually consists of the traditional method of sliding the shells into the vertically-sliding breach by hand, though, in this case, there is hydraulic assistance. The automatic method consists of a vertical magazine with a three-round capacity loaded in a similar way to Bofors’ automatic guns. This system is recoil-operated with a shell-to-shell reload of three seconds. These could be fired one-by-one, although there was also the option of firing a three-round burst. Chile decided to modify their guns to be manually loaded, with a new rate of fire of 12 rounds per minute.
The weapon was equipped with both High-Explosive (HE) and Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding-Sabot, Tracer (APFSDS-T) rounds. Both rounds were produced by OTO-Melara. In Israeli tests, the gun proved to be precise at over 2,500 m. The APFSDS projectile flew at an initial speed of 1,600 meters-per-second and was able to penetrate the side armor (15 – 79 mm thick) of two T-62’s, side-by-side, at 2,000 m. At maximum, the dart could penetrate 120 mm of armor, angled at 60 Degrees, at a distance of 2,000 m.
The 60 mm guns were delivered separately from the tanks. Chilean Military Industries were given the task of installing the guns in the tanks, which involved modifying the existing mantlets to accept the new guns. The installation process and modifications were developed by the Israeli based NIMDA Co. Ltd. Apart from the installation of the appropriate gunnery and sighting systems, and new ammunition racks for the 60 mm rounds, very little modifications to the turret were needed. The Sherman was not the only tank upgraded with this weapon. The Chilean Army also had a number of their older M24 Chaffee tanks adapted to carry the gun.
The other major upgrade to the M-50s came in the form of a new engine. The old Cummins V-8 460 hp diesel engines were worn out, and a replacement was required. The chosen replacement was the more powerful 535 hp V-8 Detroit Diesel 8V-71T engine.
The introduction of this engine required some modification to the engine deck. On M4 tanks, the exhaust vents out of the rear of the tank, between the idler wheels. On the M-60 version, the exhaust vented out of the top of the deck. A hole had to be cut in the top of the engine deck, on the right side of the hull, near the air intakes. The exhaust pipe extended from the hole, down on to the upper portion of the sponsons. Additionally, a protective cowling was welded over it. The Israeli-added armor over the air intake was kept in place to protect the exhaust where it emerged from the deck.
The tensions between Chile and Peru never subsided after the Pacific War of 1879-83. In the late 20th Century, when the M-60s entered service, tensions were at their highest between Chile and their northern neighbor. There was a fear that the two countries would once more fall into conflict. The Chilean Army had great faith that their M-60s, and indeed their M-51s of which they retained over 100, would be able to combat the Peruvian, Soviet-origin T-55s. Although both sides prepared for it, a war never materialized.
The M-60s would continue to serve past this point, complemented by the M-51s, 60mm-upgraded M24 Chaffees, and even a few French AMX-30s which were purchased in the early 1980s. In the late 1990s, Chile began to receive German Leopard 1Vs, supplied by the Netherlands between 1999 and 2000 and a few more AMX-30s. With this, the M-60s and M-51s became redundant. They were finally removed from service between 1999 and 2003. This made them some of the last operational weaponized Shermans in any military in the world, bringing the total service life of the M4 Sherman to approximately 60 years.
Although the tanks were retired, it appears that the guns continued to serve. Despite the fact there does not seem to be any currently available photos, some of the guns were reportedly mounted on Chilean license-built MOWAG Piranha I 8x8s. While most of the Shermans ended up as range targets, at least one survives as a museum piece. This tank can be found in the Museo de Tanques del Arma Caballeria Blindada in Iquique.
Illustration of an M-60 (HVMS), produced by Tanks Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
6.15m x 2.42m x 2.24m
(20’1″ x 7’9″ x 7’3″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready:
35 Tons (32 tonnes)
5 (Commander, gunner, loader, driver, bow-gunner)
V-8 Detroit Diesel 8V-71T 535 hp V-8
Horizontal Volute Springs Suspensions (HVSS)
Aprx. 40-45 kph (25-27 mph) M51/M50
Armament (see notes)
Main: OTO-Melara 60mm (2.3 in) High-Velocity Medium Support (HVMS) Gun
Sec: Coaxial .30 Cal (7.62mm) machine gun
Hull nose and turret 70, sides 40, bottom 15, rooftop 15 mm
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American M4 Sherman Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt
Give ’em a pounding with your Sherman coming through! A portion of the proceeds from this purchase will support Tank Encyclopedia, a military history research project.Buy this T-Shirt on Gunji Graphics!
United States of America (1995)
Combat Engineering Vehicle – 227 Built
In the mid-1990s, the prevailing trend for vehicles in the United States Army was for them to be capable of ‘Rapid Reaction’. Put simply, this was the ability to be deployed wherever needed, in the shortest time possible, often relying on airborne deployments. As well as armed and armored vehicles, this need also translated to engineering vehicles. The Deployable Universal Combat Earthmover M105, otherwise known as the ‘DEUCE’, was born out of this need.
The M105 was brought into existence to replace the veteran Caterpillar D5 Bulldozer and, to a lesser extent, supplement the somewhat loathed M9 Armored Combat Earthmover (ACE). The M105 is a much lighter vehicle than the other two vehicles and it is air-transportable, self-deployable (meaning it can be driven to where it is needed) and air-droppable. It can be deployed alongside airborne troops and is fast enough to re-deploy from task-to-task without the need of a separate transporter vehicle.
This high-mobility dozer emerged from the partnership between the Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) of Warren, Michigan, and the Defense and Federal Products department of the construction industry giant, Caterpillar Inc, based in Mossville, Illinois. Development of what would become the M105 started in late 1995. This initial vehicle was known as the 30/30 Engineer Support Tractor. The ‘30/30’ designation came from a 30 mph top speed, and a total weight of 30,000 pounds. This vehicle was expensive, however, and due to budget cutbacks of prospective buyers, Caterpillar never received an order. As such, just one 30/30 prototype was built. In 1996, Caterpillar came back with a revised design. This design was agreed upon and it was serialized as the M105. Caterpillar were then granted a contract for construction, with the dozers costing $362,687 each. The vehicles finally entered service in 1999. Approximately 227 M105 have been produced and are currently in service with the United States Military. A small number have also served with the British Army.
The DEUCE didn’t change much from its 30/30 EST dozer origins. The vehicle is extremely compact in its design at 19 feet 3 inches (5.8 meters) long, 9 feet 7 inches (2.9 meters) wide, and 9 feet 1 inch (2.7 meters) high. It weighs 17.5 tons (16.1 tonnes). This is heavier than the larger M9, but this is mostly due to the fact that the M9 was largely hollow. The DEUCE is a one-man vehicle, operated from a cab at the front of the dozer. The dozer’s blade is located underneath the cab, with the engine and running gear towards the rear.
The DEUCE is air deployable and can be carried by C-130 Hercules, C-141 Starlifter, C-5 Galaxy or C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft. It can also be air-dropped via parachute from a C-130.
Whereas the M9 ACE was designed to operate in combat conditions, the M105 was not. The DEUCE was intended for behind-the-lines work, such as flattening ground for roads or clearing areas for building construction. Due to its intended use, the M9 was at least partially armored. Aside from what may be ballistic glass on the cab (at the time of writing, it is unclear whether it is standard safety or ballistic glass), the DEUCE is completely unarmored.
The M105 is far easier to control than previous dozers operated by the military. Inside the air-conditioned cab, a steering wheel and foot pedals, much like a military truck, can be found. This was purposely designed so regular infantrymen would find it easy to control and operate the vehicle without needing to be a specialized vehicle operator. The vehicle is unarmed, but there is a bracket in the cab for the operator to store his personal weapon. The operator gains access via a door on the left side of the cab. There are a total of five windows at the front of the cab. The central window is the largest and is fitted with a powered wiper. The door on the left and the right wall of the cab each have single opening windows. There is one more window behind the driver’s seat that is protected by reinforced wire mesh to protect it if the winch cable breaks and snaps back. There are also rear-view mirrors on the right and left the side of the cab.
The headlights are built into the roof of the cab, just above the windscreen. The dozer’s tail lights can be found above the sprocket wheel, built into the end of the running board/fender that extends along the length of the suspension, and across the rear of the vehicle. There are two more headlights at the front of the fender, near the cab.
Like many combat dozers, the blade allows the M105 to carve out hull-down positions for tanks, dig gun emplacements, perform route denial (creating and filling anti-tank ditches), improve bridge approaches, or even flatten ground to pave roads or airstrips.
The blade is shallow and approximately track-width at 9 feet 7 inches (2.9 meters) across. The blade is hydraulic and can move on 3 axes: horizontal, vertical and diagonal. It is known as a ‘6-way’ as it can move up and down, be tilted left or right, and either the left or right edge can be extended forwards for ‘V-cuts’. It is also known as a ‘Power/Angle/Tilt’ or ‘PAT’ blade. It is unclear at this time how much vertical travel the blade has, but there are cutouts under the cab to allow room for the hydraulic rams.
At the rear of the vehicle, located between the drive sprockets, is a powered winch capable of pulling 22,000 lb (9,979 kg) with a 180 foot (55 meter) long cable. This can be used to assist in the recovery of allied vehicles or to pull itself free if it becomes stranded in soft ground, for example. Underneath the winch is a pintle-mounted towing hook. This is mostly used to pull trailers.
A high degree of mobility is what makes the M105 stand out from previous combat dozers. The dozer is propelled by a 7.2-liter Caterpillar 3126 turbo-charged diesel engine with Hydraulic Electronic Unit Injector and dual power settings. This is because the dozer can be driven with the 6-speed transmission in automatic or manual. The vehicle operates in two modes: self-deploy and earthmoving. These are toggled on the dashboard. In self-deploy (ie, driving) mode, the engine cranks out 265 hp with the transmission set to automatic. In earthmoving, this is reduced to 185hp with the transmission in manual. This allows the high-torque required for dozing or towing. In self-deploy mode, the DEUCE can travel at a top speed of 30 mph (48 kph). The engine is located at the rear of the vehicle, behind the cab. The engine compartment is the largest part of the vehicle, forming around 70% of its structure. The exhaust emerges on the left side of the engine deck, roughly halfway down its length.
The suspension and running gear has the orientation of a Scalene triangle (a triangle with no equal sides). The sprocket wheel – which is visually similar to the sprocket wheel on the WW2 M3 half-track – is located high and rear, while the idler at the front also performs the role of a road-wheel. There is another larger roadwheel underneath the drive wheel taking the bend of the track. This wheel is attached to a suspension arm connected to a torsion bar. In between the two larger road wheels are two, double wheel bogies. This means six road wheels are in contact with the track at all times. Numerous scrapers are placed around the running gear to stop mud building up.
The track is steel reinforced rubber. This is lighter and is less damaging over time to the wheels. Full rubber tracks are also far less damaging to concrete surfaces. They are also easier to replace and transport.
The 10th Mountain Division (Light), based at Fort Drum, New York were the first to receive the M105 DEUCE, with the vehicles arriving in May 1999. Other units followed, such as the 82nd Airborne Division, and the 20th Engineer Brigade. The first deployment of the M105 was during 2001, in Afghanistan, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (part of the War on Terror following 9/11). The Deuces stayed in the Middle East, both in Afghanistan and Iraq, supporting American troops and assisting in the construction of roadways, building areas and fire-bases. In some cases, they would work alongside the M9 in safe locations, but not in combat action.
The M105 has also been stationed in Kosovo as part of ‘KFOR’ or ‘Kosovo Force’, the NATO peacekeeping mission that followed the Kosovo War (1998-1999). This peace-keeping mission is still active today, and around 650 US troops are stationed there, as well as troops from other NATO countries.
The only state the M105 has been exported to is the United Kingdom. A total of 15 DEUCEs (the amount they were purchased for is unknown) are in service with the Royal Engineers. In the British Army, plant and construction vehicles are known as ‘C vehicles’. The M105’s were placed in service with the 39th Engineer Regiment Royal Engineers, the 13th Air Assault Support Regiment, and the 9th Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers. They were used by the Engineers in Kabul, Afghanistan, to clear wreckage from the Airport.
At present, the personal opinion of troops that have operated the DEUCE is unknown, so we do not know whether, in the eyes of the troops at least, the DEUCE has proved to be a worthy replacement for its older D5 brother. The general consensus, however, is that they are a big improvement over, and are far more reliable than, the M9 ACE, although that troublesome vehicle is still in service after an upgrade program. The M105 remains in the arsenal of battlefield engineers. To add to this, they have already built up a reputation for being far more reliable than the ACE.
Recently, a number of DEUCEs have found their way onto the surplus market. Some of these have even been repainted into the classic Caterpillar yellow and black livery. So, if you have approximately $10,000 spare, you could very easily pick one up for yourself!
The M105 Deployable Universal Combat Earthmover (DEUCE) in its standard configuration, painted in the standard American ‘Olive-Drab’ scheme. This is the most common appearance of the M105.
The rare, up-armored M105 that served in Afghanistan. This representation is based on one of the only known photos of such a vehicle which can be found below.
Both of these illustrations were produced by Bernard ‘Escodrion’ Baker, funded by our Patreon campaign
19′ 3” x 9′ 7” x 9′ 1” (5.8 x 2.9 x 2.7 meters)
Total weight, battle ready
17.5 tons (16.1 tonnes)
Caterpillar 3126 Hydraulic Electronic Unit Injector with dual power settings: 185hp (earthmoving mode), 265hp (self-deploy mode)
Germany was one of the first nations in the Second World War to produce flame-throwing tanks. These tanks were the ultimate anti-infantry weapons. With their conventional guns replaced by high-powered flamethrowers, striking a primal fear into anyone on the receiving end of the weapon.
The first of the Wehrmacht’s steel dragons was a simple improvisation based on the Panzer I called the ‘Flammpanzer I’. It was used briefly in North Africa. This was followed by the Panzer II Flamm, also known as the ‘Flamingo’, these had a brief service on the Russian Front.
The Panzer II variant was not overly successful due to its thin armor. Most surviving vehicles were recalled and reportedly turned into chassis for Marder II tank destroyers. This left the Wehrmacht in need of a flame-throwing tank that was reliable, had thicker armor, and good mobility.
A factory fresh Pz.Kpfw III (fl) in 1943. Photo: SOURCE
The Panzerkampfwagen III (Sd.Kfz.141) medium tank was developed in the mid-1930s and was designed to fight enemy tanks in support of its larger brother, the Panzer IV, which was originally intended to support the Panzer III.
The Panzer III was an extremely mobile tank. It was powered 12-cylinder Maybach HL 120 TRM 300 PS, producing 296 hp. This propelled the 23-tonne vehicle to a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). A running gear consisting of 6-road wheels per side supported the tank’s weight. The road wheels were attached to a torsion bar suspension. The drive sprocket was at the front, while the idler was at the rear. Return of the track was supported by 3-rollers.
These features remained constant throughout the Panzer III’s lifetime. Over its years in service, it received multiple upgrades to its weaponry and armor. Originally, the Panzer was armed with a 37mm gun, progressing to a 50mm gun on later models. It was also armed with a coaxial and bow mounted 7.92mm MG 34. As well as adding Schürzen on the turret and hull sides, an add-on armor kit known as ‘Vorpanzer’ was also installed. This consisted of armor plates being added on the upper hull plate and gun mantlet. This boosted the original armor thickness of 15mm to 50mm.
The tank was operated by a 5-man crew consisting of a Commander, Gunner, and Loader in the turret, with the Driver and Radio Operator/Bow Machine Gunner in the hull.
With the emergence of more powerful enemy armored vehicles, like the famous T-34, the Panzer III became obsolete, and the Panzer IV became the main tank-fighter as it had more developmental potential. Thus, the Panzer III was cast aside and was largely out of service by the end of the war.
The specific model chosen for conversion into the Flammpanzer was the Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf.M. This model had the additional ‘Vorpanzer’ armor and was usually armed with 5cm KwK 39 gun.
One-hundred of Ausf.Ms were constructed by the Miag company in Braunschweig between January and February 1943 and were set aside for the conversion program. They were then sent to the firm of Wegmann in Kassel for their conversion into flame tanks. The planned production timetable of 1943 was 20 in January, 45 in February, and 35 in March. After a month’s delay, 65 vehicles were ready for inspection in February. This was followed by 34 more in March, with the last, and 100th vehicle finished in April.
During the production phase, the tanks were simply designated as ‘Flammpanzerwagen (Sd.Kfz.141)’. They were later designated as ‘Pz.Kpfw III (fl) (Sd.Kfz.141/3)’. It is also sometimes known as the Flammpanzer III Ausf.M or, simply, Flammpanzer III.
A previous project was looked at when researching suitable flame equipment for the new Flammpanzer. Designers turned to the equipment installed on the Pz.Kpfw.B2(fl), a flamethrower conversion of Char B1 heavy tanks captured in France during the invasion.
This flamethrower was the 14mm Flammenwerfer (14mm nozzle). It was mounted in the turret of the Panzer III, replacing the standard 5cm gun. In an effort to disguise the tank’s role and to protect the stubby flame gun, a false barrel was designed, which was 1.5 meters long with a diameter of 120mm.
A Flammpanzer III unleashes a stream of flame in a training excersise. Note the amount of smoke given off by the burning fuel. Photo: Osprey Publishing
It could spray a stream of liquid, unlit, inert oil to a maximum range of 50 meters, increasing to 60 when ignited, at a pressure of 15 to 17 atmospheres. Pressure was provided by a Koebe pump at a rate of 7.8 liters per second. The pump was powered by a two-stroke, 28hp Auto Union ZW 1101 (DKW) engine, using a mix of oil and petrol. The flame fuel was ignited by electrical sparks from ‘Smitzkerzen’ (Smit’s glow plugs). These glow plugs were placed at the rear ‘breech’ end of the weapon with counterbalance and pressure gage.
The flame gun was fed by 1020 liters of fuel held in the vehicle’s hull in two 510-liter tanks either side of the drive shaft. The fluid reportedly consisted of a fuel thickened with tar, giving it a distinctive scent similar to creosote. A special connection in the flame oil delivery pipe allowed the turret to retain its 360 degrees of traverse. The flame gun and coaxial MG 34 had an elevation range of +20 to -10 Degrees. The weapons were fired via foot pedals, right for the flame gun, left for the machine gun. Horizontal traverse and elevation were achieved via hand wheels in front of the Commander/Gunner.
As a gunner and loader were unnecessary in a flame tank, the Flammpanzer only had a crew of three as the commander now assumed the role of flame gun operator. He did remain in the standard position at the rear of the turret, however. Originally, the flame gun was aimed via an inverted “V-blade” sight in front of the vision blocks in the Commander’s cupola. Later, this was improved by adding a rod with range markers to the protective foux barrel of the flame gun. This was lined up with a thin stripe painted down the center of front vision block in the commander’s cupola.
The other two crewmen were typical. A bow-gunner/radio operator at the front right and driver at the front left.
Two Flammpanzers in training firing their flamethrowers, 1943. Photo; World War Photos.
Given the expected implications of sending a tank full of flammable liquid into battle, extra measures were taken to protect the vehicle from incoming enemy projectiles, as well as the Flammpanzer’s own fiery breath.
As well as the 20mm of extra armor provided by the ‘Vorpanzer’ kit which was now standard on Panzer IIIs, an additional 30mm plate was added to the lower and upper hull front. This gave an overall thickness of 75mm, enough to protect it from rounds of up to 75mm in caliber at standard combat ranges.
The increased threat of fire necessitated the addition of extra fire extinguishers. Five were carried in total, three on the inside and two on the tank’s exterior. Three was standard for most tanks of the time.
Panzerkampfwagen III (Fl), Italy 1943. This tank was captured by American Forces in Italy and sent back to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds for testing. Illustration by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
The Flammpanzer III saw action in both the Russian and Italian campaigns starting in 1943. Previously, Flammpanzers were attached to autonomous battalions which were in turn attached to higher headquarters for combat assignments. This changed in 1943, with the arrival of this new Panzer III(fl). Platoons of these vehicles were incorporated into standard Panzer-Abteilung Stabskompanie. These were officially known as Panzer-Flamm-Zug. All 100 Flammpanzers were placed in service in the following numbers: Division ‘Grossdeutschland’: 28 (13 of these were transferred to 11. Panzer Division in Spring 1943) 1. Panzer Division: 14 (7 of these were transferred to the ‘Ersatzheer’ Reserve Army in Autumn 1943) 6. Panzer Division: 15 14. Panzer Division: 7 16. Panzer Division: 7 24. Panzer Division: 14 26: Panzer Division: 14 Schule Wundsdorf: 1
In Italy in 1943, the first Flammpanzer unit was formed. This was the 1.Flamm-Kompanie, attached to Panzer-Regiment-26. This was the first unit of its kind in the German army. It consisted mostly of Flammpanzers, but it was also outfitted with self-propelled guns and tank destroyers confiscated from Italian units.
Flammpanzer III demonstrtates its fire power in Italy. Photo: SOURCE
1.Flamm-Kompanie and Panzer-Regiment 26 were in action during the fight for the town of Mozzagrogna on the 27th and 28th of November. On the evening of the 27th, the Allies had managed to capture the town. The Germans responded early morning, under the cover of darkness, surprising the Allied forces. A number of Flamms were used in this assault, pushing the attack and keeping the Allied infantry suppressed. A few of the Flammpanzers were lost. Feldwebel Hoffman, a Commander/Gunner of one of the flame tanks was killed by a shot to the head while assaulting field fortifications in the town. Another Flammpanzer under the command of Feldwebel Block was lost when an artillery shell blew the track off and damaged the sprocket wheel of his tank. It was subsequently abandoned.
Further action took place in on the 16th of December 1943 on the road from Ortona to Orsagna. We know the details of this action thanks to a personal report from Oberleutnant Ruckdeschel of 2.Flamm-Kompanie serving with Panzer-Regiment 26. The 2.Flamm consisted of five Flammpanzers and two StuH 42s, the unit was under the command of Lieutenant Tag.
The unit counter-attacked Allied positions along the road under heavy artillery fire. The 2.Flamm supported the advance of Fallschirmjager turning their attention to enemies in dug in positions. Under covering fire from the StuHs, the Flammpanzers pushed the assault of these positions, smoking out the defenders with deadly efficiency. During this action, one of the Flammpanzers had even managed to destroy, or at least immobilize, an Allied tank of an unknown model. The Panzer had managed to sneak up behind the Allied vehicle, which was camouflaged under straw, and cover it in flaming liquid. The exact damage sustained to this vehicle or casualties inflicted on the crew is unknown.
On the Eastern Front, the Panzer III(fl) was used slightly less extensively. The Panzer-Flamm-Zug was attached to Panzer-Regiment 36. Prior to January 1944, the Flammpanzers had only seen combat twice. In these actions, the flamethrowers were used in the reduction of enemy fortifications and defensive positions. These actions were not great successes. Soviet forces were supported by a large number of anti-tank guns, as well as the terrain of their country. The flat broad terrain which lacked cover, combined with these anti-tank guns caused a number of losses to Flammpanzer units, despite cover fire from gun-armed Panzers.
Schürzen equipped Flammpanzer III No. 651 of the 6. Panzer Division on the Eastern Front in 1943. Photo: World War Photos
In the first action, two Flammpanzers were destroyed. It was noted that while the tanks were ‘flaming’ they were visible from long distances, naturally drawing the attention of enemy AT gunners. It was decided that Flammpanzers should only be used in areas with adequate cover, such as the central and northern areas of the Eastern Front. Even then, the cover had to be close enough to the enemy’s defenses for the tank’s flamethrower to be in range of any targets. Around this time, Schürzen also started to appear on the Flammpanzers. In recognition of their limited deployment options, Flammpanzers in the South of the Eastern Front were relegated to guard duty in towns.
In the later stages of the war, the number of operational Flammpanzers dwindled. A number of the flame tanks were assigned to Panzer-Flamm-Kompanie 351 in early January 1945, in preparation for action Budapest. This unit was still in action until April 1945.
As only 100 Flammpanzer IIIs were produced, not many survive today. In fact, it appears that only one survives. This can be found at wehrtechnische studiensammlung in the city of Koblenz. It is in running condition and is often displayed at events at the museum.
The surviving Flammpanzer found at wehrtechnische studiensammlung, Koblenz. Photo: SOURCE
An article by Mark Nash
5.41m x 2.95 x 2.44 m (17’9″ x 9’8″ x 8’0″ ft.inches)
United States of America (2008)
Combat Engineer Vehicle – Estimated 239 Built
The Assault Breacher Vehicle or ‘ABV’ is (as of 2018) the United States’ latest Combat Engineering Vehicle or ‘CEV’. It is built on the hull of the US Military’s currently serving Main Battle Tank (MBT), the M1 Abrams. CEVs were a concept made famous by the British in the Second World War with the AVRE (Armored Vehicle Royal Engineers), and since then, similar vehicles have been a part of every major army. The ABV is the first of such vehicles to see service with the US military since the M60 based M728 CEV was retired from service in the mid-to-late 1990s, and this vehicle’s direct predecessor, the remotely operated M1 Abrams-based M1 Panther II, was retired from service in the late 2000s.
The ABV was developed to meet the United States Marine Corps (USMC) requirement for a new CEV that could clear safe routes for traffic and infantry through minefields, obstacles, roadside bombs, and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). In the late 1990s, the US Military were working on an Abrams-based CEV to replace the M728. This was known as the ‘Grizzly’. The US Army, however, decided to halt all development of costly, complicated and maintenance heavy CEVs. As such, the ‘Grizzly’ Program was canceled in 2001 with just one prototype completed. The US Marine Corps persisted though, funding the development of the ABV themselves. Between 2002 and 2006, six vehicles, prototypes and pre-production models, were built for testing.
The ABV, often known simply as ‘The Breacher’ finally finished its development in 2008. It first saw action in 2009 in Afghanistan, before formally entering service in 2010.
Base, the M1 Abrams
The M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, named after General Creighton Abrams, entered service in 1980 and remains the United States’ front line tank as the M1A2 (from 1992). The regular tank is well armed and armored, with a 120mm cannon (which replaced the M1A1s 105mm) and depleted uranium mesh-reinforced composite armor.
Weighing in at 55 tons, it retains a high degree of mobility with a Honeywell AGT1500C multi-fuel turbine engine, generating 1500 hp and giving the tank a top speed of 42 mph (67 km/h). The tank rolls on a torsion bar suspension with seven road wheels, with the drive sprocket at the rear and idler at the front.
The ABV was specially designed to clear routes through battlefields heavily saturated with mines and other obstacles that would otherwise impede friendly forces from taking a designated objective. The vehicle can create a safe lane for friendly vehicles to travel on and can physically break through, or ‘Breach’, defenses for attacking forces. The ABV itself is based on the hull of the M1A1 model of the Abrams. These hulls were not specially constructed for the ABV, but were actually refurbished, General-Dynamics built-hulls taken from Army Surplus stocks. To reduce costs and construction time, the ABV uses many components from the Abrams, not least, the entire power pack and suspension systems. To this end, each Assault Breacher Vehicle costs US$3.7 million.
Design and Equipment
The biggest change between the M1 tank and the ABV was the complete removal of the turret and accompanying armament and replacement with a large, armored superstructure. This superstructure has limited horizontal traverse, with an arc of just 180-Degrees (90° left, 90° right). The front of this superstructure is similar in shape to the Abrams’ turret face and is covered in Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) blocks, a total of 53 individual pieces. This gives the vehicle protection from high explosive and shaped charge ordnance. The front plate of the superstructure (where the Abrams’ gun would be) is additionally protected by a spaced-armor pannel, placed about 4 inches (10 cm) from the face. It is to this panel that ERA is adhered to. There is storage on the side of the structure for spare track links, road wheels, sprocket wheel teeth, tow lines, and other equipment.
The vehicle is operated by just two personnel, the Commander and the Driver. The Driver’s position is typical of the Abrams, being front and center of the hull. The Commander’s position is located front and center in the superstructure under an armored vision cupola. Here is also where the vehicle’s only armament can be found; a single .50 Cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2 heavy machine gun. The mount is able to traverse and elevate via powered or manual controls that allow it to be aimed and fired ‘buttoned up’ (hatches closed, crew inside). The weapon is for defensive fire. For this purpose, there are also two banks of eight smoke grenade launchers on the left and right of the superstructure.
The British firm Pearson Engineering, based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, supplied most of the equipment used on the ABV. This includes the mine plow, dozer blade, ordnance removal charges, and lane marking systems. All of this equipment is interchangeable and can be rapidly fitted or removed to fit mission requirements.
When the mine plow is equipped, the vehicle is known as ‘The Shredder’, named after the famous villain from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. When the dozer blade is equipped, it is simply known as ‘Blade’. These are not official names and were likely coined by their operators.
Line Charge Launchers
The most powerful pieces of mine clearing equipment on the ABV are its two-line charge launchers. The model used is the M58 Mine Clearing Line Charge, or ‘MICLIC’. These devices are also known as Linear Demolition Charge Systems or ‘LDCSs’. Line charge devices became popular in World War Two with the British ‘Conger’ and the later Cold War era ‘Giant Viper’. These devices are used to clear large areas of explosive devices or blast a path through obstacles. The M58 is placed in a large armored crate that, prior to its installment on the ABV, was usually towed around on a simple wheeled trailer behind M113A3 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) or sometimes even the M9 Armoured Combat Earthmover (ACE). There were other attempts to install it on a tracked chassis such as the M60A1 or M48A5 Armoured Vehicle-Launched Bridge (AVLB). The line charges installation on these vehicles led them to them being renamed ‘M60A1 (or M48A5) Armoured Vehicle-Launched MICLIC (AVLM)’.
In the case of the ABV, the whole crate is carried as one piece. The launchers are located at the right and left corner at the back of the superstructure under protective shields. For firing, the shields rise up via hydraulic rams. On the underside of the shields are launch rails, on which the rockets are placed. The rockets’ thrusters are placed at its nose and the rocket is fired forwards over the front of the ABV. As the superstructure has an albeit limited degree of traverse, the MICLICs can theoretically be fired in any direction in the traverse arc. Official guidelines, however, state that the MICLICs should only be fired directly forwards.
The particular rocket and line charge used is the 5-inch MK22 Mod 4 rocket, trailing an M58A3 ‘Sausage link’ line charge, so-called because it looks like a string of linked sausages. The line is 350 feet (107 meters) long and contains 5 pounds (2.2 kg) per foot (30 cm) of C-4 explosives. A total of 1,750 pounds (790 kg) per line. If the MICLIC fails to detonate electrically, it can be manually triggered by time-delay fuses along the length of the line. The line is attached to the rocket via a nylon rope, and can reach a distance of 100 – 150 yards (91 – 137 meters), to put this is perspective, an American Football pitch is 100 yards long. When detonated, the charge can clear a lane 110 yards (100 meters) long, and 9 yards (8 meters) wide.
“When it detonates it sends a pressure wave inside the vehicle. It feels like someone walking up to you and shoving you.”
– Lance Corporal Jonathan Murray, ABV Mechanic, USMC. Interview with Workaholic Productions for the ‘Deadliest Tech’ mini-series.
Once fired, the launchers can be reloaded. There are large doors on the sides of the structure that swing forwards horizontally. This allows access to the crate that holds the explosive line which can be completely removed. Loading and removing these crates can only be done via crane. This role is usually fulfilled by the M985A1R Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT).
High Lift Adapter
The ‘HLA’ is a piece of equipment that is crucial to the ABV’s role on the battlefield as it allows the attachment of the mine plow and dozer blade. The adapter allows rapid interchange between the two pieces of equipment, and even possess an integral hydraulic jettison system should either the blade or plow need to be removed in case of emergency.
The adapter consists of an upper cross shaft that contains the lock-on point and jettisons pins, this part attaches to the upper part of the frontal armor plate. At the bottom of the adapter are anchor blocks that attach it to the lower glacis plate. The rig requires minimal personnel to maintain, attach and operate.
With the Full-Width Mine Plow, or ‘FWMP’ equipped, the vehicle becomes known as ‘The Shredder’. The plow is 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide and is usually brought into operation after the deployment and detonation of the line charge. In less explosive-saturated areas, it can be used independently. ‘Full Width’ means the that the plow spans and clears a path the width of the host vehicle. The plow is attached to the front of the host and is pushed along in a raking action. It is operated by the driver via a Multipurpose Control Unit (MCU) in his position. The plow can be elevated and depressed for stowage and operation via hydraulic power provided by an inbuilt electro-hydraulic system.
“Being in the front, I feel the blast [of the MICLIC] harder. But, then again, we have the plow which is protecting me as well. That’s extra protection for me, so I feel pretty safe in here.”
– Lance Corporal, Rozo Corredor, ABV Driver, USMC. Interview with Workaholic Productions for the ‘Deadliest Tech’ mini-series.
The plow was originally designed by Pearson to meet requirements from the British Army, but it has found use in other militaries around the world, including the Finnish, Dutch, Danish and Swedish Military.
The plow lifts and clears explosives out of the ground via teeth that penetrate the ground, and pushes them safely to the side away from the vehicle creating a safe path. The plow consists of three separate blades, one on the left, one on the right, and a small V-shaped blade in the center. The outer blades have nine teeth on, while the central smaller blade has five. Small extensions can be folded out on the sides of the outer blades to make a wider path. A constant plowing depth of 14 inches (36 cm) is governed by three skids on arms that reach over the front of the blades. These are connected via linkages to the blades and oscillate with the ground allowing the blades to closely follow the contours of the terrain.
Attaching the ‘Combat Dozer Blade’ or ‘CDB’ leads this vehicle to being known as ‘Blade’. It attaches to the front of the ABV utilizing the same hydraulic link as the mine plow. This piece of equipment enables the ABV to perform a number of tasks. These include carving out hull-down positions for gun tanks, digging gun emplacements, route denial (creating and filling anti-tank ditches), and improving bridge approaches. It can also be used aggressively to push barricades or debris from the path of attacking allies, and even clear inert unexploded ordnance.
The vehicle’s headlights, which are usually placed directly on the bow, are elevated on stalks in the case of the ABV. This is so they can cast a beam over the mine plow or dozer blade and still provide light.
This blade is also produced by the UK based Pearson engineering and attaches to the same hydraulic link on the ABV as the FWMP. The blade is also in service with British Army and the Finnish Army
To mark out safely cleared lanes, the ABV has an Obstacle Marking System (OMS), also known as a Lane Marking System (LMS), mounted on the engine deck behind the superstructure. The OMS uses an electro-pneumatic dispensing system that fires darts into the ground at controlled intervals of time or distance. As well as marking a safe lane, the markers are used to clearly mark dangerous obstacles or live minefields. There is one marker system on each flank of the vehicle. In between the two OMS systems are three stowage boxes for crew sundries. The driver is equipped with OMS Control Unit (OMSCU) in his position.
Fifty darts are held in the dispensers, with each dart being 3.2 feet (1 meter) long. The darts have high-visibility flags attached to the end, but these can be replaced with fluorescent, reflective, or LED-enhanced poles. The pneumatically fired darts can be triggered either manually or automatically. They can be used on multiple surfaces such as sand, soil and gravel, and can even penetrate asphalt and concrete.
The OMS is yet another piece of equipment produced by Pearson that is used on the ABV. It is also used in other militaries, including the British, Swedish, Dutch, and Canadian Armies.
Integrated Vision System
The IVS is a Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) system. It is employed on the ABV which allows the Commander to safely view forward progress of plowing operations while remaining safely buttoned up in his position. There are around four cameras in total. One is placed in a ball mounting at the front of the superstructure, just in front of the Commanders position. This provides 360-Degree vision in daylight and at night with infrared (IR). This ball is also fitted with a laser rangefinder.
Above each cheek of the superstructure, there are fixed day-vision cameras placed at a roughly 40-Degree angle. Another day-vision and an infrared camera is placed at the rear of the superstructure, in between the MICLIC launchers. These are fixed and cover the rear of the tank.
The Breachers operate as part of ‘Combined Arms’ task forces and are assigned to and crewed by Combat Engineer Units. These task forces usually consist of regular gun tanks, Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs), and wheeled vehicles. Although heavy at 55 tons, the ABV maintains a high degree of mobility that allows it to keep up with rolling units.
“The ABV can clear a route faster than dismounted patrols because it doesn’t actually have to find the IEDs. All it has to do is run through them. It keeps the engineers safer, inside of an armored vehicle. It speeds up the process almost tenfold.”
– Lance Corporal Jonathan Murray, ABV Mechanic, USMC. Interview with Workaholic Productions for the ‘Deadliest Tech’ mini-series.
The War in Afghanistan
Operation Cobra’s Anger
The first combat use of the ABV came on the Morning of December 3rd, 2009 as part of Operation Cobra’s Anger. The goal of this operation was to take Now Zad valley, in the Helmand Province, and disrupt Taliban supply and communication lines. A secondary objective was to effectively rescue FOB (Forward Operating Base) Cafferetta, a besieged US Marine Corps and Afghan National Army (ANA) outpost that was completely cut off, barring aerial transport.
Several ABVs were employed in this operation. The exact number used is unknown, but it is known that at least five ABVs were in Afghanistan in late 2009, though the US Military planned to deploy 52 by 2012. At least two are known to have the crew-assigned names of ‘Joker’ and ‘Iceman’. They were brought into action as it was known intelligence that the Taliban had saturated the area with roadside bombs and IEDs in anticipation of a Coalition assault. The aim after this assault was to push through an another Taliban Stronghold, Marjah, early in 2010.
On February 11th, 2010, two Breachers were deployed in Sistani where they launched M58 MICLICs at Taliban defenses in preparation for Operation Moshtarak. Two days later the Operation started. ABVs of the US Marines Corps 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion successfully dug and blasted multiple safely lanes through the numerous, heavily saturated Taliban minefields. This allowed Coalition forces to safely push into Marjah.
Operation Black Sand
In August 2011, the ABVs took part in Operation Black Sand in Shukvani, Helmand Province. It was a symbolic operation, with the USMC 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion deployed alongside the Republic Of Georgia’s 33rd Light Infantry Battalion. The operation objective was to take or destroy Lamar Bazaar. A collection of ramshackle buildings within a compound, it was a known Taliban IED storage area. The Taliban had effectively stolen the Bazaar from the local populace. As well as the stored IEDs, the area was flooded with planted devices. Previous, infantry focussed attempts were made to take the Bazaar, all of which failed due to the heavy IED threat and stiff Taliban resistance.
The Shredders were deployed. It is unknown how many took part in this operation, but at least two were active, one of which launched 35 MICLIC rockets into the Bazaar. This means 61,250 pounds/31 tons (28,000 kg/28 tonnes) of C-4 was detonated at the Bazaar. As one may expect, the compound was completely leveled. Even with the destruction of the Bazaar, the local civilians were happy to see the back of the Taliban and a new Bazaar was later constructed, with a little help from the Marine Engineers and Georgians.
Not much more is known about their use in Afghanistan. There are brief mentions, however, such as a deployment in Kajaki, Helmand province in 2011, where they were used to clear a safe route through a known IED-saturated area. They were also used to deny the Taliban useful terrain e.g., destroying cover and filling ditches, either by use of the MICLIC or Dozer Blade. They also served in Operation Dynamic Partnership in Shurakay, Helmand Province in February 2013 in support of the main attack forces.
In the summer of 2013, six ABVs were deployed to South Korea and are attached to the 2nd Infantry Division. The vehicles would allow the Division to clear a path through the heavily mined Demilitarized Zone that separates the North and South should things escalate on the peninsula. A small detachment of Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles was previously deployed for the same reason. North Korea accused the US of deploying vehicles that could cross the DMZ and attack the country. The MRAPs were soon withdrawn from the South anyway, as they were found to be unsuitable for the terrain in question. For unknown reasons, North Korea did not react to the deployment of the ABVs.
Combined Resolve III
In summer 2014, three Assault Breacher Vehicles were dispatched to Germany for exercises. That October, they took part in the Multinational Exercise Combined Resolve III at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels.
Between October and November 2018, ABVs were part of the American contingent that took part in the largest NATO military exercise since the Cold War, ‘Trident Juncture’. The exercises took place in Norway, with over 50,000 participants from 31 countries.
The ABV is still a brand new vehicle in the grand scheme of things, it remains to be seen what other deployments the Assault Breacher Vehicle will see with the US Marine Corps. It is also unknown what upgrades and equipment may come in the future. At the moment, though, it remains one of the most advanced vehicles of its kind in the world.
The Assualt Breach Vehicle ‘Shredder’ in the colors it would have served in during its deployment in Afghanistan. The vehicle is in full mine-clearing configuration. The Full-Width Mine Plow (FWMP) is installed on the front of the vehicle, the M58 ‘MICLIC’ Launcher is in firing position, and the Obstacle/Lane Marking System (O/LMS) is deployed.
An ABV ‘Blade’ in the forest green color that a number of vehicles have been repainted in since their return from Operations in Afghanistan. This vehicle is in simple dozing configuration, with all mine-clearing equipment retracted. The vehicle is equipped with the Combat Dozer Blade’ or ‘CDB’.
Both of these illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
25’11” (without equipment) x 11’11” x 9’5″ ft.in
(7.91m x 3.65m x 2.88m)
High-hardness-steel torsion bars with rotary shock absorbers
1x Browning M2HB .50 Cal (12.7mm) Heavy Machine Gun
High Lift Adapter (HLA)
Full Width Mine Plow (FWMP)
Combat Dozer Blade (CDB)
M58 Mine CLearing Line Charge (MICLIC)
Obstacle/Lane Marker System (OMS/LMS)
Armor (hull/turret front)
600 mm vs APFSDS, 900 mm vs HEAT + ERA Blocks
Production estimated (all combined)
Links & Resources
Presidio Press, Abrams: A History of the American Main Battle Tank, Vol. 2, R.P. Hunnicutt
Haynes Publishing, M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, Owner’s Workshop Manual, Bruce Oliver Newsome & Gregory Walton
Sabot Publications, Warmachines 01, M1 ABV Assault Breacher Vehicle
Tankograd Publishing, M1 Abrams Breacher: The M1 Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV) – Technology and Service, Ralph Zwilling & Walter Böhm
Osprey Publishing, New vanguard #268: M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank 1993-2018, Steven J. Zaloga www.armyrecognition.com www.military-today.com www.army-guide.com www.marinecorpstimes.com www.liveleak.com www.2ndmardiv.marines.mil Pearson Engineering Ltd.
Photo Walkaround by NACM Curator, Rob Cogan, on The Armour Journal: LINK
Michael Moore, Amateur US Military Historian, US Army, Retired.
Warmachines 01 is a visual reference of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps M1 Abrams-based assault breacher vehicle. This is the first book in the Verlinden Publications relaunch of the Warmachines series of photo-reference books. It contains 64 pages of full color, large format photos of the ABV in combat and training environments. Includes walkaround detail shots as well as weathering shots of the ABV with the full-width mine plow and the combat dozer blade.