Categories
El Salvador Armor

M3A1 Stuart in El Salvadoran Service

El Salvador El Salvador (1944)
Light Tank – 6 Used

Sandwiched between the Pacific on its south, Guatemala to the west and Honduras to the east, the nation of El Salvador is tiny. In 1969, this nation consisted of about 3.4 million people living on 21,000 square kilometers – slightly smaller than the US State of New Jersey. The history of this nation at the end of the 20th Century was a bloody one.

El Salvadoran M3 Stuart parading through San Salvador with a captured Honduran flag. Source: Spencer

El Salvador’s military was a small affair too (~4,500 men in 1969 with an additional 25,000 nominal reserves), mainly armed with secondhand American military equipment supplied after WW2. In July 1969, El Salvador had a brief border war with Honduras, in which the Salvadoran army’s armored force was found to be seriously outdated. Primarily consisting of a handful of elderly M3 Stuart light tanks, the firepower was insufficient to support the soldiers and the armor too thin to protect against anti-tank weapons deployed by the Hondurans, such as American supplied recoilless rifles. The armor that did indeed prove successful for El Salvador was not these relics of a bygone age, but actually hastily improvised armored trucks.

El Salvador, under dictator General Maximiliano Martinez, had been sympathetic to dictators like Mussolini and Hitler. However, following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, they joined with the United States in declaring war against the Axis. By 1942, El Salvador was a member of the Allies and, starting in 1942, the US Military was supplying arms to Central America to assist with internal security, including El Salvador. In early 1944, the United States supplied 8 (US records indicate 6) surplus M3A1 Stuart Light Tanks to Gen. Martinez’s regime. These were all allocated to the Cavalry Regiment replacing the obsolete Italian CV.3/33 Light Tanks which had been operated since 1938. Just a few months after the Stuart tanks arrived, these new vehicles were used in a coup by the Army to force Martinez from power and into exile.

According to Captain Johnson’s (1986) research on the subject of arms supplied by the USA to El Salvador, there were no tanks supplied post-WW2 by the United States. Neighboring Guatemala was supplied with ten M3 Stuart light tanks in 1947, following the signing of the Rio Treaty (Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance) and some speculation has been that, as Guatemala was friendly with El Salvador, some of those vehicles might have been supplied. This appears to be incorrect and Capt. Johnson’s research confirms this. This meant that the only tanks known to be in El Salvador by the end of WW2 and some time thereafter were those 6 or 8 Stuarts delivered in 1944, a situation which remained until 1969.

El Salvadoran M3 in the captured Honduran town of Nueva Ocotepeque. Source: Spencer

Football

The Hundred Hours War or ‘Football’ War, as it is sometimes known, took place at a time of pre-existing tensions between El Salvador and Honduras, coinciding with rioting which took place during a 1970 World Cup Qualification match. The background to this conflict was an ongoing border dispute between Honduras and El Salvador made worse by agrarian reforms in Honduras in the late 1960s. These had resulted in the expulsion of some of 300,000 Salvadoran laborers and farmers (making up about 15% of the entire Honduran population) and the appropriation of property owned by them in Honduras which raised tensions between the nations. Thousands of Salvadorans are believed to have been killed, raped, or dispossessed from their land during this time. The increased repression of Salvadorans in Honduras at the time of the 1970 World Cup qualifiers was just more petrol on this fire.

The ‘football’ element to the war was a good media line coined by journalists for trying to explain these complex animosities between the two nations made all the more unclear by an undelineated border between the countries. Nonetheless, both states felt that they were the aggrieved parties in the war. On 14th July 1969, troops from El Salvador attacked neighboring Honduras.

The war ended after a ceasefire imposed by the Organization of American States with a negotiated peace on 18th July (took effect on 20th July) – hence the conflict sometimes being called the ‘100-hour war’. The name ‘Football War’ (and, unfortunately, some later publications catering to the American market referring to it as ‘The Soccer War’) has led to some people speculating that the war was related to an actual football game or riot, but it was not. The football element was merely symptomatic of problems caused by agrarian reforms in Honduras and some lazy journalism.

Salvadoran M3 on a trailer in the captured Honduran town of Nueva Ocotepeque. It is likely this vehicle simply ran out of fuel. Source: Spencer

Attack

The invasion of Honduras took the form of a coordinated aerial attack on the main Honduran airport and a three-pronged land force: The Northern Theatre (Teatro de Operaciones del Norte – TON), The Chalatenago Theatre (Teatro de Operaciones Nororiental – TONO), and The Eastern Theater (Teatro de Operaciones Oriente – TOO).

Disputed territorial boundary shown as dashed line between the countries. Source: CIA – President’s Daily Briefing 16th July 1969.

The Northern Theatre force (TON), under the command of Colonel Mario de Jesus Velasquez, consisted of lightly armored improvised vehicles known as Rayos. Accompanied by infantry, the force was to advance north-northwest towards Honduras’ second city, San Pedro Sula, before swinging south to the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.

The Eastern Theatre force (TOO), under the command of General Segundo Martinez, attacked eastwards along the Pan-American Highway with the intention of then swinging north to the capital. The theatre of action encompassed the areas of La Unión and Morazán was composed of the bulk of the Salvadoran armor, the M3 Stuart light tanks, mechanized units, and artillery support.

The third force (TONO), was a 300 strong unit under the command of Lt. Col. Manuel Antonio Nunez working between these primary thrusts preventing Honduran force concentration.

The plan was, therefore, a simple one. Protecting their own border and a two-pronged pincer movement on the Honduran capital.

The objective was similarly simple, either seize the capital and/or force Honduran President Oswaldo Arellano to abdicate in what was supposed to be a 72-hour campaign.

Success was rapid initially, with the element of surprise on the side of the Salvadorans and the aerial attack having temporarily crippled the Honduran air force. Having attacked on the afternoon of 14th July 1969, by the end of the next day, Salvadoran forces had pushed over 8 kilometers inside Honduras. Within a day or so, the Honduran troops were withdrawing and trying to organize a defense at a hill called El Quebrachal in the Northern Theater. To take this defensive position, Salvadoran forces attacked with infantry supported by two M3A1 tanks. Both vehicles were put out of action by Honduran 57 mm Recoilless rifles and 3.5” bazookas. The Salvadoran infantry finished the assault though, pushing the Hondurans back.

A second battle took place in the Northern Theatre, at another hill which was being used as defence. Known as Chicotera, it was defended by Honduran troops guarding the east of the strategic town of Nueva Ocotepeque. Again, Salvadoran forces attacked supported by at least one M3A1 tank, although it ran out of fuel and had to be abandoned. Soon after, though, they had occupied Nueva Ocotepeque.

Salvadoran M3 Stuart tank rolls through the streets of Nueva Ocotepeque. Source: El Mundo

The attacks in the North were successful, but the performance of the tanks had been poor. In the Eastern Theater, the Salvadoran armor was made up of improvised armored trucks known as ‘Rayos’. In coordination with bulldozers being used as makeshift tanks, the Salvadoran 11th Battalion took control of the town of El Amatillo, an advance of about 5 km by the end of day one. A counterattack supported by aircraft launched by the Hondurans the next day was repulsed, but a second attack by the Salvadoran forces against Nacaome failed and the war in the East ground to a halt.

El Salvadoran soldiers during the Hundred Hours War. Source: Associated Press

The Salvadoran attack soon stalled however, as the main armored force started to meet increased resistance. The Honduran air force started bombing locations in El Salvador and, on the ground, Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras, was under threat by Salvadoran forces. The result was a movement by the Organization of American States (OAS) to sue for peace. The infuriated Salvadorans took some convincing, but with possible sanctions being imposed on them, they agreed, and eventually withdrew on 2nd August 1969, bringing the war to a nominal end, although tensions remained for several years. Even today, some tensions still remain over issues from this war which are unresolved.

Preserved M3A1 at Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ in San Salvador in 2008. Source: FAVAustinTX on Flickr

Conclusion

El Salvador might have lost the first round qualifier in the football to Honduras but it won the rematch and a third decisive game too, qualifying to the Football World Cup for the first time in its history. Not only that, but it had proved that it was not going to be pushed around or tolerate the mistreatment of Salvadorans across the border in Honduras. The war though, like so many, was a pointless one, stoked by inflamed nationalistic rhetoric in the domestic media on both sides. Thousands of people were killed and even more people were dispossessed, and both economies suffered. El Salvador had learned a valuable lesson though – its armor force was obsolete. The force which had done well was a lightly armored improvised one, this was to shape Salvadoran thinking for a generation in terms of lightly armoured and mobile vehicles, although the tank role was eventually replaced with the French AML 60/90 armored cars. The M3 Stuarts which were left were eventually relegated to display purposes, having fought in one of the most obscure wars of the Twentieth Century.

Older image of the M3A1 at Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ with a different camouflage pattern. Source: Flickr

It is not known how many of the original eight M3A1 Stuart light tanks El Salvador lost during the war with Honduras, but at least two are reported to have been knocked out. At least three still survive, one at the Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ and two as gate guardians at Ciudad Arce base of the Regimiento de Caballería (Cavalry Regiment). Both vehicles outside this military base are painted in a three tone green, grey and tan scheme, although all of the wheels and suspension components are painted white. The tank at the Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ is painted in a daring three tone, dark grey, brown, and bright green with the lower hull sides, wheels, and suspension components all painted black. Older images show that is has been repainted at least twice since it was at the museum and previously sported a darker green with tan and black splotches, although the lower hull and suspension parts were still black. One final note with the Stuarts in El Salvador is that, during the troubles of the 1980’s, there was some planning done about how to modernise them but quite what this entailed is unknown. The plan was reportedly nixed by US military advisers but what these plans had in store for these tanks will perhaps be known one day.

Gate Guardian of the Regimiento de Caballería, Arce, El Salvador. Source: Himura Kingy via Flickr


El Salvadoran M3A1 Stuart. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Specifications

Dimensions 4.33 m x 2.23 m x 2.35 m
14ft 2in x 7ft 4in x 7ft 9in
Total weight, battle ready 14.7 tons
Crew 4
Propulsion Continental 7 cylinder petrol
250 hp – air cooled
Speed 58 km/h (36 mph) road
29 km/h (18 mph) off-road
Range 120 km at medium speed (74.5 mi)
Armament 37 mm (1.45 in) M5 or M6
3 to 5 cal.30 (7.62 mm) M1919 machine guns
Armor From 13 to 51 mm (0.52-2 in)

Sources

Scheina, R. (2003). Latin America’s Wars Volume II – The Age of the Professional Soldier.
Spencer, D. (1995). Armored Fighting Vehicles of El Salvador. Museum Ordnance Special Number 7.
Cornejo, I. (14th July 2017). Hoy inicia congreso sobre guerra El Salvador-Honduras.
Memorandum from the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs to President Nixon. 9th July 1969
Montes, J. (2001). Mexican and Central American Armor. Darlington Productions.
SIPRI Import/Export Register 1950-1980 El Salvador
Johnson, L. (1986). Security Assistance to Central America: Assessment of US Involvement in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. US Air Force Institute of Technology.
Central Intelligence Agency – President’s Daily Briefing 16th July 1969.
US War Department. (31st December 1946). Lend-Lease Shipments World War II. US War Department, Washington D.C.


Categories
El Salvador Armor

‘Mazzinger-Z’ and ‘Astroboy’

 

El Salvador (1979 to ~1992)
Armored trucks – 20+

Context

Following the 1969 invasion of Honduras, arms sanctions were placed on El Salvador, significantly limiting its access to arms and armored vehicles. The result was that, throughout the 1970s, a series of improvised armored vehicles were manufactured, most notably by the Maestranza de la Fuerza Armada de El Salvador (FAES) – the central command for ordnance for the military. Some arms deliveries did make it to El Salvador, usually via third parties, such as 27 tracked log haulers (based on the US-built M114 APC) from the USA which arrived via Guatemala and would eventually be converted into the ‘Marenco’ armored vehicles. A delivery of West German UR-416 armored cars arrived by the end of 1975 and, although these had been delivered unarmed, they were soon armed and used in the civil war (1979-1992). The attacks on roads, bridges, government buildings, and other infrastructure by six to seven thousand guerillas of the Marxist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) meant that the government junta, made up of the military and Christian Democratic Party, struggled to maintain effective control over the country and supply routes. Despite financial backing and military advisors from the USA, the harsh crackdowns and human rights abuses by the government were not giving them victory in the civil war, and the need for the army to have armored vehicles was acute.
Back in 1969, a series of trucks known as ‘Rayos’ had been fitted with armor for the invasion of Honduras, and this highly successful strategy was repeated post-1979 for the deteriorating security situation. Wheeled vehicles offered significant advantages over tracked vehicles, not least of which was their availability. With the majority of the fighting being short and of low intensity, wheeled vehicles were able to move much more quickly to where they were needed and had a much lower maintenance footprint than a tracked vehicle. The speed and availability of wheeled vehicles meant that they were a simple solution to the patrolling and protection of roads and infrastructure. Including the 27 M114 conversions, El Salvador produced about 150 armored vehicles in the years between 1978 and 1985, a remarkable achievement for a small and relatively poor country and especially so considering the arms sanctions and security climate.

Mazzinger-Z

Trucks converted into armored vehicles included those made by MAN, Magirus, International Harvester, as well as more REO M34/M35A1 2.5 ton utility trucks. Together, these vehicles were no longer ‘Rayos’ but were named after a giant Japanese robot cartoon character and known instead as ‘Mazzinger-Z’s’.

Mazzinger-Z based off an International Harvester-built truck – ‘FAES 12001’. Source: Spencer
One Mazzinger-Z was based on an International Harvester (IH) truck, although initially, it was unarmed. Later, it was fitted with the same type of turret and M55A2 triple 20 mm anti-aircraft cannon as used on the Anti-Aircraft/Armored Personnel Carrier vehicle built by Captain Oswaldo Marenco on the M114 chassis. The truck used large flat steel panels to form the armor, which was slightly tapered upwards from the sides with a very short tapered portion along the bottom of each panel. Four vision blocks were made in each side with three more in the back, including one in the main access door. The vehicle was not open-topped as was the norm with other APCs produced in El Salvador. The cab also featured sloping armor over the engine bay, a steel armored grille over the radiator at the front and bulletproof glass windows in the door and windscreen.

Front view of the turret on the International Harvester-based Mazzinger-Z with 20 mm turret fitted. The triple-barreled M55A2 cannon imported from Yugoslavia was a potent weapon for suppressing ground and air targets alike. Source: Spencer
The MAN truck-based Mazzinger-Z was overall very similar to the shape of the International Harvester (IH)-based vehicle, with a large angular body at the back made from sloping plates tapering towards the top and with a fully enclosed roof. The bottom half of the side plates tapered in sharply under the vehicle. Unlike the IH-based vehicle though, the wheels at the back were covered by angled steel plating and the engine area was much more steeply sloped. The front wheels on both remained unprotected though.

MAN-based Mazzinger-Z with triple 20 mm cannons, a pair of 90 mm recoilless rifles and light machine gun mounts. Source: Spencer
Armament for this MAN-based Mazzinger-Z consisted of the same M55A2 triple 20 mm anti-aircraft cannons fitted in a small turret right at the front of the cargo body and projecting over the cab. The rest of the cargo body portion of the vehicle, which was the troop compartment, raised up sharply behind this turret forming, a high roof on the back of the truck which would have seriously hampered any attempts to fire directly backward. To the sides of this cargo body, though, were two firing ports, one on each side at the height of the cab for soldiers’ weapons, and near the top of the body were two more loopholes (one on each side), each of which was designed to take an HK21 light machine gun. These were not all of the weapons fitted to this vehicle, for attached to the top of the turret on either side were also two 90 mm recoilless rifles which had been cut down to make them shorter and lighter. These would fire with the 20 mm cannons, providing a significant weight of fire against a target, although they could not be reloaded from inside. A crew-member would have to expose himself to enemy fire in order to reload these from the rear.
The Magirus-based vehicles were longer, with an additional axle on the truck, meaning they could also carry more troops as the cargo area was longer. Just like the MAN and IH vehicles, these were armored, although the sides were no longer tapered and were simple vertical plates for the most part until near the top where they would taper in at about 45 degrees to the roof. These angled plates though could be folded down by troops inside for ventilation, visibility, or even to fire from. Visibility for the occupants was mainly provided by four rectangular vision blocks on each side.

‘FAES 1305’ – a Magirus-based Mazzinger-Z rebuilt for the third time after damage from guerillas. Source: Spencer
The cab on the Magirus truck was clad in simple flat steel panels and bulletproof glass replacing the windows. Normally, no armament was carried other than the weapons of the troops in the back, although at least one vehicle was fitted with an M60 machine gun and gun shield over the cab. In an attempt to improve protection for the troops in the back, Kevlar sheeting was used to line the bed, providing protection from fragments being blown up from underneath the vehicle.

Magirus-based Mazzinger-Z at the head of a column with an M60 machine gun fitted over the cab. The driver stands outside the vehicle and can be seen to be wearing body armor. Source: Spencer
In combat against the guerilla forces, it was common to shoot out the tires of the trucks to immobilize them before attacking them with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Just like the rebuilt M114s, an attempt to counter the RPG threat came from the use of mesh screens placed over the sides and cab of the vehicles, although not all had this feature and the success of it was questionable.

‘FAES 1496’, a Magirus truck-based Mazzinger-Z with additional side mesh armor in an attempt to counter RPG use. Source: Spencer
At least one Mazzinger-Z vehicle used this same style of cargo body, but with the addition of what appears to be a raised curved section at the top. The cab is crudely armored with a small bulletproof glass window on each side and no protection for the tires. One method which was tried to protect the tires from enemy fire and mine damage was to clad them with tracks taken from M114s, effectively wrapping them in the track links to armor them. It is not known how successful this idea was.

Unidentified Mazzinger-Z with track platted tires carried on the raised roof. This vehicle also appears to have kevlar sheet-reinforced fold-down panels near to the top of the cargo body too. Source: Spencer
Mazzinger-Z’s were mainly used for convoy escorts, protecting against guerilla attacks and for carrying a dozen or more soldiers in the back. Due to the lack of air conditioning in the vehicle, it was normal for those angled side panels to be folded down, leaving the men exposed to enemy fire, although it was standard practice for the driver to wear body armor.


International Harvester-based Mazzinger-Z armored truck, fitted with a turret mounting an M55A2 triple 20 mm anti-aircraft cannon. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Dump-Truck Mazzinger

One odd Mazzinger, which stands out from all the others, was not based on a standard truck at all. Instead, this oddity was built off the body of a repurposed 5-ton dump truck. This vehicle was locally created rather than FAES-constructed and was built at a motor pool near Zacatecoluca.

Pictured outside the Engineer’s barracks at Zacatecoluca in July 1991, this vehicle has the words ‘Mazzinger-Z’ written in red over the central light at the front and is painted bright green with black and brown. Source: Spencer
The armor protection for this vehicle was cruder than for the other Mazzingers and had a large armored covering over the cab area and in front of the engine, although it is not known if the sides of the engine bay were armored or not. At the back of the vehicle, the dumper body was already well protected, being built out of steel, and was added to by means of rectangular panels welded over the sides and a large square panel at the back into which a door was made. Three small rectangular loopholes were cut into each side with no flap or bulletproof glass, and at least one more in the back. Armament consisted of the soldiers’ personal weapons and a pair of M60 machine guns, one mounted on each side in the back and protected by a shield.

5-ton dump-truck based Mazzinger-Z pictured in 1991. Source: Spencer

Astroboy

Following a series of engagement with the guerillas with these Mazzinger-Z’s, a second series of vehicles was ordered by 1982. These were smaller than the Mazzinger-Z’s, which had been based on full-size trucks. These new vehicles, named after ‘Astroboy’, another Japanese cartoon character, were instead based off Ford F250 trucks, fulfilling the role of a light armored personnel carrier

Astroboy Ford F250 based APC pictured May 1987 showing a complete coat of armor over the truck save for the tyres. Source: Spencer

Astroboy Ford F250 based APC. Source: Montes
Approximately 20 such vehicles were produced and there was significant variation amongst them. Astroboy ‘828A’, for example, had a fully armored body made from sloping sides front and rear and a covered roof. The sides had multiple bulletproof glass portholes and four large rectangular doors and the vehicle was used as a mobile command post.

Astroboy used by the Atlacatl Battalion. Note the addition of double tires at the back to take the weight of the troops and armor being carried. Source Spencer
Another known ‘Astroboy’, though, had no armor at all on the truck cab, with only the body at the back protected by a large angular welded body. Inside here, the soldiers could use four bulletproof glass windows in each side, below which was a firing portal, and two more in the back. The soldiers here would be able to fight from behind the protection of the armor, although the driver would be exposed with no protection. An odd choice considering the complete protection provided for ‘828A’ which was only for use as a command post rather than direct combat.

Conclusion

The Mazzinger and Astroboy vehicles came about at a time of great wheeled military vehicle shortage in El Salvador. On the whole, they were quite well designed, showing that a lot of thought had gone into the construction of the various armored bodies, especially considering the scarce resources available at the time and limited production facilities. These vehicles saw much service, conducting patrols and convoy escorts, although finding accurate accounts of their use is limited. None of these vehicles are currently known to have survived.

Sources

Scheina, R. (2003). Latin America’s Wars Volume II – The Age of the Professional.
Spencer, D. (1995). Armored Fighting Vehicles of El Salvador. Museum Ordnance Special Number 7.
War Wheels.net ‘Rayo Fast Assault Gun Truck’
Montes, J. (2001). Mexican and Central American Armor. Darlington Productions.
GAO-NASAID 91-166 (April 1991). El Salvador – Military Assistance has Helped Counter but Not Overcome the Insurgency.

Categories
El Salvador Armor

Cashuat

El Salvador (1985-present)
Light Assault Vehicle – 66

El Salvador is a small and relatively poor nation. Despite a successful agricultural sector producing coffee, the wealth from this crop remained with the elites in the government and, as a result, the peasantry of the nation grew increasingly frustrated at the lack of the wealth shared with them for their labors. This resentment had been festering for decades with continual problems and internal strife and, in 1979, the army led a coup against the government with the goal of sharing this wealth with the farmers and people actually producing the wealth. Like so many revolutionary goals though, the trappings of power soon corrupted this idea and the military, aligning themselves with the Christian Democratic Party, installed itself as a governing junta and started a brutal crackdown on dissent from intellectuals, the clergy, and the media.
The nation was still under international arms embargo following its invasion of neighboring Honduras in 1969 (The Hundred-Hours War – sometimes mistakenly referred to as ‘The Football War’) so found itself at a time of significant internal struggle with few armored vehicles.
The guerillas fighting against the government were known under the umbrella name of Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), named after a famous campaigner for worker’s rights – Augustin Farabundo Marti – who had been put to death decades earlier by a previous repressive government. Under the FMLN, a left-wing revolution was taking place and the government struggled to control it, calling upon the United States for aid. In the context of the time, the USA was concerned about possible Soviet-Communist influence growing in the region. As such, the USA mostly managed to turn a blind eye to the appalling massacres, rapes, torture and other gross human rights abuses the government was committing and provided both financial aid and military aid in the form of technical and military advisors. Short of armored vehicles for protecting infrastructure and convoys and for patrol use, a variety of tracked and wheeled armored vehicles were cobbled together by Maestranza de la Fuerza Armada de El Salvador (FAES) under the expert eye of Captain (later Major) Oswaldo Marenco. After decades of internal strife, this unit was well experienced in the operation and repair of light armored vehicles.
With more of the war taking place in the countryside or by means of ambush, fast, wheeled armor was needed, and in the early 1980s, the now Major Oswaldo Marenco designed a purpose-built internal security vehicle for this role, the Cashuat (meaning ‘horse’ in the Pipil Indian language used in parts of El Salvador and Honduras).

Upgraded Fire Support Cashuat belonging to 1st Brigade, unidentified location, March 1990. Source: Spencer

Design

The design of the ‘Light Assault Vehicle Cashuat’ is a relatively simple one. Aided by US engineers based in Detroit, Major Marenco took the chassis of the 4-ton Dodge Power Wagon and turned it into an armored car. Using the design of an existing vehicle was a cheap (less than ⅓ of the cost of a Cadillac Gage 150) and effective way of delivering a vehicle for the El Salvadoran Army and getting around the arms restrictions. Sixty-six vehicles were built in two versions: APC and Fire Support, although the basic design was the same. The first vehicles started to be delivered to the armed forces in August 1985.

APC Version

The APC version of the Cahsuat was open-topped, built from large flat panels of steel armor plate welded together forming a large open space in the back for troops. A single, large bench seat was provided in the center of this troop compartment with all the seating facing outwards, where the soldiers could use the three shuttered vision ports on each side, or the two at the back to see out. Inside these protective steel walls were kevlar sheets arranged around the lower sections in order to protect from spalling caused by rounds hitting the outside of the metal.

APC Cashuat during operations in an unidentified urban neighborhood. Source: Spencer
The cab at the front was completely enclosed and had two large rectangular bulletproof glass windscreens and another bulletproof glass window in the large door on each side. A single, pintle-mounted M60 machine gun with a gun shield was mounted centrally over the top of the cab to be operated by a member of the crew in the back.

Interior of the APC version of the Cashuat showing the position of the kevlar spall-sheets. Source: Spencer

Fire Support

The Fire Support Cashuat was the same basic vehicle as the APC version but without the large bench in the back. Instead, the Fire Support version carried two M60 machine guns mounted on swinging arms inside the rear. Each gun was protected by a gun shield and a rotating seat was fitted for the operator and each covered a side of the vehicle and well as being able to fire forwards. A third gun, a .50 caliber heavy machine gun, was fitted centrally in the rear-facing forward over the cab and also behind a gun shield. This gun position operator also had a small ‘turret’ in which to operate from, made from welded steel panels and fitted all round with bulletproof glass vision blocks. Some of the front gun shields can be seen in photographs to have a spot lamp added too, which would greatly assist in fire control during operations in poor light conditions.

Fire Support Cashuats May 1987. Source: Spencer


A fire-support version of the Cashuat, as used during Operation Caminante in 1987. Illustrated by Jaroslaw ‘Jarja’ Janas, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Use

The Cashuats provided valuable armed protection for the remainder of the civil war, escorting convoys and delivering much-needed fire support during engagements with the guerillas. In 1987, the guerillas had promised to use their power to create transportation chaos, vowing to stop people moving around the country and grinding it to a halt. The army responded with Operation Caminante, and for this, the Cashuats showed their true value in breaking this phase of the guerilla campaign because the rebels were unable to stop the Cashuats on the road.

Fire Support Cashuats seen during Operation Caminante 1987. Source: Spencer
Following Operation Caminante, Cashuats remained in use and were active in the fighting during operations in 1989 and re-exerting control over guerrilla supporting neighborhoods, but by this time, the guerillas were making increased use of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and several Cashuats were hit and had been damaged, although not unrepairably so. No Cashuats appear to have fallen into guerrilla hands.

Upgrade

As a result of the growing danger posed by RPG’s evidenced in the 1989 campaign, some of the Cashuats (both APC and Fire Support versions) were retrofitted with mesh screens which covered the sides, back and front of the vehicle. The intention was to provide protection against RPGs, but how effective they actually were is hard to quantify. The large flat plate directly over the cab and under the front machine gun position had also proven to be problematic and, as part of the upgrade program, a large steel panel was fitted over this area with the edges going down towards the doors. This spaced armor thus provided the additional protection against small arms fire the original angled plate did not.

Upgraded Fire support Cashuat with the stand-off mesh screens to protect against RPG’s and improved armor over the cab. Image date March 1990. Source: Spencer
At least one upgraded APC Cashuat was lost though, destroyed by a satchel charge thrown from a motorbike, probably into the open top of the vehicle in November 1990, a blast which wrecked the truck and killed 6 men.

The aftermath of the November 1990 satchel charge attack on an upgraded APC Cashuat. Source: Spencer

Another Upgrade

Following the end of the civil war in 1992, many Cashuats remained in service and were subsequently modified and upgraded. These changes include the addition of another set of tires at the back for better load handling and an antenna on the front right of the cab where it meets the bonnet. Other vehicles, including at least one APC version, had a 20 mm Hispano Suiza HS404 cannon (originally from an Ouragan jet fighter) fitted. Other weapons mounted include one with a dual .50 caliber HMG and another with an M79 40 mm automatic grenade launcher.

Upgraded Cashuats with twin rear tires and mounting a 20mm cannon (right). Source: Montes

Two views of the turret on the Cashuat including a good view of the additional roof armor which has not been retained on all vehicles. The Kevlar spall panels can still be seen in the lower half of the fighting space in the back. Source: Montes

Conclusion

The Cashuats remain in service with the army of El Salvador, this not being a surprise given that they are rugged, simple and reliable vehicles. Of the sixty-six originally made, several were damaged or lost during the civil war and it is not know how many remain serviceable but they are likely to remain in use for some time.

Preserved Cashuat APC (centre) and Fire Support (right) versions at Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ in San Salvador (the vehicle on the left is a Panhard AML-90 armored car). Source: Camaro27 on Flickr

Sources

Scheina, R. (2003). Latin America’s Wars Volume II – The Age of the Professional.
Spencer, D. (1995). Armored Fighting Vehicles of El Salvador. Museum Ordnance Special Number 7.
Montes, J. (2001). Mexican and Central American Armor. Darlington Productions.
Warwheels.net ‘Cashuat Light Assault Vehicle’

Categories
El Salvador Armor

Marenco M114 in El Salvadoran Service

El Salvador El Salvador (1976)
AFV – 23 converted

Following the invasion of Honduras by El Salvador in July 1969, the nation was placed under a strict arms embargo which lasted until 1979. Many weapons were still obtained during this time, including heavy mortars (UMB-59 120mm heavy mortars) as well as anti-aircraft guns (triple barrelled M55 20mm AA gun), small arms, and some artillery from Yugoslavia. On top of this, some internal security vehicles had been obtained by the mid-1970s in the form of ten unarmed UR-416 APC’s from West Germany and, later, a dozen AML 60/90 armored cars from France. The bulk of the armor for El Salvador from the end of the Hundred Days War to the mid-1970s though was a handful of obsolete M3A1 Stuart light tanks in varying degrees of disrepair, 20 Rayos; improvised armored trucks built on the M35 REO 2.5 ton truck, and at least 5 Ninas; repurposed armored bank vehicles.
Getting around the embargo was a long and expensive affair, and although the AML 60/90’s fitted with a 90mm gun had fully replaced the old M3A1 Stuarts for the Cavalry, by 1976, the infantry needed their own armored vehicles. The solution was simply to make their own, and the plan for this was the brainchild of Captain Oswaldo Marenco, an army officer, a graduate of the military academy, and a trained mechanical engineer.
Assigned to Maestranza de la Fuerza Armada de El Salvador (FAES) – the central command for ordnance for the military – he designed and built a range of new vehicles for the armed forces of El Salvador. Given the limited budget, equipment, and materials at his disposal, the vehicles he made are quite simply remarkable.

Context

During the 1970s, an arms embargo was in force on the military of El Salvador. As a result, vehicles were imported for ‘internal security’ work and then simply replaced vehicles the army could not get from abroad.
The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) was named after Augustin Farabundo Marti, who had formed the Central American Socialist Party in 1932 to champion the rights of peasants and indigenous people against the government, and as a result, was put to death. The resentment between the poor who farmed the lucrative coffee crop in El Salvador and the wealthy class who ran the government continued into the 1970s with constant unrest, assassinations, coups, and protests. When, in 1979, the military conducted a coup to oust the government with a promise to improve living standards for the poor and failed to do so, the FMLN was formed as an umbrella group for several left-wing organizations. The junta, made up of the military and the Christian Democratic Party, cracked down on these dissidents, targeting anyone who stood in their way, from intellectuals to the clergy, and the harsh repression resulted in open conflict between FMLN guerillas and the government. The war was at its peak in the 1980s, resulting in a large need for armored vehicles by the military in their fight against the guerillas. The government forces, propped up by funding and military advisors from the United States, largely ignored gross human rights abuses taking place there, but by the early 1990s the United Nations became involved and brokered a peace treaty. Over 75,000 people died in the civil war and the repercussions and damage to the economy in the country is still felt to this day.

Delivery

With civil disorder growing, there was a shortage of armored vehicles for internal security and an increase in the use of nail traps and small IEDs that crippled wheeled vehicles. Unable to import tracked armored vehicles, they would simply have to be made instead and this meant obtaining a civilian tracked vehicle to modify.
The first group of vehicles which Captain (later Major) Marenco was to work on were not tanks at all, but were second- or third-hand log-dragging vehicles which had been bought in Georgia, USA, from the Woodmaster Company. These were effectively a completely stripped M114 Armored Personnel Carrier with no weapons or armor of any kind and arrived via the Guatemalan port of Santo Tomas. Twenty-seven such vehicles arrived, although four were in such a poor condition they were only destined for use as spare parts donors. The remaining 23 vehicles would form the bulk of the army’s new armored fleet and be converted to perform a variety of roles, including amphibious armored personnel carrier, air defense, APC, fire support, and command and control.

APC Version (Early)

The APC version built by FAES under the direction of Marenco ended up looking roughly similar in shape to the original vehicle. A large rectangular box body was added on top of the chassis, with a large access door on the right-hand side to get to the engine along with two distinctively shaped grilles, a rectangular one on the front and a triangular one on the right-hand side just in front of the engine access door. At the front, the driver was provided with a pair of thick square bullet-proof glass windscreens, providing an excellent view. For protection, a large rectangular flap could be folded over the front, reducing these windows to just slits. Each side of the body in the troop compartment had 4 rectangular vision blocks cut in to permit visibility for the soldiers inside, but no firing ports for them. Access was by means of a large rectangular door at the back which was also provided with a hole for vision, but which was closed with a sliding piece of metal rather than bullet-proof glass. On top of the vehicle were a set of four hatches for both crew and troops to enter/exit and also permitted the operation of the weapons mounted on the roof. Just below the back door of the vehicle was an access step which was suspended by a chain on each side.

Rebuilt APC based on the M114 number ‘FAES 10001’ seen January 1980 outside the National University, in San Salvador (left) and during security operations June 1980 (right). Note the position of the armored flap both down, and up, over the windscreen. Source: Spencer
Armament for ‘FAES 10001’ consisted of a single M3 .50 caliber heavy machine gun mounted approximately centrally just behind the cab. A rail was also built at the back to permit to the attachment of an HK21 light machine gun. Not all of the vehicles shared the same armament though, as ‘FAES 10002’, also an APC version, had no pintle mounting for a heavy machine gun, but instead, had two mounting points for HK 21 light machine guns, one over the driver’s position on the front left and another over the rear right-hand side, just like ‘FAES 10001’.

Rear view of the M114 APC ‘FAES 10001’ seen January 1980 outside the National University. Source: Spencer

‘FAES 10002’ seen January 1980 (right) with no armament on the roof and in March 1980 (left) with a pair of mounts for HK21 light machine guns. Source: Spencer
An unknown number of M114 hulls were turned into APC’s, but as the Civil War progressed, shortages of materials became more and more acute and bullet-proof glass, in particular, ran out. Captain Marenco was also learning as he went and sought to improve his designs as well and, as a result, the later APC’s looked quite different.

‘FAES 10009’ pictured in 1988 showing only a small air intake on the right side and no grille on the glacis at all. The armored screens over the windows are down. Source: Montes

APC Version (Late)

With a shortage of materials for his armored vehicles, Captain Marenco had to improvise and the later APCs, despite also being M114-based, looked very different.

Late Version M114 APC – ‘FAES 10017’. The rectangular hole in the nose was for a winch which is not fitted in these photos: Source: Spencer
This later version skipped the bulletproof glass windows at the front and replaced them with large angled shroads over rectangular openings in the front. Protected by just wire grilles, these were still adequate for the purposes of vision and stopping rocks or bottles hurled at them during a riot situation, but totally unsuitable for combat as they had no ballistic protection at all. The pair of headlamps on ‘FAES 10001’ and ‘10002’ was replaced with a single headlamp on the front right of a steeply angled glacis and the former front grille for the engine was gone. The triangular side grille was gone too, replaced with a simple triangular projection covering the hole in the side of the air intake.
The sides too were different, instead of vertical like the original M114 or M113, these sides were angled inwards, although they retained vision slots in the side. Presumably, these were just covered with a protective metal flap too due to the shortage of bulletproof glass. On the roof was an arrangement of 4 rectangular hatches, one over the cab, one centrally with a pintle in front of it, and two at the back for troops.

Combat

Very little information on actual combat performance is available for any of these vehicles but what little there is suggests that combat performance for the Marenco M114 APC was good despite the home-made nature of them. The armor had been created from simple cut sheets of steel, possibly being formed into layers forming an air gap. The armor was only intended to protect against small arms fire, so would have been vulnerable to heavy machine gun fire or anti-tank weapons, but the Civil War circumstances in which they were used simply did not warrant such heavy protection. On one occasion in 1981, guerillas had seized the town of Tecoluca besieging the army base there. The National Guard base was being attacked and the rebels had created a heavily armed roadblock denying access to the town for a relief force, permitting the passage of only civilian traffic. The relieving M114 evaded this roadblock by simply being loaded into the back of a truck, concealed with sugar canes and avoiding detection. On the other side, it was off-loaded and scattered the obviously surprised guerillas to the relief of the encircled soldiers in the base proving that even light armor combined with mobility can be extremely useful against irregular and lightly armed force.

APC / Fire Support Version – Turreted

The next development for Marenco was the addition of a turret to his designs, on ‘FAES 10010’, developed from the ‘FAES 10017’ late APC. This vehicle was to mount the triple 20mm M55A2 anti-aircraft cannon on top but was otherwise little different from ‘FAES 10017’. The shape of the front was the same, two headlamps protected with wire mesh, a winch, and more prominent air intake covers on the sides. More importantly, the very vulnerable front vision windows for the driver on ‘FAES 10017’ had been replaced with smaller one for ‘FAES 10010’ and then covered with much larger shrouds which were angled down. The driver’s view was somewhat impeded, but the chances of taking a bullet in the face were reduced.

‘FAES 10010’ pictured in 1991. Originally armed with 20mm cannons, these have been removed at the time the image was taken. To protect the gunner on the roof, protective side plates were provided, which are folded down in the left image and folded up in the right image. Source: Spencer
Despite this large weapon mounted on top, there was still room for soldiers in the back, although the ride must have been a very uncomfortable one, as photos show the men simply sat on the floor at the back. The rear step was retained from the early APC and access was by a pair of short square doors, an arrangement repeated for the back of the turret. The small space available in the back likely limited it to not more than four men. With no roof over their heads and no floor in the turret above them, the men in the back also got to sit next to the fuel tank for the vehicle. A slight change to the design of subsequent vehicles had the headlamps moved from the wings to the glacis and the pair of window shrouds changed back to the style used on ‘FAES 10017’. The crew could also, if needs be, fold down both of the sides at the back of the vehicle to get in and out, although how robustly the somewhat thin looking sides would have held up to multiple soldiers climbing over them is debatable. Four such M114’s are believed to have been converted as 20mm gun mounts in this way.

‘FAES 10012’ showing the sharp angles of the window shroads and position of the driver (left). The roof over the front of the vehicle has not been fitted. No roof was fitted over the back. The soldiers carried in the back of this APC version (‘FAES 10012’) are shown sitting on the floor to remain clear of the 20mm turret above them (right). Source: Spencer

‘FAES 10016’ pictured May 1987. The camouflage pattern is dark olive green, olive green, and sand. Notice the window shrouds are the same style as that of ‘FAES 10010’. Source Spencer

A surviving example of the M114 with M55A2 triple 20mm AA gun mount. Unknown date. Source: Montes

Amphibian

Following an attack in 1981 when the guerillas blew up the bridge over the Rio Lempa, known as the Puente de Oro (Golden Bridge), which connected eastern and western El Salvador, it became clear that the army needed an amphibious armored vehicle as well. The solution fell to Caption Marenco, who once more used an M114. This time, he made the entire nose, ahead of the engine, as a large hollow section for buoyancy, meaning the vehicle could maintain trim in the water. The nose was pointed to help it break through vegetation in and around the water. Above this pointed front section was the same arrangement of rectangular windows covered with grilles covered with shrouds.
Armament was a single M3 .50 caliber heavy machine gun operated either from a high chair or from the standing position. This machine gun was provided with a rudimentary bullet shield to protect the gunner.

‘FAES 11001’, the amphibian vehicle seen in March 1990 with 4th Brigade at El Paraiso. Note the three stays over the back for a canvas cover over the open-topped vehicle. Source: Spencer

Overhead view of ‘FAES 11001’. The driver’s position is on the top left of the image. Source: Spencer
For propulsion in the water, a simple propeller was fitted to the back powered by a drive taken from the gearbox. The pipework was a raised air intake for the engine and raised exhaust.

Side view of ‘FAES 11001’ showing a large mass of vegetation which has become entangled to the front, the good firing position for the .50 caliber heavy machine gun is apparent. Source: Spencer

‘FAES 11001’ during testing on Lake Ilopango. The designer of these vehicles, Captain Oswaldo Marenco, is seen in the left photo shirtless standing in the water. Source: Spencer

Fire Support

The most unusual looking vehicle prepared by Marenco on the M114 chassis was the fire support version. Sporting two independent turrets each fitted with a single .50 caliber heavy machine gun, this vehicle had a very sleek outline with a sharply sloping glacis from the front up to the driver. A grilled air intake was on the left of the sloping front portion of the hull sides and the area over the engine was flat. The driver, on the left, sat raised in a small cupola with a polygonal hatch in front of him.

Fire Support Marenco M114 pictured at Military District No.1 Chalatenango. Source: Spencer
After the flat part of the engine bay roof, the back of the vehicle flared out significantly with the hull sides becoming vertical and a further slope up to a raised section over the whole rear of the troop compartment. It was here that two polygonal turrets were mounted, one on each side, permitting both to fire to the front or rear or obliquely in any direction, although there was insufficient clearance to allow the turrets to turn past one another.

Front view of the Marenco M114 Fire Support Vehicle. Looking more like something from a post-apocalyptic movie, this vehicle was completely homemade at FAES workshops. An impressive feat. Source: Spencer
Two further machine guns were fitted into fixed positions in the front of the hull, much like some American designs from the 1940s, such as the early Grant and Sherman. Just like those vehicles, these machine guns were likely equally useless, and once built one had to be removed anyway, as the one on the front left prevented the driver from getting in, so was replaced with a dummy.


Fire Support Variant of the M114 made by FAES workshops as seen at Military District No.1 Chatalenco.
FAES-built M114 Amphibian conversion with forward mounted .5 calibre machine gun.
FAES-built M114 APC as deployed circa 1980.
M114 APC conversion with M55A2 triple 20mm AA mount.
Unidentified M114 conversion on display at the Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’.All illustrations by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin. Funded by our Patron Golum through our Patreon campaign.

Odd ones out and oddities

A unique vehicle and possibly the result of a half-finished conversion was ‘FAES 10015’. It is unclear as to exactly what role this vehicle was intended, but Spencer (Armored Fighting Vehicles of El Salvador, 1995) speculates that it may have started life as one of the turreted APC/Air Defence vehicles which was repurposed. Mounting a single .50 caliber heavy machine gun behind a rectangular shield, the general shape is similar to that of the APC/Air Defence version but features a large rectangular grille on the left-hand side, and another one on the front next to a very large bullet-proof glass window for the driver. Like the first pattern of APC, it has a large rectangular hatch for engine access on the right-hand side behind the triangular air intake. Whatever it was for, the vehicle is a one-off and no other versions of this vehicle were made.

The unique Cargo/APC ‘FAES 10015’. Note the large grille on the front and side and the large bulletproof glass window for the driver. Source: Spencer

Rear and left-side views of the cargo variant pictured in 1988. Source: Montes
A second, unique vehicle is ‘FAES 10018’. Just like ‘FAES 10015’ it is speculated that it started like as one of the APC/ Air Defence vehicles, but for whatever reason was converted into another armored cargo or APC vehicle. The whole rear was replaced with a large armored box structure with one viewport in each side and two large rectangular doors at the back. Two mounting brackets were provided for with one on each side for mounting an M3 .50 caliber heavy machine gun.

Front and back of ‘FAES 10018’ pictured in July 1991 at the home of the 4th Brigade. The two pintle mounts for machine guns can be seen in front of the large box structure at the back. Source: Spencer
Another oddity was a plan for a vehicle that was never completed. That vehicle was still M114-based and used the same style of box-shaped body from ‘FAES 10001’ and ‘10002’ with a large rectangular windscreen for the driver and a larger rectangular hatch on the front for engine access or for an air-grille. The most important feature of this design was the addition of a wide frustoconical turret on top of the vehicle in which a single 106mm recoilless rifle was to be placed on a hydraulic mount which would have enabled it to be raised and lowered. The plans for this vehicle were stolen by guerillas and were not recaptured until the early 1980s.

Blueprint for the incomplete M114 with a turret mounted 106mm recoilless rifle. Source: Spencer
Another vehicle, also believed to be a one-off, is on display at the Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’. This vehicle is open-topped with a narrow front projecting forwards for the driver and a pair of bulletproof glass windscreens, two more bulletproof glass windows are on the cab with one on each side of the crew compartment. Below the windscreen are a pair of small grilles for ventilation with a pair of large angular ventilation cowls. The bottom projecting grille actually comes so far out it obscures the view out of the right-hand cab window. The original style of triangular air intake grille is still on the front right-hand side and the remaining features are the same as the original series of APCs. The final feature at the front though is a full-width tube welded on as a bumper or barricade rammer.
Access was gained via a large rectangular door on the left-hand side behind the cab or the large rectangular door on the right-hand side, and the vehicle was open-topped. Presumably, the original style doors at the back were also retained. It is likely that this vehicle was a post-1980 conversion of an older vehicle, as it retains the same box structure at the back with square vision ports as the early APC vehicles but has the improved layout for the driver shared with other 1980s rebuilds.
Other than small arms carried by the infantry in the back who could fire over the sides, the main firepower was provided by a single 20mm cannon mounted centrally on a pintle behind the cab. It is not known what FAES number this vehicle was previously. The vehicle was previously painted in a 4-tone camouflage pattern of olive green, dark green, brown, and tan, but has subsequently been repainted to a 3 tone scheme of bright green with brown and dark green or black. In common with other vehicles, the whole of the wheels and lower hull sides are painted black.

Unidentified APC version on display at Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ in two different paint schemes. Source: Tripadvisor El Salvador

The front of the unusual M114 APC conversion on display at Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ in 2008. Source: FAVAustinTX on Flickr
Positioned next to that vehicle at the Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ are two more preserved M114 conversions. The first is another early style APC version with the box-shaped body but with additional shroads over the top of the front. As such, this seems to be an original vehicle in the early stages, one which was not rebuilt in the 1980s either. With a single pintle-mounted .50 cal heavy machine gun, this vehicle would have been ‘FAES 10003’ to ‘FAES 10009’ but it is currently unidentified. The following vehicle is much stranger and there is no information on it at all. With a unique low profile body and angled bulletproof glass windscreen, the vehicle has two prominent features. The first, a series of antennae with one fitted about half way down on the right-hand side behind a large side access door, another antenna further back on the left-hand side and one mounted on top of the slightly raised superstructure at the back. No obvious weapons are carried on the vehicle. The second dominant feature is a large radio dish projecting from the roof of the forward part of the hull, the purpose of which is unknown. With the antennae also on the vehicle, it is possible that this vehicle was some kind of command and control or surveillance vehicle or the dish could simply be fake. A final feature of note for this second vehicle was the addition of two large bulletproof glass windows at the back inside that raised superstructure.

The two additional ‘odd’ vehicles at Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’, the early APC version with shrouded windows and the low profile vehicle with the ‘dish’ on top. Source: Trip Advisor El Salvador and Flickr

The other two unusual M114 conversions at Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ in 2008 Source: FAVAustinTX on Flickr

The unidentified low profile M114 conversion. Source: Trip Advisor El Salvador and Flickr

Left side view of this ‘Command’ version of the M114. Source: David McSpadden on Flickr

Rebuilding

‘FAES 10002’, an early APC version of the M114, was rebuilt in 1982. The whole of the front of the cab was brought forwards, lengthening it in order to replace the old, original petrol engine with a new diesel engine. A new air intake was installed too, on the front right of the vehicle. The former arrangement of thick bulletproof glass windscreen with an armored flap had the flap removed and two additional rectangular bulletproof glass windows added; one on each side of the cab at the front. The rear retained the original square vision blocks for the troops.

Rebuilt ‘FAES 10002’ pictured in May 1987 at 1st Brigade Base. Source: Spencer
The most obvious change to ‘FAES 10002’ though was the addition of a turret made from welded steel plates with a small bulletproof glass window in the front. Mounting a single .50 caliber heavy machine gun and spot lamp, this provided much more protection for the troops to fight from than the original vehicle where firing exposed the men. A final feature of this rebuild was the addition of mesh screen all around the vehicle in an attempt to protect against rocket-propelled grenades (RPG’s).

Close-up of the turret of rebuilt ‘FAES 10002’ showing the machine gun and the somewhat crude placement of the exhaust from the engine coming out of the roof (left), and the back of the angular turret (right). Source: Spencer
‘FAES 10002’ was not the only vehicle rebuilt in the early 1980s. ‘FAES 10001’ was also rebuilt at this time, although this was not done by Maestranza, but by the Brigade motor pool itself. Just like ‘FAES 10002’, it had new air intake grilles added to the front right, a turret, made from welded steel with a projecting gun shield at the front and rectangular vision blocks in the sides, and the same style of mesh screens all around.

‘FAES 10001’ rebuilt with turret, improved air intakes, and mesh screens. Source: Spencer

The new angular turret fitted to ‘FAES 10001’ during its 1980’s rebuild. Source Spencer.

Rear of rebuilt ‘FAES 10001’ – note the original step was retained. Source: Spencer

Conclusion

The Marenco M114 conversions are impressive considering the number of them made in a relatively short period of time and with such limited resources. They were clearly not some desperate attempt to just clad anything moving in armor, but a properly considered and engineered series of vehicles to provide the armor the El Salvadoran forces could not get due to sanctions. Some vehicles survived until the 1990s and at least 3 examples are on display at Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ in San Salvador. The status of any other vehicles is not known, but with the import of ‘conventional’ armored vehicles in the early 1980s, such as the VAL Cashuat, these vehicles became redundant, having served their nation during the difficult civil war years.

Rebuilt M114 with turret and screens, probably vehicle’ FAES 10002’. Source: Spencer

Sources

Scheina, R. (2003). Latin America’s Wars Volume II – The Age of the Professional.
Spencer, D. (1995). Armored Fighting Vehicles of El Salvador. Museum Ordnance Special Number 7.
War Wheels.net ‘Rayo Fast Assault Gun Truck’
Montes, J. (2001). Mexican and Central American Armor. Darlington Productions.

Categories
El Salvador Armor

Rayos and Ninas in El Salvadoran Service

El Salvador (1969-75)
Armoured Truck – 20 Rayos, at least 5 Ninas

The Hundred Hours War, sometimes referred to as the Football War, between El Salvador and Honduras did little except worsening tensions between the two countries. El Salvador, the smaller but more densely populated nation, had invaded its larger neighbour to the east in July 1969 in a border dispute, made worse by Honduran reforms expropriating land and property from El Salvadorans living in Honduras, as well as persecuting this minority group (~15% of the population of Honduras).
The El Salvadoran invasion had used improvised armored trucks known as ‘Rayos’ and conventional tanks, the American-supplied Light Tank M3A1, during the campaign. Where the elderly M3A1’s were found to be somewhat hopeless and vulnerable, the Rayos proved to be immensely valuable. The lessons from this war shaped the military outlook of El Salvador and armor was not going to be light, fast and well armed. The M3’s had had their day, and the Rayos had proven its value.

American M35 REO truck. Source: Auto Industry WWII

Origins

The ‘Rayos’ were based upon REO made M34/M35A1 2.5 ton utility trucks with the first five Rayos being M34-based and the later ones (built around 1970-1972) being based on the M35A1. The name ‘Rayos’ itself is a corruption of the name REO to Spanish, meaning ‘Lightning Ray’, a good name for a quick armored vehicle for interdiction. Some of the base trucks were also built by AM General and Kaiser Motors but ‘REO’ was the generic name misapplied to form ‘Rayos’.
The REO M35 used a Continental OA331 inline 6-cylinder ‘Gold Comet’ 127hp petrol engine and 5-speed transmission whereas the M35A1 used the Continental LDS-472-2 140hp turbocharged diesel engine.
In the 1969 war with Honduras, these vehicles had been hastily improvised to provide additional armor as well as being used to tow field guns such as the US supplied 75mm pack howitzers. Based on a truck, they could also be used to haul troops and supplies and formed an ideal platform on which to mount .50 caliber M3 heavy machine guns. The Rayos were, in effect, the perfect vehicles for a small and relatively poor country fulfilling the roles of logistics, APC, and armored car at the same time.
Almost as a subset of the Rayos were the Ninas. The El Salvadoran army had been so short of armored vehicles that not only did they convert trucks but they also employed repurposed armored trucks which had been used by banks for transporting money. These too were armed with machine guns but were less useful than the Rayos for carrying troops or goods. They had the advantage though of being completely enclosed, whereas the Rayos were open-topped. The Ninas were named for the crying noise they made due to the removal of the mufflers on the exhaust.

El Salvadoran Nina armored truck seen in the captured Honduran town of Nuevo Ocotepeque, July 1969. Source: Spencer
These vehicles provided support in 1969, in particular, the Rayos were put to good use in the attacks in the Eastern Theater. Here, in coordination with bulldozers being used as makeshift tanks, the El Salvadoran 11th Battalion took control of the town of El Amatillo and the bridge there, followed by a defence from a Honduran counterattack the next day. Five Ninas were used alongside the Rayos in these operations.

Open-topped Rayos during the victory parade in San Salvador, August 1969, flying the national flag. Source: Spencer
Some 20 Rayos were manufactured between 1969 (for the war) and 1972, as an arms embargo after the 1969 war meant no new armored vehicles could be imported. The first batch of five vehicles was prepared by Maestranza de la Fuerza Armada de El Salvador (FAES) as ‘fast assault’ vehicles. With a crew of two and a compliment of up to 18 men in the back, the first batch of these vehicles was solely reliant on the crew to use their personal weapons. A second batch was able to mount machine guns and, later, several (at least 3) were fitted with the Yugoslavian UBM-52 120mm mortars.


One of the Rayos improvised armored trucks, as it was probably painted up during the invasion of Honduras. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.



Three 120mm UBM-52 mortar carrying Rayos amongst at least 11 Rayos on display, early 1970’s. Source: Montes

Open-topped Rayos with a tarpaulin over the top, presumably for protection against the weather. Source: Montes

Protection

Covering a truck in armor adds a lot of weight if it is to provide protection from small arms fire. In an effort to keep the weight down and also probably due to a shortage of available armor plate in the country, FAES made these vehicles with a composite. The outer layer was steel armor followed by a gap and another layer of steel on the inside. The gap between the two plates was stuffed with cotton fiber fill as a means to reduce weight and improve protection.
It is not known how effective this system was as the thickness of the layers is not known but it was presumably sufficient to protect against small arms fire. The construction of the plates was crude yet effective, with large flat areas covering the sides with large plates hanging over the pneumatic truck wheels at the front and back. The cab had just a single full-width visor for the crew to see out of and a slot in the door-covering panels on each side.
From the few photographs available, it does not appear that any doors were cut into the armor, which would mean the crew would have to get into the cab from behind. The only part of the truck fully enclosed was the engine, with the radiator behind a large steel grille on the front. Access for maintenance was by means of a large rectangular door cut into the armor over the bonnet on the vehicle.
These vehicles found use during the war, followed by internal security work such as patrols and convoy escorts but the weight of the armor and the open-topped nature of the design limited their effectiveness as armored vehicles. Within just a few years, and with the ability the import armored vehicles once more, the Rayos were obsolete.

Three Rayos showing an unusual three tone camouflage. The rugged and simple lines of the Rayo design are apparent. Source: Montes

The end

These vehicles had provided excellent service for El Salvador. Cheap, simple, and versatile they were ideal weapons platforms and, during the time of the arms embargo after the 1969 war, the heaviest armor available to the army other than the M3A1 Stuart tanks. With the arms embargo ended a few years later, they were no longer needed and were taken out of service by 1975. By 1975, El Salvador was operating ten UR-416 APC’s delivered from West Germany, and later, AML 60/90 armored cars from France.
The ‘armored truck’ role was reprised though by the ‘Mazinger’ armored trucks in 1979, when the Civil War started in El Salvador. No Rayos are known to survive. The Ninas which were used in 1969 presumably went back to their bank-cash duties following the war.

Sources

Scheina, R. (2003). Latin America’s Wars Volume II – The Age of the Professional.
Spencer, D. (1995). Armored Fighting Vehicles of El Salvador. Museum Ordnance Special Number 7.
War Wheels.net ‘Rayo Fast Assault Gun Truck’
Montes, J. (2001). Mexican and Central American Armor. Darlington Productions.