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Type 1 Technical (Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series)

Various Users (1984-Present)
Technical – Thousands built

The face of warfare is constantly changing and evolving. New technologies can turn battles and wars in the favor of the force that wields them. This can be seen throughout history, but the pace of technological advancement in the last 150 years can be said to be greater than that of the previous 2,000. Since the 1850s, with the Crimean War and the first modern breech-loading artillery, the pace of innovation has been truly staggering. The American Civil War gave us the Gatling Gun and the submarine, ironclad warships, and the use of gun turrets that would lead to the first modern battleships, along with the torpedo. The 1880s saw the invention of four very much interdependent technologies; smokeless powder, modern Spitzer bullets, the Maxim Machinegun, and the Lebel Rifle. World War I put those innovations to deadly use, along with the first chemical weapons, warplanes, and tanks. Between the wars came the invention of the aircraft carrier and radar. World War II would see the biggest leap forward in technology man has ever known; rocket- and jet-powered aircraft, helicopters, guided munitions, infrared vision devices, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, aircraft, tanks, and ships the sizes and capabilities of which exceeded those ever thought possible, the first man-made object in space, and the atomic bomb. In modern times, computers and electronics form the backbone of cutting-edge technology. During the Cold War, having encountered the upper feasible limits for conventional technology such as planes and tanks, the world’s superpowers had to turn to electronics to advance further. The Su-57, F-35 Lightning II, AH-64E Apache Guardian, Leopard 2A7+, and Virginia-class submarine represent the current cream of the crop in regards to vehicular weaponry.

With this in mind, you might be forgiven for thinking the most widely used and numerous ground combat vehicle of the modern age is one of these technological marvels. Is it the Leopard 2, which has over a dozen operators worldwide? Or perhaps the M1 Abrams, which has had a solid presence in the Middle East since 1990? Or even the venerable old T-72? The answer is none of these; it’s a Toyota.

Intrepid

The Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series, also known as the J70, first came onto the scene in November 1984. The Land Cruiser 70 Series was an improvement on the 40 Series, at the time already over 20 years old. Development was headed by Toyota Lead Engineer Masaomi Yoshii. The Land Cruiser was redesigned from the ground up for the 70 Series, and the end result was a vehicle that had its roots in the design of the 40 Series, but tweaked and improved in almost every way. The chassis was of ladder-frame construction, one of the simplest and most rugged ways of building a car. The body panels were thickened and given “modern” styling. The suspension was copied from the 40 Series, but with the front widened by 14mm, and the rear widened by 30mm, plus an anti-roll bar. The 70 Series was, and is, produced in Japan, by Toyota’s Honsha Plant, as well as in Venezuela and Portugal. It was offered world-wide at launch, except for in Brazil, Mexico, India, Korea, and the United States.

Toyota chassis numbers may look random, but if you know their meanings, they can tell you the exact type of vehicle they describe. “J” is seen in the middle of all chassis codes on this page, this is because J is the letter used for Land Cruiser. “J7” is the Land Cruiser 70 Series. The number that comes after J7 denotes the chassis type. J70, J71, and J72 are short wheelbase models; J73 and J74 are medium wheelbase models; J75 is a heavy duty model; J76 and J77 are medium-long wheelbase models; J78 and J79 are long wheelbase or heavy duty models, depending on the generation. The letter(s) that come before “J7” denote what engine that model uses. Below is a list that explains the engine prefix meanings.

Land Cruiser 70 Series Prefix/Engine Guide. “X” represents a given model number, from 0 to 9.
BJ7X – 3B diesel engine (3.4 liter, 97 hp, inline 4)
BJ71/74 – 13B-T turbodiesel engine (3.4 liter, 120 hp, inline 4)
FJ7X – 3F gasoline engine (4 liter, 153 hp, inline 6)
FZJ7X – 1FZ-F gasoline engine (4.5 liter, ~190 hp, inline 6)
FZJ7X-K – 1FZ-FE gasoline engine (4.5 liter, ~210 hp, inline 6)
GRJ7X – 1GR-FE gasoline engine (4 liter, 228 hp, V6)
HDJ7X – 1HD-FTE turbodiesel engine (4.2 liter, 163 hp, inline 6)
HJ7X – 2H diesel engine (4 liter, 113 hp, inline 6)
HZJ7X – 1HZ diesel engine (4.2 liter, 133 hp, inline 6)
KZJ70/73/77 – 1KZ-T diesel engine (3 liter, 125 hp, inline 4)
KZJ71/78 – 1KZ-TE diesel engine (3 liter, 145 hp, inline 4)
LJ7X – 2L turbodiesel engine (2.4 liter, ~80 hp, inline 4)
LJ7X-X – 2L-T turbodiesel engine (2.4 liter, ~90 hp, inline 4)
LJ7X-T – 2L-TE turbodiesel engine (2.4 liter, 97 hp, inline 4)
LJ72 – 3L diesel engine (2.8 liter, ~90 hp, inline 4)
PZJ7X – 1PZ diesel engine (3.5 liter, 113 hp, inline 5)
RJ7X – 22R gasoline engine (2.4 liter, power varies, inline 4)
VDJ7X – 1VD-FTV diesel engine (4.5 liter, 200 hp, V8)

After “J7X” there is usually one or two suffix letters. If there is no suffix at all, or if “V” is not one of the suffix letters, then it means the vehicle is a soft top. “V” represents a hardtop wagon body, and is the most common suffix letter. “G” means it is a 3 door wagon (this was only used on the Land Cruiser Prado). For markets outside of Japan, “L” or “R” was added to the code, denoting whether the steering wheel was on the left or the right. “H” represents a 4 door vehicle with a rear hatch, this is often seen paired with “V” to designate a 5 door wagon, or van (technically Toyota considers this a van). This is not always the case, as J73s with the suffix “HV” do not have 5 doors, but are classified in Japan as “1 Number” vehicles; meaning they are taxed more heavily due to being bigger than “4 Number” minitrucks, which is the class the J73 usually resides in. The actual, physical difference between a V and HV J73 is not clear.
Land Cruiser 70 Series Chassis Code Suffix Guide:
G – 3 door wagon
H – 5 door wagon
K – ?
L – Left hand drive
P – Pickup
R – Right hand drive
V – 2 door van
W – Widebody wagon

After the suffix, there is an extension separated from the main code by a dash. Letters in this code indicate trim level, transmission type, engine sub-type, where the vehicle was to be marketed, and whether the vehicle was distributed as a complete or incomplete truck.

Land Cruiser 70 Series Chassis Code Extension Guide:
3 – Sold as a chassis and cab with no bed or superstructure
E – VX or SX5 trim
G – EX5 trim
K – 4-speed manual transmission
K (if in addition to K, M, or P) – Canadian market
K (if an FZJ model, in addition to K, M, or P) – 1FZ-FE engine
M – 5-speed manual transmission
N – STD or LX5 trim
N (if in addition to N, R, or E) – South African market
P – Automatic transmission
Q – Australian market
R – LX trim
S – Compliant with 1988 emissions controls for diesels for Japan
T – 2L-TE engine
U – Compliant with 1989 emissions controls for diesels for Japan
V, Before January 1990 – Middle East market
V, After January 1990 – Gulf Cooperation Council market (Arabian Peninsula)
W – European market
X – 2L-T engine
Y – ?

Click here to collapse in-depth model history

For its debut, three models of the 70 Series were offered; the short wheelbase J70, the medium wheelbase J73, and the heavy duty J75. The J70 and J73 came in three basic trim levels; a soft top, a hard top, and a higher trim hardtop. The BJ75, due to being a work truck, only came in base level trim, though it could be configured as either a J75V wagon, like the normal Land Cruiser, or as a J75P pickup truck. The J75 was not available in the Japanese or Canadian markets. The J73 was not available in right hand drive “General” markets, or in Canada; in fact Canada only had one option for the 70 Series; the BJ70LV-MRK.

There were five engine options and three transmission options to pick from. The standard engine was the Toyota 3B, a 3.4 liter inline 4 diesel engine that made 97 hp. Trucks with this engine were called BJ70s, BJ73s, and BJ75s. The 3B was the only engine offered in Japan and Canada at this time. A step above the 3B was the 2H diesel, a 4 liter inline 6 making 113 hp. The 2H was only available for the J75 heavy duty model, and only in the Australian and “General” markets. Trucks with this engine were called HJ75s. The third and final diesel engine available was the 2L, a 2.4 liter inline 4 making around 80 hp. Only the J70 could be optioned with this engine, and only in European and General markets. With this engine, the vehicle was called LJ70.

Two gasoline engines were available. The 22R was the smaller of the two; it was a 2.4 liter inline 4, the power output of which is not certain, but was in the range of 90 hp. The 22R was only available for the J70, though not in Japan or Canada. With this engine, the vehicle was called RJ70. Finally, the most powerful engine was the 3F, a 4 liter inline 6 making a whopping 153 hp. This engine was an option for all three models in the Australian, Middle Eastern, and General markets as the HJ70, HJ73, and HJ75.

By far the most common transmission option was a 5-speed manual; this was the only option offered in Japan, Australia, Canada, and Europe. A 4-speed manual was offered in the General markets; and a 4-speed automatic was available in a few models in the Middle East and in left hand drive General markets.

 

A 1986 BJ70-MR soft top — the most basic model of the 70 Series. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

 

A 1988 BJ70V-MR hardtop — notice the only difference to the BJ70-MR is the roof. This particular vehicle also has the front electric winch option and served as a golf course maintenance vehicle, hence the writing on the side “柳井カントリー倶楽部” (Yanai Country Club). Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

 

A 1988 FJ73L-MR — notice the stretched portion of the body before the rear tire; this can be used to tell a J73 or J74 from a J70 or J71. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

 

A 1988 HJ75RV-MRQ wagon — this vehicle has been optioned with a bullbar and a snorkel, and features an aftermarket pop-up camper roof. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

The standard model BJ70V-MR weighed 1,750 kg (3,858 lb) (-10 kg (22 lb) for the soft-top version), measured 3.975 m (13 ft) long bumper to bumper, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, 1.895 m (6 ft 3 in) tall (+10 mm for the soft top version), and had a wheelbase of 2.310 m (7 ft 7 in). The BJ70V-MN (higher trim package) was slightly longer, at 4.235 m (13 ft 11 in), due to having a front winch, as well as 20 kg (44 lb) heavier.

The BJ73V-MR weighed 1,800 kg (3,968 lb), measured 4.265 m (14 ft) bumper to bumper, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, 1.940 m (6 ft 4 in) tall, and had a wheelbase of 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in). Like the BJ70, the MN version of the BJ73 was longer, 4.525 m (14 ft 10 in), and heavier due to having a winch; it was also 25 mm lower. Wheel track for all versions was 1.420 m (4 ft 8 in). Optional extras for the Japanese market included climate control, a CB radio, Land Cruiser branded seat upholstery, a Land Cruiser branded spare tire cover, a roof rack, rear window curtains (BJ73 only), and a footrest in the driver’s well.

The heavy duty HJ75RP-MRQ weighed 1,755 kg (3,869 lb), measured 4.875 m (16 ft) long, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, 1.935 m (6 ft 4 in) tall, and had a wheelbase of 2.980 m (9 ft 9 in).

November 1984 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup:

  • Japan
    • BJ70-MR
    • BJ70V-MR
    • BJ70V-MN
    • BJ73V-MR
    • BJ73V-MN
  • Australia
    • BJ70RV-MRQ
    • BJ73RV-MRQ
    • RJ70R-MRQ
    • RJ70RV-MRQ
    • FJ70RV-MRQ
    • FJ73RV-MRQ
    • FJ75RP-MRQ3
    • FJ75RV-MRQ
    • HJ75RP-MRQ
    • HJ75RP-MRQ3
    • HJ75RV-MRQ
  • Canada
    • BJ70LV-MRK
  • Europe
    • BJ70LV-MRW
    • BJ73LV-MRW
    • BJ75LP-MRW
    • BJ75LV-MRW
    • RJ70LV-MRW
    • LJ70L-MRW
    • LJ70LV-MRW
  • Middle East
    • RJ70L-MRV
    • RJ70LV-MRV
    • FJ70L-MRV
    • FJ70LV-MRV
    • FJ70LV-PRV
    • FJ73L-MRV
    • FJ73LV-MRV
    • FJ73LV-PRV
    • FJ75LP-MRV
    • FJ75LV-MRV
  • General Left Hand Drive Markets
    • BJ70L-KR
    • BJ70LV-KR
    • BJ70LV-MR
    • BJ75LP-KR
    • BJ75LV-KR
    • RJ70L-KR
    • RJ70L-MR
    • RJ70LV-KR
    • FJ70L-KR
    • FJ70L-MR
    • FJ70L-PR
    • FJ70LV-KR
    • FJ70LV-MR
    • FJ70LV-PR
    • FJ73L-KR
    • FJ73L-MR
    • FJ73LV-MR
    • FJ75LP-KR
    • FJ75LP-KR3
    • FJ75LP-MR
    • FJ75LP-MR3
    • FJ75LV-KR
    • FJ75LV-MR
    • LJ70L-KR
    • LJ70LV-KR
    • LJ70LV-MR
    • HJ75LP-KR
    • HJ75LV-KR
  • General Right Hand Drive Markets
    • BJ70R-KR
    • BJ70RV-KR
    • BJ70RV-MR
    • BJ75RP-KR
    • BJ75RP-KR3
    • BJ75RP-MR3
    • BJ75RV-KR
    • RJ70RV-KR
    • FJ70R-KR
    • FJ70RV-KR
    • FJ70RV-MR
    • FJ75RP-KR
    • FJ75RP-KR3
    • FJ75RP-MR
    • FJ75RP-MR3
    • FJ75RV-KR
    • LJ70R-KR
    • LJ70RV-KR
    • LJ70RV-MR
    • HJ75RP-KR
    • HJ75RP-KR3
    • HJ75RP-MR
    • HJ75RV-KR

The first revision to the 70 Series lineup came in October 1985. The FJ75RP-MR, LJ70L-MRW, LJ70LV-MRW, LJ70RV-MR, and HJ75RP-MR were discontinued. 19 new models were added, including the first J71s and J74s, the first 70 Series powered by a 13B-T engine, the first 70 Series powered by a 2L-T engine, the first 70 Series with a turbocharger, and the first model specifically made for South Africa.

The BJ71 and BJ74 were essentially the BJ70 and BJ73 powered by the 13B-T turbodiesel engine. The 13B-T was based on the same block as the 3B that powered the normal BJ70, but with a turbocharger that increased the power output to 120 hp. The BJ71 was introduced in the Japanese and European markets, and the B74 in the Australian market. The BJ71 and BJ73 were the first 70 Series to bring an automatic transmission to the Japanese and Australian markets. October 1985 also marked the first time a 70 Series with the 2L-series engine was available in Australia and in Japan. The 2L engine being used in this generation was the 2L-T, a 2L with a turbocharger that increased the power output by about 10 hp, giving around 90 hp total. Introduced in Japan only, the new LJ71G-MEX (lower, SX5 trim level) and LJ71G-MNX (higher, LX5 trim level) models represented a new lineage that was called the “Light Land Cruiser”, the Land Cruiser II, Toyota Bundera, and finally Land Cruiser Prado. As it would finally come to be known, the Prado was a more comfort-oriented version of the J70. It had a smoother front grille and coil spring suspension rather than heavy duty leaf springs. Despite having nearly the same body as the J70, due to its purpose, the LJ71 was given the suffix “G”, denoting a 3 door family wagon; while the J70 had the suffix “V”, denoting a 2 door work van.

 

A 1986 LJ71G-MEX “Light Land Cruiser” — notice the narrower wheelbase and redesigned front grille compared to the BJ70. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

 

A 1989 example BJ71V-MNX. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

 

A 1989 BJ74V-MNX with front electric winch option. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

For the first time, the trim levels of the 70 Series were now given names. As already mentioned, SX5 and LX5 were the trim options for the LJ71G. For the main line 70 Series, the base models were given the unfortunate designation “STD”, meaning Standard, and the higher trim options were given the name LX.

October 1985 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup New Additions:

  • Japan
    • BJ71V-MNX
    • BJ74V-MNX
    • BJ74V-PNX
    • LJ71G-MEX
    • LJ71G-MNX
  • Australia
    • BJ74RV-MRXQ
    • BJ74RV-PRXQ
    • FJ73RV-PRQ
    • LJ70RV-MRXQ
  • Europe
    • BJ71LV-MRXW
    • BJ73LV-MPW
    • RJ73LV-MRW
    • LJ70L-MRXW
    • LJ70LV-MRXW
    • LJ73LV-MRXW
  • South Africa
    • HJ75RP-MRN
  • General Left Hand Drive Markets
    • LJ70LV-MRX
    • HJ75LP-MR
  • General Right Hand Drive Markets
    • LJ70RV-MRX

In August 1986, 23 models were discontinued: BJ70LV-MRK, BJ71LV-MRXW, BJ73RV-MRQ, BJ74RV-MRXQ, BJ74RV-PRXQ, BJ75RP-KR3, RJ70L-MR, RJ70RV-MRQ, RJ73LV-MRW, FJ70R-KR, FJ70L-PR, FJ70LV-PR, FJ70LV-PRV, FJ73LV-MR, FJ73LV-MRV, FJ73RV-MRQ, FJ73LV-PRV, FJ73RV-PRQ, FJ75LP-KR3, LJ70LV-MRX, LJ70RV-MRX, LJ70RV-MRXQ, and LJ73LV-MRXW.

As the only Canadian model, the BJ70LV-MRK, was retired, a new one was introduced to replace it — BJ70LV-MNK. These were the only two 70 Series models made specifically for the Canadian market. Besides the BJ70LV-MNK, 46 other new models were introduced. There is not that much notable change; primarily it was phasing out unpopular models and introducing new options that were hoped to be popular in a given region. The one change worth mentioning, however, is the introduction of the VX trim package. VX was the new highest trim level; 16 of the new models were VX trim. VX trim was only applied to the J70, J73, and J74. It is denoted by the letter “E” in the extension code.

August 1986 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup New Additions:

  • Australia
    • BJ73RV-MNQ
    • BJ74RV-MNXQ
    • BJ74RV-PNXQ
    • BJ74RV-PEXQ
    • RJ70RV-MNQ
    • RJ70RV-MEQ
    • FJ73RV-MNQ
    • FJ73RV-PNQ
    • FJ73RV-MEQ
    • FJ73RV-PEQ
    • LJ70RV-MNXQ
    • LJ70RV-MEXQ
  • Europe
    • BJ70RV-MRW
    • BJ70LV-MNW
    • BJ73LV-MNW
    • BJ75LP-MRW3
    • RJ70LV-MNW
    • LJ70LV-MNXW
    • LJ70RV-MNXW
    • LJ73LV-MNXW
  • Middle East
    • RJ70LV-MNV
    • RJ70LV-MEV
    • FJ70LV-MNV
    • FJ70LV-PNV
    • FJ70LV-MEV
    • FJ70LV-PEV
    • FJ73LV-MNV
    • FJ73LV-PNV
    • FJ73LV-MEV
    • FJ73LV-PEV
    • FJ75LP-MNV
  • General Left Hand Drive Markets
    • BJ70LV-KN
    • BJ70LV-MN
    • BJ73LV-MN
    • RJ70LV-KN
    • RJ70LV-MN
    • FJ70LV-KN
    • FJ70LV-MN
    • FJ70LV-PN
    • FJ73LV-MN
    • LJ70LV-KN
    • LJ70LV-MN
    • LJ70LV-MNX
  • General Right Hand Drive Markets
    • BJ73R-KR
    • RJ70RV-KN
    • LJ70RV-KN

One month later, in September 1986, the BJ71LV-MNXW model was introduced to the European market. Some time later 1986, production of the 70 Series was started by Toyota de Venezuela in Cumaná, Venezuela. Models from the Venezuelan plant went on sale in South America in 1987.

In August 1987, the Canadian BJ70LV-MNK was retired for good. In September, the BJ75LP-MRV was introduced to the Middle Eastern market, and the LJ70LV-MEXW was introduced to the European market. In January of 1988, the LJ70RV-MEXW was introduced to the European market as well.

In 1987, carrying over into 1988, there was a very small production run of the BJ74 modified to have four doors. At the request of the Toyota dealer in Nagoya, Japan, a run of BJ74 chassis were fitted with BJ70 cabins specially lengthened to add a second set of doors. The success and demand for this model would prompt Toyota to release the first true 4 door 70 Series two years later.

 

A rare 4 door 1988 BJ74. This particular vehicle is a BJ74V-PNX. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

August 1988 saw the retirement of 28 more 1984 and 1986 models; BJ70L-KR, BJ70LV-KN, BJ70RV-MR, BJ70RV-MRW, BJ70LV-MNW, BJ74RV-PEXQ, BJ75LP-MRW3, RJ70L-MRV, RJ70R-MRQ, RJ70LV-MRV, RJ70LV-MRW, RJ70LV-KN, RJ70RV-KN, RJ70LV-MEV, RJ70RV-MEQ, FJ70L-KR, FJ70L-MRV, FJ70RV-MR, FJ70LV-KN, FJ70LV-PEV, FJ73L-KR, FJ73RV-MEQ, FJ73LV-PEV, FJ73RV-PEQ, LJ70R-KR, LJ70LV-KN, LJ70RV-KN, and LJ70RV-MEXQ. These were primarily European, Middle Eastern, and Australian models. In December 1988, the RJ70LV-MNEW and RJ73LV-MNEW were added to the European market lineup.

In January 1990, the 70 Series lineup underwent its first major overhaul. 52 models were discontinued and 49 models, primarily those of the General left hand drive market, were retained. 40 new mdels were added. The Toyota 3B engine that powered the majority of the 70 Series range was retired (though it continued to be used in the BJ73LV-MPW until February 1994) and was replaced with te new 1PZ, 3.5 liter inline 5, making 113 hp. Likewise, the 13B-T engine of the J71 and J74 was exchanged for the new 1HZ, 4.2 liter inline 6 diesel, making 133 hp. Both the 1PZ and the 1HZ could power the J70, J73, and J75, depending on the customer’s preference. In Japan, the J70 only had the option of the 1PZ, and the J73 only had the option of the 1HZ. In Australia, you could not get the J75 with the 1PZ; in Europe, the opposite was true, all models were available except the HZJ75. The HZJ75 was the only new engine option given to the Middle East market. No new engine options were given to the South African market. The HZJ70 and HZJ73 were not available on the General markets, nor was the PZJ73 available in General left hand drive. The General markets were the only markets to continue to use the 4-speed manual transmission; all other markets were now limited to the 5-speed manual, with the occasional automatic. VX level trim was rebranded to ZX; it was now only available on the medium and medium-long wheelbase models (J73 and J74, and later J76 and J77). The 2H engine and HJ75 range that it powered were also discontinued at this time, except for the South African HJ75RP-MRN, which continued on until August 1991.

The Middle Eastern market was renamed to the GCC market. GCC stands for Gulf Cooperation Council; the GCC is an economic union of 6 countries on the Arabian Peninsula that was formed in 1981. The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. This was a change in name only and was likely an effort by Toyota to not be seen selling vehicles to the controversial countries of Iran and Iraq, though Toyota did have some dealings with Iraq both before and after this change.

The base model, PZJ70-MRS, gained only 10 kg (22 lb) in this generation, with the step up to PZJ70V-MRS being another 10 kg, and the step to PZJ70V-MNS being yet again 10 kg. The HZJ73 model, however, was quite a deal heavier than the old BJ73. Depending on model, the HZJ73 ranged between 1,960 and 2,020 kg (4,321 to 4,453 lb).

Dimensions for the PZJ70 were the same as those for the old BJ70, with the exception of the -MNS being noticeably less tall, at 1.885 m (6 ft 2 in). The new ZX level HZJ73 was considerably larger than the BJ73. It measured 4.455 m (14 ft 7 in) long bumper to bumper, 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide, 1.950 m (6 ft 5 in) tall (+20 mm for the HV model), yet it retained the same wheelbase as the old model — 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in). Optional extras for the Japanese market included climate control, a front bullbar as well as optional lights for it, a Land Cruiser branded spare tire cover, a roof rack for skis, a rear ladder, side decals- either a zig-zag stripe or the word “Cruising”, and curtains for the rear windows (J73 only).

 

A 1991 PZJ70V-MNS — this model is visually almost unchanged from the original BJ70. Source: Land Cruisers Direct

 

A 1990 HZJ73HV-PEU — a ZX model with all the options. Source: Land Cruisers Direct

n, and was the only one offered with an automatic transmission. The HZJ77 was also bigger than the PZJ77, and was billed as the 70 Series “wide body”. The HZJ77 came exclusively in ZX trim; the PZJ77 and all other J77s came in STD and LX trim. The PZJ77 in standard trim weighed 1,920 kg (4.233 lb) and 2,030 (4,475 lb) in LX trim. The HZJ77 weighed either 2,090 or 2,130 kg (4,608 or 4,696 lb) depending on if it had a manual or autom
January 1990 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup. Models retained from previous generations marked in bold.

  • Japan
    • HZJ73HV-MES
    • HZJ73HV-MEU
    • HZJ73HV-PEU
    • PZJ70-MRS
    • PZJ70V-MRS
    • PZJ70V-MNS
  • Australia
    • RJ70RV-MNQ
    • FJ70RV-MRQ
    • FJ73RV-MNQ
    • FJ75RP-MRQ3
    • FJ75RV-MRQ
    • LJ70RV-MNXQ
    • HZJ70RV-MRQ
    • HZJ73RV-MNQ
    • HZJ73RV-PNQ
    • HZJ75RP-MRQ
    • HZJ75RP-MRQ3
    • HZJ75RV-MRQ
    • PZJ70RV-MRQ
    • PZJ73RV-MNQ
  • Europe
    • BJ73LV-MPW
    • RJ70LV-MNW
    • RJ70LV-MNEW
    • RJ73LV-MNEW
    • LJ70L-MRXW
    • LJ70LV-MRXW
    • LJ70LV-MNXW
    • LJ70RV-MNXW
    • LJ70LV-MEXW
    • LJ70RV-MEXW
    • LJ73LV-MNXW
    • LJ73LV-MEXW
    • HZJ70LV-MNW
    • HZJ73LV-MNW
    • PZJ70LV-MRW
    • PZJ73LV-MRW
    • PZJ75LP-MRW
    • PZJ75LV-MRW
  • GCC (Middle East)
    • FJ70LV-MRV
    • FJ70LV-MNV
    • FJ73L-MRV
    • FJ73LV-MNV
    • FJ73LV-PNV
    • FJ75LP-MRV
    • FJ75LP-MNV
    • FJ75LV-MRV
    • HZJ75LP-MRV
  • South Africa
    • FJ75RP-MRN
    • HJ75RP-MRN
  • General Left Hand Drive Markets
    • RJ70L-KR
    • RJ70LV-KR
    • RJ70LV-MN
    • FJ70L-MR
    • FJ70LV-KR
    • FJ70LV-MR
    • FJ70LV-MN
    • FJ70LV-PN
    • FJ73L-MR
    • FJ73LV-MN
    • FJ75LP-KR
    • FJ75LP-MR
    • FJ75LP-MR3
    • FJ75LV-KR
    • FJ75LV-MR
    • LJ70LV-MNX
    • HZJ75LP-MR
    • HZJ75LV-KR
    • PZJ70LV-KR
    • PZJ70LV-MR
    • PZJ70LV-MN
    • PZJ75LP-KR
    • PZJ75LP-KR3
    • PZJ75LV-KR
  • General Right Hand Drive Markets
    • RJ70RV-KR
    • FJ70RV-KR
    • FJ75RP-KR
    • FJ75RP-KR3
    • FJ75RP-MR3
    • FJ75RV-KR
    • HZJ75RP-KR
    • HZJ75RP-KR3
    • HZJ75RP-MR
    • HZJ75RV-MR
    • PZJ70R-KR
    • PZJ70RV-KR
    • PZJ73R-KR
    • PZJ75RP-KR
    • PZJ75RP-MR3
    • PZJ75RV-KR

Four months later, in April 1990, two new medium-long (2.730 m, 8 ft 11 in) wheelbase versions of the 70 Series were added to the lineup — the J77 and J79. These were the first of the 70 Series family to have four doors, excepting the special run of BJ74. The J77 used four different engine types: the 2L-T diesel engine was offered in Europe and the General markets; the 22R gasoline engine was offered to the Middle East, and in the General markets; and the new 1PZ and 1HZ were reserved for the Japanese market. The J79 was only given the 2L-T, and it was only sold on the General markets. Strangely, Australia was not given any four door model, despite historically being where the Land Cruiser sold best.

 

A 1990 HZJ77HV-PEU — a ZX model with all the options. Source: Land Cruisers Direct

In Japan, the 1HZ engine was seen as the higher option, and was the only one offered with an automatic transmission. The HZJ77 was also bigger than the PZJ77, and was billed as the 70 Series “wide body”. The HZJ77 came exclusively in ZX trim; the PZJ77 and all other J77s came in STD and LX trim. The PZJ77 in standard trim weighed 1,920 kg (4.233 lb) and 2,030 (4,475 lb) in LX trim. The HZJ77 weighed either 2,090 or 2,130 kg (4,608 or 4,696 lb) depending on if it had a manual or automatic transmission. The PZJ77 measured 4.685 m (15 ft 4 in) long in standard trim and 4.805 m (15 ft 9 in) in LX trim; 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide in either trim, and 1.9 m (6 ft 3 in) tall in either trim. The HZJ77 measured the same as the PZJ77, except that it was instead 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide, and 1.935 m (6 ft 4 in) tall.

April 1990 Land Cruiser 70 Series Medium-long Wheelbase Lineup:

  • Japan
    • HZJ77HV-MEU
    • HZJ77HV-PEU
    • PZJ77V-MRS
    • PZJ77V-MNS
    • PZJ77HV-MRU
    • PZJ77HV-MNU
  • Europe
    • LJ77LV-MNXW
  • GCC (Middle East)
    • RJ77LV-MNV
  • General Left Hand Drive Markets
    • RJ77LV-KR
    • RJ77LV-MN
    • LJ77LV-MNX
    • LJ79LV-KR
    • LJ79LV-MN
  • General Right Hand Drive Markets
    • RJ77RV-KR
    • RJ77RV-MN
    • LJ77RV-MNX
    • LJ79RV-KR
    • LJ79RV-MN

At the same time, the “Light” Land Cruiser family was split away into the seperate Toyota Prado. Like the mainline Land Cruiser, a new four door model with a medium-long wheelbase was introduced, the J78. The now-Toyota Prado LJ71G and LJ78G switched to the more modern 2L-TE turbodiesel with electronic fuel injection. Thus the LJ78G became a more “off-roady” version of the Land Cruiser 80 Series that was launched the same year. The Toyota Prado inherited the original LJ71G trim names, while, like the 70 Series, adding a third. These were LX5, SX5, and EX5; only the LJ78 could be had in EX5 level trim. The LX5 package only came with a 5 speed manual transmission, while the SX5 and EX5 had the option for a 4 speed automatic.

 

A 1991 LJ71G-PET — apart from the wheels and front grille, it is externally unchanged from the 1986 model. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

 

A 1991 LJ78G-PGT — this example has been optioned out with a roof rack and rear ladder. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

The 1990 Prado family ranged from 1,690 kg (3,726 lb) at the lightest, to 1,920 kg (4,233 lb) at the heaviest. The LJ71G models measured 3.945 m (12 ft 11 in) long from the front of the bumper to the spare tire mount, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, and 1.895 m tall (6 ft 3 in). Length of the wheelbase was 2.310 m (7 ft 7 in), and the car sat 4 people. The LJ78G models of the Prado measured 4.585 m (15 ft 1 in) long from the front of the bumper to the spare tire mount, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, and 1.890 m (6 ft 2 in) tall (+15 mm for the EX models). Length of the wheelbase was 2.730 m (8 ft 11 in), and the car sat 6 people. The turning circle was 5.3 meters (17 ft 5 in) for the short wheelbase models, and 6.1 meters (20 feet) for the medium wheelbase models. Options were generally the same as for the regular 70 Series, but without the rear window curtains. The Toyota Prado was sold exclusively to the Japanese market.

April 1990 Land Cruiser Prado Lineup:

  • Japan
    • LJ71G-MET
    • LJ71G-MNT
    • LJ71G-PET
    • LJ78G-MNT
    • LJ78G-MET
    • LJ78G-PET
    • LJ78G-MGT
    • LJ78G-PGT

Also added for this generation only was the J72. The J72 was a short wheelbase model that only saw production from April 1990 to May 1993, with the hardtop KR models lasting until April 1996. The J72 was externally identical to the J70 and J71, the difference being the engine. The J72 was the only 70 Series to use the Toyota 3L engine; a 2.8 liter inline 4 making around 90 hp.

April 1990 Land Cruiser J72 Lineup:

  • General Left Hand Drive Markets
    • LJ72L-KR
    • LJ72LV-KR
    • LJ72LV-MR
    • LJ72LV-MN
  • General Right Hand Drive Markets
    • LJ72RV-KR

In May 1990, the HZJ73V-MES was added to the Japanese lineup, giving them a minitruck version of the HZJ73HV. In June, the FJ75-MR3 was launched: the first J75 to be sold in Japan. The FJ75-MR3, the “3” portion of the name signifying that it was sold as just a chassis and cabin, was distributed in Japan for specialty companies to build firetrucks on the basis of.

 

An FJ75-MR3 pumper truck. Source

In January 1991, the Australian market RJ70RV-MNQ was discontinued — the last RJ to be sold in Australia. A minor changeup came in August: 10 old models were retired and 6 new models introduced. FJ73RV-MNQ, HZJ73RV-MNQ, HZJ73RV-MNQ, PZJ70RV-MRQ, and PZJ73RV-MNQ from the Australian market were axed. In the South African market, the old HJ75RP-MRN (the last 2H-powered 70 Series) was retired and replaced by the HZJ75RP-MRN. In Japan (HZJ73V-MES, HZJ73HV-MES) and Europe (PZJ70LV-MRW, PZJ73LV-MRW), two models each were phased out. Besides the South African pickup, the other new models were for the Japanese market. HZJ73V-MEU and HZJ73V-PEU replaced the old HZJ73V-MES while now offering an automatic option. LJ78W-MGT and LJ78W-PGT represented a new widebody range for the medium-long wheelbase Prado. PZJ77V-MNU was also added.

 

A 1992 LJ78W-MGT “widebody wagon” — The LJ78W is imperceptibly wider than the LJ78G. Notice the flared wheel arches, a feature of the EX5 trim package. Source: Land Cruisers Direct

Just five months later, in January 1992, came the next major revision for the 70 Series. 26 models were discontinued, primarily FJ’s coming from the Middle Eastern and General markets: RJ70RV-KR, FJ70L-MR, FJ70LV-KR, FJ70RV-KR, FJ70LV-MRV, FJ70LV-PN, FJ70LV-MNV, FJ73L-MRV, FJ73LV-MN, FJ73LV-MNV, FJ73LV-PNV, FJ75LP-KR, FJ75RP-KR, FJ75RP-KR3, FJ75LP-MR, FJ75RP-MR3, FJ75RP-MRN, FJ75LP-MRV, FJ75LP-MNV, FJ75LV-KR, FJ75RV-KR, FJ75LV-MRV, LJ70LV-MNX, HZJ75RP-KR, HZJ75RP-KR3, and HZJ75LV-KR.

The above listed FJ models were discontinued as the start of the shift to the new 1FZ engine from the old 3F engine. The 1FZ was a 4.5 liter inline 6 that made around 190 hp, a 40 hp increase over the 3F. This shift would be completed with the changes in August.

January 1992 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup New Additions:

  • GCC (Middle East)
    • HZJ75LP-MNV
    • FZJ70LV-MRUV
    • FZJ73L-MRUV
    • FZJ73LV-MNUV
    • FZJ75LP-MRUV
    • FZJ75LP-MNUV
    • FZJ75LV-MRUV
  • South Africa
    • FZJ75RP-MRUN
  • General Left Hand Drive Markets
    • HZJ75LV-MR
    • FZJ70L-MRU
    • FZJ70LV-MRU
    • FZJ70LV-MNU
    • FZJ73L-MRU
    • FZJ73LV-MNU
    • FZJ75LP-MRU
    • FZJ75LP-MRU3
    • FZJ75LV-MRU
  • General Right Hand Drive Markets
    • HZJ75RP-MR3
    • FZJ70RV-MRU
    • FZJ75RP-MRU
    • FZJ75RP-MRU3
    • FZJ75RV-MRU

In August, the last of the remaining FJs were phased out, along with the narrowbody Prado EX5s, and the PZJ75 pickups in the European market: FJ70LV-MR, FJ70RV-MRQ, FJ70LV-MN, FJ73L-MR, FJ75-MR3, FJ75LP-MR3, FJ75RP-MRQ3, FJ75LV-MR, FJ75RV-MRQ, LJ70RV-MNXQ, LJ78G-MGT, LJ78G-PGT, PZJ75LP-MRW, and PZJ75LV-MRW. The PZJ75s in Europe were replaced with the HZJ75LP-MRW and HZJ75LV-MRW. With the success of the widebody Prado in Japan, two new SX5 trim models were added, LJ78W-MET and LJ78W-PET. Finally, 5 new FZJ models were added to the Australian market to replace the FJs: HZJ75RV-MNQ, FZJ70RV-MRKQ, FZJ75RP-MRKQ3, FZJ75RV-MRKQ, and FZJ75RV-MNKQ. In December, the HZJ75-MRU3 was introduced in Japan to replace the FJ75-MR3, retired in August, as the specialty fire engine chassis.

 

A 1993 HZJ75-MRU3 crew cab pumper truck, formerly of the Japanese Marugame City Fire Department. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

Another adjustment was done in May 1993. A large portion of the European models were dropped from the range: RJ70LV-MNW, LJ70L-MRXW, LJ70LV-MRXW, LJ70RV-MNXW, LJ70RV-MEXW, LJ73LV-MEXW, LJ77LV-MNXW; three of the five LJ72 models were retired: LJ72L-KR, LJ72LV-MR, LJ72LV-MN; and the LJ77LV-MNX and LJ77RV-MNX were pulled from the General markets.

In Japan, 1993 was a major year for the Toyota Prado. All of the first generation Prado models were retired: LJ71G-MET, LJ71G-MNT, LJ71G-PET, LJ78G-MNT, LJ78G-MET, LJ78G-PET, LJ78W-MET, LJ78W-PET, LJ78W-MGT and LJ78W-PGT. Replacing them was an entire range of models, both Prados and main line Land Cruisers, that were powered with the 1KZ engine. The 1KZ, or to be more precise, the 1KZ-TE, was an inline 4 diesel engine of 3 liter displacement that put out 125 hp. This was a major step up from the old 2L engine that had carried the LJ70 family through three iterations, and seemed to have met its limit just shy of 100 hp. The KZJ70 range had an extremely neat run; 24 models that all ran from May 1993 to April 1996. The KZJ70, KZJ73, and KZJ77 were available in the European and General markets, and, as had always been the case, the KZJ71 and KZJ78 were only available in Japan. All KZJ’s had the 5-speed manual transmission, Japan being the only market where an automatic option was available. KZJs in European and General markets were sold with 1KZ-T engines, those sold in Japan had 1KZ-TE engines. The 1KZ-TE, with electronic fuel injection, increased the power output by another 20 hp.

May 1993 Land Cruiser KZJ70 Series Lineup:

  • Europe
    • KZJ70L-MRXW
    • KZJ70LV-MRXW
    • KZJ70LV-MNXW
    • KZJ70RV-MNXW
    • KZJ70LV-MEXW
    • KZJ70RV-MEXW
    • KZJ73LV-MNXW
    • KZJ73LV-MEXW
    • KZJ77LV-MNXW
  • General Left Hand Drive Markets
    • KZJ70LV-MNX
    • KZJ77LV-MNX
  • General Right Hand Drive Markets
    • KZJ77RV-MNX

May 1993 Land Cruiser Prado Lineup:

  • Japan
    • KZJ71G-MNT
    • KZJ71G-MET
    • KZJ71G-PET
    • KZJ71W-MET
    • KZJ71W-PET
    • KZJ78G-MNT
    • KZJ78G-MET
    • KZJ78G-PET
    • KZJ78W-MET
    • KZJ78W-PET
    • KZJ78W-MGT
    • KZJ78W-PGT

The next change for the 70 Series came swiftly, in January 1994. The 1PZ engine was retired due to emissions regulations and the fact that it produced insufficient torque. Among a few other models, all but one PZJ70 was retired (the PZJ75RP-MR3 would hang on for another year): RJ70L-KR, HZJ73V-MEU, HZJ73V-PEU, PZJ70-MRS, PZJ70R-KR, PZJ70LV-KR, PZJ70RV-KR, PZJ70LV-MR, PZJ70V-MRS, PZJ70LV-MN, PZJ70V-MNS, PZJ73R-KR, PZJ75LP-KR, PZJ75RP-KR, PZJ75LP-KR3, PZJ75LV-KR, PZJ75RV-KR, PZJ77V-MRS, PZJ77V-MNS, PZJ77V-MNU, and PZJ77HV-MNU. With the passing of the 1PZ, the lineup of trucks with the 1HZ engine was bolstered, primarily in Japan, as it was now, along with the 1FZ, the backbone of the 70 Series, with few exceptions.

The HZJ70 of this generation weighed between 1,850 and 2,000 kg (4,079 and 4,409 lb) depending on model. They measured 4.045 m (13 ft 3 in) long (4.165 m (13 ft 8 in) for the HZJ70V-MNU, due to its winch), 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, and 1.895 m (6 ft 3 in) tall (1.885 m (6 ft 2 in) for the HZJ70V-MNS). All models had a wheelbase of 2.310 m (7 ft 7 in).

The HZJ73 weighed 1,950 kg (4,299 lb) for the LX model, and 2,020 kg (4,453 kg) for the ZX model, with 40 kg (88 lb) extra for the models with automatic rather than manual transmissions. The HZJ73V-MNU was an exception, it weighed 2,030 kg (4,475 lb). The LX trim HZJ73s measured 4.335 m (14 ft 3 in) long (4.455 m (14 ft 7 in) for the HZJ73V-MNU, due to its winch), 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, and 1.930 m (6 ft 4 in) tall. The ZX models were 20 mm taller, and shared the same length as the -MNU; they were also wider, 1.790 m. All models had a wheelbase of 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in).

The HZJ77 weighed 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) for the HZJ77V-MNU, 2,080 kg (4,586 lb) for the HZJ77HV-MNU, and 2,090 kg (4,608 lb) for the HZJ77HV-MEU. Their respective automatic versions, HZJ77V-PNU, HZJ77HV-PNU, and HZJ77HV-PEU, were each 40 kg (88 kg) heavier. The HZJ77V models were 4.685 m (15 ft 4 in) long, while the HZJ77HV models were 4.805 m (15 ft 9 in) long. LX models were 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide and 1.9 m (6 ft 3 in) tall. ZX models were 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide and 1.935 m (6 ft 4 in) tall. All models had a wheelbase of 2.730 m (8 ft 11 in).

January 1994 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup, excluding KZJ models. Models retained from previous generations marked in bold.

  • Japan
    • BJ73LV-MPW
    • RJ70LV-MNEW
    • RJ73LV-MNEW
    • HZJ70-MNS
    • HZJ70V-MNS
    • HZJ70V-MNU
    • HZJ73V-MNS
    • HZJ73V-MNU
    • HZJ73V-PNU
    • HZJ73HV-MEU
    • HZJ73HV-PEU
    • HZJ75-MRU3
    • HZJ77V-MNU
    • HZJ77V-PNU
    • HZJ77HV-MNU
    • HZJ77HV-PNU
    • HZJ77HV-MEU
    • HZJ77HV-PEU
  • Australia
    • FZJ70RV-MRKQ
    • FZJ75RP-MRKQ3
    • FZJ75RV-MRKQ
    • FZJ75RV-MNKQ
    • HZJ70RV-MRQ
    • HZJ75RP-MRQ
    • HZJ75RP-MRQ3
    • HZJ75RV-MRQ
    • HZJ75RV-MNQ
  • Europe
    • LJ70LV-MNXW
    • LJ70LV-MEXW
    • LJ72LV-KR
    • LJ72RV-KR
    • LJ73LV-MNXW
    • HZJ70LV-MNW
    • HZJ73LV-MNW
    • HZJ75LP-MRW
    • HZJ75LV-MRW
  • GCC (Middle East)
    • RJ77LV-MNV
    • FZJ70LV-MRUV
    • FZJ73L-MRUV
    • FZJ73LV-MNUV
    • FZJ75LP-MRUV
    • FZJ75LP-MNUV
    • FZJ75LV-MRUV
    • HZJ75LP-MRV
    • HZJ75LP-MNV
  • South Africa
    • FZJ75RP-MRUN
    • HZJ75RP-MRN
  • General Left Hand Drive Markets
    • RJ70LV-KR
    • RJ70LV-MN
    • RJ77LV-KR
    • RJ77LV-MN
    • LJ79LV-KR
    • LJ79LV-MN
    • FZJ70L-MRU
    • FZJ70LV-MRU
    • FZJ70LV-MNU
    • FZJ73L-MRU
    • FZJ73LV-MNU
    • FZJ75LP-MRU
    • FZJ75LP-MRU3
    • FZJ75LV-MRU
    • HZJ70LV-MR
    • HZJ70LV-MN
    • HZJ75LP-MR
    • HZJ75LP-MR3
    • HZJ75LV-MR
  • General Right Hand Drive Markets
    • RJ77RV-KR
    • RJ77RV-MN
    • LJ79RV-KR
    • LJ79RV-MN
    • PZJ75RP-MR3
    • FZJ70RV-MRU
    • FZJ75RP-MRU
    • FZJ75RP-MRU3
    • FZJ75RV-MRU
    • HZJ70R-MR
    • HZJ70RV-MR
    • HZJ75RP-MR
    • HZJ75RP-MR3
    • HZJ75RV-MR

In February 1994, the very last 3B-powered 70 Series, the BJ73LV-MPW, which had managed to hang on in Europe, was rescinded from sale. In August, the last LJ73, LJ73LV-MNXW, was also retired.

In January 1995, the PZJ75RP-MR3, the last 1PZ-powered 70 Series, was pulled from the General right hand drive market. The last LJ70s, LJ70LV-MNXW and LJ70LV-MEXW were retired, along with the HZJ70RV-MRQ, FZJ70L-MRU, FZJ70RV-MRKQ, and FZJ75RP-MRU3. At this time, in Japan, a new Land Cruiser 70 Series, depending on the model, ranged in price from 2,345,000 yen (HZJ70-MNS) to 3,071,000 yen (HZJ77HV-PEU). Adjusted for inflation and converted to USD, this is 22,026 to 28,846 dollars (2019).

In April 1996, 39 models were retired. This included all remaining RJs, all remaining LJs, and all KZJs. With the retirement of the KZJ71/78, the Toyota Prado at this time became its own unique model. In May, the Prado emerged as the J90, and as such will no longer be covered under the scope of this article. In August, the ‘S’ models of the HZJ in Japan (HZJ70-MNS, HZJ70V-MNS, HZJ73V-MNS) were retired. HZJ70-MNU was introduced to retain a soft top option.

Sometime around 1997, a very low production version of the HZJ73 was offered in Japan only, known as the PX10. The PX10 was an HZJ73 modified by a third party to superficially resemble the classic Land Cruiser FJ40. Although a commercial flop, this would be the first step on the path to the Toyota FJ Cruiser.

 

A 1997 HZJ73V-PNU PX10. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

In September 1997, FZJ73L-MRK and FZJ75LP-MRK3 were introduced to the General left hand drive market; these were the first FZJs outside of Australia that were sold with electronic fuel injection. 1998 was the first year in which no changes were made to the 70 Series.

August 1999 brought the greatest amount of change to the 70 Series in its history. 51 models were retired, and 47 new models created, effectively cycling the entire lineup. Among the new models introduced, 29 were HZJs and 18 were FZJs. The entirety of the old 70 Series range was cut except for four models; HZJ75RP-MRN from the South African market, FZJ73L-MRK and FZJ75LP-MRK3 from the left hand drive General market, and HZJ70R-MR from the right hand drive General market. The J70 and J77 were phased out, the J71 and J74 were resurrected, and the family was joined by a new medium-long wheelbase model — the J76. The J79 was redesigned and was now the heavy duty pickup truck option, and J78 was the ‘troop carrier’ option (not military troop carriers, rather small buses). J71, J74, and J76 were the conventional wagon Land Cruisers, of increasing wheelbase length.

 

A 2005 HZJ78R-RJMRSQ troop carrier — the “troopy”, as it is affectionately known in Australia, is very popular among off-road enthusiasts as it can serve as a sort of camper van. Source

 

A 2005 HZJ79R-TJMRSQ3 pickup. Source: autotrader.com.au

The front suspension of all models was changed from leaf springs to a live axle on coil springs to reduce understeer. The wheels were changed from having 6 lugs to only 5, and the interior was redesigned. The 1HZ engine was downrated from 133 hp to 128 hp, though it is not clear if this was a difference in tuning to reduce wear, a difference in construction, or just an adjustment in the paperwork to be more precise. All FZJ models from this point onward now used the more modern 1FZ-FE engine.

The HZJ71 models remained dimensionally unchanged from the previous generation’s HZJ70s. The soft top model weighed 1,920 kg (4,233 lb), and the hardtop 10 kg (22 lb) more than that. Height was still 1.895 m (6 ft 3 in), with the soft top model being 10 mm taller, as it had been since the beginning of the 70 Series. Wheelbase lengths remained the same as the previous generation, with the J71 being 2.310 m (7 ft 7 in), the J74 being 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in), and the J76 being 2.730 m (8 ft 11 in).

The HZJ74 models in LX trim weighed 2,010 kg (4,431 lb) (+40 kg (88 lb) for automatic transmission) and measured 4.335 m (14 ft 3 in) long, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, and 1.940 m (6 ft 4 in) tall. In ZX trim, they weighed 2,040 kg (4,497 lb) (+40 kg (88 lb) for automatic transmission) and measured 4.455 m (14 ft 7 in) long, 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide, and 1.950 m (6 ft 5 in) tall. The HZJ76 models weighed 2,070 kg (4,564 lb) for the HZJ76V, 2,150 kg (4,740 lb) for the HZJ76K in LX trim, and 2,120 kg (4,674 lb) for the HZJ76K in ZX trim, with the respective automatic models each 40 kg (88 lb) heavier. The J76 measured 4.835 m (15 ft 10 in) long (4.685 m (15 ft 4 in) for the HZJ76Vs), 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide for the LX models and 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) for the ZX models, and 1.910 m (6 ft 3 in) tall for the LX models and 1.935 m (6 ft 4 in) for the ZX models.

In Japan and Europe, only diesel-engined HZJ models were sold. Australia and the right hand drive General market were primarily given diesel models; while the left hand drive General market and the Middle East greatly favored gasoline FZJ models. Somewhat oddly, the Australian market, which historically has always been a guaranteed sale for the Land Cruiser, was only given the option of heavy duty models at this time. August 1999 was the last major overhaul for the Land Cruiser 70 Series. Some of the models introduced at this time are still in production today!

Also at this time, a slight change was made to the 70 Series chassis codes. Two letters were added to the front of the extension code: KJ, FJ/RK, RJ, or TJ. KJ represents a soft top wagon; RK represents a hardtop wagon; FJ also represents a hardtop wagon, but only as the J74 model; RJ represents a troop carrier, and TJ represents a pickup.

August 1999 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup. Models retained from previous generations marked in bold.

  • Japan
    • HZJ71-KJMNS
    • HZJ71V-RJMNS
    • HZJ74V-FJMNS
    • HZJ74V-FJPNS
    • HZJ74K-FJMES
    • HZJ74K-FJPES
    • HZJ76V-RKMNS
    • HZJ76K-RKMNS
    • HZJ76V-RKPNS
    • HZJ76K-RKPNS
    • HZJ76K-RKMES
    • HZJ76K-RKPES
  • Australia
    • HZJ78R-RJMRSQ
    • HZJ78R-RJMNSQ
    • HZJ79R-TJMRSQ
    • HZJ79R-TJMRSQ3
    • FZJ78R-RJMRKQ
    • FZJ79R-TJMRKQ3
  • Europe
    • HZJ71L-RJMNSW
    • HZJ74L-FJMNSW
    • HZJ78L-RJMRSW
    • HZJ79L-TJMRSW
  • GCC (Middle East)
    • HZJ79L-TJMRSV
    • FZJ71L-RJMRKV
    • FZJ74L-KJMRKV
    • FZJ74L-FJMNKV
    • FZJ78L-RJMRKV
    • FZJ79L-TJMRKV
    • FZJ79L-TJMNKV
  • South Africa
    • HZJ75RP-MRN
  • General Left Hand Drive Markets
    • HZJ71L-RJMRS
    • HZJ78L-RJMRS
    • HZJ79L-TJMRS
    • HZJ79L-TJMRS3
    • FZJ71L-RJMRK
    • FZJ71L-RJMNK
    • FZJ73L-MRK
    • FZJ74L-KJMRK
    • FZJ74L-FJMNK
    • FZJ75LP-MRK3
    • FZJ78L-RJMRK
    • FZJ79L-TJMRK
    • FZJ79L-TJMRK3
  • General Right Hand Drive Markets
    • HZJ70R-MR
    • HZJ71L-KJMRS
    • HZJ71L-RJMRS
    • HZJ78R-RJMRS
    • HZJ79R-TJMRS
    • FZJ71R-RJMRK
    • FZJ78R-RJMRK
    • FZJ79R-TJMRK

In September 1999, three more models were added to the left hand drive General market: FZJ70LV-MRK, FZJ70LV-MNK, and FZJ75LV-MRK. In November, the last South African market 70 Series, HZJ75RP-MRN, was retired; at the same time, the HZJ79-TJMRS3 was introduced in Japan to replace the HZJ75-MRU3, retired in August, as the specialty fire engine chassis.

In August of 2000, the last HZJ70 and HZJ75, HZJ70R-MR and HZJ75RP-MR, were retired. In June 2001, the FZJ75LV-MRK, as well as the last FZJ70s, FZJ70LV-MRK and FZJ70LV-MNK, were retired as well. In August, HZJ71L-RJMNSW, HZJ74L-FJMNSW, HZJ78L-RJMRSW, HZJ78R-RJMNSQ, HZJ79L-TJMRSW, and HZJ79R-TJMRSQ were retired and the European market was closed, meaning this was the last generation of the 70 Series to be sold there.

A small new range was added to the Australian market: HDJ78 and 79. The HDJ range consisted of four models, two troop carriers (HDJ78R-RJMRZQ and HDJ78R-RJMNZQ) and two pickups (HDJ79R-TJMRZQ3 and HDJ79R-TJMNZQ3). The only difference between the two of each was that one was an STD model and the other an LX trim model. The HDJ was powered by the 1HD-FTE, a turbocharged, fuel injected inline 6 of 4.2 liters displacement, making 163 hp. The HDJ models would only last until 2007.

In Japan in 2002, a new Land Cruiser 70 Series cost between 2,426,000 and 3,087,000 yen (22,214 to 28,266 US dollars in 2019), up only a very small amount from 1995.

2004 saw the most recent downsizing of the 70 Series. In May, the last FZJ73, the FZJ73L-MRK, and the last FZJ75, the FZJ75LP-MRK3, were phased out. In August, the last 70 Series sold in Japan were taken off the market; these were the last HZJ71, HZJ74, and HZJ76 models. The HZJ79-TJMRS3 model was also retired, though the HZJ79 in general endures. In May 2006, the last 1FZ-engine Land Cruisers were taken off the Australian market: FZJ78R-RJMRKQ and FZJ79R-TJMRKQ3.

January 2007 marked the last notable change in the 70 Series lineup before the modern period, when the range has been kept very much reduced compared to its glory days.

The four FZJ74 models were discontinued, as well as the FZJ78L-RJMRKV, HZJ78R-RJMRSQ, and HZJ79R-TJMRSQ3. The short-lived HDJ range was replaced with the VDJ range, powered by the 1VD-FTV 4.5 liter V8 diesel, making 200 hp. This is the first V8 engine put in the 70 Series. The VDJ range consists of the VDJ76 wagon, two VDJ78 troop carriers (STD and LX trim), and two VDJ79 pickups (also STD and LX trim versions). A handful of other models were introduced to the other surviving markets — General and the Middle East — at this time as well. Externally, the 70 Series was given a facelift; the grille was redesigned and the headlights and indicators were made less angular and given a more “modern” look as they curved into the redesigned side body panels.

January 2007 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup. Models retained from previous generations marked in bold.

  • Australia
    • VDJ76R-RKMNYQ
    • VDJ78R-RJMRYQ
    • VDJ78R-RJMNYQ
    • VDJ79R-TJMRYQ3
    • VDJ79R-TJMNYQ3
  • GCC (Middle East)
    • HZJ76L-RKMNSV
    • HZJ78L-RJMRSV
    • HZJ79L-TJMRSV
    • FZJ71L-RJMRKV
    • FZJ76L-RKMNKV
    • FZJ79L-TJMRKV
    • FZJ79L-TJMNKV
  • General Left Hand Drive Markets
    • HZJ71L-RJMRS
    • HZJ76L-RKMRS
    • HZJ78L-RJMRS
    • HZJ79L-TJMRS
    • HZJ79L-TJMRS3
    • FZJ71L-RJMRK
    • FZJ71L-RJMNK
    • FZJ76L-RKMRK
    • FZJ78L-RJMRK
    • FZJ79L-TJMRK
    • FZJ79L-TJMRK3
  • General Right Hand Drive Markets
    • HZJ71L-KJMRS
    • HZJ71L-RJMRS
    • HZJ76R-RKMRS
    • HZJ78R-RJMRS
    • HZJ79R-TJMRS
    • FZJ71R-RJMRK
    • FZJ78R-RJMRK
    • FZJ79R-TJMRK

These 13 HZJ and 5 VDJ models remain in production today. Although they have been tweaked and improved, specialized moreso to their respective markets than any previous generation, they retain these same chassis numbers.

In a speech on December 23rd, 2009, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened to expel major automotive manufacturers, primarily Toyota, from Venezuela and replace them with Russian and Chinese makers if they did not “share their technologies” with Venezuelan industries. He put specific emphasis on Toyota, telling them to “get out” if they could not produce the rugged, simplistic work vehicles they were known for in sufficient numbers required by the government. It is reported that there was not much change during Venezuelan production of the 70 Series. The engine was only changed three times from 1986 to 2009. The medium wheelbase models were never built or sold in Venezuela, only the J70, J71, J75, J78, and J79.

 

A post-facelift, South American-produced 2009 HZJ79L-TJMRS — this is an optioned out example, possessing a front winch and air conditioning. Notice the distinctive crimping along the top of the bed walls, this is an easy way to distinguish a 70 Series pickup from other trucks. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

It was around this time, 2007 to 2012, that the 70 Series was also given a new engine for the South American and Middle Eastern markets. In those markets, which prefer gasoline over diesel engines, the 1GE-FE replaced the 1FZ-FE. The 1GR-FE is a 4 liter V6 gasoline engine that makes a maximum of 228 hp, and 266 lb-ft of torque. The 1GR used in the 70 Series has dual variable valve timing, while other models of the engine only have singular. This engine gave the 70 Series a rather poor fuel economy of 6.6 km/l (15.5 mpg). It seems the FZJ went out of production with the coming of the GZJ, but the author has not been able to find any documentation concerning this point in time. In 2009, driver’s and passenger’s airbags were made a standard option, and in 2012 so were anti-lock brakes.

 

A post-facelift, 2014 HZJ76L-RKMRS wagon from Toyota of Gibraltar.

 

A post-facelift, 2014 HZJ78L-RJMRS troop carrier from Toyota of Gibraltar. A 13 seat version of this model is also available.

 

A post-facelift, 2014 HZJ79L-TJMRS single cab pickup from Toyota of Gibraltar.

 

A post-facelift, 2014 HZJ79L-DKMRS double cab pickup from Toyota of Gibraltar.

At some point, the different markets adopted their own trim names. For Australia, the standard model became the WorkMate, the LX became GX, and VX/ZX became GXL. The notable visual difference of the GXL is the flared wheel arches and alloy wheels. The single cab pickup and “WorkMate” troop carrier seat 2 people, while the double cap pickup, wagon, and GXL troop carrier seat 5. The WorkMate and GX models come with vinyl interiors, while the GXL has fabric. 7 color options are available: french vanilla, silver pearl, graphite, Merlot red, “vintage” gold, sandy taupe (grey-brown), and midnight blue. Optional extras include two types of roof rack, a different grill design, extra headlights, seat covers and floor mats, rain guards for the doors, a tow hitch, a sun visor, a hood bug shield, headlight covers, two types of bullbars and extensions for the bullbar that run down the sides, and a winch.

Spurred by interest from mining and construction users for a model that was able to carry more people, like the wagon, while retaining the bed from the pickup, the double cab 70 Series was launched in September 2012. In Australia, it was available in the base model WorkMate, and top of the range GXL models, at 63,990 AUD and 67,990 AUD respectively. The double cab was also sold in the Middle East and South Africa, marking the return of a market-specific 70 Series model for the latter. The two letter code at the beginning of the chassis extension code for the double cab is DK.

In South Africa, the single and double cab J79 pickups are available with one of three engine options; 1VD-FTV, 1HZ, and 1GR-FE. The 1HZ engine used in South African trucks is equipped with an Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system, which feeds some exhaust back into the engine to decrease emissions. This has decreased the power output of the 1HZ from 133 hp to 126 hp. The only other option available in South Africa is the VDJ76 wagon.

On August 25th, 2014, the 70 Series made a return to the Japanese market for one year as a special 30th Anniversary Edition model. For the Anniversary models, the 1GR-FE engine was used. The transmission was again limited to the 5-speed manual that the Japanese market 70 Series always had. Two models were available: the GRJ76K-RKMNK 4 door van, and GRJ79K-DKMNK double cab pickup. The double cab pickup had a suggested retail price of 3,500,000 yen (31,616 USD) and the wagon 3,600,000 yen (32,519 USD). Anniversary Edition 70 Series were made in Toyota’s Yoshiwara plant, in Toyota City, southwest of Tokyo. Dimensions of these models are, for the van: 4.810 m long (15 ft 9 in) (+40 mm for winch option), 1.870 m (6 ft 2 in) wide, 1.920 m (6 ft 4 in) tall, wheelbase of 2.7 m (8 ft 10 in). For the pickup: 5.270 m (17 ft 2 in) long (+40 mm for winch option), 1.770 m wide (5 ft 10 in), 1.950 m tall (6 ft 5 in), wheelbase of 3.180 m (10 ft 5 in).

 

A 2015 GRJ79K-DKMNK 30th Anniversary Edition. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

In 2015, Salvador Caetano, a vehicle manufacturer and ally of Toyota based in Ovar, Portugal, announced they would be switching licensed production from Toyota Dyna trucks to the Toyota 70 Series, on account of the former no longer being compliant with coming Euro 6 emissions regulations. As the 70 Series is also non-compliant with European laws, Salvador Caetano would be building them specifically for the African market — Morocco in particular. Salvador Caetano projected it would produce 1,257 70 Series units in 2015 as it switched over from the Dyna.

For the 2017 Australian model, which went on sale in September 2016, the 70 Series was extensively reworked. For the single cab pickup, the side rails of the ladder chassis were thickened and the chassis in general was stiffened. It was given curtain shield airbags (which block shattered glass from the windows) and driver’s knee airbags, bringing the total number of airbags up to five and earning it a 5-star NCAP safety rating in Australia. The double cab pickup, wagon, and troop carrier models did not receive the same changes as the single cab, though all models were given a myriad of modern electronic functions, including electronic stability control, traction control, hill start assist, electronic brakeforce distribution, a trailer sway control mechanism, and brake assist. Cruise control now came as standard. An A-pillar mounted snorkel that allows for deep wading also now came as standard on all models. The engine was given new piezoelectric injectors and a filter was fitted to the exhaust to allow the 1VD engine to meet Euro 5 emissions standards. The transmission’s 2nd and 5th gears were made taller, for better economy cruising. The 70 Series gets an impressive (for its class) 9.35 km/l (22 mpg). The single cab has a 130 liter (34 gallon) fuel tank, while the other models carry 180 liters (47.5 gallons). Towing capacity is 3,500 kg (7,716 lb) for all models. These improvements came with a price however — an increase of 5,500 AUD for the single cab, and 3,000 AUD for the other models of the range. In 2017, the price for the Australian 70 Series ranged from 62,490 AUD to 68,990 AUD.

In terms of dimensions, the modern Australian 70 Series pickup measures 5.220 m (17 ft 2 in) long (5.230 m for the single cab GXL), 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide for the WorkMate models and 1.870 m (6 ft 2 in) wide for the GX and GXL models, and 1.970 m (6 ft 6 in) in height for the WorkMate single cab, 1.960 m (6 ft 5.2 in) for the WorkMate double cab, 1.955 m (6 ft 5 in) for the single cab GX/GXL, and 1.945 m (6 ft 4.6 in) for the double cab GXL. The WorkMate model wagon measures 4.870 m (16 ft) long, 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide, and 1.955 m (6 ft 5 in) tall; while the GXL wagon measures 4.910 m (16 ft 1 in) long, 1.870 m (6 ft 2 in) wide, and 1.940 m (6 ft 4 in) tall. The troop carrier measures 5.210 m (17 ft 1 in) long (5.220 for the GXL), 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide, and 2.115 m (6 ft 11 in) tall. The pickup models have a wheelbase of 3.180 m (10 ft 5 in); the wagon a wheelbase of 2.730 m (8 ft 11 in); and the troop carrier a wheelbase of 2.980 m (9 ft 9 in). Ground clearance across the range is 230 or 235 mm (9 or 9.25 in). Weights range between 2,165 kg (4,773 lb) and 2,325 kg (5,126 lb).

 

A 2012 VDJ78R-RJMNYQ troop carrier – This truck, nicknamed “Fernweh” (Wanderlust), took part in the Expeditions 7 project. It is the only vehicle in history to traverse all 7 of Earth’s continents. Source: Land Cruiser Heritage Museum

Despite the 70 Series’ importance, it would be largely overshadowed for much of its life by the 60 and later 80 Series SUVs, which appealed more to families on account of their comfort, as opposed to the 70 Series’ work truck demeanor. The 70 Series has never been offered for sale in the United States, and has been out of sale in Europe since the 1990s due to stricter emissions laws there. Its regular sale was discontinued in Japan in 2004, but it continued to be marketed in more rugged regions of the world, particularly Australia. While the 80 Series has since been discontinued, along with the 100 Series that followed it, the 70 Series has endured, and remains in production in Venezuela, Portugal, and of course, Japan.

In addition to standard work truck, off-roading, and people-moving uses, the 70 Series has lent itself to more specialized fields as well. Modified trucks have competed in off-road competitions such as the Australian Outback Challenge. They have been outfitted as television broadcast test trucks, armored cash transport cars, game viewer safari trucks, ambulances, police cars, camper vans, long-range and arctic exploration vehicles, curtain side transports, and war machines.

Indomitable

The year is 1987; the prolonged conflict between the African countries of Chad and Libya has been ongoing for more than 8 years. On the morning of January 2nd, dust clouds rose above the Sahara Desert; a recently reunified, re-equipped, and motivated Chadian army was on a high-speed flanking maneuver against entrenched Libyan tanks. Their chosen mount, the Land Cruiser. The Toyota War had begun.

The Republic of Chad is a large country in the dead center of Africa. Chad was originally a French colony that gained independence in 1960 under François Tombalbaye. Tombalbaye gradually came to be hated for his authoritarianism, and for his forced attempt to “re-Africanize” Chad, which involved trying to stamp out Christianity in the South, where it was practiced by Frenchmen and Chadian converts, and convert the nation back to traditional African religion. His mismanagement of the country led to the Muslim north fracturing into liberation groups, inspired and backed by those in Libya, which started the 1st Chadian Civil War and resulted in Tombalbaye’s deposition in 1975. After Tombalbaye’s death, the military that overthrew him set up a provisional government led by Félix Malloum. Despite the best efforts of the interim government to run the country, the civil war only intensified, with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi fanning the flames.

Libya first had men in Chad in 1969, when Gaddafi claimed the Aouzou Strip, an area of land that comprises Chad’s border with Libya. The Aouzou Strip is said to be rich in Uranium, which Gaddafi wanted for nuclear weapons. François Tombalbaye was poised to sell it to him before his death.

Acronyms to know:
FROLINAT (Front de Libération Nationale du Tchad) – National Liberation Front of Chad, most successful rebel group, backed by Libya
FAT (Forces Armées Tchadiennes) – Chadian Armed Forces, traditional military of Chad
FAN (Forces Armées du Nord) – Armed Forces of the North, FROLINAT units that remained loyal to Hissène Habré
FAP (Forces Armées Populaires) – People’s Armed Forces, FROLINAT units that remained loyal to Goukouni Oueddei, made up largest section of GUNT
FANT (Forces Armées Nationales Tchadiennes) – Chadian National Armed Forces, combined FAT and FAN under Hissène Habré
GUNT (Gouvernement d’Union Nationale de Transition) – Transitional Government of National Unity, successful government formed out of FROLINAT, backed by Libya

Gaddafi backed the Chadian rebel groups, particularly FROLINAT, with men and weapons, hoping to destabilize Chad for his own gain. This was the start of the 2nd Chadian Civil War, as well as the Chadian-Libyan Conflict which ran concurrently, and which would last for almost 10 years. Libyan forces would be present in Chad off and on from 1978 till 1981, with a final clash in 1986-87. During this time, Chad was still supported by France, despite being an independent country. If it was not for French assistance, Chad likely would have fallen apart.

FROLINAT took over the country in 1979 and replaced the Malloum government with the Transitional Government of National Unity (GUNT), led by Goukouni Oueddei. A short while later, long-time Chadian political leader Hissène Habré, who at different times had been the Prime Minister, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense of Chad, split from Goukouni Oueddei’s GUNT. Habré was exiled to Sudan, only to return to Chad in 1982 with his forces, FAN, and overthrow GUNT. Habré would remain in power until 1990, and sadly was a no better ruler, and in many ways worse, than François Tombalbaye had been.

Although overthrown, GUNT remained active in Chad, and continued to receive support from Libya. As the enemy of GUNT, Habré’s government by default came to be enemies with Libya. The remaining Chadian Army and Habré loyalists were consolidated as FANT, the Chadian National Armed Forces. Fighting continued in 1983 and 1984, with FANT, the French Foreign Legion, the French Air Force, and French airborne units, with some passive assistance from the United States, attempting to defeat Chadian rebels and flush Libyan forces out of northern Chad. In the French military, this was known as Operation Manta.

French efforts resumed in 1986 under Opération Épervier. At this time, GUNT numbered between 4,000 and 5,000 soldiers, and Libyan presence in Chad was an additional 5,000 men. Changes in GUNT’s leadership and loss of morale led to FAP, the largest subgroup of GUNT, changing sides in late 1986. Men of FAP assimilated into FANT, and the war essentially became a united Chad and France against Libya.

 

During the Battle for Chicha in central Chad, which precipitated the Great Toyota War, this 70 Series bed and ZPU-1 gun mount was cut off for unknown reasons and left abandoned in the desert. These photos were taken in 2005. Source

In late 1986, FANT forces, under the command of Idriss Déby, began amassing in the Kalait prefecture in the Northeast of Chad. Their target was the town of Fada, occupied by 1,200 Libyan soldiers and 400 men of the CDR, one of the remaining pro-Libyan groups from GUNT. United against a common enemy unlawfully operating on their land, the Chadian Army had the arsenals of France and America at its disposal. The men were fierce fighters, but untrained and primitive. Hissène Habré knew that if given tanks or other advanced weaponry, they would not be able to make effective use of them. What the Chadian soldiers needed were rugged, simple, “fix it with a hammer” weapons. What they needed were Toyota trucks and machine guns.

Chad received hundreds of Toyota Land Cruiser 70s and MILAN anti-tank guided missile launchers from France, and FIM-43 Redeye man-portable surface-to-air missile launchers from the United States. The Libyan Air Force no longer just had to worry about French air support, but Chradian ground fire as well. Besides the MILANs and Redeyes, Chadian forces also had 105 mm M40 Recoilless Rifles and heavy machine guns of both US (.50 cal M2 Browning) and Soviet (12.7 mm DShK) origins.

The combination of wide open desert, four wheel drive trucks, and tribal cavalry tactics created one of the most mobile ground forces in recent memory. The Chadian trucks stuck to no fixed formations, and no set doctrine. They were easily able to outpace Libyan armor, outflank minefields, and outlast their weary enemy. Chadian MILAN teams adopted a shoot-and-scoot tactic whereby they drove to an unexpected firing position, fired on enemy vehicles, and were gone before their enemy could even lay the gun on them.

The turning point in the Chadian-Libyan Conflict came on January 2nd, 1987, when the Chadian forces launched an assault on the Libyan defenses south of Fada. The Libyan army had set up several defensive lines consisting of dug-in T-55 tanks overwatching minefields. To circumvent these defenses, the Chadian trucks repeatedly flanked around the minefields, utilizing their off-road speed. They enveloped the Libyan armor from both sides and destroyed them at close range.

The Libyan army’s morale was at an all-time low when Chad finally struck. Some vehicles fled as soon as the first tank was knocked out. They plainly did not want to be there, and their performance shows this.

The Chadian forces overcame several Libyan defensive lines in the manner described. The final two lines, 10 km (6.2 miles) and 20 km (12.4 miles) outside of Fada respectively, were ordered to fall back to the airfield at Fada, but it was already too late. By noon, the attack that had started just that morning had taken the Libyan airfield and headquarters at Fada, routed the Libyan forces, taken 150 prisoners, and left 700 Libyan soldiers dead. Most of the Libyan command had escaped by air, but many aircraft, vehicles, and soldiers were left behind. Aircraft captured at the Fada airbase include three C-46s, two C-130 Hercules, a DC-4 Transport (Possibly a C-54 Skymaster, but there is no record of the Libyan Air Force operating these, even though they were based in Libya previously), a CASA C-212 Aviocar, two Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainers, and a SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 trainer.

 

A Libyan BMP-1 knocked out during the Battle of Fada. Photo taken in 1996. Source

Humiliated and desperate, Gaddafi nearly doubled the number of troops in Libya to 11,000 by March of 1987. A column of armor, consisting of 600 men, was dispatched from Ouadi Doum airbase (also in Chad) with the intention of retaking Fada. Chadian reconnaissance followed the Libyan convoy out from Ouadi Doum and relayed their position to the main force. On the evening of March 18th, after the Libyan troops had set up camp for the night near the village of Bir Kora, the Chadians surrounded them in the darkness. Chadian troops set up ambushes for Libyan armor, Panhard AML-90 armored cars overwatched by MILAN and rocket teams on the hills. At dawn, they launched a small force to one side of the Libyan camp, causing the Libyans to divert all their force toward that side. This left their rear open for the Chadian armed Toyotas to rush in and swarm the Libyan tanks.

A second column of armor, this time with 800 men, was sent out from Ouadi Doum later in the day on March 19th to rescue the Libyan force, only to be surrounded in the night and destroyed in the same way as the first. Between the two engagements, 786 Libyans were killed, 86 tanks were destroyed, and another 13 were captured.

 

Libyan T-62s and a BM-21 Grad rocket launcher knocked out and abandoned in the skirmish near Bir Kora. Source

The remains of the Libyan columns fell back to Ouadi Doum with the Chadians following, something the defenders of Ouadi Doum were completely unprepared for. Despite a defending force of 5,000 men, minefields, barbed wire, AA gun emplacements, and tank and AFV support, the Chadian force of 2,500 was relatively easily able to breach the base, splitting their attack in two to simultaneously attack opposite points of Ouadi Doum. Although the Battle of Ouadi Doum lasted for 25 hours from March 22nd to March 23rd, the airbase was all but captured in the first 4 hours. In total, 1,269 Libyans were killed and 438 were captured, including base commander Khalif Abdul Affar. Many were killed when, in panic, they attempted to flee through their own minefields.

54 tanks, including 12 brand new T-62s, 66 BMP-1s, 6 BRDM-2s, 10 BTRs, 8 EE-9 Cascavels, 12 vehicles of the 2K12 Kub system (2P25s and at least one 1S91), 4 9K35 Strela-10s, 4 ZSU-23-4 Shilkas, 18 BM-21 Grads, 92 anti-aircraft guns, over 100 soft skin vehicles, 2 additional SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 Prop Trainers, 11 L-39 Albatros Jet Trainers, and one 1 Mi-25 attack helicopter were all captured at Ouadi Doum. In addition to these vehicles, a great deal of radar equipment that accompanied the 2K12 system was also captured intact.

Three Mi-25s were destroyed in the raid, with a fourth turning out to be salvageable. This Mi-25, the export variant of the Mi-24, was the first “Hind” the west had gotten its hands on, and it was quickly removed to America under Operation Mount Hope III. In the raid, Chad lost 12 trucks and 29 men, killed when they tried to pass through a minefield in the mistaken belief the trucks were too light to set off the mines. Just 58 Chadians were wounded in the action.

 

Chadian troops with one of the 2P25 Kub launchers captured at Ouadi Doum. The gross incompetence and negligence of the Libyan troops was illustrated when none of the operators of these SAM launchers bothered to pick up the phone when radar operator Ismael al-Barassi acquired a target on January 14th.

With Libya’s forward operating airbase gone, Gaddafi ordered a retreat from Chad. The garrison of 3,000 men at Faya Largeau was the first to pull out. Survivors of Bir Kora and Ouadi Doum, and the men of Faya Largeau retreated to Maaten al-Sarra airbase within Libyan borders. Eleven T-55s were abandoned in the evacuation from Faya Largeau, due to being too slow. At the same time, bombers were sent from Maaten al-Sarra to destroy the captured Libyan equipment to prevent the Chadians from using it.

After a brief respite, Chadian forces continued their advance toward the Aouzou Strip. In late July, they retook the area of Tibesti, and on August 8th, thwarted the Libyan assault to retake the town of Bardai, destroying them at Oumchi in the same manner they had at Bir Kora. The Chadians followed the retreating Libyans and took the town of Aouzou itself later the same day. In total, 650 Libyans were killed, 147 men were captured, 111 vehicles were captured, and at least another 30 pieces of armor were destroyed on August 8th. Libya ramped up its bombardment of northern Chad, and at this time the French began to distance themselves from Habré.

Gaddafi assigned Ali Sharif al-Rifi, his most able general, to take charge of the troops and retake Aouzou. After two unsuccessful, traditionally heavy-handed armor attacks starting on August 14th, the Libyans were only able to retake Aouzou on August 28th, utilizing shock troops, extreme firepower, and the fact that the Chadians had all but left the town in anticipation of a large assault, leaving just 400 men behind. This was the first success the Libyan Army had had since the beginning of 1987, and it came only once they ditched their tanks for Toyotas instead. Even so, 1,225 Libyans were killed and 262 wounded in trying to take the Aouzou Strip.

Instead of focusing on fighting over Aouzou itself, Habré directed his troops to cut off the Libyan base of operations at Maaten al-Sarra airbase, 100 km (62 miles) from the Libya-Chad border. The surprise attack was conducted on September 5th, and resulted in the deaths of 1,713 Libyans and the capture of 312 more. 26 aircraft were destroyed, including three MiG-23s, four Dassault Mirage F1s, at least one Mi-24, and numerous MiG-21s and Su-22s. Also destroyed in the raid were eight radar stations, a radar jammer, and about 70 tanks. Chadian losses counted 65 dead and 112 wounded.* At the end of the attack, the Chadians withdrew from Libya. This would be the last action of the Toyota War, with an uneasy ceasefire being called on September 11th.
*These are all Chadian numbers/claims

It was not strictly Toyotas that were used in the Toyota War. Of the 400 trucks delivered to Chad, only a majority were Toyota Land Cruisers. The other models were the American Humvee and the French Sovamag TC10. It was the Toyota however, that held the greatest potential as a weapons platform, on account of its large bed.

With 400 trucks, 50 MILANs, and a few other weapon types in smaller numbers, the Chadian forces were able to capture from Libya, whose active personnel outnumbered them 3 to 1:

  • 3 T-54s
  • 113 T-55s
  • 12 T-62s
  • 10 Tank Transporters
  • 8 EE-9 Cascavels
  • 146 BMP-1s
  • 10 BRDM-2s
  • 10 BTRs
  • 18 BM-21 Grads
  • 4 ZSU-23-4 Shilkas
  • 4 9K35 Strela-10s
  • 12 2P25 Kub Launchers (This number may be lower depending on whether or not the number of “2K12”s captured includes 1S91 radar vehicles, of which at least one was also captured.)
  • At least 1 JVBT-55A/BTS-3 Armored Recovery Vehicle
  • 152 Assorted Cannons and Guns
  • Over 300 Softskin Vehicles
  • 9 SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 Prop Trainers
  • 2 Pilatus PC-7 Prop Trainers
  • 11 L-39 Albatros Jet Trainers
  • 3 Mi-24/5 Attack Helicopters
  • 3 C-47s
  • 2 C-130s
  • 1 DC-4 Transport
  • 1 CASA C-212 Aviocar
  • Roughly 1,000 Libyan fighters

They also captured a number of Libyan technicals, but due to counting re-captured Chadian vehicles, it is difficult to determine the number of them. For 1987, the dead numbered 7,500 on the Libyan side, and only 1,000 on the Chadian side.

The Toyota War was not the first conflict to see the use of technicals, but it popularized their use and served as a deadly illustration of their effectiveness. The term “Toyota War” had been coined as early as 1984 by Time Magazine, as the Chadian forces utilized pickups for transport for much of the conflict. However, in modern usage it has come to refer only to the final portion of the Chadian-Libyan conflict, where the 4-by-4 cavalry made the greatest use of its mobility.

“Technical” is the term given to any improvised war machine consisting of a commercial pickup truck fitted with weaponry. The origin of the term is said to come from the period of time following the Ogaden War, when technicals were used to oppose Somali President Siad Barre. Among the Somali officers that opposed Barre were engineers that had been educated in the USSR, at the time an ally of Somalia, at vocational schools called Tekhnikum. They utilized the knowledge they gained in those schools to create the technicals that eventually helped bring down Barre’s government. For this reason, the trucks became known in Somali as “tekniko” (also spelled as “tikniko”), and this became anglicised as “technical.” Since then, tekniko has come to mean “two things which can be added together to create something better” in the Somali language.

The Toyota War, it is believed, was also the Land Cruiser 70’s baptism by fire; the use of the 40 Series and the 70 Series that replaced it by Chad and its adoption by Libya would set the course for it to become the most prevalent ground vehicle in all of 21st century warfare. Sadly, there are no photos of Chadian 70 Series Land Cruisers that can be confirmed to date to the Toyota War. Very few photos exist of early Chadian techncials of any kind, likely due to the rarity of cameras in 1980s Africa.

 

The signature Land Cruiser, in this case a J79L-TJ single cab, still forms a large part of Chad’s military. Here Chadian forces are providing security during a simulated attack on the town of Faya-Largeau in northern Chad during Exercise Flintlock 2017, March 3rd, 2017. The soldier in the foreground is holding an AKM rifle. Source

The 70 Series still sees widespread use by the Chadian military, notably in their fight against Boko Haram, a west African offshoot of ISIS. Chad continues to receive Land Cruisers donated by the United States, under the auspices of the G5 Sahel, a west-central African military alliance between Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mauritania. As of 2020, the largest portion of the fighting occurs in the area of Lake Chad, where Chad, Niger, and Nigeria border each other.

 

A Chadian Type 1d (J79L-TJ) armed with a Type 63 rocket launcher that was part of a joint force operation against Boko Haram in Nigeria, February 2015. The J79 can be differentiated from the J75 by the size of the B-pillar rearward of the door, which is wider on the J79 than on the J75. Source

 

A Chadian Type 1a (J79L-TJ) parked outside the Zinder Airport in Niger, around March 2015. This truck displays a few unique features that set it apart. Most notable is the purplish-brown paint underlying camouflage. This is in contrast to most Chadian Land Cruisers, which are left in their factory-applied tan paint. Second, a sturdy A-frame is mounted in the bed of the truck, supporting a Chinese-made 12.7 mm W85 heavy machine gun. Source

 

Possibly the same truck as above, photographed on September 3rd, 2015, in the Diffa region of Niger, the location of the heaviest fighting. Source

Implacable

The origin of the technical is often traced back to the “Pink Panther” Land Rovers of the British Special Air Service in Oman during the Dhofar Rebellion in the 1960s and 70s. These were simple Land Rovers adapted for desert warfare, painted pink for camouflage, that carried several machine guns with limited traverse. The SAS Land Rovers were the spiritual descendents of similar vehicles that had been used by the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa in World War II.

An SAS Pink Panther Land Rover Series IIA. Source

There is no definite date or place where the invention of the modern technical can be said to have occurred. Early technicals started to pop up in use by various unrelated factions across Africa and the Middle East beginning in the 1970s. Some of the early adopters of the technical were the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (a terrorist, revolutionary, Arabian nationalist group), all factions involved in the Lebanese Civil War, the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army (a group fighting for independence of Western Sahara from Morocco), and, of course, the Chadian FANT.

The technical has formed the backbone of revolution and continued conflict in the Middle East and Africa. To catalog all the conflicts that technicals have partaken in would be to catalog most, if not all of modern conflict. Early technicals, much like modern technicals, would be built on any vehicle that could be acquired. Even so, certain makes were preferred for their ruggedness; these were the Land Rover and the Toyota Land Cruiser 40 Series. With the discontinuation of the original Land Rover, and subsequent models moving more toward the luxury market rather than the work truck market, the 40 Series’ descendant, the 70 Series, remains the “gold standard” for technicals.

Limiting the scope of this article to the 70 Series after the Toyota War, a trend starts to develop where Liberia is as far west, geographically, as the 70 Series technical is often seen. The eastern boundary for the range is Iran, as it has for the most part stayed out of the wars that have consumed much of the Middle East. The areas where the 70 Series, and technicals in general, see the most service are Somalia and Syria.

Due to the improvised nature of technicals, there is great variation between them. Even vehicles converted by the same unit or workshop are rarely identical. Weaponry, how the weapons are mounted, gun shields, and above all, camouflage, depends highly on what was available or needed at the time. Even so, in cataloging these vehicles for the Middle East Media Archive Project, we have developed a system of generally classifying technicals based on the model of truck and type of weapon they carry.

The Land Cruiser 70 Series was arbitrarily assigned the designator “Type 1”, because it was the most common. The Toyota Hilux is designated Type 2, and so on. The type of weapon carried is denoted by a lowercase letter:

  • a – Single heavy machine gun mounted on a pintle in the bed of the truck. May or may not have a gun shield. The most common weapons are the .50 cal M2HB Browning, the 12.7 mm DShK, and the 14.5 mm KPV.
  • b – Dual anti-aircraft cannons mounted in the bed of the truck. These are the most common and most well-known type of technical. Usually Type b technicals carry a ZU-23-2 twin 23 mm autocannon, but occasionally are fitted with a ZPU-2 twin 14.5 mm KPV.
    • b “Special” – A Type b technical with a ZPU-4 quad KPV mount. Relatively rare.
  • c – Truck carries an anti-tank guided missile launcher. Common types of missiles are the BGM-71 TOW, 9M113 Konkurs, and 9M133 Kornet.
  • d – “Katyusha”-type multiple launch rocket systems. The rocket rack is either pointed forward, over the cab, or it is mounted facing to the side. Both arrangements offer minimal to no traverse, meaning any aiming has to be done by moving the truck. The type of rockets carried vary widely, from purpose-built launchers to rockets pressed into the ground-to-ground role, to improvised rockets and warheads. Two of the non-improvised rocket systems seen on technicals are the 107 mm Type 63 and the UB-16-57 — the latter is normally an aircraft-mounted launcher for the S-5 rocket.
  • e – Recoilless rifle mounted in the bed of the truck. The gun is usually mounted high enough to fire forward over the cab, or the cab is removed entirely. Almost exclusively, the types of guns used are the 73 mm SPG-9, 82 mm B-10, and the 105 mm M40.
  • f – Miscellaneous category for any types of armament that do not fit in the above categories. Includes but is not limited to: mortars, grenade launchers, singular 20 and 23 mm autocannons, and larger caliber cannons.

The choice of automatic anti-aircraft guns as the primary weapon of technicals stems back to the Lebanese Civil War, and came about because of several reasons. The first is that much of the fighting was in an urban environment; enemies would hold out in buildings and ruins and fire down on men and vehicles. A Molotov cocktail or grenade dropped out of a window could be sufficient to disable a tank. Tanks and other conventional armored vehicles, on top of being cumbersome, could not elevate their guns high enough to return fire. The selection of anti-aircraft guns, the primary feature of which is high degrees of elevation, was an obvious one. This workaround in urban warfare has also led to the resurgence in popularity of the ZSU-23-4 Shilka, which acts as a protected and more heavily armed Type b technical.

The other reasons for the choice of anti-aircraft guns is that they are primarily used against soft targets — people and trucks — so the tradeoff of power for high rate of fire allows unskilled operators to “spray and pray”. The ZU-23-2 in particular is also powerful enough to defeat light armor at close ranges.

Recoilless rifles, rocket launchers, and ATGMs are popular as they are lightweight, easy to use, and made exponentially more effective when made mobile by being mounted on a truck. Above all, the choice in weaponry for technicals is based on what is available at the time. Stockpiles of weapons are taken from the bases and depots of recently defunct national militaries and put into use by the rebel groups fighting for control of the same country. Depending on whether a country was NATO or Soviet-aligned, or both, before its fall, large amounts of obsolete weapons provided by its backers make their way into the hands and onto the technicals of irregular factions.

Heirs of the Toyota War

There have been several subsequent conflicts across Africa that echo the Toyota War. It is interesting to note how the tactics employed by technicals have developed differently in Africa as opposed to the Middle East. In African countries, there are often great portions of open land, totally uninhabited except by primitive and isolated communities. The terrain is what led to the development of traditional African cavalry tactics up until the 20th century. These tactics were reborn with the coming of the 4-wheeled horse, and have proven so effective there is hardly reason to change them.

Angola

Many of the wars mentioned in this article were part of the Cold War, with one side backed by the United States and the other backed by the Soviet Union. The largest of these proxy wars in Africa is also one of the most forgotten. The Angolan Civil War was just one of a long string of interconnected wars that involved Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), and Zambia.

Skipping over 30 years of politics; rising strife over ethnic and ideological differences led three rebel groups to arise in Angola:

  • People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola [Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola] (MPLA)
  • National Union for the Total Independence of Angola [União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola] (UNITA)
  • National Front for the Liberation of Angola [Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola] (FNLA)

All three of these groups were anti-colonial, and had successfully fought against Portugal in the Angolan War for Independence that immediately preceded the Angolan Civil War. Efforts to consolidate the three rebel groups by outside forces failed, and all three moved to set up their own governments, with the MPLA supported by Portugal and Cuba (the latter playing the part of the USSR in this proxy war), the FNLA supported by the United States and Zaire, and UNITA supported by South Africa. The MPLA’s military wing was called the People’s Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola [Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola] (FAPLA), and UNITA’s military wing was called the Armed Forces of the Liberation of Angola [Forças Armadas de Libertação de Angola] (FALA).

In August 1975, South Africa intervened in the conflict that had erupted between the three powers, fueled by weapons and men from Cuba. The Soviet Union also got involved, supporting the communist MPLA. The FNLA was quickly defeated by its own incompetence, leaving the South African Defence Force and UNITA on one side, and the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces and the MPLA on the other. FAPLA was able to overpower FALA, leading the weary South African army to abandon their goal of preventing a communist Angola and start fighting their way back out of the country. South Africa and the Angolan factions at this time were also involved in fighting the South African Border War, along with the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), making it difficult to separate that war from the war in Angola.

The remains of FALA continued to resist FAPLA, with continued support from South Africa. With training and support, FALA grew into a fully fledged rebel army. In contrast to FAPLA’s cumbersome heavy armor, FALA adopted fast and mobile technicals. In the 1980s, activity from FALA and international interest in the region steadily grew. FALA made large gains in 1983, however their success prompted Cuba to move more manpower and more modern weaponry into Angola, leading to FALA suffering losses in October and September. Even so, by the start of 1984, UNITA controlled roughly 20% of Angola.

Although an agreement was reached on February 16th, 1984, for South Africa, Cuba, and PLAN to pull out of a portion of southern Angola, UNITA was not consulted and was not ready to give up. PLAN also continued fighting, and neither South Africa nor Cuba were willing to be the first to withdraw. The agreement however did mean that fighting, even though it continued through 1984, was much less intense. FALA gained ground in 1984, and established their headquarters at Jamba, Cuando Cubango, Angola.

In July 1985, PLAN and the Cuban-Angolan forces launched a major attack toward Jamba. They succeeded in retaking the Cazombo salient, which FALA abandoned in order to prevent them from taking Mavinga, 315 km from Jamba. FALA was again saved by the South Africans, and together they stopped the Angolans 32 km from Mavinga.

Beginning in 1986, the war in Angola drastically heated up. The Soviets poured resources and men into the country, and on May 27th, 1986, a renewed assault, 30,000 men strong, was launched against FALA. They were again able to halt the attack. FALA was now operating with more modern weapons of increased number, given to them by foreign allies including South Africa, Morocco, the United States, France, and Zaire. America in particular provided FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles.

1987 and 1988 were marked by the extensive use of armor by the Soviet-backed forces; the largest tank forces in Africa since World War II. Like the Libyan tanks of the Toyota War, the Cuban-Angolan armored spearheads were brought to a halt by the much more mobile FALA forces. When South Africa was again needed to help repulse another massive assault, they brought up their own Olifant Mk.1As and G6 Rhinos to meet the Cuban T-55s and T-62s, as well as Soviet T-64s deployed to the area. Heavy fighting continued for two years.

In both South Africa and Cuba, people were growing tired of supporting the conflict in Angola; in the former, due to rising tensions on the home front, and in the latter due to a senseless loss of life. Peace talks finally made progress in July of 1988, and in August, redeployment lines were agreed on for Cuban and PLAN forces. South Africa was happy to pull out of Angola, only having just lost air superiority in the conflict. Cuba continued fighting in spite of the peace agreement until December, when another agreement was made. This was effectively the end of the South African Border War, and South Africa ceased providing support to FALA as United Nations forces took over. In one of the last actions of the war, the Battle of Mavinga was fought in 1990. FALA technicals ran rings around FAPLA T-55s, echoing the combat of the Toyota War. Most of the technicals used by FALA were Land Cruisers mounting DShK and ZPU-1 heavy machine guns, but they also operated a smaller number of Humvees fitted with M40 recoilless rifles.

The Bicesse Accords were signed in 1991, and set up the two factions as opposing political parties in Angola’s government. All the while, they retained their own lands and militaries. In the first election, held in 1992, the MPLA’s José Eduardo dos Santos was declared the winner. Nearly half of the Angolan political parties involved, foremost UNITA, claimed the election was rigged. Tensions were reignited, and FAPLA launched attacks on FALA and massacred citizens who had voted for them and other parties. The Angolan Civil War continued until UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in action in 2002.

Unfortunately, not much specific information on the combat employment of Angolan technicals is known; nor does there exist many photos of them. It is possible, probable even, that the Land Cruisers referred to in various sources are old 40 Series, not 70 Series. While South Africa was a market for the 70 Series, the South African Army was well-funded enough to not need to employ technicals, meaning they can be ruled out as a likely source whereby FALA acquired its Land Cruisers. Unlike Chad, which was given its Toyotas by western powers, it is unclear where UNITA/FALA got its trucks from.

Liberia

The nation of Liberia was settled by freed American slaves that chose to return to Africa, a group called the Americo-Liberians. This group formed the ruling class of the country, while the indigenous Liberians were the lower class. This state of affairs persisted until 1980, when Master-Sergeant Samuel Doe of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) led a coup against the ruling party. Doe’s rule over the country was bloody and barbaric, and Liberia steadily declined.

On December 24th, 1989, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) entered the country from Ivory Coast. The NPFL was made up of Americo-Liberians intending to take back their country. The AFL’s resistance to the invasion was ineffectual, and both sides committed war crimes as the NPFL made its way to the capital, Monrovia. Nearing Monrovia, a breakaway faction was formed out of the NPFL, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), creating a three-way war.

In response to the Liberian Civil War, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent in the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) as a peacekeeping force. ECOMOG found itself in strongest opposition to the NPFL, which was the largest of the three factions. The NPFL managed to take control of large portions of the country, but never took Monrovia. Fighting continued for years, but was at a stalemate. ECOMOG forces would not advance into NPFL territory, fearing a guerilla war. The INPFL disintegrated, and several more factions appeared, including the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), which itself split into two other factions based on ethnicity. Eventually, there were eight factions involved in the fighting. Despite ECOWAS’s efforts, all attempts at peace failed. Corruption was high in ECOMOG, with ulterior motives to benefit Nigeria (the largest contributor to ECOWAS) at the higher echelons, and theft and rape among the regulars. This led to the Liberians seeing “ECOMOG” as standing for “Every Commodity or Movable Object Gone.”

All of the fighters involved, both in the field and in the commands of the various factions, were totally uneducated. The fighting was barbaric, and far from the conduct of any legitimate military force. Torture, rape, and murder were just as common, if not more common, than killing of the enemy. Showiness and intimidation played a large role in Liberian combat, with soldiers dressing up in colorful costumes, or sometimes being completely naked. Technicals were similarly decorated, adorned with trinkets and slogans.

 

Type 1b (J75LP) armed with a ZPU-2 anti-aircraft gun. None too concerned with war crimes, these fighters have “liberated” a Doctors Without Borders truck and converted it to a technical, still retaining the pseudo-Red Cross markings. Monrovia, Liberia, during the 1st Liberian Civil War. Source: Osprey New Vanguard 257 – Technicals

In August 1995, a ceasefire was brokered. Despite this, some fighting continued, particularly in Monrovia starting in April 1996. Fighting intensified to such a degree that peacekeeping forces were helpless. It took until August for peace to be reestablished. During this time, the effectiveness of ECOMOG greatly increased and corruption was removed, thanks to the leadership of Victor Malu, who took command in August. In July 1997 a general election was held in Liberia, ending the First Liberian Civil War.

Charles Taylor was elected president of Liberia, however after only two years, another group arose to overthrow him. Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) were a loose group of rebel factions united primarily by the goal of removing Taylor’s government. LURD was supported by Guinea. This conflict, the Second Liberian Civil War, lasted from 1999 until 2003. The course of the war was a relatively straightforward takeover of the country by LURD, ending in Taylor’s resignation.

 

Type 1a (J79L-TJ) armed with what appears to be a KPV in the 2nd Liberian Civil War, Near Old Bridge, Monrovia, Liberia, 2003. The man in the foreground is holding an AKM rifle. Source

As with the Angolan Civil War, there is little photographic record of the technicals used in Liberia, though photographic evidence proves that Type 1 technicals were used in both civil wars. The combat employment of such trucks is also not recorded, however it was unlikely to be in line with the type seen in Chad and Angola, and more akin to the urban combat of Lebanon. Many of the “technicals” employed in Liberia were not even real technicals. Mounted weapons were not as common as in other conflicts, and trucks were simply weaponized by having men stand in the bed and fire their rifles at the enemy.

Since the end of the Second Liberian Civil War, the country has steadily improved. Today, the new Armed Forces of Liberia continues to use 70 Series Land Cruisers, some of them donated by the United States.

 

20 Land Cruisers donated by the United States to Liberia in 2016, to aid the latter’s peacekeeping operation in Mali. Barclay Training Centre, Monrovia, Liberia, July 12th, 2016. At the front of the line is a J79L-DK, followed by an HZJ79L-TJMRS3 or FZJ79L-TJMRK3, then another J79L-DK. Source

Sudan

Chad’s neighbor to the east, Sudan, has had near constant war since the 1950s. There have been three civil wars, and numerous smaller confrontations and wars. The Second Sudanese Civil War began in 1983, when tensions between the Muslim north and Christian south boiled over when then president Jaafar Nimeiry enforced Sharia, a Muslim legal code, on the whole country.

In response to this, a rebel army comprised of peoples from the south of Sudan, most notably the Dinka people, was assembled and quickly grew in strength, being joined by defecting units of the Sudanese Army. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) was backed by Ethiopia, which supplied weapons and training to allow the SPLA to become a proper fighting force. Part of the SPLA’s strategy was to disrupt food distribution, leading to widespread starvation. Unable to defeat the SPLA militarily, Jaafar Nimeiry motioned to repeal Sharia in the south, but was deposed in a coup in 1985 regardless. The coup leader, Abdel Rahman Swar al-Dahab, promised reform, leading to a ceasefire. However, the SPLA was not satisfied with the reforms, and resumed fighting. In the 1986 election, voting could not take place in the south due to the fighting, leading the north to elect Sadiq al-Mahdi as the president of Sudan. Al-Mahdi was backed by the extremist National Islamic Front (NIF), meaning that a diplomatic solution to the conflict would now be impossible.

 

Two SPLA Land Cruisers, likely J79 models. The truck on the right sports a rather striking animal print camouflage scheme, as well as a crudely drawn “SPLA” license plate. The soldiers are watching a UN Mi-17 helicopter coming in to land. UN Base in Abyei, Sudan, May 16th, 2008. Source: Reuters

 

An SPLA Type 1a (J79L-TJ) armed with a DShK, at the same place and time as the previous picture. It is unusual to see such care and effort put into the paint scheme of a technical. Source: Reuters

Over the next two years, the conflict continued to devolve, with starvation increasing and thousands of Dinka people being slaughtered in atrocities committed by Muslim northern militia groups. The Sudanese Army was almost entirely destroyed by the SPLA, which continued to grow in strength. Despite requests for peace talks by the SPLA, all attempts failed, as anything less than full Islamification of Sudan was unacceptable to the NIF.

In 1991, Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia, and as repayment for support by the Sudanese government, expelled the SPLA and Sudanese refugees, further worsening the starvation in the south of Sudan. At this time, Iraq also began to support the Sudanese government, as Iraq was supportive of the NIF’s goals. Increased pressure on the SPLA led to infighting, with the formation of the United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF), made up of Nuer people, the Nuers began fighting with the Dinkas.

In 1992, the Sudanese Army retook large portions of the country that had been under SPLA control. Back and forth fighting continued for the next two years, with the Sudanese Army launching large scale attacks supported by Libyan aircraft. The SPLA regained its footing in October 1994, with the supply of new weapons from the US or Israel. At the same time, the UDSF began fighting government forces as well, eventually reconciling with the SPLA in April 1995.

Despite Sudan’s government supporting Eritrea’s independence in the end, they had originally backed Ethiopia; a fact the Eritrean government resented. For this reason, Eritrea backed the formation of the Sudanese National Alliance (SNA) in northeastern Sudan, a political group of northerners opposed to the Sudanese government. The SNA formed a military wing, the National Alliance Forces (NAF).

After a ceasefire mediated by US President Bill Clinton, which both the Sudanese government and SPLA regarded as a formal waste of time, the SPLA resumed operations out of Uganda, enjoying the support of that country’s government. The NIF backed the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel movement, in order to oppose by proxy both the Ugandan government and the SPLA. With help from the Ugandan military, and renewed support from Ethiopia, the SPLA retook portions of southern Sudan under the name Operation Thunderbolt. At the same time, the NAF attacked in the north, aimed to cut off Port Sudan.

Despite encountering success, infighting resumed in the SPLA, and in April 1997 the UDSF, along with various other breakaway factions, changed sides. By July, all three forces were at a stalemate. Local victories were made by both sides, but the line did not progress in either direction. Fighting continued until 2005, when a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed on January 9th. The 2005 agreement led to the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement on October 14th, 2006, which addressed the grievances of the three eastern states. Provided for in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement were referendums on independence to take place in 2011. The referendum for independence of South Sudan passed by 98.8% approval. South Sudan almost immediately descended into a civil war of its own. After 2011, renewed fighting took place in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as they had been denied their promised referendums for independence, and were forced to remain with Sudan.

The longest-lasting of the Sudanese conflicts is the War in Darfur. The Darfur region of Sudan comprises the western third of the country. The northern portion of Darfur is ruled by the Sahara Desert, while the southern portion is an arid plain, in some places suitable for agriculture, but otherwise inhospitable. Being such a large country with little infrastructure, the people in Darfur feel little connection to their leaders in Khartoum.

On February 26th, 2003, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), whose military wing is the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), attacked Sudanese government forces at Golu. On April 25th, they took over the town of Tini, capturing weapons stored there. Now armed and ready for a fight, the SLA, along with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), made an attack on al-Fashir airbase on April 25th. In a replaying of the Chadian action at Maaten al-Sarra, the SLA/JEM force of 30 technicals stormed al-Fashir and destroyed Sudanese Mi-25s and other aircraft on the ground. They captured weapons and vehicles from the airbase and were gone before the Sudanese could organize a response.

Two technicals, the further one likely a Type 1, moving across the Darfur desert in early 2009.

Over the next several months, the SLA continued to make raids, until a ceasefire was briefly established in September. Now fighting wars on three fronts, the Sudanese government did not have enough resources to handle the uprising in Darfur. Instead, they employed local militias called Janjaweed, made up of Arabian nomads, to fight the SLA and JEM, which were primarily African farmers. The Janjaweed were provided trucks by the Sudanese government, who bought them new from just four different dealerships, likely in the GCC region. Starting in early December, the Janjaweed began making attacks on villages in Darfur. The conduct of the Janjaweed was horrifically brutal, bordering on genocide. By mid-2004, both the UN and AU (African Union) tried to get involved to establish humanitarian aid, but a ceasefire could not be established long enough to allow this. In July, the Sudanese government indicated it would disarm the Janjaweed, in light of their war crimes and pressure from outside nations. The SLA/JEM refused to negotiate for peace until the Janjaweed was disarmed.

What happened next is not entirely clear, but it can be summarized that the situation got worse. 1,000 Sudanese troops were deployed to the region, and by early 2005, AU observers reported that the Sudanese Air Force were bombing their own villages. Nearly 3 million people were displaced by the fighting. Starvation and disease affected more than half the population.

 

A Type 1b in Darfur, sometime before 2011. The weapon mounted in the bed is a ZPU-2. In front of the passenger, a Chinese 7.62 mm Type 80 machine gun is strapped precariously to the hood, and slung over the driver’s door is an RPG-7 launcher loaded with a Chinese Type 69 anti-personnel rocket. “N.R.F.” stands for National Redemption Front, the cooperative combination of the SLA and JEM. This vehicle was originally white or beige, but has been turned green with camouflage, apparently painted on with the same tiny paintbrush that the letters were. Source

In 2006 and 2007, numerous agreements were made between the rebel factions, Janjaweed militias, and the Sudanese government. Despite this, there were too many rebel factions and subfactions, all with differing goals, meaning that a meaningful peace was not achieved.

In 2007, the United Nations and the African Union initiated a joint humanitarian aid and peacekeeping operation, called UNAMID (United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur). UNAMID was established after the failure of three AMIS (African Union Mission in Sudan) observation and peacekeeping missions. The presence of the 20,000+ strong UNAMID forces greatly reduced the amount of fighting, but low-intensity conflict continues in Darfur as of November 2020.

 

UNAMID Type 1a (J79L-TJ) armed with a DShK escorting a convoy of food trucks. UNAMID has constructed rather ingenious bench seating for some of their Land Cruisers, allowing mounted troops to disembark quickly. At the insistence of the Sudanese government, UN troops in UNAMID are all African. These particular soldiers are from Rwanda. They are armed with AKM rifles and a Type 80 machine gun. Northern Darfur, Sudan, February 10th, 2014. Source

In one of the largest actions of the conflict, JEM launched a raid on Khartoum, the country’s capital, in May 2008. Between 130 and 300 technicals were used in this raid. The JEM force got as far as Omdurman, a suburb of Khartoum just across the river Nile from the capital, before the attack was repulsed. To the JEM, the war in Darfur is known as the Land Cruiser War— a name which was coined independently of the Toyota War.

 

Sudanese government forces with two Type 1b’s captured from JEM, South Darfur, 2015. The nearer truck, a J75LP, is armed with a ZU-23-2, the farther one with a ZPU-2. Source: Osprey New Vanguard 257 – Technicals

In 2013, the Sudanese government reorganized their employment of Janjaweed militias into the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Despite now being a legitimate, government-supported organization, the change in name has not stopped the Janjaweed tendencies toward war crimes and atrocities. The RSF was responsible for the Khartoum Massacre in June 2019. In April 2019, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was deposed in a coup, placating some of the rebel groups in Darfur. Since then, Sudan has embarked on the road to peace, yet some fighting continues.

 

Two J79L-TJ Land Cruisers in use by the United Police Forces, the Sudanese government police. The heavy guns resting on the roofs of the trucks are Type 80 machine guns; the soldier on the left is armed with an AKM rifle. Note the wire mesh over the windows and headlights to prevent the glass from being broken. Here, the mesh over the driver’s side windshield is moved to allow better visibility. Source

The RSF purchases its own new trucks for use as technicals. It is a matter of contention where they get the money for this. An RSF financial spreadsheet leaked in December 2019 reveals much about the process of sourcing trucks. The spreadsheet details expenditures made between mid-January and mid-June 2019. Listed are all the vehicles purchased, their prices, date of transaction, invoice numbers, shipping costs, and the dealerships they were purchased from. All of the dealerships are based in the United Arab Emirates, and all denied knowing they were selling trucks to the RSF when asked. All nine companies (Ghassan Aboud Cars, Arabian Ronz Used Cars, MotorsCity.com, Bin Humaidan Motors, Al Karama Motors, Motors Mart, Noble International Group, Golden Arrow Company, and Sahara Motors) supplied 70 Series Land Cruisers, with some supplying smaller amounts of other vehicles. Technicals have been photographed in use, still with the GCC energy efficiency sticker from the dealership in the driver’s side window.

The complete breakdown of vehicles purchased by the RSF from January 18th, 2019 to June 18th, 2019:
4x 2012 Toyota Land Cruiser, Unspecified
13x 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser, Unspecified
31x 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser, Unspecified
11x 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, Standard Trim, Beige
3x 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, High-spec Trim, Beige
513x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, Standard Trim, Beige
92x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, Standard Trim, Beige with 2018 Graphics
5x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, Standard Trim, White
42x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, All options, Beige
1x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, All options, White
12x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, All options, Unspecified
30x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser J79
20x Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, Standard Trim, Unspecified
39x Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, All options, Unspecified
11x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser GXR (J200), Standard Trim
5x Toyota Land Cruiser VXR (J200) 3UR Engine
5x Toyota Land Cruiser GT (J200) 1UR Engine
89x 2019 Toyota Hilux, White
17x 2019 Toyota Hilux, Unspecified
30x 2019 Toyota Prado GXR (J150) 2TR Engine
1x Toyota Prado, Unspecified
2x Toyota HiAce
30x 2019 Toyota Corolla (E210) 1ZR Engine
12x 2019 Mitsubishi Pajero, White
1x 2019 Hino ZS 4041
10x 2020 Hyundai i10
4x Firetruck

In total, 816 70 Series Land Cruisers, at a cost of 86,210,199 dirham (23,471,330 USD), and 217 vehicles of other types, at a cost of 24,770,600 dirham (6,743,969 USD), were purchased. In total, this is 1,033 vehicles for a grand total of 110,980,799 dirham (30,215,299 USD).

From the distributors in the UAE, trucks are taken across Saudi Arabia to the port of Jeddah, where they are loaded onto ships and moved across the Red Sea to Suakin, Sudan. Ships known to be contracted for these shipments include Egyptian Dignity, registered to the port of Alexandria, and Med Link, registered to Tripoli. Once in Sudan, the vehicles are then moved by truck to Khartoum.

 

A convoy of five or six car haulers transporting around 50 brand new J79L-TJs down Air Street, Khartoum, Sudan, May 2019. Source

 

Two of the trucks involved in the Khartoum Massacre in June 2019; both are J79L-TJs. These vehicles are a good representation of RSF technicals, which are often painted in green to dark olive, and lightly camouflaged with slightly darker green repeating patterns. The truck on the left is a rare Type 1b Special, mounting a ZPU-4. The cabin has been cut off to allow the weapon to face forward, but strangely the right side A-pillar and snorkel have been retained, despite the fact the driver of the now topless truck would be underwater by the time the snorkel would be needed for deep wading. Source

Indefatigable

Elsewhere in Africa, and in the Middle East, the tactical employment of technicals developed differently. In Somalia and Libya, the combat was less in open desert and more in urban environments. Conventional tactics were thrown out altogether. The technical was no longer to be seen as a modern cavalry horse, but as a mobile gun platform.

Somalia

Following Somalia’s defeat at the hands of Ethiopia in the Ogaden War in 1978, Somali President Siad Barre grew more and more unpopular among the Somali clans. Culture in Somalia is heavily influenced by families, or clans, with histories dating back up to one thousand years. Barre had risen to power through ruthless means, often involving the murder of opponents, particularly of the Isaq clan, with whom his own clan, the Marehan, had a blood feud. Following the loss of the Ogaden War, in 1978 men of the Isaq and Mijerteen clans attempted a coup against Barre, but this failed. The perpetrators of the coup escaped to England, where they formed the Somali National Movement (SNM) and returned to Somalia to overthrow Barre’s dictatorship.

In response to the coup, Barre began open attacks on the civilian population of the Isaq clan, in the northern part of the country. As Somalia began to break down, warlords arose and clans formed their own militias. The SNM was supported by Ethiopia, occasionally being provided T-54s. This insurgency continued through the 1980s until it found success in 1987 when the SNM succeeded in cutting off the northwestern section of the country. Heavy fighting occurred in 1988 as the SNM struggled to hang on to their northern territory, eventually being pushed out by the Somali National Army (SNA), which committed atrocities the whole way. The SNM captured Toyota Land Cruisers from the SNA and turned them into technicals by fitting them with DShK and KPV machine guns, M40 recoilless rifles, and rocket launchers.

Somalia continued to fall apart during 1989 and 1990, until Siad Barre fled the country in January 1991, just as the fighting exploded into a free for all. Up until the expulsion of Barre, no less than seven militant factions emerged in Somalia.

  • Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA), composed of the Gadabursi clan
  • Somali Democratic Movement (SDM), composed of the Rahanweyn clan
  • Somali National Front (SNF), composed of the Marehan clan
  • Somali National Movement (SNM), composed of the Isaq clan
  • Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), primarily composed of the Ogaden clan
  • Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), primarily composed of the Majeerteen clan
  • United Somali Congress (USC), composed of the Hawiye clan

The SDA and SNF were pro-Barre factions, while the others were opposed to the Barre government.

The USC, led by Mohamed Farrah Aidid, was instrumental in taking the capital, Mogadishu, and ousting Barre. The USC also defeated Barre’s attempts to return in April 1991, April 1992, and September 1992. The anti-Barre factions only engaged in very limited cooperation, as each of their goals varied from the others. The USC was one of the largest factions, and it held the center of the country, as well as the capital. To the south was the much smaller SPM. The USC and SPM were allied against the SNF, which held the northern portion of Somalia’s southern “hook”. The SNF incorporated a portion of the now-defunct Somali National Army. North of the USC, the SSDF held Somalia’s northwest corner. The SNM, the largest faction, held the northeast of the country, which, in May 1991, it declared to be an independent country called Somaliland.

 

A USC technical armed with an M40 recoilless rifle, Mogadishu, Somalia, 20 November 1991. The left rear quarter panel seems to have been blown away by repeated backblast of the rifle firing over the right side of the truck. This truck is actually a 60 Series Land Cruiser, a handful of which were converted into technicals in Somalia.

 

SPM Type 1a (J77LV) with a 7.62 mm SGM (or the Chinese copy, Type 53) machine gun mounted on the hood in front of the passenger’s seat. This is another Land Cruiser SUV with the top cut off. This vehicle has been given an artistic quadricolor camouflage scheme; “SPM” is barely visible in black on the door. Buulo Mareer, Somalia, 24 March 1991.

 

A 70 Series Land Cruiser leads a ragtag parade of SNM vehicles through the streets of Hargeisa, the proclaimed capital of Somaliland, March 1992. Source

By this time, the international community had taken notice of the crisis in Somalia, not least of which was mass starvation. Humanitarian organizations began to send missions to Somalia, hiring mercenaries to protect them, as they were forbidden from carrying weapons themselves. These hired guns utilized the trucks with machine guns that had become popular after the Toyota War, as did most combatants in Somalia. It is said that payment for the mercenaries was written off as “technical support”, and the mercenaries themselves were referred to as “technical advisors”. This is not the origin of the word “technical”, but it may have helped solidify its usage in the western world.

The United Nations-brokered a ceasefire between the factions in March 1992, and initiated a humanitarian aid operation called UNOSOM (United Nations Operation in SOMalia). The first UNOSOM turned out to be woefully unprepared and was undermined by the warlords as fighting restarted. The UN then initiated UNITAF (UNIted TAsk Force), led by the United States. The goal of this was to use military force to bring peace to certain areas so that humanitarian aid personnel could work without being shot. The United Nations had contemplated forceful disarmament of the warlords, but American troops were unwilling to carry this out, fearing being mowed down by the Somali technicals.

AH-1 Cobra and UH-1 Iroquois helicopters were widely used by US forces in Somalia, one of their roles being to destroy technicals. It was made clear by peacekeeping forces to the Somalis that any technicals that could constitute a threat to UN forces would be destroyed. American special forces held a “kill on sight” order in regard to technicals. After losing three trucks to an ill-advised attack on American helicopters in December 1992, the USC quickly learned to keep them hidden.

During this time, Mohamed Aidid succeeded in unifying the USC and SPM, along with several smaller factions. The new faction was called the Somali National Alliance (SNA). On December 9th, 1992, the American military made a show of force by landing a large number of troops on the shore of Mogadishu. The US forces were initially supportive of the SNA but changed sides to support the SNF. Satisfied they had done their job of intimidating the Somali forces, the Americans left Mogadishu. The area having been “stabilized”, UNITAF turned into UNOSOM II on May 4th, 1993, bringing in a massive relief operation.

Under UNOSOM II, the UN negotiated with the warlords for them to turn in their weapons, to limited success. Among the weapons surrendered were technicals, particularly the oldest and most worn-out ones. It is speculated that the Somalis were agreeable to the surrender of the technicals as they knew the UN would not take them with them when they left Somalia, and they would fall back into Somali hands. US forces categorized technicals into two types: “light technicals”, based on pickup trucks, and “heavy technicals” based on large straight trucks with heavier weaponry.

 

A Type 1d (J75LP) armed with a UB-16-57UMP rocket pod. In addition, the windshield has been removed and an HK21 light machine gun has been mounted in front of the passenger’s seat. This vehicle is part of either the SPM or USC. Kismayo, Somalia, 15 May 1992.

 

The same truck exactly one month later. Kismayo, Somalia, 15 June 1992.

Behind the scenes, the United States had the goal of eliminating Aidid, as they suspected he was a communist sympathizer. Although UNOSOM II started out well, the Somali factions began to see the relief operation as just a cover for another combatant to contend with. SNA forces began to attack UN workers and troops, leading to increased hostilities. Lack of direction and coordination meant that various UN contributing country’s forces began to act on their own, in what they believed was their best interest.

The United States made its move against Aidid on October 3rd, 1993, under Operation Gothic Serpent. An aerial attack on Mogadishu led to the loss of two MH-60 Black Hawks (this incident is the one depicted in Black Hawk Down) and ended with a mass bombardment of the city that resulted in hundreds of Somalis killed, Aidid not among them. No technicals were involved in this battle, all of them being kept hidden, as the Somalis knew the American’s propensity for destroying their valuable trucks.

The loss of American lives in Somalia turned the US population against their military’s involvement there, and only a few days after Operation Gothic Serpent, the withdrawal of US forces was announced. The American withdrawal was complete by March 3rd, 1994. With Somali opinion now against them, the remaining UN humanitarian forces could make little progress and were withdrawn in 1995. Infighting resumed among the Somali factions with renewed vigor. Aidid would die of wounds sustained in battle in August 1996. Opposition arose to the rule of his son, Hussein Farrah Aidid, who succeeded him. Ethiopia supported the formation of anti-Aidid Jr. factions, among them the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA), made up of the Rahanweyn clan. In the north, in 1995 and 1996, opposition to the independence of Somaliland led to insurgency on behalf of the Gahardji clan. Fighting continued, but on a diminishing scale, until the new millennium.

In 2000, the Somali Transitional National Government was established, and in 2004 gave way to the Transitional Federal Government. In 2006, however, a new dimension opened in the Somali Civil War in the form of Islamic extremism. The now-militant Islamic Courts Union (ICU) battled with the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) in Mogadishu. Islamic factions had existed previously in the war, but their impact was negligible. The ICU prevailed over the ARPCT and quickly took over much of southern Somalia, in the area formerly claimed by the SNA. In December, Eritrea came to the aid of the legitimate Somali government, causing further dissent from the ICU and its sympathizers.

From late 2006 into 2007, the ICU began to break up. A breakaway group was formed, al-Shabaab, which usurped the ICU’s antagonistic role in Somalia, and was in itself a far more clear-cut Islamic terrorist group. In early 2007, the African Union formed the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) to provide humanitarian aid and peacekeeping for the Transitional Federal Government. Both AMISOM and al-Shabaab employ technicals of their own; the latter’s use of them being curtailed by the presence of Ethiopian helicopters, part of the AMISOM force.

 

AMISOM Type 1a (J79L-TJ) standing guard over a camp for internally displaced people in Baidoa, Somalia, 2017. Many Somalians have had to travel over 100 miles on foot just to find a place with available food. Famines are made worse by al-Shabaab, which steals what little food does exist. Source

A great deal of fighting has gone on in Somalia since then, so much so that even a full-time scholar of the conflict would struggle to understand all of the intricacies of the politics being fought over. While Somalia now has an internationally recognized government, fighting is still ongoing. Today, the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF), the reformed military of Somalia, employs Land Cruisers both as personnel carriers and as technicals.

To the Somali fighter, his truck is known as a “Battlewagon”, and it is a great source of pride. Somali technicals are often painted in colorful and elaborate paint schemes. More than any other country, Somalia is inextricably linked with the technical. Having been in use for over three decades, technicals have permeated Somali culture; a culture that is, unfortunately, one of war.

 

A Type 1a (J75RP) of the Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a, a Somali Islamic anti-terrorism group. Mounted in the bed of the truck is a 14.5 mm ZPU-1, an anti-aircraft mount version of the KPV. In the hands of the men in the back of the truck are several AKM rifles and an RPG-7. Mareer Gur, Somalia, 17 December 2012. Source

Afghanistan

The Afghan Mujahideen were another early adopter of technicals. The Mujahideen were a collection of revolutionary groups opposed to the government of Afghanistan, called the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. One of these groups would emerge as the Taliban. Like Iraq, the majority of vehicles available in Afghanistan were of Soviet origin, however, the Afghan rebels imported some foreign pickup trucks from Pakistan. This was often done by transporting the disassembled trucks over the mountains and reassembling them again in Afghanistan. Trucks of American make, and especially the Toyota Hilux, were the preferred type.

At least some Land Cruisers made their way into Afghanistan, as evidenced by photos taken by Soviet Spetsnaz special forces during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Spetsnaz troops operated technicals they captured from the Afghans in order to remain inconspicuous.

 

Soviet special forces with a Type 1a (J75LP), mounting a 12.7 mm DShK. Source

 

Two J75LPs in use by Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The Type 1a on the right carries a DShK, while the Type 1f on the left is armed with an AGS-17 30 mm grenade launcher. To the left of the technicals is a BTR-70. Source

It is said that Osama bin Laden, leader of the Taliban-aligned Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, preferred to ride in a Land Cruiser, while the rest of his organization favored Hiluxes.

Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, and the subsequent occupation, the use of technicals dropped significantly. Like in Somalia, technicals were no match for modern aircraft, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda were forced to keep their trucks hidden and rarely used. Many of the trucks were destroyed early in the fighting, and a sufficient supply of them did not exist in Afghanistan for technicals to stay common, as they did in other countries.

 

A Type 1b (J75) in service with the Taliban, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2000. Source: Osprey New Vanguard 257 – Technicals

Libya

For as long as the country was ruled by Muammar al-Gaddafi, Libya has been a dangerous and destabilizing force in Africa. Gaddafi focused the entire country toward militarism, purchasing large amounts of equipment from the Soviet Union, which the poorly trained Libyan Army could never hope to fully utilize. Gaddafi’s end goal was to see to the success of Islamic rebel groups in Africa and the Middle East and to unite the Islamic world in a holy war against Israel.

Inspired by the success of Chad during the Toyota War in 1987, Libya began to copy Chad’s tactics and their use of technicals. Very little documentation exists regarding Libya’s early use of technicals, however Chadian sources record that in 1987, the final year of the Toyota War, Chad captured 60 Toyota technicals and 194 non-technical Toyota trucks from the Libyan Army. This evidences that Libya did adopt the use of technicals, but does not indicate much as to Libya’s creation of technicals, as many of the trucks were captured back and forth between Chad and Libya.

The modern conflict in Libya started with the period between 2010 and 2012 known as Arab Spring. All over Africa and the Middle East, civil rebellions began to break out, as citizens were fed up with governmental tyranny, corruption, and disregard for human life. In Libya, this resulted in the First Libyan Civil War in 2011. Protests against the government began in January, and intensified in February. As the protests turned into a full on civil war, the National Transitional Council (NTC) was founded on February 27th to coordinate the rebellion and to govern the country once Gaddafi had been removed. The military wing of the NTC was the National Liberation Army (NLA), which comprised the Libyan rebels in general, and was outfitted with weapons captured from Libyan Armed Forced stocks.

Particularly large numbers of Soviet air-to-ground unguided rockets were captured from the Libyan Air Force, owing to Gaddafi’s heavy investment into aircraft. While the NLA did operate a small number of captured aircraft, the majority of captured aircraft weaponry was repurposed into the ground-to-ground role, especially mounted on technicals. While the Libyans were not the first to use these rockets in this role, being preceded by first the Soviets in Afghanistan, then the former Yugoslav countries, they were the first to utilize them in a large enough role that it can be said they made an impact on the conflict. By far the most common weapons seen in this role are the UB-16-57UMP and UB-32-57, 16- and 32-round launchers respectively for the 57 mm S-5 rocket. Somewhat less common are the B-8M1 launcher for 80 mm S-8 rockets, and the French Matra Type 155 launcher for 68 mm SNEB rockets.

Unguided rockets in general are a staple of Libyan technicals. Again, this can be attributed to what Gaddafi’s military had in stock, rather than what is optimal for the role. When properly mounted on an aircraft and stabilized by the airflow over the wings, unguided rockets are inaccurate at best. When shoddily attached to a pickup truck and fired from a stationary position, the likelihood of hitting a target with the 5-kilogram rockets is “not good.” Regardless, inaccuracy is compensated for by sheer numbers, and air-to-ground rockets are not the only type in the Libyan arsenal. Chinese 107 mm Type 63 12-round launchers, Egyptian SAKR RL-4 4-tube launchers for 122 mm Grad rockets, various improvised launchers, and even the 240 mm S-24 rocket have found their way onto Toyota technicals. Other weapons captured from the Libyan Army and mounted on Type 1 technicals during the First Libyan Civil War include 14.5 mm ZPU-2s and ZPU-4s, 23 mm ZU-23-2s, 105 mm M40 recoilless rifles, and BMP-1 turrets.

 

NLA Type 1d armed with a UB-16-57UMP rocket pod, western entrance to Ajdabiya, Libya, 7 April 2011. This truck is unusual among those armed with rocket pods in that its weapon seems to have quite a high degree of horizontal traverse. On most technicals of this type, the weapon is fixed, with only the elevation able to be changed. It is uncommon to see a Type 1 technical with this type of rocket pod, which is more often fitted to Type 2 technicals, possibly because the Type 1 is better suited to handling heavier weapons. Notice that the rocket pod is painted in the colors of the Libyan flag, a common motif. Source

 

Two typical Libyan technicals, both Type 1d’s armed with Type 63 rocket launchers. The nearer truck is a J79L-TJ and the farther one a J75LP. The cords hanging off the beds of the trucks lead to the operators of the rocket launchers, out of frame. With the cab and bed of both trucks full of blankets and pillows, it is not hard to see why Type d technicals are often lost to fire. The “17” scrawled on the side of the nearer truck is in reference to the 17 February Revolution, regarded as the start of the First Libyan Civil War. The number 17 can be seen on many Libyan technicals. This photo was taken in February or March 2011. Source

 

A Libyan rebel Type 1d (J79L-TJ) armed with an SAKR RL-4, Ajdabiya, Libya, 25 April 2011. Source

Gaddafi continually tried to dismiss that the rebellion was a threat to him, stating that the rebels were terrorists or foreign instigators. In his typically heavy-handed way, he brought the Libyan Army against protestors, massacring hundreds of civilians. In a vicious cycle, the more Gaddafi tried to suppress the rebellion, the more intense and convicted the rebels became, and the crueler the atrocities committed against them by the Libyan government. Libyan forces targeted medics and hospitals, and by May, were conducting airstrikes and artillery bombardment of civilian areas.

The rebellion swept quickly from west to east across Libya. Benghazi was the first city taken over by rebel forces, followed quickly by Misrata. In March, the Libyan Army attempted an offensive to retake the two cities but failed. Later in March, UN and NATO countries began to intervene in Libya on the NTC’s behalf. Combat continued for several months, with NATO forces conducting regular airstrikes against Libyan government forces. Too little and too late, in June, Gaddafi tried to plead with the rebels by offering to allow political elections.

By the end of August, the NLA controlled the entire country, including the capital of Tripoli, with the exception of a few small pockets of pro-Gaddafi forces. The last areas fell to the rebellion in late October — Bani Waled, and Sirte, the latter where Gaddafi was killed on October 20th, when he was shot in the head.

 

Type 1e (J75LP) armed with an M40 recoilless rifle driving down the B13 Coastal Road between Brega and Ajdabiya, Libya, 7 April 2011. Source

 

A Libyan rebel Type 1b Special (J79L-TJ), armed with a ZPU-4, Sadada, Libya, August 30th, 2011. Like many white trucks, this Land Cruiser has been coated with dirt for camouflage, which has since been wiped away in some areas. Technicals from the First Libyan Civil War tend to show a great deal of wear and tear, even though the war was less than a year long. One possibility is these trucks were not in great condition to begin with when they were converted to technicals. Source

The National Transitional Council initially governed Libya successfully after the overthrow of Gaddafi. The NTC was recognized by foreign nations as the government of Libya, and it represented Libya in the United Nations. Unfortunately, some of the soldiers who took part in the overthrow of Gaddafi refused to lay down their arms and began to factionalize and form militias. Trying to maintain control over these groups, the NTC, and later the General National Congress, a more permanent government structure that replaced it, made these groups semi-legitimate institutions by paying them. The subsequent series of events is complex and largely irrelevant to the discussion of the eventual outcome; government-sponsored militias began to fight with each other, and like with the clans in Somalia, these groups were also political ones. Unlike in Somalia however, the factionalism and rise of militias did not lead to a total breakdown of the central government, but the formation of two separate governments, both of which claim to be the legitimate government of Libya.

  • House of Representatives – Legitimately replaced the General National Congress in 2014, based in Tobruk.
  • National Salvation Government – Illegitimately formed by politicians of the General National Congress who lost to those elected to the House of Representatives in 2014, and instead remained in Tripoli. This group also continued to use the name of the General National Congress. In 2016, it rebranded to the High Council of State.

In 2015, the United Nations attempted to rectify the two Libyan governments by consolidating them into the Government of National Accord. This effort was only partially successful, and rather than combining the two existing governments, created a third out of parts of both of them. The Government of National Accord is the currently recognized ruling government of Libya, although it lacks the power of the other two.

While the two, and later three, Libyan governments form a backdrop to the fighting between the Libyan militia groups, the Second Libyan Civil War, which began in 2014, cannot be thought of as a traditional ‘one side versus another’ war. To fully understand the Second Libyan Civil War would require a compendium unto itself. Though it might seem to be a free-for-all to the outside observer, the conflict between the Libyan militias is a focused one, albeit with constantly shifting allegiances, alliances, goals, and groupings. Militias may be formed according to race, religion, location, family, government affiliation, or national identity. Out of all the conflicts discussed in this article, the Second Libyan Civil War is the most incomprehensible. For that reason, and for the sake of brevity, the politics and the specifics of the war will be passed over, in favor of examining the use of the Land Cruiser.

 

A Type 1f (J79L-TJ) belonging to the Libyan Air Defense Forces. These trucks carry dual 9K388 Igla-S surface-to-air missile launchers. March 16th, 2013. Source

Toyota first established dealerships in Libya in 2010, but they were quickly closed due to the First Libyan Civil War. After the overthrow of Gaddafi, the dealerships reopened in 2012. Heavy-duty models of the 70 Series are not imported to Libya; such models have 11 leaves in their leaf spring suspension, as opposed to 8 in the standard models. The extra suspension makes these trucks more suitable for mounting heavy weapons. Libyan Toyota dealerships are mandated by Toyota corporate not to sell to people they suspect are connected to the militias. However, these efforts have made little difference to the prevalence of Type 1 technicals in Libya. Since many of the militias are technically on the government payroll, it is perfectly legal for Toyota dealerships to sell to them.

Once a militia has acquired a fresh truck, they take it to a workshop to be converted into a technical. Assumedly, some militias have their own workshops and armories, while others rely on local shops to do the work. In Misrata for example, the Industrial Technology Faculty of Misrata, one of the colleges under the umbrella of Misrata University, serves as one of the technical workshops for the city’s militias. ITFM, like many technical schools and workshops across Libya, first got into this “business” during the 2011 revolution, when they produced weapons and technicals for NLA fighters. When fighting began again in 2014, the college was compelled to go back to working on technicals.

Generally, the way it works is the brigade will approach us. They’ll say, ‘Look, we’ve got X numbers of cars and we need you to put this on this car, this on that car, different types of weapons and so on. We’ll look at the car, we’ll see if it’s capable of carrying the weight of the weapon they’re asking for. If not we’ll make a few suggestions about what they could change or what alternative weapons could cover instead. … I didn’t think that we were going to have to come back and restart, I had people coming to me after the revolution asking if I could mount weapons and I just said, ‘No, we’re not mounting any more. What do you need a weapon for now? The fighting is over.’ I don’t even really like weapons, I’ve never really liked them and never thought of this being a job for me!” -Abdelsalam Gargoum, a former teacher at the technical college in Misrata, during an interview in 2014.

 

Workers at the Industrial Technology Faculty of Misrata working on an order of Type 1d technicals. The vehicle seen in the background displays a few signatures of this workshop, namely a base coat of black paint and an improvised flat four-tube launcher for 122 mm Grad rockets. This particular truck, a J75, has a striking blue camouflage pattern. September 4th, 2014. Source

The trends seen in the construction of technicals during the First Libyan Civil War were continued in the second, namely the use of rockets and the choice of weapon types. The Gaddafi regime stockpiled far more ammunition than it could ever realistically use, and now that surplus of weapons is being used to keep the civil war going. In regard to technical design, there is little reason to distinguish between the first and second Libyan Civil Wars, as what can be said of one of them also applies to the other. One exception to this is that farther along in the second civil war, there grew greater and greater ambition to mount larger and more extravagant weaponry onto technicals.

Two such weapons that began to appear on technicals around 2016 are the 90 mm CN90F1 from the AML-90 armored car, and the 90 mm EC-90 (Brazilian licensed copy of the Cockerill Mk.III) from the EE-9 Cascavel. Libya purchased just 20 AML-90s from France in 1970, and 500 Cascavels from Brazil in 1973. For mounting onto technicals, the entire front of the AML-90 or EE-9 turret is cut off and placed on a triangular mount that allows 360° rotation. So far, at least four such conversions have been done with the CN90F1, three on 70 Series Land Cruisers, and one on a Humvee. While conversions with the EC-90 are more common, owing to the donor vehicle being more common, they are still quite rare. For Type 1 technicals mounting these weapons, while the gun can face forward, it cannot effectively fire over the cab. Firing over the side is liable to tip the whole vehicle, so firing over the rear is the only option.

 

A Government of National Accord-aligned militia with a Type 1f (J79L-TJ) mounting a partial AML-90 turret and CN90F1 cannon, Tripoli, Libya, 18 October 2019. Source

 

A Type 1f armed with the EC-90 cannon demonstrating the issue with firing over the side of the vehicle. Photo taken in May 2019. Source

The First Libyan Civil War was the first conflict to see the use of Type 1BMPs — a severed BMP-1 turret mounted in the back of a technical. The BMP-1 turret mounts the 73 mm 2A28 Grom low-pressure cannon and has a launch rail for the 9M14 Malyutka anti-tank guided missile. The first Type 1BMP conversions were crude. The turret was seated on a simple angle iron frame, left open on the sides and only sometimes protected by a metal plate at the rear. The turret basket was removed, and along with it went the ammunition storage and gunner’s seat. On BMP technicals, the ammunition is carried in the bed of the truck, and the gunner is given an office chair to sit on. The electrical components and drive motor from the BMP are also transplanted onto the technical to power the turret’s electric traverse and elevation mechanisms.

The reasons for doing these conversions are numerous. Most probably, the donor BMPs were destroyed, damaged, or cannibalized for parts to keep other BMPs running, yet their turrets were still functional and now left without a vehicle. It is possible that the donor BMP was in working order, but the turret was removed so the hull could be used for another purpose. Finally, there is the fact that tracked vehicles are large and difficult to maintain, and the BMP-1, being a lightly armored APC, is unsuitable to urban combat, where an RPG hides around every corner. Therefore, it is possible nothing at all was wrong with the donor vehicle, but the turret was mounted on a technical to make it more mobile and smaller profile.

Libyan rebel forces testing the systems of a Type 1BMP in preparation for the Battle of Galaa/Sofitt Hill on June 7th, 2011.

 

A Libya Dawn Type 1BMP in Bir al-Ghanam, Libya, on March 5th, 2015. This unique short wheelbase Type 1BMP is unlikely to be useful for much outside of fire support. Having been converted from an SUV, there is not enough room in the bed for the gunner to man the gun if it is pointing over the rear of the truck, and there may not even be enough room to operate it when aiming over the right side, assuming that the mount provides any traverse and is not just fixed in place. Without room to mount the whole turret, the trunnion and cannon have been cut out and placed on a pedestal. The mounting of this gun does not look very sturdy, even against the low recoil force of the 2A28. Source

In general, Libyans keep their trucks in the factory colors, usually tan. Occasionally this is covered with a smearing of dirt, especially if the truck is white, but the tan color is usually already a perfect match for the Libyan terrain. Trucks are usually given the identifying mark of their militia on the door at minimum, and more commonly are covered in slogans and patriotic symbols and flags. When seen operating in groups, such as during an offensive, large sections of trucks such as the hood, doors, or gunshield can be painted in the colors of the Libyan flag.

Combat in Libya is a mix of urban fighting and fighting in the open desert. In urban combat, Type 1a’s, Type 1b’s, and Type 1e’s are commonly employed to fight against entrenched enemy troops. In hilly and desert terrain, Type 1b’s provide fire support for infantry. A common tactic is for the technicals to lay suppressive fire on a defending enemy in order to allow friendly troops to advance to close range. This method was used particularly in the first civil war against government forces.

The Type 1d’s, armed with rockets, are kept to open spaces and used in indirect fire and long-range direct fire roles. Due to the inaccuracy of these rockets, their use is more as a terror weapon similar to the Soviet World War II Katyusha, rather than as targeted artillery. For safety, Type 1d’s are almost always fired with the crew dismounted. Because technical crews have to live out of their trucks, technicals can be stuffed with ammunition, food, water, bedding, clothes, and so on. This makes them extremely flammable, and many a technical has gone up in flames when the exhaust of a rocket caught something alight.

 

An ISIL Type 1e (J79) armed with an improvised single-tube launcher for 122 mm Grad rockets fires on the oil fields in Sidra, Libya, 7 May 2016. Source

One of the dangers of operating in open terrain is attack from aircraft. NATO forces in Libya largely limit themselves to air support. This is what prevented Gaddafi’s tanks and aircraft from being used to their full potential during the first civil war. In the second civil war, half of all targets claimed by NATO aircraft were technicals. Target identification in this situation is problematic, and NATO aircraft often accidentally bomb the wrong side’s technicals.

In urban combat, some technical crews have begun to fit their vehicles with light armor. Usually, this is a flat plate or wedge attached to the front of the vehicle, mostly to protect the engine from gunfire. Even on armored technicals, the crew are left completely exposed. The frontal armor also helps to protect the vehicle when ramming through barricades or into other vehicles. Sometimes chains are hung from the bottom of the front armor; it is believed this is intended as a way to protect the tires.

 

Libyan National Army Type 1b (J79L-TJ) with additional frontal armor and a pintle-mounted DShK on the hood. The usefulness of this weapon is questionable, seeing as there is nothing to stop its user from falling off, nor is he offered any protection from the armor. Notice a removable cover has been fashioned into the armor plate over the left side headlight. The soldier hanging out of the hole where the passenger’s side door used to be is armed with a 7.62 mm PKM machine gun, and the person behind him with an RPG-7. The black truck to the left of the picture is a Type 10a, a Mitsubishi L200. Sabha District, Libya, 19 January 2019. Source

Several militias have distinctive technicals that are worth discussing on their own. The Mobile National Force (MNF) has a standardized camouflage pattern that they apply to nearly all of their technicals. It is a forest camouflage with a dark green base covered with a pattern of irregular brown, black, and off-white shapes. Strangely, this pattern seems to be a vinyl wrap, rather than painted or sprayed on camouflage. This observation is drawn from the fact that vehicles with MNF pattern camouflage often have areas that are left in the original paint, with crisp lines of definition where the wrap was applied. Areas that are sometimes left uncamouflaged are the extremities around the grille, bed, windshield, and roof. The largest number of vehicles in this pattern were seen in late 2012, but as the MNF is still active, though less often photographed, it is highly likely a good portion of their trucks are still in this pattern, though they seem to no longer apply it to new technicals.

Whether camouflaged or not, most MNF technicals carry a sticker on the door with the militia’s logo, and under that, a number written in five decimal spaces. Numbers observed on Type 1 technicals range from 00090 to 01250, always being multiples of 10. The exact purpose of this number is not known for certain, but it is likely a unit numbering system. MNF Type 1s have been seen to carry the usual range of ZPU-1s, ZPU-2s, ZU-23-2s, and M40s, but they have also been seen with the much more rare ZPU-4 and the Zastava M55A4B1 triple 20 mm.

 

Mobile National Force Type 1a (J79L-TJ) armed with a ZPU-1. Notice the sharp line at the bottom of the door where the original white paint can be seen not covered by the vinyl wrap. This vehicle bears the number 360. Photo taken sometime before April 2013. Source

 

A column of MNF vehicles being led by a Type 1b (J79L-TJ) armed with a ZPU-2. The black truck to the left is another J79L-TJ also armed with a ZPU-2, and in the back is a J75LP, armed with an M55A4B1. The armored car is a Bravia Chaimite that has been fitted with a rocket or missile launcher. Photo taken sometime before April 2013. Source

The Libyan National Army (LNA) is the military maintained by the House of Representatives. It is led by Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, and is often described as “Haftar’s Army.” As one of the largest fighting forces in Libya, the LNA does not have an army-wide standard for the outfit of their technicals, though, in general, LNA Type 1s are kept in the factory tan paint and camouflage patterns are applied over this.

The most common camouflage pattern to see on LNA technicals is large brown splotches with a black spray-painted border. These camouflages seem to come in two varieties, one can be identified by large semi-circular spots on the hood above both headlights, and the other can be identified by squiggly lines of camouflage coming up onto the hood from either side above the front wheels. It is impossible to say when this pattern was introduced, but it appears to be relatively recently, within the last several years.

 

A force of al-Saiqa (LNA special forces) Type 1b (J79L-TJ)s from 497th Battalion assembled in Benghazi, Libya, on June 18th, 2020. The first, third, and fourth trucks have the first camouflage pattern variant, the second, fifth, and sixth trucks have the second pattern variant. This photo also offers a comparison of the relative size of the ZU-23-2 and ZPU-2, mounted on the first and second truck respectively. Among the second row of vehicles in the background is a J78L troop carrier ambulance and a J79L-TJ with an improvised 4-tube launcher for Grad rockets. Source

 

An LNA Type 1d (J79L-TJ) armed with a massive 240 mm S-24 air-to-ground rocket. This vehicle is being prepared to fire on ISIS positions near Sirte, Libya. Photo taken on June 10th, 2016. Source

 

This Type 1b (J79L-TJ) was captured by Ansar al-Sharia from the LNA in Benghazi in October of 2014. It has vinyl wrap camouflage similar to that used by the MNF, and the number on the door indicates that it may be one of several similarly decorated trucks. So far this is the only known photo of a LNA technical with this camouflage pattern. Source

 

LNA Central Security, a military police unit, paints their trucks in a slate blue base color and adds distinctive light blue camouflage spots. This Type 1a (J79L-TJ) was photographed in Sabha, Libya on February 6th, 2019. Source

 

The 106th Brigade of the Libyan National Army uses a camouflage pattern wherein the shapes of Africa and Libya are stenciled in black/dark olive onto the tan base paint of their vehicles, seen here on a Type 1b (left), Type 1a (middle), and Type 1b Special (right). Source

Libya Dawn used two notable types of camouflage on their Type 1s. The first was a pattern similar to that used by the LNA’s 106th Brigade, albeit with spots not shaped like landmasses. Libya Dawn’s pattern had more densely packed spots, which are an earth brown color. The other camouflage type was used in the area around Zintan, south of Tripoli. It consisted of comedically shaped green, black, brown, and white splats over the basic tan paint. A corresponding feature seen on trucks with this camouflage was a simple metal shield for the ZPU gunner in the back.

 

A pair of Libya Dawn Type 1b (J79L-TJ)s on the side of a road into Zintan, Libya, on March 4th, 2015. Notice that both trucks have an upright metal plate attached to the left side of their ZPU-2s to protect the gunner. The “lion head” seal on the door of the truck is indicative of Libya Dawn. The meaning of the seal on the hood and of the pink panel is not known. The tan and black trucks behind the Type 1 in the foreground are both Toyota Hiluxes.

Indestructible

Like the Libyan Civil Wars, the Syrian Civil War and Yemeni Civil War were brought about by the Arab Spring movement. The Syrian Civil War in particular has fostered renewed Islamic terrorism that has spread throughout the world. Largely for that reason, the conflict has been covered far more extensively than any other conflict described in this article. The Syrian Civil War and the Yemeni Civil War are different to the other conflicts discussed in this article in that researching them poses the opposite problem than researching other conflicts does. Rather than a scarcity of information, there is an overabundance of information about these wars. Thanks to the pervasive use of social media, almost every skirmish is documented, and every vehicle photographed at least twice. The challenge is in correlating this information, which is spread out across hundreds of news outlets, observers, websites, and forums.

Syria

To properly cover the Syrian Civil War would require an encyclopedia unto itself. “Syrian Civil War” is often used as a collective term for the many smaller wars and skirmishes centered around Syria, but also affecting Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Turkey. At times, the conflict looked like a free-for-all, and at best is a multi-way war between at least four sides; the Syrian government, Syrian rebels, Kurds, and the Islamic State.

Beginning in March 2011, protests and civil unrest arose in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad. As part of the Arab Spring, the people demanded reform, the end of corruption, and political and personal freedoms. In response, Bashar blamed Israel for the uprisings and sent in the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) to quell the riots, resulting in the death of over 1,000 civilians. In retaliation to the Syrian government’s disastrous handling of the protests, riots and armed insurrections began. Deserters from the SAA formed their own rebel armies, most notably the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which was established on July 29th, 2011.

Fighting quickly intensified as forces loyal to Assad tried to crush the rebellions, further cementing the resolve of the rebels. During the first half of 2012, the UN and Arab League attempted to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict arising in Syria, but these efforts failed, and in June, the UN abandoned Syria. The FSA arose in the Latakia Governorate, north of Lebanon, bordering the Mediterranean. Fighting then moved inland, centered on the major cities of Aleppo in the north and Damascus in the south. SAA attacks on Kurdish civilians led the People’s Protection Units [Yekîneyên Parastina Gel] (YPG) to enter the fighting against the Syrian government. The YPG had been formed in 2011 as a military wing of the Democratic Union Party [Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat] (PYD) to protect Kurds from the fighting in the Syrian Civil War; this was their first major act.

In January 2012, Jabhat al-Nusra l’Ahl as-Sham was formed. Better known as al-Nusra Front, or just al-Nusra, this Islamic extremist group originated when al-Qaeda decided to make a Syrian offshoot in late 2011. Despite radically opposed ideologies, al-Nusra and the FSA cooperated in the fight against the SAA. Al-Nusra operated primarily in the Idlib Governorate, between Aleppo and Damascus. While their fighters were said to be elite in regular combat, al-Nusra also engaged in terrorism and greater than average amounts of war crimes.

In the second half of 2012, the FSA took ground around Damascus and Aleppo. They captured several SAA barracks and bases, gaining large amounts of supplies and weapons. Speaking in regard to these gains, FSA General Ahmad al-Faj declared, “There has never been a battle before with this much booty”. In November, another FSA force arose in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, bordering Iraq, and took the town of Mayadin, along with the SAA base there. By the beginning of 2013, FSA and al-Nusra forces, incidentally aided by the YPG, which took control of much of the northern territory, “spilled over” the top of Syria and linked up with the FSA contingent in Deir ez-Zor. In February and March, Raqqa, capital of the Raqqa Governorate, emerged as a fierce battleground, being fully in the hands of the rebels by March 6th.

Starting in late 2012 and increasing their involvement in the opening months of 2013, the militant Lebanese Islamic extremist political party called Hezbollah began interventions in Syria on the side of the Syrian government. Other prominent Lebanese figures and groups urged Hezbollah not to get involved in Syria, for fear that it would drag Lebanon into the war. Hezbollah ignored these pleas, intent on combating what they called American and Israeli influence in Syria, in the form of the FSA.

With help from Hezbollah forces, the SAA launched an offensive to retake areas south of Homs from the rebels in April 2013. Pro-Assad forces made several smaller gains over subsequent months. During this period of SAA offensives, rebel forces claimed that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against them. In July, the YPG emerged victorious over the village of Ras al-Ayn, for which they had been fighting the FSA, al-Nusra, and the SAA since November 2012.

Intense back and forth fighting over Homs and Aleppo continued in July between various Islamic groups, the FSA, and SAA. On August 4th, the FSA launched the Latakia Offensive, aimed at taking al-Haffah in the Latakia Governorate. After two weeks, the SAA had retaken all the ground gained by the FSA in the offensive. On August 6th, the FSA took the Menagh Military Airbase, north of Aleppo, which had been under siege since November 2012. For the remainder of August, rebel forces made small-scale assaults, but any ground they took was quickly retaken by the SAA.

The organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) had been active in Iraq in one form or another since 1999. The original founder of ISIL, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004, and thereafter ISIL took orders from al-Qaeda and was largely seen as al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq. When the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, ISIL attempted to establish an offshoot organization there — al-Nusra. On April 8th, 2013, ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that al-Nusra had been funded by ISIL and that it would be merging with its parent organization. Neither al-Nusra nor al-Qaeda had agreed to this, and this led to ISIL breaking away from al-Qaeda on its own. ISIL (during this period normally called ISIS) initially played a small role in the fighting against the SAA. Their first major move toward becoming a power was turning on the FSA and taking control of the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo.

An FSA Type 1BMP (J79L-TJ) taking several shots at Syrian government forces then quickly ducking into cover during the fighting for al-Manshiyah District of Daraa, Syria, July 10th, 2013.

Renewed SAA and pro-Assad forces assaults on Damascus and Aleppo occurred in October and November 2013. Toward the end of November, the FSA retook some territory from the SAA. Back and forth fighting continued into December. Meanwhile, one of the Islamic rebel factions, the Islamic Front, took some northern territory from the FSA, including warehouses of equipment provided by the US.

On January 3rd, the FSA and two of the moderate Islamic rebel groups, the Islamic Front and the Army of Mujahideen, launched an attack against ISIS, a growing thorn in the side of the Syrian rebellion. FSA-aligned forces were able to expel ISIS from Aleppo and Raqqa, however, the terrorist group managed to retake the latter. Aircraft from Turkey also engaged ISIS vehicles at this time.

During March and April 2014, pro-Assad forces made gains in the area of the Qalamoun Mountains, along Syria’s border with Lebanon, north of Damascus. They also found success in the Homs Governorate, north of the Qalamoun Mountains. The FSA ceded Homs itself to the SAA on May 7th.

By mid-2014, ISIS had grown into a considerable power in Syria. Also existing as a fighting force in Iraq, ISIS captured much Iraqi equipment and vehicles and deployed some of them to Syria. Both the SAA and Iraqi Air Force conducted airstrikes against ISIS’s strongholds in the region of Aleppo, however, ISIS continued to quickly snatch up neighboring territories. In its attacks, ISIS frequently employed suicide bombers. During August, ISIS laid siege to and captured the SAA’s Tabqa Airbase, thereby pushing the SAA out of the Raqqa Governorate. In regard to ISIS, the SAA then changed focus to the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, east of Raqqa. Deir ez-Zor not only contains Syria’s largest oil reserves but was a territory necessary for ISIS forces in Syria to maintain contact with ISIS forces in Iraq.

Already conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, the United States began attacking ISIS in Syria as well in September 2014, after having informed both the Syrian government and FSA. With material support from the Syrian government, the YPG retook its city of Kobanî on January 26th, 2015. The YPG’s forces in Kobanî would later be bolstered by troops from Iraqi Kurdistan’s Peshmerga.

With al-Nusra having gained control of most of the Idlib Governorate, many of the Islamic rebel factions in the area, including al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, consolidated to form the Army of Conquest. The goal of this coalition was taking Idlib, the capital of the governorate. On March 28th, 2015, Idlib was captured by the Army of Conquest forces. From there, the Army of Conquest launched an offensive that pushed the remaining SAA forces out of the governorate almost entirely. By this time, the FSA’s dominance had waned. Many of the fighters left to join other rebel factions, the largest of which was Ahrar al-Sham.

 

Al-Nusra Type 1s on their way to Busra al-Harir, Syria, on April 20th, 2015. The lead Type 1a is armed with a KPV heavy machine gun, behind it is a Type 1c, mounting a BGM-71 TOW, and bringing up the rear is another Type 1a. All three trucks are J79L-TJs. Source

In May, ISIS launched the Palmyra Offensive, taking control of much of the Homs Governorate and capturing the city of Palmyra on May 21st, after only one week. After this offensive, ISIS controlled about half of Syria. A counter-offensive by the SAA in July and August failed to retake Palmyra.

In September 2015, with the war situation the worst it had ever gotten, Bashar al-Assad asked Russia for air support against ISIS and the anti-Assad rebels. In response, the United States reinitiated its support for the Kurds and Syrian rebels. With the Syrian Civil War now being a practical Cold War reunion, fighting on all sides intensified, with morale running high for both the SAA and Syrian rebels. After the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, attributed to ISIS, France redoubled their bombing efforts in Syria, and deployed their aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, to join the US fleet there. In December, the British joined the air war over Syria, having previously limited themselves to only bombing ISIS in Iraq.

In October 2015, the SAA launched the Latakia Offensive, to push rebel forces out of the Latakia Governorate. The SAA was supported on the ground by Hezbollah, and in the air by Russia. By the time it ended in February 2016, the offensive had been a resounding success, and most of the governorate had been retaken. At this time, the United Nations-brokered a ceasefire between all forces (excepting ISIS), which went into effect on February 27th. In March, the SAA retook Palmyra. The ceasefire fell apart in July, and fighting between the pro-Assad forces and anti-Assad forces reignited in Aleppo, which had been continually fought over since it was first contested in 2012. It took until December 22nd, 2016, for Aleppo to be fully under the control of the SAA, ending the Battle of Aleppo after 4 years, 5 months.

A rebel Type 1b (J79L-TJ) in Aleppo in 2015 displaying superb coordination between the crewmembers, as the truck pops out of the alleyway just long enough for the ZPU-2 gunner to empty the magazines. Source

 

A Type 1b (J79L-TJ) belonging to the Harakat al-Abdal, a member of the Iraqi PMU, in northern Aleppo Governorate on February 5th, 2016. The birdhouse-like structure behind the cab is a crude early warning system meant to detect incoming infrared guided missiles. Source

In October 2015, the Kurds formed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), based around the YPG, including many smaller militias. The SDF’s goal of a religiously free and democratic Syria, with an autonomous Syrian Kurdistan existing east of the Euphrates River, put them at odds with Assad’s government. Between August 16th and August 23rd, 2016, the SDF took control of the remaining areas in the al-Hasakah Governorate that were under the control of Syrian government forces. The following day, Turkey initiated Operation Euphrates Shield, and invaded the northern Aleppo Governorate, to the condemnation of all involved, except for the United States. Despite the fact the Turkish government regarded the Kurds as a terrorist organization, and the United States having pledged support for the Kurds, American Vice President Joe Biden threatened to pull support from the SDF unless they kept to their side of the Euphrates, allowing the Turks into Syria. Prior to this point, Turkey had materially supported some of the Islamic rebel factions.

Unsurprisingly, Turkey, and its sponsored rebel groups which it formed into a faction called the Syrian National Army (SNA), continued deeper into Syria, coming into conflict with the SDF/YPG. Both the US and Russia condemned Turkey for picking fights with Syrian rebel groups, rather than focusing on ISIS.

 

A small force from the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, a pro-ISIS militia, in a town near the Golan Heights, March 25th, 2016. On the left is a T-55, and on the right is a BMP-1 with the turret replaced by a ZU-23-2. In the center is a Type 1b (J79L-TJ), which is unusually covered with a camouflage net. Source

In November 2016, the SDF initiated Operation Wrath of Euphrates, aimed to take ISIS’s capital of Raqqa and the ISIS-held Raqqa Governorate. Phase I of the operation involved taking the area north of Raqqa, and Phase II involved taking the area to the west. Both of these were completed by January 2017. Phase III, the taking of the largest portion of land east of Raqqa, took until April for completion. Phase IV, the final push to Raqqa itself, ended in early June.

An FSA fighting group of Type 1 technicals, consisting of at least seven Type 1a’s, a Type 1b, and a Type 1b Special, all of which are J79L-TJs. Some of the trucks have tactical markings on their roofs for identification, likely for friendly drones, such as the one that filmed parts of this video. Presumably, this unit is the equivalent of D Company, and each truck is individually numbered, as D17, D40, D52, and D58 can all be seen. This video was taken in Zamikyiah, Syria, during Operation Euphrates Shield on 9 November 2016; it illustrates the typical countryside fighting fire support that technicals engage in.

The Turkish forces succeeded in taking al-Bab, a major city east of Aleppo, from ISIS on February 23rd, 2017. After having taken Aleppo, the SAA rushed eastward to take Dayr Hafir, south of al-Bab, and prevent Turkish forces from moving further south. Dayr Hafir was in Syrian hands by March 23rd. Pursuit of ISIS would take the SAA south toward Raqqa, however, the SDF had already taken control of the region of al-Tabqa, on the other side of the Euphrates from Raqqa.

Meanwhile, in March 2017, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham launched the Hama Offensive in the Hama Governorate, between Homs and Idlib. Tahrir al-Sham was formed in January out of al-Nusra and several other Islamic extremist rebel groups. The SAA stopped the offensive at the outskirts of Hama, and by the end of April had regained all lost territory.

 

A Type 1b Special (J79L-TJ) belonging to Tahrir al-Sham firing on SAA forces in Suran, north of Hama, on March 21st, 2017. Source

Between July and October, the SAA moved south and retook the area of central Syria between al-Tabqa and Palmyra, eventually taking the city of Deir ez-Zor on September 5th. On October 17th, the SDF and US forces took control of Raqqa. Following these two massive successes, SAA forces chased ISIS east, meeting Iraqi forces at the border, who had been pursuing ISIS west, out of Iraq. In early December 2017, Russia declared that ISIS had been destroyed in Syria and that Russian forces would be leaving.

In January, Turkey and the SNA began an operation against the SDF/YPG units in the Afrin region, which it had cut off from the rest of Syrian Kurdistan when it invaded Syria. Turkey cynically called this Operation Olive Branch. Afrin was taken on March 18th.

 

A Turkish Special Forces Type 1b (J79L-TJ) in the area around Afrin, circa January 2018. The Turkish military did not use many technicals, but those it did use were quite competently built. Turkish Type 1b’s were fitted with large three-sided gunshields, as seen here. Source

In April 2018, after bombarding one of the cities in the region with chemical weapons, the SAA broke the Islamic rebel siege of Eastern Ghouta, a week over five years since it began. Several days later, the SAA retook full control of Damascus from remaining ISIS holdouts and rebel groups. The remainder of 2018 would be taken up by the cleanup of various pockets of rebel resistance in the south by Syrian government forces, as well as the refocusing on the Idlib Governorate as the front between the Syrian government forces, and the Turkish-backed rebels.

 

A Tahrir al-Sham J79L-TJ armored troop carrier participating in an exercise in preparation for attack by the SAA in Idlib, northwestern Idlib Governorate, August 14th, 2018. The troop compartment, complete with side firing ports and rear door, bears a strong resemblance to the Daimler-Guinness Armoured Lorry of over one hundred years prior. Source

 

A Type 1f (J79L-TJ) belonging to Liwa al-Quds, a pro-Assad militia, on 23 September 2018. This truck mounts a 30 mm 2A42 autocannon, normally seen on infantry fighting vehicles such as the BMP-2. Source

In December 2018, US President Donald Trump abruptly announced that US forces would be leaving Syria, after assurances from Turkish president Recep Erdoğan that Turkey would see to the destruction of terrorists. Whether he knew or cared that Erdoğan was speaking in regard to the Kurds cannot be said. It took until October 2019 for US forces to withdraw from Syria, and immediately Turkey invaded Syrian Kurdistan. Having been abandoned by their ally, the Kurds made an agreement with the Syrian government, brokered by Russia, that the two enemies would work together to fight the Turkish invasion of their country. Attempts at peace and compromises all failed, and in 2020 Turkey began a genocide of the Kurds. The situation is still unfolding.

Into the first half of 2019, ISIS still existed in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, however, very much reduced from their time as a territory-holding state. Despite being declared “defeated” on several occasions, it was believed that thousands of fighters remained loyal or sympathetic to ISIS and that they would return to being an insurgency, rather than a fighting force.

 

ISIS Type 1f (J70/71/72LV) mounting a 25 mm Oerlikon KBA recovered from the wreck of an Egyptian YPR-765 APC, Sinai, March 25th, 2019. Source

 

Several Hezbollah J79L-TJ Type 1b’s and Type 1a’s in Jroud Arsal, on the Lebanon side of the Lebanon-Syria border. Photo taken on August 1st, 2017. Notice the range of colors which are used for the base color. The Type 1b’s in this photo also appear to have a portion of the cab roof cut out to act as a sort of travel lock for the ZU-23-2. Source

Type 1b’s (autocannon armament) are the most common variant of the Type 1 technical in Syria. ISIS operates Type 1b’s almost exclusively. The Free Syrian Army is the largest operator of Type 1a’s (machine gun armament), to the extent that they have greater numbers of Type 1a’s than they do Type 1b’s, which is highly unusual. Small numbers of Type 1c’s (ATGM armament) are employed by Syrian rebel forces, which were supplied with TOW launchers by the United States. Al-Nusra has also come into possession of TOWs and employs them on their technicals as well.

As in Libya, there are large numbers of Type d technicals (rocket armament) in use in Syria. However, owing to the fact that the Syrian Air Force did not have such large stockpiles of rockets as the Libyan Air Force did, air-to-ground rocket pods have not found much use on Syrian technicals. Type d’s in Syria are relegated to using ground-to-ground rocket launchers, and due to the increasing scarcity of those, improvised rockets and launchers.

 

A Type 1d (J79L-TJ) belonging to Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), an Iraqi militia active in both Iraq and Syria. This truck was photographed in Nebai, Iraq, on January 13th, 2015. The rocket and launcher could not be identified and may be an improvised model. Source

 

Trucks of the “Badr Rocket Brigade” preparing for an attack on ISIS in Fallujah, Iraq, on May 20th, 2016. On the right is a Type 1d (J75LP) armed with four “Shams” (Sun) tubes. Shams is a nebulous term referring to a type of improvised rocket created by multiple factions in the Syrian Civil War. A Shams rocket consists of a disproportionately large warhead and a long slender rocket motor. Shams rockets are tube-launched and are highly inaccurate, but carry a large explosive charge. This Type 1d has a small crane on the back of the launcher to facilitate loading the rockets. The truck on the left could not be identified; it is armed with an improvised rocket. Source

 

A Type 1d (J70/71/72LV) belonging to a minor militia aligned with the Mu’tasim Division firing its Type 63 rocket launcher toward ISIS positions in Aleppo, Syria, 20 December 2015.

 

Another peculiarity is the use of Russian 82 mm mortars on technicals by the Free Syrian Army. The Type 1f (J79L-TJ) seen here belongs to Jaysh Usud al-Sharqiya, more commonly known as Lions of the East Army, one of the militias that made up the FSA. Qalamun Desert, Syria, 31 March 2017. Source

The Type 1BMP was first built in Libya, but Syria was where it was perfected, in the hands of the mad engineers powering the Islamic State’s war machine. Known simply as “The Workshop”, located on the grounds of what as the Thawrah Industrial Facility in the Raqqa Governorate, this single compound is where nearly all of the legitimate fighting vehicles of the Islamic State were maintained and modified. The largest number of vehicles overhauled at The Workshop were BMP-1s. Due to their large size and thin armor, however, most BMP-1s that fell into ISIS hands were expended as SVBIEDs (Suicide Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Device). Converting a BMP-1 to an SVBIED entailed removing the turret and filling the hull with as many explosives as possible. This resulted in a surplus of BMP-1 turrets that needed to be found a use.

The use that they found for these turrets ended up being one of the most strangely elegant and well thought out designs to come out of the Syrian Civil War. A semi-modular box was built onto the back of a J79L-TJ, to a height level with the cab, and the BMP-1 turret mounted atop it. This arrangement gave the BMP turret full 360° rotation and comparable internal operating space to its original home in a BMP-1. ISIS Type 1BMPs are known to employ the launch rail for 9M14 Malyutka ATGMs, almost one hundred of which were captured from the Syrian Arab Army. At least four Type 1BMPs have been built by ISIS. Three individuals have been seen in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate and a fourth in the Aleppo Governorate. A Type 8BMP (based on a Ford F-350) having the same type of turret module has been seen in use by ISIS in Iraq.

 

An ISIS Type 1BMP firing its cannon at a building down the street in Hasrat on April 19th, 2017. The Islamic State name for Hasrat, Syria, is al-Khayr. Source: Unknown

 

Vehicles overhauled by The Workshop were given black serial number patches. Serial numbers used for BMP-1s were in the 200 range, this includes BMP turreted technicals. 232 is the most frequently photographed Type 1BMP, seen here launching a Malyutka missile. The other two from Deir ez-Zor do not seem to have been given serials, even though one has the black patch painted on. The Type 8BMP in Iraq has the serial number 231. Photo taken on April 12th, 2017. Source

One of the latest incarnations of the Type 1 technical is not actually a technical at all, but an SVBIED. They were made by the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, which began as a rebel faction operating on the southern front in the Daraa Governorate, but which turned into an ISIS-aligned terrorist group in 2016. Khalid ibn al-Walid was smaller and less equipped than other ISIS groups and rarely employed SVBIEDs up until 2018. In the final few months of their existence, Khalid ibn al-Walid began to make larger use of SVBIEDs. One of the first to appear was a 70 Series Land Cruiser covered with the armored body of a BTR-152, which was deployed in al-Shaykh Saad on April 19th, 2018. Two more such vehicles would be seen on June 5th and July 15th, both near the town of Hayt.

 

The first Land Cruiser/BTR-152 SVBIED, which was detonated in al-Shaykh Saad, Syria, on April 19th, 2018. Source

It is clear that a lot of effort went into these conversions, probably more than was warranted. Armoring SVBIEDs is nothing new, it helps ensure the operator stays alive long enough to get the explosives to the desired target. However, using the bodywork of a BTR-152, cutting apart the entire vehicle in the process, and basing the SVBIED on a Land Cruiser, one of the most desirable platforms for technicals, are very strange choices. Khalid ibn al-Walid captured several BTR-152 armored trucks from the stocks of Syrian government forces. Presumably, these trucks were non-operable, as otherwise they could have been used as SVBIEDs with little alteration necessary.

After the defeat of Khalid ibn al-Walid in July, at least two additional BTR-bodied Land Cruisers were discovered in their former territory by the SAA. These trucks, however, were different to the SVBIEDs; they used nearly the full body of the BTR-152, whereas the SVBIEDs had only used the forward section of the BTR armor. These Type 1BTRs were intended as fighting vehicles. The first vehicle was armed with a KPV machine gun and used the body of a single BTR-152 with only the rear cut off to fit the shorter Land Cruiser chassis. The second vehicle used a combination of three BTR-152 bodies, with the troop compartment made from welding two BTR-152 troop compartments together. When photographed in Syria, this Type 1BTR had a mount for a weapon in the back, but no weapon was fitted. Both Type 1BTRs were taken to Russia and went on display at Patriot Park. The second vehicle has since been given a coat of tan paint and been fitted with a fake recoilless rifle.

 

The two Type 1BTRs at Patriot Park in Russia on August 23rd, 2018. Source

Yemen

The Yemeni Civil War began in September 2014, when the revolutionary group Ansar Allah, better known as the Houthi movement, or simply the Houthi, took over the capital city of Sana’a. This act was motivated by economic and political difficulties in the country dating back to 2011. To end the violence, concessions were made by Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi that entailed giving the Houthis large amounts of power in the government and eventually ended in Hadi’s resignation and the Houthis declaring the former Yemeni government defunct. In February 2015, Hadi escaped from his detention in Sana’a and declared to the rest of Yemen that the Houthi government was illegitimate and that he remained the president of Yemen. This created a divide in the Yemeni military, with part of the force remaining loyal to Hadi, and part of the force being loyal to the Houthis.

In March, Houthi forces took over the cities of Taiz and Mocha, having rapidly expanded their landholding in southwestern Yemen. Several days later, at the request of Hadi, a coalition force led by Saudi Arabia was formulated to assist the Yemeni government in the fight against the Houthis. Neighboring countries that were part of this force include Sudan, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar. It is said, however unconfirmed, that the Houthis were supported by Iran, with which Saudi Arabia had been waging a cold war.

By the end of March, the Houthis had reached Aden, on the southern coast of Yemen, where Hadi had temporarily moved his capital. At this time, the Houthi movement controlled roughly the western third of Yemen. The Houthis had taken Aden by April, but in July were pushed out by Coalition and Yemeni forces. Another Yemeni government push came in August, taking a large section of the Houthis’ southern holdings. From this point onward, no great advancements were made. Back and forth fighting continued for years, with the same areas of land being fought over repeatedly. Very slowly, Coalition and Yemeni forces have chipped away at the Houthis’ territory, yet the latter still controls a sizable portion of Yemen. As of November 2020, this situation endures.

During the fighting between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, smaller portions of the country came under the control of other groups, such as al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia, ISIS, and the Southern Movement. The former three are Islamic extremist groups, the latter is a group pushing for the regained independence of South Yemen. The Southern Movement established its own government in 2017, called the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which is backed by the UAE. Despite at times controlling considerable portions of land, these lesser factions have not greatly influenced the course of the conflict between the Houthis and the Yemeni government.

Prior to the civil war, the Yemeni Armed Forces employed multiple variants of the Type 1 technical, including the J70/71/72LV, J78L, J75LP, and J79L-TJ. Type 1a’s were employed by multiple Yemeni military and secret police organizations. The Yemeni Army operated Type 1a’s, Type 1b’s, and Type 1e’s. A notable feature of pre-war Yemeni technicals is the care with which they were designed and built. Yemeni Army technicals generally retained their tan base color and were camouflaged with darker brown in various patterns.

 

A Type 1a (J79L-TJ) armed with a DShK belonging to the Central Security Organization, the pre-war Yemeni military police. This photo was taken in Sana’a on January 13th, 2011. CSO technicals seem to have been given quite elaborate camouflages, such as the quadricolor woodland scheme seen here. Digital camouflage patterns have also been observed. Source

 

A Yemeni Army Type 1a (J79L-TJ) with DShK in Sana’a on May 25th, 2011. From January 2011 to February 2012, large scale protests and riots occurred in Yemen, eventually culminating in the overthrow of president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Source

The Yemeni Army built a standardized type of technical with a fighting compartment in the bed, having two windows per side and a roof-mounted turret. Several variations exist in the armament of this type of technical. Standard armament is a 12.7 mm DShK heavy machine gun, which comes in either a conical or open-topped turret. The open-topped variety is more common, the conical turret possibly being an earlier variant. A single Yemeni-type technical having an octagonal open-topped turret with 105 mm M40 recoilless rifle has also been seen.

 

A Yemeni Army Type 1a (J79L-TJ) with conical turret, 2014. The conical turret type of Yemeni Type 1a has also been seen in service with the Central Security Organization. Source

 

A Yemeni Army Type 1a (J79L-TJ) with open-topped turret. Source

 

Yemeni Type 1e with M40 recoilless rifle mounted in an octagonal open-topped turret. Source

In the Yemeni Civil War, the Yemeni government’s use of technicals has greatly diminished. The Houthis are now the largest operator of technicals in Yemen. Houthi technicals are characterized by ingenuity and outlandish weaponry. With limited access to modern weaponry, the Houthis have had to make do with whatever they are able to capture. This includes such antiques as the Soviet 57 mm ZiS-2 and 76.2 mm ZiS-3, both of which they have mounted onto Toyota Land Cruisers.

 

A Houthi Type 1a (J75LP) armed with a ZPU-1 in Sana’a, sometime in 2014. The door of this truck has been adorned with portraits of Ali Abdullah Saleh, to whom the Houthis remain loyal. Source

 

A Houthi Type 1f (J75LP) with a Soviet 57 mm ZiS-2 cannon mounted on the back. This truck is very clearly on its last legs, yet still it soldiers onward — a testament to the desperation of the Houthi fighters and the indestructibility of the Land Cruiser. Photo taken on May 21st, 2017. Source

 

A Houthi Type 1f (J75LP) armed with a 76.2 mm ZiS-3 in the Lahij Governorate, Yemen, on August 25th, 2018. At least half a dozen such vehicles have been built. While in most cases the cannon can be traversed over the cab for transport, it must be fired facing the rear so as not to destroy the vehicle. Source

In 2016, the Houthis unveiled the mother of all technicals — an M167 VADS 20 mm gatling gun mounted to a pickup truck. In 1979, Yemen had received 52 M167 Vulcan Air Defense System guns from the United States. The M167 is the towed version of the famous M163. The Houthis had employed these guns as early as 2015, and they found their way onto technicals not long after.

A Houthi Type 1f (J79L-TJ) with 20 mm M167 VADS, July 29th, 2020. Just a short burst from the massive gatling gun is enough to rock the truck; sustained fire would likely push the vehicle down the street.

Iraq

Iraq, for the most part, has not used the 70 Series Land Cruiser. Prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, their equipment was primarily of Soviet origin. After the occupation, the new government of Iraq was provided with enough American Humvees that they had no large need for technicals. The trucks that are used by the Iraqi Armed Forces, particularly by the Popular Mobilization Units (Iraqi PMU), tend to be Type 2 (Toyota Hilux), Type 13 (Nissan Navara), and trucks of American make. Nevertheless, some Type 1s did make their way into service with the Iraqis in the fight against ISIS.

 

An Iraqi PMU Type 1c (J79L-TJ) along with an M113, Humvee, and an MRAP (possibly a MaxxPro), after having taken the village of Ghazila, west of Mosul, Iraq, November 3rd, 2016. Source

An Iraqi PMU Type 1c (J79L-TJ) firing on and destroying an approaching ISIS SVBIED, west of Mosul, Iraq, December 4th, 2016.

 

An Iraqi PMU Type 1d (J79L-DK) firing toward ISIS positions in the desert south of Hatra, Iraq, as part of the Hatra Offensive, April 26th, 2017. Source

 

A Land Cruiser J75LP flying the flag of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran [Mujahedin-e Khalq]. The MEK was an Iranian revolutionary group that sought refuge in Iraq. It was disarmed by the Americans in 2003. As an American soldier can be seen in the photo, it was likely taken sometime after the invasion of Iraq. The truck does not exhibit any signs of having carried mounted weaponry, but an armored troop compartment is fashioned in the bed. Source: Iraqi Army Equipment 1930-2017 Special Report Vol.2
At some point, Iraq came into possession of Iranian-built Type 1d’s mounting HM-27 launchers for 122 mm Grad rockets. The HM-27 has a 2×4 launcher configuration, for 8 tubes in total. These trucks are series built by the Iranian Defense Industries Organization (DIO), and are marketed to military users. The HM-27 can be identified by the rectangular vertical launcher mount, and the “A”-shaped frame which carries the tubes. These vehicles have been spotted in Iraqi hands as early as 2014.

 

An Iranian-built Iraqi-operated Type 1d (J75LP) near the Iraq-Syria border on May 29th, 2018. Source

Vehicles similar to the Type 1d (HM-27) have appeared in Syria in use by rebel factions, particularly Ahrar al-Sham. The Syrian vehicles are semi-standardized but are not consistent in design like the Iraqi ones. The Grad launchers seen on Type 1d’s in Syria have 14 tubes in 2×7 configuration. It is believed that these launchers are also of Iranian origin, but no corresponding model is known at this time. These launchers may have been provided to Syrian rebels by Iraq.

Video depicting the operation of a Syrian Type 1d (J79L-TJ) (Grad). This video was uploaded after the original was deleted, and it does not provide the date and location details the original description might have. Notice that trucks of this type employ outriggers at the rear to stabilize the vehicle when firing.

 

Another Syrian rebel Type 1d (J79L-TJ) of the same type, but with a different launcher mount. The launcher type seen in the video above is the common variety; so far this second version has only been observed once. Photo taken on February 12th, 2018. Source

A number of “half” Type 1b’s have been captured by ISIS in Iraq, having just one barrel of the normally twin-barreled ZU-23-2. It is not known whether this alteration was done by the Iraqis or by ISIS after they captured the technicals. However, due to the Iraqis being relatively well-equipped, it is more likely this was done by ISIS as a way to “stretch” the small number of weapons they captured as far as possible. Most halved ZU-23-2s do not retain their original gun mounts, possibly because the mount was destroyed in the deconjoining process. Singular ZU-23s are then mounted on technicals in improvised mounts made of angle iron. The mount used is somewhat standardized, the common feature being three springs on a diagonal projection underneath the firing chamber to balance the gun.

 

An ISIS Type 1f (J79L-TJ) mounting a halved ZU-23-2. Notice the distinctive springs underneath the cannon. The man in the center is holding a Type 80 machine gun, and the man on the right an AKM rifle. Source

 

Another Type 1f (J79L-TJ). These two photos were taken in Iraq in 2014, but further details are not available. Source

Type 1f (J79L-TJ)s armed with halved ZU-23-2s have also appeared in use by the SDF in the Raqqa Governorate in March 2017. This video, taken on March 25th, as well as other videos show that Syrian half ZU-23-2s are unable to operate automatically, and must be recocked by hand for each round they fire. No videos are available that show the operation of ISIS half ZU-23-2s, but they likely suffered from the same problem.

Insurmountable

Despite the popularity of the 70 Series and the Hilux with warfighters, Toyota actively tries to prevent their trucks from falling into their hands. Being the brand of choice for terrorists, revolutionaries, and war criminals does not reflect well on Toyota’s corporate image. Toyota’s official statement on the matter is thus: “Toyota has a strict policy not to sell vehicles to potential purchasers who may use or modify them for paramilitary or terrorist activities, and have procedures in place to prevent their products from being diverted for unauthorized military use. Toyota complies with export control and sanctions laws, and requires dealers and distributors to do the same.”

Toyota does not sell vehicles in Syria, and until 2012 did not sell in Libya. In the five years prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan, Toyota insists that only a single truck was sold legally to that country. Toyota does freely sell trucks in Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE; it is from these countries that Toyotas make their way into the hands of warfighters in the Middle East. Obviously, not all trucks are acquired by legal means, some are stolen secondhand, and some right from the distributor. It is estimated that as many as 800 Toyota trucks have been stolen during transport by or for irregular militaries.

Be that as it may, many special forces purchase Toyotas, sometimes in great numbers, for their own operations. The benefit of using technicals is that it allows them to blend in with every other irregular faction in a given conflict. US special forces use a mix of different makes and models, with a large number of Toyota Hiluxes and Land Cruiser 70s. In US military jargon, a technical is an “Unarmored Non-standard Commercial Vehicle” or UANSCV, or NSCV for short. The first use of the 70 Series by US special forces was during Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 intervention in Kuwait. While other units also utilized non-standard vehicles, the 5th Special Forces Group was given Land Cruiser J75s, apparently a donation to the effort by Japan. These Land Cruisers were given small modifications, such as side stowage racks, and identification markings in the form of a black “^” painted on the doors, and a VS17 orange signal panel strapped to the roof of the cab. A pintle mount was placed in the bed, and trucks were equipped with either a .50 cal M2 or Mk.19 40 mm grenade launcher. At least one such truck had the cab cut off and an M40 recoilless rifle was mounted in the bed.

 

A 5th Special Forces Group Type 1a (J75LP) entering Kuwait City, Kuwait, during Operation Desert Storm, 1991. Notice the identification marking on the door, painted over the factory graphics, as well as the panel on the roof and the stowage slung over the side of the bed. Source: Osprey New Vanguard 257 – Technicals

In addition to using them for their own special forces, western countries purchase and donate trucks to third-world governments and revolutionaries they support. Recently, “defense contractors” have taken notice of the popularity of the Land Cruiser as a fighting vehicle and have begun to offer their own modifications and aftermarket versions. This certainly predicates that Toyota knows about these uses of their vehicles and at least tolerates them, despite the fact that cutting off these supplies would help to reduce the number of trucks that fall into the hands of less desirable operators.

 

Jankel is a British company that modifies commercial vehicles for both civilian and military use. They produce armored versions of the Land Cruiser J76, J78, and J79 for non-combat uses; the Hunter Protected Patrol Vehicle based on the Land Cruiser J79 for law enforcement; and the Jankel Fox (pictured) for military use. The Fox is based on the Land Cruiser J79 and comes in four versions: Rapid Reaction Vehicle (RRV), Long Range Patrol Vehicle (LRPV), Light Utility Vehicle (LUV), and Tactical Utility Vehicle (TUV). Source

 

When originally developed in the mid-2010s, the Jankel Fox looked considerably different to its modern iteration. The Jordanian Army was an early customer for the Jankel Fox, which it called al-Thalab (“The Fox”). Source

 

During the Africa Aerospace and Defence Expo in 2012, 2014, and 2016, the South African division of Thales displayed its Scorpion mortar on the back of a modified Land Cruiser J79L-TJ. Supposedly, this automated gun mount can function with the Type 63 rocket launcher in addition to most types of mortars. Source

 

Proforce, a Nigerian company, produces the Buffalo Improvised Combat Vehicle based on the Land Cruiser VDJ79L-DK. The vehicle is fitted with an armored fighting compartment and machine gun turret in the bed. It is currently used by the Nigerian Air Force for airfield defense. Source

 

Australian Patrol Vehicles, a subsidy of Australian Expedition Vehicles, offers a 6×6 conversion of the Land Cruiser J79 for military use. It is called the LRPV, or Long Range Patrol Vehicle. A pintle is provided for mounting a light machine gun above the cab. Source

 

The Terrier LT-79 is a light armored personnel carrier built by The Armored Group out of Dearborn, Michigan. It is based on the chassis of the VDJ79L. Source

 

The LRPV Gepard (Long Range Patrol Vehicle Cheetah) was developed cooperatively between Autosalon Dajbych and Tatra Trucks. It is based on the Land Cruiser VDJ79L and was meant to replace the Kajman D130 in the Czech military. Source

 

Mezcal Armored Vehicles, an Emirati company, produces the Tygra armored personnel carrier in both 4×4 and 6×6 configurations. Based on the 70 Series chassis, multiple models of the Tygra 4×4 exist and are in use with several African nations. Source

 

The Aras is a mysterious truck from Iran which first appeared in 2019. Little is known about it, but the chassis is believed to be a loose copy of the Land Cruiser J79. The Aras has been seen configured as Type a, Type b, and Type d technicals. Source

 

This J71L fitted with a 105 mm M40 recoilless rifle was exhibited at BIDEC (Bahrain International Defense Exhibition & Conference) 2019 as a product of the Bahrain Defence Force. Being a short wheelbase Land Cruiser, it does not offer much in the way of a fighting compartment; the single cannoneer was likely meant to operate the gun while dismounted. Only six rounds of ammunition are carried. Also seen at the exhibition was a Land Cruiser J76L-RKMR with a remotely controlled SARP-L machine gun turret mounted on the roof. Source

It would be impossible to list every military and paramilitary group that has utilized the Type 1 technical, not only because of the sheer amount of groups that have arisen in the Middle East in recent times, but because of their often short-lived and undocumented nature. However, based on photographic evidence a list can be drawn up of the major operators:

  • Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Forces
  • Afghan Mujahideen
  • Afghan National Army
  • African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS)
  • African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM)
  • Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a (ASWJ)
  • Ahrar al-Sham
  • Ahrar al-Sharqiya
  • Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT)
  • Ali Hassan al-Jaber Brigade
  • Alwiya al-Furqan
  • Al-Bunyan al-Marsous
  • Al-Qaeda
  • Al-Shabaab
  • Ansar al-Din
  • Ansar al-Islam
  • Ansar al-Sharia
  • Armed Forces of the Liberation of Angola [Forças Armadas de Libertação de Angola] (FALA)
  • Bangladesh Army
  • Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council
  • Boko Haram
  • Central African Republic National Police
  • Central Security Organization [Yemen] (CSO)
  • Chadian National Armed Forces [Forces Armées Nationales Tchadiennes] (FANT)
  • Chadian National Gendarmerie
  • Chadian Rebels (Third Chadian Civil War)
  • Fajr Libya
  • Free Idlib Army
  • Free Syrian Army (FSA)
  • French Special Forces
  • Harakat al-Abdal
  • Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN)
  • Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham
  • Hezbollah
  • Houthi Movement
  • Imazighen / Berber Militias
  • Integrated Security Detachment [Détachement Intégré de Sécurité] (DIS)
  • Iraqi Ground Forces
  • Iranian Army
  • Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
  • Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Syria (ISIL/ISIS)
  • Jaish ul-Adl
  • Janjaweed
  • Jaysh Ahrar al-Ashayer / Army of Free Tribes
  • Jaysh al-Ababil
  • Jaysh al-Izza
  • Jaysh al-Mujahidin
  • Jaysh al-Muwahhideen / Army of Monotheists
  • Jaysh al-Nasr
  • Jaysh al-Thuwar
  • Jaysh Usud al-Sharqiya / Lions of the East Army
  • Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)
  • Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS)
  • Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi
  • Khalid ibn al-Walid Army
  • Kurdistan Workers’ Party [Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê] (PKK)
  • Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD)
  • Libya Dawn
  • Libya Shield Force
  • Libyan Air Defense Forces
  • Libyan Army (Gaddafi Era)
  • Libyan National Army (LNA)
  • Libyan National Guard
  • Libyan Special Forces / Al-Saiqa
  • Liwa al-Baqir
  • Liwa al-Quds
  • Liwa Fatemiyoun
  • Malian Armed Forces
  • Mauritanian Armed Forces
  • Misrata Military Council / Misrata Militias
  • Mobile National Force (MNF)
  • National Liberation Army [Libya] (NLA)
  • National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA)
  • National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL)
  • National Redemption Front (NRF)
  • Nawasi Battalion
  • New Syrian Army/Revolutionary Commando Army
  • Nigerian Army
  • People’s Mujahedin of Iran [Mujahedin-e Khalq] (MEK)
  • People’s Protection Units [Yekîneyên Parastina Gel] (YPG)
  • Peshmerga
  • Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya (PFLL)
  • Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) / Popular Mobilization Units (Iraqi PMU)
  • Qatar Armed Forces
  • RADA Special Deterrence Forces
  • Rapid Support Forces (RSF)
  • Republic of Yemen Armed Forces
  • Revolutionary Commando Army [Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra] (MaT)
  • Royal Moroccan Army
  • Russian Forces in Syria
  • Saraya al-Salam
  • Saraya Ghuraba Filistin
  • Saudi-Arabian “Coalition” Forces in Yemen
  • Sham Legion
  • Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR)
  • Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna (SCMD)
  • Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF)
  • Somali National Movement (SNM)
  • Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM)
  • South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF)
  • Southern Transitional Council (STC) / Southern Movement
  • Spetsnaz GRU
  • Sudan Liberation Army (SLA)
  • Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)
  • Sultan Murad Brigade
  • Suqour al-Sham
  • Syrian Arab Army (SAA)
  • Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)
  • Syrian Liberation Front [Jabhat Tahrir Suriya] (JTS)
  • Syrian National Army (SNA)
  • Syrian Rebels/Syrian Opposition Forces
  • Taliban
  • Third Force (Libyan Militia)
  • Tripoli Protection Force (TPF)
  • Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade (TRB)
  • Tuareg Militias
  • Turkish Army
  • Turkish Special Forces
  • United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)
  • United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali [Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations unies pour la stabilisation au Mali] (MINUSMA)
  • United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo] (MONUSCO)
  • United Police Forces [Sudan] (UPF)
  • United Somali Congress (USC)
  • U.S. 5th Special Forces Group
  • U.S. Army Special Forces
  • Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade
  • Yemen National Army (YNA)
  • Zintan Brigades
A base model Land Cruiser J75LP.
A base model Land Cruiser J79L-TJ.
A base model Land Cruiser J79L-TJ with facelifted bodywork.
Land Cruiser J75LP with 105 mm M40 recoilless rifle, photographed on the B13 Coastal Road west of Brega, Libya, on 7 April 2011.
Land Cruiser J75LP mounting a ZPU-2. This truck was stolen from Doctors Without Borders during the 1st Liberian Civil War. Photographed in Monrovia, Liberia.
Land Cruiser J79L-TJ with 14.5 mm KPV heavy machine gun. Photographed during the 2nd Liberian Civil War near Old Bridge, Monrovia, Liberia, in 2003.
Land Cruiser J79L-TJ mounting a SAKR RL-4 122 mm rocket launcher. This truck belongs to Libyan rebels. It was photographed at the Western Gate of Ajdabiya, Libya, on 13 April 2011.
Land Cruiser J79L-TJ mounting a M167 VADS 20 mm gatling gun. This truck belongs to the Houthis. It was photographed in Yemen on 29 July 2020.
Land Cruiser J79L-TJ Facelift mounting a ZPU-1. This truck belongs to the Libyan Third Force. It was photographed at the Sabha Airport in Libya on 4 April 2017.
Land Cruiser J79L-TJ Facelift mounting a ZU-23-2. This truck belongs to ISIS. It was photographed in the area of al Bab, Syria, in February 2017.
Land Cruiser J79L-TJ Facelift mounting a ZPU-4. This truck was seen in an FSA promotional video that was released in April 2017.
Land Cruiser J79L-TJ Facelift mounting a ZU-23-2. This truck belongs to the Turkish Special Forces seen around Afrin, Syria, Circa January 2018.
Land Cruiser J79L-TJ Facelift with 20mm Oerlikon. This truck belongs to the Turkish Special Forces seen around Afrin, Syria, Circa January 2018.
Land Cruiser J79L-TJ Facelift with a TOW missile launcher. This truck belongs to the Lions of the East Army. It was photographed in the Qalamoun Desert in Syria on 31 March 2017.
Land Cruiser J79L-TJ Facelift mounting a 90 mm Cockerill Mk.III. Photographed in Libya on 15 April 2020.

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Categories
Cold War French Tanks Improvised AFVs

AMX-US (AMX-13 Avec Tourelle Chaffee)

France
Improvised Light Tank (1957) – 150 Built

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

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

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

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

French Chaffees

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

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

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

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

The AMX-13

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

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

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

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

Char Meets Chaffee

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

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

Avec Tourelle Chaffee

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

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

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

Turret Details

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

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

The AMX Hull

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

Service

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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


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


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

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

Specifications

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

Sources

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


Categories
Improvised AFVs WW2 US Other Vehicles

USMC Improvised M4A2 Flail Tank

USA (1944-45)
Flail Tank – 1 Built

In 1944, the United States Army began testing British-built flail tanks such as the Crab and Scorpion. Mine flails like these consist of a rotating drum connected to a series of chains suspended from the front of the vehicle. The drum rotates at a high speed, causing the chains to pummel the ground, detonating any mines that may be buried.

Meanwhile, down on Maui, one of the Hawaiian islands in the central Pacific, members of the 4th Marine Division, United States Marine Corps (USMC), were recuperating from their time battling the Japanese on Saipan and Tinian. While on Maui in late 1944, the 4th Marines began to undertake experiments with their tanks, one of which was copying the Crab and Scorpion equipment they had seen in an article in an issue of ‘Armored Force Journal’ (or possibly ‘Infantry Journal’) that the division had received.

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

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

Guinea Pig, an M4A2 Dozer

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

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

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

The Modifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing

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

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

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

Iwo Jima

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Other US Flails

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

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

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

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

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


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

Specifications

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

Sources

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


Categories
Improvised AFVs WW2 Australian Prototypes

Melvaine’s Mobile Pill Box

Australia Australia (1944)
Improvised Vehicle – None Built

The ‘Mobile Pill Box’ was the brainchild of W. W. Melvaine. He lived in Brighton Boulevard, Bondi, Australia. It was one of many inventions submitted to the Army Inventions Directorate of the Australian Army in the Second World War. Many designs were submitted for all manner, shape, and size of weaponry including tanks. Although the inventors of such vehicles often had a preference for huge landships or ‘big-wheel’ designs there were also a number of smaller designs and Melvaine’s Mobile Pill Box’ is perhaps one of the more unusual Australian tank designs of the War.

Melvaine’s mobile machine gun and grenade pillbox of 1944. Photo: Author’s

On 19th January 1944, Melvaine wrote a surprisingly short letter to the Army with this suggestion. It was notable for the total lack of detail and explanation. It did not contain any ideas about why he thought his idea might be good, or better than methods or vehicles currently in use. The entirety of his letter comprised just four handwritten lines:

“Dear Sir, May I suggest the possibility of such a thing as a bulletproof mobile machine gun and grenade pill box for close up attacks on foxholes and dugouts – Yours Faithfully W.W. Melvaine”

The sentence was followed by three crudely drawn sketches of his idea which more resembled the traditional Australian thunderbox (outside toilet) than any kind of useful tank.

Possibly a sketch of the rear of this vehicle appearing to show the design open at the back. Photo: Author’s

The Design

The design was relatively simple, consisting of a small tracked platform with at least two wheels on each side powered by a small motor in the crew space. This small motor was open to the occupant. There was just enough room for a single soldier. This soldier would have to man the single forward facing machine gun from a standing position.

As well as the machine gun the soldier inside would have a box of grenades. From within this armoured-outhouse, he would most likely have had to exit through the open rear to lob a grenade. This would have meant being exposed to enemy fire from the flanks.
The height of the machine would mean it would be visible to the enemy before the soldier could see them and there is no clear indication of how it was to be steered or even how the soldier would be able to see where he was going.

There is no indication provided by Melvaine as to the prospective size of the machine which can only be estimated by the size of the soldier and no idea as to the performance he wanted or expected. Likewise other than saying ‘bulletproof’, there was no thought given to the amount of armour this design should carry.

The Official Review

This idea by Melvaine received perhaps one of the shortest assessments for an invention, and it was as blunt as it was negative, saying:

“Tanks are in use for this purpose. The proposal is crude and retrograde”.

And with that, the idea was dead.

Conclusion

Being disparaging about some of these invention ideas could be considered churlish. This design had, after all, the advantage of simplicity on its side, and perhaps under other circumstances might have found some kind of use. The idea though, that in 1944, this invention might somehow be suited to attacking enemy positions when tanks were available was simply incorrect and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of the author. The rather short letter, more of a note about it, perhaps indicates that this was more of a whim than any properly considered design. Nonetheless, the idea was recorded and preserved even though the concept was completely disregarded.

Front view of Melvaine’s concept. Photo: Author’s


Illustration of Melvaine’s Mobile Pill Box by Mr. C. Ryan, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions 2.5 x 2 x 2 meters
Crew 1
Armament : Single Machine Gun and Hand-Grenades
Armor Bullet Proof

Sources

Australian Army Inventions File 154142, 1944


Categories
Cold War US Other Vehicles Improvised AFVs

Medium Tank M4A3 (105) HVSS ‘Porcupine’

U.S.A. (1950-53)
Communications Tank – 2-5 Converted

Ever since the earliest days of tanks and armored vehicles, special radio communications variants have been produced. After all, communication is, perhaps, the most important aspect of any military operation. Whether between infantry, airforce or armor, communications are key to a successful operation and maximizes coherence between various units. The earliest of these vehicles was the ‘Wireless Communications Tank’ based on the British Mk. I tank used in the First World War. In the Second World War, more appeared such as the German Kleiner Panzerbefehlswagen based on the Panzer I, and the Japanese Shi-Ki based on the Type 97 Chi-Ha.
In the Korean War (1950-1953), communication was key with Allied forces spread all over the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’, as it was called by the Korean people. With friendly forces always on the move, units realized there was a need for compact and mobile radio communication stations.
By the time of this War, the Medium Tank M4 was a largely outdated and plentiful vehicle to base such a vehicle on. This conversion became known as the ‘Porcupine’ after the multiple antennae that protruded from the tank. It was an extremely rare vehicle, and it is believed that only two to five of these field-conversions were produced.

Porcupine ‘Y53’, south of Panmunjom on 27th June 1952. Photo: Presidio Press

Medium Tank M4A3 (HVSS)

By the time of the Korean War, the M4 series had evolved into its final form, often referred to as the M4A3E8. To the Marines in Korea, they were known as the “Old Reliables”. Entering service late in the Second World War, this model featured an improved Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS) that replaced the iconic Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS) of earlier models. This suspension allowed for a wider track, improving grip and lower ground pressure on softer ground.
Propulsion was provided by the Ford GAA all-aluminum 32-valve DOHC 60-degree, 525 HP, V8 gasoline/petrol engine. This could propel the tank to a top speed of 40 – 48 km/h (25 – 30 mph). Armor on the vehicle was up to 76 mm (3 in) thick. The tank had a crew of five, consisting of a commander, driver, co-driver/bow machine gunner, gunner, and loader.
Although a large number of the newer, 90mm gun armed M26 Pershings and M46 Pattons were dispatched to the Korean Peninsula, multiple variants of the E8 were also used in the Korean War. These included the regular M4A3(76)W HVSS, which was armed with the 76mm Tank Gun M1A1 or M1A2, the M4A3(105) HVSS, armed with the 105mm Howitzer M4, and finally, the POA-CWS-H5. This was a specialist version armed with both a 105mm Howitzer, and a coaxial flamethrower.

Choice of Tank

It would appear that every one of these converted M4s were 105mm howitzer armed M4A3(105) HVSSs. This highlights an interesting choice as there were not that many 105mm howitzer armed M4s deployed in Korea. There are few viable arguments to suggest why these tanks were used though.
In the Second World War, most M4 105s did not have power-traverse or elevation gears. By the time of Korea, these gears were added to most of the Howitzer M4s, but not all. This made the M4 105 turret extremely roomy, with more that enough space to add extra radio equipment. There is an element of redundancy in this argument however, as the August 1948 “Medium Tank Status” report stated that there were 1398 M4A3(105)s with HVSS and power traverse in the Army’s Inventory. An additional 521 M4A3(105)s with HVSS, but without power traverse were also listed. It is likely that the US Military would’ve prioritised the updated 105s, and taken them to Korea, albeit, in very small amounts.
However, another theory suggests that it was simply a matter of availability. In reality, the turret of the 76mm gun armed M4s was the larger of the two. M4A3(105) tanks would have been a logical choice as there was a potential surplus of the vehicles that would’ve have been available for conversion to utility vehicles such as this. This is possibly the most likely reason behind the vehicle choice.

One of the more extensive modifications with 8 Antennea. Photo: Public Domain

Specifications

Dimensions (LxWxH) 7.54 (without gun) x 2.99 x 2.97 m (24’7″ x 9’8″ x 9’7″)
Track width 0.59 m (1’11” ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready 30.3 tonnes (66,800 lbs)
Crew Possibly 5
Propulsion Ford GAA all-aluminum 32-valve DOHC 60-degree, V8 engine, 525 HP, V8 gasoline petrol engine
Maximum speed 40 – 48 km/h (25 – 30 mph) on road
Suspension Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS)
Range 193 km (120 miles)
Armament None, all dummy or removed
Armor Maximum 76 mm (3 in)


‘Porcupine’ Y53, Korea 1952. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own AmazingAce, based on work by David Bocquelet.

Modifications


The above image and following information was provided by the “Sherman Minutia” website.
The photo shows one of the Communication Tanks and two M4 Dozer Tanks of the Provisional Tank Platoon on November 19, 1950, navigating the hazardously narrow road near the Funchilin Pass which was the 1st Marine Division Main Supply Route (MSR) to the Chosin Reservoir.
1, 2 & 3: At first glance the Communication Tank appears to be a conversion of a rare M4A3(75) HVSS tank due to the standard 75mm mantlet visible (1), but closer examination reveals the canvas mantlet cover attachment points (2) and the gun travel lock mounted lower on the glacis (3) both of which are characteristic of 105mm armed tanks. All of the Porcupines had dummy guns in an effort to look like regular gun tanks. To be precise, only the breech and other internal components were removed. The actual barrel of the gun remained intact and was fixed in place, either permanently resting in the travel-lock or rigidly facing forwards. The extra internal space was used for installing map tables and additional radios. All other armaments, such as the coaxial and bow-mounted machine guns, possibly even the cupola mounted .50 Cal (12.7mm) were also removed. Making them difficult to distinguish from regular tanks was part of their protection. The enemy had a harder job identifying a command vehicle to knock out.
4, 5, 6 & 7: A number of external modifications were made to the vehicle. These include a handrail added to the side of the turret (4) and an armored door added to the side of the hull (5). A large antennae mounting bracket was added to the side of the turret (6), as well as other points on the hull, for instance next to the driver’s hatch (7). The arrangement and amount of antenna added to the tanks appears to be unique to each vehicle. At least one of the Porcupines had as many as eight antennae.

Radio Equipment

The Radios added to the M4 were used for long-range communications. This included communication with Naval Vessels, aircraft, infantry units, and artillery batteries. A significant drawback of the high-amperage radios installed in these tanks was that they required a positive ground contact. As such, the radios could not be operated while the tank was on the move. When stopped to transmit, a steel stake connected to the earthing cable would be driven into the ground during operation.
Radio equipment may have included the AN/VRC-3. The AN/VRC-3 was simply a vehicle-mounted version of the SCR-300 which had an approximate range of 3 miles (4.8 km). Looking at photos, at least one of the tanks used an AB-15/GR antenna.
In reference to the fact that some of the vehicles were adorned with up to eight antennae, the tank acquired the unofficial nickname of “Porcupine” after the spine-covered mammal.

Service

Not much is known about the Porcupine’s career in the Korean War. It is hard to say when exactly they appeared in US Marine Corps. One of the earliest reported sightings of a Porcupine was between the 14th and 19th November 1950. That night, a Porcupine with the designation ‘Y51’ was documented as passing along the Marine’s treacherous main supply route (MSR) through the Taebaek mountains, accompanied by the entirety of the 9-Tank-Strong 1st Marine Division Flame Tank Platoon, a command tank and a recovery tank of the Headquarters and Service Company, First Tank Battalion.
In March 1952, the Marines began to relocate from the East coast of the Korean Peninsula to the West. To do this they would travel to the small port town of Sokcho-ri where LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank) were waiting to take them around the Korean coast to the Port of Inchon which had previously been taken earlier in the War. A Porcupine (ID number unknown) was recorded as being loaded onto an LST identified as No. 1138, with the nine tanks of the 1st Flame Platoon, three M4 Dozers and a Company of M4A3 (76) HVSS tanks of the Korean Marine Corps (KMC).
The next known location of one of the Porcupines, identified as ‘Y53’ was south of Panmunjom, (the future site of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement) on 27th June 1952.
Unfortunately, more is not known about this tank and its part in the Korean War. As it is an extremely rare vehicle, photographs and documented information are hard to find. It is highly unlikely that any of the vehicles survive today.

M46 ‘Porcupine’

An even rarer vehicle is the Porcupine variant of the Medium Tank M46 Patton. No pictures seem to survive of this vehicle, but there is a report of at least one in action as part of Operation Clambake on the Jamestown Line on the 3rd February 1953. The tank was under the command of Captain Clyde Hunter. It was equipped with six-radios.

An article by Mark Nash

Links & Resources

www,radionerds.com: (1) (2)
Brian Branson, US Military Radio enthusiast.
Pierre Olivier and Joe DeMarco of the ‘Sherman Minutia
Presidio Press, Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank, R. P. Hunnicutt.
Turner Press, Hearts of Iron: The Epic Struggle of The 1st Marine Flame Tank Platoon: Korean War 1950-1953, Jerry Ravino and Jack Carty

Categories
Improvised AFVs WW2 German Improvised AFVs

Panzerkampfwagen KV-1B 756(r) (KV-1 with 7.5cm KwK 40)

Nazi Germany (1942-43)
Improvised Heavy Tank – 1 Built

Throughout the Second World War, the German Army captured hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles from countries it invaded. The same was true during the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Germans frequently made upgrades and modifications to fit their needs. This process spawned one of the larger armored vehicle enigmas to come out of the War.
This was the KV-1 that was captured and then re-armed with the 7.5cm KwK 40 gun. Not much is known about the history of this improvisation, and there is only one known photo to prove its existence.
It is not the only tank of the Second World War that was retrofitted in the field to accept a gun from another nation. Other examples include the Churchill NA 75 which was a British Churchill tank modified to accept the American 75mm Tank Gun and the Matilda II that was modified to accept the 76mm ZiS-5 gun. In both of these cases, of course, they were not captured vehicles.

The only known image of the modified KV-1.

Background, the KV-1

The KV-1 was the unsuspecting winner of a Soviet contract for a new heavy tank to replace the obsolete T-35A Multi Turreted Heavy Tank. The KV tank beat the SMK and T-100 to make it to mass production. Immediately prior to the invasion of the USSR in June 1941, roughly 508 KV-1 tanks were in Red Army service.
The KV-1 was an unpleasant surprise to the advancing Germans in June 1941, due to its excellent armor protection. The KV-1 quickly gained a fearsome reputation on the battlefield, being able to withstand point-blank shots from the standard 37mm anti tank guns fielded by Germany. Many KV-1s returned from combat peppered with dents and gouges from ricochets which had failed to penetrate its armor. However, the KV-1s made little impact on the actual fighting during the months of Operation Barbarossa with the exception of a small number of engagements. Poor crew training, poor logistical support and inept command and control meant that the Soviet tanks, including the mighty KV-1, where deployed in small packets that were easily swallowed and terminated by the better organized German units.
The KV-1 tank weighed 45 tonnes, and was powered by the 660hp V2K engine. The suspension was the first Soviet use of torsion bars, and it consisted of six road wheels, a rear drive wheel, a large front idler wheel and three return rollers. The tank had a crew of five. Soviet engineers constantly updated the tank and, between 1941 and 1942, the armor was thickened from 90mm to 200mm in places. The firepower was improved too, from the 30.2 calibre long F-32 76.2mm gun, to the 42.5 calibre long 76.2mm Zis-5 gun. The F-32 gun could penetrate 50mm of armor at 1,000m, whereas the Zis-5 gun could penetrate 60mm of armor at the same range. In 1942, this made the gun a significant threat to most German tanks. However, the gun was similar to the one on the T-34 medium tank, which was far more mobile and far cheaper to build.

KVs in German Service

When the Wehrmacht first encountered the KV-1, they were horrified and greatly impressed with its capability to take extreme punishment from the main German tank and anti-tank guns of the time. Contrary to popular belief, there were only a handful of KV-1 tanks that were ever pressed into German service. The captured tanks were known as ‘Beutepanzer’ or trophy tanks.
In 1941, the Germans had a categorizing system for those units captured from the enemy, this was an “Ebeuten” number. The number for KV tanks of all sub-types was “E I”. The overwhelming majority of these tanks were either dismantled at the roadside, or returned to the Reich for museums or testing. However, there were some KV tanks pressed into Wehrmacht service.

Beutepanzer KV-1 ‘1’ of the of the 8th Panzer Division. Photo: SOURCE
The earliest known Beutepanzer KV-1s, which in the German numbering system were known as the Pz.KpfW KV-1a 753 (r) (r = Russia) were deployed in the Autumn of 1941. German changes were minimal, with most Beutepanzer KV-1s retaining the original Soviet radio and equipment, however, occasionally German radios and tool sets were issued. The most interesting German acquisitions were the two OKV-1 tanks pressed into service. The Kirov works in Leningrad had manufactured six prototype flame throwing KV tanks, with a flame unit in the hull. All were used in combat, and two were subsequently pressed into Wehrmacht service after their capture.
Between 1941 and 1943, the German army likely dealt with thousands of lost KV tanks, of which perhaps several hundred were captured in working condition. It is thought however that less than 50 KV-1 tanks were pressed into German service. A multitude of factors can explain this, from lack of spare parts, to German overconfidence in their own tanks, to the Nazi ideological doctrine that viewed anything manufactured by a Slavic race to be inferior.

German Modification

The specific model of KV-1 that this conversion was based upon was a 1942 model, manufactured at Factory 100 Chelyabinsk (ChTZ) and was probably manufactured in the first or second quarter of 1942. It was fitted with the applique armor on the nose, and on the glacis plate which increased the armor up to 200mm (7.9 in) thick in places. It was equipped with the lightweight cast turret. Sometimes, this model also carried a heavyweight cast, or simplified welded turret. Standard armament remained the same, being the 76mm ZiS-5 gun. In German service, this was designated as the Pz.Kpfw KV-1B 755(r). This modified version was designated Pz.Kpfw KV-1B 756(r). The construction work was carried out by the maintenance battalion of Panzer Regiment 204 of the 22nd Panzer Division.

Gun

The most drastic modification to this single KV was the alteration made to the main armament. The original Soviet 76mm ZiS-5 gun was removed to make way for the German’s own 7.5cm KwK 40 L/43.

Diagram of the L/43 gun in its standard mounting, the Panzer IV
This gun was derived from the 7.5cm PaK 40, a towed anti-tank gun that entered service in 1942. In 1942-43, the gun was also mounted on Germany’s main medium tank, the Panzerkampfwagen IV, replacing the short barreled 7.5cm KwK 37 howitzer. Tanks with this new armament were designated as the Panzer IV Ausf.F2. It was a deadly weapon, with a range of ammunition types. These included Armour Piercing Capped Ballistic Cap (APCBC), Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) and High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT). The APCBC was its most deadly round, able to penetrate a maximum of 99mm (3.9 in) of armor.
At this time, the 7.5cm KwK L/43 was a rare gun, as only 135 Panzers were equipped with it. One these tanks must have been irreparably damaged in action, but retained an operable gun that was able to be cannibalized. Though the ZiS gun was removed, the mantlet was retained. The new gun was posted through the void breach first and mounted into position, complete with its coaxial MG 34 machine gun. It is unknown as to what internal modifications took place concerning the placement of the trunnions and elevation/depression gears. Being the more powerful gun, the KwK 40 was larger in the breach than the ZiS. The 7.5cm shell was 100mm longer than the 76mm shell of the ZiS, meaning the breach was also 100mm longer. Recoil length would also have been longer, meaning there was even less room behind the gun.

Turret Changes

Minor modifications were also made to the turret. A salvaged commander’s cupola from either a Panzer III or Panzer IV (It is unclear which one it is) was added atop the turret. This was not added over the original commander’s hatch at the rear of the turret. A new hole was cut in the roof towards the right front of the turret, and the cupola added above it. This cupola gave the commander far better visibility, allowing him to spot targets, navigate terrain and observe friendly units easier.
On the left, an air filter was added, with a cover salvaged from a T-34.

But, Why?

A great deal of time was spent theorizing this matter by both authors of this article. The conversion of just this one vehicle would have been time and resource consuming. Other vehicles that were modified in such a way, such as the Churchill NA 75 and Matilda II with ZiS-5 which are mentioned in the introduction, had a designed purpose. The idea behind the Churchill NA 75 was to make use of guns from wrecked tanks, and give the poorly armed Churchill more Anti-Armor and High-Explosive firepower. The same was true for the Matilda, the original 2-Pounder gun of which was considered useless by the Soviets.
This KV, however, seems to lack any recorded intention. The German 7.5cm KwK 40 was a much better gun than the Soviet ZiS-5 76mm. At 1000 meters, the ZiS could only penetrate 61mm of armor, at the same distance, the 7.5cm could punch through 82mm. Ammunition may also have been a factor, as it would’ve been far easier for the Germans to resupply with 7.5cm ammunition than 76mm ammunition.
These are the only practical advantages of adding this gun to the KV. The KV, at this time, was one of the best heavy tanks in the war, and as already discussed, the Germans already had a number of captured examples in their arsenal. It may be that this was intended as somewhat of an ‘Anti-KV’ or ‘Anti-T-34’ vehicle. The Soviets’ own 76mm Gun could not penetrate the front of a standard KV-1 (without 200mm armor) or T-34 at 1000m. The German 7.5cm could handle both. Putting this gun on a chassis the 76mm could not penetrate would prove deadly to any Soviet vehicle facing it.
There is, however, an element of redundancy in the project worth highlighting. At the time this vehicle was built, German vehicles such as the Panzer IV (with long 75mm), Panzer V Panther, Panzer VI Tiger, and Panzerjager Tiger (P) were appearing. All of these, while still teething, were adequately armed so that the armor on the T-34 and KV-1 did not provide the advantage they had. With the 8.8cm gun or high velocity 7.5cm gun both the T34 and KV-1 were much more vulnerable.
The most logical conclusion as to why this KV was modified in this way is therefore that it was simply a culmination of spare parts and ingenuity.
This KV was apparently active at Kursk, but further details of this are scarce.

An article by Mark Nash and Frankie Pulham

Specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 5.8 x 4.2 x 2.32 m (19.2×13.78×7.61 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 45 tonnes
Crew 4 (commander, driver, 2 gunners)
Propulsion V12 diesel V2, 600 bhp (400 kW)
Maximum Speed 38 km/h (26 mph)
Range (road/off road) 200 km (140 mi)
Armament 7.5cm KwK 40 L/43
2x DT 7.62 mm machine-guns 1x MG 34 7.92mm machine gun
Armor 30 to 100 mm (1.18-3.93 in)
Total Convered 1

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Panzer Tracts No.19-2 – Beutepanzer – British, American, Russian and Italian Tanks Captured From 1940 to 1945, Thomas L. Jentz & Werner Regenberg
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #17: KV-1 & 2 Heavy Tanks 1939-45
Frontline Illustrated, History of the KV Tank, Part 1, 1939-1941, M Kolomiets.
beutepanzer.ru


The Panzerkampfwagen KV-1B 756(r) with added 7.5cm KwK 40. Illustrated by Tank Enyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Categories
Improvised AFVs WW2 US Flame Throwers

Light Tank M3A1 Satan

U.S.A. (1943)
Light Tank – 24 Converted

By mid-1943, light tanks – namely the M3 – had proven to be redundant in the Pacific theatre. Their small size was ill-suited to the harsh terrain, and their limited firepower put them at great risk of being overrun by Japanese infantry. The tanks would find a second wind, however.
Starting life as a field expedient, the M3A1 Satan was one of the first flame thrower tanks the United States Marine Corps (USMC) had in their inventory. Built on the chassis of these redundant light tanks, specifically M3A1s, the Satan was also one of the first flame tanks the Marines were able to field during the Pacific Campaign of World War II, with its first deployment coming mid-1944.

The Host

The M3 was the standard Light Tank in American service, replacing the earlier M2. The M3A1 model was introduced in May 1942 and featured some changes from the standard M3 model. The A1 featured the same 220 hp Twin Cadillac Series 42 engine and Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS). It also retained the same 37mm (1.4”) M6 Tank Gun supplied with Armor Piercing (AP), High Explosive (HE) and Canister Rounds. The A1 came with an improved turret design which including the addition of a turret basket, which the early model was without. It also had a higher M20 AA mount for a Browning M1919 .30 Cal. (7.62 mm) Machine gun. This negated the need for the sponson mounted Browning machine guns found on the original M3. As such they were removed, the three remaining Brownings (bow, coaxial, AA mount) being judged sufficient for the task.
The tanks were used extensively by the US Marines in the Pacific up to mid-1943 when they were beginning to fall out of favor with the troops due to reasons already discussed above. More medium tanks such as the M4A2 Sherman started to become available to the Marine Corps, and as such, these tanks started to take precedence.

Hellspawn

Japanese concrete bunkers were the bane of the US Marines in their island hopping battles of the Pacific. Often these bunkers were upwards of two-feet (24 inches) thick. The 37mm (1.4”) gun of the M3 and even the 75mm (2.95”) gun of the M4 could barely scratch these structures. As such, thoughts turned to attacking them with flamethrowers.
Prior to the arrival of flamethrower equipped tanks, the Marines in the Pacific had relied upon the US Army’s M1A1 infantry flamethrower. The tactic would be to get as close to the bunker as possible and spray the flame into the openings of the bunker. The M1A1 required close quarters operation, however, as the weapon had an extremely short range. The operator was also vulnerable. Apart from the obvious risks of carrying highly flammable liquid on his back in a war zone, the gear was heavy. This made the operator sluggish and top heavy; an easy target.
In early 1943, after the grim experiences of Guadalcanal, both the US Army and Marine Corps began drawing up plans to somehow mount the M1A1 flame equipment on the M3 Light tank. The first attempt was to simply fire the M1A1 through the pistol port of the M3’s turret, this was far from ideal as it gave a limited field of fire. This led to the idea of mounting the flame projector in place of the bow machine gun. This setup also allowed 2 additional units of flamethrower fuel to be carried in internal tanks.

The flamethrower mounted in the bow machine gun position. Photo: Osprey Publishing
The first action for this configuration was by B Company, 1st Tank Battalion during the fighting on the Arawe Peninsula in support of infantry from the Army’s 112th Cavalry. A M3A1 equipped with M1A1 flamethrower attacked a Japanese bunker that was suppressing the attacking infantry. The flamethrower operator succeeded in spraying the liquid through the bunker openings. However, the fuel failed to ignite, which led to an extremely brave action from the operator in which he opened his hatch and threw a thermite grenade onto the fuel. This promptly ignited the fuel, putting the bunker and its defenders out of action. These type of flame tanks were also used by the Army along Torokina river on Bougainville, early 1944.
Conscious of these improvised M1A1 mountings, both the Army and Marine Corps technicians in the Central Pacific attempted their own versions. The Honolulu Iron Works developed an enlarged fuel tank to increase the flamethrower’s capacity and extend the amount of flame it can produce. They were mounted on M3 Light Tanks, as well as LVT “Amtracs”. The first, rather unsuccessful action that these vehicles took part in was during the fighting on the island of Kwajalein in early 1944. The vehicles ran into numerous problems, including salt damage to the projectors from the sea water causing failures in fuel ignition. Despite this, the Marines operated at least one of these vehicles as part of their 4th Tank Battalion in the fighting on Roi-Namur.

A M3A1 with the improvised bow flamethrower from B Company, 3rd Marine Tank Battalion, 10th October 1943. Photo: Osprey Publishing

The Rise of The Satan

The overall inadequate performance of the improvised flame throwers led the Marine Corps and Army to look elsewhere for a flamethrower system that could replace the main armament of a Tank. The flame equipment they chose was the Canadian built Ronson F.U.L Mk. IV. Ronson flamethrowers were first developed by the British Petroleum Warfare Department in 1940. The British abandoned work on the weapons, however, judging them to have insufficient range. The Canadians continued work on the equipment and were able to make it more effective. They even mounted it on the Wasp Mk. IIC, a flamethrower variant of the famous Universal Carrier.
About 40 Ronsons were shipped to the Central Pacific early in 1944 after they were requested by the famous Lieutenant General Holland ‘Howling Mad’ Smith, of the V Amphibious Corps. Here they took part in demonstrations for the heads of the respective services. So impressed was ‘Howling Mad’ Smith, that he approved the equipment.
The Ronson was mounted in the turret of the mothballed obsolete M3A1s. To mount the weapon, the 37mm gun main armament was removed. The mantlet was retained, but a wide tube was introduced into the void left by the absent gun barrel to protect the flame projector. The coaxial machine gun was retained on the right of the flame aperture, though some vehicles did have their bow machine guns deleted. On the inside of the tank, a huge 170-gallon fuel tank was introduced to give the weapon as much burn time as possible. The projector had a range of up to 80 yards. This conversion had an unfortunate side effect. The piping connected the projector to the fuel tank limited the turret traverse to 180 degrees left and right. The M3A1 Satan was born. In total, 24 of these improvised flamethrower tanks were produced by Army and Navy mechanics on Hawaii in time for the Marianas operations.

A Satan showing the maximum traverse range of its turret. Photo: United States National Archives


Illustration of the M3A1 Satan by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

The Fires of Hell

These new tanks were formed into dedicated flame thrower companies in the Marines’ 2nd and 4th Tank Battalions. The vehicles were shared between the two battalions, with 12 Satans each. The battalions also received three new M5A1 light tanks each, to provide gunnery support for the flamethrowers.
The Satans saw their first action on the 15th of June 1944, during the landings on Saipan. The tanks were seldom deployed all at once, often being fielded four tanks at a time with gunnery support from one M5A1. Unfortunately, Marine commanders were not well versed in the concept of flame tanks, and as such the Satan was probably not used as much as it could have been. After the bitter fighting of the initial days of the assault, the commanders soon learned of the Satans effect. They were used in great numbers clearing Japanese cave-defenses and ‘mop-up’ operations, until the declaration that Saipan was secured, on the 9th of July 1944.

A M3A1 Satan comes ashore on Tinian. Photo: SOURCE
Two Satan companies were then deployed on Saipan’s neighboring island, Tinian. Satans saw extensive use on this island as its terrain was far more compatible with tank operations. Only one Satan, belonging to the Marine’s 4th Tank battalion was lost after it struck a mine. More were damaged, but repairable.
The Marines developed a standard operating procedure when attacking Japanese bunkers or cave defenses. Supporting M4A2s would crack open the bunker with round after round of High-Explosive, the Satan would then hose the area with flame followed by infantry assault squads that finish the job. A similar technique was employed by British troops in the ETO. Flame-throwing Churchill Crocodiles would often operate closely with the bunker-busting mortar armed Churchill AVREs. The AVRE would crack open a bunker, followed by the Crocodile hosing the breached area. The flaming liquid would then flow inside.

M3A1 Satan D-11 “Defense” of the 4th Tank Battalion in action July 1944. Photo: Osprey Publishing
The overall capability of the Satan became questionable, however, even after the victories on Saipan and Tinian. A number of issues were highlighted; unreliability, poor projection range, a poor arc of fire, faults with the electrical ignition system, cramped crew conditions. Coordination with infantry, a key part of Marine Tank tactics, was also hampered with the Satan as the radio was mounted in the right sponson, behind the flamethrower equipment.
The Satan demonstrated to Marine and Army heads the versatility of flamethrower tanks in the Pacific Campaign, but in this form, it was not tactically sound. As such, work would begin on finding a replacement for this improvised vehicle.

The crew of M3A1 D-21 ‘Dusty’ of Company D, 2nd Marine Tank Battalion. The tank was commanded by 1st Lt Alfred Zavda (second from left). The crew is posed on Saipan in June 1944 with other US Troops and are displaying captured Japanese weapons. Photo: Osprey Publishing

Exorcism

With lessons learned, the Satan would soon be replaced by Flamethrowers based on the M4A2, though there was a variant based on the newer M5A1 Light Tank, known as the E7-7 Mechanised Flamethrower. This was very similar to the Satan conversion of the M3A1.
Two options were available for the M4 based projects. The E4-5 ‘Auxiliary’ flamethrower, and the ‘primary’ POA-CWS-H1 (Pacific Ocean Area-Chemical Warfare Section-Hawaii-1). Auxiliary flamethrowers were so called because they supplemented the tanks existing main armament; the Primary type replaced the main armament completely.
M4s equipped with such flamethrower would serve the Marines with great effect until the end of the war, playing important parts in the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. No Satans seem to have survived the war. None are known to still exist at the time of this article’s writing.

An article by Mark Nash

M3 Stuart specifications

Dimensions 4.33 x 2.47 x 2.29 m
14.2×8.1×7.51 ft
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 Ronson F.U.L Mk. IV Flame thrower
3 to 5 cal.30 (7.62 mm) M1919 machine guns
Armor From 13 to 51 mm (0.52-2 in)

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Presidio Press, Stuart – A History of the American Light Tank Vol. 1, R.P. Hunnicutt
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #186: US Marine Corps Tanks of World War II
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #206: US Flamethrower Tanks of World War II

Categories
Improvised AFVs WW2 British Infantry Tanks

Churchill NA 75

United Kingdom (1944)
Infantry Tank – 200 converted

The NA 75, a workshop improvised Churchill variant, is a testament to the ingenuity of one British officer, Captain Percy H. Morrell. An officer of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), Captain Morrell served in Tunisia and was charged with disassembling and breaking down battle damaged tanks, in particular, M4 Shermans.
The Captain noted that many of the 75 mm (2.95 in) M3 guns equipping the Shermans were still in an operational condition. As such, he began formulating a plan to make use of them by mounting them into the turret of Mk. IV Churchills.
These tanks would be designated as the Churchill NA 75. This was attributed to the vehicle’s place of birth, NA – North Africa, and the transferred 75 mm M3 gun.
Percy Hulme Morrell enlisted at Leeds on June 29th, 1940.
Percy Hulme Morrell enlisted at Leeds on June 29th, 1940. He rose through the ranks to be granted an emergency promotion to Second Lieutenant on February 6th, 1943. He was posted to North Africa in the April of that year – Photo: track48.com

Advantages

Morrell aimed to achieve 2 goals with one action. A noted weakness with the Churchill was the inability of its main armament to fire an effective HE (High Explosive) round. This was a problem faced by the Mk.I and II with their 2-Pounder guns, and the Mk. III and IV with the 6-Pounder. Both of these guns lacked a powerful HE round, so anti-infantry and emplacement operations were difficult. Because of this, ironically, an Infantry Tank was not able to properly support infantry. The Sherman’s 75 mm (2.95 in) M3 gun did not have this issue, as it was able to fire quite a potent HE round.
Morrell had also noted that many Churchills lost in battle around the Medjerde Valley and similar engagements, had received hits to the gun area. It was apparent that in the bright sun of the desert, the recessed mantlet caused a visible shadow, providing a clear aiming point for German gunners. High-velocity 75 mm (2.95 in) or 88 mm (3.46 in) shells hitting this area would either jam the weapon in place, pass straight through the mantlet or knock the whole thing clean off its trunnions.
The Sherman’s external mantlet, specifically the M34 type, provided a quick fix to this problem, giving this weak area a much need boost in armor protection. It was hoped that its curved shape might induce a ricochet and also obviously remove the dark recess aiming point.

Operation Whitehot

Captain Morrell’s concept drew enough interest for Major General W.S. Tope, Commander of REME in the Mediterranean theater, and John Jack, a civilian engineer from Vauxhall Ltd. to join him in Tunisia. They would assist Morrell with the project at the workshops in Bone. It was classified as “Top Secret” under the codename of “Operation Whitehot”.
A turret with the face re-cut for the adoption of the new mantlet and gun. The extra piece cut on the right is for the coaxial machine-gun - Photo: Haynes Publishing/Morrell Family Archive
A turret with the face re-cut for the adoption of the new mantlet and gun. The extra piece cut on the right is for the coaxial machine-gun – Photo: Haynes Publishing/Morrell Family Archive
Some 48 Mk.IV Churchills were the first to undergo the modification in North Africa. The method of inserting the gun was thus:
1: The Churchill Mk.IV’s standard issue armament, the Ordnance QF 6-Pounder (57mm), was removed. The removed 6-Pounder guns were returned to Ordnance Stores.
2: The original mantlet hole on the turret was widened.
3: The gun was rotated 180 degrees to suit the crew positions in the turret, and inserted, complete with the M34 mount.
4: The gun was welded in place, including the new external mantlet.
The turret also saw the addition of a counterweight in the rear due to the increased size of the armament. Room was also made on the left of the gun for the addition of the Sherman’s coaxial 30 cal. (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 machine gun. The machine gun only had a limited range of motion due to the cramped conditions. As such, it could not elevate as high as the main armament.
Almost complete turrets waiting to be mounted back onto their hulls. The mantlet is not yet added - Photo: Haynes Publishing/Morrell Family Archive
Almost complete turrets waiting to be mounted back onto their hulls. The mantlet is not yet added – Photo: Haynes Publishing/Morrell Family Archive
The tanks were tested under the supervision of Major ‘Dick’ Whittington, Gunnery Instructor at the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) Training Depot at Le Khroub. The Major commandeered a deserted Arabic village, which was ranged at 8,000 to 8,500 yards. The tanks, now armed with an effective HE round, rained shell after shell on the abandoned buildings. The tests were a success. It was surmised that the Churchill provided a much more stable firing platform which, unlike the Sherman, stood fast to the recoil of the gun, meaning the fire would be much more accurate.

The crew of an NA 75 with the name Boyne, take a break in the Italian sun. Boyne was part of 1 Troop 'B' Squadron.
The crew of a Churchill NA 75 with the name “Boyne”, take a break in the Italian sun. Boyne was part of 1 Troop ‘B’ Squadron. Commander Lieut B.E.S.King MC. The crew in the photo: Gunner, L/Cpl Cecil A.Cox with Operator, Cpl Bob Malseed. Boyne was later knocked out by a Panzer IV – Photo: www.ww2incolor.com
A group of NA 75s in Italy await action while the crews perform basic maintenance - Photo: Imperial War Museum
A group of Churchill NA 75s in Italy await action while the crews perform basic maintenance – Photo: Imperial War Museum
One of the first NA 75s photographed at the workshops in Bone, Tunisia.
One of the first Churchill NA 75s photographed at the workshops in Bone, Tunisia. Note how limited the elevation of the coaxial MG is. At full elevation, it is still a few degrees away from being inline with the 75 mm (2.95 in) – Photo: Haynes Publishing

Service

In total, 200 Churchill Mk.IVs were upgraded to the NA 75 standard. These would go on to serve in the Italian campaign, where Major General Tope commended their service with the 21st and 25th Tank Brigades in the month-long fighting between Arezzo and Florence.
A shortage of tanks meant that the Churchills would work alongside Shermans. Because of this, the Churchills would, for once, be used in their intended role as infantry support tanks. The Churchills would blast their way through the battlefield, while the faster Shermans and infantry exploited any breakthroughs.
Witnessing their success first hand, Tope sent a letter back to Morell: “I should be glad if you would congratulate the REME concerned on doing a quick job which had been most valuable to this brigade.” The NA 75 would go on to serve in Italy until the end of the war in 1945.
A Churchill NA 75 of the 25th Tank Brigade passes through the narrow streets of Montefiore, 11 September 1944
A Churchill NA 75 of the 25th Tank Brigade passes through the narrow streets of Montefiore, 11 September 1944.

Fate

Following the success of his upgrades and the flood of praise accompanying it, Captain Morrell was awarded the Military MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) and received the promotion to Major.
Despite the lessons learned with the external mantlet, the Churchill would see out its career with its original recessed mantlet design. Had it have gone into service, the Churchill’s intended replacement, the Black Prince, would finally have done away with the recessed mantlet and used an external curved one.
It is not known whether any of the NA 75s survive today, but the vehicles remain a testament to “British Ingenuity”, and one man’s work to improve the fighting capabilities of his army.

An article by Mark Nash

Churchill NA 75

Dimensions 24ft 5in x 10ft 8in x 8ft 2in
(7.44 m x 3.25 m x 2.49 m)
Total weight Aprox. 40 tonnes
Crew 5 (driver, bow-gunner, gunner, commander, loader)
Propulsion 350 hp Bedford horizontally opposed twin-six petrol engine
Speed (road) 15 mph (24 km/h)
Armament 75 mm (2.95 in) M3 Tank Gun
Browning M1919 .30 Cal (7.62 mm) machine-gun
BESA 7.92mm (0.31 in) machine-gun
Armor From 25 to 152 mm (0.98-5.98 in)
Total production 200 upgraded

Links & Resources

Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #7 Churchill Infantry Tank 1941-51
Haynes Owners Workshop Manuals, Churchill Tank 1941-56 (all models). An insight into the history, development, production and role of the British Army tank of the Second Wold War.
Schiffer Publishing, Mr. Churchill’s Tank: The British Infantry Tank Mark IV, David Fletcher
Article about the NA 75


Tanks Encyclopedia’s own rendition of the Churchill NA 75 by David Bocquelet. This particular vehicle, “Adventurer”, is from A Company, as represented by the yellow triangle. A box would represent B company, A circle would be C company and a Diamond would be a HQ vehicle.


British Churchill Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt

British Churchill Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt

Sally forth in with confidence in this Churchill tee. A portion of the proceeds from this purchase will support Tank Encyclopedia, a military history research project. Buy this T-Shirt on Gunji Graphics!


Categories
Improvised AFVs WW2 US Prototypes

Sutton Skunk

 USA (1932)

Tractor Tank – 1 prototype built

One-Armed Sutton’s masterpiece

The Sutton Skunk was a little-known tractor tank from early 1932, built for the Chinese export market by Frank ‘One-Arm’ Sutton – Englishman and adventurer. In his time, Sutton made many inventions, and this was perhaps one of his most ambitious. It was simply a Caterpillar 5-ton M1917 tractor that was borrowed from the military and armored up. Featuring two 82mm Stokes mortars and a pair of Browning machine guns, it was a fairly well-armed tankette, almost certainly designed with infantry support in mind.

Who was One-Armed Sutton?

Francis Arthur Sutton (1884-1944) was an English soldier and adventurer who spent no less than 29 years of his life traveling across the globe, having come up with various money-making schemes. His story begins in WWI, at Gallipoli whilst serving with the Royal Engineers. There, he lost part of his hand by throwing no less than six enemy grenades back into the trenches they were thrown from, with a seventh exploding in his hand, for which he earned the Military Cross, and the name “One-Armed Sutton“.
From 1915 onward, he began inventing various weapons such as heavy trench mortars and new fuse systems, which saw him travel to America in 1917 on business, after being released from duties with the British army. After earning a huge fortune for his designs, he invested his money in a gold-dredging business in Siberia. He traveled out there himself, but was forced to leave after the Red Army took control of Blagoveshchensk by 1921. After his dredging machinery was confiscated, he entered negotiations with a Red Army Commissar, who generously paid him off, and Sutton promptly left for Manchuria to cash the cheque the Commissar had written.
Finding the cheque to be good, he spent the next few years hopping back and forth between the two countries, but eventually had to stay in Manchuria, when he had spent all of his small fortune. In Manchuria, he became an advisor to Chinese Warlord Zhang Zuolin (Chang Tso-Lin), and was made a General of the Chinese Army. In 1927, however, he went to Canada, and invested his new fortune in real estate. However, as a result of the Great Depression, he lost that fortune in 1929.
He sold all of his possessions, bar two sets of clothes, paid off all of his debts, and with a few thousand dollars in hand, he began traveling across the USA to search for sponsorship for arms deals to China. His initial proposal to sell aircraft was rejected by most companies, but once he went to Peoria, Illinois, where the M1917 5-ton semi-armored tractor was built, he came up with an ingenious idea.
Sutton took a train to Philadelphia, and, somehow, convinced the Colonel Commandant of the Frankford Arsenal to lend him a tractor for “the purpose of taking some measurements”. He drove the tractor over to Henry Disston’s Steel Works and set to work…

Design

The Sutton Skunk was essentially an armored body placed on the Caterpillar semi-armored 5-ton M1917 artillery tractor. In 1918, the American Army had huge numbers of the tractor, and by 1932, still had 600 in surplus. Trying to get rid of them, the vehicles were actually up for sale, and the US army eventually lowered the price from $8000 ($140,000 in today’s money) to $800 ($14,000 in today’s money). This is likely one of the reasons that the Colonel simply lent federal property to the silver-tongued Sutton.
At Disston’s steel works, the back seats, fuel tanks, and other ‘unimportant’ components were stripped out, and Sutton said: “I’d like to see the Frankford Colonel’s face if he happened to walk in here now!
The engine and driver’s seat were enclosed in bullet-proof steel and he built a large superstructure on the rear, which made the vehicle eight feet tall. Two Browning machine guns were mounted on either side of the driver, forwards facing, in crude gun ports. There were also two pistol ports on both sides of the hull for automatic weapons and smoke grenades.
In the rear, two 82mm Stokes mortars were also fitted, which Sutton helped design a new and improved fuze for back in 1917 (which made him his first fortune). This was in fact the source of the name, as Sutton is reported as saying “I’m calling it the Sutton Skunk, as both big guns shoot out of the rear“. According to a technical drawing as included in “General of Fortune“, it seems as though the vehicle would only have one crew member, but it is probable that possibly one or two others would operate the guns.

Fate of the Sutton Skunk

Sutton had the intention of selling the vehicle to the Chinese, whom he had spent many years with, as mentioned, in service with one of the strongest warlords in China (in fact, Sutton deemed Zuolin the greatest of them all). For the far east, it could easily be deemed an excellent vehicle with serious export prospects, because whilst quite unimpressive to western militaries, it would impress the Chinese, who had little or no experience of armored warfare. The armaments might sound unimpressive in retrospect, but would be little need for a vehicle to combat other tanks. Apart from which, the Sutton Skunk would be fairly cheap.
However, this is where all clear-cut and clarified information on the Sutton Skunk ends.
Sutton stated that he was going to ship this prototype to China and sell them like hot cakes, and in August, 1932, he indeed sailed for Shanghai, but the only source for this journey is the book “General of Fortune“, which does not clearly state any substantial information about the negotiations behind the sale of the Sutton Skunk.
At this time China was preparing for war against Japan, that had already seized Manchuria practically unopposed, and the preparations for war were in the hands of a German Military Mission headed by General von Seekt. According to “General of Fortune” – “there was no need for talented amateurs like Sutton, nor his ingenious improvised tractor tank“. This seems to imply that he attempted the sale of the vehicle, but had to deal with the German military in doing so, and was ultimately unsuccessful.
In terms of selling arms to warlords, even though they still operated independently and therefore he could negotiate with each on a separate basis, he felt as though he had already fought with the best – Zhang Zuolin (Chang Tso-Lin), who died four years earlier in 1928. He simply refused to side with, and therefore sell arms to, any other warlord. There were also Communist rebels, but having had his fill of Communism in Siberia, Sutton refused to sell arms to them, too.

Possible arrival in China?

The fate of the prototype Sutton Skunk remains unknown, and it is unclear whether or not it was actually brought to China or not, as it is not mentioned again in the book ever again. It might even be possible that the vehicle was assembled, photographed, and returned to the Frankford Arsenal in one day.
According to Armour in China, Military Modelling Annual (1983) by Steven Zaloga, the Chinese were building improvised armored cars since 1930, and improvised tanks in 1932. There is clear photographic evidence for the existence of improvised armored cars in China, but none for the existence of improvised tanks. The Studebaker tank is a well-known mystery, and it was most probably smuggled in by foreign arms dealers.
In April, 1932 Marshal Liu Hsiang formed a unit for armored cars and tanks in Chongqing.
Liu Hsiang’s story is seemingly hard to trace, but according to “China’s Wings” by Gregory Crouch, in 1931, he controlled Sichuan Province (which is just next to Chongqing – therefore, the story makes sense at least geographically), a huge army, and plenty of airplanes smuggled from Indochina by French arms dealers.
It is suggested that six improvised tanks were built based on tractors – five on a Cletrac 20 featuring a Lewis Gun, and one on a larger Cletrac 30 featuring a Lewis Gun and a 37mm gun. However, there are no photographs of either vehicle.
The connection to the Sutton Skunk would be that the Chinese designs were inspired by the Sutton Skunk, thus proving that the Sutton Skunk did, in fact, make it to China. Unfortunately, Sutton set sail for China in August of 1932. Assuming that the date of April 1932 for the formation of the tank unit is correct (and, indeed, that it truly happened), then these Chinese tractor tanks seem to have developed independent of the Sutton Skunk earlier in the year. This also assumes that Sutton did not market the idea earlier in the year before setting sail to China, or that he did not send the Sutton Skunk to China before his departure in August.

Sutton’s final years

Sutton later moved to Korea with another mining operation, but he was expelled by the Japanese in 1941. He later died in a POW camp in Hong Kong in 1944; the amazing man lost to history. Sutton’s story was written about by use of diaries, journals, and letters in the 1963 biographical book by Charles Drage – “General of Fortune, the fabulous story of One-Arm Sutton“, but Sutton still remains an obscure footnote in history, this article only scratching at the surface of his story.

Sutton Skunk
Rendition of the Sutton Skunk.
Sutton Skunk
The schematic and only known photo of the Sutton Skunk, as taken from “General of Fortune, The fabulous story of One-Arm Sutton“, by Charles Drage.

Sidenote I: Stolen idea?

The Disston Tractor Tank was a slightly later and similar design that was most likely made after the Sutton Skunk (although information on both vehicles is very limited). The date of creation of the Disston is a very important fact, as it may be possible that the Disston company stole the concept and design elements from Sutton.
The Disston is almost as obscure as the Sutton Skunk, and its exact year of production is also hard to pinpoint. According to sources, the earliest possible year that the Disston was seen was in 1933, when the prototype was likely built, as the earliest known hard evidence suggests that the Disston was marketed in January 1934, with a photograph of the prototype included.
Either way, all evidence places the Disston being made after the Sutton Skunk. Whilst bearing the name “Disston” (likely as a marketing technique to use the trusted brand name), it was the idea of the Caterpillar Company, and therefore, the concept of this tractor tank appears to have developed independently of the Sutton Skunk. However, the Caterpillar Company was based Peoria, Illinois, where the Sutton Skunk was made, and it may have perhaps been seen by them. Also, the specifics of the deal between Disston and Caterpillar are unclear – it is known that Caterpillar supplied the tractors, which were, almost certainly armored up at the Disston works. That being the case, it remains unclear which company made the exact design, and it is possible that if Disston made the exact design, then elements of the Sutton Skunk were borrowed.
The book, “General of Fortune, the fabulous story of One-Arm Sutton“, the only source for the Sutton Skunk, reveals few details on the tank’s construction. It will remain unknown if the Disston Tractor Tank was inspired by the Sutton Skunk or not.

Sidenote II: Mercier Tank

The Mercier tank or “Aragón Tank” was a tank based on a Caterpillar 22 tractor from 1937 (during the Spanish Civil War). A single prototype was made at the Mercier works in Zaragoza, Nationalist-occupied Spain. It featured a pair of Hotchkiss machine guns mounted in a superstructure very similar to the Sutton Skunk, except for the machine guns being mounted in specially built mounts, as opposed to simplistic holes cut in the armor. The project was never developed past a single prototype, but it, strangely, looks very similar to the Sutton Skunk. There is no likely connection between the two.
mercier_1
The Mercier Tank or “Aragón Tank”, circa 1937. It looks very similar to the Sutton Skunk, but there is no likely connection between the two.

Sources:

General of Fortune, The fabulous story of One-Arm Sutton“, by Charles Drage, 1st edition, 1963
Arming the Chinese, the Western Armaments Trade in Warlord China, 1920-1928“, by Anthony B. Chan, 2nd edition, 2010
China’s Wings” by Gregory Crouch
Armour in China, Military Modelling Annual (1983) by Steven Zaloga
shushpanzer-ru.livejournal
ftr.wot-news.com
Letter correspondence from Otto Kafka to the Kuwaiti Minister of War

Categories
Improvised AFVs Modern Mexican Armor

Narco Tanks

los Zetas logo 2 Los Zetas (and other Cartels)
Improvised APCs (Circa 2010) – 120+ built (various designs)

The real Mad Max cars

Narco Tanks” (known as “Narco tanques” in Spanish) is an umbrella term made by the media for the improvised armored cars used by modern drugs cartels in Mexico. SUVs and commercial vehicles serve as the chassis for Narco Tanks, and they are tooled up with armor, turrets, mounted weapons, and even James Bond-like gadgets. They are seen mostly in the Mexican states bordering the USA because these areas have become zones of intense conflict between cartels competing for drugs smuggling routes into the USA. These vehicles typically look like something from the post-apocalyptic film, Mad Max, and were first reported at some point between 2010 and 2011; although the Mexican mass media is often deliberately slow to report on certain cartel-related stories for fear of reprisal attacks.
Created in illicit workshops, these vehicles are well-known for their exotic designs, but for the local Mexicans, they are weapons of an ever-escalating and ever-deadlier inter-cartel war that even the military has been involved in for over ten years.
Narco Tanks were first reported around 2010. They have seen prolific use until 2012, mostly in Tamaulipas, by Los Zetas (and sometimes other cartels), and some limited combat with the military has occurred.

Context: Los Zetas and the drugs trade

Los Zetas (The Z’s) has been described as the most technologically advanced, sophisticated, and dangerous drugs cartel operating in Mexico. Perhaps surprisingly, it only began operating as a truly independent organization in 2010, but its roots stretch back the the late 1990s after a group of Mexican army commandos deserted and began working for Cártel del Golfo, one of the oldest cartels in Mexico. It appears as though these commandos formed the core of the Los Zetas contingent, and eventually split from Cártel del Golf – the exact reasons seems unclear, but the conglomerate structure of cartels means that fractures are fairly common.
Owing to the fact that their original members belonged to an elite military unit, Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (now Cuerpo de Fuerzas Especiales), Los Zetas members tend to be exceptionally well-trained in urban and commando combat. In fact, many of their members are also known to be former US army personnel, Guatemalan ex-special forces, and corrupt officials / police officers. Combining their elite membership with their proven brutality and vast array of military grade weapons, it is clear to see why this group is considered so dangerous.
Since 2010, Los Zetas has used Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas (north east of Mexico, close to the border with Texas) as its base of operations.
Los Zetas are perhaps one of the most brutal cartels operating in Mexico, gaining infamy for events such as the massacre of 300+ civilians in Allende, Coahuila, north East Mexico, simply because two local men betrayed Los Zetas – this being just one of many other high profile incidents. Crucial to understanding the existence of Narco Tanks is that only half of the income of Los Zetas comes from drugs trafficking, whereas the other half comes from activities against civilians and war with other drugs cartels, which has, in turn, created a desire for armored vehicles.
Over the last ten years, Mexico has seen high levels of violence due to competition between cartels, each competing for control of drugs routes into the USA. Border areas very useful territory, as they give shorter smuggling trips, which means that there is less time and opportunity for the smugglers to be intercepted by Mexican authorities. Knowing the importance of this to a successful smuggling run, cartels are willing to fight for every single street in border areas.
This escalation in fighting, such as the murder of the local-police chief in Nuevo Laredo, has reportedly led to increased military efforts against the cartel. It is even reported (albeit without proper source citation) that there was a decision as early as 2000 by then-President Vicente Fox to send soldiers to fight against the cartels directly, seeing as though local law enforcement lacked the training and raw firepower to deal with the threat. Regardless of the authenticity of this report, it seems that there are some small evidence and reports of soldiers fighting against Los Zetas.
This increased fighting has meant that a small arms race has begun between rival cartels, who want strong firepower from vehicles (thus allowing them to perform fast and deadly mobile attacks) and effective protection for their crews during these attacks. As well as this, the role of the military may have meant that cartels have sought to protect their convoys in case of an ambush or quick strike mission.

However, it is important to keep in mind a broader context, as more than just an arms race has come as a result of cartel-violence. Conservative estimates give the figure of 70,000 for those killed in cartel-related attacks from 2006-2012, military intervention having greatly exacerbated this. Of course, this intervention was far from uncalled for, as massacres and constant cartel-related violence were on the rise before 2005.

Production of Narco Tanks

Narco Tanks are produced in improvised production lines or underground workshops which are hard to detect by law enforcement, and only two have been reported captured since 2011, the latest being in February 2015. Analysis of captured workshops by the military has shown that some vehicles had suspensions modified to take up to 30 tons of weight which allow the vehicles to feature armor of 5-25mm thick, which can withstand small arms fire and even 40mm military grenades.
These vehicles can differ greatly, having been based on SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles) like the Ford F-350, and even larger vehicles like commercial vans, dumper trucks, and even tractors in rarer instances. Whilst cartels could probably afford military grade vehicles, they are large, conspicuous, and spare parts are not readily available. Whereas, larger civilian and commercial vehicles tend to blend in (as they would attract less attention from authorities, both on the road and during purchase), are easy to maintain, and spare parts are easy to come by.

Types of Narco Tanks

According to an article in Small Wars Journal by Robert J. Bunker, the Narco Tanks can be classified in five categories – I (Defensive), II (Defensive), III – Early (Offensive), III – Mature (Offensive), and IV (Offensive). Level I vehicles are hastily improvised vehicles with minor innovations, an example of such is the use ballistic vests inside a delivery truck to provide protection for cartel hit squads, as seen in one incident on July 11th, 1979, at Dadeland Mall, Florida. Indeed, this precedes the modern Narco Tank, but such vehicles are very likely to exist due to the reduced chance of attracting attention.
Level II vehicles tend to be professionally armored SUVs using internal armor kits, ballistic glass, and bullet-proof tires, all of which are common in Mexico. Since the late 1990s, middle-class civilians have begun purchasing these armor kits to protect themselves from kidnapping and general cartel violence. Furthermore, in recent years, these armor kits have become readily available at a low cost for mass consumption, seeing as though the market has grown so large, which means that they are even more common, and have become the most common type of Narco Tank.
Level III (early) vehicles have improvised pillboxes or similar firing positions on the bed of a truck, can possibly be armored, and have been seen around northeastern Mexico from 2010-2011.
Level III (mature) vehicles make up the bulk of sensationally photographed Narco Tanks (although many examples of Level III Early vehicles exist). They are usually (but not exclusively) work trucks featuring exterior armor, 5-25mm thick, gun ports, air conditioning for passengers, external gun mounts, battering rams, and even small turrets. The key difference between Level III and Level I-II vehicles it that Level III vehicles are considered offensive weapons, as opposed to defensive. They can be operated like gun-trucks similar to the ones seen employed by the US during the Vietnam War. Level III Narco Tanks can be split further into two categories – SUVs and large commercial vehicles.
Level IV is a predicted evolution of Level III – an Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicle with an anti-vehicular main gun (probably some form of AA gun) and possibly thicker armor. For various reasons that will be explored later in this article, this evolution has not happened.
What makes larger Level III vehicles particularly dangerous and well-known is their sheer size, intimidating appearance, high passenger capacity (often as many as 20 men), and the fact that they may carry heavy machine guns or even RPGs. Analysis of photographs reveals that some weapons seen include personal weapons, mounted .50 cal snipers, mounted machine guns, and perhaps other heavy infantry or anti-tank weapons such as rocket propelled grenades. Unconventional weapons are used on these vehicles, too. Many of them have battering rams, perhaps to burst through gates, enemy vehicles, or even general traffic. Whereas some vehicles even reportedly have gadgets that chuck nails or oil onto the road, presumably to help lose a tailing vehicle.
Smaller Narco Tanks are generally based on SUVs and pickup trucks. They are easy to conceal and are known to feature very powerful V10 engines, making them perfect for the type of combat they are involved in. These also often feature turrets, a curious innovation perhaps, but they allow effective fire to be laid down on enemies. For example, one vehicle had a turret designed for a sniper to cover a 160-degree radius towards the front. They can provide crucial forwards fire that most comparable gun trucks lack.
SUV Narco Tanks tend to be light, but there are examples of extensively modified and heavily armed types. Both of these types were made at roughly the same time, but only the lighter SUV Narco Tanks are seen today – the heavy ones tend to be very conspicuous, such as the infamous examples of Monstruo 2010 and 2011 (see below). Such designs are also rather short-lived designs owing to their inherent flaws such as being far too conspicuous, unreliable, and slow.
monster 11
A ‘light’ Narco Tank – a large pick-up truck (possibly a 1999 Chevrolet Silverado 2500) featuring an armored pillbox on the rear. It has space for four passengers, and its armor 19mm thick. It is less likely to attract attention from authorities.  Being barely modified, it could probably hit speeds of 110km/h (68mph). Seized June, 2011, Tamaulipas.

Lighter SUV Narco Tanks tend to have internal armor kits, or just small pillboxes mounted on the rear. As mentioned earlier, internal armor kits are becoming commercially available, which, whilst providing similar armor characteristics as external improvised armor, are also nearly impossible for authorities to detect from the outside of the vehicle. Vehicles modified with these kits are also not blatantly cartel-related, save for all of the firearms inside, meaning they cannot be seized without serious proof of criminal intent. They are also substantially lighter than those equipped with heavier external armor, which means that these Light Narco Tanks can travel much quicker. These two advantages alone have meant that the chances of seeing the larger, more spectacular Narco Tanks in the future is slim.

In Combat and Tactics

The smaller vehicles based on SUVs tend to be stealthy and defensive weapons, usually to defend territory or protect drugs shipments. They may still carry heavier weapons such as .50 cal sniper rifles, but rarely anything larger. There are reports of videos that show them to be operated in convoys of 10-20 vehicles, each carrying up to five men. Again, to make the point very clear – this type is more and more common, seeing as though they have many benefits over the larger vehicles, as they are more difficult to detect, can travel faster, and attract less unwanted attention.
Chevy-Suburban-Browning-M2-Machine-Gun
A Chevy Suburban with a mounted Browning M2 machine gun. Found in Nuevo Laredo, circa 2010. This type of Narco Tank is becoming more common, because it is more stealthy, although the machine gun is very obvious, and it seems as though it would be near impossible to aim. It would also be very dangerous to operate in such an enclosed space without military-grade ear defenders.
Larger gun trucks are seen in fewer numbers, perhaps alone or in small groups. These vehicles seem to be used exclusively as an offensive weapon against rival cartels. However, they feature a major weak point – tires, which are rarely bulletproof and are seldom protected by armor plating.
Narco Tanks are far from indestructible and have not overwhelmed opposing cartels or the Mexican military. They are not often engaged by the military, but the military has been known to employ handheld AT weaponry against them, such as the RL-83 Blindicide bazooka, which was used during one engagement in May 2011, at Escobobo, Nuevo Leon. Some photos exist of abandoned Narco Tanks having been severely damaged by RPGs fired from opposing cartels, and some knocked out vehicles have even been graffitied, daring Los Zetas to send more Narco Tanks to their doom.
Narco Tank destroyed by RPG
An abandoned Narco Tank based on a truck which appears to have been destroyed by an RPG hit and a subsequent fire. RPGs are common in cartel arsenals, and seemingly with good reason.
They have also not been used against civilians as an offensive weapon. Los Zetas seems to act in a military-fashion, by wearing military uniforms and setting up roadblocks with their Narco Tanks, which sometimes look similar to military vehicles, save for a few details. Despite seeming as though they want to have political and social control over areas, Los Zetas and other cartels are not wholly hierarchical in their structure. In fact, they operate as federations, thus meaning that they can become fragmented very easily (it was fragmentation of one cartel that led to Los Zetas’ formation), thus meaning that they cannot form any kind of governing body. Furthermore, Narco Tanks may become redundant, as the necessary coordination of these military-like vehicles (mainly avoiding capture by authorities) may not be present in a fragmented group.

Infamous: Monstruo 2010 and 2011

Two of the most famous Narco Tanks are known as Monstruo 2010 and Monstruo 2011. It is unclear whether or not they were made by the same workshop, but they both share very similar features, although it may be the case that they are unrelated vehicles, save for the name. These are the vehicles which truly do look like they were straight from the Max Max franchise, owing to their entirely armored exterior and unique appearance.

“Monstruos del Narcos” (infographic in Spanish on Monstruo 2010)
Monstruo 2010 is the more crude looking version, based on a large SUV. According to the above infographic, it could transport up to 19 or 20 men carrying assault rifles. It features a single turret at the front of the crew compartment for a sniper. All glass was removed from the vehicle and replaced with armor plating; although small vision slits featuring armored glass (polycarbonate and Duplex) were added. The tires, too, were partially covered with a steel plate, but nevertheless, an ultralightweight, bulletproof, ballistic steel ring was added to each. The steel hull was an inch (25.4mm) thick and angled upwards. The front of the vehicle featured a large steel pole 4×4 inches big, to smash through obstacles, and, strangely, the grill was reportedly electrified with up to 700 volts! It also had nail-dropping, oil-slicking, and smoke screen devices which could throw off pursuers, which would be necessary, as it could only travel a mere 40-50km/h (25-31mph).
It also featured a satellite communication system for listening to police / military communications – perhaps one of the most inventive and ingenious devices ever attached to a Narco Tank. It would mean that the vehicle would not have to rely on lookouts using mobile phones to inform the Narco Tanks on police / military movements. Crucially, the lookouts could only do this once the authorities were in the process of carrying out a raid, whereas tapping into communication systems would inform the Narco Tank of potential threats before they have even begun moving. Nevertheless, Monstruo 2010 was captured by authorities in Jalisco, May 2011.
Monstruo 2011 looked much more sophisticated than Monstruo 2010. The key differences are that it featured two turrets and looked fairly well put together, even featuring reinforced transmission. It is believed that two Monstruo 2011 vehicles have been found, which look almost identical. The first was found in Rancho San Juan, Municipality of Progreso, Coahuila, buried under tonnes of dirt, perhaps to evade detection. The other was found in Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas, with its tires missing.
monster 18
A Monstruo 2011 found in Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas. It is almost identical to the other Monstruo 2011, despite being found in a totally different part of the country. The only obvious differences are the turrets are very slightly different at the top, and the co-driver’s side window is longer. No photos of this one at Ciudad Mier exist of it with its suspension intact.

The vehicle is based on a Ford Super Duty pickup truck. On average, its armor is one inch (25.4mm) thick. The driver’s seating area remains totally unchanged inside, save for level V bulletproof glass. The nose of the vehicle was sharply pointed with a steel battering ram, showing a clear intention to smash through obstacles, although it could only travel at speeds of only 40-50km/h (25-31mph). It can transport an estimated 20 people, and it even features semi-enclosed steel firing compartments – six on both sides of the hull, two at the rear, and two sniper’s turrets. It does not seem to feature any gadgets like Monstruo 2010, but it was, undoubtedly, a sophisticated and well-planned design, probably created using blueprints, which would explain the existence of two Monstruo 2011s.

Monstruo 2011 specification

Dimensions (L-w-h) 7m x 3m x 3.5m (23ft x 9.8ft x 11.5ft)
Base vehicle Ford Super Duty pick-up, estimated mid-2000s model
Crew 2 (driver, co-driver) + up to 20 passengers
Propulsion Triton V10, five-speed, ten cylinder, petrol
Speed (road) 40-50km/h (25-31mph)
Armament 1x Large steel battering ram.
2x Sniper’s turrets
14x Pistol ports for personal weapons, usually assault rifles and .50cal sniper rifles.
Armor Up to 25.4mm
Total production 2 almost identical models
Fate Both seized by authorities. First in May, 2011. Second in June, 2011. Probably dismantled or scrapped.

Further development

As mentioned earlier, Narco Tanks like the Monstruos and heavy trucks have been seldom seen since 2012, perhaps owing to the fact that stealthy SUVs with internal armor are preferred by the cartels, and with good reason. The Mexican government states that at least 100 Narco Tanks have been seized so far, which has undoubtedly had a knock-on effect on Narco Tank production. Instead of getting bigger, as many commentators have speculated, they have actually gotten smaller and less conspicuous.
The most recent reported sighting of Narco Tanks was in February 2015, when a Narco Tanks factory hidden inside a winery was discovered by Mexican authorities near Nuevo Laredo, close to the US border. 13 vehicles were seized, but only 8 of them were Narco Tanks – the other five were in the process of being armored. Along with the haul of vehicles was a number of .50 cal bullets, bullet-proof glass panels, and AK-47 magazines. This is only the second widely reported raid on a Narco Tank factory, and it is almost certain that plenty more illegal workshops are still in operation and are producing Narco Tanks to this very day.
Sources and further reading:
Small Wars Journal (English and Spanish)
Cartels.forumotion.com
Insightcrime.org
Borderlandbeat.com
Polizeros.com
M3report.com (Warning: Very graphic content)
Carsguide.com
Latino.foxnews.com
CNN.com
Businessinsider.com
Univision.com (Spanish)
Los Zetas on Wikipedia
Cártel del Golfo on Wikipedia

narco tank 1
The most famous, and perhaps one of the most heavily armed Narco Tanks, “Monstruo 2010“. It is believed to be one of the first Narco Tanks ever discovered by authorities. It features a satellite communication device to track police and military communications. It also has smoke-screen, oil-slicking, and nail-dropping devices. It has a heavy steel battering ram on the front, which is also electrified with up to 700 volts! Seized in Jalisco, May 2011. Not to scale.

monster 18
Another famous Narco Tank –  “Monstruo 2011“. Two almost identical models of it were built. It features space for 20 men, with individual steel firing stations for each porthole. Its two snipers turrets give all-around cover, and there is a heavy steel battering ram on the front. It is based on a Ford Super Duty. Seized in Ciudad Meir, May 2011. Not to scale.

monster 14
Possibly the largest Narco Tank discovered yet. It belonged to Cártel Del Golfo. The cabin and vehicle platform are all one piece, meaning that the suspension is less likely to snap in the middle. There are no doors for a driver and co-driver, but there is a rear hatch for entry. There are twelve portholes with space for 13 crew members. Seized January 2012, Carmago, Tamaulipas. Not to scale.

sniper in truck riveted to floor
A .50cal sniper riveted to the rear of a modern Narco Tank based on an enclosed people carrier. This type of Narco Tank is becoming more common because it is more stealthy and its interior armor is a lot less conspicuous.
monster 8
“Popemobile Narco”, so called due to its resemblance to the “Popemobile“. This is a simpler conversion seemingly based on a GMC Sierra 2500 featuring a sniper’s cabin on the rear with space for four people.
popemobile narco
Despite the crude construction, the materials used in its construction are high-quality steel and bulletproof glass.
narco tank 1
One of the more exotic looking Narcos Tanks featuring a turret. It is named “Monstruo 2010”, it is perhaps an early version of  “Monstruo 2011”, although they are more than likely unrelated designs. Seized in Jalisco, May 2011.
Screen shot 2011-06-19 at 7.01.11 AM
The interior of one of Monstruo 2011’s turrets. It seems as though the viewports featured shutters.
monster 10
A ‘light’ Narco Tank, but still one of the larger pickup trucks (seemingly a 1999 Ford F-150 FX4 double-cab) featuring an armored pillbox on the rear. It has space for eight passengers and gives frontal coverage. The hood of the vehicle is reinforced with hand-cut steel plates, probably 19mm in thickness. Seized June 2011, Tamaulipas.
monster 5
One of the larger pickup trucks featuring an armored pillbox on the rear. It has space for eight passengers and gives frontal coverage. Seized June 2011, Tamaulipas.
Confiscated in
A large commercial moving van has been converted into a Narco Tank. It has an armored rear featuring many portholes, as well as a set of external cage armor for the cab. It could carry as many as eight men. Seized June 2011, Tamaulipas
monster 16
A large white truck with plenty of additional armor – the hood is 19mm thick. It has the rear wheels covered up, but the front ones remain exposed. There are ten portholes and eleven separate firing stations. Seized June 2011, Tamaulipas.
narco truck
One of the larger Narco Tanks, it might be based on a dump truck, and it supposedly belonged to Cártel Del Golfo. Mexican Marines are guarding the vehicle. 25mm shells, a 40mm grenade, and some AP .50cal rounds were also reportedly found inside!

inside of a narco truck
The interior of the above (or possibly below, sources differ) Narco Tank. It features air conditioning, and possibly fire-proof insulation.
monster 13
A heavily armored Narco Tank nicknamed “Batmobile”, seized January 2012, Carmago, Tamaulipas. It has space for 18 passengers. It features a ram, and the hood is covered with 12.7mm inch steel. Also believed to be a Dodge truck (based on interior photos of the steering wheel) it supposedly belonged to Cártel del Golfo.

inside of a narco
Interior of the above Narco Tank (or possibly the other above truck, sources differ). All the electronics have been rewired into the newly armored driver’s position.
narco tank 3
Another view of the heavily armored truck featuring a ram, seized January 2012, Carmago, Tamaulipas.
Narco interior
Interior of the above Narco Tank. Despite its crude-looks, this is one of the more ‘polished’ interiors, featuring benches for crews to sit on and large firing ports.
monster 17
A similar heavily armored truck featuring a ram, seized January 2012, Carmago, Tamaulipas. The front ram has been reinforced with steel plates.

A video of one of the Monstruo 2011s having been seized (Spanish).

A video of Monstruo 2010 having been seized.