Reconnaissance Vehicle – 1 Prototype Built
Up until 1967, Brazil was dependent on foreign countries for armored vehicles. Throughout and in the aftermath of World War 2, Brazil would receive large numbers of cheap armored vehicles from the United States, including the M3 Stuart and the M4 Sherman, as it had entered the war on the Allied side in 1942. In fact, Brazil had not undertaken any tank design since 1932, and those had only been conversions of tractors and cars into armored vehicles during the revolutions of 1924, 1930, and 1932.
Between 1932 and 1958, the Brazilian Armed Forces created a solid basis of technical institutes from which it could educate technical and research personnel. In turn, these helped the Brazilian automotive industry in developing its own automotive parts and helped in opening laboratories for the manufacturers. In 1967, Brazil set up a plan for the country to become more self-sustaining. The flow of US material had decreased because of its entanglement in the Vietnam War and, after a study, Brazil recognised external dependence on arms suppliers as a serious problem for its political position in South America.
The plan to solve this would be the start of the Brazilian defense industry. The first steps were small, from its first tracked armored vehicle meant for serial production in 1965, called the VETE T-1 A-1 Cutia, to its very first wheeled reconnaissance vehicle with production in mind, designated VBB-1 in 1967. The VBB-1 kickstarted the development of wheeled armored vehicles in Brazil, with the EE-9 Cascavel being the most successful result.
The Viatura Blindada Brasileira 1 (VBB-1), (English: Armored Car of Brazil 1) was developed by the PqRMM/2 (Parque Regional de Motomecanização da 2a Região Militar, Regional Motomecanization Park of the 2nd Military Region), which was a group of Army automotive engineers gathered to study, develop and produce armored vehicles for Brazil. The PqRMM/2 developed its vehicles under the supervision of the Diretoria de Pesquisa e Ensino Técnico do Exército (DPET), (English: Army Directorate of Research and Technical Education). The PqRMM/2 was the birthplace of many of the concepts that resulted in the EE-9 Cascavel and EE-11 Urutu, among others. The first steps of the PqRMM/2, meant to gain experience, was the remotorization of vehicles like the M8 Greyhound and the M2 half-track, which received a diesel engine.
From the experience gained, the PqRMM/2 team initiated the development of a wheeled armored vehicle for reconnaissance. The reason for the PqRMM/2 to develop a wheeled vehicle was because of a study carried out by the Diretoria Geral de Material Bélico (DGMB), (English: General Directorate of War Material), which called for the intensive adoption of wheeled armored vehicles for the Brazilian Army, after having studied wheeled vehicles from various countries. These types of vehicles needed less investment, and were more feasible to develop instead of importing them. The study called for a vehicle like the M8 Greyhound, but simpler.
The reason why the DGMB wanted a vehicle like the M8 Greyhound is because of the experience Brazil had during World War 2 with the vehicle. Brazil sent an expeditionary force, also known as the Smoking Snakes, to fight in Italy alongside the Allies. The Brazilians would operate the M8 during the Italy campaign, and they loved the vehicle. The positive experience with the M8 caused it to be one of the, if not the most impactful vehicles for Brazilian development of armored vehicles. As a result, most of the important wheeled vehicles and the wheeled vehicle program can trace back their roots to the M8 Greyhound during the Italian campaign. The most well known Brazilian vehicle that was based on the M8 Greyhound, albeit heavily improved, was the EE-9 Cascavel.
In 1967, the DGMB made a sketch of a 4 x 4 vehicle, armed with a 37 mm cannon which was mounted in a rotating turret. The vehicle needed to have a crew of 3 to 4 members, and was to be sufficiently robust and powerful as the M8, but simpler. This was requested in order not to overburden the PqRMM/2 team more than what they could achieve. The DGMB requirements were passed on to the higher-ups of the Army, which officially collected it under Officia 372, a requirement study for the PqRMM/2 to work from. Further demands were the use of as many off-the-shelf components as possible, in order to profit from the Brazilain automotive industry and to save costs (this would be a common theme for almost all of Brazil’s wheeled vehicles). In addition, the turrets were to be re-used from the obsolete T17 Deerhounds, of which Brazil owned 54 at the time. Finally, the plan was for the chassis to eventually be modified to suit APC, anti-infantry, and anti-air roles.
The concept of the 4 x 4 VBB-1 was inspired from the Belgian FN 4RM 62F Auto Blindée. This was one of the vehicles which was studied by the DGMB. Although the VBB-1’s concept was based on the Belgian vehicle, the guns were different. Brazilian doctrine at the time called for the usage of 37 mm guns on reconnaissance vehicles. It can be questioned to some extent if the DGMB might have been stuck in its ways regarding Brazil’s doctrine on the 37 mm, but on the other hand, the VBB-1 was never meant to be groundbreaking or match to its counterparts of the period. Although the concept was based on the Belgian vehicle, the overall design of the VBB-1 seems to have taken most of its inspiration from the M8 Greyhound.
In July 1968, the team led by Lieutenant-Colonel Pedro Cordeiro de Mello, who was the leader of the PqRMM/2, started designing the VBB-1. It would have a 4 man crew and carry spare tires on the sides of its hull. Somewhere around this time, the spare T17 Deerhound turrets got ditched from its development. The reason why is not confirmed by sources. It could be that the development team decided that, while developing a new vehicle with serial production in mind, designing it to mount a turret of which just 57 are available might not be the best decision. It was better to take advantage of the steel foundries and contract a factory to develop turrets. This would give the Brazilian industry experience with turret manufacture and gain another step towards independence. In July of 1986, the first scale model mockup was built. An interesting detail of this model is the complicated raised hull structure towards the turret. Another important detail are the spare tyres mounted on both sides in the middle of the vehicle.
A second model was made, which already simplified the hull construction a bit, and removed the spare tyres in the middle of the first model, replacing them with a continuous side armor plate instead. This was most likely done as the next step within the development of the VBB-1, as the PqRMM/2 had requested the development of so-called bullet-proof tyres, which would theoretically render the spare tyres obsolete in the grand scheme of operations. But it remains unclear if this model was designed with the bullet-proof tyres in mind, or if this model was designed alongside the first model as a proposal.
Development of indigenous run-flat tyres
On June 3rd 1968, Lieutenant-Colonel Mello requested the development of bullet-proof tyres known in Brazil under the acronym P.P.B. (Pneus à Prova de Balas), or run-flat tyres. These tyres were developed by Novatração and would be used for the VBB-1. The selected size of the VBB-1’s tyres was 9.00-20, which was the same size as those of the M8 Greyhound. The tyres were thus interchangeable and the prototypes were extensively tested on the M8’s. The first tyre was developed 3 months after the initial request, and used an outer protective tyre and a separate inner wall. The outer and inner tyre were pushed against the rim lips with an inner rubber ring, also known as a separator. Due to heating issues when used continuously for over 200 km (124 miles), the tyres were rejected.
The next step was a critical development for Novatração. Instead of using an inner tyre, Novatração decided they could use the outer tyre as the inner tyre and the separator ring as a run-flat tyre. This meant that if the outer tyre was punctured, the vehicle could still keep on driving on the separator ring. Another advantage was that crews could now easily field repair any puncturing without the need of removing the wheel from the axle and the outer tyre from the wheel, in order to be able to fix the punctured inner tyre. The new tyre was extensively tested from March 1969 on, and could travel for at least 500 km (311 miles) after it was punctured. Interestingly, the tyre was also tested for a year without any air in the tyre or repairs to the tyre, the tyres held up for 1,200 km (746 miles). The tyres were accepted and delivered in October 1969 to the PqRMM/2. Although the VBB-1 already received its run-flat tyres around March or April of 1969, as a picture dated April 1969, shows a VBB-1 with run-flat tyres.
Parallel to the development of the tyres was the development of the turret. The initial idea of reusing T17 Deerhound turrets had been ditched, and the PqRMM/2 team opted for a locally produced turret. Sources do suggest that the 37 mm cannons of the T17 Deerhounds were used for the manufacture of the turrets. The new turret was practically a somewhat improved copy of the M8 Greyhound turret. The turret was cast by Fundições Alliperti S/A from SAE 5160 steel, and was further machined by the company Avanzi.
Various gun mantlets were cast by Alliperti and presented on October 25th 1968, along with other components of the turret. A simple gun mantlet with just the main gun hole and a vision hole was selected. This was a simpler gun mantlet than the M8 Greyhound’s mantlet, which was also proposed. Another important difference was that the turret would receive two hatches, instead of an open-top turret like the M8, and it also received a mount for a .50 calibre machine gun in front of the turret hatches. Alliperti produced 8 turrets in total.
After the construction of the initial models, work began on building a steel scale model. This steel scale model would start showing clear features from the M8 Greyhound, with the driver and assistant driver’s hatch style being the most notable. The overall shape of the hull, especially the part towards the turret, seems to have been somewhat simplified. A very important detail is the armor values written on the sides of the steel scale model. These values are exactly the same thickness of 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) as the M8 Greyhound’s side armor plates. This might suggest that the overall armor values of the VBB-1 are the same as the M8 Greyhound armor values.
With the initial models and the steel reference scale model completed, work began on the construction of the hull somewhere between July and October 1968. The hull was constructed by the company Trivellato. It reached an advanced stage on October 25th, 1968, when it was photographed. Interestingly, at this point in time, the hull was constructed in accordance with the run-flat tyre concept. However, it is known that the VBB-1, of which a single vehicle was built, was initially delivered as per the spare tyre concept. The first more or less finished vehicle with run-flat tyres was photographed in April 1969, and the first run-flat tyres were made in March 1969. As the hull was initially constructed with the run-flat design, it seems that the PqRMM/2 team decided that it would use the spare tyre concept and cut the side parts of the hull for the spare tyres to be mounted. Somewhere in the early months of 1969, the spare tyre concept vehicle had been delivered, as it was presented to the Army in 1969, and early shooting tests were carried out in 1969, with both vehicles.
Why the PqRMM/2 team decided to cut the sides of the hull for the spare tyres and not wait until the run-flat tyres were delivered, is unknown. It is likely that they wanted to get the vehicle done, and the first set of tyres developed by Novatração did not meet the requirements. They probably weighed the chances of Novatração developing a tyre within specifications and the PqRMM/2 team being able to finish the first concept of the vehicle. With Novatração not having developed a new tyre yet, they went on to develop the spare tyre concept. In addition, an argument can be made that, even though Novatração would have developed a new tyre in time, nothing assured the PqRMM/2 team that that tyre would be significantly better. As converting it back to the run-flat concept would only entail removing the spare tyre mount and welding some extra plates to the side of the hull, the team probably decided that going through with the spare tyre concept was more effective.
The spare tyre concept
When the first version of the VBB-1 with the spare tyres on the side was finished is unknown. It is estimated that it was finished somewhere in between January 1st and March 1969. The reason is because the spare tyre vehicle was presented to the Army in 1969, and shooting tests were carried out with the VBB-1 in this configuration, but in March 1969, the first run-flat tyres were developed and the run-flat concept was first photographed in April 1969.
Most of the components used for the VBB-1 seem to have been in advanced stages in October 1968. The turret was almost done, the hull was also nearing completion, and the engine was installed in the vehicle as well. Like the VETE T-1 A-1 Cutia before it, and many vehicles after it, the VBB-1 was built with components from numerous private companies. Mercedes-Benz was one of the most important companies involved in the development of early wheeled armored vehicles. Mercedes-Benz Brasil had provided the M8 Greyhounds with new diesel engines, transmissions and differentials during the first stages of the PqRMM/2. For the VBB-1, Mercedes-Benz would again deliver the diesel engine, transmission and a specially developed differential. The differential was an off-center differential which was specially designed by Mercedes-Benz for the VBB-1 project.
|Mercedes-benz||Engine, transmission, differential and other components|
|Fundições Alliperti S/A||Turret|
|ZF Friedrichshafen||Hydraulic steering|
The completed VBB-1 with spare tyres was presented to the army in the first quarter of 1969. Almost immediately after it was delivered, the armament and the vehicle were tested. If the tests included anything more than just firing is unclear. It can be expected that it was at least briefly tested and that it performed well enough for the project to carry on. In March 1969, the run-flat tyres from Novatração were finished and, in April 1969, the first picture of the VBB-1 without spare tyres was made.
Run-flat tyre concept
With the development of the run-flat tyres in March 1969, the now finalized VBB-1 was presented in April 1969 in front of the Mercedes-Benz factory in São Paulo. The pride of Mercedes-Benz, or at least their attempt to capitalize on their participation with these Army projects, was shown in the form of a photo album which they had made. This photo album contained pictures of the M8 Greyhound that Mercedes had modernized, and pictures of the VBB-1. Mercedes-Benz Brasil would continue delivering its engines to the rising Brazilian defense industry, which would find their way into the EE-9 Cascavel, EE-11 Urutu, EE-3 Jararaca, and in trucks used for military purposes.
The VBB-1 weighed 7 tonnes (7.7 US tons) and was 5 meters (16.4 feet) long, 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) wide, and 2.3 meters (7.55 feet) tall excluding the turret mounted .50 calibre machine gun. Since the VBB-1 was inspired by the M8 Greyhound, its crew was positioned in a similar manner and it is most likely that the crew had the same tasks as in the M8. The VBB-1 was operated by a four-man crew, consisting of the Commander, Gunner, Driver, and Co-driver. The role of loader was most likely carried out by the Commander, like in the M8. The Co-driver would function as a Radio-operator, but if the VBB-1 ever had a radio set installed is unknown.
The hull was manufactured of steel plates which were welded together. The VBB-1 had a similar style of hull/hatch construction to the M8 Greyhound for the Driver and Co-driver. In a way, the hull can be seen as two parts. A single large and relatively simple bottom hull, and a more complicated structure on top which contains the hatches for the Driver and Co-driver, and on which the turret is mounted.
The armor of the VBB-1 is unknown. If the PqRMM/2 team took over the side armor values of the steel mock-up is unknown. However, considering the values of the mock-up, which are the same as the M8 Greyhound, and Brazil’s relationship with the M8, it can be theorized that the armor values of the VBB-1 would be somewhere around the M8’s. The VBB-1’s frontal plate was well angled, at around 60 degrees from vertical. Its sides were flat, but started to angle heavily inwards on the bottom of the hull. The rear armor was practically flat. The more complicated structure of the upper hull used steel plates in complicated and unusual angles, especially on the front part of the hull attached to the sides of the Driver and Co-driver compartment. An interesting pyramid like shape was welded on the left hull side of the vehicle. This was most likely done to protect the spare tyres from frontal fire, and was retained during the conversion to the run-flat concept. It would be probable that this unusual pyramid shape would be either altered or removed altogether if the VBB-1 was ever produced, as its role for the protection of spare tyres was no longer needed and it would have been an overly complicated structure to construct in mass-production.
The driver was positioned on the front left side of the vehicle, and the Co-driver on the right. The turret was located in the middle of the vehicle, and the engine in the rear. The VBB-1 had 2 front lights on both sides, and a black-out light on the left side, next to the front light. On the right side of the hull, the vehicle had a .30 caliber machine gun in a ball mount which was used by the Co-driver. It had a horn and something that resembled an antenna next to the Co-driver’s hatch on the right side of the hull. Behind the horn, the VBB-1 seems to have had pioneer tools. On the rear hull, the VBB-1 had a set of rear lights, including black-out lights.
The VBB-1 was powered by a 6-cylinder OM-321 120 hp diesel engine built by Mercedes-Benz. This gave the vehicle a top speed of 90 km/h, with an operational range of 1,200 km (746 miles). It had a turning radius of 7 meters (7.7 yards), and could drive up a 60% slope. The transmission and differential were also produced by Mercedes-Benz, while the transmission box was built by Engesa. The VBB-1 used hydraulic steering.
The vehicle was a 4×4, which meant that every wheel would support, very roughly, about 1.75 tonnes (1.93 US tons). The VBB-1 used 4 run-flat tyres, which were developed and made by Novatração. They were about 1 meter in diameter and used the 9.00 x 20 tyre size, which was also used for the M8 Greyhound.
The VBB-1 used an altered copy of the M8 Greyhound turret. In contrast to the M8, the VBB-1 turret was not open topped. It had a small plateau on the front side, upon which the mount for the .50 calibre machine gun was installed. Behind, two hatches were installed which folded open to the front. On the sides and the rear, the turret had vision blocks which could fold open if needed. The armor of the turret is unknown. Since it was a copy of the M8 turret, it can be expected that the thicknesses of the armor were potentially the same.
An important development that the VBB-1 brought was the development and study of armor. Somewhere between 1969 and 1970, the DPET and the Instituto de Pesquisas Tecnológics (IPT) (English: Institute for Technological Research) would test the VBB-1 turret by firing at it with .50 calibre and 37 mm ammunition. The 37 mm cannon was fired at a distance of 500 meters (547 yards) and the .50 calibre at both 250 and 500 meters (273 and 547 yards). The 37 mm and .50 calibre from 500 meters (547 yards) were fired at the front of the turret, and the .50 calibre from 250 meters (274 yards) at the side of the turret. The turret armor managed to withstand both armaments.
The VBB-1 used a 37 mm M6 cannon as main armament, which potentially came from the T17 Deerhound. The 37 mm M6 had a total length of 2.1 meters (6.9 feet) and a bore length of 1.98 meters (6.5 feet). The 37 mm cannon was able to fire the M51 APC round with 53 mm (2.1 inch) of penetration at 455 meters (500 yards) at a 30 degree angle, and 46 mm (1.8 inch) of penetration at 915 meters (1,000 yards) at a 30 degree angle. It could also fire the M74 AP, M63 HE, and M2 canister rounds. In addition to the 37 mm cannon, the VBB-1 mounted a .30 calibre M1919A4 machine gun on the right side of the hull, operated by the Co-driver, and a .50 calibre M2 machine gun on top of the turret. The available ammunition of the VBB-1 is unknown.
The VBB-1 was extensively tested during 1969 and 1970. It performed in beach trials, mobility trials, and firing tests. The vehicle performed well, but in the end would not be accepted. The reason is because the Brazilian Army wanted a 6×6 vehicle like the M8 Greyhound, and not a 4×4.
Why the PqRMM/2 developed a 4×4 instead of a 6×6 is a mystery. They most likely developed a 4×4 because it was easier and cheaper to build than a 6×6, and thus an excellent vehicle from which to gain experience. The PqRMM/2 briefly considered cutting the VBB-1 and lengthening the hull to create a 6×6 vehicle, but the idea was almost immediately discarded. It was easier and more effective to develop a new vehicle. One of the 8 VBB-1 turrets that were made was briefly used on the CRR prototype, which was a prototype of the EE-9 Cascavel. The VBB-1 is currently used as a gate guardian in front of the Centro Tecnológico do Exército (CTEx) (English: Army Technology Centre). Note that the VBB-1 presented at the CTEx seems to have a different gun than the VBB-1 originally had. It looks like a mock-up on which tubes are screwed together. Considering the state of the VBB-1, it is not unlikely that the 37 mm was removed.
Overall, the VBB-1 seemed to have been a decent vehicle. It performed well in tests, but was outdated from its conception. The VBB-1 did not present anything new and was not better than its counterparts of its time. This is not surprising considering the goal of this project, the lack of experience of the engineers, and taking into account that this was the very first wheeled armored vehicle Brazil had ever developed with serial production in mind.
The Brazilian Army did not want the VBB-1, but a 6×6 instead. The development of the VBB-1 was critical for the future developments of the PqRMM/2 team and the future Brazilian defense industry. Not only did it give the engineers the experience to develop a 6×6 vehicle with a better hull design but, more importantly, it started the development and research of armor and the development of run-flat tyres. The VBB-1 was, most importantly, a vehicle which helped advance the development of Brazilian armored vehicles, and would be the stepping stone towards the famous EE-9 Cascavel and the EE-11 Urutu.
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||5 m x 2.5 m x 2.3 m (16.4 feet x 8.2 feet x 7.55 feet)|
|Total weight||7 tonnes (7.7 US tons)|
|Crew||4 (Driver, Co-driver, Gunner, Commander)|
|Propulsion||Mercedes-Benz 6-cylinder OM-321 120 hp diesel engine|
|Speed (road)||90 km/h (56 mph)|
|Armament||.30 caliber machine gun (Hull)
.50 caliber machine gun (Turret top)
37 mm M6 cannon
|Armor||Unknown, probably somewhere in the region of the M8 Greyhound|
Special thanks to Expedito Carlos Stephani Bastos, the leading expert in Brazilian vehicles, please visit his website for further reading on Brazilian vehicles: https://ecsbdefesa.com.br/, and Guilherme Travassus Silva, a Brazilian with whom I was able to endlessly discuss Brazilian Vehicles and who was always willing to listen to my near endless ability to talk about them.
Personal correspondence with Expedito Carlos Stephani Bastos
Blindados no Brasil – Expedito Carlos Stephani Bastos
Ford M-8 Greyhound no Exército Brasileiro – Expedito Carlos Stephani Bastos
Armored Car – A History of American Wheeled Combat vehicles – R.P. Hunnicutt
Armor Magazine 1973 Jan-Jun