The Cold War was a state of political and military tension after World War II between powers in the Western Bloc (the United States, its NATO allies and others) and powers in the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and its satellite states). Historians do not fully agree on the dates, but a common timeframe is the period between 1947, the year the Truman Doctrine (a U.S. policy pledging to aid nations threatened by Soviet expansionism) was announced, and 1991, the year the Soviet Union collapsed. The term “cold” is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, although there were major regional wars, known as proxy wars, supported by the two sides. The Cold War split the temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany, leaving the Soviet Union and the United States as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences.
Small countries, like Bulgaria, are usually not capable to single-handedly develop and build a Main Battle Tank. However, creating an Infantry Fighting Vehicle using existing platforms is far more at hand.
This is exactly what the Bulgarians intended, producing a vehicle tailored to the needs of the Bulgarian Army then under the Soviet sphere of Influence as part of the Warsaw Pact. The overall goal was to have an improved IFV compared to the BMP-1 already in service. Only a few of the resulting BMP-23s were cranked-up by KINTEX State Commercial Enterprise, some sources claiming 50 (Wikipedia), while others claiming 114 (Army-Guide). The vehicles entered service in the early 1980s.
The basis for the BMP-23 was the sturdy Soviet 2S1 “Gvozdika” self-propelled howitzer, built under licence in Bulgaria at the time. The Gvozdika itself was based on the multipurpose MT-LB chassis. However, given the goals of the military, it had to be given much sturdier armor than that of the BMP-1. The better engine and reinforced suspension helped in this way.
The hull was also comprehensively modified to integrate a roomy troop compartment at the rear, for six equipped infantrymen seated back-to-back. The rear was modified to accept two doors for dismounting, in addition to the two large roof hatches. Three pistol ports were also placed in the walls, with bulletproof vision devices. The welded steel hull was reinforced with a frontal arc protection of about 20-23 mm (0.8-0.9 in). It is assumed that it is able to withstand 23 mm (0.9 in) AP rounds.
Turret and Armament
The turret was, of course, the major addition to this vehicle. It has a rounded rear, with flat sides all around and a well-sloped front. Protruding from the turret is a 23 mm (0.9 in) 2A14 automatic cannon. It is the same gun used in the ZU-23-2 light AA gun which equipped the Soviet light AA units. It is fed by 600 rounds, has +80° of elevation, and can fire either HE-IT and AP-IT ammunitions with a muzzle velocity of 970 m/s. This gun, introduced in the 1960s, has a total length of 4.57 m (10 ft) and a barrel length of 2 m (79.1 in), or 87.3 calibers. It fires a 23x152B round, with two rate of fire settings, one low, at 200/300 rounds/min, and one high, at 500 rds/min. The practical range is 2.5 km (2 mi).
The armament is completed by a 7.62 mm (0.3 in) machine gun (PKT) coaxial light machine gun, and, in order to deal with tanks at longer ranges, a 9K11 Malyutka ATGM launcher, recently replaced with a 9K111 Fagot. The latter is an SACLOS missile, fitted with a 1.7 kg High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) warhead. The Malyutka can defeat up to 400 mm of RHA /200 mm 60° sloped armor up to 2,500 m. The Fagot is claimed to be effective up to 4,000 m and has tandem HEAT rounds. The mount is electrically operated from inside, with 90° of traverse and -5 to +15° elevation. In addition, the crew carried their personal AK-47s, RPG-7V, and RPG-22, plus a Strela-2M for AA cover.
For targeting, the gunner, who sat on the left, has a binocular day sight with a magnification of ×4.5 and a 40° field of view. He can use a forward-opening hatch cover and a white light searchlight. The commander, on the right, has a cupola with single-piece hatch cover opening to the front and mounting an infra-red searchlight. He also has his own 1PZ-3 monocular sight, TKN-3B day/night sight with a ×4.75/×4 day/night magnification. These sights were produced under license by the Vazov Engineering Plant in Sopot, Bulgaria.
Mobility-wise, the BMP-23 is given an improved engine, the turbocharged diesel YaMZ-238N, which develops 315 hp, giving the vehicle a 62 km/h (39 mph) top speed on road and 550 to 600 km (340-370 mi) operational range on average. The drivetrain is shared with the MT-LB and Gvozdika, with a full row of seven evenly spaced rubberized road wheels without return rollers. The drive sprocket is at the front and idler at the rear. Each road wheel is suspended on a torsion bar. In addition, the first and last suspensions units came with hydraulic shock-absorbers.
For concealment, the usual exhaust smoke ejector is used. However, two banks of three 81 mm electrically operated smoke dischargers were added on the modernized BMP-23D version. Importantly, the BMP-23 retains the amphibious characteristics for the MT-LB, with enough buoyancy to swim, propelled and guided by the tracks. Preparation for going into water includes raising the trim vane and removing the hull sides slotted mudguards. Fire detection and suppression systems are installed. It is also fitted with R-123M VHF radio and R-124 tank intercom and an NBC collective protection with GO-27 radiation and chemical detection system.
-BMP-23D: Upgraded model with the 9K111 Fagot ATGM plus 2×3 81mm smoke grenade launchers. -BRM-23: Reconnaissance vehicle, apparently entering service in limited numbers in 1991, equipped with a large folded antenna mounted on the rear of the vehicle. -BMP-30: A prototype was built using a turret very similar to the one seen on the BMP-2. Only 10 built in 1995 according to Army-Guide. It has a 2A42 30 mm (1.18 in) autocannon with 4000 m range, coaxial PKT and AT-5 Spandrel ATGM.
The BMP-23 in Service
The BMP-23 was first publicly revealed at a parade in 1984. It served its tour of duty in Iraq along with the M1117 Armoured Security Vehicle, without any noticeable events taking place. The BMP-23D is still in service today in the Bulgarian Army. There is an interesting “recycling” potential for nations willing to get rid of their old 2S1 Gvozdika SPGs and transform them into anIFV more potent than the BMP-1.
Believing they had identified a niche in the market, the Thyssen-Henschel and Bofors companies began a private venture (without funding or official support from the West-German military) to develop an ‘Infantry Escort Vehicle’.
The resulting vehicle, debuted in November 1977, was based on a modified hull of the recently introduced Marder IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). It was designated the Begleitpanzer (Accompanying Tank) 57 and was classified as an Armored Infantry Fire Support Vehicle, or ‘AIFSV’.
The Marder (German word for the weasel-like creature, the Marten) IFV entered service with the West German army or ‘Bundeswehr’ in 1971. It was developed as part of the rebuilding effort of Germany’s armored vehicle manufacturing industry. Though it was not a remarkable vehicle according to its features, the design has succeeded in being a versatile and well rounded IFV. It was a simple vehicle that had armor up to 20mm thick over the frontal arc, with the frontal upper plate steeply angled. This frontal plate was designed to withstand 20mm Armor-Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) rounds. It had rear access doors for carried infantry to disembark from and rifle ports in the hull side which allowed the infantry to fire through, while safely inside.
It had a small two-man turret which carried the IFV’s main armament, a 20mm Rheinmetall MK 20 Rh202 autocannon and a coaxial 7.62 mm MG3 machine gun. The 20mm can fire either Armor-Piercing (AP) or High-Explosive (HE) round.
The IFV was powered by an MTU MB 833 Ea-500 diesel engine, which developed 591 hp. This propelled the vehicle to a top speed of 47 mph (75 km/h) on road. It runs on six road-wheels connected to a torsion bar suspension. The idler wheel is located at the rear, with the drive sprocket at the front.
Design of the Begleitpanzer
The overall design of the vehicle was largely unchanged from the original Marder IFV. As such, the engine, transmission, suspension, tracks, and armor remained the same. The biggest modification to the Marder chassis was the replacement of the standard turret with a larger one mounting the vehicle’s main armament which consisted of an automatically cycling Bofors 57mm (2.24in) L70 Mk.1 gun, traditionally used in the anti-aircraft role on ships. This necessitated internal modifications. The entirety of the gun was open to the elements. When the gun was depressed the breach would rise out of the turret when elevated it would sink inside the hull. Depression/elevation range was – 8 to + 45 degrees. There was also a coaxial MG3 machine gun mounted on the right side of the main gun. The gun was fed from an ammunition can mounted on the gun cradle, meaning it would have to be reloaded from outside the tank. This gun was intended to engage with lightly armored enemy vehicles and troops.
The weapon was mounted centrally in the uneven turret. The left of the turret was raised to accommodate the commander’s position. Above this position was a periscope ring for all-round observation. The right half of the turret was much lower to accommodate the vehicle’s secondary armament, a Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) launcher, which could fire the BGM-71B missile. This was installed to give the vehicle some anti-armor capability. After firing, the launcher tube rotated backward until it was vertical, and the exhaust end was in line with the turret roof. A small circular hatch would then open. Through this, a fresh ATGM would be loaded in. The tube would then rotate back to firing position. The gunner was located underneath the ATGM launcher tube. He operated both the main gun and the ATGM with controls in his position.
Two loaders were positioned in the rear of the tank. The loader on the left would be responsible for loading clips into the 57mm main gun. The loader on the right would be responsible for handling the ATGMs. The ammunition load-out consisted of 48 rounds for the 57mm gun and 6 TOW-ATGMs. The driver was located at the front left of the vehicle.
A mock-up of the Begleitpanzer was displayed in November 1977. A prototype was tested in 1978. Due to a lack of interest from the German Military, the project was not accepted for construction.
The project did start a string of other attempts to increase the lethality of the Marder. A similar project by Thyssen-Henschel saw the addition of a 105mm L7 gun, as found on Leopard 1
, to the top of the Marder chassis. This was designated the VTS1, but like the Begleitpanzer, it did not progress past prototype stages.
6.79 m x 3.24 m x 2.98 m
(22′ 3″ x 10′ 8″ x 9′ 9″)
Total weight, battle ready
Aprx. 33.5 tons
5 (driver, commander, gunner, x2 loaders)
MTU MB 833 Ea-500 diesel, 561 hp.
Independent torsion bars
47 mph (75 km/h)
Bofors 57mm (2.24 in) L70 Mk.1
20mm (0.78 in)
Links, Resources & Further Reading
Arms and Armour Press, Tanks of the World 1983, Ferdinand Von Senger. On topwar.ru
The M26 Pershing descended from a long series of medium and heavy tank prototypes, dating back from 1936. During the war, heavy tank development had been long delayed or given low priority since the US Army, USMC and Allied forces required a mass-built, good-all-around medium tank, which took the shape of the Medium M4 Sherman.
By 1944, the High Command was aware of the limitation of the M4 when facing German tanks. By mid-1944, both the British and US had undertaken upgrades in armor and guns on the Sherman, and developed tank-hunters instead of mass-producing a brand new model. However, by the fall of 1944, these stopgap measures proved insufficient, and the innovative M26 was eventually pushed forward for production. But it was a bit too late. The Pershing saw little combat and mostly soldiered during the Cold War, starting with Korea. At last, the crews had the ideal tank to deal with German armor, but historians and authors still debate about the causes of such delays. Could the Pershing have been a game changer if introduced earlier?
T20 Prototype (1942)
Development of the T20 Medium Tank started as an upgrade over the M4 in 1942. This new tank had common features with earlier models, notably the characteristic suspension (HVSS) bogies, roadwheels, return rollers, drive sprockets and idlers. By May 1942, a mock-up of the T20 had been already produced. U.S. Army Ordnance also ordered the development of the M6 heavy tank, which would prove a dead end. The main feature of the T20 was the lower silhouette and more compact hull, allowed by the availability of the new Ford GAN V-8 combined with a rear transmission and rear sprocket drive layout.
This engine was an early attempt to produce a V12 with similar layout and performances to the Rolls Royce Merlin, but development was stopped and the engine was turned into a smaller V8. Other improvements included a sturdier horizontal volute spring suspension (HVSS), a longer barrel version of the 75 mm (2.95 in) (M1A1), and 76.2 mm (3 in) front armor. The weight and width were very similar to the M4, allowing transportation in similar conditions. However, the T20 also pioneered the Torqmatic transmission, which proved highly problematic during trials.
T22 and T23 Prototypes
Problems with the Torqmatic dictated a return to the M4 transmission, leading to the T22. Variants of this medium tank also tested an autoloader, thus reducing the turret crew to just two.
In 1943, the need to replace the M4 was not apparent, and the U.S. Army Ordnance decided to test several electrical systems on the next T23 Medium Tank, mainly the transmission. These entered service but, because of maintenance and supply problems, only operated on U.S. soil for the duration of the war, mainly for training purposes.
The T25 and T26
The T25 was a new design, up-armored and up-gunned. This was done as it was clear, after the first encounters with German upgraded Panzer IVs, Panthers and Tigers, that the M4 was less up to the task than previously thought. The debate was heated, but finally, a breach opened and clear-cut decisions were taken after the reports came from Normandy. Meanwhile, a series of T25s was built, inaugurating a new, far larger cast turret derived from the one on the T23, in order to accommodate a 90 mm (3.54 in) gun.
The T26 added upgraded armor to the mix, with a new 102 mm (4 in) thick glacis and reinforced hull. Their overall weight rose to 36 tonnes (40 short tons), up into the category of “heavy tanks”.
Performance decreased, and triggered reliability and maintenance issues, as their engine and transmission were not designed to cope with the additional stress. The T25 displayed VVSS suspensions while the T26 used the final torsion bar system retained on the M26. The T26E1 was the prototype upon which the upgraded production version T26E3 was based on. After a small pre-series, this was standardized as the M26.
Compared to the Sherman and previous models, the Pershing was revolutionary. The new Wright engine and short transmission gave it a low profile, as opposed to the Sherman. The glacis plate was one of the thickest ever fitted on an American tank to that point. The torsion bar system conferred a noticeably better ride and was leagues ahead of the tractor-based VVSS, as well as simpler than the HVSS. The large tracks fitted with soft steel shoes contributed to lowering the ground pressure and giving better grip on soft terrain. Above them, two wide mudguards mounted large storage bins for tooling, spares and equipment.
The drivetrain, modeled and tested on the T26, counted six pairs of rubberized roadwheels, each fitted on its own wheelarm. They were connected to the torsion bars by the way of an eclectic spindle, and each was also connected to a bumpstop, which limited the motion of the arm. Three out of the six received extra shock absorbers. There was also one idler (identical to the roadwheels) at the front and one sprocket at the rear, on each side.
The idlers could be precisely adjusted to the track thanks to a large notch. This meant that the idler could be displaced forward or backward and thus change the track tension. There were also five return rollers. The tracks were a new model, but rather classic in appearance, each link being articulated with wedge bolts and having a two-piece center guide. These were also rubberized.
Construction called for large cast sections, front and rear, attached to the hull sides and welded together. Another cast section went across the engine deck for better strength. There was an infantry telephone fitted on the back panel of the engine compartment, inside an armored box. Infantrymen could then communicate with the tank, for close support, even in the midst of battle.
The engine compartment was covered by eight armored grids, four openings total, only accessible when the turret was turned to the side. The two rearward ones granted access to the engine, while the two forward ones allowed access to the left and right fuel tanks, the right being shorter to make room for the auxiliary engine and electric generator. There was also a semi-automatic fire extinguishing system. Also on the engine deck was located the radiator filler cap and gun travel lock. The transmission had three speeds forward and one reverse. The differential operated three drumbrakes on each side.
The M36 commander’s cupola had a one piece hatch and six direct vision prisms made of thick bulletproof glass, inserted inside the cupola bulge. In practice, the hatch had the tendency to jump loose and a field experiment later passed into general practice consisted of drilling holes into it. The top of the hatch mounted a periscope and the entire structure moved freely around a fixed azimuth scale. When inside, the commander had a lever for traversing the turret left or right. Just behind him was mounted the SCR 5-28 radio set. Due to its lengthwise position, a mirror allowed the commander to use the commands at hand. The gunner had an M10 periscope, with x6 magnification, and to its left was an M71 auxiliary telescope with x4 magnification.
The M3 90 mm (3.54 in) gun was power traversed, with a joystick controlling elevation and a pump for manual traverse. The gun also had an elevation handle and, just behind it, a manual trigger, in case of failure of the electrical fire system. There was also a gear change lever, for choosing between the manual or hydraulic options for traverse. At a lower position was found the manual traverse lock, which was used when the turret was reversed and gun lowered and attached for transportation. The gun had a classic percussion fire system and manual breech. The loader also fired the cal.30 (7.62 mm) coaxial machine gun, and had his own vision system. Just left of him were the ready racks, storing ten rounds of various types for immediate use. Additional stowage inside six floor compartments was used. He also had a pistol port.
The driver and assistant driver both had sprung suspended seats and single-piece hatches. The driver had a rotatable periscope, immediate access to the semi-automatic fire extinguisher to his left and a brake release. The instrument panel counted (in order) five circuit breakers, a fuel gauge, a lever for fuel tank selector, electrical starter, electrical gauge, tachometer, personal heater, differential settings, fuel cut-off emergency button, panel light trigger, main lights, speedometer, oil pressure & engine temperature gauges, as well as several lamp indicators.
The two brake levers had no neutral positions. The turning radius was about 20 feet (6 m). The assistant driver was in charge of the bow machine-gun, a ball-mount cal.30 (7.62 mm), and had a complete set of driving levers if needed to replace the driver, and had a simple hatch periscope which allowed him to see his machine-gun tracers. The turret roof also housed, near to the commander cupola, a multi-purpose cal.50 (12.7 mm) heavy machine gun. Ammunition racks for it and the coaxial cal.30 were found inside the turret rear cast “basket”.
Production and Controversy
It is a known fact that the actual production of the T26E3 preseries, which was standardized in March as the M26, only began in November 1944 at the Fischer Tank Arsenal. Only ten were built this first month. Then it raised to 32 in December and gained momentum in January 1945, with 70 vehicles and 132 in February. Added to this, the Detroit Tank Arsenal also joined this effort, releasing some additional tanks in March 1945. From then, around 200 left both factories each month. In total about 2212 vehicles were built, some after WW2. Although months were needed to train crews and maintenance teams, the first real operations began in western Germany in February-March 1945.
The controversy came with the legitimate question about the well-documented inefficiency of the M4 Sherman against German armor after 1944, correlated with the fact that the US Army failed to field a new tank model in time, since the T26 was delayed for so long. Several historians, like Richard P. Hunnicut, Georges Forty and Steven S. Zaloga specifically pointed to the responsibility of the ground forces head, General Lesley McNair, in this matter of fact. Depending on the these opinions, several factors contributed to these delays:
-The development of tank destroyers alongside regular M4s and based on the same chassis (McNair himself developed and strongly supported this doctrine) or the introduction of improved M4s (the 1944 “76” versions).
-The need to have a streamlined and simplified line of supply. Most US tanks at that time were M4s or based on the M4 chassis, sharing the same components. Adding to this a brand new set of parts and a heavier, untested tank, would have imposed many changes and perhaps jeopardized such 3000 miles long (4800 km) supply lines, which became essential from D-Day on.
A state of complacency after the introduction of the M4, as it was seen as superior to German tanks in 1942 and still a match in 1943. Many officers, including Patton himself, were quite happy with the high mobility and reliability of this model, and opposed the introduction of a new heavy type, which was seen as unnecessary. Even when the Tiger and Panther were encountered in limited numbers, the order to study a new model was not given, and instead time was “wasted” on studying a new electric transmission. Only after Normandy were some efforts made to develop a new tank from the T25.
-From Zaloga’s point of view, there was a clear opposition to the development of the T26, only lifted when General Marshall, supported by Eisenhower, overruled McNair in December 1943 and renewed the project, although it proceeded quite slowly. Hunnicut underlines the ordnance requested 500 vehicles of each model in development then, the T23, T25E1 and T26E1, because of contradictory wishes. The Army Ground Forces systematically objected to the 90 mm (3.54 in) armed new heavy tank, while the Armored Forces branch wanted the 90 mm (3.54 in) to be mounted on the Sherman.
The Super Pershing & T26E4
The first combat experience showed that the M26 still fell short on firepower and protection when facing the formidable German Tiger II. Because of this, experiments were carried out with the longer and more powerful T15 gun. The first vehicle, based on the first T26E1-1 vehicle, was shipped to Europe, where it was uparmored and saw limited combat, being now commonly known as the “Super Pershing”. Another T26E4 prototype and 25 “serial” vehicles followed, with slight differences.
This modified version came into production after the war and most Pershings in service were upgraded to this standard. It replaced the M3 with the new M3A1 gun, characterized by a more efficient bore evacuator and single-baffle muzzle brake. The M26A1s were produced and modified at Grand Blanc Tank Arsenal (1190 M26A1s in all). They cost $81,324 apiece. M26A1s saw action in Korea.
The Army Ground Forces wanted to delay full production until the new T26E3 was battle-proven. So the Zebra Mission was mounted by the Armored Forces Research and Development unit, led by General Gladeon Barnes in January 1945. Twenty vehicles of the first batch were sent in Western Europe, landing at the Belgian port of Antwerp. They would be the only Pershings to see combat in World War Two, spread between the 3rd and 9th Armored Divisions, part of the First Army, although some 310 would be shipped to Europe until V-day. They drew their first blood in late February 1945 in the Roer river sector. A famous duel took place in March at Köln (Cologne). Four T26E3s were also seen in action during the “mad dash” to the bridge at Remagen, providing support, but not crossing the fragile bridge for days. Instead, these heavyweights crossed the Rhine on barges.
After the war, M26s were grouped into the 1st Infantry Division, stationed in Europe as a reserve, following the events of the summer of 1947. The “Big Red One” counted 123 M26s in three regimental and one divisional tank battalions. In the summer of 1951, with the NATO reinforcement program, three more infantry divisions were stationed in West Germany, and accepted mostly battle-proven M26s retired from Korea. However, by 1952-53, these were phased out gradually in favor of the M47 Patton.
The Belgian Army inherited the bulk of these, including many reconditioned M26A1s from USA, for a total of 423 Pershings, leased for free as part of the Mutual Defence Assistance Program. These served in three Régiments de Guides, three Régiments de Lanciers and three Batallions de Chars Lourds. These were also phased out and replaced by the M47 Patton, only two units retaining them by 1961. They were retired from service in 1969. By 1952-53, France and Italy also benefited from the same program and were given M26s. France swapped them soon after for M47s, while Italy retained them operationally until 1963.
While the heavy fighting at Okinawa raised concerns about the losses taken by M4s, it was eventually decided to send a shipment of 12 M26s, departing on May, 31. They landed at Naha beach on the 4th of August. However, they arrived too late as the island was nearly secured.
The bulk of the M26 (and M26A1) force saw action during the Korean war, from 1950 to 1953. The first units to be called were the four infantry division stationed in Japan, only counting a few M24 Chaffees and howitzer support models. The M24s were quickly found no match for the numerous T-34/85s fielded then by the North Koreans. However, three M26s were found in storage at the Tokyo US Army ordnance depot, and were quickly brought back in service with fortune-made fanbelts. They were formed into a provisional tank platoon by Lieutnant Samuel Fowler. They were deployed in mid-July, first seeing action when defending Chinju. However, their engines overheated and died out in the process. By the end of July 1950, more divisions were sent, but still counting mostly medium tanks, M4s of the latest types. Many M26s were hastily reconditioned and shipped. By the end of the year, some 305 Pershings managed to arrive in Korea.
After November 1950, however, most of the tank to tank battles were already spent, and North Korean T-34s became rarer. A 1954 survey showed that the M4A3s scored the highest kills (50% because of their large availability), followed by the Pershing (32%) and the M46 (only 10%). However, the kill/loss ratio was clearly favorable to the second and especially for the third, as the M26 found no difficulty getting through the T-34s armor at any ranges, well helped by the largely available HVAP ammunition, while its armor stood well against the T-34’s 85 mm (3.35 in) gun. In February 1951, Chinese forces deployed considerable numbers of T-34/85s, but these were widely spread between infantry divisions for close support. The same year the M46 Patton, the upgraded version of the M26, gradually replaced the Pershing, as it was found unable to display sufficient mobility on the mountainous terrain of Korea.
Starting a Dynasty: The Patton Series (1947-1960)
Too late for World War Two, but also not mobile enough for Korea, produced in small quantities related to other models from the same time frame, the Pershing seemed to have been a stopgap model, bound for history’s dark corners. However, it technically started a brand new generation of US Cold War tanks, sharing the same revolutionary suspension system, roomy turret and low-profile hull, better known collectively as the “Pattons”. A dynasty which lasted well into the 90s, when the last modernized M60s in service came to retirement. Many are still found in frontline units all around the world.
Yugoslavian Partisans (1945-49)
Modified Light Tank – 3 converted
Genesis of the Light Tank M3A3 With 7.5 cm PaK 40
The Axis invasion (codenamed ‘Directive 25’) of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia started on the 6th of April 1941 (also known as the ‘April War’). The Yugoslav Army was taken completely by surprise by the speed and size of the Axis forces. The war ended on the 17th of April 1941 with the capitulation, occupation, and division of Yugoslav territory by the Axis forces.
However, very soon after the Axis occupation, in the second half of 1941, the first resistance groups started a rebellion against the occupiers. There were two resistance fighters groups, the Royalist Chetniks (Četnici/Четници) and the communist Partisans (Партизани). The Chetniks were led by General Draža Mihailović (Дража Михаиловић) and the communist Partisans movement was led by Josif Broz Tito (Јосиф Броз Тито). The term ‘Partisan’ describes both groups by definition, but today the name Partisans has become a synonym for the communist resistance movement in Yugoslavia.
Although in the beginning, these two groups worked together in the fight against the occupying Axis forces, a conflict between these two forces in late 1941 would break out into an open civil war. This lasted until the end of the war and the victory of the Partisans.
By the end of 1943 and early 1944, because of the lack of Chetnik actions against the Germans, the Allies decided to send large amounts of military aid to the Partisan movement instead, including weapons, tanks, and aircraft. According to the agreement between the Partisans and the Allies, it was planned to form one tank brigade equipped with Allied fighting vehicles (armored cars and tanks).
This unit, named the First Tank Brigade, was formed on the 16th of July 1944. The British provided all the equipment needed to equip this brigade. In its inventory, there were some 56 M3A1/A3 Stuart tanks, 24 AEC Mk.II armored cars, and two M3A1 armored reconnaissance cars. The next larger delivery of 36 mostly M3A1 tanks would take place on the 6th of March 1945 (plus a few Stuart tanks received during the war from the Allies) so that the total numbers of Stuart tanks used is around 100.
The caliber (37mm) of the main gun on the Stuart M3A1/A3 tanks was inadequate for anti-tank duties in 1944/45, but Stuarts were still used, since most German tanks on this front were older (mostly Italian and French models). There was also nothing better available at that time, partly because there were not enough Soviet-supplied weapons. The Partisans, as a result, were forced to use the AEC Mk.II armored car (due to its better firepower, the 6 pounder – 57mm Anti-Tank Gun) for engaging better and stronger enemy tanks in mix units together with Stuart tanks.
But this tactic of using both vehicles types for fighting enemy armor led to a lack of any reconnaissance (vehicle or infantry) element of the brigade. The inability to determine exact information about the enemy forces, in particular, unit strength and exact positions, led to great losses.
By the end of the War, more than 60 Stuart tanks were destroyed or damaged. On several of these damaged tanks, the turrets were removed and Partisan engineers decided to try to mount some captured German weapons, to be used as improvised self-propelled guns with increased firepower. Two confirmed modifications are known; one armed with a German 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun and the second armed with the 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun. These modifications were quickly built and put into use without proper testing.
There is also no information about the exact names for these vehicles, or whether the Partisans even assigned an official name for them.
On some damaged tanks, the tank turret was removed and in its place, a new modified gun platform was fitted. The upper structure mounted the 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun with its twin layer gun shield of 4mm (0.16 in.) thick steel and a small armor plate (there is no information on its thickness) between the gun and the tank hull. Two more armored plates were used for the side protection (taken from damaged German Sd.Kfz.251 or 250 half-tracks). In principle, the armor of the upper modified gun platform offered only limited protection for its crew, mostly from small caliber bullets and shrapnel.
The main armament, as previously noted, was the 7.5cm Pak 40 anti-tank. The choice for the main gun was very simple one, as the Partisans captured a number of these guns, so they used what they had. The exact number of rounds for the main gun is not known, but it is often mentioned as being around 25 rounds. The 7.5cm Pak 40 gun had enough power to destroy nearly all types of enemy tanks that could be encountered on this front. These being the German Panzer IV or some captured Russian T-34/76 (known as “Panthers” by the Partisans) in Germans use.
The secondary armament consisted of one original hull mounted Browning 7.62mm (.30 cal) machinegun. On some photographs, a second Browning machine gun can be seen placed on top of the gun shield or behind it, but the photographs are not clear enough.
Due to the removal of the tank turret and installation of the new 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun, it was necessary to do some modifications on the two roof hatch doors (used by the driver and hull machine gunner) so that they could be opened forwards only. Except for the change in the upper structure of the tank, the rest of the vehicle was the same as the original (hull, running gear, armor, and engine).
The dimensions of this vehicle were similar to the original tank configuration. Due to the length of the 7.5cm Pak 40 gun, it was certainly a bit longer than the original but the exact details are unknown. The weight of this vehicle was probably around some 15 to 17 tons. It had four crew members: commander, driver, gunner, and a loader. The gun crew had a very limited working space to effectively operate the main weapon.
There is little information on the precise participation and loses of the Partisan Stuart PaK version. What is known from the contemporary photographic evidence is that they were used in combat. There are only a few documented actions in which these tanks were used.
They were used at the end of March 1945 in the area of Drenovača (Дреновача) against German positions. Then, on the 27th and 28th of April 1945, near Ilirska Bistrica (Илирска Бистрица), after some heavy fighting (between the Partisan and German forces), the Germans managed to push the Partisans out of Bistrice. This was with the support of one armored company equipped with several or more ‘Panther’ tanks (in reality captured and reused Russian T-34/76 tanks), The next day, Partisans carried out a counter-attack and on that occasion, one T-34/76 was hit and destroyed by a Stuart PaK version. They also took part in tough battles for the liberation of the Trieste (Трст) by the end of April 1945.
The final fate of Pak version is not known, whether they were lost in combat or if they survived. Тhe First Tank Brigade war losses were as previously noted, around 30 to 34 tanks destroyed and a similar number of damaged tanks. So it’s possible that in these numbers include some Pak-conversion tanks.
The role of this vehicle was very likely primarily for destroying enemy heavy armor and as a long-range fire support in a way similar to some German armored vehicles. We can conclude that this hybrid vehicle had both good and bad sides. The positive side was the superior firepower compared to the original and weaker cannon 37mm main gun. Negative sides were: limited working space for the gun crew, weak armor, limited ammunition storage, unproven designed and the whole new gun platform was very likely to stressful for the whole chassis.
It is believed three Stuart tanks were modified, but according to other sources (mostly on different internet websites) up to 5 vehicles were rebuilt this way, but this is probably not correct. What is particularly strange is that this conversion always appears alone in contemporary photographs, so it possible that only a single vehicle conversion was ever carried out. Currently, it cannot be exactly verified how many such vehicles were built. Their final fate after the war is unknown.
The 7.5 cm PaK 40 Anti-Tank Gun
The 7.5cm PaK 40 was a Rheinmetall solution for the German problems with their insufficiently strong anti-tank guns. It was first issued in very limited numbers by the end 1941 and start of 1942. It became the standard and a highly effective German anti-tank gun used until the end of the war, with some 20,000 examples being built.
The Pak 40 was in essence just a larger version of the 5 cm Pak 38. It had a split tubular trail carriage, double plate shield (two 4mm plates 25mm apart) to protect the crew, solid rubber tires with a torsion-bar suspension, and a muzzle-brake on the long gun barrel. It was an excellent anti-tank gun, but the main problem with it (according to many sources) was the heavyweight in action, many were lost because they became bogged down in mud, especially on the East Front. After the war, many European countries put them to good use to re-equip their shattered armies for some time.
The maximum effective range of Armor Piercing (AP) rounds was 2 km and for High Explosive (HE) rounds was 7.6 km (4.72 miles). Elevation was -5° to +22° with 65° traverse. Weight in action: 1425 kg /3142 lb. The armor penetration at a range of 1 km (0.62 miles), depending on the ammunition used was around 97 mm which was enough to destroy almost every tank of the period at that range.
The Pak 40 used several different types of ammunition:
– 7.5cm Pzgr Patr 39: Conventional piercing shell (AP) with ballistic and penetrating caps. Complete round weight of 12 kg (26.46 lb),
– 7.5cm Sprg Patr 34: Standard high explosive shell (HE) Complete round weight of 9.15 kg (20.18 lb),
– 7.5cm Patr H1/B: Complete round weight of 8 kg (17.64 lb), Hollow charge shell used in limited number because the low muzzle velocity (450 mps/1476 fps) made precise and accurate shooting at fast targets very difficult.
4.33 x 2.47 x 2.29 m
Total weight, battle ready
5 (Gunner, two loaders, driver and commander).
Continental 7 cylinder petrol
250 hp – air cooled
58 km/h (36 mph) road
29 km/h (18 mph) off-road
120 km at medium speed (74.5 mi)
7.5cm Pak 40 Anti-Tank Gun
From 13 to 51 mm (0.52-2 in)
Links, Resources & Further Reading
Artillery From WWI to the present day, Michael E. Haskew, Amber Books 2010.
Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Alexander Ludeke.
Fighting men of WWII Axis Forces, David Miler, Chartwell Books.
German Artillery of World War Two, Ian V.Hogg
Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu, Bojan B. Dumitrijević i Dragan Savić, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2011.
Armored units and vehicles in Croatia during WW II, Part I Allied armored vehicles, Dinko Predoević, Rijeka 2002.
Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2010.
The Olifant Mk1B Main Battle Tank (MBT) takes its Afrikaans name from the African Elephant. The Olifant is the largest land animal and in a similar vein the Olifant MBT is the heaviest military vehicle in the then South African Defence Force (SADF) and its successor the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The Olifant Mk1B is a complete rebuild of the Olifant Mk1A, adapted for the African battle space and the lessons learned from the South African Border War (1966-1989). It was designed and produced at a time when South Africa was still subject to international embargoes because of its racial segregation policies (Apartheid). Set against the backdrop of the Cold War in Southern Africa which saw a steep rise in liberation movements backed by Eastern Bloc communist countries such as Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Unlike the Olifant Mk1A, which is an upgrade from the Centurion Mk.3/5 hull, the Olifant Mk1B was a complete rebuild and in doing so left behind the legacy, features and outer look of the Centurion MBT. Development of the Olifant Mk1B commenced soon after the Olifant Mk1 went into production in 1981. The Olifant Manufacturing Company (OMC) set out to design and build an interim MBT that would improve on the shortcomings of the Olifant Mk1A which were exposed during the South African Border War such as poor armor, poor mobility, improved firepower and taxing maintenance requirements. The Olifant Mk1B was designed to face off against T-55, T-62, and T-72A MBTs, which are equipped respectively with 100mm, 115mm and 125mm main guns. The primary focus, therefore, was placed on protection followed by improved firepower capabilities, then mobility, and lastly reduction of vehicle maintenance and crew fatigue.
A total of 44 Olifant Mk1B (2 x prototype + 42) would be built starting in 1991. South Africa is the sole user of the Olifant Mk1B of which 26 were upgraded to Mk2 standard in 2005. Presently 12 Olifant Mk1Bs are in storage with 1 South African Tank Regiment.
The design, development and production of the Olifant Mk1B were undertaken due to the increasing number of Soviet-supplied tanks in Southern Africa. It was particularly feared that the Soviet-backed Cuban forces in Angola would ship T-72A MBTs to the Angolan theatre. The possible deployment of T-72A MBTs necessitated a much better protected, mobile and lethal South African MBT than the Olifant Mk1A.
Although the African battle space favors a wheeled configuration, the Olifant Mk1B was envisaged to retain its predecessor’s role as an MBT. The Olifant Mk1B can ford 1.2m of water without preparation. With regards to the mobility question, the Olifant Mk1B kept the Continental 29 liter turbo-charged V12 diesel engine of the Olifant Mk1A. Improvements to the engine enabled an additional 100hp which totaled 850hp and raised the horsepower per tonne from 13.39hp/t to 14.4hp/t. A necessary improvement considering that the Olifant Mk1B weighed 3 tons more than the Mk1A. A new automatic transmission called AMTRA 3 was assembled by Gear Ration and installed in the Olifant Mk1B which provided double-differential steering (four forward gears and two reverse), two-speed mechanical steering drive and hydraulic retarder. The additional 100hp and new automatic transmission allowed the Olifant Mk1B to achieve a top speed of 58km/h (36mp/h) on a road which was a further improvement over the Olifant Mk1A’s 45km/h (28mp/h).
The old Centurion Horstmann suspension was replaced with a new torsion bar suspension system with hydraulic dampers which provides an overall 300-400% improvement in wheel travel if compared to the Olifant Mk1A. Bump stops where fitted to all the road wheels in order to improve off-road mobility while telescopic dampers were fitted to the front and two back stations to reduce rocking when stopping the tank. Steering is done via a yoke instead of tillers. The overall result of the improvements is a less taxing driving experience for driver and crew, especially over rough terrain.
Endurance and Logistics
The fuel capacity remained the same as the Olifant Mk1A, 1240 litres (328 US gallons). Subsequently, the Olifant Mk1B can travel 350km (217mi) on road, 240km (149mi) off-road and 150km (93mi) on sand. With the redesigning of the hull, the engine compartment was extended, allowing more space for easier maintenance and if required, removal and replacement of the entire power pack. In an effort to reduce the frequency of road wheel replacements an outer polyurethane surface was applied which increased the road wheel life from 300km (of the Mk1A) to 1200km on the Mk1B. With the extended engine compartment which lengthened the overall hull, an additional track link was added which brought the total to 109 track links on each side.
The Olifant Mk1B is equipped with one 7.62mm coaxial machine gun with a 2000 round ready bin that replaced the 200 round boxes used in the Olifant Mk1A. At least 6000 rounds of 7.62mm are carried. The Olifant Mk1B features tactical radio communication which allows for reliable command and control, enhancing the tank’s force multiplier effect on the battlefield.
Based on the lessons learned during the South African Border War with the Olifant Mk1A, the Olifant Mk1B features two drinking water tanks (one left and one right) inside the turret with a combined capacity of 101 litres. The water can be accessed from the commander’s and loader’s station and reduces the necessity to leave the tank to fetch water. Less logistical tasks reduced the need for replenishment from an administration and logistic support vehicles from the echelon. The addition of a fume extractor fan helps clear the interior crew compartment of excess fumes from the main gun. New and more comfortable seats were also installed to help reduce crew fatigue.
The Olifant Mk1B carried a standard complement of four crew members, consisting of the commander, gunner, loader, and driver. The commander’s station is located on the right side of the turret and features a newly designed cupola also offering a 360-degree field of vision through six vision blocks. Entry and exit from the commander’s station are achieved through a hatch. On the right side of the turret, just below the commander`s station is the gunner’s station which is fitted with a day and night sight and to the left of the turret is the loader’s station. The loader also sports a periscope for better overall situational awareness. Entry and exit for the former and latter are through the gunner’s and commander’s cupola and in case of emergency, the loader can escape through a hatch of his own. The driver’s station received a more ergonomic overhaul and a new digital instrument panel and a yoke-type steering stick which improved comfort and reduced driver fatigue. Driver visibility was improved with the addition of a third driver’s periscope thereby increasing situational awareness. The central periscope can be replaced with a passive night driving periscope allowing full day/night capability. The driver can enter and exit his station through a new single-piece hatch or in emergencies escape hatch in the floor.
The Olifant Mk1B retained the South African produced 105mm GT3B rifled gun barrel manufactured by Lyttleton Engineering Works (LEW). A new thermal sleeve and fume extractor help improved sustained accuracy when firing and reduce barrel droop due to heat by as much as 70%-90%. The M456 High Explosive Antitank (HEAT) rounds could effectively penetrate 420mm of Rolled Homogenous Armour (RHA) at any range. Armour Piercing Fin-stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) rounds with the ability to penetrate 580mm of RHA is also used. All the main gun rounds were imported with the exception of the High Explosive (HE) round which is manufactured by Denel in South Africa. The Denel M9210 HE round contains a TNT/HNS filling with an effective blast radius of 17m. The round is fired with a muzzle velocity of 700m/s to a maximum range of 9km. Dispersion at 3 km is within 0.3m x 0.3m.
The fighting compartment saw safety improvements with a total of 65 main gun rounds carried in protected stowage bins below the turret ring. The turret bustle was extended which added more room for crew equipment. The bustle extension also helped balance the overall turret weight distribution, putting much less strain on the new solid state electrical gun control system and turret drive which could traverse the turret in a full circle in 16 seconds (an improvement of 10 seconds over the Olifant Mk1A). An infrared/white searchlight was added above the main gun.
Fire Control System
In 1990 the SADF tasked Reutech Systems to develop a new fire control system to replace the 30-year-old system on the Olifant Mk1A. The fire control system was known as the High Frequency Tank Fire Directing System (HIFF) and consisted of a state of the art (for the time) ballistic computer system and sight drive electronics coupled to a touch button control system and sensors which accurately measured meteorological conditions such as ambient temperature and wind speed from the environmental sensors which could affect the fire accuracy of the main gun. The new system allowed the gunner to select a target and in less than two seconds the fire control system would calculate a fire solution and notify the gunner via a ready to fire light that the main gun was on target and ready to fire. The system could also hit a moving target while on the move itself by adjusting the main guns aim after incorporating the targets distance, speed and relative speed thereby maximising first round hit probability. The gunner makes use of an Eloptro 8x gunner’s day sight with an integrated ballistic computer which was added to the gunner’s sight. Co-mounted is a laser range finder which is accurate up to 10km. Data from the rangefinder is fed into the split range drum, which applies elevation to the main gun. Tests revealed that the system is accurate within 50m x 50 m at 2 km which is perfect for the South African Lowveld (open stretches of grass plains).
Having established that the Olifant Mk1A is vulnerable to Soviet T-55, T-62 and T-72A MBT`s, an upgrade of the Mk1B’s armor was undertaken. The Mk1B retained the original Olifant Mk1A’s armor, which consisted of 118mm (4.64in) on the frontal glacis at 60 degrees, 152mm frontal turret (6in), 51mm (2in) on the sides, 40mm (1.57in) on top and 19mm (0.7in) in the rear. An armor upgrade installation program took the form of several passive composite armor packages over the frontal glacis plate and turret (front, sides and top). A gap in between the original Olifant Mk1A turret and the add-on turret package was left open to act as spaced armor against High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds or which could be filled if needed in future. The total thickness of the armor package upgrade and the composition thereof is classified, however, given the threat level posed it would be reasonable to argue that they would be sufficient to deal with 115mm HEAT rounds used by Soviet T-62 tanks. Being modular the add-on armor package can be replaced in the field if it is damaged.
The entire hull could shrug off the feared 23mm anti-aircraft gunfire. Furthermore, the threat posed to the Olifant Mk1A by Rocket Propelled Grenades such as the RPG-7 is negated with the mentioned upgrades to the Mk1B. The armored steel skirts of the Olifant Mk1A redesigned allowing for easier removal while still providing additional protection against RPG-7s. The constant threat of landmines in Southern Africa necessitated the addition of a double armored floor (with the torsion bars between the floor plates). A new fire suppression system (automatic & manual) was installed in the crew and engine compartment to reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic fire or explosion if hit. The stowage bins received lids to reduce the chances of content ignition if the Olifant Mk1A’s is hit. The smoke grenade banks were prone to damage when “bundu bashing” (driving through dense vegetation) which encouraged the relocation thereof to the rear of the turret on the Olifant Mk1B.
Two banks of four smoke grenade launchers were fitted. Additionally, the Olifant Mk1B can also generate a smoke screen by injecting fuel into the engine exhaust. The hull headlamps are armored and a V-shape bush basher bar could be added to the nose of the hull. The total additional weight adds up to just over 3 tons.
Olifant Bridge Laying Tank
Two Olifant Mk1B Bridge Laying Tank (BLT) were built which are employed by the SANDF engineering corps.
Tank Technology Demonstrator and Olifant Mk1B Optimum
The Olifant Mk1B was developed as a stop gap while the SADF were looking to acquire a brand new MBT. The Logim project was aimed at researching, developing and manufacturing a complete domestic MBT. The project reached the prototype phase with one working model build known as the Tank Technology Demonstrator (TTD) which looked very similar to the Leopard 2A4. The technology developed for the TTD would eventually be transferred to the Olifant Mk1B Optimum in addition to a new lighter turret made of advanced ceramics with a reminiscent shape found on the Leopard 2A6. Additionally, the Olifant Mk1B Optimum would feature rubber side plates to detonate medium HEAT rounds and at the same time, save weight. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the 1994 democratic elections, the new SANDF had a significantly reduced budget. Hence the TTD and Optimum projects were canceled. Most of the technologies would eventually be transferred to the Olifant Mk2.
The Olifant Mk1B was, for all practical purposes, a leap forward in protection, mobility and firepower over its predecessor, the Olifant Mk1A. However, several problems came to light, such as the poor power to weight ratio and the failure of the main gun system to exceed the performance of the Mk1A. Additionally, the desired fight ability improvement was not achieved. These shortcomings motivated the SANDF to look for further improvements which led to the Olifant Mk2 which made use of many of the TTD technologies.
Carroll, S. 2017. Olifant Mk1B. Date 2-4 Oct. SA Armour Museum, Bloemfontein.
Erasmus, R. 2017. Olifant Mk1B. Date 2-4 Oct. SA Armour Museum, Bloemfontein.
Erasmus, R. 2017. Olifant Mk1B. Date 21 Nov. Telephone interview with Olifant Mk1B project leader.
Harmse, K. 2017. Olifant Mk1B. Date 16 Nov. Vaal Mall, Vanderbijlpark.
Global security group. 2015. Olifant Mk1B. https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/rsa/olifant-1b.htm Date of access: 16 Sep. 2017.
SALUT Magazine. 1996. Advance technology. October Edition.
SADF living history group. 2015. Armour. http://sadfgroup.org/equipment/armour/ Date of access: 16 Sep. 2017. Steenkamp, W. & Heitman, H.R. 2016. Mobility Conquers: The story of 61 mechanised battalion group 1978-2005. West Midlands: Helion & Company Limited
VEG Magazine. 2005. The development of the Olifant Mk1B & Mk2. Issue 8. Victor Logistics.
United Kingdom (1950-56)
Anti-tank SPG Prototype – 2 built
In the early 1950s, the opening years of the Cold War, the western powers were highly concerned with the amount of powerful armor available to the USSR.
In answer to this, the British military developed a ferocious new anti-tank gun, the 183 mm (7.2 in) L4. The race was on to find a suitable mount for this monstrous weapon. It was first proposed to be used as part of the FV215 project. This self-propelled gun (SPG) design was based on the FV200 Universal tank concept. This vehicle, however, did not go further than the mock-up stage.
Designers tried again, this time with a proposal to mount the gun on the chassis of Britain’s trusty new Main Battle Tank, the Centurion. This vehicle would go under the project title of FV4005.
Design and Development
The FV4005 was a separate project from the Centurion based vehicle, the FV4004 Conway, armed with the 120 mm (4.72 in) L1 gun. The two projects were not related but had the same goals. The FV4005 was fitted with a much larger gun.
Vickers-Armstrong was in charge of the development of the tank. The Centurion chassis chosen for the project was that of the Mk.III. The platform for the gun was made to fit perfectly into the existing turret ring of the hull. Only slight alterations were made to the chassis. A large recoil spade was added to the rear of the vehicle and an equally large travel lock, or “Gun-Crutch” as the British called it, was added to the front.
The recoil spade helped to keep the vehicle in place while firing, meaning the gunner didn’t have to re-adjust after every shot. The travel lock was used to keep the gun from swaying while the vehicle was moving, helping to reduce stress on its components.
Britain’s Biggest Boom-Stick, the 183mm L4
In 1950, work started on the Ordnance Quick Firing 183 mm (7.2 in) L4 gun. At the time, it was the largest and most powerful tank gun in the world. The cannon was based on the 183 mm (7.2 in) BL 7.2 inch howitzer, a WWI era weapon. The gun itself weighed a mighty 4 tons and when fired it produced the equivalent of 87 tons of recoil force.
The L4 was designed to be chambered for only one type of ammunition, HESH (High Explosive Squashed Head). It was separately loading ammunition. The projectile was loaded first followed by the correct propulsion cartridge. Each shell weighed a combined total of 104.8 kg (231 lbs). A shell of this size understandably produced a substantial amount of fumes and smoke inside of the fighting compartment. As such, a large fume extractor was added to the barrel, a relatively new feature at the time.
The 183 mm was tested in live fire trials against a Centurion and a Conqueror. In 2 shots, the 183 blew the turret clean off the Centurion and split the mantlet of the Conqueror in half. In total, the gun fired 150 shells.
The FV4005 Stage I was a relatively simplistic vehicle, serving as little more than a test-bed for the 183 mm L4 gun. The hull of a Mk.III Centurion tank was chosen for the project. The gun was mounted on a platform in the turret ring, completely open to the elements devoid of any armor.
The L4 was expected to have a rate of fire of 6 rounds per minute. As mentioned above, the separately loading 183mm HESH ammunition equipped to the FV4005 weighed a combined total of 104.8 kg (231 lbs) each. As such, the gun would require 2 loaders to service the weapon effectively. 6 rounds a minute would still be a hopeless fantasy, however.
To combat this, in an attempt to ease and quicken the loading process, Vickers-Armstrongs developed a mechanized ammunition feed system, similar to that used on the 104-mm Green Mace anti-aircraft gun. Contrary to popular belief, this was not a traditional auto-loader. It was simply a loading assistance device that would help to align the shells and propellant with the breach. The mechanism did not include a rammer.*
Testing highlighted stability issues with the platform when the gun was fired. It was also surmised that the open, unarmored fighting compartment, necessitated by the loading-system, was not worth the price in crew safety. As such, work began on re-working the gun platform.
The FV4005 Stage II was the final form of the project. It was designed and built in 1955. The open gun platform was replaced with a large, box-like turret. The loading assistance device was also deleted, in favor of more traditional loading. With the addition of the large, approximately 2-meter high turret, the FV4005 weight climbed to 50 tons.
Despite being an extremely prominent target, the turret armor was only 14 mm (0.55 in) at its thickest. This was easily penetrable even by large caliber machine guns rounds. It also only had enough space to store 12 rounds. These rounds were stored in racks of 6 on each side of the large bustle.
The turret housed 4 crew members. These were the commander on the forward left, gunner on the front right and 2 loaders positioned behind the gun. On the left of the gun, in a small box on the cheek, was a coaxial .30 cal (7.62 mm) machine gun. This was most likely used for ranging rather offensive/defensive fire. There was a large door in the rear of the turret bustle for crew access and ammunition re-supply. The driver was located in the standard position in the hull.
It should be noted that the lack of armor was intentional. This vehicle was designed to engage at long-range, shoot and re-position. Flexibility was slightly hampered by the turret, however. In theory, it was fully traversable. On uneven ground, this was not recommended due to balancing issues with the gun. As such, the vehicle only really had a 90 degrees arc of fire to the left and right.
January 1957 marked the end of the road for the 183 mm armed SPGs, despite admirable performance during trials. The intended role of the vehicles had been overtaken by increasing development of ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles). These granted the same, if not better, anti-armor capabilities, with the experiments ultimately culminating in the Malkara and Orange William missile systems.
Work would continue on the gun. Had it have been adopted, the L4 would’ve been succeeded by the 180mm “Lily White”. This only got as far as conceptual stages, however.
The FV4005 Stage II is the only one of these 183mm armed vehicles to survive to this day. The turret is original, but it was mounted on a spare Mk.VIII Centurion hull, not the original it was trialed with. It is missing the recoil spade and travel lock. This “Cut-and-Shunt” representation of the vehicle now sits as a “gate-guardian” at The Tank Museum, Bovington, alongside an M4 Sherman. Its predecessor, the FV4004 Conway is safe and sound in the VCC (Vehicle Conservation Center) at the site.
FV4005 Stage II Specifications
7.82 (without gun) x 3.39 x 3.6 m
(25’7″ x 11’1″ x 11’8”)
5 (driver, gunner, commander, x2 loaders)
Rolls-Royce Meteor; 5-speed Merrit-Brown Z51R Mk. F gearbox 650 hp (480 kW), later BL 60, 695 bhp
Apx. 30 km/h (19 mph)
QF 183 mm (7.2 in) L4 Tank Gun
.30 Cal. (7.62 mm) machine gun.
The state-owned company, Elliniki Viomihania Ohimaton (“Hellenic Vehicle Industry”) was founded in Thessaloniki in 1972 to produce locally Steyr-Daimler-Puch models after an agreement with the Austrian company. It was known originally as Steyr Hellas S.A. and manufactured motorbikes and farm tractors before focusing in the 1980s on military vehicles. A license to produce the 4K 7FA was secured and the vehicle was to be known locally as the “Leonidas” after the Spartan king. When the first production was achieved, followed by exports, the company was renamed ELVO in 1986, embarking on the all-improved Leonidas II.
The latter was much more a local product than the first. In 1988, development started with Steyr for a new IFV -which development was pursued with Spain to give birth to the Pizarro/Uhlan instead. The company indeed left the development, which was resumed in 1998 with a local IFV, the Kentaurus, revealed but not followed by any order. The company also produced 140 Leopard 2 HEL MBTs under a KMW license but accumulated losses. The company should have been dissolved in 2015 but this was frozen by the state.
Design of the Leonidas I
The first two prototypes were ordered from Austria in 1981. Few modifications were made to the 100 vehicles to follow, which were initially to be built locally, but gradually locally-manufactured parts found their way into the manufacturing process.
Largely based on the Saurer 4K 7FA, already largely treated, the first Leonidas did show some detailed modifications like the exhaust vents and left muffler, the shape of the hatch, hull fasteners and handbars, even the main gun-shield with a set of smoke grenade dischargers behind the gunner’s seat. The basic version was an APC with a prismatic hull and a drivetrain comprising six roadwheels, front idlers (where the engine was) and rear idlers.
Suspensions were torsion bar units with shock absorbers on the first and last roadwheels units. The all-welded hull made of steel RHA is prismatic, with a front engine compartment and transmission (STEYR 7FA, inline 6-cylinder water-cooled diesel, producing 320 hp at 2,300 rpm.). The driver was located behind to the right-hand side, followed by the gunner/commander in its open turret, a shielded cal.50 12.7mm M2HB heavy machine gun. Behind was located the troop compartment, without pistol ports but with roof hatches and rear doors. The Leonidas 1 was produced from 1982 to 1983.
Development of the Leonidas II
In 1986 the Leonidas 2 was developed as an improved version with added Greek components. 56 were manufactured, 40 by Greece and 16 by Austria, all purchased by Cyprus. In 1987 the Greek government ordered 344 of this version, all manufactured in Greece. it met the final selection, meeting the Army’s operational needs in March 1987 and was designed as an Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV).
This version had a new turret, weighed 18.8 tons (4 ton heavier), was propelled by a 450 hp (instead of 320 hp) engine coupled with a ZF 6 HP 500 automatic transmission (instead of the ZF 6-S80 manual transmission with 6 gears forward and 1 reverse), and its top speed was 70 kph (instead of 63 kph). The first phase of the program cost 22 billion drachmas and it was also stated its price was 8.5% lower than the Leonidas 1 mostly built from Austrian parts.
The turret ring was made compatible with a large array of weapons systems, like A 20-30 mm autocannon turret, a 90 to 105 mm Cockerill cannon turret (at the rear), or 81-120 mm mortar. In practice, the turret was unarmed or received the same cal.50 as in the Leonidas 1. This turret was partly enclosed and the smoke dischargers were located on each side. The other modifications were additional automatic fire suppression system, commander’s rotating periscope and better smoke grenade dischargers, but overall a more powerful engine and better performances.
Production was maintained in 1993-95 (141) for Cyprus and a last Greek batch of 57 vehicles in 1998, and ten more for Macedonia (FYROM) in 2001 with a new automatic transmission. The general total figure given is around 900 vehicles, of which 503 were in service with the Greek Army (most active today), and 197 for Cyprus. The Austrian proposal for a joint development in 1998 was eventually rejected (Elvo built the Kentaurus instead) but also a Leonidas 3, as it was argued the type was already obsolete.
United Kingdom (1954)
Heavy Tank – Around 180 built total
From the “Universal Tank”
The postwar “Universal Tank” concept was derived from the 1944 A45 Infantry Support Tank concept, an attempt to create, right after the Centurion, a successor heavy tank to the Churchill. However both projects were fused as the FV200 universal tank series that was to have the mobility of a cruiser but the level of protection and firepower of a heavy tank as well as a versatile chassis for other purposes (ARV, SPG…). The heavy tank variant Fv201 (55 tonnes, 20-pounder gun) was chosen for development to respond to the Soviet IS-3. It was to be armed with a 120 mm, however the delay to create such massive gun and the turret led to the transitional F221 Caernarvon, fitted with the Centurion Mk.2 turret. Eventually, the definitive FV214 was built in 1955 in two series; and deliveries lasted until 1959.
The Conqueror was the last British Heavy Tank in service. It was largely a product of WW2 thinking about tanks, and unlike first generation MBTs, put the typical emphasis on firepower and protection over mobility. They were tailored to defeat the Soviet IS-3 when the cold war was at its hottest and would have been surely up to the job (see later). The hull made of RHA was all-welded and relatively low, with a well-sloped glacias nose and cast turret design. The armor level was particularly high, with 178 mm nominal thickness front plates (7 inches), but equivalent to 250 mm (10 inches) LOS (line of sight). The lower beak was 78 mm at 60°, the rear part of the front glacias, connected to the turret ring, 21 mm at 83°, and rear engine deck 17 mm, the rear plate 51 mm (flat), the rear lower plate 31 mm at 70° and the bottom, 13 mm. The upper and lower side walls were 51 mm thick, flat, and the protective side skirts 6 mm.
The cast armor turret had a similar front thickness and even superior on the mantlet (200 mm). The front was 150-170 mm thick, the front slope was 44 mm at 78°, the roof 31 mm, the rear 31 mm, and the rounded sides walls 89 mm. The general profile of the tank stayed relatively low, slightly higher than the IS-3.
The hull and chassis of the FV 200 series were designed for a wide variety of duties, and sturdy enough for the heaviest loads. It was composed of a typical “heavy tank” drivetrain, in two 8×2 roadwheels groups per side, for 64 roadwheels in total, resting on double pin, large track links to reduce ground pressure. Reinforced and sturdy Horstmann units instead of torsion bars assumed the suspension. The paradox was only light tanks and the heaviest in service in the UK were given these, like, until the Chieftain in the 1960s. By the 1980s, the Challenger adopted hydropneumatic units. Based on coil springs bogies, they had a relatively long course, were 100% external and easy to replace and maintain, while the torsion bars were partly internal.
All this armor made it for an exceptionally heavy tank, at 64 tons compared to the Centurion’s 51. The only source of power available was the proven Rolls Royce Meteor, in a souped-up version of the WW2 Cromwell and Centurion 650 hp, coupled with a 5-speed Merrit-Brown Z51R Mk. F gearbox. Its top speed and range were consequently severely limited, and the stress both on the engine, transmission (only 800 hp), and suspensions took its toll, making it mechanically unreliable. Tactical mobility in addition was limited by the few bridges capable to handle it weight. However the small roadwheels resting on many bogies and wide tracks had the effect of giving similar traction and mobility performances as the Churchill, if not better. It could climb and go in some places the centurion couldn’t, despite the latter was 13 tons lighter.
The IS-3 main gun indeed was ill-designed for accurate long-range fire, fast rate of fire or was limited in its ammunition capacity due to old-fashioned two-stage rounds. On the contrary, the British Royal Ordnance L1 120 mm rifled gun was tailor-made and much more capable gun than the IS-3 at long range. In fact, all studies shown that it was capable to out-range the IS-3 by a generous margin. That, in theory, would have rendered heavy armor unnecessary, but experience showed that engagements rarely occurred in optimal distances and terrains. The secondary armament comprised two cal.30 Browning machine guns, one coaxial and the second placed on the roof, manned by the tank commander.
It should be noticed that the commander had an advanced rotating cupola, providing an equally advanced fire control system as he could align it on a target independently of the turret, to measure the range with a coincidence rangefinder. He could then direct the gunner on the laying and azimuth parameters which were mechanically indicated in the cupola. This was a very early “hunter-killer” mode allowing to rapidly engage several targets. At the same time, the Soviet TPKU-2 and TKN-3 did not use a rangefinder.
FV214 Conqueror Mk I This first version (20 built) had three periscopes for the driver. FV214 Conqueror Mk II This second, more produced version (160) had redesigned frontal armour plates joins but a single rotatable periscope for the driver, and a modified, improved exhaust system. FV215: A semi-SPG design with a FV200 chassis mounting a limited traverse turret armed with a 183 mm gun. Only a wooden mockup was produced.
The FV221 Caernarvon
Considered as a stopgap tank before the heavy turret was ready, it was nonetheless part of the FV 200 lineage. At the end, the Centurion was found better. Only the Caernarvon mobility was judged satisfactory, as its turret was far lighter and its engine at least on paper (800 hp vs 650 hp) much more capable. But in terms of speed and range, it lagged behind. They were given the Mk III 20 pounder turret of the Centurion mark II but never really hit their mark as main battle tank and after a single prototype Mark I, only a short experimental serie (21) Mark II was released.
FV222 Conqueror ARV
This was the heavy Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV), still used years after the retirement of the main type. One is still on active duty as a training beach recovery vehicle today. To the Mk I (8 produced) succeeded the Mk II, with 20 produced. Devoid of a turret and with a tailor-made superstructure, it weighted 57 tons had a winch capacity of 45 tons in direct pull. The design of the glacis slope was different, much less pronounced. Towing crane and apparatus were stored on the side of the rear deck. Steel cables were attached to the side skirts.
All the 180 Conqueror ever built were stationed in Germany, in the northern British sector, facing the possible Soviet onslaught. Their rôle was also to provide a long-range cover for the early, 20-pdr armed Centurions. They would have been also directed against Soviet heavy tanks units, on par with the American M103s. They stayed in service in Germany only seven years, nine given to each tank regiment, and usually grouped in three tank troops. They Participated in rare exercises (due to their poor tactical mobility). In the early 1960s, the arrival of the Centurion armed with ROF’s L7 gun made the last British heavy tank obsolete and they were retired.
Surviving vehicles could be found at the Bovington Tank Museum, and the Land Warfare Hall of the Imperial War Museum Duxford. Another is on display in France, at the Musée des Blindés, Belgium at the Royal Museum of the Army (Brussels) and Kubinka in Russia. The American Littlefield Collection also counts one. In Germany, several training target hulks could be seen at the Haltern Training area. ARVs also survived, two at the Military History Museum on the Isle of Wight, and the REME Museum of Technology. Another ARV is in service at the Amphibious Experimental Establishment AXE (Instow, North Devon) for beach tank recovery practise.
In 1966, the Bundeswehr (German Army) was looking to replace its now redundant American-supplied M42 Duster Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns (SPAAGs). Two projects were investigated. These were the ‘Matador’ (designed by Rheinmetall, AEG, Siemens, and Krauss-Maffei) and the ‘5PFZ-A’ (designed by Oerlikon, Contraves, Siemens-Albis, Hollandse Signaalapparaten and Kraus-Maffei/Porsche). In 1971, it was finally decided that the 5PFZ was the better vehicle, and as such a test batch of four 5PFZs, with the designation of ‘B1’, were delivered. Another pre-series batch of twelve 5PFZ-B1s were delivered in 1973.
By September 1973, the vehicles had received the name Flugabwehrkanonenpanzer Gepard (often shortened to Flakpanzer Gepard. Gepard meaning Cheetah in English). The first order for the vehicle totaled 420 units. After the first 195, the remaining 225 were equipped with a Siemens Laser Rangefinder. These Gepards were given the B2 identifier.
The Gepard has served non-stop since its introduction and has only started to see retirement in 2010. It has served with a number of countries.
A Fearsome Feline
Like its World War II namesake, the Flakpanzer 38(t), the Gepard was based on the hull of an existing tank. The tank chosen was Germany’s own Leopard 1 Main Battle Tank (MBT). Entering service in 1965, the Leopard 1 is one of the most famous tanks of the Cold War and Modern Era. It was lightly armored, but extremely mobile and armed with the potent British L7 105mm Rifled Gun.
After countless upgrades and derivatives, the tank was replaced in the Bundeswehr by 2003, by its successor, the Leopard 2. However, it continues to serve around the world in countries such as Turkey, Brazil and Greece.
The Gepard’s hull remained almost identical to the Leopard original, aside from a slight increase to the distance between the third and fourth road wheels. This also resulted in a slightly longer hull. The engine deck was also extended to house an additional six 24 volt batteries. Under the engine deck is the same the 830 horsepower MTU MB Ca M500 diesel engine used in the Leopard. This propelled the vehicle to 40 mph (65 km/h). The SPAAG was also equipped with a secondary Daimler-Benz OM 314 4-cylinder diesel to supply energy to the tank’s electrical systems. This engine is located in the front left of the hull where the original Leopard had an ammunition rack and works through 5 generators that power the turret’s traverse, gun elevation, and radar systems. The exhaust for this motor runs along the left-hand side of the hull.
The Gepard is operated by just 3 crew members consisting of a Driver, a Gunner and the Commander. The Gunner sits on the right-side of the turret with the Commander on the left. The driver remains the hull. The Gunner and Commander stations are equipped with stabilized panoramic sights which are incorporated into the turret roof. The sights can be paired, or ‘slaved’ to the tracking radar. The Commander is equipped with hand held viewing equipment when operating open-hatch. Both of these men share a large one-piece hatch in the turret roof.
Turret and Weaponry
The turret is the major change from the Leopard and houses the equipment that, at the time of its creation, made the Gepard one of the most deadly Anti-Aircraft vehicles ever built. The Gepard’s primary weapons are dual 35 mm Oerlikon KDA autocannons which are 90 calibers (3.15 m, 10 ft 4 in) long. As well as the full 360 degrees rotation of the turret, the guns can be elevated to almost a 90-degree vertical angle. The muzzle of the guns are fitted with a projectile velocity sensor. Each gun has a 550 rounds per minute rate-of-fire, with a combined rate of 1,100 rounds per minute. The cannons are chambered for 35×228mm standard NATO issue rounds. These include SAPHEI (Semi Armor-Piercing High-Explosive Incendiary), HEI (High-Explosive Incendiary) and FAPDS (Frangible Armor-Piercing Discarding-Sabot).
The vehicle carries a mix of these ammunition types, holding 620 rounds in total. This amount is split equally between the guns. 40 Anti-Tank rounds are carried near the breaches of each gun for quick loading should the vehicle have to defend itself from attacking enemy tanks or IFVs (Infantry-Fighting Vehicles) in an emergency. The rounds are fed in by disintegrating belts. When fired, the links and spent cases are ejected from the elevation hub of the guns.
The cannon’s work in conjunction with the radar systems and a laser rangefinder. The Gepard started out with Doppler Radars. These work by using the Doppler effect to calculate velocity and distance data of a selected target. The same technology can be found in the speed guns used by Police. An MPDR-12 Doppler surveillance or ‘Search’ radar is mounted on the rear of the turret. This revolves 60 times per-minute and has a range of 15 kilometers (roughly 9 ½ miles). It is mounted on a swinging arm. When in use it is raised, when it’s off it is lowered. This radar searches for targets in the assigned airspace. When an aircraft is pinged and identified as hostile, the Doppler ‘Tracking” radar mounted on the nose of the turret takes over. This radar can rotate 180 degrees left and right and also a range of 15 kilometers. Once it is locked on, it automatically tracks the target in azimuth, elevation, and range.
Over its career, the Gepard received a number of upgrades to its electrical systems. Some upgraded vehicles have a digital FCS, these were designated B2Ls. The Doppler radars were replaced as well. The Search radar was replaced with an S Band Radar (S band: Part of the microwave band of the electromagnetic spectrum covering frequencies from 2 to 4 gigahertz (GHz), used by NASA and in Bluetooth and WiFi devices). The Tracking with a Ku Band radar (Ku band: Part of the microwave band of the electromagnetic spectrum covering frequencies from 12 to 18 gigahertz (GHz), originates from the original K band used by NATO). These upgraded radars retained their 15-kilometer range.
In operation, the Gepard would often be deployed with Stinger Surface-to-Air (SAM) teams to take advantage of the scanning range of the Gepards equipment. In later models, the Gepard was equipped with attachment points on the gun elevation hubs for dual tubed ManPad (Man Portable Air Defence) SAM launchers. This was not very common and was surpassed by SAM armed Ozelot Light Flak vehicle, based on the Weasel Light AFV.
A version of the Gepard 1A2 was also proposed with two Stinger missiles attached to each of the guns. However, it was not accepted by the Bundeswehr. The Flakpanzer Gepard turret was also proposed for mounting on the French Leclerc MBT. The demonstrator also has the missiles mounted. However, nothing more came of it.
As already stated, the Flakpanzer Gepard started to be phased out in the late 2000s. It is in the process of being replaced by the MANTIS (Modular, Automatic and Network-capable Targeting and Interception System) gun system.
The Netherlands was the second largest user of the Flakpanzer 1, receiving 95 of the vehicles. In Dutch service, it was renamed Pantser Rups Tegen Luchtdoelen or PRTL. Translated to English, this literally means ‘Armour Track Against Air Targets’. It was often pronounced as ‘Pruttel’ (meaning ‘Sputter’) by its crews, perhaps as a result of the sound of the cannons when fired.
The Dutch Army did modify the scanning equipment of the Flakpanzer. They switched the Search Radar to X band, part of the microwave band of the electromagnetic spectrum covering frequencies from 7 to 11.7 gigahertz (GHz). The Tracking radar was replaced with Ka Band, Part of the microwave band of the electromagnetic spectrum covering frequencies from 26.5 to 40 gigahertz (GHz). Like Ku, Ka band is a further development of the NATO K band.
The PRTL has begun to see retirement in the Dutch Army with only 57 currently remaining operational. Some of the surplus has been sold to other countries.
Brazil: 36 vehicles, still in operation. Jordan: 60 vehicles previously Dutch PRTLs. Chile: Only 4 ever received after the original order for 30 vehicles was abandoned due to financial issues. Belgium: Operated 55 vehicles, now withdrawn from service. Romania: 43 vehicles still in operation.
Eastern Cousin, the Type 87
The Japanese took great interest in the Flakpanzer Gepard, so much so that they built their own version based on the hull of the Type 74 Main Battle Tank. The vehicle was designated the Type 87. The weaponry was supplied by Oerlikon. To avoid patent infringement claims, the arrangement of the sensory equipment was altered. The Search radar remained at the back of the turret, but the Tracking radar was moved to the turret roof. The SPAAG is currently in service with the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF), who operate 52 vehicles.
9.54m (7.09m without gun) x 3.25m x 2.61m
(31’3″ (23’3″) x 10’7″ x 8’6″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready
42.2 tons (84,400 lbs)
4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader/radio)
MTU MB 838 10-cyl 37.4 L, 830 PS (610 kW)
Independent torsion bars
65 km/h (40.4 mph)
600/450 km (373/280 mi)
19-21 mm steel plus 10-70 mm RHA (0.75-0.83 + 0.39-2.76 in)
Armoured Car – about 9000 built all combined V-100, 150 & 200.
Development of the M706
Terra-Space division of the Cadillac Gage company designed in 1960 4×4 amphibious armoured vehicle, expecting to fulfill the future needs of the army. The later required some sort of Jack-of-all-trades, a multi-purpose, 11-man APC, reconnaissance vehicle, convoy escort, command, patrol and a riot vehicle. By 1962, the patent was filed, and the projected vehicle named Commando. Development was fast as in 1963, the prototype undergone its first tests. The same year, the definitive production vehicle, the V-100, was tested thoroughly in Vietnam before the production was started in 1964. Total production figures are ellusive but at least 10 000 vehicles of the V-100, 150 and V-200 variants were delivered by CGC, then the Textron Marine & Land Systems company. The M706 is currently replaced by the M1117 since 1999, but still in service in many countries. Philippines are one of the most prolific user of the model.
To kept the prices low, the vehicle used many existing components. The axles were similar to the M34 truck series while the engine was the same V8 Chrysler, 360-cubic-inch gasoline that powered the M113 armoured carriers. It had a 5-speed manual transmission. These allows a top speed of 62 mph (100 kph) over rough terrain. Its 4×4 independent sprung roadwheels had massive tires to reduce ground pressure. The CGC can also swim at 3 mph (4.8 kph). Protection was provided by the “Cadalaloy”, a custom 0.25 in hardness alloy steel, protecting against small arms fire (7.62 cal.). This protection was also given by the well-sloped monocoque welded hull, also protecting the crew from mine blasts. However the alloy was not espcially light, and the empty weight of the vehicle was 7 tons.
This take its toll on the rear axle, which frequently failed, and not designed to support this extra load. Access was allowed from the two side doors, and the turret cupola hatch. Vision was provided by height vision blocks (at first ten) with armoured glass, and the revolving turret which featured a peripherical vision with ten vision blocks, plus a periscope. For close-fire, six pistol ports were also provided on the upper sides. The hull featured also an internal modular arrangement with interchangeable components, aimed at the export market.
The CGC accepted a large array of weapons. The first military version V-100 was usually armed with the same revolving turret that equipped the M113, armed with a twin M37 browning cal.30 (7.62 mm). This was in standard, but some versions received an upper open supertructure and one to three Browning cal.50 (12.7 mm), the front one being protected by an armoured shield. Later on, the revolving turret was equipped with smoke dischargers and a M2 cal.50. Additional supports were sometimes welded for extra M60s. An export version accepted a M134 7.62mm Minigun. The V150 and V200 were more heavily armed and better used for recce and support. According to the Wall Street Journal in 1965, the base price tag for the M706 Commando was 24.500 $.
This was the main, early production version. Apart the facts given above, there were two basic versions, a turret one, and an open-top version, with added upper protections. The side door, at first, in single piece, was later produced in two-parts. In 1964, one of the XM 706 prototypes tested a 20 mm armed turret, which never made it before the reinforced and longer V-150. The vehicle impressed the ARVN (Allied south Vietnamese Army which became the first customer of the V-100, apart the ATAC (US Army Tank & Automotive Command).
A 40 mm automatic grenade launcher and new turrets were also quickly developed since the AVRN complained about the lack of firepower of the twin cal.30. But the project failed to meet the US Army requirement and failed to materialized after US troops disengaged from VN in 1972-73. The USAF received the XM706E2, wiyh an open-top center parapet with with a single M2HB machine gun under mask assisted by a M60 or two. Some were still in service at Clark AFB in the Republic of the Philippines in 1988. In patrols, a crew of 12 was often seen, but it was systematic in ARVN forces.
The development was assumed by the Marine and Land Division of the Textron company. It was an elongated V-100 (in the middle section), partly based on U.S. Army’s 5 ton trucks components. It was built solely for export for the needs of the Singaporean army, or Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). Tey were modernized by ST Kinetics in the early 2000s and are still in service. Today singapore has 250 of these in service, plus 30 V-100 and 50 V-150.
This vehicle was based partly on the V-100, and the V-200. This hybrid was shorter but stronger and could accomodate much heavier turrets and armaments, and could be equipped with diesel or gasoline engines. Built for export, it was equipped with a large variety of armament configurations, including 12.7 mm and 20 mm armed turrets. Portugal had its V-150s modernized in the 1970s as the Chaimite, with a 90 mm Cockerill gun turret, known as the V-400 variant.
2,968 LAV-150 vehicles were produced. The list of operators includes Bolivia (10), Bostwana (36), Cameroon (43), CHAD (9), Dom. Republic (8), Gabon (9), Guatemala (7), Haiti (6), Indonesia (200), Jamaica (13), Kuwait (20), Malaysia (184), Mexico (28), Philippines (165), Qatar (8), Saudi Arabia (1100), Singapore (280), Somalia (10), Sudan (100), Taiwan (300), Thailand (162), Turkey (125), USA (10), Venezuela (130), Vietnam (5).
The LAV-300 is a 6×6 version, partly based on the V-150.
The LAV-600 is developed from the LAV-300 with much heavier weapons, the most common being the 105 mm.
By 2013 Textron unveiled the Commando Select 90 mm Direct Fire, a new model aimed at export-market, armed with a CMI Defence Cockerill CSE 90LP weapons system and asked to perform a large range of misssions from conventional combat to counter-insurgency operations.
The characteristic sloped hull of the CGC quckly earned the nicname “duck” or “the V” in Vietnam, which was its first active assignation. CGCs were massively deployed there, as available, for patrolling the DMZs and acting as military police vehicle, guarding AFBs (Air Force vehicles), and for other tasks. These were hard-pressed, especially at the time of the Têt offensive in 1969 when Viet-Minh commandos attacked several key points in Saigon and many other important cities. ARVN forces also actively used their vehicles after US troops disengaged from Vietnam in 1972-73.
Many were captured by the NVA. After Vietnam, these vehicles saw limited use, and were affected to specific areas, like the Herlong Army Depot in California, and spent as targets. Other armies held their vehicles in service for longer periods, especially the Philippines. Many are still in operations. Outside these regular armies (Royal Thai Army, Republic of China Military Police, the Philippine Army, Marine Corps & Special Police Action Force, the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Army of Venezuela and the Jamaican Defence Force.), these vehicles has been used by many other operators for crowd control and anti-riot operations. SWAT teams also used some, as well as the LAPD. Later in 1991 gulf war, Saudi Arabia\’s guards V-150S took part in the battle of Khafji against Iraki forces.