Friday, March 20, 2015

The American halftrack Part I

The American halftrack development history started during the 1920s, when some Citroen-Kégresse halftracks were purchased, and subsequent trials led to a long series of development models before the hull of the White Scout Car M2 was allied with a Kégresse halftrack suspension and the 'classic1 American halftrack emerged as the Half-Track Car M2 that went into production in early 1941, the first examples reaching the troops in May of that year.

Thereafter the halftracks rolled off the assembly lines in their thousands. It would be easy to say that most of them were personnel carriers, but also included in the totals were mortar carriers, multiple gun motor carriages, gun motor carriages, trucks and a vast array of experimental types of all kinds. All manner of weapons were hung upon the basic halftrack chassis at one time or another but among those that were used in action were 57-mm (2.244-m) anti-tank guns, 75-mm (2,95- in) field guns and even 105-mm (4.13- m) howitzers. Anti-aircraft versions carried varying multiples of 12.7-mm (0.5-in) machine-guns, 20-mm cannon and 40-mm Bofors guns. Combat engineer equipment was another widely carried load (each model had racks along the sides to carry anti-tank mines).

It was the personnel carriers that were the most widely used, and in several versions. The early M2 was supplemented by the later Half-Track Personnel Carrier M3 which could also be used as a communications vehicle, an artillery tow vehicle, and as an armoured ambulance. The even later Half-Track Personnel Carrier MS differed in production methods and there was also a Half-Track Car M9. Seating varied between models from 10 to 13, and there were various dispositions of machine-gun mountings. The usual arrangement was a 12.7-mm Browning at the front on a large ring mounting and a 7.62-mm (0.3-in) Browning on a pintle at the rear. To this could be added the weapons of the carried troops, and the picture of halftracks firing away as they went into action is complete. It now seems impossible to visualize troops operating in Europe in 1944 and 1945 without halftracks somewhere in the picture, for the Americans issued halftracks of all kinds to their Allies, including the British who started to use American halftracks even before the fighting in North Africa ended, Production of halftracks was some 41,170 units.

After the war the halftrack story did not end, and even now is still not over for the halftrack in several forms is still a front-line vehicle for the Israel Defence Forces. Re-engined and refurbished for the umpteenth time, halftracks continue to be used by the mechanized formations of the Israeli army although most have now been relegated to the Reserve forces. Other armed forces still use halftracks, but now the most common use is as a recovery vehicle, a role that commenced during World War II with the Allied forces. It should not be forgotten that during World War II one of the halftrack user nations was the Soviet Union, for large numbers were shipped there from 1942 onwards.

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