Sunday, March 22, 2015


Unarmored Fighting Vehicles Unarmored military vehicles, either specially built for the military or adapted from commercial models and used in combat-support roles. Although armored vehicles (e. g., tanks) are the more glamorous war machines and garner most of the publicity, modern armies rely on tens of thousands of "thin-skinned" unarmored fighting vehicles (UFVs) for an almost unlimited variety of purposes. These vehicles include not only motorcycles and cars but also light and heavy trucks, buses, ambulances, tractors, wreckers, fire trucks, snowplows, amphibious vehicles, and construction equipment. The backbone of any army's UFVs is the truck (lorry).

Although it might be argued that the first UFV was Joseph Cugnot's three-wheeled, steam-powered artillery towing device invented in 1769, the modern use of such vehicles began in 1898 with the use of motorcycles and autos in the German army's maneuvers. World War I saw extensive mechanization in the major armies, carried out both by purchase or capture of civilian vehicles and by development of appropriate vehicles produced by manufacturers, who were subsidized by government and addressed specifications that emphasized standardization of controls, interchangeability of parts, and ability to perform under service conditions. At war's end in 1918, Great Britain had 168,128 such vehicles in use. The United States, entering the war 32 months after the British, had procured 275,000 vehicles. Both nations were able to achieve a degree of standardization by taking commercially produced vehicles and modifying them for military work. No all-wheel-drive truck entered war service, although several were in the testing stage by November 1918.

In World War II, the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan produced 594,859 trucks, and the major Allies, the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, manufactured 3,060,354. Germany was able to flesh out its needs somewhat with a huge array of captured vehicles and by utilizing the production of factories in occupied nations, but in doing so it created immense maintenance difficulties. Germany's great UFV failure lay in its inability to standardize. It also wasted considerable sums in producing tracked personnel carriers that carried a mere 12 troops in theater-seat luxury (but that could also be used as a prime mover) and a tracked motorcycle that could go practically anywhere-but that carried only two to three persons. The Soviets also produced tracked trucks but found, like the Germans, that the considerably higher expense and complexity of such arrangements nearly negated their superior overland capabilities. The British motor industry turned out tens of thousands of UFVs, but the troops in the field seemed to prefer the U. S. product. (For one thing, it was much easier to change gears in any U. S. UFV.)

The stars of the war, for Allies and enemy alike, were the American Jeep and the "deuce-and-a-half” truck. The Jeep, developed in 1940 by the Willys corporation and manufactured also by Ford, was a 0.25-ton, 4 x 4 (four-wheel drive) truck and command-reconnaissance vehicle that could operate with ease up to 60 miles per hour, mount a 40-degree slope, turn in a 30-foot circle, and tilt without tipping at a 50-degree angle. With a machine gun or recoilless rifle mounted, it was truly a fighting vehicle. Its only real weakness was its vulnerable standard commercial water-cooled engine; the U. S. auto industry had no off-the-shelf air-cooled engine available. The "deuce-and-a-half," a General Motors 6 x 6, 2.5-ton truck also produced by Studebaker and International Harvester, became the workhorse of the Allied cause in World War II, so widely used that Russians still call multi-drive axle trucks studeborky (without knowing why). The Germans were more than happy to utilize captured 6 x 6s, and the Soviets imported tens of thousands of them through Lend-Lease. The Chinese Nationalists, the Free French, the British, the Italian Co-Belligerent forces, and every Allied military force of any consequence were all allotted thousands of 6 x 6s. And at the end of the war, the U. S. Army, paradoxically, turned over thousands of its supposedly worn-out 6 x 6s to the German economy to maintain some sort of transportation net. They soldiered on for yet another decade over torn-up roads, with minimum maintenance facilities in conditions almost resembling wartime. The 6 x 6 (along with newer models of the Jeep) continued to be produced through several model changes, serving in Korea and Vietnam (an unmatched record).

The Jeep and the 6 x 6 accurately reflected the American motor industry, which at the time out-produced the rest of the world combined, turning out vehicles that were often technologically behind their European counterparts but were more rugged and cheaper to produce and thus would be better adapted to the rigors of land warfare. Considering the literally hundreds of uses the 6 x 6 was put to, in World War II and in war and peace in the decades that followed, it may be arguably the best truck in history, military or commercial.

The contemporary era abounds in thin-skinned military vehicles, with Third World nations vigorously developing and producing their own designs so as to strive for military self-sufficiency and underwrite it with the proceeds of sales abroad. But the U. S. military seemed to have retained its UFV lead over its last remaining major military rival, the former Soviet Union. In the Gulf War (1990-1991), those anti-Saddam Hussein coalition forces unlucky enough to miss out on being issued the U. S. Army new high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV, and now, like the Jeep, produced for the civilian market), sometimes "hotwired" Iraqi-Soviet UFVs to gain some battlefield mobility. After about 300 miles of use, these enemy trucks failed because their transmissions had worn out. There were no reported significant difficulties with the HMMWVs. Unglamorous workhorses the UFVs may be, their use in large numbers can be assured in the wars and near-wars of the foreseeable future.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to see the Italian copies of the German half-tracked vehicles, and how none of the British and French vehicles featured had dual rear axles, unlike the German vehicles.