Personnel Carriers or Combat Vehicles? II

A Bundeswehr gunner aboard a 122nd Infantry, Company 5, Marder infantry fighting vehicle fires a MILAN wire-guided anti-tank missile at Grafenwoehr Sept. 21, 2004. NATO and partner nation use of the ranges and facilities at Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels form a critical element of day-to-day training at the 7th ATC.

West Germany

In the late 1950s the Bundesheer started to consider the design of its first Cold War infantry fighting vehicle, and, not surprisingly, it began by analysing the experiences of the Second World War Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. These studies convinced the Germans that they needed a vehicle from which the infantry could fire their weapons, enabling them to fight their way on to the objective, thus protecting the infantry during the final – and very vulnerable – assault phase. The result was the Marder, the first prototypes of which ran in 1961, although there was then a very careful, albeit somewhat prolonged, series of trials before it entered service in 1971.

The Marder had a steel body, the front of which gave complete protection from 20 mm rounds. It was operated by a crew of three: commander, gunner and driver. The dismounting infantry numbered only six, sitting on outward-facing benches, four of whom were provided with firing ports. Armament comprised a 20 mm cannon and a coaxial 7.62 mm machine-gun in a two-man turret, with a separate remotely controlled machine-gun at the rear of the vehicle. All vehicles were later also fitted with a Milan anti-tank guided-missile launcher. The result was an extremely capable vehicle, highly mobile, with considerable firepower and good protection from small-arms fire and NBC, but with a weight of 28 tonnes, which made it by far the heaviest MICV to enter service. Marder equipped the infantry battalions in both tank and panzer grenadier divisions, and with periodic updates it served the Bundesheer from 1971 until well beyond the end of the Cold War.

Other Countries

All NATO and Warsaw Pact countries had little option but to follow the lead set by the US and Soviet armies, and to mount their infantry in vehicles. Most simply adopted US or Soviet carriers, but there were a number of exceptions.

Some armies adopted wheeled APCs. The Czechs and Poles, while following the Soviet lead in adopting a wheeled APC for motor-rifle troops, did not adopt the Soviet BTR-60 but instead jointly developed the OT-64 8 × 8-wheeled APC, which entered service in 1964. This carried a crew of two (driver and commander) and two sections (eighteen infantrymen) – by far the largest number of men carried by an APC. It was very successful, but was eventually replaced by the BMP-1.

The Dutch also developed an 8 × 8-wheeled APC, the YP-408, a large vehicle which was based on a DAF truck and accommodated a crew of two and ten infantrymen. It served in the Dutch army from 1964 until being replaced by the US-designed tracked AIFV from 1977 onwards. The British also used a wheeled APC, the 6 × 6-wheeled Saracen, in the 1960s, but it was employed mainly by the support troops in reconnaissance units and only rarely by infantry battalions.

The French army used wheeled APCs for roles outside Europe, but for European warfare it used tracked APCs, all of French design. The first was the AMX VCI, which entered service in 1957 and was based on the AMX-13 light tank. It had a troop compartment accommodating ten infantrymen, with eight facing outwards and two to the rear, all of them with firing ports. The VCI was replaced from 1973 onwards by the AMX-10P, an all-aluminium vehicle, armed with a 20 mm cannon on an external mount. It carried eight infantrymen, but these did not have the ability to fight from inside the vehicle.

From 1963 onwards the British also used a tracked APC, the FV432, which was generally similar in design to the M113, but constructed of steel. In the 1970s, however, when the British army started to consider a replacement for the FV432, there was an intense internal debate over the future requirement, which centred upon whether a new vehicle should be a MICV, as exemplified by the German Marder, or simply a better APC. Various prototypes were designed and tested, including a very large MICV, but in the end the Mechanized Combat Vehicle-80 (MCV-80) was selected, mounting a 30 mm Rarden cannon, and carrying eight infantrymen (one of whom was also the vehicle commander), although they did not have firing ports and therefore could not use their weapons from inside the vehicle. The title, MCV-80, was intended to demonstrate that the vehicle would enter service in 1980, but, as so often happened when such dates were included in a weapon title (e.g. the German/US MBT-70 tank), this proved to be over-optimistic and the vehicle did not enter service until 1987.

THE INFANTRY REVOLUTION

Fielding APCs and MICVs represented a true revolution in the infantry, since the men were all mounted, together with their weapons, equipment and supplies, while the tracks gave them a mobility virtually identical with that of tanks; in addition, since every vehicle was fitted with a radio (and the radio was no longer limited in size by the need for it to be carried on a man’s back), commanders were able to achieve an unprecedented degree of control. Further, the vehicles were able to carry heavy machine-guns or cannon in turrets, as well as lighter machine-guns and anti-tank guided weapons, greatly increasing the firepower available.

Later it was also realized that, by creating a slight overpressure inside, these vehicles could provide collective protection against chemical and biological weapons. APCs/MICVs also proved remarkably adaptable, forming the basis for many specialist vehicles for use as command posts, ambulances, communications stations, recovery and repair vehicles, and minelayers. As a result they were produced in considerable numbers

There were, of course, some penalties. Each APC required a driver and a commander, which meant that every section was robbed of two men on the ground – a significant number of men when a battalion was equipped with some sixty or more APCs. In addition, the battalion’s logistic requirements increased dramatically, principally for fuel and spares, while the maintenance requirement also increased.

The change in capability can be gauged by a brief examination of the infantry battalion in the British army, whose experiences were typical of the changes in all armies. In the 1950s a British infantry battalion consisted of some 700 men, for the majority of whom the normal means of movement was on foot. There were three rifle companies, in which the vast majority of men were armed with a 7.70 mm bolt-action rifle, although each rifle platoon also had three 7.70 mm light machine-guns and three 51 mm mortars. The heavy-weapons company operated six 7.70 mm Vickers heavy machine-guns, six 120 mm WOMBAT recoilless anti-tank guns and six 76.2 mm mortars. Mobility was limited to approximately twenty Jeeps or Land Rovers, mainly for commanders and communicators, and twenty three-tonne trucks, whose primary purpose was logistic resupply.

In the late 1980s a British mechanized battalion was still approximately the same size – 725 men – but now every one of these had his own allotted place in a vehicle. All men carried an automatic weapon, the riflemen carrying the British standard 5.56 mm rifle. The battalion operated 157 vehicles, comprising 90 MCV-80 Warrior IFVs, 19 tracked reconnaissance vehicles, 16 Land Rovers, and 4 one-tonne, 17 four-tonne and 11 eight-tonne trucks. Heavy weapons included eight 81 mm mortars, twelve Milan anti-tank guided-missile launchers, and a large quantity of 30 mm Rarden cannon and 7.62 mm machine-guns mounted on the Warriors. Logistic resupply had, however, become a severe problem, especially for fuel, ammunition and spares, while the maintenance requirement was met a by a platoon of twenty-eight men. All IFVs had at least one radio, as did most Land Rovers. The greatest change, however, was in the infantry’s mobility, since it had become fully capable of moving cross-country in company with tanks or of moving at high speed along roads.

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