As stated in the General Introduction, despite initial reservations regarding the deployment of tanks to RVN they did, nonetheless, see considerable and widespread action throughout the country.
US tanks faced no real threat from their NVA counterparts, with the only significant encounter being at the battle of Ben Het, however, the nature of the terrain and the constant threat of anti-vehicular mines necessitated each armored unit to have full maintenance and recovery services available.
The M48A3 medium tank was the most numerous tank employed by the US during the Vietnam War. Serving with both Army and USMC armored units the M48 saw extensive use and produced numerous variants.
M-41A3 WALKER BULLDOG
The M41A3 was supplied to the ARVN beginning in 1965. Considered unsuitable for use in RVN by the US Army due to it's very thin armor and cramped interior, the simplicity and mechanical reliability was felt to be more suitable to the smaller sized ARVN cavalry troopers.
The M551 was originally designed as a lightweight, airborne droppable assault vehicle. Rushed into production, it was plagued by numerous technical problems throughout it's time in service. Forced into a role it was never designed for, the M551 had a very checkered career during the Vietnam War.
M-88 ARMORED RECOVERY VEHICLE
Based on the suspension and running gear of the M48A2 tank, the M88 could be used for both medium and heavy recovery operations using an 'A' frame type hoisting boom.
The superstructure and crew compartment were
composed of a single large armor casting and provided protection against
most types of machine guns and artillery fragments.
First accepted into the US Army’s inventory in 1959, over 1000 M88’s were produced by Bowen-McLaughin-York of Pennsylvania and powered by a Continental AVSI-1790-6A engine with an Allison XT-1400-2 transmission. The vehicle was rated at 980 horsepower. Modeled as it was on the M48A2, the M88 was fitted with a gasoline powered engine which made it a vulnerable target to NVA and VC antitank weapons such as the RPG and mines.
The crew comprised of the vehicle commander, driver, mechanic and rigger. Both the driver and mechanic were located at the front of the crew compartment with the driver on the left side. The commander was in the center under the cupola with the rigger directly behind him. Each crew member had a hatch in the roof of the cab, the commander had his cupola and there was also a door in each side of the superstructure.
Normally armed with a single .50-caliber machine gun externally mounted on the vehicle commanders cupola.
The M88 was fitted with a front mounted blade which was hydraulically powered and controlled. This was used primarily to anchor the vehicle and support it when lifting loads with the boom.
However, it was also quite often used like a bulldozer for clearing vegetation and digging defensive positions – a task which it was not designed for and which was discouraged.
The US Army and USMC developed a bulldozer blade which could be retrofitted to an M48A3 tank (then designated M8A3). In this configuration the M48A3 Patton was used for busting trail through dense vegetation as well as digging out or even burying enemy defensive positions.
The heaviest armored vehicle used during the Vietnam War. Used almost exclusively by USMC with each Marine tank battalion having four of these vehicles, one per company. This massive vehicle, weighing some 60-tons, used the same suspension and track components as the M103 heavy tank.
The M51 first entered service with both the US Army and USMC in 1954 although the US Army used the M51 for only a short period before replacing it with the M88.
The USMC did not use the M88, instead they made almost exclusive use of the enormous M51 as their prime recovery vehicle. Weighing a massive 60-tons and based on the chassis of the M103 heavy battle tank, the M51 was a gasoline powered vehicle that could produce 1000 horsepower.
Equipped with a 30-ton capacity crane, a 45-ton capacity winch and a 5-ton capacity auxiliary winch, the M51 was well suited to almost any recovery task. The hull was divided into three compartments and was made from welded rolled armor plate. The crew cab was housed on the front of the vehicle and accommodated the vehicle commander, driver, crane operator and rigger.
Bill Erwin wrote;
The M728 was based on the hull and turret of the M60A1 tank. Equipped with a bulldozer blade and a large 'A' frame boom, the M728 CEV allowed combat engineers to perform a variety of jobs on the battlefield under armor protection. The 165mm demolition gun was designed to break-up concrete obstacles and was highly effective for fire support.
Based on the hull and turret of the M60A1 tank, the M728 CEV was equipped with an 'A' frame boom, winch and bulldozer blade. Carrying a four man crew the CEV was armed with a short-barreled 165mm howitzer and two machine guns and weighed 57-tons.
M-578 LIGHT RECOVERY VEHICLE
The M578 LRV was based on the chassis of the M107 and M110 self-propelled artillery carriers. The boom had a 360-degree traverse and was capable of lifting 30,000-lbs whilst the towing winch could tow up to 60,000-lbs. Designed for the recovery of M113's, the M578 could recover an M551 Sheridan.
The vehicle had a crew of three, consisting of a driver, crane operator and a rigger. The hull front and driver's compartment were both lightly armored whereas the cab of the vehicle, where the crane operator and rigger were seated, was protected by 1/2-inch steel plate.
A single .50-caliber machine gun was mounted on the roof of the cab and offered some protection for the crew.
Armor of the Vietnam War; (1) Allied Forces, Michael Green & Peter Sarson, Concord Publications Ltd
Armor in Vietnam; A Pictorial History, Jim Mesko, Squadron/Signal Publications Inc.