The M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier

Just about any person who has served in an armored or mechanized division has been in or at least seen up close the M-113 or one of its many, many variants. The M-113 is pretty much the most successful armored vehicle the West has ever produced. About 80,000 have been produced for the US and its allies.

Artillery is king of the battlefield, historically producing more casualties than any other weapon. As our Army became more and more mobile and mechanized, the need for a way of transporting the infantry to the front lines without suffering from artillery became great. The “half-track” of WWII fame provided good mobility, but offered little protection from artillery. Post war attempts to build armored personnel carrier on the chassis of light tanks suffered from being too large and too expensive. After the M-3 half-track and the M-75 and M-59 armored personnel carriers, the Army began looking for a lightweight, reliable transport for its infantry that could keep up with the armored spearheads.

Bids were solicited and Food Machinery Corporation in conjunction with Kaiser Aluminum submitted plans for two prototypes, the T-113, built largely of aluminum, and the T-117 made of steel. Aluminum may seem an odd choice for armor, but for a given weight, it has greater protection and stiffness. Both vehicles were designed to carry a crew of two (driver and vehicle commander) as well as an 11-man infantry squad. The tracked vehicle had an 8-cylinder gas engine and could operate on the same terrain as tanks. It was even amphibious and could swim across lakes and streams.

The M-113 entered service in 1960. By 1962, while in service the the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) some of the shortcomings of the design became apparent. It was vulnerable to anti-tank weapons and the gasoline in the fuel tanks were prone to fire if hit. The vehicle commanders were also vulnerable to small arms fire when they fired the .50cal machine gun. Largely, these shortcomings were because the vehicle was being used in ways for which it hadn’t really been designed. The Army hadn’t planned for the vehicles to advance so close to the enemy, but rather drop off their infantry after any barrages of artillery. Still, the mobility and firepower of the vehicles frequently saw them being used to directly assault enemy positions. Because of the vulnerability of the gasoline powerplant, in 1964, production shifted to a V6 diesel powered version. This was the M-113A1. During the Vietnam War, many M-113s had gun shields and extra machine guns added and were called Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles (ACAVs).

After the Vietnam War, the Army’s focus again returned to western Europe. The gun shields and extra machine guns were removed as they took away from the space available for infantrymen. About this time, the fleet was converted to the M-113A2 standard with minor improvements to the engine, drivetrain and cooling systems.

My unit in Germany was an infantry battalion equipped with M-113A2s. Each company in the battalion had 14 tracks, with 3 platoons of 4 tracks, a track for the CO and a track for the XO. We also had a Humvee for the CO, a Humvee for the First Sergeant, and two 2-1/2ton trucks for supplies. Make no mistake about it- the M-113 is a simple armored box on tracks. My first time up close to one, we were taking them out of the motor pool to the local training area. My Platoon Sergeant said, “Get in the TC hatch. You’re a TC now!” That was pretty much the sum total of the training I needed.

While the interior looks fairly spacious, when it is loaded with 9 troops, their gear, and all the extra equipment and ammunition a squad needs, it gets pretty crowded in there.

One of the reasons why the M-113 is still in use today is its great versatility. Even with little or no modification, the M-113 can be used by infantrymen, engineers, as a command post, by maintenance teams, as an ambulance, as a fire direction center for artillerymen, as a mortar carrier, and as a cargo carrier (I’m forgetting a lot of uses, but I’m sure someone in comments will remind me!) The basic chassis was also adaptable to a huge variety of uses, as an unarmored cargo carrier, an anti-aircraft gun, an anti-aircraft missile launcher, an anti-tank missile launcher, carrier for Lance and Pershing I missiles, command post, recovery vehicle, and spotter vehicle for artillery.

Since 1987, M-113s have been upgraded with a new, more powerful turbo-diesel engine, improved placement of the fuel tanks, and better controls for the driver. This version, the M-113A3 still serves in a wide variety of roles and in many units in the Army.

I should note that Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Iraq while fighting from an M-113.

Meanwhile, some Iraqis had taken position in the tower overlooking the courtyard, just over the west wall. The Iraqis now had the Americans in the courtyard under an intense crossfire. Smith took command of the M113 and ordered a driver to position it so that he could attack both the tower and the trenches. He manned the M113’s machine gun, going through three boxes of ammunition. A separate team, led by First Sergeant Tim Campbell attacked the tower from the rear, killing the Iraqis. As the battle ended, Smith’s machine gun fell silent. His comrades found him slumped in the turret hatch. His armored vest was peppered with thirteen bullet holes, the vest’s ceramic armor inserts, both front and back, cracked in numerous places. But the fatal shot, one of the last from the tower, had entered his neck and passed through the brain, killing SFC Smith.

SFC Smith was awarded the first Medal of Honor for actions in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

12 thoughts on “The M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier”

  1. Want to know about Canadian made/ modified M113 Recovery vehicle. Will be waiting for your reply.

    Regards,

    Wani

  2. I like the 113, sturdy, reliable, simple. It served us well in the NG unit I was in. Mech Inf. Easy to improve upon as well.

  3. Oh, I liked it well enough, but there was just too little firepower for a line infantry company to face down a BMP equipped enemy. Without the 25mm cannon of the Bradley, there was no realistic way of stopping a mounted assault.

    The improved M113A3 certainly has a role to play serving as a vehicle for other types of units, though, such as engineers, as an ambulance, and as a support vehicle. I suspect they’ll be in the Army for a long, long time.

  4. I was on 113 A.P.C.s in the N.G. They were good tracks Never gave us any trouble,Wish i had one now.the goverment here wont let us have them They cut them up and shoot holes in them Some one got some back from over seas years ago they stoped that So if you find one you will pay around $50.000 for one.

  5. M113A3s have similar armor protection to the “larger but not thicker hulled” Bradley.

    Many countries have fitted effective cannon mounted in turrets to them, notably Australia. Google for LOTS of images.

    The US military-industrial complex is currently fascinated with armored police trucks that cannot traverse soft ground, while hoping to leverage money for tracked FCS to replace those trucks/armored cars because wheeled vehicles are not expeditionary. BAE would rather sell NEW Strykers then refurb M113s. They produce both. Follow the money…

    The M113 is easily upgradeable (hybrid versions were tested years ago) and can be fitted with the synthetic band tracks Canada already uses to go easy on roads. It’s so versatile it’s almost scary, and the hull construction makes it a breeze to modify (bring a large MIG welder and mechanical cutting tools).

  6. I should have noted that most of the ACAV armor kits were REMOVED from M113s in the US inventory before it was realized that Iraqis might figure out what the VC did in the battle of Ap Bac many years ago.

    They are back, with the addition of TAGS windowed gunshields.
    Putting brave soldiers outside the armor envelope leads to the deaths of folks like Paul Ray Smith.

    As for the anti-RPG bar armor so common now, it was invented in the 1960s but rejected because it got tangled in Southeast Asian jungle. Tested on an M113, it was forgotten for years…

  7. I was reading your column titled “The M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier” and noted the below comment;

    “PAUL STENGER Says: March 26, 2009 at 3:59 pm
    THE M113 HAD A V-8 GAS ENGINE NOT A 6 CYCLINDER”

    I strongly suspect it is from a person I served with in Germany at Coleman Barracks 1963-64 in HQ company 2nd Bn 13th inf.

    I would appreciate you forwarding this email to him along with my name and email address.

    Thanks in advance,
    Cam

    1. Hey Cam,
      When I saw where you served, I decided to write you a message to see if you remember any of the APCs running around there in Mannheim, I was in Germany at Coleman Barracks with the 3rd Battalion 68th Armored Div. I am looking for any pics of the M113A1s and the nomenclature (numbers) on them, I am an armored modeler now and am trying to have one like what I drove built. Any help will be muchly appreciated. I was there in 67 and got sent home for a training exercise injury (at least that’s what the Army called it), we were patrolling in the 5K Zone when we ran over a tank mine from who knows what war (there are STILL bobby traps all over that place) and it blew the track off the right side and almost flipped us like a tin can, the dang Ruskies started firing at us and we were pinned down and I freaked out, my buddies had to take care of me, and that’s why I am here today, I don’t know what happened and nobody ever told me, but I came to in a Heidelberg Hospital with all kinds of tubes and stuff sticking out of me, then after being there for about 3 to 4 months I got the word from my Doctor that I was going home, but you know the army and the red tape, it took another few months for all the paperwork to go through, so I was in the field in Baumholder when my orders came down and they shipped me out posthaste and I was stateside in 24 hours.
      But anyway if you can helpp me I would be ever so thankful.

      Nat Smith Perrine III US Army Retired

  8. I was stationed in Mannheim, Germany in 1967, with HQ3rdBN68thArmored division (Headquarters Company 3rd battalion 68th Armored Division) I have been looking for some pictures of the unit we had, I am trying to build a model of the tracks we had in our unit, do you happen to have any pics of thhe back of the one you were in? Do you remember any of the nomenclature on the back and front of the vehicle. Sort of like license plates?

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