Armored Recon – Wrong Turn with the ACRC

In the earlier post, I noted the 1950s requirement for the Armored Command and Recon Carrier (ACRC).   To meet the ACRC requirement, Chrysler offered an armored car while General Motors’ Cadillac Division proposed a small tracked vehicle.  The Army’s long standing bias killed the Chrysler proposal, and Cadillac moved forward with tracked prototypes under the designation T114.

Appearing in 1958, the T114 used a small block Chevy 283 V-8 gasoline engine (a military version of the same engine found in cars of the time).  Cadillac used many other “off the shelf” components.  I cannot find firm documentation, but some suggest suspension components were from the M56 Scorpion, also built by Cadillac (although certainly NOT the road wheels). The tracks were “continuous band” somewhat reminiscent of the old half-track type used in World War II, and also similar to that used on the M56.

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T114 Prototype

The T114’s crew included a TC, observer, and driver, with a jump seat for a fourth crew if needed.  The prototype weighed under seven tons and stood just short of seven feet tall.  With the front mounted engine, the turret sat to the rear of the fighting compartment.  The river sat in the left front and an observer’s station was to the right side.  The Army tested several armament configurations, to include some with a mind to the anti-tank role.

T114 Prototype with Autoloading 106mm Recoilless Rifle

But after full testing, the Army requested some changes before production.  Production ACRC featured a round, swing opening rear hatch.  As a cost savings measure, the main gun chosen was a .50-cal M2 machine gun, mounted on a pintle outside a large commander’s copula, instead of the turret.   Repositioned to the back right of the crew compartment, the observer’s position gained a top hatch and .30-cal machine gun.  An inch and a quarter of aluminum protected the crew from light arms and shell fragments.

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M114 Side Profile (Bradley IFV Prototype behind)

The track was amphibious, transportable in theater support cargo aircraft of the era, and air-drop capable.

CH54-A Carrying M114
M114 under a Sikorsky S-64 (CH-54)

Entering production in 1962, the initial M114 model used the same V-8 car engine of the prototype. That’s why the “rumble” you hear in this video sounds familiar:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdnNqgS7rNA]

All told Cadillac produced just over 1200 of the ACRCs in the next few years.  Early on, an M-60 machine gun replaced the older .30-caliber for the observer.  About mid-way through the production run, a new traverse and elevation system allowed the TC to work the .50-cal while buttoned up, necessitating the nomenclature change to M114A1.  A non-factory modification replaced the .50-cal with a 20-mm M139 Hispano-Suiza cannon.  Thus armed the original M114s became M114E2 while those with the improved main gun mount were M114A1E1.

M114A2
M114A2 with 20mm Cannon

In armored cavalry units, scout teams used the M114s.  A scout platoon of the time included a squad with two sections with two M114s each (four total). While the intent was a mix of 20mm and .50-cal armed M114s, this was not always met.  The platoon leader rode in his “command” M114.  The rest of the platoon consisted of an infantry squad in a M113, a M106 self-propelled 4.2-inch mortar, and three M-60 tanks. Airborne units differed, of course, using the M114s in conjunction with M56 Scorpions and jeeps.  Higher up in the formations, company commanders and battalion commanders in armored units rode in M114s configured as command tracks.  Apparently with the short production run, none of the M114s ever saw use in the ambulance or gun towing roles.

AWM 21 Aug 10 113
Front View of M114

In service, the shortfalls of the M114 stood out in comparison to the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier.  The V-8 engine, while sufficient for a family car, was not strong enough for a fighting vehicle.  The M114 reached 36 mph on roads, slightly slower than the base M113s.  The front hull overhang presented problems when negotiating ditches.  Low ground clearance between the tracks, required to keep the height down, left the M114 prone to “bottoming out.”  And the 20mm gun suffered from poor reliability.

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Close Up of the Tracks

Further, the “continuous band” track arrangement did not stand up well to the field.  When a band broke, the crew had no replacement options.  In peace time, they had to wait out the maintenance team.  In war, they’d have to abandon the vehicle!

Perhaps the hardest criticism of the M114 I’ve read was about space.  Cramped, the crew compartment lacked room to carry additional mission equipment or internal spall armor.  Certainly no room for ATGMs then entering the inventory, and thus no option to “up arm” the M114 as other countries did with their scout vehicles at the time.

But the Army had the M114 on hand and used it.  Large numbers went to Europe and Korea to arm the front line divisions there. Forty went to Vietnam, some going to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).  In addition to shortcomings mentioned above, the M114 proved no match for enemy mines.  While withdrawn from combat, the forces in CONUS, Korea, and Europe continued to use the little ACRC.  In the late 1960s as the M551 Sheridan tank arrived in sufficient numbers the M114’s days were limited.  In 1973, Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams ordered the M114 out, officially replaced by scout-configured M113s.  But proving bureaucracy is stronger than steel, or a general’s directive, M114s clung to the property books until the close of that decade.

Released from TOEs, most of the M114s became range targets.  Anyone who’s visited Fort Irwin’s wonderful maneuver area has seen a number of these.  Several M114s became “gate guards” or went to other static displays.  And a few found their way to police forces, where their gasoline engine and thin armor was much less a liability.  XBrad featured a police-modified M114 in an earlier post.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBYzHEDneFU]

In hindsight, the M114 was not only a failure but a wrong turn.  As the commercial says, there’s only one original jeep.  The M114 was the Army’s attempt to “SUV” the jeep concept – too small to haul anything significant or worth shooting, yet too large to hide.  And with respect to the maneuverability seen in the video lined above, road performance and cross-country performance are two different things.  Any scouting vehicle needs the later and, when cornered, trade punches with the “big boys.”  The M114 could do neither.

For those seeking more information about the M114, take a look at Eaglehorse (2-11 Cavalry) web site’s piece and the Tankmaster’s walk-around.

6 thoughts on “Armored Recon – Wrong Turn with the ACRC”

  1. You can actually buy M114’s for a very reasonable price now. I saw one a couple years back for ~10,000, in full running condition, with 2 spare sets of tracks and a spare powertrain. It had been demilitarized – a 12″ x 12″ square of the armor cut out – but someone had welded a nice plate of aluminum over the hole and repainted it. Looked like it had just rolled out the door of the Cadillac plant.

  2. And there’s a connection to the Canadian Armed Forces here: The CAF had 100+ M114’s in the 70’s and 80’s, replacing the Ferret armoured car for scouting and reconnaissance, and it in turn was replaced by the Coyote LAV variant.

  3. I can’t recall which range it was, but one of the ranges at Graf had berms for firing positions that used M114 hulls as revetments.

    They really were tiny vehicles. I worked for a guy that had one as his track when he was an infantry company commander (the rest of the company was mounted in M113s). He said he just left it sitting, and used his jeep.

  4. I was assigned as driver on a M114A1…At Scheinfurt Germany, 1964..I was with the 3rd Inf Div/3rd Sqdn. 7th Armored Cav. (“Gary Owen”)
    The vehicle was..crap…but that chevy V8 sounded pretty good to a 17 yr old driver..
    The thing had a gasoline crew compartment heater ..heater igniter’s would lite once or twice..then burn out..Supply only had replacements for..$10..cash …or freeze !..on a gross income of $55/month…we froze !
    The Observer, and I finally layed our sleeping bags on the engine air-intake grill..to try to stay warm nite…it was snowing so we flipped a poncho over the top of us…of course the poncho managed to get over the exhaust pipe..and gassed us both….a E-7 Sgt..came by and found us unconscious…saved our lives, by dragging us off into the snow and making sure we got woke up !….Everything – bad – that I’v heard about the M114 Recon Vehicle…is true….and there is a lot of stuff that hasnt been said….ALL BAD ! (I finally volenteered to drive a gasoline tanker truck..just to get warm)

  5. Had them in the 2d Armd Cav in 1964 on the West German border with East Germany & Czechoslovakia. Some were the A1’s, which we were told had mounts intended for the 20mm Hispano-Suiza. My scouts found the improved mounting enabled them to snipe well enough to hit enemy vehicle commanders. with .50 cal chest shots – at least that was the plan. As a troop commander, I thought they were too big and loud to be good scout vehicles .
    The heater was powerful for the small interior and on maneuvers in cold weather, the platoons sometimes took one vehicle and emptied it except for a water can by the heater and found that two guys at a time inside could strip, bathe, and change into dry clothing.. Sure helped to prevent cold weather injuries.
    After the scouts turned in their 1/4-tons, each border camp maintained a set of 1/4-tons for border operations, since the distances, mileage, etc. were just too much for tracked vehicles. One time there was a limited use of the M114’s on the border under snow/ice conditions. They slipped a lot on the ice-covered roads, so maintenance welded a bolt every fourth or fifth block; that helped a great deal, but would have damaged the roads where/when their was no ice

  6. We had the M114 with both the .50 cal. and 20 mm mounts in the 14th ACR in Germany in 1965. However, they were “under engined”, or powered, as my M60-A1 had no trouble going by one either on the road or cross-country.

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