20 November 1943 Tarawa; Keep Moving

Originally posted 20 November 2009:

The buildings in the “regimental area” of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina are modest, post-war brick buildings that, to the visitor’s eye, look more or less alike. Yet, each of the Marine Regiments of the Second Marine Division has its own storied history and battle honors.  As Captain J. W. Thomason wrote in his Great War masterpiece Fix Bayonets, these histories represent the “…traditions of things endured and things accomplished, such as Regiments hand down forever.”

There are symbols of these honors for one to see, if you know where to look. On a thousand trips past those symbols, there is one that never failed to make me pause and reflect. On the headquarters building for the 2d Marine Regiment hangs their unit crest. Aside from the unit name, the crest contains only three words. They are in English and not Latin, and they are not a catch phrase nor a bold proclamation of a warrior philosophy. They are simple and stark. Across the top of the unit crest is the word “TARAWA”. And at the bottom, the grim admonition, “KEEP MOVING”.

491px-2nd_Marine_Regiment_Logo

It was 66 years ago on this date that the Second Marine Division began the assault on Betio Island, in the Tarawa Atoll. The island, roughly two thirds of the size of my college’s small campus, was the most heavily fortified beach in the world. Of the Second Marine Division, the 2nd Marine Regiment (known as “Second Marines”) landed two battalions abreast on beaches Red 1 and Red 2. The assault began what was described as “seventy-six stark and bitter hours” of the most brutal combat of the Pacific War. More than 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed, nearly 2,300 wounded, along with nearly 5,000 Japanese dead, in the maelstrom of heat, sand, fire, and smoke that was Betio.

Assault on Betio's Northern beaches

Assault on Betio’s Northern beaches

Marine Dead on Beach Red 1

Marine Dead on Beach Red 1

I will not detail the fighting for Betio here, as there are many other sources for that information. Nor will I debate whether the terrible price paid for Betio was too high. What cannot be debated is the extraordinary heroism of the Marines and Sailors who fought to secure the 1.1 square miles of baking sand and wrest it from the grasp of an entrenched, fortified, and determined enemy. The fighting was described as “utmost savagery”, and casualties among Marine officers and NCOs were extremely high. As one Marine stated, initiative and courage were absolute necessities. Corporals commanded platoons, and Staff Sergeants, companies.

Marines assault over coconut log wall on Beach Red 2

Marines assault over coconut log wall on Beach Red 2

The book by the late Robert Sherrod, “Tarawa, The Story of a Battle”, is a magnificent read. Another is Eric Hammel’s “76 Hours”. Also “Utmost Savagery”, by Joe Alexander, who additionally produced the WWII commemorative “Across the Reef”, an excellent compilation of primary source material. For video, The History Channel produced a 50th anniversary documentary on the battle, titled “Death Tide at Tarawa”, in November 1993. I also highly recommend finding and watching this superb production. It is narrated by Edward Hermann, and interviews many of the battle’s veterans, including Robert Sherrod, MajGen Mike Ryan, and others, who provide chilling and inspiring commentary of the fighting and of the terrible carnage of those three days.

 Master Sgt. James M. Fawcett, left and Capt. Kyle Corcoran salute Fawcett's father's ashes on Red Beach 1. MSgt Fawcett's father landed on Red 1 on 20 Nov 1943.

Master Sgt. James M. Fawcett, left and Capt. Kyle Corcoran salute Fawcett’s father’s ashes on Red Beach 1. MSgt Fawcett’s father landed on Red 1 on 20 Nov 1943.

Tarawa remains a proud and grim chapter in the battle histories of the units of the Second Marine Division. Each outfit, the 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 10th Marines, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Tracks, and miscellaneous support units, fought superbly against frightful odds and a fearsome enemy. It is on the Unit Crest of the 2nd Marines, whose battalions paid the highest price for Betio, that the most poignant of those histories is remembered. Three simple words: “TARAWA; KEEP MOVING”.

 

M1 Tank Survivability

From this tweet, we find video of what purports to be an attack on a Saudi M1 Abrams tank in Yemen.  It’s pretty poor quality video. It is actually hard to tell if it is indeed an Abrams. The roof doesn’t quite look right.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5h6Ngwb2aDY]

The missile is probably an 9M133 Kornet, which is quite the formidable weapon, and quite capable of destroying an M1.

But in this case, look closer.

We see a massive blast at missile impact. And we see what appears to be some sheet metal or similar flying off to the upper right. But as the fireball fades, what we don’t see is any secondary explosions or post impact fire. The second explosion is simply a replay of the initial impact. It’s quite possible the missile either simply missed the tank, or hit a non-vital part of it. Or if it did impact the crew compartment, the on board fire suppression system worked as advertised to immediately suppress any fire. The M1 tank wasn’t built to be indestructible. It was, instead, built to provide the greatest likelihood that the crew would survive an attack, even one that destroyed the tank.

What’s old is new again, the Armored Gun System and Mobile Protected Firepower.

Light forces lack firepower. Tis true. The light Infantry Brigade Combat Team has small arms, mortars, Javelin and TOW missiles, and a 105mm towed artillery battalion. What they don’t have is a heavy direct fire weapon. This is particularly stressing to the Airborne Brigade Combat Teams of the 82nd Airborne Division. Airborne forces can, by doctrine, expect to operate outside the reach of supporting arms of higher echelons. Yes, the can expect to receive plenty of close air support, but CAS takes time, and often is restricted due to ROE or concerns about friendly casualties. What they need is a rapid response heavy direct fire system to overmatch enemy light forces.

They used to have such a capability with the M551 Sheridan light Armored Reconnaissance/Airborne Assault Vehicle. But the 1960s era Sheridan was worn out by the time it was retired in the early 1990s. The Army actually developed a replacement for the Sheridan in the early 1990s, but the “peace dividend” of the end of the Cold War saw its cancellation due to budget cuts.

The Sheridan replacement was to be the M8 Buford Armored Gun System. Development was rapid, but very smooth, and the Army went through the complete development and trials process, and type classified it. Basically, it was evaluated and approved for service. It was everything the Army wanted in a vehicle to support the Airborne.

A fully tracked vehicle mounting an autoloading 105mm rifled main gun, the M8 was powered by a 550hp diesel engine. The three man crew serviced a vehicle that, in addition to the main gun, carried an M240 7.62mm coaxial gun and mounted a .50cal M2 machine gun on the commander’s cupola. The main gun autoloader held 21 rounds of ready ammunition and a reserve of 9 rounds, both HEAT and Sabot rounds being available. Both a day sight and a thermal night sight controlled the weapons. 150 gallons of diesel or JP8 gave it a range of about 280 miles. .

What the M8 most decidedly wasn’t was a tank. Sure, it looked like a tank. Fully tracked, turret, 105mm gun. What it didn’t have was a lot of armor. You see, the key defining requirement was that the M8 had to be capable of being airdropped via parachute from the C-130. And that limitation imposed hard limits on the weight and size of the vehicle. Basically, the design could be no more than 18 tons, and 100” high or less. That meant very little armor. The benchmark was the M8 had to be able to withstand 14.5mm machine gun fire and fragments from 155mm artillery rounds at 20 meters. That’s essentially the same level of protection that the original vanilla M2 Bradley had in 1983.

That’s pretty minimal protection for a vehicle on the battlefield. So the team at United Defense and the Army developed the “Level” system. While the basic armor was really light, additional bolt-on armor kits could be installed in the field to improve protection. For instance, the slightly heavier Level II bolt on kit would provide improved protection against mines. The M8 could not be airdropped in this configuration, but could still be carried inside a C-130. It would simply have to be airlanded, rather than dropped. The Level III kit gave the M8 a weight of about 25 tons. While that was too much for a C-130 to haul, three could fit in a C-17, or five in a C-5 Galaxy. The Level III configuration would provide decent protection from hand-held anti-armor weapons such as RPGs.

The concept was that Level I M8s would be airdropped onto the battlefield, and as quickly as possible, increased levels would be added. The three man crew could bolt on the additional protection in a couple hours with simple hand tools.

xm8 

All in all, the Army was very happy with the M8. The plan was to buy enough to equip the 82nd Airborne division with one battalion, and the (then “light”) 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment with about three squadrons worth. That was a pretty small production run planned, which given the development costs* drove up the unit price. And since we all know that in the mid-1990s there were no threats and no possible opponents, the program was cancelled to save money. The 82nd and the 2ACR would just have to get by with Humvees.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyZ3v_LQ6UM]

So we find ourselves in 2015 with light forces that, as ever, still lack heavy direct firepower. Sure, eventually our light forces can place artillery or air support on target. But many targets on the battlefield are fleeting. The key to winning the firefight is overmatching their fires rapidly. And that means having the firepower on the ground with the troops, right there, right then.

And so, the Army, particularly the Maneuver Center at Ft. Benning, home of the Infantry and Armor branches, is looking at a program called Mobile Protected Firepower. And after the disastrous, expensive and futile programs such as FCS and other stalled development programs, the Army was looking for something they could buy “off the shelf” at minimal cost. Development is expensive. Buying vehicles is, comparatively, not.

Lo and behold, BAE Systems, the successor to United Defense, just happens to have a vehicle that fits in pretty well with what the Army is looking for. It’s called, wait for it…. The M8!

A few updates would be necessary for the updated M8 to fit in with today’s Army. The original 6V92TIA diesel engine is out of production. The likely replacement would be the Bradley’s Cummins VTA903 600hp diesel that also powers the AAV-7, and the M109A7 gun, and its associated M992 ammo carrier.

It would also need integration of the FBCB2 digital command and control system, in a vehicle that’s already pretty tight inside, and likely with some serious weight and power constraints, all while not busting the weight limit for airdrop.

Still, adding the firepower and mobility of a battalion of M8s to the light Infantry and Airborne Brigade Combat Teams would be a significant boost at minimal costs.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPQjHLYx954]

BAE called this the Expeditionary Light Tank, which, to my thinking is a bad idea. If you fight the M8 as a tank, you’re going to die. It simply will never have the armor to withstand fighting like a tank. It can kill tanks easily enough. It just can’t go toe to toe against them without being lit up like a Christmas tree.

But really, while General John Buford was a fine cavalry officer, they really, really need to rethink the name.

*It was a remarkably smooth development. In spite of a sophisticated hydropnuematic suspension and the complex but reliable autoloader, development was quite rapid, and testing was very successful. Program managers would be well advised to study the program. The single biggest key to success in the program was the limitation of “creep” in requirements.  The absolute hard limit on being able to airdrop a combat ready vehicle proved a very good firewall against the “good idea fairy.”

A Weasel for the Cavalry?

LTG McMaster, in addition to discussing future fighting vehicles for the Infantry, is also hinting that the Army might want to buy a very lightly armored vehicle for light  cavalry units.

Light armor is very problematical. It’s vulnerable to anything beyond the the smallest of small arms fire. Artillery, RPGs, ATGMs, tank guns, mines and IEDs, you name it, they can defeat light armor.

But the alternative to light armor isn’t heavy armor, it’s no armor at all, and how realistic is that proposition? So LTG McMaster is looking at providing the Cavalry squadrons of Airborne and Air Assault Brigade Combat Teams a platform beyond the M1114 Humvee. And since money is tight, it would have to be an off the shelf, non-developmental product.

And the product they’re looking at is the German Wiesel (hereafter, Weasel). Back in the 1970s, the Bundeswehr was looking for a weapons carrier for their own light forces. Development was pretty smooth, but for budgetary reasons, the light, tracked Weasel didn’t enter service until about 1985.

After buying a few hundred in the 80s and 90s, the Germans built a somewhat larger version, the v2. Having a fifth roadwheel and longer body, along with a newer, more powerful engine, it’s still very light, but has significantly more internal volume. This is, presumably, the variant the US Army is looking at.

Wiesel 2

Fitting in six troops is a tight squeeze. And I’m not really sure you need six. The old M114 recon vehicle had a three or four man crew.

Wiesel interior

I’m not sure I’m ready to equip all the light Cav squadrons with these, but I wouldn’t mind seeing at least one equipped and operationally tested.

The Weasel has a couple of interesting capabilities. First, it can be carried by a CH-47 Chinook. And not just as a sling load. You can actually drive it right inside. Three or four can be stuffed into a C-130. From what I hear, Bundeswehr air drop tests were less than successful, but I suspect our airborne guys could figure out a way to airdrop them.

The Germans seem pretty happy with theirs, so it might be worth looking at. At this point, I’m inclined to look favorably on pretty much anything that increases the mobility and firepower of the light formations.

Marines about to downselect to two competitors for the Amphibious Combat Vehicle Program

The legacy AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicle is very, very long in the tooth, having entered service in the 1960s. Even though it has gone through two major revisions, it is undoubtedly due for replacement. It is an excellent swimmer, but not so great ashore. But that’s the challenge with any amphibious vehicle- balancing the performance afloat, where you spend about 1% of your time, with performance ashore, where you actually do the fighting. But if you can’t swim well, then what is the point? Unfortunately, these two requirements tend to compete against one another.

After the expensive and technically ambitious but frustrating development of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was cancelled, the Marines eventually asked for proposals for a low end amphibious vehicle capable of carrying 11 troops, and incorporating lessons learned about protection against IEDs learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Five teams submitted proposals, and the Marines expect to downselect to two teams shortly. Those two teams will provide 16 vehicles each that will then undergo about 2 years of engineering and operational testing.

Megan Eckstein at USNI News has a piece comparing the five entrants.

I’m leaning toward the BAE systems variant myself, but of course, Lockheed Martin will use its en0rmous political influence to try to win.

BAE Systems and Iveco Defense partnered to create this entrant for the Marines ACV 1.1 competition. Photo courtesy BAE Systems.

BAE Systems and Iveco Defense partnered to create this entrant for the Marines ACV 1.1 competition. Photo courtesy BAE Systems.

Lockheed Martin's ACV 1.1 prototype. Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin’s ACV 1.1 prototype. Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin.

Click on over and read the whole thing.

Wal-Mart and future Army vehicles.

So, Wal-Mart has a prototype of a new Peterbuilt/Great Dane big rig. Whether they order it into production remains to be seen.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NER9X4_gtYk]

I don’t really care about the aerodynamics part, but the drive train is interesting. Spill and I were talking about future Army vehicles (hope to get the podcast edited and published today) and one thing I neglected to bloviate on was the powerplants.

This Wal-Mart prototype uses a small gas turbine to charge a battery bank, and electric motors to actually move the vehicle. 

Today, the US uses the M1 Abrams tank, which famously uses a gas turbine. It, however, is directly geared to the transmission, much as a gas turbine is used to spin the props of a turbo-prop.  That gives the Abrams great power, and more importantly, great acceleration compared to diesel powered vehicles of similar weight and horsepower. The problem is, it isn’t terribly fuel efficient, with the a Abrams being famous for sucking down hundreds of gallons of JP-8 daily.

A hybrid gas turbine/electric plant avoids some of the pitfalls of that turbine inefficiency. First, the horsepower/torque requirement is shifted from the turbine to the electric motors. That means you can likely use a significantly smaller turbine. The turbine isn’t there to move the vehicle, it’s there to run the generator. And you can optimize a turbine and transfer case to run the turbine at its most efficient speed constantly.

Alternatively, when you have a decent charge on the battery banks, you can simply shut down the turbine, and yet still have power available to instantly move the vehicle. As it stands now, Abrams spend a LOT of time idling their turbines. Guess what? An Abrams burns fuel almost as fast at idle as it does when it’s moving.  It wouldn’t take much to configure the turbine to automatically start as soon as the vehicle started moving. And since every time you move, you start charging, that means your battery bank can be comparatively small.

I can easily see a future family of integrated gas turbine/electric motor powerplants for almost every type of Army vehicle. Further, this type of powerplant is very helpful when we’re also looking at the ever increasing electrical loads place on vehicles by sensors and networking.  And if future vehicles rely on lasers for active protection against, say, anti-tank missiles, they’ll need even more electrical power.

This is also very similar to the integrated drive system the Navy’s DDG-1000 Zumwalt class uses.

Bradleys, Obsolescence, the Saudis- From the mailbag.

A reader, seeing the LAV live fire post, sent in a question about the Bradley.

As a non military guy, I’m curious about your opinion, as an ex Bradley TC, of the Bradley.

A bit of background: I’m a 42 yr old child of the Reagan buildup. To me the Bradley and the Abrams were awesome to deal with the situation for which they were designed.

I’m seeing a lot of criticism about them (the Bradley especially) considering the losses that have been inflicted upon them.

But to me; they were never invincible. They were just supposed to be able to allow us to stop the Soviets in Germany. There would have been losses. And now we are using the in ways they weren’t specifically designed for (insurgencies); Saudis in Yemen.

First, even though I’ve used the nom de plume “XBradTC” for over a decade now, Bradley’s actually don’t have a TC, they have a BC- Bradley Commander. There’s an obscure reason why I chose TC, mostly having to do with dealing with people that were in the Army pre-Bradley.

As to the Reagan build up and the Abrams and the Bradley, to be fair, both designs were actually pretty well finalized during the Carter years, though they entered into active service in the early 80s.

And yes, they were specifically designed to deal with the massive Warsaw Pact threat in Western Europe. Every armored vehicle design is a product of not just the technological state of the art, but also the doctrine of the buyer, competing interests of the various constituencies that will use it (for instance, the Infantry  and  the Cavalry had very different desires of what the then future Bradley would do and look like) and of course, cost concerns. Some aspects of the Bradley and Abrams were pretty radical, such as every vehicle having a built in thermal target sight. Other aspects, compromises, were also contentious, such as the fact that the Bradley carries a much smaller dismount squad than its M113 predecessor. That was forced onto the designers not because they didn’t value the dismount infantry, but size, weight and cost put an upper limit on vehicle size, and given the imperative to include a turret with both a 25mm gun, and a twin-tube TOW launcher, something had to give, and that was dismount seats.

As to criticism of Bradley losses, it is, to some extent, the nature of the beast. For all the folly of the movie The Pentagon Wars showed, the Bradley is far, far more survivable than its M113 predecessor. However, it was never designed to withstand anti-tank fires, such as AT-3 Sagger ATGMs, let alone the more modern Russian missiles in use today. One part of the design philosophy behind the Bradley (and even more so the M1) was that survivability was focused on the crew, moreso than the vehicle itself. The designers recognized that they could never make the Bradley withstand modern anti-armor weapons, but they could reduce the risks to the crew. For instance, the Bradley has an excellent fire suppression system built in with automatic sensors that trigger extinguishers on board to prevent flash fires in the crew and troop compartments. They might not fully extinguish the fire, but they will usually give the crew and troops time to exit the stricken vehicle.

Another aspect to the losses of Bradleys in Iraq is doctrinal. When the Bradley was being designed with Western Europe in mind, the Army’s doctrine toward combat in urban areas was pretty simple- don’t. In spite of the incredible urbanization of Europe, the Army’s doctrine looked at key terrain and road networks outside of built up areas as the prime maneuver space.

That was all well and good in the 80s, but in Iraq in 2004-2006, the key terrain was, in fact, the people. And of course, the people were only found in built up areas. That became an issue, as securing urban terrain requires a much greater density of manpower than a similarly sized rural area. And that lack of dismounts was a major handicap. Not only that, but the decreased sightlines in urban terrain somewhat negates the sensor advantage of the Bradley’s optics. It also meant that opposing forces would often have better angled shots at the sides, rear and top of Bradleys, where they were more vulnerable, with the thinnest armor.

Tactics, techniques and procedures could mitigate that to some extent, and the organic firepower of the Bradley was also quite useful, but by 2006, the Army decided that using MRAPs or Strykers in urban areas made more sense, and could provide greater numbers of dismounts and required less crew, and had greater speed on the road networks. And so, Bradleys were pretty much withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2006.

As to the Saudi experience in Yemen,  I suppose that our correspondent is referring to the rebel video I linked to found in this post, with various Saudi Brads getting lit up.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h87a41N-IhU?feature=player_embedded]

For the most part, that’s just bad tactics. Laziness on the battlefield will get you killed. Always be scanning. US troops virtually always have their head out of the hatch, visually scanning, while the gunner is also using the turret to scan for targets and threats. Similarly, if halted for more than just a few moments, the dismounts kick out and begin securing the local area. 

That won’t eliminate the threat, but it will make it harder for the enemy. It’s one thing to take a hit. It’s another thing to give the enemy a gimme shot.

Overall, the Bradley is an excellent fighting vehicle. Having said that, it is quickly facing obsolescence. Much like ladies over thirty, it’s gaining weight and not getting any stronger. The original M2/M3 were powered by a 500hp diesel. The M2A2/M3A2 upgraded to a 600hp engine, but given the increased armor on those models, that was barely sufficient to restore it to previous levels of performance. And in the quarter century since the A2 models entered service, much more weight has found its way on board. The onboard digital battle management system, the newer thermal sights, revised interior, air conditioning and of course, the urban survival kit all added significant weight increases. Not only that, they also use vastly more electrical power, which the engine is hard pressed to provide. There is simply an upper limit to how much you can increase the power, both motive and electrical, in an existing design. And the Bradley is bumping hard up against that limit. Furthermore, while the 25mm gun is, for now, of sufficient lethality, very soon it will likely begin to be just a tad small for most threat scenarios, and the option for a 30mm or even 40mm gun will become more attractive.

LTG McMasters has been teasing some news about the Army’s future combat vehicle acquisition, and we hope to address that in another post soon.

Very Bad Bradley Tactics

The only other nation to buy the Bradley Fighting Vehicle is Saudi Arabia. They bought 400 after seeing its performance in Desert Storm. And they are currently using them in Yemen against Iranian backed Houthi rebels. Unfortunately, they’re not using them well.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h87a41N-IhU?feature=player_embedded]

That first attack is simply inexcusable.  The dismount team should have been providing local security.  As for the ATGM attacks, again, crews need to be alert and scanning their sectors.

Another point. Compare this video of a Russian built vehicle immediately bursting into flames. Think back to the video of the Bradleys.  You’ll notice they don’t instantly brew up. The vehicle might be inoperative, or even beyond repair, but the fire suppression system works, at least long enough for the crew to escape.

And take a look at this video of US forces training in Ft. Irwin. Vehicle commanders are up and scanning. They’re also using their weapons to suppress any possible missile teams.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL57h5Tmn00]

The Maintenance Team

When I went from Light Infantry to M113 APC mounted Mechanized Infantry, one big cultural shift I wasn’t prepared for was the obsessive attention paid to mechanical maintenance on the company vehicles.  An H-series TO&E M113 equipped Infantry company had three platoons of four M113s, plus an M113 for the Company Commander, and one for the Company XO. It also had a Humvee for the CO, and one for the company 1SG. The company also had two M35 series 2-1/2 ton trucks, one with a 3/4 ton trailer, and one with a 400 gallon water trailer.

And every Monday morning, the vast majority of the company would head to the motor pool, and spend the day performing maintenance on the vehicles. For instance, I was in the 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, and my squad “owned”  the M113 marked with the bumper number A-11. The assigned driver and I (I was the track commander) would whip out the operators technical manual (commonly called the ‘Dash 10’ from the alphanumeric TM number assigned) and visit the chapters on daily and weekly Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services, or PMCS. All deficiencies found (and there were always deficiencies) were carefully annotated on DA Form 2404.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZ5ud94lJik]

Much like caring for your family car, a great deal of the work is done by the operator. But sometimes, there are issues that you need to take it to the shop for repairs.  For instance, if the automatic transmission is slipping, you probably would let your mechanic work on that.

You’ll notice in the brief discussion on the organization of the company, no mechanics were mentioned. That’s because the maintenance platoon belongs to the battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company.  The maintenance platoon provided organizational level maintenance to all the tracked and wheeled vehicles in the entire battalion, about 130 pieces of rolling stock. Further, the maintenance platoon tasked a Maintenance Contact Team of five or six mechanics, typically under a Staff Sergeant, to habitually support each company. So, while our mechanics were always in another company, they were also always our mechanics.

Our mechanics were also the folks in charge of ordering parts as required for the vehicles. For instance, if I needed to replace a headlight on my M113, I’d write up the deficiency on the 2404, take it to the mechanics, and have them issue me one. The issue, from stocks on hand, also generated an order to the Division Main Support Battalion to requisition another part, to replace the stock. 

When deployed to the field, the Contact Team collocated with the supported company.  The team had an M113 APC, an M578 Light Recovery Vehicle or VTR, and an M35 series duece and a half, which had a plywood shelter on the back, and was used to carry the spare parts, known as the PLL or Primary Load List.  The PLL truck was usually located at the field trains, with the battalion kitchens and other logistics were, leaving just the M113 and the VTR forward with the company.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YB_uhWxlt0]

The VTR was fine for virtually all maintenance and recovery chores for the M113. The problem was, Mechanized Infantry companies typically swapped out a platoon of infantry for a platoon of tanks. The VTR was far to small to tow a tank. And the arrival of the M2/M3 Bradley exacerbated matters. The VTR was also underpowered to tow a Bradley.  And so, with the introduction of the Bradley, the VTR was set out to pasture, and Mechanized Infantry battalions were issued the recovery vehicle Armor battalions had long been using, the M88.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7b6AwY8TBWM]

The M88 had been introduced to support (and built on the chassis of) the old M48 and M60 Patton series of tanks. It had only the thinnest margin of performance to support the much heavier M1 tanks, and later M1A1 and M1A2 tanks were just too heavy for it. And so, the Army procured the upgraded M88A2 Hercules variant for its Armor battalions. And indeed, the Army has decided that all heavy battalions will be equipped with the M88A2. 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnNjEDc2WYU]

The mechanics don’t exactly have the most glamorous job in the Army. Virtually every wrenchbender I knew was always covered in grease and grime. But they also, as a general rule, took great pride in the work they did, and put in long hours in the field repairing the vehicles that careless grunts had managed to break.

I did learn to embrace the Army’s obsession with maintenance. It costs a lot of time and money to keep a vehicle well maintained. But it also means that the Army can routinely expect its vehicles to last a quarter century or more, even when subjected to some of the harshest treatment possible.