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.