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M113A1 Fire Support Vehicle

 

01. The prototype FSV in comparison with a Saladin Armoured Car. (AATM photo)

 

by Paul D. Handel

Note: This article first appeared in The Journal of Military Ordnance, May 1998. It has been changed slightly to reflect new information which has become available in the interim period.

 
Introduction

During 1962 and 1963, the Australian Army conducted trials of two types of tracked armoured personnel carriers, the FV432 “Trojan” from the UK and the M113 ( with Chrysler petrol engine) from the USA. The M113 was selected as the vehicle to replace the family of wheeled AFVs then being used in Australia - the Ferret Scout Car, the Saracen Armoured Personnel Carrier, and the Saladin Armoured Car. Deliveries of the M113A1 version with the Detroit Diesel engine commenced in 1964.

 

02. The wading pool of the Proving Ground at Monegeetta was the location for flotation testing of the FSV. The unmodified driver’s hatch can be seen tied to the turret aerial mounts. (AATM Photo)

 


In 1965, the Australian Army committed an armoured unit to an overseas theatre of war for the first time since the end of the Second World War. The eight M113A1 vehicles of the APC troop initially employed were the first of a large range of such vehicles to see combat in South Vietnam over the next 7 years. The initial deployment of carriers quickly grew to a full Cavalry Squadron.

 


Development

In 1966 a requirement was produced by the Army for an Air Portable Armoured Fighting Vehicle (APAFV), and two M551 General Sheridan light tanks from the USA were tested here during the 1967 and 1968. Even before the trials commenced, it was known that the Sheridan would not be available for purchase for some time, should it be chosen, and so an interim solution for the APAFV was sought. The Army Design Establishment (ADE), later Army Technology and Engineering Agency (ATEA), produced the design for an interim solution by mounting a 76 mm gun turret from a Saladin Armoured Car onto the hull of an M113A1 Armoured Personnel Carrier. ADE worked in conjunction with the M113 manufacturer, the Food Machinery Corporation of San Jose, California, who had produced similar proposals on paper in 1964 and 1966.

 

03. The prototype FSV, now renumbered 134700, in final production configuration. The trim vane extension is visible between the headlight guards, a screen is erected around the radiator intake to prevent water ingress when afloat and the driver's hatch has been modified to the lift and swing type. (AATM Photo)


By mid 1967 the Ordnance Factory at Maribyrnong, Victoria had produced a pilot model of the interim APAFV, subsequently designated M113A1 (FS) (FS for fire support). The M113A1 vehicle had a major portion of the hull roof removed and an adapter plate with riser turret ring fitted, and the turret from a Saladin Armoured Car installed. The Saladin was at that time in the process of being phased out of service, along with the Saracen, as the M113A1 family of vehicles became more widely available. The mating of the M113A1 hull and the Saladin Turret caused some problems, particularly in the compatibility of US and British electrical systems.

Internally, the M113A1 had all crew compartment bench seats removed, and a support mounted on the floor to carry the electrical cables from the turret into the hull. A false floor was fitted to the rear portion of the hull, under which ammunition for the 76 mm gun was stowed. In each sponson, forward of the fuel tank on the left side and of the battery box on the right side, were fitted racks to carry 12 rounds of 76 mm ammunition each. These racks were inclined at approximately 15 degrees to the vertical. A total of 55 rounds for the main armament were carried. A modified driver’s hatch, which lifted and pivoted, was also fitted to the production vehicles, as the movement of the standard hatch interfered with the turret when traversed.

 

04. The interior of a production vehicle showing the Saladin turret basket, ammunition racks in the sponson and the step in the hull floor containing ammunition racks. (Author’s Photo)


The vehicle’s road performance suffered slightly, being about 2 tonnes heavier than the standard vehicle. In addition, the swimming capabilities were severely reduced. The vehicle sat very low in the water, with only some 150 - 180 mm of hull out of the water. An additional piece of sheet metal similar to that fitted to the trim vane of the Fitters Vehicle was added to the trim vane, to assist forward movement in water.


 

Trials

Trials of the prototype vehicle began at the Armoured Centre at Puckapunyal, Victoria, in October 1967, but were suspended after a week when the vehicle sank in the Goulburn River, after the turret was traversed slightly to the right whilst the vehicle was manoeuvring in the water. After repairs were effected the trials recommenced at Puckapunyal and continued until the end of 1967. About this time the vehicle was christened the “Coleman Cruiser”, after the then Director of Armour, Colonel K.R.G. Coleman, but this name did not last long and it became simply known as the FSV - Fire Support Vehicle. In early 1968, troop trials commenced at A Squadron 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Holsworthy, NSW, and these were completed in April. The evaluation of the trials results took some time, and there were a number of modifications made to the prototype to bring it up to an acceptable standard. It was not until mid -1970 that the then Director of Armour, Colonel J.M. Maxwell, recommended the vehicle for service use.

 

05. An M113A1 Fire Support Vehicle of A Squadron 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Holsworthy in 1970. The tactical signs on the hull side are a red triangle with white callsign numbers, whilst the vehicle name and registration numbers are white on black. (Author’s Photo)


A total of 14 vehicles were converted from new M113A1 vehicles of 1969 vintage, by 4 Base Workshop RAEME at Bandiana during 1970 and 1971. The conversion kit, comprising the hull top plate with riser ring, ammunition racks and turret were provided by the Ordnance Factory Maribyrnong. About this time the prototype vehicle, originally carrying the registration number 134176, was renumbered 134700, and all 15 FSVs carried consecutive registration numbers up to 134714. (The number of vehicles produced was limited by the quantity of Saladin Armoured Cars in the Australian inventory.)



Service in South Vietnam

Although the armoured contingent in South Vietnam had been expecting the FSVs since 1968, the first four vehicles did not arrive until July / August 1971. These vehicles all were fitted with sponson reinforcement plates and bolt-on belly armour. Initially they were formed into a Fire Support Troop of A Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment, under the command of Lt Ross McCormack. Initial gunnery training was conducted on the AFV range near the eastern gates of Nui Dat, as “full bore” gunnery had not been used by the cavalry/APC units deployed in South Vietnam prior to the FSVs becoming available.

 

06. Three FSVs of A Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment in South Vietnam in 1971. The sponson reinforcement above the first three road wheels and the missing smoke grenade dischargers are points to note. (AATM Photo)

 

The first trip “outside the wire” for the FSVs was to Baria, Dat Do and back to the Horseshoe feature, nearly all the way on sealed roads. Initially the vehicles were given limited exposure to the possibility at contact with the enemy. Ross McCormack remembered “...I think it was policy not to get the vehicles involved in situations where they might sustain damage. Those vehicles were not tanks and with the amount of ammo that was carried they probably would have gone off with a bang if hit with an RPG”. The vehicles were used in the defence of fire bases, general convoy escort, night patrols and ambushes. As with the Centurion tanks serving in South Vietnam, the FSVs had the smoke grenade dischargers removed from the side of the turret, as these caught in vines and overhanging tree branches when operating in heavily timbered country.

Later in 1971, a further two FSVs arrived at the Squadron, and a reorganization took place. Three reconnaissance troops were formed, each having 2 FSVs with 2 or 3 standard M113A1s. This reorganization allowed reconnaissance patrols to be conducted away from Nui Dat. The FSVs were withdrawn from South Vietnam in late 1971, and the Squadron itself was withdrawn in the following year.


 

Australian Service

After the withdrawal from South Vietnam, the FSVs served with regular Cavalry Regiments (mainly 2nd Cavalry Regiment) and the Armoured Centre until 1979, and then they continued in service with reserve units for a further few years, until being declared obsolete in 1986. During their service the vehicles were known to the troops as “Beasts”.


07. Two FSVs of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment leading a reconnaissance troop during exercises at Holsworthy, NSW in 1973. The commander’s 0.30 inch Browning flexible machine gun is mounted, and the folded extension to the trim vane can be seen. (L.A. Wright photo)

 

Shortly after being withdrawn from service, six of the vehicles were de - turreted and the hulls were sold to the New Zealand Army. There they were returned to standard M113A1 configuration , mounting cupolas, and used by the RNZAC School of Armour as driver training vehicles.

 

08. An FSV of the 4th Cavalry Regiment in heavy going during training in Queensland. (AATM Photo)

 

The deployment of an NZ infantry company to Bosnia was accompanied by a number of APCs, one of which was an ambulance conversion of one of the ex - Australian FSV hulls. It was fitted with belly armour and hull armour as well as an ACAV kit for the commander’s cupola.

 

09. An FSV of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment emerging from the Georges River near Holsworthy after an exercise. The track shrouds are fitted, the engine screen protection is raised and the trim vane with extension piece is deployed. (AATM Photo)

 

The Saladin trreted M113A1, although not an ideal conversion and not provided in great numbers, served the Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC) well, and it was no doubt due to its success that another Fire Support Vehicle, this time mounting a Scorpion 76mm turret, was developed in the mid-70s and served in the RAAC until 1996.



M113A1 Fire Support Vehicle ( Saladin Turret ) Technical Data


Height

2.788 metres

Weight

11939 kg

Max speed

68 km/hr

Max range

483 km

Max gradient

60 %

Max side slope

30 %

Free board afloat

152 mm

Main Armament

76 mm L5A1

Secondary Armament

2 x 0.30 m MG

Ammunition


-Main

55 rounds

-Secondary

5500 rounds

Crew

Commander


Gunner


Driver

 

10. An FSV of A Squadron 2nd Cavalry Regiment returning from Exercise Dark Moon in 1973. By this time 2nd Cavalry Regiment had adopted yellow squadron tactical signs. The driver wears a crewman’s helmet whilst the crew commander and gunner wear the more traditional black beret. (L.A. Wright photo)



 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The author wishes to thank Colonel D.H.R. Bourne(RL), Major R. McCormack (RL), the Curator Australian Army Tank Museum, Mr Joe Linford and acknowledges the late Messrs J. Nuttall and L.A. Wright for their assistance with information and photographs used in the preparation of this article.

Article Text and Photographs Copyright 2012 by Paul D. Handel
Page Created 25 April 2012
Last Updated 25 April, 2012

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