Home Product Reviews M113 Armored Personnel Carrier — Sunday Drive By: Jim Davis

M113 Armored Personnel Carrier — Sunday Drive By: Jim Davis

M113 Armored Personnel Carrier — Sunday Drive   By: Jim Davis

Although no longer in production, the M113 family of vehicles is still seen often on the battlefield and in our nation’s inventory. It’s really pretty amazing that this Armored Personnel Carrier, which started service in the early 1960s, is still going strong. Not just in the US military, but also elsewhere. And it appears that it’s not going anywhere in the near future. Have you ever wondered when this vehicle started out and when or if it officially left production? Let’s take a Sunday drive and discover the answers to those questions and more.

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The M113 was developed to be a lightly armored, tracked vehicle that could be air-lifted and airdropped by C-141 and C-130 planes. Originally, the premise was that the M113 would act as a “battlefield taxi”, in which troops would be brought up under the cover of the vehicle’s armored protection, dropped off on the battlefield where they were needed, and then the M113 would retreat to the rear. The armor was intended to stop 7.62 rounds as well as shell fragments. The M113 officially entered service in 1960. Its predecessor, the T117, looked similar but was manufactured of steel, which made it far heavier than the M113.

Originally, the M113 was capable of swimming without the addition of special skirts, being propelled through the water by the motion of its tracks. This later proved to be a huge value in the swamps and rivers of Vietnam.

M113 fording a river.
An M113 fords a stream. Its amphibious nature added versatility in Vietnam. (Photo: The Modelling News)

Initial Armament

The standard armament for the M113 was initially a single Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun. This was later upgraded in Vietnam, with upgrades continuing into more modern times.

Initial armament was light.
Initially, the M113 was only armed with a Browning M2 .50 Caliber machine gun. (Photo: Nowheremash Wakia)

Making A Splash In Vietnam

In March of 1962, the first group of M113s arrived in Vietnam. Two Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) companies took fifteen M113s each. In June 1962, the M113s went into action for the first time. In January 1963 during the battle of Ap Bac, a glaring issue became apparent with the M113’s armament: fourteen of the .50 caliber gunners were killed in action. This demonstrated that changes needed to be made to protect gunners. Shields were quickly fabricated to protect the exposed gunners. Not long after that, gun shields went into production and became general issue.

A column of M113s on patrol in Vietnam.
A column of M113s on patrol in Vietnam. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Changing Roles

During Viet Nam, the M113’s roles were varied and wide. Rather than being used as “battle taxis” as first intended, Viet Nam saw the M113 being used as a light tank. It was used for the medical role, Search And Destroy, Reconnaissance, Mortars, and Vehicle Recovery. This was partly due to the vehicle’s utility and also a sign of the guerilla warfare nature of the war. There were often no front lines to drop troops off at, as the war was fluid in nature much of the time. Add to that the fact that the M113 could go places that many other vehicles could not because of its amphibious nature. In short, it became a workhorse.

Modified Weapons

Viet Nam saw many modifications to the M113 series. The first major one involved a circular turret being added for the .50 caliber commander’s position and two stations to the left and right rear with M-60 machine guns using shields. There was also the addition of belly armor due to a high number of mines that were encountered in country. Before the belly armor, troops had taken to lining the floor of the vehicle with sandbags as a protective measure.

M113 damaged by mine.
The results of mine damage on an M113 in Viet Nam. (Photo: Pin On Vietnam)
Interior of the M113 showing the space that troops would sit in on their way to battle. Note the sandbags on the floor, a measure taken by troops to protect against the effects of mines and explosives in Viet Nam.
Interior of the M113 showing the space that troops would sit in on their way to battle. Note the sandbags lining the floor. (Photo: Armorama)
A more heavily armed M113.
The gun shield on the .50 caliber can be seen here, along with the two M-60 machine guns in the rear. (Photo: Pin On Vietnam)

New Threats

Viet Nam saw the Viet Cong using many improvised explosives against vehicles. Some US troops took to riding on the top of the M113, rather than being caught inside the vehicle if it were hit with such explosives. They figured it was better to be on top than inside. It was during one such incident that a well-known sniper, Carlos Hathcock, was severely wounded after the M113 he was riding on hit a mine. The blast set the vehicle ablaze, and Gunny Hathcock rescued over a half-dozen of his fellow Marines from the blazing vehicle while being horribly burned himself.

M113 rolls past a fire base.
An M113 rolls past a fire base in Vietnam. Note the troops riding on the top of the vehicle. (Photo: Flickr)

Over the years, various armor packages have been added, with armor being bolted onto the M113 as added protection against shaped charge warheads. The bottom line is that the M113 needed more protection because of its light, aluminum armor.

M113 Upgrades

Although production of new M113s ceased in 2007, upgrades on existing units continue. There are still approximately 13,000 M113s in service in the military, and most have received upgrades (M113A2 and M113A3) to keep them at least somewhat relevant. Upgrades include a turbocharged engine and new transmission, new power brakes, and a new steering system. Most are not intended for direct combat roles but serve in support roles.

M113 in Iraq.
An M113 in Iraq. Current vehicles are being upgraded in their engine and transmission. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Bigger Firepower

Aside from the .50 caliber M2, other armaments can include the MK 19 40mm grenade launcher, as well as anti-tank systems, including the Dragon and TOW missile launchers. As well, turrets can be added, allowing the use of canons ranging from 20mm up to 105mm. This allows the vehicle to function as a fire support weapon. Mortars can also be mounted in the back cargo area.

M113 with turret and canon.
An M113 with a cannon mounted in a turret. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Other Service

Israel is the second largest user of the M113, with approximately 6,000 vehicles in service for that country. The M113 has proven to be vulnerable to RPGs and other anti-tank missiles, but Israel still uses them because they do not have the funds to replace them with other alternatives. Although, word has it that they are currently searching for a more effective replacement for the M113.

American law enforcement agencies have used the M113 for their tactical units over the years. The armor protection that it provides is a great boon for tactical units.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about the M113, you might want to check out M113 In Action from Squadron Books.

A Squadron Publications book on the M113.
M113 In Action from Squadron Books is a great source of information on the M113. This copy was published in the mid-1970s. (Image: Squadron Books)