The Glory of the Devils’ TOW-MUTTs
While the U.S. Army started to field the TOW anti-tank system in the Fulda Gap in the late 1960s, the Marines, with their oddball M50 Ontos vehicle that packed a half-dozen M40 106mm recoilless rifles, took the latter to Southeast Asia with them as Charlie didn’t have very many tanks at the time.
However, things soon changed.
The South Vietnamese Marines used jeep-mounted TOW teams to good effect in the bitter end of the war in that country against NVA armor in 1972.
Meanwhile, the Devils were left with a more improv way to get around with their anti-armor support weapons.
With the Ontos put to pasture in the early 1970s, the Marines eventually went TOW, mounted on the downright ugly (and downright dangerous to its passengers) Ford M151 MUTT, the same combo used by the Army in its “leg” infantry units at the time.
The first TOW “platoons” envisioned by the Marines for attachment to infantry battalions in the late 1970s were actually almost the size of companies, equipped with 37 M151s, 24 launchers, 69 enlisted men and one officer.
A typical six-Marine TOW squad had three M151s, two of which had launchers and the third used as spare missile carrier. The squad packed 16 missiles, two in each of the launcher-vehicles’ racks, six in the racks on the missile carrier, and six on a trailer pulled by the carrier. In a pinch, should one or even two of the vehicles go down, the third could be used to evac the squad’s Marines, provided they were so inclined to hold the hell on and leave a bunch of gear behind.
Still, the ability for a half-dozen Marines in three jeeps to zap as many as a dozen of the bad guy’s armored vehicles from a distance of 3,000m then scoot away led the Corps to pronounce a TOW squad as “the world’s largest distributor of tank parts,” in the early 1980s.
The Marines kept the TOW-MUTTS in operation though the Reagan years, eventually replacing them with HMMWV-TOWs by 1989. But that is a different story.