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.

Circa 1969,”Rough Going: Leathernecks of the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Marine Regiment find the going rough in ‘Dodge City’ as they attempt to maneuver a ‘mechanical mule’ bearing 106mm recoilless rifle across rugged terrain. The Marines are participating along with the Vietnamese Army elements and Vietnamese rangers and Korean Marines in Operation Pipestone Canyon, in the Dodge City-Go Noi Island area 12 miles south of Da Nang (official USMC photo by Sergeant A. V. Huffman).”

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.

DF-ST-86-07566

Those chocolate chips! “U.S. Marines drive an M-151 Light Utility Vehicle from a Utility Landing Craft (LCU) to shore during the multinational joint service Exercise BRIGHT STAR’85. The vehicle is armed with a BGM71 Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missile launcher,” 8/1/1985 NARA 330-CFD-DF-ST-86-07566

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.

Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Regiment, fire a jeep-mounted tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) heavy anti-tank weapon during Combined Arms exercises Five and Six. Wires used to guide the TOW missile can be seen extending from the barrel of the weapon, 5/1/1983 NARA 330-CFD-DM-ST-83-09020

Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Regiment, fire a jeep-mounted tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) heavy anti-tank weapon during Combined Arms exercises Five and Six. Wires used to guide the TOW missile can be seen extending from the barrel of the weapon, 5/1/1983 NARA 330-CFD-DM-ST-83-09020

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.

A Marine looks through the sight of a tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile launcher mounted on an M151 light utility vehicle, 1/1/1988 NARA 330-CFD-DM-SN-88-09381

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.

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