Rock Island has this great Israeli M606A2 Jeep up for auction. A militarized version of the Willys CJ-5, it served in an anti-tank role through the 1960s and 70s using its Willys Hurricane I-4 engine along with an M70 106 mm recoilless rifle to zip around the desert Rat Patrol style and take pot-shots at T-55s.
The concept is similar in concept to U.S. Army and Marine light anti-tank vehicles common from WWII through the 1970s that basically amounted to a Jeep with a recoilless rifle.
The final version of this was the M-825 Weapons Platform, which used the 1/4 ton Ford M-151A2 MUTT with an M40 106mm Recoilless Rifle on an M79 mount. Carrying a two-man crew and six rounds of ammunition for the M40, the RR was later swapped out for a TOW launcher, although overseas allies and some National Guard units kept the M-825 on inventory through the 1980s.
However, the Iranian Safir jeep equipped with their own locally-produced version of the M40-type is still going strong around the world, such as this one seen recently in Kirkuk in the hands of insurgents.
Here we see an image of a typical late 1940s/early 1950s U.S. anti-tank team with a 75mm M20 recoilless rifle. Fielded by March 1945, the M20 saw limited service in WWII, but did yeomen work in Korea and in the early days of Vietnam. The three-man team looks pretty standard: M1 combat helmets sans covers, OD uniforms to include M1943 field jackets, leather holstered M1911 and M1 Carbine with buttstock mag pouch for sidearms. The mountains could be the hills of Georgia or North Carolina, or they could be West Germany…or Korea.
Speaking of which, Ethiopia was the first nation in Africa to contribute a complete unit of ground troops to the UN Korean command– the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Kagnew Battalions. The names of the three Ethiopian gunners from Addis Ababa preparing to fire a 75mm recoilless rifle are, from left to right: Cpl. Alema Welde, Cpl. Chanllo Bala and Sgt. Maj. Bogale Weldeynse.
Formed from the Royal Guards division of the Imperial Ethiopian Army, the Kagnew Battalions drew their name from Haile Selassie’s father’s warhorse. They served alongside the U.S. 7th Infantry Division suffering 121 dead and 536 wounded during the course of the conflict. They had none of their members counted among the captured. In general serving one-year tours (with several men serving two or more), some 3,158 Ethiopians served in Kagnew Battalions from 1951-54.
“We knew there was going to be sacrifice. But this sacrifice was not for nothing. It was for peace and liberty,” Col. Melesse Tessema, an Ethiopian veteran of the Korean War, said in a 2010 interview. “My friends, they gave their lives for history and for the freedom of human beings.”
Being a male born into a military family in 1974 Georgia, I grew up with a sack of little green army men. These included the regular ‘talking on the radio man’, ‘officer with a 45 man’, ‘machinegun man’, “rifleman” and the “bazooka man”. Later, in the early 80’s I read Steven King’s The Stand and the entire first part of the act of the novel about a dystopian superflu epidemic spoke liberally about US Army soldiers setting up ‘recoilless rifles’ everywhere and thought to myself, ‘what is this?”
It was then, as an inquisitive youngster that I asked by grandfather, a retired regular Army Master Sergeant what a recoilless rifle was and he reached for my army men, now deeded to my younger brother and tossed the ‘bazooka man’ at me.
‘There you go. Look at the sight, it’s a recoilless, not a bazooka” He then explained the concept of the recoilless rifle further and in more detail. About how they used them in just about every conflict in the twentieth century. About how he remembered Air Bases and LZs in Vietnam where the recoilless was mounted looking down at free fire areas loaded with beehive rounds to shred nighttime surprise attacks with a swarm of mutilating flechette darts.
“But they have all but thrown them away now” he advised. “They went to TOW and its little sorry brother, the Dragon years ago”
Well that was in the 80’s and the M47 Dragon, which never really worked well, is long gone. The TOW is maintained but is being phased out by its own replacement the Javelin. However, the humble old recoilless rifle (not to be confused with the bazooka!) is making a quiet comeback.
The 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division’s “Screaming Eagles” fired some 150-rounds through old M67s at the Forward Operating Base Orgun-E range on January 27, 2011. They intend to use the weapon in defensive operations at isolated FOBs in Afghanistan.
If it works, use it