50 years service for M113
From their first service in Vietnam, through to UN deployments and local exercises, the M113 family has protected and transported soldiers for 50 years.
On March 19, 1965, the first M113A1 vehicles were issued to the Royal Australian Armoured Corps.
That year the Armoured School and 1 Armd Regt were the only regular armoured units. Two Citizen Military Forces (CMF) units had one regular squadron each – 4/19 Prince of Wales Light Horse (Reconnaissance) and 2/14 Queensland Mounted Infantry (Anti-Tank).
1 Tp, A Sqn, 4/19PWLH, was the first unit to receive the new vehicles. The troop had less than two months to train on the new vehicles before five vehicles departed for Vietnam on May 27, 1965.
The M113A1 family had been ordered in 1963-64, although the vehicles were ordered separately from the radio and harness. This led to different delivery times, causing problems in Vietnam.
Vietnam – the M113A1’s first war
The firepower and mobility of the armoured personnel carrier (APC) element deployed with 1RAR soon proved its worth.
By September 1965, APC numbers had raised to 13, able to carry an infantry rifle company.
Meanwhile, 1 APC Sqn had been raised in Australia and relieved the troop in Vietnam in June 1966 as part of the new 1st Australian Task Force.
1 APC Sqn arrived with only two APC troops, and took over the PWLH vehicles to form 3 Tp.
The squadron’s first major action came on August 18, 1966, when 3 Tp reacted with the task force reserve to relieve D Coy, 6RAR, at Long Tan.
3 Tp had only seven serviceable APCs – the rest of the worn-out PWLH carriers were in repair. 3 Tp was reinforced by three carriers from 2 Tp, which had no gun shields or intercom. 3 Tp also had outdated radios, which had problems communicating with the infantry and artillery. The radios and harness ordered with the vehicles still had not all arrived.
Long Tan accelerated a search for a protected station for APC crew commanders.
The US “bathtub” solution was not accepted and Army sought a turret.
M74C cupolas were acquired and fitted but it was very cramped – only 20 were available and suffered from spares problems.
In 1966, Army started trials with the T-50 turret, which could be fitted with two .30 machine guns or a .50/.30 combination. This proved an adequate short-term solution, but the decision to fit all APCs with T-50 turrets caused problems for the next 30 years.
In November 1966, all ARA RAAC regiments were numbered sequentially, so 1 Armd Regt was joined by 2 and 3 Cav Regts.
3 Cav Regt was raised in January 1967 with two squadrons – one in Vietnam and one training in Australia.
The M113A1s and their crews performed exceptionally well in Vietnam, but the M113A1s were light armoured vehicles.
During Operation Bribie, in February 1967, one APC was destroyed by three hits from 75mm recoilless rifle and another destroyed by a mine made from a five-inch shell that blew the engine through the driver’s compartment. Mines were to remain the main threat in Vietnam, requiring a belly armour program.
3 Cav Regt began to withdraw from Vietnam in late 1971, with the last APC troop leaving country in May 1972.
Service in Australia
Back in Australia, the M113A1 became the Army’s light armoured fighting vehicle (AFV).
From 1967, a unique Australian vehicle had been developed by fitting a Saladin armoured car turret to an M113A1, adopted as the fire support vehicle (FSV).
Specialist tracked light reconnaissance vehicles (LRV) were rejected and the M113A1 APC became the APC/LRV.
As the ARA adapted to service in Australia, in 1972 the decision was made to equip all CMF units with the M113A1 vehicles.
The simple and robust M113A1 proved an ideal vehicle for the CMF. Easy to maintain and drive, it permitted part-time soldiers with limited training time an opportunity to focus on tactics.
In 1973, the CMF became the Army Reserve.
A new FSV based on the British Scorpion turret was accepted for service in 1976. It was the first RAAC AFV fitted with a passive (image intensifying) night sight. It was soon redesignated the medium reconnaissance vehicle (MRV).
As well as ARA reconnaissance squadrons, reserve RAAC units were issued MRV or the Saladin FSV to reintroduce full bore gunnery to the reserve force. In 1976, 5/7RAR began trialling mechanised infantry, with such success that the role became permanent and in 1 Bde the infantry operated its own M113A1 vehicles.
The mechanised role survived the de-linking of the battalions in 2007 but under Plan Beersheba the battalions converted back to light infantry in 2013. Armoured mobility will now be provided by RAAC APC units.
The focus on operations in Australia led to increasing interest in wheeled AFV.
In 1980, Project Waler examined replacing the Army’s fleet of Light AFV. Both wheeled and tracked vehicles were considered. The Defence of Australia paper of 1987 focused on Northern Australia, leading to plans to relocate 2 Cav Regt to Darwin and re-equip it with wheeled AFV, leaving a reduced M113 fleet of about 600, some of which would be upgraded.
It was not until 1992 that plans to purchase sufficient ASLAVs to equip 2 Cav Regt were announced. The M113 upgrade project was to see many changes before anything happened
Exercises such as Kangaroo ’89 involved 1 Armd Regt, 2 Cav Regt and B Sqn 3/4 Cav Regt deploying to northern Australia with M113A1 vehicles, as well as the 1 Armd Regt Leopard tanks.UN deploymentsIn 1992-93, the Australian Government contributed to UN forces in Somalia. 1RAR Group formed the main part of Operation Solace, including elements of B Sqn, 3/4 Cav Regt. The manning cap meant that only a reduced squadron with two APC troops could deploy.
The M113A1 family performed well once again, albeit the squadron had serious problems with maintenance, especially the supply of track link, in conditions where RAN sea transport was limited.
In 1994-95, the government accepted a further UN request for assistance in Rwanda. Operation Tamar initially involved a company of 2/4RAR deployed with a section of three APCs, plus a fitters’ vehicle. This was to be the first time RAAC AFVs were painted UN white.
The second rotation came from 5/7RAR, which took over the vehicles in location.More planningIn 1994, Army agreed on a M113 upgrade to consist of:
• Phase 1 – suspension and engine cooling modifications to M113A2 standard. New turret with power traverse and elevation with single. M2HB QCB .50 machine gun. Spall liners and a cooled drinking water system were to be fitted, and the crew commander and driver provided with night-vision goggles.
• Phase 2 – to move to M113A3 standard. This included a new engine and transmission, external fuel cells, appliqué armour and climate control system for crew compartment.In 1996, the MRV was retired. 2 Cav Regt was already equipping with the ASLAV, signalling the end of the M113A1 in the medium reconnaissance role.
In 1998, the first four M113A2 vehicles were delivered from upgrade. At this point, the Phase 1 upgrade was halted and combined with Phase 2, the new vehicle to be known as the M113AS3.
One more operation for M113A1
In September 1999, the Australian Government sent a force to East Timor to secure the country while the UN prepared a peacekeeping force to take over. The Australian component of Interfet on Operation Warden included 2RAR and 3RAR, supported by B Sqn, 3/4 Cav Regt. After securing Dili, Australian forces moved to the area of the border.2 Cav Regt ASLAVs were deployed but had problems with the narrow streets, tending to damage buildings when going around corners. The M113A1, being shorter and, when necessary, able to skid-turn, had no such problems. The ASLAVs were withdrawn – they were to have their turn in Iraq and Afghanistan – and the M113A1 soldiered on.With the two Australian battalions on the border, a third battalion was required to secure Dili and its surrounds. 5/7RAR (Mech) deployed with its M113A1s and proved the advantages of armoured mobility in the security role.
When Interfet withdrew, 5/7RAR became the first Australian battalion on Operation Tanager.
Subsequent Australian battalion deployments were supported by RAAC APC elements until 2002.
The M113AS3 concept was further modified, with a lengthened version to be called the M113AS4, while the short version remained the AS3.
CO 2 Cav Regt Lt-Col James Davis said 259 M113AS4 variants were procured as APCs, fitters vehicles and Armoured Logistics Vehicles.
“The unstretched A3 versions are used as ambulance, command, recovery and mortar vehicles,” he said.
“The upgraded M113 family have a new engine, drive train, electrical and fuel systems, as well as a redesigned internal layout to accommodate safe stowage in a variety of situations.
“The APC version has a new electrically operated turret with day/night weapon sights. The AS4 vehicle is lengthened, with the six, rather than five, pairs of road wheels each side providing an instant identification feature.”
The M113AS3/4 is planned to serve until at least 2025.
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