APC - The Armored Personel Carrier

 

1st battalion (mechanized), 5th infantry "track"APC's are interesting vehicles.  Back in Advanced Infantry Training we learned that these stubby boxes were designed to carry infantrymen into battle and protect them from small arms fire, up to and including the light machine gun.  The vehicle is propelled by two tracks, extending the length of the vehicle.  The tracks are made of lightweight composite material to keep the weight down and provide added durability.  The outside edges of the tracks are flush with the sides of the box, and so on the inside these indentations provide seats for about four men on a side, with room for one more towards the front - it is an ideal squad-sized machine.  There is also room for the vehicle's crew: two seats in front for driver and commander, and a standing area for a gunner.  The rear wall contains a large door, which swings down to become a ramp.  There is a weapon-mount ring on the front top, which carries the machine's only weapon, a .50 caliber machine gun.  The front end is shaped like a wedge, coming forward from the bottom plate halfway to the top, and then reversing and angling back to the top plate.  This "bow" allows the vehicle to act like a boat when crossing streams.  To improve aquatic operations, a plywood sheet is attached halfway up the front so that when opened up it continues the bottom plane another three feet forward.

The technical details of the APC make it sound like an impressive fighting machine and utility vehicle.  But these had been made for another war, and another job.  In Vietnam we found they had certain drawbacks.  The easiest way to stop a track was to plant a land mine in the ground.  The blast would go right through the aluminum floor (that's right, aluminum - to keep the weight down) and it usually succeeded in killing the occupants.  And in a tropical environment like Vietnam, the inside was like a furnace.  So because of the heat, and the risk of land mines, we rode on top exposed to all the world, and especially the enemy.  But at least on top it was cool!   And we could see where we were going.  To reduce the threat of injury to the crew, a layer of sandbags usually carpeted the driver's area, and the floor of the passenger compartment was usually covered with a couple of layers of C rations (they would stop anything!  And there was no need to worry about running out of food, either).APC - Armored Personnel Carrier

The front splash shield doubled as a carrying rack.  A roll of chain link fence used to protect the vehicle at night against rocket-propelled grenades was usually stored here along with the steel posts that held it upright.  But you had to be careful - the constant vibration caused the posts to slip to one side until sometimes they were hanging dangerously far out.  On one interesting run down a paved Vietnamese highway, we were going about thirty miles per hour, and the poles on the track in front of us were hanging out about two feet.  They were the same height as the side view mirror on a truck.  Advancing towards us in the oncoming lane, at about our speed, was a convoy of deuce and a half trucks.  From behind we could see what was coming.  The first truck rolled past, and with a crash its mirror was ripped from the mount, the glass splinters exploding into the air in a burst of light.  Seconds later the next truck suffered the same fate, and the next.  None of the drivers saw what was happening, and the track operator probably never heard the sound over the roar and clatter of his treads.  It all happened so fast that before anyone had time to think nearly twenty trucks had lost their driver’s side mirror.

Riding a track cross-country was a bit like riding an elephant.  We rolled gently along over the flat land, and when we came to a rice dike we climbed it.  The front of the vehicle would rise into the air and everyone held on tight.  Then, reaching the top, the box teetered precariously for a second, and then plopped forward to the other side with a bounce.  I enjoyed riding tracks.  I liked to sit up front on top of the chain link fence, with my back against the rear-sloping front wall, my feet hanging forward, propped up against the plywood splash shield.  When we started to drop forward the sensation was like a roller-coaster starting down that first long drop.   But once you got used to the idea that there was a bottom, somewhere, it was fun.   You just had to learn to "ride" the animal.  Many of the guys didn't want to sit up front, exposed like that, but I never worried about it.  We were all exposed, no matter where we were.

 

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APC - The Armored Personel Carrier:  Tales Of A War Far Away
Copyright 1995 Kirk S. Ramsey
Top photo Copyright 1995 George Aimone
Last modified: March 02, 1995