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Armored Cavalry Scout Part III.
While I was with B Troop, 1/9 Cav. 1st Cav Div, at Fort Hood, Texas (1975-1976) a number of noteworthy things happened that donít fall into any particular category.
There was the time that an officer made a bad decision and ordered an M577 command vehicle to cross a river even though the driver recommended against it. It is not wise to ignore a driverís advice if he is any good and this driver knew that all of the hull access plates had been removed from the vehicle, which was supposed to be marginally amphibious. The officer was in a hurry and did not think that the river was very deep at that point. I should mention that M577s have a large amount of communications equipment inside.
The river was deep enough to nearly cover the top of the M577 after it sank. The radios were all ruined as well as the engine.
My platoon included an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier that was supposed to haul around the squad of infantry that was never assigned to us. I think that the most infantrymen we ever had at one time was two. Due to fuel restriction the M113 sat in the track park a lot. I remember one time that we did take it out, though, because a piece of the steering linkage that could not be replaced in the field broke. Given the option of waiting for a retriever from another unit, since ours was down with a severe hydraulic problem, the crew decided to bring it home.
M113s and M577s are both steered with Ďlateralsí which are actually just brake levers for each side of the transmission. To go left, pull back on the left lateral, etc. To stop, pull back on both. There is no brake pedal. The transmission is automatic with four speeds forward and one in reverse. I eventually spent quite a few hours driving M113s and it isnít nearly as complicated as it might sound. Only being able to control one track, though, creates some challenges.
In order to make any kind of turn to the right the driver, Luster Gatlin, had to turn to the left until he was lined up on the new direction. This must have been extremely frustrating especially during the last few miles before the track park where we were on a tank trail that veered slightly to the right over a long distance. They would spin around and pull over to the right side of the trail then drive forward until they were just about to go off of the left side of the trail, then do it all over again. We stayed together, though, and finally pulled into the track park together. The M113 was left sitting just inside the gate until it was fixed.
That reminds me of another bad fuel related thing that I did once. Grit between a retaining strap and my Sheridanís center fuel cell had worn through the thin aluminum and I had a pretty good leak. I noticed this in the field and there wasnít much that could be done about it there. I didnít want to break the seal on my hull access covers so we just kept going and hoped for the best. (No fire.) Fortunately, this happened during the time when my headlights didnít work.
As we were pulling into the track park I remembered the fuel sloshing around in the hull and told the driver to turn on the bilge pumps. After a little fumbling, he did. Sheridans are supposed to be amphibious and have bilge pumps and there was very little chance of a spark so I wasnít too worried. The bilge pump outlets are near the tail lights and are ordinarily covered by spring loaded metal flaps to keep foreign objects out. There are at least two designs of these flaps, though, one louvered and the other not. I had forgotten that mine were not.
This was well after midnight on a dark night, and I was right inside the gate. I looked back expecting to see a few quarts of fuel coughed out and was shocked to see twin rooster tails at least 12 feet long spraying out in a fan pattern. I immediately told the driver to shut off the bilge pumps and we headed for our parking spot at high speed. Other than the mess the only damage that was done was that I ruined one of the commanding officerís uniforms. He had been standing right by the gate. Iíve never told anyone about this before.
I should devote a separate article to our jeeps but there isnít much to say about them except that they never ceased to amaze me. I hadnít had any off-road experience in any vehicle until I went into the Army but I eventually ended up going places in jeeps that I wouldnít have tried walking to or through.
We had M114s assigned to us instead of M151s when I joined the unit, but the process of turning in the M114s was already under way. They looked like shrunken M113s but had 20 millimeter auto-cannons on them instead of .50 caliber machine guns. The engine was a slightly modified General Motors 283 gas engine and they had automatic transmissions. I think that the later models had 307s instead of 283s. The 20 MM was the infamous M139, I believe. I was told that they had ordinarily had 139 parts but could be fired with somewhat less. (I was told that one had a sear break on the range so that it went to uncontrolled continuous fire and vibrated apart. It did keep firing until it finally spit the barrel out, though. I didnít see that.)
M114s had metal reinforced rubber tracks. They didnít have individual pads but came in sections of five pads, I think. They were also capable of high speeds since they only weighed about 7 tons. One sight I will never forget was an entire track from an M114 that had been thrown up into a tree and hung there, about 15 feet above the ground, just off the tank trail. I know that others must have seen it because it was there for at least a year. Maybe it was staged, but it might have gotten there the way you would expect.
A break from the normal vehicle naming convention was ĎZippoí, a C Troop M114. The driver had to take so many fire extinguishers to the field that he had no room for a crew. His agreement with the commanding officer was that he would stay with the unit until the last fire extinguisher was used and then wait for the wrecker. I got to know that driver pretty well, and he was a little odd. He always had a haunted look in his eyes.
When we turned in the M114s we were told that we would be receiving five brand new M151s as replacements any day. After several months a truck showed up at the motor pool with a load of what looked like rejects from a salvage yard. They were unloaded with a crane and dropped into parking spots on our line. We were horrified. These M151s didnít have wheels or tires, windshields, seats or lights. There were a number of engine parts missing, some suspension parts and things like gear shift knobs (sometimes entire transmissions) and mirrors. They were scrap and we were upset. Our squadron commander told us to ďlook at it as a challenge.Ē and then gave us a drop dead date for taking them to the field. (If we didnít get to the field, and back, by that date, we would wish that we were dead.)
We had the jeeps surveyed immediately because any missing parts would be replaced as free issue, when they became available. (I was working as a Scout at the time due to the fuel crunch so I was deeply involved.) We got one engine running so we knew we had one good set of parts, then used them to troubleshoot the other engines. Most of the engines needed valve jobs and there were a few that had other serious internal problems, but we didnít have any maintenance people that had any experience with jeeps. So we took up collections within the platoon and hauled stuff off the local machine shops to have it fixed. When we got tires we outsourced them too because we could never get the tire patch kits to work very well. The local tire shops loved us because we would always bring them at least five tires every time we came back form the field. We got windshields but we had to keep them locked up so that they didnít disappear. We got new seats, mirrors and gear shift knobs, We were happy.
We went to the field for a one-nighter on the day before Ďdrop dead dayí and got back at about 1400 the next afternoon. All five jeeps. Of course a few were just limping along, and I had to ride back on the front fender of one, holding the alternator against the fan belt with a pick handle because of a broken tensioning arm, but I wasnít as smart then as I am now.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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