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Book Review of

 

"Gun Trucks: A Visual History of the U.S. Army's

Vietnam-Era Wheeled Escort Platforms"

 

By Alan Crawford - Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA

 

Basic Item Information

Title

Gun Trucks: A Visual History of the U.S. Army's Vietnam-Era Wheeled Escort Platforms

Author

David Doyle

Publisher

Ampersand Group, Inc.

ISBN

978-0-9861127-3-7

Subject

Vietnam-Era Gun Trucks

Media

Soft Cover Book 

Number of Pages

120 

Text Language

English

Retail Price

$22.95 USD 

Reviewer

Alan Crawford 

Review Date

December 12, 2016 

Review Summary*

Review Type

Full Read 

Recommendation

Highly Recommended

Photos

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Detailed Review

The gun truck arguably first made its appearance during the second world war,  when extemporized convoy escort vehicles -  typically armed and armored variations on standard utility trucks, or sometimes anti-aircraft vehicles - found a role in defending convoys on high-risk supply routes against ambush.

 

The level of firepower that these vehicles were able to bring to bear on a target was considerable - a cargo truck laden with ammo could still mount an appreciable number of heavy machine guns around its cargo bed, while anti-aircraft mounts were actually designed to bring a lot of firepower onto a single target and carry a reasonable supply of ammunition too, so these vehicles proved highly effective against the attackers that were typically encountered on these supply routes - more likely to be irregular infantry, partisans or guerrilla forces than line infantry or enemy armor.

 

Gun trucks seem to have emerged in every asymmetric conflict since that time, the same lessons re-learned with each new war, but if one war above all has become associated with the use of gun trucks, it’s been the US role in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 70s.

 

This period is the focus of David Doyle’s excellent new reference title published by Ampersand, which nicely straddles the line between photo reference and history book.  Although the history of gun trucks has tended to be one of improvisation and field modifications, Doyle’s managed to come up with a structure for the book that provides comprehensive coverage and a solid historical background to the combat situation in which these vehicles evolved - and evolve they did, as the book makes clear.

 

While almost anything with wheels had the potential to be the basis for a gun truck, the majority of those used in Vietnam were based on a handful of types and Doyle helpfully devotes the first few chapters to covering the “vanilla” versions of these most common trucks.  He provides good coverage of the history of the M35 2½-ton truck, the larger M54 5-ton truck, plus additional lighter coverage of the Dodge M37 ¾-ton truck and the ubiquitous M151 Mutt ¼-ton utility vehicle.  These introductory chapters are not only interesting in their own right, but also provide a nice baseline against which to compare the various gun truck modifications.

 

Two other “introductory” chapters cover the other half of the gun truck combination - the guns!  The variety of equipment so carried is so extensive that it’s not possible to go into a great deal of depth on most, but Doyle certainly tries to be comprehensive, with photos of everything from the more common handguns through pintle-mounted heavy machine guns, to LAW anti-tank missiles and the devastating XM134 minigun.  However, one weapon warrants a chapter all of its own, given the frequency with which it appeared on gun trucks - the M55 quad .50 cal machine gun.  Originally developed during WWII as an anti-aircraft weapon and used in towed or vehicle mounted form, if any single weapon is associated with Vietnam-era gun trucks, this is it.  Doyle’s coverage includes a nice selection of period photographs, showing the mounts with and without such features as flash suppressors, and also plenty of detail images as well.

 

With the reader now acquainted with the subject vehicles and the assorted weapons with which they were equipped, we move onto the real meat of the book.  This follows the same structure as the introductory chapters, covering the gradual evolution of gun trucks on each of the platforms in turn.  So we see heavily overloaded M35s with makeshift sandbag walls held between crude sheets of metal give way to more sophisticated field kits with proper armor plate and weapon mounts, and the emergence of M35 variants with lowered bed sides to allow their newly mounted M55s (often with additional armor shields of their own) to rotate freely.

 

The development of the M54 as a gun track followed a broadly similar path, but due to the greater payload of this vehicle, a further “species” of M54 gun truck appeared - those that mounted the complete hull of an M113 APC in the truck bed.  There were sufficient of these that they warrant a chapter all to themselves, so we have two full chapters on M54 gun trucks, one on “conventional” armor bodied vehicles and one on bed-mounted M113 hulls.

 

The subsequent chapters on the M37 and M151 are rather shorter, since these types weren’t as frequently used, but they provide plenty of useful material on their subjects.  There’s also a chapter that covers a vehicle not covered in the introduction, the gun truck of gun trucks, the M328 5-ton bridge truck.  While relatively rare, their combination of heavy-duty wheels, an extra-long, extra-wide flatbed, and their use being primarily in engineering units meant that when turned into gun trucks, they were imposing vehicles.

 

Finally, Doyle devotes a lengthy chapter to a detailed photo walk around of the last surviving gun truck, the well-known “Eve of Destruction,” which is preserved in the US Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis.  This provides a wealth of useful images showing close-up detail and interior features that the period pics often do not capture.

 

I don’t think it’d be an overstatement to state that there’s barely a redundant image in the entire book, at least from a modeler’s perspective.  The period photos document not just the many variations in the way vehicles were modified but also the wide range of highly individualistic markings these vehicles carried in the field - even if they weren’t bristling with weapons, you’d never miss a gun truck if it drove past you.  The image quality is generally excellent - absolutely pristine in the case of the modern photos, with the period photos being generally clean and fairly crisp, with quite a large proportion looking remarkably good for their age, and the rest showing only the characteristic color shift normally associated with film from that era.  The monochrome images are, as you would expect, rather crisper than most of the color ones.  The images included with this review were chosen pretty much at random from the period photos, to give an idea of what to expect.

 

As such this book is not only an interesting historical record of an important class of vehicles, but also potentially of great use to modelers - at least, those who’re not daunted by resin conversions and scratch-building.  Sadly, the gun truck is a subject rather poorly served by mainstream manufacturers - only AFV Club’s M35A1 Gun Truck comes to mind - but for those comfortable with resin kits, the possibilities expand considerably, with conversions for the M35 from AFV Club’s parent, Hobby Fan and Legend, plus several backdate-conversions for the Italeri M923 series to produce the M54 and several gun trucks on that platform. While CMK does an armored Mutt conversion for Academy or Tamiya kits.  It’s probably only a matter of time before somebody does something similar for Roden’s recent M37, so the only subjects here that seem to really be in the domain of the hardcore “scratch the whole vehicle” crowd are the M328 gun trucks.

 

Overall, this is an excellent book.  As with all Ampersand books it’s beautifully printed on quality glossy paper with plenty of quality photographs, and Doyle’s structured the book in a very reader-friendly way that makes locating the information you want quick and easy.  The quality of writing is equally high and very informative, setting the context for the development of the vehicles and documenting their evolution and use.

 

Highly Recommended.

 

Thanks to David Doyle for the Review Sample.
 
Copyright: Alan Crawford - December 12, 2016