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M-151 JEEP or MUTT
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Many people would not consider the M-151 to be an Armored Fighting Vehicle. In the strictest sense of the word, I have to agree. I doubt that they were ever intended to be armored, but in my experience they were intended to be fighting vehicles. I will try to sneak by, by saying that, in Vietnam at least, they were sometimes adorned with extra sheet metal and often had sand bags on the floor to protect operators and crew from mines, etc. Iím not sure if they were used by US forces in any other combat zones. I believe that the Israeli Defense Force and some other users of the M-151 added purpose built armor for them.
Once again, in my experience, they were armed with everything from pedestal mounted M-60 machine guns to TOW missile launchers. In between I have seen them armed with .50 Browning M-2 HB machine guns and even smoke generators although smoke generators are probably not considered offensive weapons.
The second military vehicle that I drove was an M-151, probably an A2 model, at Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1975 while I was in tank crew training. (I had previously spent three years in the Marine Corps, but never drove a military vehicle.) I was a trainee platoon guide and it was felt that it might be convenient if a few of the trainees were licensed to drive jeeps during the field training parts of the course. I was 25 years old at the time and had a civilian commercial drivers license so I was selected to be one of the drivers. The instruction was rudimentary. After driving it one around the block once, I received my license certification for the M-151. I was already licensed for the M-60A1 tank.
My initial impressions were not terribly favorable. I hated the turn signals that werenít self-canceling because I could never remember to shut them off. The lighting controls were a mystery to me at the time. I have relatively small feet and it was not always easy for me to find the starter button, which looked exactly like a floor mounted headlight dimmer switch like you would see in older cars and was mounted in the firewall above and to the left of the clutch pedal. During my early days I did manage to find the starter switch fairly often when I didnít want to, though.
The jeep I took my drivers test in had a full top mounted and the plastic windows caused quite a bit of distortion. The rear view mirror was mounted so high that it was difficult to see much out of the small rear window. The seats were not designed for comfort. I had some trouble with the gearshift because of the gear ratios. (I eventually learned that it was not necessary to use first gear under ordinary circumstances.) I should mention that the M-151 was the second four-wheel drive vehicle I had ever driven and I didnít make any use of that capability at the time.
Just for grins I will try to remember a little about how the three lever lighting switch worked. One of the levers was a locking lever that did not allow the lighting to be switched from Ďblackoutí to white light without holding the lever in the unlock position against a spring. Switching from blackout to white light unexpectedly can be dangerous even in non-combat situations because of its effect on night vision. The turn signals were disabled in the blackout positions. The main switch had, I think, an off position, a running lights position and a headlights on position. The third lever selected between white light, blackout and infrared lighting, although the jeep, to my knowledge, did not have IR capability. This was a standard lighting switch also used in tanks, APCs, etc., which did have IR capability. I think that, on the M-151, if the switch was moved to IR there were no lights at all. Iím sure there were instances where mechanics ended up scratching their heads a little if this was the case.
I should mention that at least the gasoline-powered version of the M-88 tank retriever used a switch assembly that looked almost identical to this for controlling the engine ignition. As I understand it the gasoline engine had two sets of spark plugs and this switch was used, among other things, to select which set of plugs was energized. I believe that there was also a Ďbothí position, which was referred to as Ďboostí. It must have been a little confusing for a tired driver since I think it was near the light switch.
A little more on lighting which applies to all US military vehicles during that period. The blackout lights were used for tactical convoying and were called catís eyes. I seem to remember that the front and rear blackout lights were the same. They didnít put out much light, but the rear lights were very important. The light was broken up into four segments by the lens. The rule was that you always wanted to stay close enough to the vehicle in front of you so that you could see two of the light segments for each light on the rear of that vehicle. If you saw four segments from any one light, you were too close. If you only saw one, you were too far away. Naturally, if you didnít see any, and you werenít the lead vehicle, you were in trouble.
The M-151 instrument panel could use a little explanation. It was a formed sheet metal panel attached to the Ďdashboardí by, I think, 6 screws. It included a speedometer/odometer (?), fuel level, battery voltage, oil pressure and engine coolant temperature gauges. There were also three Ďdash lightsí, which were white light bulbs (24 volt) in red plastic housings. The part that protruded from the dashboard was painted olive drab except for a small flat part at the apex of the extrusion, which was supposed to provide a very small amount of light for the crew and also let them know if the bulb was burnt out. Because the plastic piece extended so far into the dashboard, there was no such thing as Ďwhiteí instrument lighting. The entire instrument panel could be removed very quickly after the screws were removed. The gauges were easily replaced because all of them were attached to quick disconnect wiring connectors except for the speedometer/odometer. The outer shell of the gauge light covers had two molded in ridges that allowed them to be removed without tools.
After I finished tank crew training at Fort Knox I was assigned to 1/9 Cavalry Squadron, 1st Cavalry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. Just about the first thing the unit did after I got there was turn in the M-114 tracked scout vehicles they had been using in preparation for receiving M-151 Ďgun jeepsí for the scout sections. 1/9 Cavalry was, by the way, the divisional scout squadron. We were told that our brand new M-151s would show up any day.
Several weeks later we were surprised to see some Ďlow-boyí tractor-trailer units pull into our track park with what looked like piles of used target vehicles on them. (Unserviceable or obsolete vehicles are often used as targets for live fire exercises on gunnery ranges.) Well . . . they werenít quite that bad as they didnít have any big holes in them, but not a single one was even complete, and they were all very definitely very used. This presented a problem because this was a period when military funding was very low, and we had been expecting new vehicles, so there wasnít much money in the unit budget for repairing these junkers. Fortunately, we had a great platoon leader, a VMI graduate, who told us, ďWeíre taking them to the field in 5 weeks. Every jeep will go. Every jeep will return. Under its own power if at all possible. I donít care how you do it. I donít even want to know. Make it happen.Ē What more could we ask for?
I was actually the Sheridan section sergeant at the time, due to personnel shortages and some unexpected promotions, but I was mechanically inclined and the scouts needed whatever help they could get. I didnít realize then that I would end up running that section later on. We had some very experienced people in the scout section and some of them were also mechanically inclined. Unfortunately, our unit had been almost all tracked vehicles for a while and we didnít have many experienced Ďwheelí mechanics.
The first thing we had to do was make the vehicles complete. There were a LOT of pieces missing, from little things, like seats, windshields and instrument panels, to starter motors, batteries, wheels, differentials and major engine components. If we had a part that was defective, no matter how defective, we could either exchange it or have it repaired, and the unit maintenance fund would cover it. If we didnít have the part, the unit had to buy it, as I understood it, and we couldnít afford that.
Fortunately, someone from the unit knew someone who worked at DRMO, I think. DRMO is the Defense Reutilization Management Office and they are responsible for selling defective or obsolete military equipment to civilians in whatever condition it happens to be in. There are some real bargains there but also some real junk. At the time they had a lot of M-151s that were in pretty bad shape (Maybe that is where ours came from.) and they let us pick through what they had to scavenge the parts we needed to make most of the jeeps mostly complete.
At this point I should mention that I was later assigned to the 6th Marine Regiment TOW Platoon when it was formed in 1983. We were promised that we would receive our brand new TOW jeeps within a few weeks and I immediately flashed back to Fort Hood. I didnít say anything to anyone at the time, but I had a very bad feeling. Guess what? Two weeks later we started convoying our brand new M-151A2 TOW jeeps from the railhead at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. We got 40 jeeps, still painted Olive Drab, all with less than 20 miles on the odometer, all absolutely complete. All we had to do was add a gallon of gas, give them a jump and drive them away. I was amazed.
Back at Fort Hood, things were different. We started hauling truckloads of windshields without glass or wiper motors; burnt, broken and/or crushed engine and chassis parts, etc., to the repair facility. The people there didnít know us because we hadnít been a Ďwheelí unit before. There were a lot of questions asked about the kind of training that we did and we felt it best to let it remain a mystery.
Exchanging a good part for a bad part is known as Ďsurveyingí unless I remember that from the Marine Corps. We surveyed hundreds of tires, 50 or 60 batteries, a large number of instrument panels, most of our seats, most of our radiators and a lot of other stuff.
You have to remember that Iím talking about the whole squadron in the paragraphs above. I was really only interested and involved with my platoon. We had five M-151s that were handpicked because our platoon had been the only one present at the motor pool when the jeeps were delivered. We made one bad choice, but the other four jeeps were in noticeably better shape than most of the others to start with. That caused a small amount of hard feeling with the other platoons, but nothing significant, and everyone admitted that they would have done the same thing in our place.
At the time I think the platoon was supposed to have 12 or 13 scouts assigned, but we really only had 5 or 6 so we put in some long hours.
We finally reached the point where we were close to operational with the exception of three jeeps that needed to have the cylinder heads re-built, a few batteries that were beyond repair, and 8 or 10 tires that needed to be repaired. However, the unitís maintenance budget was gone. So, we took up a collection, hauled the stuff out into town, and got it fixed or, in the case of the batteries, bought new ones. The new batteries didnít exactly look military, but they were close enough.
You might ask why we didnít patch the tires ourselves. Well . . . we didnít like to. We were, as a group, never able to figure out how to get an issue tire repair kit to produce a tire that would hold air. During the two years I was there we never patched a single tire and the local service stations loved us.
The experience I got during this period was a great help 9 years later when I was assigned as 6th Marines TOWs maintenance liaison. By then I could do a fairly thorough preventive maintenance inspection of an M-151 in about 20 minutes if I didnít check any of the drive system fluids other than the engine.
The M-151 was a pretty simple vehicle to maintain . . . if we had had any brains at all. Unfortunately, over the years I met a lot of people who didnít have a clue.
The first thing necessary for operation was a set of two fairly well charged and maintained 12-volt batteries. These were connected in series to provide the 24 volts that the vehicleís electrical system operated on. Neither one was a Ďspareí. (I actually ran into that mindset once.) Having batteries was not enough. They had to have the proper electrolytic solution in them in order for them to work correctly.
It is not a good idea to urinate in a battery that has low fluid level in a cell. You are supposed to wear acid resistant goggles and gloves whenever you deal with the sulfuric acid mix that we used in batteries at that time. I donít think there is, to this day, any such protective device for human parts that produce urine. DONíT DO IT. It can hurt you and the battery will not work nearly as well afterwards. (You may wonder why I bring this up. Itís because I have found evidence of this practice too often. If your life depends on it, urine can be used to replace several fluids normally required to keep a vehicle operational, or even a person, but it is NOT the best choice. Always be sure that you take everything with you that you could ever possibly need if you go anywhere that is more than a 30 minute crawl from a public telephone.)
Next, the batteries have to be connected to the important parts of the vehicleís electrical system. The best way to connect the batteries to the electrical system is with battery cables. I have, however, seen a lot of strange things in battery boxes, including coat hangers and even field dressings soaked in water. In a combat situation, either one will work, with certain limitations, but neither one is ideal, and either one might cause some real (fatal) problems if not done extremely carefully. Military battery cables usually have closed terminal ends and attach to bolts that are on the opposite end of a battery terminal clamp from the end that attaches to the post. It is easy to tell the difference because the post end has a slot cut in it so that it can act as a clamp when the nut/bolt combination on that end is tightened. Keep in mind that battery terminals clamps are (were) made from lead to reduce the effects of corrosion (between dissimilar metals) between them and the lead battery terminal posts.
Weíve already forgotten one of the most important pieces. All battery terminal clamps should have a rubber shield around them. This is molded piece of rubber that protects the clamp. It has three flat sides. One has a battery post sized hole in it, which needs to be under the terminal clamp when it is put on. There is a short back side needs to be pointed in a convenient direction and an un-pierced top piece that needs to cover the top of the terminal clamp completely. Apparently a lot of M-151 drivers apparently donít think this piece is necessary because I have seen a lot of M-151 battery box covers that have been burned through by battery posts.
The battery box on M-151s used to be under the front passengerís seat, which was pretty crude. The front seats are interchangeable. They have two steel pins through hinges at the front with the front pins secured by cotter pins at the hinge. At the rear, the seat frame is flattened and there is a slot in it to fit over a metal eyelet in the rear. The rear of the seat is ordinarily secured by a wonderful device whose name I canít remember, but it is basically a steel pin with a spring loop that secures it in place. (Spring loaded forward and backwards, unstable in between.) If you donít want anyone skiving your batteries, or your seats, put padlocks through both eyelets.
The seats themselves are made of tubular metal frames with ĎSí curve spring material welded to them parallel to the width of the vehicle. The seat back is kind of adjustable since there are pins on the ends of the seat back sub frames and three (4?) position brackets under the seat bottom.
Well, that was the long way around, but the gist is that, with or without a passengerís seat, there is very little clearance between the tops of the batteries and the battery box cover. If the battery box cover touches any of the battery connections in the battery box the contact will eventually wear through the rubber coating on the inside of the battery box cover (often removed for no apparent reason) and the batteries short out through the battery box cover. (I wonder why they didnít make the battery box covers out of something non-conductive?) Donít stuff your goodies under the passengerís seat in an M-151.
The other piece that we forgot was grease. Corrosion kills batteries faster than just about anything else. Always keep your battery terminals and posts covered with a thick coat of grease. This will reduce maintenance time considerably, and it works on civilian equipment as well. By Ďthickí I mean maybe 1/8th of an inch and only on the post and terminal. DO NOT SMEAR GREASE ALL OVER THE TOP OF YOUR BATTERY(IES).
After you are absolutely positive that your batteries are in good shape you might try turning on the master battery switch. It is located on the dashboard just to the right of the three lever light switch. After turning on the master battery switch the indicator of the battery voltage gauge on the instrument panel should be somewhere in the yellow range. (Mine never went into the green unless the engine was running.) Naturally, oil pressure and engine temperature should be on the bottom peg. The fuel gauge should NOT be on the bottom peg, though. (For the moment, turn the master battery switch back off.)
Fuel is an important part of M-151 operations for more than the obvious reasons. Naturally, if you have no fuel, you go nowhere. Keep in mind, though, that the fuel tank is under the driverís seat and the fuel filler cap is just under the driverís left arm on the outside of the vehicle, slightly below his seat. Our M-151s had screens in the fuel (gasoline) tank inlets but they were often removed if the fueler operator told us that he had Ďcleaní stuff.
I love to drive M-151s, and would be happy to drive one today, but my Ďexaltedí rank kept me from driving most of the time while I was at Fort Hood. I had a driver from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, usually, who was also the gunner on my Sheridan. One night our platoon commander questioned the accuracy of our fuel gauge over the radio and I suggested to the driver that he check it. Well, we had been on the go for a few days but when he pulled the filter and then flicked his BIC, I was unhappy. Iím surprised we werenít killed. The temperature was more than 90 F and the gasoline vapors must have been pouring out of the filler neck. Not a good place to stick a flame. The fuel filler cap is ordinarily not vented, by the way, in order to allow fording.
So now we have fuel and batteries taken care of but we still havenít started the vehicle. DONíT. It isnít time yet.
The next thing to check is the air cleaner, which is an oil-bath type. Open the hood and release the screw clamp on the air cleaner housing. (The air cleaner is the large circular object on the driverís side, near the front of the vehicle. Usually painted gloss black.) The top comes off and you inspect the oil carefully. The oil should be . . . oil colored. It should not be milky, or low, or dirty. (There is an embossed marking inside the air cleaner to show the proper level. The mark wonít go away. Use it.) If it is, fix it. Iím not sure that it took more than half a quart. No matter. If you paid anything for the vehicle, or your CO will kill you if you tear it up, check the air filter.
Youíre not done yet. The next thing to check is the radiator. Is there sufficient liquid in your radiator? With the cap off you should not be able to see any of the radiator core (the finned part). The fluid should be lighter than emerald green and not transparent. If you can see the radiator core and the fluid level is up then you may not have enough anti-freeze in the system.
Did I mention that a hydrometer is a necessary tool for inspecting an M-151 even on a daily basis? Get one. Learn how to use it. The investment can potentially save you thousands of dollars.
Next check necessary lubricants. On a daily basis you need to check the engine oil level, at least. The oil levels in the front and rear differential and the transfer case should also be well known. You can get away with driving a vehicle that leaks as long as you know how much it leaks, but you will have to buy some very expensive stuff if you donít keep track of fluid, especially lubricant levels. I would suggest a logbook, just like the military used to use. Record the mileage and any fluids used for every trip. Look for trends. They can frequently tell you when a seal is going bad before you have to replace a major component.
So everything is ready. All fluid levels correct, Snoopy goggles in place, letís do it. Turn on the master battery switch and check battery voltage and fuel level again. If OK then make sure that the parking brake is on (lever nearest the driverís right thigh with the screw cap on it) and that the transmission is in neutral (gearshift lever can be moved from side to side more than an inch, moved forward more than an inch and back the same.) Pull out the choke knob if you think it is necessary. Press the accelerator pedal to the floor at least once. (I hated that accelerator pedal. It was just a poorly formed rectangle of rectangular aluminum and very slippery. The clutch and brake pedals were much better.)
Then press the clutch pedal to the floor and try to press the starter switch, mentioned above, at the same time. You should hear the starter motor trying to turn the engine over. If you donít there are several possibilities: 1. Starter motor bad. 2. Engine seized. 3. You didnít follow the instructions above.
So that is all fixed now. Great! Start it up and letís go.
Let the engine run for at least five minutes if the oil pressure gage is indicating more than about 20 psig. Any problems with cooling, the electrics or oil pressure should show up by then. Watch the battery gauge. If it stays in the yellow you may have a bad alternator or you still have battery connection problems. (You have no idea how many times I have seen vehicles start but fail to keep running due to poor battery maintenance.)
If you have reached this point, you are ready to go. Release the parking brake. (The parking brake is a great comfort when you are hanging off the side of a hill and need to get some sleep. If you are sure that it works, go ahead. In a combat situation you will not want to put out blocks. Remember, if it really works, you can adjust it by turning the knob at the top of the lever.) First gear is to the right and up, but usually isnít needed. Second is to the right and down. Third is left and up. Fourth is left and down. There wasnít any overdrive when I was in, and I donít remember where reverse was but it may have been spring loaded left and down. Scouts donít use reverse because they are always attacking . . . one way or another.
I have spent a lot of uncomfortable hours in M-151s. They really arenít designed to be very comfortable. The seat cushions in command vehicles are often replaced with cushions with some real padding in them and covered with vinyl, but the standard seat cushions are made of canvas and I donít know what the padding is made from but it isnít very thick or very soft. When they get wet, they stay wet for a long time. Iíve seen a few issue M-151 tops made from canvas but most of the ones I saw were made out of plastic, with plastic windows and removable doors. There was a set of bows that attached to the body somehow and you threw the top over it and strapped it to the little metal loops welded to the body. The doors had a frame made of metal rods and had a latch handle toward the rear of the vehicle. It was a lot more rare to see an M-151 with a top and doors than one with just a top. Iím not sure that we even had tops for our jeeps at Fort Hood. If we did, we never got them out of their boxes. The heater was an add-on kit that took up a lot of space in the passengerís side foot well. It also actually even provided a defroster capability if fully installed. Since the heat was produced from the engine coolant, if the engine was shut off for very long you didnít have heat. That wasnít really as much of a problem as the fact that the heater blower motor ran down the batteries pretty quickly when the engine was off.
I think I should say a little more about the glass in the windshields. I have two reasons for saying that the glass in the windshields was not safety glass, although it may have actually been some kind of safety glass. First is the incident on a tank gunnery range at night when a grading officerís jeep ran into the rear end of a stopped tank on the course road. (It appeared that he and his driver had both fallen asleep, which was a very common occurrence due to the pace maintained during gunnery qualifications.) They both Ďwent through the windshieldí and the officer lost an eye. Second was an incident at Camp Lejeune when I was with 6th Marines TOWs. I had recommended that we not take our windshields to the field, especially since it was not reasonable to install tops on the launcher vehicles. Someone decided that we would take them anyway. One of the M-151s had a section of camouflage netting piled up on the front covering the windshield. One of the crew used the axe to cut some brush to add to the camouflage. When he got back to the M-151 he casually tossed the axe up onto the hood. It shattered the windshield. The axe only fell a few inches before hitting the camouflage netting on top of the windshield. Iím not going to try this with my car windshield to make a comparison, but I would certainly hope that it would not shatter under these circumstances.
In just a few days of research I have heard a few negative things about the M-151. Things like the body was made out of sheet metal that was not thick enough to give it any structural rigidity, was spot welded instead of continuous welded, was very susceptible to corrosion and that the rear suspension was more dangerous than a Corvair. Having been a Corvair mechanic for a while, I have to agree with Ralph Nader . . . partially. Corvairs and early MUTTs arenít built for high speed. A lot of the early but inexpensive cars with independent rear suspension werenít. That is probably why most of the MUTTs I rode in had spray painted signs, on the passengerís side(??) saying that the maximum safe speed was 45 miles per hour. I canít tell you how many times I have seen that simple rule totally ignored. I also canít tell you how many MUTTs I have seen upside down in ditches. I can tell you that I lost two friends, and I had one acquaintance who had a very close call, who felt that they didnít need to abide by that maximum speed recommendation.
I agree that it was a poor design except in functionality. It did perform its designed function. M-151s didnít last very long because of corrosion problems and the military felt it was more cost effective to replace the vehicle than the body of the vehicle. The body being spot-welded to the chassis didnít help, either in the sense of preventing the corrosion or the economics of recycling good parts. Keep in mind that the M-151 was a Ďlowest bidderí vehicle from the start. Why do US forces have to use Ďlowest bidderí equipment at all? I certainly donít know. The fighting men have certainly made their Ďhighest bidí.
So now you want to camp out in your M-151. Iíve done that a few times and I have a few suggestions.
If the weather is good (above freezing and no indication of imminent rain or snow) sleep out. You already know that you should not take your M-151 to the field with the windshield installed. (If the windshield has safety glass in it you are a better person than I am because ours never did.) With the windshield removed, the hood of the vehicle is level with the top of the dashboard. (That is the way that scouts go to the field. ďIf it rains . . . well, you might not get a bath for another week, so live with it.Ē STA 1975) The driver sleeps in his seat, always. It isnít comfortable but the VC needs to know where the driver is immediately if something comes up. So that leaves the rest of the crew to try to find someplace comfortable.
I tried sleeping off the jeep a few times but the ticks and chiggers were fierce at Fort Hood. It was difficult to get more than a few hours of sleep even after liberal applications of ĎDeep Woods OFFí. The bugs didnít seem to bother me nearly as much when I was on the jeep, though. I guess there was enough nastiness in the mixed petroleum products it carried to keep some of them away. So I was forced to find the most comfortable possible place on a jeep for a 6-foot human to sleep.
The back was definitely out of the question. The machine gun pedestal was just not in the right place for me to curl around it. That left the passengerís seat and outside the vehicle. The passengerís seat was worse than outside, but I would look back at it with longing after my time in Germany.
Outside wasnít really outside. I had the hood of the jeep to work with . . . and it turned out to be great. If I put my helmet over the driverís side turn signal for a pillow and stretched diagonally across the hood I had plenty of room. The whole front of the jeep was flat with the windshield removed. I spent a LOT of nights watching the stars for a few seconds before I went to sleep. I wish I could do that now.
I have slept in the rear of jeeps, but it was not a pleasant experience. While I was with 6th Marines I eventually became a squad leader and had a jeep that didnít have a launcher or reloads in it. We did an exercise one night where we were supposed to be ferried across an inlet by LVTP-7s but they didnít show up. (I guess that means that an M-151 would fit in the cargo compartment of an LVTP-7, but Iím not sure about that. I never saw it done.) It was pretty cold outside, and the jeep had the windshield and full Ďcanvasí so I couldnít sleep on the hood, but it didnít have any back seat at all. Maybe I took it out. Anyway, it did have a heater, which our jeeps in the Cavalry never had, but it wasnít a very good one. (We did a BEX in Germany in 1978 in jeeps and they were raggedy, but the heaters would desiccate a person in minutes if we didnít keep a window open.) I slept in the space behind the seats that night, sans sleeping bag, and it was truly miserable. It rained all night and there was no way to get away from the damp.
It is difficult for me to predict where an M-151 can and canít go. I have no idea how many miles I have spent in them as a driver or passenger over the years. My first impression was that they didnít look too formidable, but I am an engineer and would have preferred wider tires, more ground clearance, wider wheelbase, and more powerful engine, a transfer case, etc.
When we took to the woods at Fort Hood, I was gradually became quite impressed with the M-151. Fort Hood was a very large post with many different types of terrain. Our normal training areas were where the heavy armored vehicles could go, and relatively flat. 1/9 Cavalry had an additional mission of providing Ďaggressor forcesí for reserve and National Guard training during the summer. Those guys could be any kind of troops and could be on any part of the post at the time we had agreed to engage. We had a general idea where they would be, but that was it. Budget cuts meant that we couldnít take anything Ďtrackedí (with night vision devices) to the field, so I usually took three jeeps with two man crews. I hate to admit it but we had a lot of fun. On the other hand, I know I got a lot of valuable training out of these taskings, and I am pretty sure that the reserves/national guard people did also.
The point is that, no matter where we wanted to go, the M-151 could go there, with one notable exception. Maybe you are thinking that it was a river crossing more than 6 feet deep, but a properly prepared M-151 can do that. Maybe you are thinking of a Marine assault on a beach from an LST, but a properly prepared M-151 can do that. Maybe you are thinking about a section of M-151 (TOWs) air assaulting a hot LZ, but they can do that. (When I say Ďthey can do thatí it means that I was in one of those M-151s when it was done.) We also ran them all around in all kinds of weather up and down hills and gullies, over bushes, through creeks, up some very steep hill sides, basically just about any place that it looked like it might be possible to go. I did run into trouble once and I have seen a lot of other people in strange circumstances and situations as well. I just decided not to go there.
The one time I really got in a mess was at Fort Hood trying to go up the side of a steep ridge. I wasnít driving. We were in 4WD and the slope was a lot greater than 30%. I would like to think that the driver, who acted as my Sheridan gunner on occasion, was being jarred around by the rough terrain and that caused his foot to bounce around on the throttle pedal. Maybe some of you have been through that scene where a vehicle starts bouncing and your foot starts bouncing with it? Anyway, we got totally out of control and slid towards a ditch on my side of the vehicle. I actually put my foot out as if I was going to be able to keep that vehicle from flipping over into the ditch. Well, we finally both bailed out and the M-151 stalled, upright. That was nice. At the time the M-151 didnít have a windshield or top installed. We just didnít use those very much in the Cavalry.
The most uncomfortable place I have ever been in a MUTT is hanging half way out the back of a CH-53D while it circled a few miles off the North Carolina coast. My M-151 was strapped firmly to the ramp and the one behind me was strapped firmly inside but it was still a strange feeling, and very windy. We spent over half an hour circling like that before we headed for the LZ. I ate a sandwich, which seemed to make the crew of the other M-151 even more airsick. Oh well, they werenít my people. We did this again at MCB 29 Palms, California, but it didnít make much of an impression on me that time. I guess I didnít have any sandwiches. I have heard that it is possible to load M-151s in CH-46s but Iíve never done it, so I canít say for sure.
The most spectacular non-fatal incident I have ever seen an M-151 involved in was during a landing exercise in North Carolina. A squad leader who didnít like seawater was supposed to lead his people off of a landing craft to the beach. The landing craft had to stop short of the beach, but the MUTT had a full fording kit installed and, supposedly, inspected. There was nothing in the M-151 except the squad leader, his gear, personal weapon and radio. Normal procedure would have been to select 4WD, an appropriate gear, and set the hand throttle. Instead he came off the ramp like an F-14 off a carrier. The upper radiator support thingie immediately came apart so the radiator was pushed into the engine-cooling fan. The fan ate the radiator and got so involved that it stalled the engine. The M-151 went down very much like the Titanic. It was kind of funny. The water was less than 4 feet deep.
M-151s can carry a lot of different kinds of radio equipment in many different configurations. I think that the most common configuration is a single radio in a mount bolted to the top of passengerís side rear fender, which is flat. This would ordinarily be a PRC-77 in a standard vehicular mount which includes a manually operated antenna matching unit and a speaker and which provides power for the radio so that it doesnít need to run off itís own battery. The antenna base was bolted to a metal bracket, which was in turn bolted to a rear corner of the body of the vehicle. These brackets could be mounted to either rear corner of the vehicle and most command vehicles that had more than one radio had one on each side. The bracket was tall enough that the antennae base was 2 or three feet above the top of the rear fender. Since the antenna is at least eight feet long, it sticks up quite a way when it is upright. For this reason there are tie down kits so that the antennae can be bent over at the spring just above the antennae base and secured with a clip connected two to nylon cords that can be attached wherever convenient near the front of the vehicle. Believe it or not, there are several wrong things to do at this point. Worst is to forget to put the plastic cap over the end of the antennae. The plastic cap has two parts, one that grips the antennae when it is pushed on and a hemispherical cap more than an inch in diameter that snaps on to the other piece. The reason for the cap is that the antennae tip, when tied down, usually ends up near eye level. Un-capped antennae have caused a lot of serious injuries. The clip is also not as simple as it looks. It is shaped a little bit like an Ďsí laying on its side when the antennae is tied down. A lot of people have asked me about the part of the Ďsí that opens upward. If you clip the antennae into the part of the Ďsí that opens downward and the antennae runs into an obstacle either the tie-down cords will break or the antennae itself will break. A broken or incomplete antennae does not work well at all. If you clip the antennae into the part of the Ďsí that opens upward and the antenna encounters an obstacle, it will probably pop out of the restraint and suffer no damage. You will note that this part of the Ďsí is narrower than the other part so that it will act as a clip rather than just a restraint. The rule is as follows: If you are in a built up area where the likelihood of encountering an obstacle is low and the likelihood of encountering a low hanging power line is high, use the downward facing part of the Ďsí; any other time, use the other one.
Some of the more sophisticated setups would have a Receiver/Transmitter unit and a separate receiver mounted on each rear fender with as many as four external speakers. The microphones were frequently hung from the top bow between the driver and the passenger. Most vehicles with this setup were command vehicles and didnít have a third person in the crew to operate the radios. In most cases the driver was responsible for setting up the radios, making whatever frequency changes were necessary and maintaining the voice encryption gear as well.
Some M-151s are also equipped with HF radios (2 Ė 30 MHz). These ordinarily put out considerably more power than the more normal VHF (32 Ė 75 MHz) radios and have a much longer antennae. The antennae used for the HF vehicle mounts donít really have a flexible base so the possibility of hitting a power line getting the top of the antennae caught in a tree and breaking off a piece of it are higher. I was never tasked with operating one of these vehicles so I donít know what instructions the crews were given, but, off-hand, I canít think of any reason to have the antennae installed at all unless the vehicle is parked and safely grounded. In other words, although I can see that it might be considered a good thing to have the radio operating while the vehicle is in motion, I donít agree with that idea at all for three reasons. First, the antenna is not going to work very well unless the entire system is well connected to a solid earth ground. Second is possible damage to the antenna or crew while the vehicle is moving due to the length of the antennae. Third is possible lightning damage to the vehicle or crew if the antenna is set up and the system is not well grounded. One of our people at the TACC Center at MCAS Cherry Point was giving a class to some people from another unit one day and was standing with one foot on the bumper of an M-151 with HF antennae erected but ungrounded when the vehicle was hit by lightning. It knocked him on his butt and fried the radio. He did, however, get up and go on with the class. He had everyoneís undivided attention.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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