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The M113A1 Family of Vehicles In Australia Part 1 - Trials and Procurement


M113A1 ARN 134141 being driven over rough terrain shortly after arriving in Australia.


by Paul D. Handel



This year, the 100th Anniversary of the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey on 25 April 1915, also marks the 50th Anniversary of the M113A1 Armoured Personnel Carrier entering service with the Australian Army.

Early in 1965 the first delivery of M113A1 vehicles arrived in Australia, and since then the vehicle and its many variants have seen service not only in Australia, but also in South Vietnam, Somalia, Rwanda and East Timor. Its boxy hull shape is easily recognised, and its reliability and durability have served the Australian Army well. It has become one of the longest serving weapons systems in the Australian Defence Force.

This series of articles is not meant to be a definitive history of the vehicle in Australian service, but rather an overview of the variants, their service in peace and war, and to show some of the interesting modifications and changes to the basic vehicle over its 50 years of service.


Development an air transportable, armoured, multipurpose vehicle family which was “to provide a lightweight, armoured personnel carrier for armour and infantry units capable of amphibious and air-drop operation, superior cross country mobility and adaptation to multiple functions through applications of kits and/or modifications of its superstructure” began in the United States of America in 1956.  The new design was required to replace the heavier, larger and more costly M 75 APC, then in service with the US Army.

Prototypes of the T117 (steel hull) and T113 (aluminium hull) were built and tested.  In order to achieve the same ballistic protection as 10mm of steel armour plate, 32mm of aluminium armour was required.  However, the aluminium was easier to weld, and the thicker plates did not require stiffeners for the hull, thus making production easier.  Thus the steel hull T117 concept was abandoned in favour of the aluminium hull, which went into production in 1960 as the T113E1. The vehicle was manufactures by the Food Machinery and Chemical Corporation (FMC) of San Jose, California. The vehicle entered service with the US Army in 1961 as the M113.

Australian Interest in a Tracked APC

The Australian Army had been watching overseas development of armoured personnel carriers (APC) for some years. The Saracen 6 wheeled vehicle was the in-service vehicle since the mid 1950s, but only 30 vehicles were in service, and not all of these were the APC variant. Reserve units were still using a mixture of M3A1 White Scout Cars and Humber 1 ton CT Trucks.

As Australia had been involved in recent conflicts in South East Asia including the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation, its training was slanted towards jungle warfare. Wheeled armoured vehicles had their limitations in jungle warfare, and when the British Army released their requirement for a tracked armoured personnel carrier – War Office Policy Statement No 26. (WOPS 26) - the Australian Army closely monitored the developments.

In June 1960, Australian Army Headquarters (AHQ) issued Weapons and Equipment Policy Statement No.26 (WEPS 26) which established the requirement for a tracked APC. It noted that:

US, Canada and UK are each developing families of vehicles which will fill most of the required roles, and these should soon become available to Australia.

The Director Staff Duties in April 1961wrote to the Directors of the Armoured Corps and Infantry, noting that developments overseas had reached the following stages:

United States – the M113 is in production and it is likely that one could be obtained, in 1961.... for trials.

Canada – the Canadians are producing an initial order of 20 pilot models of the Bobcat. Again, it is likely that one could be obtained for trials. ... There has been a suggestion that the Canadian Army might be prepared to let us have one, free, for tropical trials on their behalf.

United Kingdom – The War Office will have a small number of the prototypes of APC FV 432  available late in 1961. It is likely taht the UK would make a prototype available to us... if there is a real chance that we may adopt the vehicle.

In late 1961, the Director of Armour recommended the purchase of two M113 vehicles for the purposes of conducting trials.

Discussions were also proceeding regarding the acquisition of FV432 vehicles, and  it was eventually agreed in March 1962 that the Australian Army would conduct a series of trials which would “ assess the performance and reliability of the FV 432 APC and compare it with that of the USA M113 APC... with a view of (sic) the eventual APC equipment of the Australian Army.” The UK would supply the vehicles at no cost to the Australian Government.


Australian Trials Commence

The trials were conducted during late 1962 and early 1963, and involved both Hot/wet and hot/dry climatic conditions. The trials were conducted in north Queensland, around the areas of Innisfail and Mount Isa.

As with previous trials conducted by Australia, a special unit was raised. This was known as 5 Tropical Trials Unit (5TTU), and it was raised progressively from August 1962. This unit was part of the Army Design Establishment (ADE), later Engineering Development Establishment (EDE). In order to provide crew for the tracked carriers as well as subjects for physiological trials, A Squadron, 2/14th Queensland Mounted Infantry (A Sqn 2/14 QMI), a regular unit designated as an APC squadron, were allotted in support of the trials.


The FV 432 W14 at speed over dusty ground. A temporary duct was fitted to enable relatively clean air to be drawn into the vehicle, as the side-mounted air filter clogged very quickly and rapidly reduced ventilation.


A number of delays contributed to the late start of the trials: the M113 vehicles landed in Sydney from the USA and were not available in Brisbane until 11 October 1962, whereas the FV 432 vehicles arrived in Brisbane in mid-September; the M113s were fitted with radios in Brisbane (Northern Command Workshops) and thus the special train with the armoured vehicles did not arrive in Innisfail until mid November; and the main body of A Sqn 2/14 QMI were not available due to their participation in Exercise Nutcracker until mid December. 


The Vehicles

Two each of the UK and US vehicles were trialled.

The FV 432 vehicles were still in the prototype stage, although both vehicles were stripped and rebuilt, to the most recent trials standards, at the Fighting Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE) Chertsey, prior to their shipment to Australia. Both were fitted with the Rolls Royce B81 series petrol engine, an in-line 8 cylinder unit. The first vehicle, UK Registration 03DA17, was identified by the number W1 during the trials. It had been configured as APC with radio set configuration C42/B47, but its hull had been drilled to a four stretcher ambulance kit. The second vehicle was registered 03DA10 and was configured in the command role with C42/B47 and C11/R210 radio sets. A trial air conditioning unit to be fitted to one vehicle, plus new tracks, were delivered later.

The M113 vehicles were purchased by Australia, direct from the manufacturer, the Food Machinery and Chemical Corporation (FMC) of San Jose, California, with the assistance of the US Government. Both vehicles were new from the production line and were fitted with the Chrysler V8 petrol engine. The first vehicle carried the Australian Registration Number (ARN) 115421 and was identified as U1 during the trials. The second vehicle had the ARN 115422 and was identified as U2 during the trials.

Two RAEME artificers had received training in the repair and maintenance of the respective vehicles. One, WO1 D.D Horsley, had been attached to FVRDE in the UK to become familiar with the FV 432 series, whilst WO1 E.J. Richards was attached to a number of US establishments. In addition, an RAAC sergeant, J.S. Barker, had been attached to US establishments for training in driving and servicing aspects of the M113. These personnel also provided driving and servicing instructions to the crews from A Sqn 2/14 QMI, both in Brisbane and later in North Queensland. 

The Trials

The trials included operation of the vehicles in jungle terrain, swimming capabilities and storage in hot/wet conditions, operation in hot/dry conditions with dust and rocky terrain, as well as a long distance drive from Mount Isa to Innisfail.

Physiological tests were conducted on soldiers carried in the passenger compartments of both types of vehicles. These included battle efficiency tests as well as medical testing after being closed down inside the vehicles for specified periods of time.

At the conclusion of the trials, several reports were prepared. The UK naturally prepared their own report, whilst ADE prepared a report comparing the two types of carriers. Some of the key features in the Australian report led to the adoption of the M113 as the tracked armoured personnel carrier of the future.


The FV 432 W14 moving over sandy terrain.


Some of the points made when comparing the vehicles and their performance were:

  • The M113 exceeded the cross country performance of the FV 432 in all types of terrain.

  • The power to weight ratio of the M113 was about 25% higher than that of the FV 432.

  • The radius of action of the M113 was less than that of the FV 432.

  • The FV 432 was superior in crew comfort to the M113 and better ventilation for the personnel compartment was provided.

  • The ease of maintenance was in favour of the M113.

The report recommended the purchase of the M113 vehicle as being the most suitable of the two types trialled. 


The M113A1 is Purchased

As early as March 1963, the Ordnance Division of the FMC Corporation had provided a budget proposal to supply 103 vehicles to the Australian Army. The trials report was not produced until May 1963, and FVRDE did not complete their own report on the trials of the FV 432 until August 1963. Despite these activities, the evaluation process proceeded for most of 1963, although it appeared to have been always in favour of the M113.

The Army’s two main concerns were with the weapons station and the ventilation system. Various questions were asked of the US Army, which had been developing different types of cupolas, but not necessarily specifically for the M113. In the end as no satisfactory paper solution was forthcoming, the standard cupola was purchased.

The change to diesel engine by the US Army in the standardised version, the M113E2 (subsequently to M113A1), did not seem to worry the evaluation process, particularly as the engine, a GM 6V53, promised longer range, better low speed operation, and of course lessened the fire risk associated with petrol engines in armoured vehicles.

The lack of ventilation in the passenger compartment when closed down was a significant point made in many of the trials notes. A modification was proposed which provided a filter box on the rear cargo hatch, and a blower unit which forced air into the passenger compartment. The filter was accessed from outside the vehicle, and the extra weight of the hatch was compensated for by the provision of a torsion bar on the hinge mechanism. The rear hull top of the Australian vehicle would thus be different from the US vehicle, including omission of the ventilation dome and the bump stops for the cargo hatch being higher due to the size of the filter box.


M113 U1 climbing a slippery jungle road


Foam padding inside the hull of the Australian vehicle was another addition.

It would appear that first orders for the M113A1 from Australia were let in 1964. Upon entering service with the Australian Army, the M113A1 vehicles carried 6 digit ARNs with the prefix 134. The first vehicle to be so numbered was 134140.

First vehicles arrived in Melbourne in early 1965, and these were issued mainly to the Armoured Centre at Puckapunyal for crew training and a small number to the RAEME Training Centre at Bandiana for training of RAEME Tradesmen. One regular unit, A Squadron, 4/19th Prince of Wales Light Horse, was the first operational unit to be equipped with the new vehicles.

Training had barely commenced on the new equipment when the government announced that Australia would commit an infantry battalion to the conflict in South Vietnam, and that it would be supported by armour.

The carriers had barely entered service and they were going to be taken to war.



The photos accompanying this article are all from Australian and United Kingdom official sources.


Climbing a rocky hill during the Mt Isa portion of the trials is FV 432 W14


FV 432 W1 is fording a fast running creek during jungle trials    


M113 U1 swimming in Mourilyan Harbour. The “trim vane” is deployed at the front of the vehicle. Unlike the FV 432 which used a wading screen, the M113 could be prepared for water entry relatively quickly.


M113 U2 climbs a rocky hill. The .50 inch machine gun is mounted on the commander’s cupola, and is covered with a canvas cover to keep the weapon clean.


A convoy comprising both FV432 vehicles, both M113 vehicles and a Landrover Ambulance, parked by the roadside. The wading screens stowed around the hull top on the FV 432 vehicles as well as the cluttered exterior contrast with the clean sides of the M113s.


A staged photo showing a new vehicle, with both commander’s and driver’s hatches open and the .50 inch machine gun mounted on the cupola. In 1965 the black tank suit was worn by RAAC crewmen. The position of the ARN on the side and the front left of the hull may be seen.


The rear of the vehicle with ramp lowered and interior passenger compartment seats in the stowed position. The large bump stop for the cargo hatch can be seen on top of the vehicle hull on the right hand side. The original integral fuel tank is located on the left side of the vehicle, just inside the ramp.


Swimming the M113A1 was very common during training. The white marks on the hull side show the vehicle’s freeboard. In this view the ventilation filter box can be seen on the cargo hatch to the rear of the commander.


This M113A1 is exiting the water after swimming trials. The trim vane is deployed and the vehicle tow rope is held in place over the trim vane by a rope secured to the crew commander’s position. During early training, it was common to have the instructor sit on the driver’s open hatch.


M113A1 ARN 134251 during student driver training. The machine gun is fitted, and trainees awaiting their turn in the driver’s seat sit around the open cargo hatch.


An M113A1 of the Armoured Centre, with trainees posing in the driver’s and commander’s positions. This view shows the vulnerable position of the commander behind the machine gun. Turn indicators are now fitted below the headlight clusters in order to comply with the operation of the vehicles on Australian roads.

Article Text and Photographs Copyright 2015 by Paul D. Handel
Page Created 25 April 2015
Last Updated 25 April, 2015

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