Armoured personnel carrier
The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe defines Armoured personnel carriers as "an armoured combat vehicle which is designed and equipped to transport a combat infantry squad and which, as a rule, is armed with an integral or organic weapon of less than 20 millimeters calibre."
APCs are usually armed with only a machine gun. They are usually not designed to take part in a direct-fire battle, but to carry troops to the battlefield safe from shrapnel and ambush. They may have wheels or tracks. Examples include the American M113 (tracked), the French VAB (wheeled), the Dutch/German GTK Boxer (wheeled) and the Soviet BTR (wheeled). The infantry fighting vehicle is a further development of the armoured personnel carrier. In addition to the task of carrying infantry to battle safely they are more heavily armed and armoured and are designed for direct combat.
The genesis of the armoured personnel carrier concept was the armoured warfare of World War I. On the Western Front in the later stage of the war, Allied tanks could break through the enemy trench line but the infantry following the tanks (needed to take and hold the ground gained) were easily stopped or delayed by small arms fire and artillery. Infantry progress was also impeded by obstacles such as barbed wire, anti-personnel mines and broken terrain (such as the shell cratered battlefields of the Western Front). The breakthrough tanks were then isolated and destroyed and reinforcements plugged the hole in the trench line. Small scale deployment of armoured infantry transports occurred during the war (the Mark V* tank was designed with a small troop compartment and the Mark IX tank of 1918 was purpose built to transport infantry) but did not impact the course of the war.
During World War II, half-tracks such as the American M3 and the German SdKfz 251 played a role similar to the armoured personnel carriers that were developed later on. Another forerunner to the APC during this time was the fully tracked British Universal Carrier though it was generally only used to carry the crew of a support weapon. Similarly Crusader gun tractors were a conversion of a tank chassis to transport an artillery crew under some protection. Often, APCs were simply armoured cars with the capacity for carrying troops, but they evolved into purpose-built vehicles to suit the demands of motorised warfare from World War II. M3 Stuart tanks had their turrets removed in the field for use as reconnaissance vehicles by the Commonwealth. Although these had limited space some were used as improvised armoured ambulances.
In 1944, the commander of II Canadian Corps, General Guy Simonds, ordered the conversion of 72 United States-produced M7 Priest self-propelled howitzers to personnel carriers. They were, at the time, being replaced by the British Ordnance QF 25 pounder-equipped Sexton, and no future plans had been drawn up for them. The howitzer was removed, and the resulting hole was plugged with whatever steel was available. The vehicle was called Kangaroo, after the codename of the workshop which did the conversion. Later in the war Canadian-built Ram tanks were used as a basis for the majority of conversions, as they were replaced by US Sherman tanks, and the original Kangaroos were converted back to self-propelled howitzers and returned to American forces. Other British tanks such as the Churchill received the Kangaroo treatment but were not adopted in numbers.
After the war, different specialised APCs were developed. The United States developed a series of tracked vehicles, culminating in the M113 "box on tracks", of which 80,000 were made. The Soviet Union developed the Cold War BTR-40, BTR-152, BTR-60, BTR-70, BTR-80 and BTR-90 into a series of 8-wheeled APC.
Although the M113 was designed as an APC, it was among the first to be used in battle in the Vietnam War in the early 1960s when South Vietnamese ARVN troops fought while mounted against irregular Viet Cong (VC) forces that were typically only armed with small arms. After the Battle of Ap Bac showed that the exposed machine gun was vulnerable to enemy fire, they were fitted with the ACAV armour kit which protected the main machine gun and added shields for two additional gunners. As the war went on VC and NVA forces received the RPG-2 man-portable recoilless rifle in bulk. When hitting the M113, the RPG-2 warhead would cause internal spalling, injuring or killing the occupants. Because of this, American troops took to riding into battle on top of their M113s, negating the armour value.
The infantry fighting vehicle is a development of the armoured personnel carrier concept. On the typically fluid and chaotic battlefield, any available armour will be thrown into direct battle if main battle tanks aren't immediately available (some armour is better than no armour). This insight (along with the proliferation of effective man-portable anti-tank weapons) led to the development of the infantry fighting. In addition to the task of carrying infantry to battle safely they are more heavily armed and armoured and are designed for direct combat, making for a more flexible vehicle.
Most armoured personnel carriers use a diesel engine comparable to that used in a large truck or in a typical city bus. The M113 for instance used the same engine as the standard General Motors urban bus.
Many APCs are amphibious. Usually tracked APCs are powered by their tracks in the water, and wheeled APCs have propellers or water jets. Preparations for amphibious operations usually comprises checking the integrity of the hull and folding down a trim vane in front. Swimming requires fairly still waters, and good entry and exit points. Speed in water is typically 3–6 km/h.
Armour on APCs are usually composed of simple steel or aluminium, sufficient for protection against small fire arms and most shell fragments. Just about any type of anti-tank weapon can defeat the armour of an APC. Some APCs also come with NBC protection, which would protect its crew from radioactive fallout or the like.
The usual armament for an APC is a heavy machine gun with the calibres ranging from 7.62mm to 14.5 mm. This is mounted on top of the vehicle, either on a simple pintle mount, sometimes with a gun shield, or a small turret or Remote Weapon System (as on the Stryker). Sometimes an automatic grenade launcher is used instead. APCs such as the BTR-90 also have the capability to launch ATGM, which gives it an anti-tank capability.
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- Bishop, Chris (2006). The Encyclopedia of Tanks and Armored fighting vehicles: From World War I to The Present Day. Grange Book. ISBN 978-1-59223-626-8
- O'Malley, T. J., Hutchins, Ray (1996). Fighting Vehicles: Armoured Personnel Carriers & Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Greenhill Books. ISBN 1-85367-211-4