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|Rifle, Multiple 106 mm, Self-propelled, M50 "Ontos"|
Ontos M50A1, the 50-cal spotting rifles can be seen on the upper guns
|Place of origin||United States|
|Used by||United States|
Operation Power Pack
|Weight||8,600 kg (19,000 lb)|
|Length||3.83 m (12 ft 7 in)|
|Width||2.59 m (8 ft 6 in)|
|Height||2.13 m (7 ft 0 in)|
|Crew||3 (driver, gunner and loader)|
|6 × M40 recoilless rifles|
|1 × .30 M1919 Browning machine gun|
|Engine||GM 6-cylinder inline 302 in³ gasoline engine
|185 km (115 mi)|
|Speed||48 km/h (30 mph)|
Ontos, officially the Rifle, Multiple 106 mm, Self-propelled, M50, was a U.S. light armored tracked anti-tank vehicle developed in the 1950s, a fast tank killer for airborne forces.
It mounted six 105 mm M40 recoilless rifles as its main armament, which could be fired in rapid succession against single targets to guarantee a kill. It was produced in limited numbers for the U.S. Marines after the U.S. Army lost interest in the project. The Marines consistently reported excellent results when they used the Ontos for direct fire support against infantry in numerous battles and operations during the Vietnam War. The American stock of Ontos was largely expended towards the end of the conflict and the Ontos was removed from service in 1969.
The Ontos (Greek for "thing") project was created to be an air transportable tank-destroyer capable of being lifted by the cargo aircraft of the 1950s. This limited it to a weight between 10 and 20 metric tons. The Ontos also had to use the six-cylinder engine then widely used in the Army's GMC trucks. Allis-Chalmers was awarded a contract on August 12, 1955, for 297 vehicles.
Allis-Chalmers' first vehicle, completed in 1952, was based on the running gear of the M56 Scorpion light anti-tank vehicle. The vehicle mounted a cast steel turret with two arms holding three rifles each. This early model could traverse the turret only about 15 degrees. A second prototype used a new suspension system, new tracks, and a newer turret with about 40 degrees traverse. The vehicle could carry only eighteen rounds for the main guns inside the vehicle due to limited space. Four of the rifles also had .50-caliber coaxial spotting rifles attached, each of which fired a round with the same trajectory as the 106 mm round, and that gave off a puff of smoke on impact. The spotting rifles were used to line up the 106 mm recoilless rifles with the target. The Ontos also carried a single .30 caliber M1919A4 machine gun for anti-infantry use.
The vehicle was taken to the Aberdeen Proving Ground where single rifles had been tested earlier. When all six weapons were fired at once, the back blast from the firing knocked bricks out of a nearby building and knocked the rear windows out of several cars. The prototype and testing stage was completed by 1955, at which point the Army canceled its order.
As an anti-tank vehicle the Ontos had several problems, including a small ammunition load, a very high-profile for such a small vehicle, and the need for the crew to exit the vehicle in order to reload the guns, exposing them to enemy fire. Although the Army canceled their order, the Marine Corps were desperate for any anti-tank vehicles they could get, and ordered 297. Production ran from 1955 through 1957. The Marine Corps accepted its first vehicle on 31 October 1956.
Variants and upgrades
Several variants were also studied. The Utility Vehicle, Tracked, Infantry, T55 was a light Armored personnel carrier (APC), but only two versions of the prototype were built. It proved impractical due to the limited room inside, carrying only five infantry and forcing the driver to lie prone. A "stretched" version known as the Utility Vehicle, Tracked, Infantry, T56 was also built, and while it held a complete eight-man team, their equipment had to be carried on the outside. Neither was considered very useful.
In 1960 there was a brief study made to replace the Ontos's 106 mm rifles with a new 105 mm design that included a re-loading system similar to that on a revolver. This project was not accepted.
Another proposed upgrade was replacing the GMC engine with a newer Chrysler 361 cu in V8 engine. This upgrade was implemented and the variant was named Rifle, Multiple 106 mm, Self-propelled, M50A1. However of the 297 vehicles initially accepted by the Marines, only 176 were converted between 1963 and 1965 to this standard.
While the M50 was designed as a tank destroyer, during the Vietnam War most M50s did not engage enemy armor as the North Vietnamese Army deployed few tanks. The Ontos was therefore more widely used by the US Marines for direct fire support for the infantry in combat, a role that was never emphasized in training or doctrine. Like the Army's M113, its light armor was effective against small arms but vulnerable to mines and rocket-propelled grenades. Consequently, many Ontos were deployed in static defense positions.
The Ontos crews liked the vehicle, and its commanders praised it. The relatively light weight of the M50s meant that they could also go where tanks got bogged down. The Ontos, with its lower ground pressure, could drag timbers up to the tanks to help get them unstuck. In one operation, the Ontos was the only tracked vehicle light enough to cross a pontoon bridge. In the Battle of Hue, Regimental Commander Colonel Stanley S. Hughes felt the Ontos was the most effective of all Marine supporting arms. Its mobility made it less vulnerable than tanks, which suffered heavy losses, while at ranges of 300 to 500 yards (270 to 460 m), its recoilless rifles could knock holes in or completely knock down walls. The appearance of an Ontos was sometimes enough to make the enemy break and run, and anecdotal accounts describe the enemy fleeing occupied buildings when an Ontos's spotting round entered a window. In Operation Desoto, the introduction of the large CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter made possible moving a platoon 25 miles (40 km) south of Quan Ngai City carrying Ontos in slings underneath the aircraft.
Ontos and their crewman saw tactical operations such as Operation Starlight 1965, Khe Sanh 1968, Battle of Hue City 1968, Operation Ford, The Battle of Phu Bai 1968 and many others. Alpha Co. 1st Anti Tank Bn, 1st Tank Bn., Task Force X-Ray, 1st Marine Division saw combat in support of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Div. and afterwords in and around Da Nang for Bridge Security and Out Post (OP) support for, OP North, OP Thumb and OP Three Fingers Southwest of Da Nang late in 1968 and during 1969.
The Ontos units were deactivated in May 1969, and some of the vehicles were handed over to an Army light infantry brigade. They used them until they ran out of spare parts, and then removed the turrets and used them as fixed fortifications. Both these and the rest of the vehicles returned from Vietnam in 1970 and were cut up for scrap, with some of the chassis being sold off as construction vehicles. Some of the Ontos that were sold to construction companies were later acquired by the Marines that served as Ontos Crewmen in the Republic of South Vietnam. Many of the Ontos were affectionately restored to their original glory and are privately held in collections to this day.
The Ontos did see use as an anti-tank weapon during the American involvement in the Dominican Civil War: on 29 April 1965 an M50 Ontos and an M48 Patton of the 6th MEU engaged and destroyed two rebel L/60L light tanks, each destroying one.
Preserved vehicles on display
There are Ontos on display at the following US locations:
- The Patton Museum of Cavalry & Armor in Fort Knox, Kentucky (no longer on display, may have moved with the Armor school to FT Benning).
- The Rock Island Arsenal Museum in Rock Island, Illinois.
- Camp Atterbury, Edinburgh, Indiana.
- The American Military Museum, in El Monte, California has an M50 that is missing its six recoilless rifles.
- The Aberdeen Proving Ground's Museum in Aberdeen, Maryland has a T165E2, the 19th prototype, though it is not currently on display. The vehicle is currently undergoing a cosmetic restoration.
- Mr. Fred Ropkey, owner of the Ropkey Armor Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana owns the first prototype T165, a later model Ontos, and a parts machine.
- The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia has completed the restoration of an M50A1 Ontos.
- The Museum of The Marine in Jacksonville, North Carolina has an operational M50A1 Ontos which is not on public display.
- There is an M50A1 Ontos on outside display at the Navy Facility at China Lake, California.
- The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California has an M50A1 Ontos on outside display.
- The Military Vehicle Technology Foundation in Portola Valley, California has a T165E1 prototype with the original GM 302ci engine which is currently undergoing a complete operational restoration, and a second prototype T165E2 Ontos.
- The U.S. Army Artillery Museum at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.
- The Museum of the Forgotten Warriors in Marysville, California.
- The Marine Corps Mechanized Museum, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, CA (M50A1, Vet Battle of Hue City, RVN)
- List of artillery
- List of self-propelled anti-tank guns
- List of artillery of the United States
- G-numbers (SNL G288)
- Similar vehicles
- Standard Catalog of U.S. Military Vehicles – 2nd Edition p. 376
- "Ontos-a mean thing feared by Viet Cong Sgt. T.D. Stephens" Newspaper clipping
- Permission to enter the facility must be requested at least 24 hours prior to a visit.
- Kutta, Timothy J., "ONTOS: The USMC's Most Famous Anti-Tank Weapon", Modern War magazine, Bakersfield, California: Strategy & Tactics Press (Decision Games) (#14 November/December 2014), pp. 72–75
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