Gun Trucks: Genuine Examples of American Ingenuity

by Paul S. Gardiner

American history is replete with innovations and practical solutions to problems that often have saved lives and led to a better quality of life. Most people hear only about the more significant inventions and discoveries that affect people in general or that have far-reaching benefits for years to come. Typical examples include penicillin, cures for various diseases, and technological advances such as the telephone, television, and personal computer.

In wartime, the axiom, "necessity is the mother of invention," has led to many innovations by the American military. Many of these are unknown or misunderstood by most Americans. Frequently, these innovations were in direct response to enemy actions or suspected actions that threatened the lives of American military personnel.

During the Vietnam War, an Army innovationgun truckssaved countless lives and enabled many American and allied forces to operate successfully in various regions of Vietnam. Gun trucks provided overwhelming firepower for protecting supply and ammunition convoys along routes that went through mountain passes and other areas threatened by deadly enemy ambushes.

Throughout the war, the Army was responsible for transporting most of the supplies and ammunition from coastal ports such as Qui Nhon and Cam Ranh Bay to inland locations such as Bong Son, An Khe, Pleiku, Da Lat, and Buon Me Thuot. Motor convoys operated by Army Transportation Corps units made most of those movements.

During the early years of the war, automatic rifles, grenade launchers, and machineguns mounted on jeeps were used to protect convoys. Over time, the enemy's firepower and ambush tactics improved, causing serious disruption of convoy movements, often with substantial loss of life, so the Army had to do something to protect the convoys better and defeat the enemy.

 

Units used available materials to create gun trucks in Vietnam. Note the difference in the shapes of these two trucks. Photos courtesy of Mike Suckow ("Satisfaction") and Roger Williams ("Outlaw").

Development of the Gun Truck

Credit for development of the convoy gun truck usually is given to the Army's 8th Transportation Group headquartered at Qui Nhon, Vietnam. After an unusually devastating series of ambushes in September 1967, the 8th Transportation Group removed several 2-ton cargo trucks from regular convoy service and outfitted them with sandbags on the floors and sides for protection. (Sandbags were eventually replaced with locally fabricated steel armor plate.) Two M60 machineguns were mounted in the cargo bay of each truck. The crew consisted of a driver, two gunners, and a noncommissioned officer in charge.

After a few months of operation, it became clear that the 2-ton truck lacked sufficient power to maneuver with the added weight of armor plate, weapons, and ammunition, so several of the more powerful 5-ton cargo trucks were converted into gun trucks. Some of the more important modifications included mounting .50-caliber machineguns in place of or in addition to M60 machineguns and adding a 7.62-millimeter "minicannon," which could fire thousands of rounds per minute. The men who operated the gun trucks usually painted nicknames such as "The Untouchable," "Satisfaction," "Outlaw," and "Pandemonium" on the sides of the vehicles.

Accurate records do not exist on the total number of gun trucks developed during the Vietnam War, but it is estimated that between 300 and 400 cargo trucks were modified to function in this manner. Gun trucks provided convoy security along Vietnam's highways from late 1967 until American forces departed the country in 1973.

This replica of "The Untouchable" is available for display. The photo at left shows the bed of the truck. Photos courtesy of William Parker.

Gun Trucks Today

With the end of the Vietnam War, the Army had little need for convoy gun trucks, which had not become part of the Army's regular inventory of wheeled vehicles. One truck, "Eve of Destruction," has been refurbished and is on permanent display at the Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis, Virginia. The rest of the original gun trucks were scrapped or were dismantled and returned to regular cargo duties.

One Vietnam veteran, who was a vehicle mechanic stationed at Qui Nhon in 1972, built an exact replica of The Untouchable (complete with model guns and mounts) to drive and display wherever people are interested. The original Untouchable had three radios for soldiers to communicate with air cover, camps, and artillery. It carried over 10,000 rounds of ammunition for two .50-caliber machineguns and two 7.62-millimeter minicannons. The replica of The Untouchable has been displayed mainly at military-related functions, such as Military Vehicle Preservation Association meetings and Vietnam veteran reunions, and at various military museums. Inquiries about a display of The Untouchable should be sent by email to redcatcher@prodigy.net.

The most comprehensive information on Vietnam-era gun trucks, with nearly 700 photographs, descriptions, crew lists, and ambush stories (including some anecdotes), can be found in The Hard Ride: Vietnam Gun Trucks by James Lyles, an ex-gun truck commander.

The Army's gun truck was one of the most important innovations that occurred during the Vietnam War. It is an outstanding example of what the military refers to as a "field-expedient measure" required to save lives and ensure mission accomplishment. The gun truck is an American legacy that will not be forgotten soon. ALOG

Paul S. Gardiner is an information systems management specialist for the Military Traffic Management Command. He was the Commander of the 24th Transportation Company at Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, from 1970 to 1971. He has a master's degree in transportation and finance from the University of Alabama and is enrolled in the Army War College 2-year nonresident program.