M54 truck / Vietnam

Hi all…

Here is my fully loaded AFV Club M54 :slight_smile:
Figures are Paracel Miniatures and the M114 howitzer on the last two diorama pics is the Bronco kit.
I call the scene “All along the watchtower”
Thanks for watching.

Cheers
Ralph

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This looks really nice. Good job on weathering the truck and howitzer. They capture the look of Vietnam well.

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Very well done.

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I like the build, but must point one odd thing or maybe two of them out to you.

  • an order came from the top down that you could never take a gun in tow with ammo inside the truck (or powder). Reason why is to keep the other guy from using it. Usually the place at the end of the breech we had the firing lock removed and hidden away, and a rag stuffed in there to keep the dust out. Once more to make it unusable. Highway One was a pretty dusty place, and if you had them, you put the covers on the gun with a sandbag stuffed in the muzzle. We always took the rule a step further and left the spades and sight off the gun even if your just going three or four miles. You were right about wearing the flak jackets. That was also one of their orders. Projo’s and powder were almost always in a truck by itself. If your going much more than ten miles we flew the powder and projo’s out. The road could be a bad place. To rake this further; if we were moving much more than ten miles, we usually air lifted the guns. Most of the orders about road conduct came right out of Westmoreland’s office. Not that we paid a lot of attention once we were out of eyesight.

To take this further. Even if you flew the gun out, the spades and firing lock were not with the gun. We removed the sight because they are fragile. But if you did fly the gun out, that was about all the chopper could handle (later models would carry the weight). You stripped the gun of anything extra. No firing lock (it was hand carried). The next chopper had all the parts you stripped off it plus the crew. Each man in the crew had one round of HE assigned to him. We didn’t fuse the rounds till we hit the ground (be about six rounds). The powder was carried ( almost always greenbag) in the sling with the spades and shields. Yet a third chopper had the sight (usually the Colonel or his XO)
gary

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Great info , Thank you for sharing !!!
Hope you have a great week !

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Very nice. Thanks for sharing.

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Most folks don’t know what I told you, and I sorta learned on the job. Honestly; we only moved howitzers on the road when we were within six or seven miles of the big bases. Even then, you don’t even think about it till the roads have been swept for mines. With that in mind, you won’t leave till around 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning. Takes about three hours to replace the cylinders or barrel on the pig assuming nobody is ahead of you at the repair depot. Usually a howitzer is given priority. So with that in mind, you might not get back till four or five in the afternoon. Not good! You will have to set the gun up again in the parapet, and because it has a new barrel and the sight being removed you gotta register it all over again. By the time they get a FAC overhead it’s too late in the day. That’s why you fly them out if at all possible. It gains you two or three hours. Don’t mean much to most, but might mean the difference between walking out of a place dying eight miles out. Plus the Division and Battalions kinda go into a panic when you have to call the “piece” out. They’ll be on the radios every fifteen minutes asking the same stupid question. Is it up yet. In my 15 months I moved a lot of guns, and you could almost write a book on it.

Now back to your beautiful build. Take the ammo and everybody out of the truck except for the driver. There you have the howitzer being removed from the pit to an open field to fly it out. So your really just fine. (just no ammo or fuse cans!) One thing about Vietnam and the climate that a lot of folks over look.
That barrel will always have a coat of grease on it. I’ve used red, green, and a brown muck. If you don’t, you’ll have rust all over it, and then will have to be polished with sand paper. The sight was always black with brass knobs. The paint wears off the knobs just like the hand wheels. Sometimes you just have to pull the gun out of the pit to make a repair to the pit (they still go bananas when you do this). Doing this, you’ll leave the sight in place. We had the nurses at the hospital in Chu Lai save us the large clear plastic bags that seemed like they were made to go over the sight. They’d send out a dozen or so every month or so. They made a design change during Tet in 68 on the breech assembly. Prior to that they were a bare steel, and gave you a lot of issues. They came out with a hard chromed breech that was a very light silver compared to the older one. The mushroom head on the door will still turn a charcoal color like the inside of the chamber. The breech is torn down everyday and cleaned if it’s just had a handful of rounds thru it. Everybody learns to clean it, but normally the AG does it. Other than that, it’s left dry. The barrel is usually cranked down to where the barrel is at a negative angle to prevent water from getting in there (or dust). We always liked to place one of those bags over the muzzle if there was just one cloud in the sky! Breech is not normally closed, but left cracked open a couple inches to keep things dry
gary

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Congratulations on finishing such a wonderful and detailed model. It is really interesting to look at. Having just read a number of books on Vietnam, and listened to many interviews of Vietnam vets, the model makes sense to me.

Also, thank you to Gary_Totty for the history lesson. If I were displaying models for the public, I would always pair them with such historical information because it provides context for the viewer and, hopefully, the viewer learns something. In this case, by viewer, I mean both the model maker and everyone else. On more than on occasion I built a model after conducting significant research, came back to it 10 years later, and could not remember why I did what I did.

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In the states I spent three days at the most on the 155 howitzer. Almost always on a 105 howitzer. I graduated near the top in my class and was sent to track school. In there I was once again separated from the M109 and M108’s (yes we had two or three M108’s) and put on M110’s and the M107. Shot the M107 more than the M110. They told us that we were going to be Marines! It turns out that virtually all heavy guns were actually U.S. Army operating under the Marine umbrella. My orders placed me and about seven of us at a unit located on the Rockpile (near Khe Sahn). When I hit Chu Lai, they threw the orders in a garbage can and handed me a new set of orders. They needed fifteen guys in my battalion alone, and got six guys with the MOS. The rest were guys standing in line. Some were clerks, some were infantry, and at least one guy was a cook! I told them I really knew little about that gun, and this First Sargent said you’ll learn soon enough. A full third of the guys in my unit actually were strait up light infantry when they hit country. During my tour, I was just passing time. I had the female anatomy as a major!

Training was pretty fair in Track School, but a joke elsewhere. Modern kids are so much better trained than we were. All we were was just warm bodies to the people sleeping on a warm dry mattress. I learned three times as much as I did in AIT in my first six weeks.

My Battalion was known as an independent unit, and we rarely had infantry near us. If we did an OP with the Marines or the 101st, there’d be somebody there. Yet we could just sit there and watch them right in front of us. We had to run our own security around the place, and that often took us five hundred yards past the wire. Thought everybody did that for a long time, but we were fools! I did everything on the gun at one time or another, and could do most of it just fine. I hated the AG slot, but Randy was one my best friends and would give him a break when his shoulder was hurting. The Section Chief was a late addition, as I spent about ten months without one. I was offered the slot and passed on it (actually twice). I just loaded most of the time and kept the ammo right. Time simply flew by fast when your busy. Besides you can’t get drunk, naked and howl at the moon when you’re the Chief. I went thru two Colonels, but the first one I barely saw. The second one was a good man. He did do a piss poor job at picking an XO! I met the Division Commanding General three times, and seemed like a likable guy. Looked like a dead ringer for Archie Bunker!! At one time my whole crew was made up of four PFC’s, and whoever Top caught standing around. We actually flipped coins in an odd man out fashion to determine who was gonna lead us. The guy who won cried foul! Better than Top appointing somebody anyway. Rank means nothing once you get out west, but it’s what you can do well. I’ve crewed on a gun where I loaded, Top ran the gunner’s position, a 1st LT AG’d, a cook did the rammer staff, and another by stander was placed on the field phone. Nobody bitched, and the guys down range never knew.
gary

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I find so many things about the Vietnam conflict utterly baffling. Thank you for your service and offering more of your story.

Does AG = Assistant Gunner? How come that position was so awful?

After watching about three dozen interviews of Vietnam era veterans, it became clear that most were very young and rotated very fast. The learning curve was often very steep. That contrasts with an interesting statistic I only recently learned. In World War Two, the average infantry soldier in the Pacific spent 40 days in combat over the 4 years of the war. In Vietnam, the average infantry soldier spent 240 days in combat over a one year tour.

I wonder how that would compare to a Roman or Napoleon era soldier. At one point, Roman legionnaires signed on for 25 years.

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Your diorama looks great.

Cheers,
Ralph

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The AG as you guessed it was known as the assistant gunner. He’s the guy that actually fires the gun. Opens the breech, and puts a new primer in the firing lock. That breech does take a little effort to open during recoil, but still not bad. A lot of AG’s end up with broken hands from being hit by the breech during recoil. The trick is to never ever hold onto the lanyard, but sorta slide your hand down the rope till it contacts the wooden acorn knob at the end. Lanyards will vary in length, and AG’s trimmed them to fit their needs (length). Ours was roughly two feet long. The gunner is the guy who positions the barrel, really that’s about all he does. Loader just loads the round and powder. The loader and the AG must act as a single unit to make things work. It gets loud in between the trails as you can probably imagine. So you develop signals that the AG looks for. The gunner raises his right had a little bit while looking strait at the AG. The loader places his hands on his ears with the back of his legs against the trail. The rest just get outta the way. You fire the round, and there’s any where from two feet to five feet of recoil. The good AG’s start opening the breech at the four foot mark on the return to battery (often see fire in there). As it goes by the loader is picking up the next round and the Chief has the powder in his hands waiting for you to turn around. After the round is pushed into the chamber the kid with the rammer staff comes into play. The loader guides it to the base of the round, and the two seat it together. As this happens he turns around and takes the powder. There is one more operation that happens as soon as the breech is opened, and that is with a wet swab. Really just damp. He swishes it around in the chamber and wipes the mushroom head; then tosses it into the bucket. From there he picks up the rammer staff. Just becomes a fluid motion. There are only three men standing between the trails, and many think that’s one too many! The gunner sets ontop the trail against the front shield. We put the field phone at the rear just out of the parapet. In my group, only one man sets the time on fuses (me), but other might fuse up the rounds (we shoot mostly PD fuses anyway). I put the wrench in my back pocket, and set all the fuses before firing the first round. The first gun crew I was with still holds the record for a one round zone sweep (nine targets with one round each). About 65 seconds several times over. The key was the AG. That same bunch also still holds the U.S. hip shoot record of three minutes and forty nine seconds with the first round in the air. (happened at Ft. Bragg in 1966). They all went home together and the next group could do a zone sweep in about 75 seconds on a good day. That means you’re done before the first round impacts. The third crew was about the same if you put the right guys in the middle. We shot a lot of zone sweeps! During my tenure, I probably went thru close to ten thousand rounds (maybe more). Wore out three barrels and probably a half dozen breeches. The H&I gun alone shot a minimum of 300 rounds every night, plus the regular fire missions.

AG’s and gunners are the one that goes deaf. My hearing is bad, but not as bad as those guys. If it’s dry outside it’s not as bad as it sounds. When it’s raining it gets dangerous. Easy to drop 98lb. on your foot! When your on an OP with an infantry battalion, you work hand in hand with them. Sometimes the OP’s are a bust and you don’t do squat, and other times your day is 24 hours long. If your out there a week, the other guys start to recon for your position, and they’ll find it pretty quickly. Then they’ll do probes and mortars rounds on a regular basis. Rarely are you more than two klicks out from the unit, but a large engagement might take you a very long way with a lot of movement. I’ve seen them go from 500 yards to two and a half miles in less than an hour. The deal is for them to go the other way. You can expect to be mortared and rocketed on a regular basis. Just the nature of the beast. My base camp caught over 8K confirmed mortar rounds over a ten day period during Tet in 69. Then there are sappers to deal with and once awhile the recoiless rifle. Most mortar rounds are 82mm, but every now and then they give you 120mm rounds. I was stuck on a remote SF camp after the slick got shot up, and they caught so much stuff that you couldn’t step outside to take a leak! Everytime they’d come in to pick us up you could hear them dropping rounds down the tube. Think I was there five days, but might have been as much as seven. That may have been the roughest place I ever visited.
gary

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Thank you once again for that very interesting description of your experience in Vietnam.

PD fuse = Proximity Detonation fuse?

SF camp = Special Forces camp?

H&I gun = ?; the gun that executes unplanned fire missions called in by units in contact with the enemy?

Your description of executing a fire mission reminds me strongly of the procedure used by Napoleonic era artillery crews and Age of Sail cannon crews. They had to deal with rolling guns back into position and muzzle loading but the firing cycle and difficulties were similar. An indirect fire, proximity fused round is really just a modern form of grape shot.

In the modern era, many armies have dealt with wars involving protracted insurgencies. This often requires moving supplies through contested space. How come supply trucks like the subject of this thread have not evolved to become much more hearty? Is it cheaper to lose some soft skin trucks, supplies, and drivers than to develop and use armored trucks?

  • PD fuses are just the generic point detonated ones. There is a built in .05 second delay when you rotate the screw on the side. But normally shot as they came. I often refer to timed fuses as M565’s, but that’s what they actually are. Yet another time fuse was used every now and then, but also not real common. Maybe M119? I think I only shot them about a half dozen times, and still see no advantage over the 565.

  • H&I means that your shooting at a target some fool has decided that there might be somebody there. I think we actually got a dozen or so KIA’s out of all that shooting in a year. The actual amount can vary by where your dumped. Back on Highway One we shot about thirty to fifty a night. Down south; I’m not sure we even shot any! In the “valley” you could shoot 500 a night if you had the ammo and strength. Trust me there never was a let down in intelligent targets to shoot at. Just sort of a standard for the northern half of I-Corp. H&I’s are normally shot by one gun. Div. had a cut off point of 350 shots in one night (I’ll tell you why later). We tried to keep the H&I gun around 300 shots per night, and on a 155mm howitzer; that’s a lot of shooting. The H&I gun is normally excluded from all fire missions except for what is known as battery arrest (everybody shoots) and contact fire mission. . A contact mission can be one of several things, but are also priority one! They can mean your involved in a heavy fire fight calling for massive shooting. It can also mean your shooting right on top of friendlies (more on that later). As a rule the normal contact mission is also close order drill. Everything has to be near perfect because you dropping rounds as close as 250 yards to friendlies (we have shot within 75 yards with just one gun). It usually involves a surrounded platoon in the middle of the night. So your job is to keep the other guys off them till day light. When you do this, you’ll often have three guns shooting three different targets with rounds hitting about 125 yards out. They’ll be on the fire push asking you to bring them in close, but you better not. Once you’ve got the three or four targets for each gun pre-registered and shot a couple times, the gun is not moved! A fourth gun is often brought into this to shoot illumination rounds all night long. Almost never shoot the depth con with more than three howitzers, and even then it’s tricky. Sometimes you’ll pre-register another LZ just to be a step ahead of the bad guys when they decide to do a probe. My base camp was so remote that only the 175 guns from LZ Ross could reach it, and they are the last thing you want shooting a contact mission. So we pre-registered targets all around and even inside the wire. I’ve shot WP with one second on the fuse and a charge one green bag. HE as well. Just life as it was handed and we didn’t know anybetter.

  • SF is Special Forces. We used A102 as a base camp (their idea). It was about as far west as you could drive a tank. There was a road that ended about five miles east, but we had a pathway to get to the place. The road was a bitch seven days a week, but you stayed off it. Last time I traveled it, we had three M48 tanks and four or five ACAV’s, and they still blew a bridge right in front of us. There was another road up that way that was real scary, and I’ve done that one twice. That was road from Baldy to Ross. I road about half way to the “Y” in the road (where Hathcock got burnt up). I then walked the rest of the way. Always walked the last half of the Thien Phouc Road for the same reason. Mom didn’t raise anybody that dumb!

When you go in country, the first 90 days are a steep learning curve. The first thing they will tell you is to forget all that crap they taught you in the states. Easy for me as I didn’t know that much anyway. The first 180 days will make you either a dud or a journeyman at your craft. By then you’ve kinda figured this quagmire out a little bit, so they move you a hundred miles north. You start all over again. By this time you only have the clothes on your back and maybe three tee shirts your Mom sent you. You learn to steal! Our clothes were never washed, just burned. Yes we stunk pretty bad (so they say). You have to learn the black art of doing everything in the dark. You can hear and smell things that guys back in the rear wouldn’t. Watch a cobra slither over your toes and never flinch. Hear but can’t see a tiger walking close by, as he’s just waiting for gun fire. Having to decide if you want to go back to the rear and get those 21 shots in your belly cause you got rat bit again for the tenth time (I passed). Keep a bottle of Jim Beam stashed away to get drunk on when you loose your buddy. I’ve watched guns drawn over a can of peaches, and folks would kill for a couple pairs of socks.

gary

P.S. I forgot about why you had the 300 round cut off point. The breech becomes an issue around the 325 shot mark and by 350 you almost need a hammer to open it. I’ve shot H&I’s when we had to call the gun out due to the breech getting real hard to open. Division doesn’t like that, and the REMF’s back at battalion don’t understand. The Colonel did, and have seen TOP get on the first flight out to straiten out a young LT’s thinking process. (think ugly)

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