Army Wreckers

V ehicles break down–on the highway and on the battlefield. Likewise, heavy objects need to be lifted in many areas. It is no surprise that the military often used one vehicle for both jobs, describing the trucks as “wrecker-cranes.” This edition of “In Action” focuses on these machines from WWII through Vietnam.

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During prewar maneuvers, the Holmes wrecker bed of this closed-cabbed Diamond T became a field maintenance stand, lifting the front of this CCKW for servicing. National Archives

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An M1A1 heavy wrecker, probably the most renowned of the Army’s WWII recovery vehicles, roars past an overturned Tiger I during the Allied advance into Europe. Most of the movement of the M1A1′s recovery gear was manually actuated. It wasn’t until the introduction of the M62, that hydraulic recovery gear became standard. National Archives

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One of the more obscure wreckers–or vehicles of any sort–of WWII is the C2 Truck-Tractor. The Federal Model 606 truck was equipped with a Gar Wood US6T26 hoist, and was designed to be used in conjunction with a trailer for aircraft recovery and maintenance. Here one of the trucks is used to dismember a downed 8th Air Force B17 in England. National Archives

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The first mass-produced M-series five ton wrecker, the M62, can be distinguished from the later M543 (with which it shared a chassis) by the spare tire mounted on the shipper. National Archives

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Because wreckers were normally assigned to maintenance units that had tools, materials and skill, the trucks were subject to more “customization” than most other vehicles. This M543A2 has been modified with the addition of a second hazard flasher, mounted on the right fender, an extended exhaust stack, and on the front bumper are guide poles and additional lights. Also note the additional lights on the rear view mirrors, the hard top enclosures for both the driver and crane operator compartments, and the lashed-down radio antenna. U.S. Army Transportation Museum

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Somewhere in Vietnam the crew of a M543A2 wrecker prepares to right an overturned Cadillac-Gage Commando. A gun truck and its crew stand by in the event of an ambush. This is an excellent example of the forgotten conditions these crews–and their vehicles–worked under. U.S. Army Transportation Museum

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The M62 saw frequent use as a crane in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The smooth, precise action of the Austin-Western hoist on it made the truck ideal for handling tactical nuclear weapons, such as the Honest John. National Archives

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The M62 and the M543 were powered by the Continental R6602 6-cylinder gasoline engines. The 602-cid engine was a gas hog, but developed an impressive 480 lbs.-ft of torque, making it well suited for recovery applications. National Archives

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Unlike the M62, whose boom extended well beyond the pivot point, the Gar Wood designed boom of the M543 and later wreckers ends abruptly. The weight of the load on the boom is causing this M543A1 to tilt substantially. The vehicles were equipped with outriggers to prevent this, but the heavy weight and manual operation of these devices made crews reluctant to use them.
National Archives

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A pair of M543A2 wreckers work in tandem to change the 107mm barrel of a M175 self propelled gun at Camp St. Barbara in Korea. The versatility of five-ton wreckers allowed them to be utilized for a variety of tasks, such as this. The basic design of the M543A2 bed–which itself drew from the M62–continued to be used through the 800 and 900 series trucks. National Archives

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The M62 and later wreckers, including these M543A2 trucks, were equipped with stiff legs. Demonstrated here during a training exercise, these were used during heavy lifting operations to transfer the weight of the suspended load directly to the ground, preventing the boom from bending. National Archives

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Considerably more difficult to find today than the five-ton wreckers are their 2-1/2-ton cousins, the M60 and M108. In this August 1958 scene in Beirut, a M108 serves as an engine hoist during Jeep maintenance.
National Archives

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Somewhere in Vietnam, a M543A2 is used to load a Conex box onto a semi trailer. The boom is near full extension, and is not supported to the ground or the wrecker bed, by boom jacks–so the Conex is either empty or contains lightweight material. U.S. Army Transportation Museum

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Wreckers typically weigh much more than other vehicles on similar chassis–with five-ton wreckers tipping the scales in the 16-17 ton range. This weight often hindered the off-road mobility of the vehicles–one of the reasons they were equipped with a self-recovery winch on the front. TACOM LCMC History Office

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As a cameraman films the action, a 35th Supply Squadron U.S. Air Force M108 unloads bombs from a M211 GMC 2-1/2-ton truck. This scene unfolded somewhere in Japan in September 1955. National Archives

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Arguably one of the largest wheeled wreckers ever fielded by the U.S. military was the M553. After trials in Europe, these vehicles and the rest of the GOER family were fielded in Vietnam, where they were notably successful. TACOM LCMC History Office

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