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Diamond T M20 Ballast Tractor

Antar tank transporter and Centurion tank

A tank transporter is a specialized road vehicle for the transport of tanks, to and from the battlefield or during peacetime. They are necessary to limit the mileage of the tracked vehicles (as the tracks have a limited lifetime) and also to reduce wear on road surfaces which can easily be damaged by such heavy vehicles. Tank transporters also use less fuel than tracked vehicles and may have a higher road speed if provided with a good road network.

They may also be used for wheeled armoured cars, or for unarmoured tracked vehicles, though the advantages of using transporters are usually less substantial in these cases.

Recovery vehicles[]

Transporters are merely for the carriage of tanks. It's not their function to recover a damaged, broken-down or bogged-down tank. Specialist armoured recovery vehicles are used for this, which may have powerful winches or even cranes. Tanks are usually deployed in groups, with groups of transporters to support them. Recovery vehicles are more complex and more expensive to build than transporters, so a handful of recovery vehicles need be supplied to support a troop of transporters.

M26 armoured tank transporter tractor unit

For similar reasons, tank transporters are rarely armoured to recover tanks under fire, although tracked recovery vehicles frequently are. A rare few have been, such as the "Dragon Wagon" of World War Two.

FTF tank transporter tractor unit, build by Floor Truck Factory in the Netherlands in the 1970s for the Dutch Army as replacement for the Thornycroft Mighty Antar.

It had a 475 HP Detroit Two-Stroke Diesel engine with Roots blower

In peacetime a main battle tank design will often be produced alongside a tracked armoured recovery vehicle based on the same chassis, so as to have a recovery vehicle available with adequate weight and power for that generation of tanks. In wartime it's more usual to recycle the previous generation of tanks as recovery tanks, so as to extend their useful life without using valuable production.

Scammell Contractor hauling Conqueror ARV2 FV222 Tank Recovery Vehicle(REME owned)

Chassis designs[]

Three chassis designs have been used, generally in this order over time as loads became heavier, although there are exceptions.

Rigid chassis[]

The lighter tanks of the inter-war period were carried on simple rigid flatbed lorries.


The A39 Tortoise being towed on a trailer by two Diamond Ts during trials in BAOR, 1948

As the weight of tanks became too much for lorry chassis, separate trailers were developed. These carried the entire weight of the tank on their own wheels, putting no weight onto the tractor unit. They are pulled by a ballast tractor connected to a drawbar.

The simplest trailer designs have only two axles, but heavier loads frequently require more than this. Multiple wheels per axle are common, usually four, sometimes eight.

One advantage of ballast tractors is that they're capable of double-heading, where two tractor units are coupled to pull a particularly heavy trailer.


Some designs, such as the 1928 Aldershot design,[1] grouped pairs of axles at each end of the trailer. Others, such as the 70-ton Cranes trailer illustrated here beneath the Tortoise had five axles, spaced along the length of the trailer.[2] The end-wheel designs have the advantages of better ability to cross rough ground and steering more easily. Those with axles throughout their length must have suspension that allows the axles to move and also allowing some steering. This makes them more complicated to manufacture. Placing the wheels at the ends also allows the chassis to dip down into a "well", giving a lower centre of gravity during transport. The Cranes' trailer had a frame split into two sections of two and three axles, with a further carrying bed above them. The outermost four axles had Ackermann steering for their wheels.

The German Sd.Ah.116 trailer of World War 2 (illustrated below.) went so far as to have steersman's position on the rear bogie, covered by the canvas tilt just visible in the background of the photograph.



The ballast tractor for a drawbar trailer must weigh comparably to its load if it's to have traction, which means that the total load might be as much as twice the useful payload. By using a semi-trailer instead, some of the load's weight is instead carried by the tractor. This avoids the need for ballasting it, making a greater proportion of the total weight available for the payload.

The simplest semi-trailer is "half of a trailer", having wheels at the rear only and an articulated connection to the tractor unit. A strong metal post or kingpin on the trailer fits into a socket or fifth wheel on the tractor.

Semi-trailers cannot be moved on their own, or pushed and pulled by ballast tractors. They are only mobile when connected to the correct tractor unit, which can limit their use in recovery.

To keep the load's centre of gravity low, gooseneck trailers are used. These have a low horizontal loadbed, with a central spine that rises up at the front to connect to the fifth wheel.

As for drawbar trailers, it's simplest if all the axles of a semi-trailer are concentrated at the rear, away from the tractor unit. The sheer weight of some though requires more and more axles, and these may then need steering gear at the front.



The simplest means of loading the transporter is with a pair of hinged ramps at the rear. The load then drives up and on under its own power. As tracked vehicles exist for their mobility across obstacles, they have no difficulty in doing this.

Tilt beds[]

The Cranes trailer described above uses an entire see-saw tilting bed (and two small ramps). A manual hydraulic pump tilts the empty bed, bringing the loading end close to the ground. The tank drives up, then once past the see-saw fulcrum the bed tilts back under its weight.

Demountable axles[]

Loading a StuG III onto a Sd.Ah.116 demountable trailer, 1943

Some designs use a demountable axle, where the axle detaches from the bed of the trailer. Access to the load bed is now through low ramps, without needing to climb over the height of the wheels. Again, the intention is to keep centre of gravity low.

Power for loading[]

Loading a disabled vehicle by pushing with an armoured recovery vehicle of the Germany Army

An operational vehicle can be driven on-board under its own power. This is a delicate operation, particularly with tracks, as their precise steering is limited. In particular neutral steering, where one track goes forward and one backward causing the tank to turn on the spot, is likely to either damage the loadbed or to cause the vehicle to fall off.

A few transporters have been fitted with winches for loading, but this is uncommon.[3] More usually a disabled vehicle is loaded with the assistance of a recovery tractor, either winching or pushing it on board.

Individual models[]

Truck Model Origins Years in use Users
Scammell Pioneer Semi-trailer UK 1930s-1940s British Army
Diamond T tank transporter USA 1940s-1970s British Army, US Army, Dutch Army
Scammell Commander UK 1986-2002 British Army
Sd.Kfz. 9/18 Ton Heavy Tank Transporter Sd.Ah.116 Germany 1940s German Army
Scammell Pioneer Semi-trailer UK 1930s-1940s British Army
Thorneycroft 'Mighty' Antar UK 1940s-1986 British Army, Dutch Army
Floor Truck Factory Netherlands 1970s-? Dutch Army
Faun SLT 50-3 Elefant and SLT-56 Germany 1970s-? Germany Army, Polish Army (since 2002)
Faun SLT 56 Franziska with Kässbohrer semi-trailer Germany 1989- Germany Army
Oshkosh Corporation Commercial Heavy Equipment Transporter (C-HET)- M746 or M911 tractor with M747 semitrailer USA 1970s-1990s US Army
Oshkosh Corporation Heavy Equipment Transport System USA 1993- US Army, British Army (since 2002)
Land Mobility Technologies modified Mercedes-Benz Actros Armoured Heavy Support Vehicle Systems Germany / South Africa 2000s- Canadian Forces - on order 2007 (delivery 2008-2009)
DAF Trucks DAF YTZ95.530 (DAF XF) 95 Tropco tractor and trailer Netherlands 2005- Dutch Army, Canadian Forces - loaded from Dutch (2007-2009)
Type 82 HET - Hanyang Special Auto Works (Hanyang Special Vehicle Works) HY473 tractor and HY962 semi-trailer China 1960s People's Liberation Army
MAZ 537G tank transporter USSR 1960s Soviet Army, Russian Army, People's Liberation Army and various other Eastern Bloc nations
Volvo N1233 Sweden 1977- Swedish Army
Scania T144 Sweden 1998- Swedish Army, Belgian Army and French Army

See also[]

Further reading[]

  • Baxter, Brian S. (1989). Breakdown: A History of Recovery Vehicles in the British Army. HMSO, for REME Museum. ISBN 0-11-290456-4. 


External links[]

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