When it comes to improvisation, it’s not only us - the Czechs - who are good at it. In a tight spot and when the Ministry of Defense forgets to sufficiently supply its army with armored vehicles and trucks, an American soldier can manage himself as well. In Iraq, these improvised gun-trucks are called the „hillbilly armor“ or „redneck ironclads“. And each one is an original. Let’s look at the most impressive ones.
The „all against all“ conflict begins
Soon after the US invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's régime, the original ideas about the future development of the country proved to be unrealistically optimistic. Instead of calming the situation, clashes broke out between various parties, militias, tribes, clans or gangs and the foreign troops in the„all against all“ style. Many American soldiers were killed or wounded in attacks on military vehicles, most of which were not designed to operate in zones of combat.
A classic example would be the legendary off-road vehicle HMMWV (Humvee), which was created during the Cold War with the planned deployment in a symmetrical conflict with clearly separable front and rear of the battle. Being a non-armored vehicle, it was meant for the rear service. Unfortunately, in an asymmetrical conflict like the one in Iraq, there is neither „front“ nor „rear“, since the combat is going on everywhere.
Just like Humvee, other types of vehicles, especially heavy trucks, suffered heavy losses as well. The US Army had to take action. It soon ordered the standardized armor kits, so-called ASK (Armor Survivability Kit), which improves the level of protection of ordinary vehicles. Also, the Army began to buy armored versions of the Humvee as well as special armored automobiles called MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected).
But the American soldiers had to somehow survive, until these new toys arrive. So they got crafty. And their creativity lead to the birth of these technically interesting improvisations, that surely helped saving hundreds and thousands of men and women.
Materials and improvement procedures
The creation of temporarily armored (and possibly also armed) vehicles, of course, is not something that began in Iraq in 2004. Even during the conflicts in Korea and Indochina, a similar technique was used by the Americans and the French, and later were multiple conversions of cars used in many conflicts in the Third World countries, which, after all, still continue.
But the conflict in Iraq undoubtedly counts as one of those that represent one of the largest deployments of such technology in urban combat. By far, the most frequent subject of modifications became the HMMWV vehicles, other than that, different medium trucks and in some cases even heavy trucks and few real curiosities.
When it comes to materials and procedures used in building these „gun-trucks“, they’re almost always the same. The most common material used are the steel plates, often scavenged from transportation containers and discarded vehicles. Plus, the US Army bought specially for these purposes plates made of Swedish armor steel ARMOX and HARDOX. The plates (no matter their origin) were then attached to the car’s body to protect the crew, engine, tank etc.
Plywood or wooden boards with metal sheet studded on them are often used as a protection against small-caliber weapons as well as plastic boards and metal grates. Besides improved durability, soldiers often take the improvement of their vehicle on the next level by mounting on machine-guns and automatic grenade launchers. But since it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, you’ll sure get a better idea about these provisory ironclads by looking at the following photographs.
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A typical gun-truck on the HMMWV basis, basic version M998. The vehicle is equipped by armor plates, creating a secure space for the soldier up to the driver’s cabin. Armor also creates provisory driver and passenger doors and the car is as well mounted with a heavy 12,7 mm machine-gun Browning M2HB.
M939 trucks with a load capacity of 5 tons are also used as the average conversion basis. This photo shows a flatbed vehicle M923A1 with armored hull and driver’s cabin as well as turret for four guns. The cabin is mounted with 12,7 mm machine-gun M2HB while the hull is equipped with two 7,62 mm machine guns M240B and a 40 mm grenade launcher Mk 19.
But the US Army infantry is not the only one who uses self-improved gun-trucks. The Special Forces use them as well, as seen on this picture of a M925A1 truck, which belongs to the Fifth Unit of the Special Forces. We can see not only the armored driver‘s cabin and the 12,7 mm M2HB machine-gun turret, but also an unusual reinforced bumper as well.
The 8-wheel trucks called HEMTT were also converted into these armored improvisations. This specimen’s loading platform was upgraded by a „tower“, enabling firing in all directions. It can be assumed that a vehicle modified in this way was used as a patrol car in dangerous areas.
The biggest gun-truck on record in Iraq was created as a conversion of the PLS truck, very similar to the HEMTT, only with two more wheels and a pallet platform. On this platform, the soldiers have installed an armored superstructure with carriages for heavy 12,7 mm M2HB machine-guns and automatic grenade launchers Mk 19.
Among the lesser-known vehicles of the US Army, there are the HETS trucks. Every one consists of an 8-wheel truck M1070 and a semi-trailer M1000. And the M1070 trucks became objects of conversion to gun-trucks as well. This specimen got an armored superstructure with two carriages for the 12,7 mm Browning M2HB machine-guns.
An important part of the US Army logistics in Iraq was represented by the M915 heavy trucks, acting like tractors, tippers or concrete mixers. Some of them got upgraded with armor and weapons. On this photo, we’re looking at a M915A1 truck with a superstructure built up on the bottom parts of a M101 trailer with a turret for the so-popular M2HB machine gun.
Among the biggest curiosities among the improvised gun-trucks of the US Army are undoubtedly the upgraded tippers. Since their hulls offered a pretty good protection even before the upgrades, the tippers were perfect for this purpose. This photo shows us an army tipper M817 with its hull changed into a covered superstructure for the transportation of patrolling soldiers.
Certainly, the most bizarre gun-truck ever, was constructed on the basis of a M809 automobile. On its chassis, the whole body of a tracked M113 armored personnel carrier was seated, the windows were cut out of the hull and the only thing you could see of the original car is the hood. Still, it‘s unknown, whether this grotesque hybrid has ever driven into battle.
Aside from army vehicles, cars of military contractors have also had their moments in the war in Iraq, often equipped with improvised armor and weapons. This photo shows us two utility vehicles Ford F-350 with elevated armored turrets for contractors armed with rifles or light machine-guns.
Explanation of the abbreviations:
HEMTT = Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck
HETS = Heavy Equipment Transport System
HMMWV = High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle
PLS = Palletized Load System
Sources: US Army, ATM, Střelecká revue magazine