The M29 Weasel (Studebaker Weasel), whilst originally designed as a snow vehicle, operated successfully in amphibious role by the addition of front and rear floats. The basic vehicle will float but its bow is square so the additional floats add stability and load carrying capacity.
Two U.S. Marine Corps AAV-7s emerge from the surf
Among tracked armored vehicles with amphibious capabilities include those that are intended for use in amphibious assault. The United States started developing a long line of LVT (Landing Vehicle Tracked) designs from ca. 1940.
Many tracked armored vehicles that are primarily intended for land-use, such as armoured fighting vehicles and armoured personnel carriers nevertheless also have amphibious ability, tactically useful inland, reducing dependence on destroyable and easily-targeted bridges. To provide motive power, they use their tracks, sometimes with added propeller or water jets. As long as the opposite bank has a shallow enough slope for the vehicle to climb out within a few miles, they can cross rivers and water obstacles. American examples are the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier and the M2 Bradley. Soviet examples are the PT-76 amphibious tank, and the BTR-50 and MT-LB APCs based on its chassis.
Some heavy tanks have an amphibious mode in which a fabric skirt is needed to add buoyancy. The Sherman DD tank used in the D-Day invasion had this setup. When in water the waterproof float screen was raised and propellers deployed. The M2 and M3 Bradleys also need such a skirt.
1944 Sherman DD (Duplex Drive) amphibious tank with float screens
At the end of World War I a Mark IX tank had airdrums attached to the side and was tested as an Amphibious vehicle.
In World War II the British further developed amphibious tanks. The Crusader was trialled with two pontoons that could be attached or removed, the tracks driving the tank in the water. The “Medium Tank A/T 1” was a tank with inbuilt buoyancy some 24 ft long and 11 ft tall. The Valentine, then the M4 Medium tank were made amphibious with the addition of a rubberized canvas screen to provide additional buoyancy and propellers driven by the main engine to give propulsion. These were DD tanks (from “Duplex Drive”) and the Sherman DD was used on D-Day to provide close fire support on the beaches during the initial landings. The Sherman DD could not fire when afloat as the buoyancy screen was higher than the gun. A number swamped and sank in the operation, due to rough weather in the English Channel (with some tanks having been launched too far out), and to turning in the current to converge on a specific point on the battlefield, which allowed waves to breach over the screens. Those making it ashore, however, provided essential fire support in the first critical hours.
Before World War II, The Soviets produced light amphibious tanks called T-37 and T-38. A third serial model, T-40, started production after the beginning of the war. A 14 ton tank, PT-1 was created, but was not mass-produced. In addition, an attempt was made to attach pontoons to T-26. While successful, the project was closed due to the high vulnerability and unwieldiness of the construction.
Polish PT-76 amphibious light tank coming out of the water
Some light tanks such as the PT-76 are amphibious, typically being propelled in the water by hydrojets or by their tracks. In 1969, the U.S. Army rushed the new M551 Sheridan to Vietnam. This 17 ton light tank was built with an aluminium hull, steel turret and gun (although the 152 mm gun was called a “launcher” at the time), and could swim across bodies of water. The M551 upon arrival in Vietnam began replacing the M48A3 Patton in all cavalry squadrons, leaving only the M48A3 in the U.S. Army’s three armored battalions in Vietnam, the 1/77th, 1/69th, and the 2/34th Armor. The Sheridan needed no modifications for river crossings, crewmen simply raised the cloth sides that were tucked inside rubber tubes along the hull’s upper edges, raised the driver’s front shield which had an acrylic glass window, the driver turned on his bilge pumps, shifted his transmission lever to water operations and the Sheridan entered the water. For newly arrived Sheridans, this might work as engineered. For “war weary” M551s, the driver’s window was often “yellowed” and/or cracked as to obscure his vision, and the rubber tubes that contained the rolled up side sleeves were often cracked and/or frozen into place. The Sheridan could still cross a body of water, but like its swimming cousin, the M113 APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier, also built of aluminium) the river had to be narrow, less than 100 yards (100 m). In all cases, the bilge pumps had to be working properly, and even then by the time the Sheridan or the APC reached the other side, water would often fill the insides up to their armoured roofs, spilling through the hatches’ cracks and emptying onto the earth once safely ashore. Often a fold down trim vane is erected to stop water washing over the bow of the tank and thus reducing the risk of the vehicle being swamped via the driver’s hatch.
Hagglunds Bv206 in US military service as M-973 SUSV (small unit support vehicle).
The unique capability that distinguishes multi-unit vehicles from single unit ones, is the ability to help each other. According to a 1999 article in Military Parade magazine, multi-unit, all-terrain transport vehicles were first proposed by the British in 1913, and by the 1950s, over 40 types of articulated tracked vehicles (ATVs) were in production. The articulated tracked concept is chosen primarily for its combination of high maneuverability, cross-country abilities, and remarkable load-carrying capacity. In some cases the design is made amphibious, giving them all-terrain capability in the truest sense. Usually the front unit houses at least the engine, gearboxes, fuel tank(s) and the driver’s compartment, and perhaps there is some space left for cargo or passengers, whereas the rear unit is the primary load carrier.
Examples of this concept are the Russian Vityaz, Swedish Volvo Bv202 and Hagglunds Bv206 designs, and the Bronco ATTC of Singapore.
A highly specialised development is the Arktos expedition and evacuation craft, that uses a linkage with two joints to connect the two units, as well as fitting each unit with its own engine, to give each unit enhanced independence of movement.