Military Review

Reconnaissance vehicle Howie Machine Gun Carrier. A victim of simplifications


Howie MGC reconnaissance vehicle and its creators

Simplicity of design usually provides certain advantages, but oversimplification can lead to problems. A striking example of this was the American-designed Howie Machine Gun Carrier reconnaissance vehicle. Despite its extremely simple and cheap design, it was unsuitable for practical use.

Instead of an armored car

In early 1937, Brigadier General Walter K. Short took the initiative to create a promising ultralight multipurpose combat vehicle. At that time, the tasks of reconnaissance and escort of infantry or cavalry units were mainly solved with the help of armored vehicles. However, this technique was quite complicated and expensive, and therefore possible alternatives had to be considered.

General Short's idea was to create the most compact vehicle with a minimum crew and machine gun armament. Due to a specially designed chassis, it had to show high mobility. Speed, maneuverability and minimal projection had to protect her as well as conventional armor.

Reconnaissance vehicle Howie Machine Gun Carrier. A victim of simplifications
Ready to maneuver and fight

The development and construction of an experimental vehicle was entrusted to specialists of the Fort Benning Infantry School - Captain Robert J. Howie and Master Sergeant M. Wiley. In just a few months, they prepared a project and assembled a prototype themselves. In recognition of their work, the project featured in documents called the Howie Machine Gun Carrier. However, in the future, a rather offensive unofficial nickname appeared.

There is simply no place

The authors of the project did an excellent job of simplifying and reducing the machine. The finished sample was actually a self-propelled chassis without a body / body with the minimum required set of units, the simplest design of the power plant - and with the required machine gun armament. During the assembly, units of a serial American Austin car and other available components were used.

The design was based on a simple rectangular frame with flat decking. In its front part, a front axle with steerable wheels was attached. An engine and a simple transmission based on serial units were placed at the stern. The simplest bumper was envisaged, and on the sides there were wheel arches.

The power plant and transmission were borrowed from the American Austin car. The low-power engine was in the stern and was turned by the output shaft forward. In front of the engine there was a three-speed manual transmission, which provided the drive of the finished axle with a differential. The rear wheels were under the engine, which required an additional chain drive connecting their axle shafts to the axle. The wheels, gears and chains were covered with curved fenders. The suspension on both axles was rigid.

The crew consisted of only two people, and their workplaces were distinguished by specific ergonomics. The driver and machine gunner had to lie on their stomachs along the car. The driver's seat was to the left of the longitudinal axis, the machine gunner was located to the right.

The driver's seat had original controls. Instead of a steering wheel, a boat-style tiller was used, it was controlled by the left hand. To the right of the driver was a block with a gearshift lever. With the help of a rigid rod, he connected with his own gear lever. The pedals were placed in the rear of the car, under the driver's feet.

Directly in front of the shooter's place, at the right wheel, there was a kingpin for installing a machine gun. The prototype used a water-cooled M1917 product. Between the front wheels, a frame was provided in which five boxes with cartridge belts and one canister of water for a machine gun were fixed. Remaining in place, the shooter could fire at targets in a limited horizontal and vertical sector.

The length of the Howie MGC was only 3,15 m with a wheelbase of 1,9 m, width - less than 1,6 m. The height of the structure was determined by the dimensions of the power plant, namely the radiator. This parameter did not exceed 850 mm. Curb weight excluding weapons and crew - 460 kg. Perhaps, in the course of further development, it was possible to reduce the size and weight. The car engine provided highway speeds of up to 45 km / h.

Test media

The assembly of the Howie MGC product "from scrap materials" continued until August 1937, after which it was taken out for sea trials. All tests were carried out at the Fort Benning test site. They checked both running and firing characteristics. At the same time, lengthy tests were not needed, since the prototype very quickly showed all its advantages and, more importantly, disadvantages.

The reconnaissance vehicle, without unnecessary units, developed high speed on the highway and showed good maneuverability. The pivot machine-gun mount provided good firepower. The car easily took cover in the folds of the terrain, and its detection was quite difficult. However, this was where all the advantages ended.

It quickly became clear that the chassis leaves much to be desired and does not even meet the basic requirements of convenience. The lack of soft suspension and low ground clearance limited mobility and cross-country ability even on the highway. The crew was "open to all winds" and the controls were not comfortable. Due to the shaking and bumps, the car received the offensive nickname Belly Flapper - probably, the ride on it reminded someone of a painful fall into the water on the ground.

As expected, the Howie MGC project received bad reviews and was left without a recommendation for further development. The army should have continued the development and operation of reconnaissance armored cars of the usual appearance, and not an overly lightweight chassis with a machine gun. By the beginning of 1938, work on General Short's concept had stopped.

Drawing from a 1939 patent showing a three-axle chassis

Second attempt

However, the authors of the project did not give up. Captain R. Howie believed that his "machine gun carrier" has real prospects and is able to find his place in the army. He started correspondence with various structures and organizations, began to walk from office to office and defend his point of view. In addition, he patented the original machine. It is curious that the 1939 patent was accompanied by drawings of a two- and three-axle chassis.

The efforts of the enthusiastic officer were not in vain. In 1940, against the backdrop of the outbreak of war in Europe and the known risks for the United States, the Howie Machine Gun Carrier project again attracted attention. The Defense Department invited representatives of several car companies to familiarize themselves with the experimental design. Perhaps they could become interested in an unusual concept and implement it at a new technical level, already without the inherent problems of the existing prototype.

Howie MGC at the Museum

The reconnaissance vehicle again did not interest anyone, and finally was left without a future. The only prototype built was sent to storage before possible disposal. However, the "machine gun carrier" was lucky. He survived our time and after restoration took his place in the museum at Fort Benning.

Thus, the project of R. Howie and M. Wiley based on the concept of General W. Short did not give any real results, except for the understanding of the futility of such developments. It should be noted that the Howie Machine Gun Carrier was not the only attempt at a compact machine with machine gun armament. Similar products were created in other countries, and all similar projects ended in the same way - failure. Reconnaissance vehicles and tankettes of this kind had no real prospects.
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  1. RealPilot
    RealPilot 21 March 2021 04: 41
    Simplifications rarely bear fruit outside of war. And here in 1937, everyone is preparing, but no one is at war.
    Such a "tachanka" could be put into service in combat conditions, when the economy is straining from the war, and every cent on the scale of hundreds and thousands of cars matters. Well, for the Americans, supplies to the allies were important, and they would take almost anything in a difficult situation. Until the subsequent installation of the body would be considered - the engine and frame were there! And engines in World War II were in short supply. Plus wheels with rubber.

    And if such a "miracle" had been invented twenty or thirty years earlier, when cars were a wonder ... Maybe someone would be interested in it.

    But thanks to the author of the article! Sometimes the story about the failed development of topics is interesting that no one knows about them. Volumes have already been written about legendary weapons, but failures show the spirit of the era, there are interesting examples of engineering thought worthy of understanding.
    1. Profiler
      Profiler 21 March 2021 04: 48
      Quote: RealPilot
      And if such a "miracle" had been invented twenty or thirty years earlier, when cars were a wonder ... Maybe someone would be interested in it.

      No. Reading the material, and looking at the photos, I also assumed that the platform could be used as a Front End Conveyor (TPK), but after reading up to this point:
      The suspension on both axles was rigid.

      , realized that negative , sucks yes ...
    2. Simargl
      Simargl 21 March 2021 07: 30
      Quote: RealPilot
      Until the subsequent installation of the body would be considered - the engine and frame were there!
      There is no suspension, and therefore all superstructures will fall apart after 10 km over rough terrain. However, even in the case of "normal" use - you can become disabled.
  2. tasha
    tasha 21 March 2021 05: 40
    Interesting story ...
    General Short's idea was to create the most compact vehicle with a minimum crew and machine-gun armament ... Reconnaissance vehicles and tankettes of this kind had no real prospects.
    Not sure if the conclusion is correct. It's just that in this particular case, the designers got carried away. And after a few years:
  3. Revolver
    Revolver 21 March 2021 05: 57
    Even this thing looks much more advanced in comparison.
    1. Profiler
      Profiler 21 March 2021 06: 31
      Quote: Nagan
      Even this thing looks much more advanced in comparison.

      So this is a specialized TPK (leading edge conveyor), an all-wheel drive amphibious conveyor of especially low carrying capacity.
      It was originally designed by order of the Airborne Forces for the evacuation of the wounded, the supply of ammunition and military-technical property, towing, and in secondary use, and for the installation of certain types of weapons.
      And it was made not by a bone shaker, as the American ersatz seems to be, but was a completely balanced and integral solution for the tasks assigned to him.
      1. Darkness
        Darkness 21 March 2021 07: 45
        A weapon to install on our "Volynyanka" if?
  4. saygon66
    saygon66 21 March 2021 07: 42
    - So we will write down: Per-spec-tiv not and-me-whether ... wink

    1. Reviews
      Reviews 21 March 2021 12: 58
      Quote: saygon66
      - So we will write down: Per-spec-tiv not and-me-whether ... wink

      And also an armed "Mule".

  5. Vadim Ananyin
    Vadim Ananyin 21 March 2021 08: 35
    Interesting, informative.
  6. andrewkor
    andrewkor 21 March 2021 08: 54
    Dear colleague, 20 years of head start (37-57) from the beginning of development, another 20 years of fine-tuning to serial production, with the involvement of all the resources of the Automotive industry and science, you must agree, it mattered!
  7. dauria
    dauria 21 March 2021 10: 15
    There is only one drawback - recumbency. If you use this little creature at the airport - the price would not be even in such a primitive form.

    And an interesting thing. The recumbent position did not take root even in aviation - fatigue is too great even without any shaking. Henschel 132, too, tried to simplify no further. wink
    1. Proctologist
      Proctologist 21 March 2021 12: 43
      Well, the advantages of a recumbent position for military equipment are too tempting - a small frontal projection. You can understand engineers. Basically, F1 supercars prove that it can be upgraded to a driver-friendly option.
  8. bk0010
    bk0010 21 March 2021 10: 31
    Serve lying! Attack while prone !!!
  9. Proctologist
    Proctologist 21 March 2021 12: 40
    Many thanks! Very informative! It is especially interesting to see how the project, which was 30-50 years ahead of its time, was completely useless until someone came up with a couple of "little things" that turn the chassis into a buggy, and this option turned out to be successful! Just add a suspension and arcs!
  10. Free wind
    Free wind 21 March 2021 12: 58
    Unusual our LuAZ. And if you stick an engine from a Chinese walk-behind tractor. That will be quite a successful car .. Experiments on sticking Chinese engines into Burany are interesting.
  11. voyaka uh
    voyaka uh 21 March 2021 22: 08
    The British had a similar machine in WW2. And she showed herself well.
    An anti-tank rifle and a machine gun.
    Universal Weapons Carrier (Bren Carrier)
    1. Alex013
      Alex013 22 March 2021 18: 53
      Yes, and about 2 thousand units were delivered to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease. There are many photos with scouts.
      1. voyaka uh
        voyaka uh 22 March 2021 19: 09
        I even climbed into it. It is exhibited as an exhibit in one of the parks.
        Cool. The engine is open, like on an old boat. The trough is ... laughing
  12. Mooh
    Mooh 7 May 2021 15: 10
    There is also our infernal construction - ACS-57. Anti-tank landing self-propelled gun in the dimensions of a car. I suspect that it did not have very good anti-tank capabilities, even at the time of creation, but the thing is very cool. The motor is from Pobeda, the control is easy, the cross-country ability with wheeled vehicles is not comparable. And most importantly, no roof, which is rare for an armored vehicle.