On Sept. 2, 1967, a Viet Cong company ambushed an 8th Transportation Group truck convoy outside Pleiku in South Vietnam’s Central Highlands. The truckers’ pre-deployment trainers instructed them to travel close together for mutual support and stop to fight if ambushed, which made all 37 trucks stationary targets inside the enemy’s kill zone. As a consequence, 30 trucks were damaged or destroyed, seven Americans were killed and 17 wounded. The Army responded by changing its convoy tactics and creating gun trucks, which innovative GIs transformed with ad hoc changes into even better combat vehicles.
The M54 5-ton gun truck was the most common transport vehicle converted. The first conversions used a truck-bed mounted compartment for two machine guns. The crews usually placed an M60 7.62 mm forward and an M2 .50-caliber in the rear. Early gun compartments had double walls constructed of 2-inch-by-12-inch planks with sandbags placed between the walls. Quarter-inch steel plates were mounted on the cabin doors and the windshield.
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Crews constantly modified and improved their trucks according to their imaginations and construction skills. Airfield landing mats replaced wooden planking in most gun compartments by 1970. Many carried additional M60s and M2s on ring and pintle mountings. Some even had a commander’s cupola mounted on an M113 armored personnel carrier hull installed over the truck bed.
Typically, one gun truck was assigned for every 10 transport trucks. During ambushes, the gun trucks responded to enemy fire while the convoy accelerated through the attack site. By 1969, more than 100 gun trucks served with the Army’s eight transport battalions in Vietnam. They saw extensive combat in a war where there were no front lines and nearly every highway was a potential danger zone. Two Army gun truck crewmen, Sgt. William W. Seay and Spc. 4 Larry G. Dahl, were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for heroism in fights against enemy forces that ambushed their convoys.
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M54 Gun Truck
Crew: Five to seven
Basic vehicle: M54 5-ton truck
Length: 24 ft., 11 in.
Weight: 26,400 lbs.
Axles/wheels: One axle with two wheels, two axles with four wheels each
Engine: 210 horsepower diesel
Max. speed: 52 mph
Max range: 280 miles
Armament: One to two M60 7.62 mm machine guns, one to two M2 .50-caliber machine guns, one XM134 7.62 mm minigun
This article appeared in the Autumn 2022 issue of Vietnam magazine.
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