Tank Recovery Vehicles
Most of the information on this page is courtesy of Joe DeMarco. Note: Some of the data was compiled using a technique informally referred to as "counting heads." It is based on the ongoing study of period documents and photographs, as well as surviving retrievers. Due to the limited nature of available reference sources, some of the information presented here must be considered as "educated guesswork."


Part 3 : Post-war Sherman Retrievers
Go to M32 series page

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As mentioned earlier, the Marine Corps was provided with 20 M32B3s based on new production large hatch M4A3(75) Wet Stowage Shermans with Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS). Although it was the US Army's policy to employ used Shermans for its retriever conversion program, it was agreed that new tanks would be converted "in order to attain maximum interchangeability" with the M4A3(75) Wets issued to Marine Tank Battalions as part of their 1944 requirements. For their 1945 requirements, the Corps stated in August, 1944 that it would need an additional 50 M32B3s based on new production M4A3 Shermans. At first, there was no mention of Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension, but by the time the Ordnance Department approved of the request, all new M4A3 production featured HVSS. This created something of an issue, "Since the 23 " track and horizontal volute spring suspension have not been tested to determine their suitability for carrying the loads normally imposed on Tank Recovery Vehicles." Consequently, a pilot vehicle, "converted from a standard Tank Recovery Vehicle M32B3" was retrofitted with HVSS. Changes to the boom lifting device and some stowage items were incorporated, and on January 25, 1945, the Ordnance Committee designated the pilot as "Vehicle, Tank Recovery, T14." After trials were completed, the T14 pilot was retained by the Ordnance Department at APG for historical reference, and the photo above shows it there in March of 1949. The USA Registration Number is chalked on, and can be read as 40154986, indicating that the T14 was converted from M32B3 Serial Number 412, which we have featured in a number of previous captions. There has been some confusion about the T14, which might be partly to blame on this photo. Note that "M32A1" is stenciled on the side, and that the vehicle is labeled "M32A1" in the information panel. We would note that Serial Number 412 originally had a chute turret, but was retrofitted with the door turret seen here when converted to T14.


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Unfortunately, the T14 appears to have been scrapped in the 1950s, so is not available for study. Ordnance Committee Memorandum Item 26511, which designated the pilot as "Vehicle, Tank Recovery, T14," is dated January 25, 1945. The reference text states that, " A pilot vehicle is being built from an old vehicle..." From that, we would guess that M32B3 Serial Number 412 was converted to T14 starting in late 1944 or early 1945. The photo above shows the T14 with its boom raised in the forward position. A new item that can be seen here is the "boom raising sheave" (arrow). It was thought that the 23 inch track width of the Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension system would cause interference issues with the lifting arm and drum of the original M32 series design. Consequently, these items were replaced with the boom raising sheave. The stabilizer plates of the original design were for the Vertical Volute Spring Suspension system. With the introduction of HVSS, these were rendered obsolete, and no longer carried on the left side of the glacis. Instead, according to author Richard Hunnicutt, "Adjustable rod type stabilizers were used to lock out the springs on the front and rear bogies during lifting operations."


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Above shows a rear view of the T14. As we have discussed, M32B3 Serial Number 412 was retrofitted with the Automatic Tow Hook Modification in the Fall of 1944. The hook became a standard fixture on the T14E1s, the follow up conversions done for the Marines, and based on new production M4A3s with HVSS. The towing pintle (1) was relocated from its usual position on the lower rear hull to between the A frame support sockets. This new location carried over to the T14E1s, most likely because it was stipulated that they would be equipped with "deep water fording equipment." The T14 was retrofitted with the armored exhaust deflector (2) that became standard on the M4A3 series in early 1945. MWO G1-W25 cautions that, "It will be necessary to remove the hook and frame assembly from the vehicle when the boom is to be used for hoisting operations in the forward positions." In our view, this would have been a serious limitation to the utility of the Automatic Tow Hook, since the heavy assembly would have to have been taken on and off repeatedly in order to perform the retriever's most common hoisting operation. The photo demonstrates how the tow hook, if not removed, would have to have been dragged behind the vehicle when the boom was deployed to the front. Note the muffler (3) running across the rear of the T14. For the planned invasion of Japan, both the US and Great Britain conducted tests with the purpose of "the reduction of the exhaust noise level" on the M32 series. It is obvious that some of these trials were conducted with the T14, although we would observe that we find no evidence that the muffler set up shown was adopted for use on the T14E1s.


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The photo above was taken by the Chrysler Engineering Division in April, 1945. Again some confusion arises since the T14 is identified as an "M32B3" in the information panel. Chrysler designed new fittings for stowage of the snatch blocks on each side of the vehicle. These do NOT appear to have been adopted for the T14E1s. (We believe that the snatch blocks were stowed in the usual M32 series position on top of the chock blocks on the engine deck.) The "adjustable rod type stabilizers" mentioned by Mr. Hunnicutt are something of a mystery. We suspect that the item circled in red and shown larger in the inset, may be one of the four rod type stabilizers installed on the bogies just below the shock absorbers "to lock out the springs on the front and rear bogies during lifting operations."


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Above is an enlargement of the left side plan view of the T14. It is thought that the items circled in red were welded on to the front and rear bogie castings on both sides in order to hold the "adjustable rod type stabilizers." A close up view of one of the fittings as seen on a surviving T14E1 is shown in the inset. It is our theory that the T14 was the only retriever that was retrofitted with HVSS during WW II, and that the T14E1s were the only WW II era models that were converted from Shermans originally built with HVSS. Furthermore, we would speculate that the T14 pilot and the T14E1s were the only retrievers that utilized the "adjustable rod type stabilizers" with the special fittings welded to the bogies. The evidence seen on surviving examples suggests that post war M32 series retrievers that were retrofitted with HVSS used alternate stabilizer plates, which we will discuss going forward.


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Ordnance Committee Memorandum Item 26742, dated February 15, 1945, authorized "the Ordnance Dept. to provide the US Marine Corps in 1945 with 50 Tank Recovery Vehicles, M32B3 by conversion of new Medium Tanks, M4A3 rather than from remanufactured chassis." These were assigned a "separate designation" - "Vehicle, Recovery, Tank, T14E1." Ultimately, according to the December 1945 "Summary Report of Acceptances," 80 T14E1s were produced during the year 1945 - 30 by Baldwin Locomotive and 50 by International Harvester. We couldn't find any reliable information on the Baldwin units, but based on an Ordnance Department production document, it would appear that the 50 T14E1s converted by International Harvester were assigned Serial Numbers 3381 through 3430, and that these along with the Baldwin T14E1s retained their original tank USA Registration Numbers. Unfortunately, the only monthly production figures we could find have it that the first 12 T14E1s were converted by Baldwin in June, 1945. (We suspect Baldwin completed the remaining 18 in July.) These 30 were based on M4A3(105) Shermans that were ordered diverted from production at Chrysler in late April, 1945. The photo above is the only "Ordnance type" photo we know, and shows a T14E1 at the Detroit Arsenal on June 27, 1945. While the boom raising sheave is not seen installed in the photo, the fittings that held it are circled. It is thought that all of the T14E1s were equipped with the automatic tow hook. Just the shadow of the hook can be seen here, but note the presence of the bridle assembly on the front. The T14E1s used "door" type turrets. The original spare road wheel fittings on M32 series turrets each held one VVSS type wheel. In this photo, one can see new turret fittings (1 and 2) that are capable of holding two HVSS type road wheels per fitting. The single spare road wheel fittings (3 and 4) on the front and rear of both sides of the hull, are also present on the T14 pilot, and can be seen in a few period photos of T14E1s. However, in a small number of photos, these side fittings are missing, and double fittings are seen on both sides of the upper rear hull plate instead.


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The first phase of the invasion of Japan was scheduled for November, 1945. Plans called for 3 Marine Tank Battalions to be equipped with M4A3(75) and M4A3(105)s with HVSS, with T14E1s providing recovery and maintenance support. In the post war years, some M4A3(105)s and T14E1s were retained by the USMC, while the M4A3(75)s were replaced with M26s by the time of the Korean War. The T14E1s do not appear to have been assigned new retriever Registration Numbers, but simply retained their original M4A3 tank USA Numbers. However, the Marines used their own numbering system. The photo above shows T14E1, USMC Number 103210, with an M4A3(105)HVSS in the background. The further away one gets from production, the more likely it is that changes will have been made to vehicles by base shops or depots or even simply by the preferences of crews. In this case, the only apparent spare road wheel stowage can be seen on the upper rear hull plate (1). Perhaps reflecting its limited utility, the automatic tow hook has been removed, although the extension assemblies (2) are "still" welded to the vehicle's A frame support sockets. The "Towing Hook Hanger Assembly" (3) also remains. The relocated pintle (4) appears to have been an exclusive feature of the T14 series. The T14E1s were ordered with "deep water fording equipment" as evidenced by the wading trunk in the previous photo. This was obviously removed from this unit, but note the weld scars running across the rear hull plate just above the armored exhaust deflector (5). The spare HVSS tracks (6) are stowed in what we would consider the standard T14E1 configuration. It differs slightly from the standard configuration seen on, say, the M4A3(105)HVSS. Note that the fittings (7) for the spare VVSS tracks are "still" present on the rear of the turret.


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This Korean War era photo shows a USMC T14E1 with some of its crew. The spare road wheel fittings are in the same locations as in the June 1945 Detroit Arsenal photo shown earlier. However, the crew (we would guess) has relocated 2 of the stowage boxes to the upper rear hull plate. The snatch block (1) and the hinged tow bar (2) are also in non standard positions on the side of the hull. Again the automatic tow hook has been removed, but the "Towing Hook Hanger Assembly" (3) is still present. If one can see only the hanger in a period photo, it is a clue that that the retriever was installed with the auto tow hook modification. Just barely visible are the special fittings (circled) welded to the front and rear bogies, presumably to hold the rod type stabilizers. The available evidence suggests that the external hinge brackets on both sides of the T14E1s were no longer welded on on an angle, but mounted vertically as seen here (4). This was no doubt due to the introduction of the boom raising sheave. However, we would note that the T14 pilot retained the original angled orientation of its external brackets.


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The retriever on display at the National War and Resistance Museum (Oorlogsmuseum) in Overloon, The Netherlands is believed to be the only T14E1 that has survived more or less intact. The boom raising sheave and the side roadwheel stowage are missing, but overall this unit is in remarkable condition. We examined this retriever just before it was shipped to Europe, at which time it had the boom raising sheave installed. The photo above suggests that in order to mount the 81mm mortar, it was necessary to remove the sheave. Author Richard Hunnicutt wrote, "although retained on the pilot [T14], the 81mm mortar was eliminated from the later production models." We have an admittedly small number of survivors and period photos to work with, but we would judge that all of the T14E1s were factory equipped with the mortar and the necessary fittings to mount it on the front of the vehicle. The T14E1s were converted from M4A3s made in 1945, and consequently had the "late" glacis pattern, which featured the "short" bullet splash sections (1) in front of the drivers' auxiliary periscopes, along with the hull lifting rings mounted in the "outboard" position, very close to the edge of the glacis plate. As best we can determine, the only other large hatch welded hull retrievers done during WW II were the 12 M4A2s and 20 M4A3s converted for the USMC. The new Shermans converted by Lima would have been produced in the first half of 1944, and would have featured the "early" or "mid" glacis patterns. These would have had the hull lifting rings mounted in the "inboard" position, several inches in from the edge of the glacis.


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This right rear view shows some of the fittings for the automatic tow hook. The heavy duty tank recovery vehicle towing pintle (1) was not installed in the center of the lower rear hull as was standard on the M32 series. Instead, it was mounted in between the A frame support sockets. The towing pintle (2) seen welded to the center of the lower rear hull was standard on late production Shermans, and was probably retained on all of the T14E1s. Note the vertical orientation (3) of the right side external hinge bracket. The front and rear bogies have the "special fittings" welded on (we've circled one). We would assume that the T14E1s were equipped with "T14E1" dataplates that provided the serial number assigned, and perhaps an identification of the company that did the conversion - either Baldwin or International Harvester. Unfortunately, this unit no longer has a dataplate.


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The authors are not aware of a surviving Technical Manual for the T14E1, but on retrievers equipped with the boom raising sheave, the two fittings seen here on the glacis and on the boom (circled) appear to have been installed to serve a similar purpose to the “lifting cable safety connection” covered in the M32 series Tech Manual - “to prevent boom from falling back on the vehicle if the lifting cable should break, or the load is released suddenly.” The inset shows the T14 pilot with what we believe is a “safety cable” connected to the fittings.


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"Upon successful test of the pilot vehicle [T14] at Ordnance proving grounds, standardization action [was] taken" in mid 1945. M32 series retrievers installed with HVSS were ordered to have the designation "A1" added to their original nomenclature. An M32 with HVSS became M32A1, an M32B1 became M32A1B1, and an M32B3 became M32A1B3. Despite some official production figures to the contrary, our theory is that, except for the T14 pilot and the T14E1s, no other M32 series recovery vehicles were built with HVSS before the retriever conversion program was terminated in the third quarter of 1945. Most Ordnance contracts for major items included provision for replacement of damaged or worn out parts. The T14E1 contract specified "spare parts, equipment and tools for twelve (12) months' maintenance of vehicle; and spare parts, equipment and tools for major overhaul and distribution." As these spares were depleted, AFVs could still be repaired through cannibalization of other vehicles. A small number of period photos suggest that a few T14E1s had their original booms replaced with M32 series booms with lifting arms that connected to lifting drums on the right sprocket. The photo above was taken in Korea in the mid 1950s, and shows members of the 707th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion with what appears to be a T14E1 retrofitted with a standard M32 series boom (1). The main T14E1 clue is the fitting for the boom raising sheave (arrow). We believe that the cable clamps (circled) installed on the glacis were also exclusive to the T14E1s.


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The fittings (circled) seen on the recovery vehicle on display in a Military base in Cimahi, Indonesia suggest that it is also a case of a unit that started out as a T14E1, but had its original boom replaced with an M32 series boom, which required that the lifting drum be retrofitted to the right sprocket. Note as well, how the external boom bracket on the left is welded on in a vertical orientation. Assuming that this conversion job had been done "in the field," we were hoping that this unit might still have a "T14E1" dataplate inside, but our correspondent reported that there is no dataplate. The changes made to this retriever are very extensive, which leads us to think that it is more likely that it was remanufactured in the US, and given an "M32A1B3" dataplate before shipment as MDAP. Photo courtesy of Budi Nurtjahjo Djarot.





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In late 1948, Bowen-McLaughlin-York was awarded a contract to rebuild 1300 M4A3(76)s. A specification of the order included the instructions, "Introduce an engineering conversion of the suspension system from Vertical Volute Spring Suspension to Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension by welding basic components to the chasis." In this way the Army was able to "produce" additional supplies of M4A3(76)HVSS Shermans, the model considered to be the best acceptable substitute to make up for the shortage of available M26s. Period photographs and a few surviving examples suggest that this process was applied to some M32 series Tank Recovery Vehicles. The photo above shows an M32A1B1 towing an M43 8 inch Howitzer Motor Carriage "along the fighting front in Korea" in May, 1952. In the absence of much documentation, we will try to piece together what little we know about these particular conversions. Note that this unit is equipped with the M32 series lifting arm (1). It is obvious from period photos and surviving examples that the T14E1's replacement of the original lifting arm and drum with the boom raising sheave was not absolutely necessary in order to accommodate the 23 inch HVSS suspension. Note the pair of new items stowed just above the "2."


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The only hint we have come across concerning the production of M32 series retrievers retrofitted with HVSS comes from a dataplate found inside an M32A1B3 we once examined at the Ranges of Recovery Division at Aberdeen Proving Ground. In the photo above, it can be seen that the Serial Number of this unit is 273, indicating a Pressed Steel Car conversion originally accepted in June, 1944. The unit was "Rebuilt By R.I.A." [Rock Island Arsenal] in Illinois, and the year "1949" is stamped in the space at the bottom of the plate. Note that Rock Island labeled the retriever "M32B3 HVSS" rather than the official designation of "M32A1B3." Photo courtesy of Kurt Laughlin.


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The photo above is thought to have been taken at APG in the 1970s, and shows a rather battered M32A1B3. At the time, the Registration Number was still painted on the side and rear, and is just visible as "USA 40154847." That is a mathematical match to Serial Number 273. Thus, we can deduce that when this unit was rebuilt at Rock Island Arsenal, its original PSC Serial and Registration Numbers were retained. This retriever appears to have been "used hard and put away wet" at APG. It can be seen that some of the HVSS suspension components are damaged or missing, and that the lifting arm has been broken off and what can be seen is the left over remnants bent out of shape (arrow). The engine access door (1) demonstrates that it was not possible to open these hatches with the boom in the travelling position. This was corrected in the later M74 retrievers by splitting each hatch into two halves. It is thought that the items circled were "stabilizer plates," and that they were used in place of the "rod type stabilizers" that equipped the T14E1s. If any readers can explain how these would have been used "to lock out the springs on the front and rear bogies during lifting operations," we would be pleased to have a report. Photo courtesy of David Haugh.


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Above shows USA 40155147 another M32A1B3 that was once on display at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The inset from a 1952 snapshot shows a stencil that identifies the “new” objects as “Stabilizer Plates.” We would note that on both USA 40154847 and USA 40155147, two of these plates are seen mounted on the right side of the vehicle, and there is no evidence that an additional pair were mounted on the left.


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The above is a photo of part of the suspension of Serial Number 273. In this view it is possible to see that the bogie, idler wheel and return roller brackets were welded on to the hull. These components were bolted on to Shermans  built with HVSS factory installed. Note how the bolts (arrows) appear to have been melted during the retrofit process. It is assumed that the "welding [of the] basic components to the chassis" during retrofit was done for strength, but it would have been much harder to replace the bogie assemblies and such in the event of damage. The inner road wheel is missing on SN 273 which provides us with a good view of one of the clearance notches (1). Each inner road wheel required a clearance notch on the lower edge of the hull side as shown. As built, these were neatly machined. It is thought that the notches were torch cut on HVSS retrofits, as their appearance is somewhat rougher than the machined notches.


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The cast hulled M32B1s converted with HVSS to M32A1B1 standard did not receive the boom raising sheave developed for the T14E1 and instead had a short insert attached to the top of the boom foot support bracket just below the boom pivot. We have no documentation regarding this modification but believe that it was required to raise the mounting height of the boom approximately 5½ inches (14 cm) to permit the lifting cable to attach to the lifting drum on the drive sprocket without fouling the wider 23 inch track of the HVSS. It should be noted that the welded hull M32B3s converted to M32A1B3 standard did not require this modification as their boom pivots were presumably already high enough to allow the lifting cable to clear the wider HVSS tracks.


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The available photographic evidence suggests that the Marine Corps was able standardize on and equip all of its armored units with T14E1s during the Korean War. The US Army, on the other hand, was not able to standardize on a single type, such as the M32B3, but instead had to resort to using any and all available models, including retrievers with the original VVSS, as well as those with the HVSS upgrade. The Signal Corps gave good coverage to recovery operations during the Korean War, and while the majority of the TRVs seen in photos are M32B1s, M32B3s are also well represented. Above is the only SC photo we know of at present that shows a straight M32. Note the slight gap (arrow) between the internal boom pivot bracket and the antenna casting, typical of M32s, as opposed to M32B3s. Somewhat ironically, this retriever is seen being recovered by an M4A3(76)HVSS after having fallen into a ditch. The photo is dated August 9, 1950, which was just as the first Shermans began to arrive and enter combat in Korea.


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The photo above is dated July 19, 1950, and shows an M24 of Company A, 79th Heavy Tank Battalion under tow by the unit's M32B1 retriever. In the late 1940s, the 4 US Infantry Divisions serving Occupation Duty in Japan, had had their attached Tank Battalions reduced to single companies consisting of approximately 24 M24 Light Tanks. The M24s were rushed to Korea where they suffered heavy losses attempting to slow the progress of the initial North Korean onslaught. The M32B1 shown here was most likely one of the first Sherman based vehicles to be deployed to Korea. Judging by the "low" position of the crow bars (1), we would guess that this unit was a Baldwin conversion. Note that the anvil (2) and the vise (3) are installed in the frame type holders on the front fenders. Of particular interest is the oxyacetylene tank (4) emplaced in a hole cut in the hull in the area of the right side grouser storage compartment.


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The US Army reported that 71 retrievers had been issued by January 21, 1951, and the M32B1 shown above served with the 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion, which was organic to the 2nd Infantry Division at the time this vehicle was photographed in January, 1952. It appears to be a Pressed Steel Car Spring 1944 conversion based on a used M4A1. Note the chute type turret port and the "plate with 3 clamps" tool fittings mounted on the fenders. This unit can be seen to have the unusual "closed off" hinge brackets (arrows) as noted on "Step N Fetchit" in an earlier caption. The absence of the bridle assembly fittings provides evidence that not all post war retrievers were updated with the automatic tow hook modification. By January, 1951, it was reported that 516 M4A3 Shermans had been issued, along with 252 M26 Pershing and 173 M46 Patton Tanks. The vast majority of the Shermans used in Korea would have been M4A3(76)s with HVSS, as mandated by the US Army. However, period photographs of Korean War M32 series suggest that little or no effort was made to replace the original arrangement of VVSS spare road wheels and tracks with what would have been more useful HVSS spares.


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The above shows an M32B1 which has become bogged while attempting to recover an Army M46 Patton tank on May 1, 1951. The M32 series TRVs had been designed to recover the 30 ton Sherman Medium Tank. During the Korean War, it was found that the M32s were just not powerful enough to handle the M26 and M46, both of which weighed over 40 tons. Reports from the field stated that, while they were capable of towing the newer tanks on level ground, they could not safely perform this task either up or down the inclines typical of the mountainous terrain of Korea. A number of armored units noted that the best vehicle for towing or recovering an M46 Patton Tank was another M46. Consequently, it was requested that a new Tank Recovery Vehicle be developed based on the Patton.


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While the M32 series TRVs struggled with the M26s and M46s in Korea, the Ordnance Department was developing even heavier tanks to counter the very real threat of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. The M47 Patton wasn’t issued to the forces in Korea, but was the USAREUR’s (United States Army Europe) first line of defense in West Germany when first deployed in 1952, closely followed by the M48 Patton in 1953. With the development of the M103 Heavy Tank with a weight of close to twice that of the WWII Sherman tanks, the writing was on the wall for the M32 series. By 1951, the Army had a replacement recovery vehicle based on the Patton series on the drawing boards - the T51. However, the width of the original design was over 12 feet, which was considered unacceptable due to road and rail transport limitations. In the meantime, a new Sherman design was accepted. The M74 was based on the M4A3 chassis with HVSS, and production commenced in 1953. Even so, the M32 series soldered on. There are photos showing them in service as late as 1956. The above shows an M47 Patton being towed by an M32A1B1 of the 28th Infantry Division’s 110th Regiment through a German village in late 1953/early 1954. Both vehicles are fitted with rubber tracks (1) to limit any damage to the German road network. This TRV is one of the few M32B1s we have seen based on a direct vision hull, the drivers' visors hidden here behind the appliqué plates (2). The extensions to the boom mounts (3) can be seen here, as can the loop for the bridle assembly (4), although no bridle is fitted.


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The above is a perfect demonstration of how the M32 series was often not capable of recovering immobilised or damaged tanks such as this M47 Patton of Company C, 66th Tank Battalion, 2d Armored Division, USAREUR, bogged during Exercise “Sledgehammer” in September, 1953. Often additional retrievers, wheeled wreckers or even other gun tanks were required to assist with the recovery operations, as seen here. This M32B3 named “Colt” has the original small drivers’ hatch and forward hull ventilator (circled). On the hull rear can be seen the additional extension assemblies (1) for the Automatic Tow Hook Modification, although as was often the case the vehicle is not equipped with the actual hook. The Stiff Arm Brackets (2) have been moved to the new location as specified in the MWO for the installation of the extension assemblies. The spare wheel (3) and idler (4) seen stowed in the brackets on the hull rear are not spare parts for the M47 Patton tanks seen here, but are instead VVSS Sherman parts, the only vehicle these being appropriate for are the TRV itself. The Armored First Aid Box (5) is not original equipment, having been retrofitted to this retriever. We have no documentation listing the official date that the M32 series was declared “obsolete” in US Army service, but we believe it to be soon after the introduction of the M74 TRV in 1954. However, the M32 series did continue to serve for a number of years after this date with US National Guard units who were often issued vehicles considered “obsolete” for Army use. It should be noted that due to a shortage of specialised armoured recovery vehicles the M32s were still considered a valuable asset amongst MDAP allies and many soldiered on for decades after ending their service with US forces.


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