A tank transporter is a combination of a heavy tractor unit and mating semi-trailer, typically of the lowboy type, used for transporting tanks. Some also function as tank recovery vehicles, the tractors of which may be armored for protection in combat conditions.
Used on the road, tank transporters limit the wear on tracks and drive trains of tracked vehicles. They also conserve fuel, are less damaging of road surfaces, and are overall more efficient moving tanks at high speeds than tanks operating at them even if they are capable.
Three chassis designs have been used, generally in this order over time as loads became heavier, although there are exceptions.
The lighter tanks of the inter-war period were carried on simple rigid flatbed lorries.
As the weight of tanks became too much for lorry chassis, separate trailers were developed. These carried the entire weight of the tank on their own wheels, putting no weight onto the tractor unit. They are pulled by a ballast tractor connected to a drawbar.
The simplest trailer designs have only two axles, but heavier loads frequently require more than this. Multiple wheels per axle are common, usually four, sometimes eight.
One advantage of ballast tractors is that they're capable of double-heading, where two tractor units are coupled to pull a particularly heavy trailer.
Some designs, such as the 1928 Aldershot design, grouped pairs of axles at each end of the trailer.
Others, such as the 70-ton Cranes trailer illustrated here beneath the Tortoise had five axles, spaced along the length of the trailer. The end-wheel designs have the advantages of better ability to cross rough ground and steering more easily. Those with axles throughout their length must have suspension that allows the axles to move and also allowing some steering. This makes them more complicated to manufacture. Placing the wheels at the ends also allows the chassis to dip down into a "well", giving a lower centre of gravity during transport. The Cranes' trailer had a frame split into two sections of two and three axles, with a further carrying bed above them. The outermost four axles had Ackermann steering for their wheels.
The German Sd.Ah.116 trailer of World War 2 (illustrated below.) went so far as to have steersman's position on the rear bogie, covered by the canvas tilt just visible in the background of the photograph.
The ballast tractor for a drawbar trailer must weigh comparably to its load if it's to have traction, which means that the total load might be as much as twice the useful payload. By using a lowboy semi-trailer instead, some of the load's weight is instead carried by the tractor. This avoids the need for ballasting it, making a greater proportion of the total weight available for the payload.
The simplest semi-trailer is "half of a trailer", having wheels at the rear only and an articulated connection to the tractor unit. A strong metal post or kingpin on the trailer fits into a socket or fifth wheel on the tractor.
Semi-trailers cannot be moved on their own, or pushed and pulled by ballast tractors. They are only mobile when connected to the correct tractor unit, which can limit their use in recovery.
To keep the load's centre of gravity low, gooseneck trailers are used. These have a low horizontal loadbed, with a central spine that rises up at the front to connect to the fifth wheel.
As for drawbar trailers, it's simplest if all the axles of a semi-trailer are concentrated at the rear, away from the tractor unit. The sheer weight of some though requires more and more axles, and these may then need steering gear at the front.
The simplest means of loading the transporter is with a pair of hinged ramps at the rear. The load then drives up and on under its own power. As tracked vehicles exist for their mobility across obstacles, they have no difficulty in doing this.
The Cranes trailer described above uses an entire see-saw tilting bed (and two small ramps). A manual hydraulic pump tilts the empty bed, bringing the loading end close to the ground. The tank drives up, then once past the see-saw fulcrum the bed tilts back under its weight.
Some designs use a demountable axle, where the axle detaches from the bed of the trailer. Access to the load bed is now through low ramps, without needing to climb over the height of the wheels. Again, the intention is to keep centre of gravity low.
An operational vehicle can be driven on-board under its own power. This is a delicate operation, particularly with tracks, as their precise steering is limited. In particular neutral steering, where one track goes forward and one backward causing the tank to turn on the spot, is likely to either damage the loadbed or to cause the vehicle to fall off.
A few transporters have been fitted with winches for loading, but this is uncommon. More usually a disabled vehicle is loaded with the assistance of a recovery tractor, either winching or pushing it on board.
Some tank transports are equipped with winches or cranes to also serve as tank recovery vehicles. Some are armoured recovery vehicles. Tanks are usually deployed in groups, with an equal number of transporters to support them. Recovery vehicles are more complex and more expensive and thus only a limited number are produced.
For similar reasons, tank transporters are rarely armoured to recover tanks under fire, although tracked recovery vehicles frequently are. A rare few have been, such as the M26 "Dragon Wagon" of World War Two.
|Truck Model||Origins||Years in use||Users|
|Scammell Pioneer Semi-trailer||UK||1930s-1940s||British Army, Indian Army|
|Mack EXBX 18-ton Tank Transporter||USA||1940s||French Army,[i]British Army|
|Diamond T tank transporter||USA||1940s-1970s||British Army, US Army, Dutch Army, Indian Army|
|Scammell Commander||UK||1986-2002||British Army|
|Sd.Kfz. 9/18 Ton Heavy Tank Transporter Sd.Ah.116||Germany||1940s||German Army|
|Thorneycroft 'Mighty' Antar||UK||1940s-1986||British Army, Dutch Army, Indian Army|
|Floor Truck Factory||Netherlands||1970s-?||Dutch Army|
|Faun SLT 50-3 Elefant and SLT-56||Germany||1970s-?||German Army, Polish Army (since 2002)|
|Faun SLT 56 Franziska with Kässbohrer semi-trailer||Germany||1989-||German Army|
|Oshkosh Corporation Commercial Heavy Equipment Transporter (C-HET)- M746 or M911 tractor with M747 semitrailer||USA||1970s-1990s||US Army|
|Oshkosh Corporation Heavy Equipment Transport System||USA||1993-||US Army, British Army (since 2002)|
|Land Mobility Technologies modified Mercedes-Benz Actros Armoured Heavy Support Vehicle Systems||Germany / South Africa||2000s-||Canadian Forces - on order 2007 (delivery 2008-2009)|
|DAF Trucks DAF YTZ95.530 (DAF XF) 95 Tropco tractor and trailer||Netherlands||2005-||Dutch Army, Canadian Forces - loaded from Dutch (2007-2009)|
|Type 82 HET - Hanyang Special Auto Works (Hanyang Special Vehicle Works) HY473 tractor and HY962 semi-trailer||China||1960s||People's Liberation Army|
|MAZ 537G tank transporter||USSR||1960s||Soviet Army, Russian Army, Indian Army,||People's Liberation Army, Korean People's Army and various other Eastern Bloc nations|
|KZKT 7428 tank transporter||USSR||1980s||Soviet Army, Russian Army|
|Volvo N1233||Sweden||1977-||Swedish Army|
|Scania T144||Sweden||1998-||Swedish Army, Belgian Army and French Army|
|Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation JGSDF Type 73/74 Heavy Tank Transport||Japan||1973-||Japan Ground Self-Defense Force|