The M59 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) was developed to a US Army specification to replace the preceding short-lived M75 APC series of the Korean War (1950-1953). The M75 roved reliable under stress and functioned as designed though the type was also expensive and procurement managed just 1,729 examples, all from International Harvester and Food Machinery and Chemical Corp (FMC). The M75 was lightly armed through a single 12.7mm Browning heavy machine gun and built upon the chassis of the M41 Walker Bulldog Light Tank while powered by a Continental gasoline engine of 295 horsepower. The M75 was given a maximum speed of 43 miles per hour with an operational range of 115 miles.
Even as the M75 was taking shape, a more refined vehicle was in the works by Food Machinery by the end of 1951. This endeavor begat the "T59" prototype which exhibited a more compact form with less armor protection (and thusly lighter), a lower profile and power from a less-expensive twin engine arrangement. Another key quality was in the unit's individual price tag which bested that of the pricey M75. The US Army, while already having adopted the M75, went ahead and ordered production for the T59 system under the designation of "M59" with the intent that the newer vehicle would supplant the limited-production M75 - these eventually shipped to allied Belgium.
Design of the M59 followed closely to that of the M75 before it (and both would heavily influence the M113 still to come). A basic boxy hull form was chosen in which the forward, side and rear hull panels were all vertical to maximize internal volume. The glacis plate held some ballistics protection value due to its sloped nature while the hull roof line was flat save for the commander's cupola and vision blocks for the crew positions. As in the M75, the M59 held a track-and-wheel running gear arrangement with five double-tired road wheels to a hull side with the drive sprocket at front and the track idler at the rear. Three track return rollers were just visible under side armor skirts. Construction consisted of welded steel armor up to 25mm in thickness at critical facings. Overall weight was 42,600lbs with a running length of 5.6 meters, width of 3.26 meters and height to the roof line of 2.77 meters. The vehicle was crewed by two standard operating personnel made up of the driver and vehicle commander. Up to ten combat-ready infantry could be housed in the passenger compartment. The driver was positioned in the front-left hull with the commander to his right. Aft of them were two benches facing centerline for passenger seating and hatches along the hull roof (over each bench) were present. Entry/exit of the passenger cabin was through a single rectangular door which lowered to double as a ramp. The internal arrangement was such that, with removal of the seating benches, a full-sized JEEP-type vehicle could be stored in the APC hull for protected transportation. Like the M75, the M59 was also designed to be amphibious, offering a top fording speed of 4.3 miles per hour, propelled through the water by the motion of its tracks.
Power to the M59 series was through 2 x GMC Model 302 inline, 6-cylinder gasoline-fueled engines outputting at 146 horsepower each (292 horsepower combined). The engines were fitted one each to a hull side and mated to a Hydramatic Model 301MG transmission system. The hull was suspended via a torsion bar arrangement to allow for cross-country travel capabilities. All told, the M59 offered a top road speed of 32 miles per hour with an operational range of 120 miles - its speed much less that of the M75.
As with the M75 before it, the M59 was modestly armed with a single 12.7mm Browning M2 heavy machine gun fitted at the commander's cupola. The gun was afforded 2,200 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition and was capable of defeating lightly-armored targets, low flying aircraft and suppressing enemy infantry forces at range. An M3A1 "Grease" gun submachine was carried for self-defense.
The M59 arrived too late to see combat service in the Korean War (unlike the preceding M75) though the type was available in number during the Vietnam War (1955-1975). Sources state that the M59 was never to see combat in Southeast Asia, however. Despite its contained procurement, operating and maintenance costs - made possible by the less-than-stellar twin engine arrangement - the M59's powertrain proved unreliable and its light armor protection was highly vulnerable. As such, the M59, like the M75, featured a relatively short service life with American forces, the series being retired in the mid-1960s in favor of the ubiquitous and hugely successful M113 family of tracked armored vehicles which came online in 1960 (and is still in use today). The M113 owes at least some of its success to the pioneering M75 and M59 family vehicles, regardless of what their shortened operating careers reflect.
The M59 designation recognized the original production vehicles while the M59A1 was a slightly improved form of the original. Only one major offshoot of the M59 existed, this the M84 of 1957, a dedicated mortar carrier utilizing the chassis and hull of the M59 though with a six-man crew and fitted a 106mm mortar system.
Production of M59 carriers spanned from 1953/1954 to 1960 to which approximately 6,300 examples were completed. All were issued to the US Army and, upon their retirement from service, many passed on to foreign forces - Brazil, Ethiopia, Greece, Lebanon and Turkey. Turkey became the largest non-US operator with 1,550 vehicles in its inventory.