The "Duce and a Half" has a valued logistical history doing what it did best - moving men and material from Point A to Point B. In August of 1943, during World War 2, US General George S. Patton's Third Army entered Germany and the supply lines between the Front and the Normandy beachhead had broken down during the historic advance. To supply the Front, the "Red Ball Express" was created to manage the logistical nightmare beginning to unfold. The force took on all sorts of trucks from all commands to stock its inventory. At its peak, some 5,958 trucks were in circulation, ferrying 12,342 tons of fuel, oil, lubricants, ammunition, food and other essentials every 24 hours from the north of France to awaiting Allied units across Europe - some of these lines even were running through still-hostile territory containing pockets of severed Axis troops. These trucks were ordered to never stop and, if felled by maintenance issues or other outside force, it was simply pushed aside to await a repair truck. The Red Ball Express ran for 81 days and helped to keep the fabled Third Army supplied with the war goods it required. It was to that end that General Patton quipped "the 2 1/2-ton truck is our most valuable weapon".
The M35 appeared in 1951 to replace the wartime GMC CCKW and M135 utility truck types then in service with the United States Military. The M35 took the 2-1/2 ton cargo truck torch and went on to forge its own amazing legacy, being evolved into a number of special variants including dedicated "war wagons", troop carriers, cargo transports, dump trucks, wreckers, medical vans and a guided-missile launchers to name a few. The truck's size and availability in number made it possible for it to be transformed into varied mission-capable vehicles to fulfill required roles within the United States Army and elsewhere. The M35 went on to service the US military well into the late 1990s with some still used today in both active service and reserve components across many foreign armies. Production (local and overseas) of the M35 was undertaken by AM General, REO, Kaiser and Kia. All told, the M35 truck served as the prime mover for the US Military for over 50 years.
The M35 sat at 2.8 meters high, 2.4 meters wide and 7 meters long with the engine in front, the crew cab directly aft and the cargo bed at the rear. Its dimensions were such that it could be relatively easily transported through the air by medium- to-large aircraft transport types and unloaded by way of amphibious landing craft as required. The crew cab featured straight lines throughout with flat glass panels across the front facing and along its hinged automobile-style side doors. Creature comforts were few and far between with the most basic of seats. The transmission was activated through a basic stalk-like appendage under the dashboard between the two cabin seats. The steering wheel was a three-spoked system with a utilitarian column. Gauges reported on basic engine functions along the flat dashboard. Vehicle headlights were simple in design and function and rounded, straddling either side of the engine grill at front. The chassis consisted of ten total wheels set across three paired axles with the two-most rearward axles sporting four wheels apiece. When empty, the truck weighed 13,000 pounds. Throughout her life, she was powered by various engine installations that included gas, diesel and multi-fuel types from a variety of manufacturers. The multi-fueled version was rather unique in its design for it could accept gas, diesel or aircraft fuel as needed. The engine was exhausted through a vertical stack along the right side of the crew cabin front, allowing the truck to ford water sources to an extent. The vehicle fitted a single 50-gallon fuel tank along the right side (under the passenger seat floor) and its cruising speed was listed at 48 mph with a maximum speed of 56 mph along paved roads. The M35 rated at just 11miles per gallon on road and 8 miles per gallon in city traffic with 5 miles per gallon off road. The truck, however, was mostly an on-road vehicle and its cargo bed was 8 ft wide and 12 ft long with a load capacity of 10,000lbs. For off road traverse, the maximum load was reduced to 5,000lbs. Her 5-speed transmission was complemented by a 2-speed transfer box controlling the 10-wheel drive system that connected the 3-axle shaft arrangement. The range for the truck, before it required refueling, was 400 to 500 miles depending on the condition of the road and cargo loads being hauled.
When the Korean War began in June of 1950, the World War 2-era "deuce" trucks, being still available in the thousands thanks to wartime production, were brought over from Europe and the Pacific to support the new war effort. It was not until the Vietnam War that the M35 was available in the large numbers required by the time American forces beginning to station within the Republic of Vietnam in 1965 that the M35 began the logistics truck of choice for the US Army. In the war, the M35 was initially used as-built in both cargo and troop carrier forms but, within time, a plethora mission-specific variants were devised to fill the needs of the new war.
As convoys rolled on, land mines and ambushes from "Charlie" began to take heavy tolls on unguarded forces. As such, machine gun-defensed trucks and dedicated "War Wagons" became the American answer. Early on, sandbags were being used to counter the Communist weapon of choice - the Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG), a Soviet-designed, simple-to-operate, shoulder-fired, anti-vehicle weapon system firing a rocket grenade with an explosive warhead. When the sand bag defense began to fail American forces, a quarter-inch of armor plating was added with the sand bags being moved to the floor panels to protect against mines - this also proved common practice with tanks in the theater. Transport companies within the Army also created their own field-improvised gun trucks and these were armed with anything from 2 x 7.62mm M60 belt-fed general purpose machine guns, one or two 40mm M79 single-shot grenade launchers as well as any individual crew-served M16 assault rifles, shotguns and pistols. If one could be had, a Browning M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun or XM134 minigun Gatling system could be installed. The tried and tested M2 Browning 0.50 cal became one of the most feared of the American weapons by the North Vietnam regular solider and VC fighters in the south for its ability to cut a man in half. The M2 was typically mounted on a turret ring on the truck cabin roof for a full 360-degree firing arch, able to protect the vehicle from any direction. A convoy normally fielded a M35 gun truck for every 15 or 20 vehicles in the line.
These M35 gun trucks were naturally improved over time and subsequently used in allied operations across Bosnia and Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, other variants were still called upon to accomplish those "traditional jobs" of moving supplies and troops from Point A to Point B. The M35 dump truck variant continued to help build roads, working in conjunction with M275 tractors., while the M108 truck series fitted with a crane for help in moving heavy loads about. When mechanical issues arose, the M109 "maintenance shop" truck arrived to assess the situation and supply a much needed repair on-the-spot.
In the end, the M35 series of trucks has proven to be one of the most versatile and operationally successful vehicles deployed by the United States Army during the branches entire history. M35 transport trucks were shipped in quantity (400) to the Afghan National Army as part of the Afghan Freedom Support Act. The M35 system is currently being replaced in the US inventory by the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV).