After the German invasion of Norway (April 1940) during World War 2 (1939-1945), British inventor Geoffrey Pyke (1893-1948) considered a small tracked vehicle large enough to ferry commando-type elements across Arctic environments. These bands of soldiers would specialize in small group tactics and engage the enemy along multiple strategic points - the goal being to force the enemy to commit greater resources in their defense along a much longer line, thusly tying down masses of enemy units while the Allies utilized far fewer resources in turn. While initially rejected, the concept found new life in October of 1941 when the Combined Operations Headquarters of the British War Office fell under the management of Louis Mountbatten. This begat "Operation Plough" which evolved into a Canadian-based effort and went on to include the American Studebaker automobile company for production. The end result became the "M29 Weasel" and an amphibious variant was recognized as the "Water Weasel".
The series was born in the two-seat T-15 pilot which used a twin bogie, four-wheeled track system during May of 1942 through Studebaker of South Bend, Indiana. Original testing was handled at Mt. Columbia in British Colombia, Canada. The vehicle saw her powerplant fitted to the rear of the hull with a track-and-wheel system governing traversal across the snowy mountainous terrain. The vehicle was put through its requisite paces and eventually received the "M28 Weasel" designation. The M28 survived only until 1943 when attention was given to an improved form in the "M29 Weasel". In the M29, the engine was relocated to the front of the hull which allowed seating for two more occupants in the rear to be added. The running gear was completely revamped to include sixteen road wheels and a new suspension assembly.
The original Weasel was a rather simple tracked vehicle fitting 15 inch span track links along a basic chassis. The hull superstructure was plain and boxy with a folding windscreen at front and an optional canvas covering over the passenger cabin (held in place by an equally optional tube structure assembly). The driver was positioned at the front-left with three seats spanning the width of the hull just aft of his position - up to four personnel could be carried aboard in all. Overall weight was 3,800 to 4,000lbs depending on load and model and dimensions included a length of 10 feet, 6 inches, a width of 5 feet and a height of 4 feet. Power was served through a Studebaker Model 6-170 Champion 6-cylinder gasoline-fueled engine of 70 horsepower which provided the vehicle with road speeds of 36 miles per hour and operational ranges of 165 miles.
As a tracked vehicle, Weasels provided solid cross-country performance. They could traverse high grades and provisions were added for amphibious capabilities (as the "Water Weasel") when crossing water sources. The vehicle could manage trenches of 36 inches obstacles as high as 24 inches. When not called to transport personnel, the Weasel could be used to haul some 3,800lbs of goods into battle. The basic transport version - lacked float tanks. The M29C was the dedicated amphibious form with internal float tanks and dual rudder control - easily identified by its boat-like hull and side skirts (the base Weasel models held a more utilitarian bow design). This version was furthered through three armed versions - the M29C Type A, Type B and Type C. The Type A fitted a 75mm M20 recoilless rifle at the center hull while the Type B relocated the mounting to the rear of the hull. The Type C utilized a 37mm M3 anti-tank gun fitted at the center hull. It is noteworthy that the 15 inch tracks only appeared in the first 2,100 examples until given up in favor of a wider 20 inch design thereafter.
Despite their being designed for combat actions in Norway, the Weasel was never used as such. Instead, it saw combat service in mainland Europe including the Italian Campaign. The Weasel was used by the 1,800-strong American/Canadian 1st Special Service Force - the "Devil's Brigade" or "Black Devils" - from 1942 to late-1944. The Devil's Brigade fought throughout the Aleutians, Italian, Anzio and French campaigns before being disbanded on December 5th, 1944.
Total Weasel production reached 15,892 - all handled by Studebaker. From 1942 to 1943, Weasel production included 766 T15 models and this was followed in 1943 by 1,002 T24 units. In 1943, the base M29 designation appeared across 523 examples followed by an additional 2,951 units produced in 1944. The M29C saw production begin in 1944 with 4,201 examples and completed in 1945 with an additional 6,446 examples.
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