There is probably no person in Russia who has not heard of the Studebaker firm. Any conversation about Lend-Lease deliveries always comes to the topic of the trucks of this company. These cars played such an important role in the victory over Germany that already, probably, at the genetic level among the Russians, and indeed among the Soviet people, the mention of these trucks evokes admiration and a feeling of gratitude.
"Why, Gleb Yegorych," Don't lag behind, "Studer has three times the engine," grumbled MUR driver Ivan Alekseevich Kopytin during the memorable pursuit of Fox through the Moscow night streets.
This phrase is exclusively cinematic - the Weiners in "Era of Mercy" do not have such a phrase. The authors were generally very careful about details and could not write such a thing. But nevertheless, everyone who watched the film "The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed" probably had the impression of the "Studebaker" as an extremely powerful and fast machine.
But the hero of today's story is not a truck at all. Moreover, for most readers it is a completely unknown "Studebaker". But nevertheless, this is a Machine with a capital letter, which still amazes the imagination with such a set of qualities and capabilities that it takes your breath away.
The story will have to start in a somewhat unconventional way. About the animal. More precisely, about the smallest predator from the weasel family named Laska. A predator that is found in almost all countries of the Northern Hemisphere. The most beautiful animal resembling an ermine. And with good fur.
The predator runs beautifully, climbs trees, swims. Differs in courage and aggressiveness. At the same time, the weasel eats almost everything that it can get. From mice, moles, rats to vipers, coppers and frogs. Residents of villages and villages know perfectly well that if Laska has trodden the way to the chicken coop, then the fate of poultry is tragic.
So, our hero today is "Studebaker" named "Laska". More precisely, the M29 "Weasel" transporter. The car, as mentioned above, is the most interesting in every respect. A machine whose potential is not fully revealed even today.
Paradoxically, but to start a story about this product of an American company, you need to come from a completely different country. From the UK. More precisely, it is necessary to start with the activities of the British engineer Jeffrey Pike. A passionate admirer of British commandos and at the same time a very gifted engineer and designer.
The unsuccessful actions of the British in Northern Europe, especially in Norway, highlighted the problem that army units face when working in this particular region. Namely, the inability to use military equipment. Cars, both tracked and wheeled, simply "sink" in loose snow or swampy ground.
Jeffrey Pike set himself the task of creating a transporter capable of operating in the snow. In modern terms, the designer conceived a snowmobile. Military snowmobile.
What should such a snowmobile be able to do? First of all, the machine should work without any problems in loose snow and wetlands. Like most army transporters, the snowmobile should be lightly armored.
At the same time, the transporter must ensure the quick delivery of personnel or cargo to the place of the operation. The lifting capacity of the machine must be at least half a ton.
It is clear that such rigid boundaries were determined precisely by the conditions of the battle in northern conditions. The snowmobile must carry at least 4 people (driver and three paratroopers).
And here Pike found a completely ingenious solution. If the conveyor cannot carry more than 4 people, then it can … pull them on a long halyard. Moreover, in this case, the command and control compartment and the landing squad can be used as cargo!
A snowmobile that becomes the towing vehicle for the skiers' compartment when needed! The squad is towed to position, unloads the towing vehicle and uses it as an ambulance.
Technically, Pike embodied this solution in the maximum simplification of the snowmobile control. The machine can be controlled with ropes attached to the levers! Simply put, the driver of the towing vehicle does not sit in the car, but moves as part of the squad. And he controls ropes from a distance!
Alas, although the British military liked the transporter, it did not go into production in England. The reason is trivial. British industry had no vacant production area. And the designer was forced to go overseas to the United States.
The Studebaker engineers quickly saw the promise of Pike's project. The best forces were thrown into the revision of the car. As a result, the first prototypes of the transporter were ready in the fall of 1943 and almost immediately arrived for comprehensive tests in the units of the American army (index T15).
Already during the tests, the military offered to abandon the booking of the transporter. Excess "iron" decently reduced the carrying capacity of the machine and worsened driving performance on difficult soils. The transporter has become unarmored.
It was in this lightweight version that the conveyor showed all its best qualities. He easily transported personnel and cargo through loose snow, through swamps, through mud. And it was in the unarmored hull that the transporter was adopted by the US Army under the designation M29 "Weasel".
It's time to take a closer look at "Weasel". The car turned out to be really original. The personal impression of the authors is a kind of transporter for a company going on a picnic.
Open top box body with wide fenders. The engine is located in the front right. On the left is the driver's seat. And behind, three soldiers are imposingly placed. Or cargo, weapons and whatever is needed. Although there is enough space in the legs to place quite a lot.
To protect the driver when driving through mud and snow, a windshield is installed in front of the driver's seat. Moreover, the glass is equipped with a wiper on the driver's side. Electric drive! When driving on normal roads, the glass was thrown forward and did not interfere with the view.
When working in winter or in bad weather, the body was covered with a removable tarpaulin awning. The awning was easily installed and removed using special brackets.
As the engine, the Studebaker engineers used the engine of the popular Studebaker Champion subcompact car. Carbureted, 6-cylinder, 70 hp, the engine allowed speeds up to 58 km / h.
Mechanical transmission T84J, manufactured by Warner. Provides 4 speeds (3 forward, one reverse). The turning mechanism was a differential. The gearbox is connected to the engine through a cardan shaft (along the axis of the housing).
The chassis is interesting. It includes 8 double rubberized road wheels. The rollers are interlocked in pairs on swinging balancers. Each bogie is suspended from a wishbone and leaf spring.
Caterpillar - hingeless, tape, ridge engagement, with developed lugs on steel "shoes" - crossbars. The upper branch runs along two supporting rollers and slopes forward. Thus, the rear drive wheel is raised above the guide wheel (in front).
Another interesting upgrade of "Laska". The first batch of production vehicles was equipped with tracks “for a snowmobile” - 380 mm. But, already during operation, it turned out that for marshy soils and sand, the width of the tracks is insufficient. Since 1944, all transporters have been equipped with wider tracks - 510 mm.
Here you can very well assess the scale next to the light tank BT.
The only thing that "Laska" could not boast of, unlike its predatory counterpart in nature, is the ability to swim. Still, the original idea of the snowmobile did not contribute to the emergence of the ability to swim.
And the American army demanded a floating carrier. This is due not only to the problems of amphibious assault from ships, but also to the elementary need to force numerous rivers in the European theater of operations.
The Studebaker engineers used the experience of their Japanese opponents. More precisely, the Japanese amphibious tank "Ka-mi". On the basis of the M29 transporter, an amphibious version of the vehicle was created. This version of "Laski" received the designation M29C "Water Weasel".
What interesting have we seen in this amphibian? The Water Weasel gave the ship a look with removable rigid pontoons. The pontoons were attached to the bow and stern of the vehicle and thus significantly increased the buoyancy of the conveyor.
The movement of the machine afloat was ensured by the work of the tracks. The upper branch of the caterpillar was covered with a hydrodynamic casing and the car moved when the tracks were rewound.
A special wave-breaker was installed on the bow pontoon, which prevented the waves from flooding the driver's windshield and (more importantly) the engine.
For control afloat, two lifting rudders connected to the tiller were installed on the stern pontoon. Moreover, when the car went ashore, the rudders had to be lifted. Otherwise, the loss of rudders is guaranteed.
Thus, the amphibious version of the transporter was controlled on land in the same way as the usual one, with levers, and afloat with a tiller.
"Laska" was very quickly recognized among the troops. The all-terrain vehicle, capable of moving in almost any conditions, greatly helped the soldiers during the hostilities in 1944-45. Used M29 "Weasel" in almost all theaters.
But the dream of designer Jeffrey Pike about using his car in the north came true much later. And the M29 "Weasel" was used for its intended purpose not by the Americans, but by the French.
In 1967, the French, especially for polar expeditions, carried out their modification of the M29C by installing an insulated cabin. The version received the designation HB40 "Castor". The Castors took part in expeditions to Antarctica and Greenland. But that is another story.
And we have, the traditional technical characteristics of the hero:
Machine weight, t: 1, 8 t (without load);
Crew, pers.: 1 + 3 troops;
Carrying capacity, kg: 390;
Length, m: 3, 2 (4, 79 in the floating version);
Width, m: 1, 68;
Height, m: 1, 3 (on the body), 1, 82 (on the roof of the awning);
Clearance, m: 0, 28;
Engine: Studebaker Model 6-170 Champion, petrol, 4-stroke, 6-cylinder, water-cooled, power 70 hp with. at 3600 rpm;
Fuel capacity, l: 132.5;
Fuel consumption, l: 45 per 100 km;
Travel speed, km / h: on land - 58, 6; afloat - 6, 4;
Cruising on land, km: 266;
Specific ground pressure, kg / cm2: 0, 134;
Turning radius, m: 3, 7;
Overcoming obstacles, cm: ditch width - 91, vertical obstacle - 61
In total, more than 15,000 M29 of all modifications were produced.
There is information that in 1945 a certain number of these machines ended up in the Red Army under Lend-Lease. In numbers, the number ranges from 70 to 100. Unfortunately, we did not manage to find photographs confirming the use of this machine, but the very presence of "Laska" in museum collections indirectly confirms this.
And the last copies of the M29 were withdrawn from use by the armies in the 60s of the last century.
In general - a rather long century for such a frivolous looking transporter.
This copy of "Laski" can be seen in the Museum of military equipment of the UMMC in Verkhnyaya Pyshma, Sverdlovsk region.