The M42 40 mm Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun, or “Duster,” is an American armored light air-defense gun built for the United States Army from 1952 until December 1960, in service until 1988. Production of this vehicle was performed by the tank division of the General Motors Corporation.

Few people know that during the war in Vietnam, the United States brought here their most modern mid-range air defense missile system at the time, the MIM-23 Hawk to prevent air attacks by Northern.

Each Hawk squadron has a total of 6 missile launchers with 18 missiles. All are placed on trailers, but the recall and deployment is quite fast because of the compact components.

Speaking of which, you must think that today we will discuss this Hawk missile system. We will talk about this system but not today. In addition to Hawk missiles, during the period 1965 – 1972, the US introduced self-propelled anti-aircraft gun M42 Duster to join the war in Vietnam with the intention of dealing with MiG fighter aircraft of the Vietnam People’s Air Force.

M42 Duster review

The M42 40 mm Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun, or “Duster,” is an American armored light air-defense gun built for the United States Army from 1952 until December 1960, in service until 1988. Production of this vehicle was performed by the tank division of the General Motors Corporation.

In the 1950s, American military officials judged that when jet aircraft became more popular, anti-aircraft cannon systems would become obsolete and decided to develop HAWK anti-aircraft missile systems. But this system was powerless for low-altitude targets. Therefore, the US decided to produce anti-aircraft guns to compensate for this defect. The 40mm anti-aircraft artillery system was placed on the M41 light tank and named M42 Duster.

Production of the M42 began in early 1952 at GM’s Cleveland Tank Plant. It entered service in late 1953 and replaced a variety of different anti-aircraft systems in armored divisions. In 1956, the M42 received a new engine and other upgrades along with other M41 based vehicles, becoming the M42A1. Production was halted in December 1960 with 3,700 examples made during its production run.

Construction called for all welded steel. Most of the components came from the M41 to keep the cost down, and the compartmentation was unchanged, with the driver located at the front, central fighting compartment with the M42 turret seated on the original turret ring location, albeit larger, and rear engine compartment. The turret was open to allow maximal visibility, but the armament was shielded, protecting the front against retaliatory strafing attacks. However only the pointers and gunners had some protection, the loader remained exposed.

The Armament consisted of fully automatic twin 40 mm M2A1 Bofors, which had a rate of fire of 120 rounds per minute. In addition, for close defense, an 7.62mm Browning M1919A4 or a M60 machine gun could be installed on a side pintle located at the right-hand side of the turret. To maximize effectiveness, it was thought these vehicles could be assisted by a single M42 converted as radar fire control system, but the project was dropped because of cost issues.

The M42’s armored chassis was the same as that used for the M41 Walker Bulldog light tank. The chassis and turret were constructed of all-welded, rolled and cast homogenous steel with an armor thickness ranging from 8 to 31.8mm. The M42 was 5.819m in length; overall length including guns was 6.356m. The M42’s width was 3.225m, while it stood 2.847m in height. The vehicle’s combat weight was 22,452kg.

For propulsion, the M42 relied on a 500 hp, six-cylinder, Continental, air-cooled gasoline engine, which gave a top speed of 72km/h on flat. The engine was coupled to a cross-drive, 2-speed Allison transmission. The drivetrain comprised six double rubberized roadwheels, as the front pair served as track idlers. Drive sprockets were located at the rear so the transmission tunnel was quite short. Suspensions called for torsion bars, and shock dampers were given to the first two roadwheel pairs. Rigid dust side skirts were installed, which can be lifted up but were often removed.

The M42 was designed to carry a crew of six, although a four-man crew was normal in actual combat conditions. The interior hull of the M42 was divided into three compartments. The forward compartment housed the driving controls and instruments, with seats for the driver and commander-radio operator. The central compartment served as the base for the gun mount and storage for up to twelve boxes of 40mm ammunition. The rear compartment housed the main engine, transmission, auxiliary generator, and the fuel tank.

In Vietnam war, to ensure some low altitude anti-aircraft capability for the ever-increasing amount of forces fielded in Vietnam, the Army began recalling M42A1s back into active service and organizing them into air defense artillery battalions. Starting in the fall of 1966, the U.S. Army deployed three battalions of Dusters to the Republic of Vietnam, each battalion consisting of a headquarters battery and four Duster batteries, and each augmented by one attached Quad-50 battery and an artillery searchlight battery.

The Viet Cong called them “Fire Dragons,” because their high volume of fire and tracer ammunition gave the appearance of a dragon’s breath. Their U.S. Army crews called them “Dusters,” due to the large clouds of dust they created as they sped across the dirt roads of Vietnam.

The original purpose when joining the war in Vietnam was air defense. However, due to the absence of an airborne threat from North Vietnam, the US military used M42 to serve on bases or escort convoys. Gradually, the American army discovered that, with two 40mm guns, the vehicle proved to be effective against massed infantry attacks. And because of its high chassis and very good suspension, the M42 tank was capable of the ability to surf fiercely and be less damaged by the mines of the Liberation Army.

In total, roughly 200 M42 Dusters saw service throughout the entire war. Three battalions were retired in December 1971, but at that stage, surviving vehicles were passed onto the Army of the Republic of Vietnam forces.

At the end of the war, the Vietnamese people’s army obtained a number of vehicles to make booty and put it into operation on the Southwest battlefield.

Similar to M41 or M48 tanks, all of the self-propelled M42 Duster spoils have been deactivated due to a lack of spare parts or ammunition, and they have been put into long-term storage mode.

Compared to the similar combination produced by the Soviet Union as ZSU-23-4, it is clear that M42 Duster was much inferior, perhaps its historical role in Vietnam has really ended!During their six year tour, the Duster’s had fired over four million rounds, all in a ground support role. Though over thirty years have passed since the Dusters last saw action, they can still be found in museums, military vehicle parks and, occasionally, driven in a parade by proud, smiling veterans who still remember their days with the “fire dragons.”


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