A lesser-known military vehicle used in the two World Wars was the half-track, a combination wheeled and tracked vehicle that was the predecessor to the first tanks.
Half-tracks were mainly used as troops and equipment carriers and as such, they were not designed with combat-capable armor.
Eventually as the need for stronger and more powerful tracked military tanks and vehicles grew, the design was modified and the first military tanks were born.
Still, these half-wheeled and half-tracked vehicles were used well into World War II and beyond.
The Beginnings of Half Track Vehicles
Half-track vehicles, which originated as agricultural vehicles, began as tractors that had two wheels in the front and a set of tracks in the back.
This unique design of the early 1900s made working in the fields easier, especially since steering with the front wheels was still possible.
Adaption as Military Vehicles
As useful and nimble as these early half-tracks were considering the technology of the day, they were quickly adapted as a military vehicle at the start of World War I as personnel carriers.
These new tracked military vehicles used by American and German forces could be steered quickly and easily over muddy battlefields to transport as many as 12 soldiers and their weapons at one time.
They were also used to pull artillery guns, as radio and command cars, or as field ambulances that drove around to pick up injured soldiers.
They were made in numerous sizes and designs ranging from 1-ton to 18-ton vehicles, with the most nimble models reaching a top speed of approximately 31 MPH.
Design Evolution of World War II Half-Tracks
Although they were open-topped military vehicles, World War II half-tracks were lightly armored to provide a degree of protection to their occupants.
Over time, the design of the military half-track evolved to include machine guns, howitzers, anti-aircraft guns, and even flame throwers, and many other features.
When the need for stronger armor and the ability to cross entire trenches grew during WWI, armored personnel carriers designed from the concept of the half-track were developed, followed soon after by the first actual fully-tracked tanks.
The Importance of Half-Tracks During WWI and WWII
World War I and World War II half-tracks, though not as well-known among the military tanks and vehicles of the day, were important military vehicles that were relied on throughout both wars.
They were used extensively by military forces throughout the world until the late 1960s, though most forces discontinued their use beyond that, replacing them instead with only all-wheeled and tracked vehicles.
The production of armored personnel carriers was also continued, as these were fully enclosed, fully-tracked vehicles that became more useful.
Today, many military tanks and vehicles like World War II half-tracks can be found in military museums and private collections as the remaining supply of these vehicles was sold as military surplus in the 1960s and 1970s.
Some are still being used by civilians for tasks that involve travel over difficult terrain.
Half-tracks are still found in service as all-terrain fire department pumpers, while others equipped with hitches, winches, and small cranes are being used for various other jobs.