Military Oddities I – Warfare on the Cheap: The Vespa Anti-Tank Scooter

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The current American main battle tank, the M1A2 Abrams, is a monster. It weighs over 70 tons and costs about $24 million. It’s the latest in a long line of great American tanks.

Now imagine a weapon consisting of two guys on a Vespa scooter with an anti-tank rifle that could knock the track off a tank or destroy a light armored vehicle; talk about getting more bang for your buck! That’s precisely what the post-WW2 French Army came up with in the Vespa 150 TAP Anti-Tank Scooter.

Initially conceived for the Italian public by Piaggio, the Vespa’s design was simple yet robust, making it an ideal candidate for military modification. The concept of a lightweight, air-transportable vehicle was of particular interest to the French military, especially their airborne divisions.

The need for such a vehicle arose from the desire for a mode of transportation that could be easily deployed in airborne operations, providing support to paratroopers in various combat scenarios.

What they came up with was remarkable; they took the popular little Vespa scooter, which is common all over Europe, and stuck a freaking 75mm recoilless rifle on it. The driver and gunner actually sat on the big gun’s barrel. Now that takes… well, you know. To park that part of a man’s anatomy on the barrel of a 75mm recoilless rifle takes a certain level of courage and lends a whole new meaning to the term “crotch rocket.”

In other words: France made the world’s most deadly motor scooter.

Central to the Vespa 150 TAP’s design was the incorporation of an M20 75mm recoilless rifle, a decision that significantly altered its functionality and appearance. 

This anti-tank weapon was mounted on the frame, with the barrel extending over the front wheel, effectively transforming the scooter into a mobile anti-tank unit. The recoilless rifle was chosen for its potency against armored vehicles, and its integration was a remarkable feat of engineering, given the Vespa’s compact size.

To accommodate the weight and recoil of the M20 rifle, the Vespa’s frame was significantly reinforced. This reinforcement was crucial to ensure structural integrity and the rider’s safety during the operation of the weapon.

The very fact that this was a thing lends one to suddenly develop a new appreciation for the determination and guts of French airborne troops, that they would even consider fielding one of these.

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The United States, mind you, is no slouch when it comes to developing great weapons that are somewhat unconventional. Look at the grand old A-10 “Warthog,” in which someone came to the Air Force saying, “Hey, look at this great 30mm rotary cannon I designed,” and someone in the Air Force replied, “Cool – let’s put wings on it!”

But an anti-tank Vespa is a whole new level of crazy. Imagine yourself in a war in Europe, and the French are, for some reason, on the other side. Now, imagine a whole bunch of French paratroopers drop from the sky, accompanied by killer mopeds with 75mm anti-tank guns. This is probably one of the best ways I’ve ever seen for revoking the birth certificates of bad guys while saving the taxpayers a few bucks, not to mention intimidating the crap out of the bad guys when they realize that a bazillion French paratroopers are heading their way riding 75mm anti-tank guns.

Note that the Vespa, in 1950, cost about $500. That’s a tad over $6,500 in today’s dollars. It’s unclear what the 75mm recoilless rifle would cost today, but in post-WW2 Europe, there were thousands of these things available, as the United States had made them in great big carload lots. Now imagine some kind of update; maybe a killer four-wheeler ATV with a missile launcher attached to the frame somehow. I mean, get a couple of handymen and a few rolls of duct tape, and I’m pretty sure good old American ingenuity would find a way to make it work.

Because, after all, while we admire the French designers who came up with the anti-tank Vespa, I’m pretty sure we can go them one better and find our way to un-alive bad guys in vehicles or hiding in buildings and do it on the cheap.

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