Soldiers in Jeep and M29 at Aberdeen 1944. Photo courtesy of arsof-history.org
In the snowy mountains of Montana, a new crack-shot special operations unit was training extensively in anticipation for conducting commando raids in Norway. The joint force of 1,800 Canadian and American soldiers belonged to the First Special Service Force (FSSF) commonly known as “The Devil’s Brigade.”
On May 1, 1942, a new snow vehicle was conceptualized to be developed for the FSSF in support of their operations in Norway during World War II.
“Machines already developed were investigated to ascertain the extent to which they met the specification,” the narrator of an OSS briefing film says. “The aerosled had good speed on the level, but lacked power to climb well. The Louisiana swamp buggy was too big for the glider and handled badly on ice or crust. The jeep on 17-by-20 tires was limited in climbing. A half-track with front-ski steering performed well on level snowlands, but could not traverse hard ground, rock, and other obstacles. The Archimedean screw climbed well, but dug into deep snow when towing; it had difficulty crossing rocky ground and lacked stability.”
In short, there was no current vehicle on the market that met the specifications until Studebaker was tasked with manufacturing the M29 Weasel.
There were very few limitations for the highly versatile 3,800-pound tracked vehicle. The M29 Weasel could accelerate to reach 25 mph on flat ground. It could move through fluffy snow and drive over uneven surfaces, including small bushes, railroad tracks, and ice. In rugged terrain, the cruising range was 225 miles, and it was so quiet it wasn’t detectable until 500 yards. It carried a crew of two commandos but could tow a 1,200-pound payload or a team of soldiers wearing skis behind it.
The M29 Weasel was also amphibious and could float and swim through water. It was essentially the Batmobile on tracks. Since the FSSF did not ultimately deploy to Norway, and instead went to Italy, the M29 Weasel saw usage across Europe and later in the Arctic until 1958.
Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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