Monday, March 21, 2011

Machine Gun Packing John Deere’s

I've always loved old vehicles, but the 'green machines' are my favorites. That causes some confusion among classic tractor enthusiast. By green machines I mean military vehicles. There is a stark utilitarianism about old military vehicles that appeals to me.

When I left home in the 70's, if anyone told me I would ever buy a tractor I don't know if I would have laughed in their face or decked them. Today I am the proud owner of a 1945 Farmall H. The older tractors have their appeal as well, but I never realized John Deere built an armored combat vehicle durring World War Two. While watching Classic Tractors on the RFD channel the other night I saw a segment on the John Deere Armored A vehicles. I had never heard of these.

There were only two prototypes made, both based on the John Deere A. These tractors are common at tractor shows and parades, but a large number of them still do farm work even today.

The Armored A's were the brain child of a great grandson of John Deere, C.D. Wiman, in 1940. He felt that these small armored tractors cold be produced in mass quickly to provide cover fire for troops in the field.

The Armored A1 had the narrow tricycle front wheels of it's civilian conterpart. Anyone who has driven a tractor with this front wheel arangement (like our Farmall H) knows they can be unstable on uneven ground. They also tend to bog down in sand and mud. If this is true with the civilian tractors imagine the 9,500 Lb. Armored A. These had a top speed of 13 MPH on a hard surface road.

In addition to armor plate the Armored A had two machine gun turrets, one on each side of the vehicle. These were cramped boxes intended to house one gunner and a .30 caliber M1919 machine gun. Unfortunly John Deere's engineers had no experience with the M1919 and the turret didn't have room to mount it's ammo box. This lead to feed problems.

The turrets were manually rotated and had very poor visiblity. At first at least the guns had no travel stops, which allowed to gunners to shoot their own vehicle on occasion. Both the turrets and the drivers compartment were ice boxes in the winter and ovens in the summer, but that was in not uncommon in armored vehicles.

After the first test in January of 1941 the Army asked for a second test vehicle, the Armored A2. The most noticable were wide front wheels. Even with these improvements the Armored A's were slow moving, high profile beast any enemy gunner would have considered a birthday present. The Army also requested a third prototype without the machine gun turrets to act as a front line prime mover, but it too was rejected.

The orginal Armored A's were scraped years ago and no effort was made to preserve documentation. What remained were a handful of old photographs. The armored John Deere's were doomed to be a footnote in history until some Iowa Antique Tractor collectors got on their trail. Since nothing was left the beasties had to be replicated.

Brian Anderson tackled the job of recreating the Armored A1. Les Milleman and Curt Clark took on the A2, The result are working examples of the two 'Gun Tractors' as faithful as they can be made to the nine photos that have been located to date.

Today these two odd beasties are popular crowd pleasers in parades and vehicle shows. Since they don't belong completly to the Classic Tractor hobby or Military Vehicle hobby, they are welcomed by both.


  1. John Deere still makes them. Check out the "Magen Nong". They use them in Israel near Gaza and the West Bank because Arab snipers have a fondness of murdering innocent farmers.

    Caterpillar also makes a lot of equipment that is armored for Israel including the D-9 aka Teddy Bear.

  2. Greetings from Texas,
    Thanks for the tip. The armor on these is more defensive, but that doesn't mean they can't do damage if given the opportunity.

    If stories I heard (eavesdropping on my Dad and his friends as a child) from old Seabees are true, movies and recruiting posters weren't the only place caterpillars with blades were used to advance on Japanese troops. You fight with what you have.

  3. Please don't armor Efram Farm-All! He doesn't need it and neither do you! Though I suppose "want" would be equally as dangerous!

    These are interesting vehicles, but leave Efram alone, OK?

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  9. Arthur, I'm a photo editor for World War II magazine based here in VA. We're doing a short feature on the "other" armored vehicles from the war and Deer fits the bill. Do you have hi-res versions of these shots? Please give me a shout at -

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