M50 Ontos

Rifle, Multiple 106 mm, Self-propelled, M50 “Ontos”
Ontos M50A1, the 50-cal spotting rifles can be seen on the upper guns
Type Tank destroyer
Place of origin  United States
Service history
In service 1956–69
Used by United States
Wars Vietnam war
Production history
Designer Allis-Chalmers
Designed 1952
Manufacturer Allis-Chalmers
Produced 1955–57
Number built 297
Variants M50A1
Caliber 105 mm
Muzzle velocity 500 m/s
Effective range 2,750 m
Maximum range 7,700 m

6 × M40 recoilless rifles
1 × .30-caliber machine gun
Engine GM 6-cyl 302 in³

The Ontos, officially the Rifle, Multiple 106 mm, Self-propelled, M50, was an American light armored tracked anti-tank vehicle developed in the 1950s. It mounted six M40 106 mm recoilless rifles as its main armament, which could be fired in rapid succession against single targets to guarantee a kill.

Originally conceived as a fast tank killer, it was employed by US Marines who consistently reported excellent results when used for direct fire support against infantry during the Vietnam War. Its mobility and firepower were proven in numerous battles and operations. Produced in limited numbers and largely expended towards the end of the conflict, the Ontos was removed from service in 1969.



The Ontos (Greek for "the thing") project was created to be an air transportable tank-destroyer capable of being lifted by the cargo aircraft of the 1950s. This limited it to a weight between 10 and 20 metric tons, the only other limitation to the design being that it had to use the six-cylinder engine then widely used in the Army's GMC trucks. Allis-Chalmers was awarded the contract on August 12, 1955, for 297 vehicles.

Allis-Chalmers' first vehicle, completed in 1952, was based on the running gear of the M56 Scorpion light anti-tank vehicle. The vehicle mounted a cast steel turret with two arms holding three rifles each. This early model could traverse the turret only about 15 degrees. A second prototype used a new suspension system including new tracks, and a newer turret with about 40 degrees traverse. Only eighteen rounds for the main guns could be carried inside the vehicle due to limited space. Four of the rifles also had 50-caliber spotting rifles attached, firing a round that flew like the 106 mm round and gave off a puff of smoke on impact with the target. This meant that the 106 mm recoilless rifles were lined up with the target, and then they would be fired. A single .30 caliber M1919A4 machine gun was also carried for anti-infantry use.

The vehicle was taken to the Aberdeen testing facility where single rifles had been tested. When all six weapons were fired at once, the back blast from the firing knocked bricks out of a nearby building and knocked the rear windows out of several cars. The prototype and testing stage was completed by 1955, at which point the Army canceled its order. As an anti-tank vehicle the Ontos had several problems, including a lack of ammunition, a very high profile for such a small vehicle, and the need for the crew to exit the vehicle in order to re-load the guns, making them obvious targets for snipers. Although the Army canceled their order, the Marine Corps were desperate for any anti-tank vehicles they could get, and ordered 297. Production ran from 1955 through 1957. The first vehicle accepted by the Marine Corps was on 31 October 1956.

Several variants were also studied. The Utility Vehicle, Tracked, Infantry, T55 was a light APC, but only two versions of the prototype were built. This proved utterly impractical due to the limited room inside, carrying only five infantry and forcing the driver to lie prone. A "stretched" version known as the Utility Vehicle, Tracked, Infantry, T56 was also built, and while it held a complete eight-man team, their equipment had to be carried on the outside. Neither was considered very useful.

In 1960 there was a brief study made to replace the Ontos's 106 mm rifles with a new 105 mm design that included a re-loading system similar to that on a revolver. This project was not accepted. However another upgrade was, replacing the GMC engine with a newer Chrysler 361 in³, V8 engine. Of the 297 vehicles accepted by the Marines, only 176 were converted between 1963 to 1965. This newest version of the Ontos was named Rifle, Multiple 106 mm, Self-propelled, M50A1.


While the M50 was designed as a tank destroyer, the NVA deployed few such targets. It was more widely used for direct fire support for the infantry in combat, a role that was never emphasized in training or doctrine. Like the Army's M113, its light armor was effective against small arms but vulnerable to mines and RPGs. Consequently many Ontos were deployed in static defense positions.

The Ontos was particularly liked by its crews, and praised by commanders. Their relatively light weight meant that the M50s could also go where tanks got bogged down. The Ontos, with its lower ground pressure, could drag timbers up to the tanks to help get them unstuck. In another operation, the Ontos was the only tracked vehicle light enough to cross a pontoon bridge. In the Battle of Hue, Regimental commander Colonel Stanley felt the Ontos was the most effective of all Marine supporting arms. Its mobility made it less vulnerable than tanks, which suffered heavy losses, while at ranges of 300 to 500 yards (270 to 460 m), its recoilless rifles could knock holes in or completely knock down walls. The appearance of an Ontos was sometimes enough to make the enemy break and run. In Operation De Soto, the introduction of the large CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter made possible moving a platoon 25 miles (40 km) south of Quan Ngai City carrying Ontos in slings underneath the aircraft.[1]

The Ontos units were deactivated in May 1969, and some of the vehicles were handed over to an Army Light Infantry Brigade. They used them until they ran out of spare parts, and then removed the turrets and used them as fixed fortifications. Both these and the rest of the vehicles returned from Vietnam in 1970 and were cut up for scrap, with some of the chassis being sold off as construction vehicles.


M50 Ontos on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

There are Ontos on display at:

  • Mr. Fred Ropkey, owner of the Ropkey Armor Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana owns the first prototype T165, a later model Ontos and a parts machine.
  • The U.S. Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas in Jacksonville, North Carolina has an operational M50A1 Ontos which is not on public display.
  • There is an M50A1 Ontos on outside display at the Navy Facility at China Lake, California. Permission to enter the facility must be requested at least 24 hours prior to a visit.
  • The U.S. Army Artillery Museum at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.

See also

Similar vehicles

Type 60 Self-propelled 106 mm Recoilless Gun


  1. ^ "Ontos-a mean thing feared by Viet Cong Sgt. T.D. Stephens" Newspaper clipping

External links

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