Book Review
Ontos and Scorpion
M50 Ontos and M56 Scorpion 1956-70
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

M50 Ontos and M56 Scorpion 195670: US Tank Destroyers of the Vietnam War is a book from Osprey Publishing LTD in their series New Vanguard. It is number 240 in the series with the Osprey short code NVG 240. The author is Kenneth W Estes and the book is illustrated by Henry Morshead and Johnny Shumate. Osprey offers the book in softcover, ePUB, and PDF. The paper book is IBSN 9781472814739, the other formats have different numbers.

As a kid the first AFV I ever sat in was an M56 Scorpion, on display at a local college in the late 1960s; 15 years later it was no longer present when I attended the school.

Models of the M50 Ontos and M56 Scorpion have been available since the 1960s. Renwal kitted a 1/32 M50 Ontos ("A "Thing" With A Sting.") and Revell issued an M56 Scorpion in their unsuccessful 1/40 scale. Today Academy offers a 1/35 Ontos and Hobby Fan has released a 1/35 Scorpion. I know of no others.
    Designed in the 1950s, the US Marines' M50 Ontos and the US Army's M56 Scorpion were both intended to be fast, light, air-droppable tank-killers for the Cold War battlefield - an answer to the cumbersome and ineffective World War II-vintage tanks that had taken to the battlefield during the Korean War. Although they shared the aim of bringing light, mobile and lethal antitank firepower to the infantry the two vehicles varied wildly in design to cater for their unique mission demands. They first saw service in the Lebanon intervention of 1958 but it was in the Vietnam War that they made their name, with the M50 Ontos seeing intense combat action in the Battle of Hue in 1968.
    Detailed illustrations and expert analysis provide the reader with a comprehensive history of these deadly antitank vehicles, from early development through to their combat history and the eventual disbandment of the Marine Corps' last antitank battalion with M50A1s in 1971.
    - Osprey

M50 Ontos and M56 Scorpion 195670 is presented through nine chapters and sections in 48 pages:
    Design and Development
      * The M56 Scorpion
      * The M50 Ontos

    Operational History
      * The M50 Ontos
      * The M56 Scorpion

    Foreign Service and Variants
      * Variants

    Further Reading

Author Estes does a good job of telling the story about these two peculiar self-propelled antitank systems. He traces their origin through the dissolution of the tank destroyer concept after WWII and the subsequent concept from the 1949 Armor Policy Advisory Board. It recounts the Tank Crisis of the US Army and USMC during the Korean War, and the requirement for airborne antitank weapons. Oddly, these AFVs resumed the role of the WWII Tank Destroyer Command.

Shockingly, both of these systems were classified as "expendable". They were small, light, inexpensive, and considered to be just what was needed to stop a Red Army invasion of Western Europe after Project Vista. Project Vista was commissioned by the military to calculate what was required of NATO to defend Europe from a Soviet attack. A most interesting table from Project Vista presents three layers of NATO "neutralizers" against seven types of Soviet attacking forces.

Design and Development and Specifications describes the vehicles and weapons, including powerplants, armor, gun sights, and suspensions, to name a few topics. Scorpion's running gear included inflated rubber road wheels.

That describes the first 19 pages.

Operational History is 21 pages of integration and deployment of the AFVs into fighting formations. Most of the pages describe the composition of the vehicle units and the developments of other systems that made Ontos and Scorpion redundant. Three pages recount M50 combat operations in Vietnam; seven pages recall the Scorpion with only one page for Vietnam combat required. An unarmored open-top mobile gun was not very useful in the jungle.

Only two pages are required for Foreign Service and Variants and Conclusion.

Photographs, Art and Graphics
A couple of dozen photos fortify the text, including six color photos. All but a handful are sharply focused and expose great detail. Useful captions describe the scenes.

Artists Henry Morshead and Johnny Shumate enhance the text with color artwork:
    A. Airborne M56s Parachuting Into Action: 82nd Airborne M56s landing by parachute.

    B. M50 Ontos Wading Ashore From Assault Craft: USMC Ontos of 1st Platoon, A Company, 1st Antitank Battalion hitting the beach.

    C. M50A1 Ontos: cutaway 3-view keyed to 34 components.

    D. M50A1 Ontos: four views of an USMC Third Marine Division AFV.

    E. M50A1 Ontos, Battle of Hue 1968

    F. M56 Scorpion, D Company 16th Armor: four views of the 5th vehicle, 1st Platoon, Company D, 16th Armor Regiment, 176th Airborne Brigade.

    G. M56 of Spanish Naval Infantry, 1967: coming ashore from an LCT.

Tables present;
    1. Major Systems for NATO Defense against Major Elements of Soviet Offensive Power from Project Vista: Primary, secondary and third neutralizers against Soviet TACAIR; mass artillery; atom bombs; mass armor; mass infantry; gas; airborne and partisan.

    2. Specifications: M50 Ontos; M56 Scorpion: 22 technical aspects of the AFVs.

    3. Antitank Platoon Headquarters: for Ontos unit.

    4. Assault Gun Platoon Headquarters: for Scorpion unit.

    5. Tank Battalion (Airborne) 1963: M56.

    6. Separate Tank Company (Airborne): M56.

M50 Ontos and M56 Scorpion 195670: US Tank Destroyers of the Vietnam War is an interesting history of those two mobile antitank systems designed and deployed in a peculiar time when the US military was desperately trying to find a way to defend Europe against a massive Soviet armor threat without going nuclear. Both AFVs were novel and unique. Both of them were supplanted by technological developments. They saw action in Vietnam and were deployed elsewhere in crises.

I found nothing meaningful to criticize M50 Ontos and M56 Scorpion 195670 about. It makes a quick read and gives insight to the US Army and Marine concepts of early Cold War antitank defense. I am glad to have this book now and recommend it.

Please remember to mention to vendors and retailers that you saw this book here - on Armorama.
Highs: Good selection of images and art. Well detailed text.
Lows: Nothing meaningful to criticize.
Verdict: It is a quick read and gives insight to the US Army and Marine concepts of early Cold War antitank defense. I am glad to have this book now and recommend it.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 9781472814739
  Suggested Retail: $18.00
  PUBLISHED: Jan 22, 2017
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright 2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. All rights reserved.


Thank you for the review Fred. Interesting subjects. I always thought that those small tanks were cool. I mean come on.....how wicked does that six-barreled M50 Ontos look!!?? Thanks again, Randy
JAN 22, 2017 - 08:41 PM
Here's an AFV that it would truly suck to be crew on...no crew protection and limited storage for reloads.
JAN 22, 2017 - 10:08 PM

Click image to enlarge
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