International Harvester Goes to War

Farmall Century: 1923–2023
post by
Jim Allen
ih crawler

The following is an excerpt from Farmall Century: 1923–2023 by Lee Klancher. The 100th Anniversary of the revolutionary Farmall tractor is celebrated in this authoritative model-by-model history that traces the evolution and design of the most significant farm tractors of the 20th century. In this segment, read about how International Harvester supplied crawlers for use in World War II.

Crawlers Galore

By the start of WWII, International Harvester was already a big player in the agricultural and construction crawler markets. It had a wide range of highly regarded tracked tractors in production when the US entered the war, and military and civilian government agencies took full advantage of that. At first, civilian tractors were purchased, but later the types, sizes, and uses were standardized for the branches, and IH updated its products to better suit military needs.

The military broadly categorized crawlers three ways, ordnance (artillery) or general-purpose crawlers, crawler cranes, and bulldozers. IH built diesel- and gas-powered crawlers and, generally speaking, the US Navy/USMC preferred diesel engines and the US Army preferred gas engines for units operated in theater.

The TD-14 was put into the M-1 medium class, but it’s putting on a heavy-duty show on this Pacific Island beach in 1945. It's towing two 2,000-pound ammo pallets behind and carrying another in an extension on the dozer blade. The TD-14 was powered by a 46-cubic-inch, four-cylinder diesel engine, which was a direct evolution of the first IH diesel of 1932. In its 1940 Nebraska tractor test, a wide tread TD-14 like this could deliver 13,426 pounds of drawbar pull. Both the US Army and USMC used the TD-14, along with a 2-ton tractor crane version. Wisconsin Historical Society / 64031

Traditional low-speed crawlers were broadly categorized by capability—light, medium, or heavy—and given an M-number. The light, medium, and heavy categories would each have an M-1 version, but they could be from several manufacturers. In the M-1 heavy tractor category, for example, were tractors from International Harvester, Allis-Chalmers, and Caterpillar, each different but with standardized military features such as towing apparatus, seating, and lighting. A military unit could be issued an M-1 heavy tractor of any make, though there was usually an attempt to issue one brand within a general operational area to ease parts logistics problems.

m5 crawler
The M-5 was used to haul medium weight artillery over rough terrain, typically the 105-mm howitzer, 4.5-inch gun, and 155-mm howitzer (shown here). The tracks gave it high mobility on rough terrain, and the M-5 could also attain 35 mph on improved roads. The M-5 carried a gun crew of nine, one of whom doubled as driver. It was powered by a 572-cubic-inch Continental six that made 235 horsepower and the 100 gallons of fuel (in two 50 gallon tanks) could carry it 125 miles with a full load. Though most of the ammunition for the guns was carried in other vehicles, the M-5 could carry a load of ready-use ammo; fifty-six rounds of 105 mm, thirty-eight rounds of 4.5-inch, and rounds of 155 mm. Initially the M-5 was unarmed, but later in production a ring mount was added for a .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine gun. After 5,290 M-5s were built, the M5A1 revision appeared with a full cab, and 582 of those were made before the war ended. Further revisions were made after WWII, and the M-5 had a long career in the US Army through Korea and into the mid-1950s. Wisconsin Historical Society / 24690

Before the war, large artillery pieces were towed by heavy trucks on improved roads and by crawlers in rough terrain. Trucks were needed because crawlers had top speeds under 10 mph, so timely transport often required switching back and forth between truck and crawler according to the terrain. Besides the truck and crawler, another truck and trailer was needed to haul the crawler over the fast portions so it arrived at the rough terrain at the same time as the gun.

The answer to this inefficiency was found early in the war, with a series of unarmored high-speed tracked tractors that used the running gear of tanks. That development resulted in the 13-ton M-5, 18-ton M-4, and 38-ton M-6 high-speed tractors, each type built by a different manufacturer. IH was approached to build one category in August 1941, and the result was the very successful and highly regarded 13-ton M-5 high-speed tractor. It was not originally designed by IH, though they added some refinements. It became a mainline unit for the US Army, putting IH on the military map.

t-9 gas or td-9 diesel
Both the US Army and the USMC used a version of this tractor crane based on the IH T-9 gas or TD-9 diesel crawler. The USMC version is shown here. Both featured a 2-ton crane from Trackson. The US Army version was called the tractor crane 2-ton M5 and featured a 334.5-cubic-inch, 46-belt-horsepower gasoline engine (52 horsepower on the flywheel). The USMC version had a diesel engine that displaced 334.5 cubic inches and made 44 belt horsepower. Wisconsin Historical Society / 64115

For more stories like this one, check out the related books linked below.