Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Airborne T-24 Discovery In Arctic Sweden
It started with a tip about a WWII British armoured vehicle still parked in a forest in Arctic Sweden. Could the vehicle in question, a Universal Carrier, still be there? Nope, it had been sold earlier this year, the owner informed me. But, he asked, might I be interested in seeing a tracked WWII vehicle for airborne operations?
Well, that made me enthusiastic to take the trip towards the Finnish border, but I was still slightly skeptical. Was the tracked vehicle not just a regular M29 Weasel? I had seen such before, many times. But what the gentleman in the Arctic town had told me indicated it might be a rare prototype that had underwent airborne tests, a type I had never seen in real life. By a strange coincidence, Weasels are mentioned in my latest book, Swedes In Combat vs. Hitler, because one of the Swedes in the US Army that I interviewed for my book, Sivert/Ron Windh, was part of a special winter unit connected to the creation of the Weasel. The main creator was the British inventor Geoffrey Pyke and the reason he came up with it was to support his proposals to attack German forces and industrial installations in Norway. The main industry of Allied interest was the heavy water plant that was crucial for the development of the German nuclear plans. The first Allied plans for a large airborne raid against Norway (mainly the heavy water) became Project "Plough". For this, the T-15 Weasel tracked vehicle was made in 1942. The small dimensions of the T-15 were chosen to make it possible to fit in glider aircraft. It proved to be a fast and handy vehicle, giving the Allies a real edge in winter/mountain operations. However, there was also the perceived need for dropping the vehicle by parachute, from British Lancasters. So, the T-15 was improved and thus the T-24 was born.
Thanks to WWII researcher Erik Brun I learnt exactly what to look for on the "mystery machine". Up front an airborne T-24 does not look that different from an M29. In the front there are only some small holders/handles that tell you it is a T-24. But an airborne-modified T-24 also has four large attachments on the sides - to connect the vehicle body with the parachute container. So, no doubt about the type. But what does the original "skin" say? Below the green paint (probably from the Swedish Army/Vattenfall, i.e. the previous owners) the owner has found a white (snow camouflage) layer with the identification "USB 118/528". This does not seem to relate to the number inside the hull, see below.
I am no Weasel expert, but I reckon T-24s are pretty rare. Just how rare are they? I know only of two more in Sweden. Are there a hundred preserved, worldwide, or less? What is your take? Would you also happen to know something about this particular vehicle´s history, that might explain "USB"? Was it parachuted over Scotland during some test? The Norwegian operation was modified (parachuting Weasels was dropped, excuse the pun) and therefore the Weasel was not used for its original intention. However, it was used in Italy and Weasels went ashore on the beaches in Normandy, were used in the Battle of the Bulge etc. Both by the US Army and some British units. Was it, as some have claimed, the very first Allied vehicle to come ashore in Normandy on June 6, 1944? Or is that impossible to now prove? Please leave some feedback here if you know some answers to my above questions.
Finally, thank you Karl-Olov and Mika!