When tracked vehicles replaced the horses in the Swedish National Defence.

The Swedish Armed Forces developed the military tracked vehicle in the early 1960’s. Volvo BM was commissioned to produce tracked vehicle 202 for the transport of troops and 203 as a radio vehicle. Both models were finished in 1963 and became the principal vehicles of the Norrland brigades. This meant that the units were able to advance at a higher speed and with more supplies.

The caterpillars could easily run on snow. In parallel to the development of the military vehicles, the forest industry also started replacing their horses with tracked vehicles. The Swedish Armed Forces learned from the technical experiences made within forestry and studied its attempts actively. The articulated steering of the vehicles is a result of the experiences made by the Swedish forest industry. It implies the great advantage that the vehicle is manoeuvred by holding the front and the rear part at an angle, while at the same time using full drive on all tracks. This, together with the low ground pressure, is what creates such good accessibility.

After WWII, left over material was purchased from the US and the Swedish version of the Studebaker Weasel became tracked vehicle model 48, the first Swedish model. As military material developed, the older versions became of interest to civilian parties. Forest and energy companies, as well as rescue services, need to be able to get through deep snow, as soon as Jack Frost complicates life in winter. Here the military caterpillar constitutes a pillar of society. During last year’s great fire in Central Sweden, many tracked vehicles were used during rescue actions. There have also been sheer civilian areas of use for the caterpillars, such as for instance the Norwegian “beltevognen” which was used as a tourist shuttle in Northern Norway at the beginning of the 1970’s.

In the mid 1980’s tracked vehicle 206 was developed with plastic coachwork, which increased the advancing speed and the loading capacity even more. It is fair to say that it was a best-seller of the Swedish industry, developed for the Swedish Military’s need – to advance on snow.  Almost 11 000 vehicles have been produced, in a range of more than 50 models, and exported to many countries. Since then the development of the military tasks abroad has demanded splinter and mine protection, which has led to models 308, 309 and 410 being delivered to the Swedish Armed Forces during 2015.

One can claim however, that everything started during a military field exercise in Kalix in 1958. There problems, related to carrying supplies, had been encountered– the horses needed to be replaced. As within the forest industry, machines and vehicles gradually replaced horses but they remained in the cavalry until the beginning of the 1970’s. Nevertheless, the military services still use horses for the Royal Guards outside the Royal Palace of Stockholm and to some extent horses are still used within the forestry as well.

Photographs by Bert Persson
Text by major Jonas Skär
Curator Havremagasinet