Which is, yes, a Vespa scooter fitted with a 75mm recoilless rifle.
After World War II, there was little money for defense spending while the nations of Europe rebuilt their industry and society. When there was some cash to spend, one had to be creative to stretch it as far as possible. The French probably accomplished the most astounding example of that with the ACMA Troupes Aeról Portées Mle. 56. Deployed with their airborne forces, this was essentially a militarized Vespa scooter outfitted with a 75mm recoilless rifle. Five parachutes would carry the two-man gun crew, weapon, ammunition, and two scooters safely to earth, and the men would load the weapon on one scooter and the ammo on the other, then ride away. More impressively, the recoilless rifle could be fired effectively on the move by the best of the gun crews. Total cost? About $500 for the scooter and the recoilless rifle was war surplus. Were they successful military machines? Well, the French Army deployed about 800 armed scooters in wars conducted in both Algeria and Indochina.
ROCKING WITH JFC FULLER
There are three things you can do in a fight:
- HURT THE OTHER GUY – how hard can you hit the other guy with your rock/RPG/railgun?
- PROTECT YOURSELF – how hard are you to hit, and how hard a hit can you take?
- MOVE AROUND – how fast can you move, over whatever ground?
The core dilemma: Anything you do to make yourself better at one of these things makes you worse at one or both of the others.
That applies on all scales:
- ”As long as I stay in this ditch, they can’t shoot me! But I can’t shoot back, unless I stand up—which makes it easier for them to shoot me, too—and I can’t move except back and forth in the ditch—unless I get out and run—which makes it easier for them to shoot me and I’ll be moving too fast too aim.”
- ”Men, form a square! Excellent, now Napoleon’s cavalry cannot hope to overrun us. But with men facing all four directions instead of in a line, we can’t concentrate our musket fire against any one target, and if we wanted to march anywhere, we would really move faster in column formation.”
- ”This new tank has impenetrable armor! But that means no engine we can put in it will move it very fast. And if we want to put a bigger gun in it, it’ll be even slower, unless we get rid of some armor….”
- ”Our clan has always been safe in the mountains! If those filthy lowlanders try to attack, we just slaughter them like sheep in the narrow passes! Of course, if we try to attack the lowlanders, they just slaughter us coming out the other end of the passes. And even in a year with little snow, we can barely move warriors from one village to another.”
See how the same iron triangle of tradeoffs repeats itself? The only way out of the dilemma—sometimes!—is higher technology, but even then, once you get the more powerful engine for your tank (or whatever), you just move from your old trade-space to a new, slightly better trade-space.
I suppose because the Mle. 56 is a remarkably unexpected method of squaring this particular iron triangle. But also because I like to imagine the Ilk of Jonah being chased by squads of the dam’ things. —I am, at base, a petty, petty man.
Anyway: into the commonplace book it goes.