The "Duster" as it's called, is a self propelled anti-aircraft defense weapon system. It is a fully armored vehicle with the engine at the rear. Although designed for deployment with armored divisions as a means of providing mobile anti-aircraft defense, their rapid rate of fire has proven to be an invaluable infantry support weapon against ground targets. The Dusters in Vietnam played a key role in ground support and anti-guerilla activity.
First produced in 1952, the M42 "Duster" entered service in 1953 and saw extensive action during the Cold War period. The gun system was used in World War II on a similar vehicle, and later upgraded to this model. The Duster self-propelled anti-aircraft gun was a result of design work during the Korean War in the early 1950s.
It is manned by a crew of six men, and has a top speed of 45 mph. An evolution of the earlier M19 Gun Motor Carriage, the M42 consisted of twin 40mm Bofors guns mounted atop the new M41 "Walker Bulldog" light tank chassis with a flat opposed 6 cylinder air cooled gasoline engine, providing 500 hp. The M42 Duster hull was made of all-welded steel armor varying in thickness from 0.35in (9mm) to 1in (25mm). The Duster hull was a modified version of the M41 Walker Bulldog light tank and included most of the same automotive components including the engine and transmission. The vehicle's primary armament, the 40mm cannons, fired a variety of ammunition ranging from high explosive shells to heavy slugs at a rate of 120 rounds per minute per barrel, or a total of 240 rounds per minute.
The heavy recoil and report from the guns kicked up a great deal of dust, giving the M42 its nickname. The high rate of devastating fire was originally conceived to be useful as an anti-aircraft gun, but was proven ineffective at that role due to the rapid development of high-flying jet aircraft. Instead, the U.S. Army employed the Duster against ground targets where the direct-fire limitations of the weapon became a terrifying asset.
The M42 weighed 24 tons, was nineteen feet long, and was designed to carry a crew of six Soldiers, although a four man crew was typical in actual combat conditions. The powerful carriage was powered by a 500 horse power Air Cooled Continental AOS-895-3 or Fuel-Injected AOSI-895-5k 6-Cylinder Supercharged Gasoline engine that propelled it up to forty miles per hour. In 1956, the vehicle received an upgraded engine and was redesignated the M42A1. Because of its problems as an anti-aircraft platform, however, the U.S. Army halted production in 1959.
The true usefulness as an anti-personnel weapon was realized in the jungles and mountains of Vietnam, and the Army recalled many M42s back into service, organizing them into air defense artillery battalions. In Vietnam, the Duster was used primarily for point security, convoy escort, and perimeter defense. The Duster excelled in its new capacity, shattering troop concentrations and stemming frontal enemy assaults. The Duster's speed, firepower, and armor protection served as a significant deterrent against enemy ambush. Although the M42 had demonstrated its effectiveness, the weapon was removed from U.S. service by 1988 in favor of more technologically advanced self-propelled missile systems.
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