CMT & SD Golra

Usman Ansari discovers what ex-military vehicles are currently stored in one of the Pakistan Army’s biggest vehicle depots.

Very little is apparent from the outside of Central Mechanical Transport & Storage Depot, Golra. The military vehicle depot in Rawalpindi is mainly used to issue new vehicles to army units. Inside however, there is a great deal to be found. Lurking in the long grass along with the snakes, are hundreds of tanks and other retired military vehicles dating from WWII to the height of the Cold War. Feared scrapped, many were supplied as part of American military aid from the 1950s onwards when Pakistan was part of the anti-Communist bloc organisations CENTO and SEATO. A small proportion of these vehicles date from the 1947 division of British India’s military assets, and the most recent arrivals reflect Pakistan’s relationship with China. 

 

 

Whereas the numerous Bedford trucks that were once in the Pakistan Army (PA) have been sold on to civilian hauliers, it appears many of the tanks have simply been placed into storage. The newest arrivals at the depot are the 105mm armed Type-69II. They were introduced to give Pakistani industry experience in tank manufacture, and 250 were produced before production switched to the Type-85IIAP. To cope with more modern opponents, (namely the T-72), they were up-gunned with a 105mm gun. Though an improvement on the Type-59 (due to its superior fire control system - FCS), armour protection was still basically bare steel/RHA (rolled homogenous armour). They were manufactured to high standard by Heavy Industries Taxila though, so they could be readily remanufactured into Al-Zarrars, the indigenous upgrade of the Type-59/Type-69 tanks. There is a considerably greater number of 105mm armed Type-59IIs present, reflecting the fact that over 2,000 once served in the PA. The sheer expense of replacing such a large number of tanks on a one for one basis gave rise to the Al-Zarrar programme. The Type-59 was cheap, fairly reliable, and simple enough for relatively uneducated crews to be able to maintain. They appear to have also been fairly recently retired so the possibility of them being available for upgrade for an export customer is high. Bangladesh has already applied the Al-Zarrar upgrade to its Type-69II fleet, and the search for more customers continues.

 

 

Surprisingly, there are also large numbers of M-47M and M-48A5 Patton tanks present, a legacy of the Mutual Defense Assistance Programme with America begun in the 1950s. The M-47M only served with Pakistan, and Washington’s then closest Gulf region ally, Iran. Lacking the ability to do so itself, Pakistan sent its M-47s to Iran to be overhauled and upgraded to M-47M standard at the factory set up by the American company, Bowen-McLaughlin-York, Inc. The M-47M was a 1960s upgrade that borrowed engine and FCS technology from the M-60A1 Patton. It still retained its 90mm gun though, so its effectiveness was severely hampered as time progressed. The large numbers at the depot are probably part of the 120 or so (out of 230 delivered) that survived till the end of the 1990s. The M-47M was overshadowed in PA service by the M-48, destined to be the last PA Western MBT. The M-48 was a much better tank and remained in service with the US itself until the 1990s. The PA M-48s survived in the PA longer than the M-47Ms, and were upgraded to M-48A5 standard. This again benefited a great deal from technology from the M-60A1, not least the 105mm M-68 gun. Though still able to pack a punch, its steel armour and small numbers (300), meant it was no longer viable to continue operating the type. Some of the American tanks have had a new lease of life at the hands of the Military Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (MVRDE). The MVRDE has developed an M-47M Armoured Vehicle-Launched Bridge (AVLB) that serves alongside the American designed M-48 AVLB, and is actively designing more ‘funnies’. However, as the Pattons were supplied as part of an American military aid package, they cannot be re-sold or otherwise exported without the express permission of the US. Consequently it looks like they will remain at the depot, sent to the MVRDE, or eventually scrapped.

 

 

The also operated approximately 200 M-4 Shermans, with some being the 76mm armed M4E4 variant. A number were dozer equipped, of which a solitary example is present (minus dozer blade). Shermans are quite common as monuments in Pakistan and one 75mm version, (which seem have made up the bulk of Sherman types been supplied), is to be found in the middle of the dual carriageway of nearby Peshawar Road. The Shermans took part in both major Indo-Pak wars and seemed to have handled themselves fairly well despite being long in the tooth. Sadly, no effort was made to indigenously upgrade the Shermans in line with those serving in other nation’s armies due to lack of forethought, and the shortcomings of local industry. However, the example present does have some very apparent extra armour plates welded to the hull, though this was probably done before it entered Pakistani service. Along with the Shermans America also supplied ARVs (armoured recovery vehicles) were equally important. The types supplied were M-32B1, M-32BII/III, and M-74. The M-74 was perhaps the most important of the Sherman ARVs as it was able to deal with the heavier post-WWII Pattons, so was therefore the most versatile.

 

 

American military aid also brought a large number of M-19 SPAAGs, which were fitted with M2 dual automatic 40mm guns. The twin guns were mounted on a modified M-24 Chaffee light tank chassis, which were also supplied under the programme. Consequently, there was a high degree of commonality with regards spares. The twin-40mm was definitely hard hitting, but their effectiveness in the jet age is uncertain. The M-19s seem to be in a comparable condition to the M-47Ms, so may have been in storage for a similar period. Two types of artillery tractor, the WWII vintage M-4 and M-5 are also present. The M-5 is a particularly antiquated looking machine and appears reminiscent of a WWI AFV. However, both it and the more modern looking M-4 are of the same vintage. When China commenced military supplies in the aftermath of the 1965 war, it also supplied some artillery tractors in the shape of the Type-60-I, and a small number are decaying slowly at the depot. After the tanks though it is self propelled artillery (SPA) that makes up the bulk of vehicles present. The large number of retired M-7 Priest SPA present were either supplied as military aid, or were obtained during the division of military assets 1947. These served with their fellow WWII veterans the Canadian-built 25-pounder armed Sexton SPA, which are known to have given sterling service during both major Indo-Pak wars. The Sexton was particularly effective due to the 25-pounder’s high rate of fire, and Pakistan Ordnance Factories actually still makes 25-pounder ammunition, despite the fact that the Sextons were long ago replaced by the 155mm-armed M-109.

 

 

There are some big surprises to be found though. One is what at first looks like a T-34/85 and a T-34 ARV. These date from the aftermath of the 1965 war when Pakistan had a brief flirtation with Russia. This materialised due to American sanctions and lack of support over the Kashmir dispute with India. Pakistan hoped Russia would become its new source for weaponry. A small arms package that included T-34/85s was delivered, but Russia was always closer to Pakistan’s arch-rival India, and this was therefore the extent of the weapons supplied. China stepped up to help its southern neighbour though, and this mainly consisted of Type-59s. However, as far as is known, China never supplied any of its domestic built T-34/85s, the Type-58. Despite this the depot’s resident T-34/85 has a plaque on the gun breech that appears to be some kind of firing table, which is in Chinese. So either the tank is one of the Russian T-34/85s that were supplied (albeit with a Chinese firing table on the gun breech), or it is a Chinese Type-58, which were not.

 

 

Even more bizarre is the presence of a LVT-1 that is preserved as a monument in the grounds of the depot. Its presence is enigmatic, considering India received all the amphibious assault craft during the 1947 division of military assets, not Pakistan. Though this could have been supplied later as part of a military aid package, Pakistan is not usually a country associated with having had a requirement for amphibious assault craft. Even if it was obtained to operate in the riverine environment of erstwhile ‘East Pakistan’ (Bangladesh) pre-1971, it does not explain its presence in what was then ‘West Pakistan’. Also preserved near the LVT-1, are two Ferret armoured cars, which are in considerably better shape than the two that are stored along with the other vehicles. The Ferret was primarily used by the paramilitary Frontier Corps in patrolling Pakistan’s long and porous borders. An excellent and much loved vehicle despite their diminutive size, the Ferrets have now long since been replaced by civilian type vehicles such as Toyota pick up trucks.

 

 

Not all the vehicles present served in Pakistani colours. There are a number of trophies from the Afghan crisis in the 1980s and the 1991 Gulf War. The Afghan trophies consist of a BRDM-2 reconnaissance, and a TELAR (Transporter Erector Launcher And Radar) vehicle. It is entirely feasible that the BRDM-2 was used by Afghan government forces during the Soviet occupation and it likely that it was captured and brought to Pakistan after the Russians left in 1989. The TELAR is rather more problematic to explain, but there may be a theory to its presence. It is a huge vehicle more readily associated with the SA-8 Gecko SAM system, but the vehicle at the depot does not appear to have been equipped in this manner. It has been classed as an “APC”, but the presence of a crane arm means it was probably an engineering variant, or a even a re-supply vehicle for extra SA-8 rounds. If this is the case then it may well have been accompanied by the missile and radar equipped model, which if so, would definitely have been spirited away for intelligence purposes, either in Pakistan itself, or more likely at the time, America. One thing of note regarding the TELAR is that though it is a Soviet origin vehicle, the manufacturers at least had the foresight to have any instructions in English rather than Russian, as can be seen by a panel on the roof hatch. Though Pakistan’s role in the 1991 Gulf War is largely overshadowed, it seems an active part was taken in securing trophies. These are mainly made up of MTLB APCs. None of these tracked vehicles seem to have been damaged to the extent they would have been rendered immobile, but were probably simply abandoned by the fleeing Iraqi Army. However, the most prized trophy has to be the Iraqi T-62. Though there are no readily apparent national markings, it is identifiable by the ‘sand over olive drab’ colour scheme, and marking on the barrel fume extractor that was peculiar to Iraqi tanks. During the Iraq-Iran war the Iraqis also fashioned a crude plate metal shield for the search lights on their tanks to protect against splinters and small arms fire, and this modification is present on the T-62. The T-62 is undamaged, and would make a fine exhibit. One amusing note is that not all the vehicles stored at the depot are in fact ‘vehicles’. A small number of dummy vehicles are also present consisting of ‘T series’ Chinese tanks, an M-113 APC, and an M-109. Strangely, these seem to amongst the only vehicles that are actually stored under cover, the remainder being at the mercy of the elements.

 

 

Many of the vehicles are being stored on behalf of the Army Heritage Foundation, and may soon find themselves restored and displayed at the Army Museum now that it has been relocated in nearby Ayub National Park. That is the only fitting fate for some of the rarer vehicles, but it has to be accepted that unless they end up as monuments, exported or sold into private ownership, (and this is perhaps unlikely considering there is not a huge number of military vehicle enthusiasts in Pakistan with deep pockets), they will eventually be scrapped. The depot is an interesting place, but it is not a museum, and is not open to the public. It is a fully functioning, and secured, military facility. Therefore, the vehicles that are stored there will remain far from public gaze.

An edited version of this article appeared in the July 2008 issue of Military Machines International. 

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