The Bobcat APC in Canadian Service Book Review
|Date of Review||January 2008||Title||The Bobcat APC in Canadian Service|
|Author||Doug Knight||Publisher||Service Publications|
|Format||24 pages, softbound||MSRP (CDN)||$9.95|
The story of the Canadian arms industry in the 1950s tends to focus for the most part on the tragic tale of the Avro Arrow, probably the greatest fighter interceptor never built. In that case, and in retrospect rightly so, the Canadians were blackjacked into dropping the Arrow for first the failed concept of the IM-90 Bomarc strategic SAM and then for second-hand McDonnell F-101B Voodoo fighters. This nearly destroyed the Canadian aviation industry.
The story of the Bobcat is a parallel tale, but as it virtually ends with a similar finish (the Canadian army being talked into dropping the Bobcat APC in favor of the American-built M113) does not leave the same sour taste of the former. From this nicely done history by Doug Knight, the tales of a vehicle literally designed by committee and with no "buy-in" by most of the developers that resulted in a truly bad design seems to have been happily condemned to the dustbin of history.
The Bobcat was begun in 1952 as a logical development to replace the wartime Ram Kangaroo APC and correct for the faults of that converted tank. Negotiations and amendments to the concept proceeded over the next four years as the concept swung between an amphibious fully armored carrier and a modernized replacement for the Universal Carrier. In 1956 Leyland Motors (Canada) began to build a mild steel prototype under the program title Project 97, based on studies for a concept known as XA-20. It must be noted at the same time nearly every other industrialized nation was working on such vehicles, to include Sweden, Austria, France, West Germany, the UK, the US, Switzerland and Belgium.
In the meantime Leyland Motors (Canada) had been taken over by Canadian Car and Foundry Company Limited (CCF) and they immediately began to squabble with the government over timelines. A mockup was produced and evaluated at the Canadian Armour School at Camp Borden, Ontario, but while they provided comments back on the testing, in the meantime CCF was taken over by A. V. Roe Limited (the builders of the Arrow).
The general concept was for a ten-man fully enclosed APC with track drive, of which the crew consisted of a driver, commander and eight infantrymen. The vehicle was to be amphibious, lightweight, and with large doors in the rear of the hull for troop exit. To balance the vehicle, the engine and its equipment were located at the front of the hull and the transmission and final drives were at the rear, connected by a driveshaft dividing the dismount team compartment. This created a large sill and boxy housing right where the troops had to dismount the vehicle, as well as create a resonance and tremendous amount of noise inside the vehicle. Some variants were to have a machine gun in a cupola like the Ram Kangaroo, and others were not, based on the design specifications at the time.
Nevertheless CCF delivered three prototypes of the vehicle (two APC and one projected SP howitzer version carrying a US M101 105mm howitzer). Tests were reasonably promising and in 1959 production of armored hull versions of the prototypes were approved. Problems arose when the government and the Ministry of Defence began to try and estimate the numbers of each kind needed (an unarmored cargo carrier, much like a larger, amphibious version of the Universal Carrier, was also required.) The ultimate decision came down to 500 Bobcat APCs for the Canadian Army.
1960 consisted of testing and changing the design and its components, as well as problems trying to ensure funding from a government which had just clamped down on the military (this is shortly after the Arrow was cancelled as a point of reference). In February 1961, however, the Cabinet did approve the purchase of the 500 Bobcats. Considering that the Bobcat concept was now in its ninth year of development, at one point consideration was made of upgrading 300 Universal Carriers and modifying 292 Shermans to APCs to cover the interim period but the concept was dropped due to cost considerations.
But in 1962 A. V. Roe dissolved CCF and took over production. But as they were primarily an aviation company, they were unfamiliar with the assembly of armored vehicles and had to start from zero to build the vehicles at their factory in Malton. In one of the more clever manipulations of government contracting, A. V. Roe did manage to con the government into paying for the vehicle and then testing it! This wound up reversing the service test trials and engineering trials. Testing commenced in February 1963 and by June the vehicle had completed nearly 75% of its requisite 2000 mile test run. Proving that not every country is as dim as the US in picking the testing officers and expecting an honest report when their promotions and careers are on the line for success, Captain Murray Johnston filed a report on the Bobcat which could politely be termed "scathing" and yet still went on to become Colonel Commandant of the RCEME Corps before retiring.
The Bobcat was an engineering and operational nightmare, noisy, nasty and of marginal reliability. Many of its problems were due to the overall design and thus not possible to correct. Still, the overall assessment was that it was sound and could be developed. Once again, however, while the government argued about the contracts, Hawker-Siddeley, who then owned A. V. Roe. dissolved that company and in July 1963 sat down to see what could be done to fix the problems with the Bobcat. But Hawker refused to spend any more money of its money on the Bobcat project.
Fed up, in November 1963 the Chief of the General Staff requested permission to terminate the Bobcat project and instead purchase American M113 APCs. This was now going to be some CDN$10 million cheaper than the Bobcats, and the M113 was a much more suitable and reliable vehicle, already tested and in service with the US Army and a number of other NATO nations. Final cost for the Bobcat program was CDN$9.25 million, and today only the gutted armored prototype remains at Camp Borden.
At least the Canadian ability to produce good armored vehicles survived this episode, as today their improved versions of the Swiss Piranha as the LAV series and Stryker series vehicles are doing well in the US and Canadian armies.
Overall, this is a nice little book on a truly offbeat and relatively obscure vehicle. As an American, it's nice to know that we aren't the only ones who suffer from this sort of bureaucratic nightmare!
Thanks to Clive Law of Service Publications for the review copy.