By David Doyle
Designed to counter the threat of a massed Soviet armoured assault, the M50 Ontos showed its merit in the jungles and streets of Vietnam. Ontos grew out of Project Vista, the secret study of possible improvements to NATO defences. Project Vista identified the need for an inexpensive, heavily armed "something" to thwart waves of Soviet armour.
Armed with six powerful recoilless rifles, the diminutive M50 was given the name "Ontos," an Army mistranslation of Greek for "the Thing." Initially, the Army felt that the Allis-Chalmers T165E1 (later standardized as the M50) was the thing to fill the recommendation of Project Vista. Ultimately, and after some controversy, the Army lost interest in the vehicle, but the United States Marine Corps believed in the vehicle, and in 1955 the M50 entered production. While the Corps first used the Ontos in Santo Domingo in 1965, it would rise to fame in Vietnam, where the M50, as well as the modernized M50A1, saw considerable use as antipersonnel weapons and in perimeter defence.
On the streets of Hue, Marines made considerable use of the Ontos, blasting open walls and using antipersonnel rounds to create faux smoke screens. Over 270 photos, many in colour, chronicle the development, production, combat use, and details of this famed vehicle and the men who used them.