Heavy metal Designed, edited, written and photgraphed by Jack Marquez and Jonah Davis 1
Dedicated to the hardworking volunteers at the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation for their efforts towards preserving history, and to the men and women of our military who write it every day.
Acknowledgements A special thanks to Kaaren Marquez, Ms. Parkinson, and Mike Brandt, Phil Hatcher, Vladamir Yakubov, Ming Wu, and the entire staff of the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation for all of their cooperation and support during the making of this book.
table of contents Foreword ----------------------------------- p. 9 Introduction ------------------------------ p. 10 I. From Hobby to Historical Treasure --- p. 12 II. Through a Century of Conflict ------- p. 20 III. Regaining Our Grip on Military History -- p. 26 IV. Looking Back, Moving Forward ----- p. 32 7
â€œWe can tell the story of men and machines.â€? -Vladimir Yakubov, Military Vehicle Technology Foundation
Foreword Let’s be honest: the first reason we chose to cover the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation wasn’t to reflect on mankind’s legacy of conflict, or the importance of preserving history, or even the evolution of technology through a decade of war. We really just wanted to look at tanks. As we wandered through rows upon rows of those behemoths, though, we couldn’t help but be awed by the sheer amount of military hardware one man had accumulated, that hundreds of scientists had pored over, that countless assembly lines had churned out, and that scores of countries had mobilized and ordered to blast each other into flaming hulks. There’s a reason beyond big guns and thick armor that tanks capture our imagination the way that they do. They represent a part of human history we try to forget, but are reminded of every time we turn on the news. They simultaneously symbolize freedom and oppression, pain and patriotism, and inspire respect for the soldiers on either end of the cannon. But beyond these grand ideas, we found a smaller, but nevertheless fascinating story of a man named Jacques Littlefield, who spent millions collecting and restoring these relics, and of a small group of hardworking and knowledgeable volunteers dedicated to keeping this part of history meticulously restored and operational. Be it engineering curiosity, a fascination with history, or a personal connection to the veterans that drove them, each one of these volunteers had their own story to tell, and their own perspectives on the bigger picture. Though we tried as best as we could to fit all of these stories and ideas into one book, the only way one can truly experience them is by visiting MVTF in person. As we found out, the museum doesn’t just tell us about engine size or muzzle velocity, but a much larger narrative of a century of innovation and conflict. As tour guide Vladimir Yakubov put it, “[It’s] the story of men and machines.”
Introduction In the scenic hills of Portola Valley, not far from Palo Alto and Stanford University, almost 300 of the worldâ€™s most infamous killing machines sit in garages on Jacques Littlefieldâ€™s 400-acre ranch. The battlefield relics have been meticulously restored--fully driveable and historically accurate down the last nut, bolt, and dab of olive drab paint.
Mr. Littlefield wasnâ€™t as much of a history buff as he was an engineer, fascinated by the rugged yet precise inner workings of each of his vehicles. He recognized, though, that his collection held enormous historical significance, and before losing a hard-fought battle with cancer, Mr. Littlefield founded the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation (MVTF), an organization of volunteer mechanics, historians, and tour guides to care for his collection. Since his passing, MVTF has opened its doors to weekly tours, hoping to gather funds to keep the museum open and keep military history alive. 10
Military history presents us with a unique dilemma. As Americans, we simultaneously wish to forget the atrocities committed in war and wish to respect and honor our veterans. It’s history we’d rather not remember, but it’s history we need to remember in order to recognize and correct the mistakes we’ve made in the past. The Littlefield Collection is a stark reminder of that history, and seeing those tanks lined up in rows, pockmarked with bullet hits and adorned with flags from scores of countries creates a powerful testimony to the never-ending cycle of war.
from hobby to historical treasure 12
Jacques Littlefield, an engineer at heart, always found vehicles fascinating. Born into an extremely wealthy family, he began collecting restoring cars and motorcycles, and eventually undertook the restoration of an old Mack truck. That project sparked Littlefield’s interest in historical vehicles, and in 1970, he purchased his first military vehicle, an American M3A1 Scout Car. After lightly restoring the truck-like vehicle on his own, Littlefield proceeded to buy his first tank, a small World War II-era M5 Stuart, in 1983. While attending Stanford University and later working at Hewlett-Packard, Littlefield bought five more tanks. Littlefield’s wealthy father passed away a few years later, leaving him a large inheritance, which he used to further expand his collection. Despite the tragic circumstances, Littlefield couldn’t have received the inheritance at a better time. The late 1980s and early 1990s marked the breakup of the Soviet Union, and former Warsaw Pact countries were forced to sell off their Tools fixed to the side of Littlefield’s weapons systems to escape bankruptcy. M3A1 Scout Car Never before had such a massive amount of cheap used military hardware flooded the market, and Jacques Littlefield now had the means to take advantage of it. Some hobbies cost more than others. Collecting tanks, in particular, isn’t cheap. Used military vehicles cost anywhere from $15,000 to $500,000 to purchase, many times that to ship around the world to California, and upwards of a million dollars to restore to working condition. Money, however, wasn’t an object, and after purchasing his 470 acres of his father’s property in Portola Valley, Littlefield began to expand his collection at a rapid pace. 13
“All of a sudden this became a passion,” recalls Mike Brandt, a restoration mechanic for Littlefield and current tour guide at the museum. “[He] made contact with a bunch of collectors around the world and also some arms brokers, and at one time there was a tank being delivered here once a week in the late ‘90s up to the early 2000’s. By 2006 he had started to slow down because I think he found most of the things 14
that he wanted, and the stuff that he did want was literally not available (Mike Brandt, personal interview).” While he put purchasing on hold, Littlefield turned his attention to restoring his newly acquired vehicles, which now numbered over 200. “At one time he had seven full-time people restoring tanks,” says Brandt, “He never talked money, but it must have been at least half a million just paying salaries.”
In the late 1990’s, while the development of his collection was fully underway, Jacques Littlefield was diagnosed with colon cancer. As he underwent treatment, Littlefield realized that something must be done to preserve the collection in the event of his passing. In 1998, he founded the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation (MVTF), an organization designed to maintain his collection of vehicles, which had become a priceless historical treasure. Though he tried to donate as much as he could to the foundation in the time he had left, regulations limited his yearly contributions, and he was only partially able to hand over the collection before he lost the ten-year battle. He was 59 years old. The Foundation was in deep financial trouble from the outset. Though Littlefield managed to donate most of his vehicles, he’d only been able to muster less than $500,000 for the day-to-day sustenance of MVTF. To keep itself afloat, the Foundation was forced to let go
Top: A gasoline-powered remote-controlled tank model built by Jacques Littlefield.
Right: A row of tank and airplane engine blocks on display at the museum.
of all of Littlefield’s restoration technicians. As a result, some of the tanks Littlefield purchased later in his life would never be restored, and now sit as rusting hulks scattered around the property. From that point on, MVTF would become an entirely volunteer-run organization. Every member of the staff--mechanics, tour guides, webmasters, schedulers, even the new Museum Director, Philip Hatcher--would now work
for free. In order to generate enough revenue to sustain the Foundation, MVTF decided to re-purpose itself into a museum and offer paid tours, something Jacques Littlefield had never done before. The location of the museum, however, proved to be a problem. “It’s not the ideal situation (Philip Hatcher, personal interview),” admits Hatcher, “because it’s in a neighborhood and we’re
not able to be open six days a week and let people come as they feel; we have to have organized tours to keep the privacy factor under control.” The museum now holds weekly tours on Saturdays, and spots must be reserved weeks in advance through the museum’s website, www.MVTF.org. The museum also earns money through displays at other museums, shows, and parades. On occasion, movie
studios rent out vehicles for use as props for pictures including “Courage Under Fire” or to record audio like the vehicle sounds in “Saving Private Ryan.” Nevertheless, tours remain the museum’s primary source of funding. “Do we publicize this well?” remarks Mike Brandt, “We really don’t.” “For the most part it’s a quite well-hidden secret,” says Hatcher. Even if the museum could generate more bookings, Hatcher added, the volunteer-run organization might not be able to handle additional tours in its current state. “We’re really not staffed to take advantage of that if it happened, so [advertising] just needs to be done in a very, very measured way.” Nevertheless, MVTF continues to take the necessary steps toward becoming a more traditional museum, and Hatcher is pleased with its progress. “Probably the most rewarding part [of my job] to date has been the development of a volunteer organization: to see it just
go from a collection of vehicles that were getting dirty and dusty and dripping oil and having flat tires to being in much better condition... seeing what was one man’s collection to something that’s starting to approach a museum status... That’s an ongoing process and my personal goal: to create a museum here.” Left: Visitors pose for photos on top of an Israeli “half-rack” troop carrier.
Through a Century of Conflict 20
During one of our visits, we shadowed a museum tour led
by Vladimir Yakubov, a software engineer, military history author and model builder who donates his time giving tours and maintaining the museum’s website. “I want to give a general idea of interaction,” he told us earlier, “of why things were done, whichever way they were done. Not generally, you know, how many millimeters each gun is, or why it was done that way, but I want people to understand the trade-offs and limitations.” As he walked us through the four massive buildings that house the collection, examples of those trade-offs became readily apparent, beginning with the oldest tank in the collection. The M1917 Renault FT-17, a vehicle the size of a Bobcat loader, was a French-designed tank that saw action during World War I. Much smaller than the hulking British Mark I’s that most associate with the period, the Renault was designed with in accordance with a new strategy dubbed the “Mosquito Theory.” As Yakubov explained, this strategy called for the use of smaller, faster tanks to overwhelm the enemy, essentially an early version of Blitzkrieg. In addition, the Renault was the first operational tank designed with a fully rotating turret on top, an engine in back and a driver in front, now the standard layout for its modern counterparts. Prior designs were little more than armored boxes on tractor chassis, and the M1917 subsequently paved the way for modern armor beyond the first World War. As we progressed down another aisle of tanks, we observed gradual patterns and changes. The vehicles increased in size, gun barrels began to lengthen, and vertical walls were replaced by sloping armor (angling the plating, Yakubov explained, increased its thickness when struck horizontally). As the tour moved down the line into post-World War II vehicles, Yakubov pointed out a particularly enormous tank, an M60A2 “Starship.” This behemoth, we learned, was one of the first tanks to heavily integrate computers into its design. 21
“Most of these things are here because of other people’s mistakes.” -Philip Hatcher, Military Vehicle Technology Foundation
Right: Volunteer Vladimir Yakubov leads a tour past the Cold War-era U.S. M60A2 Starship “Aces Wild.”
Hence the name “Starship,” the M60A2’s targeting systems utilized what was considered spaceage technology at the time. During the Cold War, the U. S. government poured billions of dollars into its development, partially as a response to similar tanks being produced by the Soviet Union. The Starship never saw action, however, due to some major flaws in its design. The tank was outfitted to fire guided missiles, but the electronic feedback from each launch shorted out the vehicle’s electronics, including the missile’s own guidance systems. The tank also sported a taller turret for the commander to increase his visibility and make room for the tank’s electronics, but the increased height made the Starship a much more visible target. It
was phased out after only a few short years and less than a thousand were ever produced. Among others, the Starship was literally a huge reminder that the rapid technological development during times of conflict has its drawbacks. Flawed designs that appear viable on paper are rushed into production, and these errors in judgement cost billions of dollars
and potentially the lives of the soldiers who depend on them. “Most of these things are here because of people’s mistakes,” museum director Phil Hatcher told us. “People need to be able to look backwards in order to be able to look forwards in a sensible way, and it’s one of the things that I think is lacking in our modern society: people don’t look back.”
Left: A fully restored WWII-era German Panther tank, the crown jewel of MVTF’s collection. Restored by to driveable condition Littlefield’s staff, the Panther spent over sixty years submerged in an icy river in Poland.
regaining our grip on military history
“When people come in, especially people who’ve
never served in the military,” Yakubov explained to us before the tour, “all they see is a tank, and [they think] it’s such a super machine that nothing can hurt it.” One of MVTF’s goals, then, is to educate visitors about the realities of tank warfare. In movies and video games, tanks are portrayed as unstoppable, impenetrable rolling fortresses. When deployed against infantry, tanks do dominate, but when they face each other, a few inches of armor do little to protect their occupants. Often a single enemy hit can set a tank ablaze, dooming its crew to burn alive inside. Through history classes in school, we learn very little about the actual mechanics of war and of the true horrors of some of the situations that people are put into. Instead, we simply learn that the tank was first introduced at the end of WWI and was little more than an armored tractor that broke down every few miles. As we progress into WWII, we’re taught about Hitler and his strategy of blitzkrieg. The Nazi advance through Western Europe was seemingly unstoppable because of the highly mobile tanks and planes used by the German army. Here, we begin to accept the idea that tanks are invincible, a stereotype perpetuated by popular culture. The reality of the matter is that the tank is just as dangerous a place to be in if not more so than being an infantryman on the ground. “Injuries to armored vehicle crew members are characterized by a large number of burn casualties, a larger percentage of fractures and traumatic amputations with extremity wounds, and a higher mortality when compared with infantry foot soldier combat casualty statistics”(pubmed.gov). Even though tankers are more prone to being killed or injured because their vehicles are such large targets, we tend to think of them as being much safer then the men on the ground fighting alongside them because of the fact that we are not taught to think otherwise. even the Tigers were being destroyed like they were no more than a gun in a cardboard box. 27
MVTF truly wants to show us that these behemoths of war are not the impenetrable fortresses that they are thought to be. The Foundation encourages respect for the soldiers who command these machines in combat with the knowledge that battles fought with cannons and shells are just as deadly as those fought with rifles and bullets. “... given the general problems with historical education in... America in particular--people just don’t know their history,” added Yakubov, “so we try to give them a little slice of military history, and hopefully somebody who came here would be inclined to look some of this stuff up later on Wikipedia, on the computer, or read the book about some battle that we talked about here, or something else, and, you know, it would improve their understanding.” Sure enough, our museum tour inspired us to find out more about what we learned: the truth behind the metal of the machine, and we were surprised, shocked, and humbled by what we found. There’s obviously no substitute for the actual experiences of the battlefield, but MVTF and the Littlefield collection brought us that much closer to understanding the ugly truths of armored warfare.
Left: A row of unrestored howitzers and other vehicles in the muesum courtyard.
Right: Visitors examine a rack of missiles inside the museum.
â€œWe try to give [visitors] a little slice of military history.â€? -Vladimir Yakubov, Military Vehicle Technology Foundation
looking back, Moving forward 32
One of the most importanT things we learned from Vladimir on our tour was that every individual vehicle had its own story. Jacques Littlefield’s attention to detail and respect for history meant that shovels were strapped to the sides of troop carriers, rifles and bags were thrown in the back of Jeeps, and original artwork of bulldogs, donkeys, tigers and playing cards adorned the turrets of tanks. Those extra touches reminded us that real people lived, fought, and died in those vehicles. We could understand, at least partially, what life was like riding on the top of an Armored Personnel Carrier because the troop compartment was too vulnerable to land mines, or how the flat hood of a Jeep could become a commander’s desk, a medic’s operating table, or a place to sit and play a game of cards. We live in a time with a shrinking number of veterans from World War II, and no more living veterans of World War I. These vehicles are their legacy. “People don’t realize how bad it is inside a tank in combat,” Yakubov points out. “We hope that they come away with a little more respect for the veterans, including the people who are serving in the military right now, in the war zones.” Mike Brandt also makes a point of respecting the needs of those veterans that visit the museum. The massive collection is likely to contain at least a few vehicles with a strong emotional significance to any war veteran. “We don’t ask if people on tours were tankers,” explains Brandt. “The reason is, war is terrible thing, and it’s bloody, it’s nasty, it’s ruthless, it’s cruel, and inhumane, among other things. And some people, you know, still have post-traumatic stress, and sure, you remember a lot of good things-that’s what you like to remember, but you also remember some of the horrific things that happened, or that you did, or that you were involved with, or knew of, and so we typically don’t ask.” 33
“The only reason [these machines] have been developed is to kill people. That’s the reason they’re here.” -Phil Hatcher, Military Vehicle Technology Foundation 34
“About two weeks ago,” Brandt recalls, “we had a really rare occasion: we had a tanker who was a German tanker in World War II-Battle of the Bulge--and we had a U.S. tanker who was in the Battle of the Bulge at the same time, so they were talking to each other, and then on the same day we had tankers from Korean War, Vietnam, and tankers from Desert Storm in ‘91... you could see that they definitely had a brotherhood, a camaraderie, so they could understand and relate to each other and it was kinda neat that that could occur here.” This personal aspect is very important to the museum, Yakubov says. “We can tell the story of men and machines.” The sheer size of the collection itself says a great deal about that relationship. Enough countries have churned out enough killing machines that one man could buy over 200 unique vehicles: that by itself says a great deal. As we learned on our tour, most tanks become outclassed within ten years due to rapid technological development, and some ill-advised projects are obsolete from the very beginning.
When one considers the cost of building a single tank--nowadays over a million dollars--the amount of wasted money is staggering. When one considers the “one shot, one kill” nature of tank warfare, so is the amount of wasted human lives. In addition, adds tour coordinator Ming Wu, there’s a much broader lesson to be learned from the collection, and from military history in general. “To appreciate military history, you [have to] understand conflict and to understand conflict you [have to] understand human nature, society, culture, religion, politics... all of those things, and how they cumulate and how they mobilize people (Ming Wu, personal interview).” War is unique circumstance, he explains. It takes a long accumulation of smaller conflicts to drive people to kill each other, and studying military history can reveal those factors that ultimately lead to war. “Military conflict, I think, is then the penultimate mobilization of people: to get out there and engage other people.”
Studying and recognizing these factors is a necessity, explains museum director Phil Hatcher. “Not to repeat the mistakes of the past; that’s really what [people] should be learning. You can say, ‘Oh, that’s really cool, that’s a neat-looking machine,’ but the only reason [these vehicles] have been developed is to kill people. That’s the reason they’re here. So that’s really the one lesson that should be learned from all this: don’t repeat the same mistakes again.” There’s one more reason for the museum to stay open, as Hatcher points out: “It’s a legacy that’s to Jacques Littlefield, and that was his dream. He spent millions and millions of dollars on this, putting it together, and that last thing we would want to happen would for it to be split up and disappear. So that’s number one.”
bibliography Brandt, Mike. Personal interview. 18 Feb 2012 Hatcher, Philip. Personal interview. 18 Feb 2012 MVTF. The Military Vehicle Technology Foundation. Web. 5 Feb 2012 Dougherty, P. J. â€œArmored Vehicle Crew Casualtiesâ€? Pubmed.gov. 20 Mar 2012 Wu, Ming. Personal interview. 18 Feb 2012 Yakubov, Vladimir. Personal interview. 18 Feb 2012 36
Published on May 29, 2012