M109 155 mm Self-Propelled
Howitzer 1960 - 2005

Steven J. Zaloga
Illustrated by Tony Bryan

Osprey Publishing
New Vanguard 86

    "M109" book is the latest in the New Vanguard series (although there is several books with higher numbers in this series, they were released earlier). It details the history of development and combat use of the M109 family howitzers from the start of production in early 1960s, to the Operation Iraqi Freedom where latest M109A6 Paladin variant was used in combat for the first time. The book is written by Steven J. Zaloga - one of the most popular authors of military books and articles, and also very talented modeler. It is interesting to note that this new book replaces one written by Richard Lathrop and illustrated by Jim Laurier, entitled "M109 155 mm Self-Propelled Howitzer" released in October 2003, which previously carried the same number 86 in New Vanguard series. Even more interesting is that the new and old book carry the same ISBN number... ?...

Format & contents: The 48 page paperback book contains 44 black and white photographs and 8 pages of color illustrations including profiles and cutaway artwork. Included are also scale plans (1/76) of M109A2.

After the one paragraph "Introduction", which in a few sentences presents the M109 howitzer, in the "Cold War Origins" chapter the author describes the development of US self propelled artillery after the World War II. This development led to creation of T195 and T196 prototypes in 1953, which after many modifications were standardized in 1963 as M108 105 mm and M109 155 mm howitzers. In this chapter we can also read about basic characteristics of early short barreled M109 self-propelled howitzer.

Following chapter "First Combat: Vietnam" covers first combat experiences with M108 and M109 howitzers in South East Asia from June 1966 when the first US Army units equipped with these relatively new weapons arrived in Vietnam. Also mentioned in this chapter is the use of M109 SPH in Vietnam by US Marine Corps.

Chapter "Long-Range Firepower" deals with introduction in 1970 of M109A1 SPH with much longer barrel, which increased the range of the weapon. Described is also arrival in November 1975 of updated M109A2 (newly produced vehicles) and M109A3 (same as M109A2, but converted from earlier M109A1), which featured numerous modifications of which most visible was addition of bustle rack extension to store additional ammunition. Here I've found one very minor inaccuracy as the author writes that A2 and A3 variants "are impossible to distinguish externally". As far as I know this is not quite true. Old M109A1 hulls were equipped with installation hardware for swimming kit and while the swimming ability was cancelled from A2/A3 vehicles, the A3 hulls retained the swimming kit mounts. The newly produced M109A2 vehicles did not have the swimming kit hardware mounts at all, so it is actually possible to distinguish these variants. In this chapter mentioned are also M109A1B howitzers produced for export from 1976 and M109A3B variant (M109A1B converted to M109A2 standard).

The next chapter "Enhancing Lethality" covers the development of various kinds of ammunition for M109 howitzers, including conventional, nuclear, chemical, smoke, illumination and practice rounds.

Chapter "Middle East Combat" covers the second, after Vietnam, conflict involving the M109 155mm SPH - the 1973 October War between Israel and Egypt and later conflicts in the Middle East, where Israeli Defense Force extensively used M109 howitzers. Mentioned is also the use of M109s by Iran during Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

In the "Precision-guided Munitions" chapter author describes the introduction of laser guided Copperhead in 1971, millimeter wave radar guided anti-tank SADARM in 1995 and finally GPS guided ERAP ammunition in 2004.

The title of the next chapter is self-explanatory: "The Modernization Dilemma: New or Rebuild?".  The chapter covers various modernization programs, which lead to creation of NBC system equipped M109A4 variant and finally a new turret and gun equipped M109A6 Paladin. Paladin is an "ultimate" variant of M109 - with inertial navigation system and digital ballistic computer and weapon servo control. Mentioned also is M109A5 variant used by National Guard units, which was a conversion of older M109A2/A3 vehicles with the same gun as used in M109A6 Paladin.

"Feeding the Guns" chapter covers the development of ammunition supply vehicles, mainly the M992 FAASV. Mentioned here are also other prototypes and special purpose vehicles using M109 chassis.

In the "Gulf Wars" chapter author describes the combat use of M109 howitzers in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In ODS various M109 variants were used by US Army, US Marines, British Army, and Egyptian and Saudi army units. During OIF only the US Army used M109 (A6 Paladin variant), as British Army had replaced their M109s with AS90 howitzers in the late 1990s. By the way, another small error in the book is the use of "Braveheart" name for all AS90 howitzers used by British Army, while in fact only variant with longer 52 caliber gun is called that name and majority of SPHs used by British Army are still older 39 caliber AS90s.

The last chapter "International Programs" covers M109 variants and derivatives used in many countries. Described are versions used by Austria, Belgium, Egypt, Germany, Israel, Italy, South Korea, Netherlands, Switzerland and Taiwan.

In "Bibliography" author lists several books about modern US armored vehicles, which are also covering the M109 family, although he mentions that there were no published books on the M109 only. It is a bit odd considering that there was previous Osprey "M109" book by Richard Lathrop in New Vanguard series. Was there something so seriously bad about that old book that it was replaced with a new one and not even mentioned?

On last pages are captions for color illustrations, which provide a lot of additional information, particularly about the various camouflage patterns and markings used on M109 vehicles by US and other armies.

 Click on a photo to zoom.

The photos in the book while effective in showing general view of various variants of M109, do not provide many detail views for modelers. The fact that they are all black and white also means that their reference value for modelers in not very big. Color plates and illustrations are more useful, but are not accompanied by photographs of portrayed vehicles (with one exception), so it is not certain how accurate the illustrations are.

The text of book provides quite a lot of interesting details about the development and combat use of M109 vehicles and author notes all major differences between variants. Without photographs of described parts however the book, while interesting, is not a perfect modeling reference.



The well written book will not help in detailing M109 models, many versions of which are (or were as most are now OOP) available in 1/35 scale from Italeri and reboxed by Testors and Revell, but provides a lot of interesting general information about these vehicles. So I can recommend it to everyone with an interest in modern artillery and armored vehicles, but modelers looking only for reference photographs will not find many of them here.


Contact details

Osprey Direct
PO Box 140
Northants, NN8 2FA
United Kingdom

(01933) 443 863

Many thanks to Osprey Publishing for the review sample!



Copyright © 2005 VODNIK,    mailto:pawel@vodnik.net