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During WW2 half tracked APCs were practically the only kind of APC present, immediately after the war they almost entirely dropped out of production and development outside of a few exceptions such as the Sd.Kfz. 251 derived OT-810 remaining in use and production with the Czechs until the introduction of the OT-64 SKOT into Czechoslovak service in 1963.

But on the whole half track development and production almost entirely ceased after 1945, with everyone moving to developing either tracked or wheeled APCs after WW2 and those half tracks still in use all being WW2 vintage.

What would need to change to make Half Tracks last longer after 1945? Ideally into the 1950s or early 60s.

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  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure about your problem statement, according to Wikipedia: Half-tracks were extensively used after World War II until the late 1960s, mostly in form of surplus World War II vehicles. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 24 at 8:40
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch used isn't the same as in development and production. While i know that WW2 production half tracks were used into the late 1960s that isn't that same as them still being designed and producing those new designs. I have heard of exactly 1 half track designed after WW2 that wasn't armoured and didn't even enter production. $\endgroup$
    – OT-64 SKOT
    Apr 24 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ Question: why is this science based? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Apr 26 at 1:05
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP -- This is the single best thing you've ever written here! Please make that into a full answer! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Apr 26 at 1:07
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas: OK, done. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 26 at 1:33

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I suspect the answer is more "arrange for WW2 to not happen" than "fiddle with postwar tech". The war drove massive development of tracked vehicles, including making their manufacture and maintenance cheaper and easier, and providing a huge user base of people trained to maintain and operate fully tracked vehicles.

I suspect also that even if those changes hadn't come about, you'd probably end up with halftracks sidelined mid-last-century anyway because wheeled vehicle technology improves too, and wheels are faster and cheaper and simpler for many of the purposes to which halftracks were put. As the OT-64 itself shows, when your wheels get good enough you don't need halftracks anymore, and you can simplify your maintenance and logistics needs somewhat.

The best you can do, then, is to arrange an alternate history with a radically altered mid-twentieth-century. You could probably then handwave in halftracks for a few more decades... an alt-history Vietnam-like war might have had them, and maybe conflicts in the 80s using outdated equipment (some equivalent of the Iran-Iraq war, perhaps), but even that seems like stretching credulity a bit.

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In a nutshell, halftracks are slightly easier to make than fully tracked vehicless, slightly more complicated to make than wheeled vehicles, and they are less off-road-capable than full tracks, but more so than wheeled vehicles. Operator training may also be a factor, with steering wheels being more familiar to the average recruit than the various ways of steering tracks.

  • Have a large power with not quite cutting edge tech decide to mechanize their forces. Their strategic culture is based on tanks to wreak havoc behind enemy lines. (This might sound like Blitzkrieg, but it could also characterize Soviet ideas.)
  • Budget constraints prohibit fully tracked APCs in addition to the tanks and self-propelled artillery they also need.

As pointed out by Starfish Prime, this should lead to better wheeled vehicles, not better halftracks. So how to discourage that? Pick one or two of these:

  • Limited access to rubber, which discourages lots of big tires. This also discourages steel-wire-cored rubber tracks, of course, but halftracks can be made with normal metal tracks. The front wheels don't need all that many tires, so they are OK.
    How about trucks, you ask? An army has more trucks than APCs. Those are running on rubber tires on roads and not over thorns and shingles. Halftracks substitute for wheels in the more off-road roles.
  • Come up with a quick-change kit to turn twin rear axles into halftracks. Your armored trucks travel on six wheels most of the time, but whenever it becomes time for the newsreel they are most likely wearing their slip-on tracks.
    Not real half-tracks, of course, which might not meet your requirements.
  • Plenty of good roads and flat, moderately soft ground. Off-road travel calls for something better than a 1950s-style truck to avoid bogging down, but full tracks are not necessary in most places. Halftracks are good enough.
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"What would need to change": A massive pandemic of contagious stupidity spreading by means of written words and infecting vehicle designers, said pandemic allowed to go undetected for one or two decades, until a heroic crew of hot nurses and cool doctors without boundaries smuggles a vehicle designer from behind de metal curtain and convinces doctor WHO that it is a real health emergency and not a result of the well-known insufficiency of the western education system.

In reality, there was nobody on the wrong side of the iron drapery designing half-track vehicles whom the intrepid undercover medical heroes could bring as proof. The Soviets were decidedly unimpressed with half-track vehicles; the fad was mostly confined to America and western Europe. The were a handful of Soviet designs, of which the best known is the ZIS-42, variant of the long-lived ZIS-5 truck; but overall, there was nothing like the exuberant German and American variety.

The point is that there is nothing a half-track can do which either a wheeled vehicle with multiple powered axles, or else a full tracked vehicle, cannot do better, more efficiently and more reliably. Half-tracks were a stop-gap solution which had its place in a brief historical moment. Briefly.

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Low level militia wars and bad terrain

Half tracks are an example of convergent evolution. The Americans made them because the performance of their trucks sucked off road. The Germans made them because the performance of their full track vehicles sucked on roads. They are very good for letting poorly trained drivers handle bad terrain well. They stopped using them because, why not just build roads, or train more skilled drivers?

Places like Israel which have very good maintenance teams, bad terrain, and lots of badly trained conscripts still use them.

You can put a pretty bad driver in one and they'll be able to deliver the goods even on pretty bad terrain.

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What would need to change to make Half Tracks last longer after 1945? Ideally into the 1950s or early 60s.

They'd have to forget lessons learned going back to before the war, before the First World War.

Differential drive, or "skid steer", tracked vehicles existed before WWI as various types of agricultural and construction vehicles, the adaptation of this into making armored vehicles for war was quite natural. Even with the use of wheels instead of tracks the use of differential drive steering would be natural for off-road vehicles, or maybe even roads made of loose material, such is the case with the popular skid steer end loader tractors or "bobcat". The quality of these differential drive systems improved considerably during and after WW2.

A problem with fully tracked vehicles was that they took manufacturing ability and driver training that was in short supply in WW2. Using a half track they could use existing truck manufacturing, existing truck drivers, but get some of the heavy weight handling that only tracks can offer. Once the war was over then there was a surplus of manufacturing ability, a surplus of drivers trained in differential drive vehicles, and so no need for the compromise of the half track.

Many half track vehicles survived well after WW2 as military surplus, up to the 1960s, but I suspect no new ones were made in any serious quantity. To have new half track vehicles built in quantity after WW2 would likely take some kind of continued shortages on the scale seen during war, and even then that's not guaranteed given how poorly they performed. The half track was a kind of experiment that failed, it tended to create more problems than it solved. To keep using such compromised vehicles would mean there's something still lacking to force people to use them.

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