Cold War

The Vespa 150 TAP Anti-Tank Scooter

The Vespa 150 TAP idea was innovative, a scooter equipped with an anti-tank weapon that could be deployed rapidly in airborne operations. Piaggio collaborated with the French company ACMA (Ateliers de Construction de Motocycles et d’Automobiles) to modify the Vespa 150, creating a vehicle that was both compact and potent.

The Vespa, an iconic Italian scooter, was initially designed by Piaggio for civilian use. However, its potential for military adaptation was recognized in the early post-World War II period.

The French military, specifically the airborne divisions, sought a lightweight, air-transportable vehicle to support their paratroopers. This led to the development of the Vespa 150 TAP in 1956, the “Bazooka Vespa” was born.

Content

Design

Initially conceived for the Italian public by Piaggio, the Vespa’s design was simple yet robust, making it an ideal candidate for military modification. The concept of a lightweight, air-transportable vehicle was of particular interest to the French military, especially their airborne divisions.

Read More: Schwerer Gustav Was the Largest Gun Ever Made

The need for such a vehicle arose from the desire for a mode of transportation that could be easily deployed in airborne operations, providing support to paratroopers in various combat scenarios.

Operating the Vespa while in motion for shooting purposes would have been a highly impractical or hazardous endeavor. Therefore, the standard procedure for its use was markedly different.

The development of the Vespa 150 TAP was marked by a collaboration between Piaggio and the French company ACMA. This collaboration aimed to transform the civilian Vespa 150 into a military-grade vehicle capable of meeting the unique demands of airborne forces.

The resulting Vespa 150 TAP was a modified version of the Vespa 150 VL1T, equipped with various military features to enhance its operational capabilities.

Key to its design was the integration of an anti-tank weapon, marking a significant shift from its civilian origins. The M20 75mm recoilless rifle was chosen for this purpose, known for its effectiveness against armored vehicles. This powerful weapon was mounted directly on the scooter’s frame, an innovative approach that transformed the Vespa into a mobile anti-tank platform.

Read More: Schwerer Gustav Was the Largest Gun Ever Made

The design process also involved reinforcing the Vespa’s frame to accommodate the additional weight and stress of the military equipment. Despite these modifications, it was essential that the scooter remained light enough to be air-transportable, aligning with its intended use in airborne operations.

Vespa 150 TAP

Central to the Vespa 150 TAP’s design was the incorporation of an M20 75mm recoilless rifle, a decision that significantly altered its functionality and appearance.

This anti-tank weapon was mounted on the frame, with the barrel extending over the front wheel, effectively transforming the scooter into a mobile anti-tank unit. The recoilless rifle was chosen for its potency against armored vehicles, and its integration was a remarkable feat of engineering, given the Vespa’s compact size.

Vespa 150 TAP with extra rounds for the 75 mm M20 gun. You sit on the barrel.....
Vespa 150 TAP with extra rounds for the 75 mm M20 gun. You sit on the barrel…..

To accommodate the weight and recoil of the M20 rifle, the Vespa’s frame was significantly reinforced. This reinforcement was crucial to ensure structural integrity and the rider’s safety during the operation of the weapon.

Despite these reinforcements, the overall weight of the Vespa 150 TAP was kept to a minimum, maintaining its air-transportability, a key requirement for its intended use in airborne operations.

Read More: USS Johnston the Deepest Shipwreck Ever Found

Armor-piercing ammunition was provided for the recoilless rifle, capable of penetrating substantial steel thickness, which underscored the Vespa 150 TAP’s potential effectiveness in disabling enemy armored vehicles. The ammunition’s storage was ingeniously integrated into the scooter’s design, ensuring ease of access while maintaining balance and mobility.

You could, if needed fire it without dismounting it, but it is made to be removed before use

A small shield was also incorporated into the design, positioned to protect the rider from the backblast of the rifle. This feature was critical, considering the proximity of the rider to the weapon during firing. The shield, although minimal, provided necessary protection while not significantly adding to the vehicle’s weight.

Operational Use of the Vespa 150 TAP

The overall design of the Vespa 150 TAP, with these modifications, may look strange but it did represent an interesting convergence of civilian vehicle design and military functionality. It was a product of its time, mirroring the innovative and sometimes unconventional military solutions sought during the Cold War period. And let’s face it, it isn’t the craziest design to come out of the Cold War.

In the operational use of the Vespa 150 TAP, a very specific role was envisioned, primarily focusing on support for airborne troops and not direct front-line engagement. This unique vehicle was developed primarily for the French military, particularly tailored to the needs of their airborne divisions, known as the Troupes Aéro Portées.

Read More: Zippo Lighters: The Vietnam War Icon

The primary purpose of the Vespa 150 TAP was to provide a rapid and mobile anti-tank capability to paratroopers. Upon deployment, these scooters were to be air-dropped alongside the troops, offering an immediate form of transport and anti-tank weaponry once on the ground.

Vespa 150 TAP
“More than just a scooter, it’s a lifestyle.” This slogan aptly captures the essence of Vespa, the iconic Italian brand renowned as the foremost scooter manufacturer globally.

This strategy aimed to enhance the mobility and effectiveness of paratroopers in various combat scenarios, particularly in disrupting enemy lines or targeting isolated enemy positions.

Military Engagements

Despite its innovative design and potential utility, the actual combat use of the Vespa 150 TAP was limited. The nature of military engagements during this period often did not align with the scooter’s specific capabilities.

Read More: Discovered WWII Soviet Patrol Boat Full of Weapons

Its role was somewhat niche, and the evolving tactics of warfare meant that opportunities for its effective deployment were relatively few.

Moreover, the Vespa 150 TAP was not designed for sustained combat or frontline engagement. Its use was envisioned for hit-and-run tactics and quick, strategic strikes, rather than prolonged battles. The scooter’s light armor and exposed positioning of the rider made it vulnerable in intense combat situations, thus limiting its practical deployment to specific tactical scenarios.

Unconventional

The Vespa 150 TAP challenged conventional notions of military vehicles, showcasing how even the most unassuming designs could be repurposed for tactical operations.

In military vehicle history, the Vespa 150 TAP occupies a unique niche. Its design and intended use are often cited in discussions of unconventional military vehicles, serving as a reminder of the diverse and creative approaches to warfare equipment during the Cold War. Its role in this context, though limited in practical application, remains a fascinating aspect of military history.

Read More: The Secret History of Scotland’s Largest Nuclear Bunker

The interest in the Vespa 150 TAP has been maintained by military historians and vehicle enthusiasts alike. It is often exhibited in military and transportation museums, where its distinctive design and unusual role in military history continue to intrigue and educate visitors.

These exhibitions contribute to the ongoing appreciation and understanding of the Vespa 150 TAP’s place in the broader narrative of military technology.

Furthermore, the Vespa 150 TAP has had an impact on cultural representations of military vehicles. Its unique combination of a civilian scooter and a military weapon has captured the imagination of many, often appearing in various forms of media and popular culture as an emblem of quirky yet ingenious design.

The cost-effectiveness of the “Bazooka Vespa” was notable, with Vespas priced at approximately $500 during that period, and M20 recoilless rifles being abundantly available. A total of 600 units were manufactured over a span from 1956 to 1959. There was one at the Saumur Général Estienne museum, France, but I never saw it when I was there. May be next time.