ARM: Review -- "The Bobcat in Canadian Service"

Book Review: "Weapons of War" Series; The Bobcat APC in Canadian
Service by Doug Knight; Service Publications, PO Box 333071, Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada, K2C 3Y9, 2007; 24 pp. with B&W photos and 1/35 scale
plans; price CDN $9.95; ISBN 978-1-894581-47-9 (http://
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Advantages: probably ONLY history of this vehicle ever produced!
Disadvantages: very obscure vehicle will only appeal to the historian
or modeler in search of the truly offbeat; should have had some basic
statics for comparison to put the vehicle in perspective with
competitors and similar designs
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all fans of APCs and Canadian armoured vehicles
The story of the Canadian arms industry in the 1950s tends to focus
for the most part on the tragic tale of the Avro Arrow, probably the
greatest fighter interceptor never built. In that case, and in
retrospect rightly so, the Canadians were blackjacked into dropping
the Arrow for first the failed concept of the IM-90 Bomarc strategic
SAM and then for second-hand McDonnell F-101B Voodoo fighters. This
nearly destroyed the Canadian aviation industry.
The story of the Bobcat is a parallel tale, but as it virtually ends
with a similar finish (the Canadian army being talked into dropping
the Bobcat APC in favor of the American-built M113) does not leave the
same sour taste of the former. From this nicely done history by Doug
Knight, the tales of a vehicle literally designed by committee and
with no "buy-in" by most of the developers that resulted in a truly
bad design seems to have been happily condemned to the dustbin of
history.
The Bobcat was begun in 1952 as a logical development to replace the
wartime Ram Kangaroo APC and correct for the faults of that converted
tank. Negotiations and amendments to the concept proceeded over the
next four years as the concept swung between an amphibious fully
armored carrier and a modernized replacement for the Universal
Carrier. In 1956 Leyland Motors (Canada) began to build a mild steel
prototype under the program title Project 97, based on studies for a
concept known as XA-20. It must be noted at the same time nearly every
other industrialized nation was working on such vehicles, to include
Sweden, Austria, France, West Germany, the UK, the US, Switzerland and
Belgium.
In the meantime Leyland Motors (Canada) had been taken over by
Canadian Car and Foundry Company Limited (CCF) and they immediately
began to squabble with the government over timelines. A mockup was
produced and evaluated at the Canadian Armour School at Camp Borden,
Ontario, but while they provided comments back on the testing, in the
meantime CCF was taken over by A. V. Roe Limited (the builders of the
Arrow).
The general concept was for a ten-man fully enclosed APC with track
drive, of which the crew consisted of a driver, commander and eight
infantrymen. The vehicle was to be amphibious, lightweight, and with
large doors in the rear of the hull for troop exit. To balance the
vehicle, the engine and its equipment were located at the front of the
hull and the transmission and final drives were at the rear, connected
by a driveshaft dividing the dismount team compartment. This created a
large sill and boxy housing right where the troops had to dismount the
vehicle, as well as create a resonance and tremendous amount of noise
inside the vehicle. Some variants were to have a machine gun in a
cupola like the Ram Kangaroo, and others were not, based on the design
specifications at the time.
Nevertheless CCF delivered three prototypes of the vehicle (two APC
and one projected SP howitzer version carrying a US M101 105mm
howitzer). Tests were reasonably promising and in 1959 production of
armored hull versions of the prototypes were approved. Problems arose
when the government and the Ministry of Defence began to try and
estimate the numbers of each kind needed (an unarmored cargo carrier,
much like a larger, amphibious version of the Universal Carrier, was
also required.) The ultimate decision came down to 500 Bobcat APCs for
the Canadian Army.
1960 consisted of testing and changing the design and its components,
as well as problems trying to ensure funding from a government which
had just clamped down on the military (this is shortly after the Arrow
was cancelled as a point of reference). In February 1961, however, the
Cabinet did approve the purchase of the 500 Bobcats. Considering that
the Bobcat concept was now in its ninth year of development, at one
point consideration was made of upgrading 300 Universal Carriers and
modifying 292 Shermans to APCs to cover the interim period but the
concept was dropped due to cost considerations.
But in 1962 A. V. Roe dissolved CCF and took over production. But as
they were primarily an aviation company, they were unfamiliar with the
assembly of armored vehicles and had to start from zero to build the
vehicles at their factory in Malton. In one of the more clever
manipulations of government contracting, A. V. Roe did manage to con
the government into paying for the vehicle and then testing it! This
wound up reversing the service test trials and engineering trials.
Testing commenced in February 1963 and by June the vehicle had
completeed nearly 75% of its requisite 2000 mile test run. Proving
that not every country is as dim as the US in picking the testing
officers and expecting an honest report when their promotions and
careers are on the line for success, Captain Murray Johnston filed a
report on the Bobcat which could politely be termed "scathing" and yet
still went on to become Colonel Commandant of the RCEME Corps before
retiring.
The Bobcat was an engineering and operational nightmare, noisy, nasty
and of marginal reliability. Many of its problems were due to the
overall design and thus not possible to correct. Still, the overall
assessment was that it was sound and could be developed. Once again,
however, while the government argued about the contracts, Hawker-
Siddeley, who then owned A. V. Roe. dissolved that company and in July
1963 sat down to see what could be done to fix the problems with the
Bobcat. But Hawker refused to spend any more money of its money on the
Bobcat project.
Fed up, in November 1963 the Chief of the General Staff requested
permission to terminate the Bobcat project and instead purchase
American M113 APCs. This was now going to be some CDN$10 million
cheaper than the Bobcats, and the M113 was a much more suitable and
reliable vehicle, already tested and in service with the US Army and a
number of other NATO nations. Final cost for the Bobcat program was CDN
$9.25 million, and today only the gutted armored prototype remains at
Camp Borden.
At least the Canadian ability to produce good armoured vehicles
survived this episode, as today their improved versions of the Swiss
Piranha as the LAV series and Stryker series vehicles are doing well
in the US and Canadian armies.
Overall, this is a nice little book on a truly offbeat and relatively
obscure vehicle. As an American, it's nice to know that we aren't the
only ones who suffer from this sort of bureaucratic nightmare!
Thanks to Clive Law for the review copy.
Cookie Sewell
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AMPSOne
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