Tank Tow Truck Diamond T 980 - The Legend Of The Magadan Highway

  Today, many of us are happy to get acquainted with the living history of the automotive industry at various kinds of reconstructions and exhibitions, where the technique of the past century recreated by the efforts of enthusiasts is exhibited. A place for the historical exposition was found even at the specialized exhibition "Army-2021". But, as the military say, every medal has two sides (or, as civilians say, every stick has two ends): if a car for some reason cannot be found and restored, then it seems to be existed. Such a "ghost" was the legendary Diamond T 980/981, supplied to the USSR from the USA under Lend-Lease, who fought on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War and participated in the restoration of the national economy in the post-war years. 

At the request of the British

The three-axle 12-ton tractor with a wheel arrangement 6 * 4 Diamond T 980 was designed during the Second World War as a tank transporter (as we would say today - a tow truck) in accordance with the requirements of the British military procurement commission.

The proverb "go hunting - feed the dogs" also has an English analogue, and the British are quite critical of themselves: "A fool wants his cloak in a rainy day" (a fool is looking for his cloak on a rainy day), they say in such cases. The fact is that the Scammell Pioneer tractor, which was in service with the British army, was developed back in the 1920s, and by the end of the 1930s it had become obsolete. It was then, as always unexpectedly, that the Second World War broke out.

Tank tow truck Diamond T 980 - the legend of the Magadan highway

The competition was won by the American firm Diamond Truen from Chicago, which has already created a working prototype of a 6x4 heavy truck designed for the American army. Its serial production was launched in 1941.

And just then the Soviet Union entered the war with Germany, which did not even have tank tractors of this class in service.

The Diamond T 980 entered the British Army in 1942. According to the British, it has proven itself well in the North African theater of operations, including evacuating tanks from the shelling of German artillery.

It is curious that in the American army itself this tractor was listed in the so-called "substitute" and "limited" standards - Substitute Standard and Limited Standard. And although it fought in the US Army under the designation M20 (together with the 24-wheeled three-axle M9 "Rogers" trailer, the tractor was part of the M19 tank transporter), its use was indeed limited.

The reason for this was quite simple: the front axle was not leading, which reduced the off-road capability of the tractor. However, this did not particularly bother the British and Soviet military experts.

In war like in war

The Diamond T 980/981 truck is a classic three-axle bonneted ballast tractor (the body must be loaded when towing) with a dead weight of 12 tons. The engine is located in the front of the frame, under it is the front axle with single wheels. Behind the engine compartment is an all-metal cabin.

True, by the end of the war, due to the need to produce more cars, it was produced in a simplified version - without a roof and with low side doors. The roof of such cabins was a removable canvas, and the side openings above the doors were also closed with canvas valves with celluloid windows. Later, when operating in a harsh northern winter, in such cabins, the tarpaulin was insulated with homemade quilted cotton covers.

A Gar Wood 5M723B winch with a pulling force of 18 tons was installed between the cab and the body for ballast. At first, it was intended only for loading wrecked tanks onto a transporter.

But in modification 981, it became possible to pass the cable forward under the cab, through a special window in the front bumper - and use it for self-pulling. As a matter of fact, this is the main difference between Diamond T 980 and Diamond T 981.

The engine is a Hercules DFXE diesel, in-line 6-cylinder 4-stroke liquid-cooled, with a displacement of 14.7 liters and a capacity of 185 hp. with.

at 1600 rpm (torque 902 Nm at 1200 rpm). The cylinder block was cast from gray cast iron, the pistons were made from aluminum alloy.

Tank tow truck Diamond T 980 - the legend of the Magadan highway

Power was enough for everything

The transmission included a gearbox ( in one block with the engine and clutch) and a range-multiplier - a transfer case with a low gear (or even two). Transmission - Fuller 4B86, three-shaft, four-speed (plus reverse) with direct fourth gear. Fuller 3A86 or Fuller 3A92 demultiplier, three-stage, direct second gear and winch PTO.

The two driving axles are "sequential" (the second was driven by the second driveshaft from the first). Gears were shifted using the floor lever. Next to it was a hand parking brake and a range control lever.

Steering gear - without hydraulic booster, with worm gear and longitudinal steering rod. Timken pneumatic drum brakes with Bendix-Westinghouse drive.

Wheels Budd B-45530, 20 "in diameter and 10" wide. Tires 12.00 * 20 inches. The pressure in the chambers is 5.6 kg / cm².

Suspension - leaf springs (for rear axles - balancing type). There were no shock absorbers, so a rubber buffer was attached above the front spring, which somewhat softened the shaking off-road - however, at low speeds it was not so critical. There was no center differential.

The on-board network was powered by four six-volt Auto-Lite rechargeable batteries. At the same time, they were connected in such a way that a 12-volt generator was used, and a 24-volt starter was used.

The headlights and dimensions had a blackout, while in military conditions only one left headlight was often installed.

Chicago-cut diamond

The Diamond Truen company has existed since 1905. At first, like many American firms, it produced passenger cars (hence, apparently, the name clearly chosen for the retail car market - "Diamond" in Russian means "Almaz"). However, the oversaturated market and the "Great Depression" of the 1930s forced the company to reorient itself to trucks. In particular, the Diamond T Truck 4x2 of 1937 design was quite popular in the USA before the war.

Tank tow truck Diamond T 980 - the legend of the Magadan highway

For deliveries to the USSR in the part of Iran occupied by Great Britain, the Americans built TAP I ( Truck Assembly Plant I) in the city of Andymeshk and TAP II in Khorramshahr. From there, the trucks went to the front on their own, through the part of Iran occupied by the Soviet Union and Soviet Central Asia. However, the main capacities of these factories were loaded with more mass models, such as the Studebaker US6 - several hundred thousand of them were produced and delivered.

In total, during the war years, from 1941 to 1945, 6,554 Diamond T 980 and Diamond T 981 were produced. The British army received about 1000 of these machines, the Red Army, according to various sources, from 295 to 471.

Generally , data on the volumes of supplies of foreign equipment to the USSR during the war years differ to a large extent. Perhaps the problem (in addition to the ideological one) is that after the war the question arose about paying for the supplied equipment. Later, the former allies agreed on the return of the remaining vehicles on the move to the United States.

At the same time, many Soviet specialists (starting from the lower level - chauffeurs and mechanics) were interested in keeping the equipment with them, passing it off as those killed at the front or vice versa - as "not arriving." The authorities, apparently, secretly promoted this approach - in any case, they turned a blind eye to such a practice.

It is difficult to reproach those who were involved in the post-war economic recovery for this, especially since it is known that completely serviceable cars were put under pressure before being shipped to America. It is for these reasons that it is no longer possible to establish the exact number of machines supplied to the USSR, who fought and worked in the national economy.

After the war, the Diamond T 980 was discontinued, but as early as the 1950s, the company continued to produce semitrailer tractors, flatbed trucks and a variety of special equipment, including garbage trucks and other civilian vehicles.

On the Magadan highway

After the war, in the winter of 1945/46, "Diamonds" transported goods on the roads of the Far East and Siberia. They were probably kept close to the ports of Magadan and Vladivostok, so that in case of an expected demand from the Americans, it would be possible to quickly ship them.

The machines created for completely different, southern conditions were not easy to operate in those parts: frosts reached -50 degrees, the diesel engine did not start in the cold, and special warm boxes had to be built. Cars that had stalled in the cold actually had to be sent for repairs right away. The cabins had no heating. From the cold it became fragile and literally crumbled rubber tires designed for Africa.

Experienced specialists were dispatched to manage and maintain these Diamonds, with preference given to those who dealt with them at the front.

It was the front-line soldiers who came up with the idea to get under way extremely slowly and carefully, until the tires warm up from friction. Considering that the maximum speed of the truck was 37 km / h, and the maximum speed of the loaded one was even 25 km / h, then we are talking about absolutely snail speeds.

Tank tow truck Diamond T 980 - the legend of the Magadan highway

Amusing chauffeur tales of the legend that surrounded the "Diamonds" and for many years were connected with this later. For example, a joke was spread that while the car starts to move, you can leave the steering wheel, get out of the cab, walk around the car several times, check the systems' functionality, whether the load is properly secured, not rushing to smoke ..

. "Diamonds" still walked along the northern highways in 1948 when the post-war GAZ-51 , ZIS-150, MAZ-200 began to arrive in the car parks. Young drivers, driving at a speed of 65-70 km / h, laughed at the slow-moving "oldies". "The quieter you go, the further you will be," retorted the front-line soldiers. Indeed, in terms of carrying capacity, the "Diamonds" had no competitors at that time.

According to the recollections of eyewitnesses, individual copies of "Diamonds" worked in the Soviet Union until the 1960s. This is not surprising: in the British army, they were in service until the 1970s, and some of the British are still on the move, albeit as exhibits in museum and private collections. That is, in order to see this beautiful car "live", you will have to go to the military-historical reconstruction in Great Britain: such spectacles are also quite popular there, as, indeed, all over the world.

Tank tow truck Diamond T 980 - the legend of the Magadan highway


Length / width / height, mm 7110/2580/2592
Wheelbase, mm 4556
Front / rear track, mm 1927/1905
Ground clearance, mm 283
Unladen weight, t 12
Payload, t 8.3
Unladen weight of the trailer, t 10
Carrying capacity of the trailer, t 40.


Maximum speed, km / h 37
Speed ​​with a loaded trailer, km / h 26
Engine Hercules DFXE Diesel 14,660cc cm, in-line, 6-cylinder
Power, hp with. 185
Maximum torque, Nm 902
Gear ratios 5.55 / 3.27 / 1.76 / 1.


Cruising range on the highway, km 480


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