War calls for manufacturers and the government to weaponize anything that can be weaponized. Remember when the US Army tried to use Nerf footballs as grenades? That’s gotta be the most American thing ever. It’s not only them, of course. In the 1950s, the French military once made an anti-tank Vespa scooter.
While the rest of the world prepared for the possibility of World War III and using nuclear weapons, France decided that it would equip its French paratroops with bazookafied Vespa. We couldn’t agree more that this scooter is the most French thing ever next to baguettes.
The Vespa 150 TAP
Vespa is an Italian brand luxury scooter produced by Piaggio & C. SpA. Its name translates to “wasp” in Italian, as the scooter’s body shape resembles one. In the 1950s, Vespas were manufactured under license in Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Spain, and France.
France wanted a fast-moving anti-armor weapon that could be parachuted behind enemy lines for use with French paratroops (troupes aéroportées, that’s why it’s called TAP). This vehicle would replace their American-made Cushman scooters that they used during WWII to move supplies and wounded troops and relay messages quickly. Thus, the Vespa 150 TAP scooter was born. It was a bike powered by 145.5-cubic-centimeter, single-cylinder, two-stroke engine with a rotary valve design and speed reaching up to 40 kilometers per hour. It also has a bullet-proof reinforced frame and 8-inch tires. The highlight, of course, was the M20 75 mm recoilless rifle, a U.S.-made light anti-armor weapon mounted to the front and then under the seat through a hole. This high-powered weapon was light and could be easily carried by scooter. It could also fire smoke, high-explosive, and HEAT anti-tank rounds. Plus, manufacturing these scooters was fairly cheap, too, at $500 at the time.
Dropped By Pair
A pair of Vespa 150 TAP scooters would be dropped from the delivery aircraft along with two soldiers. One would carry the weapon while the other would have the 75mm rounds and the tripod.
You might be picturing the French soldiers firing their M20 as they roll through enemy lines, but that was not what it’s intended for. You see, it’s hard to accurately fire while moving, although it is possible when necessary (sounds cool, too). The plan was to bring and position the rifle using the scooter and then dismount and set it up on a Browning M1917 tripod, fire on the enemies and then roll elsewhere if needed. The rifle might not be effective against T-72 Soviet tanks, but it could still work against T-54, T-55, and T-62 tanks that the Soviets were using at that time.
Small But Terrible
800 of these scooters made it to the Algerian War. They proved effective against enemy fortifications as well as destroying lightly-armored vehicles. Popular Mechanics also wrote how Vesta 150 TAP started the idea of off-road scooter:
“In 1950s Africa, there often wasn’t a paved road for miles. Troopers found their trusty scooters, even loaded down, could make headway even under terrible conditions, ranging up to 124 miles on a single tank of gas.”
Safe to say, these odd-looking scooters were small but terrible.