M88s: The Mighty Hercules of Armored Recovery Vehicles

The M88s, known as the ultimate tow trucks for the military, were specifically designed to solve the problem of moving the heaviest military vehicles. As the Cold War arms race escalated, the US military needed more advanced main battle tanks to counter the Soviets. However, the existing recovery vehicles were unable to handle these tanks effectively.

The M88 came to the rescue, as its design allowed it to accommodate the increasingly heavier main battle tanks that the US was developing. With its simplistic design, multiple recovery methods, and powerful engine, the M88 became the preferred vehicle for the US and many foreign militaries for several decades. In fact, it holds the record for being the longest-serving armored recovery vehicle in history.

The M88 has demonstrated its versatility, utility, and easy upgradeability from the Vietnam War to the present day. Its ability to adapt to changing armor needs has helped it stand the test of time. The M88 has played a crucial role in various military operations and has proven its reliability in combat situations.


After World War II, the US was at the forefront of armored warfare. However, the Soviet Union quickly developed larger and heavier main battle tanks like the T-54, posing a threat to the US. To catch up with these advancements, the US designed the M47 Patton tank, but there was a problem – the Army lacked a reliable recovery vehicle to retrieve a disabled Patton.

To address this issue, the M74 Armored Recovery Vehicle was created as a temporary solution. While it worked well with lighter tanks from World War II, it couldn’t safely handle the weight of the Patton. Bowen McLaughlin, a company based in Pennsylvania, stepped forward with a solution.

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The M88

Bowen McLaughlin didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, so they incorporated some crucial design features from the M74 into their new vehicle – the M88. The experimental T88, as it was initially known, was slightly larger than its predecessor. However, the company had to design a completely new hull since converting existing M48 hulls was not possible.

The M88 was equipped with recovery machinery, including an A-type boom that could reach out another four to eight feet when fully extended. Its winch, which was capable of pulling 45 tons, was the mainstay of the operation. The vehicle was powered by a Continental AVSI-1790-6A engine, which provided a massive 980 hp and 1,940 ft-lb of torque.

The M88A1

The M88 performed well for around ten years until the introduction of the M60 tank, which increased in weight due to armor upgrades. To accommodate the heavier tanks, the M88 needed an upgrade. It was fitted with a new engine – a Continental AVDS-1790-2DR supercharged diesel V12 – which provided better fuel economy. Additionally, an auxiliary power unit was installed to ensure the vehicle could operate its winch, boom, and spade even if the main generator lost power.


The M88A1 served well but couldn’t handle the weight of the M1A1 Abrams tank. As a result, the military needed a new version of the M88. This led to the development of the M88A2 HERCULES.

The M88A2 featured enhanced armor protection, with 30mm thick plates added to the upper half of the tracks. The boom design was also changed to increase lift capacity to 35 tons. The interior was redesigned, allowing for advanced maintenance in the field. The hydraulic system was significantly upgraded, with three hydraulic pumps introduced to support the heavier winch cable. The engine was also upgraded to an AVDS-1790-8CR V12 diesel engine, providing 1,050 hp.

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The M88, in all its iterations, has served continuously in the US military since 1961. It has been used in combat operations in Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. With over 3,000 units produced, it is considered the most combat-tested and reliable armored recovery vehicle in history.

Despite plans for future upgrades, the M88’s role in the military is expected to remain significant for the foreseeable future. Its versatility, utility, and ability to adapt to changing needs make it a valuable asset in armored warfare.

If you want to learn more about M88s or other military vehicles, follow M88 on Facebook and Instagram.

Note: This article has been rewritten to focus on the M88 brand while maintaining the original information and formatting.


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