This ’50s Vespa military vehicle proves size doesn’t matter

Vespa 150 Type Tap Presentation With A 75Mm Gun
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

Ah, the adorable Vespa. The iconic transportation of choice for Italian lovers like Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. Simple, cute, and unassuming. And, as it turns out, also an armor-piercing killer.

The Vespa 150 TAP, so named for its use by French paratroopers (Troupes AéroPortées), was an anti-tank scooter introduced in 1956. Produced for three years by Ateliers de Construction de Motocycles et Automobiles (ACMA), the licensed assembler of Vespas in France, it was the French military’s answer to the more powerful machines employed by its enemies.

After German tanks broke through French defenses and quickly occupied the country during World War II, France needed a better way to quickly mobilize its anti-tank defenses and prevent a future blitzkrieg. The answer was a 246-pound gnat that could be dropped from an airplane and quickly put into action upon landing.

French Paratrooper Scooter Drop
French Armed Forces/Public Domain

The 150 TAP was nicknamed the Bazooka Vespa, although it didn’t actually employ a bazooka. It featured a reinforced frame, lower gear ratios than standard models, and a mounted recoilless rifle, its barrel extending forward through a hole in the leg shield. Soldiers literally straddled the American-made M20 75-millimeter rifle while driving.

Vespa Tap 150 Bazooka Scooter for Paratroopers
The joke here pretty much writes itself. French Armed Forces/Public Domain

Painted olive drab or sand, the Vespa itself was powered by a 145.5-cubic-centimeter, single-cylinder, two-stroke engine with a rotary valve design, and it could reach speeds of up to 37 mph. It was designed to also carry ammunition or additional gear and even haul a small trailer, if needed.

The little scooters would be parachuted from the rear of a cargo plane in pairs, strapped to a pallet cushioned by hay bales to lessen the impact.

Although technically a round could be fired from the rifle as an emergency measure while it was still mounted to the frame, the scooter was designed to simply get the M20 rifle to wherever it was needed as quickly as possible. The gun would then be removed and mounted onto a Browning M1917 machine gun tripod. According to Popular Mechanics, the M20 “belched out a 22-pound projectile moving at 1000 feet per second, with the help of a perforated artillery shell casing.”

Vespa Tap 150 Bazooka Scooter for Paratroopers
Vespa

The magazine continued, “The unique thing about the high-powered weapon is that it was so light. By venting propellant gasses out the rear, the 75mm had almost no recoil and no need for a weighty breech block.”

The gun could fire high-explosive anti-tank rounds that were advertised as “capable of punching through nearly 4 inches of armor at 7000 yards.”

Although the Vespa 150 TAP wasn’t always up to the task, French military officials not only appreciated what it could do but what it cost. With M20 75-mm recoilless rifles in abundance following World War II, each 150 TAP could be built for only $500 or so ($5000–$5400 today), compared to enemy tanks that cost as much as 50 times that amount.

An estimated 600–800 TAPs were produced from 1956–59 and were used mainly during the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62).

Vespa 150 Type Tap Presentation With A 75Mm Gun
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

Although the scooters likely didn’t look very intimidating to the enemy, French soldiers reported that they were surprisingly rugged for the terrain they encountered and could travel 100+ miles on a tank of fuel.

Because there aren’t many known survivors out there—most were lost on the battlefield—a Vespa 150 TAP doesn’t often come up for auction. In 2020, an Italian dealership offered a first-year 1956 model for $47,250.

If your first reaction upon seeing one was, “What the?” (that was ours), then you’ll enjoy this fun take by a former Army medic known among YouTubers as “The Fat Electrician.”

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Comments

    So the obvious joke is… “Is that a Bazooka Vespa or are you just happy to see me!”

    I’ll be here all week, try the veal!

    It’s actually rather ingenious! Everyone sees this and thinks it would be hard to shoot, but the recoilless rifle was just transported by the Vespa. The idea was to be able to air drop this then drive the rifle to where it was needed, then set it up on a tripod (carried on front rack — not in these photos but can be seen on the linked YouTube) for use. Fast way to get it to the front after air dropping! Would have taken four men to carry it and some ammo), and that wouldn’t be easy!

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