History Podcasts

M3 Stuart light tank passes El Himeimat, 1942

M3 Stuart light tank passes El Himeimat, 1942

M3 Stuart light tank passes El Himeimat, 1942

Here we see a M3 Stuart light tank (described as a 'Honey' in the wartime caption), passing the mountain of El Himeimat, the highest point on the El Alamein battlefield.


Description

The American Car & Foundry began production of the M3 in 1941. It was designed to replace the older M2 Light Tank which was outdated. It had the updated 37 mm main gun. The M3 had a gasoline powered, 262 hp, air-cooled, 250 bhp Continental W-670-9A engine and it had a crew of four. Ώ]

The max speed was 54.7 km/h and the max range was about 140 kilometers. The M3's armament consisted of its 37 mm main gun and three 7.62 mm Browning M1919A4 machine guns placed throughout the tank. The M3's weight was about 12,700 kg. It also had a length of 4.53 meters and it was 2.23 meters wide.

The armor had a thickness of about 38 mm in the front, 25 mm in the sides, and 25 mm in the rear. ΐ] As most tanks, the M3's weakest area was the top it only had about 13 mm of armor. It also had a fuel capacity of about 151 liters and an ammunition capacity of 103 rounds 37 mm ammunition. The M3 was sent to several countries and was modified most notably by Great Britain where it was designated the Stuart I.


M3 Stuart (Light Tank, M3)

Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited: 10/17/2018 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The M3 "Stuart" Light Tank became the primary light tank vehicle for the United States Army heading into World War 2 (1939-1944). The vehicle's design was influenced by the preceding M2 Light Tank product and retaining some of its established qualities including use of a 37mm main gun, a four-man crew, and road speed. Pressed into wartime service, it fared well enough during the early-going when used as an infantry support vehicle or fast scout but was wholly outmatched by medium-class tanks in short order. The M5 "Stuart" (detailed elsewhere on this site) became a more evolved M3 with its paired Cadillac engines and new turret. While the M3 form was eventually given up as soon as 1942, the M5 continued the Stuart legacy until it too was replaced by the M244 "Chaffee" light tank.

The M3 Stuart was made possible by work conducted during the post-World War 1 years. This culminated in development of small, active combat systems for use in infantry support actions using a tracked chassis with machine gun armament. This gave rise to the "M1 Combat Car" which was then followed into service by the cannon-armed M2. Both designs appeared during the 1930s. It was only the rapid expansion of German ground forces in their takeover of Europe during 1939-1940 that serious thought was given to a successor for the M2 as it now proved an obsolete machine. This work then begat the M3 which promised improved protection (at the expense of speed) and greater armor protection. A new suspension arrangement rounded out the list of sought-after qualities.

After a period of testing and evaluation, the U.S. Army adopted the "Light Tank, M3". When accepted by the desperate British Army under Lend-Lease, they assigned it the name of "Stuart" after the American Civil War Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. In this way the M3 Medium Tank became the "Lee" (General Robert E. Lee) or "Grant" (General Ulysses S. Grant) and the classic M4 Medium Tank was the "Sherman" (General William Tecumseh Sherman). American Car and Foundry was charged with production of the M3 Light Tank and this began in earnest during March of 1941.

By this time, Europe had mostly fallen under the might of the Axis forces as Britain attempted to stave off complete elimination across its vast empirical holdings. Lend-Lease allowed American support of its overseas ally by delivering war-making goods without officially having declared war on any one enemy. As such, first combat use of Stuarts occurred with the British in November of 1941 during Operation Crusader. From these actions, the M3 was found to possess a rather weak main gun but its reliability in desert conditions was noted as was maneuverability. The Americans did not press their M3s into combat until the Philippines campaign of 1942.

The M3 was powered by the Continental W-670-9A, a gasoline-fueled, air-cooled radial aero engine of 7-cylinders and outputting 250 horsepower. This powerpack resided in a rear compartment away from the crew. Suspension came from the Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS) system which, coupled to the hull design and engine fitting, allowed the vehicle a top speed of 18 miles on road and operational ranges out to 75 miles. Its crew of four was made up of the driver, commander, gunner and bow machine gunner/radio operator. Conditions were decidedly cramped considering internal volume was also taken up by necessary equipment and ammunition stocks. Armament centered around the 37mm M5 (later M6) main gun with coaxial 0.30 caliber M1919A4 Browning machine gun. Four additional 0.30 caliber machine guns were installed including one over the turret, one in the right front of the hull (ball mounting) and the remaining pair in individual side sponsons along the forward superstructure panel. The main gun sat atop a unique mounting in which the gun could traverse some 20-degrees to either side apart from the turret - this gave the gunner some flexibility without needing the entire turret to be turned. The turret was set over midships with the driver seated front-left the hull, the bow gunner to his right and the remaining two crew in/under the turret. The hull crew used hinged vision slots for situational awareness though their forward panel was nearly vertical - shot trap for enemy fire. The track-over-wheel arrangement saw four road wheels used with a front drive sprocket and rear track idler. Overall, the M3 was a classic light tank design of the period, utilizing many established design features seen in competing designs elsewhere.

Manufacture of original M3 tanks (also the British Army "Stuart I") saw manufacture until October of 1942 and yielded a stock of 4,526 units. Some 1,285 examples followed that were outfitted with a Guiberson T-1020 series diesel engine but did not receive a different designation. Instead they were named simply as "Light Tank, M3, (Diesel)" to signify their difference. The British Army designated these as the "Stuart II". The M3A1 - "Stuart III" - was brought online in May of 1942 and added a gun stabilizer, powered traversal of the turret and a turret basket. These lacked a turret cupola. 211 were produced with diesel engines ("Stuart IV") of the 4,621 manufacture total.

The definitive M3 of the family became the M3A3 which entered production in September of 1942. These introduced all-new sloped hulls with improved and natural ballistics protection qualities seen on the twin-engine M5 Stuarts. The turret was also revised to incorporate overhang (bustle) for the SCR-508 radio kit while little else was changed. This became the "Stuart V" for the British and totaled 3,427 production units. In fact, many M3A3 units served with foreign forces overseas as opposed to American units.

The end of frontline service for the M3/M3A1 models came in July of 1943 when its line was officially declared obsolete by Army authorities. In its place came the M5 who managed to extend the Stuart story for a little longer. Additionally, many variants based on the M3 chassis existed including a command tank, howitzer carrier, gun carrier, a proposed mine detonator vehicle, and flame tank mounting a flame gun in place of a machine gun.

Operators proved plenty and ranged from Australia and Belgium to Venezuela and Yugoslavia. Some captured examples were operated by the Japanese Army in the Pacific Theater and used during the Battle of Imphal (March-July 1944). Fallout from the Chinese Civil War saw M3s fall to Chinese forces. The Soviet Union, like the United Kingdom, was the recipient of M3 Stuarts thanks to Lend-Lease. The M3 proved a good match for Soviet tactics and an improvement for the then-existing light tanks it had on hand.

It is worth noting the evolution of the M3 line despite its rather short-lived service life. Original turrets used the common construction practice of riveted panel sections which presented all points of weakness at their fittings. Additionally, a direct enemy shot on the armor held a nasty tendency to fire off the rivets within the cramped fighting cabin - to the detriment of the crew within. Some 279 turrets were then completed with "face-hardened" welded armor panels while final examples featured homogenous welded armor - which vastly improved crew safety and protection. Beyond the turret, the first 3,212 M3 tanks were all riveted-hull models with all of its inherent dangers and weaknesses. Welding became apparent in later production forms. Early models also lacked a turret floor.

From this, the M3 was truly an evolved design offering greater capabilities than the preceding M2 line though outmoded by the subsequent M5 and outclassed by the newer M24. At any rate, the little tank gave proper service to a nation just having committed to world war against more seasoned powers than itself. In time, American industrial might and determination would help to rewrite the course of history in removing the scourge of the Axis from all ends of the earth.

Production of M3 Stuarts reached 22,744 examples (some sources state as high as 25,000). Comparatively, M5 production managed "only" 8,884.


Operation Torch


Operation Torch was the Allied invasion of French North Africa. The operation was a three-pronged attack on Casablanca, Oran and Algiers, then a rapid advance to Tunisia. The 1st Battalion of the 1st Armored Regiment and the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 13th Armored Regiment of Combat Command B (CCB) were assigned to land at Oran in Algeria and D-Day was set for 8 November 1942. The weather was a concern because Tunisia receives 16 inches of rain yearly and it falls exclusively between November and March. Heavy rain would hinder vehicle and troop movements and grounded or prevented air support.

M3A1 Stuarts loaded in a landing craft are preparing for the invasion.


On D-Day, CCB landed on two beaches west and east of the port of Oran. CCB objectives were to swing wide of the infantry attack, block avenues of approach from the south, southwest and southeast, and assist the infantry in the capture of Oran by an attack on the city from the south. The airfields at La Sénia and Tafaraoui which were used by the Armistice Air Force (French: Armée de l’Air de Vichy) had to be captured as soon as possible to prevent French aircraft from attacking the invasion fleet.


CCB was divided into two separate armored Task Forces (TF). TF Green landed on Beach X near Cap Figalo about 30 miles (48.28 km) west of the port of Oran. TF Red landed on Beach Z near St. Leu about 28 miles (45 km) east of the port of Oran. The Stuart tanks were unloaded by 0800 hours after the beach was secured by the US 1st Infantry Division “Big Red One”. The M3 Lee medium tanks, being bulkier and heavier, had to be transported in the holds of transport ships. They could not be unloaded until the Oran port was captured. CCB HQ came ashore at 0930 hours and established its Command Post (CP) at St. Leu.

TF Red consisted of:

  • CCB HQ and HQ Company
  • 1st Bn, 1st Armored Regiment
  • 2nd Bn, 13th Armored Regiment
  • 2nd Bn, 6th Armored Infantry Regiment
  • Company B, 701st Tank Destroyer (TD) Bn

TF Green consisted of:

  • 13th Armored Regiment HQ and HQ Company
  • 1st Bn, 13th Armored Regiment
  • 1st Bn, 6th Armored Infantry Regiment
  • Company C, 701st Tank Destroyer Bn


701st Tank Destroyer Battalion:


Each company was organized along the standard lines of a US tank destroyer company in 1942. They contained three platoons, each with two sections of two TDs each, for a total of four per platoon and 12 per company. Two platoons were equipped with the M3 half-track Gun Motor Carriage (GMC) which mounted a 75 mm M1897A4 gun with a gun shield. The 3rd platoon was equipped with the M6 37mm GMC, also known as M6 Fargo, based on the WC-55 (modified Dodge WC-52 light truck). The M6 GMC was intended only for training but the orders came too late for the units to replace them with the M3 GMC before the invasion.

The Assault Platoon attached to the Battalion’s HQ Company had three T30 M3 half track Howitzer Motor Carriages (HMC) mounting a short barreled 75mm (3.0 in) M1 Pack Howitzer. This T30 named “Frances” had some engine problems on the landing beach. Note the number 104 chalked on the hood (bonnet) and the faded number 104 on the hull side to the right of the star.


Conclusion

El Salvador might have lost the first round qualifier in the football to Honduras but it won the rematch and a third decisive game too, qualifying to the Football World Cup for the first time in its history. Not only that, but it had proved that it was not going to be pushed around or tolerate the mistreatment of Salvadorans across the border in Honduras. The war though, like so many, was a pointless one, stoked by inflamed nationalistic rhetoric in the domestic media on both sides. Thousands of people were killed and even more people were dispossessed, and both economies suffered. El Salvador had learned a valuable lesson though – its armor force was obsolete. The force which had done well was a lightly armored improvised one, this was to shape Salvadoran thinking for a generation in terms of lightly armoured and mobile vehicles, although the tank role was eventually replaced with the French AML 60/90 armored cars. The M3 Stuarts which were left were eventually relegated to display purposes, having fought in one of the most obscure wars of the Twentieth Century.

Older image of the M3A1 at Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ with a different camouflage pattern. Source: Flickr

It is not known how many of the original eight M3A1 Stuart light tanks El Salvador lost during the war with Honduras, but at least two are reported to have been knocked out. At least three still survive, one at the Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ and two as gate guardians at Ciudad Arce base of the Regimiento de Caballería (Cavalry Regiment). Both vehicles outside this military base are painted in a three tone green, grey and tan scheme, although all of the wheels and suspension components are painted white. The tank at the Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ is painted in a daring three tone, dark grey, brown, and bright green with the lower hull sides, wheels, and suspension components all painted black. Older images show that is has been repainted at least twice since it was at the museum and previously sported a darker green with tan and black splotches, although the lower hull and suspension parts were still black. One final note with the Stuarts in El Salvador is that, during the troubles of the 1980’s, there was some planning done about how to modernise them but quite what this entailed is unknown. The plan was reportedly nixed by US military advisers but what these plans had in store for these tanks will perhaps be known one day.

Gate Guardian of the Regimiento de Caballería, Arce, El Salvador. Source: Himura Kingy via Flickr


El Salvadoran M3A1 Stuart. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet


The U.S. Armed Forces entered the First World War on the side of the Entente Powers in April, 1917, without any tanks of their own. The following month, in light of a report into British and French theories on tank operation, the American Expeditionary Forces' commander-in-chief, General John Pershing, decided that both light and heavy tanks were essential for the conduct of the war and should be acquired as soon as possible. [1] A joint Anglo-American program was launched to develop a new heavy tank, of similar design to the British Mark IV tank, though it was expected that sufficient quantities of tanks would not be available until April 1918. The Inter-Allied Tank Commission decided that, because of the wartime demands on French industry, the quickest way to supply the American forces with armor was to manufacture the Renault FT light tank in the United States. Some heavy tanks would also be supplied by Great Britain.

Captain Dwight Eisenhower had gone to Camp Meade, Maryland, in February 1918 with the 65th Engineer Regiment, which had been activated to provide the organizational basis for the creation of the Army's first heavy tank battalion. In March the 1st Battalion, Heavy Tank Service (as it was then known) was ordered to prepare for movement overseas, and Eisenhower went to New York with the advance party to work out the details of embarkation and shipment with port authorities. The battalion shipped out on the night of March 26, however Eisenhower did not join them. He had performed well as an administrator, and upon his return to Camp Meade, he was told he would be staying in the United States, where his talent for logistics would be put to use in establishing the Army's primary tank training center at Camp Colt in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Eisenhower became the #3 leader of the new tank corps and rose to the temporary rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the National Army and trained tank crews at "Camp Colt"–his first command–on the grounds of "Pickett's Charge" on the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Civil War battle site. The American Army in France had Captain George S. Patton as the first officer assigned to train the crews. While tanks like the Mark V and FT17 tanks were being shipped over from France and Britain for training, Eisenhower trained his units with trucks that had bolted down machine guns. Once the tanks arrived Eisenhower had to learn how to operate one first before letting his men use it. [ citation needed ]

The M1917 was the U.S.'s first mass-produced tank, [2] a license-built near-copy of the French Renault FT. [2] The U.S. Army ordered approximately 4,440 M1917s between 1918 and 1919, receiving about 950 before canceling the contract. A requirement of 1,200 was decided, later increased to 4,400, and some sample Renault tanks, plans, and various parts were sent to the US for study. The design was to be carried out by the Ordnance Department, under the job title "Six-ton Special Tractor," and orders for the vehicles placed with private manufacturers. However, the project was beset by problems: the French specifications were in metric, and thus incompatible with American machinery coordination between military departments, suppliers, and manufacturers was poor bureaucratic inertia, lack of cooperation from military departments, and possible vested interests all delayed progress.

The Army in France was expecting the first 300 M1917s by April of 1918, but by June, production had yet to begin, which forced the US to acquire 144 Renault FTs from the French. Production of the M1917 did not begin until the autumn, and the first completed vehicles emerged in October. Two arrived in France on November 20, nine days after the armistice with Germany, and a further eight in December.

The Ford 3-Ton M1918 was one of the first light tank designs by the U.S. It was a small two-man, one-gun tank, armed with an M1919 Browning machine gun and capable of a maximum speed of 8 mph. Design on the 3-ton tank started in mid-1918. The 3-Ton was a two-man tank designed so that American forces could use another tank besides the Renault FT. Its twin Model T Ford engines were controlled by the driver (seated at the front), while the gunner sat beside him and controlled a .30-06 machine gun (either the M1917 Marlin or M1919 Browning) on a limited-traverse mount.

A contract for 15,000 of these vehicles was awarded however, the U.S. Tank Corps felt that the design did not meet their requirements. The contract for the 15,000 tanks was ended after the Armistice, when only fifteen had been produced.

After the end of the conflict, the U.S. Army was reorganized. In 1919, Pershing recommended to a joint session of the Senate and House Committee on Military Affairs that the tank be subordinated to the infantry. [3] [4] As a result, the 1920 National Defense Act disbanded the U.S. Tank Corps, and reassigned its tanks to the infantry branch, with only two heavy tank battalions and four light tank battalions escaping post-war demobilization. [4] [5]

The M1917 tanks came too late, and did not take part in any combat during the war. Afterwards, however, five accompanied the U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force to Tianjin in April 1927 under General Smedley Butler. They returned to the U.S. in late 1928. [6] After the Tank Corps was abolished as a separate branch, and control of tanks handed to the infantry, the number of tank units was progressively reduced, and the vehicles mothballed or scrapped.

The Tank Mark VIII (or "Liberty", after its engine) was an Anglo-American tank design of the First World War, a collaborative effort to equip France, the U.K., and the U.S. with a single heavy tank design built in France for an offensive in 1919. Testing of the design was not finished until after the war, and it was decided to build 100 vehicles in the U.S. these were constructed in 1919 and 1920. The American Liberty tanks equipped a single unit: the 67th Infantry (Tank) Regiment, based in Aberdeen, Maryland. The curious designation of the unit had its origin in the fact that since 1922 by law all tanks had to be part of the Infantry. Some Liberty tanks were assigned to the 301st Tank Battalion (Heavy), later redesignated the 17th Tank Battalion (Heavy). Throughout most of 1921–1922, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded this unit.

Although the tank of World War I was slow, clumsy, difficult to control, and mechanically unreliable, its value as a weapon had been clearly demonstrated. In addition to the light and heavy categories of American-produced tanks of World War I, a third classification, the medium, began receiving attention in 1919. The meaning of the terms light, medium, and heavy tanks changed between the wars. During World War I and immediately thereafter, the light tank was considered to be up to 10 tons, the medium (produced by the British) was roughly between 10 and 25 tons, and the heavy was over 25 tons. Later, during World War II, increased weights resulted in light tank designs often weighing over 20 tons, medium tank designs weighing over 30 tons, and heavy tank designs weighing over 60 tons.

Patton and Eisenhower remained involved in developing the armored arm, which found a temporary home at Camp Meade under Rockenbach's command. In particular, the two men formulated theory and doctrine for the use of tanks in mass formations to achieve breakthroughs and carry out flanking attacks. They were met with vigorous opposition to their ideas from senior army officers, who favored the use of armor to support the infantry, not as a separate arm conducting independent operations. Congress took this view as well, when enacting the 1920 legislation that dissolved the Tank Corps as a separate entity.

The National Defense Act of 1920 placed the Tank Corps under the Infantry. Patton had argued for an independent Tank Corps, and understood that tanks operating with Cavalry would stress mobility, while tanks tied to the Infantry would emphasize firepower. However, the supply of slow World War I tanks and the subordination of tanks to the infantry branch impeded the development of any role other than direct infantry support, so the United States moved slowly in the development of armored and mechanized forces, which resulted in a significant cut in funding for tank research and development. Patton, convinced there was no future in tanks, applied and received a transfer to the cavalry in September, 1920. Eisenhower got out two years later, in January 1922, when he was assigned to the staff of an infantry brigade in Panama.

The U.S. War Department considered that two types of tanks, the light and the medium, should fulfill all missions. The light tank was to be transportable by truck, and not exceed 5 tons gross weight. The medium tank was not to exceed 15 tons, so as to bring it within the weight capacity of railroad flatcars. Although an experimental 15-ton tank, the M1924, reached the mock-up stage, this and other attempts to satisfy the War Department and infantry specifications proved to be unsatisfactory. In reality, it was simply impossible to build a 15-ton vehicle meeting both War Department and infantry requirements.

In 1926, the General Staff reluctantly consented to the development of a 23-ton tank, although it made clear that efforts were to continue toward the production of a satisfactory 15-ton vehicle. The infantry were in agreement that a light tank, transportable by truck, best met their requirements. The net effect of the infantry's preoccupation with light tanks, and the limited funds available for tank development in general, was to slow the development of heavier vehicles and, ultimately, to contribute to the serious shortage of medium tanks at the outbreak of World War II.

The real beginning of the Armored Force was in 1928, twelve years before it was officially established, when Secretary of War Dwight F. Davisdirected that a tank force be developed in the Army, after observing the maneuvers by the British Experimental Armoured Force. Davis' 1928 directive for the development of a tank force resulted in the assembly and encampment of an experimental mechanized force at Camp Meade, Maryland, from 1 July to 20 September 1928. The combined arms team consisted of elements furnished by Infantry (including tanks), Cavalry, Field Artillery, the Air Corps, Engineer Corps, Ordnance Department, Chemical Warfare Service, and Medical Corps. An effort to continue the experiment in 1929 was defeated by insufficient funds and obsolete equipment, but the 1928 exercise did bear fruit, as the War Department Mechanization Board, appointed to study results of the experiment, recommended the permanent establishment of a mechanized force.

Despite inadequate funding, the Ordnance Department managed to develop several experimental light and medium tanks, and also worked with auto engineer J. Walter Christie to test a Christie design model by 1929. None of these tanks were accepted, usually because each of them exceeded standards set by other Army branches. Patton later worked closely with Christie to improve the silhouette, suspension, power, and armament of the tanks. Christie's ideas had a great impact upon tank tactics and unit organization in many countries and, finally, upon the U.S. Army as well.

On November 21, 1930, Douglas MacArthur had been made Chief of Staff, with the rank of General. [7] As Chief of Staff from 1930 to 1935, Douglas MacArthur wanted to advance motorization and mechanization throughout the Army. In late 1931 all arms and services were directed to adopt mechanization and motorization, and were permitted to conduct research and experiment as necessary. The Cavalry was given the task of developing combat vehicles that would enhance its role of reconnaissance, counter-reconnaissance, flank action, and pursuit.

With the law passed, tanks belonged to the infantry branch, so the cavalry gradually bought a group of combat cars, lightly armored and armed tanks that were often indistinguishable from the newer infantry "tanks." In 1933, MacArthur set the stage for the complete mechanization of the cavalry, declaring "The horse has no higher degree of mobility today than he had a thousand years ago. The time has therefore arrived when the Cavalry arm must either replace or assist the horse as a means of transportation, or else pass into the limbo of discarded military formations." [8]


History

Development

Design

The M3 Stuart was a comprehensive upgrade of the earlier M2 light tank. It featured a new Continental petrol engine - more powerful than on the preceding M2, a new vertical volute suspension system (VVSS), an M5 37 mm main gun (later replaced by the M6 37 mm gun) with a new recoil system. The secondary armament consisted of up to 5 .30 cal (7.62 mm) M1919 machine guns. One was coaxial to the main gun, one was ball-mounted in the hull front, two were mounted in sponsons in the hull, and one was located on an anti-aircraft mounting on the turret. Often, the two sponson-mounted machine guns would be removed by the crew to save space and reduce weight. The M3 was manned by a crew of four: driver, co-driver, commander, and gunner.

The main armor composition was of face-hardened rolled homogeneous armor. The sides and rear of the hull and turret were 1 inch (25.4 mm) thick. The turret front was 38.1 mm thick, and so was the gun mantlet. The hull lower glacis was 44.4 mm thick, and the angled upper glacis was 15.8 mm thick and angled at 70 degrees. The upper front plate was 38.1 mm thick and angled at 18 degrees. The turret and hull roofs were 12.7 mm thick.

M3 Stuart (Stuart Mk I/II)

The M3 was the first production model of the series, and it was introduced in March of 1941. 5811 M3 Stuarts were built and they were called the Stuart Mk I in British service. 1285 of those were built with Guiberson diesel engines and were designated as Stuart Mk II by the British. The diesel engine Stuarts were built to British specification, not for American service. The British often referred to the Stuarts as the Honey tank, because of how smooth the ride was. A turret basket was added for the commander and gunner to sit in. Many of the original M3 Stuarts were sent to Britain under the Lend-Lease Act.

M3A1 Stuart (Stuart Mk III/IV)

Introduced in 1942, the M3A1 featured an improved turret. The new turret featured a turret basket and a different AA machine gun mount. Additionally, all of the sponson-mounted machine guns were removed on the M3A1 version. This left only three .30 cal (7.62 mm) machine guns one hull-mounted, one AA mounted, and one coaxial. Additionally, the vertical stabilizer for the gun was improved. 4621 M3A1 Stuarts were produced, and production ended in February 1943. The M3A1 was exported to the British as the Stuart Mk III, and the diesel version was called the Stuart Mk IV in British service.

M3A3 Stuart (Stuart Mk V)

The M3A3 variant featured sloped frontal armor very similar to that of the M5 Stuart. The new armor arrangement was easier to produce and it also offered better protection. As a side effect, the M3A3 hull was heavier than the earlier version the hull also had increased volume, which allowed for more fuel and ammunition storage. The M3A3 also introduced an improved turret with a larger bustle on the rear for the storage of a SCR 508 radio. Because of the increased space inside the hull, the ammunition storage was increased to 174 37 mm rounds and 7500 7.62 mm rounds. 3427 M3A3s were produced, with production ending in October 1943. In British service they were called Stuart Mk V.

Service

13,800 M3 Stuarts were used in all the theaters of World War 2 with a number of different nations.

Variants

The M3 Stuart, the first production series, was not intended for fighting other tanks but instead was meant to fight infantry units. With an armament of five .30 cal machine guns and one 37 mm gun the M3 was quite capable of its job. The standard livery was khaki-olive paint with US identification markings. The turret was often painted with a white or yellow horizontal band, and some units also added unit markings. Extra tracks and fuel were often stored on the exterior of the tank, and the sponson machine guns were often removed to save space and weight.

The M3A1 was an improved version which was produced until 1942, when the M3A3 and M5 Stuart were introduced. During Operation Torch in 1942 the M3A1 was often painted olive drab with the standard US identification markings. The M3A1s were painted very similarly to the M3s, and American identification markings were made very large, as the French (who held West North Africa during Operation Torch) held no anti-American sentiment. Additionally, the M20 anti-aircraft mounting for a .30 cal machine gun became common during this campaign. Extra tracks and fuel were mounted just the same as on the M3. The M3 was heavily used by the British, and British Stuarts were often covered in extra supplies and equipment. British Stuarts were painted in straight line blue-sand livery, with pale green upper surfaces.

The M3A2 was an experimental design that was not produced.

The M3A3 was the final design of the series, as the M3 series was replaced by the M5 series. The M3A3 was built with the intention to simplify production without reducing the performance. The M3A3 featured a single sloped upper glacis and new turret. The M3 series was mostly replaced by the M24 Chaffee in the European Theater after the North African campaign, but they were used heavily in the Pacific theater as the Japanese tanks were easier to deal with.

Britain and the Commonwealth

The British found the Stuart to be much more reliable than the Crusader tanks they were also operating at the time. The Stuarts were put to good use in the North African campaign, but the protection was found to be lacking against contemporary German tanks and anti-tank guns. As such, the Stuart was not heavily used by the British in the European theater, but was instead shifted to the India-Burma theater in British and Australian units. The Japanese tanks they faced their were much easier targets for the Stuarts as they were much less armored and had less firepower. The British and Australians often converted their Stuarts to non-combat roles.

United States

In North Africa, the M3 Stuart was proven to be vulnerable to enemy anti-tank weapons whilst having an Armament that was seen as insufficient. As such, the Stuart was relegated to non-combat roles such as rearguard and reconnaissance. The M3 Stuart was mostly replaced by the M24 Chaffee in the European theater, but they saw significant service in the Pacific. In the European theater they were only used to support the more capable M4 Shermans and the crews of M3 Stuarts made sure to avoid frontal engagement of enemy armour.

The M3s in the Pacific did not see much armoured opposition and there was only one anti-tank gun that posed a major threat, the 45 mm gun of the Chi-Ha and its variants. The Japanese tanks they did face were mostly less capable than the M3, with less armor and firepower. The first tank on tank combat the M3 saw in the Pacific was in the Philippines in December of 1941. There, the 192nd and 194th Light Tank Battalions saw combat mostly against Japanese Ha-Go tanks.

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union received 1000 M3 Stuarts along with M3 Lees and M3 Half-tracks through the Lend-Lease Act. The M3 Stuarts delivered to the USSR were of differing variants. The USSR did not like the M3 Stuart. They believed the armor and firepower was inadequate, the tracks were not suited to Russian winters, and the fuel was too flammable. As such, the USSR turned down American proposals for the delivery of M5 Stuarts, and sent their M3s to the Manchurian front where they would face less armored opposition.


M3 Lee / M3 Grant (Medium Tank, M3)

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 10/17/2018 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The M3 medium tank series appeared at a time when Allied armor (in respects to both armor protection and armament) was generally inferior to their German counterparts in Europe and North Africa. The M3 evolved from the M2 medium tank foray and served as essentially an interim solution until the arrival of the fabled M4 Shermans into the fray. As it stood, the M3 was an adequate solution not without its flaws but served the Allies well in returning control of North Africa back in their favor. Though often written off despite her contributions, the M3 played a pivotal role in the early-to-middle years of World War 2.

By the time of the German invasion of Poland, the United States had little in the way of an effective armor corps thanks primarily to a lack of vision and a lack of funding from the US Congress. Much dedication during the inter-war years following World War 1 placed a greater emphasis on light tank designs, seeing that these systems would benefit the standard infantryman more than medium tanks. The M2 light tank was such a development, but come 1936, the US Army sought a newer and more powerful medium-class tank based on the successful suspension system of the light-class M2's.

The T5 was developed as a five-man system with a primary armament of a 37mm main gun in a fully-traversable turret. One derivative of the T5 became the T5E2 and sported a 75mm main gun, though this was fitted to a World War 1-style side sponson that offered limited traverse. The T5E2 did feature a turret, however this had accommodations for one crew member and the armament was nothing more than an anti-infantry .30 caliber machine gun.

The T5 itself was an impressive design considering the times. It featured a broad and sharply-angled glacis plate with a hull sporting straight-faced sides. The turret fitted the 37mm main gun with 360-degree rotation as well as 2 x .30 caliber machine guns. There were four machine gun sponsons with limited traverse fitted to the four corners of the superstructure - two facing forward and two facing aft. The glacis plate sported an additional pair of .30 caliber machine guns emerging from the upper hull. The profile was admittedly high, nearly one and one-half times the height of an average man. The vehicle's sides were characterized by the three sets of road wheels with two wheel bogies to a set. Vision slots were afforded the driver, superstructure occupants and the turret operator. The T5 graduated to a production designation of M2 Medium Tank.

As the conflict in Europe continually unfolded, the idea of a medium tank in the United States evolved. The M2 was revised into the improved M2A1 Medium Tank. Despite its impressive appearance, the M2 was still little more than a mobile machine gun platform with a main gun capable of engaging light armored vehicles at best. It would have made for an excellent design in World War 1 but the speed at which the German invasions of Poland, and now France, had made the M2A1 immediately obsolete. With the fall of Paris, the US Congress prepared for war and authorized funding for the modernization of the American military. 94 M2A1 tanks were produced solely for training purposes.

By August of 1940, a new medium tank design was called for, this sporting improved performance, better armor allocation as it pertained to the most potent German anti-tank gun at the time and a more potent main gun armament. The design, based on the T5E2 mentioned earlier, was ready by the beginning of 1941 as the aptly-designated "M3".

The design of the M3 was peculiar to say the least, sort of a tank caught between two eras of warfare. Though the new design fitted a more potent 75mm main gun, this was placed in a limited traverse turret offset to the right of the superstructure. This was essentially a requirement for the time for now proven turret system was available for immediate service in the United States. Rather than spend critical time and funds in developing a useful turret, it was seen that the M3 should hit the production lines in the shortest amount of time possible. Likewise, the powerplant - an aircraft-based Wright air-cooled engine - proved lacking but there was little time to waste in fielding the M3. A full-traverse turret was in fact utilized on the M3, though this fielded the less-than-adequate primary armament of a 37mm main gun. Atop this turret was still another smaller turret housing a .30 caliber machine gun.

The M3 was a tall design, peaking at over 10 feet in height. As anyone who knows armored warfare, they would know the dangers of fielding a tall tank. The turret-on-turret layout did not help matters in keeping the M3's profile at an acceptable height. To make matters worse, the superstructure itself was of a relatively tall design. This was necessitated by how high the engine sat in its rear hull mounting. This height forced the propeller shaft, running from rear to front toward the gearbox, to achieve a downward position. This angled shaft forced the crew cabin to be placed higher in the design than one would have liked in a tank. This further forced the main turret to be raised and the additional cupola system did not help matters much. The original M3 order called for a crew of seven personnel. This was later whittled down to six and ultimately five crewmembers when the radio operator's position was consolidated.

As it was, the US Army - and the free world for that matter - needed a tank that was somewhat capable, ready for full-scale production and available in quantity. The M3 proved to be the order of the day. The US Army committed to the M3 with a first-run production of 4,924 units beginning in the middle of 1941 despite some reservations by Army personnel as to the effectiveness of the vehicle in regards to performance. The M3 was no speedster and the engines allotted to the design was vastly under-powered for what was to be expected of this medium tank. Nonetheless, the M3 was a much-needed medium tank addition and the dwindling supply of British tanks in North Africa sped up production. A second batch of 1,334 vehicles soon followed and made up a variety of marks based on configuration. These became the M3A1 (Lee II), M3A2 (Lee 3), M3A3 (Lee IV/Lee V), M3A4 (Lee VI) and the M3A5 (Grant II) series marks. When in service with the British Army, the M3 took on the names of "General Lee" and "General Grant" (or simply "Lee" and "Grant"). The British Army had a tradition of naming US-produced tanks in their service on American Civil War generals, with the two in question being Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. This was also apparent in the M3/M5 "Stuart" light tank series as well as the soon-to-arrive M4 "Sherman" series. British M3's were also refitted to utilized a lower-profile "British Friendly" turret that incorporated a rear-mounted bustle for radio equipment, in effect deleting one of the crewmember positions.

At its core, the base M3 was powered by a Wright (later Continental) R975 EC2 series engine of up to 400 horsepower. This powerplant was mated to a synchromesh, 5-speed (featuring a single reverse speed) transmission and a Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS) system. Top speed was limited to 24.8 miles-per-hour on road and drastically reduced to 16.15 miles-per-hour off-road. Range peaked at just under 120 miles.

Primary armament consisted of a 1 x 75mm Gun M2/M3 with 46 projectiles onboard. The main gun of the M3 was key in that it could fire both armor piercing (AP) projectiles and high-explosive (HEAT) projectiles equally (earlier tank systems required the use of two separate guns/turrets for this cause). This was augmented by the 1 x 37mm M5/M6 fitting in the turret with 178 projectiles in tow. Anti-infantry defense was handled by up to 4 x .30-06 Browning M1919A4 machine guns with 9,200 rounds of ammunition.

The base M3 (Lee I / Grant I)) featured a riveted hull and a gasoline-fueled engine. These were followed into service by the M3A1 which sported a cast rounded upper hull. 300 of this type were produced. The M2A2 came online next featuring a welded, straight-edged hull, and only saw 12 or so produced. The M2A3 was a twin-engined GM-powered 6-71 diesel derivative mated to a welded hull. The side doors consistent to the earlier M3's were eliminated as a ballistics weak spot. 322 of this type were produced.

The M3A4 featured a longer hull made of riveted construction. This variant is of particular note due to its fitting of the Chrysler A-57 "Multibank" engine. The Multibank combined five complete engines in a star pattern formation and was a tank mechanic's worst nightmare. This layout also necessitated a longer hull. 109 of the M3A4 series were produced in whole.

The M3A5 sported twin GM 6-71 diesel engines (a departure from the previous gasoline-fueled powerplants). The tank featured a riveted hull and up to 591 examples were produced.

Beyond its various combat forms, the M3 appeared in capable battlefield implements as well. This included the M31 Tank Recovery Vehicle (Grant ARV I), the similar M31B1 and M31B2 and the M33 "Prime Mover", the latter an artillery tractor derivative. The chassis was also utilized in the development of the 105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage, M7, commonly known as the "Priest". Additionally, the M3 chassis made up the 155 Gun Motor Carriage M12.

Likewise, the British evolved the M3 into their own dedicated battlefield roles that included the Grant ARV, Grand Command, Grant Scorpion III (fitted with a mine-clearing flail), Grant Scorpion IV (similar to Scorpion III but with extra engine power) and the Grant CDL. The Canadian "Cruiser Tank Ram" utilized the M3 chassis and fitted a conventional full-traverse turret but would never see combat action.

First contact by any M3 occurred in North Africa come 1942, first by the British and then later joined by a contingent of American-piloted M3's. Results were mixed with the British maintaining a better initial performance record. By the time of American involvement, German armor, experience and tactics had all improved and delivered a baptism of fire for M3 crews. At the very least, the M3 was on par with the German-fielded units and offered up a level playing field for the Allies for the first time in the war. The M3 proved to be a reliable machine and her 75mm was good for the moment. Her armor was highly regarded for it matched up well against the German weapons of the time. Limitations were its inherent flaws such as its slow off-road performance, limited traverse main gun and its high profile - making for somewhat easy pickings by enemy tanks with full traverse turrets or mobile anti-tank teams.

In the Pacific, M3's appeared in limited numbers and, as such, their reach in the region was restricted. It did, however, prove handy against the lightly-armored Japanese tanks. Future tank engagements in the region played out equally well for the Americans thanks to the arrival of the M4 Sherman series.

The Soviets had poor experiences from their M3's delivered via Lend-Lease. The system fared in a generally unfavorable way against the more mobile German armored tanks. Where the Soviets were looking for a tank capable of outgunning other tanks, the M3 proved a sorrowful disappointment and forced the Russians to look elsewhere.

In all, some 6,258 M3's were produced for all parties involved. Operators were led by the United States, Britain (via Lend-Lease or direct purchase), Australia, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand and the Soviet Union (via Lend-Lease). Production for all M3's ran from August of 1941 through December of 1942. The arrival of the capable M4 Sherman - and the Soviet T-34, German Panther and 75mm-armed Panzer IV for that matter - decreased all M3 combat roles substantially, effectively ending the type's reign in the war.


Meet the M3 37mm Antitank Gun: A World War II Weapon With Mixed Results

Despite lacks of modern features and firepower, the 37mm cannon still served throughout the World War II.

Key Point: The 37mm played only a very small part in the "Arsenal of Democracy."

The men of Lieutenant Edwin K. Smith’s antitank platoon, 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division peered over the gun shields of their 37mm cannon at the column of Vichy French armored cars approaching their roadblock. It was 9 am on November 8, 1942. The platoon had been ordered to man a roadblock near the town of El Ancor, protecting the flank of the 26th Regiment during its landing as part of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa.

It was a tense moment Smith’s orders were not to fire unless fired upon. Would these French soldiers fight or not? The question was soon answered when a burst of machine-gun fire stuttered from one of the armored cars. The American return fire was instant. Two of the 37mm guns started banging away, hitting the lead armored car. All three French vehicles fired their own cannon and machine guns at the telltale muzzle flashes of the American guns. Another hit on the leading car set it afire, and moments later a skillful shot from an American 37mm some 1,800 yards away hit the rear armored car, setting it alight and trapping the middle vehicle.

The crews of the burning vehicles abandoned them, taking cover in a drainage ditch. Unable to move, the crew of the middle car did the same. This took the will to fight out of the Vichy troops, who surrendered. The gun crews and their 37mm cannon had just been introduced to combat in North Africa.

The M3 37mm antitank gun was one of the main antitank weapons of the United States in the early years of World War II. It was produced in larger numbers than any other American antitank gun and served through the entire war. This extensive service record comes despite the fact that the 37mm was effectively obsolescent as soon as America entered the war in December 1941.

America’s 18,702 M3s

The cannon’s story begins in the late 1930s as the United States began searching for a more powerful tank-killing weapon. At the time the antitank companies of U.S. infantry regiments were equipped with .50-caliber machine guns, admittedly quite effective against the thinly armored light tanks that were the standard for armored vehicles at the time. Experience gained during the Spanish Civil War forced an evolution in tank design, bringing heavier medium tanks to the forefront. As the United States watched from the sidelines, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, each supporting a different Spanish faction, upgraded their own weapons. The Germans adopted the PAK 36 37mm cannon this drew increased American interest, and the Army acquired one for testing in early 1937.

In May of that year representatives from the artillery, infantry, and cavalry branches came together at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to discuss their respective needs for the weapon. The infantry favored a lighter weapon that could be operated by one soldier while the artillerymen favored crew-served cannon. Prototypes were authorized by September 1937, and testing continued through 1938 as the various problems normal to weapons development were overcome.

Several different gun designs and carriages were tested, with the winner being accepted on December 15, 1938, as the M3 37mm cannon mounted on the M4 carriage. It is normal to classify guns and carriages separately as over time a carriage may be used as a platform for more than one type of cannon. When mated together, the complete weapon will generally be referred to by the model number of the gun.

As with many American weapons developed in the sparse fiscal environment of the late 1930s, the M3 did not enter actual production until the end of 1940 as war clouds began to loom and belated preparations were put into motion. Manufacture began slowly, with only 340 guns made in 1940 and 2,252 the year after. America was rearming, but at a snail’s pace. The attack on Pearl Harbor would change that.

With the war against the Axis under way, production was vastly expanded. Quotas were set for all manner of war material. For antitank guns the goal was set at 18,900 weapons by the end of 1943. In actuality, the factories far exceeded this goal. During 1942 and 1943, some 27,343 antitank guns were built with 37mm cannon accounting for 16,110 of this number. Total production of M3s would reach 18,702.

25 Rounds Per Minute

The M3 37mm cannon was a 53.5-caliber weapon, meaning the length of the bore was 53.5 times its diameter. Overall length was 154.5 inches with a width of 63.5 inches and a height of 37.8 inches. It weighed 912 pounds, light enough to be manhandled by its four man crew for short distances. A set of towing straps was provided to make it easier for the soldiers to pull the gun and carriage. The cannon could be traversed 30 degrees to either side of center and could be depressed 10 degrees or elevated up to 15 degrees.

The M3 could fire 25 rounds per minute of a variety of ammunition types. There were two types of armor-piercing rounds. The initial solid steel shot could penetrate 36mm of armor at 500 yards while the improved ballistic-capped round pierced 61mm at the same distance. High explosive and canister rounds were also available. The canister round was for anti-personnel use and functioned like a large shotgun shell, firing 122 3/8-inch steel balls to an effective range of 250 yards.

The new weapon saw use from the beginning of the war. It was issued both as an antitank gun and a tank cannon. The M2 “combat cars” used early in the war—the light M3/M5 Stuart tank series, and the medium M3 Grant/Lee tanks as well as the M8 armored car—all carried 37mm guns, and those 37mm cannon produced as tank guns were augmented by the numbers noted above that were produced for carriage mounts.

For infantry use, the 37mm equipped the antitank platoons of each battalion in an infantry regiment, three guns each. There was also a regimental antitank company with nine guns, for a total of 18 guns per regiment. The Army’s Tank Destroyer Branch made limited use of the 37mm in a self-propelled mounting called the M6. This was a ¾-ton Dodge truck mounting the 37mm on the rear bed. Intended as a stopgap vehicle until dedicated tank destroyer designs could be fielded, a handful of M6s saw service in North Africa in tank destroyer battalions. These units mixed their companies with a platoon of M6s and two platoons of M3 gun motor carriages, a half-track carrying a 75mm weapon.

The M6 had a relatively high silhouette for the diminutive caliber of its gun, and it had no protection for the crew other than a gun shield. It was almost suicidal to use them in modern combat against the Germans, and most company commanders quickly learned to keep their M6s at the rear of their columns. They were replaced at the end of the Tunisian campaign.

The M3’s Baptism of Fire

In its towed version, the 37mm was first used in combat in the Pacific where some were deployed during the Philippine fighting of early 1942. When the Marines went to Guadalcanal, they brought their M3s with them they proved invaluable against not only Japanese tanks but in breaking up infantry attacks with explosive and canister rounds. At the Battle of the Tenaru River on August 21, 1942, a Japanese force commanded by Colonel Kiyono Ichiki attacked Marines defending along the line of the Ilu River (the Marine’s maps had mislabeled the Ilu as the Tenaru). Just after midnight the Marine pickets heard the approaching Japanese infantry and fell back across the river to warn their comrades. Among the Marine firepower were several 37mm guns that the crews loaded with canister rounds. The Japanese launched their attack with mortar fire and an infantry charge.

The Marines responded, their M3s discharging blasts of steel balls that cut through jungle foliage and human flesh alike. The fighting was hand to hand in some places. After an initial repulse, Ichiki sent in a second attack that bogged down in barbed wire. Small arms and cannon fire poured down on the hapless Japanese, slaughtering them. A Marine counterattack finished the night’s bloody work, leaving nearly 800 Japanese dead. Colonel Ichiki committed suicide.

Two months later, the Americans again used their 37mm guns in action against an attack by the Japanese Sendai Division. Due to a communications error, the Japanese launched their attack a day too soon, hitting the western side of the Marine perimeter. This attack included nine Japanese tanks positioned along a coastal road with infantry behind them, all ready to advance over a sandbar separating the two antagonists.


M3 Stuart light tank passes El Himeimat, 1942 - History

By Christopher Miskimon

The men of Lieutenant Edwin K. Smith’s antitank platoon, 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division peered over the gun shields of their 37mm cannon at the column of Vichy French armored cars approaching their roadblock. It was 9 am on November 8, 1942. The platoon had been ordered to man a roadblock near the town of El Ancor, protecting the flank of the 26th Regiment during its landing as part of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa.
[text_ad]

It was a tense moment Smith’s orders were not to fire unless fired upon. Would these French soldiers fight or not? The question was soon answered when a burst of machine-gun fire stuttered from one of the armored cars. The American return fire was instant. Two of the 37mm guns started banging away, hitting the lead armored car. All three French vehicles fired their own cannon and machine guns at the telltale muzzle flashes of the American guns. Another hit on the leading car set it afire, and moments later a skillful shot from an American 37mm some 1,800 yards away hit the rear armored car, setting it alight and trapping the middle vehicle.

The crews of the burning vehicles abandoned them, taking cover in a drainage ditch. Unable to move, the crew of the middle car did the same. This took the will to fight out of the Vichy troops, who surrendered. The gun crews and their 37mm cannon had just been introduced to combat in North Africa.

The M3 37mm antitank gun was one of the main antitank weapons of the United States in the early years of World War II. It was produced in larger numbers than any other American antitank gun and served through the entire war. This extensive service record comes despite the fact that the 37mm was effectively obsolescent as soon as America entered the war in December 1941.

America’s 18,702 M3s

The cannon’s story begins in the late 1930s as the United States began searching for a more powerful tank-killing weapon. At the time the antitank companies of U.S. infantry regiments were equipped with .50-caliber machine guns, admittedly quite effective against the thinly armored light tanks that were the standard for armored vehicles at the time. Experience gained during the Spanish Civil War forced an evolution in tank design, bringing heavier medium tanks to the forefront. As the United States watched from the sidelines, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, each supporting a different Spanish faction, upgraded their own weapons. The Germans adopted the PAK 36 37mm cannon this drew increased American interest, and the Army acquired one for testing in early 1937.

In May of that year representatives from the artillery, infantry, and cavalry branches came together at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to discuss their respective needs for the weapon. The infantry favored a lighter weapon that could be operated by one soldier while the artillerymen favored crew-served cannon. Prototypes were authorized by September 1937, and testing continued through 1938 as the various problems normal to weapons development were overcome.

Several different gun designs and carriages were tested, with the winner being accepted on December 15, 1938, as the M3 37mm cannon mounted on the M4 carriage. It is normal to classify guns and carriages separately as over time a carriage may be used as a platform for more than one type of cannon. When mated together, the complete weapon will generally be referred to by the model number of the gun.

As with many American weapons developed in the sparse fiscal environment of the late 1930s, the M3 did not enter actual production until the end of 1940 as war clouds began to loom and belated preparations were put into motion. Manufacture began slowly, with only 340 guns made in 1940 and 2,252 the year after. America was rearming, but at a snail’s pace. The attack on Pearl Harbor would change that.

With the war against the Axis under way, production was vastly expanded. Quotas were set for all manner of war material. For antitank guns the goal was set at 18,900 weapons by the end of 1943. In actuality, the factories far exceeded this goal. During 1942 and 1943, some 27,343 antitank guns were built with 37mm cannon accounting for 16,110 of this number. Total production of M3s would reach 18,702.

Marines on Saipan fire a 37mm gun at Japanese positions. The 37mm provided enough firepower to destroy Japanese machine-gun nests and to decimate infantry concentrations.

25 Rounds Per Minute

The M3 37mm cannon was a 53.5-caliber weapon, meaning the length of the bore was 53.5 times its diameter. Overall length was 154.5 inches with a width of 63.5 inches and a height of 37.8 inches. It weighed 912 pounds, light enough to be manhandled by its four man crew for short distances. A set of towing straps was provided to make it easier for the soldiers to pull the gun and carriage. The cannon could be traversed 30 degrees to either side of center and could be depressed 10 degrees or elevated up to 15 degrees.

The M3 could fire 25 rounds per minute of a variety of ammunition types. There were two types of armor-piercing rounds. The initial solid steel shot could penetrate 36mm of armor at 500 yards while the improved ballistic-capped round pierced 61mm at the same distance. High explosive and canister rounds were also available. The canister round was for anti-personnel use and functioned like a large shotgun shell, firing 122 3 /8-inch steel balls to an effective range of 250 yards.

The new weapon saw use from the beginning of the war. It was issued both as an antitank gun and a tank cannon. The M2 “combat cars” used early in the war—the light M3/M5 Stuart tank series, and the medium M3 Grant/Lee tanks as well as the M8 armored car—all carried 37mm guns, and those 37mm cannon produced as tank guns were augmented by the numbers noted above that were produced for carriage mounts.

For infantry use, the 37mm equipped the antitank platoons of each battalion in an infantry regiment, three guns each. There was also a regimental antitank company with nine guns, for a total of 18 guns per regiment. The Army’s Tank Destroyer Branch made limited use of the 37mm in a self-propelled mounting called the M6. This was a ¾-ton Dodge truck mounting the 37mm on the rear bed. Intended as a stopgap vehicle until dedicated tank destroyer designs could be fielded, a handful of M6s saw service in North Africa in tank destroyer battalions. These units mixed their companies with a platoon of M6s and two platoons of M3 gun motor carriages, a half-track carrying a 75mm weapon.

The M6 had a relatively high silhouette for the diminutive caliber of its gun, and it had no protection for the crew other than a gun shield. It was almost suicidal to use them in modern combat against the Germans, and most company commanders quickly learned to keep their M6s at the rear of their columns. They were replaced at the end of the Tunisian campaign.

The M3’s Baptism of Fire

In its towed version, the 37mm was first used in combat in the Pacific where some were deployed during the Philippine fighting of early 1942. When the Marines went to Guadalcanal, they brought their M3s with them they proved invaluable against not only Japanese tanks but in breaking up infantry attacks with explosive and canister rounds. At the Battle of the Tenaru River on August 21, 1942, a Japanese force commanded by Colonel Kiyono Ichiki attacked Marines defending along the line of the Ilu River (the Marine’s maps had mislabeled the Ilu as the Tenaru). Just after midnight the Marine pickets heard the approaching Japanese infantry and fell back across the river to warn their comrades. Among the Marine firepower were several 37mm guns that the crews loaded with canister rounds. The Japanese launched their attack with mortar fire and an infantry charge.

Although the M3 Stuart light tank was outclassed by German armor in Europe, it remained highly effective against the Japanese, taking on the light enemy tanks and pillboxes with its 37mm cannon.

The Marines responded, their M3s discharging blasts of steel balls that cut through jungle foliage and human flesh alike. The fighting was hand to hand in some places. After an initial repulse, Ichiki sent in a second attack that bogged down in barbed wire. Small arms and cannon fire poured down on the hapless Japanese, slaughtering them. A Marine counterattack finished the night’s bloody work, leaving nearly 800 Japanese dead. Colonel Ichiki committed suicide.

Two months later, the Americans again used their 37mm guns in action against an attack by the Japanese Sendai Division. Due to a communications error, the Japanese launched their attack a day too soon, hitting the western side of the Marine perimeter. This attack included nine Japanese tanks positioned along a coastal road with infantry behind them, all ready to advance over a sandbar separating the two antagonists.

When the attack began, it was met by the combined fire of U.S. antitank guns, artillery, and small arms. The 37mm cannon barked at the approaching tanks, whose thin armor proved no match for their fire. Only one tank even made it over the sandbar the rest lay wrecked or burning. The last vehicle, disabled by a Marine who shoved a grenade into its tracks, was picked off shortly afterward. With the armored threat eliminated, the antitank guns shifted their fire to the enemy infantry, leaving some 600 dead on the field at the battle’s end.

Mixed Results in North Africa

After proving itself in the Pacific, U.S. forces next took the 37mm with them to North Africa during Operation Torch. This theater of operations was very different from the Pacific, however. The German Army could field a force of modern tanks along with a well-developed doctrine for their use. The improved models of the German Mark III and IV tanks had thicker armor that the 37mm could only reliably penetrate at close ranges. This fact was not fully appreciated at the time of the landings. The U.S. Army would have to learn through the harsh instruction of battlefield experience.

In the initial phase of Torch, the 37mm performed well enough against the lightly armored vehicles of the Vichy French, but as soon as the Germans were encountered the M3’s inadequacy came to the forefront. Gun crews watched in frustration as their well-aimed shots bounced harmlessly off the armor of attacking panzers. Word went back to the Army Ground Forces (AGF), a stateside command that monitored weapons used in combat to seek improvement. It sent observers to gain first-hand information.

Not surprisingly, the frontline soldiers using the 37mm wanted it replaced quickly, while a number of the observers said the troops were not using the weapon properly. Critics stated the troops expected the gun to work at “excessive ranges” and that it had to be sighted properly to achieve hits on the enemy’s flanks. These critics apparently did not take into consideration that a towed antitank gun unit, once emplaced, cannot dictate the terms of an engagement and must be able to engage an enemy frontally. Guns cannot always be sited where the terrain will be to their advantage.

The prime movers of the 37mm, the jeep or ¾-ton Dodge truck, were unarmored. Bringing them forward under fire to move a gun carried a great risk of losing the vehicle. While these limitations apply to any towed cannon, the M3’s inability to knock out enemy armor only exacerbated the problem.

Criticism of the 37mm continued despite the excuses of some AGF observers, and by mid-1943 the newer 57mm gun was authorized to replace the 37mm on a one-for-one basis. Reequipping took time, so the divisions that went ashore at Sicily in July 1943 were still using many M3s with mixed effect. A high point came during a now famous engagement between U.S. Rangers under Colonel William Darby and an attacking Italian force using captured French Renault R35 tanks. The Italian tanks attacked the Rangers at the town of Gela. Lightly equipped, the Rangers first used bazookas and grenades to resist the enemy assault.

During the fighting, Colonel Darby drove to the beachhead and found a 37mm gun. He towed it back to Gela and set it up, hurriedly chopping open the ammunition box with an axe. Manning the weapon personally, he knocked out one of the R35s and helped fend off the attack. His bravery at Gela resulted in his second award of the Distinguished Service Cross.

Weaknesses of the 37mm Against the Germans

A corresponding low point came when a battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, was attacked by the Hermann Göring Panzer Division, which included heavy Tiger tanks. The American 37mm guns were totally ineffective during the attack the battalion commander was killed while manning one of the guns himself.

Shown on maneuvers in Tennessee in 1943, this M6 antitank vehicle is armed with a 37mm antitank gun mounted in the bed and a .50-caliber machine gun for antipersonnel or anti-aircraft use.

Soon afterward, more 57mm guns began arriving, and the 37mm was essentially finished as a dedicated antitank weapon in the European Theater. It continued there only as the primary armament of the M5 light tanks and M8 armored cars. There is a report of an M8 actually knocking out a German Panther tank with a shot from its 37mm. It is believed this would only have been possible by a chance ricochet off the tank’s mantlet down through the thinner roof armor or perhaps a round that landed short, ricocheted off the ground, and bounced up through the belly armor. Such a lucky hit could not be counted on, and units using light tanks or armored cars generally avoided action against German armor.

An Effective Gun in the Pacific

It was a different story in the Pacific, where both the Army and Marine Corps used the 37mm until the war ended. Conditions in the Pacific Theater were more favorable. Much of the fighting occurred in jungle or heavily forested areas that were mostly wild and undeveloped, lacking extensive road networks or built-up areas. Large tracts were wet and marshy with soft ground difficult for vehicles to traverse. The 37mm gun was light enough to be moved by its own crew and manhandled into firing positions. Many of the enemy bunkers and defensive positions were constructed from locally available logs and soil rather than concrete, leaving them vulnerable to the M3’s fire.

The gun was effective against Japanese tanks, which saw no real improvements in armor protection over the course of the conflict. Japanese tanks were thinly armored and vulnerable to the full range of U.S. antitank weapons, including the 37mm gun, though the weapon probably saw much more use in the fire support role. The Japanese did not use very large numbers of tanks and rarely massed their armor, often using what they had in the infantry support role or even dug in as pillboxes.

Rather than engaging Japanese tanks on a regular basis, the 37mm more often used explosive and canister ammunition against infantry or defensive positions. The canister round was found to be very effective at shredding away the foliage that concealed bunkers, revealing their positions for destruction by pinpoint fire. Often, armor-piercing rounds would follow, aimed at the log supports to crack and weaken them. High explosive rounds would finish the job, blowing the bunker apart.

A Small Part of the “Arsenal of Democracy”

During the war the United States gained the moniker of “Arsenal of Democracy” due to its vast exports of weapons and supplies. However, the 37mm played only a very small part in this. The major powers the United States supplied, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, each had adequate supplies of their own light antitank guns, the 2-pounder and 45mm, respectively, and had little need for the comparable American weapon. These nations used 37mm guns as mounted on American armored vehicles supplied via Lend-Lease but did not need them as towed weapons. The vast majority of towed M3s exported went to the Chinese Army since they were fighting the Japanese, the M3 was a useful addition.

The 37mm had no substantial postwar use outside of a few Third World armies. Today it is relegated to museums and the occasional private collector. Its legacy is that of a weapon obsolete before it entered combat. Nevertheless, it served with both notable success and failure and earned its place in history.

Comments

I have a 37 mm casing dated 1941, lot 712-46. Is there a way that I can trace what region it was sent to and if it was used in a battle and stuff like that? Please advise. I’ve just started researching this as of September 2020.


Watch the video: 1942 M3A1 Stuart Light Tank (November 2021).