In the early 1950s, the United States Military began a design program to develop tanks that would replace those currently in service. The faithful M4 Sherman had begun to show its age and was in the process of being replaced by the M26 Pershing and the upgraded M46 Patton.
At their core, however, these tanks were still very much vehicles of World War II era and did not make use of newer technologies that had begun to appear. One of the tanks to spring from the design program was the Medium Tank T42. This tank would form the basis of the T69 project.
The unique feature of the T69 among other medium tanks then in development was it’s oscillating turret and autoloading system. The T69 project followed on from the T71 Light Tank project, which featured a 76mm autoloading gun in an oscillating turret. It also ran parallel to the 120mm armed T57 and the 155 mm armed T58 Heavy Tank projects. Both of which also featured autoloading systems and oscillating turrets. These two were based on the hull of the M103 Heavy Tank.
The Medium Tank T69, with an Oscillating turret, based on the hull of the T42 Medium. Photo: Presidio Press
The Medium Tank T42
The T42 was originally designed to replace the M46 Patton. Starting life in 1948, the T42 was based on the T37 light tank prototype, but had increased armor protection and carried a T139 90mm gun (which would later be serialized as the 90mm Tank Gun M41) in a brand new turret. It did, however, retain the same basic dimensions and the five road-wheel running gear.
The T42 prototype. Photo: US Archives
The T42, to the worry of the US Military, was still halfway through development when the Korean War Commenced in June 1950. This gave rise to the infamous “Korean Tank Panic”. As a quick solution to this problem, it was decided to take the turret of the T42 and mount it on the M46 hull. This spawned the Medium Tank M47 Patton II.
The T42 itself would never make it to full-scale production, having never met all of the Military’s needs and expectations. A few of the tanks would be kept for experimentation and further development. This led to its use as the base hull for the T69.
Birth of the T69
The T69 was born out of the idea from the United States Ordnance Committee that an automatic loading system would be added to the T42’s turret should one be designed and become available. Preliminary experiments with a loading system inside this turret were not successful due to the limited space and the need to line up the breach with the loading system after every shot.
Further studies by the Rheem Manufacturing Company found that it would indeed be feasible to mate the T139 90mm gun with an autoloader if the equipment was mounted in an oscillating turret. Oscillating turrets, made famous by the French and their AMX-13, were a new feature at this time. These turrets have a fixed gun in a two-part turret. The lower half, or ‘collar’, is connected to the turret ring and provides horizontal rotation. The upper part, or ‘body’, carries the gun moving up and down on a set of trunnions providing vertical traverse. Turrets of this design allowed the use of autoloader mechanisms as the gun was fixed in place, meaning the loader did not have to be re-aligned with the breach after every shot.
Profile shot of the T69. Photo: US Archives
A new contract was drafted with Rheem who then proceeded to draw up plans and prepare mockups of the turret and loading system. Work began on the turret in summer 1951. However, there were lengthy delays due to the late arrival of equipment. A total of six different designs for the turret were evaluated by APG (Aberdeen Proving Grounds) and tested by personnel supplied by the AFF (Army Field Forces) before one was selected. A number of turrets for ballistic tests were then built for APG to test the armor protection. Only after this would development finally continue in the summer of 1955.
The turret was mounted on the second T42 pilot vehicle modified to carry the XT-500 transmission. This combination was then designated the 90mm Gun Tank T69, otherwise known as Medium Tank T69.
The hull of the tank was made up of two parts. The front half was a long rounded casting of steel homogeneous armor, it was 4 inches (101.6 mm) thick and angled at 60 degrees. The rear was welded steel armor plate. The two halves were welded together in the center.
The T42 hull was powered by the Continental AOS 395 gasoline engine, (air-cooled six-cylinder supercharged 8.2-liter engine) rated at 500 horsepower. This ran through a General Motors CO-500 cross-drive transmission, later upgraded to the XT-500 (this required changes to rear of the engine compartment, resulting in a vertical rear plate). Together, this gave the vehicle a top speed of about 41 mph (66 km/h). This engine was retained for the T69. The driver’s position was located at the front left of the hull with an ammunition rack to his right. The driver steered the vehicle via the Manual Control Stick, often known as the “Wobble Stick”. The Manual Control was a single joystick that controlled left and right movement, as well as controlling forward and backward speeds.
The body of the turret was a single cast piece with the 90mm gun protruding from a long ‘nose’. The angles of the casting provided numerous deflective surfaces against incoming rounds. This body was attached to a fully cast collar by trunnions, forming the fulcrum point of elevation and depression. Maximum elevation was 15 degrees, maximum depression was 9 degrees. This motion was actuated by a hydraulically powered mechanism, though should it fail manual operation was possible. The collar was then attached to the 73-inch turret ring.
Turret crew consisted of the Gunner, Loader, and Commander. The Loader sat to the left of the gun, with the gunner on it’s right. The Commander was situated at the right rear of the turret underneath a rotating vision cupola.
Another profile shot of the T69. In this photo, the turret is partially raised to about half of its maximum elevation, and the roof is open. Note the hydraulic bar propping up the roof. Photo: Presidio Press
Access into the turret was rather easy. There was a hatch on the left of the turret roof for the loader, and another atop the Commander’s cupola at the rear right. The traditional hatches in the turret roof were not the only point of entry, however. If needed, the entire turret roof had the ability to raise up via hydraulics and could rise to almost a full 90 degrees. This allowed full access to the interior of the turret, easy removal of the gun and loading system, and quick ammunition resupply. In case of emergency, it also allowed for a quick exit of the turret. This was operated by a control in the Loader’s position.
Other features on the turret consist of an AA mount for a Browning M2HB .50 Cal. (12.7mm) Heavy Machine gun on the commander’s cupola and a ventilator in the left rear. On each side of the turret, positioned just above the fulcrum point were the ‘Frog’s Eyes’, the armored housings for the lenses of the stereoscopic rangefinder. The same can be found on the M47, M48 and so on.
An interior photo of the T69s turret taken recently at the NACM. 1: Gunners position. 2: Escape hatch. 3: 90mm Gun. 4: Recoil guard. 5: Ammunition cyylinder. 6: Ramming and extraction system. Photo: Rob Cogan.
Links, Resources & Further Reading
Presidio Press, Patton: A History of the American Main Battle Tank, Volume 1, R. P. Hunicutt
An original government report on the T69, Read HERE.
Illustration of the T69 Medium Tank prototype by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet. The color is speculative as there are no known original colored photos. As such, the standard US Olive Drab paint scheme was chosen.
The T69 was armed with the T178 90mm gun. This gun was essentially the same as the T139 but was mounted upside-down. This meant that the vertically sliding breach slid up towards the turret roof instead of down towards the floor, avoiding collision with the loading mechanism. The mounting lugs were also modified so that the gun’s concentric recoil mechanism (hollow tube around the barrel. A space-saving alternative to traditional recoil cylinders) could be mounted in the forward part of the turret, in the nose. There was a fume extractor towards the muzzle of the gun, just behind the muzzle-break. This was a relatively new feature on tanks at the time. Firing an AP (Armor Piercing) shell, the gun could penetrate 6.2 inches (157.48 mm) of armor at 1,000 yards. A coaxial Browning M1919 .30 Cal. (7.62mm) Machine Gun was mounted on the left of the main armament. When not in action, the turret would be traversed almost fully to the rear. The gun would then be placed in a travel lock mounted on the left rear of the engine deck.
A head-on shot of the T69, showing the 90mm gun, coaxial .30 cal (7.62mm) mg to its left, and the .50 cal (12.7mm) on the commander’s hatch. Photo: Presidio Press.
The T178 gun was fed by an 8-round autoloader mechanism. The system was mounted longitudinally on the centerline of the turret. It consisted of a magazine with an integral ramming system. The magazine took the form of a conical 8-tube revolving cylinder, like a scaled-up version of something found on a Smith & Wesson Revolver for example. The chambers of the cylinder were reloaded manually by the Loader and could be loaded with up to three different types of ammunition. AP (Armor Piercing), HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) or HE (High-Explosive) for example. The gunner could select which ammunition type he needs to fire via a control panel in his position.
A cross-section of the T69’s turret showing the autoloading apparatus. Photo: Presidio Press
When engaged, the cylinder was lifted into line with the breach, the hydraulic rammer then pushed the round forward into the breach. Upon withdrawal of the rammer, the cylinder indexed (rotated) forwards one chamber. The cylinder assembly then dropped back down to its stationary ready position low in the turret. Once fired, the empty shell was then passed along a chute to an ejection port in the turret bustle that automatically opened upon recoil of the gun. Once the shell was clear, the port automatically closed when the gun returns to battery (recovers from recoil). The rate of fire could be as fast as 33 rounds per minute. This was when firing just one ammunition type when interchanging between various types, rate of fire was reduced to 18 rounds per minute.
As well as the eight rounds in the cylinder, 32 rounds were held in the bow to the right of the driver. In the T42, this rack held 36 rounds. It was found, however, there was little clearance between the autoloading assembly and the turret ring for the loader to have access to this row of four extra rounds. It was the responsibility of the Loader to replenish the Cylinder when all rounds were spent.
A rear view of the T69 with the turret open. Note the shell ejection port in the turret bustle. Photo: Presidio Press
The T69 was tested at Aberdeen Proving Grounds from June 1955 to April 1956. The tests were dogged by a high rate of component failure which prevented in-depth study of the automatic loading system and operation of the oscillating turret. The tank was deemed unsatisfactory for service, but various tests on the vehicle would continue. Lessons learned would pave the way for future technologies and developments. The T69 Project was finally officially terminated February 11th, 1958.
The T69 was not the last experiment with oscillating turrets and autoloaders by the US Military. The project would be followed by the T54. Not to be confused with the infamous Soviet T-54, these were a series of prototypes based on the M48 Patton III hull. They were intended as a means to develop a turret for the M48 that could carry the 105mm Tank Gun T140. A variant of this project, the T54E1, carried the gun in an oscillating turret and used an autoloading system.
A photo taken in the early 1980s showing the tank at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Photo: preservedtanks.com
The T69 did survive, however. It was preserved at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds for many years, but it has since been removed from the site with the closure of the museum in late 2010. It was moved to Fort Benning and is currently a part of the collection of the National Armor and Cavalry Museum (NACM), Georgia, USA. The museum will open to the public in a few years. Recently, the tank was stripped of its old weathered paint given a fresh coat of protective Red-Oxide primer. In late 2017, the vehicle was given a fresh coat of Olive Drab paint.
The repainted T69 at the National Armor and Cavalry Museum. First picture shows it in the red oxide, the second shows it in its new paint job. Photos: NACM and Rob Cogan
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||26’9″ x 11’7″ x 9’4″ ft.in (8.1m x 3.5m x 2.8m)|
|Total weight, battle ready||38 tons (76,000 lbs)|
|Crew||4 (commander, driver, loader, gunner)|
|Propulsion||Continental AOS 395 gasoline engine, (air-cooled six-cylinder supercharged 8.2-liter engine), 500 horsepower|
|Transmission||General Motors XT-500|
|Maximum speed||41 mph (66 km/h)|
|Suspensions||Torsion bars suspensions, shock absorbers|
|Armament||90mm Tank Gun T178
Sec: 1 x Browning M2HB .50 Cal. (12.7 mm) Heavy Machine Gun
+ 1 Browning M1919 .30 Cal. (7.62 mm) Machine Gun
|Armor||4 in (101.6 mm)|
|For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index|