Medium Tank - USA. 6258 built 1941-42.
A Lend-Lease Stopgap Tank :If the Lee/Grant never get the fame od the Sherman, it was due to its very roots and the role it played during the war. Born as a replacement for the unsuccessfull M2 Medium Tank (1938) which never left the american soil, the M3 was designed and equipped in a rush. When war broke out in Europe in 1939, USA was far from ready to enter the fray. Its tank design was evolving through a peacetime, post-crisis context, and tactical thinking was inherited from ww1. 400 tanks were available then, mostly light M2 models. The result of the blitzkrieg in France came like a real surprise and immediately trigerred a complete re-thinking of tanks design. Shortly after the battle of Britain was over, war was raging in North Africa. The British industry was not able then to deliver enough tanks to defend both homeland and the empire, and notably its vital crossing points, like the Suez Canal. As the lend-lease act was passed, on march, 11, 1941, President Roosevelt famously declared that USA should become the "arsenal of democracy". And the M3 Lee quickly turned into its most tangible symbol.
Design of the M3 - The "Iron cathedral"The M3 design began in july 1940 as a derivative of the T5, the T5 E2. By then, the M4 Sherman, a 75mm armed medium tank, was already sheduled for production but many features like the full rotating turret design, were far from ready and industrial capacility not mature enough for the required production. The T5 design came as an interim, quickly designed and quickly built model. The urge in design was then backed both on US Army needs and United Kingdom's demand for 3,650 medium tanks (by then a British proposal for US-built Crusaders and Matilda was rejected). It was basically a scaled up M2, with better armour, a much higher and wider hull to mount an offset 75mm gun in a traverse sponson on the right side. The intital plans called for a full traverse turret equipped with a single AA cal.30. The 75mm was meant to deal both with static ground targets and other tanks with armor-piercing projectiles and good velocity, but the 37mm was still favoured in this role. High explosive shells were carried as well. An upper cupola was initially designed to house a cal.30 Mg., giving this model its so cartoonish, caricatural appearance, bristling with guns in turrets and sponsons like a battleship. As customary for US tanks by that time, secondary armament comprised between three and height cal.30 model 1919 machine-guns. The tracks, suspensions systems, road wheels, return rollers, were all borrowed from the M2 to ease production. The main difference was a three bogie train and redesigned suspensions.
A M3A1 Lee (wielded, smoother hull model). These models seemed to have been too costly to cast (like the almost one-piece cast hull) be built en masse then. Progresses would be made preceding the M4 production. Production reverted back to sharp hull models, usually riveted. The advantage of a wielded hull was of course the theoretical time-saving assembly and less added material, meaning less weight. Both M3A2 and M3A3 reverted back to a wielded sharp angles hull.
Large and roomy, the M3 accomodated a large transmission, running through the crew compartment. It was served by a synchromesh, 5 speeds forward, 1 reverse, gearbox, and steering was obtained by differential braking. The vertical volute suspension incorporated a self-contained return roller, which was no longer fixed to the hull. This feature was meant for easier maintenance and repair. The turret was geared by an electro-hydraulic system, powered by the main engine as well as the pressure for the main gun stabilizer, and the turret could make a full traverse in less than 15 sec. The main gun was operated by a loader and gunner (with a spade grip), and targeting assumed by a M1 telescope, mounted right upon the sponson roof. Maximal range was 2700m (3000yd). The M2 telescope served the secondary gun which had a maximum range was 1400m (1500yd). This 37mm gun was manned by geared handwheels for traverse and elevation. Normal provision was 46 rounds for the 75mm, 178 for the 37mm and 9200 for the machine-guns. Maximum configuration included an upper turret and lower coaxial Mg, a commander cupola Mg, a rear external AA mounting for a single M1919 A4 and even four hull machine-guns in sponson fitted on the four corners of the superstructure. In practice, they were rarely seen. The powerplant was an aircraft based-design Wright Continental, with high-octane gasoline, air cooled, which was also a perfect choice for a speed-up production, as no dedicated engine powerful enough was available then. The upwards position of the transmission, not helped by the tall engine, which sat high on the rear part of the hull, forced the entire casemate to be raised. The overall design was incredibly tall, 10 feet high, which later appeared perhaps as its major drawback on the battlefield. The germans even nicknamed the M3 a "splendid target", and the Americans the "iron cathedral".
The British order :The M3 was not the initial choice of the British commission. The wooden mockup was built when the first plans were ready, and presented in 1940. Several flaws immedialtely appeared, among them, a high profile, sponson gun, riveted hull, unsufficient armour, and a hull mounted radio. But as production was scheduled to start quickly after the final prototype was ready in sufficient number, and hoping for improvements on later versions, an initial order for 1250 M3 was placed for a total 240M dollars, and the production shared between three US companies, Pressed Steel Car, Pullman, and Baldwin, which specifically built the British models (soon called "Grant", from the famous Union general), and US models (called "Lee" from his famous confederate antagonist) by Chrysler Detroit Tank Arsenal, and American Locomotive (ALCO) at Schenectady, New York. The turrets were cast by Union, General Steel Casting, ASF and Continental. This explains why there were so many differing details within the two main versions -M3 and M3A1- and the British and US models. The British prototype was ready by March 1941. It included a distinctive turret back bustle to accomodate a Wireless Set No. 19 radio, stronger armour and no machine-gun cupola, replaced by a simple hatch. The armour increase was not previously planned but introduced soon as reports over german antitank reports were available. The initial crew indluded a driver, commander, gunner and loader, upper gunner, a machine-gun servant and a radio. The British model did'nt included the radio operator. Later, the US crew were also reduced to six and even five by 1942, as the radio operator became also a gunner.
Production from the M3A1 to the M3A5:Ready as it was for mass-production, the M3 seen a first batch of 4724 units (named M3), starting from mid-1941, and a second of 1334 until december 1942, named M3A1 (Lee II in British service), to M3A5. The M3A1 featured a cast wielded, rounded hull, with a low profile turret and slightly thicker armour. Only 300 M3A1 were built, followed by the M3A2 (Lee III) with also a wielded but sharp angled hull, only produced in 12 units. The M3A3 (also called Lee IV and V), featured a wielded hull, a pair of GM 6-71 diesels, and fixed or supressed side doors (322 units). The M3A4 (Lee VI) had a stretched wielded hull, and a new Chrysler A57 multibank engine (a strange assembly of five 6-cyl L-head car engines mated to a common crankshaft, boasting a final 21 liters for 470bhp and a lot of torque). This was well-appreciated to move the tank properly (The initial model was critized for beeing underpowered). Only 109 of these M3A4 were built. The last production (591 units), mostly fielded to the British army, was the M3A5, equipped with the twin GM 6-71 diesels, but also with a riveted hull and Lee turret. Strangely they were called "Grant II" in British service. Due to the many contractors involved, notably the cast turret foundries, these variants even showed further variety in the shape of the hull, turret and details, notably due to different cast procedures.
M3 Variants :The M3 as a basis for further developments was incredibly successful. Not only it allowed the next, long awaited generation M4 Sherman to be designed and produced faster thanks to the many parts it shared with the M3, but the same basis served also for the Canadian Ram tank, the 105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M7, better knowned as the M7 Priest, 155mm Gun Motor Carriage M12, the Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier, and the Sexton Mk.I self propelled gun. Many were also converted as recovery tanks : The model M31 (also called Grant ARV in British service), and the M31B1 and M31B2, based respectively on M3A3/A5 versions. The M31 was fitted with a dummy gun and turret, a crane and a towing apparatus with a 27 ton (60 000ib) winch installed. The M33 Prime Mover was a conversion of former towing versions as artillery tractor (109 units by 1943-44).
The British variants were the Grant ARV, an armoured recovery vehicle obtained from disarmed Grants Mk.I and Mk.II, the Grant Command, equipped with map table, extra radio, and dummy guns; the Grant Scorpion III, a mine-cleaning vehicle equipped with the scorpion III flail, and its variant the scorpion IV; and eventually the Grant CDL, which stands for "Canal Defence Light", featuring a powerful searchlight and a machine gun. 355 were produced in all, which were also registered in US army service as the "Shop tractor T10". A single Australian reconversion (800 has been transferred by 1942) was the BARV, a beach recovery vehicle, which used the M3 chassis. Probably the latest of these versions was the Australian Yeramba Self Propelled Gun, 12 units adapted from the M3A5 in 1949.
An American M3 and crew posing at Souk-Al-Abra, Tunisia, november, 23, 1943.
The M3 in action :With a production running only one year and a half and an obsolete, awkward design, the M3 was not supposed to be a frontline tank during the entire lenght of the conflict. But it nevertheless saw service until the very end, thanks to some qualities and reaffectation in more suitable campaign theaters, and reconversions to other duties. The British, although reluctant, pushed for it since it was the only model suitable for instant mass-production, and it became the warhorse of the British VIIIth army by 1941-42, especially during the worst period of the campaign. Although the high silhouette and main gun position were despised, the Lee/Grant was reliable, very sturdy, has a good armour and overall, generous firepower. Through lend-lease, 2,855 units were sold to the British and 1396 were supplied to USSR.
The British M3 in combat :First engagement came with the disastrous battle of Gazala, wich did not diminished however the role played by these tanks (at that time, the main British design, the Crusader, only had a 37mm and minimal armor). Grants and Lees were well-used, in each major engagement of the African campaign, from El Alamein to the end of the Tunisian campaign, in mid 1943. By then, upgunned Panzer III and IV proved deadly and the M3 has been gradually replaced by more capable Shermans and British design armed with the QF 6 pounder. Since they had battle reports over the M3 throughout mid-1942 to november, when the first US forces arrived in Arica, most variants (A1 to A5) were attributed to British requirements... British M3s were sent to the India/Burma theater as soon as they received the new M4 Sherman. About 1700 transferred units gave excellent account of themselves during all the campaign, from 1943 to 1945. 800 were taken in account by Australian forces, and 900 by Indian forces. They formed the bulk of the Fourteenth Army (with Indian crews), with battle honor such as the fall of Rangoon, the battle of Imphal (where they proved to be pivotal in this task), were they battered out the Imperial Japanese Army's 14th Tank Regiment.
The US Army M3 in combat :US Forces m3 baptism of fire came during operation Torch, under light opposition from Vichy french forces, but they were more heavily tested during the race for Tunis in december, and the battle of Kasserine Pass. By then, only one operational unit was equipped with M3s : The 2/13th Armored Regiment of the 1st Armored Division. The last surviving units has been replaced by M4s at the beginning of 1943. Ironically, many depleted units equipped with M4 were reequipped with M3s, notably the 3/13th Armored regiment. The other unit entirely equipped with M3s was the 751st Tank Battalion of the 34th Infantry Division. By the time of Operation Husky (campaign of Sicily), the M3 was still in use by these units, but once again, the losses were replaced by M4s, and by mid-1943, all M3s of this sector has been phased out from active units.
In the pacific theater, a single unit equipped with M3, the 193rd Tank Battalion, deployed its M3A5 fitted with wading gear in Butaritari, part of Makin atoll (Gilberts Islands), in november 1943, for infantry support against pillboxes and the rare Japanese light tanks encountered. None was ever used by the US Marine corp. In march 1944, US army ordnance declared the M3 obsolete. Most M3s were converted to other uses, cannibalised for spare parts, affected to drilling center units... For its odd-looking appearance, the M3 was shown in movies like 1943's Sahara, starring Humphrey Bogart, and in its remake in 1992, and in 1979 in Spieleberg's 1941. Perhaps 50 has survived until today in various museums and private collections, including a dozen in running conditions.
A Grant I painted in the El Alamein VIIIth army style, november 1942, at Bovington.
The Soviet M3s in combat :Part of the lend-lease plan, a shipment of 1300+ M3A3 and M3A5 (diesel versions) was convoyed to Mourmansk and put in operations by soviet armoured brigades, notably around leningrad and stalingrad. But they quickly felt this model was not a winner and after one year of hard fighting, the surviving ones (infamously called "collective grave for six people") were retired from front-line operations and shipped to quieter or less well-defended sectors, like the Arctic front. There, they took part in the Lista and Petsamo-Kirkenes offensives where they encountered second-rate german tanks, mostly former French captured models. Some M3s were also captured by the Wehrmacht in 1942, and served as Panzerkampfwagen M3(r).
M3 Lee/Grant linksThe M3 Lee/grant history on Wikipedia
For modellers, by Steve Zaloga...
M3 Lee, early production model, belonging to the thirteenth armoured regiment, belonging to the first armoured division, attached to the first infantry division (the "big red one"). North Africa, Souk El-Abra, november 1942. Many M3 has been part of Operation Torch. It was then the main US medium tank.
M3 Lee number three "Kentucky", belonging to the F Company, 2nd US tank bataillon, 13th armored regiment attached to the first armoured division, Oran, december 1942. Notice the early initial long caliber model. The muzzle blast has tendencies to provoke excessive vibrations inside the hull.
M3 Lee "Jack Sharkey" of the first Company, 13th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division - Tunisia, august 1943. The muzzle brake and shorter caliber correctly fixed the initial problem of the blast. Later on, new short calibers appeared, notably on Grant models.
M3 Lee of the F Company, 12th bataillon, third regiment of the first Armored Division - Tunisia, february 1943. The camouflage was an attempt of "razzle-dazzle" for desert warfare.
M3A2 Lee of the 13th Armored Division in Tunisia, january 1943. The improvised camouflage was made of irregular spots of soft sand mixed with adhesive paint over factory olive drab.
M3A1 Lee of the Armored Force School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, 1942.
M3A3 Lee, Lend-lease disesel version, unknown unit, Leningrad front, october 1943. Grafito : "Za Rodinu", "For the motherland".
M3A5 Lee 241st armoured brigade, Stalingrad sector, october 1942.
M3A5 Lee in Burma, C Squadron, 3rd Carabiniers regiment.
M3A3 (Lee IV), unknown unit, First Battle of El Alamein, June 1942.
Grant Mk.I (based on M3), Eight Army, Gazala, june 1942.
Grant Mk.I, unknown unit, VIIIth army, Egypt, may 1942. Note the tri-tone camouflage.
Grant Mk.I, VIIIth army, Gazala, june 1942. The camouflage was a classical spotted pattern bordered by white.
Grant Mk.II (based on the diesel M3A5), Eight Army, El Alamein (second battle), november 1942. The camouflage is another similar pattern with khaki variant and blackened borders for accentuated contrast.
M3 LEE converted as Canal Defence light (CDL), with projector. The upper turret was replaced by an armoured searchlight, and bears a dummy gun. Thy have been based around belgian canals in 1944, but never had the occasion to fight on.
A T3 ARV (Armored Recovery Vehicle), converted from the M3 Lee, using the turret ring to hold the rig and crane apparatus. A dummy gun was wielded on it. This vehicle is part of the Free French 2nd Armored Division (General De Lattre de Tassigny), operating in France by august 1944 (following Anvil Dragoon landings in provence).