Light, medium & heavy tanks, armored cars

Up to 300,000+ AFVs by September 1945


At the end of WW1, the US Expeditionary Force was given some 144 Renault FT French tanks, and a licence for production in the US, as the M1917 tank. But production organisation took time, and only a few were shipped to France and were operational before the capitulation. Nevertheless, this new weapon proved its ground. Embryos of the Tank Force, the Tank Corps in France and the Tank Service in USA were set, the first by Samuel Rockenbach, assisted by Georges S. Patton, the second headed by Ira Clinton Welborn, assisted by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Patton had already gained some experience, directing a squadron of three armored cars during the punitive expedition sent against Pancho Villa’s insurrection. At the end of the war, one of these units, the 301st Heavy Tank Battalion, was equipped with British Tanks Mk.IV-V. This led to a cooperation on a new design, which ultimately led to the Liberty (Mk.VIII) tank.
Along with lighter M1917 tanks, they formed the core of US Tank Force during the twenties. Georges S. Patton and Dwight Eisenhower played a great role in formulating tactical doctrines and organisation.

US tank development in the interwar

The Tank Service retained the Mark VIII Liberty and M1917, with no intermediate medium model, until 1928, when a new directive was issued for a medium tank, and a new light model, usable by cavalry. At the same time, William B. Christie, an American car engineer, devised a new, revolutionary tank suspension system, with a dual purpose train, allowing the vehicle to also run without its tracks. However, his project, quickly dubbed the “flying tank”, was never produced in the US but as a prototype, because it never fulfilled all the requirements of the Army and US Marine Corps. However, the design was not lost and served as a basis for many successful models abroad, in Great Britain (the Cruiser tanks) and Soviet Union (BT series and the T-34).

However the official bureau of ordnance delegated to the design bureau of the Mississippi’s Rock Island Arsenal (between Iowa and Illinois), which designed produced and tested tanks for the US Army. Not only it produced the Liberty Mark VIII tanks in 1919-1920, but also artillery, gun mounts, recoil mechanisms, small arms, aircraft weapons sub-systems, grenade launchers, weapons simulators… outside tanks.
(To be continued)

ww2 US Tanks Nomenclature and production:

Light tanks

M2A4 at Guadalcanal

The M2s were the operational US light tanks at the beginning of the war. The M2A4 was the sole among the four types which actually took part in combat, especially in the Pacific (like here, at Guadalcanal) with the USMC. It was removed from active duty in 1943. All the others, the pre-series M2A1, the M2A2 “duplex turret” or “Mae West”, and upgraded M2A3, were kept for training in USA.

M1 Combat Car

113 built. This early development, along with the M2, was the basis of the M3-M5 “Stuart” lineage, which formed the backbone of US light tanks. The M1A2 was upgraded with a 37 mm (1.46 in) gun in1940.


700 built in four variants. Closely related to the M1A2, the most produced version was the M2A4, which saw service in the Pacific and Africa, before being replaced by the mass-produced M3.

M3 Stuart

13860 built. The M3 was a replacement for the M2, and was mass-produced, forming the core of the US light tanks during WW2.

M5 Stuart

8885 built. Based on the M3A3 with a modified hull and new Cadillac engine and transmission. Armor was reinforced, but the armament did not evolve.

M24 Chaffee

4731 built (and 720+ variants) Last WWII US light tank developed, it was better armored and armed, serving from 1944-45 until the late seventies.

Medium tanks

M2 medium tank

112 built. With the M2A1 wartime production series, this was the earliest US medium tank in service, in 1939. They were retained in the homeland as training machines.

M3 Lee/Grant

3258 built. This long awaited model entered service as fast as possible with British units fighting in North Africa, through Lend-Lease. It was phased out in 1942, but served until 1945 in Asia. It was mobile, well armed and protected, but the high silhouette and sponson main gun were serious flaws. It was a transition model.

M4 Sherman

49,234 built. This mythical machine replaced the Lee/Grant and remains the most prolific tank of the western world. But it was a compromise and has some flaws as well, especially when facing German late tanks of 1943-45.

Heavy tanks

As pragmatic planners, the US military never seriously envisioned heavyweight breakthrough machines, as tanks were traditionally attached to the cavalry. Speed and easy production were the main concerns at the start of WW2, but after war experience in Europe the need for more penetrating power and increased protection came, advocating for all-better medium tanks, specialized tank-hunters and ultimately to the first wartime US heavy tank. The only U.S. Army super-heavy tank ever produced, was the experimental T28.

M6 Heavy Tank

40 built in 1941. Considered obsolete by 1944, they never left home, serving as training machines, for propaganda movies and war bond shows.

M26 Pershing

Around 2000 built. Only 20 were deployed in Germany a few weeks before the end of the war. The development of this tanks started in 1942, but delays and modifications delayed the production until December 1944. It was well protected and fitted with a 90 mm (3.54 in). It was the base for Cold War US tank development, including the early T29 and T30.

T28 super-heavy tank

Two built. Experimental machine fitted with a very long barrel 105 mm (4.13 in) gun, in order to deal with the most formidable German tanks in the western European theater. The first was ready when the war ended. The second was scrapped in 1947.

Tank destroyers

War experience quickly showed the limitations of the Sherman when facing German armor, as early as the Tunisian campaign. This was epitomized both in Italy (after Italy surrendered) and in France (after D-Day). The main limitation was the lack of range and penetrating power of the regular 75 mm (2.95 in) Sherman main gun. The obvious solution was to choose the British 17-pdr (76.2 mm/3 in) (which was added later to the Sherman Firefly), and to develop a new vehicle based around this gun and especially designed as a tank-hunter.

M10 Wolverine

6706 built. Ordnance “3-inch Gun Motor Carriage, M10”. Based on a Sherman chassis and drivetrain, with an open top turret fitted with a high velocity M7 76 mm (3 in)

M36 Jackson

1772 built, between 1943-45. Fitted with the 90 mm (3.54 in) M3 high velocity gun, a very effective solution, one of the few fit to deal with German armor in 1944.

M18 Hellcat

2507 built between 1943-45. Conceived from scratch, with its new suspension and powerful drivetrain, it was lightning fast and fitted with the effective 76 mm (3 in) M1A2 AT gun.

Gun Motor Carriages

This part does not includes M3 half-track GMC versions; HMC tanks only.

M8 Scott

1778 built. M5 based GMC fitted with a 75 mm (2.95 in) short barrel howitzer.

M7 Priest

3490 built, between 1943-45. Fitted with the 105 mm (4.13 in) M1/M2 howitzer, its tall silhouette earned this model the nickname “Priest”.

Armored scouts & transports

M1 Armoured car

12 built (1931) by Cunningham and Rock Island Arsenal. Largely test vehicles used by the Cavalry Corps.

The White company produced three models in vast quantities, carrying troops, guns, and all kinds of derivatives, including tank destroyers, GMCs and AA support vehicles.

M3 Scout car

20,918 built. Main US heavy scout car. Was armed with 30 cal. (7.62 mm) and 50 cal. (12.7 mm) machine-guns.

M2 half-track

13,500 built (+3500 M9 Lend-Lease versions). Was used for towing the 105 mm (4.13 in) howitzer and its crew.

M3 half-track

43,000 built. Standard armored troop transport of the US Army and USMC. Up to 28 sub-versions and adaptations.

M8 Greyhound

8523 built. Standard issue 6WD armored scout car.

Christie T3E2 prototype in testings. It was one of the last of a whole lineage of cavalry (convertible) tanks.

Convertible Combat Car T7. An early attempt in 1937-38 to develop a convertible tank in the idea first approached by Walter Christie in 1928-29. Despite some interesting characteristics the US Army decided to develop its own slower, but more sturdy and better protected type. The Christies were just too extreme for the military thinking of the day.

M1 Combat Car

The M1 Combat Car, the first modern tank in US service, came into production in 1937. By 1941, they were all serving as training machines.

After the M1 Combat Car, the M2 was the first model available in numbers when the war began in 1939. They existed in several variants.
Here a M2A2 “Mae West” twin turret on display at the Fort Knox museum.

M2A3 light tank at the Army Day Parade in 1939.

M2A4 light tanks being prepared for delivery in Great Britain. The M4A4 saw action in the desert with British Forces and the Philippines and Guadalcanal.

Marmon Herriginton CTLS in Surabaya, in service with the KNIL (Dutch East Indies Army), 1942. Marmon-Herrington was one of the rare private companies developing tanks chiefly for export (although the USMC tested and bough some). The first customer was the KNIL.

Marmon-Herrington CTLS in Alaska, 1942, some of the rare actions ever performed by these tanks for the USMC.

M3 Stuart training at Fort Knox Kentucky. The M3 was the first truly mass-produced wartime American Tank. With its 4-6 machine guns and 37 mm main gun it was still up to the job in 1941.

M3A3 Stuart passing by Coutances, Normandy, France, summer 1944. M3A1,A2,A3s were produced until replacement in 1942-43 by the M5.

Chinese M3A3 Stuart on the road of Ledo, 1944.

M5A1 Stuart
The M5 Stuarts built by Cadillac were the workhorses of the US military light tank force in 1943-44.

M22 Locust light tank at Bovington. Also produced by Marmon-Herrington it was the only model mass-produced for the Army, tailored to fit inside a heavy duty glider for airborne operations. Unfortunately too many compromises led inevitably to a tank which was desperately outmatched by everything the Germans had.

US M24 Chaffee light tank on display at Fort Lewis. This light and inaugurated a brand new design, improved in any directions and which saw service until the 1960s and even 1980s in many countries worldwide.

M2A1 medium tank

The M2 medium tank was the first of its kind in the USA. Only 112 were produced by the Rock Island Arsenal, but they were seen as obsolete by 1941 and phased out as training tanks for the duration of the war. They never left the territory.

M3 Lee

The M3 Lee (Grant in British/Commonwealth service) were the first medium tanks largely available to the Allies and USA during the first part of the war, from 1941 to 1943. The British used them extensively against Rommel’s forces in Africa, and they served well in several Asian and Pacific campaigns, until 1945. On the western theater they were replaced by the M4 Sherman by 1943.

M3 Medium tank front view

M4 Sherman

The M4 Sherman was the most prolific and best all-around tank the US industry could offer in 1942. The full force of the USA’s production capabilities became obvious in late 1943, when swarms of M4s were seen in action with the US Army, USMC, British and Commonwealth forces, fighting until the end of the war. A legend in itself, with many variants and countless derivatives, and a career which spans decades into the Cold War.

M4A3R3 Ronson flamethrower tank in Iwo Jima.

The T28 super-heavy tank was the only one of the kind ever built in the United States, at Pacific Car and Foundry. With 95 tons it was indeed super heavy, originally designed to carry an exceptional gun, the 105 mm T5E1. However it was given a Ford GAF V-8 500 hp (372 kW) barely capable to move it, at 8 mph on a good road (that can support its weight). Quite a mobile blockhouse with 300 mm of armour on the glacis and mantlet it was impregnable not only to the German 88 L71 and 128 mm, but also potentially the Soviet 120 mm. To lower ground pressure, it had double tracks, with four 2×4 double roadwheels suspended on two sets of HVSS (horizontal volute spring). Autonomy was limited to 100 miles, and it was not compatible with any known railway carriage. it was tested until October 1947, when the project was terminated. Only one prototype, rediscovered in 1972 at Fort Belvoir, was transferred to the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor in Kentucky where it can be found today.

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