This article deals with the history of the tank post World War II and Cold War.
- 1 Light tanks
- 2 Medium tanks
- 3 Heavy tanks
- 4 Main battle tanks
- 5 References
Light tanks[edit | edit source]
M24 Chaffee[edit | edit source]
Korean War[edit | edit source]
In the Korean War M24 Chaffees were the first U.S. tanks to fight the North Korean T-34-85s. The M24 fared poorly against these much better-armed and armored medium tanks. When the war began in June 1950, the four American infantry divisions on occupation duty in Japan had no medium tanks at all, having only one active tank company (equipped with M24 Chaffee light tanks) each. When these divisions were sent to Korea at the end of June 1950, they soon found that the 75 mm gun on the M24 could not penetrate the armor of North Korean T-34 tanks, which had no difficulty penetrating the M24's thin armor. M24s were more successful later in the war in their reconnaissance role, supported by heavier tanks such as the M4, M26, and M46.
M41 Walker Bulldog[edit | edit source]
The development of the T37 began in 1947 to replace the M24 Chaffee. The vehicle was designed to be air-transportable, and the heavier firepower, provided by an advanced 76 mm gun. In 1949, with the adoption of a less ambitious rangefinder, the project's designation was changed to M41. Production started in 1951 at Cadillac's Cleveland Tank Plant, and by 1953 the new tank completely replaced the M24 in the United States Army. It was later designated the M41 Walker Bulldog.
The M41 was an agile and well armed. On the other hand, it was noisy, fuel-hungry and heavy enough to cause problems with air transport.
Korean War[edit | edit source]
The Walker Bulldog saw limited combat with the U.S. Army during the Korean War, but for the most part, the conflict served as a testing ground to work out the tank's deficiencies, especially with its rangefinder. At the time, it was designated as the T-41, and was rushed to the battlefield even before its first test run. This was due to the fact that the North Koreans were supplied with Soviet T-34 tanks, which were superior to the M-24. By 1961, one hundred fifty were delivered to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force to supplement their Type 61 medium tanks.
T92[edit | edit source]
The main gun was a 76 mm cannon on a low profile turret. It had a crew of four with a semi-automatic loading system.
Study of the Soviet PT-76 led to a new swimming requirement for light tanks, for which the design could not be modified and thus the T-92 was never used.
M551 Sheridan[edit | edit source]
Plans started to build an even lighter replacement mounting the same gun, resulting in the T-71 and T-92 test designs. Two prototypes of the 19 ton T-92 were later ordered. However, as the prototypes were entering testing, information about the new Soviet PT-76 tank became available. The PT-76 was amphibious, and soon there were demands that any US light tank be able to swim as well. The T-92 was already in the prototype stage and could not be easily refitted for this role, so the design of an entirely new system started as the XM551.
The need for even lighter weight than the T-92 presented the design with a particularly difficult problem; guns capable of defeating modern tanks at reasonable ranges were so large that they demanded a large vehicle to carry them, so large that they couldn't really be used as a "light" tank. The use of HEAT rounds instead of conventional penetrating ammunition could address this, but HEAT rounds work better at larger calibers. Gun weight is typically the product of caliber and muzzle velocity, so in the case of the XM551 they sacrificed the muzzle velocity, producing the low-velocity but relatively large-caliber 152 mm M81. HEAT rounds fired by the M81 could defeat any contemporary tank at shorter ranges, but its low velocity made it difficult to use at longer ranges, especially against moving targets. The large low-velocity gun was also ideal for infantry support, where higher performance anti-tank guns would often fire right through soft targets and their small-caliber guns left little room for explosive filler. The M81 would thus be ideal for both direct fire support as well as short-distance anti-tank engagements.
The only niche where the M81 was not ideal was the medium and long-range anti-tank engagement. The muzzle velocity was so low that a HEAT round fired at longer ranges would have to be "lofted", making aiming difficult, and the flight time would be so long that a moving target would be very difficult to hit. However, it appeared there was a solution to this problem by equipping the tank with gun-fired anti-tank missiles. For longer range engagements a missile would be fired instead of a HEAT round, and although its velocity would also be relatively slow, the guidance system would make a hit highly likely anyway. A number of vehicles mounting only ATGM's, or alternately recoilless rifles like the US's own Ontos tank were already in service, but typically these vehicles had limited firepower in the infantry support role, or in the case of Ontos could not be reloaded from within the vehicle. The XM551 appeared to offer the best of both worlds; for infantry support the large caliber gun allowed it to fire full-sized artillery rounds and canister shot, while also giving it reasonable short-range anti-tank performance from the same gun. Although the Shillelagh missile was considered a risky project, if it worked the XM551 would be able to deal with even the largest tanks at extreme ranges.
The vehicle designed to mount the gun had a steel turret and aluminum hull. It was powered by a large diesel engine. The M551 thus had excellent mobility, able to run at speeds up to 45 mph, which at that time was unheard of for a tracked vehicle. Swimming capability was provided by a flotation screen. Production started on late July 1966, and entered service in June 1967. More than 1,600 M551s were built between 1966 and 1970. Total cost of the M551 program was $1.3 billion.
The vehicle proved to be very noisy and unreliable under combat conditions. The armor was thin enough that it could be penetrated even by heavy machine gun rounds as well as being highly vulnerable to mines.
Firing the gun would often adversely affect the delicate electronics, which were at the early stages of transitioning to solid state, so the missile and guidance system was omitted from vehicles deployed to Vietnam. Indeed, this missile would end up almost never being fired in danger, despite the production of 88,000 of the expensive missiles. The gun had problems with cracks developing near the breech after repeated firing. Most field units were modified to help address the problem and the modified M81E1 was introduced with a shallower slot, along with a matching modification to the missile, that cured the problem. The gun also has been criticized for having too much recoil for the vehicle weight, the second and even third road wheels coming clear off the ground when the main gun fired.
Vietnam War[edit | edit source]
The battle reports from the troops were sometimes glowing, while the reports higher up the chain of command were often negative. A 1969 evaluation of the vehicles found the M551 was employed in reconnaissance, night patrol and road clearing, accumulating 39,455 road miles and 520 combat missions, with a ready rate of 81.3 percent. Despite vulnerability to rockets and mines, it was judged worth applying modifications and equip all cavalry squadrons with the Sheridan.
The Sheridan was much appreciated by the infantry who were desperate for direct-fire support, which generally served in combination with ACAVs (M113s) as armored cavalry units consisted of both M113s and M551s as part of their TO&E. Armor units consisted solely of tanks (minus headquarters company) and Mechanized Infantry units consisted solely of M113s. In this role the real problem with the Sheridan was its limited ammunition load of only 20 rounds and 8 missiles (though M551s in Vietnam service were not equipped with missiles or their guidance equipment, increasing the basic load of conventional rounds).
A common field-modification was to mount a large steel shield, known as an "ACAV set" (Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle), around the commander's 50-cal. (12.7 mm) gun, allowing it to be fired with some level of protection. The driver has an unusual rotating hatch which has vision blocks when rotated forward. Included with the set was an extra layer of steel belly armor which was bolted onto the vehicle's bottom, although only covering from the front to half way to the end, possibly due to weight reasons.
A standard modification made during the mid-70's was the addition of the "Cereal Bowl" commander's copula. This mod came about due to the broken rib effect that occurred when the Sheridan fired conventional rounds, the recoil would pitch the TC against the armor plating resulting in cracked ribs.
Post-Vietnam[edit | edit source]
The Army began to phase out the Sheridan in 1978, although at the time there was no real replacement. Nevertheless the 82nd Airborne were able to keep them on until 1996. The Sheridan was the only air-deployable tank in the inventory, and as an elite force they had considerably more "pull" than general infantry and armor units who were forced to get rid of them. Their units were later upgraded to the M551A1 model, including a thermal sighting system for the commander and gunner.
The Sheridan's only air drop in combat occurred during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989, when fourteen M551's were deployed; four were transported by C-5 Galaxies and ten were dropped by air, but two Sheridans were destroyed upon landing. The Sheridans' performance received mixed reviews. They were lauded by their operators and some commanders as providing firepower in needed situations to destroy hard targets. However, the Sheridans' employment of only HEAT rounds limited their effectiveness against reinforced concrete construction.
51 Sheridans were deployed in the Gulf War as some of the first tanks sent. They would not be very effective against the Russian-built T-72s. Their role was limited by age and light armor to reconnaissance, possibly 6 or less Shillelagh missiles were fired at Iraqi bunkers, these fewer than a half-dozen missiles, were the only time that the Shillelagh had been fired in a combat environment, from the inventory of the aforementioned 88,000 missiles produced.
Several attempts to upgun or replace the Sheridan have been made over the years since it was introduced, but none have yet been successful. Several experimental versions of the Sheridan mounting a new turret carrying the NATO-standard 105 mm gun were made, but the resulting recoil was so great as to make the vehicle almost unusable. Several possible replacements for the M551 were tested as a part of the XM8 Armored Gun System effort of the 1980s, but none of these entered service. The Stryker Mobile Gun System has filled this role United States.
Expeditionary tank[edit | edit source]
In the late seventies Teledyne Vehicle Systems carried out several studies on a highly mobile light tracked vehicle, which could be used for a variety of tasks. The in-house trials lasted from 1980 to 1981. 1982, a detailed design had been decided on. The first prototype was completed in December 1983, the turret was completed mid-1984. In October of the year took place in the Nevada test center mobility and reliability testing, in April 1985 the chassis and turret were united. A month later, in May, was the overall in the U.S. Army Armor Conference at Fort Knox presented for the first time. A 1986 test firing took place. After the program had proved to be a complete success, it was discontinued.
M8 Armored Gun System[edit | edit source]
The tracked M8 Armored Gun System was conceived as a possible supplement for the Abrams in low-intensity conflict in the early 1990s. Prototypes were made but the program was canceled. The 8-wheeled M1128 Mobile Gun System replaced this project.
Medium tanks[edit | edit source]
M46 Patton[edit | edit source]
Korean war[edit | edit source]
The mobility of the M26 Pershing was deemed unsatisfactory for a medium tank, as it used the same engine that powered the much lighter M4 Sherman.
Work began in 1948 on replacing the power plant in the M26 Pershing. Modifications continued to accumulate, and eventually the Bureau of Ordnance decided that the tank needed its own unique designation. When the rebuild began in November, 1949, the upgraded M26 received a new power plant and a main gun with bore evacuator, and the M46 Patton designation. Less than a thousand were upgraded to M46 standard.
On 8 August 1950 the first M46 Pattons landed in South Korea. The tank proved superior to the much lighter North Korean T-34-85, which were encountered in relatively small numbers. By the end of 1950, 200 M46 Pattons had been fielded, forming about 15% of US tank strength in Korea; the balance of 1,326 tanks shipped to Korea during 1950 included 679 M4A3 Shermans, 309 M26 Pershings, and 138 M24 Chaffee light tanks. Subsequent shipments of M46 and M46A1 Pattons allowed all remaining M26 Pershings to be withdrawn during 1951, and most Sherman equipped units were also reequipped.
M47 Patton[edit | edit source]
Interwar[edit | edit source]
Although a new power plant corrected the mobility and reliability problems of the M26 Pershing, the subsequently renamed M46 was considered a stopgap solution that would be replaced later by the T42 medium tank. However, after fighting erupted in Korea, the Army decided it needed the new tank earlier than planned. The M47 Patton was the second tank of the Patton series, and one of the U.S Army's principal medium gun tanks of the Cold war. The tank belongs to the Patton family of tanks, named after General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. Third Army during World War II and one of the earliest American advocates for the use of tanks in battle. The M47 Patton was intended to replace the M46 Patton and M4 Sherman tanks.
It had a 90 mm gun and a crew of 5. The M47 was the U.S. Army and Marine Corps primary tank, intended to replace the M46 Patton and M4 Sherman tanks. Although roughly similar (from a distance) to the later M48s and M60s, these were completely new tank designs. Many different M47 Patton models remain in service internationally. The M47 was the last US tank to have a bow-mounted machine gun in the hull. Despite it being the primary tank of the US it never saw combat while in US service.
M48 Patton[edit | edit source]
In Early 1951, the U.S. initiated the design of the M48 Patton, designated the T-48 with a 90 mm cannon. The T48 featured a new turret, new redesigned hull and an improved suspension. The hull machine gunner position was removed, reducing the crew to 4. On 2 April 1953, the Ordnance Technical Committee Minutes (OTCM), standardized the last of the Patton series tanks as the M48 Patton.
Nearly 12,000 M48s were built from 1952 to 1959. The early designs, up to the M48A2, were powered by a gasoline 12-cylinder engine which was coupled with an auxiliary 8-cylinder engine. The gas engines gave the tank a short operating range and were prone to catching fire when hit. This version was considered unreliable.
Vietnam[edit | edit source]
The M48s saw extensive action during the Vietnam War, over 600 Pattons would be deployed with US Forces during the war. The initial M48s landed with the US Marines in 1965. Remaining Pattons deployed to South Vietnam were in three U.S. Army battalions, the 1-77th Armor near the DMZ, the 1-69th Armor in the Central Highlands, and the 2-34th Armor near the Mekong Delta. Each battalion consisted of approximately fifty seven tanks. M48s were also used by Armored Cavalry Squadrons in Vietnam, until replaced by M551 Sheridan tanks. The M67A1 flamethrower tank (nicknamed the Zippo) was an M48 variant used in Vietnam.
The M48 Patton has the distinction of playing a unique role in an event that was destined to radically alter the conduct of armored warfare. When US forces commenced redeployment operations, many of the M48A3 Pattons were turned over to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces, in particular creating the ARVN 20th Tank Regiment; which supplemented their M41 Walker Bulldog units. During the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Easter Offensive in 1972, tank clashes between NVA T-54/PT-76 and ARVN M48/M41 units became commonplace. But on 23 April 1972, tankers of the 20th Tank Regiment were attacked by an NVA infantry-tank team, which was equipped with the new 9M14M Malyutka (NATO designation: Sagger) wire guided anti-tank missile. During this battle, one M48A3 Patton tank and one M113 Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle (ACAV) were destroyed, becoming the first losses to the Sagger missile; losses that would echo on an even larger scale a year later during the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East in 1973.
The M48s performed admirably in Vietnam in the infantry-support role. However, there were few actual tank versus tank battles. The M48s provided adequate protection for its crew from small arms, mines, and rocket-propelled grenades.
In the mid-1970s, the M48A5 upgrade was developed to allow the vehicle to carry the heavier 105 mm gun. This was designed to bring the M48s up to speed with the M60 tanks then in regular use. Most of the M48s were placed into service with reserve units by this time. By the mid-1990s, the M48s were phased out.
T54[edit | edit source]
The T54 was a series of prototype tanks of the 1950s. Three tanks were built with different turrets and a 105 mm gun, were mounted on the M48 Patton chassis. The original T54 had a conventional turret with an autoloader, while the turret on T54E1 was of an oscillating design with an autoloader and the one on T54E2 was conventional with a human loader. The turret on T54E1 was similar to that of the T69 in its oscillating design and in that it held a crew of three and a nine-round drum autoloader under the gun. The T54E1 was abandoned in 1956 and in 1957 the entire project was cancelled in favor of the T95.
T95[edit | edit source]
The T95 was developed from 1955 to 1959. These tanks used many advanced or unusual features, such as siliceous-cored armor, the APFSDS-firing 90 mm T208 smoothbore gun in a rigid mounting without a recoil system, a new transmission, and the OPTAC fire-control system, which incorporated an electro-optical rangefinder on the turret.
Heavy tanks[edit | edit source]
M26 Pershing[edit | edit source]
Korea[edit | edit source]
The M26 Pershing saw service in the Korean War. When the war began in June 1950, the four American infantry divisions on occupation duty in Japan had no medium tanks, had only light tanks. These divisions were sent to Korea in June 1950 they found that the 75 mm gun on the light tanks could not penetrate the armor of North Korean T-34 tanks, which had no difficulty penetrating the tanks' thin armor. In a Tokyo ordnance depot, three Pershing tanks were found in poor condition; they were hastily rebuilt with improvised parts. These Pershings were formed into a provisional tank platoon and sent to Korea in July; used to defend the town of Chinju, the tanks soon lost mobility and were destroyed when the improvised parts failed, and the only three American medium tanks in Korea were lost.
More medium tanks began arriving in Korea at the end of July 1950. Although no armored divisions were sent because the initial response from battlefield commanders was that Korea was not suitable for tanks, six Army infantry divisions and one Marine division were deployed. Each Army infantry division have had one divisional tank battalion of 69 tanks, and each Army infantry regiment had a company of 22 tanks; the Marine division had a tank battalion of 70 gun tanks and nine combination flamethrower-howitzer tanks, and each Marine infantry regiment had an antitank platoon with five tanks each.
While tables of organization and equipment mandated that all tank platoon vehicles be Pershings, with howitzer tanks in company headquarters and light tanks in reconnaissance units only, some units had a shortfall that had to be filled with other tanks. The 70th Tank Battalion at Fort Knox Kentucky had pulled World War II memorial M26s off of pedestals and reconditioned them for use, but had to fill out two companies with M4A3s; the 72nd Tank Battalion at Fort Lewis Washington and the 73rd Tank Battalion at Fort Benning Georgia were fully equipped with M26s; the 89th Medium Tank Battalion was constituted in Japan with three companies of reconditioned M4A3s and one of M26s from various bases in the Pacific; due to the shortage of M26s, most regimental tank companies had M4 Shermans instead. Two battalions detached from the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood Texas, the 6th Medium and 64th Heavy Tank Battalions, were fully equipped with M46 Patton tanks. The 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton California had all M4 howitzer tanks, which were replaced with M26s just days before boarding ships for Korea. A total of 309 Pershings were rushed to Korea in 1950. The Pershing and its derivative M46 Patton were credited with almost half of the North Korean T-34s destroyed by US tanks.
M103 heavy tank[edit | edit source]
The M103 was manufactured at the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant and the first units were accepted in 1957.
The M103 was designed to counter Soviet heavies. Its long-ranged 120 mm cannon was designed to hit enemy tanks at extreme distances, but it was never used in combat. Of the 300 M103s built, Most went to the Marines. The tank was relatively underpowered and the drive systems were fragile.
The turret of the M103 was larger than that of the M48 or the M60 to make room for the huge 120 mm gun and the two loaders assigned to it, in addition to the gunner and the commander. The driver sat in the hull. The gun was capable of elevation from +15 to -8 degrees.
While the US Army deactivated its heavy armor units with the reception of the new M60 series main battle tanks in 1960, the remaining M103s stayed within the US Marine Corps inventory until they began receiving the M60 series MBT. With the disappearance of the heavy tank from US forces came the full acceptance of the main battle tank in 1960 for the US Army, and 1973 for the US Marine Corps.
Main battle tanks[edit | edit source]
M60 Patton[edit | edit source]
M60[edit | edit source]
In 1957, plans were laid in the US for a tank with a 105 mm main gun and a redesigned hull offering better armor protection.
The resulting M60 largely resembled the M48 it was based on, but has significant differences. The M60 mounted a bore evacuated 105 mm main gun, had a hull with a straight front slope whereas the M48's hull was rounded, had three support rollers per side to the M48's five, and had road wheels constructed from aluminum rather than steel.
The hull of the M60 was a single piece steel casting divided into three compartments, with the driver in front, fighting compartment in the middle and engine at the rear. The driver looked through three M27 day periscopes, one of which could be replaced by a night vision periscope. Initially, the M60 had essentially the same turret shape as the M48, but this was subsequently replaced with a distinctive "needlenose" design that minimized frontal cross-section to enemy fire.
The M60 was the last U.S. main battle tank to utilize homogeneous steel armor for protection. It was also the last to feature either the M60 machine gun or an escape hatch under the hull.
Originally designated the M68, the new vehicle was put into production in 1959, reclassified as the M60, and entered service in 1960. Over 15,000 M60s (all variants) were constructed.
M60A1[edit | edit source]
In 1963, the M60 was upgraded to the M60A1. This new variant, which stayed in production until 1980, featured a larger, better-shaped turret and improvements to the armor protection and shock absorbers. The M60A1 was also equipped with a stabilization system for the main gun. However, the M60A1 was still not able to fire on the move, as the system only kept the gun pointed in the same general direction while the tank was traveling cross country. It did however enable the coaxial machine gun to be brought to bear while moving.
M60A2[edit | edit source]
The M60A2, nicknamed the "Starship" due to its Space Age technology, featured an entirely new low-profile turret with a commander's machine-gun cupola on top, giving the commander a good view and field of fire while under armor but spoiling the low profile. It also featured a 152 mm cannon, which fired conventional rounds as well as guided missiles.
The M60A2 proved a disappointment, though technical advancements would pave the way for future tanks. The Shillelagh/M60A2 system was phased out from active units by 1981, and the turrets scrapped. Most of the M60A2 tanks were rebuilt as M60A3.
M60A3[edit | edit source]
In 1978, work began on the M60A3 variant. It featured a number of technological enhancements, including smoke dischargers, a new rangefinder, and M21 ballistic computer, and a turret stabilization system. Perhaps the most impressive addition to the A3 variant was the Tank Thermal Sight (TTS), which dramatically improved the gunner's night vision enabling the M60A3 to become a greater threat in darkness or inclement weather. In addition it reverted to the 105 mm mm cannon. All active American M60s eventually underwent the conversion to the A3 model.
The M60A3 was phased out of US service in 1997.
MBT-70 and XM803[edit | edit source]
The MBT-70 was a 1960s joint German -U.S.-project to develop a replacement for the M60 Patton using a number of advanced design features. It used a kneeling suspension, housed the entire crew in the turret, and the American version incorporated a gun-fired missile.
By 1969 the MBT-70 cost five times what was projected, at $1 million a unit ($6.43 million in present-day terms). Germany backed out of the project, and restarted development of what would become the Leopard 2. At this point Congress also began objecting to the rapidly increasing price, to which the Army responded by introducing a lower-cost system based on the same design, known as the XM803. This succeeded only in producing an expensive system with capabilities similar to the M60 it was supposed to replace.
M1 Abrams[edit | edit source]
Congress redistributed funds from the MBT-70 and XM803 to the new XM815. This project was later renamed XM1.
Prototypes were delivered in 1976 by Chrysler Defense and General Motors armed with a 105 mm rifled cannon. The Chrysler Defense design was selected for development as the M1. In 1979, General Dynamics Land Systems Division purchased Chrysler Defense.
The M1 was the first of its kind. It feature a low profile turret and for the first time ever on a tank, composite chobham armor. Despite all these advances, the Abrams still retained the 4-man crew of the M60 Patton as the autoloader was considered unproven and risky.
Over 3200 M1 Abrams were produced and first entered US Army service in 1980.
As the Abrams entered service in the 1980s, they would operate alongside M60A3 Patton. These exercises usually took place in Western Europe, especially West Germany, but also in some other countries like South Korea. During such training, Abrams crews honed their skills for use against the Soviet Union. However, by 1991 the USSR had collapsed and the Abrams would have its trial by fire in the Middle East.
References[edit | edit source]
-  Washer evaluation 1969.
- Doyle, p. 44, 46
- Doyle, p. 4
- Steven J. Zaloga "M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943–1953" ISBN 1-84176-202-4 pp.39-40
- Donald W Boose Jr."US Army Forces in the Korean War 1950-53" ISBN 1-84176-621-6 pp.52,75-86
- Hunnicutt/p. 85 & 152
- Ogorkiewicz, Richard M (1991). Technology of Tanks. Jane's Information Group Limited. pp. 48, 391. ISBN 0-7106-0595-1.
- Jim Mesko "Pershing/Patton in action" ISBN 0-89747-442-2 p. 24.
- Donald W. Boose, Jr. "US Army Forces in the Korean War 1950-53" ISBN 1-84176-621-6 p. 56.
- Steven J. Zaloga "M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943–1953" ISBN 1-84176-202-4 pp. 36-40.
- Zaloga p. 40.
- Boose Jr., pp. 75-81.
- Hunnicutt[page needed]
- Patton Mania M60
- Development and History of the M-60 tank
- Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
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