M2 Light Tank
The Light Tank M2 was an American pre-World War II light tank equipped with 1 37 mm (1.5 in) gun, 1 .50 M2 Browning machine gun, and 5 .30 cal M1919 Browning machine guns, which saw combat with the US Marine Corps 1st Tank Battalion on Guadalcanal in 1942, during World War II. Its service with the 1st Tank Battalion during the Pacific War was its only U.S. combat use during the war; however, it is believed that M2A4s served in Burma and India with the British 7th Hussars and 2nd Royal Tank Regiment during their engagements with the Imperial Japanese Army's 14th Tank Regiment. The M2A4 was the immediate predecessor of the M3 Stuart series of light tanks which saw widespread use throughout the war, and the M2 Medium Tank an unsuccessful design that led to the M3 Lee and M4 Sherman medium tanks.
The M2A4 Light Tank's specifications are similar to those of the M3 Stuart tank. The vehicle is 4.43 m (14 ft 6 in) long, 2.47 m (8 ft 1 in) wide, 2.65 m (8 ft 8 in) high, and weighed 11.6 tons. It had a vertical volute spring suspension and had , had a speed of 58 km/h (36 mph), and had a range of 320 km (200 mi). It had two 37 mmm guns, 2 .50 cal M2 Browning guns and 5 .30 cal M1919 machine guns with 6 to 25 mm of armor. It had an 250 hp (190 kW) Continental W-670 9A 7 cylinder engine operated by a crew of 4.
The pilot T2 light tank was built and designed by the Rock Island Arsenal in 1933. It had a simple box-like hull with rear-mounted engine and drive to the front sprockets. These features were inherited from the later T1 series experimental tanks, but the suspension was copied from the Vickers 6-ton tank which had been demonstrated in America. Comparative trials with the contemporary T5 Combat Car showed, however, that the vertical volute spring suspension of that vehicle was much superior to the Vickers leaf spring suspension. Vertical volute springs was fitted in a second prototype, the T2E1, produced after the trial in April 1934. The armament of the T2E1 was one .30 cal and one .50 inch (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns mounted in a single fixed turret nearly the whole width of the hull, with another .30 cal Browning mounted on the hull front.
As the Light Tank T2E1, the M2 was developed in 1935 by Rock Island Arsenal for the infantry branch of the U.S. Army. The design coming from the earlier T1 and T2 was somewhat inspired by the British Vickers 6-ton tank which was widely exported. Its main weapon was a single 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) M2 Browning heavy machine gun installed in a small one-man turret. After only 10 units were delivered, the Infantry branch decided to switch to a twin turret configuration, with a .30-caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun in the second turret. These early twin-turret tanks were given the nickname "Mae West" by the troops, after the popular busty movie star. The twin-turret layout was inefficient, but was a common feature of 1930s light tanks derived from the Vickers, such as the Soviet T-26 and Polish 7TP.
Following the Spanish Civil War, most armies, including the U.S. Army, realized that they needed tanks armed with cannon and not merely with machine guns. The Cavalry branch had already opted for a single, larger turret on its nearly identical M1 Combat Car. In December 1938, OCM #14844 directed that a single M2A3 be removed from the assembly line and modified with heavier armor and weapons, to meet the standards of the U.S. Infantry. This vehicle, after conversion, was re-designated as the M2A4. It was equipped with an M5 37 mm main gun, 1 inch (25 mm) thick armor, and a 7-cylinder gasoline engine. Other upgrades included improved suspension, improved transmission, and better engine cooling. Production of the M2A4 began in May 1940, and continued through March 1941; an additional ten M2A4s were assembled in April 1942, for a total production run of 375 M2A4 light tanks. The US Army sent out press photos still showing the M2A4 being assembled in July 1941 after the assembly line had been changed over to the M3.
In March 1941, the ½ inch thicker (1½ inch total thickness) armor, and Continental W-670 gasoline-engined M3 Stuart light tanks replaced the M2A3 on the assembly lines. The original riveted M3s closely resembled the M2A4, and the two types occasionally served in the same units; the easiest recognition feature is the aft (rear) idler wheel. On the M2A4, the idler is raised; on the M3 it trails on the ground, increasing the flotation of the heavier vehicle.
The Rock Island Arsenal also developed the M2 Medium Tank from the M2 Light Tank design. The M2 was an unsuccessful design, and was kept in the U.S. and limited to training use; but it served as the predecessor for the M3 Lee, M4 Sherman which were successful and many other armored vehicles were based on the M3 and M4 chassis. The M2 Light Tank's importance lies in the sound basis it provided for US M3-series and M5-series light tanks, and M3-series and M4-series medium tanks in World War II. The high speed, mobility and mechanical reliability of all these tank designs were legacies of the M2 Light Tank program.
By December 1941, the M2A1, M2A2 and M2A3 were used for training only. Approximately 50 M2A4s were deployed during the Battle of Guadalcanal while assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps 1st Tank Battalion, and remained in service in some areas of the Pacific Theater until 1943.
Britain ordered 100 M2A4s in early 1941. After 36 of them were delivered, the order was canceled in favor of an improved M3 Stuart. There is evidence that indicates those 36 M2A4s were shipped off from North Africa as part of the British Army's 7th Hussars and 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, fighting in the India and Burma campaigns against the Japanese 14th Tank Regiment.
- M2A1 (1935).
- Initial production type with single fixed turret containing 1 .50 cal MG. 10 units were produced.
- M2A2 (1935).
- M2A3 (1938).
- Twin turrets with 2 MGs, Thicker armor, slightly lengthened hull, improved engine access, increased gear ratios, better engine cooling, improved suspension, and other minor detail changes. 72 units produced.
- M2A4 (1939).
- Chamberlain (1969), pp. 86-87
- Foss (1981), p. 122
- Zaloga (1999), p. 4.
- Zaloga Armored Thunderbolt p. 4 & 5
- Hunnicutt (Stuart) p. 118
- Hunnicutt (Stuart) p. 475
- Hunnicutt (Stuart) p. 120
- "Twelve-Ton Rolling Fortresses Stream Off Assembly Line" Popular Mechanics, July 1941 p45
- Hunnicutt (Stuart) p. 127
- Zaloga, p. 27 plate C
- Zaloga (1999), p. 5.
- Zaloga (2008), p. 15
- Hunnicutt (Stuart) p. 396
- Zaloga (M3/M5 Stuart) p. 14
- Chamberlain, Peter (1969) British and American Tanks of World War II. New York, NY: Arco Publishing Inc. ISBN 0-668-01867-4
- Foss, Christopher F. (1981) An Illustrated Guide to World War II Tanks and Fighting Vehicles Arco Publishing Inc. ISBN 0009688576
- Hunnicutt, R. P. Stuart, A History of the American Light Tank. 1992 Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-462-2.
- Zaloga, Steven. M3 & M5 Stuart Light Tank 1940–45, 1999 Osprey Publishing (New Vanguard 33). ISBN 1-85532-911-5.
- Zaloga, Steven. Armored Thunderbolt, the US Army Sherman in World War II. 2008 Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-0424-3.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to M2 Light tank.|
- AFV database
- World War II vehicles
- Armor penetration table of US 37 mm guns
- The short film The Tanks Are Coming is available for free download at the Internet Archive from 1941, featuring the M2