M3 Lee

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Medium Tank M3
M3grantmini.jpg
Medium Tank M3, Fort Knox, June 1942
Type Medium tank
Place of origin United States
Service history
Wars World War II
Production history
Produced August 1941–December 1942
Number built 6,258
Variants numerous, see text
Specifications
Weight 30 short tons (27 t)
Length 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m)
Width 8 ft 11 in (2.72 m)
Height 10 ft 3 in (3.12 m) - Lee
Crew 7 (Lee) or 6 (Grant)

Armor up to 51 mm Steel
Main
armament
1 × 75 mm Gun M2/M3 in hull
46 rounds
1 × 37mm Gun M5/M6 in turret
178 rounds
Secondary
armament
2-3–4 × .30-06 Browning M1919A4 machine guns
9,200 rounds
Engine Wright (Continental) R975 EC2
400 hp (300 kW)/340 hp (250 kW)
Transmission Synchromesh, 5 speeds forward, 1 reverse
Suspension vertical volute spring
Ground clearance 18 in (0.46 m)
Fuel capacity 662 liters (175 US gallons)
Operational
range
193 km (119 mi)
Speed 26 mph (42 km/h) (road)
16 mph (26 km/h) (off-road)
Steering
system
Controlled differential

The Medium Tank M3 was an American tank used during World War II. In Britain the tank was called by two names based on the turret configuration. Tanks employing US pattern turrets were called the "General Lee", named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Variants using British pattern turrets were known as "General Grant", named after U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant.

Design commenced in July 1940, and the first M3s were operational in late 1941.[1] The U.S. Army needed a good tank and coupled with the United Kingdom's demand for 3,650 medium tanks immediately,[2] the Lee began production by late 1940. The design was a compromise to produce a tank as soon as possible. The M3 was well armed and armoured for the period, but due to design flaws (high silhouette, archaic sponson mounting of the main gun, riveted construction, below-average off-road performance) it was not satisfactory and was withdrawn from front line duty as soon as the M4 Sherman became available in large numbers.

History[edit]

In 1939, the U.S. Army possessed approximately 400 tanks, mostly M2 Light Tanks, with less than a hundred of the discontinued M2 Medium Tanks.[3] The U.S. funded tank development poorly during the interwar years, and had no infrastructure for production, little experience in design, and poor doctrine to guide design efforts.

M3 Lee being manufactured

The M2 series medium tank was typical of armored fighting vehicles (AFVs) many nations produced in 1939. When the U.S. entered the war, the M2 design was obsolete with a 37 mm gun, 32 mm frontal armor, excessive machine gun secondary armament and a very high silhouette. The Panzer III and Panzer IV's success in the French campaign led the U.S. Army to immediately order a new medium tank armed with a 75 mm gun in a turret. This would be the M4 Sherman. However, until the Sherman was in production, an interim design with a 75 mm gun was urgently needed.

The M3 was the solution. The design was unusual because the main weapon — a larger caliber, low-velocity 75 mm gun — was in an offset sponson mounted in the hull with limited traverse. (The sponson mount was necessary because at the time American tank plants were incapable of casting a turret big enough to take the 75mm main gun.) A small turret with a lighter, high-velocity 37 mm gun sat on the tall hull. A small cupola on top of the turret held a machine gun. The use of two main guns was seen on the French Char B, the Soviet T-35, and the Mark I version of the British Churchill tank. In each case, two weapons were mounted to give the tanks adequate capability in firing both anti-personnel high explosive ammunition and armor-piercing ammunition for anti-tank combat. The M3 differed slightly from this pattern having a main gun which could fire an armor-piercing projectile at a velocity high enough for efficiently piercing armor, as well as deliver a high-explosive shell that was large enough to be effective. Using a hull mounted gun, the M3 design was produced quicker than if a turret mounted gun design had been manufactured. It was understood that the M3 design was flawed, but Britain[4] urgently needed tanks.

The M3 was tall and roomy: the power transmission ran through the crew compartment under the turret cage to the gearbox driving the front sprockets. Steering was by differential braking, with a turning circle of 37 ft (11 m). The vertical volute suspension units included a return roller made with self-contained and readily replaced units bolted to the chassis. The turret was power-traversed by an electro-hydraulic system — an electric motor providing the pressure for the hydraulic motor. This fully rotated the turret in 15 seconds. Control was from a spade grip on the gun. The same motor provided pressure for the gun stabilizing system.

Front view, M3

The 75-mm was operated by a gunner and a loader. Sighting the 75-mm gun used an M1 periscope — with an integral telescope — on the top of the sponson. The periscope rotated with the gun. The sight was marked from zero to 3,000 yd (2,700 m)[5] with vertical markings to aid deflection shooting at a moving target. The gunner laid the gun on target through geared handwheels for traverse and elevation.

The 37-mm was aimed through the M2 periscope, though this was mounted in the mantlet to the side of the gun. It also sighted the coaxial machine gun. Two range scales were provided: 0-1,500 yd (1,400 m) for the 37-mm and 0-1,000 yd (910 m) for the machine gun.

British M3 Grant (left) and Lee (right) in the Western Desert, 1942, showing differences between the British turret and the original design.

Though not at war, the U.S. was willing to produce, sell and ship armoured vehicles to Britain. The British had requested that their Matilda and Crusader tank designs be made by American factories, but this request was declined. With much of their equipment left on the beaches near Dunkirk, the equipment needs of the British were acute. Though not entirely satisfied with the design, they ordered the M3 in large numbers. British experts had viewed the mock-up in 1940 and identified features which they considered flaws — the high profile, the hull mounted main gun, the lack of a radio in the turret (though the tank did have a radio down in the hull), the riveted armour plating (whose rivets tended to pop off inside the interior in a deadly ricochet when the tank was hit by a non-penetrating round), the smooth track design, insufficient armour plating and lack of splash-proofing of the joints.[6] The British desired a number of modifications be made for the tank they were purchasing, including the turret being cast rather than riveted. A bustle was to be made at the back of the turret to house the Wireless Set No. 19 radio. The tank was to be given thicker armour plate than the original U.S. design, and the machine gun cupola was to be replaced with a simple hatch. With these modifications accepted the British ordered 1,250 M3s. The order was subsequently increased with the expectation that when the M4 Sherman was available it could replace part of the order. Contracts were arranged with three U.S. companies. The total cost of the order was approximately 240 million US dollars. This equaled the sum of all British funds in the US. It took the Lend-Lease act to solve the United Kingdom's shortfall.

The prototype was completed in March 1941 and production models followed with the first British specification tanks produced in July. Both U.S. and British tanks had thicker armour than first planned.[7] The British design required one fewer crew member than the US version due to the radio in the turret. The U.S. eventually eliminated the full-time radio operator, assigning the task to the driver. After extensive losses in Africa and Greece the British realized that to meet their needs for tanks both the Lee and the Grant types would need to be accepted.

The U.S. military used the "M" (Model) letter to designate nearly all of their equipment. When the British Army received their new M3 medium tanks from the US, confusion immediately set in,[8] as the M3 medium tank and the M3 light tank were identically named. The British army began naming their American tanks, although the U.S. Army never used those terms until after the war.[9] M3 tanks with the cast turret and radio setup received the name "General Grant", while the original M3s were called "General Lee", or more usually just "Grant" and "Lee". The M3 brought much-needed firepower to British forces in the African desert campaign.

The chassis and running gear of the M3 design was adapted by the Canadians for their Ram tank. The hull of the M3 was also used for self-propelled artillery and recovery vehicles.

Combat performance[edit]

Crew of M3 tank at Souk el Arba, Tunisia, November 23, 1942

African theater[edit]

Of the 6,258 M3s produced by the U.S., 2,855 M3s were supplied to the British Army, and about 1,386 to the Soviet Union.[10] The American M3 medium tank's first action during the war was in 1942, during the North African Campaign.[11] British Lees and Grants were in action against Rommel's forces at the Battle of Gazala on 27 May that year. Their appearance was a surprise to the Germans, who were unprepared for the M3s 75 mm gun. They soon discovered the M3 could engage them beyond the effective range of the Pak 38, their 50 mm anti-tank gun and the main armament in the Pz. Mk. III, their main battle tank. Grants and Lees served in North Africa until the end of the campaign. Following Operation Torch, the U.S. also fought in Africa using the M3 Lee. The U.S. 1st Armored Division had given up their M4 Shermans to the British prior to the Battle of El Alamein. Subsequently, a regiment of the division was still using the M3 Lee when they arrived to fight in North Africa. The M3 was generally appreciated during the North African campaign for its mechanical reliability, good armor protection and heavy firepower.[12]

In all three areas, the M3 was able to engage both German tanks and towed anti-tank guns. Among the problems experienced was that the tall silhouette and low, hull-mounted 75-mm were tactical drawbacks, since they prevented the tank from fighting from hull-down firing positions. The use of rivetted armor led to a problem whereby the impact of enemy shells would cause the rivets to break off and become projectiles inside the tank. Later models were built with welded seams to eliminate this problem. These lessons were learned and applied to the design and production of the M4. The M3 was replaced by the M4 Sherman as soon as the M4 was available, though several M3s saw limited action in the battle for Normandy as armored recovery vehicles with dummy guns.

Eastern front[edit]

A pair of Soviet M3 Lees at the Battle of Kursk.

As the Soviets used diesel fuel for their tanks, the 1,300 M3A3 and M3A5s were supplied to the USSR with diesel engines. These were supplied through the Lend-Lease program in 1942-1943. All were the Lee variants, although the Soviets sometimes referred to them generically as Grants. The M3 was unpopular in the Red Army, which already had the more modern T-34. The faults of the M3 Lee showed up in engagements against enemy armor and anti-tank weapons; the Soviets gave it the nickname Братская могила на шестерых that could be translated as "a bed of honor [grave] for seven men".[13] The official Soviet designation was М3с (М3 средний, M3 medium) to distinguish them from М3л (М3 лёгкий, "M3 light") Stuart tanks. With the Soviet Union producing close to 1,500 T-34s a month, their use of the M3 Lee declined after mid-1943. The Soviets still used them in secondary fronts, such as the Arctic Front during the Red Army's Petsamo-Kirkenes Operation in October 1944. For their part, the Germans were using captured French Hotchkiss H35 and Somua S35 tanks[clarification needed]. In this setting the M3 Lee was clearly the superior armored fighting vehicle.

Pacific and China-Burma-India Theaters[edit]

The Pacific War was an ocean war fought primarily by the naval fleets of the U.S. and the Empire of Japan. Tank warfare played a secondary role as the primary battles were between warships[14][15] and between aircraft.[16] Within the Pacific Theater of Operations, the U.S. Marine Corps deployed all six of its tank battalions; the U.S. Army deployed only a third of its 70 separate tank battalions, and none of its armored divisions, in the Pacific.[17]

During the battle for Tarawa island in 1943, the U.S. Marines attacked nearby Makin Island, which was considered a less costly operation. The army was supported by a platoon of M3A5 Lee medium tanks from the U.S. Army's 193rd Tank Battalion, making this battle the only U.S. Army combat use of the M3 in the Pacific Theater.[18] The U.S. Marine Corps did not use M3 Lees; their light tank battalions were equipped with M3 Stuarts through early 1944 when they were replaced by M4 Shermans.[19]

When the British received their new M4 Shermans from America, they quickly transferred approximately 1,700 M3s to the war in South East Asia, deploying about 800 M3s to Australian forces and about 900 M3 tanks to Indian forces.[20] British Lees and Grants were used by the British Fourteenth Army[21] from the fall of Rangoon,[22] performing admirably[23] until the end of the war. In the Far East, the M3's main task was infantry support. It played a pivotal role during the Battle of Imphal, during which the Imperial Japanese Army's 14th Tank Regiment (consisting of mostly captured British M3 Stuart light tanks and their own Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks) encountered M3 medium tanks for the first time and outgunned and outmatched the Japanese armor.[24] Despite their lower-than-average off-road performance, the M3s performed well as they traversed the steep hillsides around Imphal.

Declared obsolete in April 1944,[25] the General Lee fought on against Japan until the end of the war. In the end, the M3 in the CBI theater performed the mission its original designers had intended it to do: that of supporting the infantry.[26]

Overview[edit]

Overall, the M3 was able to cope with the battlefield of 1942. Its armor and firepower were the equal or superior to most of the threats it faced. Long-range, high velocity guns were not yet common on German tanks in theatre. However, the rapid pace of tank development meant that the M3 was very quickly outclassed. By mid-1942, with the introduction of the German Tigers, the up-gunning of the Panzer IV to a long 75-mm gun, and further in 1943 the appearance of the Panthers, along with the availability of large numbers of Shermans, the M3 was withdrawn from service in the European Theater.

Variants[edit]

M3 and its contribution to other AFVs of the Second World War
M31 TRV showing dummy hull gun
Chrysler plant manufacturing the M3 Lee

British designations in parentheses

US variants[edit]

  • M3 (Lee I/Grant I).
    • Riveted hull, high profile turret, gasoline engine. 4,724 built.
  • M3A1 (Lee II).
    • Cast (rounded) upper hull. 300 built.
  • M3A2 (Lee III).
    • Welded (sharp edged) hull. Only 12 vehicles produced.
  • M3A3 (Lee IV/Lee V).
    • Twin GM 6-71 diesel variant of welded hull. Side doors welded shut or eliminated. 322 built.
  • M3A4 (Lee VI).
    • Stretched riveted hull, 1 x Chrysler A-57 Multibank engine, made up of 5 4.12 litre 6-cyl L-head car engines (block upwards) mated to a common crankshaft, displacement 21 litres, 470 hp @ 2700rpm. Side doors eliminated. 109 built.
  • M3A5 (Grant II) .
    • Twin GM 6-71 diesel variant of riveted hull M3. Despite having the original Lee turret and not the Grant one, was referred by the British as Grant II. 591 built.
  • M31 Tank Recovery Vehicle (Grant ARV I).
    • Based on M3 chassis, with dummy turret and dummy 75 gun. 60,000 lb (27,000 kg) winch installed.
  • M31B1 Tank Recovery Vehicle.
    • Based on M3A3.
  • M31B2 Tank Recovery Vehicle.
    • Based on M3A5.
  • M33 Prime Mover.
    • M31 TRV converted to the artillery tractor role, with turret and crane removed. 109 vehicles were converted in 1943-44.
  • 105 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M7 (Priest)
    • 105 mm M1/M2 howitzer installed in open superstructure.
    • Gunless version was the OP (observation post vehicle)
  • 155 mm Gun Motor Carriage M12
    • Designed as the T-6. A 155 mm howitzer on M3 chassis.

British variants[edit]

A Grant Command variant used by General Montgomery housed at the Imperial War Museum in London
  • Grant ARV
  • Grant Command
    • Grant fitted with map table and extra radio equipment and having guns removed or replaced with dummies.
  • Grant Scorpion III
    • Grant with 75 mm gun removed, and fitted with Scorpion III mine flail, few made in early 1943 for use in North Africa.
  • Grant Scorpion IV
    • Grant Scorpion III with additional motor to increase Scorpion flail power.
  • Grant CDL
    • From "Canal Defence Light"; Grants with the 37 mm gun turret replaced by a new turret containing a powerful searchlight and a machine gun. 355 were also produced by the Americans, who designated it the Shop Tractor T10.
The Australian M3 BARV

Australian Variants[edit]

  • M3 BARV
    • A single M3A5 Grant tank was converted into a "Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle".
  • Yeramba Self Propelled Gun.
    • Australian SP 25 pounder. 13 vehicles built in 1949 on M3A5 chassis in a conversion very similar to the Canadian Sexton.

Designs based on chassis[edit]

Operators[edit]

World War II operators of the M3

Film appearances[edit]

In the 1943 movie Sahara, starring Humphrey Bogart, the character's main form of transportation was an M3 Lee named "Lulu Belle"; the same is true of the 1995 remake starring Jim Belushi.

In the 1979 Steven Spielberg movie 1941, starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, an M3 Lee is a featured element.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Zaloga p. 16 & 20
  2. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 20 & 21
  3. ^ Hunnicutt p. 44
  4. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 21
  5. ^ later 3,500 yards
  6. ^ Fletcher The Great Tank Scandal p90
  7. ^ Fletcher p 93
  8. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 18
  9. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 19
  10. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 28, 30, 31
  11. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 28
  12. ^ Fletcher p. 92 Note: initially there were problems with engine wear and suspension springs.
  13. ^ "БМ-6 Братская могила на шестерых", opoccuu.com (in Russian) 
  14. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 305
  15. ^ Zaloga (Japanese Tanks) back cover & p. 3
  16. ^ Ewing p. VII
  17. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 24 & 301
  18. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 305
  19. ^ USMC TOEs
  20. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 30-31
  21. ^ Hunnicutt (Sherman) p. 105
  22. ^ Hunnicutt (Sherman) p. 105
  23. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 31
  24. ^ Zaloga (Japanese Tanks 1939-45) p. 40
  25. ^ Hunnicutt (Sherman) p. 105
  26. ^ Hunnicutt (Sherman) p. 105

References[edit]

Technical manuals

External links[edit]