|Medium Tank M3|
Medium Tank M3, Fort Knox, June 1942
|Place of origin||United States|
|Wars||World War II|
|Produced||August 1941–December 1942|
|Variants||numerous, see text|
|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|
|1 × 75 mm Gun M2/M3 in hull
1 × 37mm Gun M5/M6 in turret
|2-3–4 × .30-06 Browning M1919A4 machine guns
|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)|
|193 km (119 mi)|
|Speed||26 mph (42 km/h) (road)
16 mph (26 km/h) (off-road)
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. The U.S. Army needed a good tank and coupled with the United Kingdom's demand for 3,650 medium tanks immediately, the Lee began production by late 1940. The M3 was well armed and armored for the period, but due to design flaws (high silhouette, archaic sponson mounting of the main gun, below-average off-road performance) it was not satisfactory and was withdrawn from front line duty as soon as the M4 Sherman became available in large numbers.
- 1 History
- 2 Combat performance
- 3 Variants
- 4 Designs based on chassis
- 5 Operators
- 6 Film appearances
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
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. 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.
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. 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 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.
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) 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.
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 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. 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. 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, 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. 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.
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. The American M3 medium tank's first action during the war was in 1942, during the North African Campaign. 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.
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 riveted armor led to a problem called "spalling," 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.
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 shipped via Lend-Lease 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, who already were the possessors of the highly successful T-34. The faults of the M3 Lee showed up in engagements against enemy armor and anti-tank weapons, with the Soviets bestowing it the nickname of "Братская могила на шестерых" that could be translated as "a bed of honor for six men". 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. In this setting the M3 Lee was clearly the superior armoured fighting vehicle.
Pacific and China-Burma-India Theaters
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 and between aircraft. 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.
During the battle for Tarawa island in 1943, the U.S. Army 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. 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.
When the British received their new M4 Shermans from America, they quickly transferred approximately 1,700 M3s to the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater, deploying about 800 M3s to Australian forces and about 900 M3 tanks to Indian forces. British Lees and Grants were used by the British Fourteenth Army from the fall of Rangoon, performing admirably 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. 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, 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.
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, and amongst other things its riveted armour 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.
British designations in parentheses
- 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).
- 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)
- 155 mm Gun Motor Carriage M12
- Designed as the T-6. A 155 mm howitzer on M3 chassis.
- Grant ARV
- Grant I's and Grant II's with guns removed and replaced with armored recovery vehicle equipment.
- 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.
- 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
- Medium Tank M4 Sherman
- Tank Cruiser, Ram - see article for full list of variants
- 105 mm Self Propelled Gun, Priest
- Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier
- 25pdr SP, tracked, Sexton Mark I - Sexton Mark II was on a Sherman type chassis
- M12 M12 Gun Motor Carriage
- British India
- New Zealand
- Soviet Union
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Zaloga p. 16 & 20
- Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 20 & 21
- Hunnicutt p. 44
- Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 21
- later 3,500 yards
- Fletcher The Great Tank Scandal p90
- Fletcher p 93
- Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 18
- Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 19
- Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 28, 30, 31
- Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 28
- Fletcher p. 92 Note: initially there were problems with engine wear and suspension springs.
- "БМ-6 Братская могила на шестерых", opoccuu.com (in Russian)
- Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 305
- Zaloga (Japanese Tanks) back cover & p. 3
- Ewing p. VII
- Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 24 & 301
- Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 305
- USMC TOEs
- Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 30-31
- Hunnicutt (Sherman) p. 105
- Hunnicutt (Sherman) p. 105
- Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 31
- Zaloga (Japanese Tanks 1939-45) p. 40
- Hunnicutt (Sherman) p. 105
- Hunnicutt (Sherman) p. 105
- Ewing, Steve. Thach Weave, The Life of Jimmie Thach. (2004). Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-248-2.
- Hunnicutt, R. P. Sherman, A History of the American Medium Tank. 1978; Taurus Enterprises. ISBN 0-89141-080-5.
- Zaloga, Steven. Japanese Tanks 1939-45. 2007; Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84603-091-8.
- Zaloga, Steven. Armored Thunderbolt, The US Army Sherman in World War II. 2008; Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-0424-3.
- Technical manuals
- TM 9-2800, Standard Military Motor Vehicles (Technical manual), US War Department, 1 September 1943
- SNL G104 Vol. 1, Medium Tank M3 (Service Parts Catalogue), US War Department
- TM 9-750, Medium Tanks M3, M3A1 and M3A2 (Technical Manual, Ordnance Maintenance), US War Department, May 9, 1942
- TM 9-1750, Power Train Unit, Three-Piece Differential Case, For Medium Tanks, M3, M4, and Modifications (Ordnance Maintenance), US War Department, March 1, 1942
- TM 9-1750D, Accessories for Wright R975-EC2 engines for medium tanks M3 and M4 (Ordnance maintenance), US War Department, August 12, 1942
- TM 9-1750E, Guiberson Diesel T1400 Engine, Series 3, for Medium Tanks M3 and M4 (Ordnance maintenance), US War Department, September 25, 1942
- TM 9-1750H, Hydraulic Traversing Mechanism (Logansport) for Medium Tank M3, (Ordnance maintenance), US War Department, April 10, 1943
- TM 9-1751, 9-cylinder, Radial, Gasoline Engine (Continental Model R975-C1) (Ordnance Maintenance), US War Department, April 19, 1944
- TM 9-1752 Auxiliary Generator (Homelite Model HRH-28) for Medium Tank, M3 (Ordnance Maintenance), US War Department, March 20, 1942
- USMC D-F Series Tables of Equipment (TOEs), 1942-1944
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to M3 Lee.|
- "U.S. Army's 29 ton tanks packs a 75mm gun" Popular Mechanics, July 1941 - one of the first public articles about the M-3
- "Tanks are Mighty Fine Things", 1946 - 145-page book about wartime production of tanks by Chrysler Corporation, including the M3.
- Lee in 'AFRIKA'
- AFV Database (Pictures)
- World War II Vehicles
- OnWar M3, M3A1, M3A3, M3A4
- M3 in the USSR