- M3 (Lee I/Grant I).
- Riveted hull, high profile turret, gasoline engine. 4,724 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.
The M3 underwent a half-dozen modifications, the most important of which was the introduction of gyro-stabilizers on both heavy guns, permitting accurate fire while under way. Both guns were fitted with periscope sights, and the turret could be traversed by power or by hand. The British used the standard M3 version in North Africa, naming it the “Lee” for U.S. Civil War Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Beginning with the M3A3, the “rivet popping” during battle that plagued the Lee in fighting in North Africa was eliminated with the introduction of an all-welded hull. At the same time, the side doors were either welded up or eliminated.
The British placed special orders for M3s from U.S. manufacturers under the “Cash and Carry” arrangement, a U.S. program whereby the United States would sell war materials to belligerents provided they could pay cash for the purchase and transport the materials in their own vessels. The M3s had slightly longer cast turrets, did away with the cupola, and had other modifications. These M3s saw extensive service in North Africa. The British knew this version of the M3 as the Grant after U.S. Grant, the Union general of the U.S. Civil War and 18th president of the United States. Some 200 of these Grants arrived in the Middle East early in 1942, and for the first time in the war the British had a tank superior in firepower to any Axis tank. They gave the British a quantitative as well as qualitative edge. The M3’s main gun could outrange the German tanks and fire AP shells against enemy tanks and HE shells in an infantry close-support role. A total of 167 Grants constituted the bulk of AFVs in the British 4th Armored Brigade in the important Battle of Gazala beginning in late May 1942. Two authorities have described the M3 as “at that time, the most important new addition to the British armoury.”
The passage by Congress of Lend-Lease legislation in March 1941 made U.S. weapons and war supplies of all kinds available on a lease/loan basis to countries fighting the Axis powers. This allowed the British to obtain the standard M3 version for service in North Africa. By June an additional 250 M3 tanks had arrived for Eighth Army in Egypt, and by the time of the Battle of El Alamein at the end of October, a total of 600 M3s had been delivered under both “Cash and Carry” and Lend-Lease. By June 1942 U.S. personnel were stationed at a maintenance facility near Cairo to assist the training of their British counterparts in the M3 and then the M4. Although most M3s were shipped to the Middle East, some were also sent to Britain for training and special conversions. When M4s began to replace M3s in North Africa, the remaining M3s were sent on to Burma to replace obsolete Matildas, Stuarts, and Valentines. The M3 appeared in a variety of variants, and its chassis was used in the development of gun motor carriages, including the M12, which mounted a 155mm gun. The U.S. Army employed it as a heavy bombardment weapon in European fighting in late 1944 and early 1945, including the taking of Köln (Cologne).
In October 1941, when the M4 Sherman became the U.S. standard medium tank, the army reclassified the M3 as “substitute standard.” In April 1943, when the M4 came into full service, the M3 became “limited standard,” and in April 1944 it was declared obsolete.