Thursday, April 16, 2015

M3A1 Stuart in Operation

The light tank M-3 Stuart began to equip U.S. Army since the beginning of 1941. Powered by a 250 hp air-cooled engine was able to reach 60 km/h. It was used in a large numbers on the Mediterranean theater of war during Operation Torch, the American landing in North Africa. The M-3 was characterized by a relatively light armor of only 45mm. and an armament consists of a 37mm. main gun too small to penetrate the armor of Axis medium and heavy tanks. After the failures obtained against the German tanks, it was used almost exclusively for reconnaissance tasks flanking medium tanks like Shermans. In the theater of war of Pacific characterized by particular environmental conditions and the presence of a lower number of enemy tanks, M-3 was able to provide a good service level in infantry close support duties.

There's an interesting little anecdote about the 2 RTR Stuarts that couldn't cross the Chindwin. In 1945, as the Allies were chasing the Japanese out of Burma, one Regt found the Stuarts abandoned in 1942. They proceeded to cannibalize them to repair and "rejuvenate" their
own heavily worn tanks, and motored on to Rangoon.

The first U.S. light tank introduced after the start of the war in Europe was the M3 series of light tanks. Based on the M2A3, the M3 was designed at Rock Island Arsenal in the spring of 1940 and incorporated lessons learned in the early European fighting. Approved in July 1940, the M3 entered production in March 1941. The M3 saw extensive service in North Africa with the British (who called it the General Stuart) and then the Americans. 

Taking into account weight and armament factors, the M3 Stuart tank was a remarkably viable project, serving with distinction throughout the Second World War. Based on the pre-war M2A4 design, it had a better armour protection and a modified suspension system, with the idler wheel lowered, increasing stability and decreasing ground pressure. The first M3 tanks were manufactured in March 1941 by the American Car & Foundry and powered by Continental and Guiberson engines.

It was a considerable improvement over previous American designs, however, even before the declaration of war on Japan and Germany by the U.S.A., the Light Tank was only a very temporary patch on the abysmal neglect of U.S. tank development during the inter-war years. Light tanks already ceased to be the primary weapon of armoured divisions on both sides of the developing conflict, giving way to medium or cruiser tank designs, which offered better protection and heavier armament.

After the Lend-Lease Act came into force in March 1941, considerable numbers of M3 Light Tanks were provided to help Britain to arm its growing army. Not to confuse the M3 Light Tank with the M3 Medium Tank, names of Civil War generals were used to simplify vehicle identification. While the M3 Light Tank became known as the Stuart Light Tank (the British 7th Armoured Division also supplied another, more familiar nickname, calling the vehicle 'Honey' due to its superior reliability and agility), while the Medium Tank was named after General Lee.

Due to the Stuart's incompatibility with the British standards, changes were made to the original design to make the vehicle more suitable for the British Army and, above all, desert warfare. Sand shields, a water container rack, a ration box and other adjustments were made, as well as a number of internal modifications. While the American M3 tanks had two fixed machine guns on each side of the hull, the British had them deleted in favour of additional storage space.

In combat, the tactics used by the British against Rommel's Afrika-Korps were often a greater disadvantage than the natural disproportion of the vehicles armour and armament to actual battlefield conditions. Conditions were for the most part similar for Germans and British alike, however, the lay-out of the fighting compartment, the roles of each member of the crew, as well as tactics used during tank battles proved to have decisive influence on the success of each engagement. The short range of the Stuart also proved a considerable deficiency, often forcing crews to abandon undamaged vehicles only because it ran out of fuel. The arrival of M3 Medium Tanks (General Lee) and the performance of the light tank in battle caused the Stuart to gradually shift to other roles, never to regain the status it enjoyed with the British Army again, at least not in the European Theater of Operations.   It is very difficult to make a clear distinction between versions as some adjustments were retroactively introduced for older versions as well. A gradual shift from riveted armour to welded turrets and later hulls could be seen throughout the development of the M3 and the M5. Variants included the M3A1 with a modified turret and a new traversing periscope and the M3A3 with further improvements to the turret and three additional periscopes to improve the crews vision. Prototypes were produced with a Maxson quadruple .50 machine-gun turret or a T2 mine-exploding device, both were soon rejected.

The M3 went through three different models, eventually incorporating a gyro-stabilizer for the main gun, a diesel engine, and an allwelded turret and hull (the first being riveted). It also received two jettisonable 25-gallon fuel tanks to increase its range in the desert. The problem with its riveted armor was that even a glancing shot to the hull by an enemy shell could sheer the heads off rivets and send the remainder flying around the inside of the tank, causing serious personnel injuries and/or igniting ammunition or damaging the engine.

The M3 weighed some 27,400 pounds, had a crew of four, maximum 51mm armor, and was armed with a 37mm gun in the turret and 3 x .30-caliber machine guns. The M3A1 version of 1942 eliminated the turret cupola to reduce overall height and also did away with the two sponsoned machine guns, fired remotely by the driver. These had proved of limited use, and doing away with them reduced the tank’s weight and increased its internal storage.

The final version M3A3 entered production in early 1943. Weighing some 31,800 pounds, it had a new all-welded hull that was enlarged by extending the sponsons and increasing the driver’s compartment forward and upward. This extra room allowed for additional ammunition storage and fuel tanks.

Although the M3 in its various models performed well in its primary reconnaissance role, the tank was both undergunned and underpowered. The M3 proved a welcome addition to British armor assets in North Africa in 1941–1942, and its crews there thought highly enough of the reliable M3 to refer to it as “Honey.” The U.S. Army declared the M3 obsolete in July 1943; it remained in the service of other nations through the end of the war and beyond.

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