|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|
|Mass||30 short tons (27 long 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)|
|Engine||Wright (Continental) R975 EC2|
400 hp (300 kW)/340 hp (250 kW)
|Transmission||Mack Synchromesh, 5 speeds forward, 1 reverse|
|Suspension||vertical volute spring|
|Ground clearance||18 in (0.46 m)|
|Fuel capacity||662 l (175 US gal)|
|193 km (120 mi)|
The M3 Lee, officially Medium Tank, M3, was an American medium tank used during World War II. In Britain, the tank was called by two names based on the turret configuration and crew size. Tanks employing US pattern turrets were called the "Lee", named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Variants using British pattern turrets were known as "Grant", named after Union general Ulysses S. Grant.
Design commenced in July 1940, and the first M3s were operational in late 1941. The U.S. Army needed a medium tank armed with a 75mm gun and, coupled with the United Kingdom's immediate demand for 3,650 medium tanks, the Lee began production by late 1940. The design was a compromise meant to produce a tank as soon as possible. The M3 had considerable firepower and good armor, but had serious drawbacks in its general design and shape, including a high silhouette, an archaic sponson mounting of the main gun preventing the tank from taking a hull-down position, riveted construction, and poor off-road performance.
Its overall performance was not satisfactory and the tank was withdrawn from combat in most theaters as soon as the M4 Sherman tank became available in larger numbers. In spite of this, it was considered by Hans von Luck (an Oberst (Colonel) in the Wehrmacht Heer and the author of Panzer Commander) to be superior to the best German tank at the time of its introduction, the Panzer IV (at least until the F2 variant).
Despite being replaced elsewhere, the British continued to use M3s in combat against the Japanese in southeast Asia until 1945. Nearly a thousand M3s were supplied to the Soviet military under Lend-Lease between 1941-1943.
In 1939, the U.S. Army possessed approximately 400 tanks, mostly M2 Light Tanks, with 18 of the to-be-discontinued M2 Medium Tanks as the only ones considered "modern". The U.S. funded tank development poorly during the interwar years, and had little experience in design as well as poor doctrine to guide design efforts.
The M2 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 already obsolete with a 37 mm gun, an impractical number of secondary machine guns, a very high silhouette, and 32 mm frontal armor. 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 as a response. This would be the M4 Sherman. Until the Sherman reached 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, medium-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 did not have the design experience necessary to make a gun turret capable of holding a 75 mm weapon. A small turret with a lighter, high-velocity 37 mm gun sat on top of 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 B1 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 and canister ammunition and armor-piercing ammunition for anti-tank combat. The M3 differed slightly from this pattern, having a main gun that could fire an armor-piercing projectile at a velocity high enough for effectively 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 could be produced faster than a tank featuring a turreted gun. It was understood that the M3 design was flawed, but Britain urgently needed tanks. A drawback of the sponson mount was that the M3 could not take a hull-down position and use its 75 mm gun at the same time. The M3 was tall and roomy: the power transmission ran through the crew compartment under the turret basket to the gearbox driving the front sprockets. Steering was by differential braking, with a turning circle of 37 ft (11 m). The vertical volute-sprung suspension (VVSS) units possessed a return roller mounted directly atop the main housing of each of the six suspension units (three per side), designed as self-contained and readily replaced modular units bolted to the hull sides. The turret was power-traversed by an electro-hydraulic system in the form of 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 gun was operated by a gunner and a loader; sighting the 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),[a] 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 shorter barreled 75 mm M2 cannon sometimes featured a counterweight at the end of the barrel to balance the gun for operation with the gyrostabilizer until the longer 75 mm M3 variant was brought into use.
The 37 mm gun was aimed through the M2 periscope, 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. The 37 mm gun also featured a counterweight - a long rod under the barrel - though it was ill maintained by crews who knew little about its use.
There were also two .30-06 Browning M1919A4 machine guns mounted in the hull, fixed in traverse but adjustable in elevation, which were controlled by the driver. These were, due to coordination issues, removed, though they would be seen on early Sherman tanks.
Though not at war, the U.S. was willing to produce, sell and ship armored vehicles to Britain. The British had requested that their Matilda II infantry tank and Crusader cruiser tank designs be made by American factories, but this request was refused. 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 that 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 armor 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 armor plating and lack of splash-proofing of the joints.
The British desired modifications for the tank they were purchasing. A bustle rack was to be made at the back of the turret to house the Wireless Set No. 19. The turret was to be given thicker armor plate than in the original U.S. design, and the machine gun cupola was to be replaced with a simple hatch. Extended space within the turret of the new M3 also allowed the use of a smoke bomb launcher, although the addition of the radio would take the space for storage of fifty 37 mm rounds, reducing the ammunition capacity to 128 rounds. Several of these new "Grant" tanks would also be equipped with sand shields for action in North Africa, though they often fell off. 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 US$240 million, the sum of all British funds in the US; it took the US Lend-Lease act to solve the financial 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 armor 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 between the different M3 medium tank and M3 light tank. The British Army began naming their American tanks after American military figures, 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 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 as with the original design of the M7 Priest, of which nearly 3,500 were built, and recovery vehicles.
Of the 6,258 M3 variants manufactured in the United States, 2,887 (45%) were handed over to the British government.
The M3 Grant first saw action with the Royal Armoured Corps in North Africa, during May 1942. However, most of the M3s ordered by the UK quickly became surplus to the requirements of the British Army.
The M3 brought much-needed firepower to British forces in the North African desert campaign.
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 M3's 75 mm gun. They soon discovered the M3 could engage them beyond the effective range of their 5 cm Pak 38 anti-tank gun, and the 5 cm KwK 39 of the Panzer III, their main medium tank. The M3 was also vastly superior to the Fiat M13/40 and M14/41 tanks employed by the Italian troops, whose 47 mm gun was effective only at point-blank range, while only the few Semoventi da 75/18 self-propelled guns were able to destroy it using HEAT rounds. In addition to the M3's 75 mm gun outranging the Panzers, they were equipped with high explosive shells to take out infantry and other soft targets, which previous British tanks lacked; upon the introduction of the M3, Rommel noted: "Up to May of 1942, our tanks had in general been superior in quality to the corresponding British types. This was now no longer true, at least not to the same extent."
Despite the M3's advantages and surprise appearance during the Battle of Gazala, it could not win the battle for the British. In particular, the high-velocity 88 mm Flak gun, adapted as an anti-tank gun, proved deadly if British tanks attacked without artillery support. Britain's Director of Armoured Fighting Vehicles nonetheless said before the M4 Sherman arrived that "The Grants and the Lees have proven to be the mainstay of the fighting forces in the Middle East; their great reliability, powerful armament and sound armor have endeared them to the troops."
Grants and Lees served with British units in North Africa until the end of the campaign. Following Operation Torch (the invasion of French North Africa), the U.S. also fought in North Africa using the M3 Lee.
The US 1st Armored Division had been issued new M4 Shermans, but had to give up one regiment's worth to the British Army prior to the Second Battle of El Alamein. Consequently, a regiment of the division was still using the M3 Lee in North Africa.
The M3 was generally appreciated during the North African campaign for its mechanical reliability, good armor protection, and heavy firepower.[b] In all three aspects, the M3 was capable of engaging German tanks and towed anti-tank guns.
However, the high silhouette and low, hull-mounted 75 mm were tactical drawbacks since they prevented fighting from a hull-down firing position. In addition, the use of riveted hull superstructure armor on the early versions led to spalling, where the impact of enemy shells caused the rivets to break off and become projectiles inside the tank. Later models were built with all-welded armor to eliminate this problem. These lessons had already been applied to the design and production of the M4.
The M3 was replaced in front-line roles by the M4 Sherman as soon as the M4 was available. However, several specialist vehicles based on the M3 were later employed in Europe, such as the M31 armored recovery vehicle and the Canal Defence Light.
Beginning from 1941, 1,386 M3 medium tanks were shipped from the USA to the Soviet Union, with 417 lost during shipping (when they went down with their transporting vessels which were lost to German submarine, naval and aerial attacks en route). These were supplied through the American Lend-Lease program between 1942 and 1943.
Like British Commonwealth units, Soviet Red Army personnel tended to refer to the M3 as the "Grant", even though all of the M3s shipped to Russia were technically of the "Lee" variants. The official Soviet designation for it was the ?3 ? (?3?), or "M3 Medium", to distinguish the Lee/Grant from the US-built M3 Stuart light tank, which was also acquired by the USSR under Lend-Lease and was officially known there as the ?3 (?3?), or "M3 Light". Due to the vehicle's petrol-fuelled engine, a high tendency to catch fire, and its vulnerability against most types of German armour the Soviet troops encountered from 1942 onwards, the tank was almost entirely unpopular with the Red Army since its induction into the Eastern Front.
With almost 1,500 of their own T-34 tanks being built every month, Soviet use of the M3 medium tank declined soon after mid-1943. Soviet troops still fielded their Lee/Grant tanks on secondary and quieter/less-action fronts, such as in the Arctic region during the Red Army's Petsamo-Kirkenes Offensive against German forces in Norway in October 1944, where the then-obsolete US tanks faced mainly captured French tanks used by the Germans, such as the SOMUA S35, which to a limited extent was somewhat comparable to the Lee/Grant it fought against.
A small number of M3 Lees saw action in the central Pacific Ocean Theater in 1943.
While the US Marine Corps deployed all six of its tank battalions, none of these were equipped with the M3 Lee. (USMC tank battalions were equipped initially with M3 Stuarts, which were then replaced by M4 Shermans in mid-1944.)
The Australian Army also used Grants during World War II, mainly for homeland defence and training purposes.
Following the better-known landing at Tarawa, the US 27th Infantry Division made an amphibious assault on Makin Island with armoured support from a platoon of M3A5 Lees equipped with deep-wading kits belonging to the US Army's 193rd Tank Battalion.
After British Commonwealth forces in Europe and the Mediterranean began receiving M4 Shermans, about 900 British-ordered M3 Lees/Grants were shipped to the Indian Army. Some of these saw action against Japanese troops and tanks in the Burma Campaign of WWII.
They were used by the British Fourteenth Army until the fall of Rangoon, regarded as performing "admirably" in the original intended role of supporting infantry in Burma between 1944 and 1945.
In the Burma Campaign, the M3 medium tank'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 (primarily equipped with their own Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks, together with a handful of captured British M3 Stuart light tanks as well) encountered M3 medium tanks for the first time and found their light tanks outgunned and outmatched by the better British armour. Despite their worse-than-average off-road performance, the British M3 tanks performed well as they traversed the steep hillsides around Imphal and defeated the assaulting Japanese forces. Officially declared obsolete in April 1944, nevertheless, the Lee/Grant saw action until the end of the war in September 1945.
At the beginning of the war, Australian Army doctrine viewed tank units as minor offensive components within infantry divisions. It had no dedicated armoured branch and most of its very limited capabilities in tank warfare had been deployed to the North African Campaign (i.e. three divisional cavalry battalions). By early 1941, the effectiveness of large-scale German panzer attacks had been recognised, and a dedicated armoured mustering was formed. The Australian Armoured Corps initially included the cadres of three armoured divisions - all of which were equipped at least partly with M3 Grants made available from surplus British orders.
The 1st Australian Armoured Division was formed with a view towards complementing the three Australian infantry divisions then in North Africa. However, following the outbreak of hostilities with Japan, the division was retained in Australia. During April-May 1942, the 1st Armoured Division's regiments were reported to be re-equipping with M3 Grants and were training, in a series of large exercises, in the area around Narrabri, New South Wales.
The cadres of other two divisions, the 2nd and 3rd Armoured Divisions were both officially formed in 1942, as Militia (reserve/home defence) units. These divisions were also partly equipped with M3 Grants.
By the middle of the war, the Australian Army had deemed the Grant to be unsuitable for combat duties overseas and M3 units were re-equipped with the Matilda II before being deployed to the New Guinea and Borneo Campaigns. Due to personnel shortages, all three divisions were officially disbanded during 1943 and downgraded to brigade- and battalion-level units.
Following the end of the war, 14 of the Australian Grants were converted to a local self-propelled gun design, the Yeramba, becoming the only SPG ever deployed by the Australian Army. Fitted with a 25-pounder field gun, the Yerambas remained in service with the 22nd Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, until the late 1950s.
Many M3s deemed surplus to Australian Army requirements were acquired by civilian buyers during the 1950s and 1960s for conversion to earthmoving equipment and/or tractors.
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Overall, the M3 was able to be effective on the battlefield from 1942 until 1943. However, US armored units lacked tactical expertise on a method to overcome its design. Its armor and firepower were equal or superior to most of the threats it faced, especially in the Pacific. Long-range, high-velocity guns were not yet common on German tanks in the African theater. However, the rapid pace of tank development meant that the M3 was very quickly outclassed. By mid-1942, with the introduction of the German Tiger I, the up-gunning of the Panzer IV to a long 75 mm gun, and the first appearance in 1943 of the Panther, along with the availability of large numbers of the M4 Sherman, the M3 was withdrawn from service in the European Theater.
British designations in parentheses