AMT-WWII_08 – M5A1 Light Tank…
The M3 Stuart, formally Light Tank M3, was an American light tank of World War II and supplied to British and Commonwealthforces under lend-lease prior to the entry of the U.S. into the war—and used thereafter by U.S. and Allied forces until the end of the war.
The name General Stuart or Stuart given by the British comes from the American Civil War Confederate General J.E.B. Stuartand was used for both the M3 and the derivative M5 Light Tank. In British service, it also had the unofficial nickname of Honeyafter a tank driver remarked „She’s a honey”. To the United States Army, the tanks were officially known only as „Light Tank M3” and „Light Tank M5”.
The M3 Stuarts were the first American-manned (U.S.) tanks in World War II to engage the enemy in tank versus tank combat.
Observing events in Europe, American tank designers realized that the Light Tank M2 was becoming obsolete and set about improving it. The upgraded design, with thicker armor, modified suspension and new gun recoil system was called „Light Tank M3”. Production of the vehicle started in March 1941 and continued until October 1943. Like its direct predecessor, the M2A4, the M3 was armed with a 37 mm M5 gun and five .30-06 Browning M1919A4 machine guns: coaxial with the gun, on top of theturret in an M20 anti-aircraft mount, in a ball mount in right bow, in the right and left hull sponsons.
Internally, the radial engine was at the rear and the transmission to the driving sprockets at the front. The prop shaft connecting the two ran through the middle of the fighting compartment. The radial engine compounded the problem having its crankshaft high off the hull bottom. When a turret floor was introduced the crew had less room.
To relieve the demand for the radial aero-engines used in the M3, a new version was developed using twin Cadillac V-8 automobile engines and twin Hydra-Matic transmissions operating through a transfer case. Such installation produced a quieter, cooler and roomier variant and was easier to train on the automatic version. The new model (initially called M4 but redesignated M5 to avoid confusion with the M4 Sherman) also featured a redesigned hull with sloped glacis plate and driver’s hatches moved to the top. Although the main criticism from the units using it was that the Stuarts lacked firepower, the improved M5 series kept the same 37 mm gun. The M5 gradually replaced the M3 in production from 1942 and was in turn succeeded by the Light Tank M24 in 1944.
War in North Africa and Europe
The British Army was the first to use the Light Tank M3 as the „General Stuart” in combat. From mid-November 1941 to the end of the year, about 170 Stuarts (in a total force of over 700 tanks) took part in Operation Crusader during the North Africa Campaign, with poor results. Although the high losses suffered by Stuart-equipped units during the operation had more to do with better tactics and training of the Afrika Korps than the apparent superiority of German armoured fighting vehicles used in the North African campaign, the operation revealed that the M3 had several technical faults. Mentioned in the British complaints were the 37 mm M5 gun and poor internal layout. The two-man turret crew was a significant weakness, and some British units tried to fight with three-man turret crews. The Stuart also had a limited range, which was a severe problem in the highly mobile desert warfare as units often outpaced their supplies and were stranded when they ran out of fuel. On the positive side, crews liked its relatively high speed and mechanical reliability. The high reliability distinguished the Stuart from cruiser tanksof the period, in particular the Crusader, which composed a large portion of the British tank force in Africa up until 1942.
In the summer of 1942, when enough U.S. medium tanks had been received, the British usually kept Stuarts out of tank-to-tank combat, using them primarily for reconnaissance. The turret was removed from some examples to save weight and improve speed and range. These became known as „Stuart Recce”. Some others were converted to armored personnel carriers and were known as „Stuart Kangaroo”, and some were converted command vehicles and known as „Stuart Command”. M3s, M3A3s, and M5s continued in British service until the end of the war, but British units had a smaller proportion of these light tanks than U.S. units.
The other major Lend-Lease recipient of the M3, the Soviet Union, was even less happy with the tank, considering it undergunned, underarmored, likely to catch fire, and too sensitive to fuel quality. The narrow tracks were highly unsuited to operation in winter conditions, as they resulted in high ground pressures under which the tank sank into the snow. Further, the M3’s radial aircraft engine required high-octane fuel, which complicated Soviet logistics as most of their tanks used diesel. However, the M3 was superior to early-war Soviet light tanks such as the T-60, which were often underpowered and possessed even lighter armament than the Stuart. In 1943, the Red Army tried out the M5 and decided that the upgraded design was not much better than the M3. Being less desperate than in 1941, the Soviets turned down an American offer to supply the M5. M3s continued in Red Army service at least until 1944.
War in the Far East – CBI and Pacific
The U.S. Army initially deployed 108 Stuart light tanks to the Philippines in September 1941, equipping the U.S. Army’s 194th and 192nd Tank Battalions. The first U.S. tank versus tank combat to occur in World War II, began on 22 December 1941, when a platoon of five M3s led by Lieutenant Ben R. Morin engaged Type 95 Ha-Go north of Damaris. Lt. Morin maneuvered his M3 off the road, but took a direct hit while doing so, and his tank began to burn. The other four M3s were also hit, but managed to leave the field under their own power. Lt. Morin was wounded, and he and his crew were captured by the enemy. M3s of the 194th and 192nd Tank Battalions continued to skirmish with the 4th Tank Regiment’s Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks as they continued their retreat down the Bataan Peninsula, with the last tank verses tank combat occurring on 7 April 1942.
Due to the naval nature of the Pacific campaign, steel for warship production took precedence over tanks for the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA), creating by default an IJA light tank which performed admirably in the jungle terrain of the South Pacific. By the same measure, although the US was not hampered by industrial restrictions, the U.S. M3 light tank proved to be an effective armored vehicle for fighting in jungle environments.
With the IJA’s drive toward India within the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations (CBI), the United Kingdom hastily withdrew their 2nd Royal Tank Regiment and 7th Hussars Stuart tank units (which also contained some M2A4 light tanks) from North Africa, and deployed them against the Japanese 14th Tank Regiment. By the time the Japanese had been stopped at Imphal, only one British Stuart remained operational. Upon U.S entry into the war in 1941, it had began to supply China with AFVs including the M3 Stuarts, and later M4 Shermans, and M18 Hellcats which trickled in through Burma and formed part of the several well-equipped, well-trained armies that the Chinese Nationalists could deploy. These units were responsible for stopping numerous Japanese attacks during the later phases of the war.
Although the U.S. light tanks had proven effective in jungle warfare, by late 1943, U.S. Marine Corps tank battalions were transitioning their M3/M5 light tanks to M4 medium tanks. For the IJA, even though the U.S. Marines had exchanged their light tanks for M4 medium tanks, they could not; and with the less common supplement of their Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tanks, the IJA was left to do battle against U.S. Marine M4 Sherman medium tanks, with armor that had been designed and fielded in the 1930s.
When the U.S Army joined the North African Campaign in late 1942, Stuart units still formed a large part of its armor strength. After the disastrous Battle of the Kasserine Pass, the U.S. quickly followed the British in disbanding most of their light tank battalions and subordinating the Stuarts to medium tank battalions performing the traditional cavalry missions of scouting and screening. For the rest of the war, most U.S. tank battalions had three companies of M4 Shermans and one company of M3s or M5/M5A1s.
In Europe, Allied light tanks had to be given cavalry and infantry fire support roles since their main cannon armament could not compete with heavier enemy AFVs. However, the Stuart was still effective in combat in the Pacific Theater, as Japanese tanks were both relatively rare and were lighter in armor than even Allied light tanks. Japanese infantrymen were not well equipped with anti-tank weapons, and as such had to use close assault tactics. In this environment, the Stuart was only moderately more vulnerable than medium tanks. In addition, the poor terrain and roads common to the theatre were unsuitable for the much heavier M4 medium tanks, and so initially, for both sides, it was advantageous to deploy light armor. Heavier M4s were eventually brought to overcome heavily entrenched positions, though the Stuart continued to serve in a combat capacity until the end of the war.
Though the Stuart was to be completely replaced by the newer M24 Chaffee, the number of M3s/M5s produced was so great (over 25,000 including the 75 mm HMC M8) that the tank remained in service until the end of the war and well after. In addition to the U.S, UK and Soviet Union, who were the primary users, it was also used by France, China (M3A3s and, immediately post-war, M5A1s) and Josip Broz Tito’s Partisans in Yugoslavia (M3A3s and few M3A1).
After the war, some countries chose to equip their armies with cheap and reliable Stuarts. The Republic of China Army, having suffered great attrition as a result of the ensuing civil war, rebuilt their armored forces by acquiring surplus vehicles left behind in the area by the US forces, including 22 M5A1s to equip two tank companies. They would have their finest hours during the Battle of Kuningtou, for which the tank came to be known as the „Bear of Kinmen” . The M5 played a significant role in the First Kashmir War (1947) between India and Pakistan, including the battle of Zoji-la pass fought at an elevation of nearly 12,000 ft. The vehicle remained in service in several South American countries at least until 1996.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Portuguese Army also used some in the war in Angola, where its all terrain capability (compared to wheeled vehicles) was greatly appreciated. ThePortuguese Army in 1967 deployed three M5A1 Light Tanks – nicknamed ‘Milocas’, ‘Licas’ and ‘Gina’ by their crews – in northern Angola, which served with the 1927th Cavalry Battalion stationed at Nambuangongo. The vehicles were employed mostly for convoy escort and recovery duties, and limited counterinsurgency operations against FNLA guerrillas, who dubbed them “Elefante Dundum”. ‘Milocas’ was destroyed by an accidental fire in 1969 while ‘Gina’ and ‘Licas’ were withdrawn from active service in 1972, the former being sent to Luanda and the latter ended up in 1973 as an airfield security pillbox in the Portuguese Air Force’ Zala airfield. Period photographs show some modifications in the basic design, namely the omission of the bow machine gun, re-installed on a pintle mount in the roof of the turret and a small searchlight fitted in front of the commander’s copula.
The M3 Stuart is still on the active list in the Armed Forces of Paraguay where those elderly survivors are the only tracked armour used by that country.
- M3 (British designation „Stuart I„). 5,811 vehicles were produced.
- 1,285 M3s had Guiberson diesel installed and were called „Stuart II” by British.
- Late production M3s were fitted with turret developed for M3A1, though without turret basket. These tanks were dubbed „Stuart Hybrid„.
- M3A1 (Stuart III). 4,621 were produced from May 1942 to February 1943.
- New turret with turret basket and no cupola. Gun vertical stabilizer installed. Sponson machine guns were removed.
- M3A1s with Guiberson diesel were called „Stuart IV” by British.
- M3A3 (Stuart V). 3,427 produced.
- Put into production to integrate hull improvements brought by the M5 into the M3 series. Turret with rear overhang to house radio. Welded hull with sloped armor, 20° in from the vertical, on front and sides.
- M5 (Stuart VI). 2,075 produced.
- Twin Cadillac engines. Redesigned hull similar to M3A3, but with vertical sides and raised engine deck. Turret as for M3A1.
- M5A1 (Stuart VI). 6,810 produced.
- M5 with the turret of the M3A3; this was the major variant in US units by 1943.
- 75mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M8. 1,778 units produced.
- Based on M5 chassis. The gun was replaced with the 75 mm M2/M3 howitzer in open turret and a trailer hook was fitted so an ammunition trailer could be towed. Provided fire support to cavalry reconnaissance squadrons.
- 75mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M8A1.
- M8 HMC variant based on M5A1 chassis.
- T18 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage.
- Self-propelled gun based on M3 chassis. 75 mm M1A1 pack howitzer was mounted in a boxy superstructure. The project started in September 1941 and was abandoned in April 1942. Only two were produced, 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M8 was chosen to be produced instead.
- T82 Howitzer Motor Carriage.
- Self-propelled 105 mm howitzer based on M5A1 chassis. Canceled in 1945.
- T56 3in Gun Motor Carriage.
- Self-propelled gun based on M3A3 chassis. The engine was moved to the middle of the hull and a 3-inch gun was mounted in a superstructure in the rear. The project started in September 1942 and was abandoned in February 1943.
- T57 3in Gun Motor Carriage.
- Variant of T56 with Continental engine of the Medium Tank M3. Also dropped in February 1943.
- T27 / T27E1 81 mm Mortar Motor Carriage.
- M5A1 with turret replaced by superstructure in which an 81 mm mortar was installed. Also carried .50 cal Browning M2HB machine gun. The project was abandoned in April 1944 because of inadequate crew and storage space.
- T29 4.2in Mortar Motor Carriage.
- Design similar to T27, with 4.2 inch (107 mm) mortar. Was abandoned for the same reason.
- T81 Chemical Mortar Motor Carriage
- M5A1-based 4.2 inch (107 mm) chemical mortar carrier.
- M3 with Maxson Turret.
- Anti-aircraft variant developed in 1942. Was armed with four .50 cal. machine guns in a turret developed by Maxson Corp. The project was rejected because of the availability of the M16 MGMC.
- 40 mm Gun Motor Carriage T65.
- Anti-aircraft vehicle based on lengthened M5A1. Was armed with Bofors 40 mm gun. Was ordered into production, but on Light Tank M24chassis, so became the M19 Gun Motor Carriage.
- 20 mm Multiple Gun Motor Carriage T85.
- Anti-aircraft vehicle based on same chassis as T65 (M5A1). Was armed with quad Oerlikon 20 mm cannons.
- M3/M5 Command Tank.
- M3/M5 with turret replaced by small superstructure with a .50 cal. machine gun.
- T8 Reconnaissance Vehicle.
- M5 with turret removed and mounting for .50 cal machine gun.
- M3 with T2 Light Mine Exploder’.
- Developed in 1942, was rejected.
- M3/M3A1 with Satan Flame-gun.
- Flame thrower was installed instead of the main gun. 20 tanks were converted for US Marine Corps in 1943.
- M5A1 with E5R1-M3 Flame Gun.
- Flame thrower was installed instead of the hull machine gun.
- M3A1 with E5R2-M3 Flame-gun.
- Flame thrower was installed in place of hull machine gun.
- M5 Dozer.
- M5 with dozer blade. Turret was usually removed.
- M5 with T39 Rocket Launcher.
- T39 launcher with 20 7.2″ rockets mounted on the top of the turret. Never reached production.
- M5A1 with E7-7 Flame Gun.
- Flame thrower was installed instead of the main gun.
- M5A1 with E9-9 Flame-throwing equipment.
- Prototype only.
- M5A1 with E8 Flame-gun.
- Turret replaced by boxy superstructure with flame thrower in a smaller turret. Prototype only.
In the 1970s, Brazilian company Bernardini developed a series of radical Stuart upgrades for the Brazilian Army.
- Based on M3A1, this design had new engine (280 hp (210 kW) Saab-Scania diesel), improved suspension, new upper hull armor, fire controls and DEFA 90 mm gun in a new turret. 80 vehicles were produced.
- An X1A with improved suspension with three bogies (instead of two) each side and raised idler. Didn’t reach production.
- Based on the X1A1, this version retained almost nothing of the original Stuart as even its hull was redesigned. The vehicle weighed 19 short tons (17 t), had crew of 3, was armed with 90 mm gun and powered by Saab-Scania 300 hp (220 kW) diesel. 30 vehicles were produced in 1979-1983.
- Republic of China
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Haiti – eight M3A1 and five M5A1
- New Zealand
- Nicaragua – four M3A1 still in service with the National Guard (Nicaragua) in 1979
- Paraguay – 12 still in service 5 is operational in 2.R.C. 2010
- Portugal – 70 vehicles in service with the Portuguese Army and other 20 with the Republican National Guard from 1956-1972