tering active service until after the Ko-rean War. The principal source of theseproblems lay with the rangefinder thatproved unusually complex and fragilefor operation on a battlefield environ-ment. Its turret control system too oftenmalfunctioned. Its air-cooled, gasolineengine and cross-drive transmission per-mitted a top speed of 37 miles per hourand good cross-country mobility, but itpossessed a range of only 85 miles.Symbolic of its evolutionary back-ground, the M47 retained the standardfive-man crew and hull machine gun of the WWII generation of tanks. Produc-tion of the M47 reached 9,100 by No-vember 1953 of which 8,500 were ex-ported, many going to NATO countries.
The Army intended the M47 only as astopgap until a superior medium tank de-sign could be developed. Work on thissuccessor vehicle began in October 1950before the first deliveries of the M47.The new tank that became the M48 un-derwent testing in 1952. It featured aone-piece cast turret in a dome shapethat offered improved ballistic protec-tion. Most contemporary turrets nar-rowed at their base, creating a shot trapbetween the lower turret and hull that in-creased vulnerability. The M48 designeliminated this weakness, since the turretbase overhung the tracks. The turret’sshape derived from the Soviet JSIII, con-sidered the nemesis of American tanks inthe late 1940s and early 1950s becauseof its superior armor, armament, andrange. Other principal features of theM48 included wider tracks, a 90mm gunmounting that permitted 15-minute guntube changes, and for the first time in anAmerican medium tank, a four-mancrew. The design incorporated a cross-drive transmission and the same 810horsepower, 12-cylinder gasoline engineintended for the T43 heavy tank to en-sure sufficient mobility.
The Army’s emphasis upon long rangeaccuracy led to the incorporation of afire control system in the M48. This sys-tem included a stereoscopic rangefinder,ballistic computer, ballistic drive, andgunner’s periscope. Collectively, thesemechanical devices resembled in mini-ature the fire control systems used bynaval vessels. Only after WWII did suchsystems become small enough for use incombat vehicles. They permitted tanks toengage effectively at much longer rangesthan in WWII — a critical considerationfor an army expecting to enter the battle-field outnumbered. Instead of a gunner’ssight slaved to the gun tube, the ballisticcomputer and drive computed the rangeand elevated the gun. The gunner’s pri-mary responsibility lay in keeping thesight on the target. The mechanical bal-listic computer made a more accuratecomputation of range possible by mathe-matically accounting for such factors asvehicle cant and ammunition type.
The Army planned to produce over9,000 M48s within three years of devel-opment. Such rapid, mass productionwould redress the imbalance betweenSoviet and American tank forces. Meet-ing this goal, however, required produc-tion simultaneous with operational test-ing and development. Chrysler Corpora-tion became the principal producer of the tank. In a manner reminiscent of theM3 medium tank in WWII, Chrysler be-gan building a new plant in Newark,New Jersey, to build the M48 while itcontinued to evolve the design. Expectedproduction and teething troubles led tothe creation of integrating committees tocoordinate tank and component develop-ment. These committees included mili-tary and industrial representatives whoprovided early warning of defects andrecommended remedies.
Between April 1952 and December1954, nearly 7,000 M48s were produced,with an additional 2,500 to be builtthrough 1956. Combat units immediatelyreceived 2,120, but correction of defectsdiscovered after production delayed thefielding of the remaining tanks. The firstproduction vehicles suffered from exces-sive oil consumption and engine failuresafter only 1,000 miles. The gasoline en-gine managed only .33 miles per gallon,limiting range to 75 miles. The M48’swidth proved too wide for many Euro-pean tunnels, complicating rail trans-port.
Operational readiness rates of M48-equipped units tended to be low.The tanks suffered from engine, trans-mission, track, and suspension problems,and the fire control system’s complexitymade it difficult to operate.
However,the M48 was considered an even matchfor its Soviet counterpart, the T54. TheArmy expected difficulties in engage-ments with the JSIII, since the M48’s90mm gun could not consistently pene-trate the JSIII’s frontal armor, even withspecial armor-piercing or HEAT ammu-nition.
Correction of mechanical deficienciesresulted in a series of product improve-ments throughout the 1950s. The suspen-sion, engine, and transmission underwentmodifications that resulted in theM48A2. External fuel tanks boosted thetank’s range but increased vulnerability,making them unpopular. Poor range re-mained a problem until the Army liftedits prohibition on the use of diesel fuelby large combat vehicles in 1955.Shortly thereafter the M48A3 emergedwith a more fuel-efficient diesel enginethat doubled the effective operatingrange.
Not until the emergence of theM48A5 in 1975, however, did the vehi-cle receive an 105mm gun to keep itcompetitive with more modern designs.The large turret and unusually large gunmounting of the orginal M48 designmade it possible to increase the main ar-mament with minimal modifications.Combat experience in Vietnam also gen-erated several field modifications in-tended to provide better protectionagainst shaped charge weapons, includ-ing covering the turret with sandbagsand carrying chain-link fencing. Whenthe tank moved into a position, the fenc-ing was set up in front of the vehicle todetonate projectiles before they hit thetank. The cramped interior of the com-mander’s cupola also led to the .50 cali-ber machine gun being remounted on apedestal mount above the cupola for eas-ier operation. The Israelis received theM48 in the mid-1960s. They immedi-ately upgraded the tank with a diesel en-gine, 105mm gun, and lower silhouettecupola. In American service, thesechanges were not implemented until theM48A5.
The various models of the M48 repre-sented technologically advanced weaponsystems. They fulfilled their intendedrole by providing the Army with a tank able to hold its own against all but theheaviest of contemporary Soviet tanks. Itemerged during the crisis atmosphere of the Korean War, when America seemedto lag behind the Soviet Union in termsof tank quality and quantity. In 1960, theController General reported to Congressthe findings of a General Accounting Of-fice study of the M48 program. The re-port criticized the Army for placing a ve-hicle with known defects into mass pro-duction before correction, resulting incostly modifications only partially effec-tive. It further accused the Army of issu-ing a defective tank to combat units.This report ignored the impact of theKorean War upon its development andthe general satisfaction of crews issuedthe tank. It did, however, undermineCongressional faith in the Army’s tank program.
The last of the new triad of tank de-signs established after WWII was the