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Cameron R, Jul-1998. American Tank Development During the Cold War - Maintaining the Edge or Just Getting By?, Armor

Cameron R, Jul-1998. American Tank Development During the Cold War - Maintaining the Edge or Just Getting By?, Armor

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Published by: Foro Militar General on Apr 03, 2013
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American Tank Development
Maintaining the Edge
Or
Just
Getting By?
by
Dr.
Robert Cameron
The firstin this series
oj
threeanicles,published
in
the September-October 1997
issue
of
ARMOR.addressed
Amui·
cantankdevelopmentduring
the
l\br/d
Wars.
Th
is
anicle
focusesupon
the
ColdHtlr
era
prior to
the
development
of
the
M
J
Abrams. illustrating
llu!
influence
of
theSoviet military
th
reat.
1M
desire
to
field
a
technologically superior tank
t
hat
would more
than
offset Sovi
et
numericalsuperiority made this
period
one
of
significantpioneeringefforts
in
American
lanktechnology.Despiteproblems in
fielding reliable
and
effective designs,
the
efforts to bui
ld
an idealtankmadepossible
th
elaterdevelopment
of
the
successfulAbrams
tank.
"Weknow
exactly
what
we wanL
We
want
a fast, high1y mobile,
fuUy
ar-
mored,lightweight vehicle.
It
must
be
ab
le
to
swim,cross
any
terrain,
and
climb
30
degree
hills.
It
mustbeair-transportable.
It
must havea simple
but
powerfulengine, requiring little
or
no maintenance.
The
operating rangeshould
be
several
hundred
miles. Wewouldalsolike it
to
be
invisible."
-GeneralBruce
C.
Clarke'
Theclose
of
Wo
rldWar
n
left theU
.S
.Anny with
three
principal tanks
in
its
i
n-ve
nt
ory:theM24
li
ghttankforcavalry missions,the
M4
Shennanmedium tank that
co
nstituted the bulk
of
theAnny's
tank.
strength andequippedthe annored divisions,and the M26 heavy
tank
origi·
nal
lydesignedasa counterto theGer· manTigerandPanthertanks. None
of
these vehicleswere considered ideal. TheM24 proved popularandsuperior to !heM5
li
ght tankthat
it
replaced, but
it
remainedunder·anned.Itslow·velocity 75·mm gun, o
ri
gi
nallydeveloped forair· craftuse, possessedlittle
an
tit
ank.
capa·bility.l Thevariousversions
of
the M4
medium
tank
provedmobile and reliable,
30
butit lacked s
uffici
entfirepowerandprotection.
Th
eM26heavy
tank
in·
creased
firepower and annorat
the
ex·pense
of
mobility.
It
sufferedfrom
be
in
gunder·powered.I
ts
re
pl
acement,
the
M46, featureda
new
engine,cross.<lrivetransmission,a
bore
evacuator,and fire co
ntrol
andsuspensionimprovements, modifications thatresulted
in
betteroverallperformance,
bu
t itwass
tillnot
anideal heavy
tank.
)
InMay
1946,theWar
DepanmemEquipment Boardco
mp
leted
its
reportonAnnymateriel needs.
II
acknow·ledged
the
need for a light, medium, andheavy
tank,
and recommended that anew
tank
be
developedforeach
cl
ass.
4
Worsening
re
lations wi
th
theSovietU ion encouraged implementation
of
theBoard'sproposals and development be·gan upon
the
T37lighttan
k,
the
T42medium
tank,
and theT43heavy
tank.
[n
the
immediate postwar years, bow·ever, this developmentoccurredslowly amid Army demobilization anddownsi ing.TheCold War's onset in
the
late
1940s
triggered fears
that
theSoviet Unionpossessedfarmore
tanks
of
superiorquality
.'
1be
Annyconsidered its own annoreddivisions as
the
princi
pal
de·
fense
against
the
Soviet
mi
li
tary threat,b
ut
it
didnot believe
it
possessedenough
tanks
of
the
rig
httypeto sustain a grou
nd
conflict.1berefore
the
AnnyField Forces
Adv
isoryPanel
on
Annorrecommended accelerating development
of
new
tank
designs
and
focusing re·searchanddevelopment effortsupon
tank
gu
nsandammunition.
It
alsorequested
imm
ediateands
us-
tained fiscalsuppo
rt
of
tank
develop-mentand productionto bridge
the
gapbetween American and Soviet tank num-bers and
capabilities.!>
Theo
utbreak.
of
theKorean
War
in
1950
ad
ded urgencyto
the
AdvisoryPanel'srecommendations.
Not
onlydidthe warcatch
th
eAnny
un
prepared, thefearthat
it
mi
g
ht
become a global con-flict highlighted
the
U.S.
tank
fleet'sweaknesses,both
in
numbe
rs
and qual-
ity.
The first
tanks
rushedtoKorea came from infantrydivisions stationed
in
Ja-pan. On paper,eachformation included o
ne
battalion
of
M4
medium tanks,but
ARMOR -
July
-
August
1998
 
During the Cold War
in facteachdivision
possessed
o
nl
y a
company
of
M24 light tanks,
which
provedno matchfortheNorthKorean
T34/85s.
No
t untilthe arrival
of
M4
and
M26
tanks
in
August1950didAme
ri
canforcespossess a comparable annor
abi
l-
i£y
to
me
North
Ko
reans?
In
the
United States, tankdevelopmentandproductionentered a
period
of
fren
zied
ac
ti
vitysimil
ar to
that
experien
ce
d
in
1
940
and1
94
1.
Te
stingand develop
mentcycles occurred
si
multaneously
with
producti
on
to
ens
ure
thespeedy
fieldi
ng
of
n
ew
tanks.
Such
rapid
pro-
ducti
on
guaranteedteethingtroubles, but the
im
portance attached to rapidly equip pingcombatunits
w
ith
the new
tanks
precludeddetail
ed
testingandevaluationpriortoquantityproduction.
Of
the
triad
of
new
tanks
under
devel
opment.
the
D7
li
ght
tank
reach
ed
completionfirst. Designwork began
in
1947
to bu
ildavehicle
to
perfonncavalry
roles and
su
pportairborne operations.To overcometheM24's weakness
in
fire·power, the T37 design featured al
ong.
barreled
76·mm
withastereoscopic rangefinder.Thisdeviceprovided the
ARMOR -
July-August
1998
gunnerwith aseparate targetimage for eacheye.Range detenninationoccurred by
al
ignme
nt
of
the
two imagesintoone. butits accuracy depend
ed
upon focusingabilitiesthat not
al
lpeople possessed.Although thisdevice
en
hanced target
ac·
quisitionatlongranges,i
ts
complexityl
ed
to its removal fromthe design. Thusaltered. thevehicle became theT41. Thefirstproductionvehicle wasbuilt
in
1951,
and
the
se
ri
es
becamestand·ardized as
the
M41.BNo
M41
ssaw
co
mbat in Korea,butthe tankremainedin service throughoutthe 1950s, and 5,500 were buill.Principalmodifications included a fuel-injectedengineand a hydraulic turret traversethat provided exceptionally fastturret movement.'TheM41sawextensive servicewith othernation
s.
In foreignhands,primary mod
ifi
ca
ti
onsincluded replacement
of
thegasolineengine with a diesel,an upgrade
in
armament to105rnm,and new ammunition.Later retrofit packages focuseduponimprovedfirecontrolsystems,provision
of
an NBCsystem,laserrangefinder, and thennalsights.
1o
The
M4l
provedpopular, andits 500-horsepowerengine pennittedrapid cross-countrymovement. However, at25tons,
it
was consideredtoo heavy forefficientair transportto supportairborne operations. As a reeonvehicle.the
M41
suffered
from
excessivenoiseand poor fuel efficiency,man aging
on
ly
75
mil
es
before refuelin
g.
It
wasseenashaving minimal
co
mbat
p0-
tentialagainsttheSovietT54
or
JSm
,
andi
ts
survival even againsttheold
er
T34f85
depended
up:>n
scoringa
flTS
t·round hit.
1I
Progress
in
develop
in
g anewmedium tank occurredslowlyuntil
th
eKorean
War.
TheT42
's
turret design carried animproved
90mm
gun
and
possessed better protection
in
comparisonwith theM46.
It
alsofeatured astereoscopic rangefinder. Themain annamentcould
be
operatedby either
the
tank
commanderorgunner.However,itsengine remained unsatisfactory. The M47 resulted frommountingthe T42
tu
rret
on
an M46hulLAfterasho
rt
trial and test period, the
tank
enteredquantity production
in
1952,butaseries
of
teethingtroubles prevented
it
fromen-
31
 
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.
12
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.
13
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.
14
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.
15
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.
16
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.
17
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.
18
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.
19
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.
20
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.
21
The last of the new triad of tank de-signs established after WWII was the
32ARMOR
July-August 1998 

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