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What is the Caliber Length Designation of the US 75-mm M3 Gun?

Copyright 2015 J.D. Neal


Military technologists typically express the basic characteristics of
cannon by their bore diameter (such as 3-inch or 75-mm) and a caliber
number. The caliber number can be expressed in multiple ways, including 75mm L/37.5 or 37-mm/50 or even 47/50.
The caliber in this case is short for caliber lengths of the
barrel. Thus a 57-mm L/50 cannon has a barrel that is 57 x 50 = 2,850
millimeters long or about 112 inches. A 75-mm L/37.5 gun has a barrel length
of about 2,812.5 mm or 111 inches.
A layman will (in disgust) spout the frustrated words: theyre about
the same length so why dont they just use inches, feet, millimeters or
centimeters or meters!
The caliber designation is mainly intended to help give a quick glance
at a weapon. Guns tend to be around 25 calibers or more; and howitzers 15
calibers or so or less. Once you get used to it, you can tell whether a
weapon has a relatively long or short barrel.
Having the same barrel length does not make them the same basic gun.
The British 57-mm L/50 cannon uses a cartridge almost exactly he same size
as the USA 75-mm L/37.5; British loads often have about 2.3 pounds of
propellant powder versus the 2-pounds common with the US guns.
The layman might then assume they have much the same velocity and
power.
Not true! The 6-pounder has a velocity of around 2,950 feet per second
(varying by load); the USA 75-mm had a velocity of only 2,000 feet per
second.
As far as power goes, the 75-mm makes up somewhat by firing a 15 pound
shot versus the 6-pound shot of the 57-mm. The 75-mm actually has more
energy than the 57-mm. But, the 57-mm has a smaller frontal area which means
they both tend to have about the same armor penetration ability if not a
slight nod to the 57-mm.
Anyway: there have been multiple quotes about the caliber designation
of the US 75-mm M3 gun. These vary from L/40 to L/32. The author really
didnt have the time to rack these downs and glommed onto the designation
L/37.5. But, what should it really be? It certainly isnt L/32 and whoever
is quoting that number does not know what they are talking about. Perhaps
they are referring to the 75-mm M2 which has a shorter barrel; but it has a
correct caliber designation of L/28.5 (or so). Perhaps someone added the
correct caliber lengths and divided by 2 to average them but that should
give 33 not 32.
To continue: BRITISH AND AMERICAN TANKS OF WORLD WAR TWO indicates
that the 75-mm M3 has a tube length of 110.625 inches (which is almost
exactly 37.5 calibers long) and overall length of 118.375 inches (40
calibers.) Thus we find the source for quotes that it was a 75-mm L/40.
To determine which measure should be used, look at the 76-mm L/52 M1
series gun in the same book: it has a tube length of 156-inches (52
calibers) and overall length of 168-inches (56 calibers).
Thus the official caliber designation is based on tube length.
Consider the British 6pdrs Mk 3 and 5 with tube lengths of 96.2 and
112.2 inches, for calibers 43 and 50, which is what is typically quoted.
The 75-mm Quick Firing Ordnance has a tube length of around 112.6
inches for a caliber designation of 38.1. Which is an interesting number
because it is almost exactly the same designation as the USA 75-mm L/37.5.
This is not a coincidence; after using the US 75-mm gun in the M3 and M4

medium tanks in Africa, the British became so enamored of its high explosive
shell (up until then the tanks and anti-tank guns they were using were the
2-pounders and 6-pounders with somewhat weak high explosive shells, if any)
that they (a) used 75s from wrecked US tanks to re-arm some of their own
tanks as the 75-mm NA, and created their own version based on the 6pounder up-graded to 75-mm caliber, chambered for the same ammunition used
by the US gun.