A Brief History of American Armor

The United States military has had a long, if at times strained, relationship with the armored vehicle. Mechanization of American armed forces has not always followed a smooth path, but its origins predate even the internal combustion engine. Development persisted, and today the armored vehicle is a ubiquitous component of the ground forces of the United States.

In the Beginning: Trails Blazed
The Great War: The Tank Corps
Between the Wars: Stagnation
World War II: Obscurity to Maturity
The Atomic Age: Retaining Relevance
Vietnam to Desert Storm: The Struggle for Modernization
Post-Cold War: Focusing Anew
In Summary

In the Beginning: Trails Blazed

Trains were used to quickly and easily move men and supplies across distances as far back as the American Civil War, and soldiers occasionally dismounted from trains directly into action. Battle-ready troops were carried for reconnaissance, patrolling, raiding, or escort duties, and artillery pieces were soon mounted to give the trains a greater punch and the artillery greater mobility. After Confederate attacks on Union trains, a Federal engine was proofed against small arms fire with iron plating as early as April 1861. Though this initially occurred on a local level, more organized arming and armoring programs quickly followed on both sides, drawing inspiration from ironclad naval vessels. These armored railway monitors, again armed with artillery pieces and featuring loopholes from which mounted infantry could fire their rifles, acted as rolling fortresses to provide protection to railway repair workers, point installations, and supply trains, and also to perform offensive missions. One Union design placed a naval gun on top of an armored boxcar in the vein of waterborne monitors, adumbrating later fighting vehicle layouts by giving the ordnance a free field of fire. More thinly-armored rifle cars filled with troops accompanied the railway monitors to provide infantry support either by dismounting or by firing through ports in the cars' walls.McGrath, 33. Zumbro, The Iron Cavalry, 72-3. Koenig, 37-9, 52-3, 98-101, 104-19, 145-8, 156, 160, 190-8, 209-10, 217, 230-4.

The invention of the internal combustion engine freed the fighting vehicle from the confines of the rails. At the turn of the twentieth century, Major Royal P. Davidson of the Illinois National Guard and Charles Duryea of Massachusetts's Duryea Motor Wagon Company constructed a self-propelled tricycle armed with a Colt Model 1895 machine gun; Davidson later armed a four-wheel Duryea car with a Colt machine gun. Experiments run with these and similar machine gun-armed cars were such a success that in 1903 Commanding General of the US Army Lieutenant General Nelson A. Miles recommended, without success, that five cavalry regiments adopt cars instead of horses. Davidson switched to Cadillac automobiles in 1910 and used these as the basis for armored and semi-armored radio, reconnaissance, ambulance, balloon destroyer, kitchen, and supply vehicles. A convoy of Davidson's cars trekked from Chicago to San Francisco in 1915 to see how the machines would fare cross-country on the nation's roads.Davidson eventually reached the rank of colonel. Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 188, 423-4. Hunnicutt, Armored Car, 9-10. Crismon, U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles, 6. Crabtree, 8.

Armored car Number 1

Concurrently with Davidson's expedition, the American southwest saw active use of military vehicles. A handful of armored cars patrolled the country's southern border, and Brigadier General John J. Pershing's forces were accompanied on their 1916 punitive expedition into Mexico by hundreds of trucks and a smaller number of tracked tractors. An infantry company was mounted in trucks, while the tracked vehicles, manufactured by the Holt Tractor Company of California, were used as cargo carriers, or more specifically cargo pullers as they towed supply-laden skids. Pershing was a frequent sight in a Dodge passenger car, sometimes using it as a mobile command post.Hunnicutt, Armored Car, 13-4. House, 14. Crismon, U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles, 6. Crismon, U.S. Military Tracked Vehicles, 7. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 45-7. Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, I: 354. D'Este, 169. In early 1925, Holt merged with the C.L. Best Tractor Company to form the Caterpillar Tractor Company. It was also in this unlikely locale that the first motorized assault by American forces took place: Cavalry Second Lieutenant George S. Patton, Jr., commanding fourteen men mounted in three cars trying to procure corn to feed horses, diverted from this mission to search two nearby ranches for Julio Cárdenas, second in command to Pancho Villa. Patton and his men used their cars to position themselves around the ranches and assaulted directly from the automobiles. Cárdenas was found at the second ranch and, along with two other Villistas, was killed in a firefight in which Patton's men suffered no losses.Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, I: 359-66. D'Este, 172-5. Wilson, 14.

Home       Top

The Great War: The Tank Corps

Tanks, of course, debuted in the First World War, and American machines played a large role in their invention. Tracked vehicles were uncommon in Europe before World War I, and American designs had been imported to several countries for agricultural and transport work. Great Britain used upwards of 1,000 Holt Model 75 tractors as artillery prime movers during the war, and these machines helped familiarize the British military with tracklaying vehicles. Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Swinton, one of the men Great Britain credited with the tank's invention, took inspiration for his idea from the description in a friend's letter of a Holt tracked tractor.Ogorkiewicz, Tanks, 23-4. Swinton, 12-3, 57-8, 60, 77, 111-4, 116, 138-9. For discussion of the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors, which awarded Swinton £1000 for his role in the tank's invention, see Fletcher, The British Tanks 1915-19, 187-90. France and Britain experimented independently on their early tank designs, and Holt tractors took part in trials in both countries. The Holts were joined in British tests by machines built by the Bullock Creeping Grip Tractor Company of Chicago and Wisconsin's Killen-Strait Manufacturing Company; indeed, a Killen-Strait machine may have become the first armored tracked vehicle in history when an armored car body was experimentally mounted on it. More concretely, the running gear of the French Schneider CA and Saint-Chamond tanks as well as that of Germany's A7V were based on Holt's design.Ventham and Fletcher, 16. Ogorkiewicz, Tanks, 25-6, 28-9, 33-6, 47-8. Vauvillier, 17-8, 20. Fletcher, Landships, 4, 7-11. Fletcher, The British Tanks 1915-19, 25, 32-3. Liddell Hart, The Tanks, 1: 28, 33-5, 40-1. Smithers, A New Excalibur, 11, 31-5, 37. Perrett, 35-6. Stern, 21-2, 24, 29-30, 103. J.P. Harris, 17-8, 26, 28-9. Campbell, 58-9, 74-6, 80-1, 95-6, 301-2. Hundleby and Strasheim, 16-7.

America's delayed entry into World War I gave the country a late start on its own technical and tactical tank development. In June 1917 Major General Pershing, now commanding the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), read reports by American observers of British and French tank actions, and he subsequently created committees to study the new form of warfare.Wilson, 9. Hunnicutt, Stuart, 9. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 50-5. During a 25 August 1917 meeting between two of these observers and members of the British Tank Corps, US Army Major Frank Parker and Tank Corps G.S.O.1 Lieutenant-Colonel J.F.C. Fuller discussed a paper Parker had written on tank tactics. Though Parker's ideas on combined arms using aviation, tanks, motorized artillery, and motorized infantry were not adopted by his own country during the war, Fuller was impressed since they meshed well with concepts he had himself been expressing.Fuller, 157-8, does not recall the American officer by name, but Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 58-9, provides identification.

Captain Patton meanwhile was performing a rear-area assignment supervising Pershing's headquarters, and by late September 1917 he was itching for a more active role. He considered taking command of an infantry battalion, but when offered a position to help create a tank force for the US Army, he concluded the tank position would be both more interesting and more beneficial to his career. On 10 November 1917 Patton was ordered to the AEF schools at Langres in northeastern France to set up a program for training American soldiers in the use of the French Renault FT light tank. Indeed Patton was the first man assigned to the American tank service, and First Lieutenant Elgin Braine was detailed to be his assistant. Patton and his entourage observed Allied training and manufacturing methods and set about applying the lessons learned. Their efforts included meeting with tank experts such as the commander of the French Artillerie spéciale, Général J.E. Estienne, and British Tank Corps commander Brigadier-General Hugh Elles, chief engineer Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Searle, and Fuller. The Americans also suggested four modifications to the FT which were subsequently adopted, including mounting a self-starter and installing a bulkhead separating the crew from the engine.Wilson, 15. D'Este, 196, 198, 200-1, 203-8, 213, 854. Cameron, 3. Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, I: 468-73, 478-83, 501-2, 508. British rhomboid heavy tanks were predicted to be useful as well, and an American annex to the British Tank School at Wareham was formed.Wilson, 51. The AEF then requested from the War Department five heavy and twenty light tank battalions comprised of 375 British rhomboids and 1,500 French FTs.Rockenbach, 11-2. Wilson, 36. Johnson, 31.

The US Army formalized its Tank Corps on 26 January 1918, and Cavalry Colonel Samuel D. Rockenbach was assigned to command the unit.Jones, Rarey, and Icks, 107. "Armored Force, Command, and Center," 1. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 59. Patton was appointed commander of the light tank training school that he set up near Bourg, and later commanded the US 1st Tank Brigade in the debut of American tank forces at the battle of St. Mihiel on 12 September 1918.Wilson, 15, 96. Hunnicutt, Stuart, 6. In spite of the large numbers initially proposed, only three American tank battalions saw combat: the 41st Heavy Tank Battalion, and the 1st Tank Brigade which was composed of the 326th and 327th Light Tank Battalions. Confusingly, the units were redesignated with the 41st becoming the 301st Tank Battalion, the 1st Tank Brigade the 304th Tank Brigade, and its battalions the 344th and 345th, respectively. More battalions and brigades were in the process of being formed and trained, and some had actually reached the front, but the war ended before they could enter the fray: the 304th Tank Brigade was relieved in the line by the 306th (formerly 3d) Tank Brigade on 9 November 1918, but the latter unit saw no action before the Armistice was signed.See MAJ Sereno Brett, "Operations Report of the 1st (304th) Tank Brigade from Noon September 26th, 1918 to November 10, 1918," in Rockenbach, 123; Wilson, 181.

Manufacturing tanks domestically for the Tank Corps proved problematic. Indeed, in July 1917 Estienne had floated the idea of constructing the FT tank in America to help the strapped French manufacturing base, and in that September proposals were made to build French light and British heavy tanks in the US to equip its own Tank Corps. Due in part to bureaucratic hurdles, though, Estienne's scheme made no headway, and American tankers fought in European-produced FTs and Mark V and Mark V* heavy tanks for the whole of the war. American production of a copy of the FT was finally negotiated after much work had been expended by Braine. This resulted in the 6-ton tank M1917, but the first of these did not appear until October 1918, and only 64 were completed by the end of the war. Despite their tardiness, Patton rated them better than the French machines.Gale, 112. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 57. Wilson, 79-86, 222. Hunnicutt, Stuart, 17. Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, II: 710. It was also decided to employ a new heavy tank, which was developed into the Mark VIII, and it was intended to manufacture this tank in France using American and British components. Production was hampered by shortages of British supplies and the American Liberty aircraft engines that were to power the new tank; in addition, the assembly factory in Neuvy-Pailloux was not operational by the war's end.Johnson, 32. Childs, 47. J.P. Harris, 136. Broman, 38. Stern reproduces the Anglo-American treaty on Mk. VIII tank production on pp.198-201. With the cessation of hostilities, the original contracts for 4,440 M1917s were cancelled after 952 had been built, and the US constructed one hundred Mark VIIIs to its own specifications at Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois once the manufacturing coalition decomposed after the Armistice. Production of the Ford 3-ton M1918, which was planned to eclipse fifteen thousand machines, stopped at fifteen due to the end of the war and the Tank Corps's dissatisfaction with the design.Hunnicutt, Stuart, 14, 17. Hunnicutt, Firepower, 11. Childs, 47. Crismon, U.S. Military Tracked Vehicles, 51. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 63. Ogorkiewicz, Tanks, 53-4.

Heavy tank Mark VIII Liberty

These were not the only production plans that became casualties of the Armistice. In mid-1917 the British Army began converting obsolete heavy tanks into unarmed supply carriers; supply sledges were also towed by these supply tanks as well as current models making their way to the front line. Compared to supply trains consisting of pack animals and foot troops, mechanized transport offered significant economical benefits in addition to superior cross-country performance. Thus, the British decided to purchase ten thousand American tractors to take over supply transport duties in the planned 1919 offensive, but the fighting ended before more than a handful had been accepted.Fletcher, Landships, 25. Martel, 53-5. Coming full circle then, Britain's successful use of supply tanks inspired the order of a large number of American tractors, while similar machines had earlier inspired the tank's very invention and had also taken part in its experimental development.

Home       Top

Between the Wars: Stagnation

The end of World War I meant a drastic culling of the world's armed forces, and the US armored forces were no exception. At the time of the Armistice, the US Tank Corps consisted of 1,235 officers and 18,977 other ranks, but in March 1919 its authorization was reduced to 300 officers and 5,000 enlisted men. Four months later Congress declared that the Tank Corps would be limited to no more than 154 officers and 2,508 other ranks.Wilson, 219, 222. Cameron, 9. D'Este, 300.

More distressing than the manpower cuts, however, was the drive to end the independence of the tankers. Legislators were eager to keep the costs of a peactime army to a minimum, and mechanized forces were expensive; proposals were afoot to roll the armor into the Infantry branch. Some Tank Corps officers, including both Patton and Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was commanding the US tank training center at Camp Colt, Pennsylvania, penned articles asserting that the tank had a future outside of infantry support and that the Tank Corps should be kept as a separate branch of the Army. But the weighty and contrary opinions of both the AEF Superior Board on Organization and Tactics and of Pershing himself helped give impetus to those in favor of the tanks' subsumption. The Superior Board was formed after the war to digest lessons learned, and opined that tanks were not able to perform independent missions and should be used as infantry accompaniment and support. Pershing, promoted in September 1919 to the unprecedented rank of General of the Armies of the United States, agreed with the Superior Board's conclusion: later that year, during Congressional hearings on Army reorganization, he testified in favor of making the tanks a supporting arm of the Infantry. In addition, Rockenbach himself failed to articulate a role for tanks beyond that of infantry support, despite being in favor of fast tanks that could execute raids in the enemy's rear areas. Consequently the National Defense Act of 1920, passed on 2 June, did away with the Tank Corps and assigned all tanks and their units to the Infantry. Officially, tanks were simply to help the infantry advance, with medium tanks following a rolling artillery barrage and seeking out hostile antitank guns while light tanks accompanied the riflemen and destroyed enemy machine guns or strongpoints. Officers like Patton and Eisenhower were even threatened with courts-martial if they persisted in espousing views contrary to this doctrine. The Act established custodial branch chiefs for Infantry, Field Artillery, Cavalry, Coast Artillery, and for the new Air Service and Chemical Warfare Service branches, but armor was relegated to a dependent role.Johnson, 39, 72. Wilson, 223. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, 22. Jarymowycz, 24-6. Cameron, 14. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 77, 86-7, 88-9. Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, II: 783. D'Este, 297-300. Odom, 17, 55-8, 201-2. Rockenbach, while still in command of the Infantry's tanks, did later advocate adding tanks to Cavalry divisions. See Cameron, 29, and Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 85.

The subordination of tanks to the Infantry stifled tank design and doctrinal development, and tankers' morale and staffing also suffered. Patton, who had been mulling a return to the Cavalry since February 1918 thanks in part to its better career-advancement prospects, was pushed into action with the Tanks Corps's absorption and rejoined his former branch in September 1920.Wilson, 227. Cameron, 22. Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, II: 525, 709, 805-7. D'Este, 276. Rockenbach, promoted to brigadier general in June 1918, became a colonel once more after the Act's passage. See Wilson, 226-7. Likewise, Colonel Patton reverted to a captain, although he was promoted to major the next day. Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, II: 804. D'Este, 278, 300-302. Farago, 68, 98, 102-3. Another side effect of the Act was the division of the Infantry's doctrinal and organizational responsibilities from the design and production of tanks, which was controlled by the Ordnance Department. The offices of the branch chiefs created by the act also formed additional stops through which procurement paperwork had to pass. This decentralization and increased bureaucracy, combined with the users' and designers' sometimes competing desires--and even competing opinions of multiple potential users of the same equipment or vehicle--would have repercussions in the next war and beyond.Johnson, 59. Green, Thomson, and Roots, 194-5. Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, II: 790-1. The Army had already been impacted by this situation in the preceding decades, and the struggle would continue even after World War II. See Calhoun, 40-3, 47-8, 190, 281, 287-9; Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 186; Adams, 62; Herbert, 27-8; and Odom, 206-11.

Once the Act was effected, Infantry divisions were each given a company of tanks; the Tank School at Camp Meade, Maryland, retained one heavy and one light tank battalion; and the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, obtained a traning tank battalion.Cameron, 21. Wilson, 231. Ogorkiewicz, Tanks, 80. The Act formed a Provisional Tank Brigade out of a number of National Guard tank companies, but this unit never even met as a whole since the individual companies were meted out to different infantry divisions for support duties. This geographical situation was eased in 1937 when the infantry tanks were brought to Fort Benning and organized into six infantry support battalions.Salecker, 5-6. S.D. Badsey, "The American Experience of Armour 1919-53," in Armoured Warfare, Harris and Toase, eds., 129.

Nevertheless the potential of the armored vehicle could not be ignored. The formation of the country's first Experimental Mechanized Force (EMF) was approved at the end of 1927, and it took to the field from 1 July to 20 September 1928. Inspired by Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis's viewing of a similar British formation, this unit was to test the ability of mobile mechanized units to be self-sufficient. The unit consisted of an armored car troop; a company of tanks; a machine gun company; a self-propelled artillery battery; an engineer company; a company of Ordnance troops; quartermaster, signal, and chemical warfare troops; and a headquarters company.Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 107. Timothy K. Nenninger, "Organizational Milestones in the Development of American Armor, 1920-1940," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, Hofmann and Starry, eds., 40. "Armored Force, Command, and Center," 1-2. Cameron, 32, 41. Morton, 18. Gillie, 20. The EMF had a small number of new M1 light tanks made by Cunningham out of Rochester, New York, but was forced to retain worn-out M1917s due to the niggardly defense spending policies of the interwar years. By this point, some knowledgeable officers contended that the M1917s would actually be hazardous to their crews should they be needed in battle.Cameron, 133. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 107.

Light tank M1

A Mechanization Board was formed in May 1928 and recommended that a permanent mechanized force be formed. This Mechanized Force, commanded by Cavalry Colonel Daniel Van Voohris, appeared at Fort Eustis, Virginia, in 1930 and consisted of an armored car troop; a portee field artillery battery; a tank company; an antiaircraft detachment; a machine gun company; a company each of ordnance troops and engineers; chemical warfare and motor repair troops; and a headquarters company. Simultaneously with the formation and deployment of the Mechanized Force, in April 1930 Infantry Tank School commandant Colonel James Parsons crafted a plan for establishing a tank division for each of the six field armies. Missions for these formations would have included typical cavalry jobs, and there was a complete lack of horse cavalry in the proposal. The scheme was rebutted by Chief of Cavalry Major General Guy Henry via Major Patton--publicly toeing the horse-friendly Cavalry line--and was ultimately denied by the Secretary of War.Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 124-6. Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, II: 953. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur soon eliminated the Mechanized Force as a separate entity in 1931 and ordered that all combat branches should modernize themselves as much as possible.Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 106, 108-9, 127-36, 146-48, 153. Grow, "Part 1," 24, 28. Gillie, 34-5, 43. Green, Thomson, and Roots, 192. Jarymowycz, 29. "Armored Force, Command, and Center," 2-3. Cameron, 45-8. House, 102. Morton, 26-8. Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, II: 962-6. Odom, 103-4.

The remnants of the Mechanized Force were assigned to the Cavalry and redesignated the Detachment for Mechanized Cavalry Regiment, taking up station at Camp Knox in western Kentucky in late 1931. Renamed Fort Knox the following year, thus began the base's almost 80-year association with Army armored forces, lasting until 2010 when Fort Benning became the home of armor due to the base realignment and closure program. The Detachment for Mechanized Cavalry Regiment became part of the 1st Cavalry Regiment, with the formation then being renamed the 1st Cavalry Regiment (Mechanized). Van Voorhis remained in command, and Lieutenant Colonel Adna Chaffee was the unit's executive officer. It was intended to assign the 1st Cavalry Regiment (Mechanized) to the new 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) in 1932, but this brigade was not created until early 1933 and it took even longer to transfer in the troopers assigned to it.Cameron, 49-50. Gillie, 47-50. Grow, "Part 2," 25-33. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 157-60, 163, 170-1. Once formed, the brigade performed experiments and exercises to test equipment and formations throughout the mid-late 1930s, and its progressive-minded members fought to advance the cause of using mechanized forces to perform traditional cavalry missions as well as deeper maneuvers. Due to the fact that tanks were still technically under control of the Infantry according to the 1920 National Defense Act, tanks developed by the Cavalry were forced to undergo a change of nomenclature and became "combat cars."

Despite the pioneering work being performed by the mechanized cavalry, the Cavalry branch itself remained largely mentally wedded to the horse. Indeed Major General John K. Herr, who became the final Chief of Cavalry in March 1938, was a staunch advocate of the horse up to his death in 1955. Though he campaigned for the expansion of mechanized cavalry and was denied by the War Department of an advanced mechanization course at the Cavalry School, he steadfastly refused to form further mechanized cavalry units at the expense of existing horse units.Gillie, 138-9. Johnson, 136-40. Jarymowycz, 67-8, 71. Yeide, Steeds of Steel, 21-6. "Armored Force, Command, and Center," 5. Morton, 54, 56-9, 64-81, 83-100, 111-4, 193-203, 217-9. Grow, "Part 4," 38-42. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 227-8, 236-7, 243-9, 260, 266-7, 275, 279. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, 29-30. Truscott, 155-7.

Combat car M1

MacArthur hoped that component development would improve under the policy of each branch modernizing itself, and this notion did bear fruit.Nenninger, 48. During the 1930s, the seeds were planted for the components that would make mechanical reliability a hallmark of US tanks, including vertical volute spring suspension and rubber-shoed tracks with rubber bushings around the track pins. The rubber track shoes proved very durable on road surfaces; also, the rubber bushings reduced the force necessary to wrench the track around the drive sprocket, decreased wear between the track pins and pin holes, and made the track more flexible when responding to steering actions or shock forces.Cameron, 390; Research, Investigation and Experimentation in the Field of Amphibian Vehicles, 180, 191, 197. Enemy dry-pin tracks lasted approximately 600 miles (970km), while many US tracks could see 3,000 miles (4,800km). See Green, Thomson, and Roots, 309.

Engines to power new tanks, on the other hand, would be a source of trouble that would resonate into World War II. Tank engines required a large amount of power to be developed from as small a physical space as practical, so that the amount of armor enclosing the engine--and consequently the vehicle's weight--could be kept to the minimum possible. Private engine manufacturers between the wars had been under no similar size and power obligations, and since the Depression-era government had essentially no money to give for tank engine development, no suitable purpose-built powerplants were available in the early 1930s.Green, Thomson, and Roots, 287-90.

The Ordnance Department thus adopted air-cooled radial aircraft engines for tank use. This choice resulted in relatively high hulls, as the propeller shafts connecting the tall rear-mounted engines to the front-mounted transmissions needed to clear the turret bottoms. As the weight of subsequent medium tanks increased, however, the power produced by the Wright R-975 engine then being used was unable to keep pace. In the medium tank M3 this engine suffered from oil consumption and carburetor air temperature issues as well as inadequate room in the engine compartment. Another handicap of the radial engines was anticipated production shortages since the burgeoning aircraft industry also required them to power training aircraft.Ibid., 290-1. Wheeler, 166. This combination of factors forced the Lee and Sherman tanks to use no less than five different powerplants, ranging from the aircraft-derived Wright and Continental radials and Ford V8 to automobile motors like GM's twinned truck diesels and the Chrysler A57 multibank, which was comprised of five car engines arranged to run as a single unit. The M5 Stuart's development was initiated, in part, to preemptively solve the forecasted shortage of the Continental W-670 radial engines used in the M3 Stuart.Hunnicutt, Sherman, 74. Hunnicutt, Stuart, 172.

Chrysler A57 Multibank engine

In spite of the improvements done on individual components during the early and mid-1930s, wholesale replacement of the country's park of tired and obsolete tanks was a glacially slow process thanks to an isolationist public and depression-induced budgetary stringency. In fiscal year 1922, military appropriations were cut by over 16% from the previous year's amount, and expenditures did not reach the 1921 level again until 1938.Odom, 81-2. The Army Air Corps absorbed a large portion of the remaining funds: in 1933, for example, it received 20% of the Army's budget. On the other hand, the Ordnance Department's portion of the Army budget from 1922-35 was only 3.5%, contrasted to the 25% to which it was raised in 1939.Ibid., 102. Morton, 11. Another factor that slowed work and spending on new vehicles was the 1932 Geneva Disarmament Conference, which threatened to outlaw tanks altogether along with other weapons considered offensive in nature.Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 168-9. As a result, the US produced a pitiful 35 tanks from 1920-35, and from 1925-39 the Army's tank development budget allowed for building, on average, a single experimental vehicle per year.Thomson and Mayo, 224; Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, I: 1048; Green, Thomson, and Roots, 195. Cameron, 25, differs with Green, Thomson, and Roots by claiming the years included 1925-31. In 1933 MacArthur rated the Army's tanks as "completely useless" for battle save for a few experimental vehicles, yet war plans did not provide for the initiation of tank production until seven months post-mobilization.Quoted in D'Este, 293; Odom, 103. Gole, 3. Cameron, 133.

The US Marine Corps started looking into mechanization between the wars. King armored cars and the little M1917 gave the Marines their first experience with armored vehicles, and weight and size limitations imposed by the Navy's cargo cranes and tank lighters forced experiments with the unreliable turretless Marmon-Herrington CTL-3 before it was decided that standardization with the Army would be beneficial.Joseph H. Alexander, "Marine Corps Armor Operations in World War II," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, 187-9. Estes, Marines Under Armor, 13-26. Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, 18-21. Army M2A4 light tanks were procured starting in 1940, and M3 Stuarts were acquired the next year.Alexander, 198. Estes, Marines Under Armor, 28-9, 206. Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, 21, 25.


Because of the limited potential for funding, few private American armored vehicle designs emerged during the interwar period. Many of those that appeared were due to an enterprising and eccentric automobile engineer named J. Walter Christie. Christie had been creating self-propelled artillery mounts since 1916, and incorporated into many of his machines was the ability to move on tracks as normal or on road wheels only. Wheeled movement was usually powered by chains connecting the drive wheels to the rear road wheels. This feature enabled the vehicles to travel at high speeds over roads on their wheels, while also giving them good cross-country mobility once the tracks were installed. Christie's early designs were unsprung or suspended by coil springs, but his M1928 tank debuted a suspension concept that would become famously synonymous with his name. In this vehicle, the large road wheels were individually sprung on leading or trailing arms using tall and relatively soft helical springs that were housed inside a double-walled hull. This provided the wheels greater vertical movement than the previous bogie suspensions, leading to very high speeds when combined with the soft springs.

Despite enthusiasm from officers including Patton,Patton may have gone so far as to help finance Christie's company. See Farago, 100; D'Este, 296. Patton's son, however, disagrees. See Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 115-6, 164. Christie's suspension was not destined to play a large role in American tank history. Christie's prototype tanks had a reputation for shoddy workmanship and unreliability, and he continually refused to build his vehicles to the contract specifications laid out by the Army, often making modifications unilaterally. The quality of Christie's machines was so dismal that in 1932 Cavalry Major Robert W. Grow noted about the Christie tanks being used by the Detachment for Mechanized Cavalry/Detachment, 1st Cavalry (Mechanized): "On only one day were all four Christies running...I complained bitterly that the Christie was not built as a fighting vehicle but only as a mobile 'cradle for an engine.'"Hunnicutt, Sherman, 22-3. George F. Hofmann, "Army Doctrine and the Christie Tank: Failing to Exploit the Operational Level of War," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, 110-1, 113-4. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 117-8, 138-44, 163-5, 180, 242-3. Johnson, 118-9. Crismon, U.S. Military Tracked Vehicles, 87. Cameron, 129. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 11-2. Grow, "Part 2," 29.

The US Army never did wholly buy into the wheel-track conversion theory, but did go so far as to standardize and accept a handful of the Rock Island Arsenal-designed convertible medium tank M1, which used Christie's suspension. A few combat car prototypes were constructed along these lines, since Christie's dream of high-speed tanks was more suited to the Cavalry's mobile mission, however none of these vehicles were standardized. The early prototypes of the 76mm gun motor carriage M18 also used Christie's suspension, but this was dropped in favor of torsion bars which took up less room inside the hull.Hofmann, "Army Doctrine and the Christie Tank," 130. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 282. Hunnicutt, Stuart, 307. Dunham, 26, 61. Gill, 38. Interestingly, even on the eve of the German invasion, some powerful forces in the Red Army also wanted the T-34 switched to torsion bars, or even its production halted entirely in favor of the T-34M design which used torsion bars instead of Christie springs. See Baryatinskiy, T-34 Medium Tank, 18-20, and Michulec and Zientarzewski, 145. In the end, the Army concluded that Christie's designs, even those classed as medium tanks, did not provide an appreciable offensive benefit over existing light tanks despite being twice as expensive as contemporary vehicles.Hunnicutt, Stuart, 66. Hunnicutt, Sherman, 24. In the parsimonious environment of the interwar years, this finding was damning.

Convertible medium tank M1

While Christie struggled with his own government, he clandestinely sold some vehicles to the Soviet Union and Britain, a move that also did little to endear him to the US War Department.Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 11-2. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 136-8, 219-21. Cameron, 129-30. These countries developed tanks using his suspension, including many of Britain's cruiser tanks and the USSR's BT series and T-34.Hofmann, "Army Doctrine and the Christie Tank," 116, 130. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 136-8, 144, 219. Fletcher, Mechanised Force, 120-3. J.P. Harris, 277-8. Liddell Hart, The Tanks, 1: 373-4. Fleischer, 18. Bean and Fowler, 19, 68. Habeck, 115, 150-2. Baryatinskiy, Light Tanks, 5, 36. Milsom, 96. Gudmundsson, 48. Potapov, <http://english.battlefield.ru/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1:christie&catid=8&Itemid=102&tmpl=component&print=1&layout=default&page=>. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 11-2. Poland also purchased two Christie tanks, but the vehicles were accepted by the US government when the Poles defaulted on the transaction. Nonetheless, work was being conducted on a Christie-suspended tank in Poland when the Germans invaded. See Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 266-7. There is apparently some dispute as to the exact designation of the tanks Christie sold to the UK and USSR. Hofmann claims that the British received the M1930 or M1931, while Fletcher says it was an M1931 or even a US Army prototype version of the M1931, called the convertible medium tank T3. Fleischer and Milsom say the Soviets imported two "M.1931(T-3)"s and "M-1931 (T-3)"s, respectively. Bean and Fowler agree that they were T3s, but Habeck mentions the T1E1, Potapov says the USSR bought two M1930s, and Baryatinskiy calls them M.1940s. This latter designation may be because that, as Bean and Fowler assert, Christie so labeled the tanks himself to reflect how advanced he thought the design was. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 117, alleges that it was Cavalry Major C.C. Benson who took to calling Christie's tank the "Model 1940" for the same reason. The Soviets so respected Christie's work that Marshal of the Soviet Union Mikhail Tukhachevsky even proposed to Iosif Stalin that the USSR should offer Christie a large salary in exchange for assistance in designing Soviet tanks, but this proposal was not acted upon.Milsom, 41. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 152, notes the Red Army disassociated itself from Christie due to similar reasons as the US Army, namely his behavior.

Foreign armored forces saw action in the late 1930s, and America looked to these conflicts to extract relevant lessons. The Sino-Japanese and Spanish Civil Wars, for example, both featured the use of tanks and experimentation with armored unit tactics, equipment, and organizations; notably, Soviet BT-5 tanks using Christie's suspension design fought with the Spanish Republicans. From these wars, US Army Chief of Staff General Malin Craig drew the conclusion that the power of defensive weapons such as the antitank gun had grown paramount, and therefore that the tank remained an auxiliary for aiding the infantry. Despite two decades' worth of increases in automotive and radio power and reliabilty, the potential for independent armored action continued to be ignored. The 1939 edition of the Army's FM 100-5 Tentative Field Service Regulations, Operations echoed the post-Great War tank doctrine of having medium tanks disable antitank weapons while light tanks followed to defeat machine guns and otherwise assist the infantry advance.Odom, 138-9, 142, 150. Thus, right up to the outbreak of the century's second general European war, Army leadership was still reluctant to organize its tanks and mechanized forces into all-arms teams, and additionally, the Infantry and Cavalry chiefs both disagreed with the idea of transforming extant infantry or horse cavalry formations into mechanized units.Nenninger, 57.

Home       Top

World War II: Obscurity to Maturity

Practice maneuvers performed by the US Army in 1939 and 1940 as well as Germany's Panzer-divisionen racing through Poland and France spotlighted the need for reform, so the Army created the Armored Force on 10 July 1940, ignoring protests from the Infantry and Cavalry chiefs. A new branch of the Army could only be created by an act of Congress; to circumvent this obstacle as well as the National Defense Act of 1920's legal assignment of tanks to Infantry, the War Department established the Armored Force "[f]or the purposes of service test."Greenfield, Palmer, and Wiley, 56. Gillie, 162-3. Johnson, 144. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, 23-4. Cameron, 255. Yeide, The Infantry's Armor, 3. "Armored Force, Command, and Center," 9. House, 102. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 265-7. In essence, though, the Armored Force was a new branch that combined the separate armored assets of the Cavalry and Infantry, totaling 400 light and 18 medium tanks, and with its inception the organization of US mechanized forces was finally modernized.Gillie, 170. The Armored Force was initially composed of the I Armored Corps, formed from the 1st and 2d Armored Divisions, and the separate 70th Tank Battalion (Medium). The Armored Force would later suggest an armored corps consisting of two armored divisions, a motorized disivion, and support elements, but this would not come to fruition."Armored Force, Command, and Center," 9, 32. Cameron, 253, 372. The forward-thinking Chaffee, by now a brigadier general who had risen to command the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized), was chosen as chief of the new organization. Cavalry was further entwined with the Armored Force when the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) was tapped to become the nucleus of the 1st Armored Division. Prodigal son Patton also returned to armor by again taking command of an armored brigade, this time the 2d Armored Brigade of the 2d Armored Division. The division itself and the I Armored Corps would both be waypoints on his rise to army command.

The armored divisions were composed of an armored brigade made from two 3-battalion light tank regiments, a 2-battalion medium tank regiment, and a 2-battalion artillery regiment; a 2-battalion infantry regiment; another artillery battalion; and reconnaissance, engineer, maintenance, and support elements. The six light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions yielded a total of 287 light and 120 medium tanks."Armored Force, Command, and Center," 15-6, 32. Cameron, 253-4. Christopher R. Gabel, "World War II Armor Operations in Europe," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, 146. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, 24-5. Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 88. But maneuvers in Louisiana and the Carolinas in the fall of 1941 exposed problems with the organization, including the untenability of the ratio of armor to infantry and the existence of coordination problems between the separate arms. The armored division was therefore redrawn on 1 March 1942 to be more in line with European trends. Two armored regiments were now fielded, each composed of one light and two medium tank battalions for a total of 232 medium and 158 light tanks and 14,618 personnel, up from the 11,200 men of the earlier iteration. A third battalion was added to the infantry regiment, and the artillery chain of command was simplified with the creation of a divisional artillery headquarters for all three artillery battalions. An organizational breakthrough came with the replacement of the armored brigade with two "combat commands," A and B. These headquarters were not permanently assigned troops, but could accept different battalions or other units as different missions dictated. This bestowed the armored division with a large degree of flexibility, but confusingly the regimental headquarters acted as a supply dump and maintenance resource for its subordinate battalions no matter to which combat command they were assigned."Armored Force, Command, and Center," 28-9, 32. Cameron, 373-7. Gabel, "World War II Armor Operations in Europe," 146-7. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, 121-2, 149, 175-9. Bellanger, 1. Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 89-90.

In response to lessons learned during the the armored divisions' combat debut in North Africa, the table of organization and equipment was again redone on 15 September 1943. The number of tank battalions was reduced to three, yielding equal numbers of tank, infantry, and artillery battalions. Tank battalions were reorganized to have one light and three medium tank companies. The smaller number of tank battalions lowered the number of tanks to a total of 168 medium and 77 light tanks, and there were 10,936 personnel in the division. A third, smaller combat command headquarters, Reserve Command, was instituted to handle units unassigned to Combat Commands A or B. The armored and infantry regimental headquarters were dispensed with, the combat commands becoming the only headquarters between battalion and division level. All armored divisions except the 2d and 3d Armored Divisions would adopt the "light" 1943 structure; those two divisions remained similar to the 1942 "heavy" table."Armored Force, Command, and Center," 32-4. Cameron, 382-5. Gabel, "World War II Armor Operations in Europe," 153-5. Bellanger, 1. Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 92-3.

In practice, the flexibility offered by the combat command organization was not always utilized by division commanders. Some preferred to have units permanently assigned to specific combat commands, while others used all three combat commands as equal-strength units. The 5th, 8th, 13th, and 20th Armored Divisions are examples of units that operated with fixed assignments; while the 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 12th Armored Divisions utilized the Reserve Command in combat. This option usually necessitated adding personnel to the Reserve Command headquarters: since it was intended to simply keep track of unassigned units, its staff was smaller than those of Combat Commands A and B.Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 93. Bellanger, 69-71, 74-6.

As a concession to the Infantry, General Headquarters (GHQ) tank units were also created to help reinforce specific operations. From the start, these units were intended for infantry support, and the chiefs of Infantry and the Armored Force were to cooperate in creating tactics for them.Greenfield, Palmer, and Wiley 67. Jarymowycz, 72. Johnson, 145. "Armored Force, Command, and Center," 44-5. Although conceivable, there were no instances of separate tank battalions being attached to armored divisions in Europe. See General Board, European Theater, Separate Tank Battalions, 4; Greenfield, Palmer, and Wiley, 328; Cameron, 384; and Yeide, Steel Victory, 5. The units were renamed "separate" tank battalions after the Army's March 1942 reorganization eliminated GHQ as well as the branch chiefs. Although only fifteen separate tank battalions were initially planned, by early 1943 the Army had created forty-eight tank battalions in armored divisions versus sixty-three separate tank battalions; by late 1944 the ratio was sixty-five separate battalions to fifty-four in armored divisions. Seventy-four indepenent battalions would eventually be formed along with smaller separate units, including tank companies.Greenfield, Palmer, and Wiley, 333. Johnson, 146. Yeide, Steel Victory, 7. Cameron, 481. Yeide, The Infantry's Armor, 6. A total of ten armored group headquarters, similar in personnel to the combat command headquarters of the armored division, were created to handle more than one separate tank battalion."Armored Force, Command, and Center," 45-6. Cameron, 494. Gabel, "World War II Armor Operations in Europe," 155-6.Yeide, Steel Victory, 7-8. On the other hand, the Cavalry was totally divorced from tank doctrine after the creation of the Armored Force. Despite having a combined-arms mechanized cavalry regiment in service since 1932 that had managed to grow into a brigade, Cavalry was ultimately unwilling to totally embrace mechanization over the trusted horse until it was too late.

Concurrently with the elimination of GHQ and the branch chiefs, Army Ground Forces (AGF) was created on 9 March 1942 to manage ground combat elements, including the Armored Force. Former GHQ Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Lesley McNair was placed in command of the new organization.Calhoun, 245-6. Greenfield, Palmer, and Wiley, 31, 152. Gabel, "World War II Armor Operations in Europe," 145. Cameron, 369-71. The Armored Force was renamed the Armored Command on 2 July 1943 to avoid confusion with the Army Air, Ground, and Service Forces, which enjoyed a degree of independence that the Armored Force did not after its subordination to AGF. A month later the specialized armored corps formation was eliminated in favor of corps headquarters that could be assigned different units as needed, similar in concept to the combat commands of the armored division. I Armored Corps was stood down, and the other three armored corps that had been formed, II, III, and IV Armored Corps, were transformed respectively into the XVIII, XIX, and XX Corps."Armored Force, Command, and Center," 108-9, 33-4. Greenfield, Palmer, and Wiley, 408-9. Gillie, 250-1. Bellanger, 1. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, 188-9. Gabel, "World War II Armor Operations in Europe," 153-5. Cameron, 398-400, 382-5. Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 90-3. Wheeler, 171. On 19 February 1944, the Armored Command was downgraded to the Armored Center. The Armored Center, in view of the policy to attach armored units directly to the command of regular corps or armies instead of to the defunct specialized armored corps, was placed under the Army's Replacement and School Command but kept the power, directly under AGF, to inspect armored units and to recommend changes to armored organization, doctrine, training and training literature, and equipment. AGF influence on armor policy grew as that of the Armored Force/Command/Center declined."Armored Force, Command, and Center," 109-10. Gillie, 254-5. Greenfield, Palmer, and Wiley, 410. Cameron, 400-1. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 288.

The interest taken in forming American armored units naturally spurred thought on how to defend against enemy mechanized forces. August 1940 Army maneuvers and the German "Blitzkrieg" indicated that passive, defensive antitank tactics would fail when trying to tackle a maneuvering armored enemy. The Army's Infantry, Cavalry, and Field Artillery branches--but notably not the Armored Force, which considered its offensive-minded spirit anathema to this inherently defensive mission--all clamored to take over the responsibility for antitank duties, so Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall took action in May 1941 by forming a GHQ Planning Branch under Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General) Andrew D. Bruce to study the antitank problem in isolation from any branch prejudices. The arrived-at solution was to centralize all extant antitank battalions along with newly-formed antitank units under GHQ using an aggressive doctrine prepared by a Tank Destroyer Tactical and Firing Center established at Fort Meade, Maryland.Gabel, Seek, Strike, and Destroy, 11-18. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, 31-3, 175-6. Dunham, 1-6. Yeide, The Tank Killers, 6-7. Gill, 10-1. Odom, 150-2, 158. Commanded by Bruce, the Center espoused doctrine based on the assumption that centrally-held towed or self-propelled antitank guns would be able to offensively concentrate on and defeat Germany's tank attacks once those attacks had broken through the friendly front line, using organic reconnaissance assets to scout firing positions and find the enemy force. The tank destroyers were to hold back if the enemy was accompanied by strong infantry forces or artillery fires, though, since the basis behind their creation was quite simply the destruction of hostile armor.Gabel, Seek, Strike, and Destroy, 26. Yeide, The Tank Killers, 8-9. FM 18-5, 8, asserts that "tank destroyers are ill suited to close combat against strong forces of hostile foot troops." On the other hand, FM 18-20, 50, notes that self-propelled tank destroyers firing HE may deal with "moderate infantry attacks" if assisted by their security section machine guns and a few riflemen. FM 18-21, 68, says that, when the machine guns of towed tank destroyers' prime movers are added to this mix, "many" infantry attacks can be stopped. These tactics were, as far as their proponents were concerned, successfully tested in the 1941 Louisiana maneuvers, but the rules and umpiring were not necessarily realistic.General Board, European Theater, Study of Tank Destroyer Units, 12. Gabel, Seek, Strike, and Destroy, 9, 17. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, 89, 122-4, 149, 170-1, 191-2. Dunham, 4. Baily, 20-1. Cameron, 350-3. House, 145. Calhoun, 240-4. Gill, 11. For criticism of the rules and umpiring, see Cameron, 353-7; Yeide, The Tank Killers, 5-6; Gabel, Seek, Strike, and Destroy, 14-17; Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, 48-9, 125-6, 148-9, 175-6; Adams, 78-80; and Farago, 158, 160-8. Calhoun, 229-31, alleges that rules for the antitank guns were meant to simulate more powerful ordnances that were being designed.

Unfortunately for the tank destroyers, the Germans were not so kind as to commonly provide massed tank attacks, instead usually preferring to attack with concentrated combined arms forces. Likewise, instances of encountering large numbers of enemy tanks became increasingly rare as the war progressed in Europe, and were rare for the almost the entirety of the Pacific campaign.Guderian, 24. von Mellenthin, 20. Citino, 30-2. Macksey, Tank versus Tank, 60, 64. Jentz, Panzer Truppen, 1: 77. Jarymowycz, 256. Yeide, The Tank Killers, 43. Gill, 36. "Armored Force, Command, and Center," 14. House, 112. Another factor confounding the use of the new arm was that field commanders often misunderstood or ignored the prescribed tank destroyer doctrine; divided up tank destroyer units to support other formations, thereby preventing them from being massed as intended; and frequently forced tank destroyers to perform missions for which they had been neither designed nor trained, for example using self-propelled tank destroyers as assault guns or ersatz tanks.Baily, 54-5, 58-9. Yeide, The Tank Killers, 68. Greenfield, Palmer, and Wiley, 426. Cameron, 416-7, 496-8. Gill, 18, 23-4, 36-7, 60, 72, 73, 76-9.

When the tank destroyers first saw action in Tunisia, it was difficult to impossible to use them offensively as intended,Gabel, Seek, Strike, and Destroy, 42. Gill, 36-7. Calhoun, 280-1. but tactical doctrine and equipment designs forged ahead. The Army's first, indeed only, purpose-built self-propelled tank destroyer was the 76mm gun motor carriage (GMC) M18, which did not appear until July 1943. Before this the tank destroyer forces had used interim designs based on existing vehicles, including the 37mm GMC M6, 75mm GMC M3, and the 3" GMC M10. Towed guns were also touted, for example by McNair and Major General Omar Bradley, due to shipping efficiency and lessons learned in North African combat: concealment was key for towed guns, and in the desert it was easy to dig in and hide the relatively small guns then in use. Once the battle moved to Europe, though, it became apparent how much more useful self-propelled tank destroyers were, and many towed battalions were transformed into self-propelled units. Preferred by both Marshall and Bruce, self-propelled mounts were more beneficial since antitank guns had grown in size and weight, meaning it was more difficult to dig them in and conceal them in the European landscape. The taller self-propelled vehicles also offered advantages in field of vision and firing height.Baily, 21-2, 58-9, 105-6. Calhoun, 233-7. Gill, 16, 37-8, 56-7. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 282. General Board, European Theater, Study of Tank Destroyer Units, 10. Gabel, Seek, Strike, and Destroy, 27-8. Cameron, 427. House, 146.

3" gun motor carriage M10

As the assumptions of the tank destroyer doctrine were realized to be invalid, the Tank Destroyers' influence quickly waned: the Tank Destroyer Tactical and Firing Center moved to Camp Hood, Texas, in January 1942 and was rechristened the Tank Destroyer Command that March. However, it was downgraded to the Tank Destroyer Center in August 1942, and in October of the next year the Tank Destroyers had to fight against AGF's desire to roll them into the Field Artillery. This merger was actually resisted by both the Tank Destroyers and the Field Artillery due to the different tactics used by the two arms, but Tank Destroyer enlisted men nonetheless became Field Artillery personnel.Gabel, Seek, Strike, and Destroy, 44, 46. Dunham, 20, 35. Gill, 12, 41-2. Cameron, 407, 431-2. The advent of more powerfully-armed tanks added fuel to the fire by erasing the armor penetration advantage the Tank Destroyers had held over earlier tank designs. Despite the issues with doctrine and their frequent use in missions foreign to their training, the Tank Destroyer troops provided yeoman service and ended World War II with a loss exchange ratio firmly in their favor.Yeide, The Tank Killers, 250. Dunham, 51.

American armor lagged technologically as well as organizationally at the start of World War II. Standardized and accepted tanks had been few and far between in the 1930s, and included the Infantry's M2 light tank and the Cavalry's M1 and M2 combat cars, which all used essentially the same hulls and had all been armed solely with machine guns. The US also got some medium tanks in 1939 with the arrival of the M2, a design armed with a 37mm gun and bristling with more machine guns than crewmen. Most European countries, in contrast, had tanks in service that possessed more powerful weapons. In particular, Germany's Panzerkampfwagen (Pz.Kpfw.) IV was armed with a 75mm gun, and it was decided that the next generation of American tanks would match the German vehicles in armament.Hunnicutt, Sherman, 45. Ogorkiewicz, Technology of Tanks, I: 24. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 20. Baily, 5. Gillie, 170-1. This reversed the 1938 opinion of the Chief of Infantry that considered a 75mm gun medium tank unnecessary, despite contemporary reports of German experimental tanks armed with 88mm guns. See Green, Thomson, and Roots, 201. Curiously, though, the Germans apparently did not actually have any tanks armed with an 88mm gun until Tiger prototypes were constructed in 1942. See Spielberger and Doyle, 27; and Jentz and Doyle, D.W. to Tiger I, 23-8, 67-9.

Medium tank M2

This decision was easier to make than to put into practice, however, since neither a turret that could mount a 75mm gun, nor a recoil system capable of handling such a weapon in a tank turret, had yet been designed in the US.Hunnicutt, Sherman, 47. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 20. Johnson, 148. So in order to get the weapon to the field as quickly as possible, the medium tank M3 mounted its 75mm gun in the right sponson. Fortuitously a similar setup had been under evaluatation since April 1939 when a 75mm howitzer was installed in the sponson of a surplus prototype of the M2 medium tank. Production of the M3 and its British Grant version began as soon as possible to quickly ship the new tanks to the British, who were embroiled in the fight against Panzergruppe Afrika.Hunnicutt, Sherman, 35, 46. The urgency was such that the British were sometimes given a higher priority for medium tanks than the US Armored Force, and tank production and delivery could be so hurried that defects which occurred during manufacturing and shipping were known to cause significant delays in fielding the new machines while these faults were repaired in field workshops.Cameron, 264; Ross, 208; Smithers, Rude Mechanicals, 122. For the need to repair newly-delivered tanks, see Coombs, 89, 91; and Hopkins, 63.

The M3 proved a capable vehicle despite being intended as an interim design, and its dual-purpose 75mm gun was able to take on enemy armor as well as antitank guns; to this point enemy guns had been difficult for British tanks since their 2 pounder gun did not have an effective high-explosive shell issued, and their machine guns were not supplied with armor-piercing ammunition for penetrating enemy antitank gun shields.Beale, 96-7. Ross, 173. Fletcher, The Great Tank Scandal, 90, 109. Buckley, 73-5, 145. Hunnicutt, Sherman, 88. Perrett, 86. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 28. Jentz, Tank Combat in North Africa, 14, 47. Knight, 33-4, 41. Liddell Hart, The Tanks, 2: 227. House, 125. Both the British and Germans were impressed with the Grant upon its debut,The British were happy with its armor, armament, and reliability compared with 2 pounder Crusaders. See Knight, 70-3, 78, 80, 83, 97, 112. For the German view, see von Mellenthin, 111, 117. When it appeared, Rommel rated it higher than all tanks in the theater except the long-barreled Pz.Kpfw.IV Spezial. See Liddell Hart, The Rommel Papers, 185, 196-7, 206-7, 330. Some US troops fielded a less favorable view, however. See Cameron, 391; and Adams, 64. but development of the 75mm gun-turreted M4 Sherman commenced immediately upon the completion of the M3's plans, and the first M4A1 was accepted eight months after the first M3. The M4 was based on the mechanical components of the M3 series, which itself was based on the M2 medium, and the Lee's 75mm gun was retained on the Sherman.

Medium tank M3A1 Lee

The Army continued to work on new medium tanks even immediately after the introduction of the Sherman. One of the earliest efforts started as a light tank design mooted in early 1941, but weight increases during development led to its standardization as the medium tank M7 in August 1942. Armored Force commander Major General Jacob Devers was enthusiastic about this vehicle, suggesting that manufacture of the Sherman be curtailed if required to get the M7 into service more quickly. A factory in Iowa was erected for M7 production, and orders for 3,000 machines were placed. Unfortunately, tests on the initial vehicles in early 1943 showed that the new tank's performance was inferior to that of the M4A3, and it also offered no advantages in armament or armor over the Sherman. His mind changed, Devers requested on 16 March 1943 that the M7 program be terminated. For an expenditure of sixteen million contemporary dollars, a total of seven standard M7s were built along with six additional tanks modified to try to improve performance.Baily, 33-5. Hunnicutt, Stuart, 199, 206-7. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 109.

Medium tank M7

From the beginning of the Sherman's design process, plans had been in place to arm it with a better armor-piercing gun. The Sherman's turret front plate was interchangeable, and it was proposed to use a 105mm howitzer and the 3" gun M7 as well as the 75mm gun. However the 3" gun, which had already been arming prototypes of the M6 heavy tank and which would see widespread service in the GMC M10, turned out to be too unwieldy for the medium tank turret. The remedy to this problem, a weapon that was ballistically identical to the 3" gun M7 but light and compact enough to fit in the Sherman's turret, was produced by August 1942.Hunnicutt, Sherman, 198-9. One thousand Shermans armed with this new weapon, which was designated the 76mm gun M1, were desired by the Ordnance Department, but the Armored Force considered the design ergonomically unworkable.Ibid., 199, 202. Baily, 83. The turret of the prototype medium tank T23, which had been designed from the start for the 76mm gun, was then satisfactorily mated to the Sherman hull,Hunnicutt, Pershing, 73-4. Baily, 84. and production of 76mm gun medium tanks began in January 1944 even before prototype testing had completed. Production of 75mm gun tanks was set to be replaced totally with 76mm gun tanks, but the Armored Command balked. They noted that the 75mm gun fired a more effective high explosive shell, the 76mm gun produced a blinding muzzle blast, and the larger 76mm rounds resulted in lower ammunition loads and more difficulty in handling the rounds inside the tank.The muzzle blast of the 76mm gun, especially early versions without muzzle brakes, was so obscuring that it was considered a "one shot" weapon. See General Board, European Theater, Tank Gunnery, 37. Hunnicutt, Sherman, 206. Cameron, 462. Baily, 84-5. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 116. Baily says that Ordnance was opposed to the 76mm gun Sherman, "possibly because it would compete with the T23", which Ordnance was then developing. Arming the Sherman with the 90mm antiaircraft gun was also briefly considered in 1942, but it was realized that performance degradations resulting from modifications required to make the gun and ammunition manageable inside a medium tank turret would render the upgrade moot.Hunnicutt, Sherman, 212. It should be noted that these developments began before the Pz.Kpfw.Panther was even designed, and 76mm gun tank production actually began before the Panther was seen in the West.Panther first appeared in the West in Italy in August 1943 with I./SS-Pz.Rgt.1 of SS-Pz.Gren.Div.LSSAH, but these tanks returned to Germany without seeing action. Panthers did not actually engage the Allies in the West until tanks of I./Pz.Rgt.4 fought around Anzio in February 1944. See Jentz, Germany's Panther Tank, 144; Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 89; and Jentz, ed., Panzer Truppen, 2: 135-6, 144.

Despite rushing 76mm gun tanks into production, they would not see combat until well into the Normandy campaign. One hundred thirty of the vehicles had made it to England by April 1944, but commanders initially elected not to use them. A 20 April 1944 briefing at Lieutenant General Bradley's headquarters by a representative of the First US Army's Armored Fighting Vehicles and Weapons Section detailed the benefits of the new gun, including greater accuracy and increased armor and concrete penetration. Disadvantages noted included the lower ammunition loads, weaker high explosive shell, no appropriate smoke shell, and target obscuration that might necessitate the tank commander actually dismount in order to sense the shot. The blast problem was eventually ameliorated by adding a muzzle brake and using longer primers, but these cons, and the very short time available to train tankers on the new gun, helped to conspire to keep the 76mm gun tanks out of action until Operation Cobra in late July.Baily, 101. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 129-31, 166. Napier, 242-3. Hunnicutt, Sherman, 206-7.

Medium tank M4A3(76)W Sherman

A more successful replacement for the Sherman was the T20 design series, commenced in the spring of 1942 and eventually culminating in the M26 Pershing.Hunnicutt, Pershing 49; Zaloga, Armoed Thunderbolt, 111. However, the path to the new tank was pocked by bureaucratic infighting as well as trouble with ammunition stowage and transmission and brake designs on the prototype tanks. By the fall of 1943, the Armored Command was in favor of a vehicle mounting the new 90mm tank gun, but preferred that the Sherman tank be upgunned to this standard since there was little chance of a new 90mm gun tank being fielded in time for the upcoming invasion of France. Ordnance asserted that the medium tank would be overloaded by the approximately 9,200lbs (4,200kg) added by a 90mm gun turret, and instead preferred production of a 90mm version of their T20 prototype series. The new commander of the Armored Command, Major General Alvan Gillem, thought the 90mm gun turret would only weigh 4,000lbs (1,800kg) more than the 76mm gun turret, and his figure is probably more accurate than the Ordnance Department's. AGF had no objection to a new tank, but disagreed with both on the 90mm gun issue.Hunnicutt, Sherman 212. Baily 86-7, 122, 126. Mayo, 328-9, 338. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 112-3.

AGF was hesitant to approve the 90mm gun since it believed the new weapon would distract tankers from their primary mission of exploitation by encouraging them to seek out duels with enemy armor, and also because there was no consensus among field commanders regarding its necessity. When queried in late 1943 about which versions of the T20 series were preferable, the European Theater of Operations replied that they would desire the 76mm gun versions, but would like work to continue on the 90mm gun versions. The North African Theater of Operations, commanded at the time by General Eisenhower and containing the only two US armored divisions that had yet seen action, wanted the 76mm gun versions only and thought that the 90mm gun versions would be too heavy and stow too few main gun rounds.Baily, 92-3. The T26E1 only stowed forty-two 90mm rounds, far less than the requirement of seventy set down by the European Theater. Among other workarounds, wet stowage was dropped in favor of additional space for the 90mm rounds. See Hunnicutt, Pershing, 116. AGF may not have envisioned its tanks actively seeking enemy armor to engage, but Armored Force and War Department field manuals consistenly listed enemy armored forces as potential targets for medium tanks. Presciently, the European Theater changed its mind shortly before the Normandy invasion and requested that production of 75mm and 76mm gun tanks be halted in favor of 90mm gun and 105mm howitzer tanks, but in a ratio of one gun tank to three howitzer tanks.Hunnicutt, Pershing 195. Baily, 102. Mayo, 330-1.

Initial resistance to the 90mm gun was partly due to faulty test data. Ordnance tests claimed the 3" and 76mm weapons could penetrate a Pz.Kpfw.Tiger Ausf.E frontally to 2,000 yards (1,800m). As late as February 1943 even the Tank Destroyers had no interest in a 90mm gun motor carriage since it was thought the 3"/76mm guns were sufficiently powerful. Similarly in May 1944 Eisenhower, who in February that year had become the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, told the US War Department that converting Tank Destroyer battalions in Europe to the newly-developed 90mm GMC M36 was not desired.Baily, 71-2, 90, 102. Gill, 40-1.

Actual encounters with heavier German tanks like the Tiger and Panther would prove that those Ordnance tests and the line of thinking they engendered were sadly incorrect. After July 1944 firing trials at Isigny, France, demonstrated the difficulty the US 76mm and 3" guns would have with the Panther's frontal armor, Eisenhower complained, "Ordnance told me this 76 would take care of anything the Germans had. Now I find you can't knock out a damn thing with it." That same month the Army again briefly considered mounting the Pershing's 90mm gun turret on the Sherman, but since the M26 was anticipated to enter mass production in the months it would have taken to build up a useful number of 90mm Shermans, it was instead decided to concentrate on the new tank.Johnson, 194. Ross, 288. Yeide, The Tank Killers, 135. Napier, 421. Fletcher, The Universal Tank, 102. Mayo, 331. Hunnicutt, Sherman, 212. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 128-9, 180. With such experience behind it, by January 1945 the European Theater's preferred ratio of gun to howitzer tanks flipped to four gun tanks to each howitzer tank.Mayo, 330-1.

However, even 90mm gun tanks would have struggled against the Panther's upper front hull for all of 1944: firing trials that December by the 703d Tank Destroyer Battalion using the M36 only produced a penetration about half the time from a frighteningly close range of 150-300 yards (140-275m). The Panther's glacis would remain largely invulnerable to American guns until the 90mm hyper-velocity armor-piercing (HVAP) T30E16 and 90mm armor-piercing T33 rounds arrived in Europe in early 1945. The T30E16 HVAP shot could get through the Panther's upper front hull from 450 yards (410m) away; it could even get through the upper front hull of the Pz.Kpfw.Tiger Ausf.B, but only at a range of 100 yards (90m). The T33 could penetrate the Panther's glacis plate from a more comfortable 1,100 yards (1,000m).Baily, 106-7, 109-10. Hunnicutt, Pershing, 120-1. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 218-9. Armor-piercing Ammunition for Gun, 90-mm, M3, 1-2, 11-2. Zaloga says the T30E16 arrived in Europe in January 1945, but Baily says neither type appeared there until March. Hunnicutt says small quantites of both were available for the 20 Zebra Mission Pershings. With more effective guns and ammunition becoming available, AGF's earlier prediction about powerful gun tanks seeking out enemy armor rang true. Indeed, the experimental long-gunned T26E4 "Super Pershing" sent to Europe in March 1945 was hoping to encounter a Pz.Kpfw.Tiger Ausf.B.Hunnicutt, Pershing, 28, 195. Baily, 138. Cooper, 231, 234. Hunnicutt claims that such an encounter never occurred, but the gunner of the T26E4 at least implies that a Tiger Ausf.B was destroyed. See Irwin, 82-3, 138. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 290, asserts that the T26E4 potentially knocked out two Tigers, but does not specify Ausführung for either.

Medium tank M26 Pershing

The seeming impotence of the 75mm and 76mm guns against heavier German tanks soured US tankers' opinion of the Sherman,General Board, European Theater, Tank Gunnery, 26. For examples, see White's report and "Armored Force, Command, and Center," 88. but Great Britain would be able to mount a more potent armor-piercing weapon. The British had been trying to get their 17 pounder antitank gun into a tank with their Challenger program, but the project floundered. In late 1943, it was discovered that the 17 pounder could be modified to fit in the 75mm gun turret of M4 and M4A4 tanks with hydraulic turret traverse and the gun mount M34A1, and conversions using the 17 pounder Mark IV or VII started that December.The British designated 17 pounder tanks and tank destroyers with a -C suffix; e.g., Sherman IC and Sherman VC. Hayward, 14-6. Fletcher, The Universal Tank, 85. Hunnicutt, Sherman, 304. Smithers, Rude Mechanicals, 177-8.

These tanks, called Fireflies, were not without problems, however. Fitting the hefty gun into the 75mm gun turret resulted in a cramped fighting compartment akin to what the US Armored Force had rejected in the Ordnance Department's original 76mm gun attempt, and the assistant driver was deleted in favor of more stowage room for the 17 pounder's large ammunition. Also, the 17 pounder had similar target obscuration problems as the US 76mm gun, had accuracy issues especially with armor-piercing discarding sabot (APDS) rounds, and it was initially issued without high-explosive ammunition. The Panther's upper front hull plate remained impervious to the gun with APCBC ammunition, and caused even APDS ammunition to struggle.Buckley, 111, 118, 130-1, 162. Baily, 108. US tankers interviewed after the war unanimously desired a bow machine gun. See General Board, European Theater, Tank Gunnery, 33. 17 pounder HE shells did enter service, but there are British reports from as late as May 1945 calling them "unsatisfactory." Hayward, 16-7, 36, 40-1, 56.

Unlike the US Army, though, the British did not hesitate to send these tanks into action despite their disadvantages and novelty: around 200 Fireflies were available at the beginning of June 1944, enough for each cruiser tank regiment to have twelve 17 pounder tanks, and they started landing with the second wave at Normandy. Once it was obvious that the Fireflies had better armor-piercing performance than the US 76mm guns, the US Army became interested and requested a number in August 1944. A shortage of the proper type of Sherman tank required for the conversions shelved the idea until March 1945, when the US was finally able to acquire eighty Fireflies, including some based on the M4A3. By then, 90mm gun tanks had become available, and this combined with a shortage of 17 pounder ammunition (especially high-explosive) to end the American Firefly program with none of the US tanks seeing action.Hayward, 32-5, 59. Napier, 83. Buckley, 16-8, 169-73. Hayward, <http://freespace.virgin.net/shermanic.firefly/usnew.html>. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 180-1, 276-7.

A technological advantage possessed over enemy tanks was gyrostabilized guns on the medium tanks M3 and M4, and light tanks M3, M5, and M24. This innovation allowed the tanks a modicum of fire-on-the-move capability; coaxial machine gun accuracy was improved, and expert crews were doctrinally permitted to fire from moving tanks at ranges of up to 600 yards (550m).FM 17-12, 4, 34. German tankers, on the other hand, were instructed to fire from the halt.Jentz, ed., Panzer Truppen, 1: 76. Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 32. Jentz, Tank Combat in North Africa, 59. Fletcher, ed., Tiger!, 43. Drawbacks of using the device existed, and included radio interference and depletion of the tank's batteries. Of course the stabilizers required proper training for effective use. Well-trained units, for example Lieutenant Colonel Creighton Abrams's 37th Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division, were able to reap the benefits conferred by the stabilizers. However, until late in the war many US units still preferred to fire from the halt to ensure maximum accuracy and therefore simply disconnected the devices.Sorely, Thunderbolt, 63. Hunnicutt, Sherman, 215. Hunnicutt, Stuart, 142. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 39. Green, Thomson, and Roots, 343. General Board, European Theater, Tank Gunnery, 54. Cameron, 392-3, 463.

Gun stabilizer in a medium tank M4A2 Sherman

Another benefit possessed by some later US tanks was wet ammunition stowage, introduced with other improvements to the medium tank design in January 1944. Once committed to battle, the M4 had earned a reputation for easily catching fire when hit. It was determined that ammunition fires were the main culprit, and although the crews themselves may have contributed to this risk by improperly stowing or carrying extra main gun ammunition, work was done to try to correct the tank's flammability. "Armored Force, Command, and Center," 96-7. Ross, 249. Hayward, 17. Yeide, Steel Victory, 21. Buckley, 128. Napier, 98. Elson, 152. Neiman and Estes, 94. Liddell Hart, The Tanks, 2: 248. For the Normandy invasion, the crews of some US amphibious duplex drive medium tanks carried so much extra ammunition that the freeboard of their vehicles was reduced from the usual 30-36" (76-91cm) to as little as 9" (23cm). See Napier, 11, 47. At least some German and Italian crews also took part in this practice. See Green and Green, 77; Spielberger, Doyle, and Jentz, 66; and Riccio, 135. The British had also learned this lesson. See Knight, 32-4, 49. The resulting wet ammunition stowage layout moved main gun ammunition to below the sponson line and stored it in double-walled water-lined boxes. Wet stowage decreased the incidence of fires from 60-80% in knocked-out dry stowage tanks to 10-15% in tanks with the new arrangement.Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 118. Buckley, 128, agrees with the 15% burn rate for wet stowage Shermans. The light tank M24 was also equipped with wet stowage, but p.43 of the 6 Feb 1951 edition of its technical manual notes that, "The use of any fluids (water, antifreeze compound, or ammudamp) in ammunition box cans has been discontinued." Counterintuitively, a British survey found that the Sherman did not significantly differ from the Cromwell, Challenger, Churchill, or Stuart in regards to percentage of crewmen burn casualties. All those vehicles incurred about 25% of their casualties due to burns. The total casualties per knocked out tank was also similar between the different types in the survey. See Fletcher, The Universal Tank, 115-6.

Irrespective of gun or armor deficits between American tanks and heavier German vehicles like the Panther, the experience level and quality of tank crews and the tactical situation in which they found themselves played a great role in determining the outcome of encounters. For example, separate tank battalions found that casualties they incurred were most numerous in the units' earliest days in combat. The surviving men quickly learned from these first actions and became savvier and more lethal as the war progressed, with the casualty rate consequently decreasing.Yeide, Steel Victory, 17-8. Data culled from battlefield studies also indicated that the side that saw--and therefore fired upon--the enemy first had a probability of success that outweighed any technical superiority in equipment. US Army tankers interviewed just after the war "emphasized the urgency of being able to fire the first accurate round." The defender would typically have advantages in both spotting an attacker first and initiating an engagement at the time and place of his own choosing, and the Axis was of course defending for most of the campaign.See Hardison, 29-30; and Gee, 26-7. Quoted in General Board, European Theater, Tank Gunnery, 27. Emphasis in original. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 229-32. For a practical illustration in which the Germans took to the offense, September 1944 attacks against the 4th Armored Division around Arracourt were foiled despite the Germans having over 200 Panthers available; thicker armor and more powerful guns were no guarantor of battlefield success.Zaloga, Patton versus the Panzers, 188-94.

Armor was also seeing action in the Pacific Theater with both the Army and Marines. Tank-infantry cooperation was dismal in early Marine operations, and it was not until after the debacles at Guadalcanal and Tarawa that training in this area intensified and matured.Alexander, 191. Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, 141. Combat experience showed the Marines that their light tanks were vulnerable, underarmed, and underpowered for moving through the thick Pacific jungles, so they made the move to the Sherman medium tank in time for the battle of Tarawa in November 1943.Alexander, 185, 194. Estes, Marines Under Armor, 53-4, 71. Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, 78. Green, War Stories of the Tankers, 93-4. Usage of the heavier medium tanks forced the design of more robust landing craft such as the landing ship, tank (LST), and landing craft, mechanized (LCM), since the Sherman's 35-ton (32-metric ton) bulk could not be handled by earlier vessels.Alexander, 194-5. Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, 82. Croizat, 31. The Army had standardized on the gasoline-fueled M4A3 Sherman, meaning that the Marines could more quickly obtain numbers of the diesel-powered M4A2.Estes, Marines Under Armor, 56. The Corps was forced to convert to 75mm gun M4A3s, though, once M4A2 production switched to the M4A2(76)W in mid-1944.Ibid., 88-9. The Marines relished the 75mm gun's more potent high-explosive shell, and preferred that capability over the increased armor penetration conferred by the 76mm gun. In any case, the Sherman was the most powerful tank that fought in the Pacific Theater, and it proved devastating against Japanese armor even without the 76mm gun.Japanese tanks were not helped by their usage in the field. Contrary to their armored doctrine, Japanese tanks were typically used in piecemeal counterattacks or as static artillery pieces. See "Japanese Tank and Antitank Warfare," 86-103. Eventually the Army, concentrating on the new M26, totally ceased production and support of the 75mm gun tanks, so in 1945 the Marines decided to standardize on the still-in-production M4A3(105); however, budgetary shortfalls ensured that not all Marine Shermans were armed with the 105mm howitzer even by 1950.Estes, Marines Under Armor, 90, 111, 117. Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in Korea, 5, 269.

An innovation in infantry vehicles that was perfectly suited to the Pacific Campaign was the tracked landing vehicle (LVT). The first LVTs were modified versions of Donald Roebling's Alligator, which was used as a swamp rescue vehicle in Florida's Everglades.Donald was the great-grandson of John Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, and was initially hesitant to design a military version of his vehicle. See Croizat, 31-2. At first the LVT was seen simply as an efficient mechanism of transporting supplies inland from ships until wheeled supply vehicles could be landed, but it was not long until a more direct military function as an assault craft was envisioned, and LVTs premiered in this role with the Marines at Tarawa and the Army at Makin in November 1943.Alexander, 191, 185. Estes, Marines Under Armor, 70-1. Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, 78. Yeide, The Infantry's Armor, 97-8. Salecker, 93. Crowl and Love, 47-8. Croizat, 86, 97-8. Research, Investigation and Experimentation in the Field of Amphibian Vehicles, 51, 55. The amphibious tractor battalions were organized along the lines of a motor transport battalion. See Croizat, 40-1. Confidence in the vehicles was probably not inspired by FM 17-34, which asserted on p.2 that the LVTs were "relatively seaworthy." LVTs initially used in assault landings were unarmored or fitted with applique armor plates, and the position of the engines in the rear of the vehicle made for a tension-filled dismount over the tall sides. LVT3 and LVT4 remedied that problem and greatly eased cargo handling by repositioning the engines and adding a rear loading ramp.


Armored amphibians were also developed to give the assault craft direct fire support during the landing and immediately after. Although referred to as amphibian tanks, their thin armor was a hindrance in combat, especially when acting as "land tanks." The amphibian tanks were to lead the assault, firing on the beach defenses as they approached, then once ashore support the infantry or engage in indirect fire if needed. The armament of the armored amphibians started out as a small 37mm gun on LVT(A)1, but advanced to a 75mm howitzer on LVT(A)4. Armored amphibians were not used in the European Theater, but cargo LVTs were used by the US and British during a few river crossings and by the British and Canadians during the invasion of the Scheldt estuary and occupied islands around Antwerp.The Rhine was one such river crossed by the British with the help of amphibian tractors. General Board, European Theater, Armored Special Equipment, 23-4. Yeide, Steel Victory, 233, 244. Yeide, The Infantry's Armor, 240, 243. Fletcher, The Universal Tank, 106. Croizat, 190, 192-7. Liddell Hart, The Tanks, 2: 329, 418-20, 422-3, 428-9, 434, 436-7, 440, 442-4. Macksey, Armoured Crusader, 308-10, 313-5.


As is widely known, the industrial might of the United States was unmatched during World War II. Railway manufacturers were initally tapped for tank production, but the mass-production expertise of automotive companies was then harnessed in their own plants as well as specially-built tank factories. Over 49,000 Sherman tanks were produced from 1942 to 1945,Hunnicutt, Sherman, 525. along with almost 14,000 M3 and almost 9,000 M5 light tanks.Hunnicutt, Stuart, 464. All of the engines and almost all of the transmissions for tank-based vehicles assembled in Canada were imported from US factories.Law, 51-2. Besides a few kept for unit training, the entire production runs of the T16 carrier, M5 and M9A1 half-tracks, and Staghound armored car were allocated to the Allies through Lend-Lease; likewise, the US was able to spare over 11,500 light and 26,600 medium tanks through Lend-Lease.Hunnicutt, Bradley, 11. Hunnicutt, Half-Track, 52, 199. Hunnicutt, Armored Car, 82, 91. Crismon, U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles, 75. Hunnicutt, Stuart, 464. Hunnicutt, Sherman, 526. Germany, on the other hand, produced just over 25,000 tanks of all types from 1938 to 1945, and the British were outproduced in tanks by almost three-and-a-half times from 1940 to 1945.Chamberlain and Doyle, 261-3. Note that due to an offer of increased numbers of American Lend-Lease tanks, British tank production was intentionally throttled in favor of locomotive production. See Coombs, 41, 47-8, 55, 102, 109, 121-4. US armored divisions fielded enough armored half-tracks to transport all of their infantry, and all of the artillery in the armored divisions was self-propelled. Contrast this to a Panzer-division, which typically mounted only one-fourth to half its infantry in Sonderkraftfahrzeug (Sd.Kfz.) 251 armored half-tracks and which used mostly towed artillery throughout the war. Indeed, under 12% of German Panzergrenadier battalions rode in the Sd.Kfz.251 even when these vehicles were at their most prevalent.Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 77-9, 90. Bellanger, 227, 300, 367. Culver and Feist, 8, 20. Haworth, 14. Simpkin, 22.

These staggering figures were helped by the conservation of valuable materials achieved by the Ordnance Department, and armored vehicles played a large role in this process. Low-alloy armors saved valuable nickel, chromium, and vanadium without compromising protection; individual parts were studied to trim unneeded material "fat" from their designs.Green, Thomson, and Roots, 484-5. Until work on synthetics alleviated a rubber shortage, the required runflat distance for combat tires was reduced from 75 to 40 miles (120 to 64km) in the interests of saving rubber from the tires' sidewalls.Ibid., 501.

One area where conservation was de-emphasized was in the makeup of tank tracks. Tracks with synthetic rubber shoes were not up to the task of handling the weight of medium tanks. So in the constant quest to save rubber, steel-shoed tracks were investigated to replace those with rubber shoes. The deleterious effect of the steel tracks on the tanks' running gear, however, led Ordnance to propose that only rubber-tracked tanks be sent overseas. But once so equipped, the troops in Italy requested steel tracks be sent again since they were more durable in the rocky terrain there. A rubber-backed steel track was finally developed as a compromise, and Ordnance was later authorized to issue whatever type of track would be suitable for specific operations or terrain.Ibid., 306-8, 502.

Despite the great efforts made in war production, in late 1944 a tank supply crisis occurred drastic enough to cancel Lend-Lease tank shipments to Britain that November and December. Once past early shortages in tank engines, armor steel, and machine tools for making final drives and transmissions, tank production had progressed well enough that production requirements were lowered in late 1942. The planning and conservation measures led to such a great tank production potential that in the last quarter of 1943, even after four tank plants had already ceased operating, production output was less than half of the available plant capacity. More plants were shut down, but unanticipated replacement requirements and high numbers of old tanks being counted as resources resulted in a dearth of machines actually in the field. Ignoring protestations of theater commanders, who wanted a replacement factor of 20% for medium tanks, the War Department only authorized a fantastically low 7% replacement factor going into the Normandy invasion. For comparison, in May 1944 the British 21st Army Group requested a tank wasteage rate of 25% per month for the first three months post-invasion. War Department revisions to the replacement factor were not reflective of the actual battlefield experience until December 1944. Production from the remaining manufacturers was increased, but by March 1945 the crisis had passed.Fletcher, The Universal Tank, 96, 102-3. Zaloga, Armored Thunderbolt, 180-1. Napier, 409. Thomson and Mayo, 244-50, 256-9. Coombs, 125-7. Ruppenthal, I: 522; and Ruppenthal, II: 236-41. Napier, 72. Even after the tanks were produced, a large delay in delivery to the troops was induced by the geography of the war: shipment of the vehicles across either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans was necessary to reach their final destinations. Studies in early 1945 showed that it normally took 87 days for supplies to arrive in European units from New York, and shipping across the broader Pacific Ocean to ports in Australia or New Guinea could double the transit time.Millett, 49, 58.

Home       Top

The Atomic Age: Retaining Relevance

Structural changes abounded for armored troops shortly after the end of World War II. The Armored Center was deactivated on 20 October 1945, but it was soon resurrected in November 1946. The next year, the armored division was revamped. The new armored division would be composed of three equal combat commands and the addition of a fourth infantry battalion, a heavy tank battalion, a 155mm self-propelled howitzer battalion, and an antiaircraft battalion. The infantry battalions in the armored division grew from three to four companies each, and a total of 361 tanks was fielded. AGF published a plan in October 1946 to reduce branch parochialism by establishing three branches of the Army--infantry, artillery, and armor--and assigning cavalry missions to the proposed armor branch; in April 1947, the War Department made its own moves to combine the Cavalry and armored forces into a single Armored Cavalry branch. AGF was taken out of the picture in March 1948, however, when it was rechristened Army Field Forces and had its responsibilities reduced to supervising and inspecting troop training. The issue was settled with the Army Organization Act of 1950, when the earlier AGF proposal was essentially put into effect. Armor was finally certified as a permanent branch of the Army, and the Cavalry--which had taken in the disbanded EMF almost two decades earlier, had given the country the basis for its first armored division, and had even given the Armored Force its first commander--had its independence revoked and was subsumed by the new Armor branch.Wheeler, 447-8, 459-60. Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 94-5. Yeide, Steeds of Steel, 273. Green, War Stories of the Tankers, 10. Cameron, 510. Morton, 217. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 288, 454, 456, 464.

The death knell of the Tank Destroyers was also quickly sounded after the war when the General Board of the European Theater, after studying the after-action reports of the forty-nine tank destroyer battalions that fought there, recommended that the Tank Destroyer doctrine be revised and included in the defensive doctrines of the Armored Force; armored, self-propelled, high-velocity guns be included in infantry divisions; the Artillery be responsible for deepening the organic antitank defense; and that "the tank destroyers as a separate force be discontinued."General Board, European Theater, Study of Tank Destroyer Units, 29. The Board also explicitly stated, "The European campaign demonstrated that tanks fight tanks," and recommended that a gun capable of destroying any enemy tank be mounted to a vehicle that could keep up with friendly exploitation tanks.General Board, European Theater, Tank Gunnery, 29. A further recommendation was that an armored regiment be assigned to each infantry division, while the infantry division's antitank companies be deleted; the Board justified this by noting that "current thought is that the medium tank is the best anti-tank weapon," a viewpoint that had been expressed by Armored Force commander Major General Jacob Devers at least as far back as the fall of 1941.General Board, European Theater, The Infantry Division, 6; Adams, 80-1, 89; Wheeler, 160; Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, 124. Patton had made a similar recommendation during a meeting on 14 January 1945. See Patton, 220. Likewise, the Board recommended against antitank units being a part of mechanized cavalry squadrons attached to armored and infantry divisions, since the tanks in those divisions could support the cavalry.General Board, European Theater, Mechanized Cavalry Units, 6. The 1946 report by the War Department Equipment Review Board, headed by General Joseph W. Stilwell, agreed that "[t]he best antitank weapon is a better tank."Quoted in Doughty, 4. AGF's earlier stance that friendly tanks were not to seek out enemy armor had been debunked. With these recommendations in mind, the Tank Destroyers were quickly disbanded, and the last units were decommissioned by 1 November 1946.Gabel, Seek, Strike, and Destroy, 65.

Despite these various plans and legislations, the armored forces of the United States were again drawn down to skeleton-crew levels. By 1948 there were but ten active regular divisions in the Army. One active regular armored division remained of the sixteen formed for the war, and this division fielded only a single combat command. Likewise, out of a total of 28,000 tanks on-hand at the end of the war, only 6,000 were kept serviceable by 1950."Armored Force, Command, and Center," 110-1. Doughty, 15. Ogorkiewicz, Technology of Tanks, I: 30. Cameron, 509. Hofmann, Through Mobility We Conquer, 462. According to Stone, 38, the ratio had decreased to the single armored division in fourteen divisions by 1950. In contrast the Red Army maintained its armored forces at essentially wartime levels while slashing the number of infantrymen in its ranks.T.R.W. Waters, "The Traditional Soviet View," in Armoured Warfare, 188. Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 102.

One new factor in this demobilization was the advent of nuclear weapons and the deterrence conferred by America's nuclear hegemony. A lessening role for military ground forces seemed to be indicated since the US could respond to aggression with atomic aerial strikes. The Army still posited that ground forces would be necessary even after a nuclear strike, and the end of the nuclear monopoly with the Soviet Union's successful atomic bomb test in 1949 forced a rethinking of the nuclear deterrence policy and ground forces' place within it.Doughty, 2. Trauschweizer, 18, 25. Bacevich, 12-15, 31-3.

Another element in the reduction of American mechanized power was the view that the pendulum had swung away from armor and firmly to antitank weapons with the development of the shaped charge. In World War II, handheld launchers firing shaped charge projectiles such as the American bazooka, British PIAT, and German Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck had enabled individual soldiers to knock out the heaviest of tanks. Considerations such as these influenced thinking even at the highest levels: in early 1950 Secretary of the Army Frank Pace shared his belief that tanks were obsolescent.Ogorkiewicz, Tanks, 149-50.

Soon after Secretary Pace's pronouncement, however, North Korea's invasion of South Korea demonstrated both that conventional conflicts were still a possibility in the nuclear age and that armored vehicles would be important components in these conflicts. The unfortunate combination of budgetary constraints that allowed armored vehicles to fall into disrepair and concerns over damage medium tanks would cause to Japanese roads while on occupation duty meant that the heaviest tanks readily available to US forces in the region were light M24 Chaffees. This would haunt the first US forces into South Korea: compared to North Korea's spearhead of Soviet-designed T-34-85 medium tanks, the Chaffees were wholly inadequate. American medium tanks were rushed to the theater after many were reconstructed in Japan, eventually allowing the M24s to resume their usual role of reconnaissance and flank security.Philip L. Bolté, "Post-World War II and Korea: Paying for Unpreparedness," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, 225. Hunnicutt, Stuart, 441. The M4 Sherman in its later guises (i.e., 76mm gun tanks and 105mm howitzer tanks) was still useful in Korea, and the 76mm gun was able to hole the T-34-85 at combat ranges.Hunnicutt, Sherman, 497. MacDonald et al., 166. The more powerfully-armed M26 and M46 tanks proved even more capable at antitank work: the 90mm HVAP shot could go completely through a T-34-85 at close range. Some enterprising Marine M26 crews gave their tank commanders more firepower by relocating the .50 caliber machine gun mount to a more accessible location in front of the commander's position, echoing similar efforts by the Third US Army in late World War II.Coox, 19-22. Hunnicutt, Pershing, 187. Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in Korea, 34-8, 18-9. World War II tankers felt that the existing antiaircraft machine gun mounts were hard to use. See General Board, European Theater, Tank Gunnery, 35. The Third Army's changes, which included extra armor plate welded to the tanks, were impressive enough for the 12th Army Group to suggest that the Ordnance Department standardize them. See Zaloga, Patton versus the Panzers, 236. Improved flame throwing Shermans featuring a flame gun mounted coaxially with the 105mm howitzer instead of in place of the main gun or in the bow machine gun mount were also utilized; despite the danger shown to be associated with the practice in World War II, extra howitzer ammunition was sometimes carried to make up for stowage space lost to the flame gun fuel tanks and pressure unit.Hunnicutt, Sherman, 409-10. Ravino and Carty, x.

The Sherman again emerged as the most reliable tank in US service, but mechanical issues were troubling enough that more tank losses were caused by breakdowns than by enemy action in the first year of the conflict.Shields et al., 111. MacDonald et al., 23-8. M26s, the most unreliable tanks in the first year of the war, were sometimes desperately shipped to Korea despite already needing repairs or even overhauls. All tanks had to deal with scarce mechanics and parts shortages caused by the hostile and mountainous terrain, but the M46 further suffered from unfamiliarity with its new engine and powertrain.Ibid., 68-9. Shields et al., 111-3.

Medium tank M46 Patton

The war entered a more static phase after 1950, where tanks were often used as artillery and for bunker reduction. Tanks were still very active during this period: M26s and M46s tanks fired enough 90mm ammunition that a shortage in US stocks was encountered.Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in Korea, 227. Ravino and Carty, 251. Sherman tanks were often preferred over the newer types during this period since the M4s could navigate the Korean terrain better than their heavier and wider replacements. For example, the M26's torqmatic transmission could slip if the tank stopped on steep hills, sometimes necessitating an initial push from a Sherman. Size also mattered: a Provisional Tank Platoon comprised solely of Shermans was formed by the Marines on 18 November 1950 to patrol the Main Supply Route past Majon-dong. The road was simply too narrow for the wider M26s.Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in Korea, 23, 107-9; and Ravino and Carty, 65. In part due to this mobility advantage, the Sherman ended up being the most numerous American tank in the theater when the armistice was signed in 1953.Hunnicutt, Pershing, 187. Hunnicutt, Sherman, 503. Among the recommendations to come out of the Korean War regarding armored forces was a suggestion in 1951 by the Operations Research Office (ORO) of the Far East Command to reinforce combined arms training, since at times the cooperation between armor and infantry left much to be desired. A 1954 ORO report recommended better night training and night vision equipment since many enemy attacks were staged after dark to lessen the potential of UN air support, artillery, and armor.In part, more radios were recommended, since the tanks' infantry phones were prone to damage and their use required the infantry to expose themselves to enemy fire. MacDonald et al., 40-1, 169. Bolté, 253-5. Doughty, 8.

Despite the Korean War's graphic illustration that limited conventional wars were still a possibility, Army budgets continued to be gutted. Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election, and under his administration's New Look policy the Air Force, with its intercontinental nuclear delivery methods, grew to dominate military funding. In 1953, with the fighting in southeast Asia still ongoing, the Army received $13 billion, down $8 billion from the year before and much less than the Air Force's 1953 budget, which eclipsed $20 billion. After the fighting in Korea had ended, the Army received $7.6 billion in 1955 and $7.5 billion in 1957. Compared to 1950, the Army's 1957 budget had increased by less than half, while the Air Force' $16.5 billion 1957 funds represented a trebling of its 1950 budget. After the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in October 1957, US military spending increased, but the proportion of Army to Air Force spending remained similar, with the Air Force almost doubling the Army's budget. Military spending greatly increased towards the middle of the 1960s, and the funds began to be doled out to either strategic-retaliatory or general purpose forces instead of to the individual branches of the armed forces.Bacevich, 15-7. Trauschweizer, 26, 29-30, 65-7, 123.

Of the money the Army did receive, a large portion was devoted to the development of satellites and surface-to-air and nuclear-capable surface-to-surface missiles in an effort to show that the Army was modernizing itself beyond stereotypical equipment. This focus on missiles and atomic weapons directly affected the replacement of armored vehicles: in 1957 the Army spent almost ten times as much on missiles and nuclear weapons as it did on new vehicles.Bacevich, 71-101. This was in spite of the fact that the North Koreans' tank vanguard rekindled such interest in armored units that by 1956 four out of the Army's twenty divisions were armored.Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 30. Doughty, 15. Armored forces also seemed to be ideal for the nuclear battlefield due to their mobility, communications, firepower, and hardiness against blast and radiation. The old military principle of concentration had become a dangerous tenet because of the vulnerability of massed forces to atomic weapons, but armored vehicles allowed a dispersed approach march, last-minute concentration for the attack, then rapid dispersal again. The speed of armored troops would allow them to quickly follow up on holes blasted in the enemy line by nuclear fires.Doughty, 13, 15. Trauschweizer, 57. Ogorkiewicz, Armoured Forces, 33. Bacevich, 66-70, 108-14.

Though handicapped by the budgetary concentration on missilery, tank development and procurement did continue in the 1950s. The possibility that the North Korean invasion might have escalated to another world war sparked a forecasted shortage in medium tanks that the Army scrambled to head off. The M47 Patton 47 was created in June 1951 by mating the turret from the underpowered T42 tank project with a hull based on the M46.Hunnicutt, Patton, 52-3. Ogorkiewicz, Technology of Tanks, I: 45. The M47 was supposed to be no more than an interim design until the M48 could be unveiled, but almost 9,000 M47s were eventually constructed.Hunnicutt, Patton, 59, 79. Oscar C. Decker, "The Patton Tanks: The Cold War Learning Series," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, 304. A further side effect of this potential tank shortage was the US government becoming the largest buyer of British Centurion tanks behind Britain itself. The US distributed these tanks to its European allies under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program starting in the early 1950s.Munro, 135-8. Dunstan, 22. The M48 Patton 48 was accepted in early 1952, after the crisis period had passed. This was finally a fresh design and featured an elliptical hull and turret similar to those of the heavy tank M103 that was still under development. Nonetheless, the T95 program was begun in January 1955 to field a vehicle that was lighter but more powerful than the M48.Decker, 308. Hunnicutt, Abrams, 44. The T95 was to incorporate such novelties as the pulsed-light Optar rangefinder and a rigidly-mounted hypervelocity 90mm smoothbore gun firing armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) penetrators.Decker, 308. Hunnicutt, Abrams, 50, 61. Ogorkiewicz, Technology of Tanks, I: 48. But progress dragged, and in 1958 the Bureau of the Budget announced that after fiscal year 1959 it would require an improved tank and would no longer authorize purchase of the then-current M48A2.Decker 309. Hunnicutt, Patton, 152. Hunnicutt, Abrams, 90. The Army had anticipated this and, since many components of the T95 were still being tested and it would not have offered a great advance over the M48A2 in any case, decided to simply increase the range and firepower of the tank it was already using. This new version was dubbed M60 to differentiate it from the M48A2 whence it was derived, and it was accepted into service in 1960. Siliceous cored armor was mooted for the turret and hull to help further protect against shaped charge attack, but high costs and a dearth of manufacturing capacity for the armor led to homogeneous steel being used.Hunnicutt, Patton, 152-3, 156. Decker, 309-10. Cold War one-upmanship: In 1962 the Soviets quickly began production of the T-62, with its 115mm smoothbore main gun, in response to the M60 with its 105mm main gun. Soviet officials were displeased that the new US tank had a larger main gun than the T-55's 100mm rifle. See Hull, Markov, and Zaloga, 50-1.

90mm gun tank M48A2C Patton 48

The Marines also worked to acquire modernized tanks, and although they realized that designs with more armor than their venerable Shermans were needed, they initially balked at the increase in weight that the extra protection imposed.Alexander, 213. The Pershing was only fully integrated into Marine armored units in 1949, and this seemed a wise choice after the North Korean invasion with its spearhead of T-34-85s.Kenneth W. Estes, "The Marine Corps's Struggle with Armor Doctrine during the Cold War (1945-70)," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, 266. The M46 started replacing the Marines' Pershings in July 1951, M47s began arriving in October 1951, and the M48 entered service with the Marines in 1954.Ibid., 278, 281-2. The Corps also retained heavy tanks long after the Army had given up on the idea. The M103 was racked by teething problems upon its introduction, and initially the Marines alone accepted the M103A1.Hunnicutt, Firepower, 123-4, 140. The Army was so impressed with the modifications, however, that it borrowed 72 M103A1s for its heavy tank battalion in Europe until 1962. The further improved M103A2 remained in the Marine Corps arsenal until 1972.Ibid., 140. Estes, "The Marine Corps's Struggle with Armor Doctrine during the Cold War (1945-70)," 285. Estes, Marines Under Armor, 150-3. Britain's Conqueror tank, analogous to the M103 and armed with a similar 120mm rifled gun, served until 1967. See Griffin, Conqueror, 148.

120mm gun tank M103A2

The Army launched a detailed analysis of its tank program in the late 1950s which culminated in May 1957; the submission of the official report occurred the following January. Designed to anticipate tank armament post-1965, the so-called Ad Hoc Group on Armament for Future Tanks or Similar Combat Vehicles (ARCOVE) came out with two far-reaching suggestions. Tank gun development was thought to be reaching the point of diminishing returns, and it was postulated that an ideal vehicle armament would be able to destroy all required armored and soft targets yet have a light enough weight and small enough recoil force to make the characteristics of the mounting platform essentially irrelevant. Thus, ARCOVE recommended that the Army concentrate on missile-armed tanks at the expense of kinetic energy weapons. Going along with the preference for missiles, continuing research on chemical energy penetration was urged. This line of thinking resulted in a short-barreled 152mm gun-launcher that fired conventional ballistic projectiles as well as the concurrently-designed Shillelagh antitank missile. Secondly, in a break from the traditional light, medium, and heavy tank classes, the future tank force was predicted to be composed of only two types: a light reconnaissance and airborne assault vehicle and a new class of vehicle called a main battle tank (MBT). This new type of tank would combine the former medium and heavy tanks into a single machine, having the mobility of the former and the firepower and protection of the latter.Hunnicutt, Patton, 149-50. Decker, 311. Ogorkiewicz, Tanks, 167-8. DeLong, Barnhart, Cagle, 10-1, 130-1, 137. The desirability of the MBT concept as opposed to the continued use of separate medium and heavy tanks was echoed in 1957 during the Fourth Tripartite conference between the US, UK, and Canada.Griffin, Chieftain, 13.

Infantry was not left behind, so to speak, during the early Cold War years. From their trundling beginnings, tanks had quickly gained enough power and speed to necessitate motorized transportation for the accompanying footsoldiers. The half-tracks of the early 1940s possessed only marginal protection and off-road mobility, and the advent of variable-timed artillery shells and atomic weapons obsoleted all open-topped designs.Haworth, 17-8. "Armored Force, Command, and Center," 91. The development of fully-enclosed and fully-tracked infantry carriers started even before the end of World War II: the armored utility vehicle M44 was the first purpose-built design, but was cancelled due to its very large size and the disappearance of funds following the end of the war.Haworth, 23. Hunnicutt, Bradley, 30-2. Ogorkiewicz, Design and Development of Fighting Vehicles, 157. The armored infantry vehicle M75, which entered service in 1952, was smaller than its predecessor, but there were concerns that it was excessively expensive during an era when budgets were dominated by atomic weapons.Haworth, 23-4. Hunnicutt, Bradley, 48. The M59 armored personnel carrier (APC) began replacing the M75 the following year, and thankfully for the Army cost about one-fourth as much as the M75. The M59 achieved this price difference largely by using commercial GMC truck engines instead of the specialized powerplant of the M75, which was related to that found in the 76mm gun tank M41 Walker Bulldog.Haworth, 24. Hunnicutt, Bradley, 62. Ogorkiewicz, Design and Development of Fighting Vehicles, 160-1. While being cheaper than the M75, the M59 was actually heavier. The search for an air-transportable armored personnel carrier culminated in 1960 with the introduction of the M113, which with its aluminum rather than steel armor weighed about half as much as the M59. The M113 became the most-produced American armored vehicle in history, and was modified to fill an almost uncountable number of roles. The overall shape of the APC changed little from the M44 to the M113: they were all essentially armored boxes on tracks. Also, the basic mission of all these new vehicles harkened back to the half-tracks of World War II: they were to transport infantry as close as possible to their objective, where the troops would dismount and fight on foot.Haworth, 25. Ogorkiewicz, Design and Development of Fighting Vehicles, 163. Bellanger, 228, 289. FM 17-42, 1-2, 63-6. FM 17-20, 62. Doughty, 23-4. Simpkin, 28. The infantry's inability to effectively fight while mounted would drive the protracted development of an entirely new class of infantry carrier.

Armored infantry vehicle M75

Just like its land-based counterparts, the open-topped tracked landing vehicle was also eliminated by the threat of airburst artillery and nuclear weapons. The LVT3, on which the US had standardized after World War II, acquired a folding aluminum cargo cover beginning in 1949.Hunnicutt, Stuart, 274. Hunnicutt, Bradley, 323-4. The cargo cover also helped prevent water from entering the cargo area and swamping the vehicle. See Research, Investigation and Experimentation in the Field of Amphibian Vehicles, 61; Croizat, 201; and Estes, Marines Under Armor, 112. The vehicle's armament, which had consisted of machine guns mounted in the cargo compartment, was then necessarily rearranged: a machine gun turret was added to the roof and a second machine gun was mounted in the bow. The improved vehicle was designated LVT3(C) and served until being replaced by the LVTP5, which along with its engineer, recovery, and command variants, was introduced in the mid-1950s. A 105mm howitzer version of the LVTP5 was also accepted, replacing the LVT(A)5.


In October 1956, Army Chief of Staff General Maxwell Taylor announced a reorganization of the Army's fighting formations to better prepare for a nuclear battlefield. These new divisions were intended to use five relatively self-sufficient battlegroups each consisting of five companies, each of these having five platoons, that would be able to fight dispersed and in depth in a warzone ravaged by nuclear fires. Reflecting the number of battlegroups/companies/platoons and their utility on an atomic battlefield, the new divisions were dubbed "pentomic" (pentagonal/atomic). The infantry division was heavily redesigned and included a 5-company tank battalion and a centralized group of APCs; nuclear-capable howitzers and rocket launchers were also added. The armored division was only slightly affected by the reorganization, retaining the combat command system and gaining a stronger aviation element and nuclear-capable self-propelled 8" (203mm) howitzers. The armored division contained 54 light tanks and 324 medium tanks in four tank battalions; a central transportation unit gathered all of the armored division's APCs to be doled out as needed, but only a single battlegroup could be transported at a time with the vehicles assigned. With Korea showing the apparent need to quickly transport forces to trouble spots around the world, air transportable equipment was desired to fill out the new divisions.Trauschweizer, 55, 59. Doughty, 16-7. Bacevich, 104-8.

The reaction to the pentomic structure was quick and largely negative. The inflexible design of the pentomic units was seen to be too focused on nuclear war to the detriment of conventional operations, the new divisions were thought lacking in conventional artillery firepower, and there were concerns about the ability of headquarters to effectively control and supply the five widely-separated battlegroups and the large companies within the battlegroups once battle was joined. Also, design and production delays caused shortages of new equipment like air-transportable APCs that were essential to the new formations (for example, the M113 only entered service in 1960).Trauschweizer, 55, 108-10. Doughty, 18-9. Bacevich, 100-1, 117-8, 134. Gole, 119-21.

Beginning in 1962, the Army transitioned to the Reorganization Objective Army Division (ROAD), which corrected many of the perceived faults of the pentomic division. The ROAD formations were similar in concept to how the armored division had operated since World War II in that three brigade headquarters were established that could be assigned different battalions depending on the mission, and the different battalion types were standardized with respect to the number of companies to better enable cross-attachment. Armored divisions were given six tank and five mechanized battalions with 324 tanks and 718 APCs, infantry divisions had eight infantry and two tank battalions with 108 tanks, and a new mechanized infantry division was created with three tank and seven mechanized infantry battalions with 162 tanks and 798 APCs. The artillery and aviation assests of the ROAD divisions were increased over the pentomic formations as well. The ROAD divisions were better prepared to conduct conventional operations than the pentomic divisions, which by that point was thought to be more likely than a scenario involving a nuclear exchange.Trauschweizer, 114-7. Doughty, 19-23.

Home       Top

Vietnam to Desert Storm: The Struggle for Modernization

The armored forces of the United States experienced another tropical theater when they were deployed to Vietnam. Initially it appeared that no armored forces at all would be sent. Indeed, the first US tanks into Vietnam were unexpected by some US government officials and Army planners: When the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade landed northwest of Danang in March 1965, not all realized that its table of organization included an organic tank battalion.Trauschweizer, 175-6. Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in Vietnam, 28-31. Gott, 23. American commander General William Westmoreland sent a message to the Army Chief of Staff in July 1965 saying, "except for a few coastal areas...Vietnam is no place for either tank or mechanized infantry units."Quoted in Starry, 56. When the 1st Infantry Division deployed to Vietnam in that same month, its tanks were kept home and its mechanized infantry forces were transformed into dismounted infantry.Ibid., 55. Trauschweizer, 178. Another source noting the Army's desire to leave armored vehicles at home upon deployment is Mahler, 19. However, a study completed in 1967 showed that tanks could maneuver in 61% of the country in the dry season and 46% during the monsoon season; APCs could travel around 65% of Vietnam regardless of the rains.Starry, 10. Haworth, 30. Lewis Sorely, "Adaptation and Impact: Mounted Combat in Vietnam," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, 328. Once mechanized forces were unleashed, it was discovered that their speed and firepower allowed them to control twice as much ground as infantry units.Doughty, 35.

The main medium tank that would fight with American units in Vietnam was the M48A3 Patton, although small numbers of M48A1s were issued due to a shortage of M48A3s following the 1968 Tet offensive.Starry, 129. The newer M60s with their 105mm guns guarded the Fulda Gap in Germany against Soviet armor, since at the time the Army still considered the defense of Europe as its primary mission. In any case, the M48A3 was plenty of tank for Vietnam. Its bulk and 750-horsepower engine allowed it to break trails through the thick jungle, and the 90mm gun was able to utilize a variety of ammunition for both direct and indirect fire.Trauschweizer, 174-5, 177, 179-80. Busting a trail through the jungle was hard on men and equipment, however, and the noise and commotion caused by the vehicles allowed the enemy to emplace mines or ambushes in their path. See Haponski, 136-7. Mahler, 202. Doughty, 35. The lack of an antipersonnel canister round for the M60's 105mm gun influenced the decision to send its predecessor to Vietnam. See Nolan, 13. Unlike the useful 90mm gun, however, the sideways-mounted .50 caliber machine gun in the commander's cupola was prone to jams, and the cramped cupola provided neither enough outside vision nor enough room for the machine gun's ammunition. Reloading this small supply of ammunition was very difficult even under the best of circumstances. These problems caused some crews in both the Army and Marines to create external mounts for the weapon in spite of the resulting increased exposure to enemy fire.Hunnicutt, Patton, 228. Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in Vietnam, 26, 162. Peavey, 62. Birdwell and Nolan, 52. Green, War Stories of the Tankers, 143-4. Walker, 156. Another Vietnam veteran described the M48A3's cupola machine gun as "the worst combat mount ever devised." See Zumbro, Tank Sergeant, 92. A further and familiar practice that sacrificed safety for effectiveness was again carrying extra main gun ammunition into combat, which was officially sanctioned in one Cavalry unit at the squadron level.Walker, viii-ix, asserts that his squadron headquarters specified that tanks would carry 67 rounds of 90mm, broken down by type, while the M48A3 only stowed 54 rounds.

The M113 APC also served in Vietnam, and it was the South Vietnamese who introduced new aggressive tactics in its use. They mounted an extra machine gun on each side of the rear cargo hatch, provided the commander and extra machine gunners with armored shields, and used these modified M113s much like light tanks.Starry, 41-2. Hunnicutt, Bradley, 251. Sorely, "Adaptation and Impact," 331-2. Perrett, 189. Trauschweizer, 176-7. This conversion, dubbed the Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle, was so successful that standardized kits were procured from the US and sent to Vietnam in 1966.Hunnicutt, Bradley, 252.

Armored cavalry assault vehicle M113A1

The first of the 240 M551 Sheridans deployed to Vietnam arrived in early 1969. Spawned from the ARCOVE suggestion of a light missile-armed airborne assault and reconnaissance vehicle, the M551 was sent to the theater without its Shillelagh antitank missile. The conventional 152mm ammunition could be devastating to enemy troops, especially canister rounds each packed with ten thousand 1.5"-long (3.8cm-long) dart-like flechettes. Incomplete combustion of the consumable propellant casing presented problems, though, as burning material could be introduced from the gun breech into the fighting compartment. The closed breech scavenging system was developed to resolve this dangerous situation by using compressed air to clear the breech before it opened. The combustible casing of the ammunition further turned out to be sensitive to the tropical humidity, fragile when not handled carefully, and prone to detonation upon penetration of the vehicle's armor.DeLong, Barnhart, and Cagle, 100-1. Starry, 144. Hunnicutt, Sheridan, 107-8, 263-4. Perrett, 190-1. Keith, 12, 301-2. The vehicle was fast and agile but very vulnerable to mines and handheld antitank weapons, and it proved less proficient at jungle busting than the heavier M48A3.Breaking a path through the jungle could cause the M551 to overheat. Starry, 143-4. Hunnicutt, Sheridan, 118. Perrett, 190. Keith, 12, 116-7, 298-9. Green, War Stories of the Tankers, 181.

152mm gun-launcher armored reconnaissance/airborne assault vehicle M551 Sheridan

The Sheridan's soggy ammunition was not the only way that Vietnam's humidity and precipitation affected armored vehicles. Water that condensed in a vehicle's fuel tanks, for example, could breed algae that clogged fuel filters. Pumping water out of fuel tanks consequently became a regular maintenance requirement for tankers.Gilbert, Marine Tank Battles in Vietnam, 27. Despite maintenance issues such as these, armored forces grew to become an important part of the Vietnam War. Although their utility in the mountainous jungles was at first far from taken for granted, the first tanks arrived almost by accident with the Marines, and forgotten tank-infantry skills had to be relearned,Ibid., 63. the armored units of formations leaving Vietnam were kept in country until last, buying more time for the American pullout.Starry, 164-5. Sorely, "Adaptation and Impact," 353.

While the battles of the Vietnam War grabbed headlines in the 1960s, the development of the new MBT suggested in the ARCOVE report and at the Fourth Tripartite Conference began a scant three years after the first M60s were accepted. The war would be long over by the time the finished product appeared, however.Decker, 312-3. Hunnicutt, Abrams, 116. The first effort at a new tank, called MBT70, was intended to provide a common tank for the US and West German armored forces, and the vehicle itself was stuffed with high technology features. It featured a 3-man crew, all of whom were in the turret; the driver was interestingly positioned in a counter-rotating cupola in the turret's front corner. MBT70 was armed with a longer-barreled automatically-loaded 152mm gun-launcher that was now capable of firing high-velocity APFSDS penetrators while retaining the use of the Shillelagh missile, and a retractable 20mm gun remotely-controlled by the commander was positioned to the driver's left-rear. A laser rangefinder and stabilization for its main weapon helped assure accuracy even while on the move. MBT70 ran on a hydropneumatic suspension that allowed the vehicle to crouch or raise one end of the tank to better take advantage of hull-down positions, and protection was enhanced by the use of spaced armor.

It was hoped that by sharing the development effort and costs, the complex MBT70 could be produced more cheaply than its Soviet counterparts, but problems plagued the program from the beginning.Spielberger, From Half-Track to Leopard 2, 195-203. Orr Kelly, 25. Robert J. Sunell, "The Abrams Tank System," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, 433. The US required a tank that could operate in varied geographical locations while the Germans were concerned primarily with central Europe. Also, difficulties with English-German translations, metric to English measurement conversions, and differences between German and American manufacturing and designing practices caused considerable headaches before the tank was even designed.Trauschweizer, 165-6. Orr Kelly, 30-3. Hunnicutt, Abrams, 117. Costs spiraled to unacceptable levels, and MBT70 was killed in 1970, leaving the Germans and Americans to go their separate ways.Orr Kelly, 38. Hunnicutt, Abrams, 142. The Germans went on to design the Leopard 2: see Spielberger, From Half-Track to Leopard 2, 204, 214-44.

The US chose to give the MBT70 another chance, but this time as an austere vehicle with toned-down technological gizmos. This project was dubbed XM803, and it featured a less powerful engine and simpler hydropneumatic suspension. The Shillelagh was also reproposed as a 105mm supersonic missile with a range of 4km (2.5 miles). But even with its budget-saving measures, the XM803 was estimated to cost three to four times as much as an M60A1, and Congress had become especially cost-conscious after the Air Force endured an accounting fiasco with the C-5 Galaxy transport plane and developmental difficulties with its F-111 fighter/bomber. The gun-launcher and Shillelagh missile system were also proving troublesome on the M551 and prototype M60A2 tanks, and the XM803 was therefore cancelled in December 1971.Ogorkiewicz, Technology of Tanks, I: 50. Stone, 77. Burton, 13, 18. Orr Kelly, 40-2. Sunell, 433-4. Hunnicutt, Abrams, 158. DeLong, Barnhart, and Cagle, 78, 94-7, 101. The M60A2's gun-launcher was troublesome even after entering service. See DeLong, Barnhart, and Cagle, 104-5. The death of the XM803 project, which the Marines hoped would replace their aging fleet of M48s, forced the Corps to instead acquire the M60A1 in 1974.Estes, Marines Under Armor, 174.

The M60 was over a decade old when work on the XM803 was stopped, and the US was forced to start fresh on its replacement. The new tank was initially named XM815 but was redesignated XM1 by the end of 1973. It was decided that the new vehicle would be armed with a non-missile-firing gun, feature a four-man crew including a human loader, and run on a conventional suspension.Orr Kelly, 100. Sunell, 435-6.

The new tank would emphasize crew survivability above all else, and to this end a new type of armor designed by Dr. Gilbert Harvey at Britain's Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment near Chobham would be used.Orr Kelly, 108, 111-2. Hunnicutt, Abrams, 172, 177-8. Sunell, 436. Ogorkiewicz, Technology of Tanks, I: 51. This design was a form of nonexplosive reactive armor using nonmetallic and steel layers, and was very effective against high-explosive antitank warheads as well as kinetic energy projectiles. However its protective properties needed to be balanced against its heavy physical weight. The issue was heady enough that on 27 September 1972 Creighton Abrams himself, now a four-star general and set to become Army Chief of Staff, made the decision to use the American version of this armor on the frontal arc of the tank, since in his opinion its promise of extra protection was more important than the weight penalty.Orr Kelly, 128. Sunell, 437. Sorely, Thunderbolt, 338-9. This armor is what gives the tank its characteristically slab-sided look. The crews of the new tank were also protected by the layout of its ammunition stowage, with the majority of the main gun ammunition in the turret bustle behind a bulkhead. If the ammunition ignited, blowoff panels in the turret bustle's roof would vent the explosion out of the tank while the bulkhead doors protected the crew from danger.

105mm gun tank M1 Abrams

An armament competition for the new tank was held in the mid-1970s, and entrants included the 105mm M68 in use on the M60, a British 110mm gun, and a 120mm smoothbore gun manufactured by the German firm Rheinmetall. Test results indicated the M68 was still a dangerous weapon thanks to improved ammunition technology, but the 110mm gun was hampered in performance by using APDS vice APFSDS ammunition.Ogorkiewicz, Technology of Tanks, I: 52. It was decided that since the 120mm gun was full of growth potential, the Rheinmetall ordnance would eventually arm the tank, but the initial M1 tanks were armed with the old M68 since it was feared that the delay and expense involved in producing the 120mm gun would scare Congress into cancelling the entire tank project.There may have been some political pressure applied to the main gun choice: A number of US Army officers involved with the XM1 would rather have used the 105mm M68 until a new next-generation gun was designed, but the West Germans were looking for a financial quid pro quo for their potential purchase of American early warning aircraft. Orr Kelly, 176-93. Sunell, 445-7. Hunnicutt, Abrams, 162-3.

Chrysler and General Motors submitted proposals and pilot vehicles, and Chrysler's design was selected for production. Once fleshed out, the prototypes suffered from problems with track shedding as well as engine and transmission failures, but these were eventually solved.Orr Kelly, 162-8. Sunell, 450-1. Hunnicutt, Abrams, 201. Stone, 103-5. Stolarow, 1-2. The production M1 Abrams emerged on 28 February 1980, after even enduring an abortive competition with the West German Leopard 2.The Army asserted that the Leopard 2 was not as well-protected as the XM1 prototypes, would cost more, and would not be ready for production as quickly. There was some debate over the objectivity of the tests, but the chief German observer opined that the Leopard 2 was given a "fair and equitable" shake. See "Department Of Defense Consideration Of West Germany's Leopard As The Army's New Main Battle Tank," 6-11. For a German viewpoint on the competition, see Spielberger, From Half-Track to Leopard 2, 231-9. The new tank's firepower was upgraded in 1985 when a 120mm gun derived from the Rheinmetall ordnance was finally adopted on the M1A1.

Mobility was greatly increased from previous machines. The vehicle was powered by a novel and powerful gas turbine engine that gave an advantage in acceleration over conventional diesels. This engine proved thirstier than anticipated, but compared to diesel engines it used less power for cooling, was able to run on a larger range of fuels, could be started more easily in cold temperatures, was quieter and lighter, and emitted no smoke.Ogorkiewicz, Technology of Tanks, II: 260-1. Hunnicutt, Abrams, 174-5. Orr Kelly, 144-5. Chait, Lyons, and Long, 29. The Soviets were concurrently working on a gas turbine tank, and it entered service in 1976 as the T-80. See Baryatinskiy, Main Battle Tank T-80, 7-11; Hull, Markov, and Zaloga, 142-5; and Koch, 62-3. The M1's power-to-weight ratio was 183% of the M60A3's while the Abrams's higher-performance suspension granted over 50% more wheel travel, a combination that added up to much greater agility than the earlier tank.Hunnicutt, Abrams, 303. Hunnicutt, Patton, 443. Ogorkiewicz, Technology of Tanks, II: 318.

The venerable M60, itself borne out of a failed replacement for the M48, had endured two more failed replacement programs and became the United States' de facto premier tank for twenty years at the height of the Cold War, eventually facing off against impressive Soviet vehicles such as the T-64 and T-80. In a duel against the contemporary enemy tanks, US intelligence estimated the M60A1 would suffer from a greater than 40% disadvantage.Gorman, 14. The M1 Abrams was introduced none too soon.

105mm gun tank M1 Abrams

A new Army infantry vehicle was taking shape along with the M60's successor. The West Germans had been using the Schützenpanzer Lang HS.30 since the late 1950s; this vehicle was armed with a 20mm gun and--unlike American APCs--allowed the infantry squad to fight while mounted through rear roof hatches. American planners wanted to emulate these German tactics of aggressively using infantry carriers, which stretched back to World War II when the Panzergrenadiere used their Sd.Kfz.251 half-tracks as fighting vehicles rather than simply protected transport.Herbert, 50, 62-4. Culver and Feist, 18-9. Haworth, 39-42. Diane L. Urbina, "'Lethal beyond all expectations': The Bradley Fighting Vehicle," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, 410. Trauschweizer, 203-4. Simpkin, 29. In addition, mounted combat was thought to be required on a battlefield contaminated by nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) agents.Haworth, 45. The planned MBT70 project also seemed to necessitate a faster and more agile infantry vehicle that could keep up with the highly-mobile tank.Haworth, 43. Urbina, 404. Hunnicutt, Bradley, 274. Trauschweizer, 203. The Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle 1970 (MICV-70) program was therefore mooted in 1963, and was to produce a family of vehicles similar in concept to those manufactured on the basis of the M113. Since the MICV-70 was a long-term project that was predicted to debut in the next decade, work on an interim MICV-65 began in March 1964. Based automotively on the M107 and M110 self-propelled artillery vehicles, a prototype of the MICV-65, called XM701, was delivered by May the next year. Although testing contributed to the MICV-70 project, the XM701 did not enter service due to concerns over its heavy weight, its size which precluded transport by Air Force C-141 cargo planes, and its inadequate mobility versus the MBT70.Hunnicutt, Bradley, 274-8. Haworth, 43-4. Urbina, 404-5. Trauschweizer, 166.

Concurrent with the XM701, work on the XM734 had begun by December 1965. This vehicle was essentially an M113 APC with firing ports and periscopes added to the passenger compartment and armed with two 7.62mm machine guns or a single 20mm gun in a new commander's cupola. In 1967 the XM765 project was initiated, with the first delivery in early 1969. Similar to the XM734, the XM765 was an M113A1 modified with firing ports and a 20mm gun in the commander's cupola. These M113-based vehicles, however, lacked the agility to keep up with the anticipated MBT70, and were not adopted by the Army.Hunnicutt, Bradley, 256-62. Haworth, 33, 52-3.

The seriousness of this situation was driven home when the Soviets approved their new BMP for production in 1966.Haworth, 47. Hull, Markov, and Zaloga, 243. Koch, 107, 113. The BMP was much more heavily armed than previous APCs, with a 73mm main weapon and an integral antitank missile launcher in a one-man turret. It was also fitted with firing ports and periscopes in the passenger compartment to allow for mounted combat in an NBC environment. Compared to the M113, the BMP was a major threat. Likewise, West Germany started production of their new Schützenpanzer Marder in 1969. Though deemed too heavy for US use and lacking amphibious capability, the Marder provided the Germans with a modern infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) that could keep up with their fast Leopard tanks. The US, however, was still trying to pound out a doctrine for its new infantry vehicle, and therefore as well the vehicle's basic characteristics. Hesitancy to decrease the number of men in the mounted rifle squad and a requirement for amphibious capability dogged the design of the MICV to the end.Haworth, 50-2. The adoption of the BMP also caused some spirited debate over mechanized infantry doctrine in the Soviet Army. See Simpkin, 34-8. The very authority over mechanized infantry was also debated upon, with the Infantry and Armor Schools both claiming responsibility.Haworth, 29-30. Urbina, 410-1. Herbert, 39-41. In the end, mechanized infantry became Infantry's burden.

Due in part to delays imposed by the Vietnam War, the MICV-70 project failed to yield a prototype until 1974. This vehicle, called XM723, was much more mobile than the older APCs thanks to its powerful 450hp engine. Its personnel layout was virtually identical to the BMP's, with a small one-man 20mm gun turret, firing ports in the rear for its eight dismounts, and the vehicle commander situated in the left front of the hull behind the driver. Reliability issues, the feasibility of the one-man turret, and the high cost of the XM723 compared to the M113, however, caused much concern during development.Hunnicutt, Bradley, 278-81. Urbina, 411-8.

Complicating the MICV program immensely was its merger with the struggling Cavalry scout vehicle program in late 1975.Haworth, 75. Urbina, 411. The common vehicle for both roles would be based on the XM723, but the one-man turret was replaced by the TOW Bushmaster armored turret, 2-man (TBAT-II). The XM723's 20mm gun was eclipsed by the 25mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun, and a twin TOW antitank missile launcher was mounted on the turret's left side. Moving the vehicle commander into the turret from his previous spot behind the driver increased efficiency and eased his duties. After further testing and modification was completed, the acceptance of the new M2 Bradley IFV and M3 Bradley cavalry fighting vehicle became official in 1981. The Soviets came to a similar conclusion regarding crew configuration and armament: The BMP-2, introduced in August 1980, mounted a larger turret than its predecessor with the vehicle commander now stationed inside, and it dispensed with the 73mm main weapon in favor of an autocannon. The antitank missile launcher was retained.Hunnicutt, Bradley, 282-5. Urbina, 418-25. Haworth, 77-80. Hull, Markov, and Zaloga, 252-5.

105mm gun tank M1 Abrams and infantry fighting vehicle M2 Bradley

The Bradley fighting vehicle (BFV) was controversial in both its guises. Since the US Army had returned its attention after Vietnam to facing off with the Soviet Union and its huge park of armored vehicles, the proliferation of antitank weapons was thought to be imperative.A contemporary report asserted that the USSR fielded five times the number of tanks and three times the number of modern infantry vehicles as the US. See Gorman, 2. Thus, the Bradleys were fitted with the larger and more complex TBAT-II turret with a twin TOW missile launcher, giving each mechanized squad a heavy, long-range antitank weapon. This was not universally viewed as a bonus, as some soldiers claimed the missile added unnecessary complication and distraction. Cavalry troopers railed against the large size and signature of the M3, which was a definite disadvantage when performing reconnaissance.Haworth, 114-5. The scouts certainly had cause for concern here, since a Bradley is dimensionally larger than a Sherman tank. The infantry were also nonplussed with the technical complexity of both the vehicle and its role--necessitating that an infantry squad leader essentially also become a tank commander--and a shift in focus away from traditional dismounted infantry training in favor of vehicle gunnery. Some also saw the halving of dismount squad size compared to earlier APCs as marginalizing infantry's contribution to the combined arms battle in favor of yet more vehicle firepower that simply supplemented tanks rather than assisted the carried troops. Experience with the new IFVs led to changes such as separating the tasks of dismounted squad leader and vehicle commander and restructuring the squads to 9-man units taking up seats in more than one vehicle.Ibid., 102. Gibbons, 29-37. Coffey, 103-6, 110-4. St. Onge, 120-1, 143-5.

Drama was also played out in the public and legislative spheres, notably due to Air Force Colonel James Burton who, in his position in the testing office on the Secretary of Defense's staff from 1984-1986, fought to have testing guidelines revised to have full-up live fire tests on combat-loaded vehicles. Details of the testing procedures drew such ire between Burton and the Army that the press and the legislature became involved in the matter, with the fate of the entire Bradley program hanging in the balance. The live fire tests were eventually performed, and in 1986 and 1987 Congress passed laws requiring similar testing before the acceptance of any weapons systems, although the Pentagon eventually worked to have these repealed. The results of the live fire tests resulted in the -A2 BFV models with internal restowing and the installation of spall liners and additional armor protection to reduce casualties. The additional armor, however, covered all but the two rear firing ports on the IFV, essentially deleting one of the original requirements of the vehicle.For Burton's side of the issue, see Burton, 126-212, 233-8. Haworth, 128-32. Urbina, 427. "Operation Desert Storm: Early Performance Assessment of Bradley and Abrams," 10-1. For a counterpoint to the reform movement, see Gole, 255-7.

The Bradley had defenders as well, though. Its proponents cited its increased firepower, armor protection, and mobility over the alternative, the M113 APC.Haworth, 116-7. Urbina, 410. St. Onge, 119-20. At the heart of all the controversy was the very definition of an IFV. Infantry fighting vehicles are a hybrid design, bridging the gap between "battle taxi" armored personnel carriers and infantry-support tanks. Designing a vehicle and doctrine to fulfill this complex niche occupied the US Army for almost two decades.

Marine infantry received upgrades as well. The venerable LVTP5 family served throughout Vietnam, taking part in the majority of the Marines' sixty-two amphibious landings during that conflict.Croizat, 235. Estes, Marines Under Armor, 166. However its replacement, the LVTP7/AAVP7, entered service in 1971 after a long gestation period partly caused by scant funding; these budgetary woes also were a factor in the cancellation of the planned engineer and howitzer versions of the LVTP7.Croizat, 235. Hunnicutt, Bradley, 344. Estes, Marines Under Armor, 174.


The Marines' tradition of being a light infantry force, as well as the introduction of the helicopter and the associated notion of vertical envelopment, led the Corps to embrace the light armored vehicle (LAV). Lightweight, fixed- or rotary wing-deployable vehicles were imperative with the Corps's role as a rapid reaction force, and the mobile, protected firepower they provided was thought necessary to keep Marine infantry capable of performing maneuver warfare operations. An eight-wheeled version of General Motors Canada's version of the MOWAG Piranha was introduced to the Corps in 1983, and a family of vehicles was produced on this chassis, including--in addition to the standard 25mm gun turret vehicle--command, mortar, TOW missile, recovery, and logistics vehicles.Estes, Marines Under Armor, 181, 212. Hunnicutt, Armored Car, 221. Shepard, 1-4.

Cohesively integrating the reconnaissance and infantry support missions for the LAV crews turned into an arduous task for the Corps, though. This is handily illustrated by both the doctrine and name of the units working through three iterations within the first decade of their existence. Initially suffering from an ambiguous mission set and identity, the LAV battalions were used simply as land-based carriers and were forced to "borrow" infantry to fill the dismounted scout positions in their vehicles. It was not until the late 1980s that infantry was added permanently to the organization. Nomenclature was then changed to Light Armored Infantry (LAI) battalions, and traditional cavalry-type missions were envisioned. 1994 saw the the LAI battalions renamed again to Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) battalions, reflecting the changed opinion that they would now be used primarily to perform reconnaissance, with security or economy of force missions possible as well.Estes, Marines Under Armor, 182, 187-8, 190. Hunnicutt, Armored Car, 250-2. Michaels, 3-4. Rottman, 6. Shepard, 5-9.


Besides improving its hardware, the Army also changed and refined how it fought, especially in the latter half of the Cold War. After its exit from Vietnam, the Army returned its attention to the defense of central Europe, where Warsaw Pact forces arrayed against NATO were numerically superior as well as technologically competent. In 1974 General Andrew Goodpaster, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, noted that NATO was outnumbered by 10,000 tanks in Europe's Central Region.Trauschweizer, 198. The 1973 Yom Kippur War had graphically illustrated the growing lethality of modern weapons, leading to a reassessment of survivability on the battlefield. These factors, when combined with the throttling of America's defense budget following the Vietnam War and the Army's poor state of readiness at the time, led the Army's new Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) to begin work on an updated doctrine in 1974.Romjue, 2-6. Doughty, 41. Herbert, 5-6, 29-31, 99-102. Richard M. Swain, "AirLand Battle," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, 363-7. Leonhard, 130. Citino, 255-6. Stone, 46-7. House, 239. Trauschweizer, 194, 201-3. Gole, 237, 240, 254, 261, 263. Scales, 9-10. Urged on and partially written by TRADOC's commander General William DePuy, this Active Defense concept espoused that unengaged defending units would maneuver to the flanks of a Soviet penetration and chip away at the attack until it was halted; concentration of firepower at the right place and time would result from the mobility conferred by armored vehicles and aircraft, with the tank being considered the primary weapon system. Indeed the Armor Center and School heavily influenced the new doctrine, and its commander, Major General Donn Starry, also had a hand in its writing. At the time of its publication in 1976, even more mobile and lethal vehicles and helicopters--the M1 tank, Bradley fighting vehicles, and AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters--were expected to be fielded by the end of the decade. Bearing in mind the lethality of contemporary weapon systems and their potential to quickly wipe out entire units, Active Defense stressed winning the first battle. The published manual was definitely more practical than theoretical, listing required force ratios, characteristics of various weapon systems, and even typical German weather patterns.Romjue, 5-11. Doughty, 41-6. Herbert, 7-9, 40-5, 47-50, 75, 81-5, 88, 92. Swain, 372-5. Leonhard, 131, 133. Citino, 256-7. Stone, 47. House, 239-40. Trauschweizer, 206-9. Gole, 250. Scales, 10-4.

Controversy accompanied Active Defense from its introduction. Critics asserted that it was too Eurocentric and tactical, focused on defensive attritional warfare that emphasized firepower over maneuver, paid no mind to enemy echelons following up the initial attack, ignored potential Soviet tactical changes, downplayed the psychology of warfare, and was too formulaic and mathematical. Debate also occurred over the feasibility of the lateral movements required of unengaged units and the treatment of these units as a de facto reserve instead of having a traditional subtracted reserve.Romjue, 14-21. Doughty, 43-6. Herbert, 96-8. Swain, 377-9. Leonhard, 133-5. Citino, 257-60. Stone, 112. House, 240, 250-1. Trauschweizer, 210-3. Burton, 1-3, 52-4. Gole, 261-2. Scales, 14-5.

Because of these criticisms, General Starry, who had taken command of TRADOC in July 1977, was tasked in June 1979 by Lieutenant General Edward Meyer, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans in the Department of the Army, with revising the Active Defense doctrine.Swain, 380. Romjue, 30-2. Trauschweizer, 217-8. Meyer would become Army Chief of Staff that same month. While Starry and his staff did initially work on mere revision, they ended up writing an entirely new doctrine. Dubbed AirLand Battle and published in 1982, it emphasized offensive combined arms warfare and tactical flexibility while eschewing the mathematical, formulaic precepts found in Active Defense. The idea of mission orders was used, with free-thinking subordinates making and executing their own decisions based on their commanders' intentions rather than simply following detailed instructions. Enemy follow-up echelons were to be specifically targeted before they could be brought to bear, thereby disrupting the enemy's plans and momentum. AirLand Battle was characterized by four concepts: initiative, depth, agility, and synchronization. Forces were intended to achieve and retain the initiative, be positioned in depth with relation to time and space, react to situations faster than the enemy, and synchronize combined arms so that an enemy's reaction to one maneuver would put him at risk from another.Swain, 384-5. Romjue, 58-9, 67-73. Leonhard, 136, 166. Citino, 262-3. Stone, 113-5. House, 251-2. Trauschweizer, 221-6. Scales, 25-7, 106-8. The question of reserves was settled when TRADOC Deputy Commander Lieutenant General William Richardson mandated that, especially for brigade-size units and above, a traditional reserve be kept instead of using the lateral maneuvers of unengaged units as a reserve.Romjue, 71. Swain, 388. The operational level of war, residing between the tactical and strategic levels, was codified in Army doctrine for the first time thanks to the influence of General Glenn Otis, who had assumed command of TRADOC in August 1981.Romjue, 61. Swain, 383, 387. Scales, 25-6. Like Active Defense before it, however, AirLand Battle was not immune to criticism for allegedly still focusing on attrition instead of maneuver, having the desire for synchronization override initiative, and for placing too much emphasis on air and artillery interdiction at the expense of combined arms.Leonhard, 136-7, 160-4. Burton, 51-4.

America's post-Vietnam armed forces and facets of AirLand Battle were put to the test in order to eject invading Iraq from its neighbor Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm in early 1991. A multinational coalition army was built up over five months,Stephen A. Bourque, "The Hundred-Hour Thunderbolt: Armor in the Gulf War," in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, 502-3. Scales, 40-2, 46-54, 57-65, 69-79, 82-93, 97-9, 391-3. and a long air campaign decapitated the Iraqi armed forces. Ground combat would still be necessary despite this aerial bombardment: When engaged by coalition ground forces, the Tawakalna Mechanized Division of Iraq's Republican Guard still possessed 70% of its tanks and 60% of its infantry vehicles; likewise, the the Hammurabi Armored Division had more than 80% of its combat forces and the Medina Armored Division still fielded almost two complete armored brigades.Bourque, Jayhawk!, 364.

America's newest armored vehicles, especially the M1 tank and BFVs, overcame desert-related maintenance issues and were vindicated in the subsequent ground campaign. Army Chief of Staff General Carl Vuono instigated the in-theater swapping out of many older Bradleys for the new -A2 models as well as exchanging over a thousand M1 Abrams tanks for better armed and armored European-based M1A1s. This was accomplished despite reservations that US Central Command commander in chief General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., and the Army Staff initially shared about sending crews to battle in potentially unfamiliar vehicles. Some units earmarked for change did get to train on the new vehicles while still in the US, while others were not switched until the day before the ground offensive.Scales, 79-80. Bourque, "The Hundred-Hour Thunderbolt," 503. Bourque and Burdan, 23-5, 45-7. Bourque, Jayhawk!, 94-5. Vernon, et al., 107, 132-6. Once deployed, the engine air filters of the Abrams required cleaning after as little as 6 hours of desert operation, and daily even when the engine was not started. As a result, 2/2 Armored Cavalry Regiment, for example, went to battle with three times the normal stock of engine air filters. Crews also stressed over the high fuel consumption of the gas turbine engine, a matter compounded by problems with fuel pump reliability. Still, readiness rates for the Abrams and Bradleys were around 90% during the ground campaign. The -A2 BFVs designed in response to live-fire tests garnered praise from crews who felt safer in them than in the older models, but as in previous conflicts, extra ammunition was commonly carried, largely negating the benefits of the redrawn stowage arrangements.Stone, 104. Vernon et al., 52. Macgregor, 36. The readiness rate figure is expanded from peacetime operations, though, as relatively minor failures that would normally deadline vehicles were ignored during combat. See "Operation Desert Storm: Early Performance Assessment of Bradley and Abrams," 3, 10, 12-4, 16-7, 22, 25-8.

Marine LAVs and tanks had trouble with the higher-quality fuel dispensed in the Kuwaiti theater, which cleaned their fuel tanks of sediment left by the previously used diesel and deposited it in fuel filters and injectors, clogging them.Michaels, 34-5. Gilbert, Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Middle East, 48-50. The Marine Corps initially deployed with their M60A1s, and due to their more vulnerable nature compared to the newer Abrams, these tanks were fitted with explosive reactive armor suites to increase their protection against shaped charge attack. Some M60A1s were handed in for M1A1s and small numbers of M60A3(TTS) tanks after the units were in country.Estes, Marines Under Armor, 185. Gilbert, Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Middle East, 49. Though not all factors directly correlate, the Army's and Marine Corps's decisions to transition to more modern tanks while in theater, including some marines' relatively drastic change from the M60A1 to the M1A1, can be contrasted with the Army's reluctance to utilize 76mm gun medium tanks immediately before the Normandy invasion.

In action, American forces were better trained, better led, better able to communicate and utilize information, and fighting with better equipment than their opponents. This combination helped lead the coalition to an Iraqi defeat in under five days. As a counterpoint, there are veterans and historians who argue that in contrast to the spirit of AirLand Battle, some US senior commanders were overly timid and allowed little initiative in the lower ranks, and that planners were still focused on attrition instead of maneuver warfare.Bourque, "The Hundred-Hour Thunderbolt," 524. Donnelly and Naylor, 248-51. Trauschweizer, 228-9. Gole, 283. According to House, 269, Citino, 288-90, Scales, 360, Bourque, Jayhawk!, 456-7, and Stone, 124-7, it must be realized that conclusions drawn from the conflict will be unique due to the desert terrain, air supremacy enjoyed by the Coalition, lengthy buildup allowed to Coalition forces, numerous willing allies and host nations, and at times lackluster morale and performance of the Iraqi forces. For counterpoint examples, see Leonhard, 267-72; Hayden, 29-31; Macgregor, 209-18; and Burton, 243-52. Scales, 303, attributes the caution and close control to concern for fratricide casualties. Also, some argue that air strikes were initially overly concerned with interdiction targets. See Morris; 12-3, Burton, 240-3; Bourque, Jayhawk!, 460; and House, 270-1.

Home       Top

Post-Cold War: Focusing Anew

With the huge leaps made in the information technology field in the latter part of the 20th century, the US military sought to exploit the potential battlefield advantages of emerging systems. About one-fourth of the casualties suffered in Operation Desert Storm were caused by fratricide,Burton, 250. so a way to increase situational awareness seemed imperative with the lethality of modern weapons outranging the resolution of gunners' and commanders' sights. Beginning with the M1A2 Abrams, an inter-vehicular information system (IVIS) was provided that enabled tanks to digitally transmit text messages and data to one another and other friendly units. The Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) and Blue Force Tracker systems set up a tactical Internet that allowed the positions of friendly vehicles and identified enemies and obstacles to be shared real-time with friendly forces and higher headquarters via satellite and shown on color touch-screen displays."Operation Desert Storm: Early Performance Assessment of Bradley and Abrams," 17-8, 23, 33-4. Scales, 302-3, 366-7. Green, M1 Abrams Tank, 51-2. Green and Brown, 52. Zwilling, Stryker IAV in Detail, Part One, 10-1. "Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2)," <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ground/fbcb2.htm>. Fontenot, Degen, and Tohn, 9-10, 63. New command systems such as these indeed had a positive impact on fratricide rates during operations in Iraq in the early and mid-2000s.Wright and Reese, 581. While giving friendly units and commanders an unprecedented common picture of the battlefield, these systems also opened the possibility for higher headquarters to micromanage the fight down to the level of the individual vehicle.

Since the Vietnam War, Army armored units had been prepared to take on the hordes of tanks possessed by the Soviet Union, and its collapse in December 1991 threw the entirety of America's armed forces into a semi-limbo state. Army troop strength was drawn down from 786,000 to 500,000 by the summer of 1993, with the 2d and 3d Armored Divisions among the units deactivated after Desert Storm.Fontenot, Degen, and Tohn, 5. The Persian Gulf War of 1991 proved that the doctrinal concepts, training, and equipment developed to defeat the Soviet armies were viable and effective against an opponent modeled after the Soviet Union, but the amount of time it took to build up the forces used to evict Iraq from Kuwait, and the effort required to keep those forces supplied, seemed prohibitive. Indeed, US forces nearly overburdened their logistic support, especially transportation services, before and during the hundred-hour ground war."Operation Desert Storm: Early Performance Assessment of Bradley and Abrams," 31-2, 39-41. Stone, 146-7. Gudmundsson, 174-5, 216. Leonhard, 296-7. Vernon et al., 308. Scales, 375, 379. Bourque, Jayhawk!, 65-7, 83, 86-7, 89, 352. A lighter, more deployable force was deemed necessary to respond to the type of threats envisioned for the future. To this end, the Future Combat System (FCS) was being developed and was expected to enter service around 2012.Federation of American Scientists, <http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/fcs.htm>. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), <http://www.darpa.mil/fcs/news/news_release.htm>. The FCS was to consist of a family of vehicles, both crewed and unmanned, that could be configured for a variety of missions.DARPA, <http://www.darpa.mil/tto/programs/fcs.html>. The manned vehicles were cancelled in June 2009, however, and the rest of the program was integrated into the Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization program.Grant, <http://www.dodbuzz.com/2009/06/23/its-official-fcs-cancelled/>. Ogorkiewicz, Tanks, 176.

To expedite the shift towards a more deployable armored force, an Interim Armored Vehicle (IAV) in the vein of the FCS was procured as a joint venture from General Motors and General Dynamics Land Systems Division. It was chosen to base the IAV on the eight-wheeled General Motors LAV III, and the vehicle was named Stryker after two Medal of Honor recipients. The Stryker, intended to slot between light vehicles such as armored high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs) and heavy ones such as tanks and IFVs, consists of a family of vehicles including an infantry carrier armed with a .50 caliber machine gun or an automatic 40mm grenade launcher, a mobile gun system armed with a 105mm gun, a self-propelled mortar carrier, a TOW missile launcher, a reconnaissance vehicle, an engineer vehicle, an ambulance, a fire support team vehicle, an NBC detection vehicle, and a command vehicle.Zwilling, Stryker IAV in Detail, Part One, 2-4. Rottman, 10-1. Ogorkiewicz, Tanks, 174-5. Triggs, <http://www.dtic.mil/armylink/news/Feb2002/a20020228stryker022802.html>. The new vehicles were to be grouped into Interim Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs)--renamed Stryker Brigade Combat Teams once the vehicle had been christened--and Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki had decreed that these IBCTs were to be capable of being deployed anywhere in the world in 96 hours. Therefore, one of the requirements of the IAV was that it be transportable in the C-130, the most numerous cargo plane in the Air Force. Despite this mandate, eight of the ten Stryker variants as designed were too heavy to fly on a C-130; designers had to look at ways to make the vehicles lighter.Zwilling, Stryker IAV in Detail, Part One, 18. Rottman, 10, 13. Fontenot, Degen, and Tohn, 20-2, 408. Jack Kelly, <http://www.post-gazette.com/nation/20020320mobilenat4p4.asp>. Triggs, <http://www4.army.mil/ocpa/read.php?story_id_key=965>. Even when the Strykers make the target weight, flight distance and airfield restrictions still apply, especially if applique and reactive armor suites are added to the vehicles."Military Transformation: Fielding of Army's Stryker Vehicles is Under Way, but Expectations for Their Transportability by C-130 Aircraft Need to be Clarified," 4.

M1126 Stryker ICV

A program that emerged from counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s was the provision of mine resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs). By mid-2003 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had become the main threat to US troops in Iraq, and the sophistication in their construction and use would continue to improve. Late that year the theater command, Combined Joint Task Force 7, restricted the use of unarmored vehicles. Commanders in the field started requesting mine-resistant vehicles in 2004, but acquisition was delayed due to reasons including an institutional bias against irregular warfare progams, an emphasis on prevention of IED attacks rather than protection of troops, a complex and bureaucratic Pentagon requirements and funding system, and a reluctance to spend a large amount of money on a vehicle type that would potentially not be needed once the counterinsurgency missions were over. Instead, ad hoc armor was developed for vehicles in country, and production of armor kits for vehicles used for patrols, escort, and logistical duties was accelerated in the US, with manufacturers even delaying commercial orders in order to quickly churn out the government requests. These kits were not without drawbacks, though: the additional 2,000-4,000lbs (900kg-1800kg) of weight imposed by armor kits for the HMMWV had deleterious effects on reliability and handling, for example. It was 2007 before the Pentagon took action to acquire vehicles specifically designed to resist mines and ambushes, and approximately 28,000 MRAPs of various types and sizes were eventually purchased by the Army and Marines. Once in service, MRAPs produced the lowest casualty rate of the armored vehicles in Iraq, including the Abrams tank.Lamb, Schmidt, and Fitzsimmons, 1, 3-6, 9-10, 12-38. Wright and Reese, 111-2, 314-6, 509-13, 516. Guardia, 5-7, 45-8. GlobalSecurity.org, <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ground/mrap.htm>.

The Marines continued to accept the M1A1 after Operation Desert Storm, and the last of their aging M60A1s was phased out by 1996.Estes, Marines Under Armor, 183-4. A replacement for the Marines' AAVP7 was being developed by General Dynamics Land Systems Division and was expected to enter low-rate production by 2010, a year before the fortieth anniversary of the AAVP7's entry into service. Called the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the new amphibian was to utilize a planing hull to skim along the ocean's surface, making over-the-horizon assaults faster and therefore more viable.General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), <http://www.gdls.com/programs/efv.html>. United States Marine Corps, <http://www.efv.usmc.mil/>, <http://www.efv.usmc.mil/highlights.asp>. Croizat, 239. Hunnicutt, Bradley, 360-1. Due to budgetary concerns, though, the program was cancelled in January 2011.Amos, <http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=14179>. In its stead, the Marines are looking to develop a cheaper amphibious combat vehicle as well as a wheeled armored personnel carrier; a service life extension program will keep the venerable AAVP7 in the field until the new vehicles are procured.Kuiper, <http://www.marines.mil/unit/mcbquantico/Pages/2011/EFVoustedforlesscostlytriumvirate.aspx>. A further upgrade program will involve installing a stronger applique armor kit, a new engine and transmission, suspension enhancements, external fuel tanks, and blast-mitigating seating. Deliveries of the first of 392 vehicles to be so rebuilt is expected in 2017.Bacon, <http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2016/01/29/marines-aging-amphibious-vehicle-fleet-get-better-armor-more-power/79487266/>.

Despite the clamor for more rapid deployability, heavy forces still have a place on the battlefield, even when faced with counterinsurgency duties. This was illustrated, for example, during Operation Iraqi Freedom which began in 2003. Tanks and IFVs destroyed enemy armored vehicles both at long distances in the desert and at point-blank range in urban environments, and they were also successful against dismounted and irregular forces in cramped city streets. Army armored forces conducted raids through downtown An Najaf and Baghdad proving that, despite withering gauntlets of fire thrown out by both uniformed and paramilitary enemy forces, American ground units were powerful enough to maintain complete freedom of movement.Zucchino, 1-66, 102-260. Conroy with Martz, 3, 165-209. Lacey, 109, 175-7, 205-19, 229-57. Fontenot, Degen, and Tohn, 272-3, 336, 340-74. Wright and Reese, 333-5.

When the campaign transitioned to counterinsurgency work, the long range of mounted optics, machine guns, and cannon allowed vehicles to accurately engage targets while remaining outside the enemy's ability to return fire. Abrams tanks were able to shrug off most IEDs and antitank rockets, and consequently tanks led most advances since local intelligence about enemy forces was often lacking. When enemy troops fired on or ran from the leading tanks, closely-following Bradley IFVs would take the enemy under fire using their 25mm chain guns, which tended to cause less collateral damage than tank cannon. Indeed, sensitivity to damage was so acute in some operations that utilizing tank cannon could require permission from the battalion level, and even the BFVs' 25mm guns sometimes needed clearance from the company commander. Independent thermal sights for the commanders of M1A2s and the -A3 BFVs allowed these vehicles to operate in urban settings while buttoned, saving the commanders from having to expose themselves through their hatches to gain better situational awarenes.Gordon and Pirnie, 86. Lacey, 25-6, 27-8, 46, 101. Green, War Stories of the Tankers, 270-1. Fontenot, Degen, and Tohn, xxix, 274. Wright and Reese, 325, 334-5, 342, 353-4. Chiarelli, Michaelis, and Norman, 8-12. Fontenot, Degen, and Tohn also provide some defense of the tactical intelligence situation; see 423-4. For clearances required to use main guns, see Chiarelli, Michaelis, and Norman, 9.

Marine armor was active in the 2000s as well. AAVP7s were used as ersatz infantry fighting vehicles in Iraq, but their thinner armor compared to the Bradley forced their carried marines to dismount earlier and more often than Army mechanized infantry.Gordon and Pirnie, 87. LAR battalions carved out another doctrinal niche when grouped together with supporting infantry, artillery, air, and other assets to perform deep missions as an operational maneuver group during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and in Afghanistan in 2009.Shepard, 18-22. Also in Afghanistan in the latter part of the 2000s, the Corps found tank fire to be more accurate than artillery or airstrikes and consequently to cause less unintended destruction. In that politically sensitive theater, accurate firepower was a definite advantage.Gilbert, Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Middle East, 250-2.

With these lessons learned, the Abrams tank is expected to serve with both the Army and Marine Corps until 2050.Williams, 4. Green, M1 Abrams Tank, 185. To put that into perspective, it will make the Abrams seventy years old when it is retired. Conversely, under sixty-three and a half years elapsed from the very first tank action in September 1916 to the M1's introduction in February 1980.

Home       Top

In Summary

The United States has employed armored vehicles for over a century and a half, and its men and machines have necessarily been involved in the largest conflicts of those hundred and fifty-plus years. Armies on both sides of the Civil War utilized locomotives and trains as the basis for armed and armored self-propelled platforms, but the internal combustion engine switched development emphasis to automobiles and armored cars in the early 1900s. After their successful debut in French- and British-built tanks in World War I, American armored troops endured almost two decades of forced stagnation in both thought and practice. After another round of European unrest prodded the country into cogent introspection as well as firm action on mechanization, its machines fought on all fronts with virtually all its Allies during World War II, and its crews successfully engaged the enemy's more potently-armed and thickly-armored tanks. Shortly after World War II, American medium tanks helped control the North Korean armored spearhead and later provided accurate infantry-supporting direct and indirect fire in the difficult Korean terrain. Armored vehicles were intially dismissed as being unnecessary in Vietnam, but their value was soon shown, and they became an important tool in the theater. Failed replacement programs kept the M60 tank in frontline service for two decades during the Cold War, while simultaneously a struggle ensued to give a new infantry fighting vehicle physical and conceptual form. A new generation of American armored vehicles proved its strength when tested during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but the collapse of the USSR and the anticipated threat of low-intensity conflicts that require lethal forces to quickly arrive at a distant scene have spurred a trend towards lighter, more deployable vehicles for the future. Heavy forces have demonstrated throughout subsequent conflicts in the Middle East that they are still survivable and decisive, though.

The power and complexity of fighting vehicles have increased tremendously since their inception, and today the US remains at the forefront of development. However, as illustrated by many conflicts since World War II, high-tech weapons systems are not the crux of a victorious military.Citino, 222-3. Bacevich, 150-3, 156. Half a decade before the appearance of the tank, Patton wrote, "[W]e children of a mechanical age are interested in and impressed by machines to such an extent that we forget that no machine is better than its operator..."Quoted in Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940, I: 242. That sentiment is no less apt now that the mechanical age has progressed to the information age, and now that the tank itself and mechanized forces as a whole have matured: without highly-trained and motivated personnel acting in accordance with innovative and sound doctrines, even the most technologically sophisticated fighting vehicles are transformed from terrible, swift swords into white war elephants.

Home       Top

Home       Top

Endnote code courtesy John Blythe Dobson.
Last updated 15 Apr 2017.
Questions? Comments? Corrections? Email me
© Copyright 2000-17 Chris Conners