Even as the M4 Sherman was put into production, studies were conducted into developing its successor. Various attempts were made to up-gun and up-armour the Sherman, none of which (apart from perhaps the British Firefly adaptation) proved to be satisfactory.
The M26 Pershing Heavy Tank Development
Of the various test models, T20, T22 and T23, only the T23 was put into production for trials, with a total of 250 being ordered. 50 were to be fitted with the newly developed 90mm gun, whilst 40 of these would have the same armour as the T23 and 10 would have thicker armour. These two versions then went on to be designated as the T25 and T26 respectively.
The T25 was fitted with the HVSS suspension, whilst the T26E1 was fitted with conventional torsion bar suspension. After a lot of further trials were carried out, the T26 was selected, followed by the T26E1. The T26E1 differed from the T26 in that it was fitted with a hydromantic transmission with a torque converter, instead of the heavier and more complicated electric transmission fitted to the T26. In the extensive trials which were carried out at Fort Knox, the T26, with its electric transmission, was found to have a better performance over normal terrain. However, it was decided that it was far too complicated for battlefield use, so the T26E1 was chosen.
Early in June 1944, field commanders stated that they didn’t want to be supplied with tanks fitted with any new tanks fitted with a 75mm or 76mm gun. Instead they wanted (and needed) tanks armed with either a 90mm or a 105mm gun. This request was approved by the Army Staff and trials on the T26E1 continued apace.
From then on, it should have been plain sailing, as the Army Staff recommended that 1,500 should be built immediately. However, for some unknown reason, the Armoured Force said they only wanted 500, whilst the Army Ground Forces said the tank should only be fitted with a 76mm gun! These arguments led to serious delays in production and it wasn’t until December of 1944 that a limited order was fulfilled.
The first twenty T26E3s were sent to the ETO (European Theatre of Operations) in January 1945 and first saw action in February. Their excellent performance finally convinced the Army Ground Forces to request as many of the new tanks as possible! Full production finally began in March 1945 and the tank was formally standardised as the heavy tank M26. It was named Pershing, after General ‘Black Jack’ Pershing of Mexican War and World War 1 fame.
The M26 Pershing was powered by a Ford GAN V-8 500hp petrol engine. It had a range of 100 miles and a top speed of 30mph. It weighed in at 41.23 tonnes, measured 28ft 4.5 inches long, 11ft 6 inches wide and 9 ft 1 inch high. It was armed with the M3 90mm gun, two .30 MG’s (one coaxial and one bow MG) and a single .50cal MG.
It had a crew of 5 commander, gunner and loader in the turret; driver and radio operator/bow MG gunner in the hull.
The M26 Pershing Heavy Tank “Super Pershing”
Whilst the M26 was undoubtedly a vast improvement over anything the US had used before, it wasn’t without its deficiencies. A field upgrade program was conducted by the 2nd Armoured Division, who fitted it with the new 90mm T15E1 gun, with large weight compensators in cylinders mounted above the gun. Extra armour was also fitted, in the form of welded plate cut from captured German Panther medium tanks. These plates were welded to the gun-shield and front glacis plate.
The M26 Pershing Heavy Tank Production
Total wartime production was 1,436, with a further 992 being built in late 1945. Of all these tanks built, only 310 ever reached the ETO and 200 were issued to units. Of these 200, only 20 ever saw any kind of action! A few were sent to the Far East, in time for the invasion of Okinawa in July 1945, but none were used before VJ Day.
It wasn’t until the Korean War of 1950-1953, that the Pershing really showed its worth, being able to take on the T34/85 used by the North Korean and Chinese armies with ease.
The M26 Pershing is the direct ancestor of the M46, M47, M48, M60 Patton series of Post War Medium Tanks.
Written and submitted by Bruce Forrest