The M3 Lee & M3 Grant Medium Tank Background
With the M2 Medium Tank already in service, the Americans took a close look at British battle experience and decided they needed thicker armour and a more powerful dual purpose main gun. They decided to standardise on a 75mm weapon and stuck with this calibre until the more powerful 76mm gun became available later in the war.
They didn’t have time to design and build a new turret for the new gun; so instead, they decided to mount it in a sponson in the right hand side of the hull. A small turret with a 37mm gun was also mounted on the top of the hull. The side sponson mounted main gun, naturally, had limited traverse and the tank’s hull had a tall silhouette. In general usage, the sponson mounted gun was used for infantry support, with the 37mm turret mounted gun being used in the anti-tank role.
In June 1940 a British tank purchasing commission arrived and showed considerable interest in the new tank. The British needed to make up for their heavy losses in France, where some 700 tanks were either knocked out or abandoned. The commission demanded that a number of changes were made to the tank, including a larger, lower turret with a rear bustle to make room for the tank’s radio, and the removal of the cumbersome machine gun cupola.
The M3 Lee & M3 Grant Medium Tank PRoduction & Spec’s
Right from the start of production, two versions of the M3 were built; The U.S. Army version, known as the General Lee and the British version, known as the General Grant. Initially, the M3 was built at a rate of 14 a day, with 8 being allocated to the U.S. Army, and the remaining six being allocated to the British.
The M3 Medium Tank was powered by a 9 cylinder Wright Continental R975 giving the tank a top speed of 21 mph with a range of 120 miles. Initially the M3 had a riveted hull, which was upgraded first to a cast hull, then to an all welded hull. The engine was also later upgraded to a 370hp Chrysler Multi-bank engine.
The M3 Medium Tank was only ever meant to be a stop-gap tank until the introduction of the M4 Sherman. It did, however see extensive service, especially in the Western Desert, where it played a very significant role. It first saw action in May 1942 in the Gazala Line area.
The M3 helped redress the balance in tank capabilities, where previously the British had been so hard pressed to match the German tanks. The M3 proved to be the equal of the PzKpfw III and only slightly inferior to the PzKpfw IV tank. It’s only major disadvantages were in its high silhouette and the limited traverse of the 75mm gun.
The M3 first saw service with the Americans during the Torch Landings in November 1942.
Page written and submitted by Bruce Forrest