The Medium Tank M3 was an American tank used during World War II. In Britain the tank was called "General Lee" named after General Robert E. Lee, and its modified version built to British specification, with a new turret, was called "General Grant" named after General Ulysses S. Grant.
General Robert E. Lee
As a rush job intended to be brought from design to production in a short period, the M3 was well armed and armored for the period, but due to various shortcomings (high silhouette, archaic sponson mounting of the main gun, below average off-road performance) it was not competitive and was withdrawn from frontline duty as soon as the M4 Sherman became available in large numbers.
In 1939, the U.S. Army possessed few tanks or viable tank designs. The interwar years had been a time of small budgets for tank development. The U.S. had no infrastructure for tank production, little experience in tank design, and little doctrine to guide design efforts.
In this context the M2 series medium tank was developed. Though typical of tanks of many nations when first produced in 1939, by the time the US entered the war the M2 design was obsolete with only a 37 mm gun, about 30 mm armor, and a very high silhouette. The success of tanks such as the Panzer III and Panzer IV in the French campaign, prompted the US Army to rethink their designs. The US Army immediately issued a requirement for a new medium tank armed with a 75 mm gun in a turret. This eventually became the M4 Sherman. However, until the Sherman could be ready for production, an interim design with a 75 mm gun was urgently needed.
The M3 was the interim solution. The tank design was unusual in that the main weapon, a larger caliber, lower-velocity 75 mm gun was in an offset sponson mounting in the hull, with consequent limited traverse. A small turret with a lighter, higher-velocity 37 mm gun was on the top of the tall hull. A small cupola on top of the turret held a machine gun giving the effect of one turret on top of another. The use of two main guns was seen on tanks like the French Char B, the Soviet T-35, and the Mark I version of the British Churchill tank. In each case, two weapons were mounted to give the tanks adequate capability in firing both anti-personnel high explosive ammunition (which needed to contain large amount of explosives) and armor-piercing ammunition for anti-tank combat (with efficiency depending on a kinetic energy of the projectile). The M3 differed slightly from this pattern by using a main gun which could fire an armor-piercing projectile at a velocity high enough for efficiently piercing armor, as well as deliver a high-explosive shell that was large enough to be effective. By using the hull mount, the M3 design was brought to production quicker than if a proper turreted mount had been attempted. It was well understood that the M3 design was deeply flawed, but the need for tanks was urgent.
The British ordered the M3 when they were refused permission to have their tank designs made by American factories. They were unhappy with the tall profile and had their own turret fitted - lower in profile with a bustle at the back for the radio set. Tanks modified with the new turret received the name "(General) Grant" while unaltered M3's were called "General Lee", or more usually just Grant and Lee. These names were, however, only used by British and Commonwealth forces; the US Army never referred to the tanks as anything but M3 Mediums. The Grant required one fewer crew member than the Lee due to the movement of the radio to the turret. Nevertheless the M3 was successful as an interim solution and brought much needed firepower to British forces in the African desert.
The chassis and running gear of the M3 design was adapted by the Canadians to develop their Ram tank - a conventionally turreted tank. The hull was also used for self-propelled artillery and recovery vehicles.
The M3 was withdrawn from frontline duty when the M4 Sherman became available in large numbers.
The Medium Tank M3 first saw action in 1942 during the North African Campaign. British Lees and Grants were in action against Rommel's forces at the disastrous Battle of Gazala on May 27th that year. They continued to serve in North Africa until the end of that campaign. A regiment of M3 Lees was also used by the US 1st Armored Division in North Africa. In the North African campaign, the M3 was generally appreciated for its mechanical reliability, good armor, and heavy firepower. In all three areas it outclassed the available British tanks, and was able to fight German tanks and towed anti-tank guns. The tall silhouette and low, hull-mounted 75 mm were severe tactical drawbacks since they prevented the tank from fighting from hull-down firing positions. Riveted armour also gave limited problems, as upon impact the rivets could break off and become projectiles inside the tank, a shared problem with other riveted tanks. Later models were welded to eliminate this problem. The M3 was replaced by the M4 as soon as these were available, and none were used in the European theatre after May 1943.
In the Pacific, a very small number were used by the US Army in the Makin Atoll in 1943. None were supplied to the U.S. Marine Corps. Australian forces received several hundred, but none saw combat. British M3s were used in the China-Burma-India theatre, mainly with Indian crews, until the end of the war; their flaws were less important compared to the Japanese tanks that were both poor and rarely encountered. In the far east the main role was one of infantry support. They played a pivotal role during the Battle of Imphal, and despite their lower-than-average off-road performance they served well on the steep hillsides around Imphal.
Over 1,300 diesel engined M3A3 and M3A5s were supplied to the USSR via lend-lease in 1942-43. All were the Lee variant although they are sometimes referred to as Grants. The M3 was very unpopular in the Red Army, where its faults were shown up in the most intense tank combat environment of the war. The M3 earned the nickname of the 'Coffin for seven brothers'. Few were seen in combat after about mid-1943. M3s were used on the arctic front in the Red Army's offensive on the Litsa-front towards Kirkenes in October 1944. The Germans had no tanks on this front so the M3s inferior tank-to-tank capabilities compared with the latest German models must have been of limited importance.
Overall, the M3 was able to cope with the battlefield of 1942. Its armor and firepower were the equal or superior to most of the threats it faced. Long-range, high velocity guns were not yet common on German tanks. However, the rapid pace of tank development in WW2 meant that it was very quickly outclassed. By mid-1943, with the introduction of the German Panther, the up-gunning of the Panzer IV to a long 75 mm gun, and the availability of large numbers of Shermans, the M3 was rightly withdrawn from service in the European Theatre.
- Cast upper hull. 300 built.
- Welded hull. Only 12 vehicles produced.
- Welded hull, twin GM 6-71 diesel. Side doors welded shut or eliminated. 322 built.
- Stretched riveted hull, 5 x Chrysler A-57 Multibank engines. Side doors eliminated. 109 built.
- Riveted hull. Twin GM 6-71 diesel. Despite having the original Lee turret and not the Grant' one, was referred by the British as Grant II. 591 built.
- Based on M3 chassis, with dummy turret and dummy 75 gun. 60,000 lb winch installed.
- Based on M3A3.
- Based on M3A5.
- 105 mm M1/M2 howitzer installed in open superstructure.
- Gunless version was the OP (observation post vehicle)
- Designed as the T-6. A 155 mm howitzer on M3 chassis.
- Australian SP 25 pounder. 13 vehicles built in 1949 on M3A5 chassis in a conversion very similar to the Canadian Sexton.
- Grant ARV
- Grant I's and Grant II's with guns removed and replaced with armoured recovery vehicle equipment.
- Grant Command
- Grant fitted with radio equipment and having guns removed or replaced with dummies.
- Grant Scorpion III
- Grant with 75 mm gun removed, and fitted with Scorpion III mine clearing flail, few made in early 1943 for use in North Africa.
- Grant Scorpion IV
- Grant Scorpion III with additional motor to increase Scoprion flail power.
- Grant CDL
- From "Canal Defence Light"; Grants with the 37 mm gun turret replaced by a new turret containing a powerful searchlight and a machine gun. 355 Produced by the Americans as well, it was designated Shop Tractor T10.
|Other Designation(s)||Medium Tank M3 Lee|
|Production Quantity||4924||Production Period||Jun. 1941-Aug. 1942|
|Type||Medium Tank||Crew||6 or 7|
|Length /hull (m)||6.12 or 5.64*/5.64||Barrel Overhang (m)||0.48 or 0*|
|Width (m)||2.72||Height (m)||3.12|
|Combat Weight (kg)||27900||Radio Equipment||SCR508|
|Primary Armament||75mm Gun M2 or M3 (hull mounted)||Ammunition Carried||75mm: 50|
|37mm Gun M5 or M6 (turret)||37mm: 178|
|Traverse (degrees)||75mm: 30° (15 L or R)||Elevation (degrees)||75mm: -9° to +20°|
|37mm: Hydraulic (360°)||37mm: -7° to +60°|
|Traverse speed (360°)||75mm: Manual||Sight||75mm: n.a.|
|37mm: 18°/sec.||37mm: n.a.|
|Secondary Armament||3 x .30 caliber MG M1919A4 (turret, coaxial with 37mm, bow)||Ammunition Carried|
|Engine Make & Model||Wright (Continental) R975 EC2||Track Links||79/track|
|Type & Displacement||R9, 15.9 liters||Track Width||40.6 or 42.1 cm|
|Horsepower (max.)||400hp@2400rpm||Track Ground Contact||373.4 cm|
|Power/Weight Ratio||14.3 hp/tonne||Ground Pressure||12.6 psi|
|Gearbox||5 forward, 1 reverse||Ground Clearance (m)||0.43|
|Fuel||Gasoline (Petrol)||Turning Radius (m)||18.9|
|Range on/off road (km)||193||Gradient (degrees)||31°|
|Mileage (liters/100km)||412 on road||Vertical Obstacle (m)||0.61|
|Fuel Capacity (liters)||796||Fording (m)||1.0|
|Speed on/off road||34 km/h||Trench Crossing (m)||2.3|
General George Patton stands to the side
of an M2 medium tank in Tunisia, 1942.
17 November 1942--13 May 1943
Victory at Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers gave the United States Army and its British ally solid toeholds in the western Mediterranean Theater of Operations. But it offered no guarantee of easy access to Italy or southern Europe, or even to the eastern end of the Mediterranean, where the British desperately needed assistance to secure Egypt and strategic resources in the Near East. The sudden entrance of American forces during 8-11 November 1942 created an awkward deployment in which two pairs of opposing armies fought in North Africa, one in Tunisia, the other in Libya. Neither Axis nor Allies found any satisfaction in the situation; much fighting remained before either adversary could consider North Africa secure.