M3, M3E1, M3E2, M3E3, M3E4, Stuart 1, Stuart 2
Standardized July 1940, this was the replacement for the outdated M2 series. This tank series would achieve lasting fame known as the "Stuart". The British who bought many prior to and after the United States entering the war gave this name to the tank. Further sub designators by the British were Stuart Mk 1 and Stuart Mk 2. The Mk 1 was gasoline powered and the Mk 2 was diesel powered. Soldiers of the United States had no special affectionate name for this vehicle (though they probably had a few un-affectionate names). This tank was built a bit on the heavy side of light tanks of the period as it came complete with a 37mm main gun and five .30cal machine guns (what other "light" tank can claim that). It was also noted for having stronger and heavier armor than it's foreign sisters (10 - 44mm).
Fast and reliable, the only downside of this vehicle was that the crew compartment was designed a bit on the clumsy side. Test variations were numbered M3E1, M3E2, M3E3 and mostly centered around diesel versus gasoline engines. No diesel tanks were adopted for US Army use. The M3E2 was a twin Cadillac V8 engine combination driven through twin automatic transmissions. The Ordnance Department expressed doubt in the design and so GM had the tank driven from Detroit all the way to Aberdeen under it's own power, achieving 50mph, and with no problems. The M3E2 went on to become the M5. The M3E1 involved a Cummins Diesel and was rated as "satisfactory" but was "not adopted due to diesel policy". That was a reference to a priority the Navy had on all diesel fuel. M3E3 seems to have involved tests with a cast homogenous turret, a sloping front plate, storage box, and an attempt to reduce bullet "splash". All M3 tanks were built by American Car & Foundry. The US M3 Stuart series was the first American tank to see active service in WWII, and did so in North Africa.
Classified a light tank by western forces, and often outgunned on western battlefields, the tank actually enjoyed a superiority on eastern battlefields. The USMC often commented on how much they enjoyed using the 37mm gun, with canister shot, to mow down vegetation and the Japanese soldiers hidden within. The 37mm gun was more than enough to deal with Japanese armor as well. The British soon unofficially called the little tank "Honey" because of it's reliability and comfort (if a tank could ever be called comfortable). The M3 Light Tank first entered production in March 1941 and was a direct development of the M2A4 light tank. A unique feature was the suspension. The crew of four consisted of a loader, a gunner, a driver and the co-driver who operated the hull machine gun. The rear idler wheel, unlike most tracked AFV's, was mounted on a trailing arm designed to increase the length of track in contact with the ground. The turret had no basket, which caused the gunner and loader to "walk" with the turret as it turned. Because of a less than convenient drive shaft that bisected the compartment, it became a preferment to actually aim the tank rather than rotate the turret.
The M3 first saw active service with the British in North Africa. The type largely supplied were the Mark 2 (diesel). Despite concern about the vehicle's size and the internal layout the British were very enthusiastic with the performance of this tank, especially with regard to its reliability which was a particular weakness of the early war British tanks. The British desert 'Honey' tanks were fitted with a considerable number of modifications including sand-skirts, external stowage boxes, and extra external fuel tanks. To increase internal stowage, the British removed the Sponson machine guns. The "skin" of the tank was much tougher than expected with armor thickness approaching that of a medium tank early in the war.
Production of the M3 ran from March 1941 until January 1943 with 5811 vehicles being produced, 1784 of which were supplied to Britain. Of the 5811 vehicles produced, 1285 were fitted with the Guiberson Diesel.
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