M3 Stuart (Family)
- 1 Description
- 2 Vehicles
- 3 History
- 4 Variants
- 5 Operators
- 6 Media
The Light Tank, M3 was an American light tank which was nicknamed in British service under Stuart, after American Civil War Confederate general J. E. B. Stuart.
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The M3 Stuart was a comprehensive upgrade of the earlier M2 light tank. It featured a new Continental petrol engine - more powerful than on the preceding M2, a new vertical volute suspension system (VVSS), an M5 37 mm main gun (later replaced by the M6 37 mm gun) with a new recoil system. The secondary armament consisted of up to 5 .30 cal (7.62 mm) M1919 machine guns. One was coaxial to the main gun, one was ball-mounted in the hull front, two were mounted in sponsons in the hull, and one was located on an anti-aircraft mounting on the turret. Often, the two sponson-mounted machine guns would be removed by the crew to save space and reduce weight. The M3 was manned by a crew of four: driver, co-driver, commander, and gunner.
The main armor composition was of face-hardened rolled homogeneous armor. The sides and rear of the hull and turret were 1 inch (25.4 mm) thick. The turret front was 38.1 mm thick, and so was the gun mantlet. The hull lower glacis was 44.4 mm thick, and the angled upper glacis was 15.8 mm thick and angled at 70 degrees. The upper front plate was 38.1 mm thick and angled at 18 degrees. The turret and hull roofs were 12.7 mm thick.
M3 Stuart (Stuart Mk I/II)
The M3 was the first production model of the series, and it was introduced in March of 1941. 5811 M3 Stuarts were built and they were called the Stuart Mk I in British service. 1285 of those were built with Guiberson diesel engines and were designated as Stuart Mk II by the British. The diesel engine Stuarts were built to British specification, not for American service. The British often referred to the Stuarts as the Honey tank, because of how smooth the ride was. A turret basket was added for the commander and gunner to sit in. Many of the original M3 Stuarts were sent to Britain under the Lend-Lease Act.
M3A1 Stuart (Stuart Mk III/IV)
Introduced in 1942, the M3A1 featured an improved turret. The new turret featured a turret basket and a different AA machine gun mount. Additionally, all of the sponson-mounted machine guns were removed on the M3A1 version. This left only three .30 cal (7.62 mm) machine guns; one hull-mounted, one AA mounted, and one coaxial. Additionally, the vertical stabilizer for the gun was improved. 4621 M3A1 Stuarts were produced, and production ended in February 1943. The M3A1 was exported to the British as the Stuart Mk III, and the diesel version was called the Stuart Mk IV in British service.
M3A3 Stuart (Stuart Mk V)
The M3A3 variant featured sloped frontal armor very similar to that of the M5 Stuart. The new armor arrangement was easier to produce and it also offered better protection. As a side effect, the M3A3 hull was heavier than the earlier version; the hull also had increased volume, which allowed for more fuel and ammunition storage. The M3A3 also introduced an improved turret with a larger bustle on the rear for the storage of a SCR 508 radio. Because of the increased space inside the hull, the ammunition storage was increased to 174 37 mm rounds and 7500 7.62 mm rounds. 3427 M3A3s were produced, with production ending in October 1943. In British service they were called Stuart Mk V.
13,800 M3 Stuarts were used in all the theaters of World War 2 with a number of different nations.
The M3 Stuart, the first production series, was not intended for fighting other tanks but instead was meant to fight infantry units. With an armament of five .30 cal machine guns and one 37 mm gun the M3 was quite capable of its job. The standard livery was khaki-olive paint with US identification markings. The turret was often painted with a white or yellow horizontal band, and some units also added unit markings. Extra tracks and fuel were often stored on the exterior of the tank, and the sponson machine guns were often removed to save space and weight.
The M3A1 was an improved version which was produced until 1942, when the M3A3 and M5 Stuart were introduced. During Operation Torch in 1942 the M3A1 was often painted olive drab with the standard US identification markings. The M3A1s were painted very similarly to the M3s, and American identification markings were made very large, as the French (who held West North Africa during Operation Torch) held no anti-American sentiment. Additionally, the M20 anti-aircraft mounting for a .30 cal machine gun became common during this campaign. Extra tracks and fuel were mounted just the same as on the M3. The M3 was heavily used by the British, and British Stuarts were often covered in extra supplies and equipment. British Stuarts were painted in straight line blue-sand livery, with pale green upper surfaces.
The M3A2 was an experimental design that was not produced.
The M3A3 was the final design of the series, as the M3 series was replaced by the M5 series. The M3A3 was built with the intention to simplify production without reducing the performance. The M3A3 featured a single sloped upper glacis and new turret. The M3 series was mostly replaced by the M24 Chaffee in the European Theater after the North African campaign, but they were used heavily in the Pacific theater as the Japanese tanks were easier to deal with.
Britain and the Commonwealth
The British found the Stuart to be much more reliable than the Crusader tanks they were also operating at the time. The Stuarts were put to good use in the North African campaign, but the protection was found to be lacking against contemporary German tanks and anti-tank guns. As such, the Stuart was not heavily used by the British in the European theater, but was instead shifted to the India-Burma theater in British and Australian units. The Japanese tanks they faced their were much easier targets for the Stuarts as they were much less armored and had less firepower. The British and Australians often converted their Stuarts to non-combat roles.
In North Africa, the M3 Stuart was proven to be vulnerable to enemy anti-tank weapons whilst having an Armament that was seen as insufficient. As such, the Stuart was relegated to non-combat roles such as rearguard and reconnaissance. The M3 Stuart was mostly replaced by the M24 Chaffee in the European theater, but they saw significant service in the Pacific. In the European theater they were only used to support the more capable M4 Shermans and the crews of M3 Stuarts made sure to avoid frontal engagement of enemy armour.
The M3s in the Pacific did not see much armoured opposition and there was only one anti-tank gun that posed a major threat, the 45 mm gun of the Chi-Ha and its variants. The Japanese tanks they did face were mostly less capable than the M3, with less armor and firepower. The first tank on tank combat the M3 saw in the Pacific was in the Philippines in December of 1941. There, the 192nd and 194th Light Tank Battalions saw combat mostly against Japanese Ha-Go tanks.
The Soviet Union received 1000 M3 Stuarts along with M3 Lees and M3 Half-tracks through the Lend-Lease Act. The M3 Stuarts delivered to the USSR were of differing variants. The USSR did not like the M3 Stuart. They believed the armor and firepower was inadequate, the tracks were not suited to Russian winters, and the fuel was too flammable. As such, the USSR turned down American proposals for the delivery of M5 Stuarts, and sent their M3s to the Manchurian front where they would face less armored opposition.
Direct M3 Variants
M3 Stuart (Stuart Mk I/II)
M3A1 Stuart (Stuart Mk III/IV)
M3A3 Stuart (Stuart Mk V)
75mm T18 HMC
T56 3in GMC
T57 3in GMC
M3 (T2 Light Mine Exploder)
M3 (Satan Flame-Gun)
M3A1 (Satan Flame-Gun)
HMC M8 Scott
British and Commonwealth
Stuart Artillery Tractor
The Berdinandi X1A is a heavily upgraded M3A1 Stuart tank, created after Brazil needed superior tanks but was unwilling to waste the large amounts of WW2 surplus they still operated. Armed with a DEFA 90mm gun and modernized with a new Saab-Scania engine, fire control system, armor scheme, suspension and a radio. 35 of these were made and remained in service until the 70s along with other M3 variants.
M3A1 (81 mm Mortar)
M3A1 (7.5 cm Pak 40)
M3A3 (7.5 cm Pak 40)
M3A3 (2 cm Flak 38)
M3A3 (7.5 cm Pak 50)
M3A3 (15 cm SiG 33)
- Paraguay - 10 total (5 M3, 5 M3A1), 4 in storage as of 2014
- People's Republic of China
- Republic of China (Taiwan)
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- New Zealand
- Poland Portugal
- South Africa
- Southern Rhodesia
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Soviet Union
- The Indonesian Army operates one M3A1 Stuart for historical theater shows.