M41 Walker Bulldog (Family)
The M41 Walker Bulldog, officially 76-mm Gun Tank, M41.
It was developed between 1951 and 1954 to replace the aging fleet of M24 Chaffee tanks that have served their purpose during World War II.
Upon entering US service, all M41s received the designation Little Bulldog and subsequently, Walker Bulldog after the late General Walton Walker, who was killed in a Jeep accident in 1950.
The U.S. Army light tank in the later part of World War II, the M24 Chaffee, was a promising design but was deemed not effective for the future of armour encounters. Though its role as a scout was seen as needing the 75 mm gun, the army wanted a tank with a better gun to have a more equal chance against tanks. The project began as the T37 program in 1947 with the focus of being air-transportable with an anti-tank capability in the form of a 76 mm gun and a rangefinder. The adoption of a simplified rangefinder had the project designation changed to the T41. After testings and evaluations, the T41 model was accepted into service as the M41 Little Bulldog , with production starting at Cadillac Cleveland Tank Plant in 1951. The name Little Bulldog stayed until General Walton Walker, the first commander of the 8th US Army in Korea, died in a car accident, so the tank was renamed into the M41 Walker Bulldog in remembrance. Production went from 1953 to somewhere in the late 1960s with about 3,728 units produced.
The M41 light tank would go on to replace the M24 Chaffees by 1953. The M41 had a crew of four, commander, gunner, loader, and driver. The tank had a profile of under 9 feet and 19 feet long. The tank was lightweight at 23.5 tons and thus had rather thin armour, with the front armour only 25.4 mm thick (sloped at 60 degrees for about 50 mm effective). However, the tank was very agile with its torsion bar suspension and Continental AOS 895-3 series 6-cylinder gasoline engine of 500 hp which could deliver a road speed of 45 mph with a 100 miles operating range. Unfortunately, the tank was criticized for being noisy, a fuel-guzzler, rather heavy, and the American crewman found the Bulldog's interior to be quite cramped. Despite that, it delivered speed, firepower, and reliability in a light tank format. Several upgrades were made on the M41 with better technology, the M41A1 had a hydraulic turret traverse with more ammo storage, the M41A2 had a new fuel system, and the M41A3 are old M41A1 tanks with the new fuel system from the M41A2.
The M41 Walker Bulldog first saw use in Korea in a limited combat run. The tanks, still labelled their experimental designation T41, were sent for field testing on design deficiencies. It is unknown what other purposes they served there except for the tests. Their first major conflict once adopted by the U.S. Army was in Vietnam, mainly by replacing the M24 Chaffees in service with the South Vietnamese army (ARVN) at the time. The M41A3 tanks arrived in January 1965 and were instantly popular; not only for their advantages, but the previously cramped interior for American crews were actually a perfect fit for the smaller Vietnamese armour crewman. The Bulldog went on to fight in the Vietnam War as a reliable war machine. The Bulldog had an advantage due to its lightweight in manoeuvring in the jungle terrain of the region. In 1971, Operation Lam Son 719, the disruption of the North Vietnamese Army supply lines had the M41 Bulldogs play a major role, accompanied by two airborne battalions and two cavalry regiments. Penetrating deep into enemy lines, the 17 M41 tanks engaged and destroyed six Soviet-designed T-54 tanks and other lighter armoured vehicles. This engagement came at a loss of 5 M41 and 25 armoured personnel carriers. By 1973, the ARVN still used about 200 M41 tanks while the transition of the American unit over to the M48A3 Patton tanks in Europe and Stateside. The M41 light tanks were also exported to various other countries. Today, Guatemala, Somalia, Taiwan, Uruguay, and Vietnam still use the M41 Walker Bulldog, some via upgrading the tanks to extend their service life.
The M41 Walker Bulldog design was advanced for the time, giving a relatively lightweight tank the firepower to take on other tanks of its time period. The chassis was even used on the M42 Duster Anti-Air gun and the M75 Armored Personnel Carrier. The drive, engine, transmission, and auxiliary engine also were used in the M44/M52 155 howitzer. By 1969, the US Army began replacing the M41 with the newer M551 Sheridan Armored Airborne Reconnaissance Assault Vehicle (officially not a "light tank") which had a 152 mm cannon that could fire shells and anti-tank missiles. The M551 Sheridan could be used in roles that the M41 Walker Bulldog couldn't do, such as be air-dropped and amphibious but was rather unreliable. This made the M41 Walker Bulldog to be the last American "light tank" produced and the last made before the classification between tank classes based on weight and role ended.
In 1946 the Americans began looking for a replacement for the M24 Chaffee. The design for the new tank was to lean on experiences drawn from the Second World War.
In 1953 deliveries of the M41 Walker Bulldog to the US army began, with 5,500 units ultimately released.
The M41 Walker Bulldog featured a traditional layout with a welded hull and rationally sloped frontal plates. The turret was welded from cast and rolled armor elements. The running gear on each side was made up of five road wheels and three track return rollers in addition to guiding and leading wheels. The road wheels were independent of the torsion bar suspension, while the suspension for the first, second, and fifth rollers was equipped with hydraulic shock absorbers. The 500 hp air-cooled Continental AOS-895-3 engine featured a fire extinguishing system.
The tank's armament consisted of a 76 mm M32 cannon, a coaxial 7.62 mm Browning M1919A4E1 machine gun, and a turret-mounted 12.7 mm Browning M2HB anti-aircraft gun. The weapon was not stabilized and was equipped with a muzzle brake to reduce recoil. The battle compartment featured 24 rounds for fast reloading, along with 33 more in the tank hull that were only accessible when the turret was rotated hard to the rear.
Practice showed that the new tanks were poorly suited for reconnaissance, and their heavy weight and large dimensions made them just as difficult to transport as medium tanks. Those removed from active duty were quickly handed over and sold to allies and dependent governments.
M41 Walker Bulldogs saw combat in Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, the UK, North (captured) and South Vietnam, Guatemala, and Greece.