M5A1 Stuart

M5A1 Stuart

 American M5 light tank was a direct development of M3 light tank series, which had its roots in the 1930s. During 1930s, Americans developed number of light tanks for infantry units and combat cars for cavalry units. Americans began their development of a light tank based on a British Vickers-Armstrong Six-Ton Export tank, which was the most influential tank design of the inter-war period (e.g. Soviet T-26 and Polish 7TP light tanks).

Americans based on their experience with Vickers-Armstrong tank, developed their own T1E4 light tank. At the same time, Americans developed T1 combat car also known as Christie tank. In 1934, T2 light tank and T5 combat car were completed, which shared common components. In 1935, improved T5 combat car entered production designated M1 combat car and T2 light tank designated M2A1 light tank. Single turret M2A1 was soon replaced by twin turret M2A2 light tank. In 1938, improved M2A3 light tank entered production along with improved M1A1 combat car. In May of 1940, based on the experiences with previous armoured fighting vehicles and reports from Europe, improved M2A4 light tank entered production. Following the fall of France in June of 1940, USA realized the need to expand and modernize its armoured fighting force. First step involved combining all combat cars and light tanks under single command. M1 and M1A1 combat cars were designated M1A2 light tanks and M2 combat cars M1A1 light tanks. Work on new M3 light tank begun in July of 1940. New tank combined features of both M2A4 light tank and M2 combat car. Production began in March of 1941 by American Car & Foundry plant. New vehicle was in the same class as Soviet T-26, Polish 7TP and Czechoslovak/German LT-38 / PzKpfw 8(t) light tanks. By 1944, over 18000 M3 light tanks were produced in three main variants – M3, M3A1 and M3A3. M3 light tanks were also known as General Stuart, Stuart and Honey by the British. M3 was known as Stuart I, M3A1 as Stuart III and M3A3 as Stuart V.


In the summer of 1941, trials were carried with modified M3 light tank fitted with two gasoline Cadillac V8 car engines instead of single Continental W-670 gasoline aircraft engine or Guiberson T-1020 diesel engine. The twin engines were coupled with Hydramatic automatic transmission, which made it easy to drive the tank. The further development of this new light tank designated as M4 was approved in November of 1941. New M4 light tank was to have newly designed and larger welded hull and was fitted with same turret as M3A3 light tank. Some mechanical components were relocated and resulted in more space for the crew. Prototype was tested in April of 1942 and was designated as M5 light tank not to be confused with M4 medium tank (General Sherman). In April of 1942, production started at Cadillac Motor Car Division and in July 1942 at Massey Harris Company. In September of 1942, M5 was modified based on the experiences with M3A3 and was designated as M5A1 light tank. From April of 1942 to June of 1944, mainly Cadillac Motor Car Division along with Massey Harris Company and American Car & Foundry produced 4148 M5 and 6810 M5A1 light tanks. M5A1 was also known as Stuart VI. M5 light tank was followed by unsuccessful M7 light (medium) tank to be eventually replaced by M24 Chaffee light tank.

In comparison with M3 series tanks, new M5 light tank had new larger welded hull with sloped front armour plate, vertical side plates and raised engine deck. Overall profile of the vehicle was rather high providing commander with great view but at the same time making it an easy target for enemy gunners. Hatches used to access the driver’s compartment were relocated due to the changes in the armour plate configuration. New engines (with total output of 220hp) made the vehicle quieter and quick as well as easier to operate due to the use of an automatic transmission – Hydramatic (4 forward and reverse). Use of smaller in size engine made it possible to increase the space inside the hull, improving the crew conditions as well as simplified maintenance. Vehicle was also equipped with double driving controls allowing operating the vehicle by either driver or assistant driver/machine gunner if needed. New tank was also fitted with few more periscopes improving crew’s visibility. M5 used the turret from M3A1, while improved M5A1 used modified turret of M3A3 light tank with radio bulge (for SCR 508, 528 or 538 set), radio antenna mount and removable back of the bulge for gun removal and maintenance. M5A1 had additional escape hatch in the bottom hull, while its turret had improved gun mantlet and newer gun optics. M5A1 were modified during production creating two distinguishable sub-variants – standard and late production model. Armament consisted of 37 mm M6 gun with coaxial 0.30cal (7.62 mm) Browning M1919A4 machine gun along with two 0.30cal (7.62 mm) Browning M1919A4 machine guns (one mounted in the front hull and one as anti-aircraft machine gun on the turret). Often turret mounted 0.30cal (7.62 mm) machine gun was replaced with 0.50cal (12.7 mm) machine gun for increased firepower. M5 carried 147 37 mm rounds and 6750 0.30cal (7.62 mm) rounds. Additional weapons were carried for the use by crew such as Thompson sub-machine gun. Hull armour protection ranged from maximum 64 mm on the front, 29 mm on the sides to 25 mm on the rear. Turret armour ranged from maximum 51 mm on the front, 32 mm on the sides and rear to 13 mm on the top. Fuel capacity was 344 litres and range was up to 160km. Weight of M5A1 was 15,3 tons. The M5A1 had a crew of four: driver, assistant driver/machine gunner, main gunner and tank commander/loader. Some vehicles were fitted with sand shields and equipped for amphibious operations if needed.


M5 light tanks equipped US Army Armoured Divisions and non-divisional cavalry reconnaissance squadrons. M5 light tank had its debut with US Army in North Africa in 1943 and fought since then with the Allies in Sicily and on the Italian mainland. Limited firepower and armour protection proved that M5 light tank was unsuitable for tank warfare in the European theatre of war. It was obsolete and outclassed when compared to the German armour and anti-tank weapons of the late war period. Following the D-Day, M5 series light tanks remained in active service (largely relegated to the reconnaissance and support role) with the Allies to the end of the war in Europe. Situation was much different in the Pacific theatre of war, where Japanese armour and anti-tank weapons were scarce and obsolete, M5 series tanks were mainly used against Japanese infantry attacks and in support of Allied infantry.
M5 series light tank served a base for M8 75 mm HMC – howitzer motor carriage self-propelled gun also known as General Scott. This vehicles entered production in September of 1942. 75 mm M1A1 pack howitzer was mounted in a larger open top turret and was installed in place of the M5’s turret after modifications were made to the upper hull and front hull plate. Production continued at Cadillac Motor Car Division till January of 1944 and some 1778 were produced. Their main role was to provide fire support for cavalry reconnaissance squadrons. They saw combat both in European and Pacific theatre of war. After production of M8 HMC ended, its turret was used on LVT (Landing Vehicle Tracked) landings craft series, which remained in service till late 1950s. The only other user of M8 MHC was France, which received 174 vehicles from USA and used them till mid-1950s. There was also 105 mm howitzer motor carriage – T82, but the end of the war cancelled its production. Other versions of M5 series light tanks included: M5 command tank with boxy superstructure in place of the turret, M5 tank with Public Access system for psychological warfare, M5 with Cullin hedgerow cutting device, M5 with dozer blade, M5A1 with E7-7 Flame Gun instead of 37 mm gun, M5A1 with E9-9 Flame Gun instead of hull machine gun, M5A1 with T39 Rocket Launcher mounted over the turret and M5A1E1 with wider tracks. There was also T8 Reconnaissance Vehicle, which was a M5 series tank with removed turret and mounted with 0.50cal (12.7 mm) machine gun mount in its place. T8 were used as reconnaissance vehicles as well multi-purpose transport vehicles and artillery tractors. They were also known as Stuart Kangaroo.


During the war, M5 series light tanks were supplied to other countries including 1421 to England, 5 to USSR and 226 to France. Polish Armed Forces in the West received around 110-130 M3 and M5 series tanks from the British, which were used by 1st Armoured Division in Northwest Europe and 2nd Armoured Division in Italy. The Czechoslovak Independent Brigade (CSOB) used some 30 M5A1 tanks supplied by the British. British also provided Canadian 1st Army in the Northwest Europe with 259 M3 and M5 series tanks. Few captured M5 series tanks were used by the Germans during the war including at least one in Normandy. In the post-war period, US Army used M5A1 tanks for only few years, switching to M24 light tanks. British Army also withdrew them from service rather quickly. In late 1940s, M3 and M5 series tanks were supplied to Belgium, Holland, Italy, Turkey and Greece. French Army used M5A1 tanks till mid 1950s before replacing them with French made AMX-13 light tanks. USA also supplied Taiwan with M5A1 tanks to help form their armed forces. India also used M5A1 light tanks as late as 1958.
Today, M5 and M5A1 can be seen at a number of museums worldwide including: Virginia War Museum in USA, The Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armour in USA, Veterans Memorial Museum in USA, Indiana Military Museum in USA, Museum at Fort Hood, Texas in USA, Aberdeen Proving Ground Museum in USA, Museum of the Atlantic Wall in France, Museum of Armoured Forces, Kubinka in Russia and Tank Museum in England.

George Parada


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