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M-26 General Pershing Heavy Tank

The M-26 Pershing Heavy Tank (with an M-46 Patton to the left) carried a crew of five.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The M-26 Pershing Heavy Tank was the logical result of a program to upgrade the M-4 Sherman Medium Tank. In May 1942 the Ordnance Department received orders to begin development of a new medium tank that would eliminate some of the shortcomings of the M-4.

Specifications were established for a new series of experimental tanks designated T-20, T-22, T-23, T-25, and T-26. In general, the specifications called for a tank that would weigh no more than 32 tons, mount an automatic 75mm gun, have frontal armor of at least 4 inches, and be capable of speeds up to 25 miles per hour.

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During the next 18 months, the program moved along several lines. Various transmissions, including an electric system designed by General Electric, were tried. The electric system proved too heavy, and a General Motors hydromatic transmission with a torque converter was selected. An auto-loading mechanism was designed and tested, but it proved to be unreliable and was dropped.

A new Ford gasoline engine designed specifically for tank use was chosen. The powerful new engine gave the final design a road speed of 30 miles per hour. Torsion bar suspension was selected.

The final design was similar to the track system used on the M-24 Chaffee, except that it was driven through a rear sprocket. It had six road wheels and five return wheels.

The design work culminated in the T-26E1 in 1943. However, by this time it was no longer a medium tank. The T-26E1 mounted a 90mm gun, 3.93 inches of armor, and weighed 43.25 tons in its prototype model, 8.5 tons more than the M-4.

The T-26E1, redesignated the M-26 General Pershing Heavy Tank in January 1945, was thought to be a match for anything that Germany could throw against it, including the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I.

See the next page to follow M-26 General Pershing Heavy Tank production.

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The M-26 Pershing carried a .50 caliber Browning machine gun at the loader's hatch.
The M-26 Pershing carried a .50 caliber Browning machine gun at the loader's hatch.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

M-26 General Pershing Heavy Tank production was delayed for a number of reasons.

Differences in the theory of armor use among the Ordnance Department, the Armored Force Board -- which wanted a fast, heavily gunned tank -- and the Army Ground Forces Command (AGFC) -- which feared that a tank of those specifications would encourage "tank hunting" when that role was reserved to tank destroyers -- delayed serious testing of the new tank.

The AGFC was also afraid that the adoption of a heavy tank would cause an already overstrained transatlantic shipping system to further delay armor deliveries. One heavy tank required the shipping space of three medium tanks.

The Ardennes Offensive in December 1944 showed just how poorly matched the M-4 Sherman was against the German Panther and Tiger I and II. The shocked Army General Staff ordered all T-26Els on hand sent to Europe as fast as possible.

Twenty brand-new tanks that had never been combat-tested arrived in January 1945. By the beginning of February, they had been issued to the 3rd and 9th Armored Divisions.

In one combat engagement, a single M-26 Pershing destroyed two Panzerkampfwagen IVs and one Tiger I. This vindicated the Ordnance Department, which had lobbied strongly for the heavily gunned heavy tank.

By the end of the war in August 1945, 2,438 M-26s had been built. They also saw combat on Okinawa and were being shipped to staging points in the Pacific in preparation for the invasion of Japan.

The M-26 later performed yeoman service in Korea, where it was more than a match for the 85mm gunned T-34. But the days of the heavy tank were as numbered as those of the light tank. Only one more heavy tank found its way into American service and only in limited numbers -- the M-103 Heavy Tank.

World War II battles confirmed that infantry had to be supported by tanks. Conversely, these battles showed that tanks could not be tied to the infantry's pace; the infantry had to move at the speed of the tank.

The armored theories of Charles de Gaulle and Liddel Hart had also been confirmed: The tank had to be capable of fighting and beating enemy tanks that were as heavily armored and gunned as they were. Thus the stage was set for the development of the Main Battle Tank.

See the next page for specifications of the M-26 General Pershing Heavy Tank.

To learn more about historical tanks, check out:

The M-26 Pershing, at nearly 42 tons, was the heaviest tank the United States built during World War II.
The M-26 Pershing, at nearly 42 tons, was the heaviest tank the United States built during World War II.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The M-26 General Pershing Heavy Tank dominated enemy tanks at the tail end of World War II. Find the specifications for this heavy tank below.

Date of service: 1945

Country: United States of America

Type: Heavy Tank

Dimensions: Length, 8.69 m (28.5 ft); width, 3.51 m (11.5 ft); height, 2.78 m (9.1 ft)

Combat weight: 41,891 kg (46.2 tons)

Engine: Ford GAP V-8 500 horsepower gasoline

Armament: One 90mm M3 main gun; two .30 caliber Browning machine guns; one .50 caliber Browning machine gun

Crew: 5

Speed: 48 km/h (30 mph)

Range: 160 km (99 mi)

Obstacle/grade performance: 1.17 m (3.8 ft)

To learn more about historical tanks, check out:

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