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.
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