This M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tank undergoes testing in California's Mojave Desert in 1941. See more tank pictures.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Following the First World War, America, shocked by the slaughter of trench warfare and the vindictiveness with which the French and British persecuted the new moderate government in Germany, withdrew into a shell of isolationism that would endure until Japan attacked on December 7, 1941.

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Few in Washington could foresee the possibility of the United States ever going to war again to protect European interests. The result of this thinking was the National Defense Act of 1920, which gutted the armed services. Only the Navy was seen to have a role in extraterritorial warfare, and that role was directed primarily at the Japanese.

Even the Navy was dealt a near mortal blow by various acts of Congress that prevented or slowed the development of the aircraft carrier, the submarine, and the amphibious vehicle. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1923 even limited the number and size of large capital battleships that could be built.

The National Defense Act disbanded the armored corps and placed the tank with the infantry, thus relegating both light and medium tanks to the infantry support role. The heavy tank class was eliminated.

Not until Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and gobbled up Austria, the Sudetenland, and Czechoslovakia, did the United States begin to awake to the danger in Europe. Even then, isolationist sentiment remained so strong that President Franklin Roosevelt was forced to resort to various stratagems to rearm the country in the face of stiff congressional opposition.

Except for a few T-4s in 1936, no medium tank had been produced in the inter-war period. In 1938 designers at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, the center for American tank design and, until 1940, tank production, developed the T-5, a radically new medium tank design.

It used a radial engine developed by the Wright Continental Company for aircraft use, a new type of suspension system in which three pairs of road wheels per side were mounted on bell cranks, and a front drive sprocket. It was equipped with a 37mm main gun and two .30 caliber machine guns.

Once adopted, it was designated the M-2 and underwent numerous upgrades. Rapid advances in tank design in Germany and Russia made the M-2 obsolete, and it was relegated to a training tank.

To learn about the replacement for the M-2, the M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tank, continue to the next page.

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M-3 Grant/Lee Evolution

The M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tank was armed with a 75mm main gun, a 37mm gun in the turret, and up to four 3.0 caliber Browning machine guns.
The M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tank was armed with a 75mm main gun, a 37mm gun in the turret, and up to four 3.0 caliber Browning machine guns.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The M-3 Grant/Lee evolution needed to happen quickly. The invasion of Poland, the British experience in the desert, and the invasion of France all showed that a 37mm gun was not powerful enough to deal with enemy tanks.

While German Panzerkampfwagen IIIs and Panzerkampfwagen IVs were still racing across the French countryside in early June 1940, demands were made on the U.S. Ordnance Department for a heavier tank gun.

In August 1940 General Adna R. Chaffee, the commander of the new Armored Force, met with representatives from the Ordnance Department to finalize plans to produce the M-2A1 Medium Tank. During the meeting, he demanded and received agreement to build a tank capable of carrying a 75mm gun.

The M-2 Medium Tank chassis and hull could not support a larger turret or absorb the recoil forces from a 75mm gun. To speed the new tank into production, a design compromise was reached. The new tank would mount a 75mm gun in a limited traversing sponson on the right side of a heavier chassis and hull from a previous experimental tank.

Thus, even while the Detroit Arsenal -- the factory intended to build the M-2 Medium Tank -- was itself being built, the M-2 was canceled, and a new contract for the M-3 -- for which design work had not yet been completed -- was issued.

The M-3 thus evolved from the M-2, but indirectly. Central to the M-3's production was a new tank factory -- the Detroit Arsenal.

In 1939, when it was clear that the United States would have to rearm, Ordnance sought to place contracts for tank production with existing heavy industrial companies. But William Knudson, president of General Motors Corporation and a member of the National Defense Advisory Commission (NDAC), pointed out that heavy industrial firms, such as the builders of railroad cars and generators, were inexperienced in mass production, particularly the overwhelming quantities that would soon be needed.

An M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tank driver peers through the raised driver's hatch, which is in the hull just below, and to the left of, the 37mm turret gun.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Knudson's arguments persuaded the NDAC, and they in turn persuaded the Army. The Detroit Arsenal was commissioned specifically to build tanks. The facility was built in six months on 113 acres of land in Warren, Michigan. It was the largest manufacturing facility built to that time, and it was operated by Chrysler Motors.

In its most widely produced form, the M-3 used a cast-and-welded hull that was versatile enough that a diesel rather than an aircraft engine could be fitted when the latter was in short supply.

One version -- the M-3A4 -- even had four Chrysler automobile engines combined in one power pack and was referred to as the "eggbeater." The M-3's armor plate of 1.45 inches maximum was considered adequate when the design was finalized in 1940.

The M-3 was heavily armed: a .30 caliber Browning machine gun in a rotating cupola atop the turret, two more .30 caliber Browning machine guns mounted in the tank's bow, a 37mm auxiliary gun in the revolving turret plus a coaxial .30 caliber Browning machine gun, and a 75mm M2 or M3 main gun mounted in a sponson on the tank's right side. The main gun could fire either armor-piercing or high-explosive ammunition.

See the next page for a rundown of M-3 Grant/Lee nomenclature.

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M-3 Grant/Lee Nomenclature

These three American M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tanks are moving in 'line astern,' a descriptive phrase adopted from nautical terminology.
These three American M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tanks are moving in 'line astern,' a descriptive phrase adopted from nautical terminology.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

M-3 Grant/Lee nomenclature is confusing. There is an M-3 Light Tank (the Stuart, a.k.a. Honey), and the M-3 Medium Tank is known as both the Grant and the Lee in British service.

The first tanks purchased by the British Tank Commission were built by the Pullman and Pressed Steel Company, an American company, and carried a British-designed turret. These were known as the M-3 Grant I. All subsequent deliveries were made under the Lend Lease program.

The M-3 standard with an American-designed turret was named the Lee I; the M-3A1 the Lee II, the M-3A3 the Lee III, the M-3A4 the Lee IV, and the M-3A3 with a diesel engine the Lee V. The M-3A5 was called the Grant II.

The M-3 Grant I first saw action against the Germans at Gazala, North Africa, in May 1942. Initial problems with ammunition fuses kept the Grants from being quite as effective as the British wished, but it was clear that the 75mm gun certainly tended to even things up against the Panzerkampfwagen IIIs and Panzerkampfwagen IVs.

In November of the same year, the M-3 weighed heavily in the scales against the Africa Korps at El Alamein.

Although widely used in North Africa by British and Canadian forces and on the eastern front by the Soviets, the M-3 was relatively short-lived. It was declared obsolete in March 1944, although it had been so considered from the introduction of the M-4 Sherman in April 1943.

Nevertheless, the M-3, America's first medium tank to see combat, gave an excellent account of itself and enabled the British to push the German and Italian armies out of the Western Desert. This ended the threat to the Suez Canal, the possibility of a Nazi breakthrough into the Middle East, and an ultimate hookup with Japanese forces in southern Asia.

See the next page for specifications of the M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tank.

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M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tank Specifications

The M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tank carried a crew of six, five of whom are shown here adding a Colt revolver and tommy gun to the tank's formidable 75mm and 37mm guns.
The M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tank carried a crew of six, five of whom are shown here adding a Colt revolver and tommy gun to the tank's formidable 75mm and 37mm guns.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tank was created in a short span of time to help the United States face the growing threat of World War II. Below are specifications of the M-3 Grant/Lee Medium Tank.

Date of service: 1941

Country: United States of America

Type: Medium Tank

Dimensions: Length, 5.64 m (18.5 ft); width, 2.72 m (8.9 ft); height, 3.12 m (10.2 ft)

Combat weight: 22,216 kg (30 tons)

Engine: Wright Continental radial air-cooled 9 cylinder gasoline

Armament: One 75mm M2 or M3 main gun; one 37mm M5 or M6 auxiliary; four .30 caliber Browning machine guns

Crew: 6

Speed: 42 km/h (26 mph)

Range: 193 km (120 mi)

Obstacle/grade performance: 0.6 m (2 ft)

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