M24 Chaffee Light Tank
The M24 Chaffee -- arguably the best light tank of World War II -- was a fast light armored vehicle with the ability to deliver relatively large caliber direct fire with the excellent 75 mm M6 gun. More than 4,000 wer produced by Cadillac and Massey-Harris during 1943-45. The first reached Europe in late 1944, where they proved very effective and highly reliable. The M24 Chaffee first saw combat in the Ardennes in January 1945. The Chaffee replaced the M5 Stuart. Light tanks, now obsolete, were used for reconnaissance missions in WWII.
By 1942 the then existing American Light Tanks were suffering from being under-armed and armored, even for their primary role of reconnaissance, let alone infantry support or use as a surrogate medium tank, which was frequently occurring.
Fortuitously, designers were able to take advantage of the availability of a new 75mm gun designed for the B25 Mitchell bomber. This was a lightweight, short recoil design, not as powerful as the equivalent fitted to other tanks but a real step up for a light tank. A new Torsion bar suspension system, three man turret and commander’s cupola helped create a balanced and effective design which was reminiscent of a scaled down medium tank rather than a light tank. First produced on April 1944 the vehicle was in use by the Ardennes battle in December.
Post-war, the M24 was supplied to many NATO and aligned countries, primarily through the Mutual Defense Aid Program (MDAP). Although in no sense a medium or main battle tank, the design was modern, robust and easy to maintain. It therefore became the primary equipment of many of these countries until its replacement, the M41 Walker Bulldog, became available.
Post Second World War it was used operationally in Korea until the arrival of M4 and M26 vehicles. At the outset of the Korean War American forces equiped with M24 Chaffees performed poorly against the enemy's T-34/85s, and these US units were soon augmented with M26 Pershings and M46 Pattons, along with M4A3E8 Shermans with the long 76mm gun. The M24 was an effective system, but was later replaced by the M41 Walker bulldog. It remained in American service until 1953, by which time it was totally replaced by the M41 Bulldog.
The only light tanks employed by American forces in Korea were born during the World War II era. The 8th Army had no tanks besides M24 Chaffee light tanksfor occupation duty in Japan in June 1950. Those light tanks were the first tanks deployed to Korea to face the North Korean invasion. American armored forces began, and eventually ended, the war with light tanks from World War II.
Reports from units engaged in combat with North Korean tanks stated that the Chaffee light tanks had little or no effect against Soviet T-34 tanks. The report recognized that most of the problem with the M24 light tank was that it had not been designed to accomplish the medium tank’s mission. Units equipped with M24 Chaffees suffered heavy casualties early inthe war. In one example a light tank company from the 78th Tank Battalion lost all but two of its M24 tanks within two weeks of landing in the Pusan Perimeter. The situation changed later when Sherman and Pershing medium tanks began to arrive to fill the medium tank role they were designed for.
An observer team sent from the US in August 1950 to assess the employment of armored forces in Korea summed up the M24 Chaffee’s shortcomings by declaring “The M24 is not suitable for the tank role but maybe employed as a full track reconnaissance vehicle.” Following the arrival of the M4A3E8 and M26-M46 medium tanks the role of the M24 light tank became limited tojust the reconnaissance function that the observer report recommended for the duration of the war.
After 1945 the M24 Chaffee was used by many American allies. The French army used them in Indochina, including at the battle of Dien Bien Phu, where it was famously air-dropped in pieces during the siege in December 1953. They were also used by South Vietnam, during the early stages of the Vietnam War and by Pakistan in the Indo/Pakistan conflicts. Though obsolete by the mid-1960's, it remains in service in some countries. In Taiwan, the platform has been re-equipped with a 90mm gun.
M44 Armored Utility Vehicle
The US Army led in developing fully tracked carriers with all-around armor protection. The M44 Armored Utility Vehicle, was the first purpose-built design. Based on the M24 Chaffee light tank chassis, it was fully enclosed and could carry 25 troops and two crew members. Because it waa built to carry as many as 27 men, it rivalled in size a large bus. In view of the enormous target which it presented, only a few M44s were built. This model was abandoned in 1950-51 in favor of the M75.
The power train was from the 76mm GMC M18, with the engine compartment at the front of the vehicle between the driver and bow gunner. The commander's station was just behind the engine compartment. The driver, commander, and bow machine gunner each had their own vision cupolas.
It had sockets on the top of the hull to accept machine guns and foot steps with a retractable chain for disembarking soldiers. This vehicle was lightly armored and mounted .50-caliber machine gun which fired from its rear cupola. A .30-caliber medium machine gun was ball-mounted forward of the assistant driver's station, and another .30-caliber machine gun designed to be fired from one of four support brackets located at the top corners of the vehicle's side door frames. The M44 also had four observation ports in each of its side walls from which personnel being transported could observe to their flanks, and fire pistols at enemy soldiers at close range.
Although standardized, this vehicle was not produced in significant numbers. World War II ended before M44 could see production, however even if the vehicle had been ready for full-scale production before hostilities had ended, it was simply too big to be practical. Doctrine at that time called for a squad-sized personnel carrier, and the 24-troop capacity of M44 was too large. Late in 1945 the Army Ground Forces requested the development of an armored carrier capable of transporting 10 men in addition to its crew. From this requirement grew the M75 Armored Personnel Carrier.
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