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Sunday, February 5, 2012

American Tanks

American Tank development during WWII can be probably be analyzed into two parts, with the M4 Sherman tank acting as the turning point. The beginning of the war caught the US under-armored. Initial tank designs were quick, reactive attempts to catch up and focused on light tanks which were almost outdated in the battlefield as soon as they reached production. It was not until the M4 Sherman Medium Tank with its 76mm gun was deployed that they were able to comfortably stand their ground. From that point forward however, a sense of complacency seems to have set in. Or perhaps it was the belief that greater numbers, simpler manufacturing & shipping logistics, and increased air superiority would prevail against the heavier German tanks. The formula did work in the end, but from the perspective of the US tank soldier this could not have been a comfortable feeling. Against the Japanese the Shermans were definitely good enough, so that campaign did not justify further investments in tank development. It is however an interesting question to ponder whether it would have still made sense for the US to invest in heavier tanks earlier than it did. From a collector's stand point, this has also limited the number of vehicles available to us. Let's take a look.

Forces of Valor US M5A1 Stuart - Normandy
Also known as the M5 Light Tank, it was introduced in 1942, as an improved version of the M3 Light Tank (or M3 Stuart). It was still equipped with a 37mm gun and three .30 caliber Browning machine guns, but the main difference was that the engine used less vertical space, allowing the crew to have more room. It was fast and generally reliable. Initially it was used in North Africa by the British, but the small two-man turret put it at a disadvantage, requiring the commander to help operate the gun. When the Americans landed in North Africa, the Stuart tank made up the bulk of their armored forces, but after the initial setbacks against the Afrika Korps they began to phase them out in favor of the Shermans and the Stuart was relegated to perform the role of a fast scouting tank or mobile artillery/infantry support. In Europe it fought in a similar capacity. In the Pacific and China theaters, the Stuart performed better as the Japanese had mostly light tanks and the jungle terrain favored smaller vehicles. Eventually though, towards the end of '43 they also began to be replaced by Shermans. The Stuart tank was in production until 1944 when the M24 Light Tank aka Chaffee took its place. Nonetheless, the existing Stuarts continued to fight on until the end of the war. In all about 25,000 Stuarts were produced, 6,800 of them being M5A1s. The model in this picture was released by FOV. It is a nice sturdy fellow. They labeled it as the Normandy edition, and it actually comes with a hedge-cutting attachment in the front that would have helped it fight in the Norman countryside. 

21st Century Toys US M5 Stuart
Here is another version of the Stuart tank, courtesy of 21C. This one seems to be equipped to fight in hedgerow country. It did not come with any figures, and the tank is relatively small in size. Not the most impressive vehicle from 21C, specially after comparing it to the one from FOV. One interesting touch that 21C came up with are the front fenders. I've actually seen real pictures of Stuarts with them.

Forces of Valor US M3 Lee - Tunisia
Also known as the Medium Tank M3, the Lee began to be produced towards the end of 1940, becoming operational one year later. It was designed in response to the German panzers encountered in France. It was armed with two guns: a 37 mm high velocity gun mounted on the turret to be used against armored vehicles, and a hull-mounted 75mm low velocity gun to be used against infantry and soft targets. The fact that the 75mm gun was mounted in the hull gave it limited traversal capabilities. The M3 Medium Tank also served as the basis for the Grant Tank. The Grant was essentially a British order of custom-built Lees with the radio set in the turret and thicker armor. The Lee saw action first in North Africa, where it proved to be a reliable tank, but it did expose a few problems. The armor was installed with rivets instead of being welded, which resulted in the rivets popping when hit by enemy shells, sometimes causing injury to the crew inside. The high profile made it easier to hit, and this was not helped by the fact that the hull-mounted 75mm gun prevented it from fighting from a dug-in position or behind cover. The M3 saw little action in the Pacific, but it did see more combat in China and Burma, primarily in support of infantry and fighting Japan's light tanks. Of the approximately 6,250 Lees that were built about 2/3 went to Britain and the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program. The Lee was replaced in the US forces by the M4 Sherman as soon as the M4 became available, with the existing M3s being transferred to other allied units. In terms of models we have one Lee version courtesy of Forces of Valor. It is an accurate and well detailed vehicle, although they could have probably done a better job with the paint work as it looks a bit too clean.

InAir / New Ray EZ Build US M3 Lee
This is an all-plastic kit requiring some assembly. It looks fine, but it definitely feels a bit wimpy compared to the FOV model. Still considering the scarcity of armor models, its a good addition to the collection.

21st Century Toys M24 Chaffee
This is 21C's version of the Chaffee. This is the light Tank which replaced the Stuart in 1944. 21C has released it in several paint schemes. The first version was released in solid army green color. This is the more recent one with the cammo strips added to it. I have also seen it with a yellow decorative design on the front, similar to the nose art found on fighter planes.Unfortunately, I got this second hand and it is missing the mounted machine gun from the turret and the figures, a tank commander that stands in the turret, and a driver or bow gunner to sit inside one of the two front hatches. I should also point out that this model feels a bit on the smaller side of 1:32, even for 21C standards.

Forces of Valor US M26 Pershing Allemagne
Also known as the Heavy Tank M26 Pershing, was the only heavy tank fielded by the US armed forces during WWII. It's design and development began in mid 1942, but disagreement among the US generals substantially delayed its development, with many believing that the M4 Sherman tank was good enough to carry the US through the end of the war. By early 1944, the final prototype of the Pershing had been built with a 90 mm gun inside a bigger turret with 4-inch frontal armor. Unfortunately, this final design did not make any engine adjustments to compensate for the added weight, so the M26 Pershing was underpowered and had a tendency to break down. Another year would go by before the Pershing tank was deployed to the field. It was the Ardennes offensive that provided the necessary shock for it, as the Shermans encountered Panthers and King Tigers in enough numbers to cause concern. In January of '45 that the first Pershings landed in Europe. Of the 310 Pershings that were sent over, only 20 saw combat, so their impact on the war was negligible, or as they say, too little, too late. The model in this picture comes to us from Force of Valor. A well detailed, realistic model, made of metal and with a heavy, solid feel to it. Just what you would want if war-gaming against a King Tiger.

Forces of Valor US M26 Pershing Allemagne
Here is another view of the Pershing. This is in fact a second Pershing I just bought without realizing that I already had it. This is what happens when you don't double check your inventory before you head out on a shopping trip! And the worst thing is that I did not even pick it up on the other color scheme that it was released on, which is a patchwork of green and brown. One thing that I did capture on this picture is the crew man operating the 50 cal. machine gun. Somehow I must have not found it when I took the previous picture. 

21st Century Toys M18 Hellcat Anti-Tank Self Propelled Gun
Also known as the 76 mm Gun Motor Carriage (GMC) M18, the Hellcat was the fastet armored vehicle of all WWII. Its top speed was 60 mph, which allowed it to out-manouver other enemy tanks who were slow to turn or traverse the turret. Its design began when the US entered the War, production began by mid '43 and it went into action by the summer of '44, both in Italy and Northern France. It mounted a 76mm gun -the same as the Sherman, which meant that it had the same punch, particularly when using high velocity armor piercing ammo, but it was much faster than the Sherman. Its weaker point was also what gave it its main advantage: its light weight/light armor. This meant that to be operated as it was meant to be used, it required a well-trained crew. While its speed was an asset that gave it a tactical advantage during combat, it was also meant to be used to shift Tank Destroyer units to sectors of the front that were threatened by enemy tanks. In practice however the Hellcats remained close to the units to which they were attached, with the notable exception of an action during the Battle of the Bulge in which their high speed allowed them to reach a key objective ahead of the Germans and thwart their attack. Notice also that in contrast to German tank destroyers, the Hellcat had a traversable turret, which gave it greater firing possibilities, even on the move. The fact that it had an open turret however made the crew vulnerable not only to fire from above, but also to the cold European winter weather. The Hellcat was produced until the end of 1944 with cose to 2,500 being manufactured. The Hellcat saw action in Europe, the Pacific and even China. This model from 21C Toys is a good reproduction of the original. It is made out of plastic and the paint job is a bit too clean for my taste, but it is still a good vehicle to have, simply because it is the only Tank Destroyer model that I am aware of from 21C or FOV.

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