The first production models of the series were the M3 Lee I and the Grant I. The Lee and Grant names come from the type of turret used on the tank, if it was American made, then it was called a Lee, if the turret was made in Britain, then it was called a Grant tank. The crew number also depended on the type of tank it was. If it was a Lee version, it had a crew of seven, if it was a Grant version, then it had a crew of six.
Since there was no adequate turret at the time, the main 75 mm (3 in) armament was housed in a casemate on the right hand side of the tank. On top, there was another turret with a 37 mm (1.5 in) gun, on which was a cupola for the commander with two machine guns. This created a horrid disadvantage, as it made for a very high silhouette. In total, the M3 had four machine guns mounted throughout the tank, the 75 mm (3 in) main gun, and the 37 mm (1.5 in) gun in the top turret. Another disadvantage caused by the mounting of the tank's armament was that the 75mm (3 in) could only fire forwards with a traverse of 30˚. To engage targets to its left or right, an M3 would need to stop and turn to whatever direction came the threat, wasting precious time and generally bringing issues. The M3 Lee/Grant I also had a 340 bhp petrol Wright R-975 engine capable of propelling it at speeds of up to 42 km/h.
The total length of the M3 was 5.64 meters (18.5 ft), the width 2.72 meters(8.92 ft), and the height 3.12 meters(10.24 in). Armor protection varied from 12 mm (0.47 in) to 57 mm (2.2 in), and was of both riveted and cast assembly. The maximum range of the M3 was 195 kilometers (121 mi).
The distinction between the American Lee and British Grant tanks came with the British Grant being fitted with more armor and having a different turret that removed the machine gun cupola that was in place on the Lee. The first model to be used in North Africa against German forces, the M3A1 Lee Mk II used a diesel engine and had a cast hull. Meanwhile, the later M3A2 Lee Mk III was given a welded hull and the M3A3 Lee Mk IV two General Motors 6-71 diesel engines. The M3A3 subvariant, the Mk V however had its engine changed once again to Wright R975. A further feature of the M3A3 was the removal of its side doors in favor of a whole armor plate/welded surface. The last two series variants, the M3A4 Lee Mk VI and M3A5 Grant Mk II both had riveted hulls. While the M3A4 had a Chrysler A-57 Multibank engine, the Grant Mk II used twin General Motors 6-71 diesel engines.
While the tank as a whole may have been discontinued due to its being outdated, the hull itself was still perfectly usable and as such was used as the base for many conversions. The first and most notable may be the M7 Gun Motor Carriage "Priest" followed by the Kangaroo APC. Another notable conversion being the M31 Tank Recovery Vehicle.
By 1940, the M3 and M5 Stuart were no longer adequate for battle tanks, as was found in the US Army. Britain at the time was in dire need for new and numerous tanks to equip its troops in North Africa. So, while the M4 Sherman was developed, the M3 Lee/Grant was made as a stopgap. The Lee was rushed in nature, taking many of its core elements from the failed M2 Medium Tank and fundamentally adding a large 75mm main armament to the vehicle. While initially promising, the Lee/Grant was quickly found to be outdated, even by the time it was put into service. Regardless, Great Britain made a sizable order of 1,250 tanks. Development beginning in 1940, the Lee/Grant's production life would end in 1942.
The M3 Medium Tank saw most of its service with Allied units in North Africa. Although successful in its early combat experiences in 1942, by the end of 1943, it would show its age as a design. In Pacific, the Lee served Indian forces well, easily defeating light Japanese tank designs. The only combat operation with American forces meanwhile would be on the island of Tarawa. On the Eastern Front, Lend-Lease Lees were heavily disliked for the tank's high profile and weak armor. Regardless, in the role they served, operating in arctic regions against captured French tanks operated by the Germans, the Lee once again served reliably until the end of the war. In total, some 6,000 examples had been produced.
- ↑ Rottman, L. Gordon. M3 Medium Tank vs Panzer III. Osprey Publishing (2008), Page 33
- ↑ http://www.militaryfactory.com/armor/detail.asp?armor_id=249
- ↑ The World's Greatest Tanks - Roger Ford
- ↑ http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/M3_Lee_Grant.php
- ↑ http://www.wwiivehicles.com/united-states/vehicle/medium-tank/m3-medium-tank.asp
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