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M22 Locust Airborne Light Tank (1943)

Authored By Captain Jack | Last Updated: 7/1/2014

The M22 Locust was a light tank designed to be air-dropped to assist in airborne operations.

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After witnessing the successes of the German airborne divisions to take over most of Western Europe in the opening salvos of World War 2, the British and Americans fully understood the importance of a viable, mobile airborne fighting force. Additionally, it was understood that such a force would require an appropriate amount of firepower to fully realize their value in the war-winning process. The Germans utilized their airborne forces in key assaults, often ahead of the main force, to disrupt enemy actions behind the front lines until arrival of the army and secure key strategic points on a map. Such operations helped to capture the countries of Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and France. Additional actions took them to the Balkans, Crete and Italy as well as the Eastern and Western Fronts. The Germans utilized their paratrooper prowess in the successful rescue of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in May of 1944. Considering the broad reach that could be attained by airborne troops in the war, the arrival of an air-delivered tank system could provide a much-needed "punch" for the lightly-equipped Allied airborne infantry personnel, helping to take enemies by surprise and perhaps change the course of a battle within precious seconds.

Paratroopers, in general, were more or less lightly-armed infantry soldiers dropped via parachute from passing transport aircraft. As they were often limited in what they could carry into battle, they would most often times be outmatched when facing off against a "regular" army force equipped with artillery, mortars, machine guns and tanks. As such, every tool in the arsenal of the paratrooper had to be deemed essentially to his operation and was specifically selected for its usefulness in combat. Airborne troops themselves were developed for light, temporary engagements - not prolonged warfare, particularly against enemy armor. World War 2's battlefields would often push the boundaries of what airborne elements were capable of - and provide for a unique assortment of answers as the battle waged on. Notable Allied airborne forces of the war became the American 82nd and 101st and the British Red Devils of the 1st and 6th.

It was British authorities that first called for such an air-transportable tank solution. As their own wartime resources were being pushed to the brink, it was the Americans and their massive war industry output that was called into play to help support the Allied cause. Despite a surplus of British light tank units available, these were deemed obsolete with the changing face of war and, furthermore, were never specifically designed for airborne use all the while holding inherent limitations all their own. In particular, the Mk VII Tetrarch Light Tank was of note, though its best years were clearly behind it. Design and development of the British General Aircraft Hamilcar glider was underway and testing using the Tetrarch proved the concept of an air-transportable tank viable. Now an initiative was forged to design a develop a reliable light tank for airborne personnel.

A set of specifications was formally made available in February of 1941, calling for a 10-ton maximum, tracked, armored vehicle mounting a 37mm main gun and crewed by three personnel. Self-defense would come in the form of .30-06 Browning M1919A4 machine guns. Armor protection would have to meet the requirement of 30mm to 50mm in thickness. Range was expected to be in the vicinity of 200 miles with a top road speed equal to 40 miles per hour. The tank would have to be agile in nature, fast and quick-reacting to take on the enemy and counter its movements while supporting allied airborne infantry in the process. Its tracked nature would ensure that the type could be used to good effect off-road as well as on-road. The United States Ordnance Department was charged with the light tank's design and development. Among the respondents of the initiative were the concerns of General Motors, J. Walter Christie and Marmon-Herrington Corporation. In May of 1941, the Marmon-Herrington proposal was formally selected by the USOD to which a prototype then appeared before the end of the year. By this time, the prototype had been assigned the designation of "Light Tank T9 (Airborne)".

After some early evaluation, the T9 pilot vehicle was found to be lacking key areas. While sporting an-all welded hull and powered cast turret, it was too heavy for the intended role. Wheels were deemed too weak for the weight distribution required of the design and the expected rigors of combat use leading to the installation of steel beams to reinforce the suspension system. Armor protection was a long-term concern but the T9 pilot vehicle was already reaching its maximum allowable weight for use in the Hamilcar glider. As such, another form - the T9E1 - was developed with a new manually-powered turret (the intended gun stabilizer was dropped) and a revised, sloped hull design. A pair of .30 caliber machine guns fitted to the bow were now dropped to save weight. The suspension system was further revised to be made lighter and brought the T9E1 down to manageable levels for glider use.


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Specifications for the
M22 Locust
Airborne Light Tank


Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Marmon Herrington Corporation - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1943
Production: 830


Focus Model: M22 Locust
Crew: 3


Overall Length: 12.93 ft (3.94 m)
Width: 7.32 ft (2.23 m)
Height: 5.71 ft (1.74 m)
Weight: 8.2 US Short Tons (7,439 kg; 16,400 lb)


Powerplant: 1 x Lycoming O-435T 6-cylinder radial engine producing 162hp.


Maximum Speed: 40 mph (64 km/h)
Maximum Range: 135 miles (217 km)


NBC Protection: None
Nightvision: None


Armament:
1 x 37mm M6 main gun
1 x 7.62mm Browning M1919 M4 coaxial machine gun


Ammunition:
50 x 37mm projectiles
2,500 x 7.62mm ammunition


Variants:
T9 - Initial M22 Prototype Designation; powered turret; welded hull construction; 2 x 7.62mm self-defense machine guns; gun stabilizer.


T9E1 - Redesigned Hull; lightened design; sans power turret, gun stabilizer and only 1 x 7.62mm machine gun retained.

M22 - Base US Army Series Designation; "Locust" designation assigned by British forces.


Operators:
Belgium; Egypt; Israel; United Kingdom; United States