Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 4/18/2016):
The Patton Line of Tanks
The M48 is part of the "Patton" family line of armor, named after the fabled American World War 2 General George S. Patton. The M26 took on the name of World War 1 hero General John J. Pershing whilst the M46 was the first to take on the series name of "Patton" (or more formally as the "General Patton"). While the M47 was dubbed the "Patton II" it was never officially designated as such. The M48 was also given the name of "Patton" as was the upcoming M60 main battle tank. The M46, M47 and M48 were all classified as "medium tanks" with the M48 becoming the last such type in service with American forces. The M60 Patton became the first American tank to take on the designation of "main battle tank".
The M46 was seen as an interim solution to counter the drawbacks of theWorld War 2-era M26 Pershing series, a tank initially classified as a heavy tank by later reclassified as a medium tank. The M26 saw limited service in the final months of World War 2 and had little impact on the closure. The M46 attempted to improve upon the M26's engine output (essentially a revised M4 Sherman type) and its terrain mobility. The M47 arose as the first American "all-new" post-World War 2 tank design and sported an all-new turret atop the proven chassis of the M46. Despite its rush to production by the end of 1951, the M47 missed out on the Korean War altogether, the conflict coming to a draw in 1953. Just as the M47 was revving up, the M48 was already being drawn up as an interim solution to the M47 itself, attempting to bridge the gap between the M47 and the upcoming M60 Patton. In fact, the M48 would serve alongside the M60 in due time.
Too Late for Korea
War had broken out along the Korean Peninsula in June of 1950 and with it was committed the existing armor systems of the United States as well as Allies to the United Nations. On February 27th, 1951, a new Army requirement from the Ordnance Technical Committee Minutes (OTCM) went out for the "90mm Gun Tank, T-48". The requirement called for a new tank system to help refill the stables of the dwindling American armor supply and promote military might. This design would have to be something of substance, power and modern stature. When compared to the M47, the T-48 featured a revised hull with an improved suspension system coupled to a new turret design, itself mounting the T54 90mm main gun. It was fitted with a gasoline engine and the bow-mounted machine gun and applicable radio operator's position was removed, reducing the operating crew to four - in a way this arrangement became the standard for all tanks following, including the modern likes of the M1 Abrams. Of course some Russian designs go a step further and remove the loader altogether, choosing instead to go with a complex, yet highly-effective, autoloading mechanism. The new pilot (prototype in tank-speak) T-48 proved a sound design production began in 1952 at the Chrysler Delaware Tank Plant. The tank was formally designated as the 90mm Gun Tank, M48 Patton on April 2nd, 1953. By the end of 1959, production would end with some 11,700 examples in circulation with contributions from the Fisher Tank Arsenal and the Ford Motor Company. Base production models were designated simply as "M48". Some early M48 production models were found to have poor ballistics protection and were therefore relegated for use as crew and gunnery trainers under the designation of M48C.
M48 Patton Walk-Around
Externally, the M48 shared much of the same design philosophy with the M47 it was attempting to replace. Regardless, the M48 was a completely new design all its own, just following conventional design philosophies as used by the Americans. The design was characterized by her elongated and stout turret, curved along the front and sides to better assist with ballistics protection. There was an identifiable commander's cupola offset to the right side of the upper turret. The turret housed the gunner, loader and tank commander with free access to each other's respective positions. The gunner maintained the 90mm main gun (90mm T54, 90mm M41 or 105mm M68 depending on the production model) as well as a co-axially mounted M73 7.62mm machine gun. The loader also manned an anti-infantry 7.62mm machine gun as did the commander from his cupola. The main gun was centered in the forward face of the turret and extended out over the front of the hull capped by a Y-shaped muzzle brake, the barrel budged somewhat by a non-concentric fume extractor. The rear of the turret, known as the bustle, maintained a stowage basket running from each rear turret side. The top of the hull was a relatively surface suitable for the carrying of extra equipment or infantry. There were medium road wheels to a track side with a drive sprocket at the rear and a track idler at the front. Each track side sports five track return rollers to facilitate the rotation of the treads. The track sides were not covered over in skirt armoring, as seen in later foreign M48s. The glacis plate was well-sloped with the drivers position held at the center just under the main gun and forward of the turret ring. The engine was mounted within a compartment to the rear of the vehicle, producing a slightly raised rear quadrant, reminiscent of the upcoming M60 Patton. Her armor protection was 120mm (4.89 inches) at its thickest.
The M48A1 designation was used to signify a revised driver's hatch and the M1 commander's cupola with provision to operate a Browning M2 air-cooled 12.7mm heavy machine gun from within the tank turret itself. The M48A2 featured improved turret function but still retained the gasoline powerplant. The M48A2C was similar in scope but sported an improved rangefinder with a new evacuator for the main gun. The auxiliary tension wheels were ultimately removed.
Once in circulation, it was noted that the M48 lacked any respectable range, being limited to some 70 miles, primarily due to the Continental AVDS-1790-5B, air-cooled, 12-cylinder Twin-Turbo gasoline engine. Additionally, it was found that a direct hit to the engine could cause it to easily catch fire - a drawback also apparent in the M4 Sherman of World War 2. The hydraulic lines running in the turret were also noteworthy for they too could catch fire if cut during actions. The M48A3 was therefore devised from existing M48A1 production models but instead fitted with a Continental AVDS-1790 series V-12 air-cooled diesel engine. The fire control system was further improved as well, the main armament continuing to be the 90mm main gun. It was not until February of 1963 that the United States Army officially accepted the tank into service, receiving some 600 examples that had been modified to the acceptable M48A3 standard. The following year, the United States Marine Corps became the second proud owners of some 419 M48 Pattons.
The M41 90mm eventually replaced the T54 90mm main gun. This new system was found on the M48A3 model series and was cleared to fire HEAT (High-Explosive, Anti-Tank), smoke and AP (Armor-Piercing) projectiles out to a range of 2,735 yards. The M41 would eventually be replaced by the M68 105mm and L7 105mm main guns.