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M48 Patton Medium Tank (1952)

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 2/26/2012

The M48 Patton medium tank was utilized to good effect in the Vietnam War by the US Army and USMC, despite the foreign terrain.

The M48 Patton appeared in 1952 and was produced in over 11,000 examples during her tenure. She went on to form the backbone of the American armored forces in Vietnam, seeing extensive action in that conflict. War was never far for the M48 for she also contended with enemies in the Six Day War of 1967, the Indo-Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971 and the brutal Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Her reliability and adaptability made her a stalwart of Cold War actions throughout her years of service and she maintains a presence - albeit a limited one - in the ranks of today's modern and powerful armies. Years of modernization have ensured her place and her chassis has been developed into a myriad of useful modifications suitable for any conquering land army.

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.

Problems Appear

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.

Armament

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.


The M48 Patton in Vietnam

The Vietnam War formally began in September of 1959. American advisors began arriving as early as 1950 though strength in numbers for American combat forces did not occur until about 1965. The M48 was the mainstay of American armored forces at the time and the Patton became the heaviest tank to be fielded by the United States Army in the conflict. Despite her armor protection and suitable main gun, the M48 was thrown into a war for which it was not directly intended for. While expecting to face off head-to-head against North Vietnamese and VietCong armor in tank-versus-tank duels, the M48 was relegated to supporting infantry actions in the dense jungle and suburban fighting to follow. In fact, senior American officers protested the deployment of the M48 in the war, believing the terrain to ultimately prove unsuitable, and encouraging the use of lighter systems such as the M41 Walker Bulldog. This close-in support proved the M48 somewhat susceptible to roaming enemy portable anti-tank teams ready to loose an armor-piercing projectile at the vehicle's vulnerable sides and rear. As such, the M48 depended on the support of its infantry in turn, often having a "gunner" assigned to the rear of the vehicle, riding atop the engine compartment and protecting the tank's "six" from sneak attack. It is notable that M48 armor withstood repeated hits from such enemy anti-tank weapons before succumbing to damage or destruction - though this says nothing about the physical and psychological affect that such blasts could do to the crew within.

Six hundred M48 Pattons would see service in the subsequent action. The first such systems were a part of the USMC 1st and 1rd Tank Battalions arriving in 1965 (battalions were made up more-or-less of approximately 57 tanks). The first tank of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry to be deployed to Vietnam was also the M48 as well, arriving in 1965. Cavalry squadrons would eventually replace their M48s with the lighter, air-droppable M551 Sheridan. Remaining forces utilizing the M48 included the 1-69th Armor, the 1-77th Amor and the 2-34th Armor. Beyond the base M48 tank system, its flamethrower derivative - the M67A1 (nicknamed "Zippo") - was heavily featured in the fighting to follow. The M67A1 made use of the M48A2 hull while the M67A2 was nothing more than a Zippo using an M48A3 hull.

When US forces were not suppressing enemies by way of cannon or machine gun fire or flushing them out through flamethrowers, they were shredding them by way of the canister round. This destructive projectile essentially turned the main gun of the M48 into a large spread-fire shotgun, dispersing some 1,280 pellets or up to 10,000 darts against infantry or to cut away thickets of jungle.

When all was said and done, the M48 proved its worth in the conflict, offering adequate crew protection and heavy direct firepower with mobility to boot. The M48 was relatively well-armored to contend with land mines and was often used to sniff out these killer weapons ahead of infantry and convoys. In fact, the landmine proved to be the biggest enemy to the tank though soft and inaccessible terrain limited the reach of the M48 as a mine-roller to a certain extent. The M48A3 models in US service were handed over to the South Vietnamese Army as American presence in the conflict winded down. The SVA too found some successes against the NVA T-34 and T-55 tanks. The larger issue were new Soviet anti-tank wire-guided missiles of which no tank had much protection from. Couple that with the appearance of mines, rocket propelled grenades and artillery and M48 tanker crews had their work cut out for them. The South Vietnamese Army continued to use their M48s until they were lost to action, ran out of fuel or ran out of ammunition (a US ban on fuel and ammunition to South Vietnam was enacted before the end of the war). Any captured systems were put to use by the NVA, if only for a short time.

M48s in the Six Day War

While America became embroiled in the Vietnam Conflict, several thousand miles away in the Middle East brewed the Six Day War of 1967- Israeli versus the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel used the M48 (upgunned to a 105mm main gun) to good effect against the Egyptian T-54 and T-55 main battle tanks of Soviet origin, maintaining an advantage through sound tactics and battlefield doctrine in the Sinai Desert (aided by stellar air support). Conversely, the M48s in service with Jordan fell to the guns of the aged Israeli M4 Shermans along the West Bank, tactics once again prevailing over technology. Captured Jordanian M48 systems (base M48 and M48A1 models) were placed back into service with the Israeli Army, only now to be used against their former masters.

Israel went on to rely heavily on the M48 for a time, resulting in the E-48 designation. There was an AVLB bridgelayer that utilized the M48 chassis coupled to an Israeli bridge system as well as M48A2 and M48A2C models delivered from Germany. The United States delivered M48A3s to the nation as well.

"Magach" was the term reserved for the upgraded, uparmored Israeli versions of both M48 and M60 Patton tanks. The Magach 1, 2, 3 and 5 marks were all based on the M48 Patton while the Magach 6 and 7 marks were based on the M60 Patton.

M48s in the Indo-Pak War of 1965

The Indian-Pakistani War of 1965 was in fact the first use of the M48 in tank-versus-tank duels. The M48 was fielded by the Pakistani Army against the Centurion and M4 Shermans of the Indian Army. From the outset, the M48 proved a valuable tool through brute force and coordinated attacks. They were equally useful in repelling Indian offensives in turn. However, the Battle of Asal Uttar saw some 100 Pakistani tanks lost in one battle, many of these being M48 in nature. Post-battle review signified that Pakistani tactics were largely to blame though other reviews found fault with the M48's armor protection against even an 84mm main gun.

The follow-up Indo-Pak War of 1971 saw more of the same in terms of pitched battles between the two powers. However, by this time, the M48 Patton was largely out of touch with the modern battlefield and results were not so positive as they were in 1965. Captured Pakistani tanks were put on display by the Indians in the Khemkaran District - the memorial named "Patton City".

Modernization Comes a-Calling

By the middle of the 1970s the M48 Patton was seemingly outclassed when compared to the new crop of Soviet tanks in inventory. The M48 was formally fitted with M68 105mm main gun to help increase her potency on the modern battlefield and make it compatible with the M60 (using the same 105mm main gun) it was operating alongside with. The new model series was designated as the M48A5 and the modernization program was open to all current American allies. The Federal Germany Army followed suit and upgraded their Kampfpanzer M48 A2C tank main guns with - not the M68 - but with the British L7A3 series main gun of 105mm caliber. The designation for these systems became Kampfpanzer M48A2GA2. Some 650 German Pattons were upgraded in this fashion.

Turkey has remained the largest current operator of the M48 with around 1,800 still in reserve service, all due to be retired in the near future. Turkish designations included the M48A5T1 based on the M48A5 with the M68 105mm main gun, passive night sight and diesel engines. The M48A5T2 designation was sued to signify upgraded M48A5T1 models with a thermal sight and laser-based rangefinder. An armored recovery vehicle existed under the designation of M48T5 "Tamay".

The Brits designed M48 tanks as self-propelled anti-aircraft gun systems under the designation of "M48 Marksman", signifying its use of the Marksman turret with two 35mm Oerlikon autocannons as well as a Marconi Series 400 radar system. The Finnish Army purchased the creation in seven examples sometime in 1990 and designating them as "ItPsv 90".

One major development of the M48 family line became the Taiwainese modifications of the Patton. In 1990, the army took an M60A3 Patton hull and mated it with the upgunned M48A2 turret (with applicable fire control system) produced the M48H/CM-11 "Brave Tiger". The CM-12 was an M48A3 with the same fire control system and main gun armament found in the CM-11. The CM-11 and CM-12 modifications produced a product not unlike the American M60 Patton with tracking, processing and imaging systems found in the M1 Abrams.

Conclusion

In all, the M48 eventually found a home outside of America, landing in the inventories of Allied nations across Europe and in the inventories of warring parties in the Middle East. Some still exist in number in Southeast Asia but many have given up the M48 to history. Current operators include Greece, Iran, Israel, Jordan, South Korea, Lebanon, Pakistan, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey and Vietnam. Those still in service are generally held in a reserve status and are awaiting replacement or retirement. The M60 Patton was n full production by 1965, ready to take the reins from the M48.

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Specifications for the
M48 Patton
Medium Tank


Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Chrysler / Ford / General Motors / Alco Prods - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1952
Production: 12,000


Focus Model: M48A5 Patton
Crew: 4


Overall Length: 30.48ft (9.29m)
Width: 11.88ft (3.62m)
Height: 10.66ft (3.25m)
Weight: 54.0 US Short Tons (48,987kg; 107,998lbs)


Powerplant: INITIAL: 1 x Continental AVDS-1790-5B V12, air-cooled Twin-turbo engine developing 810 horsepower. (LATER) AVDS-1790-2D V12, water-cooled diesel engine generating 750 horsepower.


Maximum Speed: 30mph (48 km/h)
Maximum Range: 310 miles (499 km)


NBC Protection: None
Nightvision: Yes - Passive


Armament:
1 x 90mm T54 OR M48 main gun
1 x 7.62mm co-axial anti-infantry machine gun
1 x 7.62mm machine gun on commander's cupola
1 x 7.62mm machine gun at loader's hatch
2 x 6 smoke grenade dischargers

LATER:
1 x 105mm main gun
1 x 12.7mm Browning heavy machine gun in commander's cupola for anti-aircraft role (replacing commander's 7.62mm machine gun).


Ammunition:
54 x 105mm projectiles
10,000 x 7.72mm caliber ammunition


Variants:
T-48 - Developmental Designation


M48 - Base production model designation; based on the M47; new turret; revised hull; sans bow machine gun; M41 90mm main gun; Y-shaped muzzle brake.

M48C - Trainer Variant based on M48 production models having found to display poor ballistic protection on the hull.

M48A1 - 90mm main gun; new driver hatch; M1 commander's cupola with accessible external 12.7mm machine gun.

M48A2 - 90mm main gun; Continental Gasoline Fuel-injection air-cooled V-12 engine; 5 x track return rollers; improved turret function.

M48A2C - Based on M48A2; improved rangefinder; new evacuator for main gun; sans auxiliary tensioning wheels.

M48A3 - M48A1 production models with Continental AVDS-1790 V-12 air-cooled diesel engine; 90mm main gun; new improved fire control system.

M48A3 Mod. B - Improved armor protection across tail lights and exhaust; heightened commander's cupola.

M48A4 - Cancelled variant; M48A3 with M60 turret systems.

M48A5 - Updated with 105mm M68 series main gun; revised commander's cupola and upgraded engine.

M48A5PI - Israeli Urdan cupola replacing M1 style.

M67 "Zippo" - Flamethrower tank; based on original M48 production models fitted with false main gun and false muzzle brake.

M67A1 - Flamethrower tanks using the M48A2 hull.

M67A2 - Flame thrower tanks using the M48A3 hull.

M8 - Engineering Vehicle based on the M48 chassis

M48A1 - Improved Engineering Vehicle

M48 "Marksman" - British Designation for M48 developed into Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) fitting a Marksman turret system.

E-48 - Israeli Designation

E-48 AVLB - Bridgelayer Conversion Model

E-48 (M48A2) - Israeli designation of M48A2 models received from Germany.

E-48 (M48A2C) - Israeli designation of M48A2C models received from Germany.

E-48 (M48A3) - Israeli designation of M48A3 models received from the United States.

"Magach" - Israeli designation of M48 systems highly modified and improved to suit Israeli style warfare and experience; Magach 1, 2, 3 and 5 are based on the M48 whilst Magach 6 and 7 are based on the M60.

AB1 - Jordanian designation for armored recovery vehicle based on the M48 chassis.

AB9B1 - Jordanian designation for upgraded M48 systems fielding the 120mm smoothbore main gun.

M48A3 (ROC) - Taiwanese designation of upgraded M48A1 and M48A2 systems.

M48H/CM-11 "Brave Tiger" - Taiwainese designation of up-gunned M48A2 turrets fitted to an M60A3 hull; improved fire control system' improved gun tracking equipment.

CM-12 - Taiwanese designation of M48A3 with upgrades as found on the CM-11 version.

M48A5 MOLF (MOdular Laser Fire) - Greece designation of M48A5 systems; upgraded with EMES-18 fire control system.

M48A5E - Spanish designation of M48A5 fitted with 105mm main gun and laser rangefinder.

Alacran CZ-10/25E - Spanish battlefield engineering vehicle

Alacran CZ-10/30E - Spanish designation for upgraded CZ-10/25E models.

M48A3K - South Korean designation of M48A3 models fitting a diesel powerplant over the original's gasoline type; T-type muzzle brake; three support wheels added to each track side; South Korean-based fire control system.

M48A5K - South Korean designation of M48A5; fitting the KM68 105mm main gun; side skirts for added side armor protection; Laser Tank Fire Control System (LTFCS).

M48A5T1 - Turkish designation of M48A5; fitting the M68 105mm main gun; MTU diesel engine; passive night sight equipment.

M48A5T2 - Turkish designation of upgraded M48A5; inclusion of thermal sight and laser rangefinder.

M48T5 "Tamay" ARV - Turkish designation of armored recovery vehicle conversion model utilizing the M48 chassis.

Minenraempanzer Keiler - Battlefield Mine Flail; based on the M48A2C hull.

Kampfpanzer M48A2C - Initial M48 medium tanks delivered to Germany; MG3 machine guns.

Kampfpanzer M48A2GA2 - Upgraded M48A2C models with L7 105mm main gun; revised MG3 machine gun installation.

"Super M48" - Proposed German upgrade; never produced beyond a prototype.


Operators:
Greece; Iran; Israel; Jordan; Lebanon; Morocco; Norway; Pakistan; Portugal; South Korea; South Vietnam; Spain; Taiwan; Thailand; Tunisia; Turkey; United States; Vietnam; West Germany; Yugoslavia