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M26 Pershing Heavy Tank / Medium Tank (1945)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 7/1/2014

The M26 Pershing was developed to counter the Panzer scourge in WW2 but arrived too late in the war to be of much tactical use.

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The M26 "Pershing" made its official appearance towards the end of World War 2 and was appropriately named after World War 1 General John J. Pershing (known as "Black Jack") of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France. The M26 Pershing had a slow and arduous beginning during a time when the need for such a "heavy tank" was not part of US Army priority. Instead, efforts were primarily focused on production of M3 Lee/Grant and M4 Sherman medium tanks, the latter which went on to form a large part of British and American armored forces by war's end. It was not until the debut of the German "Panther" and "Tiger" heavy tank series on the battlefields of Europe that the need for a heavily armed - and armored - tank combat system came to the forefront. Heavy tanks would prove the norm by the end of the war with Germany, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union all showcasing heavy tank designs of varying success. One of the more notable and successful developments became the Soviet "Josef Stalin" IS series mounting the powerful 122mm main guns and stubbornly thick armor. Some armored developments were even deemed "super heavy" tanks that exceeded all previous norms of tank designs in both dimensions and firepower - with most of these outrageous and optimistic designs attributed to the Germans (the Super Heavy Tank Panzer VIII "Maus" being a prime example, only two of which were built; the Landkreuzer P.1000 "Ratte" was another).

By the time of the scheduled Allied invasion of the French coastline on D-Day, the Panther enjoyed strength in numbers and easily outmatched it closest Allied counterpart - the M4 Sherman. It was only after the Allies received first-hand experience against these German Panthers in post-D-Day invasion reports did the need for an improved American tank take hold in the minds of warplanners. The Panthers supplied a healthy combination of armor protection and armor penetration, the latter with a formidable and proven German main gun. This enabled German tanks to fire at Allied armor even before Allied armor was in range to fire back. Additionally, the heavier German tank types often required skillful hits along the more vulnerable sides or rear and combinations of actions from multiple Shermans. Conversely, the Shermans comparably lacked in point defense armor protection and made due with their original 75mm main guns - this eventually upgraded to 76mm models and better armor in the form of the Sherman "Jumbo".

Design work began on a new American heavy tank and considerable effort was then made to develop a gun system capable of competing with the new German tanks. This resulted in several prototypes that were trialed for effectiveness and one prototype (pilot) vehicle, designated as the "T26E3", was formally selected for serial production as the "Heavy Tank M26" with the nickname of "Pershing". The resulting Pershing design was armed with a potent 90mm M3 main gun (this weapon deemed nearly on par with the fabled German 88mm dual-use FlaK / anti-tank gun system). Armor-wise, the M26 Pershing did not disappoint and was thick-skinned compared to the Sherman for maximum protection, particularly along her front facing. The vehicle was crewed by five personnel to include a driver (seated front left hull), a bow-gunner/radio operator (seated front right hull) and a gunner, loader and commander - all seated in the traversing turret. The bow gunner manned a 7.62mm Browning machine gun fitted in a ball mounting with limited arc in the front right of the hull. The gunner managed a coaxially-mounted 7.62mm Browning machine gun fitted alongside the 90mm main gun. This machine gun could be used against targets where the 90mm gun proved too excessive. A single 12.7mm Browning heavy machine gun was fitted atop the turret for use against soft-armored vehicles and low-flying aircraft. 70 rounds of 90mm ammunition could be carried aboard and this was supplemented by 5,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition and a further 550 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition. Power-wise, the Pershing was fitted with a Ford GAF 8-cylinder gasoline-fueled engine of 400 to 450 horsepower output allowing top speeds of 25 miles per hour with a 100 mile operational range. Off road performance was considerably less at 5.25 miles per hour. In all, the M26 Pershing weighed in at some 46 tons.

In all, the M26 was the closest tank system that the Allies would field that was similar in scope, function and power to the German Panther. The Panther itself was later labeled as the best "all-around" combat tank of the German Army though the late-war "King Tiger" series was undoubtedly the most potent - lacking only numerical superiority and valuable fuel when attempting to reach its full potential late in the war.

The first M26 Pershings to reach combat theaters arrived in Europe in early 1945. By this time, Germany was fully embroiled in a defensive war along multiple fronts and quickly losing ground by the week - the Soviets were raising hell in the east and the combined Allied contingent was to the west, north and south. In April, Berlin was falling to the Red Army and Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker. The war in Germany was over in May with the surrender of its military forces conducted by top ranking commanders. The arriving M26 Pershings were delivered simply too late to the theater for any valuable tactical use to be brought about though at least 200 were reportedly on European soil, these with the 3rd and 9th American Armored Divisions and a further 100 examples were being kept in reserve to further bolster strength in the region should they have been needed. Only about twenty M26s would go on to see any sort of combat-related action in all of World War 2 and some M26s attached to the 3rd Armored Division netted themselves a pair of Tiger tanks and a Panther at ranges out to 1,000 yards - a luxury previously afforded only to the latest German tanks. A King Tiger and another Panther were destroyed by "Super Pershings" mounting the developmental T15E1 high-velocity 90mm gun and extra armor near Dessau in early April. Only a few Super Pershings made it to Europe and this was only very late into the war. The Pershing would also form a portion of the Allied armored column crossing the bridge at Remagen over the Rhine River - these arriving under the proud banner of the American 9th Armored Division on March 7th, 1945.


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Specifications for the
M26 Pershing
Heavy Tank / Medium Tank


Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Fisher Tank Arsenal / Detroit Tank Arsenal - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1945
Production: 4,550


Focus Model: M26 Pershing
Crew: 5


Overall Length: 28.38ft (8.65m)
Width: 11.52ft (3.51m)
Height: 9.12ft (2.78m)
Weight: 46.3 US Short Tons (42,000kg; 92,594lbs)


Powerplant: 1 x Ford GAF 8-cylinder gasoline engine generating 500hp.


Maximum Speed: 25mph (40 km/h)
Maximum Range: 100 miles (161 km)


NBC Protection: None
Nightvision: None


Armament:
1 x 90mm main gun
1 x 12.7mm machine gun
2 x 7.62mm machine guns


Ammunition:
70 x 90mm projectiles
550 x 12.7mm ammunition
5,000 x 7.62mm ammunition


Variants:
T26 - Initial Prototype; single example produced.


T26E1 (M26A1E2) - Fitted with T15E1 90mm high-velocity main gun; single-piece projectiles; 10 examples produced.

T26E2 - Prototype fitted with 105mm field howitzer for use as self-propelled gun platform for close-support actions; becoming the "Heavy Tank M45".

T26E3 - Main Prototype Designation; becoming M26 production model.

T26E4 - Developmental Variant; long-barreled T15E2 main gun; two-piece projectiles; 25 examples produced.

T26E5 - Prototype with revised armor protection; 27 examples produced.

M26 - Main Production Model based on the T26E3 prototype; M3 main gun; double-baffled muzzle brake; over 2,000 examples produced.

M26A1 - Fitted with M3A1 main gun; single-baffled muzzle brake; bore evacuator on barrel; over 1,200 examples produced.

M26E1 - Long-barreled 90mm T54 main gun; single-piece projectiles; 2 examples produced

M26E2 - New powerpack and running gear; fitted with M3A1 90mm main gun; basis for the upcoming M46 Patton tank series; 800 examples produced.

Heavy Tank M45 - Based on the T26E2 prototype; 185 examples produced.


Operators:
Belgium; Italy; United States