Heavy Tank / Medium Tank
The M26 Pershing was developed to counter the Panzer scourge in World War 2 but arrived too late in the war to be of much tactical use.
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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.
Despite the capitulation of Germany, the Empire of Japan fought on in the Pacific for a few months longer, necessitating the ultimate use of Atomic weapons to end the war. Before that, M26 Pershings arrived in the Pacific Theater and were intended for actions in the invasion of Okinawa against the determined Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). However, as in Europe, these Pershings simply arrived too arrived late to be of any effective use in the grand scheme of the war - a dozen M26s never finishing being offloaded from their amphibious transports at Okinawa before the fighting came to an end. Moreso, the IJA had never fielded competent tanks of medium or even heavy classes and the M4 Sherman seemingly held her ground against such an army - the IJA made much use of outdated light tank classes for the duration of the war.
In the post-war world, M26 Pershing ended up as museum pieces or in storage while a collection served to bolster the NATO defense of Europe from a perceived Soviet invasion during the early phases of the Cold War. Only the United States, Belgium and Italy would ever use the M26 in any true operational form. Variants apart from the T26E3 prototype and M26 initial production models (noted for their use of the M3 gun and a double-baffled muzzle brake) included the M26A1 featuring the M3A1 gun, single-baffled muzzle brake and bore evacuator along the barrel. The M26A1E2 was fitted with the developmental T15E1 main gun (as the "Super Pershing") utilizing single-piece projectiles. The T26E4 was a prototype with the T15E2 main gun and two-piece projectiles. The M26E1 was given the long-barreled T54 gun making use of single-piece projectiles. The M26E2 was completed with a new powerpack and running gear as well as the M3A1 main gun (this evolved to become the M46 "Patton" tank series). The T26E2 was another prototype development armed with the 105mm field howitzer as a self-propelled gun, ultimately becoming the "Heavy Tank M45". The T26E5 was still another developmental form attempting to provide better armor protection with sections as thick as 279mm. For the main production form of the M26 Pershing, the suspension system of choice became a basic torsion type system with Ford engines.
This did not prove the end of the line for the M26, however, for it would go on to see extensive combat actions in the upcoming Korean War (1950-1953). Communist forces from the North - with the blessing of the Soviet Union and China - invaded the South to begin the three-year long conflict on the Korean Peninsula. Initially, progress by the North proved excellent against an ill-prepared UN/US/South Korean contingent. It was not until the allied force got their bearings that a counter attack drove the North Koreas passed the 38th paralellel and into the North. China soon joined the North and drove the allied forces back to the original line before fighting subsided. In the war, the M26 was able to contend well against the fabled Soviet-built T-34/85 - an 85mm armed version of the classic T-34 medium tank that was used to route the German Army from Soviet lands in World War 2. In fact, the M26 acquitted herself quite well in the Korean War, credited with destroying up to half of all T34s engaged. The terrain and accompanying weather was unforgiving and the bravery of M26 crews shown through in the results. It were only highly-modified 76mm-armed M4 Shermans that accounted for the other half of destroyed T34 tanks. Both China and North Korea fielded the Soviet T34 which was made available through a massive Soviet production campaign during World War 2 numbering in the tens of thousands of completed examples. The need for allied tanks proved so great in the Korean War that M26 Pershings were brought back out of storage or uprooted as museum/outdoor displays and prepped for combat.
With the evolution of the battle tank and the arrival of the Main Battle Tank, the M26 Pershing was reclassified as a "Medium Tank". She would, however, prove invaluable to the new generation of American tank designs leaving the drawing boards and influence the multi-generational "Patton" series beginning with the M46 Patton. The M46 was merely a base M26 Pershing design with a new engine, transmission and main gun. This was followed by the M47 (unofficially the "Patton II"), the M48 Patton and culminating in the M60 Patton Main Battle Tank. These tanks spanned the 1950s and 1960s before the arrival of the M1 Abrams in the late 1970s, early 1980s.
The definitive production mark of the Pershing was the simply-titled "M26" mark to which over 2,000 of the type were produced. In all, and including all prototypes and experimental models, it is believed that over 4,550 Pershings were produced.