Aviation & Aerospace - Airpower 2024 - Aircraft by Country - Aircraft Manufacturers Vehicles & Artillery - Armor 2024 - Armor by Country - Armor Manufacturers Infantry Small Arms - Warfighter 2024 - Small Arms by Country - Arms Manufacturers Warships & Submarines - Navies 2024 - Ships by Country - Shipbuilders U.S. Military Pay 2024 Military Ranks Special Forces by Country

M3 37mm AT

37mm Anti-Tank Gun

United States | 1940

"The 37mm Gun M3 became America's first anti-tank gun system to enter service."

Authored By: JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Edited: 05/02/2017 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
Even before World War 2, the United States Army had already begun development of an anti-tank gun. The system was required to weigh less than 1,000 lbs, able to be towed by the standard jeep and field a projectile that could pierce tank armor of the then-current tank systems of the 1930's.

In the development stage, the US War Department, like most national militaries, first looked at foreign guns that met the weapon standards and purchased them or co-opted the desired elements into the existing system to make for a pseudo-indigenous end-product. Two of the field guns being evaluated were the French Hotchkiss 25mm and the German Rheinmetall 37mm gun. In the 1930's, the German gun had the capability of destroying any tank in service anywhere in the world.

In January of 1937, the US Army Ordnance Department assigned the infantry branch to oversee design work. They sought a lightweight gun which could be moved about the battlefield by a crew of 4 to 6 personnel. This desire for mobility restricted use of larger-caliber guns greater than the 37mm. The Army felt confident with the caliber, as did other armies around the globe during the 1930s (to include such types as the Swedish Bofors, Japanese type 94 and Type 1 and both Czechoslovakian vz. 34, vz. 37 guns). As such, the US military opted to go with the German 37mm design as their template, resulting in the American "M3" - a design, despite her origins in the German product, was significantly revised for American use and even used different ammunition.

Article Continues Below Advertisement...
The gun was manufactured by Watervliet Arsenal, New York that was founded in 1813 (and still in service today, though referred to as "America's Cannon Factory"). The barrel was small enough to be forged as a single unit. The decision of the all-important rifling became 12 right-hand twisted grooves and a single turn in 25 calibers. The breech mechanism selected was of the vertical sliding block type. The square breech ring maintained the breech end of the barrel screwed into it. The breech ring was a solid piece with the center removed to allow the block to slide vertically up and down inside it. The vertical type was liked by the crews because the top face of the block could act as a loading tray for the shell, and the block could not jam the trail if the breech was opened at a high elevation. The breech ring and block were designed to withstand the violent rearward caused by the propellant gas pressure when the gun fired. The mechanism was made up of seven main parts: the breech ring, breech block, gearing (to open and close the breech), breech block buffer, extractors (to remove the empty cartridge), devices to limit movement and safety devices to prevent firing until the block and/or gearing was fully closed.

The carriage was built by the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. The arsenal started producing ordnance and other military items in the 1880's and is now the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the United States. The carriage was of a split-trail type with pneumatic air-filled tires allowing for better towing by a jeep or truck. When the gun was detached from the towing vehicle, the crew would move the gun into position for firing by hand. For stability, the wheel segment supports mounted on the axle next to the wheels could be lowered to provide a more stable firing position. They could then be raised before the gun was moved to the next firing position.

The telescopic sight and both elevation and traverse controls of 60 degrees were located along the left side of the system so the gunner could aim the weapon. The maximum elevation was +15 degrees and the maximum depression could be -15 degrees. The traverse gear had a release mechanism which allowed free movement of the barrel in case a quick traverse was needed with the normal 5-man crew. Other than practice and dummy rounds, the primary ammunition used with the M3 were made up of three types - the M51 APC, M63 HE and M2 canister projectiles. The M51 anti-tank armor piercing capped shot shell (APC) which weighted 3.48 lbs (1.579 kg) and had steel shot with a 3-second tracer and could penetrate 2.4 inches of armor at 500 yards with a maximum range of 7,500 yards. The M63 was a "general purpose" high explosive (HE) shell weighing 3.13 lbs (1.420 kg) and having a maximum range of 12,800 yards. The explosive round was encased within a steel covering and fitted 0.85 of a pound of TNT with a BD fuse. The M2 canister anti-personnel round weighed 3.49 lbs (1.583 kg) and contained 122 lead balls.

The US Army organized the M3 within infantry anti-tank battalions. Four 37mm guns were assigned to be towed by 1/4-ton jeeps and twelve such guns had 3/4-ton or 2-1/2-ton trucks as their prime movers. A division fielded twenty-four guns with many of these towed by M2 halftracks. By 1942, the Army had formed its first airborne divisions and forty-four M3's were assigned to field parachute artillery. The new 10th Mountain Division had twenty-five of the 37mm guns assigned to its infantry regiments. During 1942, all Army armored divisions had a total of sixty-eight M3's in service. At the beginning of the war, the Marine Corps was committed to using the 20mm gun for the anti tank role but were furnished the newer, more effective 37mm gun within time. By 1943, the 37mm gun had become the AT weapon of choice of the Marines.

In the Battle of Kasserine Pass of 1943 in North Africa, advanced medium and heavy tanks systems fielded by the Germans had already made the 37mm gun a marginal anti-tank weapon. The M3 did prove useful against lighter Italian armored components, however, and was effective against the smaller Renault R35 tanks throughout the Italian Campaign. Similarly, in the Pacific Theater, the Japanese Army was keen on using light tanks and the M3 proved adequate in stopping them. On Guadalcanal, US Marines and, later, the Army, used the M3 with good results against the Type 95, Type 96, and Type 97 tanks with their 12mm armor. The Japanese "banzai" attacks - essentially suicidal front offenses - were perfect for the canister shot of the M3 and, with the system being very mobile, the gun could relatively easily be directed to fire all over the island and against mountain terrain - no Japanese Army cave or pill box was safe. At the Battle of Tarawa, Marines are known to have picked up a M3 over a five foot seawall to fire directly at Japanese bunkers.

If the M3 proved to have a limitation, it was in her rather smallish shield meant to protect the crew against incoming enemy fire. As a result, American Marines would take it upon themselves to weld additional shielding onto the M3 structure. Though this increased her operational weight, it provided priceless protection for her all-important crew.

The M3's wartime service was exceptional and her reach made sure she would be remembered in World War 2 history. Her combat forays made for great marketing and she was introduced within the inventories of foreign nations within time including many American-allied nations in South America. Despite being phased out of service with the American Army soon after the end of World War 2, the M3 survived in a frontline role with other armies into 1970.

Notable operators included the Soviet Union (via Lend-Lease), the United Kingdom, Canada and France. South American operators settling on the M3 included Bolivia, Chile, Columbia and El Salvador. Cuba also armed with the M3 as did China.

T3 was used as the prototype designation. T7 was another prototype but this fitted with a semi-automatic sliding breech. The T8 was yet another prototype but differed in fitting a Nordenfelt sliding breech. The T9 prototype was a 37mm automatic cannon that became the M4 production model. The M10 prototype became the M3 production model and sported the manual vertical block breech. The M3 designation signified the base production series family line. The M3A1 was noted for the introduction of a threaded barrel to accept an optional muzzle brake - this being introduced in 1942. The M5 was a tank-mounted version of the M3 gun with a shorter barrel and introduced in 1939. The M6 was another tank-mounted version with the original barrel length, a semi-automatic breech and introduction beginning in 1940.

Content ©MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.
Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one land system design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the M3 37mm AT 37mm Anti-Tank Gun.
None. This is a towed system.
Installed Power
4 miles
7 km
The physical qualities of the M3 37mm AT 37mm Anti-Tank Gun.
12.9 ft
3.92 meters
O/A Length
5.3 ft
1.61 meters
O/A Width
3.1 ft
0.96 meters
O/A Height
911 lb
413 kg | 0.0 tons
Armament & Ammunition
Available supported armament, ammunition, and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the M3 37mm AT 37mm Anti-Tank Gun.
1 x 37mm gun barrel

Ammunition types included AP-T, APCBC-T, HE, Canister, practice, drill and blank cartridges.
Dependent on ammunition type and carrier.
Nightvision - NONE
Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Protection (CBRN) - NONE
Notable series variants as part of the M3 37mm AT family line.
T3 - Prototype; initial prototype model.
T7 - Prototype; semi-automatic sliding breech.
T8 - Prototype; fitted with Nordenfelt sliding breech.
T9 - Prototype becoming the M4 production series; 37mm automatic cannon; 1939.
T10 - Prototype becoming the M3 production series; manual vertical block breech.
M3 - Base Series Designation; manually-operated breech.
M3A1 - Threaded barrel for optional muzzle brake; introduced 1942.
M5 - Tank-mounted version; shortened barrel; introduced in 1939.
M6 - Take-mounted version; original barrel length; semi-automatic breech; introduced in 1940.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the M3 37mm AT. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national land systems listing.

Total Production: 18,702 Units

Contractor(s): Watervliet Arsenal / Rock Island Arsenal - USA
National flag of Bolivia National flag of Canada National flag of Chile National flag of China National flag of Cuba National flag of France National flag of the Soviet Union National flag of the United States

[ Bolivia; China; Canada; Chile; Columbia; Cuba; El Salvador; France; Soviet Union; United Kingom; United States ]
1 / 8
Image of the M3 37mm AT
Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.
2 / 8
Image of the M3 37mm AT
Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.
3 / 8
Image of the M3 37mm AT
Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.
4 / 8
Image of the M3 37mm AT
Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.
5 / 8
Image of the M3 37mm AT
Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.
6 / 8
Image of the M3 37mm AT
Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.
7 / 8
Image of the M3 37mm AT
Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.
8 / 8
Image of the M3 37mm AT
Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.

Design Qualities
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to battlefield requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The M3 37mm AT 37mm Anti-Tank Gun appears in the following collections:
Disclaimer | Privacy Policy | Cookies

2024 Military Pay Scale Military Ranks U.S. DoD Dictionary Conversion Calculators Military Alphabet Code Military Map Symbols US 5-Star Generals WW2 Weapons by Country

The "Military Factory" name and MilitaryFactory.com logo are registered ® U.S. trademarks protected by all applicable domestic and international intellectual property laws. All written content, illustrations, and photography are unique to this website (unless where indicated) and not for reuse/reproduction in any form. Material presented throughout this website is for historical and entertainment value only and should not to be construed as usable for hardware restoration, maintenance, or general operation. We do not sell any of the items showcased on this site. Please direct all other inquiries to militaryfactory AT gmail.com. No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.

Part of a network of sites that includes Global Firepower, WDMMA.org, WDMMW.org, and World War Next.

©2024 www.MilitaryFactory.com • All Rights Reserved • Content ©2003-2024 (21yrs)