The series of tanks named 'Pershing' has been the backbone of U.S. armored forces since the 1940s. Despite the development of newer, advanced heavy tanks, its modern iterations serve with distinction and power as the principle battle tank of the United States.
The first tank to carry the name 'Pershing' was the "Heavy Tank, M26" (or "90mm Gun Full Tracked Heavy Tank, M26" in the modern-format designation, for those M26s still reserved in storage). Development began in 1941 or '42 with what would utlimately be but the first in a long series of prototypes: the T20 medium tank. This preliminary design further evolved over the next few years as data and experience was gained through actual combat during the Anglo-American War. All manner of expirimental technologies and innovations were tested on these prototypes - many of which would become dead-ends, but others developed into now-permanent features of modern U.S. armor.
These early predecessors to the Pershings, to varying degrees, resembled the M4 (Old Style: "Medium Tank, M4", Modern Style: "75mm Gun Full Tracked Medium Tank, M4"), which was the principle tank of U.S. armored forces at the time. The T22 model dispensed with the problematic expirimental transmission of the T20 - revering to the proven one used in the existing medium tank - and tested an autoloader, while the parallel T23 had an electric drive train. The T23 was especially promising and championed by many contemporaries among the U.S. military's high command, but the design ultimately proved impractical for current technologies.
Meanwhile, as the war with England grew to ever greater proportions, the inadequacies of the current M4s were becoming increasingly apparent. Once refitted with a high-velocity 76mm gun (better optimized for combating other tanks than the original weapon), they proved an even match for England's principle medium tank, the Cromwell, and were superior to their older Crusaders. Against heavier British Matilda and Churchill tanks, however, they were badly outmatched. These problems resulted in increased priority and funding for the test series begun in the T20, leading to the T25 & T26 prototypes. The latter - in the form of the T26E3 - was put into production, re-designated M26 and christened with the nickname of Pershing, after Great War hero General John J. Pershing.
M26 Heavy Tanks - with a better armor scheme and more powerful 90mm gun compared to Britain's Churchills - were deployed just as Operation Yellowstone (the all-out invasion of Great Britain itself) was beginning in ernest. They saw good service there, but suffered from all manner of reliability problems and from an underpowered engine / drive-train.
M46 & M47 PershingsEditAlmost immediately after the deployment of M26s into combat, work was begun on an improved replacement. By the late 1940s, it was obvious that the M4 - a less-than-first-class design even in its hayday - was becoming wholly inadequate. What had been considered "Heavy" even a few years before (such as a gun with a calibre around 4", rather than the 40s-standard 3") was to be the new norm. Thus, the plan was to turn the nascant Pershings into the principle battle tank of American forces. The massively-expanded size of the U.S. Military (or which there was to be little reduction after the conclusion of the war) and the sheer number of M4s in service complicated this considerably, however. So versions of the Pershings - M46s, the subsequent further-improved M47s and refitted/upgraded M26s - would serve alongside the older tanks even into the 1950s. The principle development in the M46 over the older M26 was a new, better engine and transmission. This gave it mobility befitting a main-line battle tank, as the lumbering and underpowered M26s of the Anglo-American War were wholly inadequate in that regard. The other new feature of the M46 was a bore evacuator.
Although the M46 corrected the mobility problems of its predecessor and was an adequate design, it was never intended to be the new frontline tank of the U.S. Military. An entirely new - but very similar - design for this purpose followed only a few years later: the M47. This tank had a new M36 main gun that was a significant improvement over the older one, although both were of a 90mm calibe (something which was to prove rather shortsighted on the part of the Americans). In essence, the M47 was a new turret design mounted on a slightly-modified version of the M46's familiar chassis.
In the M48, the United States finally had an entirely new and deeply-modernized medium tank freed from its 1940s-era ancestry. Production began in 1952 with the goal of fully replacing all older vehicles, including the many M4s still then in service. Short-sightedly, it was still armed with a 90mm gun - a further improvement on the M3, which by now had been in service for about a decade. Apart from that, however, there was nothing old about its design. It had a completely new turret and hull with improved suspension, better sighting / rangefinding equipment and a better-arranged interior. A prominent feature was the deletion of the bow machine gun position in the forward glacis plate, which had come to be seen as an unnecessary vulnerability.
By the time of Operation Redbeard - the invasion of Alaska - the United States had completely filled out its Armored units with M48s in a hurculean industrial effort. Older forms of the Pershing series remained in National Guard units, however, and thousands of M4s had been retained in storage should they be needed.
Contact with the Imperial Russian Army and their formidable armored forces proved quite the shock to the Americans. The Tsar's T-54/55 tanks - which had first gone into production around the time of the old M46s - were, despite the age of the initial design, in many ways superior to the new M48s. They had comparable, if not slightly superior, armor and a more powerful D-10 100mm gun: all on an extremely compact chassis that weighed 9-10 metric tonnes less (45 for the M48 vs 36 for the T-54/55).
M48s gave a competent account of themselves during the first stages of the Winter War, but it was obvious essentially from the outset that they had to be replaced.
The M60 Pershing - "105mm Gun Full Tracked Medium Tank, M60" - is the current principle battle tank of U.S. forces. Plans to manufacture these vehicles en masse as soon as they became ready, in order to quickly phase out the M48, had been in the works since 1958. Production began in 1960 and took off on an unprecedented scale, such that within two years the M60 had completely replaced its predecessor in combat units.
The M60 had an entirely new M68A1 105mm L/55 rifled gun (that is to say, a gun with a bore 4.1" in diameter and 5775mm / 227.36" in depth). Its armoring better thought-out and slightly thicker, and the methods of its construction - making extensive use of monobloc casting and welding - were both superior as well as quicker. At its thickest points, the armor of the M60 had a depth of 156mm, compared to the 120mm maximum of the M48.
In most all regards, the M60 has proven itself equal to or superior its Russian counterpart. In terms of armament, its gun is slightly better - while the fire-control, optics & rangefinding are considerably so - and the vetically-sliding semi-automatic breech with single-piece cartridged ammunition offers a superior rate of fire (5-6 rpm vs the Russian average of 4 rpm). It is, however, quite a bit larger dimensionally and the silhouette is unusually - some would say unnecessarily - high, which can be a rather stark disadvantage in certain situations. Its mass is also 10 metric tonnes greater. However, the larger interior offers much better accomodations to its crew: the tiny size of the T-54/55 is a significant source of fatigue to its operators and strictly limits the pool of potential crew (who must be under a certain rather strict maximum height). This, undoubtedly, also has a marked negative effect on the ability of T-54/55 loaders to quickly chamber rounds, further contributing to the M60's advantage.
Subsequent minor improvements to the M60 have come into service and the current model is the M60A1B2. The -A1 denotes the use of a new, larger and more comfortable turret, improvements to the armor scheme and new superior suspension / shock-absorbers to help address the vehicle's somewhat-limited cross-country mobility. The -B2 stands for the inclusion of Winterization packages (-B1 upgrade) and Vampire night-vision kits (-B2 upgrade). Those M60s which have received all the upgrades apart from the new turret are designated M60A1B1C2, although these are by now few and far between since the new turret is fitted whenever the tank is taken off the line for repairs or maintenance.
Other features the M60s have which the T-54/55s do not are: an internal heating system (part of the -B1 winterization), a "twin-turboed" engine (i.e. a powerplant with two turbochargers to compress the intake charge), an effective electrohydraulic two-plain gun stabilizer to keep the cannon steady (allowing reasonably accurate shots even on the move) and an M24 coincidence rangefinder for long-range fire. The Russian armor has to rely purely on its stadiametric sights, which are not effective beyond 1 kilometer (although instances of tank-on-tank battles at ranges beyond 1000 meters are fairly rare), and has only primitive gyroscope-based vertical stabilizers (which keep the gun in the same level of vertical elevation but do not compensate for the changing orientation of the tank itself). Thus, a T-54/55's accuracy degrades sharply when it is moving even over relatively flat terrain if its speed exceeds about 24 kmh / 15 mph, while the simple gyroscopic stabilizer does nothing to compensate for changes in the orientation of the tank itself (so a Russian tank cresting a hill at a 20-degree angle is still going to have its gun pointing upwards by at least that much).
The M48 QuestionEdit
Solutions to the problem of massive numbers of now-defunct M48s being pulled out of service had been in formulation since the plan to replace them with the M60. A plan to deal with the increasing Russian propensity for "digging in" with heavily-prepared fortified positions was drawn up and given new radical urgency by the disasters of Operation Coca-Cola. A kind of armored close-in arillery, able to keep pace with the infantry to provide direct fire and support during assaults on strongholds while surviving enemy cannonfire, was needed. Enter the M65 Assault Gun: a self-propelled direct-fire artillery piece built on the hull of surplus M48 Pershings, using the new and improved M68 105mm gun of the M60 in a fixed, up-armored casement (for more details, the article on the M65 - http://ruffles.wikia.com/wiki/M65_Assault_Gun ). Conversion of M48s into M65 Assault Guns was relatively slow prior to 1960, but the near-destruction of the IX Field Army at Prokhorovka, during Coca-Cola, ramped the process up. M48 chassis - in the form of these assault guns - once again began rolling off the assembly lines, as well.
Apart from the assault gun conversions, M48s have found their way into a variety of other purposes: the bodies of the tanks are still perfectly and far from out-of-date. The U.S. Army's principle self-propelled artillery piece, the M50, mounts a modified M117 155mm gun-howitzer on an altered M48 chassis. Many chassis components of the larger M103 175mm self-propelled guns and M110 203mm self-propelled howitzers are also taken from it. The hull further serves as the platform for numerous rocket artillery and anti-aircraft vehicles, while the M48 itself - in much-less radically altered form - survives in a variety of specialist roles: preserving the less-numerous M60s purely as battle tanks. However, like the M65, all of these M48 variants and derivatives incorporate some of the features of the M60: the engine, transmission & aluminum road wheels.
Current M60 & M48 variants in serviceEdit
- M60A1B2 - principle U.S. battle tank
- M728 CEV [Combat Engineering Vehicle] - different turret with the M132 175mm demolition gun - a short, large-calibre, mortar-like weapon for firing high-explosive shells at low velocity - rather than the original cannon and an integral hydraulic dozer blade. Used primarily for clearing defensive fictures and obstacles (barbed-wire, tank traps, fences, hedgerows, etc) or for demolishing buildings. Also has a folding A-frame crane and winch fitted to the front of the turret.
- M741 MCEV [Mine Clearance Engineering Vehicle] - further development of the M728 CEV without the crane and a large, box-shaped mechanism resembling a rocket launcher mounted on the rear turret and chassis at an angle. This is used to fire MCLCs ["mick-lick"], or "Mine Clearing Line Charges", which are long ribbon-like tubes or hoses of plastic explosives propelled by rocket charges and detonated using a simple remote command. These charges are propelled from their launchers to lay straight across the ground in the path of the tank and then detonated in order to clear mines within the blast zone. M741 MCEVs often trade their dozer-blades for mine flails, which are large, rapidly-rotating drums slung with numerous chains that detonate mines at a safe distance ahead of the equipped vehicle.
- M770 CMEV [Combat Mobility Enhancement Vehicle] - a specialized vehicle developed specifically for the fightingin Alaska. The M770 is essentially an M728 Combat Engineering Vehicle, less the crane, with a large M7-6 flamethrower rather than the demolition gun and external storage tanks of fuel for the weapon. Has a pair of retractable boom-mounted mine detectors that project out in front of the snow plow. Used primarily for clearing paths through thick snow but also as an anti-personnel assault platform. Sometimes, the M770 trades its plow / mine-sweeper combination for a mine flail, although this reduces its snow-dispersion capability. In thick, heavy winters where mines are expected, an M770 CMEV normally works in tandem with the M741 Mine Clearance Engineering Vehicle. The former - equipped with plow & sweepers - forges a path through the snow while the latter follows behind it to lay down MCLC charges as required.</span>
- 105mm Gun Motor Carriage, Tracked, M65 - http://ruffles.wikia.com/wiki/M65_Assault_Gun
- 105mm Gun Motor Carriage, Tracked, M65A1 (M65A1 Assault Gun) - Standard Version described above
- 155mm Gun Motor Carriage, Tracked, M65A2 (M65A2 Assault Howitzer) - Self-propelled infantry support artillery vehicle armed with a short-barrel derivative of the M117 155mm howitzer for anti-infantry and fortification assault missions. Tandem / parallel design to the standard assault gun model (i.e. both were planned from the outset). Produced on a rough 1:2 ratio with the M65A1 (i.e. one assault howitzer for every two assault guns).
- Motor Carriage, Tracked, Command & Reconnaissance, M65A3 - Command & Control, Recon and spotting variant of the M65 with an auto-loaded 50mm cannon derived from the American anti-aircraft autocannon of the same calibre.
- 127mm Gun Motor Carriage, Tracked, M65A5 "Super Wolverine" - field-tested prototype variant of the base-line M65A1 Assault Gun boasting a more powerful 127mm anti-tank gun (a derivative of the 127mm Heavy Gun M144). 32 were produced including the two demonstrator prototypes, with 30 combat-outfitted examples made in a limited-production run and sent to units in the Army of Northern Virginia for evaluation. This variant was never put into proper production and was scrapped in favor of the 127mm Gun Motor Carriage M145 (a simple self-propelled version of the M144 Anti-tank Gun).
- M65A6 Assault Vehicle (M65 "Zippo") - Self-propelled flamethrower variant with an M6-7 flamethrower
- M65A8 Engineering Vehicle - Engineering vehicle for mine laying and demolition work. Very similar to the M728 Combat Engineering Vehicle
- M65A10 Armored Recovery Vehicle - Armored Recovery Vehicle with crane and towing rig
- 155mm Howitzer Motor Carriage, Tracked, M50 - self-propelled artillery piece using the 155mm M118 gun-howitzer, the self-propelled-mounting version of the principle U.S. M117 Field Howitzer. Unlike previous self-propelled artillery piece models, the M50 is enclosed rather than open-topped. (Author's Note: the M50 is in essence the Napoleon's Legacy Universe analogue to our world's M109 Howitzer, but the two vehicles are quite different. The M50 is built on a modified [widened & lengthened, among other things] M48 tank chassis.)
- 50mm Gun Motor Carriage, Tracked, M57 - enclosed, turreted self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle sporting two extremely long 50mm L/58 automatic anti-aircraft cannons with a linked operating system (i.e. the firing cycle of one gun loads and automatically fires the other, to repeat until pressure is removed from the trigger or the ammunition is exhausted). Has a built-in radar system with automatic tracking and targeting. All the crewmen have to do is pick a target, let the vehicle aim and fire.
- 75mm Gun Motor Carriage, Tracked, M58 "Skysweeper" - essentially the same as the M57 anti-aircraft vehicle but with a single D48 75mm automatic cannon.
- 35mm Gun Motor Carriage, Tracked, M56 - another anti-aircraft vehicle armed with three 35mm cannons in a triangular arrangement. This version is primarily for use against helicopters - which the Russians have not extensively employed - and against aircraft coming in for low-angle attacks. It also, of course, makes an effective anti-personnel weapon. The linked nature of its three cannons gives it an almost-unreal 3,500-4,000 rpm rate of fire.
- M808 AVLB [Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge] - M48-based vehicle for deploying a 18-meter long, 3.8-meter wide scissors-type bridge capable of supporting the weight of most American Armored Fighting Vehicles.
- The M48 & M60 of the Napoleon's Legacy universe - the fact that their name is 'Pershing' rather than 'Patton' not-withstanding - are not perfectly identical to those of the real world.