The M24 Chaffee – Cute but Deadly
The M24 Chaffee light tank was named after the U.S Army General Adna R. Chaffee Jr, who is considered to be the father of the US armored force, for helping push the use of tanks in combat.
The M24 Chaffee arrived fairly late in World War II, but continued on afterwards fighting in the Algerian War with the French, the Korean War and the First Indochina War. It was withdrawn from NATO inventories by the 1960s, not bad for a WWII era vehicle.
The Chaffee was developed as a new light tank to replace the M3 Stuart. The M3/M5 Stuart design had proven itself in combat, especially with the British in North Africa, but it was showing its age with thin armor and a weak 37 mm gun.
The original intended replacement for the Stuart was the T7, which weighed a rather un-light 25 tons (10 tons heavier than the M3 and only 5 less than the Sherman). This weight meant it was no longer classed as a light tank.
Its performance was severely hampered by its size and weight, reducing its effectiveness for the role a light tank is designed for. Now classed as a medium tank, the T7 had the unenviable job of competing against the M4 Sherman, the US’ main tank design of the war.
The T7 carried the same gun as the Sherman, but with less armor and only slightly better mobility, plus the Sherman had been battle tested and was already in full production. Unsurprisingly, the T7 project was cancelled in favour of continued production of the Sherman.
An interesting side note, the now unneeded turrets from the T7 programme were used on the T18E2 Boarhoumd, a massive 30 ton 8 wheeled armored car produced by the US for the British. Similarly to the T7’s fate, the Boarhounds large size and weight meant the British cancelled their order of these vehicles after only a few were made.
A new light tank was still needed, so the Ordnance Department laid the specifications of a light tank that would use a 75 mm gun.
In April 1943, Cadillac and the Ordnance Department began the design of this new tank, named the Light Tank T24.
This new tank would be designed using everything learnt from the M3/M5 series, and the T7 programme. The armor layout of the tank was designed to maximize the most effective armor at the lowest weight possible. The turret and frontal armor plates were only 25 mm thick but highly sloped. The rear armor was just 19 mm thick.
The first pilot vehicle arrived on the 15th of October 1943, and was immediately seen as a successful design, prompting the Ordnance Department to order 5,000.
The M24 Chaffee has dimensions of 9.68 feet long, and 9.09 feet high.
With a combat weight of 20 tons, it was powered by two Cadillac 44T24 Flathead V8 engines, each producing around 110 horsepower. The wheels were sprung by torsion bar suspension, a great improvement over the vertical volute suspensions often used by the US at the time.
It was armed with the M6 75 mm gun, a unique weapon developed from the M5 75 mm gun used in the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. This gun was a lightweight version of that in the Sherman, and used the same ammunition. Its ballistic performance was the same too, giving the Chaffee the same firepower in a much smaller, lighter and faster package. A .30 caliber machine gun was mounted on the frontal upper glacis plate in a ball mount, with another next to the main gun as a co-axial.
The M24 Chaffee’s 75 mm gun made it a much tougher opponent against many armored vehicles than the previous M3/M5.
It had the capacity for a 5 man crew, a speed of 33.6mph, a range of 99.4 miles, and a 3 feet obstacle clearing ability.
The M24 Chaffee went into service in November 1944, and fought through the last months of the war. It performed well and was well liked by its crews, mainly for the increased firepower over the Stuart’s previous 37 mm gun.
Although it was considered to be a highly successful design, it was criticized for its high mobility as it could often accidently outpace the slow speed consistent with the pace of infantry units.
The M24 Chaffee had several variants, which included the M19 Twin 40mm Gun Motor Carriage for anti-aircraft action, the M41 which was a self-propelled howitzer, M37 105 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage, and T77 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage which had six .50 caliber machine guns. Also, foreign nations such as Norway and Chile adapted their own versions of the M24 Chaffee.
The M24 Chaffee was supplied to numerous armies around the world and was used in internal conflicts for years after it had been decommissioned in the United States. A large number of Third World countries still use M24 Chaffee tanks today.
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