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M26 Pershing

M26 Pershing
A Pershing tank of the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War in 1950.
Type Heavy tank
Place of origin United States
Service history
In service 1945–early 1950s
Wars World War II, Korean War
Production history
Manufacturer Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant
Fisher Tank Arsenal
Unit cost $83,273
Produced 1944–1945
Number built 2212
Weight 46 short tons (41.7 t)
Length 20 ft 9.5 in (6.337 m) (turret facing aft)
28 ft 4.5 in (8.649 m) (turret facing forward)
Width 11 ft 6 in (3.51 m)
Height 9 ft 1.5 in (2.78 m)
Crew 5 (Commander, Gunner, loader, driver, co-driver)


(T26E3) Upper hull = 102mm
Lower hull and turret sides= 76mm

Hull sides = 50 to 75mm
90 mm Gun M3
70 rounds
2 × Browning .30-06
5,000 rounds
1 × Browning .50 cal.
550 rounds
Engine Ford GAF; 8-cylinder, gasoline
450–500 hp (340–370 kW)
Power/weight 11.9/10.6 hp/tonne
Suspension torsion bar
100 mi (160 km)
Speed 25 mph (40 km/h) (road)
5.25 mph (8.45 km/h)(off-road)

The Pershing was a heavy tank of the United States Army. It was designated a heavy tank when it was first designed in World War II due to its 90mm gun, and its armor. The tank is named after General of the Armies John J. Pershing, who led the American Expeditionary Force in Europe in World War I. It was briefly used both in World War II and the Korean War.

Intended as an improvement of the M4 Sherman, the prolonged time of development meant that only a small number saw combat in the European theater, most notably in the 9th Armored Division's dramatic dash to take the Ludendorff Bridge during the Battle of Remagen. Based on the criteria of firepower, mobility, and protection, R. P. Hunnicutt ranked the Pershing second, behind the German Panther medium tank, but ahead of the Tiger I heavy tank.[1] In service during the Korean War, the M26 overmatched the T-34-85 in terms of firepower and protection, but was challenged by the hilly and muddy terrain, and as a result was withdrawn in 1951 in favor of its improved derivative, the M46 Patton, which had a considerably more powerful and reliable engine as well as an advanced and improved suspension to better meet the demands of the specific terrain it operated in.[2] The lineage of the M26 continued with the M47 Patton, and was reflected in the new designs of the later M48 Patton and M60 Patton.


  • Production History 1
    • Development 1.1
      • Improving on the M4 1.1.1
      • T20 1.1.2
      • T22 and T23 1.1.3
      • T25 and T26 1.1.4
      • After the war 1.1.5
    • Delayed production 1.2
    • Production 1.3
    • Super Pershing 1.4
    • Post World War II 1.5
  • Combat history 2
    • World War II in Europe 2.1
      • Super Pershing 2.1.1
    • Use in Okinawa 2.2
    • Use in Korean War 2.3
  • Europe 3
  • Variants 4
  • Operators 5
  • See also 6
    • Comparable tanks 6.1
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Production History


The M26 was the culmination of a series of tank prototypes that began with the T20 in 1942 and represented a significant design departure from the previous line of U.S. Army tanks that had ended with the M4 Sherman; a number of design features were tested in the various prototypes, some of which were experimental dead-ends, but many of which would become permanent characteristics of subsequent modern U.S. Army tanks.[3] The prototype series began as a medium tank upgrade of the M4 Sherman and ended as the U.S. Army's first operational heavy tank.

Improving on the M4

The army's first lineage of tanks had evolved from the M1 Combat Car and progressed to the M2 Light Tank, M2 Medium Tank, M3 Lee, and finally the M4 Sherman; these tanks all shared the common traits of using rear-mounted Continental air-cooled radial aircraft engines and a front sprocket drive. The rear engine-front sprocket drive layout required a driveshaft to cross underneath the turret, which increased the overall height of the tank, a characteristic shared with German tanks of World War II that also used this layout.[4][5] In addition, the large diameter of the radial engines in the M4 line of tanks added further to the hull height. These mechanical features accounted for the high silhouette and large side sponsons that were characteristic of the M4 lineage.[6][7]

In the spring of 1942, as the M4 Sherman was entering production, U.S. Army Ordnance began work on a follow-up tank. The T20 tank reached a mock-up stage in May 1942, and was intended as an improved medium tank to follow the M4.[8] An earlier heavy tank, the M6 had been standardized in February 1942, but proved to be a failure. The U.S. Army had no doctrinal use for a heavy tank at the time.[9][10]


The T20 was designed to have a more compact hull compared to the M4. The Ford GAN V-8, a lower silhouette version of the GAA engine used in later variants of the M4, had become available. The engine had originally been an effort by Ford to produce a V-12 liquid-cooled aircraft engine patterned after the Rolls-Royce Merlin, but failed to earn any aircraft orders and so was adapted as a V-8 for use in tanks; use of this lower profile engine together with the choice of a rear transmission and rear sprocket drive layout made it possible to lower the hull silhouette and eliminate the side sponsons.[8]

The T20 was fitted with the new 76 mm M1A1 gun, developed from the 3 inch anti-aircraft gun. The 3 inch front hull armor was .5 in (13 mm) thicker than the 63 mm (2.5 in) front armor of the M4. The glacis plate slope was similar at 46°. The T20's overall weight was approximately the same as the M4.[11][12]

The T20 used an early version of the horizontal volute spring suspension (HVSS), another improvement compared to the less robust vertical volute spring suspension (VVSS) of the early versions of the M4.[13] Later prototypes of the M26 tested a torsion bar suspension, which would become the standard for future U.S. tank suspension systems.

T22 and T23

The T22 series reverted to the M4 transmission because of problems with the early Torqmatic transmission used in the T20. The T22E1 tested an autoloader for the main gun, and eliminated the loader's position with a small two-man turret.

T23 with production cast turret mounting 76mm M1A1 gun. The T23 turret would be used for the 76-mm M4 Sherman. Note the vertical volute spring suspension.

Through much of 1943, there was little perceived need within the U.S. Army for a better tank than the 75 mm M4 Sherman, and so, lacking any insights from the rest of the army as to what was needed, the Ordnance Department next took a developmental detour into electrical transmissions with the T23 series.

The electrical transmission was built by General Electric, and had the engine driving a generator that powered two traction motors. The concept was similar to the drive system of the German "Porsche Tiger" (later rebuilt as the Ferdinand/Elefant). It had performance advantages in rough or hilly terrain, where the system could better handle the rapid changes in torque requirements.[14]

The electrical transmission T23 was championed by the Ordnance Department during this phase of development. After the initial prototypes were built in early 1943, an additional 250 T23 tanks were produced from May–December 1943. These were the first tanks in the U.S. Army with the 76 mm M1A1 gun to go into production.[15] However, the T23 would have required that the army adopt an entirely separate line of training, repair, and maintenance, and so was rejected for combat operations.[16]

The primary legacy of the T23 would thus be its production cast turret, which was designed from the outset to be interchangeable with the turret ring of the M4 Sherman. The T23 turret was used on all production versions of the 76 mm M4 Sherman as the original M4 75 mm turret was found to be too small to easily mount the 76 mm M1A1 gun. The first production 76 mm M4 with the T23 turret, the M4E6, was built in the summer of 1943.[17]

T25 and T26

T25E1 variant

The T25 and T26 lines of tanks came into being in the midst of a heated internal debate within the U.S. Army in the mid-1943 to early 1944 over the need for tanks with greater firepower and armor. A 90 mm gun mounted in a massive new turret was installed in both series. The T26 series were given additional frontal hull armor, with the glacis plate increased to 4 in (10 cm). This increased the weight of the T26 series to over 40 short tons (36 t) and decreased their mobility and durability as the engine and powertrain were not improved to compensate for the weight gain.

The T26E3 was the production version of the T26E1 with a number of minor modifications made as the result of field testing. Following its introduction into combat, it was renamed the M26 in March 1945.[18]

After the war

Post World War II, some 800 M26 tanks were upgraded with improved engines and transmissions and 90-mm gun and were redesignated as the M46 Patton.

Delayed production

The M26 was introduced late into World War II and saw only a limited amount of combat. Controversy continues to exist as to why the production of the M26 was so delayed.

In his 1998 book Death Traps, Belton Cooper, who was a lieutenant in the 3rd Armored Division during World War II, working as a liaison officer for the division's armor repair units, wrote that General

  • "Tanks are Mighty Fine Things", 1946 — story of development & manufacture of tanks by Chrysler Corporation in World War II.
  • Pershing Tank Packs 90-mm. Punch July 1945 Popular Science article
  • AFV Database
  • "The Heavy Tank T26E3 (1945)" on YouTube

External links

  • Cooper, Belton Y. Death Traps, Presidio Press, 1998, Novato, California, ISBN 0-89141-670-6.
  • Coox, A. D. Staff Memorandum US armor in the antitank role, Korea, 1950 ORO-S-45.
  • D'Este, Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War, 1995, Harper Collins Publishers, ISBN 0-06-016455-7
  • Forty, George. United States Tanks of World War II, 1983, Blandford Press, ISBN 0-7137-1214-7
  • Foss, Christopher F., editor. The Encyclopedia of Tanks and Armored Fighting Vehicles, 2002, Thunder Bay Press, ISBN 1-57145-806-9.
  • Hunnicutt, R. P. Pershing, A History of the Medium Tank T20 Series, 1996, Feist Publications, ISBN 1-112-95450-3.
  • Irwin, John P. Another River, Another Town, 2002, J.K. Lambert, ISBN 0-375-50775-2.
  • Jentz, Thomas. Germany's Panther Tank, 1995, Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 0-88740-812-5.
  • Zaloga, Steven J, Bryan, Tony, Laurier, Jim M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943–1953, 2000, Osprey Publishing (New Vanguard 35), ISBN 1-84176-202-4.
  • Zaloga, Steven J. Armored Thunderbolt, 2008, Stackpole Books, ISBN 0-8117-0424-6.
  • Zaloga, Steven J. Panther vs. Sherman, 2008, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84603-292-9.
  • Zaloga, Steven J. T-34-85 vs. M26 Pershing, Korea 1950, 2010, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84603-990-4.


  1. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 200.
  2. ^ Zaloga 2000, p. 36–42.
  3. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p.49–121.
  4. ^ Foss 2002, pp. 232–246.
  5. ^ Jentz 1995, pp. 14–18. In the case of designs for the Panther tank, the rear engine and rear sprocket driven Daimler-Benz VK 30.01 proposal was about 8 in (200 mm) lower overall than the rear engine/front sprocket MAN VK 30.02 proposal.
  6. ^ Foss 2002, pp. 24–32.
  7. ^ Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt pp. 16–42.
  8. ^ a b Hunnicutt 1996, p.49–50.
  9. ^ Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt pp. 80–83, 130.
  10. ^ Foss 2002, pp.33–34.
  11. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, pp.50 & 104.
  12. ^ Zaloga 2008, Panther vs. Sherman p.22.
  13. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p.50.
  14. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 72.
  15. ^ a b Hunnicutt 1996, p. 81.
  16. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 82.
  17. ^ Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt pp. 115–131.
  18. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 94–121.
  19. ^ Cooper 1998, "Death Traps", p. 22–28.
  20. ^ "Passing of Belton Cooper - 5.26.2007". Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  21. ^ Forty 1983, p. 134–137.
  22. ^ Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt p. 46–48, 120–125.
  23. ^ Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt p. 72–77, 102–108.
  24. ^ Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt p. 46-48.
  25. ^ Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt p.78–85.
  26. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 81–82.
  27. ^ a b Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt p. 120–125.
  28. ^ Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt p. 123–124.
  29. ^ Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt p. 128–129.
  30. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 194.
  31. ^ Forty 1983, p. 137–139.
  32. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 140–142.
  33. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 150.
  34. ^ Jentz 1995, p. 152.
  35. ^ Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt p. 86–125, p. 287–294.
  36. ^ a b c d Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt p. 287.
  37. ^ Forty 1983, p. 136.
  38. ^ Hunnicutt, R. P. (1971). Pershing, A History of the Medium Tank T20 Series (first ed.). Feist Publications.  
  39. ^ Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: M26 Pershing". Retrieved 26 May 2015. 
  40. ^ Forty 1983 p. 138.
  41. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 20.
  42. ^ Forty 1983, p. 138–139.
  43. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p.21.
  44. ^ "Dierk's page Special 2 —Tank duel blow-by-blow". Retrieved 2014-12-30. 
  45. ^ M26 vs. Panther at Cologne U.S. 3rd Armored Division in Cologne, World War II.
  46. ^ "Battle for Cologne—Tank Duel". YouTube. 1945-03-06. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  47. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 22.
  48. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 25.
  49. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 9–12.
  50. ^ Zaloga 2008, Armored Thunderbolt p. 290.
  51. ^ Irwin 2002, p. 89–92, p. 106, p. 138.
  52. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 30–31.
  53. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 41–46.
  54. ^ Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: M26 Pershing". Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  55. ^ Jim Mesko "Pershing/Patton in action" ISBN 0-89747-442-2 p. 24.
  56. ^ Donald W. Boose, Jr. "US Army Forces in the Korean War 1950–53" ISBN 1-84176-621-6 p. 56.
  57. ^ Steven J. Zaloga "M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943–1953" ISBN 1-84176-202-4 pp. 36-40.
  58. ^ Zaloga 2010:74-75
  59. ^ Zaloga 2010:59
  60. ^ a b Zaloga 2010:74
  61. ^ United States' 76 mm Gun Penetration tables 
  62. ^ Zaloga 2010:71-73
  63. ^ Boose Jr., pp. 75-81.
  64. ^ Boose Jr., pp. 68,82.
  65. ^ "USAREUR Units — US Constabulary". Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  66. ^ "USAREUR Units - 1st Inf Div". Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  67. ^ Boose Jr., p. 56.
  68. ^ "USAREUR Units - 2nd Armd Div". Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  69. ^ "USAREUR Units - 28th Inf Div". Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  70. ^ Mesko, p. 29.
  71. ^ "USAREUR Units - 19th Armor Gp". Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  72. ^ Mesko p. 47.
  73. ^ Boose Jr., p. 57.
  74. ^ Zaloga p. 43.
  75. ^ Zaloga p. 45.
  76. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, pp. 49–157.
  77. ^ Hunnicutt 1996, p. 120.
  78. ^ Zaloga 2000, pp. 35–36.
  79. ^ Zaloga 2000, p. 36.
  80. ^ Glantz, David M. (2005). Colossus reborn : the Red Army at war, 1941-1943. Lawrence, Kan.: Univ. Press of Kansas. p. 249.  


Comparable tanks

See also


Prototypes, variants, and conversions[76]
Model Gun Glacis thickness (inches) Suspension Transmission Engine Tread width (inches) Production Dates Number Produced Notes
T20 76mm M1A1 3 HVSS Torqmatic Model 30-30B GAN 16-9/16 May 1943 1 First test of new hydraulic torque converter transmission, which proved leaky and prone to overheating
T20E3 76mm M1A1 3 torsion bar Torqmatic Model 30-30B GAN 18 July 1943 1 Effort to improve the ride and ground pressure
T22 76mm M1A1 3 HVSS modified M4A3 Sherman GAN 16-9/16 June 1943 2 Reversion to the known reliable transmission of the M4
T22E1 75mm M3 autoloader 3 HVSS modified M4A3 Sherman GAN 16-9/16 Aug 1943 1 Test of autoloader for 76mm gun, new smaller two-man turret with only a gunner and commander, converted from a T22 tank
T23 76mm M1A1 3 VVSS Electrical GAN 16-9/16 Jan–Dec 1943 250+
Used same vertical volute spring suspension (VVSS) of the M4 Sherman. New cast turret mounting the 76mm gun (used for the 76mm M4)
T23E3 76mm M1A1 3 torsion bar Electrical GAN 19 Aug. 1944 1 Test of torsion bars, electrical transmission, and 19-in tracks together
T23E4 76mm M1A1 3 HVSS Electrical GAN 23 late 1944 3 HVSS, electrical transmission, and 23in tracks
T25 90mm T7 3 HVSS Electrical GAN 23 Jan 1944 2 Test of 90mm gun and electrical transmission on converted T23s. The 90mm T7 was later standardized as the 90mm M3[77]
T25E1 90mm M3 3 HVSS Torqmatic GAF 19 Feb–May 1944 40 Improved version of Model 30-30B Torqmatic transmission. The Ford GAF engine was a minor modification of the GAN engine.
T26 90mm M3 4 torsion bar Electrical GAN 24 Oct 1944 1 Weighed 95,100 lbs, with 90mm gun, 4" armor, electrical transmission
T26E1 90mm M3 4 torsion bar Torqmatic GAF 24 Feb–May 1944 10 Prototype model selected for full production after testing
T26E2 105mm howitzer M4 4 torsion bar Torqmatic GAF 24 Jul 1945 185 Standardized as M45 tank post-war
T26E3 / M26 90mm M3 4 torsion bar Torqmatic GAF 24/23 Nov. 1944 2000+ Standardized as M26 tank in March 1945, later production had 23in tracks
T26E4 90mm T15E1, T15E2 4 torsion bar Torqmatic GAF 24 Nov. 1944 25 "Super Pershing", the first pilot was a converted T26E1 and the only one to see combat. Its T15E1 gun used one-piece ammunition. All other T26E4s had the T15E2 with two-piece ammunition
T26E5 90mm M3 6 torsion bar Torqmatic GAF 23 June–July 1945 27 Same idea as the M4A3E2 "Jumbo" assault tank. Uparmored T26E3, weighed 102,300 lbs. Tracks could take 5" "duckbill" extenders
M26E1 90mm T54 4 torsion bar Torqmatic GAF 23 after June 1945 2 Improved version of "Super Pershing" high-velocity 90 mm gun and ammunition with short, fat propellant casing instead of very long casing. Converted from M26 tanks
M26E2 / M46 90mm M3A1 4 torsion bar Allison CD-850-1 cross-drive Continental AV-1790-3 23 1948–1949 1 / 800 Upgrade of existing M26. New compact transmission and engine with increased power to 810 hp (600 kW). Improved 90mm M3 gun, with bore evacuator and other modifications. Additional conversions beyond the prototype were redesignated as the T40, then were standardized as the M46 Patton. A total of 800 M26 tanks were converted to the M46.[78]
M26A1 90mm M3A1 4 torsion bar Torqmatic GAF 23 1948 1200? Lack of funds postwar prevented conversion of all of the M26 tanks to the M46. Most of the remaining M26s only received a gun upgrade with the M3A1 gun.[79]
  • M26 (T26E3). M3 gun with double-baffle muzzle brake. Main production model.
  • M26A1. M3A1 gun with bore evacuator and single-baffle muzzle brake.
  • T26E1-1 (T26E4-1 or M26A1E2). Version armed with a T15E1 large exterior stabilizer springs single piece ammo (used in combat).
  • T26E4. Experimental version armed with a long T15E2 gun two-part ammunition, improved mounting removed the need for springs.
  • M26E1. Longer gun, single-part ammunition T54 gun. (post war)
  • M26E2. New engine and transmission and M3A1 gun. Reclassified as the M46 Patton. (post war)
  • T26E2, eventually standardized for use as the Heavy Tank M45—a close support vehicle with a 105 mm howitzer (74 rounds).
  • T26E5. Prototype with thicker armor—a maximum of 279 mm.


As the U.S. Army units in West Germany reequipped with M47s in 1952–1953, France and Italy also received M26 Pershings;[74] while France quickly replaced them with M47 Pattons, Italy continued to use them operationally through 1963.[75]

In 1961, the number of reserve units was reduced and the reserve system reorganized, with the M26s equipping the 1st and 3rd Escadron de Tanks/Tank Escadron as a general reserve of the infantry arm. In 1969, all M26s were phased out.

In 1952, the Belgian Army received 423 M26 and M26A1 Pershings, leased for free as part of a Mutual Defense Assistance Program, then the official designation of U.S. military aid to its allies. The tanks were mostly used to equip mobilizable reserve units of battalion strength: 2nd, 3rd and 4th Régiments de Guides/Regiment Gidsen (Belgian units have official names in both French and Dutch); 7th, 9th and 10th Régiments de Lanciers/Regiment Lansiers and finally the 2nd, 3rd and 5th Bataillon de Tanks Lourds/Bataljon Zware Tanks. However, in the spring of 1953, M26s for three months equipped the 1st Heavy Tank Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division, an active unit, before they were replaced by M47s.

After the end of World War II, U.S. Army units on occupation duty in Germany were converted into constabulary units, a quasi-police force designed to control the flow of refugees and black marketing; combat units were converted to light motorized units and spread throughout the U.S. occupation zone.[65] By the summer of 1947, the army required a combat reserve to back up the thinly spread constabulary; in the following year, the 1st Infantry Division was reconstituted and consolidated, containing three regimental tank companies and a divisional tank battalion.[66] The 1948 tables of organization and equipment for an infantry division included 123 M26 Pershing tanks and 12 M45 howitzer tanks.[67] In the summer of 1951, three more infantry divisions and the 2nd Armored Division were sent to West Germany as a part of the NATO Augmentation Program.[68] While M26 Pershings disappeared from Korea during 1951, tank units deploying to West Germany were equipped with them,[69][70] until replaced with M47 Pattons during 1952–53.[71][72] The 1952–53 tables of organization and equipment for an infantry division included 135 M47 Patton tanks replacing M26s and M45s.[73]

M26A1 at the Royal Army Museum of Brussels. Leased to Belgium, all M26s remained US property with the exception of this particular vehicle, which was donated to the museum in 1980.


With the marked decrease in tank to tank actions, the automotive deficiencies of the M26 in the mountainous Korean terrain became more of a liability, and so all M26s were withdrawn from Korea during 1951 and replaced with M4A3 Shermans and M46 Pattons.[63] The M45 howitzer tank variant was only used by the assault gun platoon of the 6th Medium Tank Battalion, and these six vehicles were withdrawn by January 1951.[64]

After November 1950, North Korean armor was rarely encountered. China entered the conflict in February 1951 with four regiments of tanks (a mix of mostly T-34-85 tanks, with a few IS-2 tanks, and some other AFVs). However, because these Chinese tanks were dispersed with the infantry, tank to tank battles with UN forces were uncommon.[62]

A 1954 survey concluded that there were in all 119, mostly small scale, tank vs. tank actions involving U.S. Army and Marine units during the Korean War, with 97 T-34-85 tanks knocked out and another 18 probables. The M4A3E8 was involved in 50% of the tank actions, the M26 in 32%, and the M46 in 10%.[58] The M26/M46 proved to be an overmatch for the T-34-85 as its 90 mm HVAP round could - at point blank range - punch all the way through the T-34 from the front glacis armor to the back,[59] whereas the T-34-85 had difficulty penetrating the armor of the M26 or M46.[60] The M4A3E8, firing 76 mm HVAP rounds which were widely available during the Korean War (unlike World War II), was a closer match to the T-34-85 as both tanks could destroy each other at normal combat ranges.[60][61]

More medium tanks began arriving in Korea at the end of July 1950. Although no armored divisions were sent because the initial response from battlefield commanders was "Korea isn't good tank country", six Army infantry divisions and one Marine division were deployed. Each Army infantry division should have had one divisional tank battalion of 69 tanks, and each Army infantry regiment should have had a company of 22 tanks;[56] the Marine division had a tank battalion of 70 gun tanks and nine combination flamethrower-howitzer tanks, and each Marine infantry regiment had an antitank platoon with five tanks each. While tables of organization and equipment mandated that all tank platoon vehicles should be M26 Pershings, with howitzer tanks in company headquarters and light tanks in reconnaissance units only, some units had a shortfall that had to be filled with other tanks. The 70th Tank Battalion at Fort Hood Texas, the 6th Medium and 64th Heavy Tank Battalions, were fully equipped with M46 Patton tanks. The 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton California had all M4A3 howitzer tanks, which were replaced with M26s just days before boarding ships for Korea. A total of 309 M26 Pershings were rushed to Korea in 1950.[57]

The M26 saw service in the Korean War. When the war began in June 1950, the four American infantry divisions on occupation duty in Japan had no medium tanks at all, having only one active tank company each, equipped with M24 Chaffee light tanks. When these divisions were sent to Korea at the end of June 1950, they soon found that the 75mm gun on the M24 could not penetrate the armor of North Korean T-34 tanks, which had no difficulty penetrating the M24's thin armor. Three M26 Pershing tanks were found in poor condition in a Tokyo ordnance depot. They were hastily brought back into operation with missing fanbelts improvised. These three M26s were formed into a provisional tank platoon commanded by Lieutenant Samuel Fowler and sent to Korea in mid-July. When used to defend the town of Chinju, the tanks soon overheated when the substitute fan belts stretched and the cooling fans stopped working, and so the only three American medium tanks in Korea were lost.[55]

Captured Pershing on display at a North Korean museum in Pyongyang.
Pershing and Sherman tanks of the 73rd Heavy Tank Battalion at the Pusan Docks, Korea.
Pershing tanks in downtown Seoul during the Second Battle of Seoul in September 1950. In the foreground, United Nations troops round up North Korean prisoners-of-war.

Use in Korean War

In May 1945, as fierce fighting continued on the island of Okinawa, and M4 tank losses mounted, plans were made to ship the M26 Pershing tanks to that battle. On May 31, 1945, a shipment of 12 M26 Pershing tanks were dispatched to the Pacific for use in the Battle of Okinawa. Due to a variety of delays, the tanks were not completely offloaded on the beach at Naha, Okinawa until 4 August. By then, fighting on Okinawa had come to an end, and VJ Day followed on 15 August.[53][54]

Use in Okinawa

An account of the combat actions of this tank appeared in the war memoir Another River, Another Town, by John P. Irwin, who was the tank gunner. Zaloga described three actions in his book. On 4 April, the Super Pershing engaged and destroyed a German tank, or something resembling a tank, at a range of 1,500 yd (1,400 m). On 12 April, the Super Pershing claimed a German tank of unknown type. On 21 April, the Super Pershing was involved in a short-range tank duel with a German tank, which it knocked out with a shot to the belly. Irwin described this German tank as a Tiger, but Zaloga was skeptical of this claim.[50][51] After the war, the single Super Pershing in Europe was last photographed in a vehicle dump in Kassel, Germany, and was most likely scrapped.[52]

A single Super Pershing was shipped to Europe and given additional armor to the gun mantlet and front hull by the maintenance unit before being assigned to one of the tank crews of the Third Armored Division. The new gun on the Super Pershing could pierce 13 inches (330 mm) of armour at 100 yards (91 m). The front hull was given two 38 mm steel boiler plates, bringing the front up to 38+38+102 mm of armor. The plates were applied at a greater slope than the underlying original hull plate it was welded on top of. The turret had 88mm thick RHA from a Panther turret welded to the gun barrel covering the front.

M26 "Super Pershing" after arriving in Europe and having extra frontal armor added.

Super Pershing

A platoon of four T26E3s played an integral role in the 9th Armored Division's dramatic capture of the Ludendorff Bridge during the Battle of Remagen, providing fire support to the infantry in order to take the bridgehead before the Germans could blow it up. Some of the division's other tanks were able to cross the bridge, but the T26E3s were too large and heavy to cross the damaged bridge and had to wait five days before getting across the river by barge.[49] Europe's bridges were in general not designed for heavy loads, which had been one of the original objections to sending a heavy tank to Europe.

The T26E3s with the 9th Armored Division saw action in fighting around the Roer River with one Pershing disabled by two hits from a German 150 mm field gun.[36]

On the same day, another T26E3 was knocked out in the town of Niehl near Cologne, by a rarely-seen Nashorn 88 mm SP anti-tank gun, at a range of under 300 yd (270 m).[47] There were two other tank engagements involving the T26E3, with one Tiger I knocked out during the fighting around Cologne, and one Panzer IV knocked out at Mannheim.[48]

An M26 Pershing T26E3 of A Company, 14th Tank Battalion, is transported aboard a pontoon ferry built by the First Engineer Heavy Pontoon Battalion across the Rhine on 12 March 1945.

Four of the Panther's crew could successfully bail out of the stricken tank before it was destroyed. [44] The action was recorded by a Signal Corps cameraman Tec.Sgt Jim Bates.[45][46]

We were told to just move into the intersection far enough to fire into the side of the enemy tank, which had its gun facing up the other street [where the Sherman had been destroyed]. However, as we entered the intersection, our driver had his periscope turned toward the Panther and saw their gun turning to meet us. When I turned our turret, I was looking into the Panther's gun tube; so instead of stopping to fire, our driver drove into the middle of the intersection so we wouldn't be a sitting target. As we were moving, I fired once. Then we stopped and I fired two more shells to make sure they wouldn't fire at our side. All three of our shells penetrated, one under the gun shield and two on the side. The two side hits went completely through and out the other side.

On 6 March, just after the 3rd Armored Division had entered the city of Cologne, a famous tank duel took place. A Panther tank on the street in the front of Cologne Cathedral was laying in wait for enemy tanks. Two M4A4 Shermans were supporting infantry and came up on the same street as the Panther. They ended up stopping just before the Cathedral because of rubble in the street and didn't see the enemy Panther. The lead Sherman was knocked out, killing three of the five crew. A T26E3 was in the next street over and was called over to engage the Panther. What happened next was described by the T26E3 gunner Cpl. Clarence Smoyer:

Shortly afterward, also at Elsdorf, another T26E3 knocked out a Tiger I and two Panzer IVs.[42] The Tiger was knocked out at 900 yd (820 m) with the 90-mm HVAP T30E16 ammunition.[36] Photographs of this knocked out Tiger I in Hunnicutt's book showed a penetration through the lower gun shield.[43]

After training the tank crews, the T26E3 tanks were first committed to combat on 25 February, with the 3rd Armored Division, in the fighting for the Roer River. On 26 February, a T26E3 named Fireball was knocked out in an ambush at Elsdorf while overwatching a roadblock. Silhouetted by a nearby fire, the Pershing was in a disadvantageous position. A concealed Tiger tank fired three shots from about 100 yd (91 m). The first penetrated the turret through the machine gun port in the mantlet, killing both the gunner and the loader. The second shot hit the gun barrel, causing the round that was in the chamber to fire with the effect of distorting the barrel. The last shot glanced off the turret side, taking off the upper cupola hatch. While backing up to escape, the Tiger became entangled in debris and was abandoned by the crew.[40] Fireball was quickly repaired and returned to service on 7 March.[41]

The 3rd Armored first used the M26 to engage the enemy on February 25 near the Roer River. Another platoon of five M26s, less one that was being serviced, played a key role in helping Combat Command B of the 9th Armored capture the Ludendorff Bridge during the Battle of Remagen on March 7-8, 1945. When fighting against German Tiger II tanks and Jagdpanther tank destroyers, the M26 performed well.[39]

Due to the repeated design and production delays, only 20 Pershing tanks were introduced into the European theater of operations after the Battle of the Bulge showed the serious mismatch between Allied and German armor. The 20 Pershings arrived in Antwerp in January 1945. These were split into two platoons. One was assigned to the 3rd and the other to the 9th Armored Division. In March, the T26E3 tanks were redesignated as the M26.[38]:120

An M26 Pershing fires at German positions across the Rhine.

In February 1945, Major General Gladeon M. Barnes, chief of the Research and Development Section of Army Ordnance, personally led a special team to the European Theater, called the Zebra Mission. Its purpose was to support the T26E3 tanks, which still had teething problems, as well as to test other new weapons.[36]

The first shipment of 20 Pershing tanks arrived in Antwerp in January 1945. They were given to the 1st Army, split between the 3rd and 9th Armored Divisions.[36] A total of 310 T26E3 tanks were eventually sent to Europe before VE Day, but only the 20 that arrived in January engaged in combat.[37]

Salvaged, pre-1944, M26 Pershing hulk on display at the Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum in Sinsheim, Germany.
8th Armored Division M26 in streets of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.
T26E3 nicknamed Fireball, knocked out by a Tiger I in an ambush. An 88mm round penetrated the gun mantlet.

Development of the M26 during World War II was prolonged by a number of factors, the most important being opposition to the tank from Army Ground Forces. The tank losses experienced in the Battle of the Bulge against a concentrated German tank force composed of some 400 Panther tanks,[34] as well as Tiger II tanks and other German armored fighting vehicles, revealed the deficiencies in the M4 Shermans and tank destroyers in the American units. This deficiency motivated the military to ship the tanks to Europe, and on 22 December 1944, the T26E3 tanks were ordered to be deployed to Europe.[35]

World War II in Europe

Combat history

In May 1946, due to changing conceptions of the U.S. Army's tank needs, the M26 was reclassified as a medium tank. Designed as a heavy tank, the Pershing was a significant upgrade from the M4 Sherman in terms of firepower and protection. On the other hand, its mobility was unsatisfactory for a medium tank (it used the same engine that powered the M4A3, which was some ten tons lighter) and its transmission was somewhat unreliable. In 1948, the M26E2 version was developed with a new powerplant. Eventually the new version was redesignated the M46 General Patton and 1,160 M26s were rebuilt to this new standard. Thus the M26 became a base of the Patton tank series, which replaced it in early 1950s. The M47 Patton was an M46 Patton with a new turret. The later M48 Patton and M60 Patton, which saw service in later Vietnam and Mideast conflicts and still serve in active duty in many nations today, were evolutionary redesigns of the original layout set down by the Pershing.

Post World War II

Post-war, two M26 tanks had the T54 gun installed, which had the same long gun barrel, but the ammunition cartridge was designed to be shorter and fatter, while still retaining the propellant force of the original round. The original muzzle brake of the M3 was shaved down to a single baffle to compensate for the shorter chamber. The tanks were designated as the M26E1 tank, but lack of funds cut off further production.[33]

A second pilot tank was converted from a T26E3 and used a modified T15E2 gun that had two-piece ammunition. Twenty-five of these tanks were built and designated as the T26E4. An improved mounting removed the need for stabilizer springs.[32]

The 90-mm M3 gun of the Pershing was similar to the German 88 mm KwK 36 used on the Tiger I. In an effort to match the firepower of the Tiger II's more powerful 88 mm KwK43, the T15E1 90 mm gun was developed and mounted in a T26E1 in January 1945. This tank was designated T26E1-1. The T15E1 gun was 73 calibers in length and had a much longer high-capacity chamber. This gave it a muzzle velocity of 3,750 ft/s (1,140 m/s) with the T30E16 APCR shot and could penetrate the Panther's frontal armor at up to 2,600 yd (2,400 m). This model used single-piece 50-inch-long (1,300 mm) ammunition and was the only Super Pershing sent to Europe.

The so-called "Super Pershing" before extra armor welded on. Note length of barrel, 73 calibers, to compete with the 88 mm KwK 43 L/71 gun of the Tiger II.

Super Pershing

Production finally began in November 1944. Ten T26E3 tanks were produced that month at the Fisher Tank Arsenal, 30 in December, 70 in January 1945, and 132 in February. The Detroit Tank Arsenal also started production in March 1945, and the combined output was 194 tanks for that month. Production continued through the end of the war, and over 2,000 were produced by the end of 1945.


According to Forty, Ordnance recommended that 1,500 of the T26E1 be built. The Armored Force recommended only 500. The AGF rejected the 90 mm version of the tank, and wanted it to be built with the 76 mm gun instead. Somehow, Ordnance managed to get production of the T26E1 started in November 1944. Forty primarily quoted from a post-war report from the Ordnance Dept.[31]

Hunnicutt, also working from Ordnance Department documents, reports that Ordnance requested production of 500 each of the T23, T25E1, and T26E1 in October 1943. The AGF objected to the 90 mm gun of the tanks, whereas the Armored Force wanted the 90 mm gun mounted in a Sherman tank chassis. General Devers cabled from London a request for production of the T26E1. In January 1944, 250 T26E1s were authorized. General Barnes of Ordnance continued to press for production of 1,000 tanks.[30]

A single prototype of a T26 turret mounted on an M4A3 chassis was built by Chrysler in the summer of 1944, but did not progress into production.[29]

General Devers pressed on with his advocacy for the T26, going over McNair's head to General George Marshall, and on 16 Dec 1943, Marshall overruled McNair and authorized the production of 250 T26E1 tanks. Then, in late December 1943, Devers was transferred to the Mediterranean, where he eventually led the invasion of Southern France with the 6th Army Group. In his absence, further attempts were made to derail the T26 program, but continued support from Generals Marshall and Eisenhower kept the production order alive. Testing and production of the T26E1 proceeded slowly, however, and the T26E1 did not begin full production until November 1944. These production models were designated as the T26E3.[27]

The M4 tank, particularly the M4A3, has been widely hailed as the best tank on the battlefield today. There are indications that the enemy concurs in this view. Apparently, the M4 is an ideal combination of mobility, dependability, speed, protection, and firepower. Other than this particular request—which represents the British view—there has been no call from any theater for a 90mm tank gun. There appears to be no fear on the part of our forces of the German Mark VI (Tiger) tank... There can be no basis for the T26 tank other than the conception of a tank versus tank duel—which is believed unsound and unnecessary. Both British and American battle experience has demonstrated that the antitank gun in suitable number and disposed properly is the master of the tank. Any attempt to armor and gun tanks so as to outmatch antitank guns is foredoomed to failure... There is no indication that the 76mm antitank gun is inadequate against the German Mark VI (Tiger) tank.[28]

Gen. Lesley J. McNair had agreed to the production of the 76 mm M4 Sherman, and he strongly opposed the additional production of the T26E1. In the fall of 1943, he wrote this letter to Devers, responding to the latter's advocacy of the T26E1:

Single prototype of 90mm gun T26 turret mounted on an M4A3 chassis.

In his 2008 book Armored Thunderbolt, Zaloga significantly revised his earlier treatment that appeared in his 2000 book M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943–53, quoting from a much more extensive list of original documents from the Ordnance Department, Army Ground Forces and General McNair's correspondence. In September–October 1943, a series of discussions occurred over the issue of beginning production of the T26E1, which was advocated by the head of the Armored Force, General Jacob Devers. Ordnance favored its pet project, the 76 mm gun, electrical transmission T23. Theater commanders generally favored a 76 mm gun medium tank such as the T23, and were against a heavy 90 mm gun tank. However, testing of the T23 at Fort Knox had demonstrated reliability problems in the electrical transmission of which most army commanders were unaware. The new 76 mm M1A1 gun approved for the M4 Sherman seemed to address concerns about firepower against the German tanks. All participants in the debate were, however, unaware of the inadequacy of the 76 mm gun against the frontal armor of the Panther tank, as they had not researched the effectiveness of this gun against the new German tanks, which had already been encountered in combat.[27]

From mid-1943 to mid-1944, development of the 90 mm up-armored T26 prototype continued to proceed slowly due to disagreements within the U.S. Army about its future tank needs. The details of what exactly happened during this time vary by historian, but all agree that AGF was the main source of resistance that delayed production of the T26.

A sense of complacency fell upon those in charge of developing tanks in the U.S. Army because the M4 Sherman, in 1942, was considered by the Americans to be superior to the most common German tanks: the Panzer III and early models of the Panzer IV. Even through most of 1943, the 75-mm M4 Sherman was adequate against the majority of German armor, although the widespread appearance of the German 7.5 cm KwK 40 tank gun during this time had led to a growing awareness that the M4 was becoming outgunned. There was insufficient forward thinking to understand that there was an ongoing arms race in tanks and that the U.S. needed to anticipate future German tank threats. The Tiger I and Panther tanks that appeared in 1943 were seen in only very limited numbers by U.S. forces and hence were not considered as major threats.[25] The end result was that, in 1943, the Ordnance Department lacking any guidance from the rest of the army, concentrated its efforts in tank development mainly on its major project, the electrical transmission T23.[26] By contrast, in 1943 the British begin development of what became the 51-ton Centurion tank (although this tank would reach service just too late to see combat in World War II) and, on the Eastern Front, a full-blown tank arms race was underway, with the Soviets responding to the German heavy tanks by starting development work on the T34/85 and IS-2 tanks.


McNair established "battle need" criteria for acquisition of weapons in order to make best use of America's 3,000-mile-long (4,800 km) supply line to Europe by preventing the introduction of weapons that would prove unnecessary, extravagant or unreliable on the battlefield. In his view, the introduction of a new heavy tank had problems in terms of transportation, supply, service, and reliability, and was not necessary in 1943 or early 1944. Tank development took time, and so the sudden appearance of a new tank threat could not be met quickly enough under such rigid criteria.[24]

Simplification of supply

McNair, who was an artillery officer, had promulgated the "tank destroyer doctrine" in the U.S. Army. In this doctrine, tanks were primarily for infantry support and exploitation of breakthroughs. Those tactics dictated that enemy tanks were to be engaged by tank destroyer forces, which were composed of lightly armored but relatively fast vehicles carrying more powerful anti-tank guns, as well as towed versions of these anti-tank guns. Under the tank destroyer doctrine, emphasis was placed only on improving the firepower of the tank destroyers, as there was a strong bias against developing a heavy tank to take on enemy tanks. This also limited improvements in the firepower of the M4 Sherman.[23]

Tank destroyer doctrine

Tank historians, such as Richard P. Hunnicutt, George Forty and Steven Zaloga, have generally agreed that the main cause of the delay in production of the M26 was opposition to the tank from the Army Ground Forces, headed by General Lesley McNair.[21][22] Zaloga in particular has identified several specific factors that led both to the delay of the M26 program and limited improvements in the firepower of the M4:

are generally regarded as erroneous and not representative of M4 Sherman or M26 Pershing performance by armor historians and enthusiasts. Death Traps Belton Cooper and his book [20] have since been widely repeated by readers of his book, and have been cited as references. In 2000, the author appeared in the History Channel TV show "Suicide Missions: Tank Crews of World War II" to expound on his views.M4 Sherman Cooper's statement and his other criticisms of the [19]

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