George S.Patton
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M26 ‘Pershing’ – Progenitor of the ‘Patton’ Main Battle Tank
by Dave Barrett

Late during WWII, it became evident the M4 ‘Sherman’ was lacking both the armor and the armament to take on the German ‘Panther’ and ‘Tiger’ tanks.  The basic requirements for the new tank, were similar to the M4, but was to be much more streamlined, have a lower silhouette, and have considerably thicker armor.  Initial designs had the same 76mm tank gun, and Ford V-8 tank engine as the current M4A4(76).  This initial tank design was designated the T20. A total of six pilot tanks were to be built.  Two of these were the T20 designs.  A further two were designated T22, and still a further two being designated T23.  These six pilots were then further divided into two sub-categories. The first group of three were armed with the 76mm tank gun M1.  The second group, designated T20E1, T22E1, and T23E1 respectively, mounted a 75mm tank gun M3 with an autoloader, a novel idea at the time.

In May of 1943, a limited production order of 250 tanks was contracted.  The newly developed 90mm tank gun T7 (M3) was to be mounted into the turret of the T23, forty with unmodified armor, and ten in turrets mounted on T23 hulls with additional armor for trial purposes.  The two trial models were known as the T25 and T26 respectively.  A further note on these two models, was the T25 utilized Horizontal Volute Suspension System (HVSS), and the T26 incorporated a torsion bar system.  After repetitive trials, the T26 version was noted as having a better ride, and was thusly chosen for further development.

The T26 utilized some of the features of the original T20 prototype, but certain changes were made to improve on the design. The T26 had an electric transmission, similar to that of the original Porsche design for the ‘Tiger’. Although the T20 was found to have a better overall performance, its electric transmission was deemed too complicated.  The T20 design was dropped in favor of a new rear cross-drive power train mating a “Torquematic” fluid-drive automatic transmission, to an improved version of the Ford V-8 tank engine, the Model GAF.  This 1,100 cubic inch (18 liter), water-cooled, gasoline engine developed 500 hp @ 2,600 rpm.  This combination was designated the T26E1.

By mid-year in 1944, U.S. forces in Europe stated that further tanks with 75mm or 76mm guns were not desired.  Tanks with 90mm and 105mm guns were requested, with 90mm versions the more numerous.  Therefore, only the T26E1 prototypes were approved for further development.  The T26E1 offered firepower and armor capable of taking on the ‘Panther’ and ‘Tiger’ tanks one-on-one, instead of the “by committee” approach then in use.

Although 1,500 T26E1 tanks were authorized for production, the Army Ground Forces did a complete turn around, and stated the tank should be redesigned to accept the 76mm tank gun!  Furthermore, the higher-ups in the Armored Force, stated they only wanted 500 tanks!!  Infighting within the top brass, created further delays in the production of a new tank.  It took until December of that year for the first tanks to be issued to troops in the European Theater of Operation (ETO).  The first twenty by then T26E3 tanks, reached Europe in January 1945, and first saw combat in February.  Of the 200 tanks issued to units, only twenty actually saw action.  A few T26E3 tanks were issued to Okinawa in the Pacific Theater, but reaching there in July of 1945, none saw combat before the war ended.

The excellent performance of the T26E3 in combat, although limited, convinced those responsible for ordnance in the U.S. forces, to standardize the tank for full production.  The nomenclature for the T26E3 was standardized as the Heavy Tank M26 ‘Pershing’ in honor of General “Black Jack” Pershing who fought in the Mexican War and World War I.  Furthermore, the 105mm armed versions were re-designated the M45.  Approximately 2,350 M26 tanks were produced between 1944 and 1945, eventually serving initially as the backbone for U.S. forces in the Korean War.
M26 were exported to Italy and France in comparatively small numbers only.