Too Late for the War

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Too Late for the War:
The U.S. Industrial Base and Tank Production 1950-1953
by Major Mark A. Olinger
During the rainy pre-dawn hours of
Sunday, 25 June 1950, beginning with
a massive artillery barrage, the North
Koreans launched an unprovoked invasion of South Korea. At the time of the
invasion, the closest major United
States ground forces to the Korean
Peninsula were four divisions on occupation duty in Japan: the 7th Infantry,
24th Infantry, 25th Infantry, and 1st
Cavalry. Assigned to these divisions
were the 71st, 77th, 78th, and 79th
Tank Battalions, in which only the
Company A’s were active and equipped
with M24 Chaffee light tanks, giving
each battalion an end strength of 17
tanks. These four divisions also each
had an organic reconnaissance company, with an additional 17 tanks.
During the initial occupation of Japan, planners determined that medium
tanks would damage roads and cause
lightweight bridges to collapse. To
avoid any further damage to the infrastructure, the tank battalions and reconnaissance companies began occupation
duties with M24 Chaffee light tanks instead of retaining their heavier M4
Sherman and M26 Pershing medium
tanks. Stationed on Okinawa was the
29th Infantry Regiment, with the 5th
Regimental Combat Team (RCT) in
Hawaii. The only other ground force
available in the Pacific area was the 1st
Marine Division in California. These
units were all at approximately 70 percent of their authorized personnel
strength. They did not have their full
authorizations of recoilless rifles, mortars, machine guns, and antitank mines,
and fielding of the new and improved
3.5-inch rocket launcher had not been
One aspect of the subsequent fighting
in Korea that received little attention at
the time was the use of armor by the
United States and its Allies. To this
day, most soldiers view the Korean
War as one fought by infantrymen in
hilly, mountainous terrain against
swarming, innumerable foes. Even less
well known was the status of new tank
ARMOR — May-June 1997
designs and the condition of the industrial base required to build tanks. In the
weeks after 25 June 1950, staff officers
and civilian assistants worked long
hours and weekends to get soldiers and
critical supplies moving to meet the
theater commander’s requirements. Between 7-10 July 1950, Supply Division,
G-4 Army Staff, completed 24 actions,
four of which involved either tank
status or tank production. Among them:
• Submitted a report, at the request of
the G-3, showing equipment readiness and on-hand status of certain
infantry, airborne, and armored
units in the United States.
• Informed General Ridgeway, Dep-
uty Chief of Staff that, even with
the diversion of equipment from the
Mutual Defense Assistance Program, approval of General MacArthur’s request for four divisions
at full strength probably would exhaust certain supplies in the Special
Reserves. Further informed the
Deputy Chief of Staff that immediate emphasis would have to be
placed on expediting overhaul programs, rebuild programs, renovation
of ammunition, and essential new
major end-item procurement. Any
delay in these efforts would put additional serious drains on reserves
and depot stocks in the United
• Informed the Assistant Chief of
Staff, G-4 that, for planning purposes, it would take 15 days to
move tanks from depots to western
ports of embarkation. Military Sea
Transportation Service could ship
all types of tanks from San Francisco to Yokohama in 15 days, and
to Pusan in 16 days.
• Prepared a study on the status of
tanks in the 66th, 70th, 72nd, and
73rd Tank Battalions.1
By August 1950, the United States
had power-projected the following battalion-size, heavy forces into the Ko-
rean Peninsula: 6th Tank, 70th Tank,
72nd Tank, 73rd Tank, and the 89th
Tank. The 6th Tank Battalion was
equipped with the M46 Patton; the
other battalions — to include the 64th
Tank Battalion that arrived early in November with the 3rd Infantry Division
— were about equally divided between
M4A3 Shermans and M26 Pershings.
Regiments that deployed to Korea with
their organic tank companies included:
The 9th, 23rd, and 38th Infantry Regiments, assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, and the 5th Regimental Combat
Team. An infantry regiment tank company was authorized 22 medium tanks.
This was a significant amount of combat power projected in a short time,
considering it required a minimum of
31 days to ship tanks to Pusan from the
United States.
With this tank support, United States
forces were able to stop the North Korean offensive and hold along the Naktong River line. They were outnumbered for several weeks, and it was not
until late August or early September
that the tank balance tipped in favor of
the United States and its United Nations Allies. By then, more than 500
tanks were in the Pusan perimeter, outnumbering North Korean tanks by
more than five to one. On 16 September 1950, the 1st Marine Division and
7th Infantry Division made an amphibious assault landing at Inchon and, supported by their organic tank battalions,
pushed inland rapidly, quickly retaking
Seoul, the South Korean capital. Concurrently, United States forces in the
Pusan perimeter launched a coordinated attack to the north and west to
link up with the amphibious forces. Led
by the 70th Tank Battalion, 1st Cavalry
Division, the link-up occurred in the
vicinity of Osan on 29 September.
Neither light nor medium tanks were
then in production in the United States,
and tooling for World War II models
had long since been reconverted to civilian production or disassembled. The
Army was in the progress of converting
M4 Sherman “Easy Eight”
M24 Chaffee Light Tank
M26 Pershing Medium Tank
M46 Patton Medium Tank
800 M26 Pershing tanks2 to
M46 Pattons. (An M46 Patton
was essentially an M26 Pershing
with wider tracks and a more
powerful engine.) As the tactical
situation became clearer, and it
was determined that the demand
for tanks was greater than could
be supplied, if any were to be
maintained in the strategic reserve or transferred to military
assistance programs, a decision
had to be reached on which tank
models should be put into production. Of the new series of
medium tanks being developed,
none had been fully tested and
standardized. World War II models had been thoroughly tested,
and industry knew how to build
them, but they lacked the firepower, maneuverability, and
heavy armor of the new tank designs. In both options, it would
be necessary for the U.S. industrial base to retool and set up
production facilities. The Chief
of Staff and the Secretary of the
Army decided to assume the risk
of producing the new models
without full testing.
The decision for the new light
tank was not difficult because
the T41 prototype had been
tested. Later called the M41
Walker Bulldog, in honor of
LTG Walton H. Walker, of the
Eighth Army, who was killed in
an automobile accident in Korea,
the M41 was designed to replace
the M24 Chaffee as the standard
light tank. The Walker Bulldog
weighed over 25 tons fully
loaded, was equipped with a
76mm main gun, had a crew of
four, a maximum speed of 44
mph, and a range of 100 miles.
Over 5,500 of all types were
built by the Cadillac Division of
General Motors Corporation’s
Cleveland Tank Plant, by the
late 1950s. M41s remain in service with eight countries today.3
Thought to be more difficult
was the decision of what medium tank to produce, but it actually turned out more satisfactorily. While the M26 Pershings
were being converted to M46
Pattons, a completely new medium tank, the T42, was on the
drawing boards. At the time of
the North Korean invasion, de-
sign work on the turret had been completed, but drawings for the complete
tank were not expected to be finished
before November 1950. To save time,
the Army staff decided to combine the
new turret, with an improved 90mm
gun and a new fire control system, to
what was basically the M46 Patton
hull. The resulting hybrid tank became
the M47 Patton. With a 90mm gun, a
crew of five, and a loaded weight of 50
tons, the M47 Patton had a top speed
of 37 mph and a range of 80 miles. Bypassing the pilot model, and the engineering and service board tests, the
Army ordered the M47 Patton into production on 17 July 1950. Ten months
later, the new tanks began to come off
the assembly lines. It was an additional
eleven months before the inevitable design flaws were eliminated. The Army
announced acceptance for delivery in
April 1952. At $240,000, the M47 Patton cost three times as much as the
World War II M26 Pershing. A total of
8,576 M47s was built by the American
Locomotive Company and the Chrysler
Corporation’s Detroit Tank Plant. In the
U.S. Army, the M47 Patton was soon
replaced by the M48 Patton and most
M47 Pattons were supplied to other
countries under the Mutual Aid Program. M47s remain in service with six
countries today.4
Concurrently, development continued
on other models. The most successful
was the M48 Patton, the first completely new tank developed since
World War II. It went into production
in the summer of 1952. Wider tracked
than older model tanks, the 49-ton M48
Patton had a one-piece cast hull. It was
powered by an improved version of the
Continental air-cooled petrol engine,
the Allison cross-drive transmission
from the M46/M47 tanks, and had
power steering. Its one-piece, cast turret mounted an improved 90mm gun.
The tank commander had an external
12.7mm machine gun. The tank had
five track-return rollers, a crew of four,
and a new type of range finder. Maximum speed of the M48 Patton was
29.9 mph, with a range of 134 miles.
First prototypes were completed in
1951 and first production tanks left the
assembly plants in 1952. By the time
production was completed in 1959,
11,703 tanks had been produced by the
Chrysler Corporation Plant in Newark,
Delaware; Ford Motor Company,
Michigan; Fisher Body Division of the
General Motors Corporation, Michigan;
and Alco Products, Schenectady, New
ARMOR — May-June 1997
York. M48s remain in service with 15
countries today. 5
Completing the family of new tanks
was the first heavy tank to go into production for the U.S. Army — the T43.
This tank was developed to counter Soviet heavy tank models of the IS and
T-10 series in a reinforcement role during offensive operations and in a general support role during the defense. In
1952, a heavy tank was defined as
weighing between 56 and 85 tons. The
T43 was designated the M103, heavily
armored and weighing 62 tons, with a
crew of five, and used the M48 Patton
chassis with a larger turret mounting a
120mm gun. The maximum speed of
the M103 was 29.9 mph, with a range
of 75 miles. The M103 was placed into
production in late 1952 at the Chrysler
Corporation plant in Newark, Delaware. Production was not pushed for
this tank; the new medium tanks had
priority. About 300 M103 heavy tanks
were produced and would remain in
service until 1974, when the U.S. Marines phased them out of service.
When the Korean War Armistice was
signed on 27 July 1953, none of the
new M48 or M41 tanks had reached
Korea in time to affect the fighting.
The war was fought with the M24
Chaffee, M4 Sherman, M26 Pershing,
and M46 Patton tanks. The major reason was that tanks are long lead time
major end items. The design and manufacture of the thousands of parts and
the assembly of a tank meeting strict
Army specifications could not be done
overnight. The hybrid M47 Patton took
21 months to come off the assembly
line. During the “limited mobilization”
of 1950-1953, more than ordinary delays could be expected and they impacted other areas of the industrial base
as well. These delays caused by the
“limited mobilization” included shortages of machine tools, materials, conflicts between civilian and defense
work in the allocation of limited facilities, and lack of skilled engineers, supervisors and inspectors to support the
expanding defense industrial base
while maintaining the civilian industrial
These tanks arrived too late for Korea...
M41 Light Tank
Of the four tank battalions mentioned in these actions, three eventually served in Korea, they were the
70th Tank Battalion, from July 1950December 1951; the 72nd Tank Battalion, from August 1950-through the
armistice; and the 73rd Tank Battalion, from August 1950-through the
armistice. (Appelman and Sawicki)
The M26 Pershing was a 46-ton
medium tank developed at the end of
World War II.
Variants of the M41 are in service
with Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Taiwan,
Thailand, and Uruguay. (Foss)
Variants of the M47 remain in
service with Iran, Pakistan, Somalia,
South Korea, Turkey and Yugoslavia.
Variants remain in service with
Greece, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon,
Morocco, Pakistan, Portugal, South
Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, and Vietnam. (Foss)
M47 Medium Tank
A few M47s were sent to Korea for evaluation late in the war.
ARMOR — May-June 1997
Appelman, Roy, E., South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu (June-November 1950), Center of Military History,
Foss, Christopher F., Ed., Jane’s Armor and Artillery, 1996-97, Surrey,
United Kingdom, Jane’s Information Group,
Gervasi, Tom, Arsenal of Democracy II, New
York, New York, Grove Press, Inc., 1981.
Huston, James A., The Sinews of War Army Logistics 1775-1953, Washington D.C., Government Printing Office, 1966.
Mesko, Jim, Armor in Korea: A Pictorial History, Carrollton, Texas, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1984.
Sawicki, James, A., Tank Battalions of the U.S.
Army, Dumfries, Virginia, Wyvern Publications, 1983.
Major Mark A. Olinger, Quartermaster Corps, received a
B.S. from California State
Polytechnic University at Pomona in 1983 and an Infantry
commission through ROTC.
He branch-transferred to the
Quartermaster Corps in 1988
through the Forced Alignment
Program. He is a graduate of
the U.S. Army Command and
General Staff Officer Course,
Marine Amphibious Warfare
School, Aerial Delivery and
Material Officer Course, Quartermaster Officer Advanced
Course, Airborne Course, Air
Assault Course, and the Infantry Officer Basic Course. His
assignments include command and staff positions with
Special Operations Forces at
Ft. Bragg, N.C., Panama, and
Southwest Asia, and infantry
assignments in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault),
Fort Campbell, Ky. He has
served as an operations research analyst, National Security Agency, Fort Meade,
Md.; and as support operations officer, 201st Forward
Support Battalion, 1st Infantry
Division, and support operations officer, 125th Forward
Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division, both at Fort
Riley, Kan. He is currently an
S2/3 O/C on the FSB Team at
the NTC.

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