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M3 Stuart Tanks : Prowlers of the Pacific Island Hopping Campaign

M3 Stuart Tanks

The M3A1 was an upgrade from earlier M3 Stuart tanks. One of those was the addition of a kidney shaped slab of armor atop the gun mantlet. The driver and bow gunner’s hatches are open for convenience here. In combat situations, they would be closed shut, obviously.
M3A1 “Stuart” Light tanks of the 9th Marine Defense Battalion during operations in the New Georgia Campaign (Jun-Oct 43), Solomon Islands.  
The bars across every 5-6 track links were called “grousers”. They were bolted onto the normal tracks and gave the tanks better traction in slippery conditions.

The Japanese made great use of defending the thick jungle of the islands — building up reinforced bunkers of thick logs — which could mostly withstand the relatively small munitions of the 37mm armed M3A1 Stuarts.

The Japanese defenders also resorted to near-suicidal swarming attacks on the tanks in the confines of the undergrowth.  

The close quarters terrain is very evident in this photo. Enemy infantry could be atop attackers very quickly. The M3A1s were small enough to navigate the tight quarters — but the downside was their main gun (M6 37mm gun) was not powerful enough to KO enemy bunkers unless at point blank range and into their apertures.

They would attack them with grenades, use bayonets to try to pry open hatches/view ports, jam poles/logs into the suspension, or use small explosive satchels — all to little effect.  

The M3A1s normally had a full set of fenders above the tracks. The 9th Marine Defense Battalion seems to have removed them from its Stuarts — perhaps to lessen mud accumulation?

The Marine tankers also adopted tactics to overwatch fellow tanks.  When Japanese infantry would swarm onto a fellow tank, follow-on tanks would hose them down with light machine gun fire (.30 cal).  Marines reported returning from battle with their Stuarts covered in blood from enemy soldiers.

This is what would be a typical view of one of the Marine tankers, following a unit mate into combat. The crew would be alert to fire onto any swarming enemy infantry.

This was the last widespread use of Stuarts by the Marines as the larger M4 medium tank variants whose 75mm guns were devastating in most circumstances.  

Later, Japanese tactics evolved with better anti-tank weapons, mines and AT guns as well.

M3 Stuart Tanks Written by Roy Chow

A modern photo — one of the leftover Marine M3A1s still standing watch on the island.

The M3 Stuart, officially Light Tank, M3:

Engine: Twin Cadillac Series 42; 220 hp (160 kW) at 3,400 rpm

Armor: 0.375 to 2.0 in (9.5 to 50.8 mm)

Fuel capacity: 89 U.S. gallons (340 liters; 74 imperial gallons)

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