In today’s article, my goal is to review the top 10 Army tanks of all time, as I see it. These tanks belong to the U.S. Army.
There’s nothing more intimidating than a battle tank. Fast, strong, and tons of firepower, not many soldiers or weapon systems can compete against an Army tank. In many cases, a tank can destroy the enemy before they even know the tank is in the vicinity.
Through the years, tanks have evolved in the U.S. Army. What started as something basic, with minimal fire power and many design flaws, has evolved into a powerful, deadly weapon system on the battlefield.
Top 10 U.S. Army Tanks of All Time
Putting this list together was a blast. I don’t expect you to agree with my ranking 100%. By all means, share your views and insights at the end of this article by leaving a comment.
# 10: Ford Model 1918
Originally 15,000 of these two-man tanks were ordered but only 15 of these tanks were ever produced. One of the first tanks designed by the United States, it was developed in preparation of a potential shortage of the French Renault FT-17 tank during World War I.
Weighing in at three tons, this lightweight tank measured 6’ high x 6’ wide x 14’ long. The main armament was a .30 cal. Browning machine gun and it could only carry the driver and gunner. Its average speed was a whopping eight miles an hour! The grandfather of tanks, you must start somewhere, and that is why the Ford Model 1918 lands at #10 on our list.
The original machine gun which had been selected was the 0.30 caliber M1917 Marlin (a stripped-down version of the M1895 Marlin), a rather ancient and fairly obsolete weapon that found use in both aircraft and tanks for the USA. This gun was soon switched to the 0.30 caliber Browning machine gun instead. Emulating the French Renault FT a little more was the consideration of making a version with a 37 mm gun as well. ~ The Online Tank Museum
# 9: M24 Chaffee
The M24 Chaffee light tank was developed in 1943 but didn’t reach Europe until 1944 toward the end of World War II. Used by reconnaissance units in the European and Pacific Theatre, the tank had a crew of five and was employed by U.S. troops from the end of WWII through the Korean War and up to the 1970’s by other countries.
The development of the M24 Chaffee was boosted by the growing need to carry larger munitions. The armament included a 75mm main gun and two 7.62mm machine guns. It was eventually adapted with a 12.7mm anti-aircraft heavy machine gun mounted to the turret, and a 51mm smoke grenade launching mortar.
One of the most prominent identifying features of the M24 Chaffee was the large steering assembly access hatch in the glacis plate. It was octagonal in shape, rimmed with bolts, and had lifting handles on either side. The 75mm gun M6 in the M24 was a tank-mounted version of the 75mm gun M5 that was fielded in the B-25H Mitchell bomber. Former M5 guns mounted in Chaffees are identifiable by a grooved collar situated close the muzzle which allowed the gun to be mounted in the B-25H’s concentric recoil mechanism. ~ American Fighting Vehicle Database
# 8: M26 Pershing
Named for Gen. John J. Pershing, the founder of the U.S. Army Tank Corps in WWI, it weighs in at nearly 42-tons. Initially classified as a heavy tank, the M26 Pershing was reclassified as a medium tank after World War II. The heavy armor used for protection outweighed the the engine capabilities thereby causing it to run slower and be vulnerable against heavy tanks.
The Pershing was used as an auxiliary mid-range tank to support the heavier tanks in battle. Holding a crew of five, the armament includes an M3 90mm anti-aircraft/anti-tank gun, one Browning .50 cal. machine gun, and two Browning .30 cal. machine guns. The Army had gotten complacent with the M4 Sherman tank so the development of the Pershing was essentially a rush job to meet the demands for the end of WWII.
Compared to other tier 8 medium tanks, the Pershing’s armor is quite solid and capable of bouncing low-tier guns. However, like all other medium tanks, it does not fare well on its own and will easily get destroyed if caught in the open by tank destroyers or heavy tanks. Therefore, it acts better as a mobile mid-range sniper or as support for heavier tanks. ~ Wargaming.net
# 7: M4 General Sherman
The M4 General Sherman tank was the heavy hitter of World War II. After the fall of France in 1940, America went into mass production of a new tank that could engage the German armored divisions. It carried the commander, the main gunner, co-driver who doubled as a hull gunner, loader, and driver. The main armament was a 75mm main gun on a fully traversing turret – something that was lacking in the M3. It weighs in at approximately 33-tons and had a maximum road speed of 25 mph.
It’s interesting to note that the Sherman had several derogatory nicknames like The Burning Grave, Ronson, and Tommycooker as they would blow up upon direct hits. Not good! It was first thought that gas engines were the cause but it was actually on-board ammunition that caused terrible explosions which might launch the turret up in the air. Still, just over 49,000 of these main battle tanks served in the European and Pacific Theatres from 1942 through 1946.
By 1943 the Sherman was getting past its prime. The gun, a dual purpose 75mm, was outclassed by comparable German weapons and was not powerful enough for the thick armour in later vehicles. An officer at Lulworth Camp came up with the idea of fitting the British 76.2mm, known as the 17 pounder. The new design would be known as the Sherman Firefly. ~ The Tank Museum
# 6: M1128 Stryker Combat Vehicle
If the strict definition of a tank requires tracks then the M1126 Stryker doesn’t qualify – but – we’re going to include it on the Top 10 anyway. Here is why: The face of war is changing and the need for urban mobile protection and firepower with the ability to maneuver is greatly needed. The beauty of Stryker vehicles is the ability to adapt to the present need.
In addition to the mobile gun system (MGS), there are nine variations as an infantry carrier vehicle (ICV). As an MGS, the turret has a low profile and includes a 105mm main gun and a 50 cal. machine gun. It can also be fitted with two M6 smoke grenade launchers. Outfitted with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons detectors, it also has gunner periscopes, day and thermal modular sights and because it uses wheels, the Stryker team does not require a track mechanic.
In the early seventies, the Swiss company MOWAG developed a new armored personnel carrier and multipurpose wheeled chassis. The designers carefully considered every detail and nuance when deciding where to place the armor, what shape the body should be, as well as the ergonomics and the chassis. This new armored vehicle was called the Piranha and it became a benchmark for all future wheeled armored vehicles. It inspired the Canadian BMP LAV III, which then served as a basis for American military vehicle research. ~ Armored Warfare
# 5: M3 & M5 Stuart
The M3 Stuart was an American tank used by the British during World War II and eventually the Allied forces once the U.S. entered the war. The Stuart was the first in tank-to-tank combat against enemy forces. The redesign of the tank was named the M5 so as not to be confused with the M4 Sherman.
It weighed 14.7 tons. Its armaments included a 37-mm main gun, and no less than five 7.62mm machine guns. Essentially, the only difference between the M3 and M5 is an updated engine and turret design. These tanks were supposed to be replaced by the M24 Chaffee but the volume in production allowed this tank to stay in theatre until the end of the war. As a light tank, the Stuart served its purpose supporting the infantry and being utilized as a scout tank.
The M3/M5 Stuart Light Tanks were developed from the M2 series of Light Tanks and Combat Cars. In 1939 the US Army had 4 very similar AFVs in service. The infantry had the M2A2 and the M2A3 Light tanks, whilst the U.S. Cavalry had the M1 and M2 Combat Cars. The light tanks had twin turrets, one mounting a .50 heavy machine gun and the other mounting a .30 machine gun. The Combat Cars had a single turret mounting both machine guns. ~ TankNutDave
# 4: M2 & M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV)
Why is it called a “vehicle” rather than a tank? Weighing in at nearly 25-tons and a top speed of about 40-mph, this light armored vehicle was made for speed with the ability to cross just about any terrain. It has amphibious capabilities with inflatable pontoons that may be fitted to the front and sides of the vehicle.
Armaments on the vehicle include an M242 Bushmaster chain gun, twin target sensitive, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) anti-tank missile launchers, and 7.62mm machine guns. Additionally there were two M257 smoke grenade launchers.
It went into production in 1981, had modifications in 1988, and served our troops well during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The M2 was designed to carry infantry to the battlefield, provide cover, and suppress enemy fighting vehicles and tanks. The M3 is practically the twin of M2 but dubbed the CFV for cavalry. Instead of carrying six infantrymen it holds two scouts and more ammunition.
The M2 is primarily used to close with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver. The primary tasks performed by M3 as part of a troop and/or squadron are reconnaissance, security, and flank guard missions. The M2 carries three crew (commander, gunner and driver) plus six combat equipped troops. The M3 carries three crew plus two scouts. The Bradley fighting vehicles are designed to operate at the same speed as the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank and provides better protection than the U.S. Army’s M113 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC). ~ Aeroweb
# 3: M551 General Sheridan
The M551 General Sheridan weighs about 16-tons with a top speed of approximately 43-mph. The light tank has an aluminum body and steel turret; it is small enough and light enough to be transported anywhere in the world by air.
Fully amphibious, it was developed in the early 1960s and used primarily as a reconnaissance vehicle with a 152mm M81 gun/missile launcher. Additionally, it carried a 7.62mm M240 machine gun and 12.7mm M2 HB anti-aircraft machine gun. Being so light, firing the 152mm caused the entire vehicle to recoil. Needless to say, the big gun was only fired when absolutely necessary.
The crew of four was often vulnerable to mines and heavy machine-gun rounds because of the thinner aluminum hull. Regardless, ground troops appreciated the direct-fire support offered by the M551. Though the Sheridan was getting phased out in 1978, the Army 82nd Airborne Division continued to use them through Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
The Sheridan demonstrated that it possessed a number of advantages and over the vehicles it replaced. It packed far heavier firepower than the ACAVs. The Sheridans HEAT round was extremely effective against pillboxes and bunkers, while the beehive and canister rounds could mow down waves of enemy infantry. It was faster and more maneuverable than the M48A3. It also had a reliable track system—few Sheridans ever threw a track. ~ The National Museum of the United States Army
# 2: M48 Patton
A main battle tank, the M48 Patton was named after General George S. Patton and went into production to replace both the M47 Patton and M4 Sherman in 1952. With a complete redesign from the M47, it offered a curved design to carom ballistics and better protect the tank. It weighs 45-tons and holds a crew of four.
The main armament includes a 90mm T54 main gun, a .50 cal. Browning machine gun, and a .30 cal. M73 machine gun. There were over 600 Patton tanks used during the Vietnam War; first used by the American troops, then eventually the South Vietnamese. With gas and munitions shortages they were largely abandoned by the south and commandeered by the North Vietnamese. Other countries who commissioned the M48 Patton include Greece, South Korea, Morocco, Israel, Turkey, and the Republic of China.
The M48s saw extensive action during the Vietnam War, over 600 Pattons would be deployed with US Forces during the war. The initial M48s landed with the US Marine 1st and 3rd Tank Battalions in 1965; the Marine 5th Tank Battalion would later become a reinforcement unit. Remaining Pattons deployed to South Vietnam were in three U.S. Army battalions, the 1-77th Armor near the DMZ, the 1-69th Armor in the Central Highlands, and the 2-34th Armor near the Mekong Delta. Each battalion consisted of approximately fifty seven tanks. M48s were also used by Armored Cavalry Squadrons in Vietnam, until replaced by M551 Sheridan tanks. The M67A1 flamethrower tank (nicknamed the Zippo) was an M48 variant used in Vietnam. ~ Fandom
# 1: M1 Abrams
Finally, we reach our number one choice in the Top 10 Army Tanks of All Time: the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. Produced in 1980, it didn’t really see any action until 1990 on the advent of Kuwait being invaded by Iraq.
There were many concerns, mainly sand. Would the tank maneuver in the desert? Would it prevent the armament from discharging properly? Would it affect the electronic components critical to the tank?
Nicknamed The Beast, Dracula, and Whispering Death, the M1 surpassed expectations, especially with the modifications of the following versions M1A1, M1A1 HA, and M1A2. In addition to being quiet and effective, they had a top speed of 45-mph despite being 60+ tons. The FLIR sights, laser range finder, thermal imaging night sight, and optical day sight allowed the crew to continue fighting through limited visibility, whether night time fighting, dust, smoke, but also through the heavy black smoke from the burning oil wells.
The Abrams Main Battle Tank closes with and destroys the enemy using mobility, firepower, and shock effect. The Abrams is a full-tracked, low-profile, land combat assault weapon enabling expeditionary Warfighters to dominate their adversaries through lethal firepower, unparalleled survivability, and audacious maneuver. The Abrams tank sends a message to those who would oppose the United States as to the resolve, capability, and might of the U.S. Army. A 1,500-horsepower turbine engine, 120 mm main gun and special armor make the Abrams tank particularly lethal against heavy armor forces…Provides the lethality, survivability, and fightability necessary to defeat advanced threats well into the future. The Abrams tank is the Army’s primary ground combat system. ~ USAASC
In conclusion, these are the top 10 Army Tanks of all time, in the U.S. Army. Tanks are an important weapon system on the battlefield. Their firepower and maneuverability make them difficult to defend. Without tanks, our Army wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as they are today.
Which Army tank on my list is your favorite and why? Which tank did I accidentally leave out? Leave a comment below to let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you.
Must Read Books About Tanks
- Tanks: 100 Years of Evolution
- Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of WW2
- Tanks: The Definitive Visual History of Armored Vehicles