Top Ten U.S. Tanks of All Time

Here’s a spoiler alert for you:  We could probably write an entire piece about one outstanding U.S. tank of all time, the M1 Abrams, but it isn’t the only tank worth mentioning.  The United States has produced light to main battle tanks since the advent of World War I and those vehicles deserve some recognition too.  Without further ado, we present the Top 10 U.S. Tanks of All Time.

#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 8 miles an hour!  The grandfather of tanks, you have to start somewhere, and that is why the Ford Model 1918 lands at #10 on our list.

# 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.

#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, is 28’4.5”l x 11’6”w, and just over 9’ high.  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.

#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.

#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.

#5  M3 and 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, was 15’11”l x 7’6”w x 8’5”h; its armaments included a 37mm 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.

#4  M2 and 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.  The vehicle dimensions are 21.16’l x 11.83’w x 9.74’h.  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 field, 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.

#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 aluminium 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 60s 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 aluminium 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.

#2  M48 Patton

A main battle tank, the M48 Patton was named after Gen. 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, is 30’6”l x 12’w x 10’2”h, 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.

#1  M1 Abrams

Finally, we reach our number one choice in the Top Ten U.S. 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.

Final thoughts

Finding the top 10 U.S. tanks of all time was quite a challenge.  Parameters for this list were based on survivability for the crew, breakthroughs in technology, design or armament, deployment into the battlefield, and the successes of their campaigns.

Research sources were found at:
American Heroes Channel  http://www.ahctv.com
How Stuff Works: Science: Military  http://science.howstuffworks.com/military-channel.htm
Military Factory  http://www.militaryfactory.com

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9 thoughts on “Top Ten U.S. Tanks of All Time”

  1. This article made me go do a bit of research on tanks in general. I find it interesting that, as Jeff says in his comment, the first American tanks weren’t appreciated as much as they might have been. But I’m guessing that’s because they weren’t the first tanks developed. Britain and France actually developed the first tanks for WWI, and the United States only got in on the action when Allied forces started running short of French tanks. I do have to say that the pinnacle of tank design, the M1 Abrams, is an amazing vehicle and definitely deserves the designation of number one.

  2. Great information. I was unaware of much of the information given. From my own personal knowledge I would say excluding the M1 and the Bradley and maybe some of the "newer" tanks the US tanks were always considered second best. In WW2 our tanks struggled to keep up with the German and Russian models.

    I think it took Desert Storm before the world woke up to how good our tanks really were. Although in the changing climate of warfare one wonders if this list might stay the way it is for a while. There has been less call for heavy tanks and more need for quick hitting speed. But, as history shows, you never can tell what the next war will need.

  3. This was a well written list. I never realized some of this information. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. Okay. So I just need to know: is number ten on your list (the Ford Model 1918) made by the same Ford company that made the Ford Model T? If so, that is a really neat thing to learn today. (Please don’t judge me: I am not an expert on military history, but I found this article to be interesting.) I wonder why so few of the original 150,000 order were actually produced.

  5. This is a great list of tanks Meredith. While the M1, Bradley and Stryker are all pretty awesome, the other tanks on this list were also very awesome when they first came out. It’s pretty exciting to think what tanks will be like in another thirty to forty years. Great post.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Chuck & Greg! The timing on the article gave me booku points with my veteran – especially with the launch of the mini-series The World Wars on the History Channel. I was like, ‘Hey – that’s a Ford Model 1918 there.’ I must admit, after reading up on the Stryker I seriously want to go romping through the woods & trails with one! Forget quads – I want a tank!

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