The M24 “Chaffee” light tank is a United States produce tank that was first used during World War II. The group that actually produced this for the U.S. was actually Cadillac. While the Chaffee was produced for and during World War II it also happened to see action in the Korean War and in the Vietnam War. The Chaffee was the best light tank produced by the United States during the time of World War II.
During the earlier years of World War II, the light tanks that were produced by the United States were the M3 and the M5. Both of these tanks, while they were good, ended up having many major failures during the war. The response to these failures was for the Ordinance Department to begin the development of a new light tank with the purpose of flank security and exploitation in mind. The first tanks that came out of this development process were the T7 and the M7, but the T7 ended up being reclassified as a medium tank and the M7 ended up being a failure. The Ordinance department then decided to go back to the drawing board for the requirement of the light tank. They ended up having companies compete by submitting designs for the new tank. The company that won ended up being Cadillac by designing a tank that combined some of the features of the M5 and the M5A1 tanks, this effort resulted in the creation of the two-pilot vehicle the T24(Green, 2000).
One of the aspects that was taken from the M5A1 because of its dependability was the twin Cadillac V-8 engines which ended up being specifically requested. The armor for the Chaffee was one inch for the front and sides, ¾ inch for the back, ½ inch for the top and floor for the body, where the armor for the turrets was 1 ½ inches in the front and 1 inch on the sides. The armor is one area they made big changes in when compared to the M5 because they changed the angles of the armor drastically to give it a better slope in order to improve the deflection of the armor. The tank carried multiple types of ammunition in it which were forty-eight rounds for the main gun and around 4,200 rounds of .30 and .50 caliber machine gun rounds. The Chaffee also carried some other weapons for the tanks crew to use, including four .30 caliber submachine guns and an exterior .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine gun on the top of the turret. Due to the tanks twin V-8 engines, which had a maximum speed of 35 mph, and its 110gal fuel capacity the Chaffee had a range of 100-175 miles, but that could change depending on the terrain it was going through (Berndt, 1994). The T24 was the very first ground vehicle to utilize the M6 75-mm gun which was originally designed to be mounted inside of a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. The T24 ended up being so successful in its testing that the Ordinance Department went ahead and authorized the production of the vehicle now designated as the M24 “Chaffee” (Green, 2000).
The M24 “Chaffee” was only produced in during 1944-1945 for the main purpose of being used in helping in the war in Europe sooner. When they were first authorized for production, they were only authorized for the production of 1,000 M24s, but that number was pretty quickly increased to 5,000 tanks. The production of the M24 Chaffee actually began in March of 1944 by both the Cadillac and the Massey-Harris Company. By the time the war was over the two companies had produced a total of 4,371 M24s and its variants (Green, 2000). In February of 1945 there was a detailed study done by the Ordinance Department to see about partially dismantling an M24 light tank including the required equipment for dismantling and reassembling them, for handling different parts, and fastening them securely in place for transport by glider (United States 1947). One variation of the M24 that was created was to be an antiaircraft vehicle. This variant was the 40mm gun motor carriage M19. This vehicle had a twin 40mm automatic gun mount with a full 360 degrees of rotation. The Chaffee also got that nickname from the British after the first commander of the armored force United States Army Major-General Adna R. Chaffee Jr, who had died in August of 1941 from cancer (Green, 2018).
The first M24s to arrive in Europe ended up being very well received by the American tank operators due the cast improvement they were over the M3 and M5 tanks. In a report form World War II, a combat engagement between some M24s and German tanks by an army officer: “I commanded a company composed of eight M5 and eight M24 light tanks. In our only clash with armor, one of my M24s engaged a German Mark IV frontally at 200 yards. The M24 got off the first rounds, hitting the Mark IV on the front and ricocheting off. This apparently stunned the crew, since we were able to get a second round off before the German tank fired. The second round set the Mark IV on fire. Later examination showed that the first shot struck the heaviest front armor and pushed it in about two inches, but did not penetrate. The second round hit a little higher, near the driver’s hatch, and did penetrate.” (Green, 2000).
During World War II one of the main battalions armored vehicles, such as light tanks, were relegated to were known as mechanized cavalry units. The light tanks that were placed into these units were then deployed in reconnaissance squadrons, armored divisions, and cavalry groups. The first tanks used in these for World War II were the M3 and M5 Stuarts, which had thin armor and a 37-mm main gun. By the end of the war the United States started to replace these with an improved light tank, the M24 Chaffee. The Chaffee was an improvement due to its 75-mm main gun and slightly better armor. Prior to 1948 is was standard for the reconnaissance platoons to have three scout cars as part of them, but starting in 1948 they were replaced with two M24 light tanks (McGarth 2008). One of the most well-liked properties of the M24 Chaffee was its ruggedness, which was described by the headquarters of the 744th Light Tank Battalion: “The tank has demonstrated the quality of ruggedness time and time again. It has been able to remain in the fight with minor maintenance difficulties and even when hit by anti-tank weapons. In one instance a tank received three direct hits from an anti-tank gun. The right front and left rear bogie wheels were knocked off, but the tank was able to proceed under its own power to a place where it was repaired and put back in action in less than 12 hours. In another action a tank received two direct hits in the suspension system, but was not put out of commission.” (Green, 2018).
Early on in Vietnam War most of the M24 light tanks that were used there by the United States and the South Vietnamese army had been brought by the French. Many of these tanks were already part of South Vietnamese armored units which were reorganized by the U.S. into armored cavalry regiments with each having one squadron of M24 tanks. The tanks ended up becoming a bit of a problem by 1964 because many of the M24’s the French had left had become maintenance headaches. They became headaches due to the fact that the replacement parts were hard to come by since they were no longer in the U.S. supply system. These mechanical problems along with the M24’s difficulty with moving cross-country lead to South Vietnamese tank squadrons being ineffective. These problems lead to the M24’s being replaced with M41A3 tanks in January 1965 (Starry 1979). These tanks were even used in the Vietnam War by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam in their own reconnaissance squadron which was equipped with a troop of World War II era M24 light tanks (McGarth 2008).
At the beginning of the Korean War, North Korea made its decision to attack the Republic of Korea when they did on July 25 1950 due to the fact that the U.S. forces present were currently weak in tanks. This was due to the fact that there were multiple tank companies, which were mainly made of M24 light tanks, that had been moved to Japan for occupational duty. There weren’t many United States tanks involved in the fighting until the latter part of August 1950 when there were around 500 U.S. tanks in the Pusan Perimeter (Stubbs 1969).
This tank proved to be the best light tank that was created by the United States during the time of World War II. Many of the improvements they made when designing this tank are proof of that, but the fact that the tankers gave the Chaffee so much praise in comparison to the M3 and M5 should be enough evidence as to why this was the best light tank they had produced. Another factor that helps to prove this is the fact that this tank managed to keep being used all the way until the Korean War.
- Green, Michael, and Gladys Green. Weapons of Pattons Armies. MBI Pub., 2000.
- Green, Michael. American Tanks & AFVs of World War II. Osprey Publishing, 2018.
- Berndt, Thomas. American Tanks of World War II. Zenith Imprint, 1994.
- McGarth, John J. (2008). Scout Out!: The Development of Reconnaissance Units in Modern Armies
- Starry, Donn A. (1979). Mounted Combat in Vietnam
- United States. Department of the Army. Office of Military History. (1947). United States Army in World War II
- Stubbs, Mary Lee (1969). Armor Cavalry Part 1: Regular Army and Army Reserve