The M41 Walker Bulldog was a U.S. light tank developed to replace the M24 Chaffee. It was named for General Walton Walker who died in a jeep accident in Korea. On 7 November 1950, the US Ordnance Committee Minutes (OCM) issued item #33476, redesignating the heavy, medium, and light tank, according to the main armament; the 120mm & 105mm caliber(heavy, larger-than-100mm) Gun Tanks, 90mm (medium) Gun Tanks, and the 76mm (light) Gun tanks.
While the M24 Chaffee was a successful design, its main gun was not effective enough against well armored opponents. Although the primary mission of a light tank was scouting, the U.S. Army wanted one with more powerful armament. The development of the new tank, T37, began in 1947. The vehicle was designed to be air-transportable, and the desired anti-tank capabilities were provided by installing a long 76 mm gun with an advanced rangefinder. In 1949, with the adoption of a less ambitious rangefinder, the project's designation was changed to T41. Production started in 1951 at Cadillac's Cleveland Tank Plant, and by 1953 the new tank completely replaced the M24 in theUnited States Army. Initially it was nicknamed "Little Bulldog", then renamed "Walker Bulldog" after General Walton Walker, who was killed in a jeep accident in Korea in 1950.
The M41 was an agile and well armed vehicle. On the other hand, it was noisy, fuel-hungry and heavy enough to cause problems with air transport. In 1952 work began on lighter designs (T71, T92), but those projects came to naught and were eventually abandoned.
The Walker Bulldog saw limited combat with the U.S. Army during the Korean War, but for the most part, the conflict served as a testing ground to work out the tank's deficiencies, especially with its rangefinder. At the time, it was designated as the T41, and was rushed to the battlefield even before its first test run. This was due to the fact that the North Koreans were supplied with Soviet T-34 tanks, which were superior to the M24. By 1961, 150 were delivered to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Forceto supplement their Type 61 medium tanks.
In 1964 the M41 light tank was selected to replace the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) M24 Chaffee light tank, which they had inherited from the French, who in turn had received them from the United States during the First Indochina War. The first M41A3s arrived in January 1965, equipping five ARVN squadrons by the end of the year. The M41 was an instant success with South Vietnamese armor crewmen, who found its interior to be just perfect for their smaller statures, which had been a principal criticism by US armor crewmen who had been assigned to the vehicle. This, combined with the tank's "mechanical reliability, simplicity, and excellent handling" made the Bulldog a worthy war machine.
In 1971, the ARVN and US forces commenced Operation Lam Son 719, a disruption of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) supply lines in neighboring Laos; a combination of armor and airmobile attacks on three axes into enemy held territory. The ARVN 1st Armor Brigade, accompanied by two airborne battalions and two cavalry regiments penetrated approximately 4 miles into Laos on 8 February, enemy reaction was swift, with this first engagement between NVA and ARVN tanks, the 17 M41s knocked out six T-54 tanks and sixteen lightly armored PT-76 amphibious tanks. Friendly units lost 5 M41s and 25 APCs.
By 1973, over 200 M41 light tanks remained in service with the ARVN. US units in Europe and CONUS equipped with the M41 Walker Bulldog eventually transitioned to the M48 Patton medium tank.
The M41 was exported to Brazil (300), Spain (180) Chile (60), Dominican Republic (12), Guatemala (10), New Zealand (10), The Philippines (7) Somalia (10), Taiwan (675), Thailand (200), Tunisia (10), Lebanon (20) and other countries. Many of these tanks were upgraded to prolong their life. Some are still in service.
In 1969 the US Army began replacing the M41 with the advanced, but troublesome, aluminum hulled M551 Sheridan Armored Airborne Reconnaissance Assault Vehicle (not officially listed as a light tank due to Army policy at the time). The Sheridan's main gun could fire conventional 152 mm tank shells and gun-launched missiles; the weapon could knock out main battle tanks. In addition, the M551 could swim and be air dropped.
The chassis of the M41 was used for the M42 Duster, which mounted two 40 mm anti-aircraft guns. It was also built up into the M75 Armored Personnel Carrier, one of the first enclosed box-shaped personnel carriers; that vehicle in turn was the pattern for the M113 APC, which later became the most widely produced US armored combat vehicle in history.
Also many of the drive train components, the engine the transmission and the auxiliary engine were used in the M44/M52 155 mm howitzer.
Taiwan upgrade called M41D
- M41 (1953).
- M41A1 (1954): Hydraulic turret traverse instead of the electrical one. The more compact system allowed to increase 76 mm ammunition stowage from 57 to 65 rounds.
- M41A2 (1956): Production tanks with fuel injected Continental AOS 895-3 6-cylinder gasoline engine replacing the earlier carburetor fuel system. This designation also applied to earlier M41s that had their engines upgraded to the fuel injection system.
- M41A3: M41A1 tanks that had their engines upgraded to fuel injection.
- M41 DK-1: Danish upgrade. New engine, thermal sights, NBC protection, side skirts.
- Type 64 (Experimental): Taiwanese development modified to local manufacturing techniques with improved fire controls, a 520 hp diesel engine, co-axial machine gun replaced with T57 7.62mm GPMG, and appliqué turret armors and side skirts. Did not enter mass production and is not to be confused with another M42-based light tank conversion bearing the same designation.
- M41C: Brazilian upgrade. In its final version, original gasoline engine replaced with Brazilian build Saab-Scania DS-14A O4 eight cylinder diesel engine with modifications to the rear hull and electrical system. Upgrade of the transmission package allowing for a top road speed of 70 km/hour. Night vision and a laser range finder added to the gunsight. Additional spaced armor added to the forward part of the hull, glacis plate and turret. Four smoke grenade dischargers were added to each side of the turret. Replacing the original 76 mm M32 gun with a 90 mm Ca 76/90 M32 BR3 gun with thermal sleeve and muzzle brake made in Brazil.
- M41D: Republic of China Army upgrade. New locally produced gun, new targeting systems, Detroit Diesel 8V-71T diesel engine, reactive armor.
- M42 Duster (1952): Self-propelled anti-aircraft defense weapon system based on the M41 chassis. Two Bofors 40 mm guns were mounted in the turret.
Also Brazilian, German, Spanish, Uruguayan upgraded variants, usually with a larger gun and/or a diesel engine.
Another upgrade package for the M41 was developed by the Nimda Group, Israel, solely for export. Includes a new fire control system for the main gun, diesel engine/transmission power pack and cooling system.
Map of M41 operators in blue with former operators in red