The M48 Patton is a main battle tank that was designed in the United States. It was the third tank to be officially named after General George S. Patton, commander of theU.S. Third Army during World War II and one of the earliest American advocates for the use of tanks in battle It was a further development of the M47 Patton tank. The M48 Patton was in U.S. service until replaced by the M60. The M48 served as the U.S. Army and Marine Corps's primary battle tank during the Vietnam War. It was widely used by U.S. Cold War allies, especially other NATO countries.
The M48 Patton tank was designed to replace the previous M47 Pattons and M4 Shermans. Although largely resembling the M47, the M48 Patton was a completely new tank design. Some M48A5 models served well into the 1980s with American forces, and many various M48 Patton models remain in service in other countries. The M48 was the last U.S. tank to mount the 90 mm tank gun, with the last model, the M48A5, being upgraded to carry the new standard weapon of the M60, the 105mm gun.
The Turkish Army has the largest number of modernized M48 MBTs, with more than 1,400 M48s in its inventory. Of these, around 1,000 have been phased out or are in storage, or have been modified to ARVs.
Marines of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, riding on an M48A3 tank, Vietnam, 1966.
On 27 February 1951, OTCM #33791 initiated the design of the new tank, designated the 90mm Gun Tank T-48 (the prefix letter "T" would be replaced by the prefix "X" beginning with the M60 series tank). A deeper modernization than the M46 and the M47, the M48 featured a new hemispherical turret, new redesigned hull, and an improved suspension. The hull machine gunner position was removed, reducing the crew to 4. It was essentially a new tank. On 2 April 1953, the Ordnance Technical Committee Minutes (OTCM) order #34765 standardized the last of the Patton series tanks as the 90mm Gun Tank M48 Patton.
Nearly 12,000 M48s were built from 1952 to 1959. The early designs, up to the M48A2C's, were powered by a gasoline 12-cylinder engine which was coupled with an auxiliary 8-cylinder engine (called the "Little Joe"). The gasoline engine gave the tank a short operating range and were prone to catching fire when hit. This version was considered unreliable but numerous examples saw combat use in various Arab-Israeli conflicts. They also were prone to fire when the turret was penetrated and the hydraulic lines ruptured spewing hydraulic fluid (nicknamed "cherry juice" because of its red color) at high pressure into the crew compartment resulting in a fireball. The flashpoint was too low, less than 300 °F (150 °C), causing many burns and deaths to crew members. Beginning in 1959, most American M48s were upgraded to the M48A3 model which featured a diesel power plant. M48s with gasoline engines, however, were still in use in the US Army through 1968 and through 1975 by many West German Army units including the 124th Panzer Battalion.
In February 1963, the US Army accepted its first of 600 M48 Patton tanks that had been converted to M48A3's, and by 1964, the US Marine Corps had received 419 Patton tanks. The A3 model introduced the diesel engine, countering the earlier versions' characteristic of catching fire. These Pattons were to be deployed to battle in Vietnam.Because all M48A3 tanks were conversions from earlier models, many characteristics varied among individual examples of this type. M48A3 tanks could have either 3 or 5 support rollers on each side and might have either the early or later type headlight assemblies.
In the mid-1970s, the M48A5 upgrade was developed to allow the vehicle to carry the heavier 105 mm gun. This was designed to bring the M48s up to speed with the M60tanks then in regular use and to simplify ammunition logistics. Most of the M48s were placed into service with reserve units by this time.
By the mid-1990s, the M48s were phased out of U.S. service. Many other countries, however, continued to use the M48 models.
U.S. Marines riding atop an M48 tank, Vietnam, April 1968.
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 Armored Reconnaissance Airborne Assault Vehicles (ARAAV) in the Divisional Cavalry Squadrons. M48A3 tanks remained in service with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment until the unit was withdrawn. The M67A1 flamethrower tank (nicknamed the Zippo) was an M48 variant used in Vietnam.
Men of Troop B, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, and their M48 Patton tank move through the jungle in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, June 1969.
The M48 Patton has the distinction of playing a unique role in an event that was destined to radically alter the conduct of armored warfare. When US forces commenced redeployment operations, many of the M48A3 Pattons were turned over to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces, in particular creating the ARVN 20th Tank Regiment; which supplemented their M41 Walker Bulldog units. During the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Easter Offensive in 1972, tank clashes between NVA T-54/PT-76 and ARVN M48/M41 units became commonplace. But on 23 April 1972, tankers of the 20th Tank Regiment were attacked by an NVA infantry-tank team, which was equipped with the new 9M14M Malyutka (NATO designation: Sagger) wire guided anti-tank missile. During this battle, one M48A3 Patton tank and one M113 Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle (ACAV) were destroyed, becoming the first losses to the Sagger missile; losses that would echo on an even larger scale a year later during the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East in 1973.
A destroyed M48A3 during Vietnam war
The M48s performed admirably in Vietnam in the infantry-support role. However, there were few actual tank versus tank battles. One was between the US 1-69th Armor and PT-76 light amphibious tanks of the NVA 202nd Armored Regiment near Ben Het in 1969. The M48s provided adequate protection for its crew from small arms, mines, and rocket-propelled grenades. South Vietnamese M48s and M41s fought in the so-called Ho Chi Minh Offensive in 1975. In several incidents, the South Vietnamese Army successfully defeated NVA T-34 andT-55 tanks and even slowed the North's offensive. However since the United States Congress passed bans on the transfer of fuel and ammunition to South Vietnam, the American-made tanks were soon out of ammunition and fuel and were abandoned to the North Vietnamese Army in 1975 which put them in predictably short service of the Vietnamese People's Army after the war ended in May 1975.
M48s, alongside Australian 20 pounder (84mm) gunned Centurions of the 1st Armoured Regiment, were the only vehicles in Vietnam that could reasonably protect their crews fromland mines. They were often used for minesweeping operations along Highway 19 in the Central Highlands, a two lane paved road between An Khe and Pleiku. Daily convoys moved both ways along Highway 19. These convoys were held up each morning while the road was swept for mines. At that time, minesweeping was done by soldiers walking slowly over the dirt shoulders of the highway with hand-held mine detectors. During this slow process, convoys would build up into a dangerously inviting target for the enemy. As a result a faster method was improvised, the "Thunder Run", in which one M48 lined up on each side of the road, with one track on the dirt shoulder and the other track on the asphalt; then with all guns firing, they raced to a designated position miles away. If the M48s made it without striking a mine, the road was clear and the convoys could proceed. In most cases, an M48 that struck a land mine in these operations only lost a road wheel or two in the explosion; seldom was there any hull damage which would be considered "totaling" the tank.