M36 90mm Gun Motor Carriage

Introduction and Development
Variants
Combat Record - Europe 1944-45
Post-war

Introduction and Development

The M36 90mm Gun Motor Carriage was the most powerful American Tank Destroyer of the Second World War and was produced by mounting a 90mm anti-aircraft gun on the chassis of the M10 3in Gun Motor Carriage.

One of the first attempts to mount a 90mm gun was the T53 project of 1942. This would have carried a 90mm gun in a dual purpose mount that would have allowed it to be used as either an anti-tank weapon or an anti-aircraft weapon, but the project had a low priority and was eventually abandoned.

M36 Gun Motor Carriage in Bitburg, February 1945
M36 Gun Motor Carriage
in Bitburg,
February 1945

Work began on the T71 90mm Gun Motor Carriage in October 1942. This was a more straightforward vehicle that carried a 90mm gun on the chassis of the M10A1 Gun Motor Carriage, and would have been a very valuable weapon if it had been available in large numbers in 1944. Unfortunately in 1943 neither the Tank Destroyer Centre nor the US Armored Force believed that they needed a more powerful anti-tank gun, and were instead confident that the 75mm gun of the Sherman and the 76mm gun of the M18 Hellcat would be perfectly adequate. Early encounters with the heavily armoured Tiger I in 1943 had slightly shaken that complacency, but work on the T71 still progressed rather slowly.

Work began to speed up in March 1943 and a prototype was ready for trials at the Aberdeen Proving Ground by the summer of 1943. In November 1943 the T71 was accepted for limited procurement, and it wasn't standardized until June 1944, when it became the M36 90mm Gun Motor Carriage.

M36 90mm Gun Motor Carriage crossing the Rhine M36 90mm Gun Motor Carriage crossing the Rhine

The T71 had a new turret with curved sides. The counterweights used on the M10 were replaced with a large bustle at the rear of the turret, which acted both as a counterweight and a store for ammunition. A pedestal mount for an anti-aircraft gun was mounted on the top of the bustle. The turret had both manual and powered traverse.

In November 1943 a production contract for 500 M36s was given to GM's Grand Blanc Tank Arsenal. These were to be built using the chassis of 500 M10A1s that were already under production, but it turned out that 200 of these vehicles already had their 3in turrets. Grand Blanc was able to produce 300 M36s using the remaining vehicles.

In order to speed up production Massey-Harris were given a contract to convert existing M10A1s and convert them into M36s. Massey-Harris produced 500 M36s between June and December 1944.

In July 1944 a captured Panther was used for weapons tests in front of an audience of senior Allied commanders. Eisenhower was alarmed to discover how well the German tank held up to 76mm fire, and a sense of urgency finally entered the M36 programme. The first vehicles reached France in September 1944 and they were an immediate success. 

In order to deal with the increase in demand the American Locomotive Company was given a contract to convert M10A1s to M36s, and it produced 413 between October and December 1944. American Loco also produced 237 of the modified M36B2 between April and May 1945.

M36 90mm GMC of US 3rd Armoured Division, Lemgo
M36 90mm GMC of
US 3rd Armoured Division,
Lemgo

The sudden urgent demand for 90mm guns also led to the production of the M36B1, which was produced by installing a M36 turret on a standard M4A3 Sherman chassis (without the modified superstructure of the M10A1). Some of these vehicles reached the front, serving in France and Germany late in the war. 187 of these vehicles were built at Grand Blanc between October and December 1944. The final firm to produce the M10 was Montreal Loco Works, where 85 were built in May-June 1945.

The 90mm gun was capable of destroying every type of German tank. The Panther could be damaged at over 1,500 yards, while the side armour of the Tiger II turret was penetrated at 1,000 yards. The 90mm gun also produced less smoke than the 3in gun, meaning that the M36 was less likely to give away its position by firing.

Variants

M36

The M36 was the standard version, using the M10A1 chassis with the new 90mm turret.

M36B1

The M36B1 mounted the standard M36 turret on the chassis of an M4A3 Sherman tank. A total of 187 were built at Grand Blanc between October and December 1944. These vehicles retained the standard armour of the M4A3, making them the best protected American tank destroyer of the Second World War.

M36B2

The M36B2 was built on the chassis of the M10. It was otherwise similar to the standard M36, but with armoured hatches that could be used to protect the crew against small arms fire. Sources differ on the number that were produced, varying from a low of 237 to a high of 724.

Combat Record - Europe 1944-45

The M36 90mm GMC reached France in September 1944. It entered combat in significant numbers in October after its crews had been trained to use the new vehicle. Some units entered combat for the first time with the M36, while others converted from the M10 3in GMC.

The M36 was used during General Patton's attack on Metz, which finally fell on 19 November.

M36 90mm Gun Motor Carriage in Munich, April 1945
M36 90mm Gun Motor Carriage
in Munich, April 1945

The M36 saw combat during the Battle of the Bulge, serving with the 8th Armoured Division during the fighting at St. Vith. It was judged to have been the most successful tank destroyer during the battle, with the ability to penetrate German armour at useful distances, but the thin armour was still seen as a problem. By mid-December only 236 M36s had entered service, but they were more valuable than their numbers would suggest, capable of dealing with the heavy German tanks more easily than larger numbers of the M10 or M18.

The M36 was used by the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion, which had fully converted by January 1945. This battalion took part in Operation Dragoon - the invasion of the South of France, fighting alongside the 3rd Infantry Division, and supported that division to the end of the war.

By the end of the war the M36 was in use with the 601st, 607th, 610th, 628th, 629th, 630th, 645th, 654th, 656th, 691st (one company), 692nd, 702nd, 703td, 704th (partly), 705th (partly), 771st, 772nd, 773rd (partly), 774th, 776th, 802nd, 803rd, 809th (partly), 813th, 814th, 818th and 899th Tank Destroyer Battalions.

The US tank destroyer programme produced some useful weapons, but overall it served to distract American commanders and designers away from the task of producing a suitable tank for the battlefields of 1943-45. The lower priority given to such a vehicle meant that the M26 Pershing with the powerful 90mm gun only entered service in February 1945, far too late to have a significant impact on the fighting. The tank destroyers were far more useful as infantry support weapons than in their original role.

The M36 wasn't used in the Pacific, although it had been intended to use it during the planned invasion of Japan.

Post-war

The M36B2 was used by the South Korean army during the Korean War. These were modified vehicles with an improved gun with a muzzle brake and fume extractor. They reached South Korea after the first phase of the war and so weren't involved in the battle against the original Communist offensive.

The French sent a regiment of M36B2s to Indochina in November 1950, to counter the fear of a Chinese invasion after the Chinese intervention in Korea. The Chinese didn't sent armour into Indochina and so the M36B2s were used as infantry support vehicles, acting as mobile artillery for the French army. 

Pakistan received fifty M36s and used them to equip the 25th and 11th Cavalry. These units were very effective during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, but a number were lost in combat and the remaining vehicles were retired between 1965 and resumption of fighting in 1971.

A number of M36s went to the Yugoslav People's Army in the 1950s. Some were still in use at the start of the Yugoslav Civil War in the early 1990s and were used by the Croatian Army.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 May 2014), M36 90mm Gun Motor Carriage , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_M36_90mm_GMC.html

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