Stuart Light Tank

Introduction
Combat
North Africa
Far East
Europe
Italy
Eastern Front
Other Users
Australian Use
Variants

The Stuart Light Tank was the British designation for the American M3 and M5 Light Tanks, the first tank to be received in large numbers after the start of Lend-Lease and an important addition to the British armoured forces in North Africa in 1941-42. The Stuart was soon outclassed by more modern German tanks, but remained in use as a reconnaissance tank to the end of the war.

Introduction

After the introduction of Lend Lease the British ordered 100 M2A4 Light Tanks and as many M3 Light Tanks as could be spared. 280 of the first 538 M3s to be produced reached the British. In July 1941 84 were sent to the Middle East, where they were an invaluable addition to the strength of the 8th Army. The British decided to give their new American tanks names in order to avoid confusion between the M3 Light Tank and M3 Medium Tank. The M3 Light Tank became the General Stuart, normally shortened to just Stuart, while the M3 Medium Tank became the Lee or the Grant. The Americans also recognised the potential for confusion, and the M4 Light Tank was redesignated as the M5 to avoid a clash with the M4 Sherman Medium Tank.

The Stuart fell between the two main types of British tanks. Its armour was too thin for it to quality as an infantry tank, but its small turret and short range limited its use as a cruiser tank. It was nearer to the cruiser tank, and so was originally used in that role. A number of modifications were made to British Stuarts. The commander was given a seat so the co-driver could act as the gunner in combat. The sponson guns were normally removed to increase the amount of internal storage. Fittings for external storage were welded to the hull, including storage for extra water and a blanket box. A mounting frame for a sun shield was added as were sand shields. After Operation Crusader they were given smoke mortars and more external storage racks.

As in American service the Stuart was quickly left behind by developments in German weapons and armour. In 1941 it could just about cope, but it was outclassed by the Panzer IV with long 75mm gun and became increasingly vulnerable on the battlefield. As more medium tanks became available it was no longer used as a cruiser tank and instead became a scout tank. It was also used as the basis for Kangaroo armoured personnel carriers, recce vehicles and command vehicles. Although the Stuart soon became obsolete as a battle tank, it was a valuable addition to the strength of the Eight Army at a key moment in the desert, and the first in a flood of American tanks that helped equip the British armoured formations. 

Combat

North Africa

The M3 Stuart was the first American tank to see combat with the British Army. After the introduction of the lend lease scheme the British army placed orders for the M2A4 and M3 light tanks. The M2A4s were used for training, but the M3 Stuart was sent out to Egypt, where the Eighth Army had suffered heavy tank losses. The first 84 reached Suez in July 1941 and were used to equip the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars, part of the 4th Armoured Brigade, 7th Armoured Division. The brigade's other regiments, 3rd RTR and 5th RTR, were both soon equipped with the Stuart.

The new tanks were popular with their crews, who liked their reliability and pleasant handling, and they were soon nicknamed the 'Honey'. The 37mm gun was less popular, and was less effective than the British 2 pounder (a 40mm gun), and the limited cruising range of 75 miles in the desert.

The Stuart's combat debut came during Operation Crusader (18 November-30 December 1941). The first fighting to involve the new tank came on the first day of the battle when the 4th Armoured Brigade clashed with Panzer Regiment 5 near Gabr Saleh. The Germans lost 7 tanks in this clash, the British 11. During the rest of the battle the Stuart had a mixed time - mechanical reliability was good and only 12 of the 166 Stuarts in the brigade had been lost because of mechanical failures. However the thin armour made it vulnerable to German fire and the 37mm gun was already falling behind improvements in armour. The brigade suffered heavy losses in combat, and the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars lost most of its tanks.

The thin armour was part of the reason for these losses, but poor British tank tactics didn't help. The emphasis was on tank-vs-tank fighting, with fast moving cruiser tanks firing on the move. In contrast the Germans used a screen of anti-tank guns to weaken enemy tanks before committed their own tanks to battle, and fired while halted, greatly increasing accuracy. The biggest problem with the British cruiser tanks of the period was poor reliability and so 4th Armoured Brigade still managed to keep more tanks in service than the other armoured brigades involved in the battle.

During 1942 the Germans introduced more powerful tanks into the desert. The M3 became less effective and more vulnerable as a cruiser tank, but fortunately an increasing number of M3 Grant Medium Tanks were available. During the battles at Gazala in May 1942 the Grant and Stuart fought side-by-side, but after that the British used the Stuart as a scout tank and the Grant and later the Sherman to fight the German armour.

By 1943 many had been converted in the Stuart Recce with the turret removed to reduce weight and thus improve speed and manoeuvrability.

Far East

In December 1941 the 7th Armoured Brigade (7th Hussars and 2nd Royal Tank Regiment) was sent to Singapore with their Stuart tanks. The city fell before they arrived, and so they were sent to Burma instead. They fought a series of stubborn rearguard actions during the retreat, but only one Stuart was able to cross the final river barriers. This tank went to the Indian 7th Light Cavalry, where it was turned into a turretless command tank called 'Curse of Scotland' and was used by Lt. Col. Jack Barlow. 

The Stuart was used by Indian Army units on the Burma front. In the summer of 1944 the Stuart was in use with the 7th Light Cavalry in the north and the 45th Cavalry further south. It saw use against the Japanese offensives in the Arakan and around Imphal. They were then used in the invasion of Burma that started in December 1944 ('Curse of Scotland' took part in this campaign with the 7th Light Cavalry). Indian Stuarts were also used in the re-occupation of Malaya after the Japanese surrender.

The Chinese received some Stuarts for the Chinese Provisional Tank Group, which was formed at Ramgargh in India in 1944. This group fought in northern Burma and southern China. Some of its tanks survived the war and they were used by both sides in the Chinese Civil War.

Europe

By D-Day the Stuart V (M3A3) was the main type in British service, although some Stuart IIIs (M3A1) and Stuart VIs (M5A1) was also in use. The Stuart was now used as a reconnaissance tank for the armoured divisions, although its thin armour made it vulnerable to mines and the new German anti-tank weapons such as the panzerfaust. A large number were converted into Stuart Recce vehicles with the turret removed to increase speed and manoeuvrability. The Stuart was also used by the Polish 1st Armoured Division, which fought with the 21st Army Group and by the 1st Czechoslovak Independent Armoured Brigade, which used the Stuart VI in Germany in 1945.

Italy

The Stuart was also used by the British in Italy, again as a reconnaissance vehicle. It was also used by the Polish 2nd Armoured Division in Italy, and they were still operating the Stuart Recce during the fighting in the Po Valley at the end of the war.

Eastern Front

The M3 also went to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease scheme. The first tanks arrived in the early winter of 1941-42 and it was used in the fighting on the southern part of the front. The Stuart saw action around Stalingrad and Kharkov, although its exact role is obscure. Some of these Russian Stuarts were captured by the Germans and they were used by their allies, with the Hungarian Army using some in combat.

Other Users

The Stuart V (M3A3) was used by the Yugoslav 1st Tank Brigade, a unit raised on Bari by the British in the summer of 1944. This unit was given fifty six Stuart Vs, and landed on the Yugoslav coast in the autumn of 1944. It was used to support Tito's partisans. In November 1944 the unit captured a German arsenal at Sibenki and used the captured weapons to modify some tanks. A number were given 2cm FlaK 38 anti-aircraft guns, while at least one got the 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. In each case the turret was removed to make space for the new guns.

Australian Use

Stuart Tank supports the assault on Buna
Stuart Tank supports
the assault on Buna

The Australians first used Stuart tanks in the Middle East in 1941 when some were used by the reconnaissance units with the Australian divisions. After the Japanese entry into the war these units returned home, and the Stuart was used as part of the defence forces in Australian.

The first Australian tank unit to see combat in the Pacific was the 2/6th Armoured Regiment, which used its Stuart tanks during the fighting on the Buna track in Papua New Guinea in December 1942. They were also used to help capture Cape Endaiadere. The Stuart was soon replaced by the Matilda and later the Churchill, but the Australian army still had 373 Stuarts at the end of the war.

Variants

Stuart I

The Stuart I was the British designation for the initial M3 version of the Stuart when powered by the Continental petrol engine, and included tanks with riveted, welded and cast turrets and riveted and welded hulls.

Stuart II

The Stuart II was the designation for the M3 when powered by a Guiberson diesel engine.

Stuart III

The Stuart III was the M3A1 with Continental petrol engine. The M3A1 had a gyro-stabiliser to help accurate firing on the move, a turret basket and no cupola.

Stuart IV

The Stuart IV was the M3A1 with Guiberson diesel engine. The Stuart II and Stuart IV were also called the Stuart Hybrid.

Stuart V

The Stuart IV was the M3A3, with a modified superstructure that increased the amount of internal storage, increasing the number of 37mm shells that could be carried from 116 on the M3A1 to 174.

Stuart VI

The Stuart VI was the designation given to a small number of M5 and M5A1 Light Tanks that were delivered in 1943-44. They saw combat in northern Europe after D-Day.

Stuart Kangaroo

The Stuart Kangaroo was an armoured personnel carrier produced by removing the turret from a Stuart II and installing seats for infantry. It was used in the infantry units attached to armoured brigades and was in service from 1943. It was also used after the end of the war.

Stuart Recce

The Stuart Recce was similar to the Kangaroo, although in this case the turret was removed in order to save weight and increase speed. Various types of machine guns were mounted on the Stuart Recce.

Stuart Command

The Stuart Command was similar to the Recce, but with extra radio installed to allow it to be used by senior commanders (including Montgomery). All three of these turretless conversions sometimes had anti-grenade nets fitted over the open top.

Stuart 18pdr SP

At least one Stuart was converted to carry an 18pdr field gun. The turret was removed from the tank and the wheels from the gun, which was then installed on top of the tank in a rather awkward looking conversion.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 March 2014), Stuart Light Tank , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_stuart_light_tank.html

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