M3 Lee

The Medium Tank M3 was an American tank used during World War II. In Britain the tank was called "General Lee" named after General Robert E. Lee, and its modified version built to British specification, with a new turret, was called "General Grant" named after General Ulysses S. Grant.


When the British Purchasing Commission arrived in America in 1940 it was brashly told that it must only buy US tanks or nothing at all. On offer however were only two designs-the Stuart light and the prototype for the M3 Medium (Lee-Grant).

The Stuart was a lovely little machine-fast, well built, and quite capable of taking on a PzKmfw IV by a resolute crew. The 8th Army Tank Crews simply adored it.

The M3 Medium was quite another matter, and clearly revealed the differences between British and American thinking. American tactical thought of the day was based on the sort of warfare that they had experienced with little Renault tanks in the Meuse- Argonne. Quite different from that which the British had experienced on the Hindenburg Line.

The British as a whole tended to design their tanks with the gun as the first priority and added the engine and running gear almost as an afterthought. Consequently just about every tank design was grossly underpowered. The Americans by contrast designed the chassis first and then tried to squeeze in the gun in whatever space remained - hence the sponson on the Lee-Grant. This in effect made for very reliable machines but with other failings.

The Purchasing Committees report on the M3 Medium makes very interesting reading. Mr Carr the committee's chief tank designer commented that the tracks were too smooth, and had a poor grip on mud (‘Grouser’ could be fitted but it was a long and tedious business). The main area of objection however was in the design of the turret. The British always insisted that the proper place for the radio was in the turret, but the Lee had been designed for the radio in the hull. It seemed that as much as the British (who it must be remembered were still at that time `Cash Customers`) urgently required more tanks, that endless tinkering with the design was causing unnecessary delays in commencement of production. Thankfully Colonel (later General) Barnes became impatient and demanded that the manufacturers accept the British concerns and get started on production.

Combat History

The first Grants arrived in North Africa in time to participate in the Battle of Gazala in May 1942, but there were never really enough of them. Most British Armoured Regiments equipped, from the 167 Grants delivered, found that they had to keep at least one squadron of Crusaders within their establishment and that even the Grant squadrons were usually under-strength. In addition great concern was made regarding the riveted hull of the early models. Even a near miss would send rivets flying dangerously around inside of the tank. It was a great relief to the crews when the later Mk 4 and Mk 5s became available with welded hulls.

Nevertheless, although the Grants gave good service in North Africa clearly something better would be needed for the invasion of Europe. For the invasion of Sicily in 1943 600 tanks were assigned, all of them the newer M4 Sherman. The Grants being sent out to Australia and India where they would provide admirable service to the end of the war- being ideal bunker busters.

How much the Sherman was inspired by the Canadian RAM is unclear. Unlike the Lee-Grant (designed initially as an assault tank) it was basically a cruiser and as such, armour protection gave way to mobility, it was quite fast with a shell-firing gun but an indifferent performer on hills, and with a habit, of bursting into flames when hit. It was a compromise but a very successful one. Still being used by many countries, including Israel, over thirty years later.


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