The M24 Chaffee Light Tank
Written By: Matthew J. Seelinger
Read the full article at the Army History
During much of World War II, the U.S. Army relied on the M3/M5 Stuart series of light tanks for cavalry reconnaissance missions. While it was a mechanically reliable vehicle, and fairly fast and maneuverable, the Stuart‘s design dated back to the 1930s, and it was all but obsolete by late 1942 as its thin armor, high silhouette, and light 37mm main gun made it a liability to its crew. In 1943, the Army began developing a new light tank to replace the Stuart. The result was the M24 Chaffee, which entered service in late 1944.
Recognizing the M3 design was almost obsolete in 1941, the Army began work on a replacement light tank designated the T7 in February 1941. Armored Force requirements necessitated the addition of increasingly heavier firepower (first a 57mm weapon, then a 75mm main gun) and increasingly larger engines for better performance. By August 1942, the T7’s weight had grown from fourteen tons to twenty-nine tons when combat loaded. When the T7 was standardized later in the year, it was redesignated as the M7 medium tank. Over the course of development, the T7 was transformed from a light tank to a poorly performing medium tank, and only seven production vehicles were accepted by the Army before it was canceled in March 1943.
Combat experience in North Africa in 1942-43 proved that the Army’s light tanks, even the improved M5A1s, had little value on the battlefield, even in a scouting role. Not only was the M5 outclassed by German tanks and unable to defend itself against them, it was also vulnerable to antitank guns and field artillery. Nevertheless, the Army still believed light tanks could fulfill a valuable role, particularly reconnaissance missions, as long as they avoided direct confrontations with enemy armor. As a result, M5s would remain in tank and cavalry reconnaissance units until the Army could replace them with an improved light tank.
Early experiments to simply mount a 75mm gun on an M5 chassis proved feasible, but the larger gun took up so much space within the tank and added such a significant amount of weight that machine guns and other features had to be eliminated, something the Armored Force was not willing to do. In March 1943, the Ordnance Department authorized development of a new light tank designated the T24. A month later, on 29 April, the Army approved the T24’s design and assigned the Cadillac Motor Car Company (which also produced the M5) of General Motors the task of developing the tank.