|The General Stuart series of light tank had little combat value by 1944 but nonetheless played a large role in early Allied operations.|
Development of the General Stuart stemmed from the American post-World War 1 development of small infantry support tanks, namely the M2, which appeared by the 1930s. This system was an adequate infantry tank for its time, mounting a respectable 37mm main gun and good protection for advancing infantry. By the 1940s however, the system was simply outclassed by its German performers and was relegated to secondary roles, most notably the training of tank crews.
This did not signify the end of the American light tank development program for the invasion of Europe spurned American warplanners to come up with a redesigned version of the M2 in the Light Tank M3 - appearing with an increase to armor and combat weight whilst still retaining the 37mm main gun and machine guns. The M3 entered production and would see no fewer than 5,800 examples by series end.
Britain was a primary user of the M3 system (along with the US Army and the Red Army, te latter via Lend-Lease) and designated it as the "General Stuart" or simply "Stuart". Stuarts under British control served as the Stuart I, Stuart II, Stuart III, Stuart IV, Stuart V and the Stuart VI. The Stuart I and II differed mainly between the gasoline and diesel engines offered for each design while the Stuart III and Stuart differed similarly but featured a gyro stabilized main gun and a power traverse turret assembly. The Stuart V mainly offered up an improvement to armor protection while the Stuart VI was based on the revised M3, becoming the Light Tank M5 series, and featured a twin-Cadillac engine design along with a re-engineered turret.
Armament for the base M3/M5 series centered around the single 37mm main gun mounted in the turret. This main armament was retained throughout the entire lifetime of the vehicle though some variants would appear with the turret completely removed and instead housing more anti-infantry 7.62mm machine guns. Beyond the main gun, the crew of four had access to no fewer than five 7.62mm machine guns elsewhere in the standard design. This would include a bow-mount, coaxial mount, turret roof mount for anti-aircraft defense, and two in driver-controlled sponson mountings.
In the end, the Stuart appeared where ever it was needed and with three of the larger Allied armies. It earned a favorable reputation that would go on to solidify its place in World War 2 history. Though outclassed by many of the German platforms, the Stuart series nevertheless retained the qualities and capabilities admired by a tank crew on the battlefield.
Designation: Light Tank M3 / M5 (General Stuart)
Classification Type: Light Tank
Contractor: American Car & Foundry Company - USA
Country of Origin: United States
Initial Year of Service: 1941