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Light Tank M2A4
Fitters are at work assembling an M2A4 light tank which has just arrived at a British ordnance depot.
Type Light tank
Place of origin United States
Weight 11.6 tonnes (11.4 long tons; 12.8 short tons)
Length 4.43 m (14.5 ft)
Width 2.47 m (8 ft 1 in)
Height 2.65 m (8 ft 8 in)
Crew 4 (Commander/gunner, loader, driver, co-driver)

Armor 6–25 mm (0.24–0.98 in)
1x 37 mm Gun M5
103 rounds
5x .30-06 Browning M1919A4 machine guns
8,470 rounds
Engine Continental W-670-9A, 7 Cylinder
245–220 hp (183–164 kW)
Suspension Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS)
320 km (200 mi)
Speed 58 km/h (36 mph)

The Light Tank M2 was an American pre-World War II light tank that saw combat with the US Marine Corps 1st Tank Battalion on Guadalcanal in 1942, during WWII. It's service with the 1st Tank Battalion during the Pacific War was it's only US combat use during WWII,[1] however it is believed that M2A4's served in Burma and India with the British 7th Hussars and 2nd Royal Tank Regiment during their engagements with the IJA 14th Tank Regiment.[2] The M2A4 was the immediate predecessor of the M3 Stuart light tank.

Development History

As the Light Tank T2E1, the M2 was developed in 1935 by Rock Island Arsenal for the infantry branch of the U.S. Army. The design coming from the earlier T1 and T2 was somewhat inspired by the famous Vickers 6-ton. Its main weapon was one .50 machine gun, installed in a small one-man turret. After only 10 units were delivered, the Infantry branch decided to switch to a twin turret configuration, with a .30 machine gun in the second turret. These early twin-turret tanks were given the nickname "Mae West" by the troops, after the popular busty movie star. The twin-turret layout was inefficient, but was a common feature of 1930s light tanks derived from the Vickers, such as the Soviet T-26 and Polish 7TP.

Following the Spanish Civil War, most armies, including the US Army, realized that they needed "gun" armed tanks and not machinegun armed vehicles.[3] The Cavalry branch had already opted for a single, larger turret on its nearly identical M1 Combat Car. By 1940 the twin machine gun turrets were replaced by one larger turret with a 37 mm gun, and armor reached 25 mm. Other upgrades included improved suspension, improved transmission, and better engine cooling.

The French Army had traditionally been highly regarded by the US military, as having the best and most modern military in Europe.[4] The French army, in many cases, had more technologically advanced tanks than the Germans. The French tanks had better guns and armor protection.[5] But what shocked the US military into action, was the amount of time that it took France to fall; only 6 weeks![6] The reason France fell so quickly was due to tactics, and not the German tanks themselves. Massed armored assaults, verses French scattered resistance.[7] The fall of France gave momentum to the US tank program, and in July 1940 the US Army Armored Force was created.[8]

In December 1938, OCM #14844 directed that a single M2A3 be removed from the assembly line and modified with heavier armor and weapons to meet the standards of the US Infantry.[9] This vehicle, after conversion, was re-designated as the M2A4. The new light tank was equipped with an M5 37mm main gun, 1 inch (25mm) thick armor, and a 7 cylinder gasoline engine.[10] Production of the M3A4 began in May 1940, and continued through March 1941, an additional ten M2A4s were assembled in April 1942; for a total production run of 375 M2A4 light tanks.[11]

In March 1941, the 1/2" thicker (1 1/2" total thickness) armor, and Continental W-670 gasoline engined M3 Stuart light tanks replaced the M2A3 on the assembly lines.[12] The original riveted M3s closely resembled the M2A4, and indeed the two types occasionally served in the same units; the easiest recognition feature is the aft (rear) idler wheel. On the M2A4, the idler is raised; on the M3 it trails on the ground,[13] increasing the flotation of the heavier vehicle.

The M2's importance lies in the sound basis it provided for US M3-series light tanks early in WW2. The M3's high speed and mechanical reliability were legacies of the M2 program.[citation needed]


By December 1941, the M2A1, M2A2 and M2A3 were used for training only. Approximately 50 M2A4's were deployed during the Battle of Guadalcanal while assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps 1st Tank Battalion,[14] and remained in service in some areas of Pacific until 1943.

Britain ordered 100 M2A4s in early 1941. After 36 of them were delivered, the order was canceled in favor of an improved Light Tank M3. There is evidence that indicates those 36 M2A4s were shipped off from North Africa as part of the British army's 7th Hussars and 2nd Royal Tank Regiment fighting in the India and Burma campaigns against the Japanese 14th Tank Regiment.[15][16]


M2A2 "Mae West" on display at Patton Cavalry and Armor Museum, Fort Knox, KY.

M2A3 in Annual Army Day Parade. Washington, 1939.

  • M2A1 (1935).
    • .50 MG in a single turret. 10 units were produced.
  • M2A2 (1935).
    • Twin turrets. Dubbed "Mae West". 239 units produced.
  • M2A3 (1938).
    • Twin turrets, Thicker armor, improved suspension. 72 units produced.
  • M2A4 (1940).
    • Single turret with 37mm gun. Thicker armor. 375 units produced.

See also


  1. Zaloga, p. 15
  2. Hunnicutt (Stuart) p. 396
  3. Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 4 & 5
  4. Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 13
  5. Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 13
  6. Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 13
  7. Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 13
  8. Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 13
  9. Hunnicutt (Stuart) p. 118
  10. Hunnicutt (Stuart) p. 475
  11. Hunnicutt (Stuart) p. 120
  12. Hunnicutt (Stuart) p. 127
  13. Zaloga, p. 27 plate C
  14. Zaloga, p. 15
  15. Hunnicutt (Stuart) p. 396
  16. Zaloga (M3/M5 Stuart) p. 14


  • Hunnicutt, R. P. Stuart, A History of the American Light Tank. 1992 Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-462-2.
  • Zaloga, Steven. M3 & M5 Stuart Light Tank 1940-45, 1999 Osprey Publishing (New Vanguard 33). ISBN 1-85532-911-5.
  • Zaloga, Steven. Armored Thunderbolt, the US Army Sherman in World War II. 2008 Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-0424-3.

External links

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