Virtual Museum of the Vietnam War

M48A3 Patton

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History of development

The M-48 Patton tank replaced in service the M46 and M47 tanks, which couldn't match the performance and parameters of the soviet tanks of that time. The M48 prototype was evaluated in 1951 and, due to the Korean War going on, hastily put into production in 1952, which had an adverse effect on the maturity of the construction. The resulting faults of the new tank, such as unreliability of many subsystems and inadequate range (only some 110 km), were daelt with in new versions of the tank, the A1 and later A2. The A2 version had the rear of the hull redesigned, allowing for better thermal signature of the vehicle and also for bigger fuel tanks increasing the range. The A2 variant was still powered with gasoline engine. The vehicles of the A2 variant were the last ‘all new’ M-48 to be produced, all further versions are rebuilds of existing tanks.

The war in Vietnam, raging with increasing intensity caused increased demand for tanks. To satisfy this demand, it was decided to rebuild M-48 tanks of all versions. Using large amounts of subsystems of the new M60 tank allowed creating a significant number of tanks almost as capable as the new construction but at much lower cost. Although installing the new 105mm cannon was possible, it was decided to keep the old 90mm cannon to make use of large amounts of stored 90mm ammo. The most significant new feature of the rebuild was the installation of the diesel engine, which further increased the range of the tank, on the other hand lowering its vulnerability against hits - gasoline powered tanks have the nasty tendency to catch fire when hit. The new Variant was designated A3.

Despite of initial doubts, if tanks would be useful in Vietnam at all, it was quickly discovered they can be put to good use where the terrain permits. Tanks were used for infantry support during patrol operations, for making passages through dense vegetation (known as jungle busting), sometimes for convoy security. The M48 proved to provide a very good protection against mine threat, which was very common in Vietnam - it was practically the only vehicle that allowed it's crew to survive a mine explosion under the vehicle.

During the Tet offensive in 1968 the M48 tanks proved very helpful for urban fighting, especially during the fights of Hue. Late in the war they were also used to fight tanks, as the M-48 encountered the North-Vietnamese PT-76 tanks.

The peculiarity of the Vietnam War influenced the look of the vehicles employed there. The tank commander's machine gun pulled from it's mount in the cuppola and put on locally made pedestal allowed easier maneuvering and wider field of fire. Padding the tank with all sorts of equipment was intended to protect the tank against hits of the soviet-made RPG rocket. These rockets tended to detonate in contact with even very light obstacle, and hitting, for example, a C-ration carton detonated the rocket and disrupted the shaped-charge jet before it could reach the armour plate.

construction report

Specifications of the M48A3 tank

Length (without main gun): 6870 mm
Length (over main gun): 8680 mm
Height: 3280 mm
Width: 3630 mm
Service weight: 48500 kg
Main armament: 90 mm gun M41 (mount M87A1 in turret)
Auxiliary armament: M2HB 12,7 mm machine gun & 7,62 mm M73 machine gun coaxial with 90mm main gun
Armour hull: from 30mm (rear) to 110mm (front)
Armour turret: from 25mm (top) to 180mm (front)
Propulsion: Continental AVDS-1790-2A; 12 cylinder, 4 cycle, 90° vee, supercharged diesel
Power (gross/net): 559 kW/ 479 kW @ 2400 rpm
Torque: 2318 Nm @ 1800rpm / 2135 Nm @ 1710 rpm
Fuel capacity: 1460 L
Transmission: General Motors CD-850-6A, 2 ranges forward, 1 reverse
Suspension: Torsion bars
Speed (on road): 48 km/h
Range: 480 km
Fording: 1,2 m
Trench crossing: 2,59 m
Vertical obstacle: 0,91 m
Crew: 4 people


Wikipedia - M48 Patton tank


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