M3 Stuart: From someone that owns one!
As we saw earlier this year LtCol Vail owns an M3A1 Stuart and an M3 Half-track
He put them on display at Ironfest this year.
He has very kindly written an article for us on the vehicles history and it’s restoration.
While the earlier M3 light tank had proved to be a reliable vehicle, it
was difficult to fight in as it lacked power traverse and elevation for
the main armament. As an experiment, an M3 was fitted with an Oil gear
hydraulic traversing mechanism and Westinghouse gyrostabilizer. Firing
tests showed great promise. However, the rapidly traversing turret made
it difficult for the turret crew to keep up. This was fixed by adding a
turret basket with a floor and seats attached to the turret. Upon
completion of successful tests at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the tank was
standardized as the M3A1.
Production began at ACF in May 1942. When production ended in February
1943, 4,621 M3A1′s had been completed, including 211 powered by a
Guiberson T-1020 diesel engine. The M3A1 was exported to the British who
designated it the Stuart III and Stuart IV (diesel). The Soviet Union
also received several hundred of them.
The M3A1 first saw service with the U.S. Army in North Africa during
late 1942 and continued service until the M5/M5A1 Stuarts replaced them
in 1943. The British used them in Europe until the end of the war. In
the Pacific, the USMC and U.S. Army used them throughout 1943 and 1944
at which time they were replaced by the M5A1 Stuart or M4 series of
The Stuart is an M3A1 and was manufactured in 1942 by American Car & Foundry Company (ACF) in Berwick, Pennsylvania.
Its tabulated data is as follows:
Weight: 14.2-tons (12,927-kg)
Length: 14′ 10″ (4.52-m)
Width: 7′ 4″ (2.23-m)
Height: 7′ 10″ (2.38-m)
Hull front: 1.5″ (38-mm)
Turret front: 1.5″ (38-mm)
37-mm Gun M6
3x .30-cal machine gun M1919A4
Engine: Continental W-670-9A, 7-cylinder radial, 250-hp
Fuel Capacity: Internally 54-USG (204-l) + 2x 25-gallon jettison tanks
Range: 70-miles (112-km) or 135-miles (217-km) with jettison tanks
Speed: 36-mph (58-km/h)
As far as I can tell it did not see service with the Australian Army as
it was not modified in any way. At the end of WWII it was sold and ended
up in South Australia as a anchor point and “tractor” for a sand
dredging unit. It was able to utilise its weight to move a dredge along
a channel by towing it from a sandbank.
The tank was rescued and was displayed at Bell Air World Museum
(probably due to its aircraft engine) until the early 1990. To
rationalise their collection it was offered for sale in 1995, where I
saw it listed in the Unique Cars magazine. I purchased it in July 1995.
It condition was bad – it did have an old engine but this was not
operable. The interior of the tank was gutted and rusted – there were no
internal fittings. It took me five years to get it into running
condition with essential parts sourced, sandblasted and fitted. It
initially ran like a pig but it ran! I then set about putting in new
clutch, repairing the brakes so that I could change gears and turn.
Shortly after this I had the whole vehicle sandblasted and repainted
from desert yellow to US Olive Green. The next problem occurred when the
old engine suffered rod failure and then started a two year hunt for a
new engine. This occurred in 2003 when a friend found a brand new “old
stock” Stuart tank engine sitting in its original crate in a warehouse
in the UK. It took me six months to get the engine back to Australia and
The tank ran well for several years and I continued to source and add
bits onto it (lights, AA MG bracket, tools, instruments, siren etc). A
few years ago the Australian War Memorial introduced me to Gina Wilson,
who is an outstanding aircraft engineer and who has a passion for
Stuarts due to them running on an aircraft engine. She removed my engine
and completely rebuilt it and rewired the tank using modern aircraft
wiring. The engine now runs and is maintained to aircraft standards and
we have embarked on finishing the tank by fitting the turret basket with
the hydraulic traversing mechanism and Westinghouse gyrostabilizer and
hooking it all up to the main power and auxiliary generator. Next will
be the installation of the original US radio and that should just about
complete the job. It will then be the most complete Stuart in Australia.