Friday, April 11, 2008

I'm a Stuart tank fan

I've been a fan of the Stuart tank ever since I was little.

I'll admit it's an odd choice. It's not a sexy tank like a Panther or King Tiger. It's not a real effective tank like a T-34 or Sherman. It's not a historically significant tank like an FT-17 or T-55. It's not even a really awful but colorful tank like an M13 or Type 93.

But it was the first tank I remember seeing myself, in the steel, as a child. There was one poised in the middle of a square near a shopping center my mother liked to frequent. It was a war memorial. There were a lot of those scattered about the New Bedford area in the years after the Second World War. Later I became aware of a couple Sherman tanks, a few 57mm anti-tank guns, a German PaK 40 ATG and some .30 cal machine guns, but the Stuart was first.

I asked my mom what it was and she told me it was a "World War I" tank. Later, when I was a little older and started reading I quickly discovered she was mistaken and it was a World War II tank. As a matter of fact, it was an M3A1 tank.

Folks interested in a detailed recounting of the Stuart's stats and service history can check it out here:
My reading revealed it was a tank that wasn't altogether successful, so I developed a little bit of an underdog's fondness for the little tank.

And darn if it didn't keep showing up. One of my favorite comics was The Haunted Tank, which featured the ghost of Jeb Stuart watching over the crew of an M3 Stuart tank as it battled through North Africa and Europe against the Nazis. The little haunted Stuart even took on an beat some Tiger I Tanks (with some ghostly help).

The tank also showed up in a memorable Twilight Zone episode about some National Guardsmen who end up going back in time to fight at The Little Big Horn (although without tank, unfortunately).

It's even Tank Girl's tank!

When I became a wargamer I started playing with Stuarts whenever I got the chance. They were usually pretty easy to have back in those days. Everybody wanted Panthers and Tigers anyway. Actually, if you wanted to play with any other kind of tank (T-34s, Shermans, Matildas, etc.) you'd probably get your chance. I remember seeing some pretty improbable arrays of King Tigers and Panthers on some miniatures battlefields.

Stuarts showed up occasionally in board wargames, too. They were actually pretty decent in Avalon Hill's Tobruk game. It was a good early 1942 tank, about equal to a Pz III or Crusader.
Still, by the time the U.S. troops got to use it against the Germans in late 1942 it was obsolete and therefore Stuarts in most wargames don't leave a very good impression. Their primary use and usefulness -- recon -- doesn't usually play a big role in board wargames so Stuarts tend to be under-represented.

The little tank gotten a more respect lately, I think. It's showed up three separate times in the Axis & Allies miniatures game (twice British and once U.S.), each time sporting the "All Guns Blazing" special ability allowing it an extra shot against soldiers. It's got high speed and decent stats for a 15-point piece making it a reasonable build selection.

Anytime it appears in a Pacific War setting it tends to be useful. It's at least as good as any of the Japanese tanks it's likely to face and its anti-infantry ability is actually better than a Sherman in some ways. In games as diverse as Echelons of Fury- Pacific, Up Front!, Matanikau and Advanced Squad Leader it can be a big help against Japanese troops. In ASL, especially, that 37mm canister round can be deadly.

It might not be powerful or sexy, but the Stuart still played an important role in America's fight against the Axis. It succored the British in the desert when they needed large numbers of a decent, reliable tank to hold back Rommel and aided the Soviets, too, when they needed quantity and reliability. Stuarts freed up Shermans from scouting and screening roles and provided the chassis for a lot of supporting vehicles such as howitzer carriers, recovery vehicles and recon scouts.

After the war it soldiered on in a lot of smaller, third-world armies where its simplicity, ruggedness and reliability were appreciated.

And it helped spark at least one little boy in Massachusetts to study history, serve in the military and discover a life-long hobby.


  1. Thank you for your commentary. From 1940 to 1944 the American Car & Foundry in Berwick, PA produced 15,224 Stuart tanks - M2A4, M3, M3A1, M3A3 and M5A1. The Stuart was the first tank to be manufactured on an assembly line. The Stuart was a major component of the Lend-Lease program and saw battle with every Allied Army in the war. Its light weight (under 15 tons) made transportation relatively easy. The Stuart saw duty in every theater including the Aluetian Islands. It was state of the art when introduced in 1940. At that time most tanks were utilized in infantry support and typically travelled at about 5mph. The Stuart was capable of 35 mph and probably originated the tactic now known as "Shoot and Scoot". The remains of what appears to be the only existing M2A4 is at an abandoned US Navy outpost in Antarctica. On behalf of the over 6000 Berwick workers who built them, Thank You for your comments.

    Tom McLaughlin
    Board of Directors
    Berwick Historical Society
    102 East Front Street
    Berwick, Pa 18603

  2. Antarctica! I wonder what the story is behind that?

  3. I became aware of Stuarts playing AHs "Tobruk," and when I was stationed at Fort Knox in 1985, I actually got to see one driving in a parade. There's a decent book called "Brazen Chariots" by Robert Crisp about the British tankers in North Africa driving Stuarts.

  4. In a 1993 National Geographic Magazine article about an abandoned US outpost in Antarctica, there was a photo of two abandoned tracked vehicles. We beleive one is a T-3 tractor and the other appears to be an M2A4 Light Tank, minus the turret. According to the article, the US Navy supported an outpost in Antarctica prior to the US entry into World War II. The outpost was established in response to a number of other countries establishing a presence in Antarctica in the late 1930s, in particular, Germany. The outpost was abandoned in the late 1940s. The M2A4 was the last model produced prior to the M3. The M3 was the first model to incorporate the distinctive trailing arm in the track suspension. The M2A4 was the first American tank to be produced in any large quantity. Only 275 M2A4s were produced. Berwick ACF built 265 and Baldwin Locomotive built 10. We only became aware of the National Geographic article last year. No one has gone to Antarctica to absolutely verify the serial number. No other M2A4 is known to currently exist.

  5. I too like the Stuarts, called Honeys by the British in North Africa.

    To quote from John Strawson, The Battle for North Africa:

    "...and it was then that the Honeys charged, something as Moorehad pointed out, that tanks did not do much of after that. But it was no good being conventional when you were out-gunned and out-ranged. Something different was indispensable."
    Strawson describing the action at the beginning of Crusader, 20 Nov, 1942.

    Some colorful Honeys (Stuarts) are those in the desert campaign; see some of George Forty's publications.

  6. It happens that I have Stuart tank, no, not a model, real one, but it lacks motor, where can i buy one? Tried to search in the internet but no results yet... If someone has some info please contact me at

  7. Hi Seth, I commissioned a model diorama that was partly inspired by The Haunted Tank series in G.I. Comics. It was displayed on Here's the link:


  8. Very cool diorama. I recommend checking it out. Can I link?