This week’s footage from British Pathé shows some of the first M3 Lee medium tanks to see service in Britain being put through their paces by a Canadian unit as they train.
The new tank, officially known as the Medium Tank, M3, was one of a number of vehicles used by British forces delivered through Lend-Lease.
The M3 was a stop-gap design developed to provide the US Army with a more modern tank equipped with a 75mm gun and improved armour while the M4 Sherman was in development. The requirements for the M4 were set following a reassessment of US tank design forced by the capitulation of France in 1940, but a new tank for the interim was much needed by the British and US armies and by US tank production, which was inexperienced and still working up.
The first vehicles delivered to the UK, known to the British as the M3 ‘Lee’, featured the American style turret pattern and a seven-man crew. The main armament, located in the hull sponson, was a 75mm gun that finally offered a widely available and effective high-explosive shell, a munition that British tank units had been lacking in until the M3 entered service.
The turret housed a 37mm anti-tank gun, which was beginning to show its obsolescence by mid-1942. Depending on the variant and operator, several machine guns could be mounted, including in a small turret atop the main turret as seen on some Lee tanks.
The M3 was only adequate, at best, as both the British and Americans noted. However, it was quick to build, rugged, and provided enhanced firepower and reliability. Later variants, known as the ‘Grant’ in British service, took on several British modifications such as a larger, but low profile, turret that incorporated thicker armour and a radio. This removed the requirement for a dedicated radio operator in the hull, and the Grant had a reduced crew of six.
In desperate need of tanks, the British used both the Lee and the Grant in large numbers, acquiring around 45% of total production – some 2,800 tanks. After seeing action in North Africa most were transferred to the Australian and Indian armies for use in other theatres while in Europe the M3 was replaced by the Sherman. Other operators included the US Army and the USSR.