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United States' History

World War I

Unprepared for World War I

When the United States entered World War I its industry was inadequate for the production demands of gearing up for war.

As the American troops arrived in Europe they were short of weapons and supplies and many units received supplies from Britain and France.

World War I

Tanks were just beginning to be used but some in the military saw the potential for such a weapon. Orders were placed with stateside manufacturers, but to give the United States Army tanks right away they were given British and French vehicles. The British Mk IV and Mk V along with the French Renault FT17 were supplied. The FT17 was even selected to be manufactured in the United States and was to be called the M1917.

A few of the M1917s did make it to France in 1918, however none made it to the front before the Armistice in November 1918. 950 were built after World War I and were used by the United States Army.

Ford's 3-Ton Tank

For was going to produce a tank that had a crew of two and weighed 3 tons. Troop trials were conducted in France and an order for 15,000 was placed. But due to the war ending only 15 were completed.

Mark VIII "Liberty"

The Mark VIII was to be a joint American, British, and French venture. It was to be manufactured in France, but numerous material shortages caused on around 100 to be built. These were used by the Army until 1932.

US Tank Corps Formed

The United States Tank Corps was setup in 1917. Only four battalions saw some limited action before the Armistice.

Tank Development

Major R. E. Carlson, on the staff of the Tank Corps, was asked to come up with the future requirements for tanks. His paper titled "Paper on the Development of Tanks" said that there should be two classes of tanks, one the light, at five tons, and the medium, from 20 - 30 tons. The mediums should also be equipped with a 6 pdr gun. The M1921 Medium prototype was developed based on Carlson's requirements.


After World War I

After World War I the Tank Corps was reduced to 154 officers and 2,508 men. They had approximately 800 light and heavy tanks, with most of them being French FT-17s or Ford copies.

By 1920 the Tank Corps was disbanded and the General Staff ordered the tanks distributed to the infantry to be used in the support role. The War Department only allowed light (under 5 tons) and medium (under 15 tons) tanks that could either be carried on trucks or by rail. The tanks were to not go faster than 12 mph (the speed of walking infantry).

In 1922 a policy statement from the War Department stated that the role of tanks was to "facilitate the uninterrupted advance of the infantryman in the attack."

American Air Forces

There were 18,000 officers and 135,000 men in the 45 operational squadrons at the end of World War I. They had 740 planes that had around 800 pilots and 500 observers. For a brief time the Air Service was independent.

Naval Flying Corps

At the end of World War I there were 6,716 officers and 30,693 men representing the Navy and 282 officers and 2,180 men representing the Marine Corps in the Naval Flying Corps. They had 15 dirigibles and 2,107 aircraft.

Army Air Corps Born

In 1926 the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) was formed. They were authorized to have 1,200 officers and 15,000 men.

Lackadaisical Military

From 1920 to 1935 there were only 35 new tanks produced. Most of the construction of these vehicles was by hand.

Naval Carriers Born

The Jupiter was transformed into the Langley in 1922 to become the Navy's first aircraft carrier.

In 1927 the Saratoga and Lexington were made operational.


United States' Dwight F. Davis Dwight F. Davis

In 1927, Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis saw the British Army's Experimental Mechanized Force conducting exercises on the Salisbury Plain and as a result ordered the US Army to build a similar force. In 1928 the Experimental Mechanized Brigade was formed at Fort Meade, Maryland. It consisted of:

  • a heavy tank battalion,
  • a light tank battalion,
  • a motorized infantry battalion,
  • an artillery battalion with 75 mm guns carried on trucks,
  • an engineer company, and
  • a signals company.

The experiment failed due to using obsolete equipment. After 3 months this was disbanded.



United States' Adna A. Chaffee Adna A. Chaffee

In 1930 the Mechanized Force was reformed at Fort Eustis, Virginia, by the work of Brigadier General Adna A. Chaffee and added another infantry battalion and removed the heavy tank battalion. This time it demonstrated the benefits of mechanization.

United States' Douglass MacArthur Douglass MacArthur

General Douglass MacArthur became Chief of Staff in 1931 and moved the Mechanized Force to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to form the basis for a mechanized cavalry regiment.

However due to regulations only the infantry were allowed "tanks" and the cavalry tanks had to be called "Combat Cars" to get by the 1920 Defense Act. The 7th Cavalry Brigade was the 1st armored formation in the US Army when it was formed in 1932. It was finalized in 1939 when it was established with:

  • 2 mechanized cavalry regiments (112 light tanks),
  • a motorized artillery regiment with 75 mm howitzers, and
  • a truck born infantry regiment (attached for the Louisiana maneuvers in 1940)

Ideas Modernized

By 1935 the pro-tank lobby in the military were slowly making ground against the entrenched pro-cavalry groups.

The Light Tank T1 series was developed but were not reliable. The T2 series was developed and was more reliable.

In the late 1930s the infantry and cavalry responsibilities were no longer divided. Tanks were starting to replace the horse.



Tanks to Canada

As most of the M1917s and Mark VIIIs had been mothballed, some did get new life in 1940 when many were shipped to Canada to be used in training.

Still Not Prepared

Even though war had come to Europe, there were still no plans for mass producing engines even as late as 1940.

The New Armored Forces

The War Department was impressed by the quick German victories in Poland and France and they decided to form the Armored Forces on July 10, 1940, with Chaffee as the commander. A week later the I Armored Corps was formed with the 1st & 2nd Armored Divisions, and there was also the 70th tank battalion.

The armored divisions contained:

  • an armored brigade with,
    • 2 light tanks regiments with,
      • 3 battalions
    • a medium tank regiment with,
      • 2 battalions
    • 2 battalion artillery regiment with self propelled 105 mm howitzers,
  • 2 battalions of motorized infantry
  • an artillery battalion,
  • an armored reconnaissance battalion,
  • an engineer battalion,
  • and divisional service units.

The US Army had about 500 machines in July 1940, and most of these were obsolete.

Tank Development During Early Months of War

In late 1936 the US Army had recommenced the design of a T5 medium tank, but the Ordnance Department favored light tanks.

The T5 was a larger M3 light tank with more armor and firepower. It even shared many components with the M3. In early 1939 many configurations of main armament and machine guns were tested. Towards the end of 1939 the T5 prototypes were standardized as the M2. It's main armament was a 37 mm gun with eight machine guns.

Chrysler Corporation was awarded the US Army contract on August 15, 1940, to produced 1,000 M2A1 medium tanks. However, reports from Europe resulted in the conclusion that the M2A1 was already obsolete and the order was canceled on August 28, 1940.

Two locomotive companies were selected to produce the M2A1 as it was felt that they had the expertise and machinery to construct tanks. Diesel and air cooled aircraft engines were ordered.

As orders flowed in from Europe it was seen that without major expansion, industry would be left behind as it had been in World War I.

Initial Production Rates

Initial production plans called for 1,741 medium tanks to be built in a year and a half. Soon it was talked about producing ten tanks per day. To achieve these goals it was decided to turn to the experts of mass production, the Detroit automobile industry.

It took less than a month to design a tank arsenal just outside of Detroit. This became the Detroit Tank Arsenal. It cost $21 million to build. Soon it was producing the required 10 tanks per day.

Since Chrysler was already starting to gear up for production, the US Army changed the order to 1,000 of the M3 medium tanks which hadn't been designed yet.

Tank Design

Some of the features that led to the success of the designs of the U.S. tanks were:

  • Rubber-bushed tank track developed in 1930s. This replaced the easily worn all metal pins, with a bin in rubber bushings. This allowed for the pins to last much longer. It was designed by the US Army Rock Island Arsenal and Timken Bearing Co.
  • Volute spring suspension was more powerful than leaf, coil, or torsion bar suspensions.
  • Compact engines in the rear of the tank which were modified air-cooled aircraft engines.

Tank destroyers were classified as Motor Gun Carriages along with self-propelled artillery. They were intended to be used as primarily hit and run type combat. However, often times they were used as normal tanks which they weren't always suitable for.

Half tracks were used widely by the US Between 1925 and 1930 several Citroen-Kegresse half tracks were purchased from France. In 1930 a license to build them was purchased. The James Cunningham auto company and the US Army Rock Island auto engineering division combined to design half tracks. They had designed several "adapters" by 1935 that could be installed in place of the rear wheels on a conventional auto chassis. In 1939 the Army took a M3 Scout Car and added one of these "adapters" to it. It proved to be very successful. In 1941 the Army standardized on the M2 Half Track Car and M3 Half Track Personnel Carrier.

United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Born

In June 1941 the United States Army Air Forces command was formed.

Tank Doctrine

The Army Ground Forces thought that the proper role for tanks was to maneuver on the battlefield and not engage enemy tanks. Enemy tanks were to be left to the tank destroyers and artillery. As a result, by 1943, there were 106 active tank destroyer battalions.

However, Ordnance and the Armored Forces felt that the best anti-tank weapon was a tank.

Even Ordnance and the Armored Forces disagreed on whether to mount 90 mm guns on a new tank to replace the Sherman. Ordnance wanted the new 90 mm guns, but the Armored Forces felt that the tank chassis wouldn't be ready in time.

Army Ground Forces felt that the 90 mm gun would only encourage American tanks to fight enemy tanks.

These disagreements delayed the design of the M26 Pershing tanks.

Combat Commands

In March 1942, the brigade headquarters were replaced by 2 Combat Commands (A & B). Each of them could be allocated different units by the divisional commander, which provided a lot of flexibility. It now contained:

  • 2 (3) armored regiments with,
    • a light tank battalion,
    • 2 medium tank battalions,
  • an armored infantry regiment
    • 3 battalions,
  • 3 artillery battalions with self propelled 105 mm howitzers,
  • an armored reconnaissance battalion,
  • an engineer battalion,
  • and divisional service units
    • Signals company
    • Maintenance company
    • Quartermaster Truck battalion
    • Medical battalion

September 1943 Reorganization

  • 3 tank battalions
    • 1 light tank company
    • 3 medium tank companies
    • Headquarters company
    • Service company
  • Cavalry reconnaissance squadron

Tank Units

Armored Corps When Formed
I July 15, 1940
II February 1942
III August 1942
IV September 1942

The divisions were changed to allow for more medium tanks and fewer light tanks in March 1942. Two more Armored Corps were formed before the end of the year.

By the end of 1943 the concept of a separate Armored Corps was abandoned in favor of armored units making up part of an all arms team.

A total of 16 armored divisions were formed between July 1940 and March 1943. There were also 65 independent tank battalions by the end of 1944 and 17 amphibian tractor battalions.


To support the armored divisions large numbers of self propelled artillery, anti-aircraft guns, and half tracks were produced.

Britain, Canada, and the Free French used large numbers of American tanks in Europe.


  • 129,200,000, 131,669,275, 132,100,000, 132,200,000


The letter T was used to indicate "Test Vehicle." Ms were used to indicate "Model" number when it entered production. The letter A was to indicate interior or exterior improvements to the vehicle. An E was sometimes used to indicate a major external revision.


  1. The Encyclopedia of Tanks and Armored Fighting Vehicles - The Comprehensive Guide to Over 900 Armored Fighting Vehicles From 1915 to the Present Day, General Editor: Christopher F. Foss, 2002
  2. Tanks of World War II, Duncan Crow, 1979
  3. No Simple Victory - World War II In Europe, 1939-1945, 2006, Norman Davies
  4. Armour In Profile #3 M.4 A3 E8 Sherman, Peter Chamberlain, Chris Ellis, ?
  5. Airfix Magazine Guide #26 American Tanks of World War 2, Terry Gander and Peter Chamberlain, 1977
  6. World War II Airplanes Volume 2, Enzo Angelucci, Paolo Matricardi, 1976
  7. AFV 11: M3 Medium (Lee/Grant), Peter Chamberlain and Chris Ellis
  8. Tank War 1939-1945, Janusz Piekalkiewicz, 1986
  9. World War II in Numbers, Peter Doyle, 2013
20th Century American Military History Crucial Site