Tag Archive | Marine M48 tank

After 100 Years, Marines Could Lose Their Tanks

M1A2 Abrams Tank 1st Marine Division TIGERCOMP Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Aug 2019. 1st Marine Division photo by Sgt. Tayler P. Schwamb

The Wall Street Journal has a report that the Marines are set to drastically reboot in the next decade. In short, they will get leaner and lighter, shedding about 15,000 Marines, ditching lots of old-school 155mm tube artillery in favor of mobile truck-mounted anti-ship missile batteries. The 8th Marines would be disbanded along with some helicopter squadrons while the number of UAV squadrons will be doubled.

The focus of the new 2030 USMC would be an updated Wake Island 1941 program-– landing on and defending small Pacific islands to deny the use of an area to a Chinese naval force.

Oh yeah, and the Marines will also lose all of their beautiful and hard-serving Abrams main battle tanks.

A century of support to the Devils

The Marines got into the tank game in the 1920s and has employed armor in every major combat action ever since– with the exception of Wake Island.

In 1923, the Marines established Light Tank Platoon, East Coast Expeditionary Force at Quantico with a handful of Great War surplus U.S. Army (a trend that would continue) M1917 Renault light tanks, two-man 6-ton vehicles armed with a light machine gun.

Marine M1917 Renault Light Tanks, “Tanks Going into Action, Antietam, 1924”

In 1927, this platoon was assigned to the 3d Marine Brigade in China, where it would operate for a year before it returned to the States and was disbanded in 1930.

Then came two armored platoons stood up in the mid-1930s equipped with the light (5-ton) Marmon-Harrington tankettes, of which a whopping 10 were acquired.

Marine Marmon-Herrington tankette landing from lighter, 1930s

On 1 August 1940, the USMC established the 3d Tank Company with M2A4 light tanks. This unit the next year became Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion and by early 1942 were rushed to defend American Samoa. By August, they were landing at Guadalcanal.

A Marine M2A4 light tank on Guadalcanal, 1942 “MOP UP UNIT– Two alert U.S. Marines stand beside their small tank which helped blast the Japanese in the battle of the Tenaru River during the early stages of fighting on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Those well-manned, sturdy machines readily mopped up strong points of enemy resistance.”

Upgrading to M4 Shermans in time for 1943’s Cape Gloucester, New Britain operation, the Marines would continue to use the hardy medium tank in a force that would grow to six battalions.

1944 M4A2 Sherman tank Company A, 1st Tank Marine Battalion passing a Japanese blockhouse at Peleliu

By Korea, the Marines were able to put their Shermans to pasture and begin using the 90mm-equipped M26 Pershing and the M46 tank.

“Marine tanks parked in the southwest part of the perimeter of Koto-ri. The high ground was within the perimeter. 1950”

Lessons learned in Korea brought about the medium-and-heavy combo that was the M48A1 and the M103, which were used in Lebanon in 1958, the Cuban Missile Crisis (where Marine tankers were ashore at GTMO) and the 1965 landing in the Dominican Republic.

Then came Vietnam, where the Marines continued to utilize the upgraded M48A3 although the Army was switching to the M60 Patton.

6 March 1967, a Marine M48A3 in Vietnam. Note the Playboy Bunny. “Tankers Construct Road: A blade-wielding tank of the 1st Tank Battalion carves a road for Leathernecks of the 2d Battalion, 26th Marines [2/26] during an operation south of Da Nang (official USMC photo by Private First Class Warren E. Wilson).”

The Marines would only upgrade to the M60A1 in 1975, once Vietnam was in the rearview, a tank they would keep– with much modification– through the First Gulf War. Importantly, it was the M60s of the Marines that were the first serious armor on the ground in Saudi Arabia in Desert Storm.

Since 2001, Abrams-equipped Marine tank platoons have been very busy, deploying multiple times to the Middle East. This included company-size deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq as well as carving platoons off to float around with MEUs in the Fleet.

Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, 3d Platoon during the Battle of Nasiriyah in 2003– note the M1 tank support

The Corps currently fields 403 M1A1/A2 variants, less than one-tenth of the amount the Army/National Guard has on hand. Of course, as the Marines just have three tank battalions, one of which is a reserve unit, there are only about 180 of these tanks in unit service, with the rest of the hulls forward-deployed in places like Norway and in other forms of long-term storage.

If all goes according to plan, by 2030 the Marines will have zero Abrams.

Planned upgrades, scheduled to take place through 2024, naturally will be a footnote.

And the beat goes on…

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