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♦ Lee vs Grant in WW-II – M3 Medium tank in the U.S. version (Lee) & the modified British version (Grant)





Between the end of WW-I (1919) and 1941 America was a very isolationist nation. People did not want to get involved in any foreign politics, especially disputes or wars of any kind. This attitude did not change until December 1941 (Pearl Harbor). In the mid-1930s high ranking members of the American military establishment did come to the realization that our small armored forces (infantry & cavalry tank units) were inadequate and rapidly becoming obsolete. Even as late as 1939, America had only 400 tanks, mostly of the M2 light tank series. The first remedy was to create more light tanks, resulting in the M3 Stuart series.

In 1936 an attempt was made to modify the M2 design to produce a larger tank in the medium class; 18 M2 Mediums were produced. These were America’s only ‘modern’ tanks, but were already obsolete in 1939. Events in Europe, particularly the early emergence of Germany’s Panzer-III and Panzer-IV tanks made it clear to American designers that a medium tank mounting at least a 75mm gun in a fully rotating turret would be needed to fill the medium tank role.  However, at that time there were no facilities for producing a turret that could mount a 75mm gun and be mounted on the M2 medium tank.  A new design, designated M3, was proposed. The new tank would have a 37mm  anti-tank gun mounted in a fully rotating turret above the left side of the fighting compartment, plus a short 75mm cannon mounted in a sponson at the front of the vehicle, on the right side. The 37mm guns were basically the same as those used on the M3 light tank series (the Stuarts). The M3 quickly proved to be vastly superior to the M2 medium design in firepower and overall performance, so production of the M2 mediums was halted and production facilities were retooled to produce the M3 medium tank. The need for a 75mm gun in a rotating turret was still recognized and the M3 medium tank went into production as a ‘stop gap’, or interim production vehicle, until a suitable tank could be designed with the desired 75mm turret.

The M3 design was officially accepted in the fall of 1940. Pilot models were produced at the Rock Island Arsenal by the end of that year. Other manufacturers delivered pilot models by late spring of 1941. By the end of summer 1941, full scale production of the M3 medium tank was underway at four plants.

Having lost almost all their tanks and armored vehicles at Dunkirk, the British reviewed the M3 design. They felt it had many flaws (high profile, inadequate armor, the off-set main gun, & the lack of a radio in the turret). Still they needed to replace their lost armor and pursued the M3, requesting several modifications to the initial design – thicker turret armor, a turret bustle for a radio, and the removal of the commander’s cupola to reduce the height. The modifications were accepted and England placed an order for 1,250 of the new tanks they dubbed the “Grant”. The first of the Grant versions were produced by July 1941 and the increased armor requirement was applied to both the British and American versions of the tank. Due to further tank losses in Africa & Greece the British needed to speed up the inflow of tanks from the U.S. and began accepting both the Grant model and the American model which they named the Lee (the name was not used by American forces until after the war).

American tanks and fighting vehicles were given a designation of “M##”. In the case of the M3 medium tank, this caused some confusion when the first tanks were delivered to the British, as they were already using the M3 Stuart light tank. That was the reason the British began naming American built tanks after famous American military figures (e.g. Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant). Initially called the General Grant and General Lee, the “general” was quickly dropped and the M3 mediums were simply referred to as either a Grant or a Lee.  A total of 2,887 M3 variants were supplied to the British and first saw combat action in May 1942 in the North African desert campaigns.  Of the total number of M3s produced a further 1,386 (22%) were sent directly to Russia as part of the lend-lease program (only 957 arrived, due to shipping sunk by U-boats).

The first batch of M3 tanks to see combat with British forces in North Africa proved very effective. The 75mm sponson gun was devastating to any Italian armor the M3s encountered. Even the Afrika Korps early Panzer-IIIs (armed with short 50mm guns) were no match for the M3s. Only the Flak-36 88mm gun used as an anti-tank gun presented any danger to the M3s. The balance of fire-power in tank-to-tank battles didn’t change until Erwin Rommel began receiving new Panzer-IV tanks with long high velocity 75mm guns. When the M4 Sherman finally became available, the British began replacing their Grant tanks and parceled out the Grants to the Australian and Indian armies.

M3 Medium SPECS      Made In:  U.S.A.     Made By:  Detroit Tank Arsenal (3243 Lee), American Locomotive (285 M3 Lee + 300 M3A1), Pullman Standard Car Company (500 M3 Grant), Baldwin Locomotive Works (295 M3 Grant + 12 M3A2 + 322 M3A3 + 591 M3A5).    Production-Dates:  Aug. 1941 ~ Dec. 1942.     Total # Produced:  6,258.     Engine:  Wright Continental R975 EC2 – 400HP.     Fuel Capacity:  175 U.S. gallons.     Range:  120 miles.     Max Road Speed:  26 mph.  / 16mph cross-country     Crew:  7 (Lee) / 6 (Grant).     Length:  18’6″      Width:  8’11”    Height:  10’3″ (Lee).     Weight:  30 (short) tons  / 27 long tons.    Armor:  51mm (2″) hull front, turret all around.     Main Gun:  M2 75mm medium velocity gun (later M3 higher velocity gun / longer barrel).     48 rounds 75mm.      Secondary Gun:     M5 or M6 37mm high velocity anti-tank gun in turret.  178 rounds.   MGs:   30.06 Browning M1919A4 – 2 in front hull, 1 coaxial with 37mm, 1 in commander’s cupola (Lee only).

DESIGN FEATURES:   Filled the need for a medium tank with increased fire-power as a stop-gap measure until the M4 Sherman was put into production. Used to support British & Russian forces through the Lend-Lease Program.


M3 GRANT:  Kit by:  Tamiya     Scale: 1/35     Material: plastic.     FEATURES:   No interior details.  Well detailed riveted hull. Field tools are molded as separate parts for greater realism. The 75mm sponson gun traverses left & right, elevates & depresses.  Nicely molded turret has a well detailed face plate / gun mount.  Turret rotates & the 37mm gun elevates & depresses.  Kit comes with rubber tracks with flat pads.  Top & side hatches can be installed in open or closed position (with no interior detail, open is rather useless).   This is essentially a recast of Tamiya’s original M3 Lee ( Lee/Grant) kit with the original Lee turret replaced by a British turret with the radio bustle.   ADDED DETAIL:  I replaced the kit’s guns with machined aluminum cannons (75mm & 37mm).      FINISHING:   I airbrushed an overall base-coat of Tamiya Desert Yellow on the entire vehicle. Camouflage was airbrushed on using Tamiya Deck Tan and Flat Brown after the tank was fully assembled (minus the tracks).  Road wheel tires were hand painted to show wear & weathering.  The hull and tracks were lightly weathered to match the desert terrain display base the tank was mounted on.     KIT REVIEW:   This is a fairly simple kit, quick and easy to build. Painting & weathering take some time, depending on how much detail you wish to apply. The rubber tracks are fairly accurate and look fine on the finished tank. The cannon barrels are OK, but aluminum barrels are much better (cleaner, no seams, bored out muzzles).  The exterior detailing is up to Tamiya’s fine standards. The only thing lacking in this kit is any interior detail.

M3 LEE:  Kit by:  Academy     Scale: 1/35     Material: plastic.     FEATURES:   Well detailed riveted hull. Field tools are molded as separate parts for greater realism.  Kit comes with a fully detailed fighting compartment including driver’s seat, steering levers, brake pedals, instrument panel, transmission shaft, transmission, radios, 75mm ammo storage, and a detailed 75mm main gun. There’s also a well detailed rear bulkhead / firewall with 37mm ammo storage and a support ring for the turret basket. The kit also has a fully detailed turret interior with a nice 37mm gun assembly, .30cal co-axial MG, commander’s cupola + .30cal MG, a complete turret basket with 37mm ammo racks, and commander & gunner’s seats.  The 75mm sponson gun traverses left & right, elevates & depresses. The turret has a well detailed face plate with a movable sight window.  Turret rotates & the 37mm gun elevates & depresses.  Kit comes with heavy rubber tracks with flat pads.  Top & side hatches can be installed in open or closed position (open hatches show off interior details).   Even the driver’s vision port cover can be attached in the open position.    ADDED DETAIL:  Kit built ‘from the box’. Both the 75mm & 37mm guns were perfect moldings (no seams) complete with bored-out muzzles, so I didn’t bother replacing them with machined aluminum guns.  I did add a few (real cloth / real sand)  sandbags over the front left fender area.  These are an after-market product produced in Australia.       FINISHING:   I airbrushed an overall base-coat of Mission Models light Olive Drab on the entire vehicle. Road wheel tires were hand painted to show wear & weathering.  The interior of the tank was airbrushed overall with Mission Models flat white.  Details (steering lever grips, radios, ammo, etc. were all hand painted).  The grungy / dirty look was created using small drops of black panel liner fluid.  The hull & tracks were heavily weathered to match the rocky hard-packed sand conditions in the Tunisian dessert where the first American M3 Lees saw action.     KIT REVIEW:   This kit has finely molded rivet detail on the exterior hull. The gun barrels are molded cleanly without seams and have nicely bored out muzzles, so metal replacements are not needed. The kit comes with heavy rubber tracks. Field tools are separate parts for better realism.  The kit provides a complete fighting compartment and full interior for the turret and turret basket (tub) which is a very nice feature.  However, I do have a few (minor) complaints about this kit. First, there are too many ‘extra’ parts (a total waste of plastic); the prime example of this are the extra road wheels, drive sprockets, idlers, and bogie assemblies – you can build a complete set of late style suspensions with these parts that are not needed at all to complete this kit. There are subassemblies that are unnecessarily broken down into too many parts and too many fine details that could have been molded in place and looked just as good without wasting time on extra ‘make-work’ detailing. The first example of this problem is the upper hull – instead of molding this as a single piece (like Tamiya does) this kit’s upper hull is five pieces (top, left side, right side, front panel (angled), front panel (driver position)). This does not include the parts for the sponson gun mount. Next, the bogies have tiny rails that go across the top of each bogie – these are molded-on details in the Tamiya kit and look just fine – the extra parts in this kit were just a waste of time / extra work and don’t look any better than their molded-on counterparts.  There were also some ‘fit’ problems, notably the transmission cover which was too wide and had to be sanded down and slightly reshaped to fit correctly – without modification this part sat so far forward it was impossible to install the drive sprocket covers (parts B51 / B52).  The turret basket consists of a floor and four side panels; this could’ve been molded as a single piece. As it is, I had trouble getting the side panels to align with each other (there are no alignment pins or ridges) which may have resulted in the problems I had fitting the turret to the hull. Despite the problems I encountered, I’d still recommend this kit, but only for modelers with a good deal of patience and experience.

⇒ PHOTOS – M3 LEE Medium Tank:                          ADDITIONAL PHOTOS for this article.   

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M3 LEE Medium Tank – Left-side view

Right-side view











































⇒ PHOTOS – M3 GRANT  Medium Tank: 

M3 GRANT – Desert landscape.

















M3 GRANT – Right-side view