Doug's 'HEAVY METAL' GALLERY

 

T A N K SC A R R I E R SG U N SA R M O U R E D   C A R S

 

M3 Stuart Light Tank family.

I used to own an M3A1 Stuart (Radial) but swapped it for the Greyhound after I hurt my back driving it. Having ridden in a twin motor Stuart with automatic gearboxes (Normandy D-Day 1994, an M5A1). I would recommend that version as the early Stuart is quite a handful and bloody noisy.

The advantage of a Stuart is that they "only" weigh around 12 tons and are less than 8' wide: this means they can be transported on a normal semi-trailer, which is far cheaper than a low loader.

The M3 Stuart variants:
A) M3 - Riveted hull, cheek episcopes, sponson machine guns;
(Turret type 1)

B) M3 - Riveted hull, cheek episcopes, sponson machine guns;
(Turret type 2)

C) M3 - Riveted hull, cheek episcopes, sponson machine guns;
(Turret type 3)

D) M3 - Riveted hull, cheek episcopes, sponson machine guns;
(Turret type 4)

E) M3A1 - (Early) Part riveted/part welded hull, blanking plates where sponson guns eliminated;
(Turret type 5)

F) M3A1 - (Late) All welded hull, blanking plates where sponson machine guns eliminated;
(Turret type 5)

G) M3A3 - Radical hull change to "Sherman look";
(Turret type 6)

Turrets:
Type 1 - Riveted octagonal sided with an hexagonal cupola. Manual traverse gear mounted right cheek of turret with fine lay done with shoulder bracket. Telescope sighting. No basket.

Type 2 - As above except welded turret, riveted cupola.

Type 3 - Change to "Horseshoe" turret, with riveted ellipsoid (football) shaped cupola. Internals same as Type 1.

Type 4 - "Horseshoe" turret, welded, no cupola, 2 seperate hatch locations. Internals same as Type 1.

Type 5 - "Horseshoe" turret, welded, no cupola, 2 seperate hatch locations, basket, power traverse, traverse gearbox mounted at back of turret, periscope gunsight (as in Staghound, Grant/Lee), auto stabiliser.

Type 6 - Type 5 with detail changes for M3A3.

General
There are a few tricks I can pass on that make life a lot less of a hassle. They apply to any radial WW2 American tank.

Engine
The engine is a 7 cylinder Continental Radial. These were designed for aeroplane use but due to the lack of suitable engines for tanks at the beginning of WW2 the Americans turned to the aeroplane industry as being the only quantity producer of powerful motors. These engines were also used in the Buffalo and Alligator Amtraks (Amphibious landing vehicles) and in one version (at least) of High Speed Tractor.

There are things you MUST do to a radial EVERY time before starting and on warm up. I noticed at Normandy 94 that none of the Grizzly crews at Mud City bothered. Bad - I wouldn't like to be a subsequent owner of one of those vehicles.

With any Radial engine you MUST hand crank the engine through at least 1 complete cycle ie., compression, ignition, power and exhaust; which makes 2 revolutions or about 24 revolutions of the crank handle. This serves to allow any oil that has drained into the bottom 3 cylinders to pass through the valves and into the exhaust system. Failure to do this will sooner or later result in a hydraulic lock where oil will sit in the cylinder the piston will come down and hit the oil and wrench the cylinder clean off the crankcase. I have seen the after effects of this and it ruins the engine. The people concerned kept the oil up to it and used the vehicle for the rest of the day (it was a bulldozer civilian conversion) then parked it and forgot it.

A tribute to the reliability of the engine even when critically damaged, but they still wrecked it! A radial will get you home when any other engine would have seized. Even being too enthusiastic on the crank handle can pop a cylinder: on several occasions I had to just maintain pressure on the handle and wait till the oil bled past the valves.

This is the reason why radials are so smoky at start up - all that oil laying in the exhaust system and cylinders, also what is getting past the rings until they heat up.

It is important with radials to only use 80W or 100W Aircraft Oil (non detergent) as they won't last long on anything else.

A radial MUST be warmed up before it is driven, especially on Bitumen: it was not unusual for mine to take 15 minutes to get to minimum operating temperature on a 25 oC day. You never see a pilot start up an airplane and take off, they always sit there do their checks, run up the motor and then taxi out before finally getting going. This is all part of the safety routine but it also allows the engine to get to the correct temperature before being stressed. Aero engines in tanks are more stressed than if they were in an airplane!

Treated properly a radial will go reliably for years, nothing compares to the sound and people unfamiliar with airplanes or tanks would comment< about it. Occasionally some still do. When I started my vehicle kids would appear within a minute or 2 from up to 2 blocks away (distinctive and noisy).

Tracks
In my opinion the archilies heel of the Stuart is its tracks, this is from a 1997 perspective. Remembering that the last production run of Stuart track was probably in 1945 (unless a Banana Republic has made some) then you will be faced with the problem that I had in the mid 1980's. Just how the heck are you going to get a supply of tracks? This also applies to any AFV using rubber faced tracks that are no longer being surplused eg Sherman Grant, Chaffee etc.

My tracks although having had very little use before I got the vehicle were easily mid WW2 production, had been in the open air all there life and had gone hard. The problem is that they chunked quickly so that by the time I swapped the vehicle I would have put somewhere between 50 and 100 miles on it - that's all! The tracks were just showing the pins and it was rapidly getting to the stage where I would have been refused rego as being unroadworthy. I had a spare set of the same vintage but was looking at probably no more than 2 years fun before my vehicle was off the road. That and my back was what decided me to take up the swap offer on the

Ride
The other problem is the ride quality - bloody awful. This is caused by the large wedged shaped joints in the tracks that enable the track to >pass over the sprocket and idler. To put it in a nutshell every road wheel falls into every joint in the track and you FEEL EVERY JOINT when on Bitumen. The Stuart loved dirt, it drove, road and handled totally different. But since I needed to run it on Bitumen to get to the dirt it was a factor. When in the drivers seat and running on Bitumen my headsets would physically rotate about my face till 1 ear piece was trying to cover my nose and the other trying to keep the back of my head warm. My sunglasses would rattle down my nose no matter how much I bent the arms.

Then to add insult to injury when driving on dirt the tracks would physically through rocks at you, even with English style track covers. Look at a photo of an M3A1 Stuart and try and work out how the rocks could come back and up, off forward moving tracks and hit the driver in the face - quite a trick!

Don't get me wrong I still have a soft spot for my Stuart, but I would rather you be fully informed.

Doug's 1st law of AFV's: Tanks are kid magnets!

Doug's 2nd law of AFV's: Everything to do with AFV's is either heavy, expensive or both.

Doug's 3rd law of AFV's: After a couple of Jeeps or trucks the average member of the public is bored. After 5 Jeeps or trucks most military vehicle enthusiasts are bored (unless they own a similar one). You don't tend to see AFV's in these quantities, so they don't bore people!

Crew size.
The turret hatches on the "twin hatch, horseshoe" model, that is; late M3 and all M3A1's are triangular in shape and quite small. Even when I weighed 10 stone I still had to put one arm up and the other by my side in order to get in or out through the turret.

The drivers position is better, but not by a lot.

Nostalgia.
There is nothing that compares to the sound of the radial, I still miss it, there is nothing quite like that beat and vibration. They are a lovely motor for reliability, my hull had sat for over 20 years as an anchor for a river gravel drag system, the owners never started it, they just moved it around with a bulldozer. The museum owner I bought it from had just done rudimentary checks and fired it up, no guages or anything. The vehicle had seen so little use that it still had the molding lines on the road wheels! But when you have done lasting damage to your back (because I used the correct specification oil in the transmission and was driving the vehicle on Bitumen) you have to make rational decisions, not ones based on whimsy.

BIG HINT
Brake Oil" in WW2 American Tank Diff's and do follow the band adjustment directions. If the bands are adjusted too tight (to make it steer nicer) you risk an unpredictable track lock up, I have talked to several people this has happened to and at speed it can be life threatening!

> Funny thing about timing. About 15 years ago, Portugal started selling
> off a whole whack of M5A1's, which could be had landed in the southern
> U.S. for about $10,000 (US). I was out of a job at the time!! I know for
> a fact that a lot more than a few owners trucked them home, changed the
> oil and the plugs, started them up and drove around! How's THAT for a
> story? I think I still have tinges of green about my face!

Geoff - Canada.

Timing can be such an annoying word, eh?

> > I would recommend the M5 version as the early Stuart is quite a handful
> > and bloody noisy.

The noise swamps any intercom system making it very hard to communicate with the driver, which has its safety concerns if you are on the road or there are people around.

 

When it all started.

A picture of myself (in the drivers seat) and the museum owner I bought my vehicle from. He had just started it and I was having a test drive (though at that stage I had no idea what felt right or wrong). The vehicle was a goer but was effectively stripped out inside the fighting compartment and drivers area, except for steering levers and magneto switch.

You will notice (externally) that the gun shield (mantlet or mantle) is missing as is the large piece of armour that covers the rear of the engine and mufflers; he had removed it and installed it on his vehicle. This piece of armour proved very hard to replace and for most of the time I had the vehicle it wore a sheet steel mockup.



10123 pic
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10124 pic
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Home.

Once we had the Stuart transported to Broken Hill the first order of business was to do an engine pull and replace the seized clutch actuator fork bearings and have a much needed tidy up and clean out. In this shot you see the engine out and turned 180 so that you are looking at the cooling fan with the clutch in the center: some clutch (multi plate)!

Amongst the thing we found wrong was a pin hole in one of the large armoured flexible oil pipes, we quickly discovered that the threads on the fittings are something odd and not obtainable. We were told that they are were known as "American wartime threads" and have never been obtainable in Australia. So we had to mend what we had and always kept an eye on the repair.
These flexible pipe are fire rated and inside look like a concertina or bellows, they contain no rubber at all and the concertina part appears to be made of copper or something similar, this is then protected by 2 layers of nickel plated wire armouring. Quite impressive.



10125 pic
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Missing bits.

All 3 hull hatches had been removed at some time. I was lucky to locate another 3 on a farm 500 miles from Broken Hill courtesy of some names given to me by the museum owner (he is a former earth moving contractor and tank dealer).

If you look closely where the turret sits on the hull you will notice some gaps in the "deflector bars" welded to the hull top. These gaps are where the "turret clamps" bolt on; there are 6 x "straight ones" and 1 x right and 1 x left. The straight ones contain a bearing to center the turret and another bearing which holds the turret down. The front ones only contain a hold down bearing.

The turret itself is supported by 3 very large taper faced ball bearings which bear on a taper face machined into the bottom of the turret. This all means that without the turret clamps in place you can only turn the turret about 180 before it runs off the main bearings and falls into the hull. There never was a huge ball bearing race as on most tanks.
My Greyhound has a nearly identical setup, except that the hold down clamps are on the inside of the turret facing out.



10126 pic
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Somebody needed some steel.

For some reason somebody had oxy cut most of the deflector bars off my vehicle, but rather than just cutting the welds, they had cut downwards through the deck as well. Quite why they did this has always mystified me as the deflector bars are of an unusual cross section and I would be intrigued to know what they did with them.
From the same farmer I obtained the hull hatches I also managed to get enough deflector bars (with hull deck cutouts) to repair my vehicle. In the process I had to seperate the deck sections from the bars: it was in doing so that I learnt an important lesson - when seperating welded pieces of metal do not get close. I was grinding away the welds holding the bars and deck together and in order to steady them I used my knee as a backstop. Not a good move; I was down to 2 welds when the residual stresses between the bar and deck caused the welds to let go, resulting in me receiving a stunning blow to the knee which put me out of action for 2 hours on the floor. I couldn't move my knee in that time as it hurt incredibly. Eventually I managed to hop to my car and drive home. There was nothing broken (surprisingly) but a broken bone wouldn't have hurt anywhere near as much as this did.



10127 pic
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Driver's position.

Not much left eh?. We installed an oil pressure gage so that we could have peace of mind whilst testing the engine.
On the top of the 2 steering levers are notched knobs (you can see the actuator rods down the right hand side of each lever), these are the parking brakes; to set them you pull the lever back and turn the knob about 45 any direction. You must do this with both levers.
The bracket with the large hole is for the tacho.



10128 pic
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Hull Gunner's position.

Not much to see, except for the remains of the decals.



10129 pic
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Start up.

You can see for yourself the size of the shed I have. Due to the smoke generated by a radial on start up I quickly learnt to park the Stuart facing outwards so that it could be quickly moved out of the shed and then warmed up where the driver could breath.
We staged this shot for the camera. It took roughly 10 seconds from when the motor fired till you could not see the tank inside the shed.
My (late) father is standing next to the tank.



10130 pic
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10131 pic
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A restart after a couple of hours.

This results in only some smoke on start up as all the oil has not had time to find its way to the bottom 3 cylinders.
I am in the process of saying to my Dad "I can't hear you: louder!"
Note that the Stuart ran with no visible smoke, it was only during start up that it smoked.



10132 pic
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Relatives from New Zealand.

The obligatory ride for the relatives!



10133 pic
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Under way.

Taking a friend for a ride. Unknowingly he has adopted the classic Tank Commander's pose of only having enough of his head sticking out to see.
The Jerry can on the RHS of the vehicle was so we could get it mobile and until I could aquire a set of fuel tanks (also missing). I managed to do this just before I swapped the vehicle.



10134 pic
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At a fund raising event at the local Hospital.

They invited me so I went. The suspension had yet to be painted.



10135 pic
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