The M26 Pershing, one of the best American tanks of the Second World War, saw very limited use in this war.
M26 Pershing was born at the end of World War 2, and was one of the rare heavy tanks of the US Army. It was built in 1942, intended to replace the M4 Sherman, but a prolonged development period meant that only a small number of them saw combat in Europe.
The M26 Pershing is classified as a heavy tank. It had a slow and arduous beginning during a time when the need for such a heavy tank was not part of US Army priority. It was not until the German Panther and Tiger series of heavy tanks showed their power on the European battlefield that the need for such a heavy design was noticed.
The M26 was a significant design departure from the previous line of U.S. Army tanks that had ended with the M4 Sherman. The M26 has a combat weight of about 46.2 tons, a length of 6.3 m, a width of 3.51 m, and a height of 2.78 m. Its crew of 5 includes: commander, gunner, loader, driver, and co-driver.
The Pershing was fitted with a Ford GAF 8-cylinder gasoline-fueled engine of 400 to 450 horsepower output allowing top speeds of 25 miles per hour with a 100 mile operational range. M26 Pershing was heavily armored compared to Sherman for maximum protection, particularly along her front facing.
The tank was equipped with a 90mm M3 main gun. Auxiliary armament included two 7.62mm guns and a single 12.7mm Browning heavy machine gun mounted atop the turret. In all, the M26 was the closest tank system that the Allies would field that was similar in scope, function and power to the German Panther.
Due to delays for various reasons, the first Pershings arrived in Europe in early 1945 and served in the US 1st Army. Though more than 300 were overseas by the end of the fighting, only the initial shipment of 20 tanks saw combat. A group of five Pershings assisted in the capture the Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine River in March of 1945. The big tanks, however, were too heavy to cross the damaged span and had to be barged to the other side days later.
Based on the criteria of firepower, mobility, and protection, the Pershing behind the German Tiger II heavy tank, but ahead of the Tiger I heavy and Panther medium tanks. It was withdrawn in 1951 in favor of its improved derivative, the M46 Patton, which had a more powerful and reliable engine and advanced suspension. The lineage of the M26 continued with the M47 Patton, and was reflected in the new designs of the later M48 Patton and M60 Patton. With the evolution of the battle tank and the arrival of the Main Battle Tank, the M26 Pershing was reclassified as a “Medium Tank”.