In 2021, the U.S. Marine Corps bid farewell to its armor assets positioning itself for a tankless future where the light and expeditionary force would rely on the heavy-equipped U.S. Army for tank support. Marine Corps tanks would become obsolete.
In March 2020 the official decision for the Marine Corps to get out of the tank business came down from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger. Months later, Marine Corps tanks were unceremoniously put atop train cars and hauled away from the 1st Tank Battalion, 2nd Tank Battalion, and 4th Tank Battalion.
The tankers were allowed to retire if they had at least 15 years in service, or transfer to the U.S. Army or the Army National Guard. They were also given the opportunity to reclassify in another military occupational specialty. The removal of armor will enable the Marine Corps to reduce its ranks by 12,000 Marines over the next decade and make the Corps a more agile and flexible force designed to be able to improve its expeditionary mission.
However, once upon a time, Marine Corps tanks were a large part of the Marine Corps’ arsenal, and those tank forces grew from threats the Marines faced on the battlefield. In its heyday, Marine Corps tanks saw the development of some interesting and famously rugged armor equipment.
1. Marine Corps tanks (Artillery)
Once upon a time during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, some Marines did not have the necessary weapons to conduct combat operations. Lacking mortars and artillery, Marines in Marine Corps tanks would position their tanks on berms or hills to raise the trajectory of their armored guns to ensure they could get maximum reach out of them.
The Marine Corps tanks were mostly inaccurate, but they harassed the enemy and occasionally scored some damage. Check out the pic of the two Marine Corps tanks providing nighttime indirect fire support. You just have to love the creativity and adaptability of those Marines. Adapt, overcome and improvise.
2. M1917 Light Tank
The M1917 was America’s first mass-produced tank which copied the French Renault FT-17. These Marine Corps tanks were created to deploy with American Expeditionary Forces to France in World War I. Production took a lot longer than expected and the first tanks arrived just days before the Armistice.
Equipped with a Browning .30-caliber machine gun, the Marine Corps tanks were crewed by a Light Tank Platoon USMC out of Quantico. The M1917 established the Marine Corps’ armor doctrine that was used in the Pacific islands during World War II.
These tanks did deploy around the world, but not for combat. They were used mostly for ceremonies and to show American military might.
3. M3A1 Flame Tank
The M3A1 “Satan” was a modified Stuart Light Tank, and it was one of the first flamethrower Marine Corps tanks. The Marines began experimenting with tank-mounted flamethrowers and in 1943 the flamethrower was positioned in the bow turret on the Satan.
This tank was effective at clearing Japanese bunkers which were difficult obstacles early on for the Marines. Deploying the flamethrowing tank meant that men armed with flamethrowers did not have to put themselves at risk as much to deploy the weapon.
Marine Corps tanks with flamethrowers saw action throughout the Pacific during World War II.
4. Marmon-Herrington CTL
In the 1930s, the Marines needed a light tank that could be used in amphibious operations. Marmon Herrington produced a light, turretless tank with a 12.7 mm machine gun and two .30 caliber machine guns. It had a crew of two, a driver and a gunner, and it was protected by a half inch of armor. CTL stood for Combat Light Tank.
The tank was powered by a Lincoln V-12, Hercules 6-cylinder gas engine with 120 horsepower (about the power of a six-cylinder 1966 Ford Mustang). It had a top speed of 33 mph. Various models were made during its development but in 1940 the Corps rendered it obsolete and relegated it to training. The CTL never saw combat with the USMC.
5. M4A1 Sherman
Although the Sherman paled in comparison to German tanks, and it was plagued with problems, soldiers and historians love this old tin; think Fury. Okay, so maybe this isn’t one that you haven’t heard of, but we can’t have a tank list without mention of the Sherman tank.
The Marine Corps first used the Sherman tank on Tarawa when they deployed the M4A2 small hatch tank. The tanks were delivered by the manufacturer with no training and they fought against similar Japanese tanks that faced similar problems on the battlefield.
The Marines had two months to learn how to drive the Shermans and fire their weapons. The M4A2s Marine Corps tanks had no waterproofing, and no deep wading ability. In fact, they could only ford a little more than three and a half feet of water. In addition, the Marine Corp tanks had radios that were not on the same frequency as the infantry units.
Nonetheless, these were widely mass produced to support the war on two fronts, in Europe and in the Pacific. The Shermans became symbolic of America’s involvement in World War II and American military muscle in the 1940s.