Engineers proposed a new hydromechanical transmission and a new engine. The modernized variant went through trials and was accepted into service under the name M46 Patton. The initial plan was to not only build new Patton tanks, but modernize already existing Pershings. However, the Second World War ended and demobilization began, putting an end to this program. As a result, when the United States entered the Korean War on the side of the south, it turned out that they were seriously lacking in vehicles.
Pattons on the Last Line
The American forces closest to the theater of war were the occupational forces in Japan. Formally, these forces included tank battalions, including heavy ones. In reality, only light M24 Chaffee tanks were present on the islands. These were the only tanks that could use flimsy Japanese bridges, and they were overall the most suitable for mountainous Japanese terrain. Korean landscapes were similar to Japanese ones, but when the M24s arrived, they ran into a new problem that did not exist in Japan: T-34-85 tanks that the USSR sent to their North Korean allies. Against them, the 75 mm gun on the Chaffee was impotent.
The northerners were advancing, and Douglas MacArthur was feverishly organizing transfer of any and all materiel to Korea. As further proof that the army is a rather chaotic organization, Pershing tanks were suddenly discovered in Japan. The tanks were mothballed: their technical condition left much to be desired. These tanks were fixed up as much as possible and put into use against the North Korean forces that were nearing Seoul, the capital of South Korea.
Desperate effort on behalf of the ground forces and effective work from the air made its mark. The northern offensive stalled exactly until the point when "normal" tank divisions arrived from the United States, including those armed with Pattons. The first of those was the 6th Tank Battalion, which was sent to the Pusan Perimeter, the last line of defense of South Korean and American forces, immediately upon their arrival.
Even though the Pattons reached the front lines, it would be a while before they saw T-34s. The situation changed in the fall of 1950 when the Americans began their own offensive. In these battles, M46 tanks from the 6th battalion destroyed between 6 and 9 T-34-85s and SU-76s.
The pendulum swung the other way. Chinese "volunteers" entered the fray to aid their socialist comrades. Retreating, the 6th battalion lost almost all of its tanks, and not in combat. According to American data, the tanks were being transported by rail and, in order to keep them from falling into enemy hand, the train had to be bombed by American aircraft. There is also information that several Pattons were captured by the northerners, from where they made their way to the USSR and were thoroughly inspected.
Combat Career of the Gas Guzzler
Most Pattons arrived in Korea by the time the front line stabilized, and they mostly worked as assault guns, destroying infantry and fortifications. North Korean T-34-85s didn't rush to meet the M46 in combat, so the main enemy of the American tanks were mines and breakdowns. Statistics of just one Patton battalion, about 30 tanks, tell the a grim tale. In May of 1951, the following had to be replaced or fixed:
- 3 transmissions
- 40 defective oil radiator fans
- 27 clutches
- 9 final drives
- 6 differentials