US Airborne Tanks 1939-1945

Author:  Charles C. Roberts Jr.

Reviewed by: Todd Shugart

Publisher:  Frontline Books (Pen & Sword Ltd)

ISBN:  9781526785022

Price:  £19.99

Date:  2021

Pages:  139 page hardback

 

    The book is packed with diagrams, schematics, photos, and one of the most thorough histories of Allied airborne tanks in the Second World War. The focus of the book is on the M22 Locust, it’s development, and its brief combat history. It’s well structured and easy to read. Hopefully this book will rectify some of the obscurity associated with Second World War airborne tanks. I highly recommend this to historians and enthusiasts alike with an interest in World War Two airborne warfare, armoured warfare, or anyone with an interest in a lesser known subject such as this.

 

     Tanks by their very nature are heavy.  It was determined early on that either you attach wings to the tank and make it into a glider or attach it to an airplane and drop it low to the ground or water.  The latter case would require the tank to be waterproof and amphibious.  Not surprisingly the Russians who developed the initial airborne capability, explored these options.  From the scant evidence acquired by the author it was found to be impractical and fraught with danger.  It was quickly determined that a large glider that could fit a tank inside of it was the best option.  The Japanese developed one called the Ku 7 but it was never used in combat.  The Germans developed the Me 321 Gigant glider and it was used on operations with smaller or light tanks and self propelled guns.  However, the towing arrangement was dangerous initially and led to the mating of two He 111 bombers into the He 111Z to tow this glider.  A six engine powered version of the glider was developed called the Me 323.  However, with a lack of air superiority, its low speed, and inadequate defensive armament, it was shot down in droves on a regular basis.  Now we come to the British Hamilcar glider.  And it was this glider which was used in Operations Overlord, Market Garden, and Varsity.  During the first two operations the Tetrarch light tank was used.  And now we come to the M22 Locust tank.  The first tank designed exclusively for glider operations.

    The M22 Locust tank known also as the T-9 was developed by the Marmon-Herrington Company in 1941 and was equipped with a 37mm main gun and a coaxial 30 caliber machine gun in the hull.  It carried a crew of three:  driver, gunner, and commander/loader.  It weighed 16,400 lbs with crew, fuel, and ammunition.  It was lightly armoured with no more than 1” thick armour on the tank and that was only on the turret and the front curved plate.  Initially the US Army 151st Airborne Tank Company and later the 28th Airborne Tank Battalion were formed to operate it.  By August 1944, the troops were glider trained and due to numerous exercises were proficient in operating the M22.  But the dilemma of how to deliver them to the battlefield came up once again.  Initially it was thought to airland them underneath the bellies of C-54 Skymaster transport aircraft.  But they could only land on paved runways.  So then the CG-10 glider is developed to carry the tank into battle.  A later version known as the CG-13 was used in the practice manoeuvres in the autumn of 1944.  But due to the need for replacements overseas and what the Army Airborne Command deemed a “lack of a vehicle delivery system” the 151st was inactivated. 

     The British 6th Airborne Division took delivery of 17 M22 Locust tanks and it would fit inside the Hamilcar glider.  However, with it being untested and questions about its reliability, the Tetrarch tank was used instead for Operation Overlord and Market Garden.  But the M22’s chance finally came in Operation Varsity.  The famous jump across the Rhine river.  The 6th’s reconnaissance regiment employed one squadron of eight Locust tanks in the operation.  The tank crews rode inside of the tank during the flight and just before cast off from the tug aircraft the tank engines were started so as to not be stuck inside the glider after landing.  One tank fell through the floor of the glider on approach and the crew were killed.  Some of the other tanks were damaged in the landing.  But the surviving ones were used  to some effect supporting the infantry.  However the 37mm gun was found to be inadequate against most German tanks.  Even with a “Little John” adapter that gave the main gun more penetration capability.  After the war the remaining Locust tanks were left overseas and the ones in the states were largely sold to farmers and used for agricultural purposes.  And so ended the use of airborne tanks in World War Two.  Much later, the US Army developed the M551 Sheridan tank that was dropped from a C-130 Hercules using multiple parachutes again with the intent of supporting the lightly armed paratroopers.  And once again, the armour was not thick enough and it was only produced in small numbers and phased out of service in 1997.

     The book is a relatively small book but packed with diagrams, schematics, photos, and one of the most thorough histories of Allied airborne tanks in the Second World War.  The focus of the book is on the M22 Locust, it’s development, and its brief combat history.  It’s well structured and easy to read.  Hopefully this book will rectify some of the obscurity associated with Second World War airborne tanks.  I highly recommend this to historians and enthusiasts alike with an interest in World War Two airborne warfare, armoured warfare, or anyone with an interest in a lesser known subject such as this.

About the author:

CHARLES C. ROBERTS JR is the founder of Roberts Armory, a museum of Second World War military vehicles that is located in Rochelle, Illinois. Specializing in the acquisition and display of armoured vehicles, artillery and other artefacts used by American forces and its Allies in the Second World War, in its collection the museum has an example of the M22 ‘Locust’ light tank. Charles is an expert on tank warfare and the author of Armored Strike Force, a history of the American 70th Tank Battalion. For more information on the museum, please see: www.robertsarmory.com

Click here to visit this author’s website.

About the publisher:

The origin of Pen and Sword Books is closely linked with its sister company, the Barnsley Chronicle; one of the UK’s oldest provincial newspapers – established in 1858 – and one of the few weeklies still in private ownership.

Pen and Sword specializes in all areas of military history, naval and maritime, aviation, local history, genealogy, social history, transport, discovery and exploration, archaeology, nostalgia and true crime. In 2017, a new lifestyle imprint named White Owl was launched, which publishes books on areas such as health and diet, hobbies and sport, gardening and wildlife and space.

With over 350 books published every year, Pen and Sword has established itself as a specialist book publisher. https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/

About the reviewer:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/search/author/todd+shugart

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