Tank Profile: M24 Chaffee, The Light Tank From WWII That Is Still In Service Today!

M24 Chaffee 33314 4CV of the Dutch army. - <a href=Image Credit" title="M24 Chaffee 33314 4CV of the Dutch army. - Image Credit" width="800" height="419" />
M24 Chaffee 33314 4CV of the Dutch army. - Image Credit

Filling in for the obsolete M3 Stuart tank which, the M24 Chaffee light tank entered the battlefields of Europe in November 1944, when 34 units were issued to the U.S. 2nd Cavalry Group (Mechanized) in France. The tank’s main armament was a 75 mm gun opposed to Stuart’s 37 mm. Its secondary armament included a .50 Cal Browning machine gun, which proved its reliability in prior Allied operations. The design featured – 16 in (41 cm) – tracks and torsion bar suspension, similar to the slightly earlier M18 Hellcat tank destroyer. The torsion bar system was to give a smoother ride than the vertical volute suspension used on most US armored vehicles.

Also, its armor varied from 15–38 mm, providing better protection for the crew than the Stuart whose thinnest spot was only 9.5 mm thick.

Chaffe ran on a twin Cadillac Series 44T24 220 hp (164 kW) and weighed 16.09 hp/ton. It could achieve a maximum speed of 35 mph (56 kph) on roads. Even though its armor was thicker than the M3 and its improved variant M5, it was still vulnerable to practically all German anti-tank weapons. Nevertheless, the Chaffee joined in the offensive during the battle of Bulge, but its deployment was slow and  a widespread use never really happened during the Second World War.

French M24 tanks in Indochina. By Starry, Donn A Mounted combat in Vietnam. DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY - http://www.history.army.mil/books/Vietnam/mounted/chapter1.htm#p1, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10001456
French M24 tanks in Indochina. By Starry, Donn A Mounted combat in Vietnam. 

Instead, its real combat experience was forged in post-WWII conflicts, where Chaffee’s reliability, strength, and solid off-road performance was used in the battlefields of Korea and Vietnam. Since it was a light tank, vulnerable to German late-war panzers and its die-hard crews, the Chaffee proved to be more of an anti-insurgency tank, maneuverable on hard terrain, suitable for reconnaissance and infantry support.

The design was caught in the middle of a transition period of military equipment, and the U.S. Army decommissioned Chaffee in 1953, giving it less than ten years of service history

But, like other successful World War II designs, the M24 was supplied to many armies around the globe and was used in local conflicts long after it had been replaced in the U.S. Army by the M41 Walker Bulldog. France employed its M24s in Indo-China and Algeria in infantry support missions, with good results. M24 Chaffees were actively used in combat by the South Vietnamese Army, Pakistan, South Korea, Iran, and Iraq.

Left: M41 Gorilla in the US Army Ordnance Museum. Right: M19 Twin 40 mm Gun Motor Carriage; By S.Zaloga. M24 Chaffee Light Tank 1943-85. — Osprey Publishing/New Vanguard, выпуск № 77, 2003. ISBN 1-84176-540-6, Public Domain, By Mark Pellegrini - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5
Left: M41 Gorilla in the US Army Ordnance Museum. Right: M19 Twin 40 mm Gun Motor Carriage

The tank was made into several variants including the M19 Twin 40 mm Gun Motor Carriage, used for anti-aircraft action and the M41 Gorilla, which was a self-propelled howitzer mounted on an M24 chassis.

M24 Chaffee was produced under license in Norway under the designation NM-116. Its production started in 1972 and it was retired from service in 1993. Chilean and Uruguay modernized the existing Chaffee’s adding more firepower by installing new guns and adapting the tanks for various kinds of ammunition which included  armor-piercing, fin-stabilized, and discarding sabot rounds.

While the Chaffee has long ceased to be used by the British and the American armies, many countries with less developed militaries still use the M24 Chaffe as part of their auxiliary arsenal to this day.


Nikola Budanovic

Nikola Budanovic is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE