Friday, March 2, 2018

The M24 Chaffee

August 17, 1950. Pusan Perimeter, Korea.  The first American forces rushed to Korea in July 1950 encountered a tenacious foe in the form of the Soviet-built T-34 tank.  To counter this, the Americans initially had only the M24 Chaffee light tank.  Designed as a scout vehicle rather than a main battle tank, it was too light and under-gunned to effectively combat the T-34.  At best, a little M24 could harass a T-34 then run for cover.

Why was the M24 deployed?  It was the only tank available to the occupation forces in Japan at the time.  The Eighth Army's Table of Organization required medium battle tanks (on paper, at least).  In reality, occupation units employed the M24 as a matter of expediency: Japan's bridges and related transport infrastructure could not bear the weight of the heavier M4 Sherman, much less the M26 Pershing.

Appearing at the front just in time to participate in the Kum River Line defense (July 12), the M24's vulnerabilities quickly became evident. One encounter records an exchange between an infantry sergeant and an M24 commander.  Upon detection of encroaching North Korean T-34s, the M24 commander prepared to reverse away from the impending clash.  "He has an unfair advantage because of his heavier armor," the tank commander said to the sergeant. The disgusted and astonished sergeant pointed to the ragged foot-soldiers of his squad and replied, "how do you think OUR armor compares?"

Private Philip Hughes's unit received limited tank support from M24s during the Battle of Naktong Bulge during the second and third weeks of August 1950.

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