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Bechhold Tank

United States of America/United Kingdom/Kingdom of Belgium (1938-1941)
Light Tank – 1 Partial Prototype Built

Introduction

Many people interested in tanks have likely heard the name Walter Christie and are aware that he produced several prototype tanks during the period between WW1 and WW2. Whilst his vehicles had some good features, overall they were not a commercial success for Christie, who had amassed a lot of debt in developing and building them. The result was that some of his assets, his tank prototypes included, ended up being used to pay off his debts and his ‘high-speed tank’ was one of them.

Sold to pay off Christie’s debts, this vehicle ended up in the hands of a German-born American businessman, Siegfried Bechold. This new owner rebranded the tank, had some additional design changes made and then, at the start of WW2, tried to sell the ‘new’ design to both the Belgians and the British.

The Belgians needed tanks urgently but this design would come too late to help them. The British expressed interest as the light weight of the machine was suited to their need for a tank for airborne operations, and by 1940 the British Purchasing Commission was actively considering the vehicle for production. Nonetheless, the idea was over by 1941, when British attention switched to a vehicle with more armor and firepower than the ‘Bechold’ tank. Even so, this early design and the consideration of it adds to the story of how the British were trying to develop their own ideas for a new kind of mobile warfare and airborne operations.

The enigmatic Mr. Bechhold

The name Siegfried Bechhold means very little even to the most ardent tank enthusiast. However, just prior to WW2 and into its first years, Bechhold was one of the most prominent men involved in tank design and production in America, despite never having produced any tanks. This peculiar state of affairs takes some digging to get to the bottom of, as does the man himself, not helped by his name appearing variously as Bechhold, Bechold, and Buchhold.

Siegfried Bechhold appears to have been born in Bavaria, Germany in 1900, although a newspaper article from January 1941 puts his birthplace as Holland. This is likely one of those situations where people de-Germanized themselves to try and disguise their German ancestry, something which was a common occurrence at the time, especially with the switch from ‘Deutsch’ to ‘Dutch’ in terms of self-description. Another account of his early life (from April 1941) stated that he was born in Bavaria and lived in Germany until he was 11 – so maybe his family moved to Holland or maybe he was just hiding his background.

Bechhold recounted his story that, at the age of 16 (so ~1916), he was, like tens of thousands of other German boys, drafted into the German Army during World War One, although it is not known if he saw any active service or not. By 1922, with WW1 behind him but in a country ravaged by economic and social problems, he managed to make the transatlantic voyage to the United States, arriving in New York with just US$40 to his name.

His first jobs were very poorly paid but, by the late 1920’s, he was living as a tenant at 34 East 62nd Street between Madison and Park Avenues (this house was demolished in an explosion in July 2006). He had been learning English at night school and had managed to get a job as a salesman, which proved very successful for him. So successful was it, that this man, who had arrived in the USA just a few years before, could now afford to travel back and forth to Europe. He would later claim that he used these trips to pass on information about German rearmament efforts during the early 1930’s and that he believed that Germany was far ahead of other countries in weapons development, although this sounds more like his sales-speak for selling tanks than the serious recollections of an international spy.

What is known though is that during this time, he, like many others, saw the tanks of Walter Christie. These were very well covered in the newspapers and newsreels of the age with Christie’s penchant for publicity stunts. Seeing a potential business opportunity, Bechhold was interested in these tanks which were significantly faster than other tanks of the age, and in many ways the most advanced tanks in the USA at the time.

Bechhold later reported that he was encouraged in his interests by Congressman Ross Collins of Mississippi, although how these two men knew each other is unknown. It was, according to Bechhold, Collins who encouraged him to produce tanks in the United States but Bechhold was not a technical man nor an engineer despite being Vice President of the Bethlehem Engineering Export Corporation of Wall Street, New York. He was skilled in salesmanship and finance. He was, however, despite his lack of engineering skills, to be credited in the US press as coming up with the idea of putting lightweight aircraft engines into tanks in place of ordinary diesel or petrol engines, although this too sounds more like the pitch of a salesman, as Christie had already done this years beforehand.

As an aside to his tank work and to give a flavour of the way in which Bechold was trying to avoid being labelled as anything other than as a patriot, he embarked on a vigorous self-justification campaign in the media, making sure no one was in any doubt as to his loyalties. As a result, in June 1941, it was reported that Bechhold, a naturalized citizen and “intense” patriot, had refused to sell his tanks to the Russians at the time of the War against Finland. Furthermore, it was claimed that, in the new war against Hitler, he would only sell them when the Russians went to war with Hitler, even though there seems to be no evidence whatsoever for this claim.

The Tank Company

By the end of the 1930’s, Bechhold had his opportunity. Walter Christie, a man of undoubted technical gifts, was running short of investors who wanted to keep losing money on his tanks. One vehicle of his, a “high-speed tank”, had to be handed over to the partners of the Hempsted Welding Company of New York, William and Alfred Christ, as a lien against unpaid debts owed to them by Christie. Exactly which of Christie’s vehicles this was in unclear but as the M.1938 was later presented by a Mr. Bigley with some involvement from Christie suggests that Bechhold got hold of the M.1937 high speed tank from Christie as the basis of his design. However, whilst exactly which vehicle may not be known, Christie’s creditors were to be appeased with a tank available for purchase to pay his debts.

Bechhold had, through Bethlehem Engineering Co. been engaged in a commercial contract with Christie which started on 9th August 1938 whereby Bechhold and his company were granted exclusive rights to sell and manufacture the design from Christie for the princely sum of US$5,000 (just over US$91,000 in 2020 values). The idea of the partnership was simple. For this initial outlay of cash to Christie, Bethem Engineering would take the full blueprints of the design, market them globally and grant manufacturing licences for US$50,000 to each national licensee. This US$50,000 (US$915,000 in 2020 values) would be split 50:50 between Bethlehem Engineering and Christie for which the licence got not only the blueprints but also a master mechanic or draughtsman from Christie. This agreement simply fell apart not least in part to how appallingly badly written and complicated it was. In the words of the New York Second Circuit of Appeals in July 1939 ruling on whether to grant an injunction against Christie for breach of his contract:

This contract is so obscure, and, strictly taken, so incoherent, that nobody can be sure of its meaning, but so far as we can spell it out, this is what it was. The defendants made the plaintiff its exclusive agent to sell licenses to prospective manufacturers of their tank in foreign countries — perhaps also in this country as well, though apparently it was not included. The plaintiff was not free to sell such licenses generally, but only for those countries where the parties thought it “practical” to do so. The minimum license fee was to be $50,000, but the plaintiff was to try to get more, and the parties were to discuss the amount in advance: probably this implied that they should agree upon it.
105.F.2d 933 (2nd Cir. 1939)

With the case between them ending in confused acrimony, Christie and Bethlehem Engineering’s relationship was over. Christie had won that case due not least in part to how confusing the agreement was between them over rights and whilst he had retained his rights over his design he was also financially crippled.
Bechhold too had moved on and was no longer involved with the Bethlehem Engineering Expert Company and, instead, on 25th July 1939 (just 2 weeks after the ruling), formed the Armored Tank Corporation (A.T.C.), incorporated in New York. Initially, this company had just 100 shares of stock (30 Class A, and 70 Class B) at a value of US$50 each (Total nominal value US$5,000).

The purpose of the company was to acquire the Walter Christie high-speed tank from William and Alfred Christ. On 31st July 1939, this tank was purchased for an undisclosed sum along with 34 shares (Value US$1,700) in the new company (6 more were given to the attorney for their legal services). The Armored Tank Corporation (A.T.C.) of New York was now in possession of the Christie High-Speed Tank, the rights over which had fractured the relationship between Christie and Bethlehem Engineering. Bechhold now had the vehicle and also the more difficult task of making money from it.

Belgians

Within a few months of formation of the company and the purchase of this High-Speed tank, Bechhold was recruiting a draughtsman. Between December 1939 and January 1940, A.T.C.’s draughtsman prepared blueprints and drawings of this Christie tank with some modifications. During this time, a license agreement for the production of this modified Christie high-speed tank was acquired in Belgium. The Belgium firm, Ateliers de Construction de Familleureux, paid an advance royalty of US$10,000 for this license. Whatever plans there were in Belgium for this vehicle though are unknown, as the nation was overrun by the Germans in May 1940, with no Christie tanks produced.

Super Tanks

By the end of 1940, the first glimpse of what A.T.C. was working on can be seen. In November-December that year, it was advertising ‘Super-Tanks’ in the US Army Ordnance Magazine as being “built in all weights” by the Armored Tank Corporation at 30 Church Street, New York. This was formerly the location of numerous businesses such as the National Manufacturing Company, American Locomotive Sales Corporation, and the New York Railway Club (close to the site of the World Trade Center Complex today and now the location of the Century 21 Department Store). The same advert appeared that same month as being constructed by the Pressed Steel Car Co. as well.

Image of a Bechhold Tank
Image of a Bechhold Tank dated 1940, published November/December 1940. Source: Army Ordnance Magazine
Image of a Bechhold Tank
Image of a Bechhold Tank published early 1942. Source: Crismon

Although the tank was never built as shown in the 1940 image with the low cylindrical turret there was a photo of a mockup of the Bechold tank was circulated in the press by least the early part of 1942. This vehicle had the same distinctive rounded nose glacis and two hatches in the driver’s plate. Off-center to the left of the driver’s plate, next to the left hatch was a mockup of a gun of unknown type although it appears too large to be a simple machine gun. The gun is roughly in the same position as what appears to be a small machine gun on the 1940 artist’s impression. The most noticeable difference between the 1940 drawing and the mockup (other than the lack of turret on the mockup) is that 3 wheels can clearly be counted on each side along with what appears to be a pair of return rollers instead of 4 wheels with no return rollers. Also apparent is that whilst the return rollers appear to be real, the photo may have been editted to make the vehicle appear shorter than it was.

Based on the available photograph, the drawing, and information from the company’s advertising of it being “Built in all weights”, a brief analysis of the vehicle shown is possible.

Advert for Bechold’s Armored Tank Corporation of New York.
Advert for Bechold’s Armored Tank Corporation of New York. Source: Army Ordnance Magazine

In December 1940, Bechhold was reported to have been producing ‘Medium Tanks’ for the British and had also submitted a design for an airborne tank. This tank was at the time being reported in the press as weighing 10 tons (9.1 tonnes), 14 ½ feet (4.42 m) long, fitted with armor one-inch (25 mm) thick with a single 37 mm gun and a machine gun. Also noted was that it would carry two sub-machine guns, suggesting a crew of just 2 or 3. A final note is that it was designed to be carried under “a Douglas plane”.

This description is immediately reminiscent of the Christie promotional idea of an underslung high-speed tank from 1936. In that artwork, a 3-wheel Christie turretless high-speed tank was pictured being carried under an Air Corps bomber.

The idea for the rapid deployment of tanks by aircraft
The idea for the rapid deployment of tanks by aircraft appeared in Christie designs as early as 1936. Source: Popular Mechanics. May 1936.

An idea of quite how a system for carrying a tank in this manner under a plane would work can be found in a May 1941 Patent. This was filed by Alfred Anderson, assignor to the Armored Tank Corporation for a ‘Hook-on-and-Release-Mechanism for Fighting Tanks’. This invention describes an invention for attaching tanks to aircraft, specifically slung below the plane, and for dropping the tank when in flight. This is a different system to the one from Christie – that one used a pair of scissor arms to grab and retract the tank.

Instead, four upside-down triangular fittings would be attached on the underside of the fuselage of the aircraft. Each held a hydraulically controlled actuator with a large stud pushed out on a spring. When hydraulic pressure was applied, this spring would compress withdrawing the stud back inside the actuator. This would release the tank, as these four studs were attached via holes into the body of the tank. These would not be disengaged simultaneously, but in pairs. The rear pair would disengage first, allowing the bottom of the tank to hang down as the carrying plane swooped in suicidally low over the ground. At a suitable point, the front studs would also then be disengaged releasing the front of the tank. The back end of the tank was then supposed to hit the ground first from a lower height, with the front end following. This method was intended to overcome the turning effect on the vehicle. The dangers to the vehicle crew and to the aircraft performing this maneuver cannot be overstated; this was really a system designed to get the plane and its tank shot down. Even if it did work and the tank was deposited safely to the ground, one wonders how long it would take the crew to become operational after such an experience.

Hook on and Release Mechanism for a Fighting Tank.
Hook on and Release Mechanism for a Fighting Tank. US Patent US2310887 of 1941
Christie M-1950
A depiction of the gantry arrangement on top of what is supposed to be the ‘Christie M-1950’ (albeit with a different number of road wheels). The gantry could not only attach a tank, but also raise it within the fuselage of the aircraft. Source: Steel Steeds Christie

The vehicle shown in that 1936 promotion art for Christie is different from the vehicle in the 1940 ATC advert though. For sure, ATC got a Christie High-Speed Tank but its vehicle is much closer to a vehicle the size of the M3 Stuart or even the M1 Combat Car. What can be seen from the advertising image is that it was a small tank with a distinctive rounded back end to the hull running on four closely-spaced Christie type wheels (and presumably Christie spring suspension too). No track guards or mudguards at all are shown. The track itself is very similar to the flat plate track of the Christie tanks.

The nose lacks any indication of the pointedness of the earlier Christie High-Speed tanks but is uniformly rounded leading to a long glacis sloping up to a slightly inclined driver’s plate. Where the glacis meets the driver’s plate, there are two structures that appear to be mounts for fixed hull machine guns. In 1940, it should have been obvious that fixed, forward-firing machine guns were utterly useless but it was an easy way to add what was thought of as additional firepower to a design and many tanks subsequent and independent of this one retained this feature, including the M3 Grant, M4 Sherman, and Canadian Ram.

The driver’s plate featured two rectangular hatches, each with a vision slit. Out of the front of the left-hand hatch was what appears to be a heavy machine gun. From the position of the hatches and hull weapons, it would appear to have had a driver mounted on the right and hull machine gunner on the left. A third man, the commander, would most likely occupy the turret. The turret itself, as drawn, is very unusual, looking like an overturned cooking pot. On the roof was a full size (it occupies the entire roof) hatch in two parts, each opening sideways. A series of slits were placed around the exterior of the turret and at least two machine guns, one forwards and one to the left. In total, the firepower for this vehicle as drawn was 4 machine guns and one heavy machine gun.

Presumably, the part about being built in ‘all weights’ was to mean that different options in terms of fittings, armor, and weapons were potentially on offer. Certainly, the specifications and look of the vehicle were very up to date given the parlous state of US tank development at the time. The T4 medium tank, for example, from 1935/1936, was a very promising design but was 13.5 tons and capable of just 35 mph with 3 machine guns. The Bechhold tank was, at least on paper, better armed, better armored, smaller (about 50 cm shorter), and faster. No surprise then that it was an interesting prospect for investors interested in lucrative future army orders.

The 13.5 ton Medium Tank T4
The 13.5-ton Medium Tank T4 – at 13.5 tons (12.2 tonnes) this tank was armed only with machine guns and was not adopted. Source: Wiki

Investment

The potential of the A.T.C. tanks from Bechhold’s company had indeed gained attention. In June 1940, a British Purchasing Commission had arrived in the USA to look at the possibility of producing and purchasing tanks for the war effort. Great Britain had, of course, been at war since September 1939, and June 1940 was just after the evacuation of Dunkirk, a time when a lot of British armor had already been lost on the continent with the fall of France. Great Britain and its Empire now stood resolute against the Axis of Germany and Italy but it desperately needed tanks and arms to fight the war.

The same month, Bechhold managed to interest John MacEnulty, the President of the Pressed Steel Car Company, in tank production and a five-year contract (renewable for up to 2 years) was signed on 23rd July 1940. Under the terms of this contract, Pressed Steel would gain exclusive rights to the production of tanks from A.T.C. (notwithstanding that a non-exclusive Belgian production license had already been signed). Under the terms of the contract, Pressed Steel would pay A.T.C. a royalty of $750 for each vehicle of A.T.C.’s design ordered for production by the US or Foreign Governments at Pressed Steel. A.T.C. was to provide plans, drawings, technical advice and, if required, a skilled engineer to assist in production.

 John F. MacEnulty, President of Pressed Steel Car Company
John F. MacEnulty, President of Pressed Steel Car Company from 1937. Source: Railway Engineering and Maintenance Vol.34

On 25th October 1940. Pressed Steel entered into an agreement with the British Purchasing Commission for the production and delivery of 501 M3 Medium tanks. These were not tanks designed by A.T.C. but Bechhold did assist in the completion of the contract arrangement and the British sent an advance of US$500,000 to Pressed Steel. The next month, November 1940, Pressed Steel paid A.T.C. US$75,000 under the terms of the July 1940 contract with US$300,000 remaining to be paid.

It is not clear though why Pressed Steel paid this commission to A.T.C. as the vehicles being produced were Grant tanks and not the Christie-based tank design from A.T.C. Despite the huge sum paid to ATC, it was in trouble. Bechhold had finagled matters so that after October 1940, only he held all of the Class A shares in the company, and therefore had exclusive voting rights for A.T.C. He had also increased the number of shares available from 100 to 10,000 (3000 Class A and 7000 Class B) with a reduced value of just US$1 each.

British Interest

The desperate need for tanks meant that the British were rapidly building their own in industries repurposed from civilian work to war work, but they were also looking for American production too, as this would not be affected by the manpower shortage in Britain or by German bombing. As well as the order for the M3 tanks from Pressed Steel, various other options were being considered and the work of the Purchasing Commission continued into 1941.

One particular type of vehicle that the British were interested in was an airborne tank,namely a tank which could accompany parachute or glider-borne troops. The lightweight and compact Bechhold tank was obviously of specific interest. On 27th February 1941, on behalf of the British committee in charge of evaluating tank designs, a telegram was sent to the Consul General in New York regarding the tank situation. The British were clear on what they needed from an airborne tank:

3 man crew
37 mm gun and .30 calibre Browning in a 360 degree rotating turret (quite why a 37 mm gun was specified in preference to the 2 pounder which was already an excellent gun and fielded on the A.17 Tetrarch is unknown but it is probably to do with the 37 mm being easier to produce in the USA)
Space for a wireless
Maximum Speed 40 mph (64 km/h)
Radius of Action 200 miles (320 km)
Armor basis ‘preferably’ 40-50 mm on the front and turret. 30 mm thick sides
Weight about 9 tons (9.1 tonnes) (anything under 9 tons was felt to lack the fighting qualities required) (for reference: the A.17 Tetrarch weighed just 7.6 tonnes)
“Not very interested in dropping Tank from a height of two feet”

In other words, the idea of dropping the tank from a plane was not wanted at all. Either it had to be landed directly (some various schemes for adding wings to tanks were considered), or it had to be unloaded from an aircraft. Dropping it from underneath a plane was, quite rightly, seen as a terrible idea. These requirements exceeded those of the Bechhold tank from A.T.C. That vehicle lacked the armor and firepower required and was inferior to the available A.17 Tetrarch when what was wanted by the British was basically a better armored version of the Tetrarch. The British were also anxious to get an airborne tank as soon as possible and were hoping for interest from the USA in manufacturing the vehicle. The Bechhold tank was, therefore, not suitable for their needs as it was noted that a pilot model had not yet been built.

By the end of March 1941, British plans for “the Bechold [sic: Bechhold] Project” were over. Having analyzed the tank, the British reported that: “The tank will not have the essential fighting qualities for the operations in view” and would also divert production from heavy bombers. The matter was left in the hands of American authorities to pursue and oversee its development. In its place came consideration of a 9-ton (9.1 tonnes) tank to be carried by towed glider. A final comment on the matter, from 30th April 1941, was that it had become clear to the British that the “American War Department feel they have no capacity to devote to the development of air-borne tanks”. As the decision was that Bechhold’s tanks should be overseen in America rather than from Britain it was decided that no action be taken on the Bechhold tanks.

Sold Off

The British had not been convinced by Bechhold’s salesmanship. They had, after all, already been down the Christie suspension vehicle route with the purchase of a Christie M.1931 which became the A.13E1 in 1936/7 and they had extensive experience with light Cruiser type tanks already. They also had plenty of small light tank designs including the A.17 Tetrarch. They had been clear on what they wanted but Bechhold was either unable or unwilling to comply, or simply could not produce a prototype, which was required before a decision could be taken. With the British unconvinced and an already lucrative deal with Pressed Steel in place, Bechhold had other plans.

Shenanigans and Taxes

In February 1941, A.T.C. sold its original Christie tank for just US$3,500, (Bechhold had bought it for US$5,000 in 1939) and on 18th August that year, A.T.C. incorporated as a corporation in Delaware to avoid payment of New York franchise taxes. This was completed on 20th August and the shares changed to just 100 Class A and 9,900 Class B shares with Bechhold, of course, retaining all the Class A shares and the voting rights that went with them (he also held 6,400 of the Class B shares too). Between 2nd and 4th September 1941, A.T.C. signed over all assets and the July 1940 contract (with Pressed Steel) to a newly incorporated body in Delaware, meaning the New York ATC effectively disappeared, although it was not formally dissolved until 11th September 1941. Mr. MacEnulty of Pressed Steel wrote to Bechhold on 4th September 1941 informing him that the July 1940 contract was now canceled due to alleged misrepresentations by Bechhold and a legal fight ensued.

Bechhold was insistent that he was owed money from Pressed Steel and, despite being offered US$300,000 (the remaining balance from the British Purchasing Commission contract), Bechhold refused due to the tax liability involved. His counter-offer was US$1.5m and this was immediately rejected. Instead, Pressed Steel suggested it should buy all of the remaining shares of ATC for US$50 per share (10,000 shares at US$50 would mean a US$500,000 payday). This would mean the end of Delaware A.T.C, which would have to surrender all its designs including an “aero” (airborne) tank concept, a full size model of the hook and release mechanism for releasing a tank from an airplane, designs of various other tanks and flamethrowers, and cash. This offer was considered and changed on 3rd October 1941 with a value of US$37.50 per share (US$375,000), but this would be only the existing July 1940 contract, no other plans or designs. This was agreed to by the voting members of Delaware A.T.C., which was just Bechhold, who of course approved of this arrangement.

In order to facilitate this transaction, the Delaware incorporated A.T.C. was changed from any mention or use of Armored Tank Corporation to the ‘Illinois Tank Corporation’ (I.T.C.) on 14th October 1941. On this day, just as Armored Tank Corporation (Delaware) was bought out by Pressed Steel and changed to Illinois Tank Corporation, Bechhold started a new company in Delaware. He called this new company the ‘Armored Tank Company’ once more receiving all of the assets from the original A.T.C., other than the contract, which had now gone to I.T.C. The next day, the new A.T.C. handed over all of its shares to I.T.C. which was then distributed to the stockholders, which also included Bechhold.

From these corporate shenanigans, Bechhold netted himself a cool 100 Class A shares (100% of the voting power), and 6,400 Class B shares valued at US$243,750 in total. This 15th October 1941 payment of US$375,000 (tax year 1941-1942) was to have serious consequences for Bechhold and his creative accounting.

Following this 15th October takeover though, the original July 1940 contract was finished. Bechhold probably felt he had made enough money and the entire business of the Illinois Tank Company was wound up suggesting that what assets in terms of tank designs it might have had leftover had little to no value. I.T.C. formally dissolved on 22nd November 1941.

Certainty

The substantial pay-off which Bechhold had received was classed as personal income. He, and the other stakeholders, were found to be personally liable for taxes of this income. If there is one certainty greater than death and taxes, then it is taxation in time of war. Taken to court for non-payment of taxes, Armored Tank Corporation admitted an error in its tax liabilities and was assessed to be liable for the sum of US$390,144.91 (including US$78,028.98 in tax penalties on top of its original 80% tax liability of US$312,115.93).

This was not the end of it either, for the individual shareholders of the Armored Tank Corporation/Illinois Tank Corporation were also found personally liable for back taxes and penalties. Stockholders Philip Steckler and Hamilton Allen were found liable for US$33,750, and US$22,500 respectively, and Max and Siegfried Bechhold were found liable for US$243,750 and US$45,000 respectively. A massive combined penalty of US$735,144.91 (over US$12.8m in 2019 dollars) for not paying taxes on that US$375,000 (US$6.5m in 2019 dollars) income demonstrated the danger of trying to dodge taxes in wartime.

Accessories

A.T.C. did not just produce a tank design. One of the more unusual things it designed and produced was a trailer for vehicles. This design appears in a letter dated 19th May 1942 from the Office of the Chief of Ordnance to the Commanding General of Aberdeen Proving Grounds (A.P.G.). Confusingly though, the product in question was produced by the ‘Armored Tank Corporation’ of Jersey City, New Jersey, suggesting that Bechhold kept working on designs incorporated in a different state. It is unlikely to be a mistake as A.T.C. (NY) had ended in September 1941 and I.T.C. (DE) ended November 1941. It is undoubtedly the same firm reborn, however, as the person providing information to A.P.G. on behalf of A.T.C. (NJ) was none other than ’Mr. Bechhold’ himself.

Rota-Trailer Model 4
A.T.C.(NJ) Rota-Trailer Model 4 during testing at A.P.G., Summer 1941, hitched to the rear of a half-track. The tests did not go well. Source: The_Chieftain – WoT forum

The proposal to the military was not this time a tank, but a trailer capable of being used for hauling supplies, equipment, or fuel. According to Mr. Bechhold, the British were interested in this trailer and the report recommended that APG experiment with it over a 250 mile (402 km) course to assess its viability, showing it off to the army and British representatives respectively.

This trailer was known as the ‘ROTA-TRAILER’ and the name stenciled on the side during trials stated this was the ‘Model 4’, suggesting the other 3 models or designs were less well refined. This Model 4 trailer consisted of two large hollow wheels fitted with a 40 inch (101.6cm) rubber tire 5 inches (12.7cm) wide. The wheels were unsprung but could hold up to 60 imperial gallons (272.8 liters) of fuel, either petrol or diesel, and were covered in rubber to provide a ‘self-sealing’ effect if the wheel hub were punctured by ammunition up to .50 caliber. Between the two wheels was a large rectangular cargo compartment made from ⅛” thick (3.175 mm) thick welded steel. This large space inside could be fitted with an ammunition rack for tank or artillery shells (34 rounds of 75 mm or 108 rounds of 37 mm), small arms ammunition boxes, ration boxes, water or fuel cans, or other items that were required. A second, smaller compartment below this was specifically designed to hold four boxes of .30 ammunition.

Top-down view of the Rota-Trailer Model 4
Top-down view of the Rota-Trailer Model 4 from A.T.C. (NJ) with top cover open. It contained 3 specimen shells in a rack, two 5-US gallon (18.9 liter) ‘flimsies’ and three boxes of rations. Source: The_Chieftain – WoT forum

At the back of the trailer lay a third compartment, smaller than the first, and which contained a hand-operated fuel pump and supply hose long enough to feed the towing vehicle. Below this compartment lay a fourth compartment (just like the one at the front) which held stowage space for tools.

A.T.C.(NJ) Rota-Trailer Model 4
A.T.C.(NJ) Rota-Trailer Model 4 pictured during testing at A.P.G. Summer 1941. Source: The_Chieftain – WoT forum

Overall, the trailer was very complex containing many bespoke parts that made for complicated maintenance. The doors to access the items inside were fitted with wing nuts (butterfly nuts) but were overly laborious to unscrew to access the contents. This is something that could easily have been rectified in a production model.

Rear view of the Rota-Trailer Model 4
Rearview of the Rota-Trailer Model 4 from A.T.C. (NJ) with hand pump (top) and toolbox (bottom) open for inspection. Between the two is a towing hook for additional trailers. The narrow tires and very wide wheel hubs are apparent in this image. Source: The_Chieftain – WoT forum

The Rota-Trailer not only had these internal compartments for stowage but also the ability to have a multitude of items carried on top. A special frame was fitted which held three 5-US gallon (18.9 liter) oil cans, and various tie-downs allowed other accessories such as nets or tarpaulins or other stores to be lashed to the top of the trailer.

Testing

Despite looking good on paper, capable of extending the fighting range of a tank, the trailer had serious problems. It was tested by an M4 Sherman and two different half-tracks over a 26 mile (42 km) cross country course and 250 miles (400 km) of gravel roads and, whilst it was on a flat surface, like a road, it worked well with little bouncing. The trailer was heavy too: each wheel weighed 400 lbs (180 kg) empty and 800 lbs (360 kg) when full in addition to the weight of the other material carried. The weight of the trailer placed additional strain on the drivetrain of the towing vehicle and, during rough travel off-road, the stress and strain on the trailer risked serious damage. On top of this, the trailer reduced the maximum speed of the vehicle towing it because the instability of the load caused by the sloshing liquid in the wheels threatened to result in sideways skids at high speeds.

Even as it was, the semi-rough terrain traversed ended up with all of the cans of water inside or on top of the trailer becoming deformed and leaky but the trailer did at least provide self-floatation in mud due to the width of the fuel cells. Another downside was that the lower front compartment, just 8.75 inches (222 mm) from the ground had a tendency to become filled with mud which was forced into it.

A final problem with the trailer was that it made reversing more difficult. During testing with an M4, the trailer skewed to one side and the stress caused damage to the towing arm and the tank tracks rubbing against the trailer body.

Model 4 from A.T.C. (NJ) after testing, the twisted tow arm
View of the Rota-Trailer Model 4 from A.T.C. (NJ) after testing, the twisted tow arm and torn section of the front having been caused by contacting the tracks of the tank. Source: The_Chieftain – WoT forum

Overall, the tests of this A.T.C. product were a failure and the vehicle was not recommended for use. Its main faults were:
Difficult to reverse
Additional strain on the drivetrain of the towing vehicle
Reduces maximum possible speed of the towing vehicle
Too heavy to move easily by hand
Too little ground clearance
No suspension
Steel body is not resistant to small arms fire

None of these faults were to stop further ideas, designs, and experimentation with trailers for hauling fuel or stores by tanks, but the work from A.T.C. (NJ) on this matter was effectively dead. No more is known of A.T.C. after this time; possibly Bechhold’s resources had simply run out and this venture failed, although it is noteworthy that on 1st February 1943, despite the failings of the Rotatrailer, the British still ordered 600 of them anyway, although how many were finished or delivered is less clear.

In the Army

Siegfried Bechhold, aged 42, in October 1942 joined his second Army. His first was a German one in WW1, his second, an American one in WW2. He served as a private being sent to Camp Lee in Virginia. He is not believed to have been sent overseas.

Re-born once more?

The back end of the hull of the Bechhold Tank seen in the November/December 1940 advert is very similar to the vehicle shown to the US Army Ordnance Department in May 1942 known as the Bigley Gun Motor Carriage suggesting a possible link to that vehicle. Was, in fact, the Bigley GMC the M.1938 High-Speed tank from Christie, bought and modified by A.T.C. and then sold off, redeveloped and re-submitted by another firm? Or is it in fact the other Christie tank, the M.1937 sold off by his creditors to Mr. Bechhold. On the balance of the evidence, the former case appears to be correct.

Bigley GMC seen in May 1942
Bigley GMC seen in May 1942. Source: US Army Ordnance

By the end of WW2, Bechhold had left the field of tanks and the complications of military work. By 1948, he was living in Florida where he headed the Ribbonwriter Corporation of America, selling parts for typewriters. Siegfried Bechhold died in California in 1956.

A rendition of Bechhold’s tank, as shown in the ad published in the November/December 1940 issue of the Army Ordnance Magazine. Illustration by Adrielcz, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Sources

Army Ordnance. (November-December 1940). Super Tanks. Vol. XXI.
The Camden News. (27th June 1941). Russians now seek to buy tank designs refused them during Finnish War. Arkansas, USA
Crismon, F. (1992). US Military Tracked Vehicles. Crestline Publishing, USA
Cypher Telegram. (8th March 1941). No.1456 Supply to the Consul General in New York. For Dewar from Burton T-59.
Gray, C. (16th July 2006). A Notable Block with a Hole in its Heart. New York Times, New York, USA
Second Circuit of Appeals. (10th July 1939). Bethlehem Engineering Export Company v Christie 105.F.2d 933 (2d Cir. 1939)
Indianapolis Star. (26th January 1941). U.S. Help Brings Joy to Greeks. Indianapolis, USA
The Jewish Floridian. (24th December 1948). New Typewriter Device Produced by Dania Firm.
Keough, F. (November 1918). Contents. American Industries: The Manufacturers’ Magazine. Vol. XIX, No.4.
Nielsen, K. (2012). Pressed Steel!. Author House Publishing
Ogden Standard Examiner. (1st June 1941). Flying Tanks. Utah, USA
Pearson, D., Back, R. (9th August 1941). The Washington Merry Go-Round. Nevada State Journal.
Popular Mechanics. (May 1936). Fast-Tank and Plane Latest War Machine.
Pinedale Roundup. (29th October 1942). No Cellophane Commission. Wyoming, USA
Railway Age. (2nd December 1939). Meetings and Conventions. Railway Age, Vol.107, No.23.
Railway Engineering and Maintenance. (January 1938). Supply Trade News.
San Bernadino Sun. (13th April 1941). Breaking Nazi Morale. Volume 46, 1941.
San Francisco Examiner. (8th February 1956). Siegfried Bechhold dies in Santa Rosa Hospital. San Francisco, USA
Strausbaugh, J. (2018). Victory City: A History of New York and New Yorkers during World War II. Twelve Publishing.
United States. (1949). Reports of the Tax Court of the United States, Volume 11. US Government Printing Office
Office of the Chief of Ordnance, Bigley Tank, OCE, Washington D.C., USA
United States Tax Court. (20th October 1948). Armored Tank Corporation v. Commissioner. Docket No. 9786, 9769, 9770, 9771, 9772, 11916, 1919, 11920, 11927
US Patent US2310887(A). Hook-on-and-release mechanism for fighting tanks. Filed 6th May 1941. Granted 9th February 1943.
Weir J. D.G. Mech. E. (24th March 1941). Memo to Sir James Lithgow.
Weir J. D.G. Mech. E. (24th March 1941). Memo to Air Marshall Dawson.
Weir, J. D.G. Mech. E. (30th April 1941). Memo to A.R. 2 War Office via DAFV.
Wrynn, C. Major. (1st February 1943). Rota Trailers – Memo.. 1/Rel/ Equip Armd/1
The Chieftain’s Hatch 28th March 2014. Trailer, Ammunition and Fuel Part 1. 
Christie, J. (1985). Steel Steeds Christie. Sunflower University Press, Kansas, USA

Categories
Has Own Video WW2 US Light Tank Prototypes

Light Tank T3

United States of America (1936)
Light Tank – 1 Prototype

Light Tanks T3 Source: AGF

The Light Tank T3, made in the late 1930s, occupies a period of time in US tank development history best described not so much as a dark age but more of a grey age. Lots of failed and somewhat obscure ‘T’ number designs were being developed to fulfill an unclear and poorly considered set of strategic goals at a time when an isolationist America was unprepared to wage a modern war.

This relatively unknown and obsolete-before-it-was-even-finished tank is remarkable only for its unremarkableness, and that it was inferior in almost every way to tanks of other nations such as Italy, whose 2-man turretless light tanks were also identified as having serious failings in combat. Perhaps, the only thing to distinguish the Light Tank T3 is that it marks one small step in the process of development which eventually led to one of the most successful light tanks of WW2, the Stuart.

The design

The US Light Tank T3 started life in 1936 as an idea by Rock Island Arsenal (RIA) to produce a tank lighter than the Light Tank T2, which was due to go into mass production that fiscal year. At this time, weight was king. The US Secretary of State for War had decreed in the Spring of 1933 that 7.5 US tons (6.8 tonnes) was the maximum weight allowable for a light tank, so the goal was to keep the weight as low as possible. RIA had already dropped the British Vickers 6-ton-style suspension in favor of a double-wheel volute spring bogie from the Combat Car T5 for the Light Tank T2 in 1934. Thus, the suspension which was to form the basis of numerous American designs for the next several years had already been selected when the Light Tank T3 came along. With an attempt to be less than half the fully laden weight of the already light Light Tank T2 (weighing just 7.5 US tons to 9.7 US tons/6.8 to 8.8 tonnes depending on the variant), severe design compromises would have to be made.

The most obvious of these changes was the removal of the turret, followed by a significant overall reduction in size and the switch to a crew of just two instead of four on the Light Tank T2. The two crew were simply the driver on the front left of the hull, and the commander on the front right. The commander also had to operate the sole armament. In an effort to further reduce weight, some aluminum components were also used inside. Finished in March 1936, the vehicle was shipped to Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) in Maryland in April that year. Here, on 23rd April, the Light Tank T3 was unveiled for comparative testing with the pilot model Combat Car T5 (a tank in all but name).

Pilot model of the Light Tank T2 (no armament fitted) Source: Hunnicutt
The 7.5 US ton (6.8 tonnes) Pilot Combat Car T5 (no armament fitted) Source: Hunnicutt

Engine

The Light Tank T3 was powered by a single V8 Ford car engine. Capable of delivering 83 hp at 3,800 rpm, with differential steering and a 4-speed transmission, the Light Tank T3 could manage a credible 35 mph (56 km/h) on a road.

This Ford V8 was later replaced with a Menasco air-cooled engine and as such was renamed Light Tank T3E1.

Suspension

The Light Tank T3 used a pair of dual-wheel bogies with rubber volute springs of a very similar style fitted to a whole generation of US tanks in WW2. These volute spring units, however, were the result of comparative testing with an experimental rubber torsion suspension. Details on what that suspension actually looked like are unclear but it is known that it failed repeatedly during testing and would need redesigning to be usable. It was not and was abandoned. When the Light Tank T3 was upgraded with a Menasco engine as the Light Tank T3E1, the volute springs were finally selected as the preferred suspension.

The Armament

The Light Tank T3 was very poorly armed, just a single .30 caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun located in the front right of the hull. Mounted in a ball, the range of motion was acceptable but still ultimately as limited as other vehicles such as the Italian CV.3, it faced forwards so could not fire to the sides or rear.

Armor

As might be imagined in such a small and light vehicle, the armor was woeful. No part of the Light Tank T3 was thicker than ⅜” (9.5 mm), with most of the armor being just 3/16” (4.8 mm) thick, enough to protect against small arms from the front but vulnerable to even a burst from a machine gun or shot from an anti-tank rifle. With such poor armor, it is no surprise that an idea was floated to increase the armor thickness to an unspecified value in another variant known as the Light Tank T3E2, with the issuing of the tank to the National Guard in mind. This was never completed and the Light Tank T3E2 was never built. There was also a T3E3 version that got as far as a study but it is not known exactly what the study was about and whether it was armor or automotive related or something else.

US Light Tank T3 pictured during trials on 13th March 1936. No armament is fitted but it does have a very shiny single front headlamp on the glacis nose and what appears to be some kind of siren on the mudguard. Source: Hunnicutt

Variants

T3E1: upgraded T3 with a Menasco engine. 1 converted.
T3E2: T3 project with increased armor. None built.
T3E3: unknown study project

Conclusion

When the Light Tank T3E1 was abandoned, it was not wasted. Instead, the remaining vehicle was stripped of its armament and converted into an experimental tracked carrier named the Cross-Country Carrier T5. The sole contribution of the Light Tank T3 is perhaps to show the futility of a two-man tank armed with just a single machine gun. The cost of the vehicle and the poor combat potential meant that, despite moderately good mobility, it was still a failure. Of the variants attempted, the Light Tank T3E1 was at least an improvement with a better engine but the E2 with more armor was dropped before it began. The Light Tank Tank T3E3 got as far as a design study but how far and quite what they were even trying to study is not clear. The concept was a dead end. The vehicle was converted to a tracked utility carrier and quite rightly consigned to the dustbin of US tank design.

With a soldier for scale, the tiny Light Tank T3 shows really just how small it was. Source: Hunnicutt
The T3 light tank was tiny, armed with just a single machine-gun and seating two crew members in the front compartment. The rear rounded compartment housed the engine. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions 11.25’ x 6.75’ x 4.5’ (3.43 x 2.06 x 1.37 m)
Weight 3.54 US tons / (3.21 tonnes)
Crew 2 (Commander/gunner, and driver/radio operator)
Engine Ford V8 Petrol (T3), Menasco air-cooled (T3E1)
Max. speed 35 mph (56 km/h)
Armament 1 x .30 caliber machine gun
Armor ¼” to ⅜” (6.35 to 9.53 mm) (T3), slightly heavier armor (T3E2)

Sources

AFV Data Series
Crimson, F. (1992). US Military Tracked Vehicles. Crestline, USA
United States Army. The General Staff: Its Origins and Powers
AGF Board. (1947). Development of Armored Vehicles Vol.1: Tanks.
Hunnicutt, R. (1992). Stuart: A History of the American Light Tank. Presidio Press, USA

Categories
Has Own Video WW2 US Light Tank Prototypes

Light Tank T21

United States of America (1942-1943)
Light Tank – None Built

Introduction

When the US joined the war in 1941, their primary light tank was the M3 Stuart and, while this vehicle was acceptable for that time, there was an interest in a new light tank. In January 1941, the US Army started the T7 Light Tank program, however, by August 6th, 1942, this tank had grown in weight and size and was now reclassified as the M7 Medium Tank. With no replacement for the Light Tank M3 in progress, the T21 Light Tank project was started.

While no T21 mockup would ever be made, this mockup of the T20 shows roughly what the T21 would have looked like. (Photo: Stuart)

Development

With the need for a new light tank, representatives of the Ordnance Department and the Armored Force held a conference at Fort Knox on August 18th, 1942. where it was decided that they should use the new T20 medium tank as a basis for the light tank. It would mount the M3 75 mm gun and feature armor capable of holding up against .50 caliber rounds while being within a 20-ton limit. It was decided that, if possible, the M3 75 mm gun would be replaced with a 76 mm higher velocity gun. It was proposed that it could use the Medium Tank M7’s suspension.

Following this conference and additional studies, an Ordinance Committee Minutes (OCM) was issued in February 1943 detailing the new light tank. It would have a crew of 5, mount a stabilized 76 mm gun, and would have a top speed of 45 mph (72 km/h). However, at this stage, the engine, suspension, and various other aspects were not finalized and its weight had been increased to 47,000 lbs (21,300 kg) or 21 long tons. Final layout drawings were finished during March and submitted. By this time the weight had been increased to 51,000 lbs (23,100 kg) or 22.8 long tons, with the new top speed being intended as 50 mph (80 km/h).

There was also a second variant which existed for a short time called the T21E1. This variant was to weigh 22 tons, later increased to 23 tons, and would have thicker armor than the normal T21 while being able to manage 50 mph (80 km/h). It seems likely that the T21E1 program was accepted as the new T21, as later sheets state the T21 as having almost the same figures as the T21E1.

T20 Pilot 1
T20 Pilot 1; the T21 with VVSS would have been almost identical to this. (Photo: Pershing)

Armor

The initial armor for this tank was designed to only resist .50 caliber fire, being 1 1/8th inch (2.85 cm) on the hull’s front and 1.5 inches (3.81 cm) on the turret face. The hull’s side and rear armor was 1 inch (2.5 cm) and 3/4th (1.9 cm) of an inch, respectively, the turret’s side and rear armor were 1 1/8th inch (2.85 cm). At a later point, the armor on the T21 increased to be the same armor basis as on the M5 Stuart. The T21E1 project was to have the same armor as the M5 Stuart as well.

Firepower

The T21 was to mount the 76 mm M1E1 or M1E2 gun – the primary difference between these 2 guns being that one had a tighter rifling twist rate than the other. The rounds used by that gun included M62 Armor Piercing Capped (APC) and M79 Armor Piercing (AP), additional rounds including High Explosive and White Phosphorus. The gun was to have elevation and depression limits of +25 and -10 degrees respectively, as well as being gyro-stabilized. It also was to mount two .30 caliber machine guns, one co-axially to the main gun and another in a bow mount in the hull.

Suspension and Tracks

While it was initially proposed in August 1942 to use the M7 Medium Tanks Vertical Volute Spring Suspension or VVSS, it was later decided to utilize torsion bar suspension instead. The tracks that were intended for it were the 18 inch T49 type. Whilst the exact layout is unknown, the T21 would have had, it can be assumed that due to it being just a lighter T20, it would have been the same or very similar as on the T20E3. The T20E3’s suspension had a torsion bar and initially had 3 track return rollers per side, however later on, 2 additional ones were added, bringing the total to 5 per side. an idler wheel was attached to the front wheel to compensate for slack in the track.

T20E3 Pilot
T20E3 Pilot, externally, the T21’s suspension would have been almost identical. Note the 3 return rollers (Photo: Pershing)

Engine and Transmission

The engine for both the T21 and T21E1 was to be the Ford GAN, which produced 500 bhp at 2600 RPM. The transmission for both was the same 5-speed manual transmission utilized in the M4A3. The location for the engine and transmission is unknown, but again, due to it being just a lighter T20, it is likely that it would have been in the same position as on the T20, in the rear of the tank.

Fate

In March 1943, the design and layout were presented at Fort Knox to the Armored Force. They came to the realization, from their experience with the M7 Medium Tank, that the T21’s weight would continue to increase in the future, resulting in another under-armored medium tank. They then suggested that the T21 project be terminated and Ordinance replied in July 1943 by killing the project. Up to this point, no mockup or pilot vehicles had even been started. The fate of the T21E1 is unknown, but it was almost certainly canceled along with the T21 if it was still in development at that time.

T20E3 showing the later change to 5 return rollers
T20E3 showing the later change to 5 return rollers. (Photo: Pershing)

Conclusion

This design, like many before it, was a good idea on paper, but operational realities and desires soon lead to a situation where, like the M7 before, it was doomed to become too heavy to fulfill the light tank role and too light to fulfill the medium tank role. The discontinuation of the T21 program in March 1943 was met with the start of a new project, the T24, which would not be deployed until 1944, which in turn forced the US to continue having to field the M3 and M5 Stuarts up until the end of the war, despite their growing inferiority.

The T21 Light Tank was very similar to the T20 Medium Tank from which it was derived. Illustration by Andrei “Octo10” Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon campaign.

T21 Light Tank Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.76 m x 2.98 m x 2.48 m
Total weight, battle ready 20.98 tons (47,000lbs gross)(21.31 tonnes)
Crew Five (Driver, Co-Driver, Commander, Gunner, Loader)
Propulsion Ford GAN
Maximum speed 45mph (72kph) on road
25mph(40kph) on 3% grade
12mph(19kph) on 10% grade
Suspensions Torsion bar
Range 1150 miles at 25mph (40kph) on roads
Main Armament Gyro Stabilized 76mm M1E1 or M1E2 gun with 70 rounds
Secondary Armament Two .30 Browning M1919 machine guns with 6000 rounds
Armor 1 inch (25mm) to 1.5 inches (38mm)
Production None

Sources

Pershing: A History of the Medium Tank T20 Series, R.P Hunnicutt.
Stuart: A History of the American Light Tank, R.P Hunnicutt.
R.A.C British Army Staff (AFV) Situation Report No. 5,7,9

Categories
WW2 US Light Tank Prototypes

Light Tank T1 Cunningham

United States of America (1927-1932)
Light Tank – 6 Prototypes Built

Up to the late 1920s, the United States military had relied on tank designs from overseas. This included the Tank Mk. VIII “International Liberty”, a World War One rhomboid style tank co-produced with the United Kingdom and the French designed Renault FT, known as the Light Tank M1917 in American service.
The M1917 served well into the 1920’s with the US Military. In 1927 the US Army designed a new tank to be built by James Cunningham, Son, and Company based in Rochester, New York (they were the first car company in the World to produce an automobile with a V8 engine). This tank was the Light Tank T1, sometimes known as the “T1 Cunningham”. It would be one of the United State’s first modern home built tanks.

“What is a modern tank?” You may well ask. The Renault FT is often considered to be the first modern tank, as since its appearance, tanks have more or less followed its general layout.This being a fully rotating turret, and separate crew and engine compartments. The T1 was America’s first tank to follow this design.

Development

The T1 was developed between 1927 and 1932, and would go through seven variations from T1, to T1E6. Each variation would go through upgraded weaponry, engine performance, and suspension.
The anatomy of the T1 remained mostly the same through its various versions. It’s characteristics were a rear mounted turret, an engine positioned in the front, and rear mounted drive sprockets. The exceptions were the E4 and E6 models. In these models, the turret was relocated to the center of the tank, the engine to the rear and the drive sprockets to the front.
Armament was constant. The tank carried a 37mm (1.46 in) Gun, with a coaxial M1919 .30 Cal. Machine Gun mounted in the fully rotatable hand cranked turret. The armament was mounted slightly to the right of the center line. The tank had a crew of two consisting of Commander and Driver in a set up similar to the M1917/Renault FT Light Tank. The Commander was located in the turret, and also performed the role of Gunner and Loader. It was his responsibility to service the main armament. The driver was located just in front of him.

The T1 taking part in training. Photo: As taken from worldoftanks.ru

T1 to T1E6

T1: The T1 made its first appearance in 1927 as a single prototype. Its main armament was the 37mm Short Tank Gun M1918. This gun was a US development of the Canon d’Infanterie de 37 modèle 1916 TRP, a low-velocity French Infantry Support Gun that was used in the First World War. The turret was roughly conical, with the roof sloping towards the gun. The T1’s armor ranged from 6.4mm (0.25 in) to 9.5mm (0.37 in) and was powered by a Cunningham water-cooled V8 gasoline engine, rated at 105 hp. This gave a top speed of 20 mph (32 km/h). It had an unsprung suspension, using equalizing links between the bogies to soften impacts, even so, it would have been an extremely rough ride over hard terrains. The tank weighed 7.5 tons.
T1E1: The T1E1 followed the original vehicle in 1928, there were few changes. The only major alterations consisted of the hull no longer extending beyond of the forward idler wheels, and the relocation of the fuel tanks to above the tracks. Speed was also reduced to 18 mph (29 km/h). Steering was achieved with a simple clutch-brake steering system. Four of these vehicles were produced making them the only T1s to see any kind of series production. The vehicle soon received the standardization designation of Light Tank M1, this was soon revoked, however.
T1E2: Like its T1 predecessor, only one T1E2 prototype was built. It saw some major changes to its offense and defense. The E2’s armor was increased to 15mm (0.625) thick, raising the tank’s overall weight to 8.9 tons. The armament was also exchanged for a Browning 37mm Auto-Cannon, which had much higher velocity than the standard M1918 gun. It is thought this gun may have been a long barreled version of the M1924. The armament was later reverted, however, with the M1918 37mm Gun being reintroduced. A new turret was introduced that was completely conical with a flat, rimmed top. It almost had the appearance of a top hat, the E2 was the only version of the tank to have this turret. The Cunningham V8 engine had its power boosted to 132 hp, giving the tank a better power-to-weight ration. Maximum speed was only 16 mph, however, due to gear ratio changes.
T1E3: The E3 was a further development of one of the four T1E1s. This variation was brought in 1930 by the US Ordnance Department. It could be considered as somewhat of a ‘Tankenstein’, as it was made up of a combination of parts from the T1E1 and T1E2. It was armed with the Browning Auto-Cannon, had thickened armor and more powerful engine of the E2, but kept the E1’s turret, hull and gear ratios. The E1’s gear ratios combined with the E2’s more powerful engine again increased the Tanks power-to-weight ratio, and increased the top speed to 21.9 mph (35.2 km/h). The major change to T1E3 came with the suspension, which was completely redesigned and featured hydraulic shock-absorbers and coil-springs. This gave a much smoother ride and better cross-country performance than the springless suspension of the previous models.
T1E4: The T1E4, introduced in 1932, was a complete metamorphosis compared to the previous models of the T1. The layout of the vehicle was changed to having a centrally mounted turret, engine in the rear and sprocket wheels at the front. It had a new suspension based on the British Vickers 6-ton Light Tank, which the US Army had previously tested. This suspension consisted of semi-elliptic leaf-springs on articulated four-wheel bogies. The vehicle was now longer than the original 12 ft 6 in (3.810 m) of the T1 at 15 ft 5 in (4.70 m). Armament was changed to the short barrel version of the M1924 Gun. The E4, at first, retained the E1’s engine. This soon proved to be underpowered so it was replaced with another upgrade Cunningham V8 rated at 140 hp, giving the tank a top speed of 20 mph (32 km/h).
T1E5: The E5 came along around same time as the E4, and was a further development of one of the T1E1 Prototypes. This model was fitted with a new steering system. Up until this model, the T1s had all used Clutch-Brake steering, which led to overall power loss when traversing the hull. This was replaced by a controlled differential steering system, otherwise known as a ‘Cletrac’ system named after the Cleveland Tractor Company who produced it. It worked by slowing down the wheels on one side of the tank, letting the faster side to swing in the direction required. Testing concurred that this was a much better method than the original Clutch-Brake, especially at higher speeds. US Ordnance promptly recommended its use for all future tracked vehicles that could exceed a speed of 6 mph (10 km/h). It is still used today on the M113 APC. The E5 was given the same Cunningham 140 hp V8 engine as the E4.
T1E6: T1E6 was the final T1 variant. This was a further development of the E4, with Cunningham Engines removed altogether. The 140 hp Cunningham V8 was replaced by a 244 hp V12, made by the American-LaFrance & Foamite Corporation, based in Summerville, South Carolina. This engine barely squeezed into the tanks engine bay, and increased the weight to 9.95 tons, even with the more powerful engine, the speed remained a controlled 20 mph (32 km/h). The T1E6 retained the M1924 main armament of the T1E4, with the same thickness of armor. However, this time it ranged from 9.5mm (0.375 inches) to 15.9mm (0.625 in).

Light Tank T1 (T1E1) specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 12″ 8.5′ x 5″ 10.5′ x 7″ 1′ (3.8 x 1.7 x 2.1 m)
Total weight, battle ready 8.3 tons
Crew 2 (Driver, Commander)
Propulsion 110 hp, Cunningham V8.
Speed (on/off road) 18 mph (29 km/h)
Armament M1918 37mm Tank Gun,
Browning M1919 .30 Cal (7.62mm) Machine Gun
Total production 4 T1E1s, 6 prototypes in general
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

T1 Cunningham
T1E1, F Company, 2nd Tank Division, Fort Benning Georgia 1932. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet



The first model, T1. Photo: Public Domain, U.S. Army, Ordnance Department

The T1E1. Photo: Public Domain, U.S. Army, Ordnance Department

T1E2 with the improved turret. Photo: Public Domain, U.S. Army, Ordnance Department

The T1E3 with the long barreled 37mm Browning gun. Photo: Public Domain, U.S. Army, Ordnance Department

The T1E4 with the improved, Vickers derived, suspension. Photo: Public Domain, U.S. Army, Ordnance Department

T1E6, the final model. Photo: Public Domain, U.S. Army, Ordnance Department

Fate

The tank would never see mass production with the four T1E1s being the most tanks in the series built. The T1 was dropped in favor of a new design by the Rock Island Arsenal, the T2. The T2 would later go onto become the Combat Car/Light Tank M1, and would pave the way for famous American light tanks such as the M3 and M5 Stuart.
Just one of the Cunningham T1 survives today. The tank had previously sat (unarmed) on outdoor display at the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Maryland. However, when the museum closed in 2010, it was moved to the U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center at Fort Lee, Virginia. It remains there in indoor storage, out of public display.
The tank spawned one variant, the 75mm Howitzer Motor Carriage (HMC) T1. This was a turretless T1 hull, armed with the M1 75 mm Pack Howitzer. This also stayed a prototype, with just one model built.

An article by Mark Nash

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #245: Early US Armor, Tanks 1916–40
Presidio Press, Stuart – A History of the American Light Tank, R.P. Hunnicutt
Merriam Press, Development of Armored Vehicles Volume 1: Tanks, Ray Merriam
T1 on the Armored Vehicle Database