Light Tank – 141 Operated
The Second World War was rough for Norway. Falling to German invasion in April 1940, the country suffered 5 long years of occupation which only ended with the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945. Following this, Norway had to rebuild its military from the ground up. Luckily, after their surrender, the German Wehrmacht left behind vast stocks of equipment. This included rifles, machine guns, anti-tank guns, tools, and even some aircraft, all of which were adopted by the Norwegian Military (Forsvaret, Eng: “The Defence”).
A small number of tanks were also among the equipment left behind, a mix of various types of Panzer III and StuG IIIs. These were mostly of poor condition, however, so they went straight into storage. Fortunately for the Norwegian Military, the United States were keen to keep their European allies strong in the face of an increasing threat from the Soviet Union. As such, in 1946, Norway received 17 M24 Chaffees from the United States.
The Chaffee would give the Norwegian Army (Hæren) their first taste of operating a relatively modern armored vehicle, having not had a tank to operate since the single L-120 ‘Rikstanken’ of the late 1930s. Eventually, Norway would operate a total of 141 Chaffees and, through upgrades, would keep them in service until the early 1990s.
The M24 Chaffee
The M24 Chaffee, named after Army General Adna R. Chaffee, entered service in 1944, largely replacing the M3 and M5 Stuarts. It was a small tank, at 16 foot 4 inches (5.45 m) long, 9 foot 4 inches (2.84 m) wide, and 5 foot 3 inches (2.61 m) tall. It was also light at just 20.25 tons (18.37 tonnes). Armor on the vehicle was ¾ inch to 1 ½ inch (19 – 38 mm) thick. It was armed with the 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6. It was operated by a 5 man crew, consisting of the commander, gunner, loader, driver and assistant driver/radio operator.
It was a very maneuverable vehicle, powered by twin Cadillac 44T24 8 cylinder petrol engines producing 220 hp combined. The transmission and drive wheels were located at the front of the vehicle. The Chaffee rolled on 5 paired roadwheels attached to a torsion bar suspension. The fifth road wheel was attached to the idler wheel at the rear of the running gear. This is because the idler was of the compensating type, meaning it was attached to the closest roadwheel by an actuating arm. When the roadwheel reacted to terrain, the idler was pushed out or pulled in, keeping constant track tension.
Armament consisted of the 75 mm Lightweight Tank Gun M6 which had a concentric recoil system (this was a hollow tube around the barrel, a space-saving alternative to traditional recoil cylinders). Variants of this gun were also used on the B-25H Mitchell Bomber, and the T33 Flame Thrower Tank prototype. The gun had a muzzle velocity of 619 m/s (2,031 ft/s) and had a maximum penetration of 109 mm. The elevation range of the gun was around -10 to +13 degrees. Secondary armament included the coaxial .30 Cal (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 Machine Gun, and the .50 Caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning Heavy Machine gun which was mounted on the rear of the turret roof.
Norway received its first Chaffees after the Second World War, when US troops stationed in the country left the Norwegians 17 M24s when they withdrew. Further military aid came from the US under the ‘MAP’, starting in 1946. The ‘Military Aid Program’ benefited the war-ravaged countries of the Second World War by providing them the means to rebuild their military and defenses. Other countries that benefited from the MAP included France, Portugal, and Belgium, but also former enemy nations such as West Germany and Japan. The initial 1946 delivery was sent directly to Trandum leir, a Norwegian Army Camp (now closed) near Ullensaker.
In 1949, Norway and the West became an even more united front. In April, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, and NATO was born with Norway a founding member. As it shared a border with the Soviet Union, it was seen as a crucial partner. With this close proximity to the potential enemy, invasion was expected. The focus of the Norwegian military at this time was defending its strategically important airfields. For this, three Dragoon Regiments were created; ‘DR 1’, ‘DR 2’ and ‘DR 3’. These were split between various airfields. These included Gardermoen, Eggemoen, Sola, Fornebu, Værnes, and Bardufoss. To give an idea of the strategic importance of some of these airports, Gardermoen was located near Oslo, the capital of Norway, and was the main base of the Luftforsvaret (Royal Norwegian Airforce). Sola, located on Norway’s south-eastern coast, was an important link with the western Allies. Værnes, located roughly in central Norway, allowed transit to the North and South of the country.
Initially, the garrison forces were equipped with recycled Panzer IIIs and StuG IIIs left behind by the surrendering German forces. In Norwegian service, these were called Stridsvogn KW-III and Stormkanon KW-III, respectively. Due to a lack of available M24s, the garrison forces were equipped mostly with these aging vehicles. Thanks to the birth of NATO, however, Norway began to receive more military aid, and the number of M24 Chaffees available to the Army vastly increased. By 1951, the entire KW-III force had been replaced by the plentiful Chaffees. As a result, all airport garrison dragoon regiments were re-armed with the Chaffee*. Norway received its last Chaffee in 1955; however, MAP did not just provide tanks. Through this program, the Norwegians received 300 fighter aircraft, 8,000 vehicles of various types, 800 field guns, and 100,000 tonnes (110,200 tons) of ammunition.
*A detailed article on M24s at the Sola airstrip can be found in the Jan. 2017 issue of the Norwegian Museum Magazine
Norwegian Chaffees also had a royal connection. From 1955 to 1957, Prince Harald (now King Harald V) served in a Chaffee crew during his conscription years in the Norwegian Armed Forces.
The M24s gave the Hæren excellent service for many years, but come the late-1960s, the M24 was obsolete, and an upgrade program began. This resulted in the NM-116 and NM-130. Four unmodified M24s were given to the Heimevernet (the Norwegian Home Guard) which operated them well into the late 1970s. Any leftover vehicles were either sent to the ranges, or placed into storage.
The majority of tanks that remained after their retirement from the Heimevernet were either scrapped or sent to military firing ranges. A small number of vehicles – exact amount unknown – were used as static coastal defenses. For this, their turrets were removed and placed on concrete plinths. When not in use, the turrets were covered with a camouflaged metal ‘shed’ to keep them concealed. When needed, the ‘sheds’ were raised via hydraulics. In a fashion similar to the KW-III turret placements at Ft. Bjørnåsen, these turrets were part of a larger bunker system. An example of this is a bunker system was located in Harstad, in the far north of Norway. The turrets remained in place until the end of the Cold War (early-1990s), after which they started to be removed. The last use of the standard Chaffee came in 2002, when it featured in a rather risqué Norwegian mineral water commercial.
By the late-1960s, the Chaffee was getting a little bit long in the tooth. Naturally, the Forsvaret began looking for a way to increase the lethality of their tank arm. At this time, however, Norway was not the richest of countries so, instead of spending millions of Kroner on a new vehicle, they chose to upgrade the Chaffee. The Oslo based company of Thune-Eureka A/S was chosen to develop the upgrades, which incorporated a new 90 mm main gun, a new, more powerful engine, a new transmission, and various other modernizations.
The upgrade program centered around a new main armament, consisting of a French D/925 Low-Pressure 90 mm gun. Firing a Hulladingsgranat M62 High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round, the weapon was capable of defeating up to 320 mm (12.6 in) of armor, a vast improvement over the M24s original 75mm gun. This was complimented by a new coaxial Browning .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine gun, and a laser range-finder placed over the barrel. The main automotive upgrade was the replacement of the original engine with a new Detroit Diesel 6V-53T. Other, smaller modifications included a new Leopard 1-style rubber-pad track, a new sprocket wheel, new radios, and German-made smoke dischargers.
This upgraded vehicle, now designated NM-116, entered service in 1975. With the new upgrades came a new role. The upgraded Chaffee went from being a light tank, to a tank destroyer, hence ‘Panserjager’. The NM-116 was an ‘ambush predator’, and would use its small size and good maneuverability to outflank the enemy, engage, and then withdraw along pre-arranged lanes of engagement. The NM-116 was a successful conversion, but by the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the tank was becoming obsolete. Its gun simply did not have the penetrative power to combat modern armored fighting vehicles. This led to the NM-116 receiving the nickname ‘Pansernager’, literally meaning ‘Armor Nibbler’ due to the weapon’s lack of killing power. Nevertheless, the tank served the Norwegian Army well for 18 years, finally being retired in 1993.
To support the new NM-116, it was also decided that a new Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV), or ‘Bergepanser’, be developed. For this, four Chaffees were separated from the NM-116 project. The conversion work to turn the vehicles into ARVs was undertaken by Kvaerner Eureka AS. The four Chaffee hulls went through the same automotive upgrades as those being upgraded to NM-116 standard. The turrets, however, were completely removed and replaced with a large crane. A small dozer blade was also installed on the vehicle’s lower glacis.
This ARV was designated the NM-130 Bergepanser. The large pivoting crane was telescopic and could be raised or lowered by a hydraulic ram. It had a 2 to 7 tonne (2.2 – 7.7 ton) capacity, with integral 19-tonne (21 ton) capacity winch. The crane had a relatively low lift capacity as it was not designed to lift an entire vehicle, rather just its components. The 2-7 tonnes lift capacity was more than enough to hoist the NM-116’s Detroit Diesel engine which weighed just 600 kgs (1323 lbs). It was necessary that the cable have quite a high tensile strength so it could tow or retrieve the NM-116. For this, the cable was threaded through fairleads (a device that guides a line, rope or cable) placed behind the winch drum. This allowed the vehicle to tow vehicles behind it. To do this though, the crane would have to be traversed 180 degrees. The NM-130’s dozer blade performed three main roles: light earthmoving operations/obstacle clearance, support during lifting operations, and anchorage when winching.
The Bergepanser entered service around the same time as the NM-116 and left service with its tank-killing brother in the early 1990s. There is a possibility that it stayed on in service a little longer to serve Norway’s fleet of M48s and Leopard 1s, but concrete evidence of this cannot be found.
The Chaffee gave the Norwegian Army one of its earliest experiences in the operation of relatively modern armor after the Second World War, and served as its primary tank for many years. In total – thanks to the NM upgrade programs – the M24 gave the Hæren approximately 47 years of service, making it one of Norway’s longest-serving armored vehicles. This is surpassed only by the now 56 years of the M113 which – again thanks to upgrade programs – has remained in Norse service since around 1964.
Not many unmodified Norwegian Chaffees remain, however, there are a few. In the late-90s, early-2000s, the Norwegians began removing the Chaffees from their ranges and storage. A few vehicles went to Museums around Norway, but Museums around the world also began buying them and restoring them for display. An example of such a vehicle can be found at The Museum of the American G.I. in College Station, Texas, USA. The vehicle has since been restored to a fully operational condition.
A Stridsvogn M24 of Stridsvogneskadron Sola. The emblem on the turret side is one still commonly used in the Kavalerieskadronen (Armoured Cavalry), and is a representation of the Norse God Odin and his Ravens. Illustration produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||5.45 (without gun) x 2.84 x 2.61 m (16’4″ x 9’4″ x 5’3″)|
|Total weight, battle ready||18.37 tonnes (40,500 lbs)|
|Crew||5 (driver, commander, gunner, loader, co-driver/radio operator)|
|Propulsion||Twin Cadillac 44T24 8 cylinder petrol engine (110 bhp)|
|Max Road Speed||34 mph (55 km/h)|
|Off Road Speed||25 mph (40 km/h)|
|Range||107 miles (173 km)|
|Armament||75 mm (2.95 in) M6 L/40 gun, 48 rounds
2x Cal.30-06 (7.62 mm) Browning M1919A4 machine guns
.50 cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2HB machine gun
|Front Armor||25 mm (1 in)|
|Front Side 2/3 Armor||25 mm (1 in)|
|Rear side 1/3 Armor||19 mm (3/4 in)|
|Rear Armor||19 mm (3/4 in)|
|Turret Armor||25 mm (1 in)|
|Gun Mantel Armor||38 mm (1 1/2 in)|
Teknisk Håndbok, Panserjager NM-116: Beskrivelse, Behandling, og Brukerens Vedlikehold (Eng: Technical Manual, Panserjager NM-116: Description, Treatment, and User Maintenance). Available at modellnorge.no(Flash player required).
Jim Mesko, M24 Chaffee in Action, Squadron/Signal Publications
Clemens Niesner, Norge – Hærens Styrker, Vehicles of the Modern Norwegian Land Forces, Tankograd Publishing