Grant vs. Lee

AWM 21 Aug 10 004
M3 Grant Medium Tank
AWM 21 Aug 10 027
M3 Lee Medium Tank

And you are looking for a review of the recent PBS American Experience releases?  Tricked you!  An off topic segue using a Civil War theme.

Recently I’ve added a  few cross-posts over at Bring the Heat discussing some less well-known armored fighting vehicles – the M56 Scorpion, early Bradley Fighting Vehicle prototypes, and the MICV/AIFV series.  So that’s prompted me to pull some of my old references off the dusty “modern warfare” shelves in the study.

I bring up the Grant and Lee tanks to illustrate just how prevalent the memory of the American Civil War remained even during World War II.   Not just over here in the United States, but also over in the “home country” of England.

The US Army has a knack for rather unglamorous designations such as “M3” to identify equipment.  “M” of course stands for “Model” and the number indicating the sequence within a given classification.  So there was an M3 Medium Tank; and M3 Light Tank; and M3 Carbine; and M3 Submachine Gun; and no doubt an M3 Toilet Brush somewhere in the inventory.

When US equipment arrived in the Royal Army, those spartan designations gave way, in typical British fashion, to names evoking great American generals from the Civil War.  What better to fight back Rommel and the Afrika Corps, right?

The first batches of American tanks included the M3 Medium Tank, which the British christened the “General Lee.”  As seen in the second photo above, the Lee had a rather tall turret, which the British didn’t care much for.  They also wanted radio gear in the turret, allowing the tank commander ready access.  So they developed a new cast steel turret to meet their needs.  Tanks receiving the new turret also received the name “General Grant” to differentiate the models.

At the same time, the British received the M3 Light Tank for their reconnaissance formations, which they aptly named “General Stuart” after the Confederate cavalier.

Late Model Stuart Light Tank

But not before the Brits briefly called it the “Honey.”   Um…. don’t go there….

Of course, the most prevalent of the American tanks of World War II received the designation “General Sherman” when entering British service.

AWM 21 Aug 10 026
M4 Sherman

Thus we have names like Grant, Lee, Stuart, and Sherman associated with great victories in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.   Tells us something of the strong memories of the Civil War that persisted even 80 years after the events… on both sides of the Atlantic.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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