Military Organization > United States > ​U.S. Army Light Tank Company (1943-45)

U.S. Army Light Tank Company (1943-45)

By Alex Valsamidis, Contributing Writer

The following was the organization of the Light Tank Company of the U.S. Army from September 1943 through to the end of World War II. The Light Tank Company was integral to two different formations, the Tank Battalion, Light Tank Battalion, and the Mechanized Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.

The Tank Battalion consisted of 1 HQ & HQ Company, 3 Medium Tank Companies, 1 Light Tank Company (this), 1 Service Company, and 1 Medical Detachment. The Medium Tank Companies were lettered A, B, and C, while the Light Tank Company was D Company. 

The Light Tank Battalion consisted of 1 HQ & HQ Company, 3 Light Tank Companies (this), 1 Service Company, and 1 Medical Detachment. By 1944, only two battalions in the ETO remained in the light configuration.

 

The Mechanized Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron consisted of 1 HQ & HQ & Service Troop, 4 Reconnaissance Troops, 1 Cavalry Assault Gun Troop, 1 Light Tank Company (this) and 1 Medical Detachment. The Reconnaissance Troops were lettered A, B, C and D, while the Cavalry Assault Gun Troop was E Troop and the Light Tank Company was F Company. If the Squadron was part of a Cavalry Group, D Troop did not exist and the Assault Gun Troop had one fewer Platoon.

 

The Company was almost the same in both the Tank Battalion and the Cavalry Squadron. The only differences were in the crew and radios of the Command Tank.

 

Each U.S. Army Armored Division had 3 Tank Battalions, 3 Armored Infantry Battalions, 3 Artillery Battalions and 1 Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron as their combat arms elements.

Contents:

  1. Organization

  2. Discussion

    • Company HQ​

    • Tank Platoon

  3. Sources

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Organization

  • Type: Light Tank Company

  • Origin: U.S. Army (United States)

  • Time Frame: Late World War II (1943-1945)

  • Personnel: 5 Officers and 89-106 Enlisted (106 in Jan '45, 89 in Jun '44, 92 in Sep '43)

Company HQ—Headquarters Section (1 Officer and 10-12 Enlisted each [12 in Jan 45, 10 in Sep 43])

→ Tank No. 16 (Command)*—M5A1 Stuart OR M24 Chaffee (after Jan '45)*

  • 1× Company Commander, Captain (OF-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun****

  • 1× Tank Driver, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4) or 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Tank Gunner, Private (OR-1) of Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun** or 1× Tank Gunner (Radio Operator), Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun***

  • 1× Bow Gunner, Private (OR-1) of Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun** or 1× Bow Gunner (Radio Operator), Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun***

  • 1× Cannoneer (Loader), Private (OR-1) of Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun [only in M24 Chaffee]

* One SCR-508 radio on board. One AN/VRC-3 radio on board after June 1944. One SCR-506 radio on board if the Company was in a Cavalry Squadron.

** If the Company was in a Tank Battalion.

*** If the Company was in a Cavalry Squadron.

*** Where M3 Grease Gun is authorized, other submachine guns like the M1928A1 and M1A1 Thompson were likely also issued in lieu

→ Tank No. 17 (Replacement)—M5A1 Stuart OR M24 Chaffee (after Jan '45)*

  • 1× Communication Chief, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Tank Driver, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4) or 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Gunner, Private (OR-1) of Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Bow Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Cannoneer (Loader), Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun [only in M24 Chaffee]

* One SCR-528 radio on board.

→ ¼-ton Truck (Jeep)*

  • 1× Tank Commander, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun**

  • 1× Liaison Agent, Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Bugler (Jeep Driver), Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

* One M8 Grenade Launcher on board. One SCR-510 radio on board.

** Rode in the Command Tank During the march, while the Company Commander rode in the Truck.

Company HQ—Maintenance Section (1 Officer and 9 Enlisted)

→ M3A1 Half-Track, armed with M2 .50 cal MG*

  • 1× Motor Transport Officer, Second/First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Tank Mechanic, Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Tank Mechanic (Half-Track Driver), Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 2× Armorers, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M1 Carbine each

* Tows 1 ton trailer after January 1945. One M9 Bazooka and one M8 Grenade Launcher on board. One SCR-510 radio on board.

→ ¼-ton Truck (Jeep)*

  • 1× Motor Sergeant, Technical Sergeant (OR-7), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Radio Repairman (Jeep Driver), Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

* Tows 1/4-ton 2-wheel trailer after January 1945. One M8 grenade launcher on board. 

→ M32 Tank Recovery Vehicle, armed with 1 81mm Mortar and 1 M2 .50 cal MG OR M5A1 Stuart (between Oct '43 and Jul '44)**

  • 2× Tank Mechanics, Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Carbine each

  • 1× Tank Mechanic (Driver), Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

* One M9 Bazooka on board (only on the TRV). One SCR-538 (SCR-528 after June 1944) radio on board.

Company HQ—Admin, Mess & Supply Section (13-16 Enlisted [13 in Jun '44, 16 in Sep '43])

→ 2 ½-ton 6×6 Cargo Truck, armed with 1 M2 .50 cal MG*

  • 1× First Sergeant, First Sergeant (OR-8), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Supply Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Mess Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Clerk, Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Cook, Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Cook, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Cook's Helper, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • Light Truck Driver, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 5× Basic Duty (after May 1944, 8× before), Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Carbine

* For kitchen. Tows 1-ton 2-wheel trailer. One M9 Bazooka on board.

3× Tank Platoons (1 Officer and 19-24 Enlisted each [24 in Jan '45, 19 in Sep '43])

→ Tank 1—M5A1 Stuart OR M24 Chaffee (after Jan '45)*

  • 1× Platoon Commander, Second/First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun (before June '44) or M1 Carbine (after June '44)

  • 1× Tank Driver, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Tank Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Bow Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Cannoneer (Loader), Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun [only in M24 Chaffee]

*One SCR-528 (SCR-508 after June 1944) radio on board. One AN/VRC-3 radio on board after June 1944.

1st Section

→ Tank 2—M5A1 Stuart OR M24 Chaffee (after Jan '45)*

  • 1× Tank Commander, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Tank Driver, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Tank Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Bow Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Cannoneer (Loader), Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun [only in M24 Chaffee]

* One SCR-538 (SCR-528 after June 1944) radio on board.

→ Tank 3—M5A1 Stuart OR M24 Chaffee (after Jan '45)*

  • 1× Tank Commander, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Tank Driver, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Tank Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Bow Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Cannoneer (Loader), Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun [only in M24 Chaffee]

* One SCR-538 (SCR-528 after June 1944) radio on board.
 

2nd Section

→ Tank 4—M5A1 Stuart OR M24 Chaffee (after Jan '45)*

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Tank Driver, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Tank Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Bow Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Cannoneer (Loader), Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun [only in M24 Chaffee]

* One SCR-528 radio on board. One AN/VRC-3 radio on board after June 1944.

→ Tank 5—M5A1 Stuart OR M24 Chaffee (after Jan '45)*

  • 1× Tank Commander, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Tank Driver, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Tank Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Bow Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun

  • 1× Cannoneer (Loader), Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M3 Submachine Gun [only in M24 Chaffee]

* One SCR-538 (SCR-528 after June 1944) radio on board.

 
 
 
 
 

Discussion

The Light Tank Company was a supporting unit within the Tank Battalion or Mechanised Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. It was made up of the Company Headquarters and 3 Tank Platoons. It was led by a Captain and contained a total of 94-111 soldiers.

When the company was in a Tank Battalion it was mainly used for Reconnaissance and as a flank guard. For reconnaissance missions, it would work alongside the Battalion Reconnaissance Platoon from the HHC with its half-track and 4 jeeps. The Light Tank Company was used as a flank guard because of its higher mobility. It was also used to exploit breakthroughs and attack lightly armed units, such as infantry. It could also screen the advance of the Battalion and draw enemy units into traps.

 

When the company was in a Cavalry Squadron, it was the main offensive unit. It was mostly held in reserve alongside a Reconnaissance Troop. When attached to line troops, it could be attached as a unit or split up into platoons. The former was more effective, but the latter was used if the Squadron had to cover a wide front. The Company, together with an Assault Gun Platoon, could also be used to overrun hostile infantry and allow reconnaissance units to penetrate enemy lines. When on the defensive, the Company was used to stop enemy attacks and start the counterattack.

 

The main small arms used by the company were the M1 Carbine and the M3 Submachine Gun. The company was assigned 17 M5A1 Stuart or M24 Chaffee tanks, an M3A1 half-track, two ¼ ton Trucks (Jeeps), a 2 ½ ton Truck and an M32 Tank Recovery Vehicle.

 

Each tank was crewed by a Commander, a Driver, a Gunner and a Bow Gunner. M24s were also crewed by a Cannoneer, who acted as a loader. To avoid repetition, in the sections below, only the Commander will be mentioned for each tank, because it was the only position that was held by multiple billets.

 

Company Headquarters

The Company HQ housed the company's command, administrative and replacement personnel. It was split into 1 Headquarters Section, 1 Maintenance Section and 1 Administration, Mess and Supply Section.

 

The Headquarters Section contained two tanks and a ¼ ton Truck. The Command tank was commanded by the Company Commander. It carried two radios, an SCR-508 and, after June 1944, an AN/VRC-3. The Replacement Tank was commanded by the Communication Chief and carried an SCR-528 radio. The ¼ ton Truck was driven by the Bugler and carried a Liaison and a Tank Commander. The Truck also carried an M8 Grenade Launcher and an SCR-510 radio. In the march, the Tank Commander rode in the Command Tank and the Company Commander rode in the truck. Everyone in the section was armed with SMGs, except for the Communication Chief and the Liaison agent, who were armed with carbines. If the Company was part of a Cavalry Squadron, the Command Tank also carried an SCR-506 radio. The SCR-506 was a more powerful radio, which required skilled operators. For that purpose, the Bow Gunner and the Gunner were also fully trained Radio Operators. They also held a higher rank commensurate of their skill.

 

The Maintenance Section performed second echelon maintenance and recovered damaged or destroyed vehicles. The section had 3 vehicles. A half-track transported the Motor Transport Officer, 2 Armorers and 2 Tank Mechanics, one of which also acted as a driver. The half-track was armed with an M2 .50 Cal Machine Gun, carried an SCR-510 radio and after January 1945, towed a 1 ton trailer. A ¼ ton truck transported the Motor Sergeant and a Radio Repairman, who also drove the truck. After January 1945, the truck towed a ¼ ton trailer. Both the truck and the half track carried an M8 Grenade Launcher for use with the M1 Carbine.

 

Vehicle recovery was done by an M32 Tank Recovery Vehicle, which was crewed by 3 Tank Mechanics, one of which was also the driver. The TRV was based on the chassis of an M4 Sherman and was fitted with an A-frame boom for transporting vehicles. For defensive purposes, it was armed with an 81mm mortar, an M2 .50 Cal Machine Gun, and a bow mounted M1919A4 .30 Cal Machine Gun while also carrying an M9 Bazooka. Between October 1943 and July 1944, the TRV was replaced with a modified M5A1 Stuart. The vehicle initially carried an SCR-538 radio, which was replaced by an SCR-528 after July 1944. Everyone in the Section was armed with a carbine, except for the drivers, who were armed with SMGs.

 

The Administrative, Mess and Supply Section provided food and supplies to the Troop. It was mounted on a 2 ½ ton Truck, which was armed with an M2 .50 Cal MG, towed a 1 ton trailer and carried an M8 Grenade Launcher. It carried the First Sergeant, the Mess Sergeant, a Supply Sergeant, Company Clerk, 2 Cooks, a Cook’s Helper, a Driver and 5 Basic Duty Privates (8 before June 1944). Basic Duty soldiers were basically soldiers set aside for mess duty. Everyone in the Section was armed with a carbine, except for the drivers, who were armed with SMGs.

 

Tank Platoons

Each Platoon was commanded by a Second/First Lieutenant and contained 5 Tanks. Tank No. 1 was commanded by the Platoon Commander, Tank No. 4 by the Platoon Sergeant and the rest by dedicated Tank Commanders. The Platoon was usually split into 3 elements. Tank No. 1 operated by itself and led the whole Platoon. Tanks No. 2&3 made up the 1st Section, which was led by the most experienced of the two commanders. Tanks No. 4&5 made up the 2nd Section, which was led by the Platoon Sergeant. Everyone in the Platoon was armed with an SMG, except for the Platoon commander, who replaced his SMG with a carbine after June 1944.

 

The M5A1 Stuart was an improved version on the M5, which in turn was an upgraded version of the M3 Stuart. It was armed with an M6 37mm Gun and 3 M1919A4 .30 Cal MGs. The Gunner fired the 37mm and the coaxial MG, the Bow Gunner operated the bow MG and the and assisted the Driver, while the Commander directed the tank, spotted targets, loaded the 37mm and operated the anti-air MG. The M6 37mm was the tank mounted version of the M3 37mm anti-tank gun and was effective against all Italian and Japanese tanks, and most German tanks. However, it could not penetrate the Tiger and the front of the Panther. The M6 struggled against infantry because of the small amount of TNT in the warhead of the shell, but it was effective against small and lightly armored reconnaissance units. The anti-air MG had very limited use as .30 cal rounds were weak against aircraft and had a relatively short range. As the MG was air-cooled it could not fire for long and had a relatively low rate of fire when compared to the German equivalent, the MG-42.

 

The M24 Chaffee was developed to replace the Stuart and entered the TO&E in January 1945. It was armed with the stronger M6 75mm Gun, a lighter version of the M3 75mm used by the M4 Sherman. The M6 75mm was a massive improvement over the M6 37mm, but the M24’s thin armor still limited its effectiveness. The bow and coaxial MGs were the same as the Stuart, but the anti-air M1919A4 was replaced with an M2 .50 Cal MG, which was much more effective for the purpose. The M24 had a 3 man turret, with a Cannoneer being added to load the 75mm, freeing up the Commander.

Sources

  • Table of Organisation and Equipment No. 17-17 "Light Tank Company", published 14 July 1943, republished by Military Research

  • FM 2-7 Cavalry Drill Regulations, Mechanized, published 15 March 1944, War Department

  • FM 2-20 Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, Mechanized, published 24 February 1944, War Department

  • FM 2-30 Cavalry Mechanized Reconnaissance Squadron, published 28 August 1944, War Department

  • FM 17-30 Tank Platoon, published 8 July 1944, War Department

  • FM 17-32 The Tank Company. Light and Medium, published 2 August 1942, War Department

  • FM 17-33 Tank Battalion, published 19 December 1944, War Department

  • FM 17-68 Crew Drill, Light Tank M5 Series, published 24 May 1944, War Department

  • Bellanger, Yves (2010), “US Army Armored Division 1943-1945”

 

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