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M103 Heavy Tank
United States of America

M103 Heavy Tank

M103 Heavy Tank
Unveiled / Entered Service
M103 Heavy Tank
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Table of Contents

Steel Aces Play for free
the highly anticipated MMO tactical tank shooter for 2024.


The M103 Heavy Tank was developed in the 1950’s for the US Army and later adopted by the USMC. It suffered from several issues, which were blamed on the lack of trials prior to entering service. After a few modifications, M103’s were eventually deployed to Europe to support American medium Patton tanks.


Following the eventual post war cancellation of the American T29, T34 and T30 heavy tank projects, a new requirement was issued for a heavy tank in the 58 ton range, that was smaller than the later heavy tanks and featured a light weight 120mm main gun. Development of the new tank started in 1948 under the designation T43.

The T43

The initial concept vehicle looked very different from the final design. Significant changes were made following feed back from the US Army in 1950 resulting in a larger vehicle and an increased crew, which now had a second loader. The increased size and cast slopes helped improve the vehicles protection.

Concerns over the availability of capable tanks in the US Army during the Korean War (1950-53) saw Chrysler receiving an order for 80 vehicles prior to the first of six pilot tanks being rushed into production and delivered to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in the summer of 1951. The number ordered was later increased to 300.

The T43A1

Testing of the initial pilot vehicle and subsequent modified pilot vehicles, resulted in the T43A1. It saw a new version of the original 120mm T122 main gun replaced with the 120mm T123 (aka M58), which offered greater muzzle velocity for improved punch and range. The commanders cupola also changed (the earlier one had five vision blocks) and the drivers hatch enlarged with new vision blocks.

When the vehicle entered production, additional changes were implemented included a new cupola and changes to the hull and turret, such as the removal of the pistol ports. An obvious production change was the gun travel lock now having a third support arm.

A total of x38 rounds were stored in the tank, which required two loading crewmen. The M58 was capable of firing Armour Piercing Tracer, High Explosive, High Explosive Tracer, White Phosphorus Smoke, Smoke with tracer and target practise rounds.

300 T43E1 tanks were produced by Chrysler between 1953 to 1954, despite the vehicle not being fully tested and accepted into service, which followed in late 1954.

The M103

The T43E1 failed these tests and required a total of 98 modifications before the vehicle was finally accepted into service in 1956 as the 120mm Gun Combat Tank M103, though funding was only made available to modify 74 T43E1 to the M103.

Its not clear what happened to the other T43E1 at this stage if only funding to modify 74 tanks was made available. What is clear is that in 1954 an order was placed for two new pilot tanks known as the T43E2.

The M103A1

These tanks were delivered in 1956 and focused on new sighting technology and other external changes such as turret baskets, which all appeared on the M103A1 – a new Gunners sight, the Stereoscopic T52 and T33 ballistic computer, a new electric amplidyne turret traverse system and turret basket. Its reported that 219 former “M103” were upgraded to this model. Its assumed that these are the remaining T43E1 as the majority of the M103 had been transferred to US Army units in West Germany.

Another obvious change was the relocation of the gunners sight on the turret roof. The Gunner was moved further down the right side of the turret nearer to the breach block.

The M103A2

The final upgrade for the M103, the installation of the powerful 750 hp Continental AVDS-1790-2 diesel engine, developed for the new (at the time) M60 Main Battle Tank. This subsequently increased the top speed to 37km/h and range to 480km.

By 1963 the M103 was being withdrawn from US Army service as the M60 entered its service. These were transferred to the USMC who had also been operating the M103 (series) until they too started taking delivery of the M60.

Variants and Marks

M51 Heavy Recovery Vehicle

Developed on the T43A1 chassis, the initial pilot vehicle was developed in March 1954 by Chrysler, followed by production  in August of that year. Designed to recover and repair the M103 in the field, it featured a dozer blade to anchor it when winching during a recovery and a crane for lifting engine packs in and out of engine bays. A total of 187 vehicles were built by Chrysler between 1954 to 1955.

Manned Evasive Target Tanks

METT were built on M103A2 chassis in 1977. The vehicle would drive across firing ranges with TOW ATGM crews trying to hit it with TOW missiles armed with dummy warheads.


Main Gun
120mm M58 (calibre Length 60) rifled
Secondary Weapons
Coaxial 7.62mm Machine Gun, commanders 50 cal machine gun
Ammunition Storage
x38 120mm
810hp Continental AV1790 12-cylinder air-cooled
Top Road Speed
Road Range
Fuel Capacity
Vertical Obstacle
Water Capability
Trench Crossing
Side Slope
Length Gun Forward
Length Hull
3.6m (over machine gun)
Ground Clearance
56.7 tonnes
NBC Protected
Standard Armor(s) Type
Optional Add-on Armor(s) Type
Active Protection Systems
Commander, Gunner, Loader, Driver, Additional Crew