World War II: M26 Pershing

M26 Pershing. Public Domain

The M26 Pershing was a heavy tank developed for the U.S. Army during World War II. Conceived as a replacement for the iconic M4 Sherman, the M26 suffered from an extended design and development process as well as political infighting among the U.S. Army's leadership. The M26 arrived in the final months of the conflict and proved effective against the latest German tanks. Retained after the war, it was upgraded and evolved. Deployed during the Korean War, the M26 proved superior to the tanks used by Communist forces but struggled at times with the difficult terrain and suffered from various issues with its systems. The M26 was later replaced by the Patton series of tank in the U.S. Army.


Development of the M26 began in 1942 as production was beginning on the M4 Sherman medium tank. Initially intended to be a follow-on for the M4, the project was designated T20 and was to serve as a test bed for experimenting with new types of guns, suspensions, and transmissions. T20 series prototypes employed a new torqmatic transmission, the Ford GAN V-8 engine, and the new 76 mm M1A1 gun. As testing moved forward, problems emerged with the new transmission system and a parallel program was established, designated T22, which utilized the same mechanical transmission as the M4.

A third program, the T23, was also created to test a new electric transmission which had been developed by General Electric. This system quickly proved to have performance advantages in rough terrain as it could adjust to rapid changes in torque requirements. Pleased with the new transmission, the Ordnance Department pushed the design forward. Possessing a cast turret mounting the 76 mm gun, the T23 was produced in limited numbers during 1943, but did not see combat. Instead, its legacy proved to be its turret which was later utilized in 76 mm gun-equipped Shermans.

Panther Tank. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-300-1876-02A

A New Heavy Tank

With the emergence of the new German Panther and Tiger tanks, efforts began within the Ordnance Department to develop a heavier tank to compete with them. This resulted in the T25 and T26 series which built upon the earlier T23. Devised in 1943, the T26 saw the addition of a 90 mm gun and substantially heavier armor. Though these greatly increased the tank's weight, the engine was not upgraded and the vehicle proved underpowered. Despite this, the Ordnance Department was pleased with the new tank and worked to move it towards production.

The first production model, T26E3, possessed a cast turret mounting a 90 mm gun and required a crew of four. Powered by the Ford GAF V-8, it utilized a torsion bar suspension and torqmatic transmission. Construction of the hull consisted of a combination of castings and rolled plate. Entering service, the tank was designated M26 Pershing heavy tank. The name was selected to honor General John J. Pershing who had founded the U.S. Army's Tank Corps during World War I.

M26 Pershing


  • Length: 28 ft. 4.5 in.
  • Width: 11 ft. 6 in.
  • Height: 9 ft. 1.5 in.
  • Weight: 41.7 tons

Armor & Armament

  • Primary Gun: M3 90 mm
  • Secondary Armament: 2 × Browning .30-06 cal. machine guns, 1 × Browning .50 cal. machine gun
  • Armor: 1-4.33 in.


  • Engine: Ford GAF, 8-cylinder, 450–500 hp
  • Speed: 25 mph
  • Range: 100 miles
  • Suspension: Torsion Bar
  • Crew: 5

Production Delays

As design of the M26 came to completion, its production was delayed by an ongoing debate in the U.S. Army regarding the need for a heavy tank. While Lieutenant General Jacob Devers, the head of U.S. Army forces in Europe advocated for the new tank, he was opposed by Lieutenant General Lesley McNair, commander Army Ground Forces. This was further complicated by Armored Command's desire to press on the M4 and concerns that a heavy tank would not be able to use the Army Corps of Engineers' bridges.

With the backing of General George Marshall, the project remained alive and production moved forward in November 1944. While some claim that Lieutenant General George S. Patton played a key role in delaying the M26, these assertions are not well supported.

Ten M26s were built in November 1943, with production escalating at the Fisher Tank Arsenal. Production also commenced at the Detroit Tank Arsenal in March 1945. By the end of 1945, over 2,000 M26s had been built. In January 1945, experiments began on the "Super Pershing" which mounted the improved T15E1 90mm gun. This variant was only produced in small numbers. Another variant was the M45 close support vehicle which mounted a 105 mm howitzer.

M26 Pershing
An M26 Pershing of A Company, 14th Tank Battalion, is transported aboard a pontoon ferry across the Rhine on March 12, 1945. National Archives and Records Administration

World War II

Following American losses to German tanks in the Battle of the Bulge the need for the M26 became clear. The first shipment of twenty Pershings arrived in Antwerp in January 1945. These were split between the 3rd and 9th Armored Divisions and were the first of 310 M26s to reach Europe before the end of the war. Of these, around 20 saw combat.

The M26's first action occurred with the 3rd Armored on February 25 near the Roer River. Four M26s were also involved in the 9th Armored's capture of the Bridge at Remagen on March 7-8. In encounters with Tigers and Panthers, the M26 performed well. In the Pacific, a shipment of twelve M26s departed on May 31 for use in the Battle of Okinawa. Due to a variety of delays, they did not arrive until after the fighting had ended.


Retained after the war, the M26 was re-designated as a medium tank. Assessing the M26, it was decided to rectify the issues of its under-powered engine and problematic transmission. Beginning in January 1948, 800 M26s received new Continental AV1790-3 engines and Allison CD-850-1 cross-drive transmissions. Along with a new gun and host of other modifications, these altered M26s were redesignated as the M46 Patton.

M26 Pershing
USMC M26 Pershing tank advancing in Korea, September 4, 1950. National Archives and Records Administration

With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the first medium tanks to reach Korea were a provisional platoon of M26s dispatched from Japan. Additional M26s reached the peninsula later that year where they fought alongside M4s and M46s. Though performing well in combat, the M26 was withdrawn from Korea in 1951 due to reliability issues associated with its systems. The type was retained by U.S. forces in Europe until the arrival of new M47 Pattons in 1952-1953. As the Pershing was phased out of American service, it was provided to NATO allies such as Belgium, France, and Italy. The Italians used the type until 1963.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: M26 Pershing." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, July 31). World War II: M26 Pershing. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: M26 Pershing." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).