The M41 Walker Bulldog, officially 76-mm Gun Tank, M41, was an American light tank developed for armed reconnaissance purposes. It was produced by Cadillac between 1951 and 1954 and marketed successfully to the United States Army as a replacement for its aging fleet of World War II vintage M24 Chaffee tanks. Although engineered first and foremost as a reconnaissance vehicle, the M41’s weight and armament also made it effective in the close infantry support role and for rapid airborne deployments. Upon entering US service, all M41s received the designation Little Bulldog and subsequently, Walker Bulldog after the late General Walton Walker, who was killed in a Jeep accident in 1950. The M41 was the first postwar American light tank to see worldwide service, and was exported in considerable numbers by the United States, particularly to Asia.
The T41E1, later the M41, was envisaged as a highly mobile light tank, capable of undertaking aggressive reconnaissance and being sufficiently armed to engage the latest Soviet medium tanks if necessary. The Army placed orders for the T41 circa August 1950. The tank was christened the “Walker Bulldog” — after the late General Walton Walker who was killed in a Jeep accident a year earlier — at a demonstration for President Harry S. Truman at Aberdeen Proving Ground in February 1951. The hasty production cycle during the Korean War led to numerous modifications during the course of and after manufacture. Cadillac repurposed a warehouse in Cleveland in August 1950 and began outfitting the location for production of the Walker Bulldog and other combat vehicles, namely the Cadillac M42 Duster. The plant, employing 3700, delivered the first production M41 Walker Bulldog in March 1951. The first eight Bulldogs were delivered to the US Army in July.
Despite these detail improvements, the M41 series did not prove especially popular in US service. Crew members seated in the turret often complained of limited interior space. Reconnaissance units criticized the height and size of the design, which reduced its ability to reconnoiter discreetly, and although it was intended for deployment with airborne units its rather excessive weight made it impractical for airdrops. This led to the development of the M551 Sheridan, which was designed for airdrops.
During the prelude to the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Central Intelligence Agency proposed creating a single tank platoon composed of anti-communist exiles to support Brigade 2506’s incursion and subsequent seizure of strategic sites in Cuba likely to be patrolled or defended by armor, mostly Soviet-supplied T-34/85 medium tanks. To that end, the CIA procured five M41 tanks from US Army reserve stocks and earmarked them for this purpose.
During the Vietnam War the M41 proved extremely popular with South Vietnamese tank crews, who were generally of smaller stature than their American counterparts and did not experience the same discomfort operating within the tank’s limited interior space. ARVN M41s undertook their first combat deployment less than a year later, and played an instrumental role in crushing the 1966 Buddhist Uprising. The tanks were mostly used to support ARVN infantry in street fighting, especially around Da Nang. In the first major armor engagement of the Vietnam War, the M41s counterattacked and destroyed seven T-54s and sixteen PT-76s. Only four M41s were lost during the same encounter, mostly to land mines and rocket-propelled grenades.