The M48 Patton is an American first generation main battle tank (MBT) introduced in February 1951, being designated as the 90mm Gun Tank: M48. It was designed as a replacement for the M26 Pershing, M4 Sherman variants and M46 Pattons used in the Korean War, and as the successor to the M47 Patton. Nearly 12,000 M48s were built, mainly by Chrysler and American Locomotive Company, from 1952 to 1961. The M48 underwent many design modifications and improvements during its production life. This led to a wide variety of suspension systems, cupola styles, power packs, fenders and other details among individual tanks. The early designs, up to the M48A2C, were powered by a gasoline engine.
The M48A3 and A5 versions used a diesel engine, however gasoline engine versions were still in use in the US Army National Guard through 1968 and through 1975 by many West German Army units. The A3 model introduced the diesel engine, countering the earlier versions’ characteristic of catching fire. Because many M48A3 tanks were conversions from earlier models, many characteristics varied among individual examples of this type. M48A3 tanks could have either three or five support rollers on each side and might have either the early or later type headlight assemblies, some retained their earlier cupola styles.
Numerous examples of the M48 saw combat use in various Arab–Israeli conflicts and the Vietnam War. Beginning in 1959, most American M48A1s and A2s were upgraded to the M48A3 model.
The M48 was originally designed to fight massive tank battles against the Soviets. The M48 saw extensive action with the US military during the Vietnam War. Over 600 Pattons would be deployed with US forces during that war. The initial M48s first landed with the US Marine 1st and 3rd Tank Battalions in 1965,with the 5th Marine Tank Battalion later becoming a back-up/reinforcement unit. The M48s performed admirably in Vietnam in the infantry-support, bunker busting and mine sweeping role. However, there were few actual tank versus tank battles. One was between the US 1-69th Armor and PT-76 light amphibious tanks of the NVA 202nd Armored Regiment at Ben Het Camp in March 1969.The M48s provided adequate protection for its crew from small arms, mines, and rocket-propelled grenades. South Vietnamese M48s and M41s fought in the 1975 Spring Offensive.
Later in the Vietnam War the M48s proved to play an important role as mine sweeper. At that time, mine sweeping was done by soldiers walking slowly over the dirt shoulders of the highway with hand-held mine detectors. During this slow process, convoys would build up into a dangerously-inviting target for the enemy, especially their guerrillas and partisans. As a result, a faster method was improvised, the “Thunder Run”, in which one M48 lined up on each side of the road, with one track on the dirt shoulder and the other track on the asphalt, and then with all guns firing, :80 they raced to a designated position miles away. If the M48s made it without striking a mine, the road was clear and the convoys could proceed. In most cases, an M48 that struck a land mine in these operations only lost a road wheel or two in the explosion; seldom was there any hull damage that would be considered a catastrophic kill.
The M48s were also used in the Indo-Pakistani wars, Middle East and Africa conflicts.