The M60 was America’s primary tank through the last decades of the Cold War. For three decades, the M60 was the workhorse of the US Army, USMC, NATO’s and Allied or affiliated nations to the western block around the world. Interestingly, the M60 mostly owes its existence to a singular event, the capture of Soviet T-54A, driven onto the British Embassy gardens at Budapest during the 1956 Hungarian revolution. It was recovered and sent to NATO’s top brass and experts to be reverse engineered. With the influence of the T-54 unsing an improved version of the M48 Patton, the M60 was equipped with a bigger gun and updated engine. Over 15,000 examples were built by Chrysler and the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant from 1961 to 1987.
Though too late to serve in Vietnam, Israeli versions of the M60 fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and 1982 Lebanon War. M60A1 tanks, similar to this one, fought in U.S. Marine units in Grenada and Beirut in 1983, and Iranian forces used M60s in the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988. During Desert Storm, U.S. Marine M60s fought against Soviet-built Iraqi tanks, destroying over 100 with the loss of only one M60. In 1961, one of the first M60A1s delivered to Iran was acquired by the USSR and studied extensively. The information learned helped influence the design of the Soviet T-62 tank.
The M60 was the last American tank using solid rolled homogeneous armor (RHA). There is 6 inches of armor on the front glacis and mantlet. Despite the added weight of the engine, armor and new gun, the tank was only two ton heavier, at 50.7 tons versus 48.5 tons of the M48A1. The driver sat in the middle of the flat portion after the glacis slope and had three day periscopes. The central one would be replaced by an infrared vision device. He had an escape hatch under the hull, in case of an evacuation if the gun would block the upper hatch. His own access to the turret was restricted, as the turret needed to be turned backward.
The turret had a clamshell shape, similar to the one on the M48, but it was changed in 1963 to the distinctive “needle nose” design of the M60A1, which made for a narrower front cross-section, minimizing the surface offered to enemy fire. This allowed optimizing the layout of the combat compartment, as this turret was more elongated and significantly roomier, for the same central width.
The firepower is provided by a bore evacuated 105 mm (4.1 in), 52 caliber M68 rifled tank gun derived from the British Royal Ordnance L7. A real improvement over the previous 90 mm (3.54 in), it gave almost twice the range, with much greater accuracy and far better muzzle velocity. It is characterized by its 1/3 down length placed bore evacuator with a specific eccentrically mounted extractor and an American vertical sliding breech block. Not only the gun could share standard NATO ammunition of the HE, Frag, AP, HEAT types, but it could be replaced by foreign-supplied models if needed in combat conditions, because of its full compatibility. It could fire at an average of 10 rounds per minute (maximum) with a well-trained crew.
Due to an impressive service length span, the M60 and variants participated in some major conflicts and many operations. The most important such battle theatre also saw the most number of M60 of many nations engaged, within the coalition forces in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. During Operation Desert Storm in February 1991, USMC’s M60A1 ERA rolled into Kuwait City after a fierce battle at the Kuwait Airport. Some 200 participated in the largest tank battle for an USMC unit since World War Two, dealing with Iraqi T-54/55, Type 69, and T-72 tanks, north from Khafji. This unit claimed nine dozen Iraqi tanks destroyed for a single M60A3 lost.
At the same time, USAF 401st TFW (P) unit used M60s based in Doha AFB, Qatar, modified to deal with unexploded ordnance from tarmac runway and taxiway surfaces. Saudi, Egyptian and Omani forces also deployed their own M60s in this operation.