The M7 Priest tank, with its 105mm Howitzer cannon played an important combat role across North Africa, Europe and the Pacific during WWII. It was given the official service name 105 mm Self Propelled Gun, Priest by the British Army, due to the pulpit-like machine gun ring, and following on from the Bishop and the contemporary Deacon self-propelled guns.
U.S. Army observers realized that they would need a self-propelled artillery vehicle with sufficient firepower to support armored operations. It was decided to use the M3 Lee chassis as the basis for this new vehicle design, named T32. The Priest was the first self-propelled artillery piece for US forces which was produced in large numbers, using the chassis of the M3 tank and later the M4 Sherman. The pilot vehicles used the M3 chassis with an open-topped superstructure, mounting an M1A2 105 mm howitzer, with a machine-gun added after trials. The T32 was accepted for service as the M7 in February 1942 and production began that April. As the M4 Sherman tank replaced the M3, it was decided to continue production using the M4 chassis (the M4 chassis was a development of the M3). The M7 was subsequently supplanted by the M37 HMC (on the “Light Combat Team” chassis that also gave the M24 Chaffee light tank). The gun fired HE, HEAT, white phosphorous and smoke shells, with a maximum range of 11,400 yards/ 10,424 meters and a rate of fire of eight rounds per minute. Early production examples could carry 57 shells while later vehicles carried 69. While the first M7s were produced for the U.S. Army, some were diverted to support the British in North Africa.
The British used the M7 throughout the North African and Italian campaigns. The 3rd and 50th British, and 3rd Canadian divisions that landed on Sword, Juno and Gold beaches at the start of the Allied invasion of Normandy had their artillery regiments equipped with the M7; these were replaced by the standard towed 25-pounder guns of the infantry in early August. The M7 was also used in Burma and played a significant part in the Battle of Meiktila and the advance on Rangoon in 1945. After the Sexton appeared, most British M7s were converted into “Kangaroo” armored personnel carriers. During the Battle of the Bulge, each U.S. armored division had three battalions of M7s, giving them unparalleled mobile artillery support. A total of 3,489 M7s and 826 M7B1s were built. They proved to be reliable weapons, continuing to see service in the U.S. and allied armies well past World War II.
M7 Priests remained in use during the Korean War, where their flexibility, compared to towed artillery units, led the U.S. Army on the path to converting fully to self-propelled howitzers. The M7B2 was developed during the Korean War in an effort to increase the elevation of the main gun for better actions across the mountainous Korean landscape. The limited gun elevation of the M7 (35 degrees) hampered its ability to shoot over the tall Korean mountains, so 127 M7B1s were modified to permit the full 65 degrees elevation in a model known as the M7B2. After the Korean War, many of these were exported to NATO countries, notably Italy and Germany.
Israel acquired a number of M7 Priests during the 1960s and employed them in the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War. In the last conflict, three M7 units, the 822nd, 827th and 829th Battalions in the IDF Northern Command, supported the occupation of the Golan Heights.