The M48 was the main American tank of the mid Cold War period, contemporary of the Soviet T54/55 and British Centurion. The preceding M47 was a stopgap to replace another stopgap, the M46, which was the wartime M26, with a new engine and transmission. This hull was then mated with the turret of an experimental vehicle, the T42, to produce the M47. This somewhat strange turn of events was dictated by the outbreak of the Korean War, although the resulting hybrid vehicle did not make it to that conflict. Most of them were exported rather than retained by the U.S. Army. In appearance, the hull of the M26/46 was virtually unchanged but the new turret was distinctively long in appearance with a prominent overhang at the rear; another noticeable feature were the prominent heads of the rangefinder either side of the turret front.

A new design, the M48, entered service in 1953 with a distinctively boat shaped hull and a much larger cast turret, the 90mm gun fitted in most cases with a ‘T’ shaped blast deflector, making for a very recognisable vehicle. This design was very well armoured, not just in thickness but in shape as the whole hull was cast. At the time of its introduction, the gun was adequate but due to the longevity of the tank it was under-gunned for part of its life until the introduction, briefly, of the 105 mm gun shortly before the design mutated into the next in line, the M60.

Like many of its contemporaries, initially the range of the tank was poor, only some 160km (100 miles), although even this was an improvement on the M47. Later in its life the type was re-engined with a Continental diesel, which tripled the range. This mark, the M48A3, is the variant most people would have seen on their televisions during the Vietnam conflict. Many of the earlier vehicles were reworked to this standard. In the late 1960s to early 1970s there was a huge shortfall in U.S. tank production due to the failure of the MBT70 project and long lead in time for the XM1 (later the Abrams). Therefore many M48s were up-gunned to M48A5 105mm standard, to back up to the M60s, by that stage being virtually indistinguishable from their successor!

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