Tamiya 1/48 M26 Pershing

KIT #: 32537
PRICE: 1900 yen from www.hlj.com
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


       In the fall of 1942, U.S. Army Ordnance began work on designing an "infantry oriented" tank that would be more versatile than the British infantry tanks. Between then and the fall of 1944, various prototypes were built under the designations T20, T22, T23, T25, and T26, which covered different  combinations of weapons, transmissions, and suspensions.

      Unfortunately, the initial success of the M4 Sherman led the Army Ground Forces command to continue their belief that tanks would not be used to engage other tanks, and that there was no urgent need for a new tank. The demonstrated inferiority of the Sherman to the Tiger tanks they met in combat in North Africa did not alter this position.  In the face of the coming invasion of Europe, AGF expressed the belief that the Tiger tank and the new Panther medium tank that had appeared on the Eastern Front in 1943 would not be met in large numbers in northeastern Europe, and that the updated M10 and M36 Jackson tank destroyers would be adequate to deal with any that were met.

      The one positive thing AGF did was to take the 76mm cannon and turret developed for the T-20 AFV and adapt it for use on the Sherman, with the resulting production of the M4A1/A3 76 W versions in the spring of 1944 to provide a heavier tank for the invasion/ Unfortunately, even with the upgunned armament the Sherman was inferior to the Tiger and Panther, and was barely able superior to the Pzkw Mk.IV medium tank.  When the invasion came, it turned out that these were the three German tanks the Allied armored force came up against, with the superior Tiger and Panther tanks constituting half of the German armored force in the Battle of Normandy.  By the end of July 1944, the Army had lost five times as many Shermans to enemy tanks as had originally been estimated, and the armored forces were in a panic, with crews avoiding combat with Tigers and Panthers where possible, even when they outnumbered their opponents. 

     It was perhaps fortunate that General Leslie McNair, head of Army Ground Forces and the leading opponent of the development of an American main battle tank, happened to visit Normandy at this point, where he died in Operation Cobra, the carpet-bombing of the German Front, when the American heavies bombed short.  Without McNair’s obstinate obstructionism in the face of facts, saner heads could eventually prevail. With General Jacob Devers finally able to push his views about the need for a heavy tank that could successfully take on the German armor, the T26E1, which had entered testing that summer.

      The eventual destruction of the German Army in Normandy in August 1944,which led to the rapid advances across open country with few combats between Shermans and German armored units lessened the panic, but then after the failure of Operation Market Garden and the resurrection of the Wehrmacht in October 1944, the Allies returned to combat where they came up against not only the Tiger I and Panther but the even more fearsome King Tiger tank.  Something had to be done and done fast.  The T26 was the answer.

      The fully-developed version of the T26 was the T26E3.  Production began at the Fisher Tank Arsenal in November 1944.  The tank had armor equivalent to that of the German Panther, and was armed with a 90mm M3 cannon, the heaviest weapon carried by an American armored fighting vehicle, and was superior to the 76mm cannon on the Sherman. It was, in short, the tank the Americans had needed on June 6,1944. Its one weakness was that it was underpowered, using the same Ford GAF 500 h.p. V-8 that powered the later versions of the Sherman, which weighted 10 tons less than the T26,which weighed 46 tons.

      American armored units had not yet recovered from the losses incurred in the summer of 1944 when they were faced with German armor in the Battle of the Bulge.  The King Tiger, which had not been met in appreciable numbers until the German offensive, created such controversy with American tankers that the growing scandal from the increased losses threatened to become public in early 1945. Faced with this, Major General G.M. Barnes, head of the Ordnance Department, suggested that half the initial production run of 40 T26E3s be immediately dispatched to Europe for “field testing.”  The bureaucratic Army Ground Forces, still in thrall to the policies of McNair, argued that the tank could not be sent to combat before full tests were completed, which would have been sometime in the fall of 1945. Barnes threatened to take the issue to General George Marshall and to go public if necessary. Faced with this, AGF relented and the 20 tanks were sent as part of the Zebra Program in late January.  This unit was to test several new weapons systems under combat conditions.

      10 T26s were assigned to the 3rd Armored Division, and 10 to the 9th Armored Division.  The tanks were distributed in groups of two or three among the 32nd and 33rd Armored Regiments in the 3rd AD, and 14th and 19th Tank Battalions in the 9th AD. 

      The first engagement did not go well, when T26E3 “Fireball” of F Company, 33rd Armored Regiment, 3rd AD, was knocked out by a Tiger I on the night of February 26, 1945.  While the tank was recovered and returned to combat later, the first success came the next day when a T26E3 from C company knocked out a Tiger 1 at 900 yards and two Pzkw Mk. IVs at 1,200 yards, distances unheard-of with the Sherman.  The only total loss for the Zebra Team was a T26E3 destroyed by a direct hit from a Nashorn in early March.

      The biggest fight the T26s were involved in was when A Company of the 14th Tank Battalion participated in taking the Ludendorff Bridge in Remagen, the last remaining bridge across the Rhine. While the tanks were too heavy to cross the bridge, their 90mm weapons had the range to take on German armor on the other side of the river, knocking out the first German counterattack and saving the American force on the far end of the bridge.

      More T26s arrived in Europe at the end of March; 22 were assigned to the 2nd Armored Division and 18 to the 5th Armored Division.  30 additional tanks that arrived in early April were assigned to the 11th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army, where they became the last T26s to see action before the German surrender in early May.

      By the end of the war the T26 had been redesignated the M26 and given the name Pershing, for General “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in the First World War.  Eventually, 1,200 M26s were built and the tank demonstrated its ability in 1950 when during the fighting around the Pusan Perimeter M26s destroyed North Korean T34/85s that had been completely superior to the M4A3E8 Shermans.

      Developmentally, the M26 Pershing is important as the first American tank to equal of the performance of the best the enemy could field. It was known as “The Tiger Tamer” during the Second World War and became the foundation vehicle for 40 years of American main battle tank development, as it was developed into the M46 Pershing and the M47, M48 and M60 Pattons, and ultimately the M1 Abrams.


     Out of the box, Tamiya’s M26 is really a T26E3, and can only be turned into an M26 with some extensive detail work. The kit provides 170 parts in olive drab plastic with the now-standard  cast metal lower hull tub.  The quality of the molding is very good with clean crisp detail and no flash.  Dimensionally, it measures up to all measurements in the Hunnicutt Pershing book.

      Decals are provided for “Fireball,” the first T26 to enter combat, a second T26E3 from A Company at the Ludendorff Bridge, and a U.S. Marine M26 from Korea.  Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the kit is only a T26E3, so the third set of markings cannot be used unless the detail modifications are done.


      Per my usual strategy in building these Tamiya kits, I assembled the turret and upper hull as sub-assemblies.  The one thing I did here was to not use the interphone box, which was not used by the T26E3.



     I then proceeded to paint the model. I used Gunze-Sangyo “Olive Drab 1 - US Army Tank,” which I then lightened with “Olive Drab 2 - US Army Aircraft” since the early Pershings had a brownish Olive Drab finish.  I then painted the tracks and road wheels with Tamiya Semi-Gloss Black, painting the road wheels by hand.


      With this done, I applied the decals for the second T26E3 option.


 Final Weathering:

      Before proceeding with assembly, I weathered the model using the Tamiya Weathering Set.  These tanks didn’t see enough use during the war to get really dinged up, but something needed to be done since I don’t like monochromatic models. The spring of 1945 in northern Europe was rainy, so I “muddied” the model, so that it eventually looked like it was at the point where some GI could have written “Wash me!” on the side with his finger.  I then gave the model a coat of Dullcote to protect the muddy finish from future handling. 

Final Assembly:

      I attached the road wheels to the lower hull and assembled the tracks. I then attached the upper hull with the two screws provided, and attached the turret.


Overall, this is one of the easiest of these Tamiya kits.  Painting is simple, with only one color. Fit of all parts is excellent.   The result is a nice model of one of the most historically-important American armored vehicles.  Highly recommended.

 Review kit courtesy of HobbyLink Japan.  Get yours at “Japanese prices” at www.hlj.com

Tom Cleaver

December 2006

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