Book Review
M103 Heavy Tank
M103 Heavy Tank 1950–74, New Vanguard 197
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

M103 Heavy Tank 1950–74
Series: New Vanguard 197
Author: Kenneth W Estes
Illustrator: Richard Chasemore
ISBN: 9781849089814
Formats: Softcover; ePub; PDF eBook
Pages: 48

American tankers fighting Nazi armor were at a serious gun and armor disadvantage from 1943 onwards. America’s M26 Pershing heavy tank was late into the fight and had a hard time against the Nazi heavies that had a hard time against Soviet IS-2 and -3 Stalin tanks. While the Western Allies quickly demobilized after WW2, Stalin had no such intentions. The West quickly found themselves facing 1,000s of heavy tanks behind the Iron Curtain. The US Army was in need of a tank that could counter the Stalins.

Development languished after WW2 due to lack of funds and changing criteria. The US Marine Corps raised an alarm that all of their tanks were obsolete and created a partnership with the Army for developing a new heavy, what was designated the T43. The banana-turreted behemoth was to be armed with a 120mm antiaircraft gun or the 155mm field gun! Eventually it was decided to develop a new weapon, the 120mm T115.

Development continued to languish while the design of – and even the need for – the T43 was argued. Then North Korea started the Korean War and the Pentagon started a heavy tank crash program. The resulting T43 was tweaked and fiddled with. The new 120mm gun almost succumb to a strong agenda in the Army that the 90mm tank gun was all that would ever be needed. US Army decided that instead of 1,000s of heavies, less than 100 would suffice. Eventually, the T43 was designated the M103 and entered production, rolling out the factory door needing over 100 modifications and corrections, then straight into storage! (Army ambivalence to the tank is obvious in that the tank is the only one not assigned a series name.) Fortunately, USMC wanted a heavy and insisted their contract with USA be fulfilled. USMC corrected the deficiencies and created the improved M103A1, a heavy tank that they were happy with for over a decade. USMC’s M103A1 was so good that the Army swallowed their pride and borrowed 76 for deterrent duty in NATO. M103s served until 1974, even being upgraded into the M103A2.
As the M103 one of the few post-war tanks that captured my imagination, I am happy that Osprey released M103 Heavy Tank 1950–74. This title is brought to you through 48 pages in 17 chapters and sections:
      a. Initial Progress to 1950: Design and Specifications of a Heavy Tank
      b. War and the Tank Crash Program, 1950-54
      c. Engineering and Producing theT43 Heavy Tank
      d. Delivering the M103 Heavy Tank
      e. Bringing the Project to Completion: the Marine Corps' M103A1

      a. The Marine Corps Heavy Tank Enters Service
      b. Heavy Tanks in the Fleet Marine Force
      c. One Last Modification: M103A2
      d. Operating the M103A2

    8. INDEX

Author Kenneth Estes presents the story of the M103 through the history of post-war Army tank development. The doctrines facing potential war against the Communist Bloc is examined and presented as the backdrop to the desire for a heavy tank.

Design and development of the tank is examined in detail. I find it fascinating that even back then bureaucratic and theoretical wrangling could hobble a concept over a decade from specification to delivery. The author guides us through the process of making not only a new tank but also a brand new state-of-the-art tank gun. And then new ammunition to feed the beast! The foibles and fortes of the design is discussed in good detail.

The tank suffered fits and starts in design while the Pentagon jousted over whether or not it was even needed. The author discusses why the Army thought that they could de-gun it with a paltry 90mm cannon! Then the Korean War convinced the generals that atom bombs wouldn’t necessarily keep the Communists and their hordes of tanks honest.

Finally the tank rolled off the assembly line and into testing. Mr. Estes recounts the modifications required to make the tank battleworthy. He discusses why the Army put theirs in storage while USMC improved it. Eventually, the Army borrowed scores of USMC M103s to meet their deterrence mission in Germany! Ultimately, the M60 became the main battle tank and the follow-on MBT70 failed. M103 was upgraded with some components from the M60; one service adopted it, the other did not.

Mr. Estes presents information about the deployment and employment of this American heavy tank, discussing crew duties and popularity of the system. Training and firing the 120mm is related with interesting facts.

The book is very interesting and easy to read. However, it has two glaring mistakes that the editorial staff should have caught: duplicate photograph captions; an illustration of M103A1 tanks is supposed to also display the ammunition types but they are not shown. Furthermore, while the tank’s systems are detailed, no mention is made of a key feature of the production tank – armor thickness.

Photographs, artwork, graphics
The text is well supported with over two dozen black-and-white photos and three color photos of M103s. (Actually there are five color photos if you include two of the author in the commander cupolas of M103s.) Modelers can glean quite a lot of detail from the photos including two generations of paint: USMC semi-gloss green No. 1612 and USMC green lusterless 1620.

Seven color illustrations by artist Richard Chasemore help bring the M103 to life while a table puts its firepower into perspective:
    1. M103 US Army, 1957 Initial Model: only 98 examples were made for the US Army of the M103 (T43E1).
    2. M103 of 2-33RD Armor on Maneuvers in West Germany, May 1959: in-action art of an Army M103 on the prowl.
    3. Table, ammunition performance of the T122 & T123 120mm
    4. M103A1, US Army, 1962 and USMC, 1962 (US Army olive contrasted with USMC green.)
    5. M103A1 in USMC Service: cutaway of the tank with 36 components keyed.
    6. M103A1, USMC, 1963 and M103A2, USMC, 1964
    7. M103A2, USMC, 1972, in USMC green lusterless 1620 camouflage.
    8. M103A2 Firing Main Gun From Defensive Position on Perimeter of Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, 1970: dramatic in-action artwork of 120mm muzzle blast sending rounds down range!

Why is the M103 one of the few post-war tanks that captured my imagination? That unique sloped turret and endless gun tube gave it a distinctive appearance that distinguished it from contemporaries. I am very happy that Opsrey published this title. It explained the M103 to me in satisfying detail. The text is detailed and fairly easy to read. Photographic support is great and artwork is excellent.

There are some typos and the two glaring mistakes previously mentioned: duplicate photograph captions; ammunition illustrations referenced but absent. Furthermore, while the tank’s systems are detailed, no mention is made of a key feature of the production tank – armor thickness.

Regardless, this book should educate and impress those interested in Cold War heavy armor. Recommended.

Click here for additional images for this review.

Highs: Text explains the M103 in satisfying detail, detailed and fairly easy to read. Photographic support is great and artwork is excellent.
Lows: Two glaring mistakes: duplicate photograph captions; ammunition illustrations referenced but absent. While the tank’s systems are detailed, no mention is made of production tank armor thickness.
Verdict: This book should educate and impress those interested in Cold War heavy armor.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781849089814
  Suggested Retail: $17.95 / £9.99
  PUBLISHED: Jun 03, 2013
  NATIONALITY: United States

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. All rights reserved.


It'd be nice to see one of the plastic kit manufacturers do one of these in 1/35, instead of all of those silly WWII NAZI PAPER PANZERS that never even made it into production...
JUN 06, 2013 - 12:25 AM
Oh... I agree 100%!!! I got to see one up close at the Danville Museum. Very big beast! And this is a nice publication to own too. ~ Jeff
JUN 06, 2013 - 01:01 AM
A 1/35 model M103 has been announced! http://armorama.kitmaker.net/forums/213241&ord=&page=1
OCT 12, 2013 - 12:41 PM

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