M61 Eisenhower Main Battle Tank
Country: United States of America
Other Users: European Alliance, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt
Builder: Chrysler Defense
Armament: 1x M68A1 105mm
1x M2 12.7mm HMG (Turreted)
2x M204 7.62mm MGs (1x COAX)
By the end of the Second World War the United States was equipped with a mix of M4 Sherman II tanks and heavier M48 Patton MBTs. The M48 continued to be upgraded through the 1950s and early 60s. However by the late 1960s the U.S. Army was concerned that their armor was falling behind the curve. Beginning in 1965 the European Alliance introduced a series of new tanks. These were better armored, armed, and ahead electronically then the latest Patton tanks. Not to mention Soviet rearmament had been ongoing since the early 60s.
Worried about how the M48 would compare to the Chieftains, Leopards, and Soviet ‘Rhinos’ the Defense Department announced that it would hold a competition for a new MBT in 1966. After much debate and testing Chrysler’s XM61 was chosen. The M61 had many improvements compared to the M48. New composite armor, electronics, and crew survival systems were incorporated into the design, named for General Eisenhower. A new feature of the M61 was a separate ammo compartment that kept the crew away from the tank’s explosive ammunition (a feature in all of the European tanks and new to the T-64). Blow out panels and thick blast doors protected the crew in the event of a penetrating hit on that compartment. Fire suppression systems were also built into the engine and turret.
The 105mm cannon that armed the Grizzly, was a licensed copy of the British L7. An innovative feature of this new gun was a stabilization system. This allowed the Eisenhower to fire while on the move. Room was left in the turret for new technological upgrades in the future. The first fleet of M61s was armed with simple low light night fighting systems, but replacing these with new thermal sights coming online in the next decade was very easy. The tank commander had his own controllable turret armed with a M2 HMG that could be targeted with a periscope and sight. It also allowed the TC to fire his MG under cover.
After its production went into full swing the M61 was fully equipped to the 1st Cavalry Division and 1st Armored Division. It is not known how but the tankers of both heavy divisions christened the new tank the ‘Grizzly’. The name stuck perhaps because it was easier to say in than Eisenhower. Crews enjoyed the fire on the move ability of the M61 along with its high powered engine. However the speed was also achieved by less armor. The special composite nature of the armor did provide better protection then just steel, but this lack would become a weakness in the next war.
Grizzly tanks found themselves in combat only hours after the Soviet invasion of the United States in June of 1975. Eisenhowers from Fort Hood and other military bases in Texas ran head first into Red Army T-64 ‘Rhino’ tanks with their powerful 125mm cannons. It was quickly discovered that while the Grizzly had fine frontal protection, it had weaker side protection that could be penetrated by the Rhino’s main weapon. The Grizzly could move faster though and shoot while moving, something the Rhino lacked.
Despite weaknesses to the Soviet T-64s and even more powerful T-72 Apocalypse tanks, the Grizzly could hold its own against larger Soviet numbers. Shoot and scoot became the motto of American tankers. Quickly moving from defense positions and killing Russian tanks on the move. The Grizzly’s deadly ability increased with the introduction of thermal sights and depleted uranium shells for their 105mm guns. Combined with a new ballistic computer and laser range finders, the technological gap between the Soviets and the American forces grew, in the USA’s favor.
As war production swung into full swing, the U.S. was able to supply export M61 Grizzlies to the European Allies. Poland who used a mix of equipment received a large number of M61s and used them in the defense and counterattack launched by the Europeans. The Grizzly would serve through the entirety of the Third World War. Many M61 crews received fame and awards throughout the war. M61A1s have been sold too many other nations to equip their armed forces.
The latest Grizzly models are being upgraded with a 120mm cannon and new armor of British design. These with additional electronic upgrades will allow the M61 to continue to match any other tank around the world.