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The M22 Locust Was A True Airborne Tank (Or Casket)

Because of its obvious obsolescence, the M22 was never again deployed by the British after WWII.

M22 from computer generated image. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

“Many tanks from World War II have achieved legendary status. Both the Cromwell and Vickers tank designs were available to the Brits. A T-34 was open to the Russians. Of course, the Germans had their Panzers. The Americans also had the Sherman tank. But another American tank, the M22 Locust, a lightweight flying tank, failed to make a lasting impact and is now largely forgotten. The M22 is largely ignored since it was a subpar tank.

The British asked their American allies for a flying tank in 1941, which could be brought to the battlefield by glider. It was proposed that an aeroplane tow a glider carrying a tank. A glider would have an easier time maintaining a smaller tank. To that end, the new tank would feature rather weak armour and a relatively small main armament. Yet, under the harsh conditions of the European theatre, a tank with light armour was not always the best option.

The M22 Locust, as many have pointed out, was practically obsolete the moment it entered service. Due to its lightweight as a result of being designed to be dropped from a plane, the tank’s armour needed to be improved.

It led to other, more noticeable complications. The tank’s hull armour was no thicker than half an inch, and in certain places, especially on the tank’s sloping sides, it was barely a third of an inch thick. That made it so the tank couldn’t stay very long in a fight.

Although it was equipped with a 37mm cannon, the M22’s offensive capabilities were limited because they couldn’t compete with the protection offered by German tanks. The M22 had a weak engine and frequently broke down due to mechanical issues. The M22’s poor performance on the battlefield was due to its inadequate protection, subpar weaponry, and underpowered engine. Yet, the M22 had much trouble even making it to the battlefield.

According to Larson’s writing, the largest one-day airborne mission in history, Operation Varsity, resulted in the loss of several Locusts before they could be deployed into action. Many Locust tanks were lost as their glider carriers crashed in the sky, despite the ideal weather conditions for flying. German anti-aircraft fire also brought down many slow-moving, powerless gliders. A couple more locusts had their turrets and main weapons damaged by rough landings.

But that was only the start of the difficulties. Thorough testing revealed that loading the M22 into transport aircraft took a long time. It took a crew of six inexperienced men 24 minutes to load the M22 onto a C-54 transport plane. The M22 unloading process took another five minutes. During those 34 minutes, the enemy had a great chance to assault a highly concentrated and defenceless target.

Because of its obvious obsolescence, the M22 was never again deployed by the British after WWII. But a farmer from Illinois named Kamiel Dupre discovered a role for the M22 in his life. A feature story about Dupre and the two surplus M22s he purchased from the Rock Island Armory for $200 appeared in the June 3, 1946, issue of Life magazine. Dupre planned to convert one of the M22s into a tractor for his property (and the other for spare parts). But Dupre was dissatisfied with his purchase because the M22 needed to be simpler and more demanding.

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