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M60: The Main Battle Tank Built for World War III Against Russia

M60 Tank
An M60A1 tank from the Royal Jordanian Armed Forces fires a round at a range in Wadi Shadiyah during a massive military demonstration in front of dignitaries and media.

The M60 Main Battle Tank Was Developed to Counter the Soviet Union’s Tanks – The American-built M60 is one of the most successful main battle tanks (MBTs) ever produced. More than 15,000 rolled off the production line, and since its introduction in 1959, the M60 has seen service in the armies of 22 nations. It was actually developed to counter the threat from the Soviet Union‘s medium tanks.

During its decades in service, the M60 underwent various updates – the first in 1963 when the M60A1 appeared with a larger and better-designed turret, improved armor and more efficient shock-absorbers.

Descendant of the Patton

Though the M60 was developed from the M48 Patton, the M60 tank series was never officially christened as a “Patton tank,” and the United States Army considered it a “product-improved descendant.” However, there were numerous design similarities and the M60 is often – albeit informally – grouped as a member of the Patton tank family. It was officially known as “105mm Gun Full Tracked Combat Tank (M60).”

Development of the tank began in 1957 to counter the threat posed by the Soviet Union’s T-54/T-55 medium tanks which were seen as superior in most aspects to the U.S. military’s M48 medium tanks. The first prototypes of the M60 were produced in 1958 and early 1959. It was clearly more of an evolutionary – rather than revolutionary – step forward.

The general turret shape of the M48 was initially retained, while it was progressively improved to the more well-known M60 version. The interior layout, which was based on the design of the M48, provided ample room for updates and improvements, extending the vehicle’s service life for over four decades. It was also determined that anti-tank weapons had outpaced armor development, and as a result, the importance of the World War II-era “ heavy tank” was diminishing.

Instead of focusing on light, medium and heavy tanks – the United States opted to develop a new tank that was well-armed, reasonably well armored, highly mobile and still affordable to build in large numbers. The M60 thus became the U.S. military’s first “Main Battle Tank,” and did away with the World War II classifications entirely. It was also categorized as a “first generation” MBT, and it would go on to see service throughout the Cold War.

Steadily upgraded, the U.S. Army only phased the M60A3 out of service in 1997, when it was finally superseded by the third-generation M1 Abrams MBT.

Key Specifications of the M60

The M60 incorporated a Continental V-12 559.7kW (750hp) air-cooled, twin-turbocharged diesel engine – the same as the upgraded M-48A3. Power was transmitted to a final drive through a cross drive transmission, a combined transmission, differential, steering and braking unit. Maximum speed was 30mph on the road, and it had a range of 311 miles.

The 51.8-ton tank had a crew of four, which included the commander, driver, gunner and loader. The M60 was the last U.S. MBT to utilize homogeneous steel armor, and it was the last tank to feature an escape hatch under the hull.

In 1963, the M60 was upgraded to the M60A1 standard – which featured a larger, improved-shaped turret and improvements to the armor protection and shock absorbers. The M60A1 was also equipped with a stabilization system for the main gun

Its main armament initially was the British-designed, license-produced 105mm (4.13) Royal Ordnance L7 tank gun, designated the M68 gun; but with the M60A2 version, the gun was upgrade to the 152mm caliber main gun similar to what was employed on the M551 Sheridan. The improved gun was able to fire the Shillelagh gun-launched anti-tank missile as well as normal rounds. The other significant update of the M60A2 model was the redesigned low-profile turret, which offered a commander’s machine-gun cupola on top – providing the commander of a good view and field of fire while protected.

The M60A3 version, which was introduced in the 1970s, incorporated a number of technological advances including an improved rangefinder and ballistic computer as well as a turret stabilization system. All American M60s were eventually upgraded to this standard.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Update: This piece has been updated since its original posting.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Alex

    April 4, 2022 at 1:03 pm

    How impatient to attack Russia … Forward 🙂

  2. Ron Ralph

    April 4, 2022 at 7:41 pm

    I spent 11 years in the Army from 1982-1993, mostly on the M60A1 and M60A3 tanks before making the transition to the M1A1 in 1989. It was a big target on the battlefield, was loud with clankety tracks, and had two nicknames, “The Beast” and “The Old Dinosaur”. At the end of the day, “The Beast” would beat you up, as you’d be mentally and physically exhausted! A disadvantage on the battlefield was the signature black plume of exhaust when it started up. That was a dead giveaway to our defensive positions. The squeaks and sounds of the track moving was also a dead giveaway to our positions. It was rare to have a working heater, so we all froze our butts off in the winter. The hatches often leaked, making life miserable when it rained. But in all, we had a more advanced tank than any Soviet made tank on the battlefield!!

  3. Michael Grinager

    April 4, 2022 at 10:56 pm

    I was an M60A1 platoon leader in 1979-81. The 105mm M-68 main gun was a game changer. With a round in the tube, my loader holding a round ready to load with another squeezed between his knees, we took out the Soviet 3 tank platoon engagement on Graf’s Range 42 in seven seconds. My driver went to heater repair school, so the platoon was never cold. The tank was a joy. After my four years of active duty, I returned to my home state and was a National Guard Tank Company Commander…mixed unit of M60 and M48A5. I chose the M48A5 as my tank. It had the D mod low profile commanders cupola, loved it.
    BTW back in Germany, our Charlie Company was equiped with the M60A2, it was no upgrade compared to the A1, it was a turd. When we upgraded to RISE passive, Charlie traded in the “Starship” for M60A1s.
    Everything changed in ’82 when we were the first M1 Abrams battalion in West Germany.

  4. Donald L Olds

    April 5, 2022 at 8:51 am

    Retired Soldier, former M60 Tank Mechanic, supported my Tankers in the US, Europe and Asia from my M88. Service to the Line, On the Line, On Time. Tankers by God.

  5. Anthony

    April 5, 2022 at 10:25 am

    Ron, M-60A1 tanker TC here. Changing and/or cleaning seals and us a sealant (wd-40) around the hatches would definitely stop the leaking hatches. They rot with the heat and cold. Need to change your oil and fuel filter to prevent the black smoke. When starting, unless emergency, don’t run the RPM’s up high until engine is warm. We got the book on the heaters, parts, and learned to made the repairs ourselves. Squeaking tracks while moving is what all tanks do. Adjustment to the track when stopping and changing out blocks reduce the sound somewhat. This is what tankers learn to do less being left behind.

  6. Raymond Closs

    April 5, 2022 at 8:15 pm

    Yeah,stop, where does this stuff come from the M60 is the last of its day and age, really 80’s the M1 is what life is about now.

  7. PREMNATH DIVAKARAN

    April 6, 2022 at 2:29 am

    Graphic details about the evolution of the M60.Great work which was well reviewed by veterans. The article stood its test of authenticity.

  8. Stephen Parker

    April 6, 2022 at 2:43 am

    The missile system on the M-60A2 was a disaster. Fire the main gun and it fried your missile launch control electronics, vacuum tubes and all. So, if you wished to fire missiles at all you’d have to exhaust your supply before firing the main gun normally.

  9. Stephen Parker

    April 6, 2022 at 2:45 am

    The A3 had thermal imaging, a huge upgrade.

  10. David Bourdelais

    April 6, 2022 at 9:02 pm

    Former Marine 1811 here, I was the last active-duty unit with M60’s in the Marine corps, A company 2nd Tanks, we got our Abrams in 92. The Marines never had the A3, so all US forces M-60s were not upgraded to A3 variants. Also as delivered originally the straight M-60 was 600 HP, they got 750 with the rise/passive upgrade, which I think was post A1 upgrades, but I may be wrong in that detail.

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