The M24 Chaffee in Post-War Service

A Canadian M24 Chaffee stored at CFB Borden in the mid-1980’s. (Courtesy David Dunlop)

The last vehicle to hold the designation of “Light Tank” in Canadian military service was the American built M24 Chaffee. Developed during the Second World War, the M24 introduced many modern features over the existing fleet of American designed light tanks, including a low silhouette, torsion bar suspension and a lightweight 75mm main gun.

As early as 1944 the British and Canadian militaries intended the Chaffee to be the replacement for the outdated Stuart light tanks then in service. Unfortunately production demands on US industry and the prevalence of the Stuart tanks already within armoured units prevented any large scale supply to British and Commonwealth forces. Although the intent was to begin phasing M24’s into the reconnaissance squadrons of Canadian armoured units in Northwest Europe beginning in late 1944, by December of that year the Canadian Army in Europe still hadn’t received any of the tanks from the 21st Army Group.

In Late April 1945 a single Chaffee was delivered to the Canadian 4th Armoured Division in the area of Bad Zwischenahn in northern Germany for the purposes of user trials. The tank was tested in May of that year and found to be very satisfactory as a replacement for the M5A1’s then in service with the division, but it was too late to see service in Canadian combat units. The war had ended and Canadian tanks would soon be headed to the vehicle dumps in Holland. The Chaffee’s were simply no longer needed.

The Canadian government plan for the war-weary vehicles used by Canadian forces overseas was to leave them on the continent, so that they could be transferred to allied counties that were re-arming after years of German occupation. The shipping and repair of returning the vehicles to Canada for use by our peacetime army was considered too great and in many cases didn’t mesh with a previous decision to standardize on those of US design.

As a result of these factors the decision was made to acquire a small number of refurbished M24 Chaffee tanks from the United States for use by the Canadian Armoured Corps in Canada.

A Canadian M24 Chaffee at the time of delivery to the Longe-Point Arsenal in 1949. The box structure on the rear hull likely contains spares and specialist tools that were shipped with the vehicle from the US. (Courtesy Anthony Sewards)

The Canadian Army’s inventory of M24 tanks began to arrive in late 1949 with 5 tanks being delivered in December of that year. Canadian examples of the M24 feature flat top stowage bins bolted to each fender top. These bins replace the pioneer tool storage mounts seen on US army examples. This style of stowage is also commonly seen on M24 Chaffee’s used by the British Royal Armoured Corps.

An M24 stuck in the muskeg at Churchill Manitoba. (DND Image)

The tables below outline the distribution of the 21 Chaffee tanks in Canadian army inventory in the first half of the 1950’s. It is apparent that the tanks were initially used heavily at Camp Borden, Ontario but by 1954 the majority has been relegated to storage. The tank assigned to the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (RC) may be the tank used for trials in Churchill, Manitoba as it appears to be the only tank located outside of Ontario, but further research is required.

October 1952 Distribution of M24 Tanks

LocationQuantity
Ordnance Depot Stores2
Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School17
Royal Canadian Electrical Mechanical Engineers School1
Lord Strathconas Horse (RC)1

January 1954 Distribution of M24 Tanks

LocationQuantity
Ordnance Depot Stores18
Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School1
Royal Canadian Armoured Corps Regiments2

In the mid-1950’s the Royal Canadian Dragoons stationed at Camp Petawawa in Ontario had one troop of four M24’s assigned to the unit but this appears to be the end of the operational use of these tanks in Canadian service.  In 1958 the tanks were declared obsolete and withdrawn from use. The remaining vehicles were assigned to ranges as hard targets, transferred to museums or sold for scrap.

It was noted in the late 1960’s that a quantity of about ten M24’s were in the scrap yard at Levy Auto Parts in Toronto, Ontario, and one was located on the ranges of CFB Borden. Finally 3 of the Canadian purchase Chaffee light tanks were preserved in Canada, all of them in Ontario.

Partially obscured by a well worn M5A1 Stuart is a tarped Canadian M24 Chaffee. The two tanks in service together would date this image to pre-1956. (FGH Museum via Anthony Sewards)

In the end the M24 did outlive the M5A1 Stuart in Canadian service but only by 2 years. The M5A1 tanks Canada acquired in 1946 were transferred to Portugal in 1956 and may survive to this day in Collections around the world. The same unfortunately can’t be said about the Canadian Chaffee’s with only 4 examples known to exist at the time of writing.

Known Canadian M24 Chaffee Tanks

Serial NumberUSA NumberDND Number Image / Notes
40030112993 
On display at CFB Borden. Note the British style enclosed stowage on the fenders.

Sept. 1944: Manufactured By Cadillac Division of General Motors
1954: RCAC School, CFB Borden
Preserved at CFB Borden.
  45-7890
In storage at the CWM in Ottawa. Note the flat reinforcement strips on the fender tops from the stowage bins. (CWM Image)

1968: Preserved at Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.
   
The only operable Canadian M24 being driven in Oshawa, Ontario during a museum display.

Preserved at Ontario Regiment (RCAC) Museum.
   
The badly damaged remains of a Canadian M24 seen shortly after recovery from the ranges at CFB Borden. (CFB Borden Museum)

2016: Recovered from firing ranges at CFB Borden.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks go to Anthony Sewards, Frank Von Rosentiel , Tony Viste and Gordon Woollard for information provided in this article and accompanying tables.

Sources

“Tools of the Trade” Clive Law, Service Publications, 2006

“The Postwar Sherman in Canadian Service” Rod Henderson, Service Publications, 2012

“M24 Chaffee Light Tank 1943–85” Steven J. Zolaga, Ospey Publishing, 2003