This article will endeavor to shed some light on the often overlooked 1946 Canadian military acquisition of M5A1 Stuart Light tanks. Although they remained in Canadian service for only 10 years they have survived in surprisingly large numbers.
The Canadian Armoured Corps was no stranger to the Stuart light tank by 1946. They had first received small numbers of the M3 models for training in the United Kingdom and even had 7 obsolete M2A4 on strength for a short time. With the change from Universal Carriers to light tanks in the British Armoured force doctrine, in 1943 Canada received up to 77 M3A3 and later M5A1 tanks for use by reconnaissance units operating on the continent. Some of these vehicles were converted to a very effective reconnaissance variant by means of the removal of the turret and ammunition storage. By the spring of 1945 Canadian forces in northwest Europe were well equipped with the latest M5A1 models.
At the end of the war in Europe, it was decided by the Canadian government to leave its war weary tanks in the vehicle dumps of England and the Netherlands and to source replacement, newly refurbished models from the United States Army North American inventories. This was acknowledged as an advantageous way of obtaining newer vehicles for the smaller peacetime army with fewer costs associated with repair and shipping of those held in Europe. During the war, decisions had been made to standardize on American designs of armoured fighting vehicles and, as a result, Canada was able to purchase 294 M4A2E8 76mm(W) Sherman medium tanks and 96 M5A1 Stuart light tanks from the US in September of 1946. The Sherman tanks were new vehicles held back from wartime Soviet orders and the Stuart tanks were older examples that had previously been refurbished by American Car and Foundry for the United States Government and were being held in reserve stores at the Schenectady General Depot in New York State. The deal for the vehicles was originally agreed upon as 300 Shermans and 90 Stuarts but this seems to have been altered by the time of delivery.
The Stuarts arrived At Longue Point Ordnancec Depot, near Montreal, by rail in late 1946. After processing the tanks were issued on a small scale to the reconnaissance troops of a number of armoured units across the country. Regiments known to have used the M5A1 at this time include, but aren’t limited to, The British Columbia Dragoons, The Kings Own Calgary Regiment, The Lord Strathcona’s Horse (RC) and the Fort Garry Horse. In addition to the regimental use of the tanks a number were held by the Armoured Corps school at Borden. The remainder were held in Ordnance stores awaiting future use.
There are very few features of note on the Canadian Stuarts, as they were refurbished before arriving in Canada, but items of interest include the mixture of steel and rubber track, bustle bins on some examples, the mismatching of later turrets with earlier hulls and vise-versa, (most likely done during the mass rebuild at American Car), and the fitting of No.19 Set radio and antenna mounts. Markings on the Canadian tanks seem limited to a Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) number prefixed by “78” on both sides of the hull and occasional squadron markings or “Command” shield. In some instances the original US army markings have also been found under the Canadian paint.
About the same time of the Stuart purchase, Canada acquired a small number of M24 Chaffee light tanks but these appear to have seen limited use as well. After this, there was a notable shift away from US armoured vehicles back to British designs with the acquisition of 124 Ferret scout cars for use by reconnaissance units. By 1954 the light tank no longer had viable role in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps. In July 1955 the Canadian government identified the entire inventory of 96 M5A1 Light tanks, complete with one year of spares and limited manuals, as being surplus to our requirements and available to NATO partners as part of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP). Listed in the 1955/56 MDAP program the vehicles were identified solely by Portugal as being an acquisition interest. In September 1955, the Portuguese government made an initial request for 68 of the 96 tanks but this was amended in October to encompass the entire 96 vehicles. In a somewhat re-occurring theme with the Stuarts, of the 96 requested by Portugal, 90 were transferred by the Canadian government in late 1956.
Once in Portugal the Stuarts were adopted by the Exército Português as the “CC M5A1 Stuart 15 ton 3.7 cm m / 957”. As Portugal already had M47 Patton and M24 Chaffee tanks in service, the M5A1’s were once again issued in limited numbers with the majority remaining in storage at the Depósito Geral de Material do Exército (DGME) in Bierolas, Lisboa. By early 1967, the inventory of M5A1’s in Portugal was as follows:
|Cavalry Regiment No.6||2|
|Guarna Nacional Republicana||20|
|Depósito Geral de Material do Exército||65|
Of the 65 tanks listed as being in storage at DGEM, it was noted that only 13 were operational. Of these, 3 tanks were recalled into service in 1967 for the Portuguese Colonial War in Angola, where they were primarily used as convoy escort vehicles. The 3 twenty-five year old tanks, numbers ME-07-70, ME-08-77 and ME-08-89, were repaired and upgraded at the General Engineering and Materiel Workshops at Belém and then shipped to Africa in September 1967. In the rough conditions of Angola, they provided exemplary service with one remaining in use as late as 1973. These 3 tanks have the distinction of being the last operational M5A1 tanks in Portuguese service and the only ones to be used in conflict.
In the late 1970’s the remaining inventory of Stuarts in Portugal caught the attention of an American firm by the name of Southeastern Equipment Company (SECo) in Augusta, Georgia. The company successfully negotiated the purchase of about 70 of the now derelict tanks from the Bierolas depot and by the early 1980’s were selling them to collectors and museums from their two US storage yards. As part of the de-militarization, the 37mm gun barrels were cut and for inventory control purposes, SECo painted a large white number on the turret sides. The highest observed inventory number on a SECo M5A1 to date is “66”. As a result of these sales, the Canadian M5A1 Stuart can be found in museums and private collections all over the world with a small number even coming to Canada for a second time.
Assembled here is a list of 90 Serial numbers and US army registration numbers for M5A1 Stuart light tanks purchased by Canada from United States military stocks in 1946. The list of 90 vehicles included in the 1946 purchase was researched in the collection of Library and Archives Canada by the late Peter Ford. In addition to those vehicles identified in the 1946 acquisition, are those vehicles of note that survive in Canada and a listing of known DND registration numbers. Due to the not so insignificant connection these vehicles have to the Portuguese Army, that nation’s registration numbers have been included wherever possible. As it exists in its current form, there are more than 96 entries on the list due in part by the inability in most cases to link known Canadian serial numbers with DND or Portuguese Registration numbers as they appear on the vehicles. Any additions or corrections are strongly encouraged.
|Serial||USA No.||DND No.||Exército Português No.||Notes/Image|
|3894||3047006||An early image of a Canadian M5A1 at Camp Borden at the time of the official unveiling of the Canadian Armoured Corps Memorial in October 1949. The tank and its sister remain at the memorial to this day having been held back from the 1956 transfer to Portugal. (Special thanks to Colin Alford for locating this important image)|
|5102||3048214||SECo No. 25.|
|5193||3048305||Located at Camp Borden at the time of the official unveiling of the Canadian Armoured Corps Memorial in October 1949. The tank and its sister remain at the memorial to this day having been held back from the 1956 transfer to Portugal.|
|5232||3048344||SECo No 45. Ex. “Fury” and “Caroline” Was also marked with “Central Command” badge on original paint. (Credit: Wheels and Tracks Magazine)|
|6305||3049417||78-640||Uncommon image showing both serial and DND number. In use by the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (RC). (Courtesy Anthony Sewards)|
|ME-07-60||Issued to Cavalry School.|
|ME-07-70||“Licas” Used in Angola and last used as static defence position at Zala in 1973. (Image: João Luíz Mendes Paulo)|
Portuguese service image. (DGMG Image Archive)
|ME-07-80||In period image. Vehicle in background.|
|ME-08-77||“Gina” Used in Angola until 1972 when it was deemed no longer serviceable and transferred to Luanda.|
|ME-08-98||“Milocas” Used in Angola and lost in a fire, March 12, 1969.|
|78-613||Portuguese service image. (DGMG Image Archive)|
Winter training with a pair of Stuarts. The stencil on the side of 78-624 reads “Refuse”. Note the placement of the Regimental HQ squadron marking on the flank owing to the track grousers taking up all of the turret real estate. (Courtesy Anthony Sewards)
|78-633||78-633 on parade with the Fort Garry Horse. Note the Lynx scout car in the background. (FGH Museum via Anthony Sewards)|
|78-652||Fantastic image of Canadian M5A1’s just after being unloaded from rail cars at Longue Point. Note the “DND” number number chalked on hull. This would explain why there is no linear relation between serial numbers and “DND” numbers. They were simply marked in the order they were in on the rail siding! (DND Image courtesy Anthony Sewards)|
|78-669||In period Portuguese image. Vehicle in background.|
|10778||3060812||CT271427||“Press On” is a Lincoln and Welland Regt. Stuart VI recce variant without turret. It was a regimental “bring-back” from Northwest Europe and not part of the 1946 purchase from US stocks. It is preserved in St. Catherines Ontario, Canada and is included here for identification purposes.|
|892||Image taken while at Elliot Brothers wrecking yard circa 1998. Note the spare parts including engine decs and idlers present. (Credit: Dirk Leegwater)|
The provided serial number indicates that this tank was built as an M5. It reportedly washed into the Humber River at Levy Auto Parts in Toronto, Ontario during Hurricane Hazel in 1954. It was stripped of parts and the hull and turret were left on the riverbank with two others Stuarts until they were recovered in 1976. It was subsequently sent to CFB Downsview for storage and then to Elliot Brothers wrecking yard, before going into a private collection. Pre-restoration images indicate that it was marked with US Army numbers to the 44th Armored, “A 19” and “Axis Buster”. This tank is not included in the list of serials from the 1946 Canadian purchase but is present in Canada as early as 1954. Further research into its connection to the Canadian purchase is required.
DGMG – Depósito Geral de Material de Guerra – Beirolianos image archive.
“The Postwar Sherman In Canadian Service” Rod Hederson, Service Publications, 2012
“Elephante DunDum” João Luíz Mendes Paulo, Self Published, 2006
“In Search of ex-Canadian Stuarts” Peter Ford, pg.33. Army Motors Magazine.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization Archives. Committee on Mutual Aid, correspondence 1951-1965
“Tools of the Trade” Clive Law, Service Publications 2005.
Wheels And Tracks Magazine No. , Page 14.
Special thanks must go to Anthony Sewards, Colin Allford, Stephan Leegwater and Stuart Robertson for assistance with this article and list.