37mm US Anti-Tank Gun Video

Forgotten Weapons, from time to time, covers larger pieces of artillery as well, not just small arms. In their most recent video, Ian and Karl fire a US M3 37mm anti-tank cannon:

The 37mm AT gun was the workhorse American anti-tank weapon at the outset of World War II. For the time, it was actually very effective against all enemy armor of the period, and the Americans mounted it to all of their cannon-armed tanks and many of their armored fighting vehicles (M3, M5 Lights, M2 and M3 Mediums, the M8 Greyhound, and the oddball air-droppable M22 Locust to name a few). By 1943, however, tank armor had substantially improved, and the 37mm became decidedly second-rate in the European theater. However, Japanese armor remained much the same as it was at Pearl Harbor, and the 37mm gun remained a mainstay in the Pacific.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • I don’t need anything like this. Yet…

  • MountainKelly

    No Pak36 or 36(t) love!?

  • UnrepentantLib

    So, how much does each round cost? Or is that something better not to think about?

    • gunsandrockets

      And even worse, does the NFA tax apply to each round? Ouch!

      • sianmink

        Only if they’re explosive. I think you could fire AP solids without issue. Though you may have to buy them with a tax stamp first and then learn to reload. I’m not sure.

        • BattleshipGrey

          I agree only if they’re explosive. The tax stamp doesn’t make sense for AP, although I don’t think NFA and tax stamps make much sense to begin with.

      • Kivaari

        Some states do not allow the cannons. Idaho has a 0.70 caliber restriction. I’d love to have one, and have had that desire since grade school in the ’50s. Until the GCA ’68 screwed us all, these were around. The 20mm Lahti and Solothorn (spelling) were impressive guns. The Lahti with the chest full of gear and 10 magazines was selling for $129. Ammo was $89.99 per 100.
        My 50mm Soviet mortar cost $45.

    • BattleshipGrey

      Found this quote at uzitalk[dot]com:
      I figure I have around $50 a round in cost per shot. The projos are $25 each that I currently have. I purchase them from a guy that has them machined. The powder is around six dollars a round. Brass is the nasty part. Assume that cases can be found for $50 or so each. Some of the cases that are purchased aren’t able to be used upon inspection. Some crack and fail, etc. Assume average cost per shot on a case is around $20 to $25 each. that doesn’t assume any wear and tear on the gun, etc. Keep in mind that shooting this is different than shooting a sub gun, rifle etc. You aren’t just tearing through rounds. Its a much more leasurely pace.

  • mosinman

    don’t forget they could fire canister shot vs infantry

  • Zebra Dun

    My neighbors would choke if I had one and set it off in the back forty at my l’il range.
    I’d say it was even good for the tracks and weapons systems even if it wouldn’t penetrate the main armor.
    In the age of the 120 mm tank gun this seems incredible.

  • Jeff Smith

    I absolutely love Forgotten Weapons. The new slow motion video stuff they have been doing is really fun to watch.

  • BattleshipGrey

    My grandfather on my dad’s side never served, but I got a 37mm projectile from him. I’m not sure where he picked it up but I’ve been curious as to the platform that fires it. Now I know :). I’ve been meaning to look it up and always forget to. Thanks Forgotten Weapons (and TFB).

    • BattleshipGrey

      So I dug out the projectile and took some pics to add to the conversation. I also finally looked up the numbers on the band: Produced 2-9-1943 M51 B2. According to tank-net[dot]com, it’s an armor piercing round. The B2 notes the rounded nose whereas the B1 was pointed. The 5.56 is for visual scale since not everyone relates to rulers.

      I was about to say that I had no clue how he came upon this since he didn’t serve in the military, then it dawned on me that he was a train engineer, most likely hauling munitions and other war machine stuff.

      • mosinman

        looks like a 37mm APC round. it’s capped to help against face hardened armor i think

  • Pete Sheppard

    Talk about kewl toys…

  • Georgiaboy61

    Caught that also…. the first major ground combat for the U.S. forces outside of the Pacific Theater was in North Africa and then in the Mediterranean Theater in Sicily and Italy.

    As an anti-tank weapon, the 37mm was obsolete by the time of Operation Torch against German armor – although some kills were scored, just as often the weapon was a door-knocker whose AP shells bounced off German PzKpfw (Panzerkampfwagen) IIIs and IVs which made up the bulk of the Deutsches Afrikakorps armored force at that time.

    Against the fearsome Tiger I, first seen in Tunisia, they weren’t good for much more than scratching the paint. Unless a crew was fortunate-enough to get a shot into the thinner rear or belly armor or another vulnerable spot of an enemy tank, the 37mm usually proved inadequate as an anti-tank weapon.

    The problem with the 37mm wasn’t so much in the design of the gun, but its ammunition. It took the U.S. Army Ordnance Department and other R&D organizations well into 1944 before they began to take the full measure of German armor and how to make anti-tank ammunition capable of defeating it. The same applied to the M5 3-inch AT gun – which also suffered from sub-standard ammunition which hindered its performance against enemy armor.

    Tungsten-cored ammunition and improved “hyper-velocity” propellants significantly upgraded the performance of most all U.S. AT guns by late 1944, but tungsten carbide was in chronically short supply and not all of our troops got the high-performance AP shot – or got it in sufficient quality – when it was needed.

    The U.S. Army was also divided internally as to the proper use of artillery against tanks; one faction wanted to develop fixed guns capable of dealing with any current German tank or any on the drawing board, but others – seeing the battlefield as dynamic and not static – wanted artillery (whether anti-tank or not) to be mobile and self-propelled. These disagreements as to the proper employment of artillery did nothing to hasten fixing the problems of systems like the 37mm or its larger brothers.

    On the other hand, the 37mm cannon was extremely valuable when employed as an infantry support weapon – used to reduce fortifications, take out soft-skinned targets such as unarmored vehicles, and also in an anti-personnel role when firing canister. It was light enough to be man-handled into position without much more than a jeep to tow it and a few man to emplace it. The ammunition was also light enough to be carried by hand or pack animal if necessary (which often proved necessary in the more-mountainous regions of Italy, for example). Firing HE, the 37mm also proved useful in the urban, house-to-house fighting encountered as the army pushed into Germany – for taking our snipers, machine-guns, Panzerfaust crews and the like.

    The Marines used this weapon to devastating effect against human-wave “banzai” attacks by Imperial Japanese troops at places like Guadalcanal by firing canister at point-blank ranges.

    • mosinman

      HVAP ammunition was usually given to tank destroyers . in late 44 shermans could get up to 5 rounds of HVAP depending on how well thier supply lines were

  • Georgiaboy61

    A variant of the M-26 Pershing heavy (later medium) tank which saw service in limited numbers late in WWII in the ETO was the so-called “Super Pershing” which mounted the T15E1 90mm gun of 73 calibers length (designed to be equivalent or better to the improved 8mm cannon found on the heavy Tiger II) and a much-larger propellant case, giving the gun a muzzle velocity of 3,750 fps with T30E16 APCR shot – capable of penetrating the Panther frontally at up to 2,600 yards.

    It is not know definitively if a Super Pershing saw combat against German tanks, but it did perform exceptionally well against Panthers, Tigers and various captured tank destroyers and SP chassis. The T15E1 more than exceeded expectations in live-fire tests done by the 3rd Armored Division against captured German armored vehicles.

    • SPQR9

      Belton Cooper’s book “Death Traps” describes the deployment of such a up-gunned Pershing. I think it has photos. However, Cooper’s book has some accuracy problems.

      • Georgiaboy61

        I own Cooper’s book… and have since it was released. It is very well-done and excellent as a memoir of its kind.

        Considering that the late Lt. Cooper was there – i.e., at or near the front lines during much of the worst of the fighting in western Europe – and you presumably were not, I’d be curious to hear more about what you consider the “accuracy problems” of his book.

        Not trying to pick an argument; just curious what you mean… I have studied WWII for more than forty years, and his book – as far as I could tell – was very accurate. What part gave you problems?

        Oral histories are a wonderful historical resource, but with the passage of time, memories sometimes get lost, distorted or fade.

        P.S. – yes, Cooper’s book has a photo or two of the so-called “Super Pershing” – complete with custom-fabricated armor Cooper and his men added to the turret and gun mantlet.

        • SPQR9

          Cooper makes a lot of technical errors in his memoir, misstating differences between marks of Shermans, engines, tank guns, relative performance of US and German tanks, horsepower, ground pressure etc. He couldn’t get the differences between M4 and M4A1 tanks correct as an example (welded vs. cast hulls). You should take no detailed factual statements in the book as correct. Cooper also makes errors in historical statements such as blaming the delay on the deployment of the Pershing on Patton when in fact it was the result of decisions made by Gen. McNair.

          You can google up more detailed lists of the errors in his books.

          • Georgiaboy61

            You ought to show a bit more respect for the dead, not to mention when they’re heroes like Belton Cooper. Call me when you write a better work of history than his and then get it published. Somehow, I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Know-it-all critics like you never amount to anything.

          • SPQR9

            I wasn’t slagging Belton Cooper. That his book has technical errors in it, and historical mistakes where he opines about things he was not a witness to, is simply a fact. His recitation of his own experiences are interesting, and his opinions are even interesting in the sense of understanding what the officers and men of tank units believed.

            But that he was of the WWII generation does not mean that factual errors in his book can’t be pointed out. Respect does not mean pretending that his factual errors don’t exist.

            I can be less diplomatic if you don’t understand my point.

          • Georgiaboy61

            Like I said, if you know that much about the subject – and maybe you do – then perhaps you ought to write your own book, article or website. Best of luck and I’ll be looking forward to reading it.

  • 1941—–

  • mosinman

    it was around in 1940 though but with the L-11 76mm gun

  • SPQR9

    The 57mm was a copy of the British QF 6 pounder cannon.

  • SPQR9

    The 57mm was actually widely deployed in several varients as well as supplied to UK via Lend-Lease. It was a good towed anti-tank weapon until replaced by 3 inch and 76mm towed guns as well as self-propelled.

  • n0truscotsman
  • M3 “Honey” Stuart light tanks were being given to the British and used in North Africa quite extensively by the fall of 1941. Robert Crisp’s memoir, BRAZEN CHARIOTS, discusses the arrival and use of the Honey Stuart during Operation CRUSADER.

    Overall, the Honey performed better mechanically than the Crusader cruiser tank, or any of the older A-series cruisers, although the 37mm high-velocity AT gun was no better than, and perhaps just slightly less effective compared to the British 40mm two-pounder AT gun.

    Crisp estimated that, against the Panzer IIIs they most often faced off against, the Honeys and Crusaders needed a 2-3 to 1 numerical advantage, mostly because they needed to close before engaging successfully, while the Panzer III had a far more effective main gun, deadlier at much greater ranges.