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The M41 was a light tank developed to replace the WWII dated Chaffee. Development stated in the 1940's and the first tanks entered service by the end of the Korean war. The M41 saw service in Vietnam with both the South Vietnamese and US Marines but was already obsolete. At the time it entered service it was the fastest tank in the world boasting a top speed of 72km/h. It was one of the first US tanks utilizing the powerpack arrangement allowing a trained crew to replace it in the field in just a few hours.
The M41 arrived at our workshop in a sorry state. Our tank had served with the New Zealand army for over 20 years and after being decommissioned spent many years a hulk for the engineers to practice recovery missions. In this role it was flogged to death by the engineers and eventually abandoned by the engineers and left the back of the base in the open and turret less. Despite the good intentions of the new owner the task proved to enormous and the M41 spent the next 25 years rusting a way in a paddock. On his passing it was acquired by the current owner the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum in Cairns Northern Queensland who engaged us to perform a back to running condition restoration.
The M41 arrived at our workshop in a terrible state, first we got the hull and a week or so later the turret, gun and a semi-load of wooden crates full to the brim with NOS parts. The owner was under the belief, as were we, that the spare parts were everything needed to restore her to her former glory.... boy were we wrong.
Much to our horror each boxes contained a completely random mix of parts from bearings to sparkplugs. The only way forward was to catalog every single part a very very tedious job that took several months. In the end our database contained just over 2,000 individual parts and a total of 10,000 individual items.
With that out of the way we started work on the hull owing to it's former life as a recovery hulk and storage conditions it took a weeks to strip everything off it including extracting the remnants of almost 100 broken bolts. By far the hardest part of the restoration was the extraction of the torsion bars from their anchors and the anchors from their housings. 5 x cylinders of oxygen and 5 days of very hard yakka the last one finally came out.
Although we had thousands and thousands of parts most proved to be useless and the hunt for the missing parts started. The main items we were in need of were a traverse mechanism, front suspension housing, main console and instruments, shifting and steering controls and the 2 of the 4 wiring harnesses. it took 2 years to finally get hold of the last major part on the list and along the way we reverse engineered and fabricated over 300 separate items.
The hunt for the parts took us all over the world but by far our greatest allie was the NZ army, in particular Grant Hayes, curator of the the armour and artillery collection of national army museum and his tireless restoration team made up entirely of volunteers. The museum was in possession of a cache of parts larger than ours and we were given absolute access to their database. The museum supplied us with hundreds of parts including a brand new set of tracks. We will be forever indebted to Grant and his staff for their efforts to get the old girl back into service. To honour their contribution it was decided to complete the tank in the markings of the unit she served in.
Over the next 2 years the M41 slowly came together as parts became available. Both final drives were rebuilt as was the automatic Alison transmission, a complex and very advanced design for its time. The supplied crate engine, with a rebuild date of 1986, was of the later fuel injected type and, fortunately, was coaxed into life after a week of debugging the degradation caused by 30 years of storage.
Once the powerpack was fitted it was time to run the M41 in and trouble shoot the inevitable bugs that show up after a comprehensive restoration using NOS parts. We completed about 20 miles during testing and the machine performed faultlessly.
Transport was arranged and we bid her a fond farewell. She now takes pride of place at the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum in Cairns and stands as an equal with the other restorations performed by the worlds leading armoured vehicle restoration teams.
We loved the M41 and we know our team is capable of taking on an armoured vehicle in any state of repair to deliver a world class restoration. If you have an armoured vehicle in need of a restoration then our team would be delighted to take on the challenge.