In essence, the ‘Patton’ was basically a modernized ‘Pershing’. Originally designated the M26E2, the tank was accepted into service as the Medium Tank M46. It was given the nickname “Patton” in honor of the great WWII general George S. Patton Jr.
From the inception of the M46 program, it was known that the tank would merely be a stop-gap measure, to be filled at a later date by the T42 medium tank class design. However, with the outbreak of the Korean War, the tank was rushed into action to combat the North Korean T-34/85s alongside its M26 cousin.
The first M46 entered US service in late 1949. The famous Tiger faced tanks of the 6th Tank Bn. in Korea in 1951 were M46.
The only US combat use of the M46 was in the Korean War. On 8 August 1950 the first M46 Patton tanks belonging to the 6th Tank Battalion landed in South Korea. The tank proved superior to the much lighter North Korean T-34-85, which were encountered in relatively small numbers. By the end of 1950, 200 M46 Pattons had been fielded, forming about 15% of US tank strength in Korea; the balance of 1,326 tanks shipped to Korea during 1950 were 679 M4A3 Shermans (including the M4A3E8 variant), 309 M26 Pershings, and 138 M24 Chaffee light tanks. Subsequent shipments of M46 and M46A1 Pattons allowed all remaining M26 Pershings to be withdrawn during 1951, and most Sherman equipped units were also reequipped.
Known M46 series operators include: 1st Marine Tank Battalion and regimental Antitank Platoons of the 1st Marine Division by 1952, 72nd Tank Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Division by January 1952, 64th Tank Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division, 73rd Tank Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division by January 1951, 6th Tank Battalion of the 24th Infantry Division, 140th Tank Battalion (took over the tanks of the 6th Tank Battalion) and regimental tank companies of the 40th Infantry Division (CA ARNG) by October 1951, and the 245th Tank Battalion of the 45th Infantry Division (OK ARNG) by 1952. Several other regimental tank companies gained M46/M46A1s by the end of the war, including the 7th and 65th Infantry Regiments of the 3rd Infantry Division. A surviving example of the M46 Patton tank can be seen on display at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul, South Korea.
In the 1950s, small numbers of M46s were leased, at no cost, to some European countries for training purposes, including Belgium, France and Italy, in preparation for the introduction of the M47. US instruction teams used the vehicles to train European tank crews and maintenance personnel.
The tank saw action in the Korean War 1950-1953 where it proved superior to Russian T34/85, About 200 M46 were used by the US forces in Korea. The M46 was retired from US service in 1957. It was exported in comparatively small numbers to Belgium only.