The first U.S. tank versus tank combat to occur in World War II, began on 22 December 1941, when a platoon of five brand new M3 Stuart light tanks from "B" company, 192nd Tank Battalion led by Lieutenant Ben R. Morin engaged the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) 4th Tank Regiment's Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks north of Damortis during the retreat to the Bataan Peninsula in 1941.
Japanese army ha-go’s plow over a field laced with sharpened bamboo on their way into Bataan [Via]
General Wainwright, commander of US/allied forces in the Philippines during its final period, received reports that the town of Damortis was fast being approached by mechanized elements of the Japanese Army; and he ordered Captain Hanes to engage them.
Since Hanes had not been able to re-fuel at Gerona, where it had been planned to refuel their gasoline powered M3's; his Stuarts were nearly out of gas, so he had to consolidate the fuel from the whole company in order to "top-off" just one platoon of five light tanks. Hanes ordered the tank platoon, led by LT Ben R. Morin, to move north from the town of Damortis, where here on 22 December 1941, the platoon of M3 Stuarts ran into Japanese Type 95 light tanks from the Imperial Japanese Army 4th Tank Regiment.
This is a picture of an M3 Stuart taken in the Philippines during the defence against the Japanese invasion [Via]
Lt. Morin maneuvered his M3 off the road, but took a direct hit while doing so, and his tank began to burn. The other four M3s were also hit, but managed to leave the field under their own power; they retreated only to be destroyed by enemy aircraft later on. Lt. Morin was wounded, and he and his crew were captured by the enemy.
Philippines, early 1942. Japanese Soldiers posing with a captured American M3 Stuart Light Tank [Via]
The M3's of the 192nd Tank Battalion went up against the equally armed Type 95 light tank, which were armed with the 37mm cannon, but were equipped with diesel engines. The M3 was better armored, with 32 mm (1¼ inches) thick turret sides, vs the Type 95's 12 mm thick armor. The Type 95 Ha-Go with its 37mm type 98 gun could penetrate 36mm of armor from 100 meters. That would go through the Stuart's hull and turret flank as well as its hull and turret rear. But the Stuart would be impervious to a head on shot and would most likely make short work of the Ha-Go.
Army soldier resting on a type 95 ha-go tank after the battle of bataan [Via]
However, based upon the Army's Ballistics Research Lab (BRL) which conducted the first large study of tank vs tank warfare in 1945, the conclusion was that the single most important factor in a tank duel was which side spotted the enemy first, shot first, and hit first. The Type 95 light tank had been at the forefront of tank technology when it was fielded in 1935.
M3s of the 194th and 192nd Tank Battalions continued to skirmish with the 4th Tank Regiment's tanks as they continued their retreat down the Bataan Peninsula, with the last tank versus tank combat occurring on 7 April 1942.