The complaints against the M3 Lee are many, but they cluster around just a few points. That the gun one has in World of Tanks is the hull-mounted one, and cannot traverse (making it more like a Tank Destroyer). That it is so tall and the gun is so low in the tank one basically cannot adopt a “hull-down” position, and more generally just makes a large target for enemies to shoot at. That it is not well armoured, and also that its gun is simply not very good.
I started to play the M3 Lee following my time in the M2 MT. It is basically a Tier IV medium tank. As it happens I have recently watched a few documentaries about World War 2, several of which repeated some of these same criticisms, especially regarding the mounting of the gun and its size.
To be fair, these are not totally without merit. The size especially does make a good target as I know very well from having shot at it many times, and it does prevent some common tank tactics. It makes the tank difficult to hide if trying to play it more like a Tank Destroyer. It is, quite simply, a drawback. It was in real life and it is in the game. This combines with armour that is decidedly average to poor for its tier and easily ignored by higher tier tanks. Only 310hp means they will also often one-shot you.
The gun is more of a mixed story, I find. Certainly against Tier VI and VII tanks, which the M3 Lee sometimes finds itself facing, it is utterly useless. Against Tier V tanks it very much depends on the situation. Against tanks of its own tier and below it is actually pretty good, and it has one quality often overlooked: rate of fire. Upgraded and without equipment it can pump out 20 shots/minute, and at a theoretical damage of over 100/shot, its damage output can be pretty reasonable. There is a downside to this gun however, and it is my pet peeve about this tank: the recoil is just massive. One basically needs to re-aim after each shot, and I actually think the rate of fire is, if anything, too fast to allow decent shooting. That said, there are times when that high rate of fire is very useful it out-firing an opponent.
The fact that gun is fixed I do not automatically count as a disadvantage – after all I very often play Tank Destroyers. Annoyingly the interface doesn’t recognise the tank destroyer aspects of this tank meaning it is harder to judge one’s firing arc. Thankfully one can lock one’s tracks like in a TD. I think alot of the hate for this is probably related to the fact the M3 Lee is classed as a medium tank, even if that is not how it plays. That said, the low-position of the gun compared to the size of the tank, as above, is a hindrance.
I have been killed by the M3 Lee often enough not to count this tank as being useless. It is not as bad as is often claimed. That does not however make it an excellent tank. The match-maker often is not your friend. Some tanks still fare fairly well when faced by higher tier tanks, and can still contribute in various ways. The situation for the M3 Lee is bleaker.
In higher tier matches, one is essentially cannon fodder. If the tier spread includes a lot of Tier IV tanks it may not be completely useless, but otherwise one’s most role is probably artillery defence against opposing light tanks. In a Tier V match however one can often be more involved, though one should be playing a more supportive role with the Tier V heavies. In Tier IV matches however this tank can rule the battlefield. With the narrowing of the matchmaking Tiers coming in 7.5 it is likely indeed there will be fewer high tier matches.
I have fully upgraded my M3 Lee now, and am now aiming to unlock the other tanks, in particular the M4 Sherman and T1 HT. I can also unlock the M7 Priest, but whether I undertake that will likely depend on how the 7.5 changes play out in reality.