Sherman Fire Control: How the Sherman aimed its Main Gun.
The Sherman tank went through a series of fire control changes each an improvement over the last. The first tanks lacked telescopic sight mounted on the gun mount. The only site was incorporated into the gunner’s periscope, and it wasn’t magnified. Since the periscopes were all interchangeable, updating the older tanks was easy at least were the periscope was concerned.
The final fire control setup the Sherman gunner had at his disposal was pretty impressive by the standards of the time. He was in a hydroelectrically driven turret that rotated fast; he had very nice periscope setup with 1x and 6x scopes hooked into the gun with strong linkage. He also had a telescopic sight to work with and the gun was stabilized. This was a vast improvement over the unmagnified reticle on the first production models.
The Lee used a unique setup; the 75mm gun was aimed with an M1 periscope, with an M21A1 periscope built into it. The 37mm was aimed with an M2 periscope with an M19A1 periscope built in. Both the 37 and 75 mounts were stabilized. The prototype M6 Sherman used its own unique sight built into the sight rotor on the top of the turret, this was only used on a small number of production Shermans tanks.
Let’s look at the various periscopes and telescopes the Sherman used through its long life. Let’s start with a look at the various versions of the periscope sights the production Sherman and the TDs based on the chassis below.
The M3 Periscope Sight
Since I just have a little info on this from TM 9-731B on the early M4A2, don’t have much to put here. Maybe this periscope is the one I’ve read about getting foggy on the inside in cold or humid locales. It was quickly replaced with the M4 detailed below. This was one of the non-magnified periscopes.
The M4 Periscope sight
The Periscope M4; it had an M38 telescope with ballistic reticle inside, but no magnification. The M4 was not well liked, and the mount it fit in, was made from sheet metal and was a little flimsy. The linkage that attacked it to the gun wasn’t very robust, and could be knocked out of alignment annoyingly easily. On early Shermans this was a big complaint, since they did not have a direct telescope yet. You couldn’t really take advantage of the M3 75mm guns range with this sight setup either since it had no magnification. The later better periscopes like the M4, M4A1 and M8 series would all fit in the old mount though.
The M4A1 Periscope Sight
Next came an improved version of the M4, the M4A1, and they came with an M38A2 telescope, this one was magnified, but not much at 1.44x, and a 9 degree field of view. Later versions of this periscope had illuminated reticles. The mount was not improved though nor was the linkage. The M4A1 periscope was changed when the 105mm and 76mm armed Shermans came online, when used with these guns, they had the M47A2 for the 76 tanks, and M77C for the 105 tanks. Hunnicutt doesn’t specify if these were also 1.44X. This periscope was found on M4A1, A2, and A3 76 tanks during WWII.
The M8/M8A1 Periscope Sight
The M4A1 periscopes were replaced by the M8 and M8A1 periscopes. They were a lager tougher improvement on the M4 series, and had the M39A2 telescopic reticle for use with the 76mm gun, since it had the same reticle as the M47A2 used in the M4A1 periscope. The M39A2 had 1.8x magnification, and a 6 degree FOV. Even though at this point this was no longer the primary sight, the Army kept improving it. But the mount and linkage still remained an issue.
The M10 Periscope Sight
The Army came up with another new periscope sight system called the M10. They started issuing it late in the war around the same time wet tanks start appearing. This was a much improved periscope; it incorporated two telescopes with reticles, one 1.x, with a field of view of 42 degrees, ten minutes for engaging close targets. The second periscope had a 6x telescope with an 11 degree 20 minute field of view. This periscope could be used with the 76, 75, and 105mm guns when the right reticle was fitted. There was also an M16 periscope, pretty much the same as the m10, but with a reticle adjusting system.
M10C was specific to 75mm Shermans.
M10D was used on 76mm tanks, and 105 tanks.
The Periscope mount
for these periscopes were improved greatly when the 76mm gun and 105 tanks arrived, and the mount was made from a beefy casting, and all the linkage was made much stronger will ball bearing in all the pivot points. These would have shown up on M4A1 75w, M4A3 75w, M4A3 105, M4 105, and M4A3 76w, M4A2 76w and M4A1 76w tanks.
This improved mount was also incorporated into most of the post war rebuild and overhauls. It is very easy to spot, by the heavy cast iron hood over the periscope hole.
The Telescopic sights.
The Shermans fire control system was improved further by the incorporation of a direct telescope mount to the M38A1 gun mount. This prompted the creation of the full length gun mantlet to protect the scope. When these were retrofitted into older tanks, sometimes they would weld on armor over the scope, leaving a half armored mantlet.
The later 76mm armed tanks had the M62 mount, and it had a telescopic sight mount from the start.
The direct scopes went through their own evolution, and this information is put together from the various TMs on the tanks and Hunnicutt’s Sherman, and is not complete. I will update this section as I get more info on the topic.
The M55 Telescope: The first! For the 75mm and 105
This telescope had 3x magnifications with 12 degree 19 minute FOV. This sight was also used on the early production 105 tanks and most 75mm Shermans.
The M51: Also the First, but for the 76 M1A1
The same scope as above, with the same specs, but with the reticle for the 76mm guns, and that’s all. There were complaints about the optical quality on these scopes, since the clarity wasn’t optimal.
M70 Telescopic Sight
The M50 sights were replaced with the M70 Series sights, the same size and magnification. What set them apart was there superior optical quality. The Army went on to develop many different versions of this sight. It was a 3X scope with a 12 degree 19 minute FOV.
M70F Telescopic Sight
This was version used on M4A3 75W Shermans.
M70G Telescopic Sight
This sight was used on M10 GMC tank destroyers.
M70P Telescopic Sight
This sight was used on some M36 CMCs tank destroyers.
M71D Telescopic Sight
This was a 5x with a 13 degree FOV version of the scope. It had the reticle for the 76mm guns and was used on those tanks. This was the sight commonly found on M4A1 and M4A2 76 tanks.
M71G Telescopic Sight
This version of the M71 was issued with the Jumbo tanks.
M72D Telescopic Sight
This was used on the 105mm armed Shermans.
M76F/D Telescopic Sight
These telescopes were used on the M36 GMC tank destroyers.
M76G Telescopic Sight
This scope only had a 3x magnification, with a 21 degree, 30 minutes FOV, and was used in 105 tank applications later in the war.
M83 Veritable Power Telescopic Sight.
This scope had two settings, 4x 7 degrees, 40 minutes and 8x 4 degrees, 15 minutes, and M83D version of this sight worked with the 76mm guns when in an M62 mount. I have not seen this one mentioned anywhere but Hunnicutt’s Sherman book. That doesn’t mean it didn’t get issued as a replacent later in the war, since I’m going off TM’s and spec sheets and those are a small snapshot into a tanks actual combat gear.
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Indirect Fire Control Gear
You would think that would be it for fire control equipment, but it’s not, because all Shermans came equipped with the equipment for their tanks to work as impromptu artillery batteries all Sherman based TDs had this gear as well. The US Army had this extra gear installed all the way up to the M60 tanks. During the war, some tank and TD battalions were very good at being artillery; other units didn’t train for it, and were not good. This was a good way of keeping tanks useful in Italy, and they filled this role a lot there. I do not think this was something many other nations did with their tanks.
Azimuth Indicator M19
The Azimuth Indicator was mounted near the gunner, right behind the traverse control. This device was used to dial in what direction the gun needed to be pointed in to carry out the fire mission.
Gunners Quadrant M1
The Gunners quadrant is a portable precision instrument used for measuring the elevation or depression angles of guns and howitzers. It can also be used for checking the adjusting of elevation devices on sighting equipment furnished with a gun or howitzer. This was taken right from the Characteristics in tech manual 9-1527.
Elevation Quadrant M9
The Elevation Quadrant M9 was used to lay the tanks main gun in elevation for indirect fire. There are detailed instructions for setting it up in TM 9-748.
A Sherman unit trained in how to act as an artillery battery would probably be told they were on call when not in direct combat but close enough for the 75s to reach. They would have men manning radios in the tanks while other tasks were being done, like maintenance, personal things and eating. When they got the call, the designated battery commander for each platoon would listen to the directions on the arty net or get in direct contact with the spotter. In many cases they would wired into the directly, so they wouldn’t need to worry about radio reception. They would relay the aiming information out the tanks on the radio or phone net and then they would start firing.
Once they started firing the hole crew would help feed the gun, and if they were doing it as a common thing they might even have large amounts of ammo unboxed outside the tank, where the driver and co-driver could feed them to the commander who then fed them to the loader. The M3 75mm gun worked well in this role, since the barrel had a life in excess of 4000 rounds.
Tank and AFV News posted a link to a fascinating YouTube video covering march security of mechanized units, the film is from early 43. This Army training film is almost a half an hour long, and it’s really interesting, and has some rare shots of men working inside a Sherman. The film takes place somewhere in the US, probably on a Hollywood backlot, the Desert Training Center was pretty close so getting the tanks to Hollywood wouldn’t be hard. At times the film is clearly using special effects, and that lends more credence to it being done in Hollywood. The film covers security on the march, and does it by covering a tank platoon, and what it should be doing. It covers night movement, camouflage when stopped and gives tips on being stealthier in your tank; it also covers how to use the columns firepower if attacked from the air.
The tanks used were all early M4A1s, but not super early since they are not DV tanks, but still have shorty gun mantlet and no telescopic sites, they do have heavy duty suspension as well. The tanks also have full turret baskets, with the 12 unprotected ready rounds, and no armor over the sponson ammo racks or the turret cheek add-on armor. Its possible training tanks did not have these features removed like tanks slated to see combat, or the film was made very early in the war.
It is an Official War Department Training film, number T.F. 21 2035, and I want to make sure and thank Jeff Quitney for putting it up on YouTube! I had never seen it before so it was a real treat. He has a lot of other good content up on YouTube as well so check it out.
Now let’s talk about the contents of the Training Film.
Right off the video starts off with a M4A1 driving by on a dirt road, it’s going at a good clip, and you can just make out another M4A1 trailing behind it at a few angles. The next shot shows a tank crew in front of their M4A1 going over a map with commander, and it just keeps getting better. I took well over 100 screen caps watching this film.
The training film makes it clear there are the five things that need to be kept in mind at all times to make a road march safe.
The enemy’s goal in an ambush would be to get to the main body of the column, and the film talks about how they should move, and covers things down to where each vehicle is to point its gun, to be prepared for an attack that might come either from the air, or ground. The film focuses on the actions of a single, five tank, platoon in the main body of the column, and then covers each of the five steps previously mentioned, and how that platoon would do them.
Advanced Preparation: Because good prep makes for smooth operations.
Be ready for gas, liquid vesicant detector paint, this pain, turns green to red when vesicant gas droplets touch it. A large square of this stuff was painted on the front of the tank. Then the decontaminator stored in the tank could be used to spray down the tank. The crew was also issued gas masks, and this was the time to make sure they were in working order.
Check the tanks readiness out. The Commander needs to check the tanks fuel level personally. The Crew, checks the engine out, checks the tracks, and checks out the ammo load. Do not leave with an empty ammo rack if ammo is available. Main gun rounds should be clean and undented.
Platoon leader review whole route on the map with all tank commanders. Cover all points of interest along the route, likely ambush spots, landmarks, areas of good cover for rest points etc.Each tank commanderwill then pass all this info along to all his crew members, ensuring they can all fill in for each other. If one tank has to fall out for any reason, its crew knows the whole route and plan.
Alertness: Because surprise is the enemy’s best weapon, always be on guard for attack, air or ground.
Every man in each tank turret is an air observer, the Tank Commander should always be looking around the tank, scanning the ground and air, and looking back. The Co-Driver should be watching the flanks, because the Driver is watching the road. The gunner and loader should be using their periscopes, all scanning for an attack.
The crewmember in the turret hatch needs to be alert, so when the commander is tired and needs to take a break, the gunner or loader will swap places with him. The Commanders position, no matter who is manning it has to be ready to receive signals from the platoon or company commander and pass them on, be they flag, or hand or radio. He also has to be able to see a messenger that needs his attention. The Loader should help the commander tend the radio, and the crew should listen to the radio to keep informed.
Concealment: Keeping a 32 ton tank as hidden as possible!
Dust is bad. You can’t hide tanks in a dust cloud, so don’t drive on soft dusty shoulders if you’re on a road. Even if that shoulder is shady, and will make the tank more pleasant inside, the dust can be seen for miles. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but try to do so as much as possible. Line formation is best for use in places dust cannot be avoided. Driving at a slower speed can help minimize dust as well.
Shielding Terrain is to be taken advantage of anytime it won’t produce large amounts of dust.
Shade is ok is it does not make extra dust, and can help hide you from air observation.
Your goggles can reflect light for miles; if you’re not wearing your goggles store them in the tank. If they are needed to protect your eyes, they should be covering them. This applies to any shiny object.
Do no silhouette your tank on a hill or high ground. Drive around the base of the hill. If you have to drive on a hill stay below the crest.
Dispersion: Bunching up is bad, if you are to close one artillery round, or bomb can damage multiple vehicles.
Bunching up like a bunch of cows with their tails in the breeze is bad. This makes you a big target.
Proper daylight spacing is at least 75 yards between tanks. If visibility and terrain allow, you can have more than 75 yards, but never less. In hilly terrain it is easy to bunch up, keep your eyes on the tank in front of you if it starts slowing down; you will have to as well.
Falling Out. If your vehicle has to fall out for some reason, engine troubles, or some other issue, make sure you pull far enough off the path to not cause a bottleneck on the path, and slow the rest of the column. Make sure and signal the column and platoon so they know what is going on. Don’t try and catch up, wait for a halt, then retake your position. Fall in with the rear guard until the halt.
Firepower: A Sherman tank packs a lot of punch, keep it ready, it’s your ace in the hole
The main gun should be trained out and ready, but not loaded. The lead tank and the next in line keep their main guns aimed straight ahead. The third tank in line keeps its gun trained out to the right. The fourth tank keeps its gun trained out to the left. The fifth tank will have its main gun traversed to the rear.
M2 .50 anti-aircraft guns should be kept half loaded, so they can be quickly brought to bear on any attacking aircraft. To keep the column covered, alternating tank commanders look forward and to the rear during air attack.
Do not halt, during an air attack. Your tank is much harder to hit when moving. Even if you have good concealment, do not stop. When a plane is sighted signal the rest of the column, close all hatches but the commanders, alternate the .50 AA guns and engage the aircraft.
Report the results of any air attack up the chain of command. TCs report to Platoon Leaders, Platoon Leaders to Company Commanders, etc.
Halt security: Units on the move have to stop, for human reasons or mechanical ones, and you can’t just do it willy-nilly, there’s a plan for that too.
There are two kinds of stops a unit on the march will make. The short ten minute halt, to check the tanks out, for the crews to stretch their legs, no major maintenance will be taken on these short halts. The second kind is the Long halt. On the long halt, the tanks can be repaired if anything major popped up and refueled, and the crews could get some chow.
Security rules and things to note on the short halt:
Check the ground where the tank will be parked, make sure the tank won’t get stuck, or sink in. Back into the spot so you will not have to back out if the tank needs to move out in a hurry.
First Echelon Tank Maintenance should be done on the short halt, check the tracks, tighten the end connectors, check the motor out, lube as needed.
Review the course, check out the route the column is taking on the map, and review it with your crew and the rest of the platoon.
Be Alert, post guards, at least two from each crew. One man must always be on the platoon leader’s radio. Do not let the enemy sneak up on your position.
Disperse on the halt, in the same pattern as on the move; each tank is still responsible for covering the area they were covering with their main gun. Use any cover available on the halt to conceal the tanks as best possible from air or ground observation. Spacing cannot be less than 75 yards.
Each tank will have the commanders .50 manned.
When pulling out, each tank will keeps its spacing, and will not stop on the road to form up.
Security Rules and things to note on the long halt:
All the rules for a short halt apply
You can pull further from the road on a longer halt. A guard has to be posted near the road to receive any signals though.
Dig Prone Shelters, you might not be able to get back into the tank in a surprise air raid or artillery attack.
Eat while you work, you never know how long the halt will be.
Take more time to conceal the tanks, cut or break off tree branches and use them to break up the tanks lines. Rake the tanks tracks leaving the road away.
Use shade and any local cover to hide the tank, move the tank as the shadows used to hide them move with the sun.
If no cover can be found, use the camo net.
Some camo is better than nothing.
Special Rules for night marches:
If under air attack, Stop, for both concealment, and to prevent bunching up.
If under air Attack, Do not fire, unless you are sure you are spotted.
If under air Attack, Turn off your marker lights, the video doesn’t say this, and they used models in the film, but I think it’s a safe assumption.
No light, not even a smoke, and smoking is bad anyway, mmmkay.
Now for some thoughts on the film, it is really very interesting for several reasons, and the quality is very good. The main reason it’s interesting is the look at prewar combat, or pre air superiority march doctrine. The attention paid to defense from air attack would not be pushed nearly as much even by the Italian campaign and would be almost an afterthought by Normandy. Later films probably pushed very carefully searching for well concealed AT guns and infantry that the lead and flank scouts may have missed.
It is also interesting how gas attacks and preparation for them is first thing they cover. I’m sure shortly after most unit got in combat they ended up losing or discarding most gas related gear, and I can’t ever recall seeing a man carrying a gas mask case or a square of the gas detecting paint on any vehicles in combat photos.
The night shot of tanks moving is clearly done with models. The machine guns used during the mock air raid also appear to be prop guns. If you watch carefully, most of the film, the .50 M2s have the normal short cooling sleeve with round holes, during the shooting scene, these have slotted sleeves, and the barrels do not seem to recoil at all. The explosions look like typical Hollywood fare as well. It should come as no surprise Hollywood was willing to help the war effort; this is just one example of many. All the big studies did propaganda movies and even Bugs bunny and Disney got into the act.
I have been looking the tanks over, they are all M4A1 75 tanks, they are all small hatch hulls, but none are DV, they all have heavy duty suspension bogies. Two have three piece cast differential housings, the rest have the first version of the cast one piece diff housing. The turrets all look the same for the most part, with the short mantlet, so M34 gun mounts with no telescopic sights. Some of the gun mounts have slanted lift rings, others don’t seem too. At least one turret has the port for the spotlight on the roof. One tank has the siren mounted in the front plate with the odd single brush guard, the rest seem to have them mounted on the fenders. Two or three of the tanks appear to have T54 steel chevron tracks, while two or three seem to have T47 steel bar cleat tracks. I’m bad at spotting the little clues that give away who made what, but I think two of the tanks were made at PCF in Washington; I think the two tanks with three piece diffs are from PSC in Illinois.
Special Gallery 2: Shermans at Fort Benning, the ones waiting to go the new National Armor & Cavalry Museum.
These images all came from the Fort Benning Photos Website, and these images were all taken by John D. Helms or Kristian Ogden, and you can find much larger version on the Benning site. These Sherman tanks, and other historic vehicles will be displayed in the new Museum once it’s done.
Gallery II: More Random High Resolution Photos Of The Sherman With Comments. I Plan On Going Through Books To Confirm The Captions On Some Of These. I Know I’ve Seen Most Of Them In Zaloga’s Armored Attack Books.
Tanks in motion: Sherman Tanks on Film, Either Modern Restorations or Period Videos.
Here is an older video of an M4A1 that was restored and had new tracks installed. They really put this tank through the paces and it’s worth it even if the music is a bit dated.
Here’s a short video of an M4A4 driving around.
The M4 105 Dozer, a video dedicated to just it! bonus includes Sherman drifting! They look like they are having so much fun in this video! Well until they bust it! This video is a BLAST!!!!
Shermans and a M31 ARV gutted and made to look like a M3 Lee again.
This was a Normandy Memorial day in 2013 I think. In this video, we see an M4A1 75 start up and then drive off, almost stalling. Then later we get to see an M4A1 76w driving around. Interesting how close they let people get to moving tanks. Parked nextr to it is an M10 tank destroyer.
This is another Normandy D-Day Memorial, 2014. The Video starts off with an mid production small hatch M4A1 75, with a later production M10 behind it and then an M18. After that an small hatch M4a2, and then the Fury M4A2 76 HVSS tank.
Ontario Regiments Museum’s M4A2 76 W HVSS tank driving around!
A video of a restored M4A1 driving in circles firing off its main gun, I’m sure modified to fire on propane as a noise maker.
A very long video, POV from the co drivers spot, on a restored, small hatch M4A1.
Here is a video of a restored Firefly Vc, a Sherman M4A4, with the a working A57 multibank motor, getting new tracks. This may not look tricky, but these men are all risking losing fingers or toes, or worse, if someone messes up.
Video of a Very nice looking M4 105, with dozer blade being used to recover a M4A4 in very bad shape.
A start to finish ‘flower pot’ restoration on an M4A1.
A resto mod on a M4A1, with more footage of that nice M4 105 dozer.
The US Firefly: Yeah I said US Firefly, They Made Some But None Saw Combat, And They Were Unique And Not Like The Brit Ones.
Before the Normandy landings, the British had offered the US up 200 guns a month, if they were interesting in the 17 pounder gun. Their rearmament program was well underway, and would have enough Firefly tanks ready to go by D-Day. The US was not interested for a variety of reasons. The 76mm M1A1 and M3 90mm gun programs were well underway. Vehicles that used the guns were in the pipeline, even if there wasn’t much demand from the field yet. They did not want to complicate the supply situation with another tank ammo type.
Another reason was the 17 pounder did not really impress the US officers who witnessed test of it. It had both a large muzzle flash, and breach flashback, that hinted to them of a poor design. The efforts to convince the Americans of the errors of their ways went dormant along with the program. It wasn’t until the Ardennes offensive, when the US faced some heavier German armor, and in larger numbers than thought to be possible, that the program came back to life.
Conversions of 75mm armed US Sherman took place starting in March of 45. The US conversions were different in a few ways. The armored box on the rear of the turret was a little bigger to fit US radios, and the M2 machine gun brackets were welded to the end of the radio box. The tanks chosen for the conversions were all M4s, and M4A3. It’s possible some large hatch final production Shermans with all the improvements were a part of the 160 to 200 that were converted before the program was suspended.
No one has come up with what happened to the tanks, and it seems like none survived. None were ever issued to US units, it’s one of those little mysteries lost to the archives and or time.
The Firefly: The Best AT Gun Installed On The Sherman, But Maybe Not The Best Overall Version Of The M4 Series.
The Sherman Firefly is often touted as the best version of the Sherman. This is a very shallow view of the tank; a tank is not just about AT performance alone. Let’s talk about the name, the Firefly was just a nickname, some say given by American testers because there was so much flash at the breach of the gun on firing, some claim it was just based on muzzle flash. Much like the Sherman naming mystery, it doesn’t really matter, it’s the commonly used name now, and if you just called them the Sherman IC, Sherman IC Hybrid, and Sherman Vc, no one but a total Sherman geek would know what the hell you were talking about. But everyone with a little Sherman history or WWII history under their belt should have heard of them called a Firefly so that’s what we will do here, while explaining the nomenclature and how to identify the various models.
The Firefly came about because the British wanted to get a 17 pounder into a tank, and the homegrown ones planned to have it, were having issues. The 17 pounder, a 76mm anti-tank gun, had to be extensively redesigned to work in the Sherman 75mm turret, the AT gun versions recoil system was to long to work in a 75mm gun turret. They redesigned it, putting the recoil mechanism on both sides of the gun instead of the top. The gun was also rotated so it could be loaded from the left. The firefly version of the 17 pounder gun was specific to the Sherman gun mount and could not be used on an AT gun or vice versa.
They also had to cut a hole into the back of turret, to mount the radios, in a new armored box, because the gun still had to recoil into the radio bustle at the back of the turret. The armored box also worked as a counter weight for the longer barrel. They also eliminated the co drivers position, and put a cast armored plug over the gun port. The space was filled with ammo, since the 17 pounder ammo was longer than the 75mm ammo. They also had to eliminate the gun stabilizer to fit the gun.
The 17 pounder gun had excellent armor penetration, in particular with APDS rounds, standing for armor piercing discarding sabot, but these rounds had very inconsistent accuracy. The problem that caused it was not worked out until after the war. At the combat ranges in the ETO and MTO, the APDS, worked ok, but the closer the better. The gun also lacked a decent HE round until after WWII ended when they came up with a system that used a smaller propellant charge for the HE rounds, and a new set of marks on the tanks site for the lower velocity rounds.
The Firefly in a generic sense is easy to identify, you look for a 75mm gun turret, with a much longer gun with a ball shaped muzzle brake. The turret will also have a loaders hatch and an armored box on the rear. The ball gun in the front will be covered by a big hunk of armor. From there, you have to look at the details, but it’s easy enough.
Sherman Ic Firefly: The Rarest Firefly
This is the Firefly based on the Sherman I, or the M4. The lower case C after the Roman numeral designates the tank is armed with a 17 pounder. An M4 is a welded hull tank powered by an R975, so you look for the grate free engine deck, with the big armored flap covering an air intake. Or, if the tank is welded, and does not have large spaces between the bogie assemblies, then it’s an Ic Firefly.
Sherman IC composite hull firefly: The Second Rarest And Most Comfortable
This version is based on the M4 composite hull; the version had a cast front hull, and a welded rear hull. It looks almost like an M4A1, but the rear and sides of the tank are all flat surfaces, just like a regular M4, the other difference is these tanks had the improved large hatch hull. They would be the most comfortable version of the Firefly for the driver. These tanks were probably the last firefly’s built as well, since the composite hull tanks were some of the last 75mm Shermans produced. The British were not given any of the 75mm M4A3 tanks so none were converted. One final advantage to this version from an ease of conversion point of view, is the composite hull tanks came with a loaders hatch already built in, so it saved time because they didn’t have to cut and fit one. Some of these tanks also had all around vision cupolas, so it’s possible a few made it onto fireflies.
Sherman Vc Firefly: The Version Powered By The A57 Motor, And Also the Most Common Firefly, But The Motor Makes It The Coolest.
This version was based on the M4A4. These tanks are the “long hull” Shermans with the wide gaps between the bogie assemblies, and it has the distinctive bulges to the engine deck and lower hull. These hull features, with a firefly turret and gun is more than enough to identify it as Vc. This Firefly type was powered by the mighty A57 multibank. The Wiki on the Firefly is trash; don’t go crawling around trying to see if the lower hull has rivets, when most of the M4A4 production run had welded lower hulls. This may have only been a dubious way to identify a M3A4, you know, if you missed it being almost a foot longer with huge gaps between the wheel sets and the bulges on the top and bottom.
This was the most common version of the Firefly, since it was the Brits most numerous lend lease Sherman. They got refurbished training A4s from the US, and took as many of these them as they could because production of 75mm Shermans had been drastically cut back and production of the M4A4 had been suspended.
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Demand for the Firefly dropped off late in the war. They had produced enough that just about all the commonwealth nations the British supported received them. The Brits were able to put two Fireflies into most of their tank platoons, just as German armor became so scarce they didn’t really need them. By the end months of the war, the Firefly may have been more of a liability, than useful.
If you compare the Firefly to the upgraded M4A1 76w, you will see it really isn’t the best Sherman by any measure but raw gun penetration. We’ll use the composite hull Ic in the comparison, since the same motor powered these tanks, and the composite hull had a very large casting for its front hull, making this as close to a second gen Sherman as the Firefly could get. Yet the composite hull tanks were produced early enough, they did not get wet ammo racks. They did get the armored ammo racks, but they really only offered protection against fragments lighting the ammo off.
This fix did not work nearly as well as the wet ammo racks on the M4A1 76, and other fully second gen Sherman tanks got. The main advantage was having the ammo lower in the tank, below the bottom of the sponsons, and encasing it in water jackets. It was found the most benefit came from the change in location, and the liquid part was discontinued post war. The wet ammo rack second gen Shermans were amongst the safest WWII tanks to be a crewman on.
Now on to the turrets, the M4A1 76 tank has the improved T23 turret. These turrets came with the all-around vision cupola, a loaders hatch, and the 76 M1A1 gun, with a 30cal co-ax. The turret was designed around the gun, and was nice and roomy, offering relative comfort and ease of movement to the crew, allowing the gun to maintain the 20 round a minute rate of fire the 75mm gun had. It had better armor than the 75mm turret. The fireflies all used a modified 75mm gun turret, and even after redesigning the gun, the 17 pounder took up a lot of space, and recoiled into the bustle, where the radio used to be. This made for a cramped turret, and a slower reload time. The T23 turret is better, and it’s a shame the Brits would have had to redesign the 17 pounder gun again to fit one into it.
At first glance, most people when they compare the M1A1 gun and the 17 pounder conclude the 17 pounder is ‘better’ based on its armor pen. This doesn’t take into account the other factors that make a good tank gun. In WWII, tanks faced other threats far more often than tanks. For the forces facing the United States in particular, tanks were never overly common, and got rarer as the war went on. What Shermans faced most often, and what killed them most often was AT guns and infantry with AT sticks. The 17 pounders lack of HE round during the war, along with its lack of a bow machine gun, really hindered the Firefly in the infantry support role. The M1A1 didn’t have the best HE performance, but it was still adequate. It had enough AT performance to handle the PIV, Stugs and various TDs it would face. Including the cats, the M1A1 did not have the best balance of AT/HE performance, but it would get the job done, and as the war came to a close HVAP ammo, that really helped the guns AT performance, become increasingly available. The M1A1 also had a very big performance lead in rate of fire; double that of the 17 pounder.
When you take all these factors, it is clear the 76mm T23 turreted second gen M4A1, A2 and 3s were all better tanks than the Firefly, of any model. The reasons for this are the second gen Shermans all had wet ammo racks, and along with all the other minor improvements that came with the second gen Shermans. The 17 pounder gun would eventually get a good HE round, but not during the war, so the dual purpose us M1A1 gun is clearly a better choice for a general use medium tank.
I won’t go so far as to say the British should not have produced them. Since the Brits faced the majority of the German heavy armor in Normandy, a pure AT tank was more useful for them, and that’s why they built them. I’ve read in more than one place that the Germans always tried to kill off the fireflies first, and the firefly units used a cool paint scheme on the gun barrel to make it seem shorter to help hide the fireflies, but I’ve never seen it confirmed from the German side. These tanks were potent enough, killing the famous Nazi tank “Ace” Michael, the Nazi punk, Whittmann, when he foolishly trundled by himself into their guns.
I find it amusing the most mechanically complicated Sherman was turned into the best pure AT Sherman by the Brits, and was still more reliable than any Nazi tank. It may be a tad overrated, but it did exactly what it was designed to do, without compromising the reliability of its base platform. That makes it a smashing success and it gave the Brits a capability their American cousins lacked until much later in the war. It did so well, the Brits offered to convert some, and there was an abortive program that petered out because army ordinance thought the M1 gun would be good enough. During bulge hoopla, the program was revived.
Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Sherman by Hunnicutt, various Chieftains Hatch posts, The Sherman Minutia Site, M4 Sherman tank at War by Green, WWII Armor, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston
Shermans Of the United Kingdom: Or, Let’s Confuse People Even More With An Odd Designation Systems!
The British took the Lee and Sherman into combat for the first time and they offered a lot of input into both tanks design. They even had a specific version of the Lee never used by US troops the M3A5 Grant. The Sherman and Lee tanks saved their bacon at El Alamein. As we saw in an earlier section of this document, the US produced a lot of Sherman tanks, and the British received more than 17,000 Shermans. It would become the backbone of their tank force and remain so until the end of the war. The British had a unique way4 of using tanks, and preferred to send them into battle without direct infantry support. This coupled with their tendency to stuff every nook and cranny of the tank with ammo resulting in much higher Sherman losses than the US Army did.
They came up with their own naming system for the tank:
The M4 was named the Sherman I in Commonwealth use, if it had 105mm gun it was an Ib, if it also had HVSS it was a Iby. The British received 2096 75mm Sherman Is, and an additional 593 105 armed Ib tanks, or M4 105 tanks. These numbers are not broken down further to sub models, so all the Ic Firefly tanks produced came from the 2096 they received, and this number would include the composite hulls too. This version was the preferred US Army version, and many of the one the Brits received came as replacements stripped from US Tank Divisions before the battle of El Alamein. They became much more rare, because the US sent M4A2 and M4A4s as replacements.
The M4A1 was named the Sherman II and in most cases just that. It wasn’t until late in the war the Brits took some M4A1s with 76mm guns, and those they gave to the poles or other commonwealth allies. A M4A1 76 would be called a Sherman IIa, or a IIay for a M4A1 76 HVSS tank. These M4A1 76 HVSS tanks made it to depots in Europe during or just after the war ended, but none saw combat. The M4A1 was also the US Army’s preferred version because it was basically the same tank as the M4, and the Brits only received 942 75mm M4A1 Shermans. Something I found a bit of a surprise, the British received more M4A1 76 w tanks thank 75mm tanks, 1330 total.
M4A2 was named the Sherman III and this was their second most common Sherman type. They received 5041 M4A2 75mm Sherman IIIs, far more than the Soviets got. They also received 5, M4A2 76 W or Sherman IIIa tanks as well, yes, that’s not a typo, five tanks. I wonder if the M4A2 76 HVSS, or Sherman IIIay, tank used in Fury was one of them?
M4A3 was named the Sherman IV in British use, but they only received 7 seventy five millimeter tanks, and no 76mm tanks of this type. This became the US Army’s preferred model, and once they got it in numbers, they probably started sending more M4 and M4A1s to the Brits after this tank became common.
M4A4 was named the Sherman V in British use, and was by far the most common British Sherman; they received 7167 M4A4s, or Sherman Vs, almost the whole production run. Chrysler really went to bat for this version of the tank and sent tech reps to Europe with the tanks to help manage the complicated, but less trouble than anyone could have expected, motors. There were no sub types of the Sherman IV other than the firefly, since it was never produced with a 76mm gun or HVSS suspension. The Sherman Vc was the most common version of the 17 pounder Shermans, and a wide variety were probably converted to fireflies, and many of the A4s they got later in the war had been through a remanufacturing process, that made sure the tanks had turrets updated with all the late improvements, and all the hull upgrades like armored ammo racks and raised arm rollers and improved skids, along with a travel lock, on the front plate, for the gun.
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The British had their own set of modifications for the Sherman that they received through LL. They added sand skirts, racks for jerry cans and an armored box on the back of the turret in some cases. They installed their own radios as well, the British wireless set no 19, and this went into the armored box in the back of the turret on Firefly’s, or just replaced the US radios in their normal location in regular models. Legend has it they installed some sort of stove to cook tea. The only Sherman Mk I and Mk IIs they got were because Churchill practically begged Roosevelt for more Shermans just before El Alamien.
As the war progressed, the US Army put priority on the M4 and M4A1; the British had to settle for M4A2 and the M4A4. They when the Russians refused to take any Shermans but M4A2s, the Brits really had to rely on M4A4s. From what I’ve read they didn’t want the nightmare that everyone feared the A57 Multibank motor to be, in service it proved to be reliable enough, and more so than its British counterparts. The M4A4 was by far the most common Sherman type, and the Brits like them enough they took a batch of refurbished M4A4, and would have taken more if production hadn’t been stopped.
This presented a problem for the British, they did not like the M1A1 gun, and the T23 would not take the 17 pounder without major modifications to the gun or turret. The US did end production of 75mm tanks and when stocks of 75mm gun tanks ran low, they were forced to take M4A1 76 tanks these tanks would be designated Sherman IIB. The British sent most of the IIBs to their forces in the MTO, or gave them to the Poles.
Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Sherman by Hunnicutt
Did American Tank Design Stand up? It Did Just Fine.
The Sherman compared well to the other tanks in its weight class. It even fared well against vehicles much larger when you take in the whole . The US spent a lot of money lavishly equipping these tanks, even the lend lease tanks shipped with sub machine guns for the crew and vinyl covered, sprung, padded seats, a full tool set, basically all the same things a Sherman issued to the US Army would come with, without the US radios. lend lease Shermans got the British No. 19 set. Though sometimes the tanks lost things while in the shipping network. The Sherman was not designed to be comfortable for its crew, ergonomics wasn’t a thing back then, but due to way it was designed and built, it was fairly comfortable as tanks of the time go.
They were not cheaply built, and had finely fitted hulls, with beveled armor and a lot of attention to detail that was not dropped in favor of production speed in many cases until very late in the production run, but function was never compromised on. The Sherman tanks also had multiple generators, including one that had its own motor, so the tanks electrical system and turret could be run and not drain the battery, they had a stabilizer system for the main gun, and all tanks had high quality FM radios. Quality control at all Sherman factories and sub-contractors was tightly monitored, and superb. Parts were not modified to fit if they did not match the specifications and didn’t fit, they were discarded, if to many parts had to be discarded, the contractor was dropped. Sub-assemblies as big as turrets and hulls or whole tanks needing overhaul were shipped between factories and no parts had problems interchanging between factory models. One factory could rebuild another factories tank using its own parts with no problems at all. These were all very advanced features in in tank designed in the early 40s and the Germans the most advanced of the Axis nations, really couldn’t come close, instead they produced over armored, over gunned, un reliable tanks that could not be used in fast paced offensive actions. The Nazi Germans could really only dream of having a tank arsenal like CDA or FTA.
It is also easy to discount the Sherman tanks combat value if you look at the production numbers versus the tanks it fought. Sure, the United States produced a huge number of Sherman tanks, but they supplied them to an awful lot of countries through lend lease. The British, Canadians, French, Russians, Chinese, Poland, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few nations. You also have to keep in mind, thousands of Shermans were used in the united states for training, and some never saw combat or left the US, the ones that did were remanufactured later in the war and then `sent to Europe. The Sherman was built in great numbers, but not in such numbers that the Germans would see anything like 10 to 1 odds in most battles. In a few key battles the Germans managed to muster more tanks than the allies. The Sherman was also used in large numbers against Japan.
German Tank three or PIII: The Best Tank The Nazis Ever Produced.
This tank fought from the first days of the war and really was a great little tank. To bad the Sherman, all models, outclassed it in just about every important way. The Sherman had better armor, firepower, and similar mobility. Even with its most potent gun, a long 50mm, the PIII had trouble with the Grant and Lee, let alone a M4. In the mythical but often argued about on the internet, one on one tank battle, the Sherman stomps the Panzer III every time. This chassis was at the end of its life as a tank with the 50mm. Larger guns or more armor could not be fitted to it. It was a good tank, but nowhere near as good as a Sherman, but to be fair, it was at the end of its development life and the M4 was just beginning its long, long life with many countries around the globe, that would span decades.
The three biggest problems with the PIII design were the small turret ring, the suspension limit on taking more weight, and the automotive systems power, and ability to be upgraded and take more weight and the complicated design. As we know, the Shermans automotive components were able to take on a lot more weight with no real issues, it’s turret ring was HUGE, allowing it to be up gunned much more readily, and all its motor choices could handle extra weights without causing much drama or concern. German tank designer and the industry that made them was just to primitive to produce vehicles with that much growth potential, hell, they were struggling to get motors and automotive systems to meet the base specs of their designs and be even remotely reliable, and largely failing at it, and the few good vehicles like the PIII are overshadowed by the really bad ones that had great post war PR campaigns (Tiger, Panther, Tiger II I’m looking at you!).
In many ways this was the best tank Germany produced during the war. This was one of the tanks used the short time the Germans really did things in the war; this is the tank that took them to the outskirts of Moscow. And it was a great little tank; its turret ring was just too small to fit a real gun. They solved this with the StuG, but I’ll cover that later. They produced 5774 of them. It did have teething troubles, because it was a tad complicated, but unlike many later Nazi designs, the bugs were worked out and the design became one of their most reliable armored fighting vehicles. Not Sherman reliable, but about as close as a German vehicle would get.
This tank continued to be used throughout the war, and was up gunned to a short 75mm howitzer for infantry support once its use as a tank became limited. The ones not converted to use the short 75 were probably used for parts, and or converted to Stug IIIs. You have to give it credit for being a good looking little tank too, that kind of think is important to model making companies!
German Tank Four or PIV: Boxy and primitive, but it got the job done.
The PIV was a closer match to the Sherman in size and capability, but still inferior in most important ways, and it was a complicated design that wasted a lot of man hours on welding. It had weaker, un-sloped armor, in a complicated hard to produce configuration. Its suspension used leaf springs and was inferior to the Shermans VVSS suspension. It had weak enough side armor, without the use of skirts, the tank could be penetrated by Russian anti-tank rifles, and the Russians had a lot of AT rifles. It started off with a low power 75mm gun that had no chance of hurting a Lee or Sherman, and was later up gunned with a 75mm similar to the one mounted on the Sherman, but slightly better.
At this point the PIV became a serious threat to the Sherman, the main tank threat for the whole war The Sherman still held all the cards with better overall armor, mobility, reliability, spotting, gun handling(getting that first shot off) and crew comfort. The Sherman design had room to grow and would take a whole new turret and a whole slew of larger guns. The PIV was at the limits of what the hull could handle, and its turret ring was too small to accept more powerful guns, though the gun it received in the improved models was a good gun. The final version of this tank, the J was a simplified version that lacked a power turret drive or skirts, it was not toimprove the combat ability, and it was done to speed up production because the Germans were desperate for more armor. Nazi Germany produced 8569 of these tanks, from 1937 to 1945.
One weakness the PIV suffered was the suspension. It was fragile and prone to breaking in rough terrain. The leaf spring setup also offered limited travel and really was the most limiting feature of the tank. The Sherman was reputed to be much better in rough and mountainous terrain. If you just look at a good picture of the PIV, and count the welds, and look at how complicated the thing looks, and then consider all the man hours needed to build the thing, you see just how much time would have to be wasted making the complicated hull, in particular for a Nation like Germany that had to depend on welders, and not welding machines to put the hulls together.
This tank allowed the Germans to use maneuver warfare, and it wasn’t tied to the rail system, because it was much more reliable than the Panther or Tiger. One argument ‘wehraboo’, (for those not in the know, a wehraboo is a German WWII Army, Armor, Airplane or Ship fanatic, who believes anything and everything German was the best in WWII. You can find these people trying to push the often mythical abilities of Nazi war machines, while ignoring any evidence to the contrary, these chaps often have deep seated pro-Nazi feelings, and in some cases of the worst offenders, are out and out neo Nazis. They can often be found on game forums for any WWII game talking about how the 262 was the best fighter of the war and the King Tiger could penetrate an M1 Abrams, often misspelling the names like this Aberhams.or making other ridiculous claims like the Nazi Navy was good or the Holocaust is overblown) like to make is, Nazi Germany couldn’t really have produced more Panzer IVs and StuGs because they didn’t have the manpower to crew them.
The counter to point to that argument is, if the Germans had not produced the two ridiculous heavy tanks. Tiger 1&2, the huge maintenance tail these vehicles required could be broken up; a tiger company had the same number of mechanics and maintenance personnel and their transport, as a full Battalion of PIV or III tanks. You could take all these men, and put them into units that didn’t bleed resources, when Nazi Germany had few to spare.
They also could have manned these new units with all the men they put in the many captured tanks they used. They used large numbers of T-34 and M4A2 Shermans captured from the USSR. They should have stuck with the tanks they considered producing that were closer to these, the VK3001 (d) was almost a direct copy, Germanized to make it much harder to build and work on of course. This tank looked a lot like the T-34 that inspired it, but apparently fears of friendly fire losses because it looked to much like a T-34 and a lack of aluminum to make the copy of the diesel the T-34 used, were probably the real reasons this tank didn’t get produced.
It turns out; the Daimler Benz proposal died for several reasons, the main being that several Nazi industrialists under Spear convinced Hitler getting a tank into production fast was more important than the tank being the best tank able to be put into production. This coupled with a propaganda campaign run by those same Nazi lackeys, against the Daimler Benz proposal, spelled its doom. Hitler, convinced by their arbitrary date of production argument, decided on the MAN proposal with its frontal armor increased. It would be the “Panther” tanks, we all know and love. I guess it’s really a good thing the Nazi industrialists were a bunch of clowns, greedy opportunists, and strait up lackeys to even worse men, or the Germans might have had a decent tank.
At any rate, they didn’t produce the right tank; they produced a pair of heavy tanks, and a medium as heavy as a heavy that wasted far more resources than ever could be justified by these tanks propaganda inflated war records. They probably best served in a propaganda role since they had truly fearsome reputations, but once they were met in combat a few times that wore off and the American and British tankers found ways to beat them, like just making them drive around a bit until they broke down or ran out of fuel.
German Tank VI Tiger: The Premier Fascist Box Tank, Great For Plastic Model Companies, But Not So Great As A Tank.
This tank had a big weight ‘advantage’ over the Sherman, it being a heavy tank and all, but for the most part, was so rare it had almost no impact on the war. In fact most of the SS units that used this tank lied so much about its prowess there are some doubts it got even 1/3 of its actual kills its Nazi crews claimed. It also had to be moved by train giving it limited useable tactical mobility, and these tanks sucked up the maintenance, supply and rail resources of a much larger unit.
The US Army faced very few of these tanks. When they did face them, they didn’t prove to be much of a problem. From North Africa to Italy and Normandy and beyond, the Tiger was a non-factor when facing US Shermans. Of the 31 sent to north Africa, one was captured after it was knocked out, or the crew got scare, and the British still have it! The claims of it being a big factor in the Sid Bau Zid battles were false, and they didn’t achieve much of note in Sicily and Italy. In or Normandy they only saw action against the British, and commonwealth forces, where the true value Tiger is clouded by German propaganda and the military’s tendency to overclaim across the board, but especially bad in SS units.
The Sherman had an fire control advantage allowing it to spot the huge Tiger first in most cases, it could out maneuver the bigger tank, and its guns could take it out from the sides and back, or if it got lucky, even the front. The Sherman did face this tank in British hands, but we will cover that later. It’s safe to say the way the Brits used the Sherman was different, and riskier and resulted in much higher tank loses. They were far less concerned about tank losses, than men in general, and the Sherman was a fairly safe tank.
The tiger ultimately did the Allies a favor by making it into production. It just wasted men and resources that could have been turned into more PIVs and STUGs. It was more of a propaganda tool, used to prop up the home front by lying about the prowess of the tank and their Aryan crews, like Michael Whitman, who was not nearly as good as the Nazi histories would have you believe. In fact he got himself and his crew killed by trundling off all alone, probably looking for more imaginary Nazi glory.
Living, well, recently living, tank aces like Otto Carius have admitted many of their “kills” were added for pure propaganda reasons. SS unit kill claims were often discounted by half by the regular German Army and even that was probably being generous since there was no effort to confirm the kills. Most authors who write books about German tanks take these kill claims at face value. When someone bothers to compare the kill claims to the units they faced with the Soviet, American or UK records, more often than not, they were not even facing the claimed unit, and often it was not even in the same area. When they did get the unit right, the losses rarely come close to matching up. Even a nation trying to be honest often gets kill claims wrong, but Nazi Germany liked to use inflated numbers to help soothe a restless population that was starting to see the error of supporting Hitler’s foolish war.
If you’re feeling the urge to angrily post a comment about how I’m a Sherman fanboy and unfair to your favorite Nazi box tank, take a breath, and keep reading, cause you’re only going to get angrier. (Boy has this part proven true , and I’ve gotten much flak for my evaluation of the Tiger) As always, the Wehraboo makes claims, but never backs them up with any sources or actual facts, just check the comments here.
Now let’s cover some of its many flaws. It was really big and heavy, limiting what bridges it could use. This size and weight problem affected a lot of things, automotive reliability, how easy it was to spot, how it was shipped the amount of fuel it needed. The gun was decent, but for a tank of its size the 88mm seems pretty weak, and it wasn’t even the good one, the 88mm L71. Can we say ‘bad at designing cooling systems’? Just look at the rear deck and then a cutaway of a tiger and marvel at how much space the radiators and cooling ducts take. Now let’s talk about its suspension. There is nothing wrong with torsion bar suspension; it’s still popular today on tanks and other AFVs, where the Germans went wrong is the road wheels. The interleaved and overlapped road wheels were incredibly stupid, making maintenance or damage repair on the suspension a nightmare. Another huge problem for a vehicle that depended on rail transport, to be transported on German train cars, the normal tracks had to be removed, and a narrower set installed, then the combat tracks put back on at the destination. This was a huge hassle and time waster for the crew at the very least. The turret drive was a laughable contrivance using PTO from the engine and transfer case, meaning the tank had to be running, and at high RPM to rotate the turret at full speed.
Another thing to note is these tanks were essentially hand built. Some people assume that means painstakingly hand crafted, and it’s sort of true. The Germans wasted a lot of time on finish items to make the tanks look nicer. I’m not sure if this was some need for the Germans to have nearly ‘perfect’ weapons, at least appearance wise, or if it was a way for the German tank industry to charge more for the tanks and make more money off the Nazi regime, but it doesn’t matter, the result was the same, a lot of wasted man hours on stuff that didn’t improve the tanks combat.
On a Sherman tank, just like your car, when they needed a spare part, they put in an order and quartermaster corps sent one to them through the supply system if one wasn’t in stock at the local spares depot they would order the part from the next level up. When the part came, in most cases it would fit, and only if damaged caused a problem would hand fitting be needed. This was not the case for the Tiger, or any other German tank, for several reasons, the main being the Germans liked to fiddle with the tanks on the line making it rare for any to be truly the same. For the Germans, most parts would need adapting to the individual tank, making field repairs a difficult job, part of this was because they had so many different sub variants between major variants, and parts for early variants may not work on a later one or would need adapting to work. On the Tiger there are so many things they changed, big and small through the short production run that parts for earlier tanks would practically have to be custom fit. It is clear the testing period was not long enough and as they fixed problems found in the field they incorporated it in the ‘line’ instead of holding off until all the changes could be lumped in at once not slowing production, or improving the parts in a way that didn’t require a line change or were backwards compatible. On top of that, the Germans just didn’t produce many spare parts. And what they did produce was cut way back later in the war as they ‘optimized’ production by cutting spare parts production. The lack of spare parts meant many parts came from cannibalization, but even then the parts would have to be adapted since the tanks changed so much.
Only 1347 of these tanks were even built. Numbers were not needed to kill these wasteful and stupid tanks, but they were nice to have anyway, when one did actually make it to a fight. This tank had zero positive effect on the war for the Germans, they helped win no battles, and it just wasted resources, both material and industrial, and helped the Nazi’s lose the war that much faster. It would be nice if that’s why so many people admired these tanks, for their monumental stupidity and thus indirectly helping the good guys win, but no, it’s because it was “cool looking, or had the best armor ever, or was a technological marvel only defeated by hordes of subhuman scum”, or other completely untrue, Nazi propaganda myths about these terrible tanks.
Another link here about the Tiger, and another, and another view about how the Sherman compares
German Tank V Panther: Bigger, Less Boxy and Less Reliable, Nazi Germany’s Fail Tank.
Much has been said about this tank, and most of the positive stuff is just, well, there’s no way to say it other than this, it’s strait up bull shit. The panther was a ‘medium’ tank as big and heavy as any heavy tank of the time. What kept it from being a heavy was its pathetic lack of armor for a tank of its size. The side armor was so weak Russian anti-tank rifles could and did score kills on these tanks through it. This is why later models had side skirts covering the thin side armor above the road wheels, left uncovered it was vulnerable to these AT rifles, and the area wasn’t small either, pretty bad design right there.
Here is a list, off the top of my head, of the Panthers problems: It liked to catch fire due to a fuel system that leaked in more than one way. The hull didn’t let the fuel drain, making the fire problem worse, so it could cross deep rivers. The motor had a tendency to backfire or blow up and cause fires as well. The cooling system was very complicated, a damaged fan or clogged duct could cause a fire. Tilting the hull to much could cause a fire because gas that had leaked out of the leaky fuel system was in pools in the bottom of the sealed hull, and would hit exhaust pipes, the early tanks had a waterproof liner, to give them a “deep fording” ability. The feature was a sham, just to line Nazi industrialists pockets, all later removed from production. It was found the radiators were vulnerable to damage, so plates were added above the armored grates on the engine deck. All these add-ons just pile more weight on an already overstressed, and unreliable, automotive system.
Let’s move away from the fire problems and move onto the turret problems. To rotate the turret, you had to rev the engine up. The engines were fragile. You want full traverse speed; you needed to be redlining the engine. This is because they used a Power Take Off system and tied the turret drive to the engine. This was a really bad way to design a turret drive. If you want a good laugh, go find a diagram of the Tiger or Panthers turret drive system and marvel that it worked at all. It didn’t work if the tank was on even a mild slope. The drive was so weak in these cases it couldn’t even hold the gun in place on said slope. I’m sure if you took a electric driven hydraulic or just strait electric system it would weigh a lot less than all the parts they had to use to make the PTO system work, and not even well. This system only ‘worked’ when the Panther was running. The Sherman had a backup generator that could operate the tanks electrical system, including the turret traverse system. German tankers could only dream of such luxuries, well the ones that didn’t get to crew captured Shermans.
While we’re covering the Panthers turret, let’s talk about the gun, gunner, and commander. One of the commander’s jobs is to find targets for the gunner and get him onto them. The commander has pretty good all-around views from the turret with his nice cupola. The gunner is stuck with just his telescopic sight. He would need up to several minutes in some cases to find the target the commander was trying to get him on due to him not having a wider view scope and the commander having no turret override. The gun was a good AT gun, but not a great HE thrower, since the HE charge was smaller to accommodate thicker shell walls to keep the shell from breaking up at the higher velocities. It’s HE was far from useless though. The turret was very cramped for these men as well. And the turret sides and rear had very thin armor. The Shermans 75 would punch right through it at very long ranges with AP and even HE rounds could knock the panther out by cracking the plates and spalling the crew to death.
Some more tidbits on the Panther, its automotive systems were terrible. They were designed for a 30 ton tank, and even for that, they were not that robust. The motor and tranny would get at best, 1500 kilometers before needing to be replaced. The tracks, 1000, the suspension would start to break down around 800 or less with lots of off road use. The front dual torsion bars breaking first, and then the extra stress from the extra frontal armor kept killing them. The true Achilles heel of the automotive parts was the final drives, and their housings. The housings were weak and flexed under load, allowing the already weak gear train to bind and then destroy itself. The best they ever got these final drives to last, on the G models of the tank, was 150 kilometers on average! Replacing them was a major chore that would keep the tank down at least a day. This was confirmed in a report on post war use by the French, using captured and new production tanks. You can find it here. Even if you tripled this life, it wouldn’t be very good, the life of these parts on the Sherman are essentially unlimited, if maintained and undamaged.
We haven’t even talked about the ridiculous road wheel system that only insane people would put on a combat vehicle. A late war British report on a captured early model Panther said at higher speeds the suspension was terrible and essentially became solid, making for a awful off road ride. You can find the report here. The report is very interesting, if not very flattering to the Panther. Another report by the Brits on the Panther can be found here, and this one is equally damning.
It is a total myth that you needed five or more Shermans to take out one Panther or Tiger. If a Panther makes it to the fight, it’s a formidable tank, and in particular when set up as a long range anti-tank pill box they could be deadly, if they had pre ranged the area they expected the attack from even more so. When called upon to be part of a mobile tank force, they failed, and they failed hard. In many cases they would lose three or more Panthers to one Sherman.
By the time the Sherman crews of the US Army started to see Panthers in bigger numbers, they were the elite tankers and the Germans the amateurs, with the vast majority of the German crews only receiving basic training on the Panther. It showed in just about every battle. The Sherman handled these supposedly better tanks just fine. While the poorly trained, green, Nazi crews struggled with their tanks, a bad driver could cause a mechanical failure almost instantly, thanks MAN. It makes you wonder how many Panther crews did just that to avoid fighting.
In all the ways you need a tank to be good, the Sherman tank was better than the Panther.
The Germans managed to build around 6000 of these mechanical nightmares. The final production version of this tank, the G version only solved the final drive housing issues, the weak gears were never solved, and this is why the post war French report was so damning. They were not even operating them under combat conditions. The United States produced more M4A4 tanks at CDA, and that was just the M4A4, that single factory also produced composite hull Shermans, M4 105s,(all of them) M4A3 105(all of them), M4A3 76 tanks and M4A3 76 HVSS tanks in large numbers as well. The Nazis could only dream of having a tank as reliable as the M4A4, or a single factory that could crank out so many great tanks like CDA or FTA
StuG III: Short, Stubby and Underrated
This armored fighting vehicle more than just about any other was a real threat to the Sherman. The Germans built a lot of these vehicles. Since it was just about the most common AFV, the Sherman ran into it much more often than tanks like the Tiger and Panther.
The StuG was not as good of a vehicle as the PIV from a combat perspective, since it lacked a turret, but it was very good for what it was used for and a much cheaper vehicle to make. It was very popular, and when it was time to cease production, German generals threw a fit and kept it in production. They didn’t say a word when the Tiger I production was stopped. Speilberger has a good book on this tank, it covers the PIII tank and its variants including the StuG. The book is titled, Panzer III and its variants.
The StuG, was up gunned with the same gun as the Panzer IV and was good at AT work and infantry support. Its low profile helped it stay hidden and it was mobile enough to be able re-locate and get to trouble spots. It had ok armor and was well-liked by its crews. Cheaper, easier to build, and very effective for the price, it’s no wonder it doesn’t get much attention it deserves, and Germany industry tried to kill it, and when the PIII chassis stopped production, they made a version on the PIV chassis, but it was a little bigger and not as good.
Tiger II: Boxy, Fat, Stupid, Unreliable, Overly Complicated and Overrated
The Tiger II, was not a very good tank. Only 492 were built, and its impact on the war was less than marginal. Everything said about the Tiger I applies to this tank, just more so. It weighed more at 68 tons but used the same engine. So it was a huge, under powered, waste of resources. The US Air Force bombing campaign actually had an effect on this tanks production. The factory was heavily damaged and about half the total production was lost in the bombing raid.
This tank was a non-factor in the war, and the first ones lost on the eastern front were knocked out by a handful of T-34-85s, they never even spotted. The US Army ran into a few as well, and dispatched them without much trouble. They were so slow, ungainly and problem prone, during the battle of the bulge, they were left at the rear of all the column’s, and barely made it into any of the fights.
The early turrets had a big shot trap and were filled with ready racks, easy to ignite. The production turret got rid of the shot trap but did nothing for how cramped it was, but they did forbid the use of the turret ammo racks. The gun was extremely hard to load when not level. It was an accurate and deadly gun though. The trouble, like with all the cats, was getting it to the fight.
German armor fans like to talk about how influential the Panther and Tiger designs were, but as far as I can tell, they really had zero real impact on future tank design. In fact the Panther and Tiger series were technological dead ends that no one copied and only the French spent any time playing with the engine tech and guns. The thing that stands out for me about German tank design is they never figured, out like all the other tank making countries, that putting the motor and final drives in the back of the tank, was better than putting the tranny and final drives in the front, and having the motor in the back, and a driveshaft running through the fighting compartment was a bad design feature. This was a drawback the Sherman shared, but all future medium tank designs dropped this and went to the whole power pack in the rear setup. From the T20 series on, though the T20 tanks never went into production because they were a small improvement over the Sherman, they all had rear motor/tranny/final drives. This tank layout still dominates current tank design. The Nazi design teams seemed unable to come up with a design using this layout, other than their aborted copy of the T-34, the VK3001/3002DB tanks.
This is the tank they should have built
Let’s Talk About A Few Russian Tanks: The Soviet Union Knew A Thing Or Two About Building Tanks.
The Sherman may have face the T-34 in limited numbers during WWII, since the German captured a lot of them on the eastern front, so it’s possible it faced the T-34, and maybe even the T-34-85. This wouldn’t be the best matchup because the Germans using second hand equipment would be at a disadvantage. A few years later in Korea, the Sherman would face the much improved T-34-85 and it would be a closer match.
T-34: The Soviets Tank Of Choice For the Early to Mid Part Part of WWII
Let’s take a look at the T-34, the early model with a four man crew and 76mm gun. This tank was designed before the M4, and has some advantages and disadvantages over the M4. The T-34 had better soft ground mobility and a better motor once the bugs were worked out. But is lacked a dedicated gunner, and that really increases the work load on the tank. The guns were about equal. Any version of the Sherman would have a reliability edge from the start, but the T-34 would catch up.
The Soviet Union received a fair number first gen Shermans, all M4A2 models and liked them. They considered it a fine substitute for the T-34, and the crews felt it was more comfortable than their T-34. I would give the M4 the overall edge in tank quality looking at the first gen tanks.
T-34-85: The Improved T-34 That Would See Use For Decades
This later version of the T-34 had an enlarged three man turret with an 85mm gun. This model of the T-34 was a better tank than the 75mm first gen Shermans, but about equal the later models with the 76mm gun. The M4A3 76 HVSS tanks would prove to be more than a match for the T-34-85s they met in Korea, and would really come down to crew quality.
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The T-34 chassis would be used in many varied armored vehicles, a lot like the Sherman, but not as extensively. The Christie suspension would be a limiting factor. The internal springs of the design would take up to much space for the advantages they offered and torsion bar, or bolt on suspension like used on the centurion would out live the Christie suspension. The T-34 tank and the many vehicles that sprang from its basic chassis is a fascinating subject, far to complicated to cover in a few paragraphs on another tanks web page. It really deserves its own page like this dedicated to its design. I don’t know enough about the T-34 to do it, but I hope someone gives it a try.
Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Yeide’s TD and two separate tank battalion books, Sherman by Hunnicutt, Combat Lessons, The Rank and file, what they do and how they are doing it 1-7, and 9. Archive Awareness, Oscar Gilbert’s, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, WWII Armor, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston, Tigers in the Mud, by Carius, D.W. to Tiger I, and Tiger I & II combat tactics by Jentz, Panther Tank by Jentz, Panther and its Variants by Speilberger, Panzer III and its Variants and Panzer IV and its variants by Speilberger, The Sherman Minutia Site, Son of a Sherman by Stansell and Laughlin, M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, the Lone Sentry, TM9-731B M4A2, TM9-731G M10A1, TM9-745 GMC M36B2, TM9-748 GMC M36B1, TM9-750M3, TM9-752 M4A3, TM9-754 M4A4, TM9-759 M4A3, Land mines, TME9-369A German 88MM AA Gun, TME30-451 Handbook on German Armed Forces 1945, TM9-374 90mm Gun M3, FM5-20 Camouflage, FM5-20B Camouflage of Vehicles, DOA Army Battle Casualties and Non Battle Deaths in WWII, FKSM 17-3-2 Armor in Battle, FM17-12 Tank Gunnery, FM17-15 Combat Practice firing, FM17-30 The Tank Platoon 42, FM17-32 The Tank Company medium and light, FM17-33 The Armored Battalion, FM17-67 Crew Drill and Service of the Piece M4 Series, Another River, another town by Irwin, Tanks on the Beaches by Estes and Neiman, Cutthroats by Dick, The Myth of the Eastern Front by Smelser and Davies, Tank Tactics by Jarymowycz, Panzer Aces by Kurowski, Commanding the Red Army’s Shermans by Loza, The Radionerds website, The French Panther user report, Wargaming’s Operation Think Tank Videos, all the info in the data and links sections. Historical Study, German Tank Maintenance in WWII
Tarawa: The Marines Learn To Use Medium Tanks In A Meat Grinder.
UPDATE! I don’t mind if you read and comment on my post, but keep in mind it may have info in it based on old information. This website, www.TanksonTarawa.com has the most accurate info on the Sherman tanks used on Tarawa, their sole purpose it to document their use! So please check their awesome website out.
November 20-23rd 1943:
The first Marine use of the Sherman was on Tarawa. The tanks were M4A2 small hatch tanks, these tanks were issued with no training, and the crews of the I Marine Amphibious Corps Tanks Battalion had sixty days in the states to learn how to use their tanks. Then the island they ended up pre landing had no place for them to drive the tanks to train on them. So they went into combat with no real training with the Marines they were going to fight with. The tanks had no waterproofing, and no deep wading trunks, and could only drive through 40 inches of water. They also had the same problem the Army had in Europe, the tanks radios were not on the same frequency as the infantry units below the battalion level. They could talk to aircraft though. They decided they would only need one com0pany of medium tanks, the rest of the battalion would be made up of M3A1 lights. This single mixed battalion would be the only Tanks to support the assault.
C Company of the 2nd Marine tank Battalion had 14 medium tanks. All the tanks had names starting in the letter C. The HQ for the tank battalion was almost entirely killed off and their radios lost during the initial landings so each platoon of M4 tanks fought its own war, as would the light companies until the later stages of the battle.
1st platoon reinforced with two HQ tanks were let out of the LCM on the reef and had to drive into shore, they lost three of six tanks to shell craters and swamping while doing so. There were scouts sent ahead to mark a safe path along the reef, but the markers they placed in many cases floated away, and most of the scouts were killed by enemy fire. The three surviving Shermans from 1st platoon were named Cecilia, China Gal and Chicago. Cecilia, a command tank, linked up with China Gal, and they tried to find a way inland. They had trouble getting inland. The seawall was a hellish nightmare, filled with dead and dying marines, wrecked LVTs and other obstacles and this prevented the tanks from moving. While trying to find a way inland Chicago took on water and shorted out.
China Gal and Cecelia managed to find a way inland, and found nothing but Japanese troops, and when a Japanese tank, a Type 95 Ha-Go, wheeled into view, it got off the first hit, and got very lucky, its 37mm round hit Cecelia in the main gun and wrecked it. The rifling was damaged, and the breach was open so fragments bounced around the turret and scared the hell out of the crew, but no one was hurt. China Gal blasted the Japanese tank. Cecelia raced back to the beach to check out the damage, and then later hooked back up with China Gal, the company commander jumped from the tank with the disabled gun into China Gal. They spent the rest of the day working with the gyrenes, blasting Japanese pill boxes, Cecelia using just her machine guns. They worked between Red-1 and Red-2 the rest of the day.
2nd Platoons first tank off LCM sank up to turret killing the tank. The next two LCMs tried another spot, and first LCM took damage and sunk on a reef, blocking the second and it managed to back a little way out before taking fire and sinking as well. The tank in this LCM managed to get out, and onto to the reef, only to drown in hidden shell hole moments later.
The rest of the 2nd platoon made it ashore on beach Red-3 and moved across Red-2 to hook up with their infantry. These tanks were ordered to support an infantry assault across the islands airfield, and ended up out in front of the marine grunts. One took a bunch of fire and tried to back up and fell into a shell crater and rolled over. The other was damaged by a Japanese soldier with a magnetic mine, and then shot up by a hidden AT gun. They were in the fight for 20 minutes or less. I suspect since the tanks names didn’t make it into the book I’m using as a reference that no one from either crew lived to tell the tale.
3rd Platoon re-enforced with one HQ tank managed to get all four tanks ashore, and had less trouble doing so than the other two platoons. Their good fortune ended their though. Cannonball, a command tank with the platoon leader aboard, Condor, Charlie and Commando and Colorado were the names of the five M4A2s that made it ashore. The commander on Red-3 ordered the tanks to move out ahead of the infantry, with no men in close support, and for the tanks to kill anything they found.
In under an hour, Condor was knocked out, how it was knocked varies in various reports, some claim a US Navy dive bomber took it out, but photos of the wrecked tank make it look like an AT gun or infantry close assault took it out. Cannonball took some damage from and AT gun, and in trying to get out of its line of fire managed to fall into a ditch filled with Japanese fuel drums. Apparently fire from a Navy fighter ignited the fuel, but the crew got out. The survivors from both crews were trapped behind enemy lines for a while. Charlie got taken out at close range by an AT gun. The Jap AT gun put multiple rounds through the tanks side. Commando lived up to its name, ranging far ahead of the Marine lines and racking up two AT guns, and five pillboxes before enemy fire knocked it out. Colorado had a gasoline bomb thrown on it, but the driver raced back to the beach and drove into the surf, putting out the fire.
By nightfall, only Colorado, China Gal and Cecelia were operational, and China Gal and Cecelia tied into the Marine lines on Red-1 and Red-2, and Colorado did the same on Red-3. Things were all messed up, lots of ships had just dumped whatever cargo was easiest into the LVTs and other boats moving things into shore and there was a lot of trouble getting the things the tankers were going to need. The most important being main gun rounds for the tanks M3 75mm guns. Late that night heavy Japanese machine gun fire rained down on the base of the pier that they were using to bring in supplies. Colorado was sent to help, and shut the Japanese machine guns down soon after.
Things had gone poorly for the Marine tankers, but not just them, the attack was so disorganized due to much higher than expected casualties, the Marines only had a small toehold on the island, and a Japanese counter attack during the night would very likely have rolled the Marines right back into the water. Luck was on the Marines side, the Japs were even more screwed up and couldn’t manage one.
The Marines started trying to bring in more troops at dawn. These troops were met by a hail of machine gun fire from the Red-1/Red-2 junction. Cecelia, still without a working main gun was dispatched to engage the Japanese machine gun positions at the junction. The tank was only in action for a short time before it slid into a shell crater and its electrical system shorted out. The tank was at a steep enough angle the turret could not be rotated with the manual traverse, and had to be abandoned. I’m not sure if it was shock from the impact when it slid into the shell crater, or if there was water in the hole was deep enough to flood the tank.
The M4 hero of the day was China Gal, around 1100, she hooked up with a bunch of gyrene grunts and they attacked south from Red-1 towards the Green beaches. They never actually moved along the beach though, they stayed inland, behind the Japanese positions facing the beach, basically attacking from the Japanese defensive lines rear and flank. Two hours later, they had rolled up the whole western shore, opening the way for more troops to come in, and not under murderous fire. In many cases China Gal had to drive right up to the well-hidden concrete bunkers and blast them through the front slit, or rear door at point blank range to kill them. That night China Gal pulled almost all the way back to Red-1 and holed up with a few infantry around. They slept under the tank and would be back in action in the morning.
On day two, Colorado spent the day on Red-3 trying to kill Japanese positions at the base of the Burns-Philp Pier. Several of these positions had been wiped out the day before and re occupied by the Japanese over the night. Colorado worked closely with a bulldozer, the tank would move in close and blast the machine gun position and then the dozer would cover it over with sand, whether the Japanese inside were dead or not.
They worked out a system with the marine scouts who had led them in on the reef. The few that survived were used to scout targets for the tanks. The tankers made at least one of these scouts ride in the tank and show them were the action was from the inside at least once. The tank crews wanted to give the scouts an idea of how blind they really were, so he could appreciate and take it into consideration while they scouted.
The scouts worked out a system where they would get the tanks attention by beating on the hull with a spent 75mm shell, because they rang like a bell, and could be heard inside the tank, and then using his rifle to indicate a target. He did this by aiming at the target, and then they would hold up fingers for how many yards away the Japanese soldiers were. This worked well enough, but ringing the shell/bell on the hull put the ringer in danger of enemy fire. Of course, once he got the tanks attention, if was the Japs shooting at the scout who had to be worried. These men would also drag dead and wounded marines from the path of the tank.
When the progress on the Green beaches was noticed, it was decided to send in 1st Battalion 6th Marines and B Company 2nd Tank Battalion ashore there, B Company was made up of light tanks. One of the first LVT’s in hit a mine on the reef and blew up, once again losing a lot of important communication gear. Due to the heavy presence of mines on the reef and beach, 1/6 diverted north, delaying the landings, but ultimately coming ashore as an intact fighting unit, the first of the invasion.
The 1/6 landings went relatively well, but the light tanks of B Company had a lot of trouble. They came in on the wrong tide, and only one platoon would make it onto the reef, only to be 700 yards from shore, and high tide coming. The rest of B Company was diverted Red-2, landing before 1st Platoon got onto the reef.
All five M3A1 light tanks from the 1st Platoon got onto the reef, but only two would make it to land, the rest drowned in hole in the reef. The rest of the company got ashore only to lose another tank in a shell crater, leaving only two running. The light tanks laagered in an abandoned Japanese airplane revetment and their crews dug foxholes under the tanks for the night. Crews that lost their tanks, dug in with other crews, under their tanks. At night, anything that moved got shot at, so everyone made sure they had a hole by nightfall. A few more lights from B Company would arrive before nightfall, but the rest still remained offshore.
As night fell on the second day, it was clear the Marines were winning, but it was also clear a whole hell of a lot of Marines had been killed. One of the infantry commanders still alive, Lieutenant Colonel David Shoup, issued a report that did not mention anything about a group of Marines being cut off holding a particular section of the island in it and concluded it with “Casualties: many. Percentage dead: unknown. Combat efficiency: we are winning. Lt, Col Shoup.”
At 0200 more B Company light tanks arrived off Red-2 and started to land and immediately started having problems. Of the first two lights ashore, one shorted out its electric system and was towed ashore by the other, only to be lost to enemy mortar fire. All through the night more B Company lights tried to get to shore. One platoon lost three out of five light tanks to drown out electrical system or other water related problems. By Morning they had five M3A1 tanks from two platoons ashore.
Later that morning 1st Battalion, 8th Marines attacked the Japanese positions at the base of the pier at the junction of Red-1/Red-2. They five light tanks supported the attack, and much like their larger cousins in C Company, the tankers found it hard to find anything to shoot at, so infantry scouts would often climb into the cramped tanks and lead them to the targets. When the targets turned out to be a pill box or bunker, it was found even firing point blank into the embrasures bunkers with little success. They found using 37mm canister rounds at point blank range, fired through an opening worked well enough. They lost a M3A1 to a Japanese soldier who dashed out and threw some kind of explosive onto the engine deck, blowing the engine up and setting the tank on fire. They lost another light to a mortar attack as well.
The light tanks would be pulled out and replaced by SPM, the SPM was an lightly armored LVT with a 75mm howitzer in a small turret. These vehicles fared little better than the light tanks.
China Gal would be called upon to help an attack reach the group of trapped marines. Elements of two companies from 1st Battalion 2nd Marines had managed to push to the center of the airfield on D-day. The Japanese figured out these marines had pushed far ahead, and attacked behind them, cutting them off. These Marines attacked to the south the next day, trying to break out while the other marines tried to fight to them. The attack to save them faltered, leaving them the nearly 200 Marines of 1/2 still trapped, now in a 200 by 50 yard area of thick bushes and underbrush, and they were low on ammo.
A little after 0800 China Gal, and the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines started an attack to relieve the trapped Marines. They also had seven more light tanks from B Company, who had made it to shore, helping. Major Jones, the commander of 1/6 kept tight control on the tanks, not letting any get further than 50 yards in front of the advancing gyrenes. Jones improvised a way to keep in communication with the tanks and kept one light tank back at his HQ to use its radios to control the other tanks. They attacked along a very narrow front, only about 100 yards wide. Even with the improved communications with the infantry through the use of the light tanks radios, right up at the front edge were the tanks were actually fighting, the commander of China Girl still found it necessary to open his hatch to talk to the Marines outside. To make it safer, the commander of the Sherman would rotate the turret, so his hatch was to the rear, then pop the hatch and rotate the cupola, the early split hatch commanders cupola rotated, to use one of the upright hatches to shield them from fire.
The tank infantry team advanced steadily, losing no more tanks, and crossing 800 yards, they releaved the cut off Marines by 1100. By this point the Marines supply lines had stabilized and a good flow of supplies was making it ashore, but one thing was not. Ammo for the M3 75mm gun was not in the cargo being sent from the ships offshore. This forced the tankers to scavenge what they could from the knocked out and drowned tanks. The two operating M4 tanks would be reduced to firing 75mm pack howitzer ammo, it didn’t seat right, and they didn’t know how it was fused, but it kept the main guns in action.
Back at the junction of Red-1 and Red-2, where a large Japanese bunker complex, which included the Japanese Commanders command bunker, was still holding the Marines off. At 0930 a lucky mortar round took out one of the bunkers, causing a huge secondary explosion, this allowed Colorado to move in and knock out the other bunker guarding the main one. While the fight went on, the two B Company light tanks left in the area were used as ambulances, hauling wounded Marines back to an aid station.
As night fell, the Jap strong point with the huge bunker still stood. The M4 was used to haul supplies up to prepare for the next mornings renewed attack. Late that night at 0400 almost 400 Japanese troops rushed the Marine lines, attacking B company 1st Battalion 6th Marines, and the Marines won the fight, but it had come down to hand to hand combat.
At 0700 on the morning of the 4th day of the battle, Navy aircraft bombed the hell out of the last of the japs holding out on the south east part of the island, a long narrow section, ending in the sea. The air attack was followed by marine artillery and naval gunfire support. One of the Pearl Harbor survivor battleships was off shore to deliver the fire. The USS Tennessee would remain offshore until December support the Marines through the mop up operation.
Freshly landed, 3rd Battalion 6th Marines passed through marine lines, heading for the Japanese strong point points on the east side of the Island. Colorado, China Gal and seven light tanks led the attack. They moved in a tight formation of tanks and infantry and rolled up the Japanese troops. The fight had left the Japanese, and many committed suicide. By 1310 the Marines of 3/6 had reached the eastern end of the island. The two M4A2 tanks proved to be decisive weapons at this stage, tearing through the last of the Japanese resistance in the area.
The last area the Japanese were still holding out in, at the junction of Red-1/2, with the big bunker, the area responsible for the majority of the Marine casualties. With only the support of a pair of SPMs the Marines finally crushed these last Japanese holdouts by 1305 when the Island was reported secure.
The cost had been one third of the landing force becoming casualties, 1696 killed and 2101 wounded. The Marines salvaged all the M4A2’s they could and took them back to the LSD Ashland, and they were rebuilt in Hawaii and used in later battles. One M4A2 remains on Tarawa, Cecelia, no matter how hard they tried she wasn’t going to come out of the shell hole, and as of 1992 she was still there, a steel monument to the Marines, Sailors and Soldiers who died taking the Betio, Tarawa Atoll.
The Marines learned a lot of hard lessons about using tanks at Tarawa; the biggest problem was communication with the supporting infantry units. Another big problem was the vulnerability of the tanks to water damage. It was also clear, the infantry units needed to train with the tanks they would be supported by in combat. The Marines of C Company had been thrown into combat with little training on the tanks, but still proved to be key players in the conquest of the island. The Marines would begin applying the lessons they learned, but not before their next use of the M4, this time M4A1s at Cape Gloucester, a swampy, jungle island in the Solomons, and not the best place for any tanks, but the M4 would prove it worth there as well.
Cape Gloucester: Who would be nuts enough to try using tanks in a swamp? The USMC that’s who. (coming soon)
The Sherman had two turret types the 75mm turret, and the later T23 turret with the M1 series of 76mm guns. The Jumbo had an up armored version of the T23 turret.
One of the things that really set the Sherman apart from its piers, and gave it very good longevity, was the size of the turret ring. The Shermans was 69 inches, positively huge for when it was designed, the early T-34 had a 56 inch ring, and the later version with 85mm gun had a 63 inch turret ring. Nazi Germans are not very good in this area, PIII having a 60 inch ring, PIV having only 63 inches, and the Panther only having a 65 inch ring. Even the Tiger wasn’t huge, at only 70 inches! So what makes the size of the ring important? It is one of several factors that determine the maximum size gun you can mount on the tank. The other factors are the mechanical reliability of the vehicle and its load capacity, and how good the country building the tank was at making recoil absorption systems for the guns. The combination of automotive reliability, load capacity, turret ring diameter, and turret size allowed the Sherman to be up gunned for decades. These factors were far more important than armor thickness when it came to the Shermans longevity. That the Sherman received more powerful guns than the Panther had, or could have had, is just one more reason why the Sherman was such a great tank, and better than the Panther.
Now let’s talk about turret drive motors. There were three types on 75mm Shermans.
Oilgear: All models of Sherman tank had both powered and manual turret traverse. They did try various brands and types though. The preferred on the early Shermans was the hydraulic mechanism made by Oilgear Company. The Oilgear unit was both more precise because it had veritable sensitivity, and more robust since it was able to keep the turret spinning even with minor flaws in the race or ring gear, than the other choices. Oilgear could not keep up with all the factories producing Shermans, so they had to go to other companies.
The Oilgear unit was hydraulic, but powered by its own electric motor that spun a hydraulic pump and turbine setup to rotate the turret. The whole assembly was small enough to be mounted to the side of the turret, with a fair amount of room for the gunner.
Logansport: This Turret drive was very similar to the Oilgear unit, just not as precise, nor as good at dealing with imperfections in the turret race or ring. This unit was so similar the electric motor powering the hydraulic pump and turbine used the same reduction gears as the Oilgear unit.
The Logansport unit used the same mounting bracket as the Oilgear unit as well. The sensitivity to problems with the tolerances on the turret ring would make this drive more likely to fail from minor damage that the Oilgear unit would shrug off.
Westinghouse: The Westinghouse unit was just a big electric motor hooked to reduction gears. Since the motor ran at a faster speed, it had to be adapted to the stabilizer system, but was still able to fit the same space and use all the mounting brackets of the other systems.
The Westinghouse unit had the same problem with minor flaws in the race or sensitive to tightness in the ring gear.
Now, this would be a quality assurance problem at the factory in most cases. IE, when the tank got to the end of the line, and the QA inspector rotated the turret, and it screeched and slowed down over 10 degrees of rotation, it would be rejected, and sent to the factory’s QA shop to be fixed. Battle damage might have caused some problems as well, but if the tank took enough of a hit to damage the teeth on the ring, or gear, it was probably going to be knocked out, and in really bad shape. That speculation based on how well many turret rings held up after years on firing ranges, when the wreck they were in was restored into a beautiful working tank.
On the later T23 turrets, the Oilgear system was used for traverse control and an improved Westinghouse stabilizer was used as well.
The Westinghouse stabilizer: All models of the Sherman but the 105 armed tanks had a stabilizer to control the main guns in elevation while on the move. It used a gyroscope and hydraulic power pulled from the turret drive system to keep the gun steady in the vertical while on the movie. The system is often disregarded as an advantage by detractors, for a few reasons, but none are valid in a technical sense. The stabilizer was a very advanced piece of kit, and something the Germans could not copy, and never installed a similar system on a wartime tank. That it was complicated and the crews lacked training in using it, doesn’t mean it didn’t work and offer advantages to crews who bothered with it.
The original stabilizer was a little complicated to setup properly, since many armor units received their tanks and maybe some manuals for them, when they formed, they often did not have a single man in their company who really knew how to make the stabilizer really work. This lead to it being turned off by a lot of early war crews. The wrongheaded belief the equipment was useless followed that. The Army did a test on it and found the stabilizer, when setup, and used by a crew who knew how to use it, it helped a great deal in getting off a fast first shot, when the tank came to stop to shoot. If the tank rocked, the gun stayed more or less on target. This was a big advantage to getting that all important first shot/hit in combat.
The Westinghouse stabilizer was improved and simplified in the second generation Shermans, the large hatch 75 and 76 tanks would have gotten it. It was easier to setup and maintain, and the Army worked on getting crews trained on it.
The M3 2 inch Smoke Mortar: The M3, 2 inch smoke mortar was installed in the turret, with the muzzle opening on the foreword left of the turret, on both the 75mm and 76mm gun turrets. It was added to the tank at the request of the British, and was loaded and fired by the loader. The mortar was loaded from inside, but protruded into the loaders space, and was not well liked. It could only be aimed by rotating the turret, and not all late model 75mm and 76mm turrets got them. Post war, most were removed and the hole welded over.
The Hatches: The Sherman’s turret started off with a single large split commander’s hatch. This hatch incorporated the m2 .50 HMG mount and rotated. It also had a standard periscope mounted in one side of the split hatches. This hatch went through several changes through its long life. Initially the split commander hatch just depended on the weight of the armored hatch cover halves to hold them in the 45 degree angel position that sat in when open. They could be knocked loose when the tank was moving over rough terrain, and really hurt the commander. They added a pair of hatch locks at the factory, and fixed them in the field with kits. The final version of the split hatch had internal springs in the hinges to hold them open. There was also a version with a defect that passed factory inspection that showed up on some M4A1 76W tanks, where the split loaders hatch, essentially the same hatch that had been the commanders hatch, was used for the loader, .50 M2 mount and all. This was fixed pretty quick though, and then the hatch was replaced by a the oval loaders hatch.
When the second generation Shermans with the T23 turrets went into production, they all got much improved all around vision cupolas. There must have been a shortage of contractors who could make it, because it was in short enough supply, the second gen large hatch, M4A2 75s, M4 Composite hulls, and M4 (105) tanks were all built with the original split commanders hatch. The all around vision cupola production were reserved for tanks armed with the M1A1 gun. The cupola offered very good all around vision, with six armored glass viewing blocks, that were all replaceable, and a larger periscope mounted in a rotating center section of the hatch door. Towards the end of the war the new cupola became more available and was fitted to some of the ultimate production M4A1 75, M4A3 75w tanks, and M4A3 (105) tanks.
The oval Loaders hatch: The version of this hatch on 75mm turrets looked the same but was slightly smaller than the one used on the T23 turrets. The hatch was a spring loaded oval hatch, either just big enough to get though or, big enough to get through comfortably, in the T23 versions. On the T23 turrets, when the oval hatch was installed, a new fully rotating periscope foreword of the hatch replaced the one that was mounted in the old split hatch.
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Now for a final bit of information on the turrets and the stuff mounted on them. Over time the turrets picked up an external vane sight the commander could use to roughly put the gunner on a target, it looked like a whale fin in front of the commanders hatch on older 75mm Shermans. This was refined into a more useful, and less odd looking site that could be used from inside or out of the turret. The .50 caliber machine gun mount started on the commanders hatch, eventually moved to the loaders hatch, and then to the middle between the two hatches. There was also a spotlight mount added, and it ended up being on late 75mm turrets, the T23 76mm turrets, and even retrofitted to older 75mm Shermans. The mount had an armored plug, the spotlight plugged into, and then could be controlled from inside the tank, much like the spotlights you see mounted to the side of police cars. The turrets also started out with no brackets for storing the heavy machine gun, but they started showing up on 75mm turrets and were on almost all T23 turrets. Even where the lifting eyes were moved around on the turrets.
From looking at period pictures, it was very common for the gunner or loader to ride standing in the commanders hatch, while he was in it as well, the split hatch cupolas were that big. I thought I wouldn’t see the practice on tanks with the all-around vision cupola, but I found a few were the crews did it there too.
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The standard 75mm Turret: The Sherman’s First Turret, It Had Many Minor Changes
The standard 75mm turret started out with a stubby rotor shield that just covered the base of the 75mm gun. These early turrets didn’t have a direct telescopic sight for the gunner either. The gunner had to rely on the M4 periscope to aim the gun. The turret had one large hatch for the whole turret crew to get in and out from and a pistol port on the loaders side that could be propped open and spent 75mm shells dumped out. The loader and commander had fully rotating periscopes to view the world through, the commander’s periscope was in his hatch, the loaders right above his station, and the middle of the turret roof had an armored ventilator. Many of these turrets had a weak spot in the armor due to an area machined to fit the turret drive. This area was covered with additional armor on once the problem was discovered.
The small rotor shield and lack of telescopic sight were some of the first production line changes, and older tanks were field modified with kits to update them, often only covering half the turret with added armor on the mantlet to protect the new telescopic site. The new factory full size rotor shield covered the majority of the turret face with much thicker armor. The next big change was a weak spot in the right side of the casting where a thin spot was made while machining the turret for the gun mount was discovered, and armor was welded on the outside of the turret to thicken it back up. Tanks were retrofitted with this armor in the field, and later the casting was changed to include the thicker armor over the area, eliminating the need for the welded on cheek armor.
At some point while all the above was going on someone decided the pistol port was a weak spot and it had to go. So they started welding them closed at the factory, and then the casting had them removed. Then the men in the field went ape poop, and they put it back in, around the time the ultimate 75mm turret went into production, with the thicker armor cast in, the pistol port back, a new all-around vision cupola for the commander and an oval hatch for the gunner. This would be the final configuration of the 75mm turret. The tolerances used by US tank factories were close enough turrets cast at one factory could be used at another with no modifications. Many older surplus turrets left over from the tank retriever conversion program were used in later production, with all the updates added, and a hatch cut in for the loader. Due to a shortage of all around vision cupolas, many 75mm turrets with a loaders hatch ended up with the old split style commander’s hatch.
When hull production switched over to the 47 degree frontal armor configuration, and they went with the large driver and loaders hatches on the M4, M4A2 and M4A3 production, the 75mm turrets needed modification. The hinge for the larger drivers and co drivers hatches stuck up higher than the older small hatch hulls, they could interfere with the turrets rotation, since they barely cleared the bustle were the radio was mounted in the back of the turret. The first solution was to notch the bustle a little, but they also changed the turret casting, raising the whole bustle area and making the top of the turret flatter.
The turret drive motor was either an electric motor driven hydraulic system or a strait electric motor driven system. The hydraulic system was the preferred, but when that system was in short supply the electric system was substituted. The 75mm turret could rotate 360 degrees in 15 seconds with the power traverse. It had a manual traverse system as well, and elevation was handled through a manual wheel.
For the very best in minute detail on this subject, please check out the Sherman Minutia site. One minor bit of trivia about the original style turret, the D50878, and D78461 castings, the ones produced for the 105 armed tanks were unique, in that they had an extra armored ventilator whole drilled in so another one could be mounted. So the 105mm turrets really are 105mm only. I’m still not sure if there is a 1/35mm Sherman M4 105, or M4A3 105 with the correct turret.
The T23 Turret: Developed For the Failed T23 program, It Found a New Purpose on The Sherman
While the 75mm turret was still in production and being improved, the T23 turret, taken from the failed T23 medium tank project, went onto the Sherman with the M1A1 gun on the big hatch, wet ammo rack hulls. This turret was larger and could fit the 76mm gun with much more comfort than the basic 75mm turret. All T23 turrets had loaders hatches, though early production T23 turrets used the hatch that had been the commanders hatch on older Shermans for the loaders hatch and used the new all-around vision cupola for the commander. This didn’t last long; it was found the narrow area between the two large hatches on the roof was a weak spot. The big loaders hatch went away and an oval hatch went in. These turrets had the same traverse speed as the 75mm turret and the same ROF.
The T23 turret came in around 4000 pounds heavier than the 75mm turret. The automotive systems of the Sherman tank were strong enough to support the extra weight without any real change in performance or longevity. The drivetrain didn’t receive any changes at all as far as I can tell, and only the Jumbo tanks got a different gear ratio in the differential. All the extra weight in sandbags, concrete and real armor did shorten the life of the automotive components but not by a significant amount.
All T23 turreted 76mm gun tanks, had wet ammunition storage, as did the Jumbo tanks, but not all large hatch hulls did. The M4 (105), M4 composites, and M4A2 large hatch 75mm tanks all had dry ammo racks. The T23 Turret would get the smoke mortar, and an extra periscope hole machined in when the split loaders hatch was replaced with the oval hatch.
Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Sherman by Hunnicutt, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston, The Sherman Minutia Site, Son of a Sherman by Stansell and Laughlin, M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, the Lone Sentry, TM9-731B M4A2, TM9-731G M10A1, TM9-745 GMC M36B2, TM9-748 GMC M36B1, TM9-750M3, TM9-752 M4A3, TM9-754 M4A4, TM9-759 M4A3, FM17-12 Tank Gunnery, FM17-15 Combat Practice firing, FM17-67 Crew Drill and Service of the Piece M4 Series
Combat Performance: It Killed Stuff Pretty damn well.
When Sherman went into combat in British hands in the North African desert in October of 1942, it was bar none, the best tank in the world. It had a better gun and more armor, along with good or better mobility than all the axis tanks it faced. It wouldn’t have a German peer until the Panzer IV was up-gunned and even then, the best version of the Panzer IV was barely a match for a 75mm armed Sherman and totally outclassed by the later 76mm armed tanks. The Sherman tank was designed, and the design improved to maximize it how easy it was to produce, while also improving the reliability, crew fighting efficiency, safety, and comfort. This was fairly unique to U.S. Tank design, and can be attributed in many ways to the automotive production experts who came out of Detroit and the US Auto industry.
The basic small hatch Sherman was found to be fine for the job all the way through the invasion of Italy and Normandy. The introduction of the Tiger and Panther did not seem like the same thing US Army, battalion sized special units, who had more value as propaganda tool, than weapons of war, so they didn’t really plan for fighting them on a regular bases. In the Tigers case they were right; it was rare and more or less useless waste of German resources. The Panther would become much more common after the break out from Normandy, but if you really look at its performance, it was not that great of a threat. In most cases in when they met in Europe, the Sherman won. The 75mm M3 Armed Sherman was very well equipped to deal with infantry and AT guns, the main threat they would face, and this was part of why the US Army didn’t want to jump to the, available at the time of Normandy, 76mm armed Shermans.
The US Army tried the M1 gun out on the Sherman just about when the Sherman 75 hit production. The Sherman Minutia Site has images and covers the history, as do various books, the M1 gun fit, but was a tad long, so the just chopped off more than a foot. It worked well enough they ordered 1000 Shermans armed with the gun, but then the order was canceled because the turret was found turret was to cramped. Later, they would adapt the T23s turret to the Sherman hull for a much better solution to the problem of up gunning the tank. Oddly, after the war, the many 75mm Shermans were up gunned with the M1A2 gun, and then given to allies as military aid. A fun way to see a few of these tanks in action is watch the 70s movie, Kelly’s Heroes, the Shermans in that are all up gunned 75mm turreted M4A3 tanks.
The Sherman, even the version armed with the 75mm gun, could still deal with the heavier Nazi German tanks, as long as it had room to move around, and knew where it was. Much noise has been made about how it was a death trap after the D-Day landings and the Panther and Tiger tore it up in the bocage. This is a myth. There is pretty good evidence the US Army only faced maybe two or three Tiger I tanks, in Europe, ever. The Panther was more common, but also got roughly handled in just about every battle it faced Shermans in.
The German’s rarely used the Panther in the bocage country because its long gun made it hard to use in the tight quarters and reliability problems were ever present with this tank. The tank the Sherman faced in US hands was the Panzer IV and various Stug assault guns, neither of which outclassed the Sherman in any real way. But they did have the advantage of being on the defense. Post war studies by the US Army showed the Sherman was more effective than German armor at this point; the claims of the Sherman being a death trap were false. Even early Sherman tanks were no more likely to burn than any other tank and the later war wet ammo rack tanks were the safest tanks of the war. German tanks used gasoline and gas was not found to be a major cause of fires in destroyed Shermans, ammo fires were. See the links in the data section for info on this. Most Sherman losses were due to anti-tank guns, infantry AT weapons and mines, and not so much tank on tank action.
When Operation Cobra was kicked off, the first use of large hatch hull, wet ammo rack, 76mm armed Shermans took place. The M4A1 76 being the model used first followed by A3 76 tanks within weeks. These tanks were not well received across the board, with some units preferring the 75mm armed tanks because facing armor was rare even then and the 75mm gun was better at taking out anti-tank guns and infantry, and could still deal with any German armor they encountered. Some units welcomed the better anti-tank capability even if it wouldn’t kill a Panther from the front unless at very short range.
By the battle of the bulge, the M4A3E8 and M4A3E2 Jumbo were showing up for combat use. The Jumbo had much thicker armor and were loved by their crews. By the close of the Bulge, German armor would become very rare, but even so more and more 76mm armed Shermans would be issued. By the end of the war the ratio would be near 50%. The Army also wanted to stop production on the 75mm gunned M4s in 1945, but the USMC and the British still had requirements for the 75mm gun tanks so it stayed in limited production.
There was a bit of a scandal about the Sherman being no good in the press back in the States about the time of the Bulge, but in reality, the Sherman was really having its shining moment during that battle and performed very well against German armor that was supposedly better. Bad movies aside, the Sherman more than held its own in the Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Offensive. This is covered in Steven Zaloga’s Armored Thunderbolt, in much more detail.
By the time the next generation replacement showed up, the M26, the war was all but over, and only a handful would see combat. In many ways the M26 was inferior to the M4. Due to its slightly shortened development and testing time, it had a few reliability problems. It was still so reliable that it would have put any German tank to shame though. The motor, though stressed more in the M26, the GAA, was solid and reliable. The very early tanks had some transmission issues, that were resolved, and some minor things like bracing the final drive housings and changing the drive sprocket configuration were the only major changes. It was never as reliable as the Sherman, but it was close enough to be adopted, for use by the Army and Marines.
Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Yeide’s TD and two separate tank battalion books, Sherman by Hunnicutt, Combat Lessons, The Rank and file, what they do and how they are doing it 1-7, and 9. Archive Awareness, Oscar Gilbert’s, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, WWII Armor, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston, M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, the Lone Sentry, the data in the data section
The Sherman Variants: So Many Shermans, so Confusing! Updated 4/13
First off, Americans referred to the Sherman as the M4, or M4 Medium, or Medium, the Sherman name was not commonly used until post WWII. The British came up with the name for the M4 and referred to it with their own designation system that is covered in more detail later. They also named the Lee, and Stuart, and at some point the US Army just stuck with the naming scheme. The full story behind this is still a minor mystery, with US war time documents confirming the ‘general’ names were at least used on paper by the US Army during the war.
Now let’s cover the factory production versions of the Sherman. Also keep in mind; it is very hard to define just how a Sherman may be configured without really knowing where and when it was produced. In some rare cases, large hatch hull, 75mm armed Shermans got produced with normal ammo racks, when the norm for large hatch hull tanks was wet ammo racks.
Then you have post war rebuilds, where the Army swapped 76 turrets onto 75mm M4A3 HVSS hulls during depot level rebuilds. It would not be impossible for a field repair depot to swap a turret from one knocked out tank, onto the hull of another, making an oddball. You also have to take into account post war monuments are sometimes Frankenstein tanks, in one case with a T23 on a small hatch hull. You can also run into a Frankenstein tank in museums, or post war civilian restorations. In many cases museum tanks are old range relics that need restoration, in some cases the tank was in decent shape and a cosmetic restoration can easily be done. For the civilian tanker, who wants a running Sherman, also has to get them from a gunnery range, then, the long process of rebuilding the tank can start. I link to a few places that cover a restoration, and these guys do amazing work, taking tanks that you could never imaging running or looking like a tank again, and bringing them back to life.
The nice thing about a tank, as far as a WWII collectable vehicle goes, say compared to an Airplane, like a P-51 or even SNJ, is tanks won’t breakdown, and kill you by falling out of the sky. If you make a big error in a tank, at worst, you’re going to take out a building, flop it on its side, or sink it in deep mud or something, all not really life threatening. Once you have the tank, running it is going to be a lot cheaper than a vintage aircraft as well. The other nice thing is if you’re handy, you can work on it yourself, without having to get a certified aircraft mechanic to sign off on all your work. You do need a hell of a lot of heavy equipment to really work on a tank though, but you don’t have annuals, and hanger rental costs! This may be why the hobby of owning a tank is becoming more popular in the United States!
M4 Sherman: First in Name, 4th Into Production.
These tanks used the same R975 motor as the M3, and M3A1. The vast majority of the bugs in this automotive system were worked out before the M4 even started production. This really helped give the Sherman its reputation for reliability and ease of repair. The M4 had a welded hull with a cast turret mounting the M3, 75mm gun. Early variants had three hull machine guns, and two, turret mounted machine guns. The hull guns were all M1919A4 .30 caliber machine guns, two fixed, and one mounted in a ball mount for the co-drivers use. The fixed guns were deleted from production very rapidly. The turret armament remained unchanged for the whole production run: Using the M3 75mm gun with the M1919A4 coaxial machine gun and M2 .50 caliber mounted on the roof. The turret would be the same turret used on all early Shermans and would be interchangeable on all production Shermans. This version was not produced with the later improved T23 turret but did get some large hatch hulls in special variants.
There were two variants of the M4 to be built with the large hatch hull. The first, the M4 (105) was a large hatch hull mated to the 105mm howitzer, on the M52 mount, in the standard 75mm turret. These hulls did not have wet ammo racks or gyro stabilizers, and the 105mm turrets had an extra armored ventilator, the only turrets to have them. The M4 (105) gun tanks had a special mantlet, with four large screws in the face, unique to 105 tanks. Production started in February of 44, and continued well into 45, with late production M4 (105) tanks getting HVSS suspension. These tanks were used as replacements for the M7 Priest in tank units, and spent most of their time being used as indirect fire support, like the M7 they replaced. These tank also had exhaust deflecting vents installed in the back to help reduce dust from being stirred up.
One other variant of the M4 to get the large hatch hull(100 or so small hatch casting were made as well) was the M4 ‘hybrid’, this hull was welded, but used a large casting very similar to the front of the M4A1 on the front of the hull. It was found that most of the welding hours building the welded hull tanks were spent on the glacis plate. They figured out by using one large casting, incorporating the hatches and bow gun would save on welding time and labor costs.
These M4 hybrids were used by the British to make Ic Fireflies. They liked the 75mm turret these tanks came with since many already had a loaders hatch, this saved them time on the conversion since they didn’t have to cut one. Most of the M4 composite tanks were shipped to Europe or the Pacific, making survivors rare.
The M4 along with the M4A1 were the preferred US Army version of the Sherman until the introduction of the M4A3. This tank was made in five factories from July of 42 to March of 45, 7584 produced. As far as the US Army was concerned, the M4, and M4A1 were interchangeable.
M4A1 Sherman: First Into Production, And When It Did Go, It Was The Most Advanced Tank In The World.
This was virtually the same tank as the M4, with the same motor and automotive systems and armament. The key difference was the cast upper hull. This huge upper hull casting was one piece. This was a very hard thing to do with casting technology at the time, and something the Germans could not have reproduced, they lacked the advanced technology, and facilities needed to do so. Everything from hatches to wheels, and turrets, and guns were interchangeable with the M4 and other Sherman models. This version saw production longer than any other hull type. It also saw all the upgrades like the improved large hatch hull with wet ammo racks, the T23 turret with 76mm gun, and HVSS suspension system. It was 30 of these M4A1 76 HVSS tanks that were the last Shermans ever produced. The M4A1 was also the first to see combat use with the improved M1 gun and T23 turret during operation Cobra. These tanks would also be the basis for the Israeli M51 Sherman. Three factories produced 9527 M4A1s with all turret types from Feb 42 to July of 45.
The US Marines used one battalion of these tanks on the Cape Gloucester campaign, all small hatch M4A1 75 tanks. This was the only use of this type by the U.S. Marines.
M4A2 Sherman: The Second Sherman Into Production!
This version of the Sherman used a welded hull nearly identical to the M4, but with a pair of vented armored grates on the rear hull deck. The M4A2 tanks used the GM 6046 twin diesel. This version was produced with all the improvements the other types got, like the large hatch hull with wet ammo racks, the T23 turret with improved M1 gun, and HVSS suspension. This version would see very limited combat in US hands, most being shipped to Russia with a few early hulls going to the Brits and USMC. This was the preferred version for Soviet lend lease deliveries, since the USSR was using all diesel tanks. It was produced in six factories with 10,968 of all turret types produced from April of 42 to July 45.
A little trivia about this version, the Sherman used in the movie Fury, was actually a late production M4A2 76 HVSS tank. The only way you can tell a late A2 from a late A3 is by the size of the armored grills on the back deck. They did a great job of hiding this area in the movie.
The Marines operated a lot of small hatch and a fairly large number of large hatch M4A2 tanks, until the supply of 75mm armed versions dried up in late 1944. Then they switched over to large hatch M4A3 75w tanks, but there were some A2 holdouts amongst the six battalions.
M4A3 Sherman: The Best Version Of The Sherman, Both in 75mm and 76mm
This would be the base for what would be the final Sherman in US Army use, seeing action all the way out to the Korean War in US Army hands. This tank had a welded hull just like the M4, A2, and A4, but used a new motor. The Ford GAA V8, this motor took some time for its bugs to be worked out, so unlike say, the Nazi Germans, the US Army didn’t use it until it was ready for serious production. When it was, it became the preferred US Army version of the tank in both the 75mm and 76mm armed tanks. It would see all the improvements, and be the first hull type to take the HVSS suspension system into combat for the US Army. The M4A3E8 or M4A3 tank with T23 turret and HVSS suspension bolted on would be the final and ultimate US Army Sherman. It would be produced in three factories with all turret types, 12,596 built in total between June 42 and June of 45.
After WWII when the Army wanted to standardize on one Sherman type, any M4A3 large hatch hull they could find would have a T23 turret and HVSS suspension installed on it. The Army was so thorough in these conversions no M4A3 large hatch 75mm gun tanks are known to have survived with the original turrets installed. Any M4A1 HVSS 76 and M4A2 HVSS 76 tanks in Army inventory would have been robbed of their suspensions and turrets so they could be installed on M4A3 large hatch hulls.
The M4A3E2 Jumbo: Fishers Fat and Special Baby!
FTA was the sole producer of one very special variant of the Sherman, the M4A3E2 Jumbo. This version of the Sherman was the assault Sherman, though not expressly designed for it, was manufactured to be able to lead a column up a road and take a few hits from German AT guns or tanks so they could be spotted without having to sacrifice the tank. It had a lot of extra armor, and could take a lot of hits before being knocked out, but was still not impervious to German AT gun fire. Only 254 of these tanks were produced, and all but four were shipped to Europe for use by the US Army. They were all armed with the M3 75mm gun. There was a surplus of M1A1 76mm guns in Europe due to an aborted program re arm 75mm Sherman tanks with the guns. Many of the Jumbo’s ended up with these guns, but none were ever factory installed.
The tank was no different in automotive components from the M4A3 tanks, with the sole difference being the slightly lower final drive gear ratio, going from a 2.84:1 ratio in the base Shermans, to 3.36:1 on the Jumbos. This reduced the top speed slightly but helped the tank get all the extra armor moving. The Jumbos were well liked by their crews and in great demand; no more were built though, the only batch being produced from May to July of 1944. Had the invasion of Japan been needed, a special Jumbo with larger turret that included a flame thrower was considered, but we all know how that story ended.
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The M4A3 (75)w and later 105 was issued to the Marines when the M4A2 75mm tanks went out of production. These would all have been large hatch M4A3 75w tanks, and they may have gotten some with HVSS.
M4A4 Sherman: The Sherman No One Wanted At First, But In The End Was A Very Important Model, At Least To The British
This tank is the oddball of Sherman tanks. It had a welded hull and used the A-57 multibank motor. A tank motor made from combining five car motors on one crank case. As complicated as this sounds, it was produced in large numbers and was reliable enough to see combat use, though not in American hands in most cases. In US use they tried to limit it to stateside training duty. The Brits found it more reliable than their native power plants and liked it just fine. The A4 version never got the improved large hatch hull or T23 turret with M1 gun. Most were shipped to the Brits via lend lease and many were turned into Vc Fireflies, making it the most common Firefly type. The US Marines operating these tanks in the states as training tanks, 22 of them for two months before they were replaced by M4A2s. This tank had a longer hull, like its Lee cousin to accommodate the big A-57 motor. It was the first Sherman version to go out of production. It was produced in one factory (CDA) from July of 42, to November of 43 with 7499 built.
The A4 has the honor of being the heaviest and largest standard Sherman. The larger hull to accommodate the A57 motor, and the motor itself added weight. The British used these tanks extensively in combat. These tanks show up in British test reports as well, often pitted against tanks like the Cromwell, in reliability or other tests, and usually coming out ahead. Anyone who has ever changed the spark plugs on their car should really be able to appreciate how hard a motor made by tying five six cylinder automobile engines together, on one crank would be. It is easy to identify an A4 from the side, there’s a bulge on the engine deck just behind the turret, and a bulge in the belly in the same place, both to house a huge cooling fan. The bogie assemblies are spaced further apart, this is very obvious compared to the rest of the Sherman models, and also required a longer set of tracks. These longer tracks spread the added weight out, so it had no effect on flotation.
It turns out this version of the Sherman served with more nations than any other version! These include Britain, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Czechoslovakia, India, China and the USA, all used this tank in combat at some point. I find it very interesting the most complicated Sherman saw such widespread use, and still earned a reputation for reliability second to none. The majority of the British Shermans on D-Day were this model as well.
For a tank the US Army didn’t want, it had an excellent combat record, with the nations that got stuck with it. The M4A4 is one of the rarest Shermans to find running with its original motor. The A57 would be very troublesome to keep running for a civilian hobbyist, and I have my doubts about how easy it is to get Chrysler inline six parts in Europe. Few M4A4’s remained in the United States, since the ones used in training were refurbished by Chrysler and then shipped off to the UK for conversion to Fireflies.
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All Sherman variants share a lot of details and most spare parts interchange. Only the motors really call for different parts. All early Sherman tanks had 51mm of armor at 56 degrees on the front hull, and 76mm on the front of the turret. The 56 degree hulls are called small hatch hulls because the driver and co-driver had small hatches that forced them to twist sideways to get in and out. They also started out with direct vision ports along with periscopes for crew vision. Even the cast tanks matched these specs and the hatches from a cast tank could be used on a welded tank. These early hulls had some of the ammo racks in the sponsons above the tracks. Not a great place for ammo, but not an uncommon one for it either. As they improved the hull, they added plates over the direct vision ports and eventually removed them from the castings. Large plates were eventually welded over the ammo racks on the sides, and this extra armor was eventually just added into the casting on the cast hulls. It’s safe to say no small hatch tanks were factory produced with a 76mm gun or improved T23 turret.
The major hull change came when they upgraded the drivers and co drives hatches making them bigger. They also thickened the front armor to 64mm but reduced the slope to 47 degrees to fit the new driver’s hatches. The M4 (hybrid and 105 only), M4A1, A2, and A3 were produced with these improved large hatch hulls. Many of these improved large hull tanks had the original 75mm gun and turret. Even the M4A3 with HVSS suspension was produced with the 75mm gun and turret. Most of the large hatch production was with the new and improved T23 turret. These larger hatch hulls would still accept the majority of the spares the older hulls used and the lower hull remained largely unchanged and would accept all the suspension types. Any large hatch M4A3 hull was likely converted to an M4A3 76 HVSS post WWII.
Through the whole production run minor details were changed. The suspension saw many different version before the final HVSS type was produced. The track types also changed and there were many variants made from rubber and steel, or steel. There were even at least six different types of road wheel! There are so many minor detail changes, the scope is to big to cover in this post, needless to say, the only other tank I know of with so many minor changes over the production run was the Tiger, and in the Tigers case it’s just sad, with so few produced, it means almost no two tigers were the same. This was not the case for the Shermans and the changes did not slow production down at all and in many cases were just different because a particular part, like an antenna mount, or driver’s hood, could have been sourced from a different sub-contractor, and the parts may look different, but would function exactly the same. Tiger parts are not good at interchanging without modification, and a crew a craftsmen to custom fit them. The changes made to the Sherman were either to incorporate better parts, or to use a locally made substitute part for one in short supply, so making their own version allowed them to continue production without a slowdown.
To really get a handle on these differences there are two really great sources.
This is the easy, way: Sherman Minutia site a great site that really covers the minor detail changes on the Sherman tank very well. You can spend hours reading it and looking over the pictures. It explains little of the combat history of the Sherman but covers the minor changes on the vehicles themselves very well. You can spend hours on this site learning about minor Sherman details. It is also a primary source for this post.
Another great way is to get a copy of: Son of aSherman volume one, The Sherman design and Developmentby Patrick Stansell and Kurt Laughlin. This book is a must have for the Sherman plastic modeler or true enthusiast. It is filled with the tiny detail changes that took place on the Sherman production lines from start to finish. They cover everything from lifting eyes to ventilators, casting numbers, to most minor change to the turrets. Get it now before it goes out of print and the price skyrockets. I liked it so much I bought two!
The turret saw continual change as well, but remained basically the same. The 75mm gun never changed but its mount and sighting system did. The turret lost the pistol port, and then gained it back. It gained a rotor shield over time and an extra hatch. All these detail changes are covered on the site above and in the Son of a Sherman book. The important thing to note was the tank saw continual improvement to an already reliable, and easy to produce design. The Sherman was easy to produce for an industrial nation like the USA, but beyond Nazi Germany’s technical capabilities for several reasons, like large casting and the gun stabilization system, or even multiple reliable motors to power the tens of thousands of tanks made.
In the basics section I’m only going to cover one more thing. The Sherman tank was not as blind as the tanks it faced. The M4 series, from the first production tank, to the final Sherman that rolled off any of the production lines, were covered in periscopes or view ports for the crew. The gunner had a wide angle periscope that had incorporated the site for the main gun, and they very quickly added a telescopic site to go with it. The commander had a large rotating periscope in his rotating copula. The loader had a rotating periscope and the driver and co-driver had two, one in their hatch, and another mounted in the hull right in front of them once the DV ports were deleted (non-rotating). Later version added a direct vision cupola and a periscope for the loader in his new hatch. All these periscopes could be lowered and the port closed, and if damage easily and quickly replaced from inside the tank. All this gave the Sherman an advantage in spotting things outside the tank; they were still blind, just not as blind as most of the tanks they would face. Finding an AT gun in a bush could be very challenging for any tank, and infantry if not scared off by the presence of a tank in the first place can sneak up on one pretty easy.
This was a big advantage when it saw combat and throughout the tanks career it was always one of the best if not the best tank of the war. It was reliable, the crew had a good chance of spotting enemies before other tank crews, the gun was stabilized, fast firing, and accurate. It was as good or better than most of the tanks it faced, even the larger German tanks. These tanks were largely failures, with only long debunked Nazi propaganda propping up their war record. The Sherman has the opposite problem.
Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Sherman by Hunnicutt, Combat Lessons, Son of a Sherman by Stansell and Laughlin, M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, TM9-752, TM9-754, TM9-759, TM9-731B