Special Gallery 1: The Shermans and Lees of the Fort Bennings Digital Archive.
Fort Benning, a very active US Army base in Georgia has put up many very interesting historic Photo Galleries. You can find the website here. The Gallery these Sherman photos came from is the Historic Photo Gallery. These are just the Sherman and or Armor related images in the gallery, there are many more from Vietnam and Desert Storm.
The Tank Divisions: The US Armored Divisions, What They Were and A Brief History Of Each One.
There were two types of US Armored Division during WWII. The Light type and the Heavy type, I will detail out the differences between the two below. Armored Divisions were not meant to be assault troops, that was left to the Regular Infantry Divisions, the Armored Divisions were meant to rush through an breakthrough and romp and stomp as far into the enemy’s guts as they could, hopefully taking key objectives and cutting off large amounts of enemy troops.
Alight US Armored Division was made up of three Tank Battalions, three Armored Infantry Battalions, and three Armored Field Artillery Battalions. These were broken up into three CombatCommands, A, B, and R. Each of these had a Tank Battalion, an Armored Infantry Battalion, and an Armored Field Artillery Battalion and each one was commanded by a Colonel. CommandsA and B were the primary combat force of the Division and R was the reserve. The Battalions could be swapped around between A, B, and R(sometimes called C) depending on strength and fatigue levels.
The Light Armored Division would also have a large number of service battalions and smaller units attached to make the Division as self-sustaining as possible:
One Armored Engineer Battalion
One Armored Medical Battalion
One Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
One Armored Ordnance battalion
One Armored Signal Company
A CIC Detachment
A Division Supply Train (made up of trucks)
A Division Artillery Battalion
A MP Platoon
A Tank Destroyer Battalion Could be assigned
An Armored AA Battalion Could be assigned
These units could be broken down into smaller, usually company sized sub units and assigned to the Combat Commands depending on the needs of the missions. The Armored Division was intended to be a self-contained unit with all the assets needed to support and move itself around a theater. A light Armored Division had an authorized strength of just about 11,000 men, the Heavy Division had 14,500.
The main difference with a Heavy Armored Division was they had eightMedium Tank Battalions, instead of just three. They also had more light tanks, with two full light tank battalions, instead of three companies. Only a two Armored Divisions retained the heavy designation and organization through the whole war, the 2nd and 3rd. I have not been able to find a TO&E for a Heavy Armored Division that included an Authorized strength, but it would have to be several thousand men more than a normal AD. I’m not 100% sure on this, but I’m pretty sure the Heavy Armored Division was done away with in a 1942 revision of what an Armored Division was, but a pair retained the Heavy TO&E for reasons I’m not sure of yet, but I will find out.
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The Armored Divisions were meant to exploit a major breakthrough won by the regular Infantry Divisions. In many cases they were not used this way, and often got thrown into the lines as the enemy was faltering, using a single Combat Command to help secure the breakthrough while the rest of the Division rushed through the breach. No Armored Divisions saw use in the Pacific, but the Sherman sure did. The Sherman was really the heart of the US Armored Division, and its mobility and reliability really served it well there, it allowed US Armored Divisions to make very long runs once broken through, and it would limits on fuel supplies, not the tanks mechanical reliability that slowed it down.
1st Armored Division:Old Ironsides
Active 1940-1946, Reactivated 1951-Present
The oldest US Armor Division. It saw a lot of action in WWII, born on July 15 1940 at Fort Knox.
The 1st AD spent its early years figuring out what an Armored Division was going to be, and when they figured that out, they trained in the US until mid-summer of 1942 before shipped off to Northern Ireland, after a short stay they were off to England. They were not there long, before they were shipped off to northern Africa for participation in Operation Torch. The 1st AD would be the first US Armored Division to see combat.
They would participate in the capture or Oran, and the infamous Kassirine Pass, and then would fight to the end of the war in Italy. The primary tank early on would have been the M3 Lee and M3 light. By the Italian campaign it was the M4 and M4A1, small hatch 75 tanks, with M5 lights. Late in the Italian campaign they would have gotten second gen 76mm Shermans.
The 1st AD had 1194 men KIA, 5168 WIA, and 234 DOW. They captured 41 villages or urban centers. 108,740 Germans gave up to the 1st AD. They were moved to Germany Shortly after the war to serve as part of the occupation forces and were disbanded in 1946. They were reactivated on 1951 and are still an active duty division to this day.
2nd Armored Division:Hell on Wheels
The second US Armored Division put together and it saw just about as much as the first. This was one of only two Heavy Armored Divisions; all others were converted to the later ‘light’ TO&E. Formed at Fort Benning on 15 July 1940, on the same day as the 1st.
They shipped out for use in Torch, but were kept in reserve until the invasion of Sicily. They saw a fair amount of action on Sicily, and after were shipped back to England to be used in the Normandy landings. The 2nd AD was landed on Omaha Beach on June 9th and fought in northern Germany until the end of the war, including the Rhineland, Ardennes and Central European Campaigns.
The 2nd AD had 1102 KIA, 5331 WIA, 253 captured, 7116 no battle casualties, for a total of 13,867 casualties.
3rd Armored Division: Spearhead
Active 1941-1945, reactivated 1947-92
Also maybe known as the Third Herd, but may be post WWII. The 3rd saw combat from Normandy to the end of the war in Europe. They were formed on 15 April 1941 at Camp Beauregard in Louisiana. They trained in California at Camp Young, until January of 1943, when they moved to Indiantown Gap Military Reservation in Pennsylvania. They would train on there while waiting to deploy overseas.
The 3rd AD arrived in Europe on September 15th 1943, they debarked in the Liverpool an Bristol area and trained there and on the Salisbury Plain preparing for the invasion.
They would first see combat almost a month after the June 6th landings in Normandy. They would fight in the hedgerows, including at Saint Lô. Later in the same campaign they would help close the Falaise Gap. They participated in both the Battle for the Hurtgen Forrest and the Battle of the Bulge. They would continue to fight into Germany, helping with the taking of Cologne, and Paderborn, and with reducing the Ruhr Pocket. They liberated the Nazi Death Camp at Dara-Mittelbau, and finished with the battle of Dessau. They went into reserve to the end of the war. It did a short stint as an occupation force before being deactivated in November of 1945. It was later reactivated in 1947.
The3rd AD spent a total of 231 days in combat, with 2540 KIA, 7331 WIA, 95 MIA, and 139 captured. They had a total number of Battle Casualties of 10,105, Non-Combat Casualties 6017, and a combined total of 16,122.
One of the few Armored Division that never adopted a name, it also developed a reputation. The 4th was often used as the spearhead for Paton’s Third Army and it was a tough outfit. Their motto was ‘They Shall Be Known By Their Deeds Alone’. Activated on April 15th 1941 at Camp Pine (Later named Fort Drum), New York. It would train at Camp Forrest in Tennessee, and then was shipped to California for further training at the Desert Training Center. They would be housed at Camp Ibis, near Needles California during this period. By June of 1943 they would be at Camp Bowie, Texas, for more training in the Piute Valley. They were then off to Camp Myles Standish in Massachusetts for winter training. Finally, in December of 1943, they were on their way to Europe, England specifically to prepare for the June of 44 invasion of Normandy.
The 4th AD debarked in Normandy on July 11th 1944, at Utah beach and was in combat by the 17th. They saw action in Operation Cobra, and rampaging across France, they would see action in the Battle of the Bulge, spearheading Paton’s 3rd Army’s attack north to hit the Germans attacking Bastogne. They would see action in all the major fights in the ETO to the end of the war. They did a tour as occupation forces before being shipped back to the ZI to be deactivated.
The 4th AD spent 230 days in combat and lost 1238 KIA, 4246 WIA, 503 MIA, and 1 man captured. This totaled out to 5988 Battle Casualties, they also had 4508 Non Battle Casualties, and total of 10496.
5th Armored Division:Victory
Active 1941-1945, reactivated 1950-1956
Another Divisions that saw combat from Normandy to the end of the war in Europe. The 5th AD was activated at Fort Knox, in Kentucky. Like many units after forming and some initial training, the shipped out for Camp Cooke California. They spent a lot of time on Alert for Japanese attacks in their early training there. Next up was training in California’s Mojave desert. They were on their way to Tennessee by March 24th for more maneuvers. They would be there until July, and then they moved to Pine Camp N.Y. for some winter training. The 5th last stop before deploying to England was Indiantown Gap, PA, where they left their vehicles and were trucked to Camp Kilmer NJ, to wait for their ship.
The 5th were in England by February 24, 1944, and they were stay there until they deployed to Normandy on July 26. They were assigned to Patton’s Third Army, as “General Patton’s Ghost Troops”, and would fight in Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe Campaigns.
The 5th AD was in combat 161 days, and had 547 KIA, 2768 WIA, 177 MIA, and 62 captured for a total of 3554 battle related casualties. The 5th also had 3592 non-battle causalities, for a total of 7146.
The 6thwas activated at Fort Knox on February 15th 1942. The 6th spent time at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas training then went on Maneuvers in Louisiana and then they were off to sunny California for training at the Desert Training Center in Mohave CA, and then off to Camp Cooke also in Ca. They were shipped by train to the east coast and loaded onto ships for transport to England, arriving in February of 44.
The 6th was landed on Utah beach on July 18th as part of Paton’s 3rd Army. They participated in the Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland and Central Europe Campaigns.
The 6th spent a total of 226 days in combat. They had 1169 KIA, 4198 WIA, 152 MIA, and 7 captured for a total of 5526 battle casualties, they also had 7290 non battle casualties.
The US Army Tank Battalion: How Sherman tanks were deployed
There were two types of tank battalion, the type attached to infantry divisions, as ‘independent’ tank battalions, and the type that were a part of an armored division. They were pretty much the same in organization, if not in how they were used. The life of a tanker could vary wildly from another’s depending on where he got assigned, and the tamest would probably be when they got sent to an armored division.
The Tank Battalion at the start of the war was composed of a much smaller number of vehicles, and almost no specialized ones. As the war progressed, the Tank Battalion filled out a lot. They even added a whole service company with a large number of trucks, wreckers and ARVs. Early in the war they seem to have relied on the M3half track to fill in for specialty vehicles they didn’t know they needed yet. Once they figured it out in 1943 though, the tank battalion doesn’t seem to have changed much
The Tank Platoon: The Smallest Official Tank Unit
Let’s start with the smallest sub unit of the Tank Battalion, The tank platoon.
A Lee tank platoon in North Africa, or training in the US would have (1) Officer, (9) NCOs and (25) enlisted men. Later this would be reduced by five enlisted as the radio operator was dropped. In the US the tanks could be several kinds of Lee, but the units that deployed with M3 Lee tanks for Torch, were M3 Lee models with the R975 powering it. The Lee was pretty short lived in US Service, and the US only took them into combat because there was a shortage of Shermans because of British needs, but once supplies were up, they US removed them, even from training. Many got shipped to the Australians.
A Sherman platoon would be made up of five Sherman tanks, Early in the war, M4s and M4A1 75 tanks, by late 44, they might be a mix of M4 75s, M4A1 75s, M4A3 75w tanks and M4A1 and M4A3 76 tanks, though some units kept all 75mm tanks. The likely mix would be some M4A3 75 tanks, and M4A3 76 tanks, with some M4A1 76s mixed in with some small hatch M4s and M4A3s. The optimal number of men for a tank platoon is 25, (1) Officer, (9) NCOs, and (15) regular GIs.
These men would be permanently assigned to one of the tanks. In most cases the tanks were named, and the name reflected the platoons, company designation, for this example we’ll say the platoon belongs to B Company, so all five tanks will be named something starting in B. In the field, the tank would be home, and they would sleep under its tarp next to it, or in it if they were paranoid. The men of a tank platoon would be very close, as they would spend a lot of time with each other.
No. 1 Brenda: M4A3 76w, Platoon leader, Commander by a Lieutenant, Gunner: Corporal, Loader, Driver and Co Driver: Jr enlisted. New tank has commander’s radios.
No. 2 Bonnie: M4A3 75w,Commander by a Sargent Gunner: Corporal, Loader, Driver and Co Driver: Jr enlisted. Nice new large hatch tank
No. 3 Battlingbitch: M4A176w, Commander by a Sargent Gunner: Corporal, Loader, Driver and Co Driver: Jr enlisted. This tank has been around since Cobra.
No. 4 Bronco: M4A3 75,Commander by a Staff Sargent Gunner: Corporal, Loader, Driver and Co Driver: Jr enlisted. Another small hatch survivor, has all updates, and C/O radio.
No. 5 BettyW: M4A1 75,Commander by a sergeant, Gunner: Corporal, Loader, Driver and Co Driver: Jr enlisted. This tank is a small hatch survivor.
This was as small as the unit was broken down in an Armored Division, at least most of the time. In a separate tank battalion things would be different. Often a battalion would be assigned to an infantry division for an extended period of time, a few the divisions the entire war, and they used tanks differently. Sometime assigning two tanks to a company of infantry, or three, two tanks was called a Light Section, three a Heavy Section, and that was as small as the tankers wanted to go, but sometimes even single tanks could be working with a couple of platoons of infantry more than their partner tank.
In a separate tank battalion, once assigned to a division for battle they were often broken down much further. The way they usually did it was each regiment of the division would get a company, and then each battalion of the regiment got a platoon. The HQ platoon would be held in reserve or used to beef up a special combat team. One tank platoon could get to know a battalion of troops very well if they worked together often, and that made for a better team. The longer they stayed assigned together the closer that bond got. Some Army officers even encouraged the exchange of men in bivouac, so infantry and tankers could see how the others lived.
The Tank Company: 17 Shermans Tanks and one Assault Gun or 105 Tank, 5 Officers, 39 NCOS, 73 EM
The next unit up in the Battalion is the Medium Tank Company. An early war US Medium Tank Company was made up of 3 tank platoons containing 5 Lee tanks, and an HQ platoon with 2 more Lee tanks, and 1 jeep and 1, M2 halftrack. They also had an Admin and Mess platoon, with 2, 2 ½ ton trucks, 1, 2 ½ Kitchen truck, and 1self-propelled 37mm GMC. Last but not least, a Maintenance platoon, made up of 2 M3 Halftracks with winches, and 1 Jeep. To run this outfit, you needed 5 officers, and 144 enlisted men, including 40 NCOs, but it was pretty primitive compared to the later TO&E.
Lee Company, March 1942
HQ Section: (2) Lee Tanks (1) M2 Halftrack and (1) Jeep
Tank Platoons: X(3) Platoons with (5) Lee tanks in each
Admin, Mess and Supply Section: (2) 2 ½ ton truck (1) 2 ½ Ton Kitchen Truck (1) SP-AT gun
Maintenance Section: (2) M3 Halftracks (1) Jeep
Personnel: (5) Officers, (144) EM
A later war Sherman Company is made up of three Platoons, just like the example we just talked about and a headquarters platoon with two gun tanks and a M4, or M4A3 105 tank or M7 Priest.
The unit has shrunk a little, B Company has 5 Officers, 39 NCOs, and 73 Jr. EMs The HQ Platoon had three tanks, a pair of M4 tanks of any 75/76 variety for the Company Commander and 1st Sargent. The third tank would be a M4A3 105 tank or an M7 priest if the 105 tank was in short supply. The HQ platoon would also have ARV assigned.
It would also have a maintenance section and admin, mess and supply section attached. This part of the company HQ would have their own trucks and jeeps and would hang back with the ARV and the 105 tank while the fighting was going on. Sometimes the truck would run ammo out to a tank or the ARV would move out to get a tank unstuck or deal with another problem of that type. It would not be uncommon for the men in the HQ platoon not assigned to the combat vehicles to not see the rest of the men in the company for weeks at a time when assigned to a separate tank battalion. When part of an armored division, the companies worked together, and the company commander would lead his company into battle. One of the main differences here are the 105 tanks or M7 Priests and the Tank ARV, that the early company lacked. They had fewer trucks though, since they were moved into the battalion Service company.
Sherman Company, Late 1943
HQ Section: (2) Sherman Tanks (1) Sherman 105 tank or M7 GMC (1) Jeep
Admin, Mess and Supply Section: (1) 2 ½ Truck with trailer
Personnel: (5) Officers (112) EM
The Light Tank Company: 17 M5A1 Light Tanks or Chaffee tanks late in the war, 5 Officers, 35 NCOs and 54 EM
Now is as good a time as any to talk about the light tank company. Early in the war, when the Lee was the main tank, no light tanks were included in the tank battalion TO&E, but they were added by 1943. So from 1943 onward, the tank battalion had four combat companies, three of medium tanks and one of lights. There were also light tank battalions that had all light tank companies.
The light tank company was configured more or less the same way as the medium tank company, three platoons of five tanks, with two HQ platoon tanks. They was they were used was very different. Even early in the war in North Africa, the light tanks armed with 37mm guns were having trouble. When used in the recon role they had to rely on speed alone to get them out of trouble since the gun wasn’t very useful against anything but the lightest of armor.
They were fast, and they had lots of machine guns, so they could be used, to a degree against soft targets, so they were used for rear security, messenger duty, and screen flanks and scouting. They would be useful against infantry without good AT weapons. Late in the war when the M24 Chaffee started showing up, these light tank companies really got some teeth, in a very nice little package. The M24 had a 75mm gun that was an improved version of the M3 75mm gun, and had a concentric recoil system. Once they got the new light tank they probably took scouting duties back on to some degree, but even the Chaffee was a light tank, and all sorts of AT weapons knocked them out pretty easily.
Light Tank Company late 1943
HQ Section: (2) M5 Light tanks (1) Jeep
Light Tank Platoons: 3X (5) M5 Light Tanks
Maintenance Section: (1) Jeep (1) 1 ARV (1) M3 Halftrack
AM&S Section: (1) 2 ½ ton truck with trailer.
Personnel: (5) Officers (89) EM
The Tank Battalion: 53 Medium tanks, 17 Light Tanks, 6 Assault guns or 105 Shermans, and 3 SP 81mm Mortars, 40 Officers, 220 NCOs and 460 EM
When you look at the tank battalion and compare the early Lee tank battalion to a later Sherman one, there are some very big differences. This stemmed from the lessons learned fighting these units in North Africa. The size of the battalion grew overall but some units got a little smaller.
Medical Detachment: (2) ¾ ton WC truck (2) M3 Halftracks (1) ¾ ton ambulance (1) Jeep (4) ¼ ton trailers
Total Men: (15) Officers (154) Enlisted Men
HQ Section: (1) ¾ Ton Weapons Carrier Truck
HQ Maintenance Section: (1) Jeep (1) 2 ½ Truck (1) ¼ Ton Trailer
Battalion Maintenance Platoon: (1) Jeep (1) ¾ WC Truck (2) M32 ARV (2) 6 Ton M1 Wrecker (2) 2 ½ Ton Truck (2) ¼ Ton Trailers
Administration, Mess & Supply Section: (1) 2 ½ Ton Truck (1) ¼ Ton Trailer
Administration & Personnel Section: (1) 2 ½ Ton Truck (1) ¼ Ton Trailer
Battalion Supply and Transportation Platoon: (1) Jeep (1) ¾ WC Truck (29) 2 ½ Trucks (13) M10 Ammo Trailers
Total Men: (4) Officers (112) Enlisted
Medium Tank Company A: (2) Jeeps (17) M4 Shermans (1) M4 105 Sherman (1) M32 ARV (1) M3 Halftrack (1) 2 ½ ton truck (2) ½ trailers
Medium Tank Company B: (2) Jeeps (17) M4 Shermans (1) M4 105 Sherman (1) M32 ARV (1) M3 Halftrack (1) 2 ½ ton truck (2) ½ trailers
Medium Tank Company C: (2) Jeeps (17) M4 Shermans (1) M4 105 Sherman (1) M32 ARV (1) M3 Halftrack (1) 2 ½ ton truck (2) ½ trailers
Light Tank Company D: (2) Jeeps (1) M3 Halftrack (17) M5A1 Tanks (1) M32 ARV (1) 2 ½ Ton Truck (2) ½ Trailers
Battalion Personnel Total
Enlisted Men: 709
This was the whole kit and caboodle, three medium tank companies, one light, six assault guns, and a service company with three more ARVs. In an AD, all these units would work and train with each other for years. There weren’t that many revisions to the way ADs were configured, so the same units would stay in the same Armored Division for years or the whole war. There would also be a fair amount of competition, not only among the battalions, but amongst the companies in the battalions.
They would also have a chance to work with the same Armored Infantry Battalions, and the tank infantry team tactics would become ingrained, and they would have far less trouble working together than many of the independent tank battalions. They also had no issues with supply, since they were part of the divisions supply system.
The independent battalions had a tougher life in many cases. Many got moved around from Infantry Division to Infantry Division, and how well the infantry knew to work with the tanks varied a lot. This could mean the infantry officers may not know the best way to employ armor and would often ask the tankers to things that a tanker knew was suicidal. This sometimes resulted in the tanks being forced into attacking infantry in towns, or even just dug in positions alone, and in the few cases they succeeded, if they were not relieved or supplemented by infantry, they would be pushed off the objective by being overwhelmed by sneaky infantry who can surround tanks without support. They also spent more time on the line than the AD battalions.
They also had to order they supplies, including spare parts through the ID they were attached too, and if the ID supply officers had no experience with this, shortages could take place. The experiences of the independent battalions really varied though. Some worked with the same ID the whole war, others got moved around so much no one got used to them or vice versa, and of course there was a range of experience in between. Often though, the independents, rarely worked in more than platoon size groups, and the only time they would see each other on a regular basis is if they were supporting units in the same fights, or after the battles when the units went into the reserve to rebuild, but in many cases, this is where the tank battalion was detached and sent to another ID in combat.
One final thing to keep in mind about these TO&Es, is they are an ideal, or full strength unit. Once in combat, and sometimes even before, because of shortages of items, vehicles or people, any given tank battalion might be missing several people or vehicles. Once the unit was in combat, and usually they wouldn’t be deployed unless they were pretty close to their authorized strength, combat losses would be replaced based on the replacements in depots on hand, as would vehicles. Plus, at any given time several tanks, halftracks or trucks
Sources: The 100thwwII.org websites page on the 784st TD, Armored Thunderbolt, US Tank and Tank Destroyer Battalions in the ETO 1944-45 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. 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, TM9-750M3, TM9-752 M4A3, TM9-754 M4A4, TM9-759 M4A3, TFKSM 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
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