Let’s Talk About The Other Things That Killed Shermans, Mines and AT guns, The True Hidden Menace.
Mines, What can we say about mines, no one likes, them, but they still do a job that has to be done. We only going to cover anti-tank mines.
The Riegel mine 43/44.
This mine was steel cased, anti-tank mine that looked like a long rectangular box. It had 17.8 pounds of TNT explosive in it. That’s enough BOOM to really mess up a tanks suspension. A really unlucky Sherman might have this go off right under the tanks rear belly, where the armor was thinnest, and blow into the engine compartment and really knock the tank out. In most cases, this mine would do enough damage the tank would need battalion level repair if that tank wasn’t written off for a total rebuild.
Production on these things started in 43, and by the end of the war, they had produced over 3 million of them. Apparently, there is no safe way to disable this mine, and the recommended way of removing it is to just blow it up. There is no telling how many of these took out Shermans, but it was probably a large percentage of the Mine losses.
The Topfmine A, B, and C.
These mines went into service in 1944. They were made from wood pulp and cardboard, with tar for waterproofing. They had a bigger charge but the metal cased mines till probably worked better. These mines went into production for two reasons, they were harder for harder for mine detectors to detect, and the case was cheap and easy to produce and used no steel. The 13-pound charge would do a lot of suspension damage.
The Tellermine 29:
This mine was developed in the early 30s and was mostly used in training but saw limited use in Normandy. 13-pound charge meant it would be effective, but its age made it primitive.
The Tellermine 35:
This mine was used for the entire war and could even be used underwater. Steel cased like the older model, this one went into production in 35. This mine had a slightly smaller 12-pound charge. Most of the time this mine would just blow a track off, and damage the suspension, but it could get lucky and do more damage.
The Tellermine 42:
This mine was an improvement on the 35 and used the same charge. It had improved anti-handling devices. This would be a very common mine through the end of the war. It went into production in 42 and was quickly superseded by the 43 model.
The Tellermine 43:
Image courtesy of the LoneSentry
A further improvement on the 42 model, cheaper to produce, with the same charge, this mine went into production, you guessed it, in 1943.
H-S mine 4672:
This shaped charge mine went into production in late 44 and was used to the end of the war. It basically was a panzerfaust head used as a mine. The mine shot the head out of the ground hoping for a belly hit. This mine would be bad news for wet ammo rack Shermans. Only 59,000 were made, making it rare. This mine was very effective even with its small 3-pound charge. The Germans felt the heads were better-used don Panzerfausts, explaining the limited production.
Panzer Stab 43:
This mine was very much like the 4672 mine but didn’t launch the projectile. This mine was even rarer and was discontinued, probably because it worked, by the Germans the same year it went into production. Around 25k got made before they killed it.
That’s a lot of mines and that’s just the mines the Germans made, I’m sure they used any stocks of captured mines they got their thieving paws on. So I’ll add Russian, British, and US AT mines here soon too. Mines always accounted for 10 to 30% of tank losses depending on the year, month and theater you look at the losses in. There are a few pictures of Sherman tank catastrophically blown up, with the whole upper hull ripped away. They are labeled as mine damaged, and in a few cases, the labeling mentions two mines being put into the same hole, I think the ones labeled ‘mine damage’ probably lost the part about two mines in the hole to time. I suspect those photos of blown up Shermans are cases of two or more mines in one hole or an even bigger explosive like a dud Arty shell, or aircraft bomb could be put in the hole too.
Tankers probably really hated mines, in many cases minefields would be covered by well-hidden AT gun positions or even tanks, and in this role, the Panther was a pretty good tank, since it didn’t need to move much. Hitting a mine in an ambush like that could be very deadly for the crew when they bailed out to look at the damage or retreat to the rear. The random leftover mine, or stumbling into a minefield not covered by AT guns would be a big inconvenience but rarely resulted in a fully destroyed tank or lost crew members.
AT guns, cheap and easy to produce, these guns were a big threat to tanks but had little value to a mobile force.
AT guns were just what they sound like, large, Anti-Tank guns, on towable mounts. Most were as small and low slung as possible. Unless it was a US 3 inch AT gun, then they are huge. Even guns normally not a huge threat to a Sherman like the PAK 38 50mm AT gun could punch through the Shermans side if it was hidden well enough for the Shermans to give them the shot. All the larger PAK guns had no trouble punching right through most Shermans. Guns set up in ambush would have pre-range cards, giving them an advantage shooting and getting hits. They are much easier to hide than a tank and can even have bunkers built around them. Those are all reasons why these things made Sherman tankers lives harder.
Towed AT guns have a lot of negatives. For one, they are towed, by trucks, or halftracks, they have to be limbered and unlimbered, or set up or packed up to go. This is very hard to do in a useful way if you’re attacking with a mechanized force. By the time the guns are set up, if done at safe distances, the battle has moved on. At guns only have a small lightly armored shield, the crews would have to rely on personal foxholes or larger trench works if they had time. The more time it had to get in place and camouflaged the position the better things would be for the gun and crew. But unless they had fortifications with overhead cover for the gun and crew, making it effectively a fixed gun, any kind of indirect fire weapon is going to make their lives hard. If the artillery fire wasn’t killing the crew, it would at least be keeping it from firing.
About half of the US tank destroyer battalions used only towed anti-tank guns. The battalions were not very successful, even during German offensives like the Battle of the Bulge. Both tracked TD battalions and towed were quickly disbanded after WWII, and towed anti-tank guns would not be a big part of most western nations militaries after the war either. AT guns would prove very useful the Germans from mid-war on after they were losing. They had a lot of these guns, and they accounted for a lot of tank kills. It was hard to determine in many cases what type of gun killed a tank, but tanks were much rarer than AT guns.
The Sherman 75mm tanks were actually better at dealing with AT guns than the later model tanks that had the 76mm gun since it had a smaller explosive charge. It was far from useless though. A tank’s best way of dealing with an AT gun was to shoot the hell out of it with all guns available once it was spotted, and sometimes if the crew was suppressed, they’d even get a dose of the tracks.
Pak 38 50mm AT Gun:
This little gun was the main German AT gun from 1941 until superseded by the Pak 40. It was still used until the end of the war though. The Germans were so desperate they couldn’t afford to retire any weapons. Crewed by five men, it could be moved around pretty handily by the crew but required a light truck or some kind of tow vehicle to go any real distance. I won’t go into great detail about the gun but it needed to be very close to a Sherman to knock it out from the front, not so much from the sides. Nearly 10,000 produced.
Pak 40 75mm AT Gun:
This gun was larger; almost double the weight of the Pak 38. This gun could also take the Sherman out at the combat ranges they normally faced each other. The Germans made nearly 20,000 of these guns, so they are probably responsible for a lot of knocked out Shermans. In some cases, the same type of gun may have knocked the same Sherman out multiple times. This gun required a bigger truck or halftrack to haul, but overall, it was a great gun.
Pak 43 88mm AT Gun:
This ‘fearsome’ gun had the same PR people as the big cats, but at least, in this case, the gun performed well, though not to the mythical levels some would have you believe. No it can’t take out an M1 ‘Abrahams’, it could take out any allied tank it faced, but it was nearly as rare as the Tiger I&II. They only produced around 2000 of these guns, so they only outnumber the combined Tigers production number of 1839, by a small margin. Overkill for most of the combat it saw, it would have been more useful if the Allies had made the same mistake of wasting resources on heavy tanks, but since they didn’t, this gun was almost entirely a waste of time. The gun weighed almost 10,000 pounds, and it was an awkward, gun mount, even worse than the US 76 AT gun mount. It needed a very large tow vehicle and its size and weight limited where it could be employed.
Flak 18/36/37 88mm dual purpose AA/AT Guns.
Another ‘mythical’ German weapon, this one started life as a mediocre AA gun that was pressed into use as a direct fire weapon when needed. As a direct fire weapon, it was pretty good, these larger and much more powerful guns were better at penning armor than anything being mounted on a tank before or at the beginning of the war. Capable of destroying all the French and British tanks the Germans faced, this gun could even handle the T-34 and KV-1/2 tanks, and it was the only thing the Germans had in any real numbers that could. This led to it being mounted in the Tiger I. The Pak 43 was more powerful, but this gun was more numerous with over 20,000 being produced. If any allied troops were right when they thought an 88 was shooting at them it would be one of these.
There was a Flak 41 88mm, but it was a failed attempt to improve upon the 18/36/37 failings as an AA gun. The reason the basic 88 Flak gun failed as an AA gun was that it had optical range finding, and couldn’t lob a shell high enough to hit US heavy bombers, even the older models like the B-17. They also lacked radar ranging or laying, unlike the superior US M1/2/3 90mm AA gun system. Had these guns not found their nitch in the direct fire role they would have gone down in history as the mediocre AA guns they were.
Next up, Panzerfausts, or AT-sticks as I now call them.
Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Yeide’s The Tank Killers, The Infantries Armor, and Steel Victory, Sherman by Hunnicutt, Combat Lessons, The Rank and file, what they do and how they are doing it 1-7, and 9 WWII Armor, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston, TM4 Sherman tank at war by Green, Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, the Lone Sentry, TM9-1940 Land mines, TME9-369A German 88MM AA Gun, TME30-451 Handbook on German Armed Forces 1945, DOA Army Battle Casualties and Non Battle Deaths in WWII, FKSM 17-3-2 Armor in Battle, Another River, another town by Irwin, Wargaming’s Operation Think Tank Videos .
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 picture. The US spent a lot of money lavishly equipping these tanks, even the lend-lease tanks shipped with submachine guns for the crew and vinyl covered, sprung, padded seats, a full toolset, 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 the 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, high tech, 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 too 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 a 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, unreliable 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 all used it. 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 an 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, with a few nations still keeping some Sherman based vehicles in inventory.
The three biggest problems with the PIII design were the small turret ring, the suspension weight limit, and the automotive system’s 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 offensively during 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 thing 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 was 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 too 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 straight 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 scared, 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 a fire control advantage allowing it to spot the huge Tiger first in most cases, it could outmaneuver 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 handcrafted, 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 tank’s 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 straight 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 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 the 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 the said slope. I’m sure if you took an electric driven hydraulic or just straight 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 is 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 an 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 particularly when set up as a long-range anti-tank pillbox 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, underpowered, 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 it lacked a dedicated gunner, and that really increases the workload 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.
. . .
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 outlive the Christie suspension. The T-34 tank and the many vehicles that sprang from its basic chassis is a fascinating subject, far too 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)
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