Category Archives: Cast Armor

#69 Shermans you can see running: The Planes of Fame of fame Air Museum

Shermans Tanks In real Life: The Planes of Fame of fame Air Museum

Owning and flying WWII airplanes has been a thing much longer than restoring running tanks, and to this day, WWII aircraft tend to get more attention from Americans than armor or ships. That’s changed a lot over the years, and armor is more popular than ever with collectors, museums and the general public.  There are several Tank museums or businesses around the country with running Shermans. The one we are going to talk about today is the Planes of Fame Air Museum, it is legendary in the Warbird world, because it has so many interesting and rare aircraft. It also has a long, history, and saved some amazing planes along the way, and one tank.

The Planes of Fame air museum has been around so long, it surely had a hand it kicking off the interest in Warbirds that has been popular in the United States since WWII. My Dad, a Baby Boomer, loved warbirds, and his love transferred right over to me, and I ran with it buying more books on airplanes, and tanks than he ever did, and I still have them al.  When I was a kid, we went to the Reno Air Races, and I probably saw Steve Hinton, the President of Planes of Fame flying a racer.  There is something about the roar of a warbird flying by that really gives you a sense of what seeing planes like that filling the sky in the mid-40s must have been like. They have a special sound, and hopefully this is a sound we will hear for decades to come.

Planes of fame got started in the 50s when Ed Maloney started collecting airplanes on a minuscule budget, his museums moved around, but really took root at Chino Airport, where Planes of Fame is to this day. Mr. Maloney had fallen in love with airplanes in high school, and just missed WWII. Shortly after the war he began collecting anything with wings on a shoestring budget for his future airplane museum. He was saddened and disgusted to see the warbirds that helped win WWII unceremoniously melted down for Scrap or for a lucky few to rot away on a remote part of an airport. I know the feeling, it makes me deeply sad to see the piles of P-38s bulldozed off a cliff in the Philippines, because flying them home was a waste of time and money…

By the 60s Ed Maloney had achieved his goal of building a museum and around the same time found a Sherman tank on range on Edwards Air Force base while he was scrounging for B-17 parts. He managed to buy the tank for $1!  That’s not even the best part of the story! The Sherman, a very early production M4A1 75 tank, still ran! It had been sitting on Edwards for at least a decade untouched, and they got it running. The tanks interior was not gutted, though some things like the hull ammo boxes had been removed a lot of the important parts were still there. They collected more parts over the years, and serious restoration started in the 80s and continues even now.

Image from Air & Space magazine, of Ed Moloney at Planes of Fame.

Ed died in 2016, and it was a huge loss for the aviation community. Sometimes, when a man with a love for, and a collection of things like airplanes or tanks, when the man passes on, his labor of love dies with him, I know of a least two cases.  The Littlefield collection only lasted a few years before his widow grew tired of it and donated it to a great museum on the east coast, but to build a place to keep it they sold most of it off, and now can’t build the new facility because of zoning problems.  That wasn’t a worry of Ed Maloney, because PoF is a family affair. Steve Hinton, who took thinks over when Ed passed, has been around the place since he was a kid, and his best friend was Ed’s son. I’m also pretty sure Steve married Ed’s daughter! Planes of Fame lives on, stronger than ever, and with another generation working and flying the planes, I think they have a bright future.

This image is from Warbird Depot, a great site for the airplane lover! This is the Planes of fame F4U-1 Corsair, one of the earliest flying Corsairs!

Now you might be wondering how a bunch  of airplane people can keep a tank working, but trust me, they have guys there who can keep an F4U-1 Corsair, with a magnificent Pratt and Whitney R-2800 running, they can figure out a simple Sherman. The nice thing about a Tank is it handles the weather a lot better than an Airplane, though being stored outside unprotected still isn’t good for them. The Sherman in particular has some very sturdy components, and more often than not, if the powertrain remained sealed up, even after decades on the firing range, if it didn’t get penetrated, they rarely needed much work to be operational again. The engines are a bit less robust, but in a nice warm dry environment, they could last a surprising amount of time as well.

Currently the Planes of Fame M4A1 is about 50% complete, and they restore a little more every year, as money and parts allow. I’m sure in some cases things have to be fabricated. It has a little Joe back auxiliary generator inside, has a working stock electric traverse system, but the stabilizer needs a little more work. The electric firing system works, and though the main gun is de-milled, it can still fire 75mm blanks. A blank firing co-ax M1919 machine gun can be fired with the foot switch, just like the main gun. The intercom is complete and works at all stations, as does all the interior lighting. A place like PoF probably has little trouble keeping the R-975 radial running either.

This summer the turret comes off, new ammo boxes go in and they will complete the interiors restoration. The M4A1 is already a part of their shows, but it is also available to rent, TV, Movies, Weddings, you name it, I could see an M4A1 being a cool addition!  I hope to get down there sometimes in the next year or two and check the place out.

The real Zero planes of fame has, with the real motor that belongs in it, and it was used in the movie Pearl Harbor, making a not so great movie a must see. Image from the wonderful www.Warbirddepot.com

If you are in the area and have even the smallest interest in aviation, you owe yourself a trip to Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino California. The Sherman tank is of course going to see all on its own, but they also have a real Japanese Zero, with its correct engine and it flies! Even crazier? It was used in the Ben Aflack movie Pearl Harbor! Steve did all the flying, but they wouldn’t let him shoot Ben down for real!

Steve Hinton in front of an F-86 Sabre. Image from Warbird News.

#12 The Sherman’s Armor: It Was Better Than The German Armor Of Comparable Weight.

The Sherman’s Armor: Not As Bad As People Like To Say It Was.

Austerlitz
Look at all the dings in this free French M4

The M4 had well-balanced armor in the same class as the other medium tanks of the war. We have covered ‘welded’ and ‘cast’ hulls, but even the ‘welded’ tanks used many cast parts welded to the plates. In either case, all M4 Shermans used rolled homogenous, or cast homogenous, steel armor. It was well balanced between hardness and ductility and was resistant to spalling and cracking, and was easy to repair and weld.  All versions cast or welded had sloped frontal armor, but the early welded Shermans had a lot of weak spots due to all the welding lines, and thinner armor used in the driver’s hoods. This was solved by adding external plates in front of the hoods. Over time the front plate was simplified to eliminate as many welds as possible, and the later large hatch hulls used a single plate.  Most early welded Shermans used cast armor plates welded together to form the front hull plates.

A mid-production M4 Sherman had 2 inches of armor at 56 degrees. The hull sides were 1.5 inches at 0 degrees, the rear was also 1.5 inches at 0 to 10 degrees. The hull roof was .75 of an inch thick and floor 1 inch under the driver and a .5 inch everywhere else. This version of the Sherman was welded; the front plate was made from many smaller plates welded together, with the cast fittings welded in place as well. This was a lot of welding, and one of the reasons why the cast version was well liked from a manufacturing perspective because it took a lot fewer man-hours to produce, the problem was, not all the factories could do the large castings.  The hybrid hulls were a solution to the casting capacity problem since more factories could handle the much smaller front casting the highbred used a casting on the front of the hull, and the rest of the hull was welded and very similar to the standard M4 hull.

In some cases, when cast parts were called for, but if there was a shortage, a particular tank maker might come up with their own built-up part instead of cast fitting. This is one of the major reasons why there are so many little details differences between each factories version of the tank, they each left a signature on the fittings they used and how they installed them. These details are the thing of nightmares for a scale modeler who really needs to get the details right, the classic ‘Rivet Counter’ could be driven insane by all the places they could go wrong on a Sherman kit.

The M4 would have a cast, 75mm gun turret. These turrets had 3.5-inch thick gun shields, a 2-inch rotor shield, and 3 inches of armor at 30 degrees on turret face. The sides were 2 inches, and the rear 1. The top was 1 inch thick. This turret armor was the same throughout the 75mm turret run, though many early castings had a weak spot on the frontal armor, near the gunner, this was covered with a large section of welded on armor, and the casting was improved in later versions of this turret, thickening the armor over the weak spot so the add-on armor was not needed. This is much better armor than say the armor on the PIV, and very similar to the armor on the T-34. Most of this mid-production tanks would not have a loader’s hatch unless it was retrofitted at a major tank factory, but this would only be done when a tank was being completely rebuilt.

A mid-production M4A1 would have the same turret, but the hull armor was cast and would be 2 inches at 37 to 56 degrees. The rest of the armor, with the exception of a few places in the hull roof as thin as .5 of an inch, was the same, and there was a contour difference inside the hull. Many of the cast fittings welded onto the M4 would be cast directly into the hull of an M4A1. All spare parts would be interchangeable between these two tanks.

The Shermans armor was pretty good against 37mm and 57mm anti-tank guns. It was ok against 75mm guns like the one mounted on later production PIV tanks. Anti-tank guns larger than 57 mm could be hard on the Sherman and some guns could cut through them like butter. This was no surprise to the US Army, and they had a whole plan worked out to use infantry, artillery, and air support in conjunction with tanks to help them deal with anti-tank guns and other tanks. The Shermans M3 75mm main gun was a very good gun for handling AT guns, it was accurate, had a high rate of fire and an excellent HE round. Even a tank with armor as good as the M26 Pershing or Jumbo was still vulnerable to AT guns 75mm and larger, being able to flank that AT gun or strong point was more important than being able to slug it out in the long run. Without AT guns, enemy infantry had a very tough time with the Sherman, and even the Panzerfaust wasn’t all that effective unless used very close to the tank, and if the Shermans had infantry working with them and could hang back a bit, the Panzerfausts were much less effective.

In the Pacific, Shermans would really help defeat the Japanese and then be forgotten about, barely mentioned in most books on the PTO. You may not hear much about the M4 in the Pacific, but it saw a lot of action. A few of these Shermans are still out there, some rotting away in the surf for tourist to play about on, in Saipan, Tarawa, and I think Guam too. There’s still an M4A3 rotting away on Iwo Jima. The Japanese saw them as the most serious threat they would face and used some desperate tactics to kill them. Basically, the Japanese used man powered mines and shaped charges, and or the largest caliber guns that could be aimed at the tanks. They also had a rare but effective 47mm AT gun as well. In many cases, just getting the tanks ashore killed a large number of them off with things like holes or shell craters in reefs.

Later production tanks with the improved large hatch hulls, in some cases would still have the 75mm gun turret, these tanks would all have final production turrets with loaders hatches and cast in improved cheek armor, or early turrets retrofitted with the armor and hatches.  Most of the large hatch hulls would have wet ammo racks, but a few large hull tanks, mostly M4A2 75mm tanks got the large hatches but standard ammo racks, with the add-on armor.

These large hatch welded hulls had a simplified one-piece front plate. It was now 2.5 inches thick at 47 degrees. The improved final drive (lower hull) housing offered 4.25 to 2 inches of armor. The rest of the hull armor thickness stayed the same, but it was not only stronger from being thicker, but many of the ballistic weak spots and welding joints were gone. Even these later large hatch hulls, only produced at three factories, have many minor cosmetic differences. The M4A1 received and improved large hatch casting, and its frontal armor and slope changed as well. It was 2.5 inches at 37 to 55 degrees and the rest of the hull remained the same thickness.

Many of these large hatch hulls had the larger and T23 turret. This turret had a 3.5-inch thick gun shield, a 2-inch rotor shield and front armor of 3 inches. The sides were 2 inches thick and the rear 1, the top was also 1 inch thick. All these turrets had loaders hatches. They were also made from castings, just like the 75mm turrets.

Many tank divisions modified their tanks with add-on armor. The most common was sandbags. They many units came up with very elaborate steel frames welded to the hull to hold the sandbags in place. Even though army tests showed that sandbags did not help much, this was still popular. Patton banned their use in his 3rd Army. Another thing they came up with was adding a several inch thick layer, usually three to four, of concrete, to the front and sometimes the sides of the tank.  This armor was little better than the sandbags.

M4A3E2_54

There was a field armor upgrade that did work well; it was employed extensively by Patton’s 3rd Army. By this point in the war, late 44, early 45, there was an abundance of large hatch 75, and 76mm tanks in use. They would take the armor from knocked out tanks, often large hatch Shermans, and cut off the whole front plate, and weld it onto the front of an M4A3, A3E8, or even A1 tanks. They would also add an armored plate extended over the differential housing in many cases. They would also upgrade the turret armor by adding extra plates around on the turrets cheeks on 76mm turrets. One famous example of this upgrade package is General Creighton Abrams’s personal tank, an M4A3E8 76 tank, named Thunderbolt VII. This armor package was found to be almost as effective as the Jumbos armor and didn’t put as much strain on the tanks automotive bits as the sandbags and concrete. Steven Zaloga’s Armored Thunderbolt and Armored Attack books have extensive pictures of all the armor modifications and their use in action.

M4A3E8 with add-on armor plate.

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M4A3E8 with sandbags

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Jumbo with concrete

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Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Yeide’s TD and two separate tank battalion books, Sherman by Hunnicutt,  Oscar Gilbert’s, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, WWII Armor, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston,  Son of a Sherman by Stansell and Laughlin, M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, the  DOA Army Battle Casualties and Non Battle Deaths in WWII,  Another River, another town by Irwin, Tanks on the Beaches by Estes and Neiman, Cutthroats by Dick,