Category Archives: Lee and Grant tanks

#52 Soviet Shermans: The Soviet Union Used and Liked the Sherman

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Soviet Shermans: The USSR Was a Big Sherman User, and They Liked it

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Soviet crew posing in front of their large hatch hull, M4A2 75 dry, tank.

The Soviet Union received three American Medium tank types in large numbers. They received the Lee, and M4A2 75 and 76 tanks. Only the UK would use more M4A2 tanks, though they received only five armed with the 76mm gun, they got far more of the 75mm armed M4A2s.  The Soviets also received a pair of M4A4 tanks for evaluation, but rejected them because of the motor.  My impression from the things I’ve read says, they liked the all of them, well not the A4, but liked the Shermans more than the Lee.

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M4A2 76w, late production, with M1A2 gun.

Now let’s cover each tank model.

M3 Lee: The Basic Lee

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Knocked out Soviet M3 Lee tanks

The Lee was not considered a very good design by the Soviet Union, you can read their evaluation here, on Archive Awareness, but it was not all negative. They liked the transmission, differential and final drives, and in particular the steering and brake mechanism.  They felt the R975 air cooled motor was not a great fit for tanks, for all the reasons they are not fit for tanks, mainly the size limitations they put on the tank, and as gasoline AC engines, they don’t have good low end torque, make driving harder.  They disliked the 75mm guns position, and lack of sites on the machine guns.

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Soviet M3 Lee, If you look closely you can see grousers installed on the tracks

One thing I found very interesting, is in the summer, they could pack up to 10 SMG infantry into the Lee, along with the regular 7 man crew, making it into a makeshift APC. The thing would be packed full of people though.  The report says all weapons could be fired on the tank while those 10 men were stuffed in, so I guess the US Army or Brits didn’t try this because they liked comfort or something.

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Column of Soviet M3 Lee tanks.

The Lee did not fare well against the upgraded Panzer IV with long 75, and they lost a lot of them, but they never stopped using them, they just did what the British did and sent them off to secondary theaters, were tanks were useful, and no enemy tanks were around.  Against poorly equipped, in AT weapon, Infantry, the M3 Lee was a monster of a tank. The 75mm had a great HE round, it was packed with machine guns, and had a 37mm that could sling canister.  The Soviets received 1386 M3 Lee tanks.

M4A2 75 dry: Early Small Hatch 75mm Shermans with Drivers Hoods

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Early M4A4 with DV ports in Russian Museum. One of two sent to the USSR for testing.

The Soviets received 1990 M3 75mm gun armed M4A2 Shermans. I don’t have a list of who made the early M4A2 tanks they got. They were competing with the Marine Corps and the French and Brits on priority for these tanks, and most went to the Brits.  I’ve looked through a lot of pictures of Soviet M4 tanks, or “Emcha” as they seemed to call them, the small hatch 75 tanks seem rarer than the large hatch 75 and 76 tanks.

This Post on Archive Awareness indicates, they received several hundred very early M4A2 tanks. One of the big indicators of this is the section where they talk about the suspension having the Lee style top mounted return roller, which could be jammed with mud, but then they received later models, where this return roller was moved to bracket mounted to the side of the suspension unit.

Another interesting part of that document is the problems they had with injectors, and lubrication problems with the pistons.  The Army reported similar problems with early model M4A2s, with the Air cleaners, cooling system and clutches, but nothing about the injectors.  This post on AA also indicates injector issues, but was overall positive on the M4A2.  Maybe the Soviets used low quality diesel and the injectors didn’t like it. At any rate, these issues would have been worked out by the time they started getting improved models.

M4A2 large hatch Dry: Late Model 75mm, 47 degree Large Hatch Hulls, but with Dry Ammo Racks

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M4A2 75 dry large hatch tanks in action

By late 1943 a new version of the M4A2 was going into production, and it had the improved 47 degree, single piece front armor plate, with large driver and co drivers hatches. These would be the first tanks to get this improvement.  By the time this model went into production, priority for diesel powered Shermans was going to the Soviets, since that was the only model they wanted, and the Brits would take the M4A4.

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An final production M4A2 75 dry tank

These improved large hatch hulls still used the dry ammunition rack setup of the early small hatch hulls, but they had the applique armor applied at the factory, and the 75mm turrets had an improved casting thickening the area that had required welded on additional armor on the older turrets. The Turrets had a oval loaders hatch and a pistol port as well, though the commander still got the older split hatch cupola with the 50 caliber mount built into it.

These tanks seemed to have been photographed much more than the small hatch 75 tanks, but I do not have a lot of photos of either. By the time these tanks were being produced, all the major reliability issues would have been worked out.

M4A2 76W: The Soviets were the Second Biggest User of 76mm Shermans

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Soviet M4A2 76w with a split loaders hatch somewhere in Germany or Austria

Production of the 75mm armed Sherman was reduced, as Sherman production was streamlined down from the 10 factories that were producing it, to the three that would  finish it off, Fisher, Chrysler, and Pressed Steel Car.  The Soviet Union received 2073 M4A2 tanks with the 76mm M1A1 gun.  This was just about Fishers whole production run on the 76mm armed M4A2.

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Shot of a factory fresh M4A2 76w tank at the General Motors Proving Ground

These tanks would have started out with wet racks, all around vision cupolas, a split loaders hatch and an M1A1 76mm gun without a barrel threaded for a muzzle brake.  A few may have even had T23 turrets without the ventilator on the rear. These would quickly be replaced with M1A1C guns with threaded barrels with a protective cap over the threads, and the split loaders hatch would be replaced with the smaller oval hatch.  These tanks would eventually be produced in the “Ultimate” configuration, with the M1A2 gun, and HVSS suspension.

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M4A2 76w with Russian Infantry loaded aboard.

These thanks saw extensive combat use with the Soviet Union, use with Guards units. My understanding is the Russians liked the M4A2 76w tanks just fine, and used them in elite units, but this has no reflection on their feelings about the tank compared to their own T-34-85 tanks.  T-34s were used in Guards units as well, and some units had both, as we can see from this AA post.  By that point in the war the Sherman and T-34 were pretty close in abilities.

M4A4: They Received Two, and that was Enough to Convince them, They Wanted No More

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The Soviets sent a group of officials and engineers to check out the Chrysler Defense Arsenal,  to review the world famous tank factories abilities, and the tank they were currently making, the M4A4. This visit took place between December of 42 to February of 43, for more details, see this post on AA.

After being given a chance to drive the M4A4 on the proving grounds and being given lectures and demonstrations of its A57 gas motor, the Soviets decided that the M4A4 was better than the M3 Lee, but inferior to the M4A2 with GM Diesel they were already receiving through lend lease. They decided the factory was impressive, but really not producing a very good tank.

Even though the Soviets showed little interest in the M4A4 tanks, two were sent to them for evaluation anyway. You can read their impressions here, but as before when they tested it in the US, they felt the motor was to complicated to be reliable.

. . .

Here are some quotes from the ‘I remember’ interview of Dmitriy Loza, Hero of the Soviet Union, pertaining to the Emchas.

 

Dmitriy Fedorovich, on which American tanks did you fight?

On Shermans. We called them “Emchas”, from M4 [in Russian, em chetyrye]. Initially they had the short main gun, and later they began to arrive with the long gun and muzzle brake. On the front slope armor there was a travel lock for securing the barrel during road marches. The main gun was quite long. Overall, this was a good vehicle but, as with any tank, it had its pluses and minuses. When someone says to me that this was a bad tank, I respond, “Excuse me!” One cannot say that this was a bad tank. Bad as compared to what?

 

Dmitriy Fedorovich, did you have just American tanks in your unit?

Our 6th Guards Tank Army (yes, we had six of them) fought in Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. We ended the war for us in Czechoslovakia. Then they rushed us to the Far East and we fought against Japan. I briefly remind you that the army consisted of two corps: 5th Guards Tank Stalingrad Corps on our own T-34s and 5th Mechanized Corps, in which I fought. For the first time this corps had British Matildas, Valentines, and Churchills.

 

They delivered the Churchill later.

Yes, a bit later. After 1943 we largely declined British tanks because they had significant deficiencies. In particular, they had 12-14 h.p. per ton of weight at a time when good tanks had 18-20 h.p. per ton. Of these three British tanks, the best was the Valentine produced in Canada. Its armor was streamlined but more importantly, it featured a long-barreled 57mm main gun. My unit switched over to American Shermans at the end of 1943. After the Kishinev Operation our corps became the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps. I missed to tell you that every corps consisted of four brigades. Our mechanized corps had three mechanized brigades and one tank brigade, in which I fought. A tank corps had three tank brigades and one mechanized brigade. Yes, we had Shermans in our brigade at the end of 1943.

 

But the British tanks were not withdrawn from service, so they fought until they were gone. Wasn’t there a period when your corps had a mixture of tanks, both American and British? Were there any problems associated with the presence of such a broad variety of vehicles from different countries? For example, with supply and maintenance?

Well, there were always problems. In general, the Matilda was an unbelievably worthless tank! I will tell you about one of the Matilda’s deficiencies that caused us a great deal of trouble. Some fool in the General Staff planned an operation and sent our corps to the area of Yelnya, Smolensk, and Roslavl. The terrain there was forested swamp. The Matilda had skirts along the sides. The tank was developed primarily for operations in the desert. These skirts worked well in the desert-the sand passed through the rectangular slots in them. But in the forested swamps of Russia the mud packed into the space between the tracks and these side skirts. The Matilda transmission had a servomechanism for ease of shifting. In our conditions this component was weak, constantly overheated, and then failed. This was fine for the British. By 1943 they had developed a replacement unit that could be installed simply by unscrewing four mounting bolts, pulling out the old unit, and installing the new unit. It did not always work this way for us. In my battalion we had Senior Sergeant (Starshina) Nesterov, a former kolkhoz tractor driver (Kolkhoz is sort of farm – Valeri), in the position of battalion mechanic. In general each of our tank companies had a mechanic and Nesterov was it for the battalion. At our corps level we had a representative (whose name I have forgotten) of the British firm that produced these tanks. At one time I had it written down, but when my tank was hit everything I had in it burned up -photographs, documents, and notebook. We were forbidden to keep notes at the front, but I did it on the sly. Anyway, this British representative constantly interfered with our efforts to repair separate components of the tank. He said, “This has a factory seal. You should not tinker with it!” We were supposed to take out a component and install a new one. Nesterov made a simple repair to all these transmissions. One time the British representative came up to Nesterov and asked him, “At which university did you study?” And Nesterov replied, “At the kolkhoz!”

The Sherman was light years better in this regard. Did you know that one of the designers of the Sherman was a Russian engineer named Timoshenko? He was some shirt tail relative of Marshal S. K. Timoshenko.

The Sherman had its weaknesses, the greatest of which was its high center of gravity. The tank frequently tipped over on its side, like a Matryoshka doll (a wooden stacking doll). But I am alive today thanks to this deficiency. We were fighting in Hungary in December 1944. I was leading the battalion and on a turn my driver-mechanic clipped a curb. My tank went over on its side. We were thrown around, of course, but we survived the experience. Meanwhile the other four of my tanks went ahead and drove into an ambush. They were all destroyed.

 

Dmitriy Fedorovich, the Sherman had a rubber-coated metal track. Some contemporary authors point to this as a deficiency, since in combat the rubber might be set on fire. With the track thus stripped bare, the tank is disabled. What can you say in this regard?

On the one hand this rubber-coated track was a big plus. In the first place, this track had a service life approximately twice that of steel track. I might be mistaken, but I believe that the service life of the T-34 track was 2500 kilometers. The service life of the Sherman track was in excess of 5000 kilometers. Secondly, The Sherman drove like a car on hard surfaces, and our T-34 made so much noise that only the devil knows how many kilometers away it could be heard. What was the bad side of the Sherman track? In my book, Commanding the Red Army’s Sherman Tanks, there is a chapter entitled “Barefooted”. There I wrote about an incident that occurred in August 1944 in Romania, during the Jassy-Kishinev Operation. The heat was fearsome, somewhere around 30° C. We had driven approximately 100 km along a highway in a single day. The rubber linings on our support rollers got so hot that the rubber separated and peeled off in long pieces. Our corps paused not far from Bucharest. The rubber was flying around, the rollers had begun to jam up, the noise was terrible, and in the end we had been stopped. This was immediately reported to Moscow. Was this some kind of joke, an entire corps had halted? To our surprise, they brought new support rollers to us quickly and we spent three days installing them. I still don’t know where they found so many support rollers in such a short time. There was yet another minus of rubber track. Even on a slightly icy surface the tank slid around like a fat cow. When this happened we had to tie barbed wire around the track or make grousers out of chains or bolts, anything to give us traction. But this was with the first shipment of tanks. Having seen this, the American representative reported to his company and the next shipment of tanks was accompanied by additional track blocks with grousers and spikes. If I recall, there were up to seven blocks for each track, for a total of fourteen per tank. We carried them in our parts bin. In general the American representative worked efficiently. Any deficiency that he observed and reported was quickly and effectively corrected.

One more shortcoming of the Sherman was the construction of the driver’s hatch. The hatch on the first shipment of Shermans was located in the roof of the hull and simply opened upward. Frequently the driver-mechanic opened it and raised his head in order to see better. There were several occasions when during the rotation of the turret the main gun struck this hatch and knocked it into the driver’s head. We had this happen once or twice in my own unit. Later the Americans corrected this deficiency. Now the hatch rose up and simply moved to the side, like on modern tanks.

Still one great plus of the Sherman was in the charging of its batteries. On our T-34 it was necessary to run the engine, all 500 horsepower of it, in order to charge batteries. In the crew compartment of the Sherman was an auxiliary gasoline engine, small like a motorcycle’s one. Start it up and it charged the batteries. This was a big deal to us!

For a long time after the war I sought an answer to one question. If a T-34 started burning, we tried to get as far away from it as possible, even though this was forbidden. The on-board ammunition exploded. For a brief period of time, perhaps six weeks, I fought on a T-34 around Smolensk. The commander of one of our companies was hit in his tank. The crew jumped out of the tank but were unable to run away from it because the Germans were pinning them down with machine gun fire. They lay there in the wheat field as the tank burned and blew up. By evening, when the battle had waned, we went to them. I found the company commander lying on the ground with a large piece of armor sticking out of his head. When a Sherman burned, the main gun ammunition did not explode. Why was this?

Such a case occurred once in Ukraine. Our tank was hit. We jumped out of it but the Germans were dropping mortar rounds around us. We lay under the tank as it burned. We laid there a long time with nowhere to go. The Germans were covering the empty field around the tank with machine gun and mortar fires. We lay there. The uniform on my back was beginning heating up from the burning tank. We thought we were finished! We would hear a big bang and it would all be over! A brother’s grave! We heard many loud thumps coming from the turret. This was the armor-piercing rounds being blown out of their cases. Next the fire would reach the high explosive rounds and all hell would break loose! But nothing happened. Why not? Because our high explosive rounds detonated and the American rounds did not? In the end it was because the American ammunition had more refined explosives. Ours was some kind of component that increased the force of the explosion one and one-half times, at the same time increasing the risk of detonation of the ammunition.

It is considered noteworthy that the Sherman was very well appointed on the inside. Was this true?

It was true. These are not just words! They were beautiful! For us then this was something. As they say now, “Euro-repair”! This was some kind of European picture! In the first place, it was painted beautifully. Secondly, the seats were comfortable, covered with some kind of remarkable special artificial leather. If a tank was knocked out or damaged, then if it was left unguarded literally for just several minutes the infantry would strip out all this upholstery. It made excellent boots! Simply beautiful!

 

In your book “Commanding the Red Army’s Sherman Tanks” you wrote that the 233rd Tank Brigade’s M4A2 Shermans were armed not with the short-barreled 75mm but the long-barreled 76mm main gun in January 1944. Wasn’t this a bit early? Didn’t these tanks appear later? Explain one more time which main guns were mounted on the Shermans of the 233rd Tank Brigade.

Hmm, I don’t know. We had very few Shermans with the short-barreled main gun. On the whole, ours had long-barrels. Not just our brigade fought on Shermans. Perhaps these were in other brigades. Somewhere in the corps I saw such tanks, but we had the tanks with the long barrels.

Dmitriy Fedorovich, there were personal weapons in each Sherman that arrived in the USSR, Thompson submachine guns (also known as the Tommy gun). I read that rear area personnel stole these weapons and that few tanks arrived in units still equipped with them. What kind of weapons did you have, American or Soviet?

Each Sherman came with two Thompson submachine guns, in caliber 11.43mm (.45 cal), a healthy cartridge indeed! But the submachine gun was worthless. We had several bad experiences with it. A few of our men who got into an argument were wearing padded jackets. It turned out that they fired at each other and the bullet buried itself in the padded jacket. So much for the worthless submachine gun. Take a German submachine gun with folding stock (MP-40 SMG by Erma -Valeri). We loved it for its compactness. The Thompson was big. You couldn’t turn around in the tank holding it.

The Sherman had an antiaircraft machine gun Browning M2 .50 caliber. Did you use it often?

 I don’t know why, but one shipment of tanks arrived with machine guns, and another without them. We used this machine gun against both aircraft and ground targets. We used it less frequently against air targets because the Germans were not fools. They bombed either from altitude or from a steep dive. The machine gun was good to 400-600 meters in the vertical. The Germans would drop their bombs from say, 800 meters or higher. He dropped his bomb and departed quickly. Try to shoot the bastard down! So yes, we used it, but it was not very effective. We even used our main gun against aircraft. We placed the tank on the upslope of a hill and fired. But our general impression of the machine gun was good. These machine guns were of great use to us in the war with Japan, against kamikazes. We fired them so much that they got red hot and began to cook off. To this day I have a piece of shrapnel in my head from an antiaircraft machine gun.

Did German aircraft inflict significant losses on your equipment? In particular, what can you say about the Henschel Hs-129?

Not every time, but it did happen. I don’t remember the Henschel; perhaps there was such an airplane. Sometimes we were able to avoid bombs. You could see them coming at you, you know. We opened our hatches, stuck out our heads, and instructed our drivers over the intercom: “The bomb will fall in front of us”. But in general there were cases when tanks were hit and set on fire. Losses from these attacks did not exceed 3-5 tanks in the battalion. It was more common for a single tank to be damaged or destroyed. We faced much greater danger from panzerfaust gunners in built-up areas. In Hungary I recall that I was so tired that I told my deputy to lead the battalion while I slept. I went to sleep right there in the fighting compartment of my Sherman. Around Beltsy they had dropped ammunition to us by parachute. We took one parachute for ourselves. I used this parachute for my pillow. The parachute was made from silk and didn’t let the lice in. And I was sound asleep! Suddenly I woke up. Why? I awoke from the silence. Why the silence? It turns out that attacking aircraft had set two tanks on fire. During the march many things were piled up on the tanks: crates, tarpaulin. The battalion had halted, shut off engines, and it had become silent. And I woke up.

Did you lock your hatches during combat in built-up areas?

We absolutely locked our hatches from the inside. In my own experience, when we burst into Vienna, they were throwing grenades at us from the upper floors of buildings. I ordered all the tanks to be parked under the archways of buildings and bridges. From time to time I had to pull my tank out into the open to extend a whip antenna and send and receive communications from my higher commander. On one occasion, a radio operator and driver-mechanic were doing something inside their tank and left the hatch open. Someone dropped a grenade through the hatch from above. It struck the back of the radio operator and detonated. Both were killed. Thus we most certainly locked our hatches when we were in built-up areas.

The primary defeating mechanism of HEAT (hollow-charge) ammunition, of which the panzerfaust was one type, is the high pressure in the tank, which disables the crew. If the hatches were kept slightly open, would this not provide some degree of protection? A special order was issued before our forces entered Germany.

This is true, but just the same we kept our hatches locked. It might have been different in other units. The panzerfaust gunners most often fired at the engine compartment. If they were able to set the tank on fire, like it or not the crew had to get out. And then the Germans shot at the crew with a machine gun.

What were the chances of survival if your tank was hit?

My tank was hit on 19 April 1945 in Austria. A Tiger put a round straight through us. The projectile passed through the entire fighting compartment and then the engine compartment. There were three officers in the tank: I as the battalion commander, the company commander Sasha Ionov (whose own tank had already been hit), and the tank commander. Three officers, a driver-mechanic, and a radio operator. When the Tiger hit us, the driver-mechanic was killed outright. My entire left leg was wounded; to my right, Sasha Ionov suffered a traumatic amputation of his right leg. The tank commander was wounded, and below me sat the gunner, Lesha Romashkin. Both of his legs were blown off. A short time before this battle, we were sitting around at a meal and Lesha said to me, “If I lose my legs I will shoot myself. Who will need me?” He was an orphan and had no known relatives. In a strange twist of fate, this is what happened to him. We pulled Sasha out of the tank and then Lesha, and were beginning to assist in the evacuation of the others. At this moment Lesha shot himself.

In general, one or two men were always wounded or killed. It depended where the shell struck.

How did you co-operate with the infantry during combat?

By TOE the tank brigade had three tank battalions of 21 tanks each and a battalion of submachine gunners. A submachine gun battalion had three companies, one for each tank battalion. We had this three-battalion structure only in late 1943 and early 1944. All the rest of the time we had two tank battalions in the brigade. Our submachine gunners were like brothers to us. On the march they sat on our tanks. They kept warm there, dried their things, and slept. We drove along and then stopped somewhere. The tankers could sleep and our submachine gunners protected our tanks and us. Over the course of time many submachine gunners became members of our crews, initially as loaders and later as radio operators. We divided our trophies equally: they with us and we with them. Therefore they had an easier time of it than ordinary infantrymen.

During combat they sat on the tanks until the firing started. As soon as the Germans opened fire on our tanks, they jumped off and ran behind the tanks, frequently protected by its armor from enemy light machine gun fire.

If it happened that the tanks were limited in maneuver and speed, did you maneuver your infantry or halt them?

Nothing like that. We did not pay any attention to them. We maneuvered and they maneuvered themselves behind us. There were no problems. It would have been worse for them if we had been knocked out, so let them run behind us.

Was the tank’s speed limited in the attack? By what?

Of course! We must been fire!

How did you fire, from short halts or on the move?

Both ways. If we fired on the move, the speed of the tank did not exceed 12 km/h. But we rarely fired on the move, only in order to incite panic in the enemy ranks. Primarily we fired from short halts. We rushed into a position, stopped for a second, fired, and moved ahead.

What would you like to say about the German Tiger?

It was an extremely heavy vehicle. The Sherman could never defeat a Tiger with a frontal shot. We had to force the Tiger to expose its flank. If we were defending and the Germans were attacking, we had a special tactic. Two Shermans were designated for each Tiger. The first Sherman fired at the track and broke it. For a brief space of time the heavy vehicle still moved forward on one track, which caused it to turn. At this moment the second Sherman shot it in the side, trying to hit the fuel cell. This is how we did it. One German tank was defeated by two of ours, therefore the victory was credited to both crews. There is a story about this entitled “Hunting With Borzois” in my book.

The muzzle brake has one significant shortcoming: a cloud of dust is raised during firing from a weapon thus equipped, giving away one’s position. Some artillerymen attempted to counter this, for example, by wetting down the ground in front of their cannons. What countermeasures did you employ?

You’re correct! We might have packed the ground and covered it with our tarpaulins. I don’t recall any special problems.

Were your tank sights blinded by dust, dirt, or snow?

There were no special difficulties. Snow, of course, could blind us. But not dust. The sight on the Sherman did not protrude. On the contrary, it was recessed into the turret. Therefore it was well protected against the elements.

Dmitriy Fedorovich, our tankers who fought on the British Churchills pointed out the weak heater in the crew compartment as a deficiency. The standard electric heater was inadequate for the conditions of the Russian winter. How was the Sherman equipped in this regard?

 The Sherman had two engines connected by a coupling joint. This was both good and bad. There were cases when one of these motors was disabled in battle. Then the coupling joint could be disengaged from the crew compartment and the tank could crawl away from the fight on one engine. On the other hand, there were powerful fans located above both engines. We used to say, “Open your mouth and the wind came out your ass!” How the hell could we get warm? There were such strong drafts of air! Perhaps there was heat coming from the engines, but I will not tell you that it was warm. When we halted, we immediately covered the engine compartment with our tarpaulin. Then it stayed warm in the tank for several hours; we slept in the tank. Not for nothing did the Americans give us fleece-lined coveralls.

Were there norms of ammunition consumption for the tank?

Yes there were. In the first place, we took one basic load (BK -boekomplekt -a full set of ammo. For example the IS-2’s BK = 28 shells. -Valeri) with us going into battle. We took an additional BK on the outside of our tanks during long raids. When I raced into Vienna, for example, my commander personally ordered us to take two BK: the normal load inside and the second on the armor. In addition, we carried up to two cases of trophy chocolate on each tank and found additional provisions for ourselves. We were “on our own”, so to speak. This meant that if we had to conduct a raid somewhere deep in the rear, we offloaded rations and in their place took ammunition. All of our wheeled supply vehicles were American 2 ?-ton Studebakers. They always brought the ammunition forward to the battalion.

There is one other thing I want to say. How did we preserve our (Soviet) ammunition? Several rounds covered by a thin layer of grease, in wooden crates. One had to sit for hours and clean this grease off the rounds. American ammunition was packed in cardboard tube containers, three rounds banded together. The rounds were shiny clean inside their protective tubes! We took them out and immediately stowed them in the tank.

What kind of rounds did you carry in the tank?

Armor-piercing and high explosive. There was nothing else. The ratio was approximately one-third HE and two-thirds AP.

Did the crew receive a concussion when a round hit the tank, even if it did not penetrate the armor?

Generally, no. It depended on where the round hit. Let’s say that I was sitting in the left side of the turret and a round struck near me. I heard this hit but it did not harm me. If it struck somewhere on the hull, I might not hear it at all. This happened several times. We would come out of an engagement and inspect the tank. In several places the armor would show an impact, like a hot knife that had cut through butter. But I did not hear the round impacts. Sometimes the driver would shout, “They’re shooting from the left!” But there was no overwhelming sound. Of course, if such a powerful gun as the JSU-152 hit you, you heard it! And it would take off your head along with the turret.

I want also to add that the Sherman’s armor was tough. There were cases on our T-34 when a round struck and did not penetrate. But the crew was wounded because pieces of armor flew off the inside wall and struck the crewmen in the hands and eyes. This never happened on the Sherman.

What did you consider the most dangerous opponent? A cannon? A tank? An airplane?

They were all dangerous until the first round was fired. But in general, the antitank cannons were the most dangerous. They were very difficult to distinguish and defeat. The artillerymen dug them in so that their barrels literally were laying on the ground. You could see only several centimeters of their gun shield. The cannon fired. It was a good thing if it had a muzzle brake and dust was kicked up! But if it was winter or raining, what then?

Were there cases when you did not see from your tank where the fire was coming from, but your SMG infantry did see? How did they guide you to the source of the fire?

Sometimes they pounded on the turret and shouted. Sometimes they began to fire in the direction with tracer bullets or fired a signal rocket in that direction. And then, you know, when we went into the attack, the commander often looked around from the turret. None of the periscopes, even in the commander’s cupola, gave us good visibility.

How did you maintain communications with your commander and other tanks?

By radio. The Sherman had two radio sets, HF and UHF [high frequency and ultra high frequency], of very good quality. We used the HF for communications with our higher commander, with brigade, and the UHF for communications within the company and battalion. For conversation inside the tank we used the tank intercom system. It worked great! But as soon as the tank was hit, the tankers first action was to throw off his helmet and throat microphone. If he forgot and began to jump out of the tank, he would get hung up.

 

 

For the full interview, click the link and check out the I remember site.

 

#36 The Transmission, Differential, and Final Drives: Called the ‘Powertrain’ and It Was Great On The Sherman!

The Transmission, Differential, and Final Drives: Called The ‘Powertrain’ The Sherman’s Was Very Well Designed.

Sherman transmission

The Transmission, differential and final drives on the Sherman were very robust from the start of the Sherman design and proved to be rugged enough to take all the upgrades the Sherman had thrown at it over the years. As a combined unit, along with the steering brakes, with the armored differential housing they were referred to as the ‘powertrain’. In most cases a whole powertrain unit would be swapped if any of the major components needed serious work, since it was relatively easy. There were three types of armored covers, a three piece bolt together type, and two cast types. Powertrain units incorporating any of the differential covers could be swapped into any Sherman in place of any other type of powertrain unit. The internals of the three types of differential covers where different though and parts in some cases do not interchange. Hydraulically powered steering was tried on very early M3 Lee tanks, but it was discarded for an all mechanical long lever system used throughout the Lee and Sherman run.

latemodeel powertrain diagram

The final drives and differential had a gear ratio of 2.84:1, limiting the tanks top speed by RPM to 26 miles an hour in the M4A3 version of the tank, and that for only short burst. The RPM limit varied with engine model, and in the Jumbos case, a slightly higher gear ratio of 3.36:1, limiting its top speed to 22 miles an hour but giving the drivetrain a little more mechanical grunt to get the extra weight moving. This was the only modification major enough to be mentioned in any publication I’ve read so far. That says ‘damn good design’ to me. I’ve read several accounts of Sherman restorations being done, where after years on a firing range, or just rotting in a field somewhere, the final drives and differential units needed no mechanical restoration.

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Cutaway of an M4A2s differential
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Cutaway of a Sherman final drive.
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Sherman final drive herringbone gears and shafts. This image is from the American Fighting Vehicle Vehicle Database.

Now a bit about gear ratios, for those who are not gear heads, before we get into the transmission, since it’s going to have even more confusing gear ratios talked about. The meaning of the gear ratios in the above paragraph are, for every rotation of the drive shaft coming out of the transmission and going into the final drives and differential has to spin 2.84 times to spin the sprocket output shafts one turn.  What determines the Transmissions output rpm is what gear it is in, and what ratio that gear is.  The higher the number, the more mechanical advantage is transferred to the final drives, but lowers the top tanks tops speed in that gear.  If you have driven a manual transmission car, this is why first gear climbs in RPM so fast and each further gear the RPM climbs slower, but the car goes faster, same for the Sherman tank. If you really understand this, you will always get a laugh at the Hollywood portrayal of nitrous oxide; something used in WWII aircraft engines, because they always show it as making the cars top speed faster, when all it can do is improve the acceleration to the mechanically limited top speed.

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This M4A3 Powertrain is about to go back into it’s hull

The Sherman transmission has a “Granny” first gear ratio of 7.56:1, the tank isn’t going to be moving faster than 1 or 2 miles per hour before the driver would have to shift.  The next gear up, second is 3.11:1, on level ground, gear two is used to start the tank and drive it at low speeds. Say up to 5 miles an hour, on road and rarely off road third rarely you would then get into third gear, 1.78:1, and up to 8 to 10 mph.  Fourth would be the last gear to see regular use, coming in at an almost one to one, 1.11:1. This is your driving like a bat out of hell 13 to 19 miles an hour gear. Fifth gear is actually an overdrive gear, at 0.73:1, meaning .73 of a turn to spin the tranny output once. Meaning, this has to be taken to into account in calculating the tanks top speed and it could only reach its top speed on good roads in fifth gear! Reverse gear, 5.65:1, was almost as tall as first and really limited the tanks reverse speed. If you understand what be just covered, you can will understand the gear rations listed on your next cars window sticker.  On our example M4A3 at would be screaming along at 2800 rpm, at the tanks 26 mph top speed.

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Now that you understand gear ratios you may wonder what the term “Granny” gear means. The ‘Granny’ gear refers to a really high gear ratio gear, almost always first. The Granny gear was used for getting a vehicle started while hauling a big load, trying to tow another tank to get it started or heavy vehicle for the same reason, climbing a steep hill or obstacle, driving through thick mud or deep water or getting another tank or heavy vehicle unstuck from mud or another obstacle. This gear could also be used to slow the tank when going down a steep hill.

Powertrain early, from M4A4

The Sherman Transmission was fully Synchromesh in gears 2 through 5 with first and reverse not needing it.  Synchromesh means you did not have to depress the clutch twice, once to get it into neural, the next to go to the next gear, or “double clutching”. This in theory made the Sherman tank, though a manual transmission that used a clutch, much like any car that has a manual, relatively easy to drive. If you could drive a car from the 30s you could drive a Sherman. There are several Sherman museums that will let you drive one if you have the right amount of money.  From what I understand, the key to how easy the Sherman is to drive comes partly from the motor in it and partly from how much you’re really willing to drive the thing and not worry about breaking it. It’s an American tank people, you can abuse it, it can take it, it’s not a Panther, it was designed with the American young adult of the 40s in mind. Hell, these things were used to tear down buildings post war! They are not delicate.  Anyway, back to what I’ve read about driving a Sherman. The easiest motors are supposed to be the Diesel and Ford GAA, then A57 if it’s running right, then the R975 powered tanks. The R975 because it likes to get up into its higher RPM power band, and stay there for a while, it helps burn off carbon and keeps the plugs un-fowled, is supposed to be the hardest to drive. In contrast, the few places that have running Panther tanks have to be extremely careful who they let drive it, since using some of its design features could destroy the transmission or final drives.

powertrain brake adjeuxtment

The Sherman powertrain was a very tough unit. I know of at least two restorations where the transmission needed little mechanical work. This same transmission, and for the life of me I don’t think I’ve ever seen a name for the original designer/maker, stayed largely unchanged through the full life of the tank. The Israeli Shermans used into the 70s were using original Sherman Transmissions, though probably overhauled. That they could be, and continue to be on overhauled for restored Shermans, kept working, and working well after all those years also screams “DAMN GOOD DESIGN” and it’s a little sad I don’t, we don’t know, who made them or designed them.

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The oil cooler shown in this diagram was found in all Sherman models.
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This powertrain out of an M4A3 76w tank sat for years, after being abused in a tank used in the demolition of houses. It only needed cosmetic restoration.

#4 Sherman Builders: Just How Many Tank Factories Did the US Have Anyway?

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CDA pumping out M4A4 tanks in 1942

Sherman Builders: They Had 10 and 1 in Canada. 

Most of the information in this section will be a summation of the section in Son of a Sherman. Other stuff I had to dig around on the internet for. Anyone who has more info on the tank makers, please feel free to contact me.  Parts from all these tank makers would interchange. Many used the same subcontractors. I don’t think anyone has tried or if it’s even possible to track down all the sub-contractors who contributed parts to the Sherman at this point. Some of the manufactures were more successful than others, some only producing a fraction of the total Sherman production, others producing large percentages. By the end of production, all the US and her allies needs for Shermans were being handled by just three of these factories.

American Locomotive (ALCO)

Sherman m4a2 being built at Alco

ALCO also produced M3 and M3A1 Lees, and made Shermans up to 1943. They were a fairly successful pre-war locomotive manufacturer founded in 1901 in Schenectady, New York. They also owned Montreal Locomotive works. ALCO made several version of the Sherman, and stayed in the tank game until the late 50s, helping with M47 and M48 production. The company went under in 1969.

Baldwin Locomotive Works (BLM)

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Baldwin was another early producer, building three versions of the Lee, The M3A2, M3A3, and M3A5. They mostly built small hatch M4s, with just a handful of M4A2(12). They were out of the Sherman game by 1944 and out of business by 72. They were founded in Philly in 1825, and produced 70,000 steam locomotives before it died.

Chrysler Defense Arsenal (CDA)

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M4A4 Tanks being built as the last Lee goes off the line

Chrysler Defense Arsenal is kind of special. It was a purpose built tank factory, funded by the US Government, and managed and built by Chrysler.  Construction on the factory started in September of 1940. Completed M3 Lee tanks were rolling of the line by April of 1941. This was before the factory was even finished being built. It was built to stand up to aerial bombing. They produced M4A4, and M4 tanks as well and M4 105s, M4A3(105)s, and M4A3 76 tank and nearly 18,000 of them. Chrysler was the sole producer of M4A3E8 76 w Shermans, or the tank commonly known and the Easy 8. They produced 2617 units, but post war many A3 76 tanks were converted over to HVSS suspension. A very big chunk of the overall Sherman production came from this factory and it went on to produce M26 Pershing tanks.

Chrysler built this factory in a suburb of Detroit, Warren Township Michigan. Chrysler used it’s many other facilities in the Detroit area as sub manufacturers, and many of their sub-contractors got involved too. CDA not only produced the tanks, it had the capacity to pump out huge numbers of spare parts.  CDA lived into 90s before Chrysler defense systems got sold off to General Dynamics. It took part in making the M26, M46, M47, M48, M60, and M1 tanks.

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The M3 Production line at CDA
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Another shot of the CDA Lee production line
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One final shot of the Lee production line at CDA, this on earlier in the build process

Federal Machine & Welder (FMW)

I couldn’t find much out about FMW, Son of a Sherman says they were founded in Warren Ohio in 1917. They produced less than a thousand M4A2 small hatch tanks.  They were slow to produce them, making about 50 a month. They were not contracted to make any more Shermans after their first 540 total, 1942 contract.  They did build some M7, and M32 tank retrievers. They were out of business by the mid-fifties.

Fisher Tank Arsenal (FTA)

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Fisher Tanks Arsenal (FTA) has a lot of common with Chrysler Defense Arsenal, except this time Uncle Sam went to Fisher Body, a division of General Motors. Fisher decided to build the tank plant in Grand Blanc, south of Flint Michigan. The factory broke ground in November of 1941 and the first M4A2 Sherman rolled off the line in January of 1942, before the factory was fully built.

The M4A2 was something of this factory specialty, in particular early on, with them producing a large number of the small hatch M4A2 sent off to Russia, and a few of the rarer large hatch 75mm gun tanks, around 986 small hatch tanks, and about 286 large hatch tanks.

M4A2 FISHER AD

They also produced nearly 1600 large hatch, 76mm gun tanks, or the M4A2 (76)w. These tanks went exclusively to Russia as part of Lend Lease. These tanks were ordered over four different contracts and the final ones off the production line were all HVSS tanks. The HVSS suspension may have seen combat with the Russians before the US Army used it. Oddly, this factory also produced M4A3 76w tanks, but never with the HVSS suspension. Fisher produced a significant number M4A3 and Large hatch 75mm tanks at their factory, but nowhere near their M4A2 production.

Ford Motor Company (FMC)

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Ford was a surprisingly small player in the Sherman tale. They are very important in that they developed the Ford GAA V8 covered earlier, and a lot of spare parts. But they only produced 1690 small hatch Shermans between June of 42 and Oct 43. They built a few M10s as well. All these tanks and tank destroyers were produced at their Highland Park facility.  After 1943, they stopped building tanks, and wouldn’t get back into until the 50s, and even then it was just for a large production run over a short time, of M48s.

Lima Locomotive Works (LLW)

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Lima was one of the first producers of the cast hull M4A1. It did not produce any Lee tanks. Its production capacity had been taken by locomotives to the point just before Sherman production started. They produced the first production M4A1, that was shipped to England, named ‘Michael’, and it’s still on display at the Bovington Museum. They produced Shermans from February of 42, to September of 1943, producing M4A1s exclusively, and they built 1655 tanks.  The war was a boon for Lima, they’d been in business since 1870, and the contracts from the military for locomotives really helped them out. Post war, they failed to successfully convert to diesel electric locomotives and merged with another firm. 

Montreal Locomotive Works (MCW)

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MLW was owned by American Locomotive. They produced some wacky Canadian tank based off the Lee chassis, called the Ram, and Ram II, these floppy creations were only armed with a 2 pounder in the Rams case, and a 6 pounder, in the Ram IIs case, and they produced almost 2000 of the wacky things, what’s that all aboot? They eventually got around to producing a proper Sherman tank, the M4A1 “Grizzly”, producing only about 188 tanks. A very few had an all metal track system that required a different sprocket. Other than that, there was no difference between a grizzly and an M4A1 manufactured by any other Sherman builder. Don’t believe the Canadian propaganda about it having thicker armor!

Pacific Car & Foundry (PCF)

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PCF was founded in 1905 in Bellevue, Washington.  After they bought out there only real competitor in the early 20s, they were the only heavy machinery company and foundry in the Pacific Northwest. They were the go to foundry for steel used in the building of many Seattle landmarks. In 1924 the founder, William Pigott sold a controlling interest in the company to American Car and Foundry Company. In most stories about a company, it would end right there, but in an twist of fate, the Son of William Pigott, Paul Pigott, bought back a controlling share of the company in 1934.m4a1pcf_1

At first the company seemed to do ok during the great depression, but it was really on the ropes until just before WWII, when the increase in military spending helped them out. Their steel and aluminum was used in the B17, numerous Naval vessels, and tanks.  They were also one of the Sherman tank producers that could produce its own gun mounts, and produced enough other Sherman factories used them.

The only west coast tank maker, PCF produced 926 M4A1s from May of 1942, to November of 1943. The foundry had the facilities to produce all the big casting, the M4A1 Sherman used, in house. As soon as production stopped they started production on the M26 tractor, the truck portion of the M26 tank transporter, also known as the Dragon Wagon. They never got back into tank production again, but they did produce one very special tank destroyer. The almost mythical T28 super heavy tank and the army managed to lose one.

The Shermans they produced were used by units training up and down the west coast, and many were sent to the pacific. Company A, of the 1st Marine tank battalion received a 24 of PCF’s M4A1 Shermans, the only ones the Marines would use. These PCF Shermans have a few things that make them easier to identify, the easiest to see is the dust cover mount around the hull machine gun, PCF’s is distinct and made from a strip of steel instead of a rod. Many of these Shermans were produced with the T49 steel tracks. These tanks would see combat in the swamps and jungles of Cape Gloucester. A battle I will cover in detail later.

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PCF M4A1 on Cape Gloucester with the Marines
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T28_Super_Heavy_Tank

The T28, also known as the T95 105mm gun motor carriage, two of these massive vehicles were made, and PCF made both. They came in at 100 just under 100 tons, and were designed to get a very powerful 105mm gun close enough to knock out heavy fortifications, like the type along the Siegfried line. It was also considered for use in the Invasion of Japan had that been necessary, and man, think of the weird porn the Japanese would come up with if we had invaded with a bunch of these bad boys, instead of nuking them. It had a set of double wide HVSS suspension on each side, with four bogie groups, and armor up to a foot thick. It had a four man crew and used the same 500 horsepower Ford GAA V8 to move it. Yes, 100 tons, 500HP, a real hotrod that thing was. Development ceased after the war, and any kind of testing on the two prototypes stopped by 47. One prototype burned out, and was scrapped; the other just disappeared for several decades, and was found in a remote spot on Fort Belvoir in Virginia. It is now stored in an army parking lot, not open to the public, rusting away.

Pacific Car & Foundry still exist today as PACCAR Inc., one of the largest truck makers in the world. They own both Kenworth and Peterbuilt. They also produced much of the steel structure on the Twin towers of the World Trade Center. They built the PACCAR tower in Bellevue in in the late 60s and it’s still their HQ today. They are worth 18,8 billion as of 2013.

Pressed Steel Car (PST)

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PSC was one of the big boys of Sherman production, and they also produced the final M4s made, a group of 30 M4A1 76 HVSS tanks. PSC was founded in Pittsburg in 1899, but their tank factory was in Joliet, Illinois. They were the second manufacturer to make the tank and across all the versions they made, they produced 8147 Sherman tanks.

They started tank production with the M3 Lee in June of 41, and stopped production on that in August of 1942. They then produced the M4A1 from March of 42, to December of 43, and the standard M4 from October of 42 to August of 43.

They were one of the final three tank makers to stay in the tank making business after 1943, along with CDA and FTA. PSC would produce large hatch M4A1 76 tanks, including HVSS models late in the run, totaling more than 3400 M4A1 tanks. They produced 21, M4A2 76 HVSS tanks, towards the end of 45.

They were out of business by 56, with no tank production after those final 30 M4A1 76 HVSS tanks.

Pullman Standard (PSCC)

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Pullman Standard was a pretty famous luxury train passenger car maker, and another company that made rolling stock combined into one company. Pullman Palace Car Co was founded in 1867, or there about. I’m sure some train geek will be dying to fill me in on the company’s history but I’m not really going to look deeply into it. It does make for one of the more interesting stories about a Sherman tank producer. Their main tank factory was in Butler, Pennsylvania. And they helped produce some Grant tanks before they started Sherman production.

They produced the M4A2 from April of 42 to September of 43, and produced 2737 tanks. They also produced 689 standard M4 Sherman tanks from May of 43, to September of 43.  Soon after these contracts were finished the US Government broke the company up due to some anti-trust complaint.

The thing to remember about all the Sherman makers is each one had a small imprint on the tanks they produced. So, yes, an M4A1 small hatch tank was the same no matter who made it and all parts would interchange with no modification needed, but the tanks from different makers still had small, cosmetic differences. They may have been something like nonstandard hinges on the rear engine doors to the use of built up antenna mounts instead of cast. Or wide drivers hoods or narrow, to where the lift rings on the hull were and how they were made or even Chrysler’s unique drive sprocket they put on all their post A4 tanks.  None of this meant the parts couldn’t be salvaged and used on another Sherman from another factory without much trouble. Some factories may have produced tanks faster than others, but they all produced them within the contracts specification or they were not accepted.

Hanno Spoelstra of the Sherman Tank Register found this very cool old poster.

M4 production list

Sources:  Sherman by Hunnicutt,  Son of a Sherman by Stansell and Laughlin,  Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, various company websites

#2 Basic Sherman History: The Previous Tanks That Led To the Best Tank Of The War

Basic Sherman History: The combat RV, AKA the M3 Lee 

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Brit Crew of an M3 Grant, camping out in the Combat RV in Egypt. No, I don’t know why several are naked.

To really know why the Sherman was designed the way it was, you have to know about the M3 Lee. The M3 was the predecessor of the M4. It was based on M2 medium, the US Army’s only foray into modern medium tank design at the time, and modifying it was the fastest way a tank could be designed with a 75 mm M3 canon fitted. The US lacked the jigs to make a turret ring big enough for a turret to house a gun that large; the Lee went into production while the turret ring problem was being solved, by mounting the gun in a sponson mount, and beefing up the rest of the tank a bit, and removing a machine gun or two. It had become clear to the US Army that the 75mm canon would be needed based on feedback from the British, and observations of how the war was developing in Europe.

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M3 Lee airborne on the test course at Aberdeen

One of the reasons for the reliability of the M4 design was the use of parts that started their design evolution in the M2 medium and were improved through the M3 production run. Over the life of M3 Lee and M4 Sherman the designs were continually improved as well, so a final production, M3, or M4A1, bared little resemblance to an initial production M3 or M4A1, yet many parts would still interchange. This is one of the reasons the Israelis had so much success updating the Sherman to the M50 and M51, these tanks used early small hatch hulls, that never had HVSS suspension installed, but the hulls took the updated suspension with few problems.

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A rare surviving, if rusting away outside, is surviving, M2 Medium tank, I think this tank is now being restored by the Army!
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M3 Lee prototype being tested at Aberdeen Proving ground

When the Lee went into production, though it was far from an ideal design, it still outclassed the German and Italian armor it would face, and its dual purpose 75mm gun would allow it to engage AT guns with much more success than most of the British tanks it replaced. It was reliable, and well-liked by its users, and produced in pretty large numbers. When the British got enough Shermans, the Lees and Grants were sent to the Far East and saw use until the end of the war fighting the Japanese. The Lee excelled at infantry support, since it had a 37mm canon that could fire canister rounds, along with the 75mm gun and a lot of machine guns. Many of these Lee tanks ended up in Australia after the war.

Another universal complaint about the Lee was once all the guns were firing, there was not enough ventilation, and the crew if forced to stay inside for long periods operating the weapons had even been reported to pass out on occasion. The Sherman would all more armored ventilators, but still not enough, until the later versions for the best in crew comfort.

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Lee in the desert, maybe California, maybe North Africa

Lee variants:  The Combat RV

M3 Lee being used in training pre WWII.

M3 Lee: The First Combat Ready American Medium

This was the first version of the tank and used a riveted hull with the R975 radial engine powering it, the suspension and tracks were very similar to the M2 medium.  Early production tanks had an M2 75mm instead of the improved M3 gun. These tanks had a counter weight mounted on the shorter barrel. All Lees had a turret with 37mm M5 gun. The early production version had two hull mounted, fixed .30 caliber machine guns, another mounted coaxially with the 37mm gun, and another in a small turret, mounted on top of the 37mm turret for the commander.

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Lee bow machine guns

They built nearly 5000 of these tanks. The M3 was improved on the production line with things like removal off hull machine guns, and hull side doors. The mini turret mounted M1919A4 was not a popular feature, and was hard to use, but it remained on all Lees, and were only deleted from the Grant version produced exclusively for the British.

M3 Lee ammo chart
Lee ammo chart

If this version had a major flaw, it would be the riveted armor plates could shed rivets on the inside of the tank and these rivets bounced around like a bullet. This was bad for the crew, but, rarely resulted in a knocked out tank. A field fix for this was welding the rivets in place on the interior of the tank.  Most of the M3 Lees produced went to the British. 4924 produced.

I’ve read other sources that said the Lee and Grant tanks did not shed rivets and this was a myth.

 

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Cast M3A1 Lee, note the curved cast upper hull

M3A1 Lee: A Lee, But with a Cast Hull

This version of the Lee had a cast hull, and R975 radial power. It was really the same as the base Lee in most respects including improvements. 300 built. These cast hull tanks have a very odd and distinctive look. They look almost like a M3 Lee was melted. This hull casting was huge and more complicated than the M4A1 casting. Most of these tanks were used in the United States for training. 300 produced.

 

M3A2 Lee with a welded hull.

M3A2 Lee:  A Lee, Only Welded

This Lee had a welded hull and the R975 powering it. 12 built. This version was more of a ‘proof of concept’ on welding a hull than anything.

 

M3A3 Lee: A Lee With The 6046

Another welded hull but this one powered by the GM 6046 Twin Diesel. 322 built, like the base Lee, with the same improvements. This is the first vehicle the 6046 was used in, and most of the bugs were worked out on this model. 322 built. Some of the problems with the motor were air cleaners that needed cleaning to often, and a complicated oiling system.  Crews preferred it, when running right, to the R975.

 

M3A4 Lee: A Lee With The Fantastic A-57 Motor

This version had a riveted hull and was powered by the A-57 multibank motor. This motor was so large the hull had to be stretched for it to fit; it also required a bulge in the top and bottom of the hull to fit the cooling fan. They also had to beef up the suspension, and the suspension units designed for this would become standard units on the Sherman. This would be the only version of the Lee with the improved bolt on offset return roller VVSS, otherwise this tank was very much like the base M3. 109 built. This motor’s bugs were worked out on this tank and would go on to power a large chunk of Sherman production.

 

 

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Monty’s M3A5

M3A5 Grant: A Diesel Lee, Made For the Brits, with a New Name and Turret

Another welded hull, powered by the GM 6046 Twin diesel with a new bigger turret to house British radios. 591 built. This new turret deleted the small machine gun turret on the roof of the 37mm turret. This version was used only by the British. The famous General Montgomery’s personal M3A5 is on display in England, at the Imperial War Museum in London. 591 produced.

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M3 Grant moving past a burning Nazi tank

. . .

 

The majority of Lee and all Grants saw service with the British, and many Lees went to the Soviet Union. They were generally well liked by both nations and more reliable than most of its British and German contemporaries.  These tanks were better than the enemy tanks they faced until the Germans up gunned the Panzer IV series. When they were replaced with M4s of various types the M3 were shipped to the Far East for use in Burma and New Guinea, where they would be used until the end of the war. The Japanese had no tank that could take on a Lee, let alone a Sherman. Using soldiers as suicide bombers, and mines still worked though, there was also a pesky 47mm AT gun, but it was rare. The 37mm gun firing canister rounds was a nice to have in thick vegetation.

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They saw limited use in the US Army’s hands some seeing combat in North Africa, because US combat units lost their Shermans to replace British losses, and a few were used in the PTO. The Sherman owes it success to the lessons learned producing the Lee and from its use in combat.  The 75mm gun and automotive systems, even the more complicated ones, would be perfected in the Lee and re-used in M4, and the Sherman only had one motor not tested in the Lee first.  Many of the Lee variants were produced at the same time and the numbering system was more to distinguish between hull and engine types, not to model progression like in aircraft, and other tanks.  This practice was carried over to the M4 series as were all the engines used in the Lee.

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Many people familiar with the way the United States designated aircraft during the war figure it was carried over to tanks and think an M3A1 was an improved M3, and an M3A2 was an improved A1. This is not the case, as many of these versions were produced at the same time, and they all received the same sets of improvements, though some factories took longer to implement things than others though.

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This M3 Lee is on maneuvers in the States, is probably with the 741st Tank battalion. The Photo is a staged publicity shot.

The M4A1 went into production as soon as the jigs for the turret ring were produced and ready to be used. Production actually started on the cast hull M4A1 first, with the welded M4A2 following right behind it. Like the Lee, there were many version of the Sherman in production at the same time. There are many photos of Lee’s coming off the production line, with Shermans in the line right behind the last Lee, so there was no real gap in production between the two tanks at most of the factories.

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The crew of an M3 Lee looks over their new 75mm ammo, the projectiles were German, put onto American or French cases, since there was a shortage of AP in North Africa
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Soviet Lees, note the track grousers

Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Sherman by Hunnicutt,  TM9-750