Category Archives: telling Shermans apart

#31 Links: Places On The Internets About The Sherman

M4_Sherman
A restored M4A1 76w Tank, it seems to be being driven on a public beach, by a kid. RAD!

Links: Cool Sherman, Armor Related, Or WWII  Web Sites

Sherman minutia site:  You can spend days on this site learning interesting things about the Sherman. If you read through much of this site you will know how much I like the Sherman Minutia site because I mention it so much. It’s always open, and I can almost always find something new to read or something I forgot about on this site.  Probably the best Sherman specific web site on the internet. If you want to know how to detect the differences between models, right down to specific factories unique fittings, this is the website to do it on,  click the link and go, they are the best around for that! They are so good at it, I have no interest in ever trying to cover those details here!

Pierre-Olivier’s Photo Album from his Trip to America: You might be wondering why this is right below the Sherman minutia site link, oh well, maybe not, but if you were wondering, Pierre Olivier is the man responsible for the Sherman Minutia site. This is his photo album for his trip to the good old US of A.  He checked out just about every armor museum in the US, and a lot of tanks in parks.  I’d love to talk to him, I know he posts at Com-central.net, but for some reason I can’t get the registration to work there! I’ll figure it out, like tanknet, some legends of the Sherman world post there.

Tanks on Tarawa:  I just picked up Tanks in Hell,  A Marine Corps Tanks Company on Tarawa, by Oscar Gilbert and Romain Cansiere, and they mentioned this site in the acknowledgments section. I’ve only looked it over a little as of right now, (that will change, I’m sure the rest of my evening will be spent their), and right off the bat, I know the tank show in the water in my post on Tarawa has the wrong name in my post.

The Sherman Register, By Hanno Spoelstra: This site is an oldy but goody, and I can’t believe I forgot about it until Mr Spoelstra contacted me! Now I’ll be signing up to the mailing list!

The Sherman Tank Restoration page: A page that documents the restoration of a M4A3 76W HVSS tank that was surplused in the late 50s and purchased by Abdo S. Alan Co. a demolition company out of Oakland California. They used it to knock down buildings in Oakland for years. At some point the tank broke down, after being gutted for a new motor, and sat until the Littlefield collection purchased it, then traded it to someone who the current owner purchased it from. None of the previous owners had made any attempts to restore it. The current and last owner did an amazing job restoring the tank. Some surprises during the resto were, the tranny and final drives were in such good shape they required only cosmetic restoration. The suspension and tracks were also in very good shape.  I spent more than three evenings going through this pages photo album of the restoration. This tank is a functioning work of art now.

The Sherman Firefly Vc restoration page: This web page just went up and is about the restoration of the M4A4, which is the oldest known surviving A4 model. The tank served most of the war as a training tank in the US, until it was refurbished by Chrysler and shipped to the UK to be converted into a Sherman Vc firefly.  They are just starting the restoration, and are collecting parts and researching the tank. I wish I could be of some kind of help, but I don’t know what I could do. But maybe if you stumble on this site, and happen to have Sherman stuff for sale, please contact them at this web page. The already have some fascinating information on how the tank was changed when converted to a Firefly, and how the interior was laid out. There is also some very interesting information on how the loaders job would have to be done. I plane to watch this page closely as they restore the old tank.

RamTank.CA:  This website is to the RAM Tank, what the Sherman Tank Website is to the Sherman! Once you’ve read my article on the tank, and looked at the pretty pictures, check out their site to dig into the details!

Modeling the Sherman Tank in 1/72nd Scale: I just discovered this site, and it is a very nice site if you want to know about building Sherman tanks in the 1/72 scale. I have dabbled in this scale, but never came close to producing anything as nice at the author over there. The scale itself has come a long way and it’s really amazing what level of detail you can get in this scale, if you’re good with tweezers and your hands are steady!

General WWII or Tank Related Links: 

The U.S. / American Automobile Industry in World War Two: This website. as its title suggests covers a lot of stuff along with the Shermans that were built by auto makers.  There is more to building a tank than a single factory in many cases, and even a factory like CDA, that could do everything in house, farmed much of the subassemblies out to its normal sub contracts. This site gives info on many of them, and there is so much here, you could spend hours reading.  I know I have!  NEW LINK!

Tank and AFV news: A news website that covers Shermans when they hit the news.  A generally interesting site if you are into tanks, and who isn’t! This is one of my read everyday sites.

The Lone Sentry:  This website’s tag line is Photographs, documents, research on World War II, and that’s just what they do.  This site is a staple of WWII history, and provides tons of good content.  I was sad, this website went down for almost a month, but its back and stronger than ever.

Armor for the Ages: This is the website for the General George Patton Museum of Leadership, and the new National Armor and Cavalry Museum at Fort Benning.  There are some very interest article and photo albums here, including one that documents the cosmetic restoration of the first Jumbo in Bastogne, Cobra King.

The AFV Database:  This website has a huge listing of American Tank specifications, and he has a lot of very cool pictures to go with them. If you need some vehicle stats or images, this is  your site! Some of the photos on this site were acquired there and the site owner was very nice about me using the images. Check his great site out. When I want data on an American tank,  or AFV, his is my first stop.

Archive Awareness: A history site dedicated to translating Russian archive documents to english. He has done some very interesting posts on lend lease tanks, including the Lee and Sherman. This is a really great site, stuffed with great information.

Here is a specific link to a post on the Tiger versus the Shermans 75mm gun.

Toadman’s Tank pictures: Toadman’s tank pictures is one of those staples of the internet, I can’t believe I forgot to add him in the links. If you need close up shots of a tank, this is the place to go, if you want high res versions, he has CDs you can buy! Check out his site, there are a ton of Sherman photos up there.

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The 8th Armored Division: The Thundering Herd, Association Website. While I was searching around on the internet for information on US Armored Divisions, this page came up, and was by far the most informative page on the subject. This Association has really done the 8th AD a service with this website, very informative.

The Internet Archive: This site is awesome, I’ve found so much interesting stuff there, everything from Technical Manuals to Unit Histories. I’ve literally downloaded hundreds of Sherman related documents from this site. Some of the hardest ones to find, I found here.  If your going to donate to an internet site like Wikipedia, don’t and donate to this guys instead!

RadioNerds: This website was a huge help when I needed to find info about Sherman tank radios. They cover all US Army Radios, and also have an archive of PS Magazines, its a very cool site.

Panzerserra Bunker: A nice blog on modeling with some interesting Sherman stuff and very interesting plastic modeling techniques.

The Surviving Panzers site: This interesting site has PDFs for many of the major nations of WWIIs surviving tanks.  For our purposes he has most of the Sherman models broken down into sub types and has a picture and short description of each tank. They are not complete, but they are close.

The Historical AFV Registry Home Page: This has registers of armored vehicles in several nations. The are in downloadable PDF and include a location for each vehicle.

M1919tech.com This new site is a very interesting look at the history of the M1919 machine gun. This is the machine gun used on the Sherman, and by the US Army and Marines during WWII. I learned a hell of a lot about the history of this machine gun than I knew before I found this site, it’s a great read with lots of rare photos.

AFV Photos: L&P Hannah’s great photo collection of Armor in the US. There are a lot of photos of tanks all over the US  here. Paul Hannah must love tanks, he has traveled all over the United States taking pictures of them.  I had no idea how many Sherman tanks there were in the east and mid west in parks and in front of VFW halls.  This is another place you could spend hours browsing!

I remember interview: Of Dmitriy Loza, a Russian Tanker who used most lend Lease armor but the Sherman the most, he used both 75mm and 76mm version of the M4A2. This is a very interesting read, and shows how well the Russians liked the Shermans.

The Ford GAA engine Web Page:  This Web site has some really fascinating information about the Ford GAA engine. Not much about its use in a tank, more about how it was just an amazing engine and could be used to make a lot of horsepower. The GAA motor was capable of a lot more than 500 horsepower, and was amazingly overbuilt, this page talks about why. If you’re a Hot-rodder, you will want to check it out.

Chieftain’s Hatch: His Sherman related hatches. 

Wargaming’s The Chieftainhas what some might call a dream job,  but when you hear how hard Wargaming works the poor guy, if you’re sane, you might feel different.  For more details on the man, check out the WOT forums. For our purposes, and arguably the most important part of his job is Archive Crawling and then producing interesting article for far Wargaming to use to promote the game. As a fan of the game and history, I think this is great.  The Chieftain has produced some very interesting articles on the Sherman tank or they are mentioned in others, so I will link to the ones important to the Sherman here.

Testing the British Cruisers: This Hatch is about testing the Centaur and Cromwell against a M4A3 Sherman. The Brits sent the two tanks over without much prep, and they were pretty new designs. As one could guess, the test went poorly for the British tanks. This caused some distress for the Brits, as did the Chieftains post on the forums. The post below answers some of the concerns of the angry posters.

Exercise Dracula: This was an extensive 2000 plus mile long test the British did testing the automotive reliability of the Cromwell, Centaur, and an M4A4 and M4A2 Sherman.  Though not directly about the Sherman, it is very flattering to the Sherman, and in particular the M4A4 with is A57 multibank motor is considered very reliable!

Sherman PR, 1942: This Hatch contains a lot of glowing praise from the Brits about the Sherman and Lee tanks. This report is cherry picked for PR purposes of the time, but I bet they didn’t have to look around much for Brit tankers to praise the Sherman.

US Gyrostabiliser Issues: This Hatch is about the US Gyrostabiliser use or lack of it.

The US Army Tests Firefly: The hatch is about the US Army testing the British Firefly gun post war. Well not really since it was a Firefly turret installed on an M4A3 VVSS hull.

The Desert Sherman: This very interesting Hatch deals with the infrared night driving system and the odograph.

US Guns, German Armor, PT 1: This Hatch covers test of US guns on German Armor

US Guns, German Armor, PT2:  Part two of the hatch above.

French Panthers: Or why a tank that can only go 150 kilometers sucks.

Nato Survey 1943: No, not that Nato, North African Theatre of operations. The Sherman gets mentioned but is not the focus.

Nato Survey 1943 Pt2:  The rest of the above links story.

US Army Tanks in the Jungle Part, 1: This pair of Hatch’s are by guest writer, Harry Yeide, the author we know from the books section.

US Army Tanks in the Jungle Part, 2: This is part II by Harry Yeide.

The End of the M4(75): This Hatch is about the role the Sherman filled and how it was always designed to take out tanks. It’s also about the Army’s plan had always been to replace the 75mm gun with the 76mm gun, and this predates the D-Day landings.

US Army Tanks in Cities PT 1: This is another guest hatch by Harry Yeide, this series covering Shermans or or US Army tanks in Cities and Towns.

US Army Tanks in Cities PT 2: This is part two by the intrepid Harry Yeide!

The M4A2E4, the torsion bar Sherman: This hatch covers the M4A2E4 we covered in the Shermans of the Future section. 

The Chieftains Hatch on the battle of El Alamein: The Chiefs take on this famous battle.

The Chieftains Hatch on the Battle of Peleliu: The Chiefs take on this famous battle.

The Chieftains Hatch  on the battles for the Marianas: Saipan, the Japanese used tanks here, and the Chief covers it. 

The Chieftains very interesting and detailed hatch on the battle of Tarawa: This is a tad less focused then how it was covered here, and overall probably a better account.

 

#23 The Firefly: The Teapot With Teeth.

VC-Front VC-Rear

The Firefly:  The Best AT Gun Installed On The Sherman, But Maybe Not The Best Overall Version Of The M4 Series.

The Sherman Firefly is often touted as the best version of the Sherman. This is a very shallow view of the tank; a tank is not just about AT performance alone. Let’s talk about the name, the Firefly was just a nickname, some say given by American testers because there was so much flash at the breach of the gun on firing, some claim it was just based on muzzle flash. Much like the Sherman naming mystery, it doesn’t really matter, it’s the commonly used name now, and if you just called them the Sherman IC, Sherman IC Hybrid, and Sherman Vc, no one but a total Sherman geek would know what the hell you were talking about. But everyone with a little Sherman history or WWII history under their belt should have heard of them called a Firefly so that’s what we will do here while explaining the nomenclature and how to identify the various models.

The Firefly came about because the British wanted to get a 17 pounder into a tank, and the homegrown ones planned to have it, were having issues.  The 17 pounder, a 76mm anti-tank gun, had to be extensively redesigned to work in the Sherman 75mm turret, the AT gun versions recoil system was too long to work in a 75mm gun turret. They redesigned it, putting the recoil mechanism on both sides of the gun instead of the top. The gun was also rotated so it could be loaded from the left.  The firefly version of the 17 pounder gun was specific to the Sherman gun mount and could not be used on an AT gun or vice versa.

They also had to cut a hole into the back of the turret, to mount the radios, in a new armored box, because the gun still had to recoil into the radio bustle at the back of the turret. The armored box also worked as a counterweight for the longer barrel. They also eliminated the co-drivers position and put a cast armored plug over the gun port. The co-drivers space was filled with ammo since the 17 pounder ammo was longer than the 75mm ammo it took more space.  They also had to eliminate the gun stabilizer to fit the gun.

The 17 pounder gun had excellent armor penetration, in particular with APDS rounds, standing for armor piercing discarding sabot, but these rounds had very inconsistent accuracy. The problem that caused it was not worked out until after the war. At the combat ranges in the ETO and MTO, the APDS, worked ok, but the closer the better. The gun also lacked a decent HE round until after WWII ended when they came up with a system that used a smaller propellant charge for the HE rounds and a new set of marks on the tank’s sight for the lower velocity rounds.

The Firefly in a generic sense is easy to identify, you look for a 75mm gun turret, with a much longer gun with a ball-shaped muzzle brake. The turret will also have a loaders hatch and an armored box on the rear. From there, you have to look at the details, but it’s easy enough.

Sherman Ic Firefly:  The Rarest Firefly
IC Firefly Normandy
This is a nice shot of an IC Firefly, note wheel spacing, and the air cleaner on the rear deck, the location is the village of Putanges, 20th August 1944. The tank is probably with the 11th Armored Division, but the wartime censors destroyed the badge so it’s not known for sure.  

This is the Firefly based on the Sherman I or the M4. The lower case C after the Roman numeral designates the tank is armed with a 17 pounder. An M4 is a welded hull tank powered by an R975, so you look for the grate free engine deck, with the big armored flap covering an air intake. Or, if the tank is welded, and does not have large spaces between the bogie assemblies, then it’s an Ic Firefly.

Sherman IC composite hull firefly: The Second Rarest And Most Comfortable
IC Composite hull, cast front hull, welded rear, but otherwise the same as the IC
IC Composite hull, cast front hull, welded rear, but otherwise the same as the IC. The unit is unknown, and the photo was taken near Aunay-sur-Odon, Normandy, late July to early August 1944

This version is based on the M4 composite hull; the version had a cast front hull, and a welded rear hull. It looks almost like an M4A1, but the rear and sides of the tank are all flat surfaces, just like a regular M4, the other difference is these tanks had the improved large hatch hull.  They would be the most comfortable version of the Firefly for the driver. These tanks were probably the last firefly’s built as well since the composite hull tanks were some of the last 75mm Shermans produced. The British were not given any of the 75mm M4A3 tanks so none were converted.  One final advantage to this version from an ease of conversion point of view is the composite hull tanks came with a loaders hatch already built in, so it saved time because they didn’t have to cut and fit one. Some of these tanks also had all around vision cupolas, so it’s possible a few made it onto fireflies.

Sherman Vc Firefly: The Version Powered By The A57 Motor, and Also the Most Common Firefly, But The Motor Makes It The Coolest. 
Another shot of the restored VC, note how far apart the pair bogies are.
Another shot of the restored VC, note how far apart the bogies are.
a very nicely restored, running, M4A4 5C firefly. Note the armored bulge on the rear deck behind the turret
a very nicely restored, running, M4A4 5C firefly. Note the armored bulge on the rear deck behind the turret
Same VC on the move
Same VC on the move

This version was based on the M4A4. These tanks are the “long hull” Shermans with the wide gaps between the bogie assemblies, and it has the distinctive bulges to the engine deck and lower hull. These hull features, with a firefly turret and gun, is more than enough to identify it as Vc.  This Firefly type was powered by the mighty A57 multibank.  The Wiki on the Firefly is trash; don’t go crawling around trying to see if the lower hull has rivets when most of the M4A4 production run had welded lower hulls. This may have only been a dubious way to identify an M3A4, you know if you missed it being almost a foot longer with huge gaps between the wheelsets and the bulges on the top and bottom.

This was the most common version of the Firefly since it was the Brits most numerous lend-lease Sherman.  They got refurbished training A4s from the US and took as many of these them as they could because the production of 75mm Shermans had been drastically cut back and production of the M4A4 had been suspended.

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Demand for the Firefly dropped off late in the war. They had produced enough that just about all the commonwealth nations the British supported received them. The Brits were able to put two Fireflies into most of their tank platoons, just as German armor became so scarce they didn’t really need them. By the end months of the war, the Firefly may have been more of a liability, than useful.

If you compare the Firefly to the upgraded M4A1 76w, you will see it really isn’t the best Sherman by any measure but raw gun penetration. We’ll use the composite hull Ic in the comparison since the same motor powered these tanks, and the composite hull had a very large casting for its front hull, making this as close to a second gen Sherman as the Firefly could get. Yet the composite hull tanks were produced early enough, they did not get wet ammo racks. They did get the armored ammo racks, but they really only offered protection against fragments lighting the ammo off.

This fix did not work nearly as well as the wet ammo racks on the M4A1 76, and other fully second gen Sherman tanks got. The main advantage was having the ammo lower in the tank, below the bottom of the sponsors, and encasing it in water jackets. It was found the most benefit came from the change in location, and the liquid part was discontinued post-war.  The wet ammo rack second gen Shermans were amongst the safest WWII tanks to be a crewman on.

Now on to the turrets, the M4A1 76 tank has the improved T23 turret. These turrets came with the all-around vision cupola, a loaders hatch, and the 76 M1A1 gun, with a 30cal co-ax. The turret was designed around the gun, and was nice and roomy, offering relative comfort and ease of movement to the crew, allowing the gun to maintain the 20 round a minute rate of fire the 75mm gun had.  It had better armor than the 75mm turret.  The fireflies all used a modified 75mm gun turret, and even after redesigning the gun, the 17 pounder took up a lot of space and recoiled into the bustle, where the radio used to be. This made for a cramped turret, and a slower reload time.  The T23 turret is better, and it’s a shame the Brits would have had to redesign the 17 pounder gun again to fit one into it.

At first glance, most people when they compare the M1A1 gun and the 17 pounder conclude the 17 pounder is ‘better’ based on its armor pen.  This doesn’t take into account the other factors that make a good tank gun. In WWII, tanks faced other threats far more often than tanks. For the forces facing the United States in particular, tanks were never overly common and got rarer as the war went on. What Shermans faced most often, and what killed them most often was AT guns and infantry with AT sticks.  The 17 pounders lack of HE round during the war, along with its lack of a bow machine gun, really hindered the Firefly in the infantry support role.  The M1A1 didn’t have the best HE performance, but it was still adequate. It had enough AT performance to handle the PIV, Stugs and various TDs it would face. Including the cats, the M1A1 did not have the best balance of AT/HE performance, but it would get the job done, and as the war came to a close HVAP ammo, that really helped the guns AT performance, become increasingly available. The M1A1 also had a very big performance lead in rate of fire; double that of the 17 pounder.

When you take all these factors, it is clear the 76mm T23 turreted second gen M4A1, A2 and 3s were all better tanks than the Firefly, of any model. The reasons for this are the second gen Shermans all had wet ammo racks, and along with all the other minor improvements that came with the second gen Shermans. The 17 pounder gun would eventually get a good HE round, but not during the war,  so the dual purpose us M1A1 gun is clearly a better choice for a general use medium tank.

I won’t go so far as to say the British should not have produced them. Since the Brits faced the majority of the German heavy armor in Normandy, a pure AT tank was more useful for them, and that’s why they built them. I’ve read in more than one place that the Germans always tried to kill off the fireflies first, and the firefly units used a cool paint scheme on the gun barrel to make it seem shorter to help hide the fireflies, but I’ve never seen it confirmed from the German side.  These tanks were potent enough, killing the famous Nazi tank “Ace” Michael, the Nazi punk, Whitman, when he foolishly trundled by himself into their guns.

I find it amusing the most mechanically complicated Sherman was turned into the best pure AT Sherman by the Brits and was still more reliable than any Nazi tank.  It may be a tad overrated, but it did exactly what it was designed to do, without compromising the reliability of its base platform. That makes it a smashing success and it gave the Brits a capability their American cousins lacked until much later in the war. It did so well, the Brits offered to convert some, and there was an abortive program that petered out because army ordinance thought the M1 gun would be good enough.  During bulge hoopla, the program was revived, but this was short-lived, and none of the American Firefly tanks were issued to troops.

 

Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Sherman by Hunnicutt, various Chieftains Hatch posts,  The Sherman Minutia Site, M4 Sherman tank at War by Green, WWII Armor, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston

# 15 Turrets: They Are The Combat Power Of The Tank

 

Turrets: They Rotate, and have Guns

Cute puppies!
Marine Cleaning his Tommy gun on a Late model M4A3 75 Sherman. Note the all-around vision cupola with periscopes mounded in the center of the hatch.

The Sherman had two turret types the 75mm turret and the later T23 turret with the M1 series of 76mm guns. The Jumbo had an up-armored version of the T23 turret.

split hatch details

One of the things that really set the Sherman apart from its peers, and gave it very good longevity, was the size of the turret ring. The Shermans were 69 inches, positively huge for when it was designed, the early T-34 had a 56-inch ring, and the later version with 85mm gun had a 63-inch turret ring. Nazi Germans are not very good in this area, PIII having a 60-inch ring, PIV having only 63 inches, and the Panther only having a 65-inch ring. Even the Tiger wasn’t huge, at only 70 inches! So what makes the size of the ring important? It is one of several factors that determine the maximum size gun you can mount on the tank. The other factors are the mechanical reliability of the vehicle and its load capacity, and how good the country building the tank was at making recoil absorption systems for the guns. The combination of automotive reliability, load capacity, turret ring diameter, and turret size allowed the Sherman to be up-gunned for decades. These factors were far more important than armor thickness when it came to the Shermans longevity. That the Sherman received more powerful guns than the Panther had, or could have had, is just one more reason why the Sherman was such a great tank, and better than the Panther.

turret collector ring
The turret collector ring allowed the turret wiring to go into the hull and still allow 360-degree traverse and not tangle any wires. All Shermans had essentially the same one.

Now let’s talk about turret drive motors.  There were three types used on the 75mm Shermans.

Oilgear: All models of Sherman tank had both powered and manual turret traverse. They did try various brands and types though. The preferred on the early Shermans was the hydraulic mechanism made by Oilgear Company. The Oilgear unit was both more precise because it had veritable sensitivity and more robust since it was able to keep the turret spinning even with minor flaws in the race or ring gear, than the other choices. Oilgear could not keep up with all the factories producing Shermans, so they had to go to other companies.

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The Oilgear traverse system and gunners station in an M4A2 76 HVSS tank
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The Oilgear Traverse System, and foot pedal triggers, and elevation wheel in a restored M4A2 76w HVSS tank

The Oilgear unit was hydraulic but powered by its own electric motor that spun a hydraulic pump and turbine setup to rotate the turret. The whole assembly was small enough to be mounted to the side of the turret, with a fair amount of room for the gunner.

Logansport: This Turret drive was very similar to the Oilgear unit, just not as precise, nor as good at dealing with imperfections in the turret race or ring. This unit was so similar the electric motor powering the hydraulic pump and turbine used the same reduction gears as the Oilgear unit.

The Logansport unit used the same mounting bracket as the Oilgear unit as well. The sensitivity to problems with the tolerances on the turret ring would make this drive more likely to fail from minor damage that the Oilgear unit would shrug off.

Westinghouse: The Westinghouse unit was just a big electric motor hooked to reduction gears. Since the motor ran at a faster speed, it had to be adapted to the stabilizer system but was still able to fit the same space and use all the mounting brackets of the other systems.

M4A4 Armament diagram westinghouse traverse 75mm early turret
Westinghouse traverse controls

The Westinghouse unit had the same problem with minor flaws in the race or sensitive to tightness in the ring gear.

Now, this would be a quality assurance problem at the factory in most cases. IE, when the tank got to the end of the line, and the QA inspector rotated the turret, and it screeched and slowed down over 10 degrees of rotation, it would be rejected, and sent to the factory’s QA shop to be fixed.  Battle damage might have caused some problems as well, but if the tank took enough of a hit to damage the teeth on the ring, or gear, it was probably going to be knocked out, and in really bad shape. That speculation based on how well many turret rings held up after years on firing ranges when the wreck they were in was restored into a beautiful working tank.

On the later T23 turrets, the Oilgear system was used for traverse control and an improved Westinghouse stabilizer was used as well.

The Westinghouse stabilizer: All models of the Sherman but the 105 armed tanks had a stabilizer to control the main guns in elevation while on the move. It used a gyroscope and hydraulic power pulled from the turret drive system to keep the gun steady in the vertical while on the movie. The system is often disregarded as an advantage by detractors, for a few reasons, but none are valid in a technical sense. The stabilizer was a very advanced piece of kit, and something the Germans could not copy, and never installed a similar system on a wartime tank. That it was complicated and the crews lacked training in using it, doesn’t mean it didn’t work and offer advantages to crews who bothered with it.

The original stabilizer was a little complicated to set up properly since many armor units received their tanks and maybe some manuals for them, when they formed, they often did not have a single man in their company who really knew how to make the stabilizer really work. This lead to it being turned off by a lot of early war crews. The wrongheaded belief the equipment was useless followed that. The Army did a test on it and found the stabilizer, when set up, and used by a crew who knew how to use it, it helped a great deal in getting off a fast first shot when the tank came to stop to shoot.  If the tank rocked, the gun stayed more or less on target. This was a big advantage to getting that all important first shot/hit in combat.

The Westinghouse stabilizer was improved and simplified in the second generation Shermans, the large hatch 75 and 76 tanks would have gotten it.  It was easier to setup and maintain, and the Army worked on getting crews trained on it.

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M3 2 inch Mortar

The M3 2 inch Smoke Mortar:  The M3, 2-inch smoke mortar was installed in the turret, with the muzzle opening on the forward left of the turret, on both the 75mm and 76mm gun turrets.  It was added to the tank at the request of the British and was loaded and fired by the loader. The mortar was loaded from inside, but protruded into the loaders space, and was not well liked. It could only be aimed by rotating the turret, and not all late model 75mm and 76mm turrets got them. Postwar, most were removed and the hole welded over.

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An M4 Composite hull, probably in the Philippines, with a good shot of the late model, split commanders hatch

The Hatches:  The Sherman’s turret started off with a single large split commander’s hatch. This hatch incorporated the m2 .50 HMG mount and rotated. It also had a standard periscope mounted on one side of the split hatches. This hatch went through several changes through its long life. Initially, the split commander hatch just depended on the weight of the armored hatch cover halves to hold them in the 45-degree angle position that sat in when open. They could be knocked loose when the tank was moving over rough terrain, and really hurt the commander.  They added a pair of hatch locks at the factory and fixed them in the field with kits. The final version of the split hatch had internal springs in the hinges to hold them open. There was also a version with a defect that passed factory inspection that showed up on some M4A1 76W tanks, where the split loaders hatch, essentially the same hatch that had been the commander’s hatch, was used for the loader, .50 M2 mount and all.  This was fixed pretty quick though, and then the hatch was replaced by the oval loaders hatch.

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In this massive image of an M4A1 76w tank, that has been modified with a flamethrower, after being repaired, note it has the split loaders hatch with the flaw that won’t let them open all the way.

When the second generation Shermans with the T23 turrets went into production, they all got much improved all-around vision cupolas. There must have been a shortage of contractors who could make it, because it was in short enough supply, the second gen large hatch, M4A2 75s, M4 Composite hulls, and M4 (105) tanks were all built with the original split commanders hatch.  The all-around vision cupola production was reserved for tanks armed with the M1A1 gun.  The cupola offered very good all around vision, with six armored glass viewing blocks, that were all replaceable, and a larger periscope mounted in a rotating center section of the hatch door. Towards the end of the war, the new cupola became more available and was fitted to some of the ultimate production M4A1 75, M4A3 75w tanks, and M4A3 (105) tanks.

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in this nice photo of an early production M4A1 76w Tank with the split loaders hatch. It’s also a pretty good shot of the all-around vision cupola

The oval Loaders hatch: The version of this hatch on 75mm turrets looked the same but was slightly smaller than the one used on the T23 turrets. The hatch was a spring-loaded oval hatch, either just big enough to get through or, big enough to get through comfortably, in the T23 versions. On the T23 turrets, when the oval hatch was installed, a new fully rotating periscope foreword of the hatch replaced the one that was mounted in the old split hatch.

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Soviet M4A2 76W tanks with oval loaders hatch.
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A late production M4A2 75 with a large hatch hull, oval loader’s hatch, on what is probably a high bustle turret, with a split commanders hatch.

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Now for a final bit of information on the turrets and the stuff mounted on them. Over time the turrets picked up an external vane sight the commander could use to roughly put the gunner on a target, it looked like a whale fin in front of the commanders hatch on older 75mm Shermans. This was refined into a more useful, and less odd looking site that could be used from inside or out of the turret.  The .50 caliber machine gun mount started on the commander’s hatch, eventually moved to the loaders hatch, and then to the middle between the two hatches.  There was also a spotlight mount added, and it ended up being on late 75mm turrets, the T23 76mm turrets and even retrofitted to older 75mm Shermans.  The mount had an armored plug, the spotlight plugged into, and could be controlled from inside the tank, much like the spotlights you see mounted to the side of police cars. The turrets also started out with no brackets for storing the heavy machine gun, but they started showing up on 75mm turrets and were on almost all T23 turrets.  Even where the lifting eyes were moved around on the turrets.

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From looking at period pictures, it was very common for the gunner or loader to ride standing in the commander’s hatch, while he was in it as well, the split hatch cupolas were that big. I thought I wouldn’t see the practice on tanks with the all-around vision cupola, but I found a few were the crews did it there too.

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This Marine M4A1 in the jungles of Cape Gloucester has its commanders hatch being shared by two crewmen

 

Riflemen of the 29th Marine Regiment ride a M4A3 Sherman 105mm of Company A, 6th Tank Battalion during the 6th Marine Division's drive on Chuda along the west coast of Okinawa. After expecting a contested landing on April 1, 1945, and seeing little of the Japanese, the Americans were in high spirits as objectives are taken ahead of schedule in Northern Okinawa; the Shuri Line would rob them of their high morale. The 29th Marines cut off the Motobu Peninsula and seized Chuda at 1200 Hours on April 6, 1945. Tank-infantry teams encountered sporadic resistance during the initial invasion; most problems were from the Japanese blowing bridges as they retreated inland. Destruction of bridges had been inept; frequently only a span of the bridge had been blown or cracked. The engineers cut quick bypasses for the vehicles, repairing the broken spans later. 500 M4A3 Shermans with the M4 105mm gun were built in late 1944. Later versions of the 105mm Sherman had a more advanced horizontal volute spring suspension (HVSS) with wider tracks that allowed for a smoother ride. Note partially dismantled deep wading gear to allow the M4A3 to move through deep water during the landings a few days before. The M4A3 Sherman with the M4 105mm howitzer was not popular with the tankers, who preferred the M1 76mm high-velocity gun in case of tank-against-tank engagements. However, the 105mm-equipped Shermans were very popular with ground troops, who used tanks as mobile pillboxes, taking out Japanese positions with point-blank high explosive fire.
On this M4A3 105 in Marine Service, you can clearly see the commander and probably gunner sharing the all-around vision cupola!
Classy-Peg-passing-destroyed-Japanese-Shinhoto-Chiha-tank-on-Luzon-in-the-Phillipines-17-Jan-1945
An Army M4A3 75 tank with a split commanders hatch, oval loaders hatch, and the commander and gunner sharing the split commanders hatch, somewhere in the Philippines.

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An M4A4 that has been modified to take a different motor, with a mid-production 75mm turret, with split commanders hatch, and a welded up pistol port. It also has the stubby mantlet, and you can just make out the original commanders vain sight in front of his hatch

 

The standard 75mm Turret:  The Sherman’s First Turret, It Had Many Minor Changes

The standard 75mm turret started out with a stubby rotor shield that just covered the base of the 75mm gun. These early turrets didn’t have a direct telescopic sight for the gunner either. The gunner had to rely on the M4 periscope to aim the gun. The turret had one large hatch for the whole turret crew to get in and out from and a pistol port on the loader’s side that could be propped open and spent 75mm shells dumped out.  The loader and commander had fully rotating periscopes to view the world through, the commander’s periscope was in his hatch, the loaders right above his station, and the middle of the turret roof had an armored ventilator. Many of these turrets had a weak spot in the armor due to an area machined to fit the turret drive. This area was covered with additional armor on once the problem was discovered.

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In this shot of a Sherman wrecking yard in Europe, you can see the early 75mm turret with depot or even factory level rebuilds, on these tanks before they were knocked out. They could be M4s or M4A3 tanks that were used in the US for training and refurbished on shipped to the ETO. You can see the split commanders hatch, though missing the hatch doors on two of them, the full-length gun mantlet, the welded on cheek armor over the weak spot and the commander’s old style vane site.

The small rotor shield and lack of telescopic sight were some of the first production line changes, and older tanks were field modified with kits to update them, often only covering half the turret with added armor on the mantlet to protect the new telescopic site. The new factory full-size rotor shield covered the majority of the turret face with much thicker armor. The next big change was a weak spot in the right side of the casting where a thin spot was made while machining the turret for the gun mount was discovered, and armor was welded on the outside of the turret to thicken it back up. Tanks were retrofitted with this armor in the field, and later the casting was changed to include the thicker armor over the area, eliminating the need for the welded on cheek armor.

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This M4 Composite hull tank in the Philippines has the split style commanders hatch on a 75mm turret with most updates

At some point, while all the above was going on someone decided the pistol port was a weak spot and it had to go. So they started welding them closed at the factory, and then the casting had them removed. Then the men in the field went ape poop, and they put it back in, around the time the ultimate 75mm turret went into production, with the thicker armor cast in, the pistol port back, a new all-around vision cupola for the commander and an oval hatch for the gunner.  This would be the final configuration of the 75mm turret. The tolerances used by US tank factories were close enough turrets cast at one factory could be used at another with no modifications. Many older surplus turrets left over from the tank retriever conversion program were used in later production, with all the updates added, and a hatch cut in for the loader. Due to a shortage of all-around vision cupolas, many 75mm turrets with a loaders hatch ended up with the old split style commander’s hatch.

pistolport inside

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This M4 has split commanders hatch, commanders vane sight, full gun mantlet, and welded up pistol port

When hull production switched over to the 47-degree frontal armor configuration, and they went with the large driver and loaders hatches on the M4, M4A2 and M4A3 production, the 75mm turrets needed modification. The hinge for the larger drivers and co-drivers hatches stuck up higher than the older small hatch hulls, they could interfere with the turret’s rotation, since they barely cleared the bustle was the radio was mounted in the back of the turret. The first solution was to notch the bustle a little, but they also changed the turret casting, raising the whole bustle area and making the top of the turret flatter.

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Chopper is an M4A3 75 W tank, used by the Marines on Okinawa

The turret drive motor was either an electric motor driven hydraulic system or a straight electric motor driven system. The hydraulic system was the preferred, but when that system was in short supply the electric system was substituted.  The 75mm turret could rotate 360 degrees in 15 seconds with the power traverse. It had a manual traverse system as well, and elevation was handled through a manual wheel.

For the very best in minute detail on this subject, please check out the Sherman Minutia site. One minor bit of trivia about the original style turret, the D50878, and D78461 castings, the ones produced for the 105 armed tanks were unique, in that they had an extra armored ventilator whole drilled in so another one could be mounted. So the 105mm turrets really are 105mm only. I’m still not sure if there is a 1/35mm Sherman M4 105, or M4A3 105 with the correct turret.

 

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An early T23 turret on an M4A1 76w tank. Not all around vision cupola for the commander and the split loaders hatch

The T23 Turret: Developed For the Failed T23 program, It Found a New Purpose on The Sherman

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The origin of the T23 turret, the fascinating T23 medium tank. It used a gas generator powered electric drive system, but unlike the ones the Germans used on the Elephant, it worked.

While the 75mm turret was still in production and being improved, the T23 turret, taken from the failed T23 medium tank project, went onto the Sherman with the M1A1 gun on the big hatch, wet ammo rack hulls. This turret was larger and could fit the 76mm gun with much more comfort than the basic 75mm turret. All T23 turrets had loaders hatches, though early production T23 turrets used the hatch that had been the commanders hatch on older Shermans for the loaders hatch and used the new all-around vision cupola for the commander. This didn’t last long; it was found the narrow area between the two large hatches on the roof was a weak spot. The big loader’s hatch went away and an oval hatch went in.  These turrets had the same traverse speed as the 75mm turret and the same ROF.

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Pn this M4A1 76w tank you can see the commander in the all-around vision cupola, and the split loaders hatch open

The T23 turret came in around 4000 pounds heavier than the 75mm turret. The automotive systems of the Sherman tank were strong enough to support the extra weight without any real change in performance or longevity. The drivetrain didn’t receive any changes at all as far as I can tell, and only the Jumbo tanks got a different gear ratio in the differential. All the extra weight in sandbags, concrete and real armor did shorten the life of the automotive components but not by a significant amount.

All T23 turreted 76mm gun tanks, had wet ammunition storage, as did the Jumbo tanks, but not all large hatch hulls did. The M4 (105), M4 composites, and M4A2 large hatch 75mm tanks all had dry ammo racks.  The T23 Turret would get the smoke mortar, and an extra periscope hole machined in when the split loaders hatch was replaced with the oval hatch.

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T23 turret on an M4A3 with the 14th AD
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Another M4A3 76 tank with T23 turret serving with the 14th AD

Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga,  Sherman by Hunnicutt, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston, The Sherman Minutia Site, Son of a Sherman by Stansell and Laughlin, M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, the Lone Sentry, TM9-731B M4A2, TM9-731G M10A1, TM9-745 GMC M36B2, TM9-748 GMC M36B1, TM9-750M3, TM9-752 M4A3, TM9-754 M4A4, TM9-759 M4A3,  FM17-12 Tank Gunnery, FM17-15 Combat Practice firing, FM17-67 Crew Drill and Service of the Piece M4 Series

#3 The Sherman Variants: The Design Matures

The Sherman Variants: So Many Shermans, so Confusing! Updated 01/18

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M4A4’s in the Desert Training Center in California.

First off, Americans referred to the Sherman as the M4, or M4 Medium, or Medium, the Sherman name was not commonly used until post-WWII. The British came up with the name for the M4 and referred to it with their own designation system that is covered in more detail later. They also named the Lee and Stuart, and at some point, the US Army just stuck with the naming scheme. The full story behind this is still a minor mystery, with US wartime documents confirming the ‘general’ names were at least used on paper by the US Army during the war.

Now let’s cover the factory production versions of the Sherman. Also, keep in mind; it is very hard to define just how a Sherman may be configured without really knowing where and when it was produced. In some rare cases, large hatch hull, 75mm armed Shermans got produced with normal ammo racks, when the norm for large hatch hull tanks was wet ammo racks.

Then you have post-war rebuilds, where the Army swapped 76 turrets onto 75mm M4A3 HVSS hulls during depot level rebuilds.  It would not be impossible for a field repair depot to swap a turret, from one knocked out tank, onto the hull of another, making an oddball. You also have to take into account post-war monuments are sometimes Frankenstein tanks, in one case with a T23 on a small hatch hull.  You can also run into a Frankenstein tank in museums or post-war civilian restorations. In many cases museum tanks are old range relics that need restoration, in some cases, the tank was in decent shape and a cosmetic restoration can easily be done. For the civilian tanker, who wants a running Sherman, also has to get them from a gunnery range, then, the long process of rebuilding the tank can start. I link to a few places that cover a restoration, and these guys do amazing work, taking tanks that you could never imagine running or looking like a tank again, and bringing them back to life. We are talking about tanks used as range targets for decades, in some cases, the powertrain in these tanks survived, the powertrain is the transmission, differential, and final drives.

The nice thing about a tank, as far as a WWII collectible vehicles go, say compared to an Airplane, like a P-51 or even SNJ, is tanks won’t break down and kill you by falling out of the sky. If you make a big error in a tank, at worst, you’re going to take out a building, flop it on its side, or sink it in deep mud or something, all not really life-threatening.  Once you have the tank, running it is going to be a lot cheaper than a vintage aircraft as well.  The other nice thing is if you’re handy, you can work on it yourself, without having to get a certified aircraft mechanic to sign off on all your work.  You do need a hell of a lot of heavy equipment to really work on a tank though, but you don’t have annuals, and hanger rental costs! This may be why the hobby of owning a tank is becoming more popular in the United States!

M4DV
M4 DV early Sherman tank. Because the M4 started production after the M4A1 and M4A2, and M4A4 it started production with cast differential cover, and heavy-duty suspension, but still had DV ports.

M4 Sherman: First in Name, 4th Into Production. 

click the link above to go to the page dedicated to the M4.

These tanks used the same R975 motor as the M3 and M3A1. The vast majority of the bugs in this automotive system were worked out before the M4 even started production. This really helped give the Sherman its reputation for reliability and ease of repair. The M4 had a welded hull with a cast turret mounting the M3, 75mm gun. Early variants had three hull machine guns, and two, turret mounted machine guns. The hull guns were all M1919A4.30 caliber machine guns, two fixed, and one mounted in a ball mount for the co-drivers use. The fixed guns were deleted from production very rapidly. The turret armament remained unchanged for the whole production run: Using the M3 75mm gun with the M1919A4 coaxial machine gun and M2 .50 caliber mounted on the roof. The turret would be the same turret used on all early Shermans and would be interchangeable on all production Shermans. This version was not produced with the later improved T23 turret but did get some large hatch hulls in special variants.

M4105W
M4 105, this tank does not have the factory installed front sprockets

There were two variants of the M4 to be built with the large hatch hull. The first, the M4 (105) was a large hatch hull mated to the 105mm howitzer, on the M52 mount, in the standard 75mm turret. These hulls did not have wet ammo racks or gyro stabilizers, and the 105mm turrets had an extra armored ventilator, the only turrets to have them. The M4 (105) gun tanks had a special mantlet, with four large screws in the face, unique to 105 tanks. Production started in February of 44, and continued well into 45, with late production M4 (105) tanks getting HVSS suspension. These tanks were used as replacements for the M7 Priest in tank units and spent most of their time being used as indirect fire support, like the M7 they replaced. These tanks also had exhaust deflecting vents installed in the back to help reduce dust from being stirred up.

 

 

M4Composite
M4 composite hull, small hatch hull, late 75mm turret with loaders hatch

One other variant of the M4 to get the large hatch hull(100 or so small hatch casting were made as well) was the M4 ‘hybrid’, this hull was welded, but used a large casting very similar to the front of the M4A1 on the front of the hull. It was found that most of the welding hours building the welded hull tanks were spent on the glacis plate. They figured out by using one large casting, incorporating the hatches and bow gun would save on welding time and labor costs.

These M4 hybrids were used by the British to make Ic Fireflies. They liked the 75mm turret these tanks came with since many already had a loaders hatch, this saved them time on the conversion since they didn’t have to cut one. Most of the M4 composite tanks were shipped to Europe or the Pacific, making survivors rare.

The M4 along with the M4A1 was the preferred US Army version of the Sherman until the acceptance of the M4A3. This tank was made in five factories from July of 42 to March of 45, 7584 produced. As far as the US Army was concerned, the M4 and M4A1 were interchangeable.

M4A1 Sherman: First Into Production, And When It Did Go, It Was The Most Advanced Tank In The World.

Click the link above for a dedicated page for on the M4A1

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Early M4A1 Sherman from the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers,  gathered up just before the start of Operation Lightfoot, the second battle of El Alamein. The photo was taken in late October 1942  and at this time the Sherman M4A1 was a cutting edge tank
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M4A1 76 w, much like the type that would be used in Operation Cobra, beautifully restored.

This was virtually the same tank as the M4, with the same motor and automotive systems and armament. The key difference was the cast upper hull. This huge upper hull casting was one piece. This was a very hard thing to do with casting technology at the time, and something the Germans could not have reproduced, they lacked the advanced technology, and facilities needed to do so. Everything from hatches to wheels, and turrets, and guns were interchangeable with the M4 and other Sherman models. This version saw production longer than any other hull type. It also saw all the upgrades like the improved large hatch hull with wet ammo racks, the T23 turret with 76mm gun, and HVSS suspension system. It was 30 of these M4A1 76 HVSS tanks that were the last Shermans ever produced. The M4A1 was also the first to see combat use with the improved M1 gun and T23 turret during operation Cobra. These tanks would also be the basis for the Israeli M51 Sherman. Three factories produced 9527 M4A1s with all turret types from Feb 42 to July of 45.

The US Marines used one battalion of these tanks on the Cape Gloucester campaign, all small hatch M4A1 75 tanks. This was the only use of this type by the U.S. Marines.

For more information on the M4A1 76w tanks, click here. 

M4A2 Sherman: The Second Sherman Into Production!

Click the link above for a dedicated page to the M4A2

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Mid-production small hatch M4A2, courtesy of the Sherman Minutia site.
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A late production M4A2 76w, probably produced by Fisher, in Soviet use.

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This version of the Sherman used a welded hull nearly identical to the M4, but with a pair of vented armored grates on the rear hull deck. The M4A2 tanks used the GM 6046 twin diesel. This version was produced with all the improvements the other types got, like the large hatch hull with wet ammo racks, the T23 turret with an improved M1 gun, and HVSS suspension. This version would see very limited combat in US hands, most being shipped to Russia with a few early hulls going to the Brits and USMC. This was the preferred version for Soviet lend-lease deliveries since the USSR was using all diesel tanks. It was produced in six factories with 10,968 of all turret types produced from April of 42 to July 45.

M4A2, M10, M36B2 clutch lockout unit

A little trivia about this version, the Sherman used in the movie Fury, was actually a late production M4A2 76 HVSS tank. The only way you can tell a late A2 from a late A3 is by the size of the armored grills on the back deck. They did a great job of hiding this area in the movie.

The Marines operated a lot of small hatch and a fairly large number of large hatch M4A2 tanks until the supply of 75mm armed versions dried up in late 1944. Then they switched over to large hatch M4A3 75w tanks, but there were some A2 holdouts amongst the six battalions.

m4a2 early side M4A2 early early bogies small gun shield M4A2 early production, early bogies

For more information on the M4A2 76w tanks, click here.

 

M4A3 Sherman: The Best Version Of The Sherman, Both in 75mm and 76mm

For more information on the M4A3 75 click the link above, for more info on the M4A3 76w tanks, click this link. 

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Large hatch M4A3 75w
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M4A3 76w HVSS tank, near Bastogne during the battle of the bulge. The Tank is with the 35th Tank Battalion, 4th AD. The photo was taken January 8th, 1945

This would be the base for what would be the final Sherman in US Army use, seeing action all the way out to the Korean War in US Army hands. This tank had a welded hull just like the M4, A2, and A4, but used a new motor. The Ford GAA V8, this motor took some time for its bugs to be worked out, so unlike say, the Nazi Germans, the US Army didn’t use it until it was ready for serious production. When it was, it became the preferred US Army version of the tank in both the 75mm and 76mm armed tanks. It would see all the improvements, and be the first hull type to take the HVSS suspension system into combat for the US Army. The M4A3E8 or M4A3 tank with the T23 turret and HVSS suspension bolted on would be the final and ultimate US Army Sherman. It would be produced in three factories with all turret types, 12,596 built in total between June 42 and June of 45.

M4A3 instrament panel, late
M4A3 76w Instrument Panel

After WWII when the Army wanted to standardize on one Sherman type, any M4A3 large hatch hull they could find would have a T23 turret and HVSS suspension installed on it. The Army was so thorough in these conversions no M4A3 large hatch 75mm gun tanks are known to have survived with the original turrets installed.  Any M4A1 HVSS 76 and M4A2 HVSS 76 tanks in Army inventory would have been robbed of their suspensions and turrets so they could be installed on M4A3 large hatch hulls.

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M4A3E2 Jumbo

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M4A3E2 Jumbo

The M4A3E2 Jumbo: Fishers Fat and Special Baby!

FTA was the sole producer of one very special variant of the Sherman, the M4A3E2 Jumbo. This version of the Sherman was the assault Sherman, though not expressly designed for it, was manufactured to be able to lead a column up a road and take a few hits from German AT guns or tanks so they could be spotted without having to sacrifice the tank. It had a lot of extra armor, and could take a lot of hits before being knocked out, but was still not impervious to German AT gun fire. Only 254 of these tanks were produced, and all but four were shipped to Europe for use by the US Army. They were all armed with the M3 75mm gun. There was a surplus of M1A1 76mm guns in Europe due to an aborted program rearm 75mm Sherman tanks with the guns. Many of the Jumbo’s ended up with these guns, but none were ever factory installed.

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The tank was no different in automotive components from the M4A3 tanks, with the sole difference being the slightly lower final drive gear ratio, going from a 2.84:1 ratio in the base Shermans, to 3.36:1 on the Jumbos. This reduced the top speed slightly but helped the tank get all the extra armor moving. The Jumbos were well liked by their crews and in great demand; no more were built though, the only batch being produced from May to July of 1944.   Had the invasion of Japan been needed, a special Jumbo with a larger turret that included a flamethrower was considered, but we all know how that story ended.

. . .

The M4A3 (75)w and later 105 was issued to the Marines when the M4A2 75mm tanks went out of production. These would all have been large hatch M4A3 75w tanks, and they may have gotten some with HVSS.

M4A3-Sherman-105mm-Dozer-latrun-1

M4A4 Sherman: The Sherman No One Wanted At First, But In The End Was A Very Important Model,  At Least To The British.

Click the link above for a dedicated page on the M4A4.

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M4A4 being used by the French

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M4A4OTHERSIDE M4A4 SIDE M4A4 rear M4A4 DV M4A4 OFSET m4a4 FRONT SIDE

This tank is the oddball of Sherman tanks. It had a welded hull and used the A-57 multibank motor. A tank motor made from combining five car motors on one crankcase. As complicated as this sounds, it was produced in large numbers and was reliable enough to see combat use, though not in American hands in most cases. In US use they tried to limit it to stateside training duty. The Brits found it more reliable than their native power plants and liked it just fine. The A4 version never got the improved large hatch hull or T23 turret with the M1 gun. Most were shipped to the Brits via lend-lease and many were turned into Vc Fireflies, making it the most common Firefly type. The US Marines operating these tanks in the states as training tanks, 22 of them for two months before they were replaced by M4A2s. This tank had a longer hull, like its Lee cousin to accommodate the big A-57 motor. It was the first Sherman version to go out of production. It was produced in one factory (CDA) from July of 42 to November of 43 with 7499 built.

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The massive A57 motor being installed at CDA

The A4 has the honor of being the heaviest and largest standard Sherman. The larger hull to accommodate the A57 motor, and the motor itself added weight. The British used these tanks extensively in combat. These tanks show up in British test reports as well, often pitted against tanks like the Cromwell, in reliability or other tests, and usually coming out ahead. Anyone who has ever changed the spark plugs on their car should really be able to appreciate how hard a motor made by tying five six-cylinder automobile engines together, on one crank would be. It is easy to identify an A4 from the side, there’s a bulge on the engine deck just behind the turret, and a bulge in the belly in the same place, both to house a huge cooling fan. The bogie assemblies are spaced further apart, this is very obvious compared to the rest of the Sherman models, and also required a longer set of tracks. These longer tracks spread the added weight out, so it had no effect on flotation.

M4A4 small hatch storage
M4A4 early ammo layout. This would be the same ammo layout on all early tanks before the armor was added to the hull sponson ammo racks and the ready ammo around the turret basket base was removed

It turns out this version of the Sherman served with more nations than any other version! These include Britain, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Czechoslovakia, India, China and the USA, all used this tank in combat at some point. I find it very interesting the most complicated Sherman saw such widespread use, and still earned a reputation for reliability second to none. The majority of the British Shermans on D-Day were this model as well.

For a tank the US Army didn’t want, it had an excellent combat record, with the nations that got stuck with it.  The M4A4 is one of the rarest Shermans to find running with its original motor. The A57 would be very troublesome to keep running for a civilian hobbyist, and I have my doubts about how easy it is to get Chrysler inline six parts in Europe. Few M4A4’s remained in the United States since the ones used in training were refurbished by Chrysler and then shipped off to the UK for conversion to Fireflies.

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All Sherman variants share a lot of details and most spare parts interchange. Only the motors really call for different parts. All early Sherman tanks had 51mm of armor at 56 degrees on the front hull, and 76mm on the front of the turret. The 56-degree hulls are called small hatch hulls because the driver and co-driver had small hatches that forced them to twist sideways to get in and out. They also started out with direct vision ports along with periscopes for crew vision. Even the cast tanks matched these specs and the hatches from a cast tank could be used on a welded tank.  These early hulls had some of the ammo racks in the sponsons above the tracks. Not a great place for ammo, but not an uncommon one for it either. As they improved the hull, they added plates over the direct vision ports and eventually removed them from the castings. Large plates were eventually welded over the ammo racks on the sides, and this extra armor was eventually just added to the casting on the cast hulls. It’s safe to say no small hatch tanks were factory produced with a 76mm gun or improved T23 turret.

The major hull change came when they upgraded the drivers and co-drivers hatch making them bigger. They also thickened the front armor to 64mm but reduced the slope to 47 degrees to fit the new driver’s hatches.  The M4 (hybrid and 105 only), M4A1, A2, and A3 were produced with these improved large hatch hulls. Many of these improved large hull tanks had the original 75mm gun and turret. Even the M4A3 with HVSS suspension was produced with the 75mm gun and turret. Most of the large hatch production was with the new and improved T23 turret.  These larger hatch hulls would still accept the majority of the spares the older hulls used and the lower hull remained largely unchanged and would accept all the suspension types. Any large hatch M4A3 hull was likely converted to an M4A3 76 HVSS post-WWII.

Through the whole production run, minor details were changed. The suspension saw many different version before the final HVSS type was produced. The track types also changed and there were many variants made of rubber and steel or steel. There were even at least six different types of road wheel! There are so many minor detail changes, the scope is too big to cover in this post, needless to say, the only other tank I know of with so many minor changes over the production run was the Tiger, and in the Tigers case it’s just sad, with so few produced, it means almost no two tigers were the same. This was not the case for the Shermans and the changes did not slow production down at all and in many cases were just different because a particular part, like an antenna mount, or driver’s hood, could have been sourced from a different sub-contractor, and the parts may look different, but would function exactly the same. Tiger parts are not good at interchanging without modification, and a crew of craftsmen to custom fit them. The changes made to the Sherman were either to incorporate better parts or to use a locally made substitute part for one in short supply, so making their own version allowed them to continue production without a slowdown.

To really get a handle on these differences there are two really great sources.

This is the easy, way: Sherman Minutia site a great site that really covers the minor detail changes on the Sherman tank very well.  You can spend hours reading it and looking over the pictures. It explains little of the combat history of the Sherman but covers the minor changes on the vehicles themselves very well. You can spend hours on this site learning about minor Sherman details. It is also a primary source for this post.

Another great way is to get a copy of Son of a Sherman volume one, The Sherman design and Development by Patrick Stansell and Kurt Laughlin. This book is a must-have for the Sherman plastic modeler or true enthusiast. It is filled with the tiny detail changes that took place on the Sherman production lines from start to finish. They cover everything from lifting eyes to ventilators, casting numbers, to most minor change to the turrets. Get it now before it goes out of print and the price skyrockets. I liked it so much I bought two!

The turret saw the continual change as well but remained basically the same. The 75mm gun never changed but its mount and sighting system did. The turret lost the pistol port and then gained it back. It gained a rotor shield over time and an extra hatch. All these detail changes are covered on the site above and in the Son of a Sherman book. The important thing to note was the tank saw continual improvement to an already reliable, and easy to produce design. The Sherman was easy to produce for an industrial nation like the USA, but beyond Nazi Germany’s technical capabilities for several reasons, like large casting and the gun stabilization system, or even multiple reliable motors to power the tens of thousands of tanks made.

In the basics section, I’m only going to cover one more thing. The Sherman tank was not as blind as the tanks it faced. The M4 series, from the first production tank to the final Sherman that rolled off any of the production lines, were covered in periscopes or viewports for the crew. The gunner had a wide-angle periscope that had incorporated the site for the main gun, and they very quickly added a telescopic site to go with it. The commander had a large rotating periscope in his rotating copula. The loader had a rotating periscope and the driver and co-driver had two, one in their hatch, and another mounted in the hull right in front of them once the DV ports were deleted (non-rotating). The later version added a direct vision cupola and a periscope for the loader in his new hatch. All these periscopes could be lowered and the port closed, and if damage easily and quickly replaced from inside the tank. All this gave the Sherman an advantage in spotting things outside the tank; they were still blind, just not as blind as most of the tanks they would face. Finding an AT gun in a bush could be very challenging for any tank, and infantry, if not scared off by the presence of a tank in the first place, can sneak up on one pretty easy.

This was a big advantage when it saw combat and throughout the tanks career, it was always one of the best if not the best tank of the war. It was reliable, the crew had a good chance of spotting enemies before other tank crews, the gun was stabilized, fast firing, and accurate. It was as good or better than most of the tanks it faced, even the larger German tanks. These tanks were largely failures, with only long debunked Nazi propaganda propping up their war record. The Sherman has the opposite problem.

Smiling_British_Soldiers_in_M4_Sherman_Tank_1943

Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Sherman by Hunnicutt, Combat Lessons, Son of a Sherman by Stansell and Laughlin,  M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, TM9-752, TM9-754, TM9-759, TM9-731B, TM9-731A