Category Archives: vision

#21 Tanks Were Knocked Out Far More Often By Mines And AT Guns. The Sherman Was No Different Here.

Let’s Talk About The Other Things That Killed Shermans, Mines and AT guns, The True Hidden Menace.

Mines, What can we say about mines, no one likes, them, but they still do a job that has to be done. We only going to cover anti-tank mines.

Changing_wheel
UK crew fixing mine damage.
The Riegel mine 43/44.

This mine was steel cased, anti-tank mine that looked like a long rectangular box. It had 17.8 pounds of TNT explosive in it. That’s enough BOOM to really mess up a tanks suspension. A really unlucky Sherman might have this go off right under the tanks rear belly, where the armor was thinnest, and blow into the engine compartment and really knock the tank out. In most cases, this mine would do enough damage the tank would need battalion level repair if that tank wasn’t written off for a total rebuild.

Production on these things started in 43, and by the end of the war, they had produced over 3 million of them. Apparently, there is no safe way to disable this mine, and the recommended way of removing it is to just blow it up. There is no telling how many of these took out Shermans, but it was probably a large percentage of the Mine losses.

The Topfmine A, B, and C.

These mines went into service in 1944. They were made from wood pulp and cardboard, with tar for waterproofing. They had a bigger charge but the metal cased mines till probably worked better. These mines went into production for two reasons, they were harder for harder for mine detectors to detect, and the case was cheap and easy to produce and used no steel.  The 13-pound charge would do a lot of suspension damage.

The Tellermine 29:

This mine was developed in the early 30s and was mostly used in training but saw limited use in Normandy. 13-pound charge meant it would be effective, but its age made it primitive.

The Tellermine 35:

This mine was used for the entire war and could even be used underwater. Steel cased like the older model, this one went into production in 35.  This mine had a slightly smaller 12-pound charge. Most of the time this mine would just blow a track off, and damage the suspension, but it could get lucky and do more damage.

The Tellermine 42:

This mine was an improvement on the 35 and used the same charge. It had improved anti-handling devices. This would be a very common mine through the end of the war. It went into production in 42 and was quickly superseded by the 43 model.

The Tellermine 43:

Image courtesy of the LoneSentry

A further improvement on the 42 model, cheaper to produce, with the same charge, this mine went into production, you guessed it, in 1943.

H-S mine 4672:

This shaped charge mine went into production in late 44 and was used to the end of the war. It basically was a panzerfaust head used as a mine. The mine shot the head out of the ground hoping for a belly hit. This mine would be bad news for wet ammo rack Shermans.  Only 59,000 were made, making it rare. This mine was very effective even with its small 3-pound charge. The Germans felt the heads were better-used don Panzerfausts, explaining the limited production.

Panzer Stab 43:

This mine was very much like the 4672 mine but didn’t launch the projectile. This mine was even rarer and was discontinued, probably because it worked, by the Germans the same year it went into production. Around 25k got made before they killed it.

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That’s a lot of mines and that’s just the mines the Germans made, I’m sure they used any stocks of captured mines they got their thieving paws on. So I’ll add Russian, British, and US AT mines here soon too.  Mines always accounted for 10 to 30% of tank losses depending on the year, month and theater you look at the losses in. There are a few pictures of Sherman tank catastrophically blown up, with the whole upper hull ripped away. They are labeled as mine damaged, and in a few cases, the labeling mentions two mines being put into the same hole, I think the ones labeled ‘mine damage’ probably lost the part about two mines in the hole to time. I suspect those photos of blown up Shermans are cases of two or more mines in one hole or an even bigger explosive like a dud Arty shell, or aircraft bomb could be put in the hole too.

Tankers probably really hated mines, in many cases minefields would be covered by well-hidden AT gun positions or even tanks, and in this role, the Panther was a pretty good tank, since it didn’t need to move much. Hitting a mine in an ambush like that could be very deadly for the crew when they bailed out to look at the damage or retreat to the rear. The random leftover mine, or stumbling into a minefield not covered by AT guns would be a big inconvenience but rarely resulted in a fully destroyed tank or lost crew members.

 

AT guns, cheap and easy to produce, these guns were a big threat to tanks but had little value to a mobile force.

AT guns were just what they sound like, large, Anti-Tank guns, on towable mounts. Most were as small and low slung as possible. Unless it was a US 3 inch AT gun, then they are huge. Even guns normally not a huge threat to a Sherman like the PAK 38 50mm AT gun could punch through the Shermans side if it was hidden well enough for the Shermans to give them the shot.  All the larger PAK guns had no trouble punching right through most Shermans.  Guns set up in ambush would have pre-range cards, giving them an advantage shooting and getting hits.  They are much easier to hide than a tank and can even have bunkers built around them. Those are all reasons why these things made Sherman tankers lives harder.

Towed AT guns have a lot of negatives. For one, they are towed, by trucks, or halftracks, they have to be limbered and unlimbered, or set up or packed up to go.  This is very hard to do in a useful way if you’re attacking with a mechanized force. By the time the guns are set up, if done at safe distances, the battle has moved on. At guns only have a small lightly armored shield, the crews would have to rely on personal foxholes or larger trench works if they had time.  The more time it had to get in place and camouflaged the position the better things would be for the gun and crew. But unless they had fortifications with overhead cover for the gun and crew, making it effectively a fixed gun, any kind of indirect fire weapon is going to make their lives hard. If the artillery fire wasn’t killing the crew, it would at least be keeping it from firing.

About half of the US tank destroyer battalions used only towed anti-tank guns. The battalions were not very successful, even during German offensives like the Battle of the Bulge. Both tracked TD battalions and towed were quickly disbanded after WWII, and towed anti-tank guns would not be a big part of most western nations militaries after the war either. AT guns would prove very useful the Germans from mid-war on after they were losing. They had a lot of these guns, and they accounted for a lot of tank kills. It was hard to determine in many cases what type of gun killed a tank, but tanks were much rarer than AT guns.

The Sherman 75mm tanks were actually better at dealing with AT guns than the later model tanks that had the 76mm gun since it had a smaller explosive charge. It was far from useless though.  A tank’s best way of dealing with an AT gun was to shoot the hell out of it with all guns available once it was spotted, and sometimes if the crew was suppressed, they’d even get a dose of the tracks.

Pak 38 50mm AT Gun:

This little gun was the main German AT gun from 1941 until superseded by the Pak 40. It was still used until the end of the war though. The Germans were so desperate they couldn’t afford to retire any weapons. Crewed by five men, it could be moved around pretty handily by the crew but required a light truck or some kind of tow vehicle to go any real distance.  I won’t go into great detail about the gun but it needed to be very close to a Sherman to knock it out from the front, not so much from the sides. Nearly 10,000 produced.

Pak 40 75mm AT Gun:

This gun was larger; almost double the weight of the Pak 38.  This gun could also take the Sherman out at the combat ranges they normally faced each other. The Germans made nearly 20,000 of these guns, so they are probably responsible for a lot of knocked out Shermans. In some cases, the same type of gun may have knocked the same Sherman out multiple times.  This gun required a bigger truck or halftrack to haul, but overall, it was a great gun.

Pak 43 88mm AT Gun:

This ‘fearsome’ gun had the same PR people as the big cats, but at least, in this case, the gun performed well, though not to the mythical levels some would have you believe. No it can’t take out an M1 ‘Abrahams’, it could take out any allied tank it faced, but it was nearly as rare as the Tiger I&II. They only produced around 2000 of these guns, so they only outnumber the combined Tigers production number of 1839, by a small margin. Overkill for most of the combat it saw, it would have been more useful if the Allies had made the same mistake of wasting resources on heavy tanks, but since they didn’t, this gun was almost entirely a waste of time.  The gun weighed almost 10,000 pounds, and it was an awkward, gun mount, even worse than the US 76 AT gun mount.  It needed a very large tow vehicle and its size and weight limited where it could be employed.

Flak 18/36/37 88mm dual purpose AA/AT Guns.
Flak 36

Another ‘mythical’ German weapon, this one started life as a mediocre AA gun that was pressed into use as a direct fire weapon when needed. As a direct fire weapon, it was pretty good, these larger and much more powerful guns were better at penning armor than anything being mounted on a tank before or at the beginning of the war.  Capable of destroying all the French and British tanks the Germans faced, this gun could even handle the T-34 and KV-1/2 tanks, and it was the only thing the Germans had in any real numbers that could. This led to it being mounted in the Tiger I. The Pak 43 was more powerful, but this gun was more numerous with over 20,000 being produced. If any allied troops were right when they thought an 88 was shooting at them it would be one of these.

flack 43

There was a Flak 41 88mm, but it was a failed attempt to improve upon the 18/36/37 failings as an AA gun.  The reason the basic 88 Flak gun failed as an AA gun was that it had optical range finding, and couldn’t lob a shell high enough to hit US heavy bombers, even the older models like the B-17. They also lacked radar ranging or laying, unlike the superior US M1/2/3 90mm AA gun system. Had these guns not found their nitch in the direct fire role they would have gone down in history as the mediocre AA guns they were.

Next up, Panzerfausts, or AT-sticks as I now call them.

Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Yeide’s The Tank Killers, The Infantries Armor, and Steel Victory, Sherman by Hunnicutt, Combat Lessons, The Rank and file, what they do and how they are doing it 1-7, and 9  WWII Armor, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston, TM4 Sherman tank at war by Green, Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, the Lone Sentry,  TM9-1940 Land mines, TME9-369A German 88MM AA Gun, TME30-451 Handbook on German Armed Forces 1945,  DOA Army Battle Casualties and Non Battle Deaths in WWII, FKSM 17-3-2 Armor in Battle, Another River, another town by Irwin, Wargaming’s Operation Think Tank Videos .  

#9 The Crew And Their Stations: The Human Part Of The Tank, How They Lived, Worked, And Fought

The Life of a Sherman Tanker: The Crew the Tank, and How They Lived With it,  Babied it, Loved and Hated it. 

This section is about the crews of and their life in the Sherman tank. It will cover the responsibilities of each crew member. It will try and cover what the day to day routine of a tank crewmember. No man facing war in the modern world has it easy, and the men who fought the Sherman fit this category, but the claims of bad writers aside, the crews of Sherman tanks had a better chance to make it through the war than your average dough. Tankers faced dangers regular infantry didn’t, but overall, being a tanker was more comfortable, safe, and less likely to get you killed than being a grunt. No man who had to face down Nazi Germany, or Imperial Japan, had it easy though.

M4A3(76) 31st Tank Battalion 7th Armored Division

In most cases the crews loved their tank, this point was really driven home in a recent Chieftain’s hatch, he mentioned how he was interviewing an American tank crewman from WWII, and the crewmember loved the Sherman because it protected him from all the stuff he saw kill the infantry around his tank.  When any kind of artillery fire comes in, the tankers can just close their hatches, buttoning the tank up, and wait it out.  The exterior cargo on the tank is going to get some holes but the crew was safe, and even a direct hit, unless it was a really big gun, probably wouldn’t hurt the crew.  The doughs around the tank had to find any cover they could, and lots of infantry died to mortar and artillery fire.  The tankers also didn’t have to worry about machine guns; AP mines, grenades, and bayonets either.

Being a tanker has its own set of dangers and horrible ways to die, but overall, it was a lot safer to be in a tank, than to be any kind of grunt. Sure, the beast you live with, service, and fight can hurt or kill you if you are not careful, ripping off a carelessly placed foot as a turret rotates or losing fingers to a hatches can suck, but training can minimize those, no training can save you from an artillery barrage as grunt, if you didn’t have time to dig a hole and its flat.  The gruesome ways tanker could die in combat are somewhat offset by the things he can stash in the tank to make life more comfortable. Booze and non-army food were popular items for tanks, plus, you’re not walking around with a heavy pack all the time.  

Drills: Monotonous Training, because ‘Second Nature’ means it’s easier to do under fire!

Along with the Technical Manuals that the crew received on the radios, guns, tracks and suspension and more, there were Field Manuals that the crew used to drill on the tank. The main one for the M4 gun tanks was FM17-67 Crew Drill and Service of the Piece, Medium Tank M4. This was a 132-page book that contained instructions on the crew composition, and on foot formations, crew control, drills, serving of the piece, mounted action, dismounted action, removing wounded from the tank, inspections, sight adjustments, and destruction of the tank and its components.

The idea behind the Field Manual was to give the tank commanders and platoon leaders a set of standard instructions to teach their men so they were all trained to do their jobs the same way, to make everything about the tank and using it as familiar as possible, so it could be used in combat effectively, even under the most terrifying conditions, and still accomplish its mission.  The commands being standardized meant the crew members could be moved around and know the standard way things are done, even in another tank, with an unfamiliar crew.

Now let’s talk about what drilling is all about, because unless you’ve been in the military (I haven’t been, but you can learn about this stuff without having served, and that’s the idea here), you may not really know what drilling means, and it doesn’t involve power tools. Sports people will have some idea, drilling on something is doing it so often, exactly the same each time, hundreds of times or more, to make the drill second nature. So when a tank commander yells abandon tank, no one thinks about it, they just do it, and they’ve done it so many times, they do it flawlessly and fast because they practiced over and over knowing their lives could depend on it later.

Here’s a list of some of the drills: Do Something Over and Over until it bores you to Tears

Each of the drills would be called out by the commander as a verbal order, and each crew member including the commander would carry out a series of actions to accomplish the order. For example, Drill/Order Dismount would be called out, each crew member would have specific instructions for what they were expected to do. Starting with disconnecting their headset intercom cable, then standing on the seat and climbing out, the open hatches order would already have been given.

Prepare to mount the Medium tank; Mount/Dismount: The order/drill for getting in or out of the tank.

Close all doors/hatches open Doors/hatches: The order/drill for Opening or close the hatches on the tank.

Prepare to dismount through escape hatch; DismountThe order/drill for the whole crew prepares to leave the tank through the belly escape hatch.

Pep Drill: A drill, made by making a series of drills into a command to be carried out. for example, Commander orders; IN FRONT OF YOUR TANKS, FALL IN;MOUNT;DISMOUNT;FALLOUT SERGEANT;ON THE LEFT OF YOUR TANKS, FALL IN; FORWARD, MARCH; TO THE REAR, MARCH; MOUNT.

Prepare to fire; Various Fire orders: The orders for shooting the guns at various things, including the main gun AA gun and CO-AX.

Secure Guns:  This was all the actions taken to secure the guns, including unloading them and lowering the periscopes.

Restow Ammo:  This order/drill was for re-stowing the hard to reach ammo so the loader could reach it better by restocking the ready racks and racks nearest him that were depleted by firing.

Load Ammunition: This is the command/drill for loading the tank up with fresh ammo through the hatches.  Main Ammo came in 2, and 3 round crates or tubes, so the crew would have to unpack it all then load it into the tank.

Prepare to fight on Foot; Dismount: This is the order/drill for the crew to get their personal weapons ready, and prepare to exit the tank and fight on foot.

Out of Action: This is the order/drill to get back in the tank after fighting on foot.

Engine FireThis is the order/drill for what to do when the tank’s engine is on fire.

Air Horn Fire: This one is similar to the one above, but for a specific type of fire that only happened on the tanks powered by the R975.

Perform halt inspection: This is the drill/order for doing all the inspections involved with maintaining the tank on a road march.

This list is just a sample, there are many more in the crew drill manuals, and the drills very a little depending on the vehicle. There were a series of drills specific to the various models of Sherman I didn’t list along with numerous inspections related and maintenance related drills too. If there was a common action or job to do on a Sherman tank, there was a Drill involving it. Once in a combat theater drilling would be a lot less common, unless they were refitting and training a lot of replacements or in a rear area for a long period of time. 

Inspections drills involved inspecting parts for wear and tear, and were not the same type of inspection officers would carry out to makes sure all men and gear were present and working.  There would be those as well, but they are not really a drill.

Another responsibility of the crew that was covered in FM17-67 is destroying the tank if it is disabled in an area likely to fall into enemy hands. If they had a good chance of escaping capture, they were to take the periscopic and telescopic sights, if not they were to be smashed.  Then basically, what was destroyed was based on what you had the most time to do. If you had very little time to get away, you might only disable the main gun, machine guns, and stabilizer, with more time the gun recoil mechanism and or the whole tank. The manual gives instruction on methods to destroy everything from the machine guns and main gun to the tank itself.  The Army has refined this over the years, and now the tanks have charges just for destroying them as part of the tanks gear.      

Now let’s go over each man of a Sherman crew and the things he was responsible for and what his job involved.

Commanders position: The Boss, the Man in Charge, the Big Cheese

comand2

The commander sat in the back right side of the turret directly behind the gunner. His job was to command the tank. This meant he took the orders from the platoon leader or company commander and made his tank perform the tasks he’d been given to accomplish the missions he was on. He had the radio in the bustle of the turret to his rear to help him communicate with the rest of the tanks in his unit. To do this he could stand on his seat with his head and shoulders out of the tank, and direct the crew over the intercom. Only he could transmit on the radio, but the others members of the crew could listen. They could all talk to each other on the intercom. On early M4s, when ‘buttoned up’ or when the tank was all closed up with its hatches closed, the commander only had his rotating copula periscope. Later versions of the Sherman had an all-around vision cupola, discussed earlier, that provided a much better view around the tank for the commander. As some of the charts show in the data section, this was the most dangerous crew station. The commander spent a lot of time with his head stuck out, when the rest of the crew was buttoned up, it made him a prime target for basically anyone and anything being shot at the tank.

His job in combat was to call out directions to the driver and call out targets for the gunner. He had a site vane mounted on the roof of the turret to use outside, by using it and his turret override; he could put the gunner roughly on target by rotating the turret. If he was the platoon leader or company commander, he would be calling out directions to the other tanks and trying to sort out what everyone was doing and keep things under control, or in the company commanders case as much control as he could over the tanks in his company. He would be depending heavily on the platoon commanders to run their platoons and keep him informed of what was going on.

He was responsible for the tank up to a point and had to make sure the crew kept up on all the required maintenance to keep the tank in proper running order. He was also responsible for the well-being of his crew. The commander was for obvious reasons, the most experienced man in the tank in most cases in most cases, as well. Crews that had that belonged to the platoon, company and battalion commanders were often short a man on tank maintenance since the officer would be off doing officer stuff, like planning and thinking, sometimes the tanks had a sergeant who stood in for the officer when he wasn’t using the tank as well.

The commander’s position was the only spot open to officers under normal operations.  The most common officers would be 2nd lieutenants, and lieutenants as platoon leaders, captains as company commanders and lieutenant colonels as battalion commanders. You might find a major or two in there as well. NCOs of various ranks from the lowly buck sergeant to staff sergeants and maybe higher on rare occasions would be the enlisted side of the tank commander scale. All the other positions in the tank were filled with lower ranking NCOs or PFCs.

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M4 Commander and his cute puppy crew!

Gunner: The Man behind the gun Big Gun and the Co-Ax.

The gunner was usually the next senior man in the tank. He sat right in front of the commander and used the commander’s hatch to get in and out. He had his own set of turret controls, and only he could control the main guns elevation. Along with the gun controls, he had all the controls for the stabilizer in front of him.  In early Shermans, he only had a periscope with a reticle, it had a fixed 6x power zoom, but also could be looked through with no zoom. Later gunner’s had the periscopes and a direct view scope. He was dependent on the commander to get him near a target and then took five to six seconds for him to pick up the target. This took a much longer time on German tanks like the Panther, with gunner target acquisition times in the minutes, not seconds.

gunnerandcommandrgunners spot

The gunner controlled the main gun, and the coaxial mounted M1919A4.30 caliber machine gun, though he was still following the commander’s orders on what to shoot. Each weapon was fired with a foot switch on the gunner’s footrest, and a manual lanyard for backup use. The gunner controlled the turret either with a hydraulic system independent of the tanks motor, and a manual system that just used a crank and gears. You would think the gunner would have the best view out, but in tanks, most of the time, at least in the older models, their view was very limited, but for the era, the Sherman was better than most other tanks. A good gunner working with a good loader in the 75mm armed Sherman could get off, two or three aimed shots in very short time, a very big advantage in tank combat.

GUnners periscopeII

A Tank gunner also had to be able to shoot, like all other WWII tanks, the Sherman lacked any kind of kind of aiming aid for the gunner other than his scope and periscope. Limited range finding could be done with the reticle in the sight, based on the known height of something, but it was not very exact.  The gunner’s brain was really the tool that did the correcting based on experience, skill, and innate ability and feedback from the commander on fall. Modern tankers have it much easier in this area, since modern tanks have laser rangefinders, and sensors to check for windage, temperature, and barrel wear, and a computer to use all the data to complete the aiming corrections for the gun. That was something that probably couldn’t even be dreamed of by a WWII tanker. Better rangefinders were right over the horizon though

M4A4 Armament diagram westinghouse traverse 75mm early turret
This is the all-electric Westinghouse Turret drive, the least popular of the three units used.

Loader: The Man Who Feeds the Hungry Beast!

The loaders job was to service the 75mm M3 gun and the coax .30 caliber machine gun. The commander or gunner would call out the ammo type for the main gun, and the loader would load the gun and yell “Up!” and the gunner would know the gun was ready to fire. The loader was supposed to watch the belt on the coax and make sure the gun didn’t run dry. He was also supposed to be trained on how to clear a problem with the main gun or machine guns. Even canons can have duds, or shell problems, or even just break.  There were a small number of spare parts kept in the tank for the common things that failed on the guns.

Sherman-Easy-8-tank-interior-02loader

loader2

The loaders station was on the left of the gun, opposite of the gunner. He had a lot of space to move around compared to other tanks of the time, and a fold up seat. He also had a fully rotating periscope on the roof above him for his viewing pleasure.  In early Shermans, the loader had twelve ready rounds around the base of the turret basket, with another eight in a ready rack at his feet. This was the primary reason so many early Shermans burned, anything that penetrated the turret or the hull and hit those exposed rounds would set off a chain reaction of the propellant in all the ready rounds igniting, destroying the tank, and often killing most of the crew. This problem was figured out pretty fast and the twelve exposed rounds were deleted and an armored four round ready rack replaced it and an eight-round ready rack was used on improved models. Later armor was added to the inside and outside of the sponson ammo boxes as well, before removing them completely for the wet ammo installations in later improved hulls.

co ax moun 75mm turret

If a lot of firing was taking place, the loader was a very busy guy, on early Shermans the sponson racks, even without all the turret ready ammo, he had a fair number of easy to get to ammo racks for the main gun, but since the turret basket was screened, he could only get to them with the turret at certain bearings. With the switch to all ammo but the ready ammo in the floor of the hull, his job got much harder. On the wet ammo rack tanks, he would have to pull open doors in the bottom of the turret basket, then open an armored box and pull ammo from it. He had to know what was in all the ammo boxes, and was responsible for what got loaded into where, and remembering it all.

M4A4 small hatch storage

The loader on some models also had a 2-inch smoke mortar to load and fire at the commander’s desire. It was a short-lived feature. It protruded into the loader space and was not well liked by that member of the crew.  Part of the crew drills for the Sherman involved almost the whole crew, during combat, if they tank wasn’t moving, the co-driver and driver helped the loader by passing him ammo from harder to reach ammo racks, and in lulls in the fighting the whole crew would help, so the loader could re-arrange the ammo racks getting hard to reach ammo into the easier to reach racks.

After spending some time as a co-driver, a crewmember may be moved up to loader. A good loader was important, the 75mm and later 76mm guns were capable of very fast rates of fire, but only if the loader could keep up. When he wasn’t scrambling around the floor of the turret opening armored doors in the floor to find ammo to feed the gun, he was another set of eyes. On early tanks using his periscope, on later ones he could stick his head out of his own hatch. Many crews mounted extra machine guns to the roofs too, and if there was one on the loaders hatch it would be his to shoot. Some units would put the M2 .50 mount in front of the loader, and put a .30 Cal M1919A4 on a mount in front of the commander.

Early to well into later production 75mm gun armed Shermans did not have a loaders hatch. This meant if the loader had to bail out of the turret through the commander’s hatch, he had to get around the main gun to do it. It would be a very hard thing to do if the tank was burning or the loader was wounded and the tank filled with smoke, but that’s why they drilled so much.

The Driver: The Man Who Drives But At the Behest of the Boss

The driver and co-driver were separate from the turret crew; they sat in the forward part of the hull. They could only climb into the turret if the turret was rotated to line up the holes in the turret basket, at least on early models, with the driver’s compartment. The transmission sat between the driver and co-driver and only the driver had a set of controls. Only the driver had any instruments as well. On early tanks, the drivers and co-drivers hatches were oval shaped and small and required the man to twist sideways to get through. On very early tanks the driver had a rotating periscope in his hatch and a direct viewport with an armored cover. The viewports were removed from production and extra armor was added over them. This was done very quickly at most factories when it was found bullet splash could get through even a closed port. They were also a big ballistic weak spot in the armor.

drivers and co driversdrivers

The driver needed to be able to drive the tank, often without knowing what he was driving into, trusting the eyes of the other crew members and commander to keep him out of trouble. He needed to know what his tank could drive over and climb, and what it couldn’t. Getting your tank stuck in the mud was an embarrassing thing to do. If the tank was really stuck, it might require more than one tank to pull it out, if the resources in your platoon couldn’t do it, you had to call in other help. The crew would get a lot of heat for that type of thing.

M4A4 drivers control group

Driving the tank was important, and the driver had to work well with the commander. A savvy co-driver could be moved into this spot, or a good louder would be given a shot. The position was roomy and fairly comfortable as tank positions go. He had a good view forward from a fixed periscope and rotating one built into the driver’s hatch. The seat could also be adjusted up, and the tank driven with drivers head stuck out. In the movie Tank with James Garner, you get a lot of shots of him driving the tank with his head stuck out a small hatch M4A3.

M4A3 drivers hatchm4a3 compass

As tanks go the Sherman was reputed to be pretty easy to drive, the R975 powered models the hardest, the GAA the easiest, with the diesel and A57 powered models being almost as good as the GAA when in fine working order. Learning to drive the Sherman was the easy part, where and how to drive it in combat and just over what terrain it could go that was the real challenge.  The Sherman tanks mechanical toughness made it easier for the driver to worry about the important parts of t his job and not breaking the tank.

M4A4 instrament panel keyfor M4A4 instrament panel

blower for the crew
Air blower for the crew mounted  between the driver and co-driver, not the light mounted on it

 

The Co-driver: The BOG, the Low Man On The Pole

The co-drivers position was the on the right front of the hull and has its own hatch. The position had no controls or instrument panel. This position had a .30 caliber M1919A4 machine gun, aimed by tracer through the periscopes. This gun had a very limited fire arc and wasn’t very effective, but the extra crew member was nice to have around to help keep the tank up and running.

M4A4 BOG DV Tank from TMdriver and co drivers seats

This was the position most new tankers started in. As they learned how the tank worked they got moved around. Not all crew changes were due to loses. You could have a man transfer out or be sent to the rear for a disciplinary situation, to leave, or some other reason. Crew members could be moved from tank to tank. If another Sherman lost its commander and no one in it was ready to replace the man, a really good gunner or driver might get pulled out of another tank to take it over. Crews were kept together for as long as practical though. The co-driver was the closest to the escape hatch built into the floor of the tank; it was right behind the seat and would be the best way for the driver and co-driver to get out of the tank in some cases, or the only way if the turret was in the wrong place.

machineGunner

The BOG would be ready to help the loader re-store ammo when needed in combat or would be the crew member the commander asked to get out and check something. On command tanks, he would have an extra command radio mounted in the sponson next to him and he would assist the commander in its use.

 

Living with the Beast: In the Field, the Tank was Home

The five men of the crew were responsible for keeping the tank running. This meant keeping up on a long list of daily chores from checking track tension and adjusting it, to tightening the bolts on each end link on both sides of the track run, to checking the oil and radiator fluids, or the batteries. There were also numerous things that had to be hit with a grease gun, others that had to be adjusted. Depending on the motor type various engine maintenance tasks had to be done, and they all needed their air cleaners cleaned often. Plus cleaning and maintaining the main gun, and all the machine guns, loading ammo and fuel. The radios would require constant attention to keep working reliably.

Lube chart for M4A3
The lubrication chart for the M4A3, this is just one page. There was another for the mechanical stuff that wasn’t related to the powertrain or motor too.

Getting food and eating, and other person chores all had to be done as well, and sometimes the crews ate while they worked on the tank. Many tanks ended up piled with extra gear to help make the tankers lives easier. They only had to keep the tank up to a point, if it needed major work, like a new transmission or engine; a company or battalion level maintenance crew would come and help, ideally, or a replacement tank would be issued if to much work was needed.

317-Barracks_Ft__Knox,_KY_1972_Basic_Trainin
Fort Knox Barracks Building Circa 1972.
Typical WWII barracks, this one at Fort Knox.
The inside of the Fort Knox Barracks above.

Daily life at a major base or rear area base in a combat theater would be similar to the infantry or the other combat arms. On a major base, they would be living in heated barracks, their tanks in a tank park somewhere, with an area set aside for maintenance. They would be living in barracks organized the same way as their units, though if in the US some men could be living off base. There would be mess halls and bathrooms with plumbing and hot water. Daily life would be drilling, cleaning and maintaining the tanks, drilling on the tanks. Practicing on the tanks, driving it around, using the weapons, fixing it when it broke or getting it unstuck when it got stuck. Generally learning how the tank worked and how to use it, with field training and bigger exercises mixed in. There would also be a lot of cleaning, the tank, the barracks, the area around the barracks and probably KP duty and other watches or duties.  Tanker probably didn’t spend as much time running or doing calisthenics and the infantry either.  One of the most common training drills would be getting in and out of the tank fast under various circumstances.

stripes
Another picture of Fort Knox Barracks, this one from much later. Hmmm, odd-looking soldiers…

In a combat theatre rear area, life would be like a stateside base with more tents, and fewer amenities and worse food. They would also be spending more time training on the tanks and later in the war, training with the infantry they would be working with. They would be spending their time training new people or replacements, and getting ready for their first combat or going back in combat.

US_3rd_Armored_Division_M4_Sherman_Tanks_in_Action_in_Belgium_1944
M4A1 and M4 tanks loaded with a lot of stuff on the back deck. Extra food and ammo were common fare, along with things to make life a little easier.

Once out operating things would be different, though much time would still be spent not fighting, working on the tanks, eating and generally being bored. The living conditions would be worse, the men would be sleeping under tarps hung from the sides of the tanks as makeshift tents, and sleeping on the ground or another tarp on the ground or cots if they could steal them somewhere and they didn’t get shot up while fighting, since they would be tied down somewhere on the outside of the tank. Once free of the daily grind that base life was, free from junk on the bunk, or tarp in the tank inspections, tanks start to look more like something out of the movie Mad Max than tanks from a military unit. Tankers collected all manner of junk to haul on their tank, logs were common, maybe for the added stand-off armor value against AT sticks, or for the value in getting the tank unstuck from the deep mud. It was really up to the officers and senior NCOs to stay on top of the crews to keep the tanks in running condition, and it was common in badly run units for daily maintenance to stop on the tanks once the fight started.

us armor in ww2

Tank crews like any other soldiers look for things to make their life easier when stuck out in the field and at war. Tankers have the advantage of being able to stuff things in the nooks and crannies of the tank, or just strap it on the outside. Things including extra food, and small arms ammo, water, gas and oil cans, stuff pilfered from abandoned homes or occupied ones once the Army made it into Germany. It’s really no surprise the US Army liberated goods from the Germans, after having to fight them and seeing what they did in the camps, it seems no one really cared as long as US Soldiers didn’t shoot the Germans while taking their things.  Tankers could haul a lot more loot than an infantry grunt could. I will not judge allied troops for taking things from the Germans; the Germans did a lot of stealing themselves, and most stood by while the Gestapo shipped 12 million people off to their deaths, so having their stuff, often stolen property itself, taken by troops who didn’t want to be there in the first place doesn’t bother me. It surprises me the Allies didn’t slaughter more Germans outright after seeing their ghastly inhuman crimes though.

Another key difference is, in anything but the most desperate situation, Army or Marine Corps tanks withdrew to the rear, not far, but far enough to not be in the line, at night. Tanks are blind during the day, at night they are almost cripplingly so and tanks were rarely used in night attacks, no countries experimental night vision systems were good enough for that. Holding the line was left to the grunts, at night the tanks would spend their time getting their tanks reloaded, refueled, and repair any damage, on top of all the normal day to day maintenance a tank still required. This was done before eating, and sometimes under harassing artillery fire.  In the few cases, tanks were forced to be part of a line at night and an attack happened, they often ended up alone since they had little chance of noticing their infantry was pulling back without them. This left the tanks very vulnerable to infantry close assault.

Infantry always had mixed feelings about armor.  They complained about it when it drew artillery fire, and it often did. When the ground pounders ran into something really dug in, even something like a light machine gun, if their ability to maneuver to flank and take it out was hindered, they really liked tanks. If there was even a hint or rumor, of enemy armor in the area, the infantry loved the tankers and their steel mounts.  A tank-infantry team, working together like a well-oiled machine, was hard to beat, as Germans and Japanese found out.

One thing the tankers were advised to do, is once an objective was taken, they needed to withdraw out of view of the enemy and off the objective so the infantry could reorganize and prepare for the standard German counter-attack. If they stayed on the objective, the amount of fire they drew, both direct, and indirect, made it harder for the infantry to reorganize, so the tanks would pull back and rearm and refuel and wait somewhere out of sight until they were needed again.  If they could not get out of view completely, they would have to do maintenance, under harassing mortar or artillery fire.

 

A whole tank company or more parked in a sqaure.
Several Companies of Tanks parked in a town square. A large mix of M4 types. The crews are probably living in the surrounding buildings. This is a really interesting photo, and I found out it’s the 752nd Tank Battalion in Italy. The location is Plaza Emanuel in Bologna. (UPDATE: We got a great comment from a reader, Tommaso Gollini, ‘the pic taken in Bologna (my hometown) is fantastic. I already saw it in other places. Our main square is called Piazza Maggiore after the end of WW2 but was called Piazza Vittorio Emanuele at the time of the pic. The members of the tank battalion weren’t lodged in the nearby buildings. The edifice on the back of the tanks is called “commune”, and was the place where the Major of the town (called Podestà during the fascism) and the government were operating. Mostly offices and such. On the left, the other edifice is called “Palazzo dei notai” and was the house of the notary corporation (also, offices). On the left of the Palazzo dei notai, not visible, there is our greatest church (San Petronio). On the other side of the pic, the left side of the tanks, there is another historical building. So it’s easier thinking the gi was just camped around spread in civilian houses, or in some other building, not in the pic’

I would say, just based on the fact a tanker rides in a tank everywhere they go, and that they get to carry more food and water and other things to make their lives easier. They also fight under armor, and though the inside of a tank may be hotter than hell, and smell bad, it was way safer than being an infantry soldier. Short of a direct hit from a large artillery piece, say bigger than 105mm, it would be safer to be inside a tank than in a foxhole. That they are not used to occupy areas also made their lives safer, but they have harder work to do. Working on a tank is hard, heavy, and dangerous work all on its own. But not having to walk everywhere is nice, and so is all that armor, and those cushy Sherman seats.

♦♦♦

In the Pacific, things were a little different.  At least for the Marines, it seems like they were rarely put ashore to train anywhere they could actually train on their tanks until very late in the war, before a battle. In one case the tanks were stored on an Island, and couldn’t even really be driven around, so the crews got no training time in the tanks before the battle.  After combat, sometimes there was little space for the tanks to pull back to reload and do maintenance, and out of desperation, they got used as part of the line occasionally.  This would make keeping the tank running a lot harder, but the Sherman was reputed to run even after a lot of neglect and abuse, and then when they finally did have a mechanical failure, it was easy enough to fix.

In a number of battles, the tanks couldn’t pull far enough back to be safe while they tried to reload and repair the tanks. Supply was a problem, particularly early in the battles, because of a combo of loading the tank supplies to deep in the ship and losing so much cargo as they tried to get it ashore. Getting spare parts for the tanks was hard, the crews would have to search around, and going through wrecked landing craft and amphibious tractors and that was if there were parts to be had. In most cases, spares were robbed from damaged and destroyed tanks.  I know of at least one case crews went through tanks that had been knocked out or swamped to get ammo for the next day’s fighting.

Crap on the Tarp tank style.
Ammo and weapons of an M46 laid out for inspection on the tanks tarp. This was one of the few images I could find of a tanks items out on the tarp for inspection, but it would look just like this with smaller main gun rounds!

As the war progressed, the tankers in the Pacific, Army, and Marine, learned how to use the Sherman to great advantage. After each campaign they improved their game, and as far as I can tell there really wasn’t much cross-pollination in tank tactics between the Marines and Army. In both cases tankers trained at Fort Knox, and yes the Marines sent officers through the armor courses the Army taught there, seemed to try and shoehorn standard armor tactics into the war in the Pacific, and in most cases, they just didn’t work.

The threats the tanker in the Pacific faced were very different. Since they rarely could pull far enough back, they faced the real risk of Japanese night raiders attacking them. As a counter, they came up with a system of digging a trench under the tank and putting sandbags around the suspension and they would even go so far as setting up one of the M1919 machine guns in a sandbagged nest right in front of the tank. They could back out of these positions and then return and pull right in after they were done for the day.

The Pacific tank had no tank versus tank worries, in the extremely rare cases of US tanks running into Japanese tanks, the Sherman dominated. Japanese tanks were not well armed, well armored, or very common, and a Bazooka was a very serious threat to any of them. The real threat to the Sherman in the Pacific was the 47mm AT gum, any and all large caliber artillery the Japanese may have had around, mines, though not seriously until late in the war, and Japanese Suicide squads with pole mines and satchel charges.

This M4 seems to be under fire, and has a lot of junk on the back. Notice the soldier looking at the camera.This M4 hybrid is loaded down with a lot of stuff. Probably in the Philippines.

The climate of the various campaign locations in the Pacific was pretty diverse. Early on, in the SWPAO, places like New Guinea, Bougainville and Tarawa are pretty close to the equator and hot and humid, the Philippines are also in the tropics. Fighting inside a tank in these areas was not pleasant, and it wasn’t unheard of for crewmembers to pass out from the heat and smoke inside the tank. The environment offered almost as much danger to the Pacific tanker as combat since there were several diseases the caused mass casualties, the main being malaria. The US was very aggressive at controlling the malaria problem, issuing preventive medication and spraying massive amounts of DDT to kill mosquitoes.  Later in the war, the battles had left the tropics, and were much like the battles in Europe climate wise and the malaria risk fell off.

NARA_-_532562
Wounded crewmember being helped out of a damaged M4

Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Yeide’s TD and two separate tank battalion books, Sherman by Hunnicutt, Combat Lessons, The Rank and file, what they do and how they are doing it 1-7, and 9. Archive Awareness, Oscar Gilberts, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific,  M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, the Lone Sentry, TM9-731b, TM9-752, TM9-754, TM9-759