#5 Combat Performance: How Well it Killed Stuff.

Combat Performance: It Killed Stuff Pretty damn well.

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A line of Sherman II tanks

When Sherman went into combat in British hands in the North African desert in October of 1942, it was bar none, the best tank in the world. It had a better gun and more armor, along with good or better mobility than all the axis tanks it faced. It wouldn’t have a German peer until the Panzer IV was up-gunned and even then, the best version of the Panzer IV was barely a match for a 75mm armed Sherman and totally outclassed by the later 76mm armed tanks. The Sherman tank was designed, and the design improved to maximize it how easy it was to produce, while also improving the reliability, crew fighting efficiency, safety, and comfort. This was fairly unique to U.S. Tank design, and can be attributed in many ways to the automotive production experts who came out of Detroit and the US Auto industry.

The basic small hatch Sherman was found to be fine for the job all the way through the invasion of Italy and Normandy. The introduction of the Tiger and Panther did not seem like the same thing US Army, battalion sized special units, who had more value as propaganda tool, than weapons of war, so they didn’t really plan for fighting them on a regular bases. In the Tigers case they were right; it was rare and more or less useless waste of German resources. The Panther would become much more common after the break out from Normandy, but if you really look at its performance, it was not that great of a threat. In most cases in when they met in Europe, the Sherman won. The 75mm M3 Armed Sherman was very well equipped to deal with infantry and AT guns, the main threat they would face, and this was part of why the US Army didn’t want to jump to the, available at the time of Normandy, 76mm armed Shermans.

The US Army tried the M1 gun out on the Sherman just about when the Sherman 75 hit production. The Sherman Minutia Site has images and covers the history, as do various books,  the M1 gun fit, but was a tad long, so the just chopped off more than a foot. It worked well enough they ordered 1000 Shermans armed with the gun, but then the order was canceled because the turret was found turret was to cramped. Later, they would adapt the T23s turret to the Sherman hull for a much better solution to the problem of up gunning the tank.  Oddly, after the war, the many 75mm Shermans were up gunned with the M1A2 gun, and then given to allies as military aid. A fun way to see a few of these tanks in action is watch the 70s movie, Kelly’s Heroes, the Shermans in that are all up gunned 75mm turreted M4A3 tanks.

The Sherman, even the version armed with the 75mm gun, could still deal with the heavier Nazi German tanks, as long as it had room to move around, and knew where it was. Much noise has been made about how it was a death trap after the D-Day landings and the Panther and Tiger tore it up in the bocage. This is a myth. There is pretty good evidence the US Army only faced maybe two or three Tiger I tanks, in Europe, ever. The Panther was more common, but also got roughly handled in just about every battle it faced Shermans in.

The German’s rarely used the Panther in the bocage country because its long gun made it hard to use in the tight quarters and reliability problems were ever present with this tank. The tank the Sherman faced in US hands was the Panzer IV and various Stug assault guns, neither of which outclassed the Sherman in any real way. But they did have the advantage of being on the defense. Post war studies by the US Army showed the Sherman was more effective than German armor at this point; the claims of the Sherman being a death trap were false. Even early Sherman tanks were no more likely to burn than any other tank and the later war wet ammo rack tanks were the safest tanks of the war. German tanks used gasoline and gas was not found to be a major cause of fires in destroyed Shermans, ammo fires were. See the links in the data section for info on this. Most Sherman losses were due to anti-tank guns, infantry AT weapons and mines, and not so much tank on tank action.

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When Operation Cobra was kicked off, the first use of large hatch hull, wet ammo rack, 76mm armed Shermans took place. The M4A1 76 being the model used first followed by A3 76 tanks within weeks. These tanks were not well received across the board, with some units preferring the 75mm armed tanks because facing armor was rare even then and the 75mm gun was better at taking out anti-tank guns and infantry, and could still deal with any German armor they encountered. Some units welcomed the better anti-tank capability even if it wouldn’t kill a Panther from the front unless at very short range.

By the battle of the bulge, the M4A3E8 and M4A3E2 Jumbo were showing up for combat use. The Jumbo had much thicker armor and were loved by their crews. By the close of the Bulge, German armor would become very rare, but even so more and more 76mm armed Shermans would be issued. By the end of the war the ratio would be near 50%. The Army also wanted to stop production on the 75mm gunned M4s in 1945, but the USMC and the British still had requirements for the 75mm gun tanks so it stayed in limited production.

There was a bit of a scandal about the Sherman being no good in the press back in the States about the time of the Bulge, but in reality, the Sherman was really having its shining moment during that battle and performed very well against German armor that was supposedly better. Bad movies aside, the Sherman more than held its own in the Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Offensive. This is covered in Steven Zaloga’s Armored Thunderbolt, in much more detail.

By the time the next generation replacement showed up, the M26, the war was all but over, and only a handful would see combat. In many ways the M26 was inferior to the M4. Due to its slightly shortened development and testing time, it had a few reliability problems. It was still so reliable that it would have put any German tank to shame though. The motor, though stressed more in the M26, the GAA, was solid and reliable. The very early tanks had some transmission issues, that were resolved, and some minor things like bracing the final drive housings and changing the drive sprocket configuration were the only major changes. It was never as reliable as the Sherman, but it was close enough to be adopted, for use by the Army and Marines.

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M4A1 tanks coming off a floating doc from an LST. the LST does not get enough credit for being a technological marvel of it’s time and something Nazi Germany had no ability to produce.♦
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M4A2 76W lend lease tank in Soviet use, note the ever present log on the Soviet Sherman, the infantryman is kneeling on it. I built a dragon M4A2 76w like this once in 1/35 scale. The Soviet crews were sad to see their tanks destroyed per the lend lease agreement at the end of the war. When watching the US and Brit freighter crews dumping the tanks in the ocean instead of taking them home, they stopped giving them back . They turned them into tractors by removing the guns and turret.♦

This M4A1 seems to be under fire, and has a lot of junk on the back. Notice the soldier looking at the camera.
M4 composite hull under fire in the Philippines, and just look at all the stuff they have packed onto the back of the tank, and note how it’s all tied down. ♦
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An M4A1 76w and an M4 of the 3rd AD Shermans in action in Belgium, 1944. It looks like the M4A1 76 has an air recognition panel on the rear deck. 
3rd Armored Division, Stolberg, 1944
A M4 with the 3rd Armored Division, near Stolberg Germany, 1944. The tank appears to have all the “quick fix” upgrades.♦
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looking for a sniper, M4A3 76w and an M4A3E8.♦
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A late production small hatch M4A1 75 passing knocked out Nazi PIV tanks. ♦
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Another small hatch M4A1 75 passing a knocked out Nazi PIV, this M4A1 has what looks like an extra steel plate attached to the front of the hull. ♦

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Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Yeide’s TD and two separate tank battalion books, Sherman by Hunnicutt, Combat Lessons, The Rank and file, what they do and how they are doing it 1-7, and 9.  Archive Awareness, Oscar Gilbert’s, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, WWII Armor, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston,  M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, the Lone Sentry, the data in the data section

22 thoughts on “#5 Combat Performance: How Well it Killed Stuff.

  1. Tanks are weapons systems, like aircraft, ships and submarines. As a medium tank weapons system, the Sherman was very effective due to its range of integrated capabilities, flexibility across a range of roles, reliability, and pure numbers. However, the latter, while an advantage that wins wars, is of little comfort to individual tank commanders when their backs are to the wall. As a pure tank on tank weapon, pretty clearly a bit less so, but still effective when tactics could bring some of the advantages to bear in terms of overall system integration.

    Of course, I often engage in the mental exercise of which Sherman I’d have wanted to be in during the war, and for me, it’s clearly the Jumbo field upgraded to the 76mm like many were. Any tank can be defeated, but figure I’d have the best chance in regular roles as well as tank on tank. I do consider it one of the errors in procurement judgement that the Jumbo was not produced in greater numbers, I’m sure it would have cut losses significantly.

    Or, if picking ANY tank, maybe the Super Heavy Tank prototype :-). Great to see this one down at Fort Knox. Sheesh!

    Best to all.

    1. Robbster,
      Thanks for the kind comments!

      I love how the Super heavy tank was just found out in a little used area on some Army base. It has been moved to Some really interesting tanks the US Army developed have survived, like the T-29 heavy, and they building a museum to house the vehicles as they restore them.

      This post has some shots of the tanks the new Armor and Cavalry Museum is going to have.
      http://www.theshermantank.com/sherman/58-special-gallery-2-shermans-at-fort-benning/

      See this related story on the Washington Post for some info on the Museum.
      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/08/03/a-battered-world-war-ii-hero-of-bastogne-gets-a-new-home-and-museum-built-around-it/?utm_term=.519e8ecfaaae

  2. It is interesting everybody nowadays is accusing others of ‘fakenews’ and ‘alternative facts’ and use insults and polarisation as weapon of choice.

    You know the USA has Desinformation as one of its prime strategic weapons? Or you are not aware of this? Then see the multitude of efforts to re-validate the Sherman.

    I have a challenge for you: Define a system of getting the truth on the table, using logic, facts, sources and their relative validation. The outcome can be between +1 and -1, as validation of a statement. Since logic is already existing, I propose to use formal logic like is used in science. Since facts will be disputed, and sources claimed to be biased, there need to be a mutual agreed upon validation method. If you don’t come up with one I would propose to use well known scientists as experts, where a mutual agreed upon qualification would make the acceptable for the other side. Then both sides come up with three experts, and facts and sources will be validated by simple counting. If no, or less than three expert can validate the opinion of one side, the count will be simply accepted as less than the other side.

    A complete construction of a logic statement can than be evaluated according to these rules, and for instance an outcome could be “In the majority of cases the Sherman tank outgunned the German tanks” were subparts would be defined and evaluated separate to build the total constuction.

    But to keep it simple: give a better proposal if you have one.

  3. “We just could not understand that the country with the highest degree of industrialization ….would not come to Normandy with the very best tank in the world, because any Sherman up to 1200 meters you could knock out, that was no problem….and being an old tankman I really pitied the fellows who had to come against a Panzer or let alone a Tiger…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfZD2_LHi5c (05:05 – 05:52)

  4. The Sherman Had some features the Panzertroupen would had killed for:
    Both tanks had a power and a manual turret traverse, on the Panther the power traverse was never used because it didn’t work. On the Sherman the manual traverse was never used because the power one had such precision. The TCs of both tanks could rotate the turret via their own personal power traverse control. Which as stated above this only benefited the Sherman TC, in fact late model M4s came with a leaf sight welded to the top of the turret that the TC would use to acquire targets for his Gunner.
    The Sherman Gunner had two sights to the Panther’s one. The primary one being a top of the turret mounted telescope with a built-in gunsight. This afforded the Sherman Gunner a better view with improved situational awareness. The Panther gunner could only view the world through his coaxial sight and had to be directed by the TC to bring the gun to bear.
    All modern battle tanks have fully stabilized guns. When locked onto a target they will stay that way irregardless of the movement of the tank. The Sherman gun was stabilized in the vertical axis, the Panther gun was stabilized in none. It was against German Doctrine to shoot on the move so all of their opponents fired on the move whether their guns were stabilized or not.
    Shermans came from the factory with one fitty cal and three places to mount it on the turret. Typically it was placed at the back of the turret and crewed by tank born infantry. The crew would scrounge up two more 30 cals for use by the TC and the Loader on the other two mounts. In conjunction with the coaxe and bow MGs the Sherman had a better chance of defending itself against infantry armed with AT weapons that the Panther. The MG 34 of the Panther was meant for antiaircraft defense. Its 50 round magazine of 7.9mm could be depleted in 2.2 seconds. Even if the TC did hit a Jabos it probably didn’t mean anything.
    The Sherman was a communication center and could be equipped with AM, FM and Walkie talky radios.
    Telegraph Wire could be run to the tank and supporting infantry could talk to the tank crew via a phone booth at the rear of the hull.
    Lastly the Sherman did something no Panzer ever did, it supported its infantry.
    This was against German Doctrine because doing so was too costly in tanks and they had too few.

  5. Eisenhower had a good quote on the matter: “It is pure bosh to say that 75 per cent of out equipment is inferior to the German material. Speaking generally the reverse is true although, of course, if you take the present Sherman and the Panther and put them in a slugging match the latter will win. One trouble is that even many of our professionals do not understand that a compromise in tank characteristics is necessary if we are to meet our own complex requirements in this type of environment.” (From Mark T. Calhoun, General Lesley J. McNair: Unsung Architect of the US Army (Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2015), 284.)

  6. About the LST, well – for sure no,
    the Germans did not make them,
    but they sank plenty of ’em..
    look up the ‘Slapton Sands’ debacle..

    & while you’re giving praise where its due,
    check out the ‘Siebel ferry’..
    then ask yourself why the Germans
    got most of their stuff out of Sicily,
    instead of it being destroyed..
    ..or captured wholesale, by Patton’s army..

  7. A really good and refreshing article to read. I cam across this Website doing research on a Sherman I am building.
    I have never felt that the Panthers and Tigers were oh so superior to the Allied tanks, but the truth is more complicated that many would have you believe.
    The Panther and Tiger were harder hitting and indeed better armoured. You can go into one all day long, but to compare the Tiger and the Sherman, who were different classes, IE: heavy and medium and different roles Breakthrough and Support is totally unfiar.
    What gets lost in a lot of these confrontations on forums is the reality behind each tank, and the reality is the courage of the crews in them. There can be no doubt that our boys (Brits and Americans) had the courage of lions and the dedication to duty only the most rabid Hitler lover could dream off.
    So yes, the Panther and Tiger could hit harder, and were better protected, but the Sherman would always be there and always at the forefront of any battle.
    That is why in my opinion it was a damn good tank.
    Mind you, didn’t see any Panthers or Tigers Celebrating Victory of the war did we?

  8. There is no doubt the Sherman was a good tank in its class. And our Tankers did a class act job in defeating Nazi armor during the war. However my Uncle was an “Easy 8” driver in 1944-45 and stated the platoon had to split up and one section maneuver to the flank (preferably the rear) to knock out an enemy tank with the anemic 75mm round.

    I’m sorry but his reality and your “cavalier” treatment of actual tank-vs-tank combat are definitely two different things!

  9. Very good articles the sherman was a great tank although somewhat inferior to the panzers in a longer range fight but in close quarters the sherman excelled comparing the two in long range is like comparing the m1 garand and the Thompson very good tank though

  10. Ah good, instead of talking about fact we start to accuse of ‘believing the Nazi lying scum stories’ and making ‘poor choices’. So we play the character card. Nice, that is how you control history. Propaganda, that is what you do. Where does that remind me off??

  11. As usual by propaganda people, you get personally attacked if they cannot deal with facts and logic. What you do sir, is exactly what the Nazi’s did to the truth.

  12. I notice there is a kind of massive bias on patriotic websites on how well the Sherman did against the Panzers. This has no relation to reality in my opinon. The Sherman is useless in the tank fights in several wargame simulations, and the stories of German tankers from WWII speak for themselves. The stories from the US side I do question now since I see the reality is being formed to fit the desired historic view that the Sherman was a great tank.

    1. Armour,
      You really should look into better sources, games have to be balanced, and make for poor understanding of how things actually work in real battles. Old board games are notorius for giving the Germans far more advantages than they really had. As for the word of Nazi tankers, and believing their stories, well, I’ll take well researched history by authors like Zaloga and Hunnicutt over Nazi propaganda and lies any day. Famous Nazi German tanker Otto Carius admitted the supposed Nazi tank aces had their records inflated by large numbers purely for propaganda purposes, and either they were the kills of the unit, or simply made up. Also web sites like Archive Awareness have proven German kill claims are often totally false!

      There is statistical proof the Sherman was a better tank than the Panther and other german panzers, you can read about the reports the army did in Zaloga’s book Armored Thunderbolt.

      Reality is not being formed to fit a desired look, good history backed by archival documentation is showing how wrong the old, German biased, and often written histories were. Hell, the Chieftain, over on the what forums found French reports on their post war Panther use, and how these tanks could drive more than 150 kilometers on average before needing major drivetrain overhauls! These are facts, backed by documents, that only the ignorant, or biased, and that’s biased towards the Nazis, people seem to ignore.

      It seems odd to me that people find it so hard to believe the Nazis were lying scum, but that’s a fact too, and trusting their war stories and kill claims is a poor choice.

    2. No, you assume the existence of said bias, because you refuse to consider that your assumptions are invalid/in and of themselves biased..

    3. You are basing your view on gaming information? What a moron. Do some research in some real data instead of war game bs.

      1. Fitting name, anyway, before you go insulting someone, you should work on your reading skills. This site is based on factual real world information on the Sherman from multiple sources, from user accounts, to the manuals on the Sherman tank to the works published about it, to Army after action reports, etc. The site also reviews games that have Sherman tanks in them. Hence the all things Sherman tank tag line. No where do I say, or imply my information and opinions on the Sherman tank come from its performance in games. That would be almost as stupid as insulting someone for something you mis understood.

        Anyway, thanks for the laughs.

        1. I obviously did not make my previous statement clear. I was answering “Meplat” by stating that many of the anti-Sherman people are basing their views on the gaming industries view of the Sherman tank. I once read a response to an article on Lafayette Pool that claimed no American tanker could have achieved the record that he did because he was in a Sherman tank. There is tremendous biase against the Sherman and its crews especially when dealing with melenials.

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