#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 basic small hatch Sherman was found to be fine for the job all the way through the invasion of Italy. The introduction of the Tiger and Panther did not seem like a big deal to the US Army so they didn’t really plan for them. In the Tigers case they were right; it was rare and more or less useless waste of German resources. The Panther was to become much more common, but if you really look at its performance, not that great of a threat. In most cases when they met in Europe, the Sherman won.

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 it’s 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, 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 that battle. This is covered in Steven Zaloga’s Armored Thunderbolt.

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, it just didn’t live up to the Shermans stellar reputation in this area.

I will cover specific battles in this section as well, but will add them later, with notes and citations.

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Early M4A1 tanks coming off a floating doc from an LST
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M4A2 76W lend lease tank in Soviet use
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 Philipines
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Some 3rd AD Shermans in action in Belgium, 1944
3rd Armored Division, Stolberg, 1944
3rd Armored Division, Stolberg, 1944
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looking for a sniper, M4A3 76w and an M4A3E8
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Mid production small hatch M4A1 75 passing knocked out Nazi PIV tanks
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Another M4A1 75 passing a knocked out Nazi PIV

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

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

  1. 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!

  2. 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

  3. 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??

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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