Conclusion: It Was. The Sherman Tank Was The Tank The US Army Needed, and It Handled The Task Well, In All Regions And All Terrain.
My conclusion on the Sherman is that the reputation it has received in recent years is unfair, and the Sherman in fact was the best tank of the war. I base this on the tanks wide spread use, ease of production, reliability, and combat record. It was not a perfect tank, and did have a series of minor flaws. Yet there was nothing that kept the M4 from being combat worthy, useful tools, to the units it was issued to. When the allies needed a medium tank, the Sherman filled the role, and did it well, in desert, forest, cities, jungles and plains, hell even from sea a few times. Even the Russians, who knew a thing or two about designing a tank, liked it. It was not particularly prone to fire or deadly to its crews, even the version with gas motors.
For reasons covered in this interesting book: The Myth of the Eastern Front by Smelser and Davies. The German Army’s capabilities and motivations have been misrepresented over the years by authors with a bias, and a desire to make Germany look better, whitewashing much of the German Army’s role in war crimes and the Holocaust. Why is this important when discussing the Sherman? Because the Sherman has been one of the victims of the ‘losers’ writing the history, and in the case of ‘Death Traps’ by Belton Cooper, smeared by an author whose book contains more false information than the truth. A plethora of bad television shows on the History, Discovery, and Military channel that were based on his book have not helped either.
For these reasons the German armor used during WWII has really received a stellar reputation when it was not warranted in most cases. Some German armor was excellent, the PIII comes to mind, or the Stug based of that chassis. But the tanks named after cats were all failures. They are popular because they are pretty and on paper seem like great tanks. It does not take much real digging to find out there are a lot of flaws the stat sheet doesn’t tell you about. The Tiger was produced in such small numbers, even if its exploits were not almost completely propaganda, it would have had zero effect on the war. Yet it sucked up resources that could have been used to field far more PIV tanks. The Tiger II has all these flaws, but add horrible reliability problems on top of being even more rare. The Panther can only reasonably be considered a colossal failure in everything but looks. When the Germans began employing these tanks, they no longer had a force capable of exploiting breakthroughs, or being used in maneuver warfare.
The M4 Sherman was a very good tank for exploiting a break through, engaging armor, and supporting infantry. As the war progressed, the tank improved, in both major and minor ways, and at the Shermans entrance to the war, and at the end, it was arguably the best tank of the war. The M4A3e8 with 76mm gun was everything you want in a tank with only a few flaws. The final version of the Soviet T-34, the T-34-85 was also an excellent tank, and they would go on to face each other in Korea, on very close to equal terms. The PIV, and Panther for the most part ceased being used at the end of the war and both were developmental dead ends. And the PIV actually got worse with its final version, since it was stripped down, losing things like its powered turret traverse.
The two tanks that should be admired most should be the M4 Sherman, and the T-34. Yet these tanks are most often castigated as cheap junk, mass produced, to swarm the noble tiger, or panther to death, in its noble defense of the kingdom of Nazi Germany from the evils of turning into a dirty, red, communist prison state.
Fortunately with authors like Steven Zaloga, Harry Yeide, and David Glantz, and blogs like Archival Awareness and the Chieftains Hatch, the fairytales that passed for unit histories for German tank units are being debunked. In this bold, post Nazi fan fiction flavored world, the Sherman should shine out as the automotive hero it really was. I know if I needed a tank to take on Nazi scum with, it would be a Sherman, preferably with wet racks.