Monthly Archives: November 2015

#3 The Sherman Variants: The Design Matures

The Sherman Variants: So Many Shermans, so Confusing! Updated 02/21

us armor in ww2
M4A4’s in the Desert Training Center in California. These tanks would be overhauled and shipped to the British in 1944. 

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 turret 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 restorations, 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 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-driver’s 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. These tanks get confused for M4A1s. 

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 on the M4A1

m4a1_lima38
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. 
M4_Sherman
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 manual for the tank was even shared between the M4 and M4A1.  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 the 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

M4A2_75
Mid-production small hatch M4A2, courtesy of the Sherman Minutia site.
SC205635
A late production M4A2 76w, probably produced by Fisher, in Soviet use.

article-0-1FF75A4400000578-318_964x672

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 M4A2 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. 

m4a375mm
Large hatch M4A3 75w
m4a376w_60
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.

M4AE2-SHERMAN-JUMBO
M4A3E2 Jumbo

M4A3E2_36

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 gunfire. 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 to rearm 75mm Sherman tanks with the guns. Many of the Jumbo’s ended up with these guns, but none were ever factory installed.

3083084a

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, 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.

m4a4_29
M4A4 being used by the French

m4a4_33

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.

chrysler-a57-multibank-installation
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.

. . .

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 versions 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 between Sherman models 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 the most minor changes 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 sight 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 easily. More ways to see out of the tank was the only thing to help with this. That, and well-trained infantry, who stay with the tank.

This was a big advantage when it saw combat and throughout the tank’s 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

#2 Basic Sherman History: The Rodney Dangerfield of tanks, The M3 Lee.

Basic Sherman History: The combat RV, AKA the M3 Lee. The Tank that just gets no respect 

vehicle_m3

bec88df78ea9

M3_Grant_Tank_Crews_Set_Up_for_the_Night_in_Egyptain_Desert_1942
Brit Crew of an M3 Grant, camping out in the Combat RV in Egypt. No, I don’t know why several are naked.

To really know why the Sherman was designed the way it was, you have to know about the M3 Lee. The M3 was the predecessor of the M4. It was based on M2 medium, the US Army’s only foray into modern medium tank design at the time, and modifying it was the fastest way a tank could be designed with a 75 mm M3 canon fitted. The US lacked the jigs to make a turret ring big enough for a turret to house a gun that large. The Lee went into production as a stop-gap while the turret ring problem was being solved and the M4 design was being finished. By putting the gun in a sponson mount, and beefing up the rest of the tank, and removing a machine gun or two, they had a viable tank they could put into production right then. It had become clear to the US Army that the 75mm cannon would be needed based on feedback from the British, and observations of how the war was developing in Europe.

M3_Lee_Tank_Goes_Airborne_on_Obstacle_Course1
M3 Lee airborne on the test course at Aberdeen, these jumps did no serious damage to the tank but were very hard on the crew.

One of the reasons for the reliability of the M4 design was the use of parts that started their design evolution in the M2 medium and were improved through the M3 production run. Over the life of M3 Lee and M4 Sherman, the designs were continually improved as well, so a final production, M3, or M4A1, bared little resemblance to an initial production M3 or M4A1, yet many parts would still interchange. This is one of the reasons the Israelis had so much success updating the Sherman to the M50 and M51, these tanks used early small hatch hulls, that never had HVSS suspension installed, but the hulls took the updated suspension with few problems. The U.S. Also produced so many spare parts for the Sherman, keeping them working post was was easy well into the 70s.

Aberdean_proving_grounds_014
A rare surviving, M2 Medium Tank, this tank has been restored and is waiting for the new museum to open!
M3_Lee_Tank_Prototype_At_Aberdeen_Proving_Ground_1941 (1)
M3 Lee prototype being tested at Aberdeen Proving ground

When the Lee went into production, the main complaint was it was far from an ideal design, and the 75mm gun was hard to use, everyone knew it. They knew it from the start.  It still outclassed the German and Italian armor it would face, and its dual purpose 75mm gun would allow it to engage AT guns with much more success than most of the British tanks it replaced. It was reliable, and well-liked by its users, and produced in pretty large numbers. When the British got enough Shermans, the Lees and Grants were sent to the Far East and saw use until the end of the war, fighting the Japanese. The Lee excelled at infantry support since it had a 37mm cannon that could fire canister rounds, along with the 75mm gun and a lot of machine guns. Many of these Lee tanks ended up in Australia after the war.  I make the argument, the Lee was the better Jungle tank, between it and the Sherman.

Another universal complaint about the Lee was once all the guns were firing, there was not enough ventilation, and the crew, if forced to stay inside for long periods operating the weapons had even been reported to pass out on occasion. The Sherman would all more armored ventilators, but still not enough, until the later versions for the best in crew comfort. No tank of the era could dissipate the heat of the desert or tropics.

8543
Lee in the desert, maybe California, maybe North Africa. The temperature in these tanks in the desert would get well over 110 degrees on the inside. 

The Lee was a mix of high and low technology. It had direct vision ports, tweaking the armor, but both guns were stabilized. The stabilization technology was primitive, but it was still cutting edge for the time, and space-age technology to the Germans, who had nothing like it.  It had a battery charging gas-powered Generator and a five-speed synchronized gearbox.  Some variants were used to develop welding the armor plates, that used on the later M4 series.

All the improved engines that were used in the M4 series were testing on the M3 Lee first. The improved heavy-duty suspension was developed on the Lee to deal with the added weight of the A57 engine.  Had they waited for the Sherman design to be ready, none of these things would have been developed first.

Lee variants:  The Combat RV

M3 Lee being used in training pre-WWII.

M3 Lee: The First Combat Ready American Medium

This was the first version of the tank and used a riveted hull with the R975 radial engine powering it, the suspension and tracks were very similar to the M2 medium.  Early production tanks had an M2 75mm instead of the improved M3 gun. These tanks had a counterweight mounted on the shorter barrel but still had the stabilizer. All Lees had a turret with a 37mm M5 gun. The early production version had two, hull-mounted, fixed .30 caliber machine guns, another mounted coaxially with the 37mm gun, and another in a small turret mounted on top of the 37mm turret for the commander. The fixed hull guns were removed in service and the holes plugged.

Lee double hull MGs
Lee bow machine guns

They built nearly 5000 of these tanks. The M3 was improved on the production line with things like the removal of hull machine guns, and hull side doors. The mini turret mounted M1919A4 was not a popular feature, and was hard to use, but it remained on all Lees and were only deleted from the Grant version produced exclusively for the British.

M3 Lee ammo chart
Lee ammo chart

If this version had a major flaw, it would be the riveted armor plates could shed rivets on the inside of the tank and these rivets bounced around like a bullet. This was bad for the crew, but, rarely resulted in a knocked out tank. A field fix for this was welding the rivets in place on the interior of the tank.  Most of the M3 Lees produced went to the British. 4924 produced.

I’ve read other sources that said the Lee and Grant tanks did not shed rivets and this was a myth.

M3A1
Cast M3A1 Lee, note the curved cast upper hull

M3A1 Lee: A Lee, But with a Cast Hull

This version of the Lee had a cast hull and R975 radial power. It was really the same as the base Lee in most respects including improvements. 300 built. These cast hull tanks have a very odd and distinctive look. They look almost like an M3 Lee was melted. This hull casting was huge and more complicated than the M4A1 casting. Most of these tanks were used in the United States for training. 300 produced.

 

M3A2 Lee with a welded hull.

M3A2 Lee:  A Lee, Only Welded

This Lee had a welded hull and the R975 powering it. 12 built. This version was more of a ‘proof of concept’ on welding a hull than anything. This type of hull construction was used on most Sherman Models.

 

M3A3 Lee: A Lee With The 6046

Another welded hull but this one powered by the GM 6046 Twin Diesel. 322 built, like the base Lee, with the same improvements. This is the first vehicle the 6046 was used in, and most of the bugs were worked out on this model. 322 built. Some of the problems with the motor were air cleaners that needed cleaning too often and a complicated oiling system. Fuel injector changes were needed to run with Soviet fuels.   Crews preferred it when running properly, to the R975, since it had more low-end torque.

 

M3A4 Lee: A Lee With The Fantastic A-57 Motor

This version had a riveted hull and was powered by the A-57 multibank motor. This motor was so large the hull had to be stretched for it to fit; it also required a bulge in the top and bottom of the hull to fit the cooling fan. They also had to beef up the suspension, and the suspension units designed for this would become standard units on the Sherman. This would be the only version of the Lee with the improved bolt on offset return roller VVSS, otherwise, this tank was very much like the base M3. 109 built. This motor’s bugs were worked out on this tank and would go on to power a large chunk of Sherman production.

 

1280px-M3_Monty
Monty’s M3A5

M3A5 Grant: A Diesel Lee, Made For the Brits, with a New Name and Turret

Another welded hull, powered by the GM 6046 Twin diesel with a new bigger turret to house British radios. 591 built. This new turret deleted the small machine gun turret on the roof of the 37mm turret. This version was used only by the British. The famous General Montgomery’s personal M3A5 is on display in England, at the Imperial War Museum in London. 591 produced.

Waffen-Arsenal___010__Britische_Panzer-49
M3 Grant moving past a burning Nazi tank, and is that Monty in the turret hatch?

. . .

 

The majority of Lee and all Grants saw service with the British, and many Lees went to the Soviet Union. They were generally well-liked by both nations and more reliable than most of their British and German contemporaries.  These tanks were better than the enemy tanks they faced until the Germans up-gunned the Panzer IV series. When they were replaced with M4s of various types the M3 were shipped to the Far East for use in Burma and New Guinea, where they would be used until the end of the war. The Japanese had no tank that could take on a Lee, let alone a Sherman. Using soldiers as suicide bombers, and mines still worked though, there was also a pesky 47mm AT gun, but it was rare. The 37mm gun firing canister rounds were nice to have in thick vegetation.

M3_Lee_Medium_Tank_Prototype_At_Aberdeen_Proving_Ground
More M3 Lee testing shots. Note the very early tankers helmet. It looks like a Return of the Jedi prop…

The M3 Lee saw limited use in the US Army’s hands seeing combat in North Africa. The 1st Armored Division was stripped of its M4s and M4A1 tanks right before Torch to replace British Tank losses in North Africa. There were not enough Shermans to re-equip the 1st, so they issued M3 Lees, and they would be used through the entire Campaign.  A few were used in the PTO by the US. The British and Australians used the M3 series in the far east and Pacific until the end of the war.

The Sherman owes its success to the lessons learned from producing the Lee and from its use in combat.  The 75mm gun and automotive systems, even the more complicated ones, would be perfected in the Lee and re-used in M4. The Sherman only had one motor not tested in the Lee first.  Many of the Lee variants were produced at the same time and the numbering system was more to distinguish between the hull and engine types, not to model progression like in aircraft, and other tanks.  This practice was carried over to the M4 series as were all the engines used in the Lee.

20090614m3-lee1

Many people familiar with the way the United States designated aircraft during the war figure it was carried over to tanks and think an M3A1 was an improved M3, and an M3A2 was an improved A1. This is not the case, as many of these versions were produced at the same time, and they all received the same sets of improvements, though some factories took longer to implement things than others though.

SC1666231
This M3 Lee is on maneuvers in the States, is probably with the 741st Tank Battalion. The Photo is a staged publicity shot.

The M4A1 went into production as soon as the jigs for the turret ring were produced and ready to be used. Production actually started on the cast hull M4A1 first, with the welded M4A2 following right behind it. Like the M3 Lee, there were many versions of the Sherman in production at the same time. There are many photos of Lee’s coming off the production line, with Shermans in the line right behind the last Lee, so there was no real gap in production between the two tanks at most of the factories.

The M3 Lee, in-spite of getting the job done, just gets no respect. It’s often at the top of worst tank lists and gets made fun of for having all these flaws, that had to work around other than making sure it was fixed in the M4 series. Its combat record, role in developing the M4, and service life all deserve far more respect than they get.

SC167328
The crew of an M3 Lee looks over their new 75mm ammo, the projectiles were German, put onto American or French cases since there was a shortage of AP in North Africa
img123
Soviet Lees, note the track grousers

Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Sherman by Hunnicutt,  TM9-750

#1 Sherman Tank Epic Info Site: Introduction

37914_3070511
A brand new M4A1 76w, with a split loaders hatch and an unthreaded M1A1 gun. These tanks were ready for D-Day, but the Army did not want them, they did not see a need. 

Introduction: What we are doing here 

The M4 Medium AKA the Sherman tank over the last few decades has had its reputation severely soiled by several documentaries, TV shows, books, and games, all hailing it as a death trap, engineering disaster, or just a bad tank. The Sherman tank may be the most important, the most versatile, and arguably the best medium tank of the war, and this site should show you why along with documenting as much about the Sherman as I can along the way.  The only other contender for the best tank of WWII award would be the Soviet T-34. These two tanks are very comparable and would fight each other in later wars, staying very even in capability through their service lives.

This site will cover why the Sherman was a better tank than anything Germany, Italy or Japan produced during the war, on both a tactical and strategic level. I will not be reproducing the work of others and will link to the places that already cover some information, like the wonderful Sherman Minutia site. I will cover all the major changes made to each Sherman model though. I have gone into detail on the four Sherman Engines and will have more info on them soon.

I will try and cover the many post-war variants as well, but that could take months, there are a lot of variants of this venerable tank, including ones that involve putting the engine from one hull type into another hull type and or tanks modified by other countries with no feedback from the American designers. Some variants have heavily modified turrets or replaced it with a new one altogether. So far only Israeli Shermans have been done.

I will also try and document the Shermans civilian use, in everything from construction demolition (Tanks used to knock down buildings), to logging use, or use as tractors, the Sherman had a varied and interesting life in civilian hands post-war. There were several companies that went into business modifying Sherman Chassis for use in the logging and line laying industries.  At least one M32 recovery tank was used as a general-purpose heavy wrecker, at a shipyard. Hollywood got its fair use out of the Sherman as well, and it went on to become a popular item with vehicle collectors. Some of these restored Shermans have working canons. Who knew getting the license for a canon is easier than a machine gun?

Because of the Sherman tanks general ruggedness and reliability, the ones that do run will go on running for years to come and many generations should be able to enjoy them. Unlike many of the Shermans in Army hands that are just rusting away, some not even open to the public, or even covered with a tarp. A new Armor and Cavalry Museum is being built.

So far, I think this site has the largest collection of Sherman related technical Manuals and Field Manuals, along with a ton of Armor related and General Army TM and FMs as well. All for free. With the Datasheets that have been done, I have an awful lot of Sherman hard data up, on the tanks, Guns, and one engine so far.  We have pages for each gun the Sherman used and datasheets for each weapon. We have more detailed technical drawings on the Sherman tank and more high-quality photos. We are now adding specific pages for all this Sherman info, to make it easier to find. You can find these pages via the menu bar at the top of the page!

swilvkqovswdh0ejzpt9