I downloaded this PDF, Report on The New Weapons Board 1944, someplace, but since I don’t remember where I hosted it too. The report documents the feedback the troops gave to the board on the various weapons they demonstrated.
The report was put together in early 44 to document feedback from the troops on current weapons, and proposed improvements, and replacements. There is a good amount of information on the M4 medium tank, and US Armor in general. Most of the combat feedback comes from the fighting in Italy, and North Africa.
The report also sheds an interesting light and gives evidence for the view that the US Army didn’t consider the improved early Sherman bad, and only wanted it replaced with something much better. It also gives some interesting insight into the Shermans and what condition they were in when they got to the using units.
Feedback on current equipment and changes.
The first thing is this to note about the Sherman is the first mention of it is praise for the current models. This quote stands out, “No new type is desired unless the improvement in military characteristics is sufficient to warrant the changes and defects in the present standard tanks are avoided.”
They did have a list of improvements they did want either done to the Sherman and to make sure the follow-on model, the T20 series incorporated them.
They wanted a 76mm gun like the 3-inch gun on the M10. The news of the 76mm M1 series and the new Shermans mounting the gun interested the troops a lot. They brought an M4E6 76mm Sherman to show to the troops.
Improved suspension and tracks. It turns out the rubber block tracks with no chevron were not well liked and wore out very quick in rocky, hilly terrain. The steel chevron blocks with rubber backs were well like and lasted much longer. This feedback is mostly from the MTO, the mountainous and rocky landscape was hard on tanks and even the Sherman had some issues. The complaints about the suspension had more to do with width than durability.
They wanted armored air cleaners on the M4 and M4A1 tanks. It turns out the Air cleaners mounted under the overhang on the rear hull of the M4 and M4A1 tanks were prone to damage, and this damage was not expected and didn’t pick up until Italy so there was a shortage. All other models had the air cleaners inside the hull. Some units added improvised armor and some were added later in the production runs.
Better ballistic angle around the front of the transmission housing. The old three-part differential is what they are talking about. Most early Shermans had this type, and the armor was thinner than the later cast single piece units. There were two cast versions, an early thinner, but still no worse than the three-piece unit, and a later improved thicker one. There was a demand for add-on armor over this area, but it was never approved.
More power. Yet, when the M4A3 Ford GAA powered Shermans came online, they did not want to swap them in as replacements, and only wanted whole units who trained on them stateside first to be issued the improved tanks. The M4A4 and M4A2 were not big enough improvements to switch to those motors.
Diesel engine. The US Army rejected the GM 6046, claiming it was not as reliable as the R975, but all the nations that did use this motor liked it.
They wanted better sights and fire control equipment. Many tanks in the MTO and NATO(North African Theater of Operation) had not gotten the M34A1 gun mounts with telescopic sights. The mount for the periscope sight had not seen major improvements, though there were field mods to make it work. The using arm was enthusiastic about the changes in the second gen Shermans fire control, but wanted even more advanced features, like rangefinders, and improved telescopes, since the current ones shot loose too!
There is also other tank related info.
The M3 75mm Gun – Though well-liked for infantry support and deemed to be reliable and durable, the using arms almost universally felt the German 75mm PAK 40 guns were much better anti-tank weapons, and a high-velocity 76mm gun was in demand.
75mm ammunition – these fixed rounds came unfixed, sometimes even in their travel packaging. They wanted this fixed. They wanted the WP shells ballistics to match the ballistics of the common HE shell.
Large caliber cartridge cases – Steel cases for the 75mm rounds for the M3 gun were well received and proved more durable. This was not the case for 105mm howitzer rounds.
105mm howitzer armed tanks – This was not a popular notion because the M7 105mm GMC was inaccurate when used for direct fire to support infantry assaults. The new weapons board did not agree, and plans for this vehicle were already in motion, and it would be well liked once issued.
Tank Officers – they wanted a tanker officer in the high-level headquarters to advise Division and higher level officers the best way to use tanks. AA and Tank destroyer officers were already an accepted part of these HQ staffs.
the 17-pdr gun – There was more interest in using this gun in M10s since the install was much simpler, the Sherman install was complicated and cramped and the Army was leary.
Tank Tracks – They show up again and the plain rubber block tracks could wear out in 250 miles in rocky terrain and lacked good off-road traction, and the using arm felt they were only good for training on roads. The T54E1 steel chevron type was preferred and much more durable, but the T48 rubber chevron would work in the MTO but wore out faster than steel types. The T49 bar cleat was also not good on sidehill terrain. The using arm wanted a wider center guided track in the MTO because the side guided tracks on the Sherman were prone to throwing on irregular and rocky side slopes. Extended end connectors were well received by the using arms.
Tank Suspension – Sherman suspension was found to be durable, with few volute springs failing. The biggest problem was the bogie wheels since the rubber tires had an erratic failure rate, and unlike the spring failures, usually sidelined the tank.
Ammunition stowage – They using arms were not interested in changes that reduced the number of ready rounds. The turret ready racks were very popular and crews did not like their removal with the ‘quick fix’ mods. They were willing to risk the higher fire chance, for the faster rate of fire the early storage setup allowed. The crews did not get their way on this one, at least until the M26 went into production.
The Radios – They wanted a better radio in the M32 recovery vehicles and better, more comfortable headphones for the armor crews.
The M10 GMC – This TD was very popular, and received high praise all around. The using arm did not require a replacement, just improved M10s. ♠ One thing to note, most M10 GMCs in MTO lacked the Azimuth indicator and range quadrant. Since the M10s get used as artillery a lot in the MTO, they would like replacements to have them.
Replacement gun tubes – The using arms were very annoyed, that all type of gun barrels from machine gun and mortar, to tank and artillery, were dispensed at a very miserly rate. The using arm argued replacement barrels should be bought at the rate that took into consideration how much ammunition for the same weapon was produced.
Improved fire control for all relevant vehicles – They wanted built-in rangefinders, or portable ones supplied. Better periscope and telescope sights and all vehicles that could be used for indirect fire to receive the full suite of tools to perform the task. I had never heard that some Shermans did not get these automatically. I’m not sure why some Shermans and TDs didn’t have the Azimuth indicator M19 and elevation quadrant M9. Maybe the crews dumped them to save space, maybe the tanks were rushed and built and approved without them I’ll try and find out. They mention 75% of the tanks in England had these items, but less 50% had them in the MTO. Tank units were much more commonly used for indirect fire in the MTO than they would be in the ETO.
Engines – The R975C-1 was getting around 200 hours before needing replacement. This was fine with the using arm, though they would like 60 to 100 more horsepower. The R975 needed little maintenance to reach the expected 200 hours and many run much longer. The lack of liquid cooling system has some advantages.
Powertrain – There was a higher than expected rate of clutch failure in the desert campaigns. The clutch system was also improved on the production like with improved leverage to lower the clutch pedal pressure. Many MTO units did not receive the improved clutches or linkages. The better clutches lead to better transmission life and better shifting, and even without the improved clutches, transmission life went up in Italy. The powertrain offered excellent service and generally outlived the engines by several overhauls if not damaged.
Crew comfort – the Driver and Co-drivers seats in the Sherman were found to be ok, but higher seat backs were requested along with deeper seat cushions. The Gunners seat was found to be ok but could use the same improvements as the driver’s seats but the Command and Loaders seats were deemed all but useless. These would be improved in the later models of the Sherman and various TDs. Crews do not use their seatbelts, fearing it complicating bailing out, and more padding inside was not wanted because the crews felt it was a fire hazard. The M4 and M4A1 tanks were praised for good ventilation. There was also some discussion about the value of turret baskets, and if they were needed at all.
Ammo Storage – The early Sherman ready racks in the turret were well liked by the using arms, but they felt the sponson and hull ammo racks were no good and didn’t support the 75mm Shells enough. They would often separate and dump a bunch of gunpowder inside the tank making a deadly mess to clean. The using arm tends to stuff the tank with extra rounds, adding to the shell durability problems. These problems would be addressed in the second gen improved hull tanks.
General storage – The current storage space on the Sherman was deemed ok, but better, easier to access bins were requested. They also wanted any storage in the floor to be resistant to getting filled with dirt or water.
Machine guns – The bow machine gun saw a lot of use, but its usefulness would be improved by a sighting system. One was in the works, but not at the point of this report. The M1919 machine guns, both bow, and co-ax were reliable as long as the crew was careful with the ammo. Long road trips could vibrate rounds loose in the belts and cause problems, but under normal conditions, this was rarely a problem with well-trained crews. The crews wanted a better adjustment method for matching the co-ax gun to the gunner’s site, the current one was not very good. The .50 AA mount was not well liked or considered important. Requests were made for a better mount for ground targets.
Turret hatches – The current split hatch was deemed ok, but the crews like the looks of the new all around cupola and were also enthusiastic about a loader’s hatch on the new 76 armed tanks.
Armor – There does not seem to be a consensus on how much armor a tank should have by the using arms. Armored Force troops felt the current level on the Sherman was fine, but wouldn’t mind more as long as it did not negatively affect flotation, maneuverability, and speed. ♠The British generally wanted heavier armor than the US Army. ♠♠Combat in Italy showed the differential was taking more hits than anything, and another request was made for add-on armor for the area.
Sand Shields – The general consensus on these was they were useless in any theatre and needed to be redesigned. They needed to be easier to install, and designed to not trap mud.
Flotation – The using arms wanting tanks around 10 pounds per square inch. This was very optimistic since even the HVSS Shermans came in around 11 PSI, the basic 75 VVSS Sherman around 13. It seems the Germans flooded fields in Sicily and Italy when they retreated, and Shermans got bogged down most of the time. They offered the suggestion of just stretching the Sherman since more length would help, and the British M4A4 tanks, the longest production Shermans, had no maneuverability issues.
Maneuverability – In the US Army there was a desire across the board for more maneuverability, in tanks. One thing to keep in mind though is the tanks in the MTO were older and most had single anchor steering brakes, the double anchor made the tanks easier to maneuver requiring less lever pressure. The ability to skid turn was not something US troops seemed interested in.
Accessories – The troops had a lot of feedback here. ♠ The instruments and gauges in medium tanks were not good quality, if they worked they didn’t work long. Oil pressure gauges fail, and no one worries about the motor until both oil pressure gauges die and a low oil pressure light comes on. This seems to be US feedback, I don’t recall hearing complaints from the Brits about Gauge quality. I wonder if the different tank plants sourced gauges from different companies. ♠♠ The compasses on US tanks would not stay calibrated. This would be a very annoying problem but eventually solved on second gen Shermans. ♠♠♠ Armor for the air cleaners on the M4 and M4A1 comes up again. ♠♠♠♠ The Auxiliary giving good service, and are well liked, but the using arms would like the area around the fuel tank filler for the Aux motor to be waterproofed better. They also noted replacements were hard to come by.
Modifications – ♠ The jist on this one was, in many cases modifications can be seen by inspecting a vehicle, but in others, access panels or more might have to be removed to check. The using arms proposed a record imprinted on a brass plate, attached to the vehicle, listing all the modifications that had been applied. ♠♠ They also wanted to emphasize that they did not want any modifications that would not ‘materially increase the efficiency of the vehicles’
Development – The using arms were curious about the items in development, and finding out a large organization was working to improve almost everything was a morale booster. There was also interest in the T-20 series and if any test vehicles would be sent over for some for feedback like the M4A1 prototype has been.
Information and feedback on future equipment.
The M4E6 or pre-production M4A1 76w – ♠ This improved version was well liked by everyone who checked it out. The bigger turret was a big hit, though not much bigger, it seemed roomier. ♠♠ The improved fire control gear was very well liked and considered an ‘outstanding improvement’. The 76mm gun was well liked, and everyone seemed to agree needed. ♠♠♠ The only real concern was the less effective HE round, but it was hoped they would make a better one.
The M18 76mm GMC – The first and bad impression this vehicle lefts was it had no armor, and seemed very mechanically complicated. The fire control gear was well liked. When the vehicle was demonstrated, the tracks and unthrowable tracks also got a lot of attention. No one was sure if the speed would be useful, but the maneuverability was well liked. ♠ The same story with interest in deployment, not as a replacement vehicle, but fulling trained units from the ZI would be ok. ♠♠ This vehicle was not wanted by M10 units already deployed. Units equipped with it in the ZI then deployed were better received, the M10 was still more popular. An M10 with a 90mm gun was the preferred replacement.
M4A3 75W – Even though the Ford GAA was a big improvement, it was not enough of an improvement to take them on as replacement vehicles. They were fine for them to be brought with units already fully trained on them.
The M1 Dozer blade kit – This kit was an instant hit and would have many uses, including clearing rubble after heavy artillery reduced a strong point. Currently, this has to be done by an unarmored bulldozer and casualties were high. it was hoped they would work well enough to help tanks dig in or SPG prepare a position. ♠ Through testing, they found this kit could be installed on any Sherman tank type.
This report goes into detail in the appendixes listing all the items demonstrated, and where they were demonstrated. They also include data on how many of the various items demonstrated were ordered by the various theatres.
I think it’s pretty clear the MTO was a backwater. The general shortage of spare parts in the MTO and a shortage of personnel to staff the proper echelons of repair and salvage system are also indicators of this. As they got ready for the June of 44 landings, the troops in England would be getting top priority and supplies and spares.
There is a lot of info on other weapons like artillery and small arms, not directly Sherman related and therefore, uncovered here. The report is definitely worth a download and re through. I think it offers a good insight into the thinking involved on not swapping to 76mm armed Shermans before the Normandy landings.
Sherman Fire Control: How the Sherman aimed its Main Gun.
The Sherman tank went through a series of fire control changes each an improvement over the last. The first tanks lacked telescopic sight mounted on the gun mount. The only site was incorporated into the gunner’s periscope, and it wasn’t magnified. Since the periscopes were all interchangeable, updating the older tanks was easy at least were the periscope was concerned.
The final fire control setup the Sherman gunner had at his disposal was pretty impressive by the standards of the time. He was in a hydroelectrically driven turret that rotated fast; he had very nice periscope setup with 1x and 6x scopes hooked into the gun with strong linkage. He also had a telescopic sight to work with and the gun was stabilized. This was a vast improvement over the unmagnified reticle on the first production models.
The Lee used a unique setup; the 75mm gun was aimed with an M1 periscope, with an M21A1 periscope built into it. The 37mm was aimed with an M2 periscope with an M19A1 periscope built in. Both the 37 and 75 mounts were stabilized. The prototype M6 Sherman used its own unique sight built into the sight rotor on the top of the turret, this was only used on a small number of production Shermans tanks.
Let’s look at the various periscopes and telescopes the Sherman used through its long life. Let’s start with a look at the various versions of the periscope sights the production Sherman and the TDs based on the chassis below.
The M3 Periscope Sight
Since I just have a little info on this from TM 9-731B on the early M4A2, don’t have much to put here. Maybe this periscope is the one I’ve read about getting foggy on the inside in cold or humid locales. It was quickly replaced with the M4 detailed below. This was one of the non-magnified periscopes.
The M4 Periscope sight
The Periscope M4; it had an M38 telescope with ballistic reticle inside, but no magnification. The M4 was not well liked, and the mount it fit in was made from sheet metal and was a little flimsy. The linkage that attacked it to the gun wasn’t very robust and could be knocked out of alignment annoyingly easily. On early Shermans, this was a big complaint, since they did not have a direct telescope yet. You couldn’t really take advantage of the M3 75mm guns range with this sight setup either since it had no magnification. The later better periscopes like the M4, M4A1 and M8 series would all fit in the old mount though.
The M4A1 Periscope Sight
Next came an improved version of the M4, the M4A1, and they came with an M38A2 telescope, this one was magnified, but not much at 1.44x, and a 9-degree field of view. Later versions of this periscope had illuminated reticles. The mount was not improved though nor was the linkage. The M4A1 periscope was changed when the 105mm and 76mm armed Shermans came online when used with these guns, they had the M47A2 for the 76 tanks, and M77C for the 105 tanks. Hunnicutt doesn’t specify if these were also 1.44X. This periscope was found on M4A1, A2, and A3 76 tanks during WWII.
The M8/M8A1 Periscope Sight
The M4A1 periscopes were replaced by the M8 and M8A1 periscopes. They were a lager tougher improvement on the M4 series, and had the M39A2 telescopic reticle for use with the 76mm gun since it had the same reticle as the M47A2 used in the M4A1 periscope. The M39A2 had 1.8x magnification and a 6-degree FOV. Even though at this point this was no longer the primary sight, the Army kept improving it. But the mount and linkage still remained an issue.
The M10 Periscope Sight
The Army came up with another new periscope sight system called the M10. They started issuing it late in the war around the same time wet tanks start appearing. This was a much-improved periscope; it incorporated two telescopes with reticles, one 1.x, with a field of view of 42 degrees, ten minutes for engaging close targets. The second periscope had a 6x telescope with an 11 degree 20-minute field of view. This periscope could be used with the 76, 75, and 105mm guns when the right reticle was fitted. There was also an M16 periscope, pretty much the same as the m10, but with a reticle adjusting system.
M10C was specific to 75mm Shermans.
M10D was used on 76mm tanks and 105 tanks.
The Periscope mount
for these periscopes were improved greatly when the 76mm gun and 105 tanks arrived, and the mount was made from a beefy casting, and all the linkage was made much stronger will ball bearing in all the pivot points. These would have shown up on M4A1 75w, M4A3 75w, M4A3 105, M4 105, and M4A3 76w, M4A2 76w and M4A1 76w tanks.
This improved mount was also incorporated into most of the post-war rebuild and overhauls. It is very easy to spot, by the heavy cast iron hood over the periscope hole.
The Telescopic sights.
The Shermans fire control system was improved further by the incorporation of a direct telescope mount to the M38A1 gun mount. This prompted the creation of the full-length gun mantlet to protect the scope. When these were retrofitted into older tanks, sometimes they would weld on armor over the scope, leaving a half armored mantlet.
The later 76mm armed tanks had the M62 mount, and it had a telescopic sight mount from the start.
The direct scopes went through their own evolution, and this information is put together from the various TMs on the tanks and Hunnicutt’s Sherman and is not complete. I will update this section as I get more info on the topic.
The M55 Telescope: The first! For the 75mm and 105
This telescope had 3x magnifications with 12 degree 19-minute FOV. This sight was also used on the early production 105 tanks and most 75mm Shermans.
The M51: Also the First, but for the 76 M1A1
The same scope as above, with the same specs, but with the reticle for the 76mm guns, and that’s all. There were complaints about the optical quality on these scopes since the clarity wasn’t optimal.
M70 Telescopic Sight
The M50 sights were replaced with the M70 Series sights, the same size, and magnification. What set them apart was there superior optical quality. The Army went on to develop many different versions of this sight. It was a 3X scope with a 12 degree 19-minute FOV.
M70F Telescopic Sight
This was version used on M4A3 75W Shermans.
M70G Telescopic Sight
This sight was used on M10 GMC tank destroyers.
M70P Telescopic Sight
This sight was used on some M36 CMCs tank destroyers.
M71D Telescopic Sight
This was a 5x with a 13-degree FOV version of the scope. It had the reticle for the 76mm guns and was used on those tanks. This was the sight commonly found on M4A1 and M4A2 76 tanks.
M71G Telescopic Sight
This version of the M71 was issued with the Jumbo tanks.
M72D Telescopic Sight
This was used on the 105mm armed Shermans.
M76F/D Telescopic Sight
These telescopes were used on the M36 GMC tank destroyers.
M76G Telescopic Sight
This scope only had a 3x magnification, with a 21 degree, 30 minutes FOV, and was used in 105 tank applications later in the war.
M83 Veritable Power Telescopic Sight.
This scope had two settings, 4x 7 degrees, 40 minutes and 8x 4 degrees, 15 minutes, and M83D version of this sight worked with the 76mm guns when in an M62 mount. I have not seen this one mentioned anywhere but Hunnicutt’s Sherman book. That doesn’t mean it didn’t get issued as a replacement later in the war since I’m going off TM’s and spec sheets and those are a small snapshot into a tanks actual combat gear.
. . .
Indirect Fire Control Gear
You would think that would be it for fire control equipment, but it’s not because all Shermans came equipped with the equipment for their tanks to work as impromptu artillery batteries all Sherman based TDs had this gear as well. The US Army had this extra gear installed all the way up to the M60 tanks. During the war, some tank and TD battalions were very good at being artillery; other units didn’t train for it and were not good. This was a good way of keeping tanks useful in Italy, and they filled this role a lot there. I do not think this was something many other nations did with their tanks.
Azimuth Indicator M19
The Azimuth Indicator was mounted near the gunner, right behind the traverse control. This device was used to dial in what direction the gun needed to be pointed in to carry out the fire mission.
Gunners Quadrant M1
The Gunners quadrant is a portable precision instrument used for measuring the elevation or depression angles of guns and howitzers. It can also be used for checking the adjusting of elevation devices on sighting equipment furnished with a gun or howitzer. This was taken right from the Characteristics in tech manual 9-1527.
Elevation Quadrant M9
The Elevation Quadrant M9 was used to lay the tanks main gun in elevation for indirect fire. There are detailed instructions for setting it up in TM 9-748.
A Sherman unit trained in how to act as an artillery battery would probably be told they were on call when not in direct combat but close enough for the 75s to reach. They would have men manning radios in the tanks while other tasks were being done, like maintenance, personal things, and eating. When they got the call, the designated battery commander for each platoon would listen to the directions on the arty net or get in direct contact with the spotter. In many cases they would be connected to the net directly, so they wouldn’t need to worry about radio reception. They would relay the aiming information out the tanks on the radio or phone net and then they would start firing.
Once they started firing the whole crew would help feed the gun, and if they were doing it as a common thing they might even have large amounts of ammo unboxed outside the tank, where the driver and co-driver could feed them to the commander who then fed them to the loader. The M3 75mm gun worked well in this role since the barrel had a life in excess of 4000 rounds.
Tank and AFV News posted a link to a fascinating YouTube video covering march security of mechanized units, the film is from early 43. This Army training film is almost a half an hour long, and it’s really interesting, and has some rare shots of men working inside a Sherman. The film takes place somewhere in the US, probably on a Hollywood backlot, the Desert Training Center was pretty close so getting the tanks to Hollywood wouldn’t be hard. At times the film is clearly using special effects, and that lends more credence to it being done in Hollywood. The film covers security on the march, and does it by covering a tank platoon, and what it should be doing. It covers night movement, camouflage when stopped and gives tips on being stealthier in your tank; it also covers how to use the columns firepower if attacked from the air.
The tanks used were all early M4A1s, but not super early since they are not DV tanks, but still have shorty gun mantlet and no telescopic sites, they do have heavy duty suspension as well. The tanks also have full turret baskets, with the 12 unprotected ready rounds, and no armor over the sponson ammo racks or the turret cheek add-on armor. Its possible training tanks did not have these features removed like tanks slated to see combat, or the film was made very early in the war.
It is an Official War Department Training film, number T.F. 21 2035, and I want to make sure and thank Jeff Quitney for putting it up on YouTube! I had never seen it before so it was a real treat. He has a lot of other good content up on YouTube as well so check it out.
Now let’s talk about the contents of the Training Film.
Right off the video starts off with a M4A1 driving by on a dirt road, it’s going at a good clip, and you can just make out another M4A1 trailing behind it at a few angles. The next shot shows a tank crew in front of their M4A1 going over a map with commander, and it just keeps getting better. I took well over 100 screen caps watching this film.
The training film makes it clear there are the five things that need to be kept in mind at all times to make a road march safe.
The enemy’s goal in an ambush would be to get to the main body of the column, and the film talks about how they should move, and covers things down to where each vehicle is to point its gun, to be prepared for an attack that might come either from the air, or ground. The film focuses on the actions of a single, five tank, platoon in the main body of the column, and then covers each of the five steps previously mentioned, and how that platoon would do them.
Advanced Preparation: Because good prep makes for smooth operations.
Be ready for gas, liquid vesicant detector paint, this pain, turns green to red when vesicant gas droplets touch it. A large square of this stuff was painted on the front of the tank. Then the decontaminator stored in the tank could be used to spray down the tank. The crew was also issued gas masks, and this was the time to make sure they were in working order.
Check the tanks readiness out. The Commander needs to check the tanks fuel level personally. The Crew, checks the engine out, checks the tracks, and checks out the ammo load. Do not leave with an empty ammo rack if ammo is available. Main gun rounds should be clean and undented.
Platoon leader review whole route on the map with all tank commanders. Cover all points of interest along the route, likely ambush spots, landmarks, areas of good cover for rest points etc.Each tank commanderwill then pass all this info along to all his crew members, ensuring they can all fill in for each other. If one tank has to fall out for any reason, its crew knows the whole route and plan.
Alertness: Because surprise is the enemy’s best weapon, always be on guard for attack, air or ground.
Every man in each tank turret is an air observer, the Tank Commander should always be looking around the tank, scanning the ground and air, and looking back. The Co-Driver should be watching the flanks, because the Driver is watching the road. The gunner and loader should be using their periscopes, all scanning for an attack.
The crewmember in the turret hatch needs to be alert, so when the commander is tired and needs to take a break, the gunner or loader will swap places with him. The Commanders position, no matter who is manning it has to be ready to receive signals from the platoon or company commander and pass them on, be they flag, or hand or radio. He also has to be able to see a messenger that needs his attention. The Loader should help the commander tend the radio, and the crew should listen to the radio to keep informed.
Concealment: Keeping a 32 ton tank as hidden as possible!
Dust is bad. You can’t hide tanks in a dust cloud, so don’t drive on soft dusty shoulders if you’re on a road. Even if that shoulder is shady, and will make the tank more pleasant inside, the dust can be seen for miles. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but try to do so as much as possible. Line formation is best for use in places dust cannot be avoided. Driving at a slower speed can help minimize dust as well.
Shielding Terrain is to be taken advantage of anytime it won’t produce large amounts of dust.
Shade is ok is it does not make extra dust, and can help hide you from air observation.
Your goggles can reflect light for miles; if you’re not wearing your goggles store them in the tank. If they are needed to protect your eyes, they should be covering them. This applies to any shiny object.
Do no silhouette your tank on a hill or high ground. Drive around the base of the hill. If you have to drive on a hill stay below the crest.
Dispersion: Bunching up is bad, if you are to close one artillery round, or bomb can damage multiple vehicles.
Bunching up like a bunch of cows with their tails in the breeze is bad. This makes you a big target.
Proper daylight spacing is at least 75 yards between tanks. If visibility and terrain allow, you can have more than 75 yards, but never less. In hilly terrain it is easy to bunch up, keep your eyes on the tank in front of you if it starts slowing down; you will have to as well.
Falling Out. If your vehicle has to fall out for some reason, engine troubles, or some other issue, make sure you pull far enough off the path to not cause a bottleneck on the path, and slow the rest of the column. Make sure and signal the column and platoon so they know what is going on. Don’t try and catch up, wait for a halt, then retake your position. Fall in with the rear guard until the halt.
Firepower: A Sherman tank packs a lot of punch, keep it ready, it’s your ace in the hole
The main gun should be trained out and ready, but not loaded. The lead tank and the next in line keep their main guns aimed straight ahead. The third tank in line keeps its gun trained out to the right. The fourth tank keeps its gun trained out to the left. The fifth tank will have its main gun traversed to the rear.
M2 .50 anti-aircraft guns should be kept half loaded, so they can be quickly brought to bear on any attacking aircraft. To keep the column covered, alternating tank commanders look forward and to the rear during air attack.
Do not halt, during an air attack. Your tank is much harder to hit when moving. Even if you have good concealment, do not stop. When a plane is sighted signal the rest of the column, close all hatches but the commanders, alternate the .50 AA guns and engage the aircraft.
Report the results of any air attack up the chain of command. TCs report to Platoon Leaders, Platoon Leaders to Company Commanders, etc.
Halt security: Units on the move have to stop, for human reasons or mechanical ones, and you can’t just do it willy-nilly, there’s a plan for that too.
There are two kinds of stops a unit on the march will make. The short ten minute halt, to check the tanks out, for the crews to stretch their legs, no major maintenance will be taken on these short halts. The second kind is the Long halt. On the long halt, the tanks can be repaired if anything major popped up and refueled, and the crews could get some chow.
Security rules and things to note on the short halt:
Check the ground where the tank will be parked, make sure the tank won’t get stuck, or sink in. Back into the spot so you will not have to back out if the tank needs to move out in a hurry.
First Echelon Tank Maintenance should be done on the short halt, check the tracks, tighten the end connectors, check the motor out, lube as needed.
Review the course, check out the route the column is taking on the map, and review it with your crew and the rest of the platoon.
Be Alert, post guards, at least two from each crew. One man must always be on the platoon leader’s radio. Do not let the enemy sneak up on your position.
Disperse on the halt, in the same pattern as on the move; each tank is still responsible for covering the area they were covering with their main gun. Use any cover available on the halt to conceal the tanks as best possible from air or ground observation. Spacing cannot be less than 75 yards.
Each tank will have the commanders .50 manned.
When pulling out, each tank will keeps its spacing, and will not stop on the road to form up.
Security Rules and things to note on the long halt:
All the rules for a short halt apply
You can pull further from the road on a longer halt. A guard has to be posted near the road to receive any signals though.
Dig Prone Shelters, you might not be able to get back into the tank in a surprise air raid or artillery attack.
Eat while you work, you never know how long the halt will be.
Take more time to conceal the tanks, cut or break off tree branches and use them to break up the tanks lines. Rake the tanks tracks leaving the road away.
Use shade and any local cover to hide the tank, move the tank as the shadows used to hide them move with the sun.
If no cover can be found, use the camo net.
Some camo is better than nothing.
Special Rules for night marches:
If under air attack, Stop, for both concealment, and to prevent bunching up.
If under air Attack, Do not fire, unless you are sure you are spotted.
If under air Attack, Turn off your marker lights, the video doesn’t say this, and they used models in the film, but I think it’s a safe assumption.
No light, not even a smoke, and smoking is bad anyway, mmmkay.
Now for some thoughts on the film, it is really very interesting for several reasons, and the quality is very good. The main reason it’s interesting is the look at prewar combat, or pre air superiority march doctrine. The attention paid to defense from air attack would not be pushed nearly as much even by the Italian campaign and would be almost an afterthought by Normandy. Later films probably pushed very carefully searching for well concealed AT guns and infantry that the lead and flank scouts may have missed.
It is also interesting how gas attacks and preparation for them is first thing they cover. I’m sure shortly after most unit got in combat they ended up losing or discarding most gas related gear, and I can’t ever recall seeing a man carrying a gas mask case or a square of the gas detecting paint on any vehicles in combat photos.
The night shot of tanks moving is clearly done with models. The machine guns used during the mock air raid also appear to be prop guns. If you watch carefully, most of the film, the .50 M2s have the normal short cooling sleeve with round holes, during the shooting scene, these have slotted sleeves, and the barrels do not seem to recoil at all. The explosions look like typical Hollywood fare as well. It should come as no surprise Hollywood was willing to help the war effort; this is just one example of many. All the big studies did propaganda movies and even Bugs bunny and Disney got into the act.
I have been looking the tanks over, they are all M4A1 75 tanks, they are all small hatch hulls, but none are DV, they all have heavy duty suspension bogies. Two have three piece cast differential housings, the rest have the first version of the cast one piece diff housing. The turrets all look the same for the most part, with the short mantlet, so M34 gun mounts with no telescopic sights. Some of the gun mounts have slanted lift rings, others don’t seem too. At least one turret has the port for the spotlight on the roof. One tank has the siren mounted in the front plate with the odd single brush guard, the rest seem to have them mounted on the fenders. Two or three of the tanks appear to have T54 steel chevron tracks, while two or three seem to have T47 steel bar cleat tracks. I’m bad at spotting the little clues that give away who made what, but I think two of the tanks were made at PCF in Washington; I think the two tanks with three piece diffs are from PSC in Illinois.
Special Gallery 2: Shermans at Fort Benning, the ones waiting to go the new National Armor & Cavalry Museum.
These images all came from the Fort Benning Photos Website, and these images were all taken by John D. Helms or Kristian Ogden, and you can find much larger version on the Benning site. These Sherman tanks, and other historic vehicles will be displayed in the new Museum once it’s done.
Bibliography and sources: So here are all my sources
So yes, I know the site would be better with a list of sources, and this is going to be that post for now. I will also, as I review and rewrite all the articles over time, add them to each post.
A bit about the site, and myself, I’m just a guy who really likes WWII history, and more specifically, WWII tank history. I am not an expert on the Sherman, but I do know a hell of a lot about it, and I have a lot of opinions about it as well, and much of this site is me sharing that opinion. The hard data is not my opinion, the specifications, and other details are not my opinion and come from many different sources. Most of these are listed in the book review and links section. There is even a data post with a whole lot of useful information in picture format of various documents.
First and foremost, most of the minutia details come from reading the Sherman Minutia Website a lot and looking through the Son of a Sherman book. Between these two sources, you can answer almost any question about a production detail on a Sherman you may have, and the nice thing about the SMW is it’s always being updated. I only cover these details in a very general way, I could never do it as well as the book or site.
My next big source of information is period literature and manuals. If you haven’t noticed, I have a very large selection of technical manuals and field manuals on my website, all available for download, for free. I’ve collected a huge number of the things over the years, most in PDF format, but a few in real paper, and I’ve read a hell of a lot of them. I am missing a few key Technical Manuals, like one on the M4/M4A1, I have the M4A2, A3 and A4 covered though, and several TDs and the Lee. I’m pretty confident I could start up and drive around and M4A2 or A3 or even A4 and adjust the clutch linkage and do a host of other maintenance tasks from reading through the manuals on how to do them. These old tanks are so similar to old cars is funny, and if you know a good bit about old cars the manuals should be very easy to follow, the big difference is the size of the tools and weights involved.
Along with the TM and FMs, I’ve hosted a lot of other documents I’ve found on the internet, from battalion and division histories, the very interesting Combat Lessons booklets the DOD put out during WWII, and I’ve taken information from all these sources.
Now for the books, so many books, most of these I own, and love, but a few I only have in PDF. I already mentioned Son of a Sherman Volume one. If you have any interest in the Sherman tank, you should by the book while it’s in print and reasonable in price, it’s fantastic. It also had some of the better info I used in the factories post. It’s to late to get this book at regular price now, and new and used copies are going for 300 to 700 bucks!
Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank, by RP Hunnicutt is the holy grail of Sherman books. It is filled with so much information about the production history, use, design, modifications, and hard specifications, that much of the data on this site comes from this book. The gun chart data came from here, all the data sheets, and a lot of the future things that almost made it came from here as well. This book is currently in print again, for 60 buck paperback, 70 hardbacks. Buy it now, before it goes back into the hundreds after going out of print. Though slightly dated in is the short history of battle sections, it is still an amazing book, and really the only hard technical history of the Sherman that is really great. Also always keep your eye out for an original printing, the photos are much better.
Armored Thunderbolt: The US Army Sherman in WWII, by Steven Zaloga this book, when combined with Son of a Sherman and RP Hunnicutt’s Sherman book will give you a very good knowledge base on both the technical and historical histories of the tank, and if you throw in Son of a Sherman you have all the minute details covered. With these three books, you can really get a good idea how wrong the pop culture opinion of the Sherman and German armor in general really is. So a little more about this book, Zaloga covers both the design history, though not in minute detail, (You will not find detailed specification sheets or a breakdown of the exact details of the differences in all Sherman models) but he does cover much more of the politics and decision making that led to some of the key problems that popped up with the Sherman, US Tank design, and armor tactics. In this book and several Interesting interviews, he really covers why Belton Cooper of Deathtraps fame was so wrong. He also has a lot of the numbers in his book backing up the Sherman performing in battle better than the Panther. Zaloga is a prolific writer and has put a lot down on paper about the Sherman, and I’ve read almost all of it, aside from a few older Osprey New Vanguard books. This man, almost as much as R.P. Hunnicutt is responsible for bringing out the truth about the Sherman tank.
The Tank Killers, Steel Victory, and the Infantry’s Armor, by Harry Yeide, These books are another big source they are really great books covering the use of Tank Destroyers and the Separate Tank Battalions. Yeide is both knowledgeable and easy to read, and I will continue to buy every book he puts out.
Marine Tank battles of the Pacific by Oscar Gilbert, in comparison, to Sherman use elsewhere, until recently info on the Shermans use in the Pacific was pretty light. This book is specific to the Marines and covers more than just Shermans use, but it does a pretty good job of covering each battle, and most of the info, along with some histories from the Marine Corps was used for the old Tarawa post. His book on Marine tank use in Korea also has some Sherman use covered and is a good read as well.
Tanks in Hell by Oscar Gilbert and Romain Cansiere is a very recent and very detailed study of the use of Marine Shermans on Tarawa. It is the most detailed history available on the Shermans use in that battle and clears up some mysteries and misconceptions. It was a great read and I just finished it up.
There are so many books on the Sherman out there, I’ve tried to read any I could, but the ones listed are the best and most important. I do not read books just on the Sherman tank, and at one time was what one could consider a wehraboo, and I know the guy who invented the word too, so I have that going for me. Anyway, while a wehraboo, I collected some of the premium good source books on German tanks. Reading through Panther Tank by Thomas L Jentz started me down the path to salvation, the combat readiness reports found in that book; even on the late model G Panther are truly pathetic, though it is really a beautiful book, Jentz was only against listing source material. I also have Panther and its Variants by Walter Speilberger, another beautiful book, filled with beautiful illustrations on a tank so unreliable to be almost useless. I have Jentz’s two books on the Tiger, D.W to Tiger I and Tiger I&II Combat tactics. Also very nice books but based on old outdated historical information when it comes to the unit histories, but boy are the pictures great. I have Speilburger’s books on the Panzer III and IV, both great books, and the subject matter is more interesting since these were the real stars of the German tank design, in that at least they worked and offered real value to the German Army. I’ve read Tigers in the mud and even enjoyed it. There are of course more, but that covers the really big stuff/good stuff.
Other important sources are sites like Archive Awareness, who author takes Russian Soviet-era archive documents and translates them and offers opinions on them. He has some very interesting information on the Sherman tank on his site, and far more on Russian tanks and German lies. Some say he is biased, but if he is, it’s against the Nazi propaganda that still lives on to stink up the world, and I’m fine with that. Other good sites include Tank and AFV news, and the Lone Sentry.
The Chieftains Hatch of Wargaming fame, like him or not has produced some very interesting new information about various tanks, and his publication of the French post-war report on Panther use is a real eye-opener and was groundbreaking info. I have links to many of his very interesting posts in the links section. Like World of Tanks or not, they have dropped a lot of real cash on restoring real tanks, and paying real researchers to unearth interesting tank information, they deserve some real credit for furthering the modern understanding of Armor. Wargaming also got a lot of armor experts in one place as a panel for their Operation Think Tank series and let the crowd ask questions, it is on YouTube and filled with very interesting info.
If I have it listed on my links, information from their website has probably contributed to a post on this site.
Now a final bit about sources and this site, all the information in the various posts is true to the best of my knowledge and sources. Some information, mostly image captions are very generic and often wrong, and many helpful people have posted corrections, and I’m always grateful for it this help. If you think I’m wrong on something, and you can back it up with sourced info, by all means, contact me through the site email, or posting a comment so I can correct any mistakes. I try and keep the site from being about my ego in any way, and will listen to reasonable people with reasonable arguments and most importantly, data and source info to back it up. Don’t bother if your ‘source info’ originated with a German wartime SS source, their wartime numbers are not at all accurate, and even the German army discounted them.
On a final note, am I a fanboy of the Sherman, in a sense, I suppose, but a true fanboy does not understand the flaws of their subject of obsession, and in my case, that’s not true. I know theSherman had flaws, it like all things created by man, was an engineering tradeoff, and the ones they chose, were the right ones for the US Army in WWII, and even Shermans armed with only the 75mm could have carried the day in Europe. Or that’s my opinion anyway, but don’t let my opinions scare you away from all the hard data on the site.
After just over two years in operation, this site has grown past 350,000 words, with a huge number of Sherman photos and drawings, many of the drawings pretty rare. I have more information on the motors and powertrain of the Sherman series than any site on the net. This site has more technical manuals, and field manuals on the Sherman and US Armor use than any site I know of.
This site is largely a one-man operation, and with that much content there will be typos and grammar mistakes, and I apologize and fixe them when I find them. This site has been funded out of my own pocket, and if you count book purchases, the cost has gotten significant, but the content will always remain free, and ad-free.
Soviet Shermans: The USSR Was a Big Sherman User, and They Liked it
The Soviet Union received three American Medium tank types in large numbers. They received the Lee, and M4A2 75 and 76 tanks. Only the UK would use more M4A2 tanks, though they received only five armed with the 76mm gun, they got far more of the 75mm armed M4A2s. The Soviets also received a pair of M4A4 tanks for evaluation but rejected them because of the motor. My impression from the things I’ve read says, they liked the all of them, well not the A4, but liked the Shermans more than the Lee.
Now let’s cover each tank model.
M3 Lee: The Basic Lee
The Lee was not considered a very good design by the Soviet Union, you can read their evaluation here, on Archive Awareness, but it was not all negative. They liked the transmission, differential and final drives, and in particular the steering and brake mechanism. They felt the R975 air-cooled motor was not a great fit for tanks, for all the reasons they are not fit for tanks, mainly the size limitations they put on the tank, and as gasoline AC engines, they don’t have good low-end torque, make driving harder. They disliked the position of the 75mm gun, and lack of sites on the machine guns.
One thing I found very interesting, is in the summer, they could pack up to 10 SMG infantry into the Lee, along with the regular 7 man crew, making it into a makeshift APC. The thing would be packed full of people though. The report says all weapons could be fired on the tank while those 10 men were stuffed in, so I guess the US Army or Brits didn’t try this because they liked comfort or something.
The Lee did not fare well against the upgraded Panzer IV with long 75, and they lost a lot of them, but they never stopped using them, they just did what the British did and sent them off to secondary theaters, where tanks were still useful, and no enemy tanks were around. Against poorly equipped, in AT weapon, Infantry, the M3 Lee was a monster of a tank. The 75mm had a great HE round, it was packed with machine guns, and had a 37mm that could sling canister. The Soviets received 1386 M3 Lee tanks.
M4A2 75 dry: Early Small Hatch 75mm Shermans with Drivers Hoods
The Soviets received 1990 M3 75mm gun armed M4A2 Shermans. I don’t have a list of who made the early M4A2 tanks they got. They were competing with the Marine Corps and the French and Brits on priority for these tanks, and most went to the Brits. I’ve looked through a lot of pictures of Soviet M4 tanks, or “Emcha” as they seemed to call them, the small hatch 75 tanks seem rarer than the large hatch 75 and 76 tanks.
This Post on Archive Awareness indicates, they received several hundred very early M4A2 tanks. One of the big indicators of this is the section where they talk about the suspension having the Lee style top mounted return roller, which could be jammed with mud, but then they received later models, where this return roller was moved to bracket mounted to the side of the suspension unit.
Another interesting part of that document is the problems they had with injectors and lubrication problems with the pistons. The Army reported similar problems with early model M4A2s, with the Air cleaners, cooling system, and clutches, but nothing about the injectors. This post on AA also indicates injector issues but was overall positive on the M4A2. Maybe the Soviets used low-quality diesel and the injectors didn’t like it. At any rate, these issues would have been worked out by the time they started getting improved models.
M4A2 large hatch Dry: Late Model 75mm, 47-degree Large Hatch Hulls, but with Dry Ammo Racks
By late 1943 a new version of the M4A2 was going into production, and it had the improved 47-degree, single piece front armor plate, with large driver and co-drivers hatches. These would be the first tanks to get this improvement. By the time this model went into production, priority for diesel-powered Shermans was going to the Soviets, since that was the only model they wanted, and the Brits would take the M4A4.
These improved large hatch hulls still used the dry ammunition rack setup of the early small hatch hulls, but they had the applique armor applied at the factory, and the 75mm turrets had an improved casting thickening the area that had required welded on additional armor on the older turrets. The Turrets had a oval loaders hatch and a pistol port as well, though the commander still got the older split hatch cupola with the 50 caliber mount built into it.
These tanks seemed to have been photographed much more than the small hatch 75 tanks, but I do not have a lot of photos of either. By the time these tanks were being produced, all the major reliability issues would have been worked out.
M4A2 76W: The Soviets were the Second Biggest User of 76mm Shermans
Production of the 75mm armed Sherman was reduced, as Sherman production was streamlined down from the 10 factories that were producing it, to the three that would finish it off, Fisher, Chrysler, and Pressed Steel Car. The Soviet Union received 2073 M4A2 tanks with the 76mm M1A1 gun. This was just about Fishers whole production run on the 76mm armed M4A2.
These tanks would have started out with wet racks, all around vision cupolas, a split loaders hatch and an M1A1 76mm gun without a barrel threaded for a muzzle brake. A few may have even had T23 turrets without the ventilator on the rear. These would quickly be replaced with M1A1C guns with threaded barrels with a protective cap over the threads, and the split loaders hatch would be replaced with the smaller oval hatch. These tanks would eventually be produced in the “Ultimate” configuration, with the M1A2 gun, and HVSS suspension.
After being given a chance to drive the M4A4 on the proving grounds and being given lectures and demonstrations of its A57 gas motor, the Soviets decided that the M4A4 was better than the M3 Lee, but inferior to the M4A2 with GM Diesel they were already receiving through lend lease. They decided the factory was impressive, but really not producing a very good tank.
Even though the Soviets showed little interest in the M4A4 tanks, two were sent to them for evaluation anyway. You can read their impressions here, but as before when they tested it in the US, they felt the motor was to complicated to be reliable.
Dmitriy Fedorovich, on which American tanks did you fight?
On Shermans. We called them “Emchas”, from M4 [in Russian, em chetyrye]. Initially they had the short main gun, and later they began to arrive with the long gun and muzzle brake. On the front slope armor there was a travel lock for securing the barrel during road marches. The main gun was quite long. Overall, this was a good vehicle but, as with any tank, it had its pluses and minuses. When someone says to me that this was a bad tank, I respond, “Excuse me!” One cannot say that this was a bad tank. Bad as compared to what?
Dmitriy Fedorovich, did you have just American tanks in your unit?
Our 6th Guards Tank Army (yes, we had six of them) fought in Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. We ended the war for us in Czechoslovakia. Then they rushed us to the Far East and we fought against Japan. I briefly remind you that the army consisted of two corps: 5th Guards Tank Stalingrad Corps on our own T-34s and 5th Mechanized Corps, in which I fought. For the first time this corps had British Matildas, Valentines, and Churchills.
They delivered the Churchill later.
Yes, a bit later. After 1943 we largely declined British tanks because they had significant deficiencies. In particular, they had 12-14 h.p. per ton of weight at a time when good tanks had 18-20 h.p. per ton. Of these three British tanks, the best was the Valentine produced in Canada. Its armor was streamlined but more importantly, it featured a long-barreled 57mm main gun. My unit switched over to American Shermans at the end of 1943. After the Kishinev Operation our corps became the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps. I missed to tell you that every corps consisted of four brigades. Our mechanized corps had three mechanized brigades and one tank brigade, in which I fought. A tank corps had three tank brigades and one mechanized brigade. Yes, we had Shermans in our brigade at the end of 1943.
But the British tanks were not withdrawn from service, so they fought until they were gone. Wasn’t there a period when your corps had a mixture of tanks, both American and British? Were there any problems associated with the presence of such a broad variety of vehicles from different countries? For example, with supply and maintenance?
Well, there were always problems. In general, the Matilda was an unbelievably worthless tank! I will tell you about one of the Matilda’s deficiencies that caused us a great deal of trouble. Some fool in the General Staff planned an operation and sent our corps to the area of Yelnya, Smolensk, and Roslavl. The terrain there was forested swamp. The Matilda had skirts along the sides. The tank was developed primarily for operations in the desert. These skirts worked well in the desert-the sand passed through the rectangular slots in them. But in the forested swamps of Russia the mud packed into the space between the tracks and these side skirts. The Matilda transmission had a servomechanism for ease of shifting. In our conditions this component was weak, constantly overheated, and then failed. This was fine for the British. By 1943 they had developed a replacement unit that could be installed simply by unscrewing four mounting bolts, pulling out the old unit, and installing the new unit. It did not always work this way for us. In my battalion we had Senior Sergeant (Starshina) Nesterov, a former kolkhoz tractor driver (Kolkhoz is sort of farm – Valeri), in the position of battalion mechanic. In general each of our tank companies had a mechanic and Nesterov was it for the battalion. At our corps level we had a representative (whose name I have forgotten) of the British firm that produced these tanks. At one time I had it written down, but when my tank was hit everything I had in it burned up -photographs, documents, and notebook. We were forbidden to keep notes at the front, but I did it on the sly. Anyway, this British representative constantly interfered with our efforts to repair separate components of the tank. He said, “This has a factory seal. You should not tinker with it!” We were supposed to take out a component and install a new one. Nesterov made a simple repair to all these transmissions. One time the British representative came up to Nesterov and asked him, “At which university did you study?” And Nesterov replied, “At the kolkhoz!”
The Sherman was light years better in this regard. Did you know that one of the designers of the Sherman was a Russian engineer named Timoshenko? He was some shirt tail relative of Marshal S. K. Timoshenko.
The Sherman had its weaknesses, the greatest of which was its high center of gravity. The tank frequently tipped over on its side, like a Matryoshka doll (a wooden stacking doll). But I am alive today thanks to this deficiency. We were fighting in Hungary in December 1944. I was leading the battalion and on a turn my driver-mechanic clipped a curb. My tank went over on its side. We were thrown around, of course, but we survived the experience. Meanwhile the other four of my tanks went ahead and drove into an ambush. They were all destroyed.
Dmitriy Fedorovich, the Sherman had a rubber-coated metal track. Some contemporary authors point to this as a deficiency, since in combat the rubber might be set on fire. With the track thus stripped bare, the tank is disabled. What can you say in this regard?
On the one hand this rubber-coated track was a big plus. In the first place, this track had a service life approximately twice that of steel track. I might be mistaken, but I believe that the service life of the T-34 track was 2500 kilometers. The service life of the Sherman track was in excess of 5000 kilometers. Secondly, The Sherman drove like a car on hard surfaces, and our T-34 made so much noise that only the devil knows how many kilometers away it could be heard. What was the bad side of the Sherman track? In my book, Commanding the Red Army’s Sherman Tanks, there is a chapter entitled “Barefooted”. There I wrote about an incident that occurred in August 1944 in Romania, during the Jassy-Kishinev Operation. The heat was fearsome, somewhere around 30° C. We had driven approximately 100 km along a highway in a single day. The rubber linings on our support rollers got so hot that the rubber separated and peeled off in long pieces. Our corps paused not far from Bucharest. The rubber was flying around, the rollers had begun to jam up, the noise was terrible, and in the end we had been stopped. This was immediately reported to Moscow. Was this some kind of joke, an entire corps had halted? To our surprise, they brought new support rollers to us quickly and we spent three days installing them. I still don’t know where they found so many support rollers in such a short time. There was yet another minus of rubber track. Even on a slightly icy surface the tank slid around like a fat cow. When this happened we had to tie barbed wire around the track or make grousers out of chains or bolts, anything to give us traction. But this was with the first shipment of tanks. Having seen this, the American representative reported to his company and the next shipment of tanks was accompanied by additional track blocks with grousers and spikes. If I recall, there were up to seven blocks for each track, for a total of fourteen per tank. We carried them in our parts bin. In general the American representative worked efficiently. Any deficiency that he observed and reported was quickly and effectively corrected.
One more shortcoming of the Sherman was the construction of the driver’s hatch. The hatch on the first shipment of Shermans was located in the roof of the hull and simply opened upward. Frequently the driver-mechanic opened it and raised his head in order to see better. There were several occasions when during the rotation of the turret the main gun struck this hatch and knocked it into the driver’s head. We had this happen once or twice in my own unit. Later the Americans corrected this deficiency. Now the hatch rose up and simply moved to the side, like on modern tanks.
Still one great plus of the Sherman was in the charging of its batteries. On our T-34 it was necessary to run the engine, all 500 horsepower of it, in order to charge batteries. In the crew compartment of the Sherman was an auxiliary gasoline engine, small like a motorcycle’s one. Start it up and it charged the batteries. This was a big deal to us!
For a long time after the war I sought an answer to one question. If a T-34 started burning, we tried to get as far away from it as possible, even though this was forbidden. The on-board ammunition exploded. For a brief period of time, perhaps six weeks, I fought on a T-34 around Smolensk. The commander of one of our companies was hit in his tank. The crew jumped out of the tank but were unable to run away from it because the Germans were pinning them down with machine gun fire. They lay there in the wheat field as the tank burned and blew up. By evening, when the battle had waned, we went to them. I found the company commander lying on the ground with a large piece of armor sticking out of his head. When a Sherman burned, the main gun ammunition did not explode. Why was this?
Such a case occurred once in Ukraine. Our tank was hit. We jumped out of it but the Germans were dropping mortar rounds around us. We lay under the tank as it burned. We laid there a long time with nowhere to go. The Germans were covering the empty field around the tank with machine gun and mortar fires. We lay there. The uniform on my back was beginning heating up from the burning tank. We thought we were finished! We would hear a big bang and it would all be over! A brother’s grave! We heard many loud thumps coming from the turret. This was the armor-piercing rounds being blown out of their cases. Next the fire would reach the high explosive rounds and all hell would break loose! But nothing happened. Why not? Because our high explosive rounds detonated and the American rounds did not? In the end it was because the American ammunition had more refined explosives. Ours was some kind of component that increased the force of the explosion one and one-half times, at the same time increasing the risk of detonation of the ammunition.
It is considered noteworthy that the Sherman was very well appointed on the inside. Was this true?
It was true. These are not just words! They were beautiful! For us then this was something. As they say now, “Euro-repair”! This was some kind of European picture! In the first place, it was painted beautifully. Secondly, the seats were comfortable, covered with some kind of remarkable special artificial leather. If a tank was knocked out or damaged, then if it was left unguarded literally for just several minutes the infantry would strip out all this upholstery. It made excellent boots! Simply beautiful!
In your book “Commanding the Red Army’s Sherman Tanks” you wrote that the 233rd Tank Brigade’s M4A2 Shermans were armed not with the short-barreled 75mm but the long-barreled 76mm main gun in January 1944. Wasn’t this a bit early? Didn’t these tanks appear later? Explain one more time which main guns were mounted on the Shermans of the 233rd Tank Brigade.
Hmm, I don’t know. We had very few Shermans with the short-barreled main gun. On the whole, ours had long-barrels. Not just our brigade fought on Shermans. Perhaps these were in other brigades. Somewhere in the corps I saw such tanks, but we had the tanks with the long barrels.
Dmitriy Fedorovich, there were personal weapons in each Sherman that arrived in the USSR, Thompson submachine guns (also known as the Tommy gun). I read that rear area personnel stole these weapons and that few tanks arrived in units still equipped with them. What kind of weapons did you have, American or Soviet?
Each Sherman came with two Thompson submachine guns, in caliber 11.43mm (.45 cal), a healthy cartridge indeed! But the submachine gun was worthless. We had several bad experiences with it. A few of our men who got into an argument were wearing padded jackets. It turned out that they fired at each other and the bullet buried itself in the padded jacket. So much for the worthless submachine gun. Take a German submachine gun with folding stock (MP-40 SMG by Erma -Valeri). We loved it for its compactness. The Thompson was big. You couldn’t turn around in the tank holding it.
The Sherman had an antiaircraft machine gun Browning M2 .50 caliber. Did you use it often?
I don’t know why, but one shipment of tanks arrived with machine guns, and another without them. We used this machine gun against both aircraft and ground targets. We used it less frequently against air targets because the Germans were not fools. They bombed either from altitude or from a steep dive. The machine gun was good to 400-600 meters in the vertical. The Germans would drop their bombs from say, 800 meters or higher. He dropped his bomb and departed quickly. Try to shoot the bastard down! So yes, we used it, but it was not very effective. We even used our main gun against aircraft. We placed the tank on the upslope of a hill and fired. But our general impression of the machine gun was good. These machine guns were of great use to us in the war with Japan, against kamikazes. We fired them so much that they got red hot and began to cook off. To this day I have a piece of shrapnel in my head from an antiaircraft machine gun.
Did German aircraft inflict significant losses on your equipment? In particular, what can you say about the Henschel Hs-129?
Not every time, but it did happen. I don’t remember the Henschel; perhaps there was such an airplane. Sometimes we were able to avoid bombs. You could see them coming at you, you know. We opened our hatches, stuck out our heads, and instructed our drivers over the intercom: “The bomb will fall in front of us”. But in general there were cases when tanks were hit and set on fire. Losses from these attacks did not exceed 3-5 tanks in the battalion. It was more common for a single tank to be damaged or destroyed. We faced much greater danger from panzerfaust gunners in built-up areas. In Hungary I recall that I was so tired that I told my deputy to lead the battalion while I slept. I went to sleep right there in the fighting compartment of my Sherman. Around Beltsy they had dropped ammunition to us by parachute. We took one parachute for ourselves. I used this parachute for my pillow. The parachute was made from silk and didn’t let the lice in. And I was sound asleep! Suddenly I woke up. Why? I awoke from the silence. Why the silence? It turns out that attacking aircraft had set two tanks on fire. During the march many things were piled up on the tanks: crates, tarpaulin. The battalion had halted, shut off engines, and it had become silent. And I woke up.
Did you lock your hatches during combat in built-up areas?
We absolutely locked our hatches from the inside. In my own experience, when we burst into Vienna, they were throwing grenades at us from the upper floors of buildings. I ordered all the tanks to be parked under the archways of buildings and bridges. From time to time I had to pull my tank out into the open to extend a whip antenna and send and receive communications from my higher commander. On one occasion, a radio operator and driver-mechanic were doing something inside their tank and left the hatch open. Someone dropped a grenade through the hatch from above. It struck the back of the radio operator and detonated. Both were killed. Thus we most certainly locked our hatches when we were in built-up areas.
The primary defeating mechanism of HEAT (hollow-charge) ammunition, of which the panzerfaust was one type, is the high pressure in the tank, which disables the crew. If the hatches were kept slightly open, would this not provide some degree of protection? A special order was issued before our forces entered Germany.
This is true, but just the same we kept our hatches locked. It might have been different in other units. The panzerfaust gunners most often fired at the engine compartment. If they were able to set the tank on fire, like it or not the crew had to get out. And then the Germans shot at the crew with a machine gun.
What were the chances of survival if your tank was hit?
My tank was hit on 19 April 1945 in Austria. A Tiger put a round straight through us. The projectile passed through the entire fighting compartment and then the engine compartment. There were three officers in the tank: I as the battalion commander, the company commander Sasha Ionov (whose own tank had already been hit), and the tank commander. Three officers, a driver-mechanic, and a radio operator. When the Tiger hit us, the driver-mechanic was killed outright. My entire left leg was wounded; to my right, Sasha Ionov suffered a traumatic amputation of his right leg. The tank commander was wounded, and below me sat the gunner, Lesha Romashkin. Both of his legs were blown off. A short time before this battle, we were sitting around at a meal and Lesha said to me, “If I lose my legs I will shoot myself. Who will need me?” He was an orphan and had no known relatives. In a strange twist of fate, this is what happened to him. We pulled Sasha out of the tank and then Lesha, and were beginning to assist in the evacuation of the others. At this moment Lesha shot himself.
In general, one or two men were always wounded or killed. It depended where the shell struck.
How did you co-operate with the infantry during combat?
By TOE the tank brigade had three tank battalions of 21 tanks each and a battalion of submachine gunners. A submachine gun battalion had three companies, one for each tank battalion. We had this three-battalion structure only in late 1943 and early 1944. All the rest of the time we had two tank battalions in the brigade. Our submachine gunners were like brothers to us. On the march they sat on our tanks. They kept warm there, dried their things, and slept. We drove along and then stopped somewhere. The tankers could sleep and our submachine gunners protected our tanks and us. Over the course of time many submachine gunners became members of our crews, initially as loaders and later as radio operators. We divided our trophies equally: they with us and we with them. Therefore they had an easier time of it than ordinary infantrymen.
During combat they sat on the tanks until the firing started. As soon as the Germans opened fire on our tanks, they jumped off and ran behind the tanks, frequently protected by its armor from enemy light machine gun fire.
If it happened that the tanks were limited in maneuver and speed, did you maneuver your infantry or halt them?
Nothing like that. We did not pay any attention to them. We maneuvered and they maneuvered themselves behind us. There were no problems. It would have been worse for them if we had been knocked out, so let them run behind us.
Was the tank’s speed limited in the attack? By what?
Of course! We must been fire!
How did you fire, from short halts or on the move?
Both ways. If we fired on the move, the speed of the tank did not exceed 12 km/h. But we rarely fired on the move, only in order to incite panic in the enemy ranks. Primarily we fired from short halts. We rushed into a position, stopped for a second, fired, and moved ahead.
What would you like to say about the German Tiger?
It was an extremely heavy vehicle. The Sherman could never defeat a Tiger with a frontal shot. We had to force the Tiger to expose its flank. If we were defending and the Germans were attacking, we had a special tactic. Two Shermans were designated for each Tiger. The first Sherman fired at the track and broke it. For a brief space of time the heavy vehicle still moved forward on one track, which caused it to turn. At this moment the second Sherman shot it in the side, trying to hit the fuel cell. This is how we did it. One German tank was defeated by two of ours, therefore the victory was credited to both crews. There is a story about this entitled “Hunting With Borzois” in my book.
The muzzle brake has one significant shortcoming: a cloud of dust is raised during firing from a weapon thus equipped, giving away one’s position. Some artillerymen attempted to counter this, for example, by wetting down the ground in front of their cannons. What countermeasures did you employ?
You’re correct! We might have packed the ground and covered it with our tarpaulins. I don’t recall any special problems.
Were your tank sights blinded by dust, dirt, or snow?
There were no special difficulties. Snow, of course, could blind us. But not dust. The sight on the Sherman did not protrude. On the contrary, it was recessed into the turret. Therefore it was well protected against the elements.
Dmitriy Fedorovich, our tankers who fought on the British Churchills pointed out the weak heater in the crew compartment as a deficiency. The standard electric heater was inadequate for the conditions of the Russian winter. How was the Sherman equipped in this regard?
The Sherman had two engines connected by a coupling joint. This was both good and bad. There were cases when one of these motors was disabled in battle. Then the coupling joint could be disengaged from the crew compartment and the tank could crawl away from the fight on one engine. On the other hand, there were powerful fans located above both engines. We used to say, “Open your mouth and the wind came out your ass!” How the hell could we get warm? There were such strong drafts of air! Perhaps there was heat coming from the engines, but I will not tell you that it was warm. When we halted, we immediately covered the engine compartment with our tarpaulin. Then it stayed warm in the tank for several hours; we slept in the tank. Not for nothing did the Americans give us fleece-lined coveralls.
Were there norms of ammunition consumption for the tank?
Yes there were. In the first place, we took one basic load (BK -boekomplekt -a full set of ammo. For example the IS-2’s BK = 28 shells. -Valeri) with us going into battle. We took an additional BK on the outside of our tanks during long raids. When I raced into Vienna, for example, my commander personally ordered us to take two BK: the normal load inside and the second on the armor. In addition, we carried up to two cases of trophy chocolate on each tank and found additional provisions for ourselves. We were “on our own”, so to speak. This meant that if we had to conduct a raid somewhere deep in the rear, we offloaded rations and in their place took ammunition. All of our wheeled supply vehicles were American 2 ?-ton Studebakers. They always brought the ammunition forward to the battalion.
There is one other thing I want to say. How did we preserve our (Soviet) ammunition? Several rounds covered by a thin layer of grease, in wooden crates. One had to sit for hours and clean this grease off the rounds. American ammunition was packed in cardboard tube containers, three rounds banded together. The rounds were shiny clean inside their protective tubes! We took them out and immediately stowed them in the tank.
What kind of rounds did you carry in the tank?
Armor-piercing and high explosive. There was nothing else. The ratio was approximately one-third HE and two-thirds AP.
Did the crew receive a concussion when a round hit the tank, even if it did not penetrate the armor?
Generally, no. It depended on where the round hit. Let’s say that I was sitting in the left side of the turret and a round struck near me. I heard this hit but it did not harm me. If it struck somewhere on the hull, I might not hear it at all. This happened several times. We would come out of an engagement and inspect the tank. In several places the armor would show an impact, like a hot knife that had cut through butter. But I did not hear the round impacts. Sometimes the driver would shout, “They’re shooting from the left!” But there was no overwhelming sound. Of course, if such a powerful gun as the JSU-152 hit you, you heard it! And it would take off your head along with the turret.
I want also to add that the Sherman’s armor was tough. There were cases on our T-34 when a round struck and did not penetrate. But the crew was wounded because pieces of armor flew off the inside wall and struck the crewmen in the hands and eyes. This never happened on the Sherman.
What did you consider the most dangerous opponent? A cannon? A tank? An airplane?
They were all dangerous until the first round was fired. But in general, the antitank cannons were the most dangerous. They were very difficult to distinguish and defeat. The artillerymen dug them in so that their barrels literally were laying on the ground. You could see only several centimeters of their gun shield. The cannon fired. It was a good thing if it had a muzzle brake and dust was kicked up! But if it was winter or raining, what then?
Were there cases when you did not see from your tank where the fire was coming from, but your SMG infantry did see? How did they guide you to the source of the fire?
Sometimes they pounded on the turret and shouted. Sometimes they began to fire in the direction with tracer bullets or fired a signal rocket in that direction. And then, you know, when we went into the attack, the commander often looked around from the turret. None of the periscopes, even in the commander’s cupola, gave us good visibility.
How did you maintain communications with your commander and other tanks?
By radio. The Sherman had two radio sets, HF and UHF [high frequency and ultra high frequency], of very good quality. We used the HF for communications with our higher commander, with brigade, and the UHF for communications within the company and battalion. For conversation inside the tank we used the tank intercom system. It worked great! But as soon as the tank was hit, the tankers first action was to throw off his helmet and throat microphone. If he forgot and began to jump out of the tank, he would get hung up.
For the full interview, click the link and check out the I remember site.
Gallery II: More Random High Resolution Photos Of The Sherman With Comments. I Plan On Going Through Books To Confirm The Captions On Some Of These. I Know I’ve Seen Most Of Them In Zaloga’s Armored Attack Books.
Tanks in motion: Sherman Tanks on Film, Either Modern Restorations or Period Videos.
Here is an older video of an M4A1 that was restored and had new tracks installed. They really put this tank through the paces and it’s worth it even if the music is a bit dated.
Here’s a short video of an M4A4 driving around.
The M4 105 Dozer, a video dedicated to just it! bonus includes Sherman drifting! They look like they are having so much fun in this video! Well until they bust it! This video is a BLAST!!!!
Shermans and a M31 ARV gutted and made to look like a M3 Lee again.
This was a Normandy Memorial day in 2013 I think. In this video, we see an M4A1 75 start up and then drive off, almost stalling. Then later we get to see an M4A1 76w driving around. Interesting how close they let people get to moving tanks. Parked nextr to it is an M10 tank destroyer.
This is another Normandy D-Day Memorial, 2014. The Video starts off with an mid production small hatch M4A1 75, with a later production M10 behind it and then an M18. After that an small hatch M4a2, and then the Fury M4A2 76 HVSS tank.
Ontario Regiments Museum’s M4A2 76 W HVSS tank driving around!
A video of a restored M4A1 driving in circles firing off its main gun, I’m sure modified to fire on propane as a noise maker.
A very long video, POV from the co drivers spot, on a restored, small hatch M4A1.
Here is a video of a restored Firefly Vc, a Sherman M4A4, with the a working A57 multibank motor, getting new tracks. This may not look tricky, but these men are all risking losing fingers or toes, or worse, if someone messes up.
Video of a Very nice looking M4 105, with dozer blade being used to recover a M4A4 in very bad shape.
A start to finish ‘flower pot’ restoration on an M4A1.
A resto mod on a M4A1, with more footage of that nice M4 105 dozer.
The US Firefly: Yeah I said US Firefly, They Made Some But None Saw Combat, And They Were Unique And Not Like The Brit Ones.
Before the Normandy landings, the British had offered the US up 200 guns a month, if they were interested in the 17 pounder gun. Their rearmament program was well underway and would have enough Firefly tanks ready to go by D-Day. The US was not interested for a variety of reasons. The 76mm M1A1 and M3 90mm gun programs were well underway. Vehicles that used the guns were in the pipeline, even if there wasn’t much demand from the field yet. They did not want to complicate the supply situation with another tank ammo type.
Another reason was the 17 pounder did not really impress the US officers who witnessed test of it. It had both a large muzzle-flash and breach flashback, that hinted to them of a poor design. The efforts to convince the Americans of the errors of their ways went dormant along with the program. It wasn’t until the Ardennes offensive, when the US faced some heavier German armor, and in larger numbers than thought to be possible, that the program came back to life.
Conversions of 75mm armed US Sherman took place starting in March of 45. The US conversions were different in a few ways. The armored box on the rear of the turret was a little bigger to fit US radios, and the M2 machine gun brackets were welded to the end of the radio box. The tanks chosen for the conversions were all M4s and M4A3. It’s possible some large hatch final production Shermans with all the improvements were a part of the 160 to 200 that were converted before the program was suspended.
No one has come up with what happened to the tanks, and it seems like none survived. None were ever issued to US units, it’s one of those little mysteries lost to the archives and or time.
The Firefly: The Best AT Gun Installed On The Sherman, But Maybe Not The Best Overall Version Of The M4 Series.
The Sherman Firefly is often touted as the best version of the Sherman. This is a very shallow view of the tank; a tank is not just about AT performance alone. Let’s talk about the name, the Firefly was just a nickname, some say given by American testers because there was so much flash at the breach of the gun on firing, some claim it was just based on muzzle flash. Much like the Sherman naming mystery, it doesn’t really matter, it’s the commonly used name now, and if you just called them the Sherman IC, Sherman IC Hybrid, and Sherman Vc, no one but a total Sherman geek would know what the hell you were talking about. But everyone with a little Sherman history or WWII history under their belt should have heard of them called a Firefly so that’s what we will do here while explaining the nomenclature and how to identify the various models.
The Firefly came about because the British wanted to get a 17 pounder into a tank, and the homegrown ones planned to have it, were having issues. The 17 pounder, a 76mm anti-tank gun, had to be extensively redesigned to work in the Sherman 75mm turret, the AT gun versions recoil system was too long to work in a 75mm gun turret. They redesigned it, putting the recoil mechanism on both sides of the gun instead of the top. The gun was also rotated so it could be loaded from the left. The firefly version of the 17 pounder gun was specific to the Sherman gun mount and could not be used on an AT gun or vice versa.
They also had to cut a hole into the back of the turret, to mount the radios, in a new armored box, because the gun still had to recoil into the radio bustle at the back of the turret. The armored box also worked as a counterweight for the longer barrel. They also eliminated the co-drivers position and put a cast armored plug over the gun port. The co-drivers space was filled with ammo since the 17 pounder ammo was longer than the 75mm ammo it took more space. They also had to eliminate the gun stabilizer to fit the gun.
The 17 pounder gun had excellent armor penetration, in particular with APDS rounds, standing for armor piercing discarding sabot, but these rounds had very inconsistent accuracy. The problem that caused it was not worked out until after the war. At the combat ranges in the ETO and MTO, the APDS, worked ok, but the closer the better. The gun also lacked a decent HE round until after WWII ended when they came up with a system that used a smaller propellant charge for the HE rounds and a new set of marks on the tank’s sight for the lower velocity rounds.
The Firefly in a generic sense is easy to identify, you look for a 75mm gun turret, with a much longer gun with a ball-shaped muzzle brake. The turret will also have a loaders hatch and an armored box on the rear. From there, you have to look at the details, but it’s easy enough.
Sherman Ic Firefly: The Rarest Firefly
This is the Firefly based on the Sherman I or the M4. The lower case C after the Roman numeral designates the tank is armed with a 17 pounder. An M4 is a welded hull tank powered by an R975, so you look for the grate free engine deck, with the big armored flap covering an air intake. Or, if the tank is welded, and does not have large spaces between the bogie assemblies, then it’s an Ic Firefly.
Sherman IC composite hull firefly: The Second Rarest And Most Comfortable
This version is based on the M4 composite hull; the version had a cast front hull, and a welded rear hull. It looks almost like an M4A1, but the rear and sides of the tank are all flat surfaces, just like a regular M4, the other difference is these tanks had the improved large hatch hull. They would be the most comfortable version of the Firefly for the driver. These tanks were probably the last firefly’s built as well since the composite hull tanks were some of the last 75mm Shermans produced. The British were not given any of the 75mm M4A3 tanks so none were converted. One final advantage to this version from an ease of conversion point of view is the composite hull tanks came with a loaders hatch already built in, so it saved time because they didn’t have to cut and fit one. Some of these tanks also had all around vision cupolas, so it’s possible a few made it onto fireflies.
Sherman Vc Firefly: The Version Powered By The A57 Motor, and Also the Most Common Firefly, But The Motor Makes It The Coolest.
This version was based on the M4A4. These tanks are the “long hull” Shermans with the wide gaps between the bogie assemblies, and it has the distinctive bulges to the engine deck and lower hull. These hull features, with a firefly turret and gun, is more than enough to identify it as Vc. This Firefly type was powered by the mighty A57 multibank. The Wiki on the Firefly is trash; don’t go crawling around trying to see if the lower hull has rivets when most of the M4A4 production run had welded lower hulls. This may have only been a dubious way to identify an M3A4, you know if you missed it being almost a foot longer with huge gaps between the wheelsets and the bulges on the top and bottom.
This was the most common version of the Firefly since it was the Brits most numerous lend-lease Sherman. They got refurbished training A4s from the US and took as many of these them as they could because the production of 75mm Shermans had been drastically cut back and production of the M4A4 had been suspended.
Demand for the Firefly dropped off late in the war. They had produced enough that just about all the commonwealth nations the British supported received them. The Brits were able to put two Fireflies into most of their tank platoons, just as German armor became so scarce they didn’t really need them. By the end months of the war, the Firefly may have been more of a liability, than useful.
If you compare the Firefly to the upgraded M4A1 76w, you will see it really isn’t the best Sherman by any measure but raw gun penetration. We’ll use the composite hull Ic in the comparison since the same motor powered these tanks, and the composite hull had a very large casting for its front hull, making this as close to a second gen Sherman as the Firefly could get. Yet the composite hull tanks were produced early enough, they did not get wet ammo racks. They did get the armored ammo racks, but they really only offered protection against fragments lighting the ammo off.
This fix did not work nearly as well as the wet ammo racks on the M4A1 76, and other fully second gen Sherman tanks got. The main advantage was having the ammo lower in the tank, below the bottom of the sponsors, and encasing it in water jackets. It was found the most benefit came from the change in location, and the liquid part was discontinued post-war. The wet ammo rack second gen Shermans were amongst the safest WWII tanks to be a crewman on.
Now on to the turrets, the M4A1 76 tank has the improved T23 turret. These turrets came with the all-around vision cupola, a loaders hatch, and the 76 M1A1 gun, with a 30cal co-ax. The turret was designed around the gun, and was nice and roomy, offering relative comfort and ease of movement to the crew, allowing the gun to maintain the 20 round a minute rate of fire the 75mm gun had. It had better armor than the 75mm turret. The fireflies all used a modified 75mm gun turret, and even after redesigning the gun, the 17 pounder took up a lot of space and recoiled into the bustle, where the radio used to be. This made for a cramped turret, and a slower reload time. The T23 turret is better, and it’s a shame the Brits would have had to redesign the 17 pounder gun again to fit one into it.
At first glance, most people when they compare the M1A1 gun and the 17 pounder conclude the 17 pounder is ‘better’ based on its armor pen. This doesn’t take into account the other factors that make a good tank gun. In WWII, tanks faced other threats far more often than tanks. For the forces facing the United States in particular, tanks were never overly common and got rarer as the war went on. What Shermans faced most often, and what killed them most often was AT guns and infantry with AT sticks. The 17 pounders lack of HE round during the war, along with its lack of a bow machine gun, really hindered the Firefly in the infantry support role. The M1A1 didn’t have the best HE performance, but it was still adequate. It had enough AT performance to handle the PIV, Stugs and various TDs it would face. Including the cats, the M1A1 did not have the best balance of AT/HE performance, but it would get the job done, and as the war came to a close HVAP ammo, that really helped the guns AT performance, become increasingly available. The M1A1 also had a very big performance lead in rate of fire; double that of the 17 pounder.
When you take all these factors, it is clear the 76mm T23 turreted second gen M4A1, A2 and 3s were all better tanks than the Firefly, of any model. The reasons for this are the second gen Shermans all had wet ammo racks, and along with all the other minor improvements that came with the second gen Shermans. The 17 pounder gun would eventually get a good HE round, but not during the war, so the dual purpose us M1A1 gun is clearly a better choice for a general use medium tank.
I won’t go so far as to say the British should not have produced them. Since the Brits faced the majority of the German heavy armor in Normandy, a pure AT tank was more useful for them, and that’s why they built them. I’ve read in more than one place that the Germans always tried to kill off the fireflies first, and the firefly units used a cool paint scheme on the gun barrel to make it seem shorter to help hide the fireflies, but I’ve never seen it confirmed from the German side. These tanks were potent enough, killing the famous Nazi tank “Ace” Michael, the Nazi punk, Whitman, when he foolishly trundled by himself into their guns.
I find it amusing the most mechanically complicated Sherman was turned into the best pure AT Sherman by the Brits and was still more reliable than any Nazi tank. It may be a tad overrated, but it did exactly what it was designed to do, without compromising the reliability of its base platform. That makes it a smashing success and it gave the Brits a capability their American cousins lacked until much later in the war. It did so well, the Brits offered to convert some, and there was an abortive program that petered out because army ordinance thought the M1 gun would be good enough. During bulge hoopla, the program was revived, but this was short-lived, and none of the American Firefly tanks were issued to troops.
Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Sherman by Hunnicutt, various Chieftains Hatch posts, The Sherman Minutia Site, M4 Sherman tank at War by Green, WWII Armor, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston
Shermans Of the United Kingdom: Or, Let’s Confuse People Even More With An Odd Designation Systems!
The British took the Lee and Sherman into combat for the first time and they offered a lot of input into both tanks design. They even had a specific version of the Lee never used by US troops the M3A5 Grant. The Sherman and Lee tanks saved their bacon at El Alamein. As we saw in an earlier section of this document, the US produced a lot of Sherman tanks, and the British received more than 17,000 Shermans. It would become the backbone of their tank force and remain so until the end of the war. The British had a unique way of using tanks and preferred to send them into battle without direct infantry support. This coupled with their tendency to stuff every nook and cranny of the tank with ammo resulting in much higher Sherman losses than the US Army did.
They came up with their own naming system for the tank:
The M4 was named the Sherman I in Commonwealth use, if it had a 105mm gun it was an Ib if it also had HVSS it was an Iby. The British received 2096 75mm Sherman Is, and an additional 593 105 armed Ib tanks, or M4 105 tanks. These numbers are not broken down further into submodels, so all the Ic Firefly tanks produced came from 2096 they received, and this number would include the composite hulls too. This version was the preferred US Army version, and many of the ones the Brits received came as replacements stripped from US Tank Divisions before the battle of El Alamein. They became much rarer because the US sent M4A2 and M4A4s as replacements.
The M4A1 was named the Sherman II and in most cases just that. It wasn’t until late in the war the Brits took some M4A1s with 76mm guns, and those they gave to the poles or other commonwealth allies. An M4A1 76 would be called a Sherman IIa, or an IIay for an M4A1 76 HVSS tank. These M4A1 76 HVSS tanks made it to depots in Europe during or just after the war ended, but none saw combat. The M4A1 was also the US Army’s preferred version because it was basically the same tank as the M4, and the Brits only received 942 75mm M4A1 Shermans. Something I found a bit of a surprise, the British received more M4A1 76 w tanks than 75mm tanks, 1330 total.
M4A2 was named the Sherman III and this was their second most common Sherman type. They received 5041 M4A2 75mm Sherman IIIs, far more than the Soviets got. They also received 5, M4A2 76 W or Sherman IIIa tanks as well, yes, that’s not a typo, five tanks. I wonder if the M4A2 76 HVSS or Sherman IIIaytank used in Fury was one of them?
M4A3 was named the Sherman IV in British use, but they only received 7 seventy five millimeter tanks and no 76mm tanks of this type. This became the US Army’s preferred model, and once they got it in numbers, they probably started sending more M4 and M4A1s to the Brits after this tank became common.
M4A4 was named the Sherman V in British use, and was by far the most common British Sherman; they received 7167 M4A4s, or Sherman Vs, almost the whole production run. Chrysler really went to bat for this version of the tank and sent tech reps to Europe with the tanks to help manage the complicated, but less trouble than anyone could have expected, motors. There were no subtypes of the Sherman IV other than the Firefly since it was never produced with a 76mm gun or HVSS suspension. The Sherman Vc was the most common version of the 17 pounder Shermans, and a wide variety was probably converted to fireflies, and many of the A4s they got later in the war had been through a remanufacturing process, that made sure the tanks had turrets updated with all the late improvements, and all the hull upgrades like armored ammo racks and raised arm rollers and improved skids, along with a travel lock, on the front plate, for the gun.
The British had their own set of modifications for the Sherman that they received through LL. They added sand skirts, racks for jerry cans, and an armored box on the back of the turret in some cases. They installed their own radios as well, the British wireless set no 19, and this went into the armored box in the back of the turret on Firefly’s, or just replaced the US radios in their normal location in regular models. Legend has it they installed some sort of stove to cook tea. The only Sherman Mk I and Mk IIs they got was because Churchill practically begged Roosevelt for more Shermans just before El Alamein.
As the war progressed, the US Army put a priority on the M4 and M4A1; the British had to settle for M4A2 and the M4A4. Then when the Russians refused to take any Shermans but M4A2s, the Brits really had to rely on M4A4s. From what I’ve read they didn’t want the nightmare that everyone feared the A57 Multibank motor to be, in service it proved to be reliable enough, and more so than its British counterparts. The M4A4 was by far the most common Sherman type, and the Brits like them enough they took a batch of refurbished M4A4 and would have taken more if production hadn’t been stopped.
This presented a problem for the British, they did not like the M1A1 gun, and the T23 would not take the 17-pounder without major modifications to the gun or turret. The US did end production of 75mm tanks and when stocks of 75mm gun tanks ran low, they were forced to take M4A1 76 tanks these tanks would be designated Sherman IIB. The British sent most of the IIBs to their forces in the MTO or gave them to the Poles.
Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Sherman by Hunnicutt, The Sherman Tank in British Service 1942-45 by John Sanders
Did American Tank Design Stand Up? It Did Just Fine.
The Sherman compared well to the other tanks in its weight class. It even fared well against vehicles much larger when you take in the whole picture. The US spent a lot of money lavishly equipping these tanks, even the lend-lease tanks shipped with submachine guns for the crew and vinyl covered, sprung, padded seats, a full toolset, basically, all the same, things a Sherman issued to the US Army would come with, without the US radios. lend-lease Shermans got the British No. 19 set. Though sometimes the tanks lost things while in the shipping network for the most part they arrived and were delivered to the combat arms, ready to use.
The Sherman was not designed to be comfortable for its crew, ergonomics wasn’t a thing back then, but due to the way it was designed and built, it was fairly comfortable as tanks of the time go. Ease of use was taken into account as the design was improved. They improved the suspension several times, the steering and braking system was improved, the controls, in general, were improved, the fuel system was improved, and the fire control system was also improved. Many of these changes were to make the tank easier for the crew to fight or maintain.
The Sherman tanks were not cheaply built, and had finely fitted hulls, with beveled armor and a lot of attention to detail that was not dropped in favor of production speed in many cases until very late in the production run, but function was never compromised on.
The Sherman tanks also had multiple generators, including one that had its own motor, so the tank’s electrical system and turret could be run and not drain the battery. They had a stabilizer system for the main gun, and all tanks had high-quality, high tech, FM radios. The radios were some of the best in the world at the time, if not the best. The Sherman tank was equipped with an extra set of gun firing instruments, that allowed the Sherman tank to be used as an artillery piece if needed this was something no one but the US military did.
Quality control at all Sherman factories and sub-contractors was tightly monitored, and superb. Parts were not modified to fit if they did not match the specifications, they were discarded, if too many parts had to be discarded, the contractor was dropped. Sub-assemblies as big as turrets and hulls or whole tanks needing overhaul were shipped between factories and no parts had problems interchanging between factory models. One factory could rebuild another factory’s tank using its own parts with no problems at all. These were all very advanced features in a tank designed in the early 40s and the Germans the most advanced of the Axis nations, really couldn’t come close, instead, they produced over armored, over gunned, unreliable tanks that could not be used in fast-paced offensive actions. The Nazi Germans could really only dream of having a tank arsenal like CDA or FTA.
Having all the parts produced at all the different Sherman factories being interchange, really helped keep Shermans working. As tanks were knocked out of action, the severely damaged ones, in many cases could be repaired and were taken back to the 4th and 5th echelon repair yards. basically, the Division and Army level repair shops, that could “factory refurbish” tanks and other vehicles. Because hundreds of Shermans were exactly alike, no matter who produced them, and even updated models, or parts would bolt to the older models, you could easily swap major and minor parts and assemblies. Tank A has a dead beyond repair turret, but the hull is good, but Tank B has a good turret but destroyed hull, making one tank from two was very easy. With a robust echelon repair system like the detailed in the image below, you can keep the flow of replacement vehicles up by providing refurbished hulls from knocked out tanks in the Combat Zone.
It is also easy to discount the Sherman tanks combat value if you look at the production numbers versus the tanks it fought, but the numbers do not give a good idea about combat numbers, because all those Shermans went all over the place. Sure, the United States produced a huge number of Sherman tanks, but they supplied them to an awful lot of countries through lend-lease. The British, Canadians, French, Russians, Chinese, Poland, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few nations all used it. You also have to keep in mind, thousands of Shermans were used in the United States for training, and some never saw combat or left the US, the ones that did were remanufactured later in the war and then sent to Europe for the final campaigns in NWE. The Sherman was built in great numbers, but not in such numbers that the Germans would see anything like 10 to 1 odds in most battles. In a few key battles, the Germans managed to muster more tanks than the allies. The Sherman was also used in large numbers against Japan.
I do not see a better choice of a tank for the Allies, given their choices, and the wide-ranging requirements the Sherman faced. Considering it was a rushed design, a stopgap, to hold the line while the M7 and T20 series were developed, it proved to be a very capable tank. It was also capable of taking a series of upgrades that kept it relevant far after the war, something no other western tank can claim. German tank design was so bad, that only the French even toyed with them, and quickly found the Panther to be terrible, and un-fixable. Just about all of the design features that set the German tanks apart, proved to be failures, only referenced as bad ideas that actually made it into production, (I’m looking at you German cat suspension).
One aspect of Tank combat that is not well understood is the importance of being able to spot, shoot at, and hit an enemy tank. The tank that gets the first hit in, even if it does not knock the tank out, statistically wins the fight. The Sherman tank, even the very early models with only the periscope sight, had a big advantage over German tanks in this area.
Sherman Fire Control Advantages:
The Sherman commander, had a rotating periscope, a vane sight for the main gun.
The Commander had a power traverse override. Meaning he could control the turret from his seat.
The power traverse was very fast and precise. This allowed the gunner to use the power traverse to fine aim the gun. No German tanks power traverse system was good enough to do this.
The Gun was stabilized, when used, it allowed, at the least, a very fast shot once the vehicle was stopped. No German tank of the war had a stabilizer. The technology was well past what Germany could produce during the war.
The gunner had a periscope sight, that had a 1.x wide-angle view, and a telescope built into the same sight. He could switch from one to the other with ease. This made finding an enemy target, the commander had just put the turret on was much easier, since the gunner was not forced to use only a telescopic sight alone to find the target. These combined periscope/telescope sights were improved through the war.
The gunner had a telescope on the mid-war on to go with the Periscope sight. These telescopic sights improved throughout the war.
The power traverse system was completely independent of the automotive system. As long as the Aux Gen and the batteries were intact, the power traverse system for the turret could be used, and the system was very easy to use and relatively comfortable for an average-sized man of the time.
German Tank Fire Control System Advantages: The list is small.
The German 75mm and 88mm guns were better than American guns. (At least until the 90mm M3)
German optics, in their telescopic sights, were better. This is not as big of an advantage as it’s made out to be. It simply means they had come up with a method to coat the lenses in their optics, make them slightly more clear, making them brighter. This really did not make any difference at the combat ranges in western Europe. It may have made a marginal difference on the eastern front. It did nothing to negate the difficulty of actually finding a target to shoot at, at long range when your only view of the world was that scope.
Now, I know this list seems short, and to be fair, if I’ve missed something, let me know and I’ll add it. If it’s not some wehraboo fantasy. You add on top of this, these complicated and hard to use tanks, were crewed by very poorly trained crews by 1944.
The Tank crews were extremely well trained by June 6th, and they got better as the war went on, just like the Sherman did.
German Tank three or PIII: The Best Tank The Nazis Ever Produced.
This tank fought from the first days of the war and really was a great little tank. Too bad the Sherman, all models, outclassed it in just about every important way. The Sherman had better armor, firepower, and similar mobility. Even with its most potent gun, a long 50mm, the PIII had trouble with the Grant and Lee, let alone an M4. In the mythical, but often argued about on the internet, one on one tank battle, the Sherman stomps the Panzer III every time. This chassis was at the end of its life as a tank with the 50mm. Larger guns or more armor could not be fitted to it.
It was a good tank, but nowhere near as good as a Sherman, but to be fair, it was at the end of its development life and the M4 was just beginning its long, long life with many countries around the globe, that would span decades, with a few nations still keeping some Sherman based vehicles in inventory. The PIII was designed before anyone really knew how to build a good tank, and with that in mind, it was a good vehicle.
The biggest problems with the PIII design were the small turret ring, the suspension weight limit, and the automotive system’s power, and ability to be upgraded and take more weight, and the complicated to assemble and maintain design. look at all the plates on this tank welded and riveted together, and how many angles it has on the hull and turret, all that takes extra time to produce.
As we know, the Shermans automotive components were able to take on a lot more weight with no real issues, its turret ring was HUGE, allowing it to be up-gunned much more readily, and all its motor choices could handle extra weights without causing much drama or concern. German tank designers and the industry that made their tanks were just too primitive to produce vehicles with that much growth potential. Hell, they were struggling to get engines and automotive systems to meet the base specs of their designs and be even remotely reliable, and largely failing at it, to worry about streamlining the design for ease of manufacture. Sadly, instead of learning much from this design, and building a larger slightly simpler design, they went with even worse vehicles. The few good vehicles like the PIII are overshadowed by the really bad ones that had great post-war PR campaigns (Tiger, Panther, Tiger II I’m looking at you!), but were largely failures if you look at their combat records with an objective eye.
In many ways, this was the best tank Germany produced during the war. This was one of the tanks used the short time the Germans really did things offensively during the war; this is the tank that took them to the outskirts of Moscow. And it was a great little tank; its turret ring was just too small to fit a real gun. They solved this with the StuG, but I’ll cover that later. They produced 5774 of them. It did have teething troubles because it was a tad complicated, but unlike many later Nazi designs, the bugs were worked out and the design became one of their most reliable armored fighting vehicles. Not Sherman reliable, but about as close as a German vehicle would get.
This tank continued to be used throughout the war and was up-gunned to a short 75mm howitzer for infantry support once its use as a tank became limited. The ones not converted to use the short 75 were probably used for parts, and or converted to Stug IIIs. You have to give it credit for being a good looking little tank too, that kind of thing is important to model making companies!
German Tank Four or PIV: Boxy and primitive, but it got the job done.
The PIV was a closer match to the Sherman in size and capability, but still inferior in most important ways, and it was a complicated design that wasted a lot of man-hours on welding together the overly complicated hull and turret designs. It had weaker, un-sloped armor, in a complicated hard to produce configuration. Its suspension used leaf springs and was inferior to the Shermans VVSS suspension. It had weak enough side armor, without the use of skirts, the tank could be penetrated by Russian anti-tank rifles, and the Russians had a lot of AT rifles. It started off with a low power 75mm gun that had no chance of hurting a Lee or Sherman, and was later up-gunned with a 75mm similar to the one mounted on the Sherman, but slightly better.
At this point, the PIV became a serious threat to the Sherman, the main Nazi tank threat for the whole war. The Sherman still held all the cards with better overall armor, mobility, reliability, spotting, gun handling(getting that first shot off), and crew comfort. The Sherman design had room to grow and would take a whole new turret and a whole slew of larger guns. The PIV was at the limits of what the hull could handle, and its turret ring was too small to accept more powerful guns, though the gun it received in the improved models was a good gun. The final version of this tank, the J was a simplified version that lacked a power turret drive or skirts, it was not toimprove the combat ability, and it was done to speed up production because the Germans were desperate for more armor. Nazi Germany produced 8569 of these tanks, from 1937 to 1945.
One of the weaknesses the PIV suffered from was the suspension. It was fragile and prone to breaking in rough terrain. The leaf spring setup also offered limited travel and really was the most limiting feature of the tank. The Sherman was reputed to be much better in rough and mountainous terrain. If you just look at a good picture of the PIV, and count the welds, and look at how complicated the thing looks, and then consider all the man-hours needed to build the thing, you see just how much time would have to be wasted making the complicated hull, in particular for a nation like Germany that had to depend on welders, and not welding machines to put the hulls together, this was a bad idea.
This tank allowed the Germans to use maneuver warfare, and it wasn’t tied to the rail system because it was much more reliable than the Panther or Tiger. One argumentto make is, Nazi Germany couldn’t really have produced more Panzer IVs and StuGs because they didn’t have the manpower to crew them.
The counter to point to that argument is if the Germans had not produced the two ridiculous heavy tanks. Tiger 1&2, the huge maintenance tail these vehicles required could be broken up; a tiger company had the same number of mechanics and maintenance personnel and their transport, as a full Battalion of PIV or III tanks. You could take all these men, and put them into units that didn’t bleed resources when Nazi Germany had few to spare.
They also could have manned these new units with all the men they put in the many captured tanks they used. They used large numbers of T-34 and M4A2 Shermans captured from the USSR. They should have stuck with the tanks they considered producing that was closer to these, the VK3001 (d) was almost a direct copy, Germanized to make it much harder to build and work on of course, of the T-34. This tank looked a lot like the T-34 that inspired it, but apparently, fears of friendly fire losses because it looked too much like a T-34 and a lack of aluminum to make the copy of the diesel the T-34 used, were probably the real reasons this tank didn’t get produced and not corruption in the Nazi Armor development pipeline…
It turns out; the Daimler Benz proposal died for several reasons, the main being that several Nazi industrialists under Spear convinced Hitler getting a tank into production fast was more important than the tank being the best tank able to be put into production. This coupled with a propaganda campaign run by those same Nazi lackeys, against the Daimler Benz proposal, spelled its doom. Hitler, convinced by their arbitrary date of production argument, decided on the MAN proposal with its frontal armor increased. It would be the “Panther” tanks, we all know and love. I guess it’s really a good thing the Nazi industrialists were a bunch of clowns, greedy opportunists, and straight-up lackeys to even worse men, or the Germans might have had a decent tank.
At any rate, they didn’t produce the right tank; they produced a pair of heavy tanks, and a medium as heavy as a heavy that wasted far more resources than ever could be justified by these tanks propaganda inflated war records. They probably best served in a propaganda role since they had truly fearsome reputations, but once they were met in combat a few times that wore off and the American and British tankers found ways to beat them, like just making them drive around a bit until they broke down or ran out of fuel.
German Tank VI Tiger: The Premier Fascist Box Tank, Great For Plastic Model Companies, But Not So Great As A Tank.
This tank had a big weight ‘advantage’ over the Sherman, it is a heavy tank and all, but for the most part, was so rare it had almost no impact on the war. In fact, most of the SS units that used this tank lied so much about its prowess there are some doubts it got even 1/3 of its actual kills its Nazi crews claimed. It also had to be moved by train giving it limited useable tactical mobility, and these tanks sucked up the maintenance, supply, and rail resources of a much larger unit. They also required a lot of resources to build, and it’s hard to make a credible argument they were worth the trouble since they had such a limited impact on the war.
The US Army faced very few of these tanks. When they did face them, they didn’t prove to be much of a problem. From North Africa to Italy and Normandy and beyond, the Tiger was a non-factor when facing US Shermans. Of the 31 sent to North Africa, one was captured after it was knocked out, or the crew got scared, and the British still have it! The claims of it being a big factor in the Sid Bau Zid battles were false, and they didn’t achieve much of note in Sicily and Italy. In Normandy, they only saw action against the British, and Commonwealth forces, where the true value of the Tiger is clouded by German propaganda and the German military’s tendency to overclaim across the board, but especially bad in SS units.
The Sherman had a fire control advantage allowing it to spot the huge Tiger first in most cases, it could outmaneuver the bigger tank, and its guns could take it out from the sides and back, or if it got lucky, even the front. The Sherman did face this tank in British hands, but we will cover that later. It’s safe to say the way the Brits used the Sherman was different, and riskier and resulted in much higher tank losses. They were far less concerned about tank losses than men in general, and the Sherman was a fairly safe tank to be in when it got hit.
The Tiger ultimately did the Allies a favor by making it into production. It just wasted men and resources that could have been turned into more PIVs and STUGs. It was more of a propaganda tool, used to prop up the home front by lying about the prowess of the tank and their Aryan crews, like Michael Whitman, who was not nearly as good as the Nazi histories would have you believe. In fact, he got himself and his crew killed by trundling off all alone, probably looking for more imaginary Nazi glory.
Living, well, recently living, tank aces like Otto Carius have admitted many of their “kills” were added for pure propaganda reasons. SS unit kill claims were often discounted by half by the regular German Army and even that was probably being generous since there was no effort to confirm the kills. Most authors who write books about German tanks take these kill claims at face value. When someone bothers to compare the kill claims to the units they faced with the Soviet, American, or UK records, more often than not, they were not even facing the claimed unit, and often it was not even in the same area. When they did get the unit right, the losses rarely come close to matching up. Even a nation trying to be honest often gets kill claims wrong, but Nazi Germany liked to use inflated numbers to help soothe a restless population that was starting to see the error of supporting Hitler’s foolish war.
If you’re feeling the urge to angrily post a comment about how I’m a Sherman fanboy and unfair to your favorite Nazi box tank, take a breath, and keep reading, cause you’re only going to get angrier. (Boy has this part proven true, and I’ve gotten much flak for my evaluation of the Tiger) As always, the Wehraboo makes claims, but never backs them up with any sources or actual facts, just check the comments here.
Now let’s cover some of its many flaws. It was really big and heavy, limiting what bridges it could use. This size and weight problem affected a lot of things, automotive reliability, how easy it was to spot, how it was shipped, the amount of fuel it needed. The gun was decent, but for a tank of its size the 88mm seems pretty weak, and it wasn’t even the good one, the 88mm L71. Can we say ‘bad at designing cooling systems’? Just look at the rear deck and then a cutaway of a tiger and marvel at how much space the radiators and cooling ducts take. Now let’s talk about its suspension. There is nothing wrong with torsion bar suspension; it’s still popular today on tanks and other AFVs, where the Germans went wrong is the road wheels. The interleaved and overlapped road wheels were incredibly stupid, making maintenance or damage repair on the suspension a nightmare. Another huge problem for a vehicle that depended on rail transport, to be transported on German train cars, the normal tracks had to be removed, and a narrower set installed, then the combat tracks put back on at the destination. This was a huge hassle and time waster for the crew at the very least.
The turret drive was a laughable contrivance using PTO from the engine and transfer case, meaning the tank had to be running, and at high RPM to rotate the turret at full speed. The system was not very refined, and only got the gun into the general area of the target, then it had to be finely aimed with the manual traverse wheels. Max turret rotation speed meant the tank had to be stopped, and the motor running at max RPM. The Tigers motor did not like running at max RPM, and for the most part, the crews just used the nonpower controls.
Another thing to note is these tanks were essentially hand-built. Some people assume that means painstakingly handcrafted, and it’s sort of true. The Germans wasted a lot of time on finish items to make the tanks look nicer. I’m not sure if this was some need for the Germans to have nearly ‘perfect’ weapons, at least appearance-wise, or if it was a way for the German tank industry to charge more for the tanks and make more money off the Nazi regime, but it doesn’t matter, the result was the same, a lot of wasted man-hours on stuff that didn’t improve the tank’s combat effectiveness.
On a Sherman tank, just like your car, when they needed a spare part, they put in an order, and quartermaster corps sent one to them through the supply system if one wasn’t in stock at the local spares depot they would order the part from the next level up. When the part came, in most cases it would fit, and only if damage caused a problem would hand fitting be needed.
This was not the case for the Tiger, or any other German tank, for several reasons, the main being the Germans liked to fiddle with the tanks on the line making it rare for any to be truly the same. For the Germans, most parts would need adapting to the individual tank, making field repairs a difficult job, part of this was because they had so many different sub-variants between major variants, and parts for early variants may not work on a later one or would need adapting to work. On the Tiger, there are so many things they changed, big and small through the short production run that parts for earlier tanks would practically have to be custom fit. It is clear the testing period was not long enough and as they fixed problems found in the field they incorporated it in the ‘line’ instead of holding off until all the changes could be lumped in at once not slowing production, or improving the parts in a way that didn’t require a line change or were backward compatible. On top of that, the Germans just didn’t produce many spare parts. And what they did produce was cut way back later in the war as they ‘optimized’ production by cutting spare parts production. The lack of spare parts meant many parts came from cannibalization, but even then the parts would have to be adapted since the tanks changed so much.
Only 1347 of these tanks were even built. Numbers were not needed to kill these wasteful and stupid tanks, but they were nice to have anyway when one did actually make it to a fight. This tank had zero positive effect on the war for the Germans, they helped win no battles, and it just wasted resources, both material and industrial, and helped the Nazi’s lose the war that much faster. It would be nice if that’s why so many people admired these tanks, for their monumental stupidity and thus indirectly helping the good guys win, but no, it’s because it was “cool looking, or had the best armor ever, or was a technological marvel only defeated by hordes of subhuman scum”, or other completely untrue, Nazi propaganda myths about these terrible tanks.
Another link here about the Tiger, and another, and another view about how the Sherman compares
German Tank V Panther: Bigger, Less Boxy and Less Reliable, Nazi Germany’s Fail Tank.
Much has been said about this tank, and most of the positive stuff is just, well, there’s no way to say it other than this, it’s straight-up bullshit. The panther was a ‘medium’ tank as big and heavy as any heavy tank of the time. What kept it from being heavy was its pathetic lack of armor for a tank of its size. The side armor was so weak Russian anti-tank rifles could and did score kills on these tanks through it. This is why later models had side skirts covering the thin side armor above the road wheels, left uncovered it was vulnerable to these AT rifles, and the area wasn’t small either. Seems like a pretty bad design right there, it was not a new weapon, the Soviet Anti Tank Rifle.
Here is a list, off the top of my head, of the Panthers problems:
It liked to catch fire due to a fuel system that leaked in more than one way.
The hull didn’t let the fuel drain, making the fire problem worse. Tilting the hull to much could cause a fire because the gas that had leaked out of the leaky fuel system was in pools in the bottom of the sealed hull, and would hit exhaust pipes. This was because the early tanks waterproof liner in the engine compartment, to give them a “deep fording” ability, caused the drainage problem. The feature was a sham, just to line Nazi industrialists pockets, all later removed from production tanks, but the other problems with the fuel system always made it prone to fire.
The motor had a tendency to backfire or fail catastrophically and cause fires as well. The fuel system was leaky, so there was always fuel vapor in the engine compartment.
The cooling system was very complicated, a damaged fan or clogged duct could cause a fire. It was found the radiators were vulnerable to damage, so plates were added above the armored grates on the engine deck. All these add-ons just piled more weight on an already overstressed, and unreliable, automotive system.
Let’s move away from the fire problems and move onto the turret problems.
To rotate the turret, you had to rev the engine up. The engines were fragile. You want full traverse speed; you needed to be redlining the engine. This is because they used a Power Take Off system and tied the turret drive to the engine. This was a really bad way to design a turret drive. If you want a good laugh, go find a diagram of the Tiger or Panthers turret drive system and marvel that it worked at all. It didn’t work if the tank was on even a mild slope. The drive was so weak in these cases it couldn’t even hold the gun in place on the said slope. I’m sure if you took an electric driven hydraulic or just straight electric system it would weigh a lot less than all the parts they had to use to make the PTO system work, and not even well. This system only ‘worked’ when the Panther was running. The Sherman had a backup generator that could operate the tanks electrical system, including the turret traverse system. German tankers could only dream of such luxuries, well the ones that didn’t get to crew captured Shermans.
let’s talk about the gun, gunner, and commander. One of the commander’s jobs is to find targets for the gunner and get him onto them. The commander has pretty good all-around views from the turret with his nice cupola. The gunner is stuck with just his telescopic sight. He would need up to several minutes in some cases to find the target the commander was trying to get him on due to him not having a wider view scope and the commander having no turret override.
The gun was a good AT gun, but not a great HE thrower, since the HE charge was smaller to accommodate thicker shell walls to keep the shell from breaking up at the higher velocities. It’s HE was far from useless though. The turret was very cramped for these men as well. And the turret sides and rear had very thin armor. The Shermans 75 would punch right through it at very long ranges with AP and even HE rounds could knock the panther out by cracking the plates and spalling the crew to death.
Some more tidbits on the Panther, its automotive systems were terrible.
The automotive systems were designed for a 30-ton tank, and even for that, they were not that robust.
The true Achilles heel of the automotive parts was the final drives and their housings. The housings were weak and flexed under load, allowing the already weak gear train to bind and then destroy itself. The best they ever got these final drives to last, on the G models of the tank, was 150 kilometers on average! Replacing them was a major chore that would keep the tank down at least a day. This was confirmed in a report on post-war use by the French, using captured and new production tanks. You can find it here. Even if you tripled this life, it wouldn’t be very good, the life of these parts on the Sherman is essentially unlimited, if maintained and undamaged. Even if you tripled this life, it wouldn’t be very good, the life of these parts on the Sherman is essentially unlimited if maintained properly and they are undamaged.
The motor and tranny would get at best, 1500 kilometers before needing to be replaced.
The tracks would get around 1000 kilometers. This isn’t that bad, but they were not easy to swap either and spares were not all the common.
The suspension would start to break down around 800 or less with lots of off-road use. The front dual torsion bars breaking first, and then the extra stress from the extra frontal armor kept killing them.
We haven’t even talked about the ridiculous road wheel system that only insane people would put on a combat vehicle. A late war British report on a captured early model Panther said at higher speeds the suspension was terrible and essentially became solid, making for an awful off-road ride. You can find the report here. The report is very interesting, if not very flattering to the Panther. Another report by the Brits on the Panther can be found here, and this one is equally damning.
It is a total myth that you needed five or more Shermans to take out one Panther or Tiger. If a Panther makes it to the fight, it’s a formidable tank, and in particularly when set up as a long-range anti-tank pillbox they could be deadly if they had pre-ranged the area they expected the attack from even more so. When called upon to be part of a mobile tank force, they failed, and they failed hard. In many cases, they would lose three or more Panthers to one Sherman.
By the time the Sherman crews of the US Army started to see Panthers in bigger numbers, they were the elite tankers and the Germans the amateurs, with the vast majority of the German crews only receiving basic training on the Panther. It showed in just about every battle. The Sherman handled these supposedly better tanks just fine. While the poorly trained, green, Nazi crews struggled with their tanks, a bad driver could cause a mechanical failure almost instantly, thanks, MAN. It makes you wonder how many Panther crews did just that to avoid fighting.
In all the ways you need a tank to be good, the Sherman tank was better than the Panther. When the US needed tanks, the Sherman could be counted on to be available. When they needed tanks that could drive across North Africa or Europe, the Sherman was there and got the job done. When they needed a tank to help crush the Nazi, the Sherman was always there.
The Germans managed to build around 6000 of these mechanical nightmares. The final production version of this tank, the G version only solved the final drive housing issues, the weak gears were never solved, and this is why the post-war French report was so damning. They were not even operating them under combat conditions. The United States produced more M4A4 tanks at CDA, and that was just the M4A4, that single factory also produced composite hull Shermans, M4 105s,(all of them) M4A3 105(all of them), M4A3 76 tanks and M4A3 76 HVSS tanks in large numbers as well. The Nazis could only dream of having a tank as reliable as the M4A4, or a single factory that could crank out so many great tanks like CDA or FTA
StuG III: Short, Stubby and Underrated
This armored fighting vehicle more than just about any other was a real threat to the Sherman. The Germans built a lot of these vehicles. Since it was just about the most common AFV, the Sherman ran into it much more often than tanks like the Tiger and Panther.
The StuG was not as good of a vehicle as the PIV from a combat perspective since it lacked a turret, but it was very good for what it was used for and a much cheaper vehicle to make. It was very popular, and when it was time to cease production, German generals threw a fit and kept it in production. They didn’t say a word when the Tiger I production was stopped. Speilberger has a good book on this tank, it covers the PIII tank and its variants including the StuG. The book is titled, Panzer III and its variants.
The StuG was up-gunned with the same gun as the Panzer IV and was good at AT work and infantry support. Its low profile helped it stay hidden and it was mobile enough to be able re-locate and get to trouble spots. It had ok armor and was well-liked by its crews. Cheaper, easier to build, and very effective for the price, it’s no wonder it doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and German industry tried to kill it! When the PIII chassis stopped production, they made a version on the PIV chassis, but it was a little bigger and not as good.
Tiger II: Boxy, Fat, Stupid, Unreliable, Overly Complicated and Overrated
The Tiger II was not a very good tank. Only 492 were built, and its impact on the war was less than marginal. Everything said about the Tiger I applies to this tank, just more so. It weighed more at 68 tons but used the same engine. So it was a huge, underpowered, waste of resources. The US Air Force bombing campaign actually had an effect on this tanks production. The factory was heavily damaged and about half the total production was lost in the bombing raid.
This tank was a non-factor in the war, and the first ones lost on the eastern front were knocked out by a handful of T-34-85s, they never even spotted. The US Army ran into a few as well and dispatched them without much trouble. They were so slow, ungainly and problem prone, during the battle of the bulge, they were left at the rear of all the column’s, and barely made it into any of the fights.
The early turrets had a big shot trap and were filled with ready racks, easy to ignite. The production turret got rid of the shot trap but did nothing for how cramped it was, but they did forbid the use of the turret ammo racks. The gun was extremely hard to load when not level. It was an accurate and deadly gun though. The trouble, like with all the cats, was getting it to the fight.
German armor fans like to talk about how influential the Panther and Tiger designs were, but as far as I can tell, they really had zero real impact on future tank design. In fact, the Panther and Tiger series were technological dead ends that no one copied and only the French spent any time playing with the engine tech and guns. The thing that stands out for me about German tank design is they never figured, out like all the other tank making countries, that putting the motor and final drives in the back of the tank, was better than putting the tranny and final drives in the front, and having the motor in the back, and a driveshaft running through the fighting compartment was a bad design feature. This was a drawback the Sherman shared, but all future medium tank designs dropped this and went to the whole power pack in the rear setup. From the T20 series on, though the T20 tanks never went into production because they were a small improvement over the Sherman, they all had rear motor/tranny/final drives. This tank layout still dominates current tank design. The Nazi design teams seemed unable to come up with a design using this layout, other than their aborted copy of the T-34, the VK3001/3002DB tanks.
This is the tank they should have built
Let’s Talk About A Few Russian Tanks: The Soviet Union Knew A Thing Or Two About Building Tanks.
The Sherman may have face the T-34 in limited numbers during WWII since the German captured a lot of them on the eastern front, so it’s possible it faced the T-34, and maybe even the T-34-85. This wouldn’t be the best matchup because the Germans using second-hand equipment would be at a disadvantage. A few years later in Korea, the Sherman would face the much-improved T-34-85 and it would be a closer match.
T-34: The Soviets Tank Of Choice For the Early to Mid Part Part of WWII
Let’s take a look at the T-34, the early model with a four-man crew and 76mm gun. This tank was designed before the M4 and has some advantages and disadvantages over the M4. The T-34 had better soft ground mobility and a better motor once the bugs were worked out. But it lacked a dedicated gunner, and that really increases the workload on the tank. The guns were about equal. Any version of the Sherman would have a reliability edge from the start, but the T-34 would catch up.
The Soviet Union received a fair number first gen Shermans, all M4A2 models and liked them. They considered it a fine substitute for the T-34, and the crews felt it was more comfortable than their T-34. I would give the M4 the overall edge in tank quality looking at the first gen tanks.
T-34-85: The Improved T-34 That Would See Use For Decades
This later version of the T-34 had an enlarged three-man turret with an 85mm gun. This model of the T-34 was a better tank than the 75mm first gen Shermans, but about equal the later models with the 76mm gun. The M4A3 76 HVSS tanks would prove to be more than a match for the T-34-85s they met in Korea, and would really come down to crew quality.
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The T-34 chassis would be used in many varied armored vehicles, a lot like the Sherman, but not as extensively. The Christie suspension would be a limiting factor. The internal springs of the design would take up to much space for the advantages they offered and torsion bar, or bolt on suspension like used on the centurion would outlive the Christie suspension. The T-34 tank and the many vehicles that sprang from its basic chassis is a fascinating subject, far too complicated to cover in a few paragraphs on another tanks web page. It really deserves its own page like this dedicated to its design. I don’t know enough about the T-34 to do it, but I hope someone gives it a try.
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, Tigers in the Mud, by Carius, D.W. to Tiger I, and Tiger I & II combat tactics by Jentz, Panther Tank by Jentz, Panther and its Variants by Speilberger, Panzer III and its Variants and Panzer IV and its variants by Speilberger, The Sherman Minutia Site, Son of a Sherman by Stansell and Laughlin, M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, the Lone Sentry, TM9-731B M4A2, TM9-731G M10A1, TM9-745 GMC M36B2, TM9-748 GMC M36B1, TM9-750M3, TM9-752 M4A3, TM9-754 M4A4, TM9-759 M4A3, Land mines, TME9-369A German 88MM AA Gun, TME30-451 Handbook on German Armed Forces 1945, TM9-374 90mm Gun M3, FM5-20 Camouflage, FM5-20B Camouflage of Vehicles, DOA Army Battle Casualties and Non Battle Deaths in WWII, FKSM 17-3-2 Armor in Battle, FM17-12 Tank Gunnery, FM17-15 Combat Practice firing, FM17-30 The Tank Platoon 42, FM17-32 The Tank Company medium and light, FM17-33 The Armored Battalion, FM17-67 Crew Drill and Service of the Piece M4 Series, Another River, another town by Irwin, Tanks on the Beaches by Estes and Neiman, Cutthroats by Dick, The Myth of the Eastern Front by Smelser and Davies, Tank Tactics by Jarymowycz, Panzer Aces by Kurowski, Commanding the Red Army’s Shermans by Loza, The Radionerds website, The French Panther user report, Wargaming’s Operation Think Tank Videos, all the info in the data and links sections. Historical Study, German Tank Maintenance in WWII
Tarawa: The Marines Learn To Use Medium Tanks In A Meat Grinder.
UPDATE! I don’t mind if you read and comment on my post, but keep in mind it may have info in it based on old information. This website, www.TanksonTarawa.com has the most accurate info on the Sherman tanks used on Tarawa, their sole purpose it to document their use! So please check their awesome website out.
November 20-23rd 1943:
The first Marine use of the Sherman was on Tarawa. The tanks were M4A2 small hatch tanks, these tanks were issued with no training, and the crews of the I Marine Amphibious Corps Tanks Battalion had sixty days in the states to learn how to use their tanks. Then the island they ended up pre landing had no place for them to drive the tanks to train on them. So they went into combat with no real training with the Marines they were going to fight with. The tanks had no waterproofing, and no deep wading trunks, and could only drive through 40 inches of water. They also had the same problem the Army had in Europe, the tanks radios were not on the same frequency as the infantry units below the battalion level. They could talk to aircraft though. They decided they would only need one com0pany of medium tanks, the rest of the battalion would be made up of M3A1 lights. This single mixed battalion would be the only Tanks to support the assault.
C Company of the 2nd Marine tank Battalion had 14 medium tanks. All the tanks had names starting in the letter C. The HQ for the tank battalion was almost entirely killed off and their radios lost during the initial landings so each platoon of M4 tanks fought its own war, as would the light companies until the later stages of the battle.
1st platoon reinforced with two HQ tanks were let out of the LCM on the reef and had to drive into shore, they lost three of six tanks to shell craters and swamping while doing so. There were scouts sent ahead to mark a safe path along the reef, but the markers they placed in many cases floated away, and most of the scouts were killed by enemy fire. The three surviving Shermans from 1st platoon were named Cecilia, China Gal and Chicago. Cecilia, a command tank, linked up with China Gal, and they tried to find a way inland. They had trouble getting inland. The seawall was a hellish nightmare, filled with dead and dying marines, wrecked LVTs and other obstacles and this prevented the tanks from moving. While trying to find a way inland Chicago took on water and shorted out.
China Gal and Cecelia managed to find a way inland, and found nothing but Japanese troops, and when a Japanese tank, a Type 95 Ha-Go, wheeled into view, it got off the first hit, and got very lucky, its 37mm round hit Cecelia in the main gun and wrecked it. The rifling was damaged, and the breach was open so fragments bounced around the turret and scared the hell out of the crew, but no one was hurt. China Gal blasted the Japanese tank. Cecelia raced back to the beach to check out the damage, and then later hooked back up with China Gal, the company commander jumped from the tank with the disabled gun into China Gal. They spent the rest of the day working with the gyrenes, blasting Japanese pill boxes, Cecelia using just her machine guns. They worked between Red-1 and Red-2 the rest of the day.
2nd Platoons first tank off LCM sank up to turret killing the tank. The next two LCMs tried another spot, and first LCM took damage and sunk on a reef, blocking the second and it managed to back a little way out before taking fire and sinking as well. The tank in this LCM managed to get out, and onto to the reef, only to drown in hidden shell hole moments later.
The rest of the 2nd platoon made it ashore on beach Red-3 and moved across Red-2 to hook up with their infantry. These tanks were ordered to support an infantry assault across the islands airfield, and ended up out in front of the marine grunts. One took a bunch of fire and tried to back up and fell into a shell crater and rolled over. The other was damaged by a Japanese soldier with a magnetic mine, and then shot up by a hidden AT gun. They were in the fight for 20 minutes or less. I suspect since the tanks names didn’t make it into the book I’m using as a reference that no one from either crew lived to tell the tale.
3rd Platoon re-enforced with one HQ tank managed to get all four tanks ashore, and had less trouble doing so than the other two platoons. Their good fortune ended their though. Cannonball, a command tank with the platoon leader aboard, Condor, Charlie and Commando and Colorado were the names of the five M4A2s that made it ashore. The commander on Red-3 ordered the tanks to move out ahead of the infantry, with no men in close support, and for the tanks to kill anything they found.
In under an hour, Condor was knocked out, how it was knocked varies in various reports, some claim a US Navy dive bomber took it out, but photos of the wrecked tank make it look like an AT gun or infantry close assault took it out. Cannonball took some damage from and AT gun, and in trying to get out of its line of fire managed to fall into a ditch filled with Japanese fuel drums. Apparently fire from a Navy fighter ignited the fuel, but the crew got out. The survivors from both crews were trapped behind enemy lines for a while. Charlie got taken out at close range by an AT gun. The Jap AT gun put multiple rounds through the tanks side. Commando lived up to its name, ranging far ahead of the Marine lines and racking up two AT guns, and five pillboxes before enemy fire knocked it out. Colorado had a gasoline bomb thrown on it, but the driver raced back to the beach and drove into the surf, putting out the fire.
By nightfall, only Colorado, China Gal and Cecelia were operational, and China Gal and Cecelia tied into the Marine lines on Red-1 and Red-2, and Colorado did the same on Red-3. Things were all messed up, lots of ships had just dumped whatever cargo was easiest into the LVTs and other boats moving things into shore and there was a lot of trouble getting the things the tankers were going to need. The most important being main gun rounds for the tanks M3 75mm guns. Late that night heavy Japanese machine gun fire rained down on the base of the pier that they were using to bring in supplies. Colorado was sent to help, and shut the Japanese machine guns down soon after.
Things had gone poorly for the Marine tankers, but not just them, the attack was so disorganized due to much higher than expected casualties, the Marines only had a small toehold on the island, and a Japanese counter attack during the night would very likely have rolled the Marines right back into the water. Luck was on the Marines side, the Japs were even more screwed up and couldn’t manage one.
The Marines started trying to bring in more troops at dawn. These troops were met by a hail of machine gun fire from the Red-1/Red-2 junction. Cecelia, still without a working main gun was dispatched to engage the Japanese machine gun positions at the junction. The tank was only in action for a short time before it slid into a shell crater and its electrical system shorted out. The tank was at a steep enough angle the turret could not be rotated with the manual traverse, and had to be abandoned. I’m not sure if it was shock from the impact when it slid into the shell crater, or if there was water in the hole was deep enough to flood the tank.
The M4 hero of the day was China Gal, around 1100, she hooked up with a bunch of gyrene grunts and they attacked south from Red-1 towards the Green beaches. They never actually moved along the beach though, they stayed inland, behind the Japanese positions facing the beach, basically attacking from the Japanese defensive lines rear and flank. Two hours later, they had rolled up the whole western shore, opening the way for more troops to come in, and not under murderous fire. In many cases China Gal had to drive right up to the well-hidden concrete bunkers and blast them through the front slit, or rear door at point blank range to kill them. That night China Gal pulled almost all the way back to Red-1 and holed up with a few infantry around. They slept under the tank and would be back in action in the morning.
On day two, Colorado spent the day on Red-3 trying to kill Japanese positions at the base of the Burns-Philp Pier. Several of these positions had been wiped out the day before and re occupied by the Japanese over the night. Colorado worked closely with a bulldozer, the tank would move in close and blast the machine gun position and then the dozer would cover it over with sand, whether the Japanese inside were dead or not.
They worked out a system with the marine scouts who had led them in on the reef. The few that survived were used to scout targets for the tanks. The tankers made at least one of these scouts ride in the tank and show them were the action was from the inside at least once. The tank crews wanted to give the scouts an idea of how blind they really were, so he could appreciate and take it into consideration while they scouted.
The scouts worked out a system where they would get the tanks attention by beating on the hull with a spent 75mm shell, because they rang like a bell, and could be heard inside the tank, and then using his rifle to indicate a target. He did this by aiming at the target, and then they would hold up fingers for how many yards away the Japanese soldiers were. This worked well enough, but ringing the shell/bell on the hull put the ringer in danger of enemy fire. Of course, once he got the tanks attention, if was the Japs shooting at the scout who had to be worried. These men would also drag dead and wounded marines from the path of the tank.
When the progress on the Green beaches was noticed, it was decided to send in 1st Battalion 6th Marines and B Company 2nd Tank Battalion ashore there, B Company was made up of light tanks. One of the first LVT’s in hit a mine on the reef and blew up, once again losing a lot of important communication gear. Due to the heavy presence of mines on the reef and beach, 1/6 diverted north, delaying the landings, but ultimately coming ashore as an intact fighting unit, the first of the invasion.
The 1/6 landings went relatively well, but the light tanks of B Company had a lot of trouble. They came in on the wrong tide, and only one platoon would make it onto the reef, only to be 700 yards from shore, and high tide coming. The rest of B Company was diverted Red-2, landing before 1st Platoon got onto the reef.
All five M3A1 light tanks from the 1st Platoon got onto the reef, but only two would make it to land, the rest drowned in hole in the reef. The rest of the company got ashore only to lose another tank in a shell crater, leaving only two running. The light tanks laagered in an abandoned Japanese airplane revetment and their crews dug foxholes under the tanks for the night. Crews that lost their tanks, dug in with other crews, under their tanks. At night, anything that moved got shot at, so everyone made sure they had a hole by nightfall. A few more lights from B Company would arrive before nightfall, but the rest still remained offshore.
As night fell on the second day, it was clear the Marines were winning, but it was also clear a whole hell of a lot of Marines had been killed. One of the infantry commanders still alive, Lieutenant Colonel David Shoup, issued a report that did not mention anything about a group of Marines being cut off holding a particular section of the island in it and concluded it with “Casualties: many. Percentage dead: unknown. Combat efficiency: we are winning. Lt, Col Shoup.”
At 0200 more B Company light tanks arrived off Red-2 and started to land and immediately started having problems. Of the first two lights ashore, one shorted out its electric system and was towed ashore by the other, only to be lost to enemy mortar fire. All through the night more B Company lights tried to get to shore. One platoon lost three out of five light tanks to drown out electrical system or other water related problems. By Morning they had five M3A1 tanks from two platoons ashore.
Later that morning 1st Battalion, 8th Marines attacked the Japanese positions at the base of the pier at the junction of Red-1/Red-2. They five light tanks supported the attack, and much like their larger cousins in C Company, the tankers found it hard to find anything to shoot at, so infantry scouts would often climb into the cramped tanks and lead them to the targets. When the targets turned out to be a pill box or bunker, it was found even firing point blank into the embrasures bunkers with little success. They found using 37mm canister rounds at point blank range, fired through an opening worked well enough. They lost a M3A1 to a Japanese soldier who dashed out and threw some kind of explosive onto the engine deck, blowing the engine up and setting the tank on fire. They lost another light to a mortar attack as well.
The light tanks would be pulled out and replaced by SPM, the SPM was an lightly armored LVT with a 75mm howitzer in a small turret. These vehicles fared little better than the light tanks.
China Gal would be called upon to help an attack reach the group of trapped marines. Elements of two companies from 1st Battalion 2nd Marines had managed to push to the center of the airfield on D-day. The Japanese figured out these marines had pushed far ahead, and attacked behind them, cutting them off. These Marines attacked to the south the next day, trying to break out while the other marines tried to fight to them. The attack to save them faltered, leaving them the nearly 200 Marines of 1/2 still trapped, now in a 200 by 50 yard area of thick bushes and underbrush, and they were low on ammo.
A little after 0800 China Gal, and the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines started an attack to relieve the trapped Marines. They also had seven more light tanks from B Company, who had made it to shore, helping. Major Jones, the commander of 1/6 kept tight control on the tanks, not letting any get further than 50 yards in front of the advancing gyrenes. Jones improvised a way to keep in communication with the tanks and kept one light tank back at his HQ to use its radios to control the other tanks. They attacked along a very narrow front, only about 100 yards wide. Even with the improved communications with the infantry through the use of the light tanks radios, right up at the front edge were the tanks were actually fighting, the commander of China Girl still found it necessary to open his hatch to talk to the Marines outside. To make it safer, the commander of the Sherman would rotate the turret, so his hatch was to the rear, then pop the hatch and rotate the cupola, the early split hatch commanders cupola rotated, to use one of the upright hatches to shield them from fire.
The tank infantry team advanced steadily, losing no more tanks, and crossing 800 yards, they releaved the cut off Marines by 1100. By this point the Marines supply lines had stabilized and a good flow of supplies was making it ashore, but one thing was not. Ammo for the M3 75mm gun was not in the cargo being sent from the ships offshore. This forced the tankers to scavenge what they could from the knocked out and drowned tanks. The two operating M4 tanks would be reduced to firing 75mm pack howitzer ammo, it didn’t seat right, and they didn’t know how it was fused, but it kept the main guns in action.
Back at the junction of Red-1 and Red-2, where a large Japanese bunker complex, which included the Japanese Commanders command bunker, was still holding the Marines off. At 0930 a lucky mortar round took out one of the bunkers, causing a huge secondary explosion, this allowed Colorado to move in and knock out the other bunker guarding the main one. While the fight went on, the two B Company light tanks left in the area were used as ambulances, hauling wounded Marines back to an aid station.
As night fell, the Jap strong point with the huge bunker still stood. The M4 was used to haul supplies up to prepare for the next mornings renewed attack. Late that night at 0400 almost 400 Japanese troops rushed the Marine lines, attacking B company 1st Battalion 6th Marines, and the Marines won the fight, but it had come down to hand to hand combat.
At 0700 on the morning of the 4th day of the battle, Navy aircraft bombed the hell out of the last of the japs holding out on the south east part of the island, a long narrow section, ending in the sea. The air attack was followed by marine artillery and naval gunfire support. One of the Pearl Harbor survivor battleships was off shore to deliver the fire. The USS Tennessee would remain offshore until December support the Marines through the mop up operation.
Freshly landed, 3rd Battalion 6th Marines passed through marine lines, heading for the Japanese strong point points on the east side of the Island. Colorado, China Gal and seven light tanks led the attack. They moved in a tight formation of tanks and infantry and rolled up the Japanese troops. The fight had left the Japanese, and many committed suicide. By 1310 the Marines of 3/6 had reached the eastern end of the island. The two M4A2 tanks proved to be decisive weapons at this stage, tearing through the last of the Japanese resistance in the area.
The last area the Japanese were still holding out in, at the junction of Red-1/2, with the big bunker, the area responsible for the majority of the Marine casualties. With only the support of a pair of SPMs the Marines finally crushed these last Japanese holdouts by 1305 when the Island was reported secure.
The cost had been one third of the landing force becoming casualties, 1696 killed and 2101 wounded. The Marines salvaged all the M4A2’s they could and took them back to the LSD Ashland, and they were rebuilt in Hawaii and used in later battles. One M4A2 remains on Tarawa, Cecelia, no matter how hard they tried she wasn’t going to come out of the shell hole, and as of 1992 she was still there, a steel monument to the Marines, Sailors and Soldiers who died taking the Betio, Tarawa Atoll.
The Marines learned a lot of hard lessons about using tanks at Tarawa; the biggest problem was communication with the supporting infantry units. Another big problem was the vulnerability of the tanks to water damage. It was also clear, the infantry units needed to train with the tanks they would be supported by in combat. The Marines of C Company had been thrown into combat with little training on the tanks, but still proved to be key players in the conquest of the island. The Marines would begin applying the lessons they learned, but not before their next use of the M4, this time M4A1s at Cape Gloucester, a swampy, jungle island in the Solomons, and not the best place for any tanks, but the M4 would prove it worth there as well.
Cape Gloucester: Who would be nuts enough to try using tanks in a swamp? The USMC that’s who. (coming soon)