The Sherman’s Armor: Not As Bad As People Like To Say It Was.
The M4 had well-balanced armor in the same class as the other medium tanks of the war. We have covered ‘welded’ and ‘cast’ hulls, but even the ‘welded’ tanks used many cast parts welded to form the plates. In either case, all M4 Shermans used rolled homogenous, or cast homogenous, steel armor. It was well balanced between hardness and ductility and was resistant to spalling and cracking. It was easy to repair and weld. All versions cast or welded had sloped frontal armor, but the early welded Shermans had a lot of weak spots due to all the welding lines, and thinner armor used in the driver’s hoods. This was solved by adding external plates in front of the hoods. Over time the front plate was simplified to eliminate as many welds as possible, and the later large hatch hulls used a single plate. Most early welded Shermans used cast armor plates welded together to form the front hull plates.
A mid-production M4 Sherman had 2 inches of armor at 56 degrees. The hull sides were 1.5 inches at 0 degrees, the rear was also 1.5 inches at 0 to 10 degrees. The hull roof was .75 of an inch thick and floor 1 inch under the driver and a .5 inch everywhere else. This version of the Sherman was welded; the front plate was made from many smaller plates welded together, with the cast fittings welded in place as well. This was a lot of welding, and one of the reasons why the cast version was well-liked from a manufacturing perspective because it took a lot fewer man-hours to produce, the problem was, not all the factories could do the large castings. The hybrid hulls were a solution to the casting capacity problem since more factories could handle the much smaller front casting the highbred used a casting on the front of the hull, and the rest of the hull was welded and very similar to the standard M4 hull.
In some cases, when cast parts were called for, but if there was a shortage, a particular tank maker might come up with their own built-up part instead of cast fitting. This is one of the major reasons why there are so many little details differences between each factory’s version of the tank, they each left a signature on the fittings they used and how they installed them. These details are the thing of nightmares for a scale modeler who really needs to get the details right, the classic ‘Rivet Counter’ could be driven insane by all the places they could go wrong on a Sherman kit.
The M4 would have a cast, 75mm gun turret. These turrets had 3.5-inch thick gun shields, a 2-inch rotor shield, and 3 inches of armor at 30 degrees on the turret face. The sides were 2 inches, and the rear 1. The top was 1 inch thick. This turret armor was the same throughout the 75mm turret run, though many early castings had a weak spot on the frontal armor, near the gunner, this was covered with a large section of welded on armor, and the casting was improved in later versions of this turret, thickening the armor over the weak spot so the add-on armor was not needed. This is much better armor than say the armor on the PIV, and very similar to the armor on the T-34. Most of these mid-production tanks would not have a loader’s hatch unless it was retrofitted at a major tank factory, but this would only be done when a tank was being completely rebuilt.
A mid-production M4A1 would have the same turret, but the hull armor was cast and would be 2 inches at 37 to 56 degrees. The rest of the armor, with the exception of a few places in the hull roof as thin as .5 of an inch, was the same, and there was a contour difference inside the hull. Many of the cast fittings welded onto the M4 would be cast directly into the hull of an M4A1. All spare parts would be interchangeable between these two tanks.
The Shermans armor was pretty good against 37mm and 57mm anti-tank guns. It was ok against 75mm guns like the one mounted on later production PIV tanks. Anti-tank guns larger than 57 mm could be hard on the Sherman and some guns could cut through them like butter. This was no surprise to the US Army, and they had a whole plan worked out to use infantry, artillery, and air support in conjunction with tanks to help them deal with anti-tank guns and other tanks. The Shermans M3 75mm main gun was a very good gun for handling AT guns, it was accurate, had a high rate of fire, and an excellent HE round. Even a tank with armor as good as the M26 Pershing or Jumbo was still vulnerable to AT guns 75mm and larger, being able to flank that AT gun or strong point was more important than being able to slug it out in the long run. Without AT guns, enemy infantry had a very tough time with the Sherman, and even the Panzerfaust wasn’t all that effective unless used very close to the tank, and if the Shermans had infantry working with them and could hang back a bit, the Panzerfausts were much less effective.
In the Pacific, Shermans would really help defeat the Japanese and then be forgotten about, barely mentioned in most books on the PTO. You may not hear much about the M4 in the Pacific, but it saw a lot of action. A few of these Shermans are still out there, some rotting away in the surf for tourists to play about on, in Saipan, Tarawa, and I think Guam too. There’s still an M4A3 rotting away on Iwo Jima. The Japanese saw them as the most serious threat they would face and used some desperate tactics to kill them. Basically, the Japanese used man-powered mines and shaped charges, and or the largest caliber guns that could be aimed at the tanks. They also had a rare but effective 47mm AT gun as well. In many cases, just getting the tanks ashore killed a large number of them off with things like holes or shell craters in reefs.
Later production tanks with the improved large hatch hulls, in some cases would still have the 75mm gun turret, these tanks would all have final production turrets with loaders hatches and cast in improved cheek armor, or early turrets retrofitted with the armor and hatches. Most of the large hatch hulls would have wet ammo racks, but a few large hull tanks, mostly M4A2 75mm tanks got the large hatches but standard ammo racks, with the add-on armor.
These large hatch welded hulls had a simplified one-piece front plate. It was now 2.5 inches thick at 47 degrees. The improved final drive (lower hull) housing offered 4.25 to 2 inches of armor. The rest of the hull armor thickness stayed the same, but it was not only stronger from being thicker, but many of the ballistic weak spots and welding joints were gone. Even these later large hatch hulls, only produced at three factories, have many minor cosmetic differences. The M4A1 received and improved large hatch casting, and its frontal armor and slope changed as well. It was 2.5 inches at 37 to 55 degrees and the rest of the hull remained the same thickness.
Many of these large hatch hulls had the larger and T23 turret. This turret had a 3.5-inch thick gun shield, a 2-inch rotor shield, and front armor of 3 inches. The sides were 2 inches thick and the rear 1, the top was also 1 inch thick. All these turrets had loaders hatches. They were also made from castings, just like the 75mm turrets.
Many tank divisions modified their tanks with add-on armor. The most common was sandbags. Many units came up with very elaborate steel frames welded to the hull to hold the sandbags in place. Even though army tests showed that sandbags did not help much, this was still popular. Patton banned their use in his 3rd Army. Another thing they came up with was adding a several inch thick layer, usually three to four, of concrete, to the front and sometimes the sides of the tank. This armor was little better than the sandbags.
There was a field armor upgrade that did work well; it was employed extensively by Patton’s 3rd Army. By this point in the war, late 44, early 45, there was an abundance of large hatch 75, and 76mm tanks in use. They would take the armor from knocked out tanks, often large hatch Shermans, and cut off the whole front plate, and weld it onto the front of an M4A3, A3E8, or even A1 tanks. They would also add an armored plate extended over the differential housing in many cases. They would also upgrade the turret armor by adding extra plates around on the turrets cheeks on 76mm turrets. One famous example of this upgrade package is General Creighton Abrams’s personal tank, an M4A3E8 76 tank, named Thunderbolt VII. This armor package was found to be almost as effective as the Jumbos armor and didn’t put as much strain on the tanks automotive bits as the sandbags and concrete. Steven Zaloga’s Armored Thunderbolt and Armored Attack books have extensive pictures of all the armor modifications and their use in action.
M4A3E8 with add-on armor plate.
M4A3E8 with sandbags
Jumbo with concrete
Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Yeide’s TD and two separate tank battalion books, Sherman by Hunnicutt, Oscar Gilbert’s, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, WWII Armor, Ballistics and Gunnery by Bird and Livingston, Son of a Sherman by Stansell and Laughlin, M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, Tanks are a Might Fine Thing by Stout, the DOA Army Battle Casualties and Non Battle Deaths in WWII, Another River, another town by Irwin, Tanks on the Beaches by Estes and Neiman, Cutthroats by Dick,
25 thoughts on “#12 The Sherman’s Armor: It Was Better Than The German Armor Of Comparable Weight.”
On Gen Devers and the Pershing. In Feb 44 during the run up to Overlord prototypes of the M26 had been constructed. However the Armor Board had tested them and found a lot of deficiencies (April 44, 2 most before D-Day. The Army did not order any until Oct 44 and that was for 76mm and 105mm armed models. In testing the the 76mm HVAP performed almost as well as 90mm AP ammo with much better rates of fire and accuracy. (The Army really didn’t like the Brit 17lber due to poor accuracy and barrel fouling). Remember in late 43-early 44 75mm armed Shermans and M10 tank destroyers were kicking the shit out of German tanks in Sicily and Italy. 88s were dangerous but there wasn’t anything in the pipeline with enough armor to stop an 88 besides the T29/30/34 heavies. Feedback from Army Ground Forces was positive on the Sherman. The need for the Pershing was not high enough to warrant rushing untested prototypes into combat. In the end it was the push from Army Ordnance (not Army Ground Forces)that got a small number of Pershings shipped over for combat testing.
This whole dispute over the value of the Shermans is hard to fathom. General Devers in 1943 wanted a new and more powerful tank. McNair vetoed the idea. So on D-Day we deployed our second generation tanks against the third generation German cats.
McNair screwed up. If he hadn’t we would have shown up with more M-26 Pershing tanks and we would have done better in the subsequent=nt battle presumably. But we didn’t lose. We won big. We might have won even bigger had we kept up with the arms race for bigger tanks. But – let me repeat – we still won.
Basically the idea that tanks ‘duel’ with each other is an illusion. I read all those Osprey Duel books but they, while entertaining, are seriously misleading.
The Germans beat the French in blitzkrieg because of their tactics and use of combined arms – not because their tanks were better. The Russians had more tanks and better tanks at Barbarossa but lost disastrously to the Nazis because of superior German tactics and combined arms.
Then when we invaded in Normandy we gave them some of our tactics and our combined arms and we beat the crap out of them.
We were stalled at Normandy but broke out with a tank offensive at Operation Cobra. Before our advance we softened up the Nazi area with carpet bombing from 115,000 B-17 and B-24. Then we charged. The Nazis never recovered from their meeting with the Americans, British, and Canadians at Normandy. They never recovered from their experience with the Shermans.
That folks is combined arms. A lot of Nazi sympathizers defend the Tigers and Panthers who suffered from lack of Manganese, Cobalt, Molybdenum, and Tungsten. And of course gasoline. Poor babies.
The Nazi sympathizers who befoul the Web, think it wasn’t fair. The Germans had no four engine bombers. Not fair.
In the great scheme of things the Sherman was just a part of a huge complex war effort. If we had had the M-26 Pershing earlier it would have made little difference except we wouldn’t have all this nonsense about the technical faults of the Sherman.
you miss the fact that if a ship could carry 100 Sherman tanks(about 1600 cu ft each), it could carry less than 50 Pershing tanks(about 3500 cu ft each). as said in other places on this site, the Sherman was a proven design with excellent reliability. the Pershing tanks sent to Europe still had design bugs and so-so reliability.
Cobra started with about 3000 sorties of heavy and medium bombers, not 115,000.
the issue before Cobra was not the type of tank used. Pershings would have been destroyed as quick as Shermans and Cromwells because the terrain forced tankers to attack dug in tanks, anti-tank guns, and infantry head on with little to no room to maneuver.
The 115,000 bomber figure is a typo. Sorry.
You are forgetting that at Remagen, while the Pershings did a great job of destroying the 88s on the far bank, only the Shermans could cross the bridge and break out of the Bridge head (and they did) because the Pershings were to wide to cross the bridge and had to be left on the western side of the Rhine.
I think there’s more to address with the add on armour.
With the cast increase in hollow charge anti tank weapons in the later stages of WW2.
It’s highly likely these forms of add on armour would have caused a hollow charge round to detonate early. Meaning the tanks hull will not be penetrated.
“Tank Action” By David Render (8th armoured brigade iirc) Has an example of a Sherman with tracks used as add on protection defeating a shot from a panzerfaust.
You would think the sand bags and concrete would achieve similar results.
The add on armour was therefor well worth doing as protection against the weapon that they would be most likely to come up against in late war Europe.
Most tanks were knocked out by AP rounds fired by field guns so you could argue that this was at best ineffective. The weight strained the engines and if you break down in combat it doesn’t matter how much armor you have, you’re going to be ineffective and give the enemy plenty of time to get through it. If it was going to get through the armor on the Sherman to begin with the little extra wasn’t going to be enough to help unless it was hardened armor plate
I don’t think US Army Ordinance could get anything right when it came to armor.
They thought cast was better than plate, but I read somewhere that plate had measurably better ballistic protection. I also heard that there was a Sherman unit in ETO that refused to take delivery of cast hull Shermans. And that there was a Marine Sherman unit whose welded hull M4s proved to be more resistant to Jap AT guns than the Army M4 hybrids that fought alongside them.
Also I think that it would have been better if they used boiler plate instead of the more expensive 400 series stainless steel for the aplica armor.
Do you remember a source on the cast armor not being as good? I have read that it was marginally weaker for the same thickness, but I don’t remember where. I don’t remember the source for this, but I pretty sure the difference was small enough, that the speed of production on the cast hull tanks was quicker because there was a lot less welding, that the production time saved was worth the small difference. I also vaguely remember claims of a small batch of M4A1 was the hull casting that wasn’t heat treated right, and the armor was weaker than normal. The biggest problem with the M4A1 cast hull was not all the factories producing Shermans could cast something that large.
On early welded Shermans the front hull was actually made up from a bunch of cast armor plate welded together, all this welding was time consuming, so the composite hull came about solving the large casting and time consuming welding problems and getting the best of both worlds. Of course this was moot when the second gen large hatch Shermans went into production, since these tanks had a single rolled plate for the frontal armor. They also made a large hatch M4A1 with the 76 M1A1 gun, so that’s more evidence there wasn’t a significant difference in armor protection between the cast and weldted tanks.
Another thing to keep in mind, is the US Army liked cast armor enough they used it on just about every major(All) production tank up to the m60, and the M1 Abrams was the first non-cast tank.
I’ve never read any accounts of crews refusing to take a Sherman into combat because it was a cast hull tank. I’ve read crews in some units complained when they had to give up their 75mm Shermans for the 76 tanks, they preferred the HE power of the 75mm M3 since they were fighting AT guns and Infantry and takes were very rare.
As for the Marines and Sherman use in the pacific, the Marines took what they could get, only refusing to take the M4A4 version. They started off getting M4A2 tanks, because that’s all that was available when they started asking for them. The once instance of them using 15 M4A1 75 tanks on Cape Gloucester, in the northern Solomons, and that was because that’s what was sitting in the nearest supply depot. The rest of the war it would be small hatch M4A2s, and then some large hatch A2s, and then M4A3 75W tanks late in the war.
I will dig to find my source for the ballistic props of cast and the story about the USMC welded V hybrid hulls.
“Another thing to keep in mind, is the US Army liked cast armor enough they used it on just about every major(All) production tank up to the m60, and the M1 Abrams was the first non-cast tank.”
I think after WW2 because the tank guns were so powerful, tank designers just gave up on protection. The Panther showed them that a tank weighing 40 tons was mobile so they put on as much armor as they could while trying to hold to that limit and took the cost saving of castings. As a valve and regulator designer I can tell you first hand that the savings of castings are substantial.
Rolling is better than casting in terms of the armor’s grain structure. Rolling is similar to forging in that it makes the steel tougher. But rolled homgeneous armor is usually in the form of flat plates which have to be welded together to form a square box. A cast structure can have compound curves. So which is better under which circumstances isn’t a simple question.
The Sherman like the Panther had flat sides which meant that the enemy would try to flank the tank. A T-34 had sloped sides which gives better side protection but that restricts the internal room which effects the ergonomics, and that effects the rate of fire. Every design choice brings another trade-off.
This is American propaganda. The Sherman tank was an inferior tank compared to any of the MBTS of Germany. The only real advantage of the Sherman tank was the reliability and production cost. 5,000 Shermans were lost in France against a loss of 229 Tigers (250 totally ever came against the allies in France). The Panther G was equally superior – but sheer numbers and massive airsupport gave the results. The Sherman tank sucked completely when it comes to fighting figures -but it was cheap and reliable. Even the PZIV was better
Yeah, the Germans thought the Panther was a war winner and to maximize its potential they formed special units called Panzer Brigades.
Two of these faced off against CCA of the 4th Armored at Arracourt whose Shermans ran over them like speed bumps.
Of the 262 tanks and assault guns deployed by the German units in the week of fighting near Arracourt, 86 were destroyed, 114 were damaged or broken down, and only 62 were operational at the end of the month. The 4th Armored Division’s Combat Command A, which had borne the brunt of the 5th Panzer Army’s counter-offensive at Arracourt, lost 25 tanks and 7 tank destroyers. As a division, the 4th AD lost some 41 M4 medium tanks and 7 M5A1 light tanks during the whole month of September, with casualties of 225 killed and 648 wounded.
— Zaloga (2008
Some war winner!
Lars, it seems like a pretty good article to me. It doesn’t claim the Sherman was the be all and end-all, I’m not sure why you’re so upset over it. 🙂 It’s well documented that allied crews, especially the British/Canadians who met the really heavy German armour, that the big cats were very scary. They didn’t have a huge problem with the Panzer IVs, especially this guy in the links below who I had the honour of meeting several times during my tenure as an armour soldier. He always claimed that the Sherman was the best tank of the war precisely for the reasons you gave. General Rad had three Shermans shot out from under him and I actually hosted another Canadian veteran at a mess dinner who survived thirteen Shermans. Damn, if I can’t remember his name, though.
All the best.
So, the 75mm Sherman was inferior at…
Being deployed across an ocean in overwhelming numbers? No.
Fighting against infantry and AT guns/fortifications? No.
Maneuvering in/among/around enemy vehicles to attack from the flanks? No.
Responding quickly to changing threats with a fast turret traverse and coordinated controls between the Commander and Gunner? No.
Exploiting breakthroughs and tearing up the enemy’s rear area? No.
Reliably remaining in combat from a mechanical standpoint? No.
Enabling most of the crew to evacuate safely upon receiving a penetrating hit? No.
Being repaired and quickly returned to combat? No.
Face to face, tank vs. tank long range sniper duels against a stationary, defensive enemy? Yes, I will grant you that advantage went to the Germans.
Fortunately Europe is substantially wooded with rolling hills and towns, resulting at most combat taking place at <1,000m.
Bottom line, here's a thought: when you have a weapon that does 90% of the job better than the enemy, TAKE IT AND BE HAPPY while doing your best to avoid meeting him in the 10% range where he is superior. This is Tactics101.
You know the Sherman’s had a better K/D to Panthers and tigers in all fronts, no country that used them hated them. The U.S. even went back to them for a time and they performed against Russian and Chinese tanks in Korea. This idea that the M4s were Inferior to German tanks is wrong. They were more survivable, burned less after upgrades, were more mechanically reliable and various other things that have been covered by anyone who does a modicum of research and doesnt let jingoism and confirmation Bias effect their thinking. Realistically the worst part on an M4 was the gun which in no way was underpowered it just wasnt as good. For example you arent going to accuse the guy benching 250 pounds of being weak hes just weaker than the guy benching 300 pounds.
Oh wow you must be the boss Wehraboo, Germany lost so get over it. Nobody cares how much WoT you play and German tanks were by 1944 junk crewed by mostly poorly trained crews rushed into service. Perhaps if your vaunted German tanks weren’t sabotaged at the factory by the slave labor building them and German industry captains concentrated on building quality Panthers or Tigers instead of panthers, tigers and king tigers they would’ve made a difference.
I think it would help to clarify the add on armor (good or bad)
Pattons 3rd as noted, had their own pretty sophisticated fabrication operation and I believe they used and scrounged German tanks as well. Some notes of salvaging in other Armies territory to do so.
I don’t remember which of the two other armies did what, but one did the Sandbags and the other did a Concrete Pouring.
Hybrid hulls, not highbred.
I’ve seen a broadside picture of an M4 with Panther front plates on it. This is a very nice website. I have some of the sources you mention but some I’ve never seen before.
Yeah it was so good they covered it with sandbags and bits of armour plate cut off other (dead) tanks…..
You know whats funny about that? The Germans did the same thing, but couldn’t do it to the same extent because the automotive systems in the Panzer IV, Tiger and Panther were all to weak to support much extra weight.
The Shermans powertrain was so good, it could take all the added weight in stride.
Also not all the plate was cut off dead tanks, there were lots of abandoned German tanks, or broken down ones they could use, if they ran out of tanks with good quality armor to scavenge from.
Yeah, because no other vehicles in WW2 from basically every side ever used any form of addon armor or field kits!
…..Well, except for basically all of them, I imagine armor salvaged from German tanks would be the worst seeing as how awful they were at making steel that didn’t shatter when hit by even HE rounds. But funnily enough German tanks couldn’t even do that seeing as how they were already heavily breakdown prone and overweight, adding anything would kill them.
But speaking of addon armor and survivability….
“Yeah, the Panzer IV and Panther were so good they needed to be modified with side skirts (and a vast amount of additional fronal armor in the case of the Panzer IV) to protect them from 14.5x114mm AT rifles…”
a plate of Armour is a plate of Armour. If German troops could slap a metal plate that perfectly fits the shape of their tank they would use it.