A Poor Defense: Sherman tanks in WW2

Contributed by Nicholas Hopkins

A Glimpse of the lives of American soldiers constructed with materials of the 3rdArmored Division Archives, housed at the University of Illinois Archives Research Center.

“Sherman Tank” RS 26/20/70, MMischnick Sherman, Germany, February, 15-26, 1945.

“Sherman Tank” RS 26/20/70, MMischnick Sherman, Germany, February, 15-26, 1945.

Experiencing WWII from the inside of a M4 Sherman tank was famously dangerous. Henry J. Earl retells his experience with the Sherman in a 1983 letter to Lt Colonel Haynes Dugan, one of the G-2 intelligence officers for the 3rd Armored Division.

The hit was low on the side. The interior of the tank was lit by a ball of fire caused by the terrific friction of the penetration. A white hot eighteen pound projectile entered the empty ammunition rack under the floor. The earlier modes of the M-4 “Sherman” medium tank did not store ammunition under the turret floor. The steel walls of the compartment prevented the molten metal from striking the interior of the hulland ricocheting throughout the tank. This saved the crew.”[i]

Unfortunately, many Sherman operators of WWII were not this lucky. The M4 Sherman was the primary tank utilized by the United States army during World War Two. It also became the main tank of the other Allied countries, except for Russia. The popularity of the Sherman was not due to its superior design, but its availability and mass production. On the contrary, this tank suffered from serious design flaws. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that it was the soldiers within these tanks that bore the brunt of the Sherman’s problems.

Sherman tanks first saw action in North Africa in 1942. At the time they fared well against the German equivalent tank, the Panzer IV. It was for this reason that the Army thought the Sherman would be able to hold its own during the invasion of Normandy and into Europe. This was not the case. Death Traps, Belton Cooper’s aptly name book about American armored divisions in WW2 evidences this fact.

“The 3rd Armored Division entered combat in Normandy with 232 M4 Sherman tanks. During the European Campaign, the Division had some 648 Sherman tanks completely destroyed in combat and we had another 700 knocked out, repaired and put back into operation. This was a loss rate of 580 percent.”[ii]

Tiger Tank

“German Tiger Tank” RS 26/20/76 MMischnick , France, Aug.27-Sept. 2, 1944.

Sherman tanks were not nearly as efficient or as armored as the primary German tank, the Panzer IV. This was a fact even before the upgrading of Panzer gun barrels and armor in 1943. Shermans were under-gunned when fighting German Tiger tanks and out-maneuvered when facing German Panther tanks. These disparities are shown in an account of the famous Lt. Colonel William B. Lovelady, commander of the 3rd Armored Division’s 2nd Battalion, retold by Lt. Colonel Haynes Dugan.

“One of his Shermans turned the corner of a house and got off three shots at the front of a Panther, all bounced off. The Sherman then backed behind the corner and was disabled by a shot penetrating two sides of the house plus the tank.”[iii]

Because of their insufficient armor, the insides of Sherman tanks were prone to catching fire during combat. This problem was compounded when fires ignited shells and other munitions inside a tank. Sherman M4’s were jokingly referred to by British soldiers as “Ronsons”, a brand of lighter whose slogan was “Lights up the first time, every time!”[iv] Polish soldiers referred to them simply as “The Burning Grave”.

In the course of the war, tactics of coordination, as well as better ammo storage systems, were implemented to reduce the tank’s many deficits. Armored divisions also kept very efficient repair crews.[v] The faults of the Sherman were also balanced by the sheer number that could be manufactured and the speed of this production. Regardless of the reasons for the Sherman’s problems, individuals of the Third Armored division dealt with them in their daily lives. The Sherman M4 medium tank proved to be both a “death trap” for American soldiers and a poor defense against German tanks. However, its use by almost all of the Allied Forces was crucial to their ultimate success in WWII.

Clearly, the 3rd Armored Division Archives can lend perspective to both the heroic, and dangerous, actions of WWII and the most frustrating aspects of quotidian Army life. By utilizing the archives’ many personal stories of soldiers and the wide range of supplementary documents, one can find an answer or discover a brand new set of questions within the 3rd Armored Division Archives.

If you would like to listen to 3rd Armored Division Staff Sergeant Anthony Hufnagel describe his experience with the Sherman M4, listen to these two audio files:

audio file 1 

audio file 2

 


[1] Letter to a Mr. von der Weiden from Henry J. Earl (1983). Haynes Dugan Papers, Record Series 26/20/76, Box 1, Folder, Jan-June, 1985.

[2] Cooper, Belton. Death Traps. Random House, 1998. xii.

[3] Correspondence from Haynes Dugan to Walter Stitt. Book Review, Record Series 26/20/76, Box 10, Folder 1998, January-September, p. 2.

[4] Correspondence from Haynes Dugan to Walter Stitt. Book Review, Record Series 26/20/76, Box 10, Folder 1998, January-September, p.4.

[5] Cooper, Belton. Death Traps. Random House, 1998. xiii.

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  • Glenn Pence

    Given the Wehrmacht’s technical abilities, it is a good thing they couldn’t win the race for the atomic bomb. They had technically superior weapons systems on many fronts (the Tiger tank, the jet airplace, V2 rockets, and the M34 machine gun just to name a few). Thankfully, they did not have the natural resources (men, oil and manufacturing) to make war in the time frame they pursued. If they had remained “non-aggressive” for another 2-3 years (while building their arsenal) it might have been a very different world!

  • John Barker

    I am amazed that in the year 2013 such ignorance still prevails, especially at the University level. A few points for you to research. Armored warfare was dangerous for just about everyone, no matter what tank they were in.Your comparison of the PzIV and M4 is incorrect.The M4 is almost a dead on equivelant of the Russian T-34 which seems to garner all sorts of accolades while the M4 is beat to death for being overly dangerous.Belton Cooper’s book is an example of one man’s view of the war and is full of errors.Any historian of WWII worth their salt wouldn’t touch it.Understanding armor in WWII means first understanding logistical, tactical, operational and strategic considerations.The M4 was a great tank because it was able to be easily produced by the thousands, was easy to modify because the US could do so, and was reliable.Getting tanks to the battlefield is one key element in winning a war; Panthers that break down or Tigers that run out of gas are worthless to the war effort.This ignorance is inexcusable…try reading more than one book before you write a paper.

    • nhopki2

      Woah John. This is only a blog post. I don’t claim to be a military historian. I am an undergraduate researcher for the Third Armored Archives. Had I wanted write a historical essay I would have used more than one secondary analysis. However, I do stand by the general premise of what I wrote. Many of the personal accounts of WWII veterans stress how dangerous the M4 was, specifically because of what they characterized as poor engineering. That it is not say that Russian, French, British, and German tanks were vastly superior. I’m sure there were a number of fatalities caused by tank malfunctions in other tanks too, but the evidence that I have come across acknowledges a high number of problems with the M4 while characterizing German tanks as superior(see citations and give the linked audio a listen).

    • THartung

      Wrong on the Sherman being comparable to the T34. Panthers didn’t break down once the bugs were worked out. The Tiger and all other vehicles were in danger of running out if fuel because it was in short supply. If the Americans produced paper tanks in the thousands, would that have made it a great tank? No. You comments are totally flawed. Sorry but you should do some research before making ignorant comments.

      • John Barker

        1.)Sherman protection is comparable to T-34.Guns are comparable, M4 is superior due to 5 man crew vs 4
        2.)Panther continued to have problems through the war.The final drive was too fragile and often gave out requiring days to be replaced.The engine overheated after a short time at battle RPM’s.As late as Jan. ’45 Guderian was reporting to Berlin that the tank crews were reporting a lack of faith in the mechanics of the Panther.
        3.)The combat range of a Tiger is short due to the fuel consumption, not fuel availability.Can’t move 60 tons of steel without burning a lot of gas.
        4.)Plain and simple wars are won with numbers.The M4 was made, like the T-34, in big numbers and the M4 was reliable and often required little maintenance.Maintenance could be done quickly and easily compared to tanks like the Panther and Tiger.This translates to more tanks on the battlefield.WWII was not a war of huge tank vs tank duels.Tanks more often were fighting against soft targets.
        If you feel you can provide me with well researched proof of your claims, please do so.My assertions come from having read Hunnicutt, Zaloga, Yeide, Jentz and Spielberger (to name a few.)I’m guessing your knowledge comes from the history channel.

    • KazuakiShimazaki

      The T-34 is praised while the Sherman is lambasted b/c the T-34 got similar concepts (except for the three-man turret) into service over one year earlier. Remember in 1941, the best American tank was the M3. By the time the M4 got into service, it is in clear second place chronologically to the T-34. Just as important, because it was a trend-setter, the T-34 got a real period of invulnerability that made them threats despite the lack of everything down to *armor-piercing shells* and sufficient *fuel*.

      By the time the Sherman got into combat, the counters to the T-34, such as PzIVs equipped with long guns, 88mm antiaircraft guns being pressed into antitank roles … etc are coming on line. The Soviets were also more decisive in getting a gun that would be somewhat effective against Tiger and Panther in place for 1944 – while the Americans are debating the merits of a 75mm field gun and 76mm antitank gun, the Russians took the plunge to a 85mm gun so they don’t have to choose. While they are still disadvantaged, it is rare to hear of a Russian speaking the Anglo-American laments of complete ineffectiveness against Panthers and Tigers.

  • Colin Kelly

    Wow this is a shoddy article.

    “Experiencing WWII from the inside of a M4 Sherman tank was famously dangerous.”

    Famously dangerous compared to what exactly? Certainly not compared to being an infantry man. US infantry divisions, with few exceptions, suffered casualties of 100-200% their entire strength over the 11 months from June 1944 to May 1945. In comparison not a single US Sherman unit in WWII suffered 100% their strength in human casualties, even the ones that first saw action in Tunisia and saw combat for 2.5 years.

    Certainly not compared to German crews. Many German units in 3 months in Normandy saw 33% losses in their crews. And as German tanks ran out, many tank crews were forced into the infantry which drastically reduced their odds of survival

    So famously dangerous compared to what? Those not fighting? Those not in front line roles? The M4 certainly had its defects, but it was a much safer vehicle to fight in than many other combat occupations..

    “Sherman tanks first saw action in North Africa in 1942. At the time they
    fared well against the German equivalent tank, the Panzer IV.”

    Fared well? It was much superior to any German tank in wide spread service in North Africa. Even the Germans commented that it was the best tank on the field other than the handful of tigers that arrived. German crews in Mark III tanks especially felt unease dealing with Sherman tanks at ranges over 800 meters and from the side.

    Its quality had no doubt evaporated by 1944, but in 1942 and 1943 it was better, then equal to the tanks it was facing beyond a handful of tigers in use.

    “The 3rd Armored Division entered combat in Normandy with 232 M4 Sherman
    tanks. During the European Campaign, the Division had some 648 Sherman
    tanks completely destroyed in combat and we had another 700 knocked out,
    repaired and put back into operation. This was a loss rate of 580
    percent.”

    The 3rd Amored Division is by far, and I mean by far, the worst tank casualty unit in the US army in WWII. The next is the the 7th AD with 360 total write offs (55% the losses of 3rd AD), followed by the 4th AD with 313 total write offs (48% the losses of 3rd AD), and followed by 2nd AD with 276 write offs (43% the losses of 3rd AD) etc. Indeed 3rd AD makes up 20% of total Sherman losses in US Armored Divisions that served in Europe, despite being 1 of 15 that saw service.

    The 3rd AD was also a very hard fighting unit. It took 76.000 Germans POW (equivalent of ~5 German divisions, and 5x the divisions strength) not including those in the Rhur pocket, and claimed the destruction of 1500 tanks and SPGs (probably too high given they are unverified claims, but gives a good idea of how much tank combat its units saw).

    So its losses are not representative of most tank units, and its feats can explain the high losses, because it was also inflicting heavy losses on the Germans.

    “The Sherman M4 medium tank proved to be both a “death trap” for American
    soldiers and a poor defense against German tanks. However, its use by
    almost all of the Allied Forces was crucial to their ultimate success in
    WWII.”

    It hardly proved a poor defense against German tanks. While it was arguably a less formidable tank that it could have been due to faulty US tank doctrine, it was a major threat to German tanks. This is evidence by post war interrogations where the German tank crews rated allied Tanks and Tank Destroyers their greatest threat.

    However there can be no doubt US tankers had a rather low opinion of their armor. US Army questionnaires asking soldiers to rate their weapons are interesting in this regard. US Infantry felt their infantry weapons, almost without exception, as equal or better than what the Germans have. They felt their artillery was absolutely superior to the German stuff. However, US tankers by and large felt their tanks were inferior. Indeed, it says much about the fearlessness of the Allied Tanker who continued to fight day in and day out in a tank they felt was outclassed by the enemy.

    The Sherman was not the best tank in WWII, it was probably barely adequate by 1944-45. Still it worked as part of an excellent combined arms team which usually negated its flaws. It was available in such numbers, separate tank battalions could be attached to almost every US infantry division, meaning most US infantry divisions had more tanks available to them then German panzer divisions. US infantry more often then not went into battle supported by Sherman tanks, which blew Germans out of strong points and blasted to pieces MG pits.

    • John Barker

      Colin- A very well thought out and worded response, I applaud you. I’d like to once again point out that the M4 was a superb tank throughout the war, from intro to the end. Those that evaluate and criticize the Sherman make a number of errors, first being to think only of the most common Sherman, the 75mm variants seen at its introduction in Africa and serving later in Italy and Europe (and elsewhere.) This extremely versatile tank was equipped with a 75mm gun, a 76mm and a 105mm howitzer. Our British allies fielded some of their Shermans with a very high velocity 17 pounder. To add to its versatility the tank could have been outfitted with the turret and 90mm gun of the Pershing M26, this was not done as it was not seen as being advantageous over getting the M26 to Europe. All the guns that the M4 was equipped with served very well. Further the tank went through various engine upgrades, transmission upgrades, suspension upgrades, armor upgrades and modifications throughout the hull and turret. One version of the M4, the Jumbo, had extremely thick armor for use as a breakthrough tank.
      Secondly the fault that so many fall into is to compare the tank to other armor as if WWII was a tank versus tank slugfest and the main purpose of a tank was to fight other tanks. It was not. A tanks main purpose is to create breakthroughs in the line and exploit enemy territory behind the lines, wreaking havoc on communication, supply, HQ and reinforcing infantry. When Germany fielded the Panther, a tank which is designed around tank killing, it was a recognition that the war was lost for them as they were not creating an offensive weapon but a defensive one.
      Keep in mind that interviewing US soldiers about their tanks is hardly an interview of an unbiased source. Many politicians had started beating the drum of the “inadequacies” of the M4 and reporters were jumping in to the act with this “story.” The true value and performance qualities of a weapon are rarely appreciated by politicians, reporters and even the average tanker. The M4 excelled because it was reliable, versatile and durable and could do its job well. When an armored commander needed a job done he knew he was going to have the tanks to do it in the numbers he needed. This is what wins wars and this is how the M4 helped to win WWII.

      • Steve S

        For those that think the German Tiger tank was superior to the Sherman I recommend reading Tigers In The Mud by Otto Carius. Carius was a tiger tank commander in Russia during World War II. He details numerous mobility and maintenance issues with the Tiger. For example it was too wide to fit on a train without having its tracks removed and a transport set installed. It was so heavy that multiple tank retrievers had to be used to retrieve a damaged or inoperative tank and then it frequently tore the transmissions out of the tank retriever. The engine overheated at high rpm. the driver had to be very careful because the transmission in the tank was too weak and frequently was damaged by rough handling. The tiger could go about 56 miles on 150 gallons of gas. It was built to go 45 km/h but in reality the operators held it to about 25 km/h on the road because it would be damaged otherwise. Many tigers were lost because they became stuckk or broke down and could not be retrieved simply because they weighed too much

  • http://presidencycollege.ac.in/ leo mathew

    Many Law firms schools in India are teaching the students who all came to study the law like barandbench. They are learning legal cases how to face it and before the lawyer they should know about all the cases. The Lawyers should face many cases like legal and illegal cases.

  • Kno Wan

    1. The Sherman was more efficiently armored than the Panzer IV, and significantly better protected overall.

    2. The ‘Lights up first time, every time’ slogan was invented in the 1950s, so the Sherman could not possibly have been nicknamed ‘Ronson’ during WW2.
    That nickname is a post-war invention.

    3. Death Traps is an exceptionally bad source, as it is full of mistakes, factual errors and outright inventions by the author.

    • Louch

      My grandfather served as a driver in a Sherman tank in all five major campaigns of Western Europe, and in the Battle of the Bulge. I have interviewed a variety of M4 tankers personally, and all of you especially John Barker are completely wrong! To suggest that this article or Belton Cooper’s book is completely incorrect! My grandfather was only one of 18 out of 152 in D Company of the 33rd Armored Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division to survive the war. All of you need to do some home work! The Sherman was an absolute death trap – he saw it first hand. Only he and a few members of his original tank crew survived the war. You guys are full of shit.

      • Louch

        Hey John Barker, and the rest of you stooges, if the M4 was so comparable to a T34 then why did it run on high octane gas instead of diesel? Why did the Sherman have only 2 and one 1/2 inches of frontal armor on a 45 degree slope? Why did tankers in a Sherman die at such staggering rates that infantry soldiers have to replace them during the Bulge and in Normandy. The Sherman was and will always be superior only in the sense of its numerical odds and it’s ability to be easily repaired. As for the lives lost within that damnable hulk during WWII, perhaps you should talk to a real tanker about how that went – one who watched his friends burn around him.

        • John Barker

          Louch- It’s pretty widely accepted that someone that resorts to name calling in a discussion has no credibility. I’m guessing you don’t read much about WWII, weapons or war in general. Let me help you. Cooper’s book is widely regarded as bad writing and containing many mistakes. Cooper had a tough job, there is no getting around that but it is a biased view he had. He saw nothing but dead bodies and wrecked tanks…that was the job. Third Armored saw a much higher casualty rate than other units, making his job all the tougher, and all the more biased. There are many books written by tankers who survived the war, many that didn’t wine a bit like Cooper about the M4. Check them out.
          Your knowledge of tanks is lacking. You try to shoot down the M4 with comparison to the T-34 but you don’t mention how thick the T-34′s armor is. You compare their fuels, diesel vs. gasoline, but you don’t seem to know that the majority of tanks in WWII used gasoline engines. The M4 was fielded with a diesel, of course…you knew that right? Did you know that one of the versions of the M4 had thicker armor than the Tiger tank?
          If you are going to discuss casualty rates you have to compare them to something.else. High compared to the Panzer MkIV? To a British Churchill tank? Compared to what? Show some numbers if you want to be believed otherwise you are making an empty argument, which is what you have done above.
          No other tank compares to the M4 in durability, versatility and reliability and yes, numbers. You may want to dismiss these qualities but wars are won with numbers, logistics, not 1500 “super” tanks that need excessive maintenance and gasoline.

          • Louch

            Well in the sense of making logical arguments you are right about insults. One lessens the substance of one’s point by doing so and typically it is done by someone who lacks a sound point. However I was insulting because I was insulted by the lack of regard for the many tankers who perished in Sherman’s due to their overall vulnerability. To say that it was a good tank is hard for me to fathom. The Sherman unlike a T34 on average had a low velocity 75, less armor, and was more prone to burn. Indeed they made a few versions of the tank, but it didnt help the average sherman crewmember in wwii. The Sherman was a horribly poor tank on tank weapon – that’s my point. I have read many books and have even published a book and articles on wwii, yet most of my info comes from first hand accounts and primary resources.

    • John Barker

      Kno Wan- Good points. I just wanted to point out that studies showed that the burn up rate in an M4 was similar to comparable tanks, caused by the propellant in the ammunition cooking off. The U.S. remedied this by coming up with a wt storage bin for the ammunition…one of the advantages of the M4-the industry behind it.

      • Louch

        I apologize for being insulting, but not unlike Belton Cooper’s book, my comments are admittedly somewhat biased, because my knowledge of the Sherman tank is based predominantly on the gruesome accounts of my grandfather and his cohorts and other members of the 3rd Armored Division. The stats on the Sherman may indeed jive as compared to other tanks in the long run of the war, but in the short run, I am personally haunted by the stories I was told and of ratio of loss in the 3rd Armored. I wrote a book about my grandfather’s experience called Louch, A Simple Man’s True Story of War, Survival, Life and Legacy. It took me many years of research and lot of time sitting with tankers and pouring over combat reports and archives, and I just can’t abide the suggestion that the Sherman crewman was somehow at an advantage. Perhaps the use of the Sherman overall was successful, but at a very high cost. Especially when the Sherman (even with the 76) faced a Panther they were horribly out matched. In one engagement alone my grandfather’s crew hit a panther with a 76mm “17 times” and not once was the tank penetrated. The Panther tank was only disabled and the crew walked away. The Panther was only disabled due to a ricochet of one of the 76mm shells which bounced off the front plate and lodged between the turret and the hull, thus making the tank useless. Incidents like these were terribly consistent throughout the war, and without close air-support the 3rd would never have made out of the hedgerows.

        • John Barker

          I have to say the fact that you have written a book and articles on WWII makes your remarks above truly irresponsible, don’t you think? Shouldn’t your readers get a book with accurate research behind it? You make the same amateur mistakes so many make; you put high value in the words of veterans, you know little of the technology of tanks, and you certainly seem to know little of their use in WWII. Yes, veterans like your grandfather, my father and uncle should all be praised as the heroes they are but their view is of a small portion of the war. They know nothing of logistics, strategy, operations and sometimes not even tactics. Interviews with them, unless done by experienced historians, often guide them to discuss the horrors of the M4. Do some reading on the real battles of WWII and how they were fought and you will know much more than you do now. Tank v. tank battles represented a minority of the armor engagements of WWII.
          Tanks were not meant to fight other tanks as a primary duty. Attacking and killing infantry, MG’s, pillboxes, artillery (close up), penetrating lines and destroying communication and HQ in the rear and in general creating havoc in the rear. This is why most tanks carry a great load of HE rounds and this is where tanks like the M4, T-34 and PzIV excelled. Tanks like the Panther were not going to excel at the offensive, easy to see when they carry a long range gun like it did. Most tank battles in the ETO were fought at under 1000 yds., a range at which even the lowly 75mm of the M4 could kill the Tiger and Panther with a side shot. (Look in to the frequent breakdowns of the Panther due to that massive piece of armor it carried on the front-it was way to heavy for its drive system.)
          I never suggested your grandfather was at an advantage but I think he was compared to an infantryman or a ball turret gunner. I think your grandfather had the same advantage as any crewman of a medium tank…of course you want to compare to heavier tanks with thicker armor. That sound logical? Not to me.
          You suggest the use of the Sherman came at a very “high cost,” I challenge yo to prove it. Do some research and show me that tankers in the M4 died at a higher rate than a tank of comparable armor used in a comparable manner.
          If you want to know anything about the M4 I suggest you start with R.P. Hunnicutt’s history of it’s development. The bible on the subject. Steven Zaloga recently wrote a good book on the tank, an easy read and informative. Harry Yeide wrote a number of books on the use of the M4 battalions attached to the U.S. infantry divisions. I’d be curious to know what you have read.
          Learn that a critically important aspect of was is getting your machines to battle consistently and in numbers. Super technology had little effect to land battles in WWII.
          I hope your last comment does not mean you believe the myth that tactical air support was killing tanks in Normandy.

  • Mr. History

    Here is the truth and nothing but the truth from Mr. History.
    1. The M4 Sherman used early in the war was effective against German tanks at that time (1942-1943).
    2. The Sherman had good FM radio system that operated generally better than AM comm radios in German tanks, especially in rugged, uneven terrain, or where obstacles were present.
    3. The M4 was reliable, with 2 x 6 cyl Cadillac engines.
    4. Later German tanks brought havoc on Shermans, which had generally, in most cases not been upgraded.
    5. Weaknesses of Sherman- low velocity 75 mm gun. Thin frontal armor (less than 75 mm). Gas power plant, subject to explosion.
    6. Strengths of M4 Sherman- reliability, numbers, radio, speed.
    5. British lend-lease M4 Shermans fitted with the upgraded, retrofitted 17 pounder cannon (76.2mm) were considerably more effective against German panzers (tanks). These US built/UK upgraded tanks became known as Sherman Fireflies, and could engage German armor successfully.
    6. American tank crews that had learned to attack heavier panzers from behind attained much more success killing German tanks.
    7. M4 Shermans that were struck by 88 mm German shells were usually destroyed or badly damaged. Some M4s were cleaned out and put back in service after US crew’s body parts removed.
    8. German panzer crews feared the Sherman…if they encountered them en mass.
    9. Tank crews operating the M4 Sherman could be taught to lower risk by attacking German panzers from behind, where armor was thinner, and where tank was more vulnerable.
    10. M4 Shermans were used after Second World War in Korea (1950-53) and in Israel against Arab armies.

    • Louch

      Well, I guess I should expect a backlash since I started the conversation with a childish insult, mea culpa. Unfortunately for you I am an educated Historian and I have read and researched a great deal beyond just a few books and interviews. Again the Fireflies and various retrofits and upgrades for the Sherman did not affect the average Sherman tanker. Let me ask you would you have wanted to be a Sherman crewmember in the French, Polish, Russian, or American armies in 1944? My book and my point was never about logistics, it is about the human experience of a Sherman tanker. You sound more concerned about numbers than human elements and that was exactly why I was insulted. My grandfather was one of only 18 out of 152 men in D Company of 33rd Armored Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division to survive the war. A great deal more of his comrades would have certainly survived the war had the Pershing Tank been utilized earlier and that was Belton Cooper’s point! Even if the Sherman wasn’t designed to come up to fight other tanks, invariably it had to and the 3rd faced more Panzer tank divisions than the average American tank division, thus they had a 580% loss ratio. The Patton tank strategy you quote almost word for word was only successful because of our air superiority and because of depleted German productivity. The average 75mm (and 76mm version) M4 Sherman was and always will be a “Death Trap”! Maybe the numbers of the death trap ultimately made Patton’s strategy successful, but at a very high cost in lives, and that is my point! How is it that in Iraq our tanks fought the Iraqi tanks head on, oh yea, that’s because they were better tanks and our tankers had little to fear from the outdated Russian hulks – sound similar? Tank strategy in WWII is all about egos and the inability to admit an error – similar to this conversation.

      • John Barker

        I don’t think you are a historian nor educated. You went to a school the size of many high schools and I believe you studied industrial arts. If the above is an indication of your skills as a historian then ask for your money back. You talk of feeling for the tankers when no historian worth his salt would ever let emotions come in to his work. Along the same lines no decent historian would ever pose the question of would you do so and so. If I had my choice between being in the infantry and having a couple of inches to protect my hide I go for the steel protection,
        I notice you have run away from my challenge…prove that it was more dangerous to be inside an M4 than any other medium tank used in a similar manner. No, you chickened out on that one.
        I’m sure your book was not about logistics, strategy or tactics. No, your book was about some of the many men that faced death in WWII. Your book seems to be about jumping on the bandwagon to make money by calling the M4 a horrible tank and saying those that rode in it were in grave danger. Imagine, grave danger in combat of WWII. You have no idea what it means to be a historian or to offer a decent argument to back your opinion. “The human experience”…please.
        Please, prove the M26 could have entered combat sooner and that it would have saved lives, as you assert. I have no doubt you will run away from this challenge as well.
        I quoted Patton’s strategy? Really? You don’t know what you are talking about, do you? Please tall me what you mean about air superiority. It seems you think it bad to make use of a combined arms offensive. Why?
        Again you mention a high cost of lives but my guess is that you, the educated historian, could not even make any attempt at proving this. Right. East Illinois U. didn’t teach you that, right?
        All you have been able to do so far is echo the words of Belton Cooper, pretty sad for an educated historian. You’ve done nothing else of substance except make assertions about the T-34 which have no basis. You lament about the thin armor on the M4 while that of the T-34 is thinner. You make it seem that the gun of the T-34 is more powerful than that of the M4, it is not. You say the M4 burns more than the T-34…please prove this (try to keep in mind that tanks generally burn up when their ammo propellant ignites.)
        Did you bring up Desert Storm to show more ignorance of armor? Post WWII the world toward the MBT. Technology had new weight that it had not had in WWII. The Iraqi armored formations were a generation behind the Coalition forces and our armor scored kills against Iraqi crews that did not even know the Coalition were near. Night vision, thermal vision and DU ammunition coupled with GPS made the fighting extremely one sided. None of this was seen in WWII where studies showed that armored warfare was not decided by technology but by tactics. The force getting off the first shot generally won the battle…considering the Panther crew was practically blind when buttoned up for combat this was generally our side. Why do you think your grandfather’s tank got off so many shots on a Panther?
        Your ignorance is ridiculous.That you write a book and pretend to be some sort of authority is reprehensible. Go to a decent school and get a decent education. Research something besides emotional reactions of young lads who had never seen death before and were thrust in to the most horrible experience man can imagine. Research the reality of war and you might come to understand that men will die in war, there is no getting around that. Our allies suffered far worse than we did and if you did some comparison, like a true “educated historian,” you might come to realize how silly your writings are.
        Your last statement is mere projection. When you’ve grown up a bit and gotten some real education under your belt you will see how your ego is interfering with this discussion. I’m guessing you teach your woodworking classes not to cut dovetails by hand because that’s what you learned at EIU. Right?

        • Louch

          Again I don’t think you see my point and you aren’t going to. When you study history and get a degree in it, you learn that there is far more to history than just facts and dates. History is most importantly about the human experience and learning from such. In regard to facts though, the US tankers were not engaged in the European war for near as long as our allies or any other army, so no, the numbers for our overall casualties rates in a Sherman aren’t directly comparable, that is why I never said anything about it. The Russians faced the bulk of the fight and were equipped with Shermans, but the Russians were not highly successful at defeating German armor until the T34 arrived. The T34 had thinner armor, yes, but it was set on a better slope thus increasing the cross-section and deflection ability, additionally diesel didn’t burn like the high octane gas in a Sherman, and the 76mm on the T34 had greater velocity than the American 75 or 76mm. As for the Gulf War comment, the Abrams tank design is widely understood to be a response to the failures of the Sherman. I will say no more about this, you obviously know a good deal about WWII, but there is so much more to history than just statistics sir and this conversation has descended into petty insults….

          • John Barker

            You say there is more to history than facts and dates, there is the human experience. Of course but oddly this discussion is about a tank. In this discussion you have compared the M4 to the T-34, compared their armor, their guns, their fuel. You have brought in to this discussion on numerous occasions the numbers of men killed in your grandfather’s unit and the loss rate of the M4′s in his division. Numbers are important to this discussion and if you did your research you would know how far off you are with them here. The 76mm of the T-34 was not superior to the M4′s 75mm in velocity. I find it hard to believe that you write these things without even checking them. Their armor protection was near identical because the thinner armor with more angle offers the same protection of the the thicker armor at 45 degrees. Add to this that the U.S. tempered their steel better and you get better protection on the M4. Fuel burning is not the issue with tanks so much as ammo burning, which is why the U.S. upgraded to wet ammo storage. Btw, the T-34 was on the front from the very beginning of the conflict between Germany and the USSR.
            I think if you were to look at the life of many tank units in WWII, any country, you would find similar experiences of death. Focusing on this death does not tell us a story of the war.
            There were no failures of the Sherman, as you put it. Our use of that tank was successful. Comparison of the use of a medium tank in WWII to the use of a modern main battle tank against technologically inferior armor is silly.
            I do not want to trade insults but if you are going to proclaim to be an educated historian then you should act like one. Your statements here are full of errors and ignorance. No historian worth his salt would allow himself such error.

          • Louch

            I really didn’t want to say any more, but you are wrong on your facts, and you are the facts guy right? So here’s some facts for you, “The diesel powered Russian tank(T34) was lower, faster, and better armed and armored than the M4 tank.” M4 Sherman at War, Michael Green and James Brown, Zenith Press, 2007.

          • John Barker

            I thought I would help you here. What you offer is not a “fact.” That is an opinion offered in a rather cheap, second rate tank book for modelers. Not a historians book for good, researched information. I’m going to guess the authors did not offer information on the T-34. I’d further guess they did not have a bibliography of good sources, or perhaps no bibliography at all. Did you buy that or simply steal a snippet from it off of Google books or Amazon? This was not fact.
            I’ll play along but you must work as well. I will tell you about the M4 and you can bring a good source for stats on the T-34 which show it superior. Fair?
            SPEED- Is this really important? Do tanks compete in races? Turret rotation speed is good. Well, the info I have is that the M4, depending on model, ran at 20 to 25 mph. It could run at 30mph for short durations.
            ARMED- The M4 was fielded with a 75mm gun, a 76mm gun, a 17pdr., a 105mm howitzer and could have been fielded with the same 90mm carried by the M-26. I’m not sure if you want pure velocity, foot pounds of hitting force, amount of explosive in the HE round or armor penetration.. The velocities were 75mm-1470 to 1930fps (which round?), the 76mm 3400fps, the 17pdr. 3950fps, the 90mm 3350fps and the 105 1500fps. Interesting that the 105 fired a HEAT round that could penetrate 4 inches of armor! If you want energy or penetration let me know.
            ARMORED- I didn’t know again if you wanted to compare every plate…front, sides, deck, turret, etc. The M4 had frontal of 2.5 to 4″ at an angle of 47 degrees, depending on model. The turret on the heaviest armored M4 had 7 inches of armor. Let me know what else you want.
            The T-34 was hands down smaller than the M4. I concede this with no hesitation. Keep in mind that he T-34 was a four man crewed tank and the M4 used five. Most importantly the T-34 had only two men in the turret leaving the tank commander to aim and fire the gun as well as command the tank. If he was a platoon commander this would mean his duties were extremely difficult and he would no fulfill them well. Add to this the T-34 for years had no radios so this commander was communicating by hand signals. The T-34 was cramped and a dangerous tank. When the US saw the hazards of unprotected ammo storage they converted their ammo storage to wet armored bins. I have many pictures of T-34 interiors which show that that the ready rounds were stored about the hull and turret with no protection.
            Be wary of information you find on the T-34. Please check the sources extensively.Many believe the German generals when they say it was the T-34 that defeated them. They don’t want anyone to believe Russian generals could have beaten them. Many sources are Russian and will tell us what a technological wonder the T-34 was. One very famous book, “T-34 Mythical Weapon” is by a Pole and many will say he is biased and thus can’t be believed. Who to believe? That’s your job. Btw, the U.S. received two T-34′s for analysis during the war, you might start your research there. So, your turn. Bring me some numbers. Mine came from “A History of the American Medium Tank” by R.P. Hunnicutt. No one in there right mind doubts this man. It is the M4 bible.
            Please do better than your last post. I find it hard to believe you offered this as fact.
            I will still gladly accept ANY comparison of U.S. casualties against any other tank force, during any time frame you choose.

          • John Barker

            So much for that “degree in history.”

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