M4 Sherman

Overview

M4 Sherman

The M4 Sherman was the most widely produced tank by the Western Allies in World War Two with some 49,000 eventually emerging, rivalling wartime production of the Soviet-T34. The vehicle was initially well received by the British in time for the second battle of El Alamein, with its good mobility, dual-purpose M3 gun and respectable armour. However, by the following year and especially after the opening of the Normandy campaign in 1944 it was plain that the design had failed to keep up with German tank development. Shermans were easily penetrated by the opposition and invariably ‘‘brewed up’’ in as little as three seconds when this happened. The M3 gun was, by then, outclassed and could not penetrate some of the German tanks at any range, crews watching their projectiles bounce off. One honourable exception was the British ‘‘Firefly’’ conversion with a 17 pounder 76.2mm high velocity main gun.

Improving the design on the production side involved a standard 76mm gun replacement, better ammunition, wet stowage for ammunition to cut down the fire risk and wider tracks with improved HVSS suspension. There were also some attempts to up-armour the design. Not all of these improvements were available on all vehicles in the Second World War, but by the time of the Cold War the favourite variant in U.S. Army service was the M4A3E8, which featured most of the above.

The Korean War opened on the Allied side with a few inadequate M24 Chafee light tanks, soon backed up by the U.S. Army with M26 Pershing heavy medium tanks. After the first few months there was little tank versus tank combat and the M4A3E8 became the mount of choice, with many U.S. tankers preferring them to the underpowered M26, which was 10 tons heavier but fitted with the same engine. (Although it has to be said that they would probably have been of a different opinion if there had been significant armoured opposition)

Much of the post war use of the tank by other countries focused on the improved 76mm versions of the tank, some of which were further up-gunned by the Israelis with improved 75mm, 90mm and even 105mm guns. The type was widely supplied to Allies in the Second World War, notably Great Britain and the Soviet Union.

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