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M4 SHERMAN MEDIUM TANK
'LITTLE BRAVEHEART'

Preface

It all started with the finding of a red covered book. Fat white lettering on it's back read; 'BARBARA'. With naughty thoughts I pulled it from the bookcase. It was written by Wayne Robinson and it was far from 'juicy'. The story was about a tank that wore the title of the book. Naughty thoughts disappeared and claustrophobic horror took its place. The main caracter in the book was an M4 Sherman tank and its crew. In DD configuration it came ashore at Omaha Beach, Normandy and fought a bloody battle all the way into Germany. With an atlas beside me, I read the book in one stroke of a breath. The fascination for the M4 Medium Tank was born.

Left the (Dutch version) of the book 'Barbara', right an M4 Sherman in Overloon

1941

In April 1941 the US Army is shown five proposals for a design of a medium tank. With the name Tank T6 it shows its ancestors. It has the same chassis as the M2A1 and M3, the same mechanical configuration, a turtle shell hull, doors at the side of the hull and a central placed one pieced turret with a 75mm cannon and a coaxial .30 machinegun. Just as with M3 there were two .30 machineguns placed in the hull. The driver had a separate hatch in the hull. In May 1941 a wooden 'mock-up' is shown to the Armored Force Board, who gives the order to produce a prototype. The first prototype is ready by September the same year. From October on the name is standardized as M4 Medium Tank when the test program is successful.

A prototype of the M4

1942

By early 1942 the first new tanks come of the production line. One of the first changes is deleting the doors at the side of the hull. An extra hatch is installed for the second driver/machinegun operator. Underneath in the floor an escape hatch was placed. Mould casting the rounded hull in one piece is not an easy task. It is very time consuming and the expected 2000 hulls in a month are to optimistic. Factories that are not equipped with mould casting facilities are given the solution to built a hull by welding. The tanks with the welled hull are designated M4 and with the mold hulls M4A1. De M4 series is build by eleven factories and hundreds subcontractors. The original M4 had the same engine and chassis as the M2A1 and M3. The engine, a Wright built, Continental R-975 was from origin an air-cooled nine-cylinder radial aircraft engine. But the re-arming in the United States ask for all the aircraft engines they can lay their hands on. Testing of diesel engines for the tanks are no success, and are (for the time being) not built in the standard M4. But when the production got on its way, the M4 (or Sherman, as the British named it) became America's most produced tank.

The anatomy of the M4

Despite all the different versions the basis of the M4 Sherman tank changed little. The crew consisted of five men. The driver was positioned left of the transmission. He controlled the tank with levers. To brake the vehicle he pulled both levers towards him. Beside him was the assistant-driver who had a .30 caliber machinegun in front of him. In the turret, on the right-side had the commander his place, with in front of him the gunner. In the left of the turret was the position of the loader of the cannon. For each of the crew was a periscope built in. These where adjustable in height and could turn. Except the one for the gunner, this was fixed to the barrel of the gun, so it was always in sync with the position of firing. Early types M4 had also slits for the driver and assistant-driver. Later models had six instead of one periscope in the turret for the commander, this was a great improvement for spotting around the tank.

The inside part of a periscope of the M4 Sherman

Entrance for the crew was in front of the hull for the driver and his assistant and trough the hatch of the commander in the turret. Behind the assistant-driver was an escape hatch in the floor. As a standard the M4 was equipped with a 75mm cannon and a coaxial .30 machinegun. This whole combination had an elevation of 25 degrees up-wards and 10 degrees down-wards, adjustable with a hand wheel. The cannon had a gyrostabilizer that held the barrel targeted at one point when in movement. The cannon and coaxial machinegun where fired electronically trough a footswitch, left of the gunner. The turret could turn 360 degrees, electrical or by hand.

M4 Series Models

M4

This is the original version with the Continental engine and welded hull. 8389 were produced. 6748 of these were fitted with the 75mm cannon and 1641 with a 105mm howitzer.

An original M4 as a monument in Wiltz, Luxemburg

M4A1

This version has the features of the prototype T6 with its molded hull and Continental engine. These types were the first to come in production. A total of 9677 were produced. 6281 were fitted with the 75mm cannon and 3396 with the 76mm cannon. The British gave the M4A1 the name Sherman II, the version with the 76mm was called Sherman IIA.

An M4A1 at Fort Lewis, Washington State, USA

M4A2

This version with the welded hull used a General Motors 6046 diesel engine. Original designed for the M3A2 medium tank, it was also suitable for the M4. It consisted of two parallel placed GM truck engines. Through the Land-Lease these versions were shipped to Russia. Other users were the British and the US Marines. The US Army only used a hand-full. A total of 11.283 were delivered. 8053 had the 75mm cannon and 3230 the 76mm cannon. The British named the M4A2 the Sherman III (with an additional 'A' when the 76mm cannon was fitted).

Left, top of the turret, right the front with 76mm cannon

M4A3

This version had a welded or casted hull and a new engine, the Ford GAA V-8. This engine was especially developed to replace the Continental. A significant detail in the new tower was the storage for the 76mm shells. Had the previous models a ‘dry’ storage, in this model, the M4A3, saw the introduction of the ‘wet stowage’. Because of the danger of explosions when the tank was hit, the shells were placed in tubes filled with water and glycerin. The frontplate of the welled hull was placed steeper, 47 degrees. The production was a lot simpler and the driver and co-driver their hatch became larger. At the front of the hull a frame was placed to support the cannon when the tank was transported. Together with the M4 and the M4A1, the M4A3 became the most widely used tank in the American arsenal. The M4A3 was not delivered in great numbers to other countries. The British army gave the M4A3 the name Sherman IV. With the 76mm cannon there was an extra ‘A’ added (Sherman IVA). Some M4A3's with the 105mm were delivered to the British, these became the Sherman IVB. The total production of the M4A3 was 11.424. Of these, 3370 delivered with the 76mm cannon and 3039 with 105mm cannon. The other 5015 were equipped with the standard 75mm cannon.

An M4A3 with 105mm cannon in Bastogne

M4A3E2 ‘JUMBO’

From the 5015 M4A3's (with the 75mm cannon) that were built, 254 of these tanks were known as the M4A3E2. These tanks were especially developed to give support to the infantry in Normandy. They had extra armor at the front what brought the thickness to 4 inches (10 cm). It also had a new turret with a thickness at the front of 6 inches (15 cm). With the extra armor plating the weight got from 33 tons to 42 tons. Some of these M4A3E2's were in the field refitted with the 76mm cannon.

M4A4

This M4 had a six cylinder Chrysler engine. Because of the size of the engine the back was enlarged. The maintenance was complicated on these engines and this version was the first who was faced-out of production in September 1943. A total of 7499 were built, all with the 75mm cannon. A great portion found it's way to the British army were it was known as the Sherman V.

Left an M4A5 'RAM', on the right a Kangaroo

M4A5 ‘RAM’

This type was developed and built in Canada. It was a mix of American and British idea's. But it was not a success and never saw action. When the RAM chassis was used for the development of the British Sexton it came of good use. The RAM was also the basis for the armored personal carrier 'Kangaroo'.

M4A6

This type had a Caterpillar D-200A diesel engine. This version was developed to replace the Chrysler engine. At the end of 1943 the production was stopped after 75 were built with the 75mm cannon. The standard engine after this becam the Ford or Continental engine. The British called this type the Sherman VII.

Above a preserved Sherman Firefly

SHERMAN FIREFLY

Aproximly 600 British Shermans were rebuilt to house the high velocity 17pdr (pounder) cannon. This were ready for action in June 1944. Called the Firefly it was the only Sherman that could attack a German Panther or Tiger tank. All types of M4's were used to house the 17pdr, but mostly it was a Sherman V. When the 17pdr was fitted it was designated with an extra 'C'. Sherman Vc Firefly from 3 Troop, A Squadron, Northamptonshire Yeomanry (Sherman 12) was credited with the Tiger I of Michael Wittmann, when it was put out of action on 8 August 1944. The same Firefly destroyed two other Tigers during the fighting around St. Aignan de Cramesnil in Normandy. (Other sources claim the Tiger of Wittmann by a Typhoon , see for more info 'HERE').

HVSS

A new design on the M4 was the introduction of a new suspension system, the Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS). Designed to improve the shock absorbing action and maintenance, the tracks were widened from 16½ inch (41 cm) to 23 inch (57.5 cm). The original bogie consisted in two lower track wheels and one track return wheel on top, the HVSS had four lower track wheels. The top return wheels were built on to the chassis. M4's with the HVSS system were called 'Easy Eight's' after the test vehicles, E8.

Left the original bogie, right the HVSS system

The M4 Sherman in action

With a production of almost 55.000 M4’s, the greatest production in the history of armored vehicles, I always amazed that the British gave the M4 the name, ‘Sherman’. It is a word close to the English word ‘German’. Is there prove that some Shermans were hit by friendly fire? Because of bad communication I can imagine when there was a ‘Sherman tank’ approaching and it was told to a ‘friendly gunner’, he could easily mistake it for a ‘German tank’. The M4 was far from ideal in the field. The armor was thin and the guns of 75mm and 76mm were not heavy enough to penetrate the German Panther and Tiger tank. The British 17pdr in the Firefly was the only cannon that could stop these monsters. The thin armor was evident during 'Operation Goodwood' on 18 July 1944, when just four German 88mm guns destroyed 40 Shermans. That first day over 200 British and Canadian tanks were lost to German fire. This was the day that the Sherman got its doubtful nicknames 'Tommy-cooker' of 'Ronson-lighter' (after the famous cigarette lighter)

Extra armor for the front gunner and driver

Only the enormous numbers of Shermans, better maintenance and logistics (read fuel and ammo supply) was something the Germans were not able to. Also to fit in new developments in the basis of the M4 made the Sherman better.

In many publications you find reference that the high profile of the M4 made it an easy target. This I doubt. Below you find the measurements between the Shermans height, 2.96 meters, against their German counterparts. It shows that even the Panzerkampfwagen V, Panther a few centimeters higher is! But the misunderstanding is understandable, the M4 is rather short and compact in it’s length, 5.86 meters. The German Panther had a length of 8.86 meters, three meters more! And what about the enormous size of the 68 tons heavy Königstiger with a height of 3.10 meters and an impressive length of 10.28 meters?! In comparison the German tanks ‘looks’ lower, but as a matter of fact, they are not. The power of the M4 was his compact size, good speed and maneuverability.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE M4 SHERMAN AND SOME GERMAN TANKS

TANKTYPE
HEIGHT
LENGTH
WIDTH
WEIGHT
SPEED
M4A3
Sherman
2.96 m.
5.86 m.
2.94 m.
34 tons
48 km/h
Pz.Kpfw.IV
Ausf. J
2.68 m.
7.02 m.
3.18 m.
25 tons
24-38 km/h
Pz.Kpfw.V
Panther
2.99 m.
8.86 m.
3.27 m.
45 tons
25-46 km/h
Pz.Kpfw.VI
Tiger
2.90 m.
8.46 m.
3.73 m.
57 tons
19-37 km/h
Pz.Kpfw.VI/II
Königstiger
3.10 m.
10.28 m.
3.75 m.
68 tons
41 km/h
Jagdpanzer 173
Jagdpanther
2.72 m.
10.10 m.
3.27 m.
45 tons
25-46 km/h
Jagdpanzer 38
Hetzer
2.11 m.
6.27 m.
2.65 m.
16 tons
42 km/h

One of the variants that were based on the M4, was the Sherman ‘Crab’ mine sweeper. This British invention on a Sherman tank belonged to one of the ‘Hobarts Funnies’ . The Americans had also an anti-mine M4. This was a vehicle with two large heavy weight wheels in front of the tank its tracks. But the tanks were difficult to handle in muddy terrain. The US Army used later the British ‘Crab’ as their standard mine sweeper. Another variant based on the M4 chassis was the M7 Howitzer, ‘Priest’ called by the British, because of its pulpit on starboard side were the machinegun was housed. The British later built their own version of the M7, the ‘Sexton’ with a 25pdr (pounder) cannon. Below is a Sexton pictured that is placed as a monument in Ver-sur-Mer (Gold Beach). It was unveiled in September 2002.

Left a Sherman ‘Crab’ and right a Sexton 25pdr

There were plenty more variants built or re-build with the M4 as a basis, like flame-throwers and recovery vehicles. There were M4’s with rocket launchers, the T34 ‘Callilope’ (with 60 rockets atop of the turret), the T40 ‘Wizzbang’ (20 above the turret) and the T99 (22 rockets on both sides of the turret).

Hierboven een T34 'Callilope' met de 60 lanceerbuizen. Met als basis een M4A1.

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