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M4 Sherman medium tank

Written by Sakhal

The design of which would become the M4 medium tank started one day after it was ordered the production of the M3, in the late August 1940. In that time, the British were preparing for the threat of a German invasion while France, Belgium and Holland were trying to get used to the occupation. Then, the creators of the project could barely imagine that their tank would have such an important role in the liberation of Europe, and that it would be the most profusely produced and the most important tank of the Allies during the Second World War. For this tank the Armored Force Board specified that the hull had to mount a full-rotating turret and a stabilized 75-millimeter cannon. Ended the project of the M3 in March 1941, the Rock Island Arsenal offered in April of that year five designs for the future M4 to the Armored Force Board. It was chosen the most advanced one, which used the chassis, engine, transmission and suspension of the M3 with a new superior hull, cast or welded, fitted with a central turret armed with a 75-millimeter cannon and a cupola with machine gun. Another reminiscence of the M3 were the side doors provided in the hull. The prototype had mounted the M2 cannon, which with a muzzle speed of 564 meters/second was deemed as too short, so in September 1940 it was ordered a longer cannon with higher muzzle speed to be installed in the series models; this one was the M3 cannon, with a muzzle speed of 619 meters/second. This draft project, which was called T6 Medium Tank until it was normalized, appeared in two forms. One had the upper part of the hull welded and quite angular and it became the M4; the other had the upper part of the hull made by casting - which was quite harder but faster to produce, without any other advantage or disadvantage - and it became the M4A1. The first models of the M4 had the unfortunate reputation of exploding violently when hit by anti-tank fire. To overcome this problem it was tried to protect the ammunition stored in the tank, providing frames or armored plates to the storages.

In February 1942, Lima Locomotive Works made the pre-series models of the M4 which differed from the T6 in the suppression of the side doors, and serial production started in March, in the factories Lima Locomotive, Pacific Car & Foundry and Pressed Steel with the version M4A1. Given the intensification and expansion of the war, President Roosevelt ordered that the production of 1000 monthly tanks provided for 1942 were doubled, and to achieve this the Pacific Car & Foundry, Fisher Body Division from General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Federal Machine & Welder Company were added to the list of factories involved in the production of the M4 tank. The two models continued in production more or less parallely; the ten factories involved in the production choose the manufacture of one or the two models according to their own capacity. Both versions had a frontal armor - cast and molded - of 51 millimeters in thickness, a cast turret with a maximum thickness of 76 millimeters in the front and the 400-horsepower version of the radial engine Wright Continental R-975. Their respective weights were very similar, somewhat above 30 tonnes, and their maximum speeds were also similar, more or less 40 kilometers/hour. Of course, there were small differences between each tank. For example, a tank could be equipped with either an electric or a hydraulic system for rotating the turret, according to what were available in the moment, and some of them were equipped with a Browning M2 12.7-millimeter machine gun in the commander's hatch. Besides, a 20 percent of the M4 tanks had installed a 105-millimeter howitzer instead of the M3 cannon to use them in close support missions. Wheel arrangement consisted of three bogies on each side having two small road wheels each one and traction was given by a fore drive sprocket. The suspension, of a type called VVSS (Vertical Volute Spring Suspension), and the tracks, 41 centimeters wide, had their origin in the medium tank M2, and they were certainly more adequate for a 20-ton tank than for the 30-ton tank that the M4 was. A new suspension of the type HVSS (Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension) along with new tracks 58 centimeters wide was later incorporated, improving driving comfort and solving the problems that the excessive ground pressure created in soft terrains. The tanks modified like this were denominated M4A3E8 in the US Army and assigned the sufix "Y" by the British.

M4 Sherman medium tank

Three views of a M4A3E8 known by the Americans as "Easy Eight" due to their improved suspension HVSS (Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension) different from the VVSS (Vertical Volute Spring Suspension) used in previous models. This tank is shown as it appeared in a military parade with the United States occupying forces in Munich in June 1945. Note how the hull of the tank has a camouflage pattern painted whereas the turret does not. The ensign indicates, from left to right, that the tank belongs to the 7th Army, 19th Tank Batallion. The 12.7-millimeter machine gun appears removed from the turret top and stored in the turret rear. This version of the Sherman armed with the M1 76.2-millimeter cannon was equipped with the turret from the never commissioned T23 tank.

Great Britain, by virtue of the Lend and Lease Law, received a considerable amount of M4 tanks of the different variants and by this order of importance: M4A4, M4A2, M4, M4A1 and M4A3. The British, who were anxious to possess an effective medium tank, baptized the M4 as Sherman, after General William Tecumseh Sherman, being denominated Sherman I the basic model M4 and Sherman II the M4A1. The sufix "B" was assigned to the close support tanks, being used the same system for the successive versions. The US Army adopted later the name Sherman for their own M4 tanks. Overall were produced about 8400 M4 Sherman I and about 9700 M4A1 Sherman II. Of these, two thirds carried the M3 75-millimeter cannon; the rest carried the faster firing M1 76.2-millimeter cannon. This one was more effective than the M3, but it was still inferior to the British 17-pounder and the German 88 millimeters. Samely as its German counterpart, the M1 cannon had been developed from an anti-aircraft cannon. The new cannon, which fired a 7-kilogram piercing projectile, could perforate an armor 100 millimeters thick at a distance of 1000 meters, which was insufficient to ensure the destruction of a Tiger or even a Panther. The M1 did not fit in the original turret and, consequently, it was used the turret from the T23, a tank still in development which had no success. It was planned to mount a 90-millimeter cannon in the T23 and its turret fitted in the turret ring of the Sherman without modifications required. Moreover, the British 17-pounder (more in detail, the 17 pdr Ordnance Quick Firing was a 76.2 millimeters 56 calibers long cannon) did not fit either in the original turret, albeit in any case the cannon was installed somehow "shoehorned" - by prolonging the turret rearwards to make space for the recoil and counterbalance the weight of the long cannon -, giving as result which would be probably the best version - in that time - of the Sherman: the Firefly. The M1 cannon was later mounted in diverse models of the M4, being assigned to the tanks that served with the British the sufix "A" after de denomination of the model, while to the tanks that had installed the 17-pounder cannon was assigned the sufix "C" after de denomination of the model; so, the M4A1 would become the Sherman IIC, the M4A3 the Sherman IVC and the M4A4 the Sherman VC, being this one the most numerous.

The second variant of the Sherman, the M4A2, had as propulsion plant the General Motors 6046, a compound of two twin Diesel engines attached to a common transmission inside the welded hull, and they were armed with one of the three main cannons aforementioned. This 410-horsepower Diesel engine notoriously increased operational range, reaching up to 240 kilometers. The third variant, the M4A3, was based as well in the welded hull, but with an angle in the glacis increased to 47 degrees. Other modifications were a periscope in the commander's hatch, a hatch for the loader and the prolongation of the turret rear for storing ammunition. The M4A3 was propelled by a new 500-horsepower engine, the Ford GAA with 8 cylinders in V, projected and manufactured by Ford specially for this tank. This engine was a significative improvement in respect of its predecessors, having better reliability and general performance. This engine moved the M4A3, which was slightly heavier than previous models, to a much more acceptable maximum speed of 50 kilometers/hour. This new engine was probably the most important factor that turned the M4A3 into the most important version of the Sherman. Almost 11500 exemplars of this version were produced: 5000 of them armed with the M3 75 -millimeter cannon, 3500 with the M1 76.2-millimeter cannon and the rest with the M4 105-millimeter howitzer. Almost all of them remained in service with the US Army; there was a small number - 254 of them - that were built with a supplementary 102 millimeters thick armor welded to the front armor and another one 152 millimeters thick welded in the front of the turret. These tanks, denominated M4A3E2 or Sherman "Jumbo", were employed in assault missions during the Allied invasion in France. As a consequence of the additional armor, these tanks weighed 7 tonnes more than the standard tank and their maximum speed decreased to levels of the original M4, but they were really difficult to stop.

M4 Sherman medium tank

M4 Sherman Crocodile (flamethrower tank) armed with a 75-millimeter cannon, two 7.62-millimeter machine guns and a flamethrower with a range of 40 meters; total length including the towing reached 11.35 meters.

The M4A4, which was the most common Sherman tank in service with the British, with the denomination Sherman V, was a M4 with the Ford engine replaced by the inferior Chrysler multibank engine that had been installed in some M3 tanks. The use of this engine required that the hull of this tank and, consequently, the travel of the tracks, were elongated 28 centimeters. About 8000 of these were produced in total, before the production ended in favor of models equipped with engines Wright Continental or Ford. In some - less than 100 - were installed Diesel engines Caterpillar of 500 horsepower, being denominated this model M4A6. Most of the M4A6 that were variants E8 were sent to the Soviet Union, where Diesel engines were the norm. On the other hand, when it was made the demonstration of the M1 76.2-millimeter cannon to the British Tank Committee, in the beginning of 1943, there was much concern. It was thought that if that was the best that the Sherman could do, this tank clearly would not make the grade against the Panther and Tiger tanks that it would have to face in increasing numbers. In general, the experts were right. As it was said, the Sherman never was rival for the great German tanks and, however, it won... by the overwhelming weight of the numbers. Nevertheless, in the end of 1943, the British decided to install their more powerful 17-pounder cannon in their Sherman tanks. It had been proved that the 17-pounder cannon mounted in the A30 Challenger (on the other hand an unsatisfactory tank) could perforate the 50-60 millimeters thick frontal armor of a PzKpfw IV Ausf H from a distance of 3000 meters, while a piercing projectile from the long 75-millimeter cannon mounted in the German tank ricocheted in the armor of the Challenger, even if it was of inadequate quality. This made some intermediate commanders of British tanks to start thinking on how to install the 17-pounder cannon in the turret of the Sherman.

The 30th December 1943, it was decided to remodelate 2100 valuable Sherman V tanks to which would be denominated configuration Firefly. On the occasion of this, the machine gun in the hull was suppressed and the space that occupied this one and its gunner was used to store 15 additional projectiles for the cannon. This way it was born the only Allied tank that was somehow capable of facing the Panther and Tiger tanks in equity during the ferocious combats in France, the Netherlands and the very Germany in 1944-45. Curiously, the Americans were never convinced of the superiority of the 17-punder cannon over their M1 76.2-millimeter cannon and tenaciously refused any implication on the idea of the Firefly, even if its worth was demonstrated again and again. Their own M4 were in severe inferiority regarding their armament and, consequently, they were unnecessarily vulnerable. The M4, that served in first line with the US Army until 1956, never mounted anything more powerful than the M1 cannon, while the Sherman tanks serving in some of the many countries that acquired them after the Second World War carried the 17-pounder cannon. The Israeli were even further and, among other modifications, installed a French 105-millimeter cannon in their Sherman tanks, used in combat even in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Returning to the Second World War, the Sherman fought in North Africa, since before the decisive Battle of the Alamein up to the surrender of Germany, having a vital role, firstly in the fast suppression of the axis forces in Sicily and later in the slow advance accross the Italian Peninsula. The American, British and Canadian forces that took part in the landings of the D Day, the 6th June 1944, had much more Sherman tanks than of any other type of tank.

M4 Sherman medium tank

M4A2 Sherman III DD 1 armed with a 75-millimeter cannon and two 7.62-millimeter machine guns and equipped with a floating screen and a propeller; total height with the screen raised reached 3.96 meters.

Then, the Sherman had become the basis of a series of vehicles popularly known as "Funnies", modified for special uses and to cover particular needs. The British created an entire armored division, the 79th, before the D Day, to develop and operate such vehicles in such special occassion. This division was commanded by Brigadier General Sir Percy Hobart, formerly general inspector of the Tanks Corps and commander of the 7th Armored Division in Egypt. Maybe the most known and important of the "Funnies" was the Sherman DD, provided with the "Duplex Drive" system developed initially by Nicholas Straussler for the Valentine tank. The term "Duplex" comes from the fact that the system gave the tank a second propulsion system; apart from being able to move in land normally, the Sherman DD could "swim" in the water by means of propellers; the tank floated thanks to a screen, lightweight and waterfproof, fixed all around the hull of the tank above the upper section of the tracks.

During four years 49230 exemplars of all the models were built, many of which formed part of the arsenal of numerous countries after the Second World War, taking part in most part of the conflicts happened since then. If the Sherman was appreciated was because of its realiability and easy maintenance, even if it had proven to be certainly very vulnerable against the German heavy tanks. This indicated the different standpoints that Germans and Americans adopted for armored warfare. While the first ones built machines that seemed of craftmanship quality compared to their counterparts, Americans focused in quantity: "To face a Tiger are needed four Sherman with the perspective of losing three." This apparent despise for the lives of their crews can seem strange in the American doctrine, but the fact is that in the practice the crews of these tanks - and other Allied models in general - often found themselves in severe risk, when the American industrial power, untouched by the war, was obviously capable of much better than this. After the Sherman, American tank designs notably improved in quality, but the American conception of tanks was nothing specially noteworthy until the advent of the M1 Abrams. After the Second World War the Sherman served in the Korean War and in Middle East.

The Sherman in the postwar

In Korea the Sherman achieved notable success against the T-34/85, an ideal counterpart whose success in the previous war had been caused as well by the overwhelming weight of the numbers. Both tanks had similar firepower; both the 85-millimeter cannon of the Soviet tank and the 76.2-millimeter cannon of the American tank could penetrate a 110-115 millimeters thick slanted armor from 500 meters afar. Both tanks weighed similarly - about 32 tonnes - but armor distribution was somewhat different. To the thickness of 76 millimeters in the turret front and 51 millimeters in the glacis on the Sherman, the T-34/85 opposed 90 and 47 millimeters respectively. The Soviet tank benefited from a notably lower profile (about 55 centimeters less tall) and a higher mobility (both in speed and range, specially this latter). After the Korean War ended, it was Israel who showed interest in the Sherman, but its current firepower was deemed as insufficient. During the Korean War the best that the Sherman had to face was the T-34/85, an already obsolescent tank. But in the Arab countries, the new T-54/55 tanks, armed with a 100-millimeter cannon, were arriving and these were among the best tanks in the world, even if the Arab countries always showed themselves incapable of making the best out of their equipment.

When Israel received their Sherman tanks, the most important change that they did was to replace the original 76.2-millimeter cannon with the French 75-millimeter cannon installed in the light tank AMX-13 which, ironically, had been developed from the 75-millimeter cannon used by the German Panther tank. This version of the Sherman was called Sherman M-50. Eventually, in the following decade, they replaced in 180 of their Sherman tanks the 75-millimeter cannon with a shortened version of the French CN-105-57 105-millimeter cannon (from 57 to 44 calibers); this version of the Sherman was called Sherman M-51. These two improved versions were called Super Sherman and the M-51 was also referred as Isherman; but these two denominations were not officially used in Israel. The Isherman was notably successful against the T-54/55 and even the T-62 in the Arab-Israeli wars, in a demonstration of what an adequate modernization and a skilled crew is capable to extract from a design that was mediocre at its core.

Another far place where the Sherman had arrived was Argentina. Already from 1946 the Argentinean Army had acquired 120 tanks Sherman IVC and Sherman VC for their armored regiments. After thirty years in service, not counting the ones during the Second World War, these tanks presented severe malfunctions and attrition. In expectance of the arrival of the TAM - the Argentinean Medium Tank whose chassis was based in the German armored vehicle Marder -, given the prolonged time required for the development and commissioning of the new tank, it was decided to recondition these Sherman Firefly, according to a program carried by the Arsenal Command, for which the hull was repaired, the wheel ensemble and suspension renovated, the gasoline engine replaced by a Diesel engine and it was provided the installation of a modern armament consisting of the same French 105-millimeter cannon that Israel had installed in their "Isherman", the MAG 7.62-millimeter machine gun, the M2HB 12.7 millimeters machine gun and also four smoke launchers. This new armament required modifications in the turret. Also it was included in the modernization a communications equipment VCR-3600. So basically, the "Repowered" Argentinean Sherman was identical to the Isherman in its characteristics.

M4 Sherman medium tank

Prototype of a modified M4A3 Sherman IVC Firefly from the Argentinean Army, 1977, as they were devised by the 601st Arsenal Batallion Esteban de Luca. Note the new 105-millimeter cannon and the smoke launchers in the turret.

Specifications for M4

Crew: 5

Armament: One M3 75-millimeter cannon; one Browning M 1919 A4 7.62 millimeters co-axial machine gun; one Browning M 1919 A4 7.62-millimeter machine gun in the hull front; one Browning M2 12.7 -millimeter machine gun in the turret top

Ammunitions: 90 for 75-millimeter cannon; 600 for 12.7-millimeter machine gun; 6750 for 7.62-millimeter machine guns

Armor: 15-76 millimeters

Length: 6.04 meters

Width: 2.60 meters

Height: 2.71 meters

Weight: 30.3 tonnes

Ground clearance: 43 centimeters

Ground pressure: 1.34 kilograms/square centimeter

Power to weight ratio: 13.2 horsepower/tonne

Engine: Wright Continental R-975, refrigerated by air, developing 400 horsepower at 2400 revolutions per minute

Maximum speed: 40 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range: 180 kilometers

Maximum surmountable trench: 1.90 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 0.61 meters

Maximum surmountable slope: 60 percent

Maximum fording: 0.91 meters

Specifications for M4A3

Crew: 5

Armament: One M3 75-millimeter cannon; one Browning M 1919 A4 7.62 millimeters co-axial machine gun; one Browning M 1919 A4 7.62-millimeter machine gun in the hull front; one Browning M2 12.7 -millimeter machine gun in the turret top; one 50 millimeters smoke launcher in the turret top

Armor: 15-100 millimeters

Length: 6.27 meters

Width: 2.67 meters

Height: 2.71 meters

Weight: 31.5 tonnes

Ground pressure: 1 kilogram/square centimeter

Power to weight ratio: 15.9 horsepower/tonne

Engine: Ford GGA with 8 cylinders in V, refrigerated by water, developing 500 horsepower at 2600 revolutions per minute

Maximum speed: 42-48 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range: 160 kilometers

Maximum surmountable trench: 2.29 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 0.61 meters

Maximum surmountable slope: 60 percent

Maximum fording: 0.91 meters

Sherman VC Firefly

M4 Sherman medium tank

1 - 17-pounder cannon :: 2 - 7.62 millimeters M 1919 co-axial machine gun :: 3 - 12.7 millimeters M2 machine gun :: 4 - Commander's cupola/hatch :: 5 - Commander's periscope :: 6 - Loader's hatch :: 7 - Radio :: 8 - Signal pistol :: 9 - 17-pound ammunition storage :: 10 - Commander's seat :: 11 - Loader's seat :: 12 - Escape hatch :: 13 - Driver's periscope :: 14 - Fire extinguisher :: 15 - Driver's seat :: 16 - Chrysler gasoline engine :: 17 - Telemeter :: 18 - Twin 12-volt batteries serially connected :: 19 - Transmission :: 20 - Gearbox lever :: 21 - Hand brake lever :: 22 - Steering levers :: 23 - 5-gallon water cans :: 24 - Box for tools and equipment :: 25 - Ventilator :: 26 - Radio antenna :: 27 - First aid kit :: 28 - Cannon shield (89 millimeters thick) :: 29 - Cannon mantlet (38 millimeters thick) :: 30 - Binoculars :: 31 - Periscope :: 32 - Air purification duct :: 33 - Engine clutch :: 34 - Engine ventilator :: 35 - Engine radiator :: 36 - Housing for transmission final gear :: 37 - Return roller :: 38 - Suspension bogie :: 39 - Drive sprocket :: 40 - Idler :: 41 - Shock absorber

Categories: Tanks - World War Two - Cold War - 20th Century - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-01-03

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