M4 Sherman

Template:Tank The M4 Medium Tank tank was the main tank designed and built by the US for use in World War II. In the UK lend-lease M4s were dubbed M4 General Sherman after Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, continuing a practice of naming American tanks after famous Generals. The name is often shortened to M4 Sherman or simply Sherman, and quickly became popular in the US as well. M4 tanks made in Canada upto 1943 were given the name Grizzly. In the USSR it was nicknamed 'Emcha'.

It was comparatively fast and maneuverable, reliable, and easy to produce and service and served with the US, British (including Commonwealth), USSR, French, and other allied forces. The Sherman was not just one tank but a whole series that did differ significantly in across models depending on intended role and traits, including the heavily armored and gunned "Sherman Jumbo" to the amphibious DD Tanks. After the war, Shermans ended up in other countries' arsenals, and upgraded versions saw combat in a number of smaller wars in the late 20th century.

The most common tank Shermans faced during the WWII were the many Panzer IV variants. The only other Second World War tank produced in comparable numbers was the Soviet T-34 series which had some design advantages over the Sherman. The Shermans' battlefield performance did vary wildly especially when used outside the intended roles but this was true of other tanks as well.


Production history

The M4 was based on the chassis of the M3 Lee, improved by mounting the single main 75 mm gun in a traversing turret. Over 49,000 were produced during the war, for use by the British, Free French and Polish armies as well as the United States,

Special versions were developed for the Battle of Normandy. Developed under the leadership of Major-General Percy Hobart, these vehicles included "swimming" Duplex Drive Sherman tanks, mine clearing tanks (the Sherman Crab - a Sherman tank with a flail before it that destroyed mines without damage to the tank), bridge-laying tanks and road-laying tanks.

Early models were fitted with a 75 mm low-velocity gun which had limited anti-armour performance but fired an effective HE shell. Later American Shermans were fitted with a 76 mm gun with improved anti-tank performance. These being the M4A1 76(w), M4A2 76(w) and M4A3 76(w) models. The final WWII Sherman was the M4A4, although the M4A3E8 76(w) HVSS "Easy Eight" is generally regarded as the best of the production line, being roughly equal to the Soviet T-34/85 in terms of anti-tank capability.

Some British Shermans were retro-fitted with the powerful British 17 Pounder (8 kg), about 77 mm anti-tank gun to produce the Sherman Firefly variant. This new 17 pounder (8 kg) was first tested in 1943, in Africa. It was effective against nearly all German AFVs at any reasonable range. A 1944-pattern British armoured company had one Firefly per troop (platoon) of 4 Shermans. Fireflies were also notable for the early use of a sabot round to improve anti-armour penetration. The Americans were offered the 17 pounder (8 kg), but the US Ordnance Department did not like the idea of having a British gun replace the American cannon. This failure to accept the 17 pounder (8 kg), as well as the standardization of the M26 Pershing so late in the war, cost untold thousands of American lives to German tank and anti-tank guns.

After World War II, some Israeli Shermans were fitted with the French 75 mm (M50 "SuperSherman") or 105 mm gun (M51 "Isherman"), a shorter (L/44) version of that used in the AMX-30. Many countries in Latin-America used the Sherman for a long time after the war; the last is Paraguay.

Combat performance

Missing image
M4 tanks in Europe
Missing image
Sherman covering advancing infantry

The first Shermans to see battle were with the British 8th Army at El Alamein in October 1942.

The Sherman was a reliable tank which was produced in large numbers and was effective in World War II. Certain versions of the Sherman performed poorly against some of the heavy tanks of Nazi Germany, but these limitations must be looked at in context. Stephen Ambrose stated in Citizen Soldiers that, in accordance to Army doctrine at the time, the tank was designed to help infantry exploit a breakout rather than to engage in armor vs. armor combat.

The United States Army was influenced by the German Panzer tanks, used successfully in the Blitzkrieg tactics in the 1939 Polish Campaign to support fast moving infantry (though this was not first time such tactics were used in warfare)`. The Sherman's high speed and reliability made it adequate in this role. According to US doctrine the role of defeating German armour fell to tank destroyers such as the M10 Wolverine rather than medium tanks. Nevertheless up-gunned versions of the Sherman performed well against Pz IV tanks. When they went against heavier designs they suffered in the same way that T-34s had and the PzIII had against the Soviet heavy tanks.

Shermans were not only lost in battle with other tanks, the majority of losses came from mines, aircraft, and infantry anti-tank weapons as well as from friendly fire.

In the relatively few Pacific tank battles, the Shermans outclassed the Japanese in every engagement. The use of HE (High Explosive) ammunition was preferred because anti-tank rounds punched cleanly though the thin armor of the Japanese tanks (1930s era designs) without necessarily stopping them.


Early models are often criticised for the 75 mm gun chosen by the artillery branch of the US Army. While it was an effective weapon in 1942 when the Sherman was introduced, by the Normandy landings of 1944 the Sherman lacked effectiveness against the heavier tanks fielded by Nazi Germany, especially the Panther and Tiger. The 75 mm gun was, however, a solid weapon against infantry if outmoded for anti-tank use later in the war. The gun was commonly replaced with a much improved higher velocity 76mm gun making it superior against most AFVs it encountered, particuarly the PzIII, PzIV, and StuG vehicles. Tigers and Panthers were few in number. They could be defeated by outnumbering them, using up-gunned Shermans working with the tank destroyers, such as the M36 Jackson (with a 90 mm anti-tank gun) and the M18 Hellcat (a fast tracked vehicle with the 76 mm AT gun). Note that the tanks abilities are version dependent, as the Sherman Jumbo had thicker frontal armor then the Tiger and Panther but the ones armed with a 75mm cannon were not even specifically intended for anti-tank work.


Most Sherman models were relatively under-armoured by late in the war, although the well sloped front armor did help. While Shermans were able to take on the Panzer III medium tanks in the North African campaigns, they were unable to resist the weapons mounted on late-model Panzer IV, and Panther and Tiger tanks encountered in Italy and Normandy. Armour was more evenly distributed most had thicker side armor then the PzIV, and the top armor was equal to that of the Tiger.

According to Belton Y. Cooper in his memoir of his 3rd Armored Division service, Death Traps, the final combat losses of the division were nothing less than breathtaking. The division was nominally assigned by table of organization 232 medium tanks (including 10 M26 Pershing tanks that made it into combat). It lost 648 tanks totally destroyed in combat, and a further 1,100 needed repair. Of those 1,100 tanks, nearly 700 were as a result of combat. According to Cooper, the 3rd Armored therefore lost close to 1,350 medium tanks in combat, for a loss rate of 580 percent.

Early Sherman models were prone to burning at the first hit. The reason was the ammo stowage along with the use of gasoline (petrol) engines. Crew casualties were higher and damaged vehicles were less likely to be repaired for reuse. The Sherman gained nicknames like 'Tommycooker' after a World War I portable stove, or "Ronsons" after the cigarette lighter with the slogan "It always lights first!". Later models used diesel engines and the addition of water jackets to the main round stowage and the likelihood of "brewing up" appeared to reduce.

It is interesting to note, that despite the above criticism, the (diesel engined M4A2) emchas used by the Red Army were considered to be much less prone to burn and explode than Russian tanks[1] (http://www.iremember.ru/tankers/loza/loza1.html). The M4A2 did also see some use with Allied forces, such as the US Marines in the Pacific.


The Sherman had good speed both on and off-road for the era. Most importantly it was a reliable model and spares were readily available. The late model tanks with HVSS suspension and 'Easy Eight' versions had among the best tank suspesions of the entire war.

The comparatively compact size of the Sherman also made it suited for transportation across the Atlantic and for amphibious operations. According to Ambrose, General George C. Marshall favored the M4 because experiments showed two Shermans could be loaded on to an LST while only one larger tank could be accommodated.


Missing image
A surviving later model M4A3E8
  • M4
    • M4(105 mm)
  • M4A1
  • M4A2 - model sent to the USSR on lend-lease (mostly).
  • M4A3 - first to have "wet" ammo stowage
    • M4A3 (105 mm Howitzer)
    • M4A3R3 (flame tank)
    • M4A3E2 Assault Tank - nicknamed "Jumbo" - extra armour (including 4" on front), vertical sided turret, but about 3-4 mph slower.
    • M4A3E8 (Easy Eight) - suspension changes and wider tracks
  • M4A4
  • M4A5
  • M4A6

UK variants

  • Sherman I - M4
    • Sherman IB - M4 with a 105 mm howitzer.
    • Sherman IC - M4A1 with a 17 pounder (8 kg) gun.
  • Sherman II - M4A1 with a 75 mm gun.
    • Sherman IIA - M4A1 with a 76 mm gun.
  • Sherman III - M4A2 with a 75 mm gun.
  • Sherman IV - M4A3 with a 75 mm gun.
    • Sherman IVB - M4A3 with a 105 mm howitzer.
    • Sherman IVC - M4A3 with a 17 pounder (8 kg) gun.
  • Sherman V - M4A4 with a 75 mm gun.
    • Sherman VC - M4A4 with a 17 pounder (8 kg) gun.

Shermans retrofitted with the 17 pounder (8 kg) gun were known as Fireflies and were used by British forces, but some may have been used unofficially by the United States (ammunition supply would have difficult).

Later models produced from the start with the 17 pounder (8 kg) did not get the name "Firefly".

Specialist variants



  • Length: 19 ft 5 in (5.92 m)
  • Width: 8 ft 7 in (2.62 m)
  • Height: 9 ft (2.74 m)
  • Weight: 30 tons
  • Speed: 30 mph (48 km/h)
  • Range: 150 miles (240 km)
  • Crew: 5
  • Armament:
    • Primary: 75 mm Gun
    • Secondary:
      • One .50 caliber (12.7 mm) Browning M2 MG
      • Two .30 caliber (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 MG
  • Power plant: 375 hp (280 kW) General Motors 6046 12 cylinder inline diesel

M4A4 VC Firefly

As above but

  • Speed: 25 mph (40 km/h)
  • Range: 120 miles (193 km)
  • Crew: 4
  • Armament:
    • Primary: 76 mm (17 pounder) Gun
  • Power plant: Chrysler Multibank 30 cylinder (5 x inline-6) gasoline

See also

Further reading

  • Cooper, Belton Y. Death Traps: The Survival of an American Armored Division in World War II. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1998. ISBN 0891416706.

External links

American armored fighting vehicles of World War II
M3/M5 Stuart | M3 Lee | M4 Sherman | M22 Locust | M24 Chaffee | M26 Pershing
Self-propelled artillery
M7 Priest | M8 Scott | M12 GMC | M40 GMC
Tank destroyers
M10 Wolverine | M18 Hellcat | M36 Jackson
Armored half-tracks
M3 Half-track
Armored cars
M8 Greyhound | M3 Scout Car | M20 Armored Utility Car | T17 Staghound
Experimental vehicles
M38 Armored Car | M6 Heavy Tank | T-28 Tank/T-95 GMC | T14 Heavy Tank
American armored fighting vehicle production during World War II
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