Sherman Tank Myths

Quote of the Day

The whole point of being a citizen soldier is that you cannot wait until you are no longer a soldier.

— Gary Gallagher


Introduction

Figure 1: Front Armor Angle on Sherman is Angled at 56°.

Figure 1: Front Armor Angle on Sherman is Angled at 56°.

When I was a boy, most of the fathers in my neighborhood had served in WW2. One of these fathers, Alvin Weese, was an Army veteran who was very specific about his WW2 service by saying that he had  "served under Patton" and you could clearly see his pride in having been a soldier in Patton's 3rd Army.

As a boy, Alvin's comments about "Old Blood and Guts" got me curious about the American use of armor during WW2. Most of what I read or heard was quite disparaging (example) about the M4 Sherman Tank (Figure 1).

The comments I heard about the M4 can be summarized as:

  • caught fire too easily
  • inadequate armor
  • inadequate main gun
  • the M4 should have been replaced earlier by the M26 Pershing.

This weekend, I saw a Youtube video by a gentleman, with the handle "The Chieftain", who works for wargaming.net as a researcher and he had a completely different take on the M4 Sherman than I had heard before. While he addressed each of the concerns that I listed above, in this post I will limit my focus to his statement that the sloped frontal armor on the M4 Sherman was actually comparable to the unsloped frontal armor of a Tiger I. Specifically, he states that the Sherman had an equivalent frontal armor thickness of 3.6 inches compared to that of a Tiger I's 4.4 inches (see the video below, about 34 minutes in).

Since the Sherman is listed as having 2 inches of frontal armor, I thought it would be interesting to examine his statement more closely to understand the reasoning behind the 3.6 inch statement. In response to an excellent response from a reader of my blog, I will also look at how the armor was constructed and how a Sherman's armor had a much more difficult attack to resist than the Tiger I did.

We can thank the gaming community for bringing so many of these facts about WW2 weapons into light.

Background

Video That Motivated This Post

Figure 2 shows the Youtube video that got me thinking. The lecturer does an exceptional job describing the complex managerial context of US armored forces during WW2.

Figure 2: Good Lecture on American Armor During WW2.

Definitions

Cast Homogeneous Armor
As the name states, cast armor is formed in a mold. As such, it allows for high-rates of production. Unfortunately, cast armor provides less protection than an equivalent thickness of rolled armor.

Rolled Homogeneous Armor
As the name states, rolled armor is formed through a rolling process. This process generally provides protection superior to that of an equivalent thickness of cast armor.

Armor Overmatch
This is a complex topic, but as the diameter of a shell nears the thickness of the armor, the armor provides less protection than you would predict based on its thickness. I have not been able to find a definitive description of overmatch, but it appears to be related to shock. There are many online discussions on how to model this effect (example). The Sherman, with  2 inches (50 mm) of frontal armor, was overmatched against 75 mm and 88 mm armor.

Line of Sight Thickness (τLOS)
The horizontal thickness of a tank's armor, which increases as the armor is sloped (see Figure 2).
Normal Thickness (τN)
The thickness of a tank's armor normal to its surface.
Slope (θ)
The angle of the armor plate measured relative to vertical. Note that some tanks specify this angle measured from horizontal – you have to check.

Armor Evaluation Criteria

Evaluating armor protection is complex process. Years ago, I spent some time reading articles on how battleship armor was designed (see the excellent work by Okun). I now see that designing tank armor is just as difficult as designing battleship armor.

I will limit my discussion of Sherman versus Tiger I armor to four topics:

  • Armor thickness

    The two main reasons for sloping armor are two (1) increase its effective thickness, and (2) increase the likelihood of causing incoming rounds to glance off. The Chieftain mentioned armor thickness during his discussion of "Myth 8: Sherman Was a Death Trap". An assumption of this discussion is that armor can be compared strictly on a thickness basis.  Like all interesting engineering questions, the answer is "it depends." In that case of tank armor, it depends on the projectile you are trying to defend against.

  • Armor Quality

    There are numerous ways to build armor. The Sherman was initially built using Cast Homogenous Armor (CHA) and later transitioned to the superior Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA). Tiger I used RHA. Evaluating the relative merits of these CHA versus RHA is difficult, but RHA provides superior protection for a given thickness of armor.

  • Threat Faced

    A Sherman tank's armor had to fend off attack from a high-velocity 88 mm gun, while the Tiger I had to resist attack from a low-velocity 75 mm. For a Sherman to provide levels of crew protection comparable to what a Tiger I provided, the Sherman would have needed much more armor.

  • Theater Conditions

    As I read the various articles about the Sherman, you see that its characteristics were more suited to some battlefields than others.

Analysis

Frontal Armor Thickness

The Chieftain said that Sherman's frontal armor is usually listed as 2 inches thick, while the frontal armor of a Tiger I (Figure 3) is usually listed a 100 mm (4 inches) thick.

Figure 3: Tiger I Tank of WW2.

Figure 3: Tiger I Tank of WW2 (Source: Bundesarchiv).

While the Tiger I's armor is not sloped, we can see that the M4 Sherman's frontal armor is sloped at 56° (as shown in Figure 1). According to The Chieftain, this means that the M4 Sherman's effective armor thickness is really 3.6 inches relative to a horizontal strike and is roughly comparable to the frontal armor on a Tiger I.

Figure 4 shows how The Chieftain got his answer of 3.6 inches of effective armor thickness. The key formula here is \tau_{LOS}=\frac{\tau_N}{\cos\left(\theta\right)}.

Figure 4: Effective Armor Thickness of an M4 Sherman.

Figure 4: Effective Armor Thickness of an M4 Sherman.

Unfortunately, the M4 Sherman did not use sloped armor for its sides, but at least the frontal armor was sloped, thus making more effective use of the 2 inch frontal armor plate. While I am very familiar with the sloped armor on the T34 and Panther tanks, I had never thought about the M4 Sherman's armor being sloped.

The Sherman's sloped armor had significant advantages when facing opponents armed with 50 mm or 57 mm main guns (e.g. PzKpfw III). However, these advantages vanished when faced with opponents armed with 75 mm or 88 mm main guns (e.g. Panther and Tiger I) because of armor overmatch, which occurs when the shell diameter is greater than the armor thickness. When armor is overmatched, the slope plays minimal role. For a good description of how overmatch affects the level of armor protection, see Appendix A.

Armor Quality

The fact that the bulk of Sherman production used CHA rather than RHA like the Tiger I meant that an inch of Sherman armor was less capable than an inch of Tiger I armor. The exact difference is difficult to estimate – some folks claim that CHA could be penetrated 500 meters further away than RHA.

Threat Faced

You really need to evaluate the Sherman's protection relative to the threat it faced. A Tiger I's 88 mm main gun could penetrate a Sherman from ranges beyond typical visual ranges, while a Sherman could not penetrate a Tiger I's frontal armor even at close range. Thus, the level of crew protection in a Sherman is not really comparable to that of a Tiger I.

Theater Characteristics

The Sherman appears to have performed well in the Pacific Theater where Japanese tanks were few and were relatively light. It also performed well in Africa, where it mainly dealt with PzKpfw IIIs and PzKpfw IVs. It received good grades in the Italian campaign where the mountainous terrain force the Sherman into more of a mobile artillery role. However, the Normandy campaign did not play to the Sherman's strengths of reliability and mobility. In the Normandy Campaign, the Sherman faced a well-led opponent who out-gunned and out-armored it. This meant that the Sherman could only depend on its remaining strength – its vast numbers.

Conclusion

The Chieftain brought up a number of good points about American armor during WW2, but I do not agree with his point that the Sherman protection might not have been as bad as most people say – I do think its armor protection was grossly inadequate.  However, I enjoyed his video, and I will be checking out his Youtube channel for more interesting morsels as time goes on.

Appendix A: Quote on Overmatch

I found the following quote on overmatch that gave the best description I have seen on how armor overmatch is modeled. It still does not explain the physics behind the phenomena.

Behind the decision to retain the the 88 mm KwK 36 L/56 as the main gun of the Tiger I, instead of the Rheinmetall 75 mm KwK 42 L/70, was the fact that at that time armor penetration was mainly a function of thickness to diameter (T/d) ratio. During World War II, the Armor Piercing (AP) round relied on its own weight (and a 88 mm KwK 36 L/56 gun APCBC shell weighed 10.2 Kilograms, as opposed by an 75 mm KwK 42 L/70 gun APCBC shell, which weighed 6.8 Kilograms) to penetrate the enemy's armor. Theoretically, the higher the muzzle velocity, the more penetration any kind of AP round would have, all other variables remaining constant. In real World War Two tank combat, however, other important variables intervened, such as the thickness to diameter (T/d) coefficient, which means that the bigger the diameter of any given round relative to the thickness of the armor it is going to strike, the better the probability of achieving a penetration. Furthermore, if the diameter of the armor piercing round overmatches the thickness of the armor plate, the protection given by the inclination of the armor plate diminishes proportionally to the increase in the overmatch of the armor piercing round diameter or, in other words, to the increase in this T/d overmatch. So, when a Tiger hit a T-34, the 88 mm diameter of the Tiger's round overmatched the 45 mm glacis plate of the T-34 by so much that it made no difference that the Russian tank's glacis was inclined at an angle of 60 degrees from vertical.

 
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60 Responses to Sherman Tank Myths

  1. Chris says:

    ‘According to The Chieftain, this means that the M4 Sherman's effective armor thickness is really 3.6 inches relative to a horizontal strike and is roughly comparable to the frontal armor on a Tiger I.’

    That, to put it politely, is not a well thought out statement. Apart from slope the size of the enemy shell also matters (whether it’s bigger than the armor that opposes it). Thus against the 75mm gun of the Pz IV and Panther or the 88mm of the Tiger the Sherman’s armor would perform poorly.

    On the other hand against the 50mm gun of the Pz III the Sherman was pretty much secure.

    The Tiger had 100mm of high quality armor, vastly superior to the Sherman and practically invulnerable against the Sherman’s 75mm gun or the T-34/76 76mm gun.
    To cut a long story short google 'overmatching armor'.

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      Good point – your armor protection must judged be against what it it must protect the crew against. Comparable protection would have required the Sherman to have much more armor than a Tiger. Thank you for bringing up an excellent point.

      mathscinotes

       
    • GermanTanksSucks,AndSoAreYou says:

      High quality? German armor was easily cracked because of its heavy armor. the heavy armor was more of a flaw than an advantage

       
      • Brewster says:

        German armor didn't crack because it was 'heavy'. It only cracked later in the war because of two things, lack of molybdenum and nickel, and because of sabotage from the mostly slave labor that created the armor.

         
    • Kyle says:

      Of course the Sherman's armor would perform poorly against the 75 mm or the 88 mm. Those were extremely powerful guns that required pretty much a heavy tank to resist, not a medium tank like the Sherman.

       
      • Greg says:

        Again the computer game brigade get all frothy and uppity about Tigers and Sherman’s.....it’s the simplistic argument of the uninformed.Also in the same video were a dozen reasons why the Sherman was was extremely fit for purpose........the fact that there only a hand full of Tigers in Normandy, that there was a doctrinal reason the US tanks were why they were.......that in ALL theatres of war across the globe, Sherman crews had the highest survival rates.....that only 1600 tankers were killed...and a lot were out of they’re tanks or hit by snipers....that’s ALL IN.There were 3 documented account of US tankers meeting Tigers ...3!...... the 35 tonne infrastructure restriction of US rail and shipping accounted for a lot of the design of the Sherman,until 1943 it was the equal or better of any tank in the world. A lot of Sherman’s were accounted for by German AT rounds from ‘88s or Pak 75’s .....And those same guns would have taken out Tigers and Panthers....the gun on aTiger could kill a Tiger at a great distance .The Allied tanks were those of the aggressor ,just like German tanks of 39-42...... light , manoeuvrable improved existing designs that traveled cheaply and lightly across the ground and were supported by a homogenous command of air and artillery.Not portable pillboxes .!

         
    • Hermann says:

      I agree. The Chieftain is heavily bias towards the Sherman, obviously one of his favorite tanks. According to my favorite Tank Author, Steven J. Zaloga, the Sherman had the best fire control system, good optics, most reliable tank, excellent logistical attributes, great secondary weapons and was easy to escape from when hit. Overall, the Sherman was an excellent ergonomic design, but to protect a crew, you need more than just ergonomics and speed, you need a powerful gun and adequate armor, which the Sherman obviously was lacking. That’s why some people say the Sherman was the right tank but for the wrong war. The solution to fix its deficiencies were, only use the 76 mm like in the “Easy 8”, add a more powerful engine and increase the frontal armor. If I had a choice about which tank, I would choose to serve in during WW2, I would choose the Tiger, then the Panther, then maybe the IS-2, then the Sherman followed by T-34.

       
  2. Chris says:

    Not exactly. What the Chieftain said about ‘effective’ armor thickness is true only for round smaller than the Sherman’s 50mm frontal armor. So the Panzer III’s 50mm gun would perform worse than expected on the Sherman’s armor due to slope. HOWEVER this is not true for rounds of a larger caliber such as the 75mm guns of the Panzer 4 and Panther, or the 88mm of the Tiger. The 75mm would minimize the effects of slope, which is why the Germans could destroy the Sherman from long ranges. The 88mm completely negates the slope.

    Hope this summary is better. Like I said there are detailed writings on armor overmatch online.

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      I got it now -- a different mechanism of armor failure. Thanks. I will update my post.

      mathscinotess

       
    • David O'Berry says:

      The later model Sherman's had 63 mm (m4a2 m4a3) plates for the front glacis. Sherman Jumbo's began arriving in September 44 with over 100mm front plates. After February 45 the different US armys began up armoring their m4a3e8s with double Hull armor giving them over 120mm.

       
  3. DeCode says:

    All of this is well and good, but one fact is overlooked when discussing the overall effectiveness of the M4. And that is it was equal and sometimes superior to contemporary tanks of it's class (medium tanks).

    The final fact is the Tiger, and Panther were exceptions, NOT the norm in M4 combat experiences. Never mind that both German heavy tanks could be easily taken out by M4s armed with 75mm with M61 AP ammunition or 76mm guns. And in Both cases a one hit one kill ratio was guaranteed if the Panther or Tiger was hit from the side or rear. And a one hit one kill ratio was possible and very common with the specialized 75mm M61 ammo under 800 yards from the front as well.

    The Sherman was obviously outclassed by the heavier German tanks, but only because it was a medium tank to begin with. Easy 8s, Fireflys, and Allied tank killers had no such issue with effectively fighting Tigers or Panthers.

    If anything Normandy simply showed that fighting a hidden and entrenched enemy with a better gun is a bitch. Nothing more nothing less. We all know, the first one to shoot usually wins. And in Normandy that was a inherent privilege of the Germans.

     
  4. Pesha says:

    DeCode. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.
    Panthers were medium tanks not heavies. They played the same functions as the Sherman, though by US tank doctrine, Sherman's were not to engage other tanks. Panthers were fast tanks.
    More Panthers were built at the time than Pz IVs & German Order of Battle had half of tank units as Panthers. It was a US intelligence failure that underestimated Panther strength and thus to not upgrade the Sherman's gun beyond the 75mm
    US forces in France didn't meet many Tiger 1s as most of the tank fighting was being done by the British. The US actually meet more Tiger 2s which were much more powerful for which the M4 was totally useless. Secondly, the Tiger 2s had replaced Tiger 1 production.
    M61 shells were not issued to Sherman's nor could it penetrate the Panther or Tiger front armour at combat ranges.
    The 76mm couldn't penetrate them either. (HVAP shells was only experimentally used from Nov 1944 for a few units. Usually only 2,000 of these shells were produced per month with peak production of 15,000 shells in Mar 1945. These shells were not received by front line units until the war ended with few going to Sherman's)
    The 76mm Sherman was slightly inferior to the Pz IV F2/G (first produced in April 1942). The Pz IV G was more likely to penetrate the Sherman's 51mm massive high front plate (glacis) before the M4/76 could penetrate the Pz IV G 50mm very small front turret plate. The Pz IV H (produced from April 1943) had a further upgraded 75mm gun which was even worse for the M4.
    Also, US commanders didn't believe the 76mm gun was necessary, so none were issued to US combat troops until the end of Dec 1944 (as a result of the M4/75s deficiency during the Battle of the Bulge.) Only then did they realise the 76s couldn't penetrate the Panther or Tigers front armour either.
    Secondly only 9% of Sherman's had the 76mm gun. Even in June 1945, after the European war had ended, only half of US M4s had the 76mm gun.

     
    • Nathan Peterson says:

      The first 76.2mm gun armed M4s were delivered and accepted in U.S. service were the M4A1(76)W and first saw combat in July of '44 in Operation Cobra. About 12 saw service. The Soviets reportedly got the 76.2mm gun armed M4s first, receiving and putting the M4A2(76)W in service the same month they got them, January of '44[I]

      About 20,000 M93/T4 HVAP-T [essentially APCR] were received by Tank Destroyer Branch by March of '45[II]. And a figure done by Zaloga found that a large number of 76.2mm gun armed M4s of the 2nd A.D, 3rd A.D., 4th A.D., 9th A.D., and possibly the 10th and 12th unofficially got their hands on them. With at least one tank in each platoon with the 76.2mm having at least 2-6 rounds.

      The Tiger Is were not the main threat, but I digress, I will humor you. Both AP-T M79 Shot (though informal studies I've done found it was actually APC-T) and M62A1 APC-T Armor piercing could deal with the Tiger's frontal armor effectively at 600yds (M62 couldn't beyond 200-300yds). In theory the M62A1 could out to a 1km, and on paper 1.2km, backed by Soviet testing, but that should be taken with a grain of salt.

      Situationally the Panther was a very fast tank. As noted by the crew of 'Cuckoo' of 6th Tank Brigade, Irish Coldstream Guards. But other reports done on the mobility noted that the Panther in 1st and 2nd gear struggled in a race with the Infantry Support Tank Mk.IV (A22) Churchill VII[III]. The top speed (listed as 51km/h (or 31m/h) by the Germans) could not be achieved in moderately bad road and weather conditions. Third gear became problematic and didn't work beyond 20mi (32km). Besides the final drive and engine fire problems, another problem came from the notoriously good suspension itself. Though in German tests it was a very stable platform dampening[IV] many bumps in the reels of its testing, the suspension noted by several captured German crewmen as well as the British F.V.P.E. Faculty noted it was too fragile and did not work as well as intended [III]

      [I] - http://iremember.ru/en/memoirs/tankers/dmitriy-loza/

      [II] - https://www.amazon.com/Armored-Thunderbolt-U-S-Sherman-World/dp/0811704246

      [III] - https://tankandafvnews.com/2015/10/02/from-the-vault-british-report-on-captured-panther-tank/

      [IV] - http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-hJUYxlkwLYk/UMRnXfJR9VI/AAAAAAAAAls/qq_QdwXHQoE/s1600/kummersdorf+test.jpg

       
    • Trey says:

      Which is why the Panthers rolled over 4th A.D at Arracourt ... oh wait it was the 75mm M4's and 3in M10' that won at Arracourt.

       
      • Nick says:

        Regarding Arracourt... are you seriously using the winning of one battle as proof that a tank was better, especially considering that German troops were raw recruits who had just been given their tanks a couple weeks before-hand? Of course an experienced force would defeat them, that goes without saying.

        That's like saying the Panzer II is a superior tank to the Samua S35 because Germany beat France in 1940. It completely ignores all the other variables involved, such as superior operational and strategic thinking, superior coordination, and superior local tank concentration to the french, who had them spread out among their entire army. It's ludicrous. Are you seriously going to say that the Pz III was superior to the KV-1 because Operation Barbarossa nearly reached Moscow, despite the KV-1 being a part of the Soviet Army at that point?

        My god people have lost their ability to reason these days.

         
        • Drew says:

          You present a thoroughly debunked set of facts, make some flawed analogies and then finish with "My god (sic) people have lost their ability to reason these days.

          I find this statement as superb irony.

           
        • Patrick L Boyle says:

          You think it's illegitimate to invoke the American victory at Arracourt as evidence of the quality of the Sherman because it was only one tank battle? How many tank battles do you think there were?

          In Europe there was Normandy, Arracourt, and the Battle of the Bulge. We of course won all three. Do you have reasons (excuses?) as to why those other two Nazi defeats shouldn't also be counted.

          The Sherman and the American panoply of forces squared off against the Nazis and their forces in those three battles and won all three. This is after the Sherman had already won in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.

          So considering discrete tank battles as your unit measure, the Sherman seems to have done pretty well for itself. If you gather your statistics at the individual tank level you see the same thing Shermans versus Panthers for example show the American came out on top in the majority of their one-against-one encounters.

          This is only surprising if you choose your combat judgemental criteria so as to favor the Germans. Yes the Panther had thicker armor, and a more powerful gun and was as fast or faster. But Shermans had a higher rate of fire, and a faster traverse. You would think that the advantages of the Panther would out weigh those of the Sherman - but apparently not. No tank can fight alone. Its surrounding forces count for a lot too. For example air power and gas mileage. The Sherman broke out of Normandy charging behind carpet bombing attack from our big four engine bombers (B-17's and B-24's). So one could argue that part of the Sherman's armamentarium were it's heavy four engine bombers. The Panther and Tiger had no such attached bombers.

          Most WWII bombs couldn't kill a tank directly but they could and did destroy all the surrounding soft target support vehicles. That includes the gas trucks and the Panther sure needed it's gas. And it need it's repairs so it needed it's mechanics.

          Panthers beat Shermans in video games or in the imagination of twenty first century enthusiasts. In actual real combat there were almost no pure tank duels. Just as there were almost no fast draw duels in the old west. The big German tanks loom large in modern day imaginations but they were not as effective as the Sherman.

           
    • Kyle says:

      By war's end, most Sherman platoons each had a 76 mm armed Sherman from what I've read. And the notion that it was doctrine that Shermans were not to fight other tanks is a myth. Shermans were to fight other tanks if they encountered them. The Panther was an overall terrible tank. It's frontal armor made it far too front-heavy which inhibited its maneuvering ability in terrain that the Sherman had no problem maneuvering in, it had too high of a profile, it was extremely prone to mechanical failure, the earlier models of it were prone to random engine fires, and its fire control system was inferior to the Sherman's, meaning the Sherman could lay its gun on the Panther faster. This was because the Panther's turret traverse was tied to the engine RPM, like the Tiger's, and the gunner lacked a periscopic sight.

       
    • Kyle says:

      One other thing, yes "officially," according to the Germans, the Panther was a "medium" tank, but in practicality, it was either a very heavy medium tank, or a heavy tank.

       
  5. DustyMojave says:

    The German military had an interesting concept for design of their armor vehicles. The armor was just penetrable by the common round used in it's own main gun. I feel this was to ensure that if their tanks were captured, they could destroy it themselves. Personally I think it would be better to design it to easily stop the round from the enemy's weapon.I further feel that an armored vehicle should be equally well protected from any angle of attack. So in my view, a Sherman SHOULD have been designed to stop a 100mm AP round of it's day. The Sherman did not fulfill my concept of armor design. The thin belly plate was highly subject to damage from land mines as well. This problem carried through Vietnam era vehicles such as the M113. My cousin was blown out of the top hatch of an M113 on the day he arrived in Nam by the vehicle running over a land mine. As he was in the top hatch with the ring mount .50 cal, he was lucky to have been thrown out while all the other occupants died. The belly plate was about 1/4" thick. Same as a Sherman IIRC.

     
  6. Robert Ryan says:

    So basically you're saying that a heavy tank that weighed literally almsot twice as much and was produced in roughly a 50th of the numbers was able to overmatch a main line mass produced medium tank in a slugging match. Shocker!

    I notice you don't really seem to want to compare it to the Panzer 4 or the vaunted T-34 probably because when you did it suddenly becomes clear it's a better tank. The only real issue with the Shermans was that they were too slow to up armor and too slow to get the high penetration HVAP rounds into wide service.

    The fact was the Sherman was an extremely good tank, it was perhaps almost too good, it was so clearly superior in 1942 and early 1943 that complacence set it. Lacking major combat against German armor 1943 proved to be unfortunate as it resulted in a lack of urgency in modernizing the vehicle which had ample growth potential.

    Add 25mm of applique to the front hull and turret in late 1943 and have the 76mm gun and few HVAP rounds per tank by Normandy and it would a very different narrative that was told. Given the later field uparmoring and the Jumbo it's clear the chassis would easily have absorbed this without undue strain.

    The Sherman was an excellent tank, it just wasn't improved enough in late 1943 resulting in a bit of a fuck up in mid 1944. By the later part of that year though field up armoring and increasing supply of high performance ammunition had changed things again. A Sherman up armored with salvaged plate and with a few HVAP rounds was really probably barely worse then a Panther and grossly superior to a Panzer 4.

     
    • Trey says:

      The issue at Normandy for the US in particular was not the M4 but the terrain. Hedgerows made for excellent ambushes. That the US army was able to adapt in the field the Hedgerow cutter (Cullen Cutter) was a testament to operational flexibility.

      Agreed that the 76mm would have been a better standard gun. More armor would have been of some help but not as much as most think, the 80mm effective armor of late M4 did deflect 75mm rounds is questionable if a 110 mm effective would have deflected a lot more of them and would have started down the road of German tanks.. being mechanically less reliable.

       
    • Tim says:

      "I notice you don't really seem to want to compare it to the Panzer 4 or the vaunted T-34 probably because when you did it suddenly "

      Hi there, Robert, happy new year. 🙂 I don't know if you meant it to be, but that seems like an angry statement to me. It seems to me that throughout most of the article, the author here is talking about the Tiger.

      To be honest, the Chieftain's Hatch guy makes some top notch points, but I'm thinking I'm seeing a lot of revisionism the past five or more years now that many of the WWII vets are gone, including some of the information. All the reading I've done since the 70s wrt the British encounters in their Shermans and, most importantly to me, all the discussions over beer with, in presentations from, and myself individually hosting at mess dinners Canadian Sherman vets in the 1980s seem to be in stark contrast to the sort of stuff I've been reading recently about how the 76mm and even the 75mm were able to take out Tigers and Panthers from frontal shots. My first regiment fought throughout Italy, the Liri Valley in particular - our officer's mess was called "The Liri Valley Mess" - and then went to Europe, post D-Day, for the liberation of Holland. One of the men I hosted at a mess dinner was famous for having had 13 Shermans shot out from underneath him, and we saw SV Radley Walters quite a bit as he was the honorary Colonel-in-Chief of the armour school plus he lived close by Petawawa when I was there. I Petawawa, I was delighted to know that he actually remembered me from our first encounter at the Armour School because I am a Newfoundlander and his first posting was actually at a coastal defence fortification just outside of the city

      Yes, Chieftain's Hatch has excellent points about the 5 to 1 ratio stemming from the US tank platoon of 5 tanks. His stuff about Ronson lighters is questionable - the common logo quoted was indeed post war, but Ronson did indeed have an ad campaign in the late 20s and early 30s that had something similar, "A Ronson lights every time". I simply can't remember if I asked any of the Sherman vets I knew about this, myself, though Radley-Walters did insist that the Sherman was the best tank of the war. As a squadron (company commander), he could be sure that any mechanical or combat losses were replaced the next day. That was vitally important to him. He did, in the mess and on a history show, indicate the Panther was a very difficult and frightening opponent.

       
      • Russell Polk says:

        I believe the 1920's Ronson ad may have said something like, "One flick and its lit". The motto usually appended to the Sherman was " Lights first time, every time". The first time I ever heard that associated with the tank was in a very poor History Channel documentary about the Sherman. So far as I can find in various history's of the war, that appellation wasn't used or if it was it was not common.
        As far as Nick Moran (The Chieftain's Hatch guy) I have to say that he has at least done the minimum that any decent historian should do by going to original source materials in the archives and actually clambered around and drove a number of these beasts. That, coupled with his tank combat experience would at least give him some insight into many of the factors that might make one tank at least ergonomically better from a combat standpoint than another.
        Having grown up in the 1960's I can't ever remember any of the historians of the time saying that the Sherman wasn't the best tank for the US war effort and tactics of the time. There were some critiques of the Sherman in the press at the end and just after the war but those seem to have been more about selling newspapers. The post war historians seem to have looked into those reports and found that they weren't justified. They weren't saying the Sherman was the best tank, or that it didn't have its faults, just that considering the US geographic position, logistical considerations, tactical needs and doctrine, it was the best compromise that could be negotiated and in light of that, it was a war winning weapon system that integrated well with all of the above considerations. Indeed, most of the historical revisionism seems to have begun in the 1970's with the wargaming community and has accelerated with the advent of computer/internet gaming that turns every encounter into a contest based solely on gun penetration and armor thickness statistics. Under the influence of such armchair generalship, coupled with some bad Hollywood movies and one memoir and the Sherman went from being among the best tanks of the war to a monstrous mediocrity. I think the bottom line is that the Army and Armored Force actually knew what they were about and a lot of ground pounders in Europe and the Pacific knew that when they needed a dependable tool for armored support they had it and their opponents did not.

         
  7. Patrick Boyle says:

    Everyone reads the same books and watches the same youtube videos so most of the well informed remarks here are on point. But there are a couple points that have yet to be raised.

    As is well known there were never more than 2,000 Tigers of either kind ever made, whereas there were almost 50,000 Shermans made. So the claim that it took 5 Shermans to kill one Tiger means that the Tigers would be overwhelmed.

    Second point. Germany advanced through Poland and France with medium tanks - tanks that were suitable for the offensive. When the tide began to turn in early 1943 Germany built defensive tanks - bigger heavier tanks with lots of armor The French had done something similar with their Char 1 bis. The Tiger was too big for the roads and bridges. More importantly it connotes a defensive mind set. The Sherman was an appropriate sized tank for an offensive role and Patton showed that.

    Third point. America had to ship all its tanks by ship whereas the Nazis could ship theirs on rail. heavy tanks were not a good choice for our transportation situation.

    Fourth point. Panthers and Tigers were notoriously unreliable. Shermans got knocked out when they were hit by enemy fire. the German cats were often destroyed by their own crews when they broke down and they were under orders to not let them fall into American or Russian hands. Shermans survived unless they were actually hit. Tigers and Panthers self destructed.

    Fifth point. Shermans and T-34s had much better gas mileage than the bigger German tanks. And of course America was the world's greatest producer of petroleum at that time. Germany had no oil and had to manufacture ersatz gasoline from coal. This gave the Shermans greater availability on the battle field.

    Sixth point. The Tiger I had four inches of in-sloped armor on its front. The British Churchill tank that was also at Normandy had six inches. The Tiger I was nothing like invulnerable. And Britain produced about five or six thousand Churchill's whereas there were only about 1,300 Tiger Is and a handful of Tiger IIs. The Sherman 76 mm gun could penetrate a Tiger frontal armor but not that of a Churchill.

    Seventh point. All tanks of conventional design like the Tiger and Sherman are vulnerable from fire from above because the engine needs a grill to let in cooling air. So the frontal armor is irrelevant if the enemy fires from above as they do in built up areas or from aircraft. The Allies of course had aerial superiority for almost all of their engagements between Shermans and the Nazi cats.

    Eighth point. Tank versus tank duels were rare. As is well known, Sherman crews and commanders preferred the 75mm shell that was ineffective against the Tiger or Panther. They were reluctant to forego the superior dual purpose (HE and AP) 75 mm weapon. If an allied commander wanted to ambush a Tiger there were also Tank Destroyers available that could deal with the German machine.

    Ninth (and last) point. Even if it took five Shermans to kill one Tiger - so what. Compared to being an infantryman being in a tank was safe. The tank crews had good survival rates. Of course you attitude on this issue depends whether you are a General at headquarters or a Private in the Sherman. But Shermans despite the "Ronson" calumny had good survival rates. They lost only about one crew member when a Sherman was hit. This was better that the T-34 or the German tanks. So if you ordered five Shermans to attack on Tiger and all the Shermans were knocked out, that's only five men. On a bloody WWII battlefield that's an acceptable loss.

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      Nice summary. As a boy, I remember watching movies like The Battle of Bulge and wondering how the US could provide a weak tank to its troops. As an adult, I began to see how the Sherman fit what the US was trying to do:

      ■ It had to be carried by rail to a port that ran over bridges, which imposed constraints.
      ■ It had to shipped by existing cargo vessels with their limitations (cargo space and crane capacity).
      ■ It had to be capable of moving on European roads and bridges, which imposed size constraints. Similarly, US bridging equipment also imposed limitations.
      ■ It had to reliable and repairable in the field because it could not be shipped back to the US for repair.
      ■ It had to be capable of being manufactured in mass and shipped overseas quickly. It would make no sense to build a Tiger-killer that could not be delivered in sufficient quantity and in time to make a difference.

      As I read more WW2 history, I can see that there were good reasons for making the Sherman the standard US tank. It might not have been the world's best medium tank, but it was the best one available in adequate numbers, with good protection, good mobility, and reasonable firepower. It was incredibly flexible – just look at Hobart's Funnies and the Israeli Super Sherman. If people are looking for a tale of weapon system failure, look instead at the Torpedo Mk 14. The Sherman is towering success story by comparison.

       
      • GermanTanksSucks,AndSoAreYou says:

        Please take a look at theshermantank.com
        That website has reliable sources on everything ww2 armor and debunks all myths on Shermans.
        The website seems biased but has all the info to back it up

         
        • Guest says:

          I've gone through some of that site. It is maintained by a Sherman fan boy, who is even active on this thread.

          Some good information in it, but, as you said, the webmaster is biased. He made the Sherman look like a world beater.

          The Sherman was a good overall tank that has had a long life. But it didn't exactly strike fear into its opponents. Its effectiveness came largely from its maneuverability, numbers, and air and artillery support.

           
          • Jon Tisor says:

            I'm going to have to question your level of knowledge on what makes a tank a world beater. It seems a little lacking.

            Albin Irzik, his response to Sherman haters linked below by David, agrees with me. I'll take his level experience with the Sherman over some anonymous guy on the internet.

            http://www.digitalhistoryarchive.com/uploads/2/5/4/1/25411694/article_by_us_army_tank_battalion_commander_-_tank_versus_tank_1946.pdf
            (downloadable version)

            The Sherman was not a perfect tank, I say as much on my site in the conclusions. It was a world beater. It fought in every major combat zone, on beaches, forests, plains, jungles, mountains and the frozen steppes of Russia, hell once they operated in a Naval gun support role.

            It was used by just about all the allied nations and was reliable enough to allow tank units to always have a lot of tanks on hand. It also had the most advanced fire control system in the world, an advantage few talk about, but statistics prove the first tank to spot and hit generally won the fight, regardless of gun type, and the Sherman had a big advantage in this area over the primitive system the German cats were stuck with. Though they did have very good telescopic sights, that's only one part of the fire control system, and the only part on German tanks that was good.

            The Sherman was also one of the safest tanks for the crew. It was easy to work on and maintain. With proper crew maintenance and a decent driver, all the Sherman models could drive thousands of miles on its drivetrain before it wore out, and everything could be rebuilt. No German tanks could do the same. A Panther making it even 250 miles under its own power would have been a miracle.

            I think these qualities, and the fact the Sherman got the job done every time, and was a major factor in the allied victory, really does make it a "world beater".

             
    • Nicholas Smith says:

      The Germans advanced through Poland and France with mostly LIGHT tanks, not fucking mediums. They still were heavily reliant on Panzer IIs and IIIs. The Panzer III is a lower-end medium tank. The Panzer II, the majority tank in Poland, was most definitely a light.

       
  8. David O'Berry says:

    I have done quite a bit of reading about ww2 tanks including many many months of American tank and tank destroyer battalion after action reports from the ETO. The best summation of M4 Sherman performance I've ever read comes from a man named Albin Irzyk. Mr. Irzyk was the commander of the 8th tank battalion 4th armored division. His paper was named "Tank versus Tank". Here's a link where you can read his summation.
    https://www.ausa.org/articles/irzyk-explains-performance-american-tanks-world-war-ii

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      Great post-action article by a practitioner. Albin appears to agree with others that it would have been a huge improvement for the Sherman's legacy if the M4A3-E8 upgrade had occurred earlier – that one change would have greatly improved the Sherman's image.

      Thanks for the comment.

      mark

       
  9. GermanTanksSucks,AndSoAreYou says:
  10. GermanTanksSucks,AndSoAreYou says:
  11. Pat Boyle says:

    This topic - Sherman vs Panther - shouldn't be much of a controversy because the Shermans did meet the Panthers at Normandy and beat them soundly. The Panther was Germany's best tank - better than the vertical armored Tiger I and better than the very rare Tiger II that mostly fought in the East.

    The Panther had an excellent gun and thick sloped frontal armor. It had been developed to overmatch the excellent Russian medium T-34 tank. So why did it get decimated by the little funny looking American Sherman?

    The Sherman shouldn't have stood a chance. Just look at the comparative specs or the YouTube videos. The Sherman weighed 30 tons. The Panther 45. The Sherman had about two inches of frontal armor. The Panther almost double that. Both had 75 mm cannon but the Sherman's guns shot medium velocity shells while the Panther's guns shot high velocity. How could the Sherman beat the Panther as it did so convincedly at Normandy?

    Here's how.

    First tank versus tank is an illusion. It never happens. If you put a Sherman and a Panther on some giant Science Fiction pool table where they could meet on equal terms the Panther would certainly win. It could shoot the Sherman from long distance and game over.

    But that isn't how tanks are used. Normandy was not a duel of individual iron boxes. It was the clash of giant multidimensional military complexes. It was more a conflict of civilizations than a personal joust like knights of old.

    The Sherman had many advantages but I'll restrict myself to two extrinsic factors and one intrinsic factor. The Sherman' intrinsic advantage was greater availability. The Panther had been a bust at its debut at Kursk. They had broken down in droves. The Panther had been designed to be a medium tank. It was supposed to weigh 30 tons just like a Sherman. But they kept piling on more and more armor during development until it became a heavy tank. So the Panther's engine and transmission failed when under its own power. It was very unreliable. Gradually the Panther got better but it never fully overcame its weight problem.

    The Sherman was famous for its reliability but more important than that was its availability. Sherman's were easy to repair. It took a few hours to repair the bogey volute suspension of a Sherman. The Panther had interleaved road wheels with double torsion bars. Fixing a Panther's broken tracks took days and could not be done in the field. The Sherman was manned by American farm boys who fixed their own tractors and Model T's at home. German boys had horses not cars. The American tanks were filled with experienced 'shade tree mechanics'. They also had better parts interchangeability and more spare parts.

    The bogey suspension of the Sherman had many benefits. The bogey held two wheels and incorporated the springs and the lever externally. It was developed from railcar suspensions. American trains had used bogeys for many decades. Unlike a Christie or torsion bar suspension it did not intrude into the hull. Shermans were much less cramped inside than T-34s or Panthers. But its biggest advantage was that a bad wheel could be just unbolted and replaced in the field. Another advantage is that you could escape from a burning Sherman out the bottom hatch. The Panthers had no bottom hatch because of the torsion bars. Watch the Chieftain's emergency egress videos for a Sharman versus a Panther.

    All these factors influence each other in complex ways. Because the survivability of Sherman crew was better that that of other tanks the tankers lived longer and were therefore more experience and more efficient in battle.

    This brings us to the extrinsic advantages that the Sherman had. The US had Texas and Texas had oil. One little appreciated consequence of this was that Germany therefore had no tungsten. The US put pressure on Spain though threatening to cut off its oil supplies, if it didn't cut off Nazi Germany's imports of Spanish tungsten. That meant that the Germans had no high velocity discarding sabot ammunition on D-day. We had also starved German industry of molybdenum making Panther armor brittle . The lack of oil also manifested itself in the inferiority of the Nazi tank crews. Germany could no longer afford train tank crews because of it growing oil shortages.

    And this leads us to the other extrinsic advantage of the Sherman - air power. The Shermans beat the Panthers in part because of Allied air supremacy. Not very many German tanks were actually taken out by direct fire from the American planes overhead. Bullets can stop tanks if they make hits on the thinly armored upper decks of tanks but not that many. More importantly are all the soft targets that are needed to support the tanks. If a plane blows up a vulnerable fuel truck. The tank it supports will run for the rest of the day but will likely be abandoned tomorrow. If a tank can't move it's easy pickings for artillery or infantry.

     
    • Nicholas Smith says:

      Ah, the myth of Panther unreliability. Basing your knowledge of what happened to early models as the basis for judging later models, despite the fact that the majority of these issues were fixed after that battle and they served admirably on the Western Front as a full HALF of the armored forces Germany had facing the British. Not many armored units actually fought the Americans you realize.

      Furthermore, what's more important, escaping when your tank catches fire, or not getting penetrated (and likely having much of your crew becoming chunky salsa before being cooked)?

       
      • Jon Tisor says:

        The Panther liked to burn without even getting hit. The motor could fail in ways that caused fire and the fuel system issues were never fully solved. Even Panther tanks build post-war, without slave labor had terrible reliability. The problems stemmed from poorly designed components that were not designed right, and could not be solved without a major redesign.

        Any tank that can only travel under its own power, less than 200 kilometers before it would need a major repair job, is a bad tank. The post-war tests the French ran using new and overhauled tanks only got 150 kilometers on average on the final drives, a major, repair job.

        The Panther was never reliable, that's a fact, even Jentz books show how poor the readiness rates were for these tanks, and they are the bible of the wehraboo.

         
        • Thomas Golladay says:

          11th panzer division fought from August 1944 to September 1944. Their Panthers put 1500 km on their odometers before being serviced.

          https://tankandafvnews.com/2015/10/02/from-the-vault-british-report-on-captured-panther-tank/

          You are talking out of your ass on the Panther like the Chieftain.

          The Panther was pretty reliable, and survived heavy combat service that would have destroyed Shermans.

          For those looking for correct information:

          Repairing the Panzers: German Tank Maintenance in World War, by Lukas Friedli.

          Ghost Division: The 11th "Gespenster" Panzer Division and the German Armored Force in World War II, by Harding Ganz. (Page 266)

          Also the Sherman was no more reliable than a Panther Tank. The US expended a lot of Logistics just to keep Shermans running. Belton Y Cooper goes over the entire logistical effort to keep a US Armor Division in the field and the dangers and trials Ordinance Men had to undergo to ensure Sherman Tanks could even get to the battlefield.

          The final nail in the Sherman's coffin is the moment a handful of Pershings arrived, they achieved Rapid Dominance over the Panzers, taking them head on mano-o-mano and winning single handedly. Final score card for the Pershing was 5 Tigers destroyed, 3 Panthers, a King Tiger, and 12 Panzer IVs for the loss of 0 Pershings written off. Had the Pershings not been delayed by McNair in 1943, they would have hit the beaches of Normandy in 44 and achieved Rapid Dominance, which would have sped up the Allied Advance as they would not have needed to fire so many artillery shells, or spend as much fuel moving those shells, and all the other logistical constraints just to grind the Germans down.

          The Sherman simply wasn't up for the job in 44 and should have been replaced or at the very least upgunned to the 90mm gun and given 2 tons of additional armor.

           
  12. Pat Boyle says:

    You make two points: One that Panthers were only unreliable when they were rushed out virtually untested at Kursk. And Two that Panther crews had better survivability than Sherman crews. At least that's how I parse you comment. Your tone is so bitter and sarcastic some of your meaning is unclear.

    The debut of the Panthers at Kursk was inauspicious. Most of the problems had to do with drivetrain issues. As I said before the Panther was designed originally as a medium tank that was to have weighed about thirty tons. But it's weight grew by about 50% during development. So it was about 15 tons overweight. The engine and transmission gave problems at Kursk and continued to give problems till the end of the war. That isn't a myth.

    No one denies that the Panther's frontal armor was effective nor does anyone question its gun but it had serious mobility problems. A Sherman could navigate across the countryside whereas Panthers and Tigers had to be transported for longer movements by train - they broke down if they went too far on their own treads.

    The second point you hint at is that Panther crews survived better than Sherman crews. That just isn't true. I'm sure you know that. Why would say such a thing?

     
    • Thomas B Golladay says:

      The mechanical problems were fixed immediately following Kursk. However, the situation at the strategic level had changed drastically.

      Still a Panther had a more powerful engine, wider tracks, and could maneuver in terrain and obstacles a Sherman couldn't.

      By contrast the Sherman's gun could not penetrate even the Panzer IV frontally, and its armor provided zero protection against all standard German AT weapons. Its narrow tracks caused it to get stuck in mud and unable to navigate steep inclines.

      This was known to US Generals and they did not fix the issues. This meant artillery had to carry the work of defeating Germany and the logistical cost of that slowed the allied advance.

       
  13. Pat Boyle says:

    Arracourt was indeed only one battle. Kursk was another. The first was the Panther's biggest conflict in the West until The Battle of the Bulge and Kursk was the Panther's biggest conflict in the East. The Panthers lost all three of those engagements.

    You want to spare the reputation of the Panther by blaming the Panther's losses on crew training deficiencies. Since to date tanks are not self directed, the crew is part of the tank unit. I keep saying that tanks don't fight as iron boxes alone on a perfectly flat surface with no other weapons or troops involved. That's some kind of post-war mental amusement. A tank is one element in a broader panoply of forces. All sorts of interrelated factors come into play. For example the Panther had bad gas mileage. Since the Axis always had gas shortages the Panther crews got less training time in their tanks. That meant they were less good as crews than the Americans who got much more training time in their tanks. If you want to say that the Panther was somehow a better machine irrespective of its crew, fine. In some hypothetical universe that exists only in the minds of hobbyists the Panther rules. In WWII as actually fought it was a loser. Not because it was so bad but it was on the wrong team - the team that was doomed to lose after 1943 from its many deficiencies.

    So if you want to play with the notion that the Nazis would have won if only a few things had been different or that the Nazi weapons were better and the Allies only won because of some unfair advantage - Ok. Whatever makes you feel good.

     
  14. Pat Boyle says:

    The Nazi tank fan boys like to claim that their tanks were better and the fact that the Nazis lost the war should just be ignored. There were plenty of mistakes on both sides. America probably had the best tank in the world in 1942. In British hands it was an important factor at Second Battle El Alamain. But our American armor planners probably should have expedited the production of the M16 Pershing for the Normandy Invasion. Some say the Pershing wasn't ready. But that's really a question of national war making style.

    The Germans rushed out the Tiger and Panther at Kursk without much if any testing. McNair was more cautious. The Sherman had been tested and tested again. That was the American style The Pershing could have been put into production sooner but it would probably have suffered the same fate as those early Panthers.

    The Russians approach was even more conservative than the Americans. They stuck with the T-34 and made very few enhancements. They also built junk whereas German tanks were very stylish and excited the admiration of engineers and small boys.

    The Russians had calculated that a T-34 on the battlefield had a life expectancy of only 14 hours. So they made tanks as disposable items. Their welds I'm told were not very pretty.

    The Russian made 1bout 80,000 T-34s. The US made nearly 50,000 Shermans. The Germans made about 500 Tiger IIs. The Russians could make so many tanks because many of their tank factories had been created by Americans. We taught them about mass production. The US had quickly ramped up tank production but by 1944 we had begun to cut back. We could have made more if we had thought that we needed them.

    The Germans made tanks in a craft tradition. No assembly lines. No standardization and minimization of models or model changes. T-34 got cheaper to build throughout the war. America could have cranked up production to produce perhaps hundred thousand Shermans is we had chosen to.

    I just finished reading Victor Davis Hanson's book "The Second World Wars". In this book he uses the word "fantasy" often to describe some Nazi plan or weapon. America fought a rational war and the Soviets likewise were hardheaded realists. The Nazis much less so.

    The Nazis had those snappy looking uniforms, really big and impressive mass rallies, and handsome tanks. They also had a series on very un-cost effective weapons. No four engine bombers but V2 rockets, no aircraft carriers but the stylish Bismarck battleship.

    In my fantasy WWII tank battle The American Shermans meet the Nazi Tigers and blow them away. The Shermans are Sherman Jumbos which have thicker frontal armor than a Tiger I and it is better sloped. The Sherman guns are just regular 76 cannons but they fire the APCR ammunition with the tungsten sub caliber penetrator. By Normandy the Nazis had essentially no tungsten. America had blackmailed Spain into cutting off its supply of tungsten to Germany.

    A 76 mm APCR round penetrates more armor than the Tiger I 88mm round available to the Nazis by Normandy. If the Germans bring a Tiger II with an even more formidable 88mm gun, then we would raise our gun to a Firefly, again firing an APCR round. Our little Sherman would still be superior in a frontal armor only duel.

    Of course this isn't the way it actually went. But if we are going to speculate I will speculate. At Normandy the Allies had a five to one advantage in AFVs. We could have had more but the Nazis couldn't. So let's match ten Shermans for every Nazi tank and lets have half be jumbos with APCR ammo.

    The Nazis never really recovered from their tank losses at Normandy but it could have been much worse for them.

     
    • Thomas B Golladay says:

      German Tanks were made on assembly lines, they also produced:

      49,777 Tanks, StuGs, SPGs, and SPHs on their Tank Chassis. In addition they produced 44,259 armored half-tracks and 3,607 armored cars during the war.

      Now if they didn't have to also make thousands of locomotives to keep the trains running because a benefactor was doing it for them, they could have ramped up massively the number of AFV production.

      That said, the German Panzers pretty much used T-34s and Shermans as target ractice as both were inferior designs that needed improvements. Now if the Sherman went with the 90mm gun and two tons more armor on the Front, you will never have heard bad things about it. The T-34 needed to be replace by the T-34M which fixed all its numerous problems, but Stalin said no in 41 and that was it.

      As for the 76 mm APCR , it was wildly inaccurate and ineffective against the FHA used by the Germans, bouncing off even the Panzer IV. It was only around August 1944 when the Germans switched wholly over to RHA and the interrupted quench system with all its problems that you start seeing cracked armor on Panzers due to quality control problems. As for the Jumbo's armor, nice, but you failed to fix the gun and you still lose out in the slugging match and the Germans just introduced new rounds that easily pierce CHA used by the Shermans. Too little, too late, artillery has to pick up the slack again with resultant logistical expenses.

      Fact is, American, British, and Soviet Planners screwed up big time on Tank Design and Allied Tankers paid the price.

       
  15. Smokerr says:

    This whole thing rages and I think the the data heads should prevail.

    The War games have created a huge hoopla because it is tank on tank and depending on the scenario, the Panther is superior (head on).

    One aspect mentioned was the Sherman was a key part of the combined arms as it came to be (and it was not sudden, it took combat, ala Kaserine pass and on)

    But then the nonsense about US designing Soviet tank factories (as Nick Moran would say, where is the citation?).

    The other reality was there were significant tank on tank encounters (few US Sherman on Tiger (any type) and not that many Panther (most of the Armor clashes in Normandy were in the British sector, fewer reports)

    Contrast that with a report from the Battle of the Bulge where a small group of US tank destroyers were supporting an infantry group that was under attack by Panthers (5 or 6 I believe)

    As the Sherman's were on the defense, they had a clear view of the Panthers and they in turn were completely hidden. They were also spread across a front of some distance.

    The TD commander sized it up and issued orders for his TD group to cross shoot into the sides of Panthers that were not directly in front of them. All the Panthers were taken out.

    Panthers had almost no side protection, it was all front and turret. Not always possible but if you could shoot into the side, it was gone.

    Nonsense about Germans shooting up their own tanks to stop allies? Why? Yes they would shoot up the Shermans to stop Allied recovery, Allies used no German tanks (the Russians use a few). Both side recovered and returned tanks to action. Easier if you won on the offense. At Kursk many tanks were recovered, repaired and back into action.

    The Panther did have a weak drive system, it had a manual turret traverse (first shot first kill). Slow. US much better. After they got the drive system better (and kept changing things) then they shorted on spare parts to get tanks out.

    A Panther transmission took a turret removed and insides to get to. Much harder than a Sherman, more complex, harder to get back into combat.

    Records show that often 25 to 75% of Panthers were simply broke (depending on what time and place). They had to get to the front (rail system blown up)

    The my thing of tank buster aircraft should be mentioned, few tanks were, what was vulnerable was the support system and that did indeed get devastated. No ammo, no fuel, no parts.

    Steps were taken to help the Sherman in the field post Normandy. Sand bags, cement and Ertaz (add on) Armor. It helped.

    The Sherman was hindered by lack of upgrades, not that it could not be upgraded (Jumbo Sherman a case in point). The narrow tracks were an issue that the duck bills helped and then wider tracks latter.

    It did well in Korea against the Russian T34/85 as it had the better round in numbers.

    As part of the US and its allies operations, the Sherman did the job, casualties were light and the brew up that all tanks had happen was mitigated by ammo storage methods (wet or below) and you could never fully stop tankers from stocking up with as much as they could cram in.

    It was reasonably reliable, it had a solid parts system and rebuild and repair system behind it. Combat was started with full of close to full complements of machines. Not nearly so for the Germans.

    The independent tank Brigades support infantry division had more armor than the Germans Panzer Divisions did.

    In most cases the Allies were on the attack and that has its serious casualties.

    In those cases where the Germans attacked, they got chewed up even worse.

     
  16. Pat Boyle says:

    Tanks don't fight wars. Nations do. In post war America we have lots of computer war game players who think about the weapons of WWII and begin to speak of tanks as if they are somehow actors rather than just tools. So a Panther or a Tiger tank is judged to be superior by simply disregarding its flaws. All tank designs are compromises. If you emphasize one aspect you will inevitably diminish some other aspect. So for example if you increase the armor thickness you inevitably decrease battlefield mobility and also probably its ability to traverse bridges and get worse gas mileage. That means that in some situations you will have an advantage and in others a disadvantage.

    Speaking roughly there were three generations of WWII tanks. The first generation were the light and smaller medium tanks that fought in the Spanish Civil War, Poland and North Africa. The second generation were the medium tanks that succeeded them - the Sherman, The T-34 and the Panzer IVs. Then there was the third generation with the Panthers, Tigers and IS tanks. These were heavy tanks with big guns.

    In the arms race that developed around tanks the Soviets and the Germans were in the front. The Italians and Japanese didn't participate and the British and Americans trailed. In the similar arms race surrounding airplanes the Americans and the British led. The Axis powers began the war with an initial advantage. They developed and produced weapons. The ME 109 and the Zero for example were better in the early war years than anything that we had had then. But we soon overcame our initial handicap and surpassed Germany and Japan in both fighters and bombers.

    But our war planners in tanks were less prescient that those who led our air war. Our tank leadership lost a tempo to the Germans. We arrived at the Normandy landing with Generation Two tanks (Shermans) to confront German Generation Three tanks (Panthers and Tigers). We still won, but our airpower decision makers like Spatz and Doolittle had a tremendous triumph with Operation Pointblank (the skies were clear of Nazi airpower), whereas McNair had allowed our previous generation Shermans to confront the latest German tanks. The Sherman (an inanimate iron box) wasn't the loser Lt. General McNair was.

    We still won at Normandy because a tank is not the sword on the battlefield it is just the point of the sword. To put a tank into battle you need a factory, a trained crew, spare parts, repair facilities and a fuel delivery system. In all those factors our resources were superior to those of the Nazis. So we prevailed and covered the mistakes that the generals had made in allowing us to misapprehend the tank arms race that had long been raging on the Eastern Front.

     
  17. Pat Boyle says:

    I guess this discussion of the Sherman tank continues principally because it is a multifaceted issue. There are many technical issues but also many systems issues, organizational issues, political issues and even those that just seem to be style and fashion.

    Let's list in no particular order some of the many less obvious issues. But first let me mention that I am not a tank expert. There are two real experts - Steven Zaloga and Nicholas Moran (The Chieftain). I've never been in a tank although I was stationed around a lot of them when I was in the Army at Fort Knox. I also don't play war games. I just read books.

    The Sherman was a second generation tank. The Nazi cats were third generation. Divers in 1943 tried to get McNair to speed up the development of a successor to the Sherman but McNair refused. He thought the Sherman was good enough. If the M26 had been expedited in 1942 or 1943 there might have been a lot of more mature M26s at Normandy and there would never have been any of this controversy. McNair screwed up.

    But remember every power made blunders in the development of their war tools.

    The US had the best battle rifle when they entered the war (the M1 Garand). But the Nazis later developed the assault rifle concept. They got to the next generation first. We had a reliable powerful sub-machine gun at the start but replaced it because it was too heavy and too expensive - the same failings that the Tiger and Panther had. Toward the end the Nazis were doing something like we did when we replace the overly heavy and carefully machined Tommy Gun with the simple and cheap Grease Gun. Similarly the Germans increasingly used the Sturmgeschütz III - a cheap crude tank-like vehicle - rather than their beautifully engineered but expensive and fragile Panthers and Tiger IIs.

    The Tiger was an almost comically inept tank. We met it first in any numbers in Sicily. None of the American commanders had been impressed much less intimidated. It was not very good on the mountain roads, there weren't many of them and they broke down constantly. McNair knew all of this.

    The Tigers and Panthers made sense in the open flat country in the East. They were optimized for shooting face front to the enemy at long distances. In the West conditions were different - forests, mountains, hedge rows. Remember the tank kill ratio was almost three to one at Normandy and Arras in favor of the Sherman. It might have been even more lopsided if McNair had approved the M26 sooner.

    Our mistake in being late in moving to the third generation tank later than we should have was a mistake but we had made enough good decisions in other areas that we could compensate. American tactics used combined arms. We had other resources.

    The Nazis made a number of much more mistakes. They spent a tremendous amount of resources they couldn't well afford to develop the V2 rocket. It was unstoppable but have a small bombload. We and the Brits put our resources in four engine airplanes and made thousands of them. So we bombed the tank factories (driving them underground) an ball bearing factories. We disrupted their manganese and molybdenum sources so their tank armor was brittle. Meanwhile the Nazis had no way to similarly disrupt American tank production. Dumb Nazis.

    Even without air raids we and the British disrupted the availability of tungsten for tank ammunition through diplomatic ploys. Had the Nazis been just a little more competent we would have nuked Berlin and all of Germany. They had made too many Jewish nuclear scientists angry. We were going to win. The Sherman was just a small part of it. Certainly the Panther and Tiger wasn't going to be enough.

    The contrast between the Sherman and the Tiger demonstrates some truths. They speak of the "trinity" of factors in tank quality - armor, armament, and mobility. The triumph of the Sherman shows that the most important of these is mobility. The Nazi cats couldn't make long road marches for several reasons. German manufacturing was still craft based unlike the mass production techniques used in American factories. So the German tanks were less reliable, were more difficult to repair, and had fewer spare parts. Sherman availability was over 90%. The Nazi cats was closer to 50%. The most reliable Nazi armed vehicle was the Sturmgeschütz III - exactly the opposite kind of vehicle from the Panther and Tiger. They also had bad gas mileage, fewer support and supply vehicles, and limited ability to retrieve, repair and restore their over large tanks. Tanks do not fight alone. The German tanks were largely tied to the rail system. That alone was a serious deficiency in terms of their utility in war.

    Armor is rather simple - you can always weld on more. The "Jumbo" Sherman assault tank was just a Sherman with a lot more armor. Too much actually. Frontal armor is useless if your tank is ambushed. Side armor especially on the Panther and Sherman was always relatively thin. So if you site your tank in the woods somewhere where you expect an enemy tank to pass bay, you should be able to get off a first shot at the side armor. Both sides did just that. That's why defense is easier and so many Panthers were knocked out by Shermans even with the 75mm gun. Our tankers soon learned not to duel Panthers from the front, just as our fliers learned not to dog-fight with Japanese Zeros. A change in tactics quickly nullified the technical advantage of the other's equipment. Armor can't be everywhere so it's easy to devise ways to render it less important.

    Similarly there are relatively few difference in guns. Everyone had good enough guns. The German 88mm anti-aircraft gun was the most famous but remember the Russians had an almost as good 85mm in the thousands and we had a lightly better 90mm gun in later tanks and tank destroyers. Like in many things the Germans just got there first. German commanders - so the legend goes - improvised an anti-tank gun by lowering an 88mm anti-aircraft to kill enemy tanks. Sometimes Rommel is given credit. At the time the German 88 had a gun carrage that could be tilted down whereas the American or British guns did not. The shells they fired were quiet similar. American ant0-aircraft guns were vastly better than German ones because ours fired shells with the proximity fuse. There's were better for tank killing because they had a more versatile gun mount. We too adopted our anti-air gun for tank use but the Nazis never got the proximity fuse.

    The Armament issue that did distinguish the combatants was ammunition. Sub caliber tungsten rounds made a difference. No armor on any tank could withstand this new kind of ammo. A Sherman 76 could penetrate a Tiger of Panther from the front at normal battle distances if it used this ammo. Shermans were not given much (it went to tank destroyers mostly) but the Nazis had none by Normandy.

    Finally, I can change the tire on my car. A Sherman tank crew could change a damaged bogey but the Germans made a huge mistake when adopted the interleaved road wheel torsion bar suspension on their third generation tanks. The Nazis could repair them in many cases or recover tehm so they tended to abandon them. Modern tanks now all use single torsion bars. No one still uses bogeys. But no one uses the German style interleaved road wheels - heavy, complicate and impossible to repair in the field. I can't think of any design error in an American tank that is comparable.

     
    • Thomas Golladay says:

      Zaloga and Moran are not Tank Experts. That would be Livingston and Zetterling.

      Also from June 6 to VE Day, 4,257 US Shermans alone were written off as total losses vs 2,850 German Tanks on all fronts written off as total losses. Add in British losses, and all the other Tanks in the same period and it rises to ~15,000 Allied Tanks of all types destroyed.

      That should tell you just how bad the Sherman is and is backed by numerous Veterans accounts.

      Fact is the Allied attacks were often tactical failures necessitating massive artillery barrages and airstrikes to wear the Germans down enough to advance. This shot Allied Logistical Needs through the roof and slowed their advance down dramatically.

      In 1944, the Sherman either needed a 90mm gun slapped on or be replaced by the Pershing.

       
  18. Pat Boyle says:

    Sorry about all the typos. This software makes editing difficult.

     
  19. Pat Boyle says:

    Last year around this time there was a spirited and long winded discussion of the Sherman tank and the Panthers and Tigers. On reviewing these posts i see that I contributed quiet enough. So I have only a few remarks.

    Where did all of this come from? Why after so much time has past was the Sherman again in the news?

    It seems to all stem from some videos that aired on the History Channel. At one time the History Channel broadcast shows on history. But then they changed focus. They now have shows about alien abductions, UFOs and Ancient Astronauts. They dropped real history and moved to crap history. I suspect that the intemperate and sensational video they did about the Sherman started this controversy - that and the the new tank battle gaming software.

    This last year I thought of two questions; why not just steal the German Kwk 40 gun and why not restore the Ford V-12?

    The Sherman was roughly comparable to the Panzer IV. The Sherman had a number of advantages and better armor but the Nazi machine had a much superior gun, The Sherman's French 75mm gun was very good but by 1943 it was underpowered. One way around this was to rely on the 3 inch anti-aircraft gun as was done in the M-10 Tank Destroyer. The M-19 is essentially just a Sherman with degraded armor and the 3 inch gun.

    The 3 inch gun had more punch than the French 75 and could deal with German armor better, The Nazi Kwk 40 had comparable power and weighed much less. It was a better gun. Why didn't we just steal the design?

    We spent years fooling withe the 76 mm gun but the German gun was always better. We must have had captured German tank guns. We used Bofors and other foreign designs under license. Why not the superior German designs?

    My second question is why we waited so long to restore the Ford engine to its original configuration? The Ford V-12 airplane engine was in a sense a copy of the British Merlin engine. When whomever decided not to develop our own V-12 for fighters like the P-51 the Ford engine was detuned and it's supercharger removed and made into tank engine. They also shorten it by removing four cylinders. It became a V-8.

    A problem the British had had was that they lacked an appropriate tank engine. Then they hit on the happy improvisation of using the Merlin engines from downed Spitfires and Hurricanes. They stripped of the superchargers and stuck them in tanks as naturally aspired v-12s with about 650 bhp.

    We did much the same but we also cut down the aero v-12 to a V-8. Later when we need more power for the M-26 Pershing we could have - I would have thought - just restored the V-8 to its original V-12 configuration.

    By the time these issues were being discussed, we had already won the war. The A Bomb was meant for Berlin not Hiroshima. When the M-26 made it to Europe the Nazis only had a few months left. Did we not utilize all our assets in those final days?

     
  20. Patrick L Boyle says:

    After all this commentary you would think there would be nothing more to say. I have been posting on this topic here for three years. But I have had another thought.

    Much of what the Nazi fans says about the Sherman is true. By 1944 and 1945 the Sherman looks obsolete. On the Eastern Front the Soviets had been in a technology war with the Nazis. The IS2 was big and powerful and could stand up to the Tiger I and II. But the US sat out most of that arms race and continued to field the older, smaller Sherman design. Yet the Sherman did quite well in the final months of the war. How could that be? Their armor was thinner and their gun was weaker. The Panther was just as mobile as the much smaller and lighter Sherman.

    Why did we win? How was it even possible that this older design could endure on the late war battlefield?

    The Nazi lovers repeat the calumny that it took five Shermans to defeat one Panther. That's true in a sense. At Normandy we the allies did indeed have five times as many armored vehicles as the defending Germans. So in many circumstances there could well be five Shermans available to confront one Panther. How would they go about it. The Nazi fan boys like to point out that the Sherman 46mm gun could not penetrate
    a Panther's or Tiger's frontal armor. So what?

    I'm sure every American of British tanker knew that. I can't remember seeing and photos of dead Panthers with smiling American GIs pointing to shell holes punched in their frontal armor by Shermans. If it happened at all it must have been rare.

    What did the Sherman drivers do? They went around and shot at the Panther's side. Any Sherman could take out any Panther at normal combat ranges with a side shot. The Sherman's spread out and surrounded the individual Panthers. One of them would would likely have a side or back shot. You can see much the same thing on your nightly TV animal documentary. The Lion is the king of the beasts yet they are killed by packs of hyenas or even jackels.

    The Sherman had some advantages throughout the war. It had a faster traverse and a higher firing rate. It had an early form of stabilization. Maybe you don't think that's enough. If so you will need to account for the Sherman's superior duel statistics to the Panther in some other way. When they met at Normandy, Arracort and in the Ardenne - more Panthers died than did Shermans.

    Since tanks do not fight alone but with a myriad of support equipment if you want to compare two pieces of military equipment you must also compare the personnel, the repair equipment, the trucks, and the aircraft flying over. You should also consider the fuel and lubricants. If you take all those into account the failure of the Panther and the Tiger seems completely understandable.

    The American system overwhelmed the Nazi system. We made these would be world conquerors appear as they really were, as nasty fools who antagonized more capable nations.

     
  21. john fisk says:

    The Sherman was not a perfect tank but it was an appropriate tank for the global task set for it. It's purpose was to give infantry mobile protected fire support. Incidentally it had to defend itself against other tanks and anti tank weapons.

    The 75mm gun did the principal task well. It did the defence against anti tank weapons well. All using HE fire. The same HE that the British changed to for their QF 75mm guns. In the incidental task of defending against enemy armour it was passable against the majority PzIV class but not perfect. It was poor against the heavier PzV/VI/VII class, hence the British addition of anti tank 17 Pounder Fireflies and the US addition of 76mm Shermans into the 75mm units as anti tank specialists and using the specialist anti tank TDs . Overall it was suitable for the task it was to do. Yes it was less armoured than a PzVI but more armour means more weight which affects it's tactical mobility and reliability. It then becomes a specialist tank or a heavy tank. The Sherman was a sound medium tank suitable (if not always perfect) to carry out all tank tasks and be churned out in such number that production well exceeded demand in 1944 and be able to travel across oceans, roads and bridges in all theatres with no changes to existing shipping/field engineering equipment.

    An interesting (but not statistically significant) take on the Sherman comes from an old Ukrainian acquaintance who was a tank commander in the Red Army from 1942 to 45 and went all way to Berlin. He preferred the Valentine to either the Sherman or T34. He liked it being tiny and quiet which allowed him to hide and/or creep around German tanks and anti tank guns. The Sherman being 'much too tall' and the T34 'much too noisy'.

     
  22. Patrick L Boyle says:

    There is a simple reason why there is this continuing discussion of Shermans versus the big German Cat tanks. It is because it is a stupid comparison. The correct and meaningful comparison would be of the American tank force versus the German tank force, not just the one component in those - the tanks. The real world opposition of the American tank forces against the German is not controversial. We know that because in the real world we won and the Germans lost. Roll back the history and replay the confrontation in your time machine again as many times as you might like and the Sherman based tank force would always win.

    To say that the Panther was a better tank than a Sherman isn't wrong it's just irrelevant. It's like saying my Yugo is better than your S Class Mercedes because the Yugo has a better water pump. The relevant unit of comparison is the whole not a single component.

    The Nazis made mistakes. They focused on the power of tank's main gun and the thickness of its frontal armor. These are very important factors in a tank on tank duel. But in the tiny number of such duels in a world wide conflict they don't mean much. I happen to have bought a number of the little Osprey tank duel books - it's a weakness I have. These books record real authenticated conflicts. Alas these books are always disappointing - lots of money for not very many pages and almost no duels. My foolishness.

    We know about the real conflict and the real actors. The Shermans broke out of the bocage at Normandy because of carpet bombing from B-17s and B-24s. We had four engine bombers the Nazis didn't. Our relevant tank force had a heavy bomber air component that at certain points in the conflict was critical. Another critical area was the factories. Our factories were just better. America had adopted mass production with interchangeable parts in the factories that created our tanks. The Germans (and the British) hadn't gotten that far yet. Today we think of a BMW, Porsche, or Mercedes as a miracle of mechanical excellence. But in WWII the best automotive machines were made by Ford, Chrysler and GM. You can see it the availability statistics of the various tanks. The Tigers and Panthers were always unreliable. The factories that made the tanks and the processes in those factories were also part of the relevant tank forces that were in conflict.

    So our well made little tanks beat the snot out of the shoddily made big Nazi tanks.

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      I forget who I heard say that all people go through three phases of Sherman opinion:

      1. Sherman was a death trap.
        This position is expressed most articulately by Belton Cooper, author of the book "Death Traps", who had to deal with repairing disabled Shermans during WW2. It is very easy to see that the German cats outclassed the Sherman in armor and armarment.
      2. The Sherman was a logistical and manufacturing miracle.
        These folks have now learned that the German cats have their issues with reliability, low production rate, and the problems presented by large size. They see that the Sherman used an existing aircraft engine, automotive electronics, and automotive production lines to create a tank that could be transported in mass quantities using existing infrastructure to every war theater. It also had the virtue of being repairable near the battlefield because transport back to the US was not practical.
      3. The Sherman design was focused on playing its role in the entire US Army war-fighting system.
        It did not function alone on the battlefield, but was integrated part of an entire war-fighting system including anti-tank guns, tank destroyers, close-air support, and some of the best artillery fire-control in the world. It was a good tank that could be delivered to any battlefield using existing infrastructure in a timely fashion and in sufficient quantity to make a difference.

      mark

       
  23. Patrick L Boyle says:

    Yes, that's a good summary but I think there was probably a phase before Cooper. I'm not completely sure of this, but my impression is that at first in the celebratory atmosphere after the defeat of the Nazis the popular judgement was very favorable towards the Sherman. The Cooper book sold well because it was a presented as a debunking exercise. He could also draw attention to all the testimony of veterans that at Normandy in 1944 the ubiquitous Sherman was clearly a whole technical generation behind the big Nazi cats.

    It's something like the degeneration of the History channel. At first the History channel presented actual history but soon in an effort to get more viewers they started showing debunking video stories. One of these was the big video on Cooper's take on the Sherman. Now they no longer show history at all. They now show stories about UFOs, Aliens, Ancient Aliens, and Atlantis. Fortunately military history has escaped this fate. This blog is one of the factors that has helped bring some sanity to these topics. Thanks.

    I don't remember if any posters have drawn attention to the issue of oil and gasoline. The Sherman had much better gas mileage than the Panther. This sounds like a silly point but in recent years many historians have focused on oil as a major factor for our defeat of Germany. Oil - or rather the lack of oil - was a major factor in such arenas such as the halt of Patton's drive towards the Rhine, the competitiveness of the Spitfire in the Battle of Britain, the training hours available to Nazi pilots and tank drivers, and the inability of the Germans to deploy all of their available tanks in the Battle of the Bulge. We had the oil and the medium sized Sherman had the best mileage. With very little natural oil of its own Germany maybe they should have adopted a strategy made more, smaller tanks rather than fewer, larger gas guzzlers.

     

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