Medium/Heavy Tank M26 Pershing

U.S.A. (1944)
Medium/Heavy Tank – 2,212 Built

A Bit Late for WWII

The M26 Pershing descended from a long series of medium and heavy tank prototypes, dating back from 1936. During the war, heavy tank development had been long delayed or given low priority since the US Army, USMC and Allied forces required a mass-built, good-all-around medium tank, which took the shape of the Medium M4 Sherman.

By 1944, the High Command was aware of the limitation of the M4 when facing German tanks. By mid-1944, both the British and US had undertaken upgrades in armor and guns on the Sherman, and developed tank-hunters instead of mass-producing a brand new model. However, by the fall of 1944, these stopgap measures proved insufficient, and the innovative M26 was eventually pushed forward for production. But it was a bit too late. The Pershing saw little combat and mostly soldiered during the Cold War, starting with Korea. At last, the crews had the ideal tank to deal with German armor, but historians and authors still debate about the causes of such delays. Could the Pershing have been a game changer if introduced earlier?

T20 Prototype (1942)

Development of the T20 Medium Tank started as an upgrade over the M4 in 1942. This new tank had common features with earlier models, notably the characteristic suspension (HVSS) bogies, roadwheels, return rollers, drive sprockets and idlers. By May 1942, a mock-up of the T20 had been already produced. U.S. Army Ordnance also ordered the development of the M6 heavy tank, which would prove a dead end. The main feature of the T20 was the lower silhouette and more compact hull, allowed by the availability of the new Ford GAN V-8 combined with a rear transmission and rear sprocket drive layout.

This engine was an early attempt to produce a V12 with similar layout and performances to the Rolls Royce Merlin, but development was stopped and the engine was turned into a smaller V8. Other improvements included a sturdier horizontal volute spring suspension (HVSS), a longer barrel version of the 75 mm (2.95 in) (M1A1), and 76.2 mm (3 in) front armor. The weight and width were very similar to the M4, allowing transportation in similar conditions. However, the T20 also pioneered the Torqmatic transmission, which proved highly problematic during trials.

T22 and T23 Prototypes

Problems with the Torqmatic dictated a return to the M4 transmission, leading to the T22. Variants of this medium tank also tested an autoloader, thus reducing the turret crew to just two.

T-23 at Aberdeen

In 1943, the need to replace the M4 was not apparent, and the U.S. Army Ordnance decided to test several electrical systems on the next T23 Medium Tank, mainly the transmission. These entered service but, because of maintenance and supply problems, only operated on U.S. soil for the duration of the war, mainly for training purposes.

T23 prototype with electrical transmission

The T25 and T26

The T25 was a new design, up-armored and up-gunned. This was done as it was clear, after the first encounters with German upgraded Panzer IVs, Panthers and Tigers, that the M4 was less up to the task than previously thought. The debate was heated, but finally, a breach opened and clear-cut decisions were taken after the reports came from Normandy. Meanwhile, a series of T25s was built, inaugurating a new, far larger cast turret derived from the one on the T23, in order to accommodate a 90 mm (3.54 in) gun.

T25 prototype

The T26 added upgraded armor to the mix, with a new 102 mm (4 in) thick glacis and reinforced hull. Their overall weight rose to 36 tonnes (40 short tons), up into the category of “heavy tanks”.

Performance decreased, and triggered reliability and maintenance issues, as their engine and transmission were not designed to cope with the additional stress. The T25 displayed VVSS suspensions while the T26 used the final torsion bar system retained on the M26. The T26E1 was the prototype upon which the upgraded production version T26E3 was based on. After a small pre-series, this was standardized as the M26.

M26 Design

M26 Pershing 4-view drawing

Compared to the Sherman and previous models, the Pershing was revolutionary. The new Wright engine and short transmission gave it a low profile, as opposed to the Sherman. The glacis plate was one of the thickest ever fitted on an American tank to that point. The torsion bar system conferred a noticeably better ride and was leagues ahead of the tractor-based VVSS, as well as simpler than the HVSS. The large tracks fitted with soft steel shoes contributed to lowering the ground pressure and giving better grip on soft terrain. Above them, two wide mudguards mounted large storage bins for tooling, spares and equipment.

The drivetrain, modeled and tested on the T26, counted six pairs of rubberized roadwheels, each fitted on its own wheelarm. They were connected to the torsion bars by the way of an eclectic spindle, and each was also connected to a bumpstop, which limited the motion of the arm. Three out of the six received extra shock absorbers. There was also one idler (identical to the roadwheels) at the front and one sprocket at the rear, on each side.

The idlers could be precisely adjusted to the track thanks to a large notch. This meant that the idler could be displaced forward or backward and thus change the track tension. There were also five return rollers. The tracks were a new model, but rather classic in appearance, each link being articulated with wedge bolts and having a two-piece center guide. These were also rubberized.

Construction called for large cast sections, front and rear, attached to the hull sides and welded together. Another cast section went across the engine deck for better strength. There was an infantry telephone fitted on the back panel of the engine compartment, inside an armored box. Infantrymen could then communicate with the tank, for close support, even in the midst of battle.

The engine compartment was covered by eight armored grids, four openings total, only accessible when the turret was turned to the side. The two rearward ones granted access to the engine, while the two forward ones allowed access to the left and right fuel tanks, the right being shorter to make room for the auxiliary engine and electric generator. There was also a semi-automatic fire extinguishing system. Also on the engine deck was located the radiator filler cap and gun travel lock. The transmission had three speeds forward and one reverse. The differential operated three drumbrakes on each side.

The M36 commander’s cupola had a one piece hatch and six direct vision prisms made of thick bulletproof glass, inserted inside the cupola bulge. In practice, the hatch had the tendency to jump loose and a field experiment later passed into general practice consisted of drilling holes into it. The top of the hatch mounted a periscope and the entire structure moved freely around a fixed azimuth scale. When inside, the commander had a lever for traversing the turret left or right. Just behind him was mounted the SCR 5-28 radio set. Due to its lengthwise position, a mirror allowed the commander to use the commands at hand. The gunner had an M10 periscope, with x6 magnification, and to its left was an M71 auxiliary telescope with x4 magnification.

The M3 90 mm (3.54 in) gun was power traversed, with a joystick controlling elevation and a pump for manual traverse. The gun also had an elevation handle and, just behind it, a manual trigger, in case of failure of the electrical fire system. There was also a gear change lever, for choosing between the manual or hydraulic options for traverse. At a lower position was found the manual traverse lock, which was used when the turret was reversed and gun lowered and attached for transportation. The gun had a classic percussion fire system and manual breech. The loader also fired the cal.30 (7.62 mm) coaxial machine gun, and had his own vision system. Just left of him were the ready racks, storing ten rounds of various types for immediate use. Additional stowage inside six floor compartments was used. He also had a pistol port.

The driver and assistant driver both had sprung suspended seats and single-piece hatches. The driver had a rotatable periscope, immediate access to the semi-automatic fire extinguisher to his left and a brake release. The instrument panel counted (in order) five circuit breakers, a fuel gauge, a lever for fuel tank selector, electrical starter, electrical gauge, tachometer, personal heater, differential settings, fuel cut-off emergency button, panel light trigger, main lights, speedometer, oil pressure & engine temperature gauges, as well as several lamp indicators.

The two brake levers had no neutral positions. The turning radius was about 20 feet (6 m). The assistant driver was in charge of the bow machine-gun, a ball-mount cal.30 (7.62 mm), and had a complete set of driving levers if needed to replace the driver, and had a simple hatch periscope which allowed him to see his machine-gun tracers. The turret roof also housed, near to the commander cupola, a multi-purpose cal.50 (12.7 mm) heavy machine gun. Ammunition racks for it and the coaxial cal.30 were found inside the turret rear cast “basket”.

Production and Controversy

It is a known fact that the actual production of the T26E3 preseries, which was standardized in March as the M26, only began in November 1944 at the Fischer Tank Arsenal. Only ten were built this first month. Then it raised to 32 in December and gained momentum in January 1945, with 70 vehicles and 132 in February. Added to this, the Detroit Tank Arsenal also joined this effort, releasing some additional tanks in March 1945. From then, around 200 left both factories each month. In total about 2212 vehicles were built, some after WW2. Although months were needed to train crews and maintenance teams, the first real operations began in western Germany in February-March 1945.

The controversy came with the legitimate question about the well-documented inefficiency of the M4 Sherman against German armor after 1944, correlated with the fact that the US Army failed to field a new tank model in time, since the T26 was delayed for so long. Several historians, like Richard P. Hunnicut, Georges Forty and Steven S. Zaloga specifically pointed to the responsibility of the ground forces head, General Lesley McNair, in this matter of fact. Depending on the these opinions, several factors contributed to these delays:

-The development of tank destroyers alongside regular M4s and based on the same chassis (McNair himself developed and strongly supported this doctrine) or the introduction of improved M4s (the 1944 “76” versions).
-The need to have a streamlined and simplified line of supply. Most US tanks at that time were M4s or based on the M4 chassis, sharing the same components. Adding to this a brand new set of parts and a heavier, untested tank, would have imposed many changes and perhaps jeopardized such 3000 miles long (4800 km) supply lines, which became essential from D-Day on.

A state of complacency after the introduction of the M4, as it was seen as superior to German tanks in 1942 and still a match in 1943. Many officers, including Patton himself, were quite happy with the high mobility and reliability of this model, and opposed the introduction of a new heavy type, which was seen as unnecessary. Even when the Tiger and Panther were encountered in limited numbers, the order to study a new model was not given, and instead time was “wasted” on studying a new electric transmission. Only after Normandy were some efforts made to develop a new tank from the T25.

-From Zaloga’s point of view, there was a clear opposition to the development of the T26, only lifted when General Marshall, supported by Eisenhower, overruled McNair in December 1943 and renewed the project, although it proceeded quite slowly. Hunnicut underlines the ordnance requested 500 vehicles of each model in development then, the T23, T25E1 and T26E1, because of contradictory wishes. The Army Ground Forces systematically objected to the 90 mm (3.54 in) armed new heavy tank, while the Armored Forces branch wanted the 90 mm (3.54 in) to be mounted on the Sherman.

The Super Pershing & T26E4

The first combat experience showed that the M26 still fell short on firepower and protection when facing the formidable German Tiger II. Because of this, experiments were carried out with the longer and more powerful T15 gun. The first vehicle, based on the first T26E1-1 vehicle, was shipped to Europe, where it was uparmored and saw limited combat, being now commonly known as the “Super Pershing”. Another T26E4 prototype and 25 “serial” vehicles followed, with slight differences.

Super Pershing, 1945

The M26A1

This modified version came into production after the war and most Pershings in service were upgraded to this standard. It replaced the M3 with the new M3A1 gun, characterized by a more efficient bore evacuator and single-baffle muzzle brake. The M26A1s were produced and modified at Grand Blanc Tank Arsenal (1190 M26A1s in all). They cost $81,324 apiece. M26A1s saw action in Korea.

Active service

Europe

The Army Ground Forces wanted to delay full production until the new T26E3 was battle-proven. So the Zebra Mission was mounted by the Armored Forces Research and Development unit, led by General Gladeon Barnes in January 1945. Twenty vehicles of the first batch were sent in Western Europe, landing at the Belgian port of Antwerp. They would be the only Pershings to see combat in World War Two, spread between the 3rd and 9th Armored Divisions, part of the First Army, although some 310 would be shipped to Europe until V-day. They drew their first blood in late February 1945 in the Roer river sector. A famous duel took place in March at Köln (Cologne). Four T26E3s were also seen in action during the “mad dash” to the bridge at Remagen, providing support, but not crossing the fragile bridge for days. Instead, these heavyweights crossed the Rhine on barges.

After the war, M26s were grouped into the 1st Infantry Division, stationed in Europe as a reserve, following the events of the summer of 1947. The “Big Red One” counted 123 M26s in three regimental and one divisional tank battalions. In the summer of 1951, with the NATO reinforcement program, three more infantry divisions were stationed in West Germany, and accepted mostly battle-proven M26s retired from Korea. However, by 1952-53, these were phased out gradually in favor of the M47 Patton.

The Belgian Army inherited the bulk of these, including many reconditioned M26A1s from USA, for a total of 423 Pershings, leased for free as part of the Mutual Defence Assistance Program. These served in three Régiments de Guides, three Régiments de Lanciers and three Batallions de Chars Lourds. These were also phased out and replaced by the M47 Patton, only two units retaining them by 1961. They were retired from service in 1969. By 1952-53, France and Italy also benefited from the same program and were given M26s. France swapped them soon after for M47s, while Italy retained them operationally until 1963.

Belgian M26 at the Brussels Army museum

The Pacific

While the heavy fighting at Okinawa raised concerns about the losses taken by M4s, it was eventually decided to send a shipment of 12 M26s, departing on May, 31. They landed at Naha beach on the 4th of August. However, they arrived too late as the island was nearly secured.

Korea

The bulk of the M26 (and M26A1) force saw action during the Korean war, from 1950 to 1953. The first units to be called were the four infantry division stationed in Japan, only counting a few M24 Chaffees and howitzer support models. The M24s were quickly found no match for the numerous T-34/85s fielded then by the North Koreans. However, three M26s were found in storage at the Tokyo US Army ordnance depot, and were quickly brought back in service with fortune-made fanbelts. They were formed into a provisional tank platoon by Lieutnant Samuel Fowler. They were deployed in mid-July, first seeing action when defending Chinju. However, their engines overheated and died out in the process. By the end of July 1950, more divisions were sent, but still counting mostly medium tanks, M4s of the latest types. Many M26s were hastily reconditioned and shipped. By the end of the year, some 305 Pershings managed to arrive in Korea.

M26 Pershing in Korea, 1952

After November 1950, however, most of the tank to tank battles were already spent, and North Korean T-34s became rarer. A 1954 survey showed that the M4A3s scored the highest kills (50% because of their large availability), followed by the Pershing (32%) and the M46 (only 10%). However, the kill/loss ratio was clearly favorable to the second and especially for the third, as the M26 found no difficulty getting through the T-34s armor at any ranges, well helped by the largely available HVAP ammunition, while its armor stood well against the T-34’s 85 mm (3.35 in) gun. In February 1951, Chinese forces deployed considerable numbers of T-34/85s, but these were widely spread between infantry divisions for close support. The same year the M46 Patton, the upgraded version of the M26, gradually replaced the Pershing, as it was found unable to display sufficient mobility on the mountainous terrain of Korea.

Starting a Dynasty: The Patton Series (1947-1960)

Too late for World War Two, but also not mobile enough for Korea, produced in small quantities related to other models from the same time frame, the Pershing seemed to have been a stopgap model, bound for history’s dark corners. However, it technically started a brand new generation of US Cold War tanks, sharing the same revolutionary suspension system, roomy turret and low-profile hull, better known collectively as the “Pattons”. A dynasty which lasted well into the 90s, when the last modernized M60s in service came to retirement. Many are still found in frontline units all around the world.

M26 Links & Resources

The M26 Pershing on Wikipedia
The M26 on WWIIVehicles

M26 Pershing Specifications

Dimensions (L-w-H) 28’4” x 11’6” x 9’1.5”
8.64 x 3.51 x 2.78 m
Total weight, battle ready 46 tons (47.7 long tonnes)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, assistant driver, loader)
Propulsion Ford GAF 8 cyl. gasoline, 450-500 hp (340-370 kW)
Maximum speed 22 mph (35 km/h) on road
Suspensions Individual torsion arms with bumper springs and shock absorbers
Range 160 km (100 mi)
Armament 90 mm (2.95 in) gun M3, 70 rounds
cal.50 M2Hb (12.7 mm), 550 rounds
2xcal.30 (7.62 mm) M1919A4, 5000 rounds
Armor Glacis front 100 mm (3.94 in), sides 75 mm (2.95 in), turret 76 mm (3 in)
Production (all combined) 2212

Cargo Carrier M29 Weasel

U.S.A. (1942)
Cargo Carrier – 15,892 Built

In 1942, the American Studebaker company based in South Bend, Indiana, famed for their luxury automobiles, answered a call for an armored vehicle capable of traversing deep Norwegian snow drifts for special forces operations. The vehicle became the M29 Weasel and went on to be a popular universal vehicle outside of its original intended use, akin to the British Universal Carrier. The M29 could traverse the hardest of terrains where wheeled vehicles could not go and saw service through the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and saw use in the civilian sector.

An M29 named ‘Snookie’, date and location unknown. Photo: www.studebaker-weasel.com

Background

The idea for the Weasel came from the British Inventor Geoffrey Pyke, a man famed for his unorthodox methods. His most famous invention was Pykrete, a material that would’ve been used for the Habbakuk iceberg aircraft carrier. Pyke had long planned for Commando assaults on German power plants and industrial areas in Norway and also planned actions to interrupt the Nazi atomic weapons program in Operation Plough. Operation Plough is very much the origin of the Weasel. Pike called for a small, lightweight and fast vehicle, able to transport small teams of men across deep snow to take them deep into enemy territory.


The T15 Prototype in testing. Photo: www.studebaker-weasel.com

Design

The proposed design was designated T15, with the finalized design receiving T24. It was soon accepted and became the M29, a simple vehicle consisting of little more than a box on tracks. The Studebaker company would go on to build almost 16,000 M29s. Key elements of its design required that it be air-transportable, able to withstand the impact of a parachute drop, and able to carry enough supplies for a small commando team. It was powered by a 70 hp Studebaker Model 6-170 Champion 6-cylinder engine which propelled the vehicle to 36 mph (58 km/h), a speed it could sustain over most terrain types.

Suspension for the M29 consisted of rear mounted drive wheels (and transmission) with idlers in the front that were lower, giving the running gear the appearance of leaning forward. It featured four, two-wheeled bogies on each side, with two track return rollers. It had wide tracks from 15″ (380 mm) to 20″ (510 mm). This gave the Weasel a very low ground pressure of just 1.9 psi (Pounds Per Square Inch)a benefit in crossing soft ground. The tracks consisted of long metal plates connected by inner rubber bands, with a total of four bands per track, two on the outer edge and two in the center with a center guide horn. The bogie wheels ran on the center bands and. the outer face of the tracks featured two rubber blocks per link for grip on road surfaces.

A Weasel freeing a Willys Jeep from thick mud.

The M29 was operated by one driver and could carry three passengers. The driver was positioned in the front left with the engine compartment to his right and a row of three seats in the rear for the passengers. Though officially an unarmed vehicle, Browning M1919 .30 cal or .50 cal M2HB Machine Guns were often mounted for some form of offensive/defensive capability.

Variants

M29C Water Weasel

The M29C was the main variant of the Weasel. The M29 was already partly amphibious, able to traverse shallow and calm waters such as rivers and streams, but could not operate in rough, sea like waters. The M29C amended this issue, with the addition of buoyancy aids in the rear of the hull as well as two rudders. Removable pontoons were also added to the front and rear and.changes were made to the treads of the track links to allow it to propel itself in water, although it was very slow. This still didn’t make the M29 capable of seaborne amphibious landings, but allowed to be more stable in deeper or slightly rougher inland waters.

The M29C Water Weasel during testing.

M29/M29C Type A, B and C

These variants were all virtually unchanged from the standard M29/M29C, the only difference being that these were armed versions. The Type A featured a center-mounted 75mm M20 recoilless rifle. The Type B featured a rear-mounted 75mm Recoilless Rifle. The Type C featured a center-mounted 37mm Gun M3, the same gun used in the M3/M5 Stuart Light Tanks.

A Water Weasel armed with a 75mm Recoiless Rifle. Photo: TankPorn of Reddit

WW2 Service

The Norwegian mission that the M29 was designed for never took place. This did not mean that time had been wasted on the vehicle, as it soon found use in multiple roles, in multiple theaters, and by multiple countries.

An American Weasel in Normandy, 1944. Photo:WW2 in Color

The United States used the vehicle extensively during World War Two. It was used in Italy, the Western Front, and even in the Pacific. It saw action during the Normandy landings, St. Lo, and the Battle of the Bulge. It proved its usefulness at the engagements on the Ruhr and Rhine, where it was able to cross the thick, sticky river mud. In the Pacific, it was used by the United States Marine Corps (USMC) at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where it proved capable of crossing loose sand, and the harsh tropical island terrain where the Marine Corps’ jeeps wouldn’t dare venture.

The use of the M29 Weasel as a universal vehicle soon became clear to the Americans. They used it regularly as a light troop carrier and cargo hauler, and also as a mobile command center, ambulance, and to lay telegraph wires. One of its major attributes was its ability to cross minefields, as its low-ground pressure was often not enough to trigger the anti-tank mines. The ground pressure was still more than enough to trigger anti personnel mines which could easily split a rubber track.

An M29C in an ambulance role on the Rhine.

Service in the Commonwealth

The British and Canadian armies also used the Weasel in World War Two. Supplementing a number of LVT Buffalos, M29C Water Weasels of the 79th Armored Division were used by Commando troops in the Walcheren Operation. The 79th also used a number of the standard M29s to clear mines and other defensive devices.The Canadians made use of the Weasel’s semi-amphibious nature in their engagements in the flooded estuaries of Antwerp in 1944, and would go on to serve them through the Netherlands and into Germany.

After WW2

The Weasel remained in service after the Second World War. In 1946, there was a plan for the US Army to use the Weasel to rescue the victims of the C-53 Skytrooper crash on the Gauli Glacier but the Swiss Air Force managed to rescue the victims first. With the US Army, they would go on to serve in the Korean War.

French M29C in Vietnam.

In 1947, the French Army used the M29 in the First Vietnam war, where the 1er Régiment Étrangers de Cavalerie were equipped with the M29C variant. They armed them with multiple types of weapons, from the Chatellerault M1924/29 and Browning M1919 machine guns to 57mm recoilless rifles. The M29 would remain in service with French mountain troops and Gendarmerie as late as 1970.

Civilian Use

With a large surplus supply, the United States sold off large quantities of the M29 to various countries, including Sweden, France and Norway. Many Weasels served in scientific arctic expeditions, but their most famous use in civilian hands was at the 1960 Olympic Winter Games at Squaw Valley, California, USA.

The Automotive Company, Consolidated, sought to update the Weasel in 1960. They designed the ‘Sno T’rrain,” which was two Weasel chassis coupled together with fully enclosed canopies.

Today, there is a large community of Weasel collectors and restorers. As such, there are many running examples in private collections world wide.

Cargo Carrier M29 Weasel

Dimensions (L-W-H) 10′ 6” in x 5′ x 4′ 3”
(3.20 x 1.5 x 1.80 m)
Total weight 1.8 tons
Crew 1 driver, 3 passengers
Propulsion Studebaker Model 6-170 Champion 6-cylinder, 70hp
Speed (road) 36 mph (58 km/h)
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Links, Resources & Further Reading

The M29 on Military Factory
www.m29cweasel.com
www.studebaker-weasel.com

Churchill Crocodile

United Kingdom (1944)
Flamethrowing tank – ~800 built

A Crocodile demonstrates it’s fiery breath

Few Allied weapons struck fear into the hearts of the German infantrymen more than the fearsome Churchill Crocodile. Built on the chassis of the ever reliable Churchill Infantry Tank, the Crocodile flamethrower was one of the most deadly weapons in the British Army’s arsenal as they fought through Europe during the latter stages of the Second World War.

“And if anyone wants to harm them, fire issues forth from their mouths and devours their enemies; and if anyone should want to harm them, in this manner he must be killed.”

– John the Evangelist, Book of Revelation 11:5

British Flamethrowing Tanks

During the early stages of World War 2, the British saw the flamethrower tank as a crucial weapon to defeat the predicted fortifications of a Europe that would once more be locked in a stalemated war. Prior to the work on the adoption of the Churchill, various other vehicles had been tested with flame equipment. These included the Universal Carrier, Valentine and even unarmored lorries.

The first attempt at turning a Churchill into a flamethrower tank came in 1942 in the shape of the Churchill Oke, named after Major J. M. Oke who designed the conversion. Prior to the upcoming raid on Dieppe, Major J.M. Oke devised a flame-throwing modification, applied to three prototype vehicles, named “Boar”, “Beetle” and “Bull”. A pipe apparatus, with the fuel tank fitted at the rear, was linked to the front left hull Ronson flame projector, leaving the right-hand side hull machine-gun unobstructed. The Oke was only produced in limited numbers before being superseded by the Crocodile, though the three test vehicles were part of the first wave at Dieppe.

“Tintagel” of the 48th Royal Tank Regiment fitted out as an “Oke”. This tank was renamed Boar before it went ashore at Dieppe with the Canadian 14th Army Tank Regiment. Photo: Osprey Publishing

Preacher of Fire and Brimstone

The Churchill Crocodile was one of the famous “Hobart’s Funnies”, named, of course, after Major General Percy C. S. Hobart. Along with the Petard Mortar armed AVRE, the Crocodile’s development was a highly confidential endeavor. So much so that great lengths would be taken to destroy disabled Crocodiles in the field to prevent capture.

The Churchill chassis used was that of the Mk.VII, though some early versions were based on the Mk.IV. The tanks kept their standard weaponry. This included the Ordnance Quick-Firing 75 mm (2.95 in) gun and coaxial 7.92 mm (0.31 in) BESA machine gun. Crocodiles based on the Mk.IV still carried the Ordnance Quick-Firing 6-Pounder (57 mm/2.24 in). The major difference from the original vehicles, of course, was the flamethrower equipment.

The Crocodile’s flamethrower system – Photo: Haynes Publishing/Nigel Montgomery

The flamethrowing nozzle was mounted in place of the Churchill’s regular hull machine gun. A pipe ran from this through an opening in the hull floor to a coupling on the rear of the vehicle officially known as “The Link”. Attached to this was a wheeled trailer weighing 6.5 tons with armor up to 12 mm (0.47 in) thick. “The Link” was made up of 3 articulated joints which allowed it to move up, down, left or right and swivel on the horizontal axis to allow it to navigate rough terrain. The trailer carried 400 gallons of flamethrower liquid and 5 compressed bottles of nitrogen (N₂) gas and could be jettisoned from inside the tank.

The first wave of vehicles was nearing completion by October 1943. By the end of the production run, around 800 Crocodiles had been built or converted to the standard.

Loading of the fuel trailer. The fuel is poured in by hand on the left. The nitrogen gas bottles are loaded into the rear on the right -Photo: Osprey Publishing

Flame On

Following the depression of the trigger, the nitrogen gas would propel the flammable liquid through the piping and out of the nozzle at 4 gallons a second. The liquid was ignited by an electrical spark at the tip of the nozzle. The thrower could spray to a maximum distance of 150 yards (140 m), though 80 yards (75 m) was more realistic in combat circumstances. The nitrogen would provide pressure for up to 80 one-second bursts. Longer bursts were optional. As well as being lit at the nozzle, the liquid could be sprayed on “cold” and then ignited by a subsequent lit burst.

The Crocodile’s flame projector. Photo: Imperial War Museum. H37937.

WW2 Service

The Crocodile saw widespread service during the Allied push through Italy and North-West Europe. 13th Troop, C Squadron of the 141st Regiment Royal Armoured Corps (The Buffs, Royal East Kent Regiment) put their Crocodiles to bare on the first day of the Normandy invasion.

Churchill Crocodile “Stallion” of A Squadron, 141st Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps (The Buffs, Royal East Kent Regiment). Photo: Tauranga Memories

 

The 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry and the 7th Royal Tank Regiment used them as well. Members of the 7th RTR would famously have their photograph taken on a Crocodile outside of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, which they helped to liberate. Crocodiles would go on to assist the U.S. Army in a number of engagements, such as at the Normandy bocage and the Battle for Brest. They would also fight alongside them in the Anglo-American assault on Geilenkirchen, known as “Operation Clipper”. Crocodiles supported the 53rd Welch Division in their assault on s’Hertogenbosch in the October of 1944. In Italy, the Crocodiles saw action with the 25th Armoured Assault Brigade.

In these actions listed above, the Crocodile would frequently operate in conjunction with the Petard mortar armed Churchill AVRE. More often than not, the psychological effect of the vehicles would be enough to beat the foe. One can only imagine the dread felt by the Germans who were being stared down by the mortar of the AVRE and the flaming nozzle of the Crocodile.

A Crocodile lies disabled among 2 M4 Shermans. The tanks, knocked out during the Assault on Boulogne, are from the 3rd Canadian Division – Photo: 3rdweal of Reddit

When facing a stubborn enemy bunker or position, the Crocodile would lay some flame in visual range to showcase its deadly breath. Should the position continue to stand, the accompanying AVRE would crack it open with a mortar round. The Crocodile would then proceed to cover the breached area in the flaming liquid which would then flow into the position.

The success of the Crocodile was also its curse. Once the German army learned how to identify a Crocodile, anti-tank fire was often concentrated on it. It was also not unknown, and there is at least one recorded instance of this happening, for crews of disabled Crocodiles to be executed on the spot as revenge for their attacks.

Post War Service

Some 250 Crocodiles were earmarked for use in the Eastern theater against the Japanese. These most likely would’ve been used had the war not ended. In 1946, the Crocodile was tested on the hills of Chaklala in India to see how it would’ve performed in the eastern environment. Though the tank kept its great cross-country and climbing abilities, the Crocodile was thought impractical due to its wheeled trailer.

Even after this though, the Crocodile saw service alongside the standard Churchill into the Korean War from 1950 until their withdrawal in 1951. They served with C Squadron in the 7th Royal Tank Regiment’s 29th Brigade. Crocodiles were formally removed from service not long after this.

Survivors

In the UK, surviving Crocodiles can be found in a number of locations. Several are owned by the Muckleburgh Collection in Norfolk, the Cobbaton Combat Collection in Devon, Eden Camp Museum in North Yorkshire, the D-Day museum in Portsmouth, the Wheatcroft Collection, and, of course, The Tank Museum in Bovington. Some are also in the hands of private collectors.

A few can be found elsewhere in the world as well. The Kubinka Tank Museum in Russia has one, the Museum of the Regiments, Calgary, Alberta Canada has another, with one more at the Royal Australian Armoured Corps Museum.

Two can be found in France, one without a trailer is on display at the Bayeux Museum of the Battle of Normandy. A Crocodile gifted to France by Queen Elizabeth II is displayed at the Fort Montbarey parade ground in Brest, Brittany.

The Churchill Crocodile at The Tank Museum, Bovington. Photo: The Tank Museum

Churchill Crocodile Specifications

Dimensions (not including trailer) 24’5” x 10’8” x 8’2”
7.44 x 3.25 x 2.49 m
Total weight Approx. 40 tons + 6.5-ton trailer
Crew 5 (driver, bow-gunner, gunner, commander, loader)
Propulsion 350 hp Bedford horizontally opposed twin-six petrol engine
Speed (road) 15 mph (24 km/h)
Armament Ordnance QF 75 mm (2.95 in) Tank Gun
BESA 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine-gun
Flame Thrower
Armor From 25 to 152 mm (0.98-5.98 in)
Total production ~ 800

Links & Resources

A recorded interview with Ernest Edward Cox, surviving crew member of “Stallion”, the Crocodile pictured above. Interview by Jeena Reiter. Read HERE.
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #7 Churchill Infantry Tank 1941-51
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #136 Churchill Crocodile Flamethrower
Haynes Owners Workshop Manuals, Churchill Tank 1941-56 (all models). An insight into the history, development, production and role of the British Army tank of the Second Wold War.

M5 Stuart

USA (1940)
Light tank – about 13,860 built

Origins : The M3 Stuart

The US Army needed a more convincing light tank than the small M2, especially after the 1940 campaign, following a new tactical thinking about armored forces in the USA. A light, fast tank, equipped with one of the most common gun for its category, a 37 mm (1.46 in), was designed, bearing, initially, an impressive batch of five cal.30 (7.62 mm) M1919 Browning machine guns, which were lately reduced to three (one of the turret roof, one coaxial in the turret, and one in the hull). The initial production of the M3 was of 5811 vehicles, most of them being used by the British and redesignated Stuart Mk.I and Mk.II. Then, the M3A1. or Stuart Mk.III and Mk.IV (diesel) in British service, appeared and were massively used in Africa (Operation Torch), then Tunisia and Sicily. In 1942 came the M3A3, which was influenced by the M5 design. In all, 13,859 M3 were built and fought in almost all theaters of war. In Europe, they faced much better German tanks, and their feeble armament and armor, their radial gasoline engine, were seen as handicaps. This was not the case in the Pacific, where they were still a match for the smaller Japanese tanks.

An American M3 Stuart light tank, manned by an Australian crew, smashed through Japanese pillboxes in the final assault on Buna. This picture, taken during the actual fighting, shows an infantry commander jumping on the tank to warn the crew of a pillbox at the right, which the tank blasts away at another ahead. December, 1941

Genesis & development of the M5

The core reason behind the development of the M5 was probably the rapidly growing demand for radial engines, which were in short supply. Therefore, other sources were approached in order to have the tank production still running in early 1941. In June, OCM 16837 authorized the installation of two Cadillac engines mated on a single crankshaft and hydramatic transmission and auxiliary transmission M3 (transfer case). Cadillac had been, indeed, rarely involved with wartime production until then. The combinations of systems gave 6 speeds forward and one reverse, and a very smooth steering. The M3E2 prototype was therefore tested with this arrangement on a 2000 miles (3200 km) crash course at the GM proving grounds. The results being excellent, testing resumed at Aberdeen, aiming to gain the General Staff’s approval. Although this modification made the M3 2,500 lbs heavier (1133 kg), performance was overall preserved. The vehicle required a lower temperature starter, was quieter and more compact, freeing space inside because of the lower drive shaft. It also benefited from both simplified maintenance and training.

A drawn-up model of the M5 Stuart

By November, 13, 1941, the new tank, designated M4, was tested with this engine and transmission, while the M3A1E1 prototype tested a new hull construction, largely welded. A decision had both projects combined to give the M3E2, then the M3E3. Among other modifications the sloped front glacis was moved forward to free more space inside, and the two rotatable hatches with periscopes were fitted on the flat section following the glacis, for the driver and the bow gunner. All the tooling exterior stowage was relocated on the flat and sloped rear section of the back plate. There were a crowbar, handbar, shovel, hammer, pickaxe, axe, pincer, and two double links that were fitted on the two corners of the back plate. The most obvious difference between the M3A3 and the M5 was the shape of the rear hull, much roomier. In the end, to avoid confusion with the M4 Sherman, the name was changed to “M5” in February, when the production was approved and started at the Cadillac division of the GMC plant in Detroit, on 30 April 1942. The run ended in December the same year (1470 built), when an improved model succeeded it, the M5A1. Others were built, starting in August, at the Southgate California plant (354 tanks) and Massey Harris Company (250). These were mostly exported. The grand total was 2075 tanks.

Design specifics of the M5

The turret, main hull, tracks, suspension system, almost everything including equipment, were derived from the M3A3, so the production lines needed only a few changes. The new engine and transmission arrangement saw the rear part reshaped and steel RHA was used, along with welding, throughout construction. A 0.3 cal (7.62 mm) was placed in the right side of the glacis and was operated by the assistant driver, who sat on the right. Both his and the driver’s seats could be elevated in order to be able to ride with their heads out of the hatch. The assistant driver and driver were given dual steering brake controls, and floor mounted accelerator pedals.

Factory production of M5 Stuart’s. Circa 1942

The M3A1 turret was adopted for the M5, the “short” model characterized by the roof machine gun placed at the rear. The gunner needed to stand behind, exposed to enemy fire. This was corrected with the M5A1. The turret had a Westinghouse gyrostabilizer and oil-gear power traverse. Thanks to the new powerplant and lower drive shaft, turret traverse systems could be mounted under the turret floor, freeing space in the process. The turret was equipped with a M23 gun mount and roof mounted M4 periscopic sight for the gunner, under an armored cover. There was originally to be a telescope left to the gun, and the port was welded shut.

Despite criticism about its lack of firepower, the 37 mm (1.46 in) was kept. It’s high-velocity performances made it able to pierce the armor of similar light tanks. As a scout tank, it was mostly confronted with infantry, and the three Browning machine-guns were also an argument.
In all, 2075 M5s were produced (including the British versions) and the first M5s to see combat action were part of the November assault in North Africa (operation Torch). Until then, all the M5 produced were intensively used for training in relevant locations, like the Indio desert training camp in California.

Company E, 34th Armored Regiment, 5th Armored Division, at the Desert Training Center

Regarding reliability and maintenance issues, the dual Cadillac engine and hydramatic transmission were questioned by the Ordnance bureau, especially when looking upon standardization issues. The lot looked complicated and perhaps not sturdy enough to be suited for intensive use in combat conditions. The other problem was related to this second type of tank (The M3A3 was still produced alongside), which complicated maintenance and driver training. But all these doubts were lifted when intensive trials (including a 3370 miles/5400 km run without incident) done by The Armored Forces Board reported that this tank attained an unprecedented level or reliability and was superior in performance and efficiency to any previous US tank type in service. More so, when the M5 entered service, American drivers were unexpectedly happy to drive a “Cadillac” in wartime. Last but not least, the automobile-grade, lower octane gasoline made the M5 much safer in operations when hit. The British too were quite happy with the new light tanks (also dubbed “Honey”), as they were even easier to drive and quieter.

The M5A1

This was the second production version of the M5, which was distinguished by the extended M3A3 turret model. The turret itself helps to distinguish between the early and later models, as on the early models, there were still pistol ports in the side walls. The extra bustle provided room for the more powerful SCR 508 radio and antenna mounted at the extreme rear. To avoid interference with it, the cal.30 (7.62 mm) pintle mount had to be shifted from the back plate to the right hand side turret wall. Because of this, it could only be fired by one of the crew -often the commander- from inside the turret, a considerable advantage for protection. But the cal.30 (7.62 mm) had been woefully criticized in action as being totally inefficient against the fast-flying aircraft of 1942-43. On the M24 Chaffee, only a cal.50 (12.7 mm) was retained. However, this mount received some shielding on late production version. There was a removable plate on the rear wall of the bustle, for easy extraction of the M6 37 mm (1.46 in) rounds. The side pistol ports were first redesigned, then eliminated, and earlier models had theirs removed and the opening welded shut. Also, particular to the M5A1 was the escape hatch added under the assistant driver’s seat. The hull and turret in general received better watertight sealing.

M5A1 Stuarts move down a road in Coutances, France. July 29, 1944

Another characteristic feature were the large protective sand skirts over the upper tracks, which were used by some early models in their integral form (two mudguards, upper side skirt, lower side skirt fastened to the bogie legs hooks). In practice, the latter was dropped most of the time, and many M5A1s were seen lacking the rear mudguard, more rarely the front one, or often the whole kit was dismounted as it clogged and could be torn out. Other points were the massive stowage basket at the rear, roof spotlight, improved cal.30 (7.62 mm) mount and shield around the mount. Turret rails were welded for strapping spare track links, in two groups of four up and down. On the late series, the “rails” were continuous, allowing to strap a full side wall length of spare track links. Also, the original spoked roadwheels were replaced by simpler cast, filled ones and the cal.30 (7.62 mm) mount was modified.

Production and late modifications

On 24 September 1942, the new tank, standardized as the M5A1, was designated to replace the M5 at the Cadillac plant in Detroit. Production only started in November (1196 tanks), December for the Southgate plant (Calif.), and Massey Harris (3530). In the meantime, The American Cars & Foundry was brought into the program in October 1943, producing 1000 more. In all, 6810 M5A1s have been delivered, the last by Massey Harris in June 1944. Three time more M5A1s were built compared to the M5. However, American Cars & Fundry remanufactured early M5A1s to incorporate the late version features, like the rear stowage basket, between November 1944 and June 1945.

Due to the weight increase of the M5A1, with an overall weight that rose to 17 tons, the standard issue 11 1/8 in tracks were no longer capable of easing ground pressure on muddy and snowy terrains in a satisfactory way, and, in order to improve this, three prototypes, the M5A1E1, were ordered by the Ordnance committee in March 1943. Modifications at the Cadillac Plant included 3 1/2 inches spacers welded to each side of the hull, on which the standard suspensions brackets were installed. Thanks to this operations, a 16 1/2 in wide single pin track (T65) was developed by Burgess-Norton, which basically had the same system fitted as on the late HVSS Shermans “Duckbill” track extensions. Trials failed and two other 18 inches tracks (T75) with double pins or simply widened links were tried at Aberdeen, without much success. The whole experiment was cancelled in 1944. There were also attempts to replace the M44 mount and the T73 model was tried with the M6 gun, without much success, and terminated in July 1944.

M5A1 variants

The M7 light/medium

The M7 light/medium tank was dropped when the Chaffee came in line, after several prototypes had been built and thoroughly tested. The M7 originated in an Ordnance Board order to Rock Island Arsenal for four T7 prototypes of a mass-production medium tank, which would have had replaced both the M3 and M5 in early 1943, for extra standardization. The first T7 was finished in June 1942, right on schedule, with the M5A1 chassis, reinforced and modified, the Canadian Ram turret and the Sherman’s 75 mm (2.95 in) M3 main gun, which could fire a 6.25 lb (2.84 kg) shell at a muzzle velocity of 2,800 ft/s (823 m/s). The T7 had a low profile, was fast and well armored for a light tank, but not impressive compared to true mediums. By February, the M4 Sherman was already produced in large numbers, and it was found that the final heavier M7 had only a slight advantage in speed over it. So the bureau cancelled the whole project and the seven M7s completed were used for training.

Third production M7 medium tank at the General Motors Proving Ground. November 1, 1943

M8 Scott SPH

The most famous derivative was the HMC M8 Scott, HMC standing for Howitzer Motor Carriage. It was basically a M5 with a new turret equipped with a regular ordinance 75 mm (2.95 in) M2 howitzer, and a heavy cal.50 (12.7 mm) machine gun for immediate defense. 1778 of them were built, including the M8A1 variant based on the M5A1 chassis.

An M8 with a “Culin Hedgerow Cutter” rolls past a knocked out Panther A at St Gilles, France. Circa 1944.

Other SPGs: T18, T28

Other self-propelled artillery variants included the T18 of 1943 (with a 75 mm/2.95 in M1A1 in a boxy superstructure) and the T82 equipped with an 105 mm (4.13 in) howitzer in 1945.

Mortar Carriers T27/29 & T81

The first, T27/T27E1 were prototypes developed over on turretless M5A1. The T29 was a paper project, whereas the T81 was a chemical mortar carrier, carrying a 107 mm (4.22 in) heavy mortar. It was tested, but never produced.

AA Carriages T65 & T85

The T65 was modified for anti-aircraft defense, equipped with a twin 40 mm (1.57 in) Bofors mounted on a M5A1 chassis. The general design was later adapted for the M24 chassis and became the well-produced M29 GMC. The T85 had a 20 mm (0.79 in) Oerlikon in a quad mount. It was tested but abandoned after trials.

Command version M5 COM

The only other large-scale variant was the command version, without a turret, but a small superstructure instead, equipped with a single cal.50 (12.7 mm) machine-gun and powerful radio equipment.

A British Stuart Mk. VI Communication tank

Recce version T8

On 21 December 1943, the Army Ground Forces requested an armored recce tracked vehicle. On 17 February 1944, the Ordnance department ordered two M5A1s to be modified to test an open fighting compartment version. The T8 was a turretless version, fitted with a 12.7 mm (0.5 in) Browning M1920A4 heavy MG on a ring mount, protected by a bathtub like shield. The T8 had its machine gun fitted on the right-rear of the fighting compartment, whereas the T8E1 saw its cal.50 nearer the turret ring. The latter also used new 16 in (40 cm) metal tracks. In addition, both vehicles could carry ten antitank mines on the outside of the right sponson. Both were tested at Fort Knox, the T8E1 being judged superior and retained for production. However, the Armored Force Board wanted to use the M24 light tank chassis instead for the intended role, and only a limited numbers of T8s were accepted as “limited standard” service vehicle, used in Europe in 1944-45.

A British Stuart Mk. VI Reconnaisance Vehicle

Flame-thrower version Zippo

There were three variants that only differed by a few specs: The E5R1, E7-7 and ER9-9 based on the M5A1 chassis. On all three prototypes the main gun was replaced by the flame gun, and a flammable liquid reservoir was installed inside the hull. These vehicles were intended for the Pacific campaign.

An M5 Stuart, fitted with a flamethrower, attacks a Japanese bunker during the Bougainville Campaign. April, 1944

Other Modifications

Some M5A1s were equipped with a E5R1-M3 or E7-7 mounted in the hull, replacing the forward cal.30 (7.62 mm), and others had a dozer blade (M5 Dozer), having the turret removed, working as engineering vehicles in the Pacific theater of war. The T39 MRL was a proposed conversion project intended for infantry support in the Pacific, a regular M5 version rearmed with a T39 20 rocket launching kit.

Foreign users and postwar career

Many Chinese, French, Portuguese versions, which were in service during the fifties and sixties, incorporated a few custom modifications. No less than 33 countries had M3/M5 Stuarts in their arsenals (mostly in South America), some until the beginning of the nineties. The French M5A1s participated in the Indo-Chinese campaign until 1954, and the Portuguese ones (only three) served in Angola in 1967.

Republic of China army operating the M3A3 Stuart on Ledo Road. Circa 1944

The M5 & M5A1 in action

Both light tanks quickly replaced the earlier M3s still in service and rapidly gained a reputation for themselves. The M5 was reclassified as limited standard when the M5A1 became available, and the latter was reclassified substitute standard when the M24 Chaffee was available, but served until the end of the war. Many surplus tanks found a long postwar career under other flags. Aside the 1131 British Stuart Mark VIs, only five reached Soviet Union (fate unknown), 223 were given to the poorly equipped French Army in North Africa, which later were integrated into the 1st Free French Army and served in Italy, France and Southwestern Germany. The American M5/M5A1s were battle-tested in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, France (Normandy and Provence campaigns in the summer of 1944), and Germany, but also the Pacific, in growing numbers after they were discarded in Europe by the arrival of the Chaffee. Many were modified for special duties, like the “Zippo” flame-thrower variant, among others.

The Stuart Mk.VI (British service)

There were no name differences between the M5 and M5A1 in British service, as they were both called Stuart Mk.VI. No modifications were applied to the base model. Under Lend-Lease, 1131 M5A1s total were allocated to Great Britain. The British Stuart VI saw extensive service in the last stages of the desert campaign (fall 1942, 2nd El Alamein battle, Tunisian campaign). They joined the invasion force during Operation Husky (Sicily) and Italy thereafter. Some M5 Stuart Recce armored transports and command Stuart Kangaroos were also seen in action under British flag. Long before the American forces, the British ceased to use them otherwise than in flanking units. The First Division of the US army painfully learned this at Kasserine pass. These tanks remained first line until the very end of the war in the Pacific.

A column of British Stuart Mk. VI light tanks in formation. Circa 1944

Succession : The M24 Chaffee

Despite the fact the T7 was originally scheduled to replace the M5/M3 in 1943-44, a brand new light-medium model was ordered to replace it, the M24 Chaffee. The T7 was too mediocre to be a true medium tank, and too heavy to be suitable as a proper replacement for the previous M3/M5. The Ordinance Bureau quickly planned a new model form scratch, only retaining the M5 powertrain, with the objective to stand under 20 tons in battle order. It was attained with a relatively thin but well sloped armor, and a new lightweight 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, which was borrowed from the B25 Mitchell “gunship” variants, in a three man turret. This answered, at last, to the oldest critic about the previous series, the weakness of their main armament. After successful trials in October 1943, production began in early 1944, and, when it stopped in August 1945, 4731 M24s had been built. They were very successful light tanks, fast and well-armed, largely exported and involved in many postwar conflicts.

An M24 Chaffee in French use in Vietnam. Circa 1957

M5A1 Stuart Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.62m x 2.39m x 2.33m
(15’2″ x 7’10” x 7’8″ ft.inches)
Total weight, battle ready 16.5 tons (33,070 lbs)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Twin Cadillac V8, 296 hp (220 kW), air cooled gasoline
Suspension Vertical Volute Spring
Speed 36 mph (58 km/h) on-road

18 mph (29 km/h) off-road

Range 160 km (99 mi) at medium speed
Armament Main: 37 mm (1.46 in) M6 AT gun

3xcal.30 (7.62 mm) M1919 machine-guns

Armor From 13 to 51 mm (0.51-2 in)
Production (M5/M5A1 combined) 8,884

M46 Patton

The First US Main Battle Tank?

At first glance, the M46 looked almost identical to the previous M26 Pershing, main US Heavy tank at that time. Both the M26s and the M46s were reclassed later as Medium Tanks, and properly speaking the last heavy tank ceased to exist after the only heavy tank batallion equipped with the mediocre M103 was deactivated in 1960.

M46 Patton of Marine 1st Tank Battalion, equipped with 18-inch searchlight. Circa 1952

The “Main Battle Tank” denomination was adopted much later for the successors of the M46, the M47 and moreover the M48 and M60s because at that time the light tanks developed in parralel (like the Walker Bulldog and later the Sheridan) were considered almost as auxiliaries. So in a sense, the M46 could be traced back as the first American MBT and was also the first to bear the name of US history\’s most famous tank general.

Development History

The M46 was designed after the M26 Pershing showed in action some issues that needed to be fixed, but moreover as an attempt to replace also the M4 Sherman. This “universal tank” was expected to fuse both classes in a single package. The low speed of the M26 was a drawback while at the contrary the M4 showed tremendous speed and mobility but lacked protection and firepower alike. These issues were at the core of the engineers thinking at the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant. At first, they chosed the easiest way as to just modify and upgrading the existing M26.

A USMC M26 Pershing tank scrambles around the edge of a burning Korean village lately occupied by Communists to get at an enemy tank delaying their advance. August, 1950

Their work was dictated by the need to decrease the overall hull weight without significantly weakening the protection, and also re-engineering it with a more powerful engine and more reliable transmission. So after some testings, the Continental AV1790-3 was adopted. It was capable of more than 800 hp (the M26 Ford was rated for only 500 hp), and was coupled with the cross-drive transmission Allison CD-850-1.

This prototype, first built and tested in 1946 as the M26E2 was followed by many modifications. In 1948 the ordnance bureau decided to rename the sum of all these modifications under a new model: The M46, a reconversion for the existing M26s.

M46 Design and First Reconversion

The M46 had some specific external features, but the real revolution was mostly internal. The most obvious difference was the new engine, which dictated a “stretched” rear engine compartment by a feet. The drive sprockets were raised and relocated much more rearwards, which imposed to add compensating idler wheels on the tracks as tensioners. The turret was almost unchanged while the main cal 50 machine gun was relocated to the front, to an armored cover above the gunner’s primary periscope sight.

Design drawings of the M46E1

The design of the engine deck and exhaust vents were also completely changed in accordance to the new engine. Other changes included rear fender mufflers with shield, and a bore evacuator with a smaller SBMB on the main gun. In all, 800 M26 were converted to the M46 standard by november 1949 to the end of 1950 at Detroit Arsenal.

The M46A1

By 1951, the M46A1 main external modification concerned the new 90 mm barrel fitted with a reshaped muzzle brake, bore evacuator and single baffle muzzle brake with internal compensator spring to reverse the muzzle exhaust and further reduce the recoil. That allowed to use much more powerful ammunitions without changing much the internal turret layout. Internal modifications included improved braking, improved cooling and fire suppression systems, and enhanced electrical equipment.

An M46A1 “Patton” Tank

There also received the new AV-1790-5B engine and an upgraded CD-850-4 transmission. This version was traduced by the conversion of 360 more M26s, giving a grand total of no less than 1160 Pershing conversions into the M46/M46A1 standard.

The M46 in Action

By the time North Korea invaded, US forces counted a large assortiment of ageing ww2 models, ranging form various M4 Shermans (the lastest being the M4A3(76)W HVSS or “easy eight” (M4A3E8), well used in Korea), the heavy T26 Pershing and light M24 Chaffee. So the freshly converted M46s were welcomed and their metal was to be soon tested, at first with the 6th Tank Battalion which landed on 8 August 1950 in South Korea. By the end of the year nearly 200 were operational in this theater, and they proved all but superior to the few T34/85s encountered, while 309 M26s were also present.

A 1st Marine Division tank crew member is careful not to let the hatch door slam against his tank, as he climbs out to inspect his tank after received three harmless 76 Howitzer hits. July 5, 1953

But this proportion rose as more M26s were withdrawn and replaced by newly arrived M46s, also gradually replacing M4 Shermans by 1951. Operators included (in 1951-52) the 1st Marine Tank Battalion and some regimental Antitank Platoons of the 1st Marine Division, but also the 6th, 64th, 72th, 73th, 140th, 245th tanks batallions attached to various infantry divisions and some regimental tank companies of the 40th Infantry Division, and in 1953 with the 7th and 65th Infantry Regiments.

However the M46 were withdrawn from service soon after the end of the Korean war, in favor of the much improved M47. A Korean War Armour Study by the US Far East Command (FEC) observed that the ‘mechanical reliability of the M46 tank was unacceptable. About 60% of all casualties were due to this cause: 16% due to mines and 24% to all other causes.’

The only known variant -outside the M46A1- was the “Dozer” version equipped with a M3 bulldozer kit. Only three countries were known outside USA to operate the M46: Belgium, France and Italy, which received small numbers of M46s for training (crews and maintenance teams) to prepare the M47 arrival.

M46 Patton Specifications

Dimensions (L-w-H) 8.43 x 3.51 x 3.18 m (331 in x 138 in x 125 in)
Total weight, battle ready 48.5 tons (96 000 lbs)
Crew 5 (Commander, Driver, Assistant driver, Loader, Gunner)
Propulsion Continental AVDS-1790-5A V12, AC Twin-turbo gas. 810 hp.
Transmission General Motors CD-850-3, 2-Fw/1-Rv speed GB
Maximum speed 30 mph (48 km/h) on road
Suspensions Torsion bars
Range (Fuel) 80 miles/130 km (878 Liters/ 232 US Gal.)
Armament Main: 90 mm (3.5 in) gun M3A1, 70 roundsSec: 1 cal.50 M2 (12.7 mm)+ 2 cal.30 (7.62 mm) Browning M1919A4
Armor Max: Nose glacis 102 mm (4 in)
Reconversions (all combined) 1160

M41 “Walker Bulldog”

Development History

On November, 7, 1950, the US Ordnance Committee Minutes (OCM) published the #33476 item. This was a new classification between the heavy (120 mm gun), medium (90 mm), and light tank (76 mm), according to their main armament. At the same time, a replacement for the late WW2 standard light tank, the M24 Chaffee, was started in 1947 with researches on the T37 to fit a more efficient armament to deal with armour. Added to this was chosen to to make the new model air-transportable for fast deployment into enemy territory, since reconnaissance was still the main duty for light tanks. Work on a longer barrel was accompanied by a more efficient rangefinder, which was deemed in 1949 too ambitious for such tank class and downgraded on the next T41 prototype. This was the final production prototype, and Cadillac’s Cleveland Tank Plant (which already had experience producing the former M5 and M24 light tanks) was chosen for the first batch in 1952.

Design

Compared to M24 Chaffee, the M41 was a much bigger tank, a direct consequence of the main gun’s breech block length. The turret was enlarged, with a turret ring 2 inches (50 cm) wider, imposing a longer hull, (16.06 vs 19.9 fts or 5.03 m vs. 5.9 m), wider (10.5 vs 9.10 fts or 3.2 vs 3 m), but slightly lower (8.9 vs 9.1 fts or 2.77 vs 2.71 m). But it was also 5 tons heavier. Armour still relied on welded RHA sloped plates, with storage sponson boxes for tooling, with vertical openings. The armor was similar to the M24 Chaffee at 1.5 in (38 cm) at the thickest (the glacis plate and turret mantlet). To keep mobility high, the AOS 895-3 6-cylinder gasoline engine was now rated to a comfortable 500 hp (vs. 110 hp on the M24), which provided a favourable 21.5 hp/ton (vs 16 hp/ton). Top speed gain 10 mph as a result of the engine improvement, well served by a modern wheeltrain relying on torsion bars on solid single pin track, chevron lever blocks, with five double roadwheels, heavenly spaced but further apart from one to another. The drive sprockets and idler position were shifted, the former been relocated at the rear. The upper tracks were still supported by three return rollers. The two former roadwheels pairs were suspended by shock dampers.

The much longer 75 mm gun had indeed a far greater punch than the M24 Chaffee, but it was already barely sufficient against modern tanks of the 1960s, like the T-54/55. The gun had a T-shaped muzzle brake and efficient fume extractor. There were 57 rounds in store, eleven ready AP/HE in the turret and the others stored mostly into the right front hull (replacing the co-driver). It was coaxial with a cal. 0.30 Browning M1919A4 machine gun in the mantlet, while a fixed pintle mount for a heavy cal.50 M2HB (12.7 mm) machine gun took place in front of the commander cupola. The latter was placed on the right hand side, behind the gunner’s location, and counted six vision blocks, a rotatable cupola, and a hatch periscope with magnification. The gunner’s had a direct vision telescope coaxial to the gun and a roof sight with magnification, protected behind an armoured shutter. The gunner’s hatch located at the turret’s left hand side was a simple piece, and a small periscope was located at the front. The turret traverse was electrical, with a manual backup.

1951 M41 outside the Veterans of Foreign Wars, V.F.W Post 803, 911 N State St, Clairton, PA, USA

At the rear of the turret bustle top was located a mushroom-shaped fume extractor. Inside the bustle were located the radios. On the bustle back was fixed a large storage bin, to add balance to the main gun. The turret sides counted fasteners for canvas and additional storage, including fuel jerrycans. The turret front counted handles for an easier access and the mantlet was usually covered by a tarpaulin to prevent rain and snow infiltration inside the crew compartment. The driver’s hatch was located at the left hand side, with a single piece which opened laterally. The driver could see through four vision blocks, three facing the front arc, and one the right-rear, plus a removable hatch periscope. The gun lock was used for transportation. Unlike the Sherman tank the gun lock was at the rear and offset to the left side of the tank, not in the middle like on most tanks. This was to enable the driver to get out of his hatch. If the gun lock at the rear of the tank was in the middle the rear turret bustle would block the hatch. Notice no front hull machine gun was added to the front of the M41 Walker Bulldog. This was to enable additional ammunition to be stored in the front right hand side of the tank. The crew had to rely on the coaxial cal.30 (7.62 mm) Browning M1919A4 machine gun next to the main gun in the turret for self defence and the exterior turret mounted Cal.50 M2 (12.7 mm) machine gun. The Cal.50 machine gun could be disconnected from its turret mounting. A large caliber machine gun tripod was often attached to the rear of the turret bustle box for use by the crew on the ground behind cover.

Former US Army M41 at Ulbeek in Belgium.
Same, rear view.

Production

The production at Cadillac started in 1951, replacing gradually the M24 Chaffee. At the same time, the initial surname “Little Bulldog” was replaced by “Walker Bulldog” to honor the memory of a tank General killed in a jeep accident in Korea in 1950. The production will last until 1967, when replacement by the M551 Sheridan became effective. Until then, and its first deployment in Korea, many modifications occurred, later turned into production variants. The M41A1 was the first production variant, in 1954. The electric traverse system was replaced by an hydraulic traverse, the extra room allowed to increase the ammunition storage from 57 to 65 rounds. The M41A2 appeared in 1956, with an engine upgrade, the fuel injected Continental AOS 895-3 replacing the ancient carburettor fuel system. The M41A3 were upgraded M41/M41A1 to the new fuel injection system. The M42 Duster was the anti-aircraft variant, with a twin Bofors 40 mm guns turret replacing the turret.

ARVN (South Vietnamese) M47 at the Battle of Saigon. May, 1968

Exports

The M41 was largely distributed among allied nations inside NATO, namely Austria (42 used from 1960 to 1979), Belgium (135 used from 1958 to 1974), Denmark (53 M41DK used from 1953 to 1998), Spain (), and West Germany. West German tanks were apparently upgraded in the late 1970s with a new Cummin engine s ATV-903TR of 465 hp diesel engine and upgraded main gun (firing AFPDS ammo) as well as the Spanish tanks. The last Danish tanks were retired in 1998. They had been upgraded as the M41 DK-1 which included a complete overhaul: New engine, thermal sights for the gunner and commander, complete NBC protection lining and anti-SPG side skirts. Spain also operated 180 M41s in the 1960-70s, in a modernized version. Exports comprised also nations of the middle East, like Jordan and Lebanon. In the latter country, 20 M41A3 were passed onto the Army of Free Lebanon, Lebanese Arab Army, Tigers Militia, Kataeb Regulatory Forces, and Lebanese Forces). In Africa, Somalia, Tunisia, and South Africa also used it. In Asia-Pacific, New Zealand acquired 10 tanks. The South Vietnamese forces received ex-US Army tanks, 30 were captured later by the NVA. The Philippines (7), Japan (147), and Thailand (200) also used the type (now all retired). Taiwan still operates some 675 M41A3/M41D in service today. The M41D is the local upgrade developed for the Marine Corps and Army, comprising a new gun, modern FCS, thermal sights and new computerized targeting systems, a Detroit Diesel 8V-71T diesel engine, side skirts and reactive armor. Taiwan also developed the experimental Type 64 with a new 520 hp diesel engine and coaxial GMPG machine gun.

Danish M41DK Light Tanks.

South American nations also purchased the M41, namely Chile (60 M41A3, now retired), the Dominican Republic (12 M41B now retired), Guatemala (12 ex-Danish DK), and Uruguay (22 M41UR and 24 M41B). The M41UR was developed for export in Denmark and comprised a 90 mm Cockerill cannon and a Scania DS-14 diesel engine. Brazil was also a proficient user of the type (300 tanks), and developed local upgrades, the M41B and M41C. The first one comprised a new FCS, new Belgian Cockerill 90 mm main gun, a DS14 Scania diesel, Groton electric generator, smoke grenade launchers, and armoured side skirts. The M41B was a much thorough modernization with a computerized FCS, new night sights and radio, by the Sao Paulo based Bernardini Company. They are all retired now or have been exported. NIMDA systems of Israel also developed an export package comprising a modernized FCS, new diesel engine and new cooling system.

Taiwanese M41D.

Issues

The M41 was a real improvement over the M24 Chaffee, it was even more mobile and agile, well-armed to deal against lighter armor than MBTs and ww2-era tanks, with an accurate and fully stabilized main gun. It was simple to operate, maintain, with an engine which can be quickly replaced on the field. However it was also found cramped, noisy (a real problem in reconnaissance missions) with an engine of high consumption with limited range. Later foreign upgrades included systematic replacement of the powerplant for a sober Scania or Cummins diesel engine and extended fuel capacity. The M41 was also too heavy for air transport. Prospects of parachute-dropping were abandoned, airlifting by helicopter impossible even for the twin-rotor Chinook, and deployment eventually was confined to heavy duty global transporters like those used in Vietnam. In 1952 work began on lighter designs like the T71 and T92, also abandoned. The M41 was not amphibious or treated NBC, but this was not seen as a problem given the fact others contemporary MBTs were not either. The M551 Sheridan tried to respond to these limitations with a NBC, amphibious aluminium alloy hull which solved the weight issue as well as an innovative missile cannon system to compensate for the firepower issue. However this model had troubles of its own. Foreign upgrades addressed many of the issues listed above which allowed to keep it in service until recently or up to this day.

An AVRN (South Vietnam) M41 during a training operation. Circa 1964

The M41 in Action

By 1953, the M41 was fist deployed in Korea, in first numbers. Known as the T41, it was deployed apparently without proper gunnery training and a troublesome rangefinder. These issues were addressed later. However it performed much better, as intended, than the M24 facing North Korean and Chinese T34/85s. In 1961, 160 were passed onto Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in addition to the local Type 61. The main theatre of operation for the M41 was Viet-Nam. At first, it replaced the few M24 Chaffee inherited from the French in 1964. The M41A3 was first used by units of the ARVN in january 1965, followed-up by American vehicles with the UD deployment in 1965-66. The ARVN used the model intensively until the end of the war, and appreciated the type as more adapted to their smaller stature, as well as handling and reliability. A massive combined ARVN (1st Armor Brigade)/US (airborne and cavalry units) assault on Lam Son in Laos (Operation Lam Son 719) on February 1971 saw the M41s massively engaged, with a deep penetration and disrupted as intended the NVA supply lines in the area. This saw a tank battle, with 17 M41s knocking out 22 NVA tanks (6 T-54s and 16 PT-76s) for the loss of 5 M41s. In 1973, the ARVN still deployed about 200 M41s.

M41A3 Walker Bulldog Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 26’9″ (19’1″ without gun) x 10’3″ x 10’1″ ft.in
(8.21m (5.81m) x 3.13m x 3.07m)
Total weight, battle ready 23.5 tons
Crew 4 (Commander, Driver, Loader, Gunner)
Propulsion Continental AOS 895-3 6-cyl. gas. 500 hp (373 kW)
Top speed 45 mph (72 kph) on road
Suspensions Torsion bars
Range 100 miles (161 km)
Armament 75 mm (3 in) gun M32, 70 rounds
cal.50 M2 (12.7 mm)
cal.30 (7.62 mm) Browning M1919A4
Armor Hull armour 25 mm front and sides. 19 mm rear
Turret Armour 25 mm all-round.
Gun mantle 38 mm
Production 5500

M42 Duster

From Dust to Dust…

Immortalized in the Vietnam War for its tremendous firepower, the Duster was one of the US Marines and Army great friend in the Jungle, cleaning up and effectively turning to dust any threat lurking into the green. It was of course not its main vocation, but turned it to be so at a time most planes flew above the sound barrier. At the origin it was conceived to replace the ww2 era M19 Gun Motor Carriage, based on the M24 Chaffee, that operated a twin 40 mm arrangement in a rear-mounted turret. It was decided in 1950 to transplant the system on the M41 Light tank chassis instead, keeping the same turret. This new vehicle turned into the M42 of which 3,700 were cranked-up until 1956, largely exported, and enjoying a long and very active carrier (1988 for the US Army), barely over now worldwide.

Design

Construction called for all welded steel (RHA). Most of the components came from the M41 to keep the cost down, and the compartimentation was unchanged, with the driver located at the front, central fighting compartment with the M42 turret seated on the original turret ring location, albeit larger, and rear engine compartment. The turret was open to allow maximal visibility, but the armament was shielded, protecting the front against retaliatory strafing attacks. However only the pointers and gunners had some protection, the loader remained exposed. The Armament consisted of fully automatic twin 40 mm M2A1 Bofors, which had a rate of fire of 2 ×120 rounds per minute (rpm). In addition, for close defence, a 8mm (0.30 in) Browning M1919A4 or a 7.62mm M60 machine gun could be installed on a side pintle located at the right hand side of the turret. To maximize effectiveness, it was thought these vehicles could be assisted by a single M42 converted as radar fire control system, but the project was dropped because of cost issues.

M42 Turret details, showing internal arrangements and the external ammo storage bins.

For propulsion, the M42 relied on a 500 hp, six-cylinder, Continental (or Lycoming ), air-cooled gasoline engine, which was also common with the M41 and well-proven. Thanks to this and a an overall weight of 24.8 t (loaded), the power-to-weight ratio was 22.2 hp/t which gave a top speed of 45 mph (72 kph) on flat. Its only problem was the lack of range: Only 100 miles (170 km). The engine was coupled to a cross-drive, 2-speed Allison transmission. The drivetrain comprised six double rubberized roadwheels, as the front pair served as track tensioners/idlers. Drive sprockets were located at the rear so the transmission tunnel was quite short. Suspensions called for torsion bars, and shock dampers were given to the first two roadwheel pairs. Rigid dust side skirts were installed, which can be lifted up but were often removed.

The M42 in Service

Production was undergone by the tank division of the General Motors Corporation, Cleveland Tank Plant. The first rolled of the line in 1952 and were in service in 1953. The production was altered in 1956 (M42A1) when a new Lycoming AOSI-895-5 engine (500 hp) was procured and the same range of upgrade as for the M41. Production eventually stopped in December 1959, as it was concluded that new SAM systems like the HAWK more effective against jets and condemned the SPAAGs. So the lifespan of service in the US Army was quite short, as it was decided to gradually retire all M42 from front line units and passed them to the National Guard until 1963, the only exception being the 4th Bn, 517th Air Defense Artillery Regiment which operated in the Panama Canal Zone in the 1970s.

Reborn in Viet-Nâm

As the second Indochina war escalated, it was discovered that the new HAWK system performed poorly in low altitude defense. Therefore the Army recalled M42A1s back into active service, organized into air defense artillery (ADA) battalions, a process which started in November 1966 when the first three battalions arrived in VN. Crews were trained at the 1st. Advanced Individual Training Brigade (Air Defense) at Fort Bliss, Texas. Each comprised a headquarters battery, four Duster batteries, one attached Quad-50 battery, and one artillery searchlight battery. But the threat posed by NV aircraft weakened to the point units found themselves underemployed, therefore increasingly called for ground support missions. In that area they soon excelled, gaining an enviable reputation against massed infantry attacks. In addition M42s were also used for point security, convoy escort or perimeter defense.

M42 Duster at a MACV compound, Têt. February, 1968.

Late Cold War

In the 1970s, it was generally accepted that SPAAGs were complementary to SAMs systems, the first providing an extra bubble of protection against aircraft and helicopters that escaped the longer missile range. However after Vietnam it was nevertheless decided to give these vehicles back to the National Guard, maintained until 1988 as corps level ADA assets.

Flakpanzer M42 in training, Altenkirchen-Hachenburg (Oberwesterwald), West Germany. September, 1958

M42 Duster Specifications

Dimensions 5.82 x3.23 x2.85 m (19.1 x10.7 x9.4 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 24.8 tons
Crew 4-6 (driver, Cdr, gunners, pointers, loader)
Propulsion 6-cyl AC gasoline 500 hp (375 kW) p/w 22.2 hp/t
Suspension Torsion bar & shocks absorbers
Speed (road) 72 km/h (45 mph)
Range 160 km (100 mi)
Armament 2x 40mm M2A1 336 rds, 0.8mm (0.3 in) M1919A4 or M60.
Armor 9 to 25 mm front (0.35-1 in)
Total production 3,700 in 1952-1959

Daimler Armored Car

Daimler’s Great Brother of the Dingo

The Daimler Dingo was arguably the most successful British reconnaissance armored car of World War Two, to the point of being copied by the Italians. However, the company that built it, Birmingham Small Arms design was already working on a parallel project. This was a scaled-up version, better armed with the turret developed for the Mark VII Light Tank. It was mass-produced from 1941 to the end of the war, declined into three versions and served well until the late 1960s in India.

A British radio operator stands in his Armored Daimler Command Car to relay a message to headquarters. Circa 1942

Development of the Daimler AC

This model incorporated many advanced design concepts for the time and was considered as one of the best British AFVs of the Second World War. Its use was considered complementary to the lighter Dingo with reconnaissance units, mostly to bring fire support in cases of bad encounters. The hull was strongly related to the Dingo, entirely welded with some bolted elements. Prototypes were ready in 1939 but problems with the complex transmission and amplified by the added weight of the vehicle delayed it entering service well until mid-1941. In total, 2,694 such armored cars would be built by Daimler. Most were sold after a long service in the British inventory (1960). They saw action with other countries afterward.

Daimler Mark I
Daimler Mark I

Design

Daimler Mark 2
Daimler Mark II

The hull was made of welded steel. The sides were sloped in order to better deflect bullets (16 mm thick at the front, 6 mm elsewhere). There was a small cabin-like compartment for the driver at the front, complete with two side sight slits and a front armored shutter. The commander and gunner took place inside the cramped turret, just large enough to allow the recoil of the light 2-pounder gun (40 mm), the standard British antitank gun of the time. The turret roof had a large opening hatch, folding to the rear. There were some additional storage racks and fittings on the hull for jerrycans, toolboxes, and spades. The rounds were small but muzzle velocity was excellent and at least did the job well until 1942. Later in the war in Europe, the Littlejohn adaptor was tried to add some muzzle velocity and hitting power against German tanks. Other than the main gun, there was a coaxial 0.3 in Besa machine gun, left to the gun, and also a roof provision for a pintle mount for a light AA Bren machine gun. 52 2-pdr shells and 2500 rounds for the Besa LMG were carried inside.  The Daimler 27 4.1 liter 6-cylinder petrol engine gave 95 hp (71 kW) for a power to weight ratio of 12.5 hp/tonne.  The rear 95 hp engine was connected to a Wilson preselector gearbox through a fluid flywheel and then by prop shafts to each wheel. The four wheel steering was similar to early models of the Dingo, but following early experience with the scout car, and added weight, entirely rethought. The Daimler also featured a fully independent suspension and four-wheel drive. The epicyclic gearing in the wheel hubs enabled a very low ratio in bottom gear. It was credited with managing 1:2 inclines. The rugged nature of the terrain combined with this mechanical reliability made it ideal for reconnaissance and escort work. This was compounded by large, well-spaced roadwheels that gave it excellent ground clearance. Spare side roadwheels also acted as additional armor, although blocking the lower slope escape hatches in case the vehicle was toppled over.

Side view of a Daimler Mk.II
Side view of a Daimler Mark II

Variants

  • Mark I – The first version
  • Mark I CS – Close support version with 76 mm (3 in) gun
  • Mark II – Improved turret with modified gun mount, better radiator, driver escape hatch incorporated into the roof, WP Grenade container fitted to the turret and smoke generator container modified.
  • Turretless regimental command version – This version was known as SOD (“Sawn-Off Daimler”).

Service History

British troops hitch a ride on a Mk. II Daimler Scout Car in the North African desert. Circa 1943

Just like the Dingo, the Daimler AC was extensively used in North Africa, notably with the 11th Hussars and Derbyshire Yeomanry. Others saw action in Europe. Late war reconnaissance squadrons in NW Europe generally comprised two Daimler Armoured Cars and two Dingo scout cars. Some received a Littlejohn adaptor for their 2 pounder gun. This device worked on the squeeze bore principle to increase the gun’s theoretical armor penetration. A few served in the Asiatic theater, like the 16th Light Cavalry British Indian Army armored car regiment (part of Fourteenth Army troops) in the reconquest of Burma. Postwar use was extensive, as Daimlers were used by the territorial units of the British Army until the 1960s, well outlasting the Coventry Armored Car. The 11th Hussars, B Squadron, deployed them in Northern Ireland as late as January 1960. Also postwar, the 63th Cavalry Indian Army regiment used this model for one of its squadrons, later reformed as an independent reconnaissance squadron and, later updated to the integral squadron. Some formed the mounts of the President’s Bodyguard. They served in the defense of Chushul at heights above 14,000 ft during the 1962 Indo-China War. Post-war service of the Daimler AC also included the Korean War, Vietnam War, 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Indo-Pakistani War, Ceylonese insurrection of 1971 and Sri Lankan civil war. This vehicle was used post war by no less than eleven countries, Australia, Belgium, Canada, India, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, and Poland.

Daimler AC Specifications

Dimensions 4 x 2.46 x 2.26 m (13’1” x 8’1” x 7’95”)
Total weight, battle ready 7.6 tons
Crew 3 (driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Daimler 27 4.1 litre, 6-cylinder petrol, 95 hp (71 kW), 12.5 hp/ton
Suspension 4×4 independent coil springs
Speed (road) 80 km/h (50 mph)
Range 320 km (200 mi)
Armament 2-pdr (40 mm) gun, 0.303 in (7.7 mm) AA LMG
Armor 12 mm sides to 30 mm front (0.24-0.35 in)
Total production 2693 in 1941-1945

Cromwell, Cruiser Mk. VIII

The Most Renowned British Cruiser Tank

The Cromwell is arguably the best known, most produced and most successful of the cruisers lineage started in 1936, at least until the arrival of the Comet in late 1944. Its genesis goes back to 1941, and the choice of the gun and engine proved to be crucial matters. War priorities spawned three tanks sharing the same design but different engines. The A24 Cavalier used the Nuffield engine and most components from the Crusader, the A27L Centaur was a transitional model still fitted with the Nuffield Liberty L12 engine but Cromwell components (only to be replaced by Rolls Royce engine at the end of the production). The Cromwell, propelled with the Rolls-Royce Meteor (painfully adapted from the Merlin, the Spitfire’s engine), was a league forward both in mobility and reliability. It was the only one of the three to see active service in Europe, the two other being used for training and as special purpose tanks, especially with the Royal Artillery.

Cromwell VI followed by an M4 Sherman and other vehicles at Gold Beach. June, 1944.

Early Development

All three tanks originated in the A24 Cromwell (a name that was approved early on) first drawn from a General Staff specifications to replace the Crusader. The latter was seen as a good tank in 1940 but became rapidly obsolete both in terms of protection and firepower. Designs were submitted in early 1941. In early 1942, Rolls-Royce was chosen to develop the engine, as the Nuffield V12 showed its age, lack of power and reliability. However, development delays meant a first model, the A24 Cavalier, then known as “Cromwell I”, was produced. It was built by Nuffield and rushed out mostly with Crusader components, although the hull, turret design, drivetrain and general configuration were new. The Cavalier was disappointing because the superior weight of the armor was combined with the same engine as before. In the same timeframe, Leyland and Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon (BRC&W) produced an improved version of the Liberty engine, with the intervention of the General Staff.

Early version of a Cromwell Mk. 1.

The A27 Cruiser

The General Staff A27 included the Rolls Royce engine and, more importantly, the QF 6 pdr gun (57 mm/2.24 in), which was the best AT gun of the Allies at that time. It was expected to enter service in mid-1942, but delays forced some interim solutions. Firstly, the Crusader was rearmed with this gun (at the expense of one crewman) and, secondly, the Cromwell Mark II built at Leyland Factory with the Nuffield Liberty came out as a stopgap measure. It had better armor, better gun, but most of the mechanical parts of the Crusader and a slightly tweaked engine, but still insufficient in power. The A27L, or Cromwell II (for “Leyland”), is almost considered a clone of the A27M, with everything in common but the engine. The cooling system, for example, was way better than on the Cavalier. To avoid confusion, the General Staff decided to rename the A24 (Cromwell I) “Cavalier”, and the A27L (Cromwell II) “Centaur”, while the Cromwell III became the A27M Cromwell.

A Welsh Guards A27M in a speed display at Pickering, Yorkshire. March, 1944.

From the Merlin to the Meteor

The Merlin engine is a legend. Not only because it propelled the Spitfire, the emblematic fighter that saved Great Britain in the summer of 1940 and soldiered on until the 1950s (more than 20,000 were produced and declined in more than twenty-four variants), but also because of its inherent qualities. This new generation of compact and lightweight aircraft engines was quickly found suitable for the new tanks urgently needed by the Royal Armored Corps in 1941.

Indeed, Rolls-Royce was famous for the legendary quietness of its engines, so carefully hand-built that practically no vibrations were felt, hence the name of its luxury sedans and coupés (Shadow, Ghost, Cloud). These engines were also credited for a very high degree of reliability that contributed to the reputation of the company, which also produced naval engines. The Schneider Cup, the most famous hydroplane race in the 1930s, was a sandbox where aircraft designers and engineers tried out engines and streamlined, aerodynamic fuselages to house them. Macchi and Supermarine were among the best, rivals that would ultimately pass all this experience onto their fighters. The Rolls-Royce Merlin itself was legendary for its raw horsepower that far surpassed other engines in terms of power-to-weight ratio. The Meteor was the version intended to be used on tanks.

Rolls-Royce Merlin engine on a British Spitfire.

The RR Meteor was an in-line V12 water-cooled gasoline engine that was heavily adapted by Chief Engineer W.A. Robotham at the development division in Belper, starting with the Merlin III as a base. Robotham, despite his young age, was made Chief Engineer of Tank Design and joined the Tank board. He also designed the Cruiser VIII (A30) Challenger in 1943, the first tailored design to use the QF 17-pdr (3 in/76.2 mm) gun.

In order to be adapted, the Merlin III had to loose its supercharger, reduction gear and other equipment removed from its camshaft, to ensure simpler construction. It was provided with cast pistons, and de-rated to around 600 bhp (447 kW), while running on much lower-octane gasoline instead of usual aviation fuel, for more safety and easier fuel supply. The most expensive light-alloy components were replaced with steel components (starting with the Meteor X). By all standards, it seemed as a downgraded version of the Merlin. In 1943, due to part shortages, dismantled surplus old Merlin blocks were used for Meteor engines. Although it occupied as much space and had the same 1,650 in³ (27 litre) displacement as the earlier Liberty, the Meteor was way more reliable and doubled the power available.

Leyland initially got an order for 1,200 Meteor engines, but persisted on their own design and expressed serious doubts about being able to provide the cooling system. Eventually, Meadows was contracted, but by then the manufacturer also declined the order, due to over-capacity. Later the Rover Company, which worked with Rolls Royce, took over the bulk of the production, as did Morris (Coventry). For this reason, it is also sometimes called the Rover Meteor. Originally, the order of 1,000 was given to Rolls-Royce, that asked the government for an open credit of £1 million. But development was slow and Ernest Hives, who took over the project, obtained a trade from Spencer Wilks of Rover, exchanging the W.2B/23 production facility at Barnoldswick for the Rolls-Royce tank engine factory in Nottingham. Final production was officially started on 1st April 1943, although the first trials began in September 1941 at Aldershot, with a roughly modified Merlin in a Crusader (which topped 50 mph/80 km/h on its first test run!). These manufacturing delays explained why active units on the front had to content themselves with Shermans and obsolete Crusaders until early 1944.

Rolls-Royce Meteor engine.

Design

Hull

The hull frame consisted of riveted beams, but later production versions resorted to welding. The armor plates were bolted to the frame, particularly on the turret, which left large characteristic bosses on the outside. The chassis stood on five large roadwheels, with front idlers for tension and rear drive sprockets. The suspension was of the Christie type, with long helical springs angled back to keep the hull down and low. Four out of the five road wheels (rubber-clad) had shock absorbers. There were no track return rollers. The hull sides were two spaced plates with the suspension units between them, the outer plate being cut out to allow movement of the roadwheel axles. Side skirts were provided to protect the upper sides, but they were generally omitted and only the fore and aft mudguards were left in practice.

The front armor comprised a three part beak with 50 mm (1.97 in) plates and a flat front armor plate, 76 mm (3 in) thick. From it emerged the driver’s visor, a thick glass block protected by an opening “gate” (right-hand side), and a ball mount for the hull Besa machine-gun on the left-hand side. The driver had a one-piece hatch opening to the right and two built-in day periscopes. He was separated from the hull gunner by a bulkhead. The latter had access to ammunition racks and had his own No.35 telescope and a one-piece hatch. The ball mount gave 45° of traverse and 25° of elevation, connected through a linkage to a handle for firing. A bulkhead with access doors separated the front compartment from the central fighting compartment. On later models, protection was increased, with 3.1 in (79 mm) welded plates (Mark IVw/Vw), then to 4 in (102 mm) on the Mark VII.

Turret & Main Armament

The boxy turret sat directly above the central fighting compartment, isolated both from the front and engine compartments. The turret was of hexagonal shape, with a 76 mm (3 in) thick front and 50 mm (1.97 in) flat sides and an internal mantlet. The main gun and coaxial Besa protruded from the front plate opening, mated on the same axis. This opening was around 60 cm (2 ft) large and 40 cm (1 ft 3 in) high, with rounded corners. All six plates were made of cast hardened steel. There was a porthole for spent rounds on the rear faces, that could also be used as a pistol port. The gunner operated both the main gun and the 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Besa machine gun and had his own periscope and main visor. The main gun was, at first, the 6-pounder QF (57 mm/2.24 in), modified to fit inside the turret and fitted with a muzzle brake. This gun was only present on the Mark I and all other Marks had better guns.

A 75mm Cromwell turret.

Starting with the Mark II, the Cromwell swapped the QF 6-pdr for the ROQF 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, which was an adaptation of the 6-pounder design to fire the ammunition of the US M3 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, including a better HE round for use in infantry support. This adaptation also meant that the 75 mm (2.95 in) used the same mounting as the 6 pounder and the crew and internal management of the turret remained essentially unchanged. There was already a large supply of ammo of this caliber, both of American and French origin, in North Africa. In fact, with the introduction of Shermans in British service in North Africa at the end of 1942, a consensus was reached about the use of guns firing powerful HE shells against infantry. This was something that previous models armed with the 2-pounder couldn’t do, not even the so-called “CS” versions armed with a 95 mm (3.74 in) gun, mostly reserved for smoke rounds. Therefore, it was decided to standardize this caliber and, at the same time, the reliable and cheaper Sherman became the first tank in service by numbers and would remain so until the end of the war. This ROQF 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, though able to fire a useful HE shell, was not as effective against armor as the 6-pounder or the Ordnance QF 17 pounder gun. In addition, a 2 inch (51 mm) “bomb thrower” angled to fire forward was fitted into the turret top, with thirty smoke grenades carried.

Propulsion

A second bulkhead separated the fighting compartment from the engine and transmission compartment. The cooling system drew air in through the top of each side and the roof. Hot gasses were exhausted to the rear louvers. Fording preparation (up to 4 ft/1.2 m deep) imposed the move of a flap to cover the lowermost air outlet. Another air flow to the engine sucked air from the fighting compartment or the exterior, through oil bath cleaners.

The Meteor engine, in its first version, developed 540 hp at 2,250 maximum rpm, limited by a governor built into the magnetos to avoid reaching speeds that the suspensions could no longer manage without damage. It was shown indeed that the pilot tanks could easily reach 75 km/h (47 mph), something unheard of for a British tank, but the Christie suspension (later reinforced by adding more tension) simply could not cope with these speeds. It was therefore decided to govern the engine maximum RPM and, thus, the top speed. But the torque was there, available both for mobility and traction. The gearbox had five forward and one reverse gears. Fuel consumption (on “pool” 67 octane petrol) per gallon ranged from 0.5 (off-road) to 1.5 miles (road) for a total 110 gallons of internal capacity. Off-road speed was 65 km/h (40 mph) with 3.7:1 final reduction drive and around 25 mph (40 km/h) off-road. Later on, armor was added and the engine was re-rated to 600 hp to cope with the additional weight. To face muddy terrain or snow encountered in Northern Europe, later versions were given 14 in wide (36 cm) or even 15.5 in wide (40 cm) tracks. In all cases, ground clearance was 16 inches (40.6 cm).

Production

Several British firms besides Leyland contributed to the production of the Cromwell and Centaur, including LMS Railway, Morris Motors, Metro-Cammell, Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company and English Electric.

In all, 3066 A27M Cromwell were built, but when adding the A27L (950), the entire A27 class was 4016 tanks strong. This was still way below the total of Shermans used by the British Army and the Commonwealth and, for the sake of standardization, first line regular units were preferably equipped with the Sherman, while the Cromwell was mostly used for special (elite) units and more specific purposes.

Cromwell I

A virtual duplicate of the Centaur I with the early V12 Meteor engine and 6 pdr (57 mm/2.24 in) gun. Only 357 were produced.

Cromwell Mark I at Puckapunyal.

Cromwell II

This prototype had increased track width and the hull machine gun was removed to increase storage.

Cromwell III

Centaur Is upgraded with the early Meteor V12 engine. Only 200 were so converted.

Cromwell IV

The first major production version, it also comprised Centaur Is and IIIs upgraded with the latest Meteor engine. Over 1,935 units were produced with several hulls types and the new 6-pdr re-chambered as a 75 mm (2.95 in) gun. By far, it was the most common version of the Cromwell.

Cromwell IV at the Bovington Tank Museum.

Cromwell IVw

A version upgraded with the new Meteor engine, and all welded hull (“w” stands for welded).

Cromwell Vw

A production version using, from the start, a welded construction and 75 mm (2.95 in) gun.

Cromwell VI

Specialized CS (Close Support) version armed with 95 mm (3.74 in) howitzer and carrying with smoke and HE rounds. Only 341 were produced.

A Cromwell Mark VI, the close support version equipped with a 95 mm (3.74 in) howitzer.

Cromwell VII

These were upgraded Cromwell IV/Vs with additional armor (100 mm/3.94 in front flat plate), fitted with the wider 15.5 inch (40 cm) tracks and and some gearbox changes. Around 1,500 were so upgraded and produced relatively late in the war.

Cromwell Mark VII at the Kubinka Museum.

Cromwell VIIw

Cromwell Vw upgraded to the Cromwell VII standard or built as such from the start.

Cromwell VIIw, the welded hull variant.

Cromwell VIII

Cromwell VI upgraded to the standard of the Mark VII.

Cromwell VIII

Identification Issues

The Cromwell and Centaurs were nearly impossible to tell apart visually. Only the identification plates, cross-linked to the specific factory delivery lists can give a clue, since some manufacturers built the A27(L) rather than the A27(M). Centaurs, more often than not, had the raised vent on the engine deck. However, English Electric, that produced the “vented Centaur”, received an order for around 1200 Centaurs, but swapped from the Liberty to the Meteor engines after 130 units, these being Cromwells. However, these vehicles were still essentially built like Centaurs, with weaker suspension springs and proper internal track adjustment features. To add some more confusion, production hulls varied over time and factory adjustments.
Type A hull: Both the driver and hull gunner had lift-up hatches.
Type B and C hulls mostly had a slightly different internal arrangement.
Type D/E hulls: Reworked engine deck panel arrangement.
Type F hull: Swing-out hatches for the hull crewmen, extra stowage bins on the turret sides, fender bin on the driver’s side removed.
Welded hulls (around 100+ built): Applique armor on the front hull and turret sides, “Vauxhall” driver’s hatch.

Variants

Cromwell Command

The main gun was removed and two N°19 (High & Low Power) wireless sets were carried. Used by brigade and divisional headquarters.

Cromwell Observation Post

Cromwell IV, Cromwell VI or Cromwell VIII keeping their main gun but fitted with extra radio equipment (2 x No. 19 and 2 x No. 38 portable radios).

Cromwell Control

These were fitted with two No. 19 Low Power radios and kept their main gun. Used by regimental headquarters.

Excelsior

An experimental design of Infantry/Cruiser tank intended to replace the Churchill Infantry Tank. Two 40-ton prototypes with reinforced American suspension were built by English Electric in 1944.

English Electric A33 Excelsior prototype. Circa 1944

 

FV 4101 Charioteer

The Charioteer was a postwar derivative fitted with a new turret housing the QF 20 pounder (84 m/3.3 in) gun.

An Austrian Charioteer photographed in the 1950s.

The Cromwell In Action

The A27Ms were already available in the beginning of 1944, but none left the British soil. They were all kept for training, and the series was refined until D-Day. Since Sherman’s formed the bulk of British and Commonwealth armored units, Cromwell’s were used only in the armored brigades of the 7th Armoured Division, as well as the armored reconnaissance regiments of the elite Guards Armoured Division and the 11th Armoured Division, which all served in North-western Europe. In June 1944, the Cromwell saw action for the first time, during Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy. The Normandy campaign, however, especially at the beginning and until the Falaise pocket battles, showed the Cromwell struggling with the narrow lanes and hedgerows of the Normandy countryside. Hedgerow-cutters were hastily welded to the beak of some tanks, but losses were generally high. At Villers Bocage, on June 13, 1944, an entire column was ambushed and wiped out by a few Tigers commanded by Michael Wittmann of the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. Most of the 27 tanks, lost in less than 15 minutes, were Cromwells. However, after August, the terrain once more favored mobility and speed, and the Cromwell showed all its qualities, despite a much less resolute opposition.

The Cromwell was also used by Allied units of the 1st Polish Armoured Division (10th Mounted Rifle Regiment) and 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade, which soldiered in the Netherlands and Germany until V-day in May 1945. Their career did not end in May 1945. Some saw service in the Korean War with the 7th RTR and the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars. Modified Charioteers saw extensive service until the 1960s in Great Britain and much later in other countries like Finland, Austria, Jordan and Lebanon. The A27M was also used by the IDF in the War of Independence (1948–1949). Others were purchased by the Portuguese Army and maintained in service until the 1960s.

Reception of the new tank by the crews was mixed. Being must faster than the Sherman and favored by a lower profile, they also had a thicker frontal armor plate and a good gun. But, at the same time, it was soon discovered that neither the armor nor the firepower was a match for the Tiger and Panther that were already one step further. Like the Shermans, the Cromwell needed to maneuver in order to get a better angle, which was even easier because of their excellent mobility. The Rolls Royce was a wonderfully engineered piece of machinery but needed much more maintenance than the Sherman engines. Reliability was a discovery for British crews, accustomed to previous generations of Cruisers equipped with the Liberty engine. This resulted in a far greater rate of availability for any given operation. The next step was to install a 17-pdr (76.2 mm/3 in), the only gun that could take on any German tank at the time. But the turret of the Cromwell was never tailored for it, and a small number of Challenger and Firefly tanks were provided instead. By the end of 1944, British engineers upgraded the Cromwell, which was at last given a new turret able to house the 17 pdr. But it was too little too late and the Comet did not change the face of events. The Comet would eventually lead to the Centurion in 1945, the world’s first MBT and one of the most successful tanks ever designed. At least seven Cromwell’s are on display throughout the world today.

Cromwell of the 15th-19th Kings Royal Hussars, 11th Armoured Division, Uedem, Germany. February, 1945.

Cromwell Mk. I Specifications

Dimensions 20.1 x 9.6 x 8.2 ft (6.35 x 2.9 x 2.49 m)
Total weight, battle ready 27.6 long tons
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Rolls Royce Meteor V12 Petrol, 27 l, 600 hp (447 kW)
Suspension Christie system
Top speed 40 mph (64 km/h)
Range (road) 170 mi (270 km)
Armament QF Vickers 6-pdr (57 mm), 64 rounds
2x 0.303 (7.9 mm) Besa LMGs, 2950 rounds
Armor From 15 to 76 mm (0.5 to 6 in)
Total production 3066

M4 Sherman

USA (1941)
Medium tank- about 49,234 built

Foreword: A Winner by Numbers

The M4 Sherman (named after the famous American Civil War general William T. Sherman) is one of the few really iconic fighting equipment of the Allies during Word War Two, and one of the most famous tanks in history. But this historic status was gained not thanks to its intrinsic qualities, but more to the sheer numbers in which they were provided, only surpassed by the Soviet Union’s T-34, with a staggering 50,000+ total delivered. It remains by far the most widely used tank on the Allied side during the war, it was derived into countless derivatives, and had a very long postwar career which lasted well into the Cold War. It has been largely compared to the T-34, and had the occasion to confront some during the Korean War.

Captured T-34 tanks pressed into service by the Wermacht on the Eastern Front. January, 1944

However, the Sherman was not as successful as it seemed. Derived in a haste from the previous and controversial M3 Lee/Grant, it was the first to bear a fully-traversing turret with a 75 mm (2.95 in) gun. It was designed from the very beginning for mass-production. Cheap and relatively simple to build, easy to maintain, reliable, roomy, sturdy, fast, well-armored and well-armed, it was the good-all-around armored vehicle the Allies had sought for until 1942, when it first arrived on the North African front. It literally soldiered in every corner of the globe, under many colors, from 1942 to the end of the war. These theaters included (in WWII alone) most of North Africa, Russia, most of Europe, the Eastern Indies, China, the Philippines, many Pacific islands and China.

 

Design of the M4 Sherman

Designed from the drawing board to be produced as quickly as possible on the very same factory lines which were already delivering hundreds of M3s monthly, the M4 was kept as close as possible to its predecessor, including suspension, tracks, transmission, although with an entirely brand-new upper hull. Some details of the T6 disappeared on the standard M4 launched in October, like the side hatches (inherited from the M3), cast hull and the two additional hull machine-gun ports. Ease of production later dictated even more sacrifices and simplifications in the design. Just like the M3 Lee, the Sherman’s suspension was of the VVSS (Vertical Volute Spring Suspension) type. The running gear comprised three sets of bogies, each with two paired large rubber-covered roadwheels, a rear adjustable track idler wheel and front drive sprocket connected to the gearbox, and three return rollers. The 78-links track was of the standard model, although reinforced and modified to minimize ground pressure, first used on the M1 Combat Car back in 1937.

An M3 Lee tank undergoing trials at Fort Knox. June, 1942

The Continental R975 engine, which was kept for nearly all versions, was an air-cooled, gasoline radial engine delivering 400 hp (298 kW) at 2400 rpm. It was fed by two tanks totaling 660 l (175 gal) of gasoline, which gave around 195 km of practical range (about 120 miles). Power-to-weight ratio was 15.8 hp/ton (11.78 kW/ton). The gearbox was spicer, manual, synchromesh, with 5 forward gears (plus overdrive), one reverse. The controlled differential comprised a built-in brake steering system, which was controlled through levers. There was also a parking brake. The engine compartment contained two fixed large fire extinguishers, manned by a crewmember from the fighting compartment. An auxiliary generator provided extra power and helped warm the engine during cold winters.

A Wright R975 “Whirlwind” Engine built for the M4 Sherman

The lower hull was made of large welded parts, although the bogies were bolted to the hull for easier replacement or repair, and the rounded front was made of three bolted steel plates. Other external parts were either bolted or welded. The upper hull, at first cast, was later welded, with a well-sloped glacis, flat sides and slightly sloped engine compartment roof, making a characteristic tumblehome culminating just above the main turret. The back plating included a rear “U” shaped exhaust muffler, distinctive of the early production. The armor was 76 mm (2.99 in) thick on the nose and upper glacis, 50 mm (1.96 in) on the turret and upper sides and 30 mm (1.18 in) elsewhere. The upper hull, at first welded, was cast and rounded on the M4A1.

M4A1 Sherman's on the assembly line at the Chrysler Manufacturing Plant.
M4A1 Sherman’s on the assembly line at the Chrysler Manufacturing Plant.

The driver sat on the left of the front of the hull, while the driver assistant sat on the right, firing a ballmounted cal.30 (7.62 mm) machine-gun. The main turret was roomy, enough for the three other crew members. The loader sat on the left of the main gun and the gunner on the right, while the commander was at the rear, just behind the loader. The three seats had adjustable mountings and could move 30.4 cm (12 in) up and down and 12.6 cm (5 in) forward and backward. The crew had two portable fire extinguishers, a 2-way radio and the use of an interphone. Access and evacuation could be performed through four hatches. Two above the frontal glacis, one revolving on top of the turret and one on the floor, just behind the driver’s seat. Peripheral vision was excellent thanks to five periscopes (one for each crew member), with a 360 degree traverse and vertical tilting. The turret, cast in one piece, comprised a large “basket” which helped turn the entire fighting compartment with it, revolving on a rail thanks to a Bendix electric system.

Tank M4A4 Cutaway: 1 – Lifting ring, 2 – Ventilator, 3 – Turret hatch, 4 – Periscope, 5 – Turret hatch race, 6 – Turret seat, 7 – Gunner’s seat, 8 – Turret seat, 9 – Turret, 10 – Air cleaner, 11 – Radiator filler cover, 12 – Air cleaner manifold, 13 – Power unit, 14 – Exhaust pipe, 15 – Track idler, 16 – Single water pump, 17 – Radiator, 18 – Generator, 19 – Rear drive shaft, 20 – Turret basket, 21 – slip ring, 22 – Front drive shaft, 23 – Suspension bogie, 24 – Transmission, 25 – Main drive sprocket, 26 – Driver’s seat, 27 – Machine gunner’s seat, 28 – 75 mm gun, 29 – Drivers hatch, 30 – M 1919A4 machine gun

On early models direct vision slits, protected by thick bulletproof glass and hinged covers, were provided to the driver and assistant, but later eliminated due to wartime experience of bullet splashes. The gunner periscope contained a telescopic sight directly synchronized with the main gun, while the gun itself received a gyrostabilization hydraulic system for more accurate firing while on the move. The gunner aimed the gun with a hand wheel and fired through electronic impulse from foot operated switches. The main gun was a 75 mm (2.95 in) M3 L/40 model, provided with 90 rounds, at first protected by a Combination Gun Mount M34 and coupled with a fixed secondary cal.30 (7.62 mm) Browning M1919A4 machine gun. Both machine-guns (coaxial and hull) received a total of 4750 rounds in cartridge bands, with some tracers. Later models received the new M34A full mantlet, which also protected the machine-gun port. Anti-air and anti-personal defense was provided by the turret roof cal.50 (12.7 mm) Browning heavy machine gun, provided with 400 rounds. The main gun had elevation and azimuth control and FM radio liaison with an artillery center for stationary gunnery support. The M4 was rugged and could endure a 2500 miles run before requiring any form of maintenance. This was particularly appreciated in many emergency situations, notably Patton’s famous “wild rides”, reminiscent of the Blitzkrieg throughout Europe.

Actual cutaway M4 Sherman at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Production of the M4

The first factory which delivered the M4 was the Lima Locomotive Works. All of these first batches were sent to the British Army through Lend-Lease, and fought in Africa. They found themselves instrumental in many operations which turned the tide of the war in this sector in favor of the Allies. At first, production rate was of 1000 M4s a month, but rose quickly as more factories were involved (11 total), to a figure of 2000 each month by mid-1942. These included (for all variants) Pressed Steel Cars Co., Pacific Car & Foundry, Baldwin Locomotive Works, American Locomotive Co., Pullman Car, Chrysler’s Detroit Tank Arsenal, Pullman Standard Car Manufacturing Co., Federal Welder, Fisher and Grand Blanc in Michigan, the last being specially built for the purpose during the war. A total of 6748 M4s (from July 1942 to January 1944) were produced, as well as 1641 of the late variant equipped with a 105 mm (4.13 in) howitzer for infantry support, the M4(105). Early models had the three-piece bolted nose, while later models had a mixed cast/rolled hull. The gun mantlet also evolved from the M34 to the more protective M34A.

M4A1 at the battle of Keren, Tunisia. Circa 1943
M4A1 at the battle of Keren, Tunisia. Circa 1943

The M4A2 (British Sherman Mk.III)

M4A2 and M4A2(75)W

M4A2 (75mm)
M4A2(75mm)

This evolution came in April 1942, with a new General Motors 6046 engine (two GM 6-71 General Motors Diesel engines), welded hull with extra applique armor on the hull sides and gunner position (left side of the turret). It was produced to a total of 8053 until May 1944. Early versions of the M4A2(75), had small hatches and protruding drivers’ and co-drivers’ hoods, a 57 degree glacis and dry ammo stowage bins. The rear hull plate was sloped. A transitional version built by Fisher, the M4A2(75)D, had a one-piece 47 degree glacis, with large hatches, but it still used dry ammo bins and applique armor. This model was also produced with a diesel GM 6046, 410 hp, used mostly by the British and the USMC. Range was 241 km (150 mi) with 641 liters (170 gal) of fuel (consumption was 279 liters/100 km or 118.6 gal/mi), total weight 31.8 tons, with a 1.01 kg/cm³ ground pressure. The hull frontal glacis was 108 mm (4.25 in) thick.

 

M4A2(76)W

M4A2 (76mm) W
M4A2(76mm)W

The M4A2(76)W was the upgunned late variant, of which over 3230 will be delivered until May 1945. It was fitted with the modified T23 turret, which housed the M1 L/55 gun, which gave an overall length of 7.57 m (25 feet). With the GM 6046 diesel, and 673 liters (178 gal) of fuel, range was 161 km (100 mi). The weight rose to 33.3 tons. The glacis was at 47 degrees, 108 mm (4.25 in) thick with large hatches. By early 1945, the HVSS suspension was fitted.

 

M4A2E4

M4A2E4
M4A2E4

Work on this Variant of the M4 started in March 1943. The vehicle tested the new independent torsion bar suspension system, which replaced the Sherman’s traditional VVSS suspension. 2 prototypes were produced in the summer of 1943, and tested at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. The tank borrowed much from the T20E3, another prototype medium tank that would use the same suspension and 24 inch wide track. Performance of the suspension on this particular vehicle proved unsatisfactory, and field maintenance too complex. As such the project was cancelled.

 

The M4A3 (British Sherman Mk.IV)

M4A3

M4A3
M4A3

The M4A3 was first delivered by the Ford Motor Company in June 1942, alone delivering 1690 machines by September 1943. It was produced to a total of 5015 by all manufacturers combined. Early versions still had the dry ammunition stowage, direct vision slots for the driver and the 60 degree hull glacis (89 mm/3.5 in). The 3071 next had wet ammo stowage and a newer commander cupola. Most of all, it featured the new liquid-cooled Ford V8 500 hp engine, which was capable of giving a top speed of 42 km/h on road (26 mph), and a 209 km (130 mi) range. The suspension was the unchanged VVSS, but the transmission was now protected by a one-piece cast steel armored cover. Driver vision slots were augmented by bullet-proof glass and protective covers. Mid-production they also saw the adoption of duckbills, extended end connectors for the tracks, which improved the grip on soft terrains. Early series also saw extra 25 mm (1 in) thick applique armor welded over the ammo storage bins and the turret gunner position, later removed. By 1943-44, the recognition white stars were usually painted black or olive drab in order to mask them to enemy gunners, which used them as an aiming point.

 

M4A3(75)W

M4A3 (75mm)W
M4A3(75mm)W

The M4A3(75)W was equipped with the longer barrel M3 L/40 gun, and over 3000 will be delivered until March 1945. Modification range was similar to the M4A2(75)W. At first it had the early hull type, with “dry” stowage and a 60° glacis plate, later gaining “wet” stowage with a 47° glacis, 108 mm (4.25 in) thick.

M4A3(76)W

The 76 mm (3 in) version, the M4A3(76)W was first introduced in March 1944 and a total of 4500 were delivered until April 1945. Modifications range was similar to the M4A2(76)W.

M4A3(76mm)W
M4A3(76mm)W

M4A3E2 “Jumbo”

M4A3E2 "Jumbo"
M4A3E2 “Jumbo”

The Allies quickly realized they needed a “breakthrough tank” for the upcoming Normandy campaign. A total of 254 Sherman M4A3s were hastily modified between June-July 1944, equipped either with 75 or 76 mm (2.95-3 in) gun, welded hull and gasoline Ford GAA V8 with a 764 liters fuel tank (261 km range), and the thickest frontal armor so far, with applique armor on the frontal glacis of 89 mm (3.5 in), which gave a total of 178 mm (7 in)(doubling the original thickness). Total weight was 38.1 tons. The “Jumbo” was able to resist all German AT guns including the 88 mm (3.46 in), and even the Tiger was unable to penetrate them frontally. The bad side of this upgrade was high fuel consumption and poor maneuverability. However, their success in operations led to a dramatic increase in the “Easy Eight” series production, already available in small numbers in April-May 1944 on the British side.

M4A3E8 “Easy Eight”

An M4A3E8 Sherman stopped in a village in France. Circa 1944
An M4A3E8 Sherman stopped in a village in France. Circa 1944

A famous derivative, the M4A3E8 or “Easy Eight”, first produced by Detroit Arsenal factory, had a 47 degree sloped glacis with large hatches, wet ammo bins, full up-armored sides, new HVSS suspensions, a revised turret with the long 76.2 mm (3 in) gun fitted with a muzzle brake. They were designed on British specs (local denomination “Sherman AY”), and were produced from March 1944 to April 1945, with 4542 units total. Many had upper side skirt protection. They were fast, with the Ford V8 500 hp, giving 47 km/h (29.2 mph) , gasoline, giving a range of 161 km (100 mi), for a 475 l/100 km (201.94 gal/mi) consumption. The glacis armor was upgraded to the “Jumbo” standard, with 178 mm (7 in). These saw action in the latest phases of the conflict in Europe and in the Pacific. The “Easy Eight” was retained in service long after the war and saw service in Korea and Vietnam, as well as in many foreign armies. The Israeli modified this model to such an extent (M50/51 “Super Sherman”) that it was in active service until the late 80s.

M4A3E9

In an attempt to address the Sherman’s ever lasting ground pressure issues, the addition of extended end connectors, or ‘duckbills’ on the outside of the tracks were added. The ‘E9’ version took this one step further by adding ‘duckbills’ on the inside edge of the track as well. To achieve this, the bogey trucks were space-out at approximately 4.5 inches from the lower hull. The modification did work, but by this time the wider WVSS track system had become available, and this essentially overshadowed the variant. As such only one vehicle is believed to have existed.

The M4A4 (British Sherman Mk.V)

M4A4 Sherman
M4A4 Mk. IV Sherman

This series was first introduced in July 1942 and produced until November 1943, to a total of 7499 machines. It had the most resistant welded hull of all the series, despite a downgraded armor (76 mm (3 in) glacis), and received a new composite Chrysler multibank engine (made of five car engines) which needed more space (the hull was lengthened by 15 cm/5.9 in) and scrupulous, careful maintenance. This model was not particularly appreciated with US crews and most went to the British and other Allied forces. The Russians were the most prolific “customers” of this version, but they didn’t like it either, because of the sensitive engine and relatively light armor. The British, Canadian, Australians, Free Polish and Free French all fought in Italy with this model. They also saw service at El Alamein, during the Tunisian campaign, Sicily and Western Europe. But by mid-44 up-armored and up-gunned models gradually replaced them. Losses had been heavy, not only because of enemy fire. The engine rarely caught fire when hit, but caused trouble because of complicated maintenance issues and long or delayed repairs.

The Howitzer Version: M4(105)

M4(105)

An M4(105mm) HVSS in the Ardennes. January, 1945
An M4(105mm) HVSS in the Ardennes. January, 1945

First introduced in February 1944, production stopped in March 1945, after a total of 1641 machines. It was devised during the Italy campaign, to give added infantry support firepower with the advantage of a fully traversing turret. In fact, the M7 Priest was one of the most widely used SPGs during this particular campaign. The standard M1919A4 howitzer was modified and compacted for the task. All existing gun aiming and facilities for indirect fire were improved. Armor was slightly thinner than usual, ranging from 63 mm (2.48 in) (glacis sloped at 47 degree), 38 mm (1.5 in) for the sides and rear and 19 mm (0.75 in) for the top. The mantlet was 91 mm (3.58 in) thick, turret front was 76 mm (3 in), slopes were 51 mm (2 in) and top 25 mm (0.98 in). The engine was the early radial Continental R975-C4, 9-cylinder 4-cycle, air cooled (15,945 cc and 460 hp at 2,400 rpm), giving a range of 161 km (100 mi) and a cruise speed of 38.6 km/h (24 mph) on road.

M4A3(105)

Produced from May 1944 to March 1945 with a total of 3039 machines. It had every improvement of the regular A3 series, and thus was more successful. It appeared quickly that the punch of a solid HE round was also more than adequate in many tank to tank engagements against German armor. Used in conjunction with “Zippo” (flamethrower) versions, the USMC deployed these support pairs with high profit against Japanese fortifications.

n M4 (105) Sherman tank with spare track-links welded on its front for additional armour protection, preserved at the Langenberg Liberation Memorial in Ede, Netherlands

The M4A6, for the USMC

This model had a cast front with welded and lengthened sides and was propelled by a diesel Caterpillar D200A radial. A total of only 75 were delivered between October 1943 and February 1944 by Detroit Arsenal. Nearly all saw service only with the USMC in the Pacific, where diesel tanks were preferred for service, as a compatibility issue with other materials used.

M4A6
M4A6

A Famous Offspring: The Sherman Firefly

An American GI inspects a penetration whole in a knocked out Sherman Firefly. Circa 1944
An American GI inspects a penetration hole in a knocked out Sherman Firefly. Circa 1944

The Sherman Firefly was in fact a British project, which started as soon as the highly successful British AT QF 17-pdr (76.2 mm/3 in) was chosen to equip the new generation of Cruiser tanks. Paradoxically, it had been rejected in 1943 by the Ministry of Supply’s Tank Decision Board, on the charges that the already planned Centurion and Comet would be sufficient. At the same time the Cromwell, fitted with a Vickers 75 mm (2.95 in) and the Challenger, with the 17-pdr (76.2 mm/3 in), just entered intensive tests before production. The Firefly was the brainchild of veteran tank commander Lt. Col. George Witheridge and Major George Brighty, working at Lulworth on the A30 Challenger project. They militated for the project despite official opposition and the final prototype was given roots thanks to the work of W.G.K. Kilbourn, an engineer from Vickers, which succeeded in adapting the turret to its new purpose. As the A30 project suffered further delays, after the final tests in February 1944, a 2100 order for the modified Sherman was given the highest priority by Winston Churchill himself. The “Firefly”, also officially called Sherman VC or IC, was produced until the end of the war in Europe, in May 1945, from Lend-Lease shipped hulls and turrets, based on M4A4, M4 and composite hulls. 500 were ready and took part in the Normandy campaign, and many more were produced until the fall of Germany. Exact numbers are still elusive. Jane’s WWII vehicles records stated a total of 2346 Fireflies.

Derivatives of the Sherman

M10 Wolverine Tank Destroyer

Officially called the 3-inch (76.2 mm) Gun Motor Carriage M10, first introduced in late 1942. Over 6700 were built. The regular version used the Medium Tank M4A2 basis and the M10A1 used the M4A3.

An M-10 tank destroyer of the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion (U.S. Fifth Army), as it advances along a mountain road in support of the 10th Mountain Division, which is pushing north from Poretta on Route 64 toward the Po Valley. March 3, 1945

M36 Jackson Tank Destroyer

Ordinance 90 mm (3.54 in) Gun Motor Carriage M36, development of which lasted from March 1943 to June 1944, began to appear in Europe in September 1944. 1400 were built and they had a long postwar career.

American M36 “Jackson” tank destroyers move forward during heavy fog to stem German spearhead near Werbomont, Belgium. December 20, 1944

M7 Priest HMC

Derivative using the standard M1/M2 105 mm (4.13 in) howitzer. First introduced by April 1942, 4443 were built until the end of the war. This number includes the sub-variant M7B1, the British personnel carriers M7 “Defrocked Priest” and Canadian Kangaroo.

self-propelled howitzer M7 Priest of the 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the 2nd Armored Division at the intersection of Holgate Street and the railway line Paris-Cherbourg, Carentan, France. June 18, 1944

Ram and derivatives

A famous Canadian-built version (around 2000 built between 1942-44), kept for training only, featuring many differences from the Sherman.

Sexton: An HMC carrying the Ordnance QF 25 pounder (87.6 mm/3.45 in), which replaced the Bishop. Around 2000 built by the same manufacturer as the Ram, Montreal Locomotive Works.

A British “Sexton” self-propelled gun of 147th “Essex Yeomanry” Field Regiment, First Royal Artillery unit, prepares to fire its gun in Germany. November 21, 1944

Grizzly Mk.I: A cruiser tank first introduced in 1943 (188 built) and built using US spare parts at the Montreal Locomotives Factory on the M4A1 chassis, but with a slightly revised, roomier cast hull.

Grizzly M4A1 Sherman tank at Base Borden Military Museum

Flame-thrower versions

M4A3R3 Zippo: Probably the most famous of these versions, developed by the USMC to deal with Japanese bunkers, reinforced pillboxes and other fortifications. The name came from the famous lighter. It was developed in 1944 after the terrible casualties at Saipan, and first served en masse at Iwo Jima and later at Okinawa.

An M4A3R3 “Zippo” flame throwing tank shoots a burst of napalm during training maneuvers during the peace talk period of September, 1953, in Korea.

M4 Crocodile: British modified M4s along the same lines as the Churchill Crocodile, for the US 2nd Armored Division.

A Pair M4A3E8 Sherman “Crocodile” tanks, with POA-CWS-H5 double barrel flamethrower equipment, from the Flame Platoon, First Tank Bn, First Marine Division, Korea. Circa 1950

Sherman Badger: An offspring of the Ram Badger, this was a Canadian version of the M4A2 HVSS equipped with a Wasp IIC flamethrower.

Sherman Adder: Local conversions kits developed in India for the Sherman III and V which fought in the Eastern Indies campaign.

Heavy GMC Versions

155 mm Gun Motor Carriage M12: These GMCs carried a 155 mm (6.1 in) gun and were assisted by Cargo Carrier M30s carrying ammunition, both based on Sherman chassis.

An M12 155mm self-propelled gun firing across the Moselle River in France. Circa 1944

155 mm Gun Motor Carriage M40: Another derivative, using the “Long Tom” (155 mm/6.1 in) artillery piece and assisted by the T30 cargo ammunition carrier.

M40 in the US Army Ordnance Museum

203 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M43: This 8-in howitzer version was closely based on the M40.

A gun crew firing an M43 eight-inch self-propelled howitzer at Communist hill positions after receiving a fire mission from Co. A, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Eighth Army, west of Punchbowl, Korea. August 13, 1950

250 mm Gun Motor Carriage MMC T94: A 10-in GMC also closely based on the M40, probably the heaviest piece of ordnance ever put on a Sherman.

Rocket-launcher Versions

T34 Calliope: Famous rocket version, developed in 1944 and massively used against German positions in 1945. Fired up to 60 113 mm (4.45 in) (E1) or 183 mm (7.2 in) (E2) rockets.

Firing 4.5 inch rockets from M4-Sherman “Calliope” multiple rocket launcher, mounted on M-4, No. A-3 tank of the 14th Armored Division, in France.

T40/M17 Whizbang: A 1944 special demolition version equipped with a set of short-range 7.2″ HE rockets (183 mm).

Illustration of T40/M17 Multiple Rocket Launcher from War Department Technical Manual, TM9-296, 7.2-Inch Multiple Rocket Launcher M17, issued January 9, 1945

Sherman Tulip: A handful of Shermans were equiped with two 3-inch (“60 lb”) RP-3 (76.2 mm) rockets on rails on the turret. Served with the 1st Coldstream Guards on the Rhine offensive.

British Sherman Mk.V tank fitted with 60 lb RP-3 (Rocket Projectile 3-inch) air to ground aircraft rocket launcher rails.

Genie Versions

M4 Dozer: M4 fitted, in 1943, with a hydraulic dozer blade from a Caterpillar D8. Widely used in many theaters of war to create airfields and base camps in wooden or jungle areas. First developed as a kit, but later on more turretless Shermans appeared with this equipment fixed permanently. It was largely used in the Normandy Bocage, later replaced by Shermans equipped with the Culin Cutter kit.

An M4 (105) Dozer at Yad la-Shiryon (Latrun) Museum

M4 Doozit: M4 dozer equipped with demolition charges on a wooden platform. Never used in combat, contrary to the the T40 WhizBang.

American crews pose for a photo with Sherman T40 WhizBang’s

M4 Bridgelayer: Many US and Commonwealth versions. First introduced in Italy as a turretless Sherman equipped with a frame-supported assault bridge with rear counterweight. There were also the British Fascine carrier Crib, Twaby Ark, Octopus used by the 79th Armured Division, the Plymouth (Bailey Bridge) and the US Sherman AVRE fitted with a Small Box Girder bridge.

A Sherman Twaby Ark bridging vehicle with ramps in travelling position. April 4, 1945

M4 Mine-clearer: No less than 26 variants, some never operational, came to life between 1943-45. First operational ones appeared in Italy. The US-versions (T1-T6 Roller) used two massive front rollers to explode the mines by ground pressure, while the British versions Sherman Crab (T2-T3 and sub-variants) used a frontal flail roller, similar to the Scorpion. The Canadian CIRD (Canadian Indestructible Roller Device) was a land-mine exploder. There were also a serrated edged discs version, mine exploder versions equipped with a frame with small rollers or a steel plunger, several mortar versions, a remote-control demolition version and a plough version with depth control apparatus.

A Sherman M4A4 (flail) ,with a 75 mm gun, mine clearing tank at the Worthington Tank Museum at CFB Borden, Ontario, Canada

Recovery versions

Sherman ARV: (Armored Recovery Vehicle) Several British versions based on the Sherman III (M4A2) and Sherman V (ARV I and ARV II).

A Sherman III ARV I – British Amoured Recovery Vehicle conversion of Sherman III (M4A2), of the 79th Armoured Division, Summer, circa 1944. Note the large winch pulley on front glacis plate and specialized storage on hull sides.

Sherman BARV: Same, but specialized for beach vehicle recovery.

A Sherman BARV

Amphibious Versions

Sherman DD: (for “Duplex Drive” but the crews nicknamed it “Donald Duck”) This special-purpose vehicle was specifically developed for D-Day. It featured a flexible waterproof canvas skirt fixed on the mudguard, reinforced with a folding wooden and metal frame.

Sherman DD (Duplex Drive) with folded canvas

The principle was to create some buoyancy through a “flotation screen”, first developed for by the British Hungarian-born engineer Nicholas Straussler in 1940. Several trials were performed with various tank models including the Valentine, but later applied to the Sherman in the perspective of future amphibious landings. Other modifications included a blade propeller fitted at the back, which could be activated by the main engine (hence the name of “duplex drive”).

The idea was sound and well-tested during D-Day on June, 6, 1944, several hundred British and US DDs, launched from cargo ships 2 miles (3.22 km) from the shore assaulted their respective beach sectors. However, due to the bad weather many were lost en route to the shore. They had more successes during operation Dragoon (landing in southern France) and when crossing the Rhine by early 1945.

Shermans with T6 devices: This was a kit adapted to a limited number of USMC Shermans during the assault on Okinawa. It consisted of four (for each side) boxy pressed-steel floats, called pontoons, which procured buoyancy, while the tracks provided some propulsion. It was only used close to the shore. The equipment was then removed by the crews for the upcoming operations.

Shermans with Deep Wading Gear: This apparatus consisted of two large ducts mounted on top of the engine ventilation hatch and exhaust. Thanks to this system, which caught air one meter above the tank, and well-sealed hatches, the Sherman could be deposited by large ships on the sea floor, at more than three meters depth. This kit could also be used to ford large rivers. The USMC used some for operations in the Pacific and in Europe, some took part on the assault on Dieppe (1942), at Salerno and during the Normandy landings in 1944.

The Sherman in Operations

As there is an endless list of campaigns and battles in which the Sherman was involved from late 1942 to 1945, it would be interesting to focus on the reasons the Sherman became a legend, usurped or not, and debunk some tenacious reputation about it, with all the respect and precision this ample matter deserves.

As General Patton himself summarized: “In mechanical endurance and ease of maintenance our tanks are infinitely superior to any other”. This was especially true compared to the Tigers and Panthers which were slow and ponderous, with high consumption, requiring careful maintenance and limited cross-bridges capabilities. They acted more like some sort of “mobile antitank pillboxes” and, eventually, the nimbler Shermans could out-run, out-maneuver and, despite all odds, out-fight those superior German machines, although taking losses in the process.

A modern-day reenacment in Belgium with two Shermans

Their mobility was improved by a favorable power-to-weight ratio. German reports stated that the Sherman could climb slopes at angles thought impossible for any Panzer. Their narrow build also helped them cross narrow streets, bridges and forested areas as well, but most of all, helped transportation by rail, therefore improving their mobility.

Their high, bulky nose helped them crush thick vegetation easily, and they were found sturdy and powerful enough to go through any kind of house or wall, which helped them in many urban fights, especially in Italy. However, despite their moderate ground pressure, the narrow tracks were judged inadequate on soft terrain, especially mud and snow. A partial response was found in the adoption of extra track parts known as “Grousers” or “Duckbills”. This feature was factory-born to help the M4A3E2 Jumbo reduce ground pressure. It became mandatory in the “Easy Eight” as well, and these improved tracks were also fitted on some late types by 1945.

The standard VVSS suspension was also the object of some criticism, openly compared to the far more refined torsion arm system used by the Panther, which allowed a very smooth ride and more accurate fire on the move. The solution came in late 1944 with the adoption of the improved HVSS (Horizontal Volute Spring System). The basic system was not changed, but it secured a smoother ride and a better weight distribution, which helped stabilizing the tank.

British or Canadian Sherman III at Ranville, Normandy. June, 1944

Large-scale production and a limited weight (which never really exceeded 36 tons except for a few machines, the average weight being 31-33 tons) helped the large-scale transatlantic shipping of these, despite U-Boot losses. This allowed overall superiority in numbers on the battlefield. Training required few hours and M3 Lee veteran drivers and even gunners had no problems operating the Sherman, thanks to a high level of standardization. For infantry support, the Sherman looked ideally suited.

Dominating the terrain, the commander had an excellent view and the infantry, advancing behind, was well-protected. Two cal.30 (7.62 mm) machine-guns fired in a “blind mode”, just producing a volume of fire, especially into the Normandy Hedgerow and thick vegetation areas in general. But the heavy cal.50 Browning 12.7 mm was even more powerful, efficient against all kind of fixed targets: brick walls, wooden structurex, metal pillboxes, even concrete, and could destroy most of the German prime movers and vehicles, even the armored “Hanomag”. It could be also lethal, with some luck, against low-flying aicraft. Its downside was the completely exposed position of the gunner, when the mount was in the rear turret configuration.

However, the M4 losses during the war reflect the “dark side” of this story. On every front, single tank-to-tank engagements against German tanks turned to be generally unfair, especially with the early versions. The 76 mm (3 in) frontal glacis just couldn’t stop the most recent German AT guns, not to mention the sides, just 50 mm (1.97 in) thick. The hull, due to the high transmission (required by the radial engine) towered at nearly 3 meters (9.84 ft) above the ground, twice the height of the most common German AFV, the StuG III.

An M4 in close support, equipped with hedgerows cutters, in Belgium. Circa 1944

Post-war the Sherman tank gained an unfounded reputation for catching fire easily which still endures. For a tank which in later versions had wet ammo storage and extra protection for ammunition this reputation was meaningless, but nevertheless it endures long after the Normandy campaign.

In Normandy, many Shermans were also killed because of well-hidden and camouflaged AT guns and tanks, helped by the bocage configuration. A partial solution was given by the use of a Culin hedgerow cutter fitted to the lead tank of a company, which was usually also the first one to be killed in action.

The Sherman design evolution dictated by wartime experience called for a thickening of the glacis and side armor, from 76 to 89 mm (3 to 3.5 in), then 108 (4.25 in) and finally 178 mm (7 in) on the “Jumbo”, “Easy Eight” and the British Firefly. The Jumbos were usually used as leading tanks. Shell-proof, they spotted the enemy and helped out-flanking maneuvers. However, the “Easy Eight” and “Firefly” rarely led companies, but instead they were called when the enemy was spotted, using their high-velocity gun to terminate the threat. The British and Canadian versions also camouflaged their long 76.2 mm (3 in/17-pdr) barrel to appear just the length of a standard 75 mm gun and trick enemy spotters which had to choose their targets.

Additional armor plate was often welded in front of the driver and co/driver’s position at the front of the tank and at the side to give them greater protection. The armor plate at the front was 1 1/2 inches (38.1mm) thick and only welded at the top and bottom at an angle leaving a gap in between. This was a form of early spaced armor.

Armor issues led many crews to come up with some sort of impromptu protection made in the field of whatever available, namely sandbags, spare track links, concrete, wire mesh and wood, notably against shaped charge rounds (Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck). General Patton came into scrutiny of the practice of adding loads of sandbags, ordering some systematic tests, which proved that only in a few particular angles the shaped charge of a Panzerfaust failed to penetrate the armor. Therefore, as this practice both stressed the chassis and overheated the engine, it was soon forbidden.

An M4A3E8 “Easy Eight” Sherman covered in sandbags.

Cold War Career and Memorabilia

Despite being designed in 1941, the Sherman was still in service in many countries as far as the fall of the iron curtain in 1990, leaving the strange impression of a “living fossil”. This could be found in the many improvements performed on its chassis, a testimony to its sturdiness and adaptability, and the huge supplies of spare parts available due to an early standardization and unrivaled, at least in the West, mass production. The “Easy Eight” was the blueprint for some improvements and late wartime versions that fought under the US flag during the Korean war and later the Vietnam war, under South Vietnamese flag. The Israeli completely modernized the type, later known as the M51 “Super Sherman”, which performed well during the 1967 and 1973 wars, armed with a new 105 mm (4.13 in) high velocity gun.

An M4A3E8 “Easy Eight” of the B company, 72nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, firing at enemy bunkers on Napalm Ridge, in support of the 8th ROK Division. May, 1952

 

M4 Sherman Specifications

Dimensions 5.84 x 2.62 x 2.74 m (19ft 2in x 8ft 7in x 9ft)
Total weight, battle ready 30.3 tons (66,800 lbs)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, co-driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Continental R975 9-cyl. air-cooled gasoline, 400 hp (298 kW)
Maximum speed 48 km/h (30 mph) on road
Suspensions Vertical Volute Spring (VVSS)
Range 193 km (120 mi)
Armament Main : M2 L/32 or M3 L/40 75 mm (2.95 in) with 90 rounds

2 Browning M2HB cal.30 M1919 (7.62 mm) machine-guns

Armor Maximum 76 mm (3 in)