The M4 Sherman is one of the most immediately recognizable symbols of American power and industry in World War II. And yet it is also one of the most controversial.
Let’s take a brief look at this American tank.
The good of the Sherman tank is easy, it was optimized for mass production and had very high automotive reliability. This last is particularly easy to understate. The vast majority of Shermans fighting in Germany in 1945 had driven there from France. When General Patton made his famous counter attack to relieve besieged Bastogne, he had broken off another attack, realigned his forces, drove 125 miles through snow and ice, and launched an all new attack in two days. He did this, in part, because he knew he could count on the reliability of his equipment, most of all, the tanks. German commanders had used trains to transport their armor to the front prior to that attack, because they knew they couldn’t count on their Panthers or Tigers to drive anything over 50 miles.
The Sherman had other strengths too. Significantly, it was fast, its turret trained quickly, and the main gun was gyro-stabilized. That last meant it could aim on the move. This was uncommon in World War II; in fact, as recently as the first Gulf War this was a notable weakness of Iraqi armor compared to American. Its also worth mentioning the Sherman had reasonably effective radios, which most enemy tanks did not.
But the Sherman did have weaknesses. Most significantly its main gun and armor were inferior to many of its opponents. It also had a reputation for busting into flame when hit. Some of these weaknesses have been greatly exaggerated in modern documentaries; in particular, American HVAP rounds were as good as any anti-tank tank ammo (even if tankers never felt they had enough of them). And “wet” ammunition storage and armored boxes introduced late in 1944 greatly reduced fire hazard. Not to say there weren’t problems, but the Sherman was neither impotent nor a fire trap.
Perhaps the biggest complaint was just the Sherman design had been locked too early and too rigidly. With fairly small incremental changes it remained in production until the end of the War, even though it was roughly equal to a Panzer IV, which the Germans had been aggressively trying to replace for three years.
But I think the ultimate defense for the type is just that it was a medium tank designed for mobile warfare. When detractors compare it to a Panther, which was designed for more static conditions; or worse, a Tiger, which was designed as a limited production heavy unit primarily for defensive operations, it does the Sherman a disservice.
This is from the Tamiya kit. This example fought in France, summer of 1944.