M4 Sherman

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.


The Sherman was actually pretty well armed. The 75 mm main gun was reliable and had a high rate of fire. The Sherman also had .30s mounted in the bow and co-axial to the main gun. And many tankers felt the M2 .50 at the commander’s hatch was truly the tank’s main gun. American armored doctrine called for very heavy use of the automatic weapons.

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.

The M4 Sherman and Panzer IV were roughly equal in role and capability.  Both were classified as medium tanks.

The M4 Sherman and Panzer IV were roughly equal in role and capability. Both were classified as medium tanks.

This is from the Tamiya kit.  This example fought in France, summer of 1944.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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9 Responses to M4 Sherman

  1. Theresa says:

    It was not an ideal tank but it got the job done!

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    I can’t count the number of builds of the various versions of this tank i did. Sadly few survived. After a few months in a diorama for the many contests held by a local hobby shop they would often be cannibalized for another project when I didn’t have the extra money for a new build. Recycling helped me get a lot of use out of my kits and a lot more out of the hobby, but sadly not many of my projects survived.

    My only first place in a diorama contest came from a Sherman modified build in 1/35th. I basically built the entire interior of the tank from scratch parts (read other kits I built and later cannibalized) and made sure it could be disassembled for display.

    • atcDave says:

      I wish we’d get a few more options in 1/48th. Like especially a DD and a Jumbo.

      Even more I wish for a Stuart and a Lee in this scale.

      But I think I’ve got another three or four variants buried in my pile, including a Firefly and an E8. I think. I’m just so much more organized with my aircraft…

    • Ernie Davis says:

      The Stuart was always a favorite. I made several of those too. Apparently the Brits loved it in North Africa. When I used to play games like Tubruk (board war game) I could see why. They didn’t pack a lot of punch but they could outmaneuver and outflank just about anything else on the board.

      The Lee was an odd beast. Apparently effective to a degree in North Africa because of the mechanical reliability and firepower, but limited due to the way the 75mm was mounted and a pretty distinctive and high silhouette.

      I’ve built both in 1/35th, the Stuart was the more fun of the two. I thought of doing a full interior build of the Lee, but back in pre-internet days interior drawings and photos were almost impossible to find.

      • atcDave says:

        I’ve got books full of photos for both; and of course now, if they’re ever even kitted, I hardly need the books with so much available on line!

        But yeah I’ve been playing “Battle Academy” a lot recently, and the Stuarts are fun. They are fast, and their 37 mm is reasonably effective in 1941-42. But they really have a glass jaw, they’re basically armored against small arms fire and nothing more.
        The Lee, well I think it helps knowing it was sort of a stop gap from the start. No one ever thought that was a “good” arrangement, it was an industrial limitation of the time, that was quickly fixed for the Sherman.
        But I’d love to build one, just knowing 90% of viewers will look at it and go “what the heck were they thinking…” (and the other 10% will say “cool, a Lee”).

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Heh, yeah,I’d probably say “Cool, a Lee… What were they thinking?” The sad part of this is that we could have had the T-34 from the beginning of the war if the Army had picked up Christe’s designs as opposed to giving them away to the Russians. Sorry, Soviets. They shipped the prototypes (without turrets) out of the country as “tractors”. Wouldn’t be the first nor last times the Russians reverse engineered out technology.

      • atcDave says:

        Sort of like the Model A truck I previously posted.

        I think its extremely hard to restrict that sort of thing. Obviously its frustrating, like when the Soviets reverse engineered the entire B-29 with the Tu-4. But I’m not sure there’s an actual “fix” for the problem.

  3. Pingback: M4A3E8 Sherman | Plane Dave

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