M4A1 Sherman

The Sherman Tank served almost every place the US Army did in World War II.

Let’s take another look at the ubiquitous Sherman.

The M4 Sherman started as a derivative of the M3 Lee. It might be more accurate to say it was the intended medium tank that started with the M3 Lee. The M3 was a compromise design. US industry, specifically forging, could not make an armored turret that could handle a 75 mm gun in 1941. So the M3 put it in armored casemate in the hull, purely as an expedient to get the capable weapon into service.
That deficiency was corrected by early 1942. Although some limitations remained. The prototype featured a cast hull. Because the desired volume of output couldn’t be reached with the cast hull an alternate design with a welded hull was presented as a mostly equal alternative.
Both types were ordered into production based on manufacturer’s capabilities. Just to confuse matters the alternate welded hull would be built as the “M4” while the original cast hull was built as the “M4A1”. Even better, the M4A1 rolled off assembly lines first from February 1942. The M4 joined it in July of that year.
The two models were mechanically identical and went through the same incremental improvements as the War progressed. Including applique armor, revised glacius angle, armored and wet ammunition storage, 76 mm main gun and other changes. To make things even more confusing an M4 Composite, with a cast front end and welded rear was also built. Operationally these were all considered the same tank.
Other sub-types involved different engines. The M4A2 was a diesel, the Army wanted nothing to do with diesel confusing their supply situation so such tanks were passed off to the Marines. The M4A3 used a Ford V8 and entered service from late 1944. M4A4 used a Chrysler multi-bank engine (five smaller engines on one drive shaft) that was less reliable and restricted to Stateside training units (or Lend-Leased). M4A5 and M4A6 also existed in small numbers but did not serve with the US Army.

The earlier M3 Lee was automotively similar to the later Sherman, but industrial limitations kept the 75 mm main gun from being turret mounted.
This can be identified as an early production M4A1 by the small mantlet and welded style transmission housing right up front. An all cast transmission housing came available later.

As the first widely available version of the Sherman in service it was the tank sent to the British Summer of 1942. When Rommel launched his North Africa offensive that year he inflicted massive losses in equipment for the British Army. FDR offered prompt delivery of new Shermans. 250 tanks were stripped from US armored units training up in the United States for immediate shipment to Egypt. These were all M4A1s, Sherman II in British service, classified as a “heavy tank” at the time.
One of them, named “Michael”, was the second Sherman built and first to be Lend Leased. It remains at the Bovington Tank Museum.

The subject here is an early M4A1 with the 1st Armored Division in Italy, Summer 1944. The 1st Armored Division was, appropriately, the first US Armored Division to see combat in World War II. They came ashore in North Africa as part of Operation Torch on November 8, 1942. They were a part of the US Army’s brutally tough learning curve against the Wehrmacht in the next couple months and continued to the end of that campaign in May 1943. They spent a couple months out for re-equipping and reorganization, then entered combat in Italy November 1943. The 1st Armored was landed at Anzio in January and was a part of the breakout that took Rome in June. They remained fighting in Italy to the end of the War.

This is the Tamiya kit, it is very similar to the base “M4” kit and presents no building problems.

An M4 Sherman foreground with the earlier M4A1 behind. The more angular welded body is apparent. Both had the same turret (but different mantlets seen here) and the same Continental R-975 engine.

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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3 Responses to M4A1 Sherman

  1. Ernie Davis says:

    Always good to see the reliable standbys. The Sherman had the misfortune to outlive it’s heyday, diminishing its reputation. The Brits were glad to have them in ’42 and ’43, but by 44 it was clear they needed something more, leading to up-gunned versions and appliqué armor as a stopgap. As we’ve discussed, probably an under-rated tank on it’s own terms, but it suffered in comparison to the late panzers.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah I think that’s all exactly right. The hazards of locking a design too rigidly. Although the good news is it made for a very reliable vehicle.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        True, only making minor changes did allow for the mass production over several years. Production of the Sherman was second only to the T-34 as far as tanks go.

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