Sherman Tank

The Sherman Tank was the primary Medium Tank of the Canadian Army in the Second World War. US-supplied M4A3(76)W tanks were used in the Korean War by successive squadrons of armour tasked as part of the 25th Canadian Brigade. In 1946, Canada had purchased 300 M4A2(76)W HVSS vehicles for training, and they were used by the Regular Force until replaced by the Centurion, and by Reserve Armoured regiments in Canada until the 1970s as a training vehicle.

Variants

A variety of Shermans were used in Canadian units after the adoption of the tank in the spring of 1943. The main variants used in armoured and armoured reconnaissance regiments were the Sherman III (the designation used by Commonwealth forces for the M4A2) and the Sherman V (M4A4). The chart below shows total Sherman tank production in both the United States and Canada. The Grizzly was a copy of the M4A1 (Sherman II) which did not see overseas service; the Ram was used in the U.K. for training, and variants were used in Northwest Europe in various functions, including command post, observation post, and armoured personnel carrier roles. The United States provided Sherman tanks not only to their own forces fighting in Europe and the Pacific, but the British Commonwealth, Free French, China and Soviet Union.

Sherman Production

Type

Factory

Dates

Number Produced

M4 (Sherman I)

M4

5 U.S. Factories

Jul 1942 – Jan 1944

6748

M4(105): (Sherman Ib)

M4(105)

Chrysler Detroit Tank Arsenal

Feb 1943 – Mar 1945

1641

M4A1: (Sherman II)

M4A1

4 U.S. Factories

Feb 1942 – Jan 1944

6821

M4A1(76): (Sherman II)

M4A1(76)

Pressed Steel Car Company

Jan 1944 – Jun 1945

3426

M4A2: (Sherman III)

M4A2

4 U.S. Factories

Apr 1942 – Jun 1944

7513

M4A2(76)W:  

M4A2(76)W

2 U.S. Factories

Jun 1944 – Jun 1945

2915

M4A3: Sherman IV

M4A3

Ford Motor Company

Jun 1943 – Sep 1944

1690

M4A3(75)W:

M4A3(75)W

Fisher, Grand Blanc Arsenal

Feb 1944 – Mar 1945

3071

M4A3(76)W:

M4A3(76)W

2 U.S. Factories

Mar 1944 – Apr 1945

4542

M4A3(105):

M4A3(105)

Chrysler Detroit Tank Arsenal

Jun 1944 – Jun 1945

3039

M4A3E2:

M4A3E2

Fisher, Grand Blanc Arsenal

May 1944 – Jul 1944

254

M4A4: (Sherman V)

M4A4

Chrysler Detroit Tank Arsenal

Jul 1942 – Sep 1943

7499

M4A6:

M4A6

Chrysler Detroit Tank Arsenal

Oct 1943 – Feb 1944

75

Grand Total: 49,234

M4A5 (Ram): November 1941 – July 1943 (2,122)

Ram I

Montreal Locomotive Works

Nov 1941 – Dec 1941

50

Ram II

Montreal Locomotive Works

Jan 1942 – July 1943

1899

Ram II O.P.

Montreal Locomotive Works

1943

117

Ram II Ammo Carrier

Montreal Locomotive Works

1943

28

Ram II Command Post

Montreal Locomotive Works

1943

28

Grizzly: September 1943 – December 1943 (188)

Grizzly I

Montreal Locomotive Works

Sep 1943 – Dec 1943

188

Grand Total: 2,310

Neither the Sherman III or V had a loader's hatch or cupola style commanders hatch with vision blocks. The Sherman Vc Firefly did have a loader's hatch, added as part of the conversion carried out to fit the 17-pdr gun. Small numbers of hatches with vision blocks began to appear late in the war, and postwar M4s used by Canada did have commander cupolas and loader's hatches.

Sherman III of the Three River Regiment in Ortona, December 1943. The stowage scattered about the tank is not untypical of an armoured unit in combat conditions. LAC Photo.

Sherman V of the 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Fort Garry Horse), near Vaucelles, Normandy, July 1944. The extra armour plate added over the ammunition stowage is clearly visible on the hull side. LAC Photo.

Shermans lined up at a victory parade on 23 May 1945. A Victory Parade involving 3,000 Canadian vehicles was held at the airfield at Eelde in northern Holland. Note the use of spare track as additional armour. The length of the 75mm gun on the Sherman V in foreground can be compared to the length and muzzle brakes of the 17-pounders on the Fireflies. Nearest Sherman also has extended end connectors on the tracks. PAC Photo, caption information by Hans Meines.

M4A2E8 Sherman in 1948-49 during tests on the effect of snow cover on the actuation of mines. Ed Storey Photo.

The Fighting Compartment

I would never call a tank spacious, but it wasn't cramped, either. The use of space had been well planned, and each member of the crew has as much room as he needed to do his job eithout getting in anybody else's way. The driver and co-driver sat at the front of the tank, down in the hull, with the casing of the transmission in between them. The rest of us sat in the turret, which was something like a big metal basket set into the upper part of the tank. The whole turret could pivot 360° to traverse the gun. You had to be careful when you were in action that if you got into a situation where you had to "Abandon Tank!" the gun was pointed away from the driver's and co-driver's hatches so it didn't block them getting out. Inside there were openings in the turret to allow access to the hull and the sponson, as the storage area on the inside wall of the tank was called. Ammunition was kept there, along with tools that weren't stored on the outside and the Homelite generator. I hated the damned thing. When we were stationary, I'd be stuck on wireless watch, alone in the tank, with the Homelite belching smoke and making a racket like an unmuffled motorcycle right beside my seat.1

The Homelite mentioned above was an auxiliary generator, described in detail below under Electrical System.

All tanks of this period shared a number of inherent weaknesses. The crewmen inside a tank were half blind. Narrow vision slits and optical instruments with a limited field of view were their eye on the battlefield. Spotting the usually well-concealed enemy machine-guns against which the infantry demanded the tanks' help was not easy, especially when the tank was pitching and rolling as it moved. Enemy anti-tank guns presented similar problems of detection, and for most of the war German anti-tank guns were capable of destroying British (and Canadian) tanks at ranges of many hundreds of yards. British (and Canadian) tanks could not hope to prosper unless those guns were identified and dealt with.'

 

Not only were tank crewmen half-blind in their steel shells, they were half-deaf too. No man sat more than a few feet from the engine. Its noise quite overwhelmed the reports of firearms and explosions that might otherwise have helped to compensate for limited vision. Slow to detect danger, tanks were also slow to react when they did. Even the lightes tank was a clumsy device. It could not fall flat on the ground, stop, start or change direction in a split second, as a man could. A rut in a track might be enough to protect a man from direct fire; a tank required at least ten feet of depth. From his rut, an infantryman could see and hear what was happening on the battlefield around him with far less hindrance than a tank commander. Although the latter might put his head out of the turret, silhouetted against the sky he presented an irresistible target to enemy snipers. If he eluded that peril and spotted a target, traversing the main gun took precious seconds. Whereas a rifleman or light machine-gunner could have his weapon pointing towards a target almost immediately.

 

In areas where the tank was weak - sensory perception and agility - the infantryman on the ground was strong. Fire-power and bullet-resistance, faculties in which the tank was strong, were weak links for the infantryman. 2

 
Visibility

In January 1945, only one tank of the South Alberta Regiment had a commander's cupola with vision blocks.3 Most Canadian Sherman crews in the Second World War were faced with the choice of restricted fields of vision using periscopes, or dangerous exposure to enemy fire through open or partially open hatches. Some maneuvers were particularly difficult - such as backing the Sherman up. Reversing out of trouble was often preferred as the armour of the Sherman was much thicker in the front than in the rear. Other times, tight terrain or other obstacles made reversing the only way to maneuver. As restrictive as vision was forward, it was non-existent in reverse and the driver had no rear view mirror to guide him. When his tank was on an icy dyke at Kapelsche Veer, Lieutenant Ken Little of the SAR found he couldn't turn around.

As his driver's vision to the rear was extremely limited, Ken opened his hatch to guide the man through this tricky manoeuvre and was killed instantly when a German sniper shot him in the head.4

Armament

Main Gun

The first combat use of the Sherman, in North Africa, identified the 75mm gun as more than adequate for employment against German medium tanks in late 1942 and into 1943. The US envisioned the Sherman as an infantry support tank only, leaving anti-tank work to Tank Destroyers mounting high-velocity guns. The British and Canadians also provided anti-tank units at both the infantry battalion level, and as divisional artillery.

The initial fighting in Sicily and Italy in 1943 and early 1944 saw little employment of German heavy armour, however, the first appearance of the Tiger in North Africa suggested a need to upgrade tank armament. In the summer of 1944, Allied troops in France after the Normandy Landing found themselves increasingly confronted with heavier German armour, including the now-widely issued Panther.

The British developed the 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun as well as Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot shells capable of defeating the heavier German tanks, originally as a wheeled anti-tank gun, and in modified form for the Sherman. Both the Sherman I and Sherman V were outfitted with the 17-pounder in a modified turret:

When the US Army adopted the Sherman tank...they also adopted the British practice of fitting the radio set in the rear of the turret rather than in the hull. The Americans used their SCR 508 set, which was somewhat larger than its British equivalent, although mounting brackets were provided for both. The British No. 19 set, linked with the smaller No.38 set, was perched at the back of the turret where the loader, who doubled as wireless operator, could reach to manipulate the controls. Whether, as some say, a set in this position would actually be destroyed by the recoil movement of the 17-pounder is open to doubt, but it must have come too close for comfort and certainly too close for the loader to operate it properly.

The solution...was to cut a hole in the armour at the back of the turret and then weld on an armoured box, large enough to contain the radios...5

The co-driver's position was eliminated as was the bow machinegun. These vehicles were designated Sherman Ic or Sherman Vc, and given the nickname "Firefly." They were issued one per troop in North-West Europe by the time of the Battle of Normandy, later being increased to two per troop.

(The name "Firefly") did not appear immediately, and its exact origin is unknown: The Firefly was first known as Sherman 17-pounder, or Sherman C.6

The HE shell of the 17-pounder was weak, however, making the Firefly a poor all-purpose vehicle, though a number of Shermans equipped with 105mm howitzers were also used by Canadians in North-West Europe and Italy.

The use of the 75mm gun as an indirect fire weapon originated in Italy with the 8th (New Brunswick) Hussars; by late 1944 the practice was not uncommon, and Shermans in the Nijmegen Salient were often tasked to provide fire in this manner.7

The gun sights on early Shermans were periscopic, replaced in 1943 by three-power telescopic sights "good out to 1000m even though it did not have either the optical quality or the power of German sights, and could prove difficult to use if facing into the sun."8 Ranging was achieved by either the commander or the gunner by estimation, and ballistic reticules were contained in the sights.

.50 calibre

The .50 calibre anti-aircraft machine gun was widely deleted on Canadian tanks;

  • Allied air superiority made the tanks generally safe from German air attack.
  • The .50 was configured such that in order to easily engage ground targets, the gun would have to be fired while standing outside the turret.
  • Crew commanders often found the gun unpredictable when moving through vines or low hanging trees, often being struck in the face or head by the gun when it caught on foliage.
On the commander's cupola was a .50 cal. Browning, ostensibly placed there for anti-aircraft fire...It was rather awkwardly placed, obliging the commander to expose himself to aim it properly, but it was a very destructive weapon against targets such as trucks or wooden buildings.9
 
.30 calibre

All Shermans had a .30 calibre Browning machine gun mounted co-axially with the main gun; the Firefly was the only variant not to also have a bow-mounted .30 calibre Browning. The co-axial gun could be used to roughly guide the main gun onto a target through the use of tracer bullets and observing the "splash" of ball rounds, though at long distances the trajectory of the .30 and the main gun were subject to wide variances, affected also by the type of ammunition being used. The bow machinegun was limited by having no telescopic gunsights, and the gunner had to observe tracers/splash through his periscope (or by exposing the top of his head outside the hatch). "It was a reliable weapon, if a bit hard to change barrels."10 George Forty adds that "The .30 machine-guns were of limited use against anything other than personnel and the bow gun was particularly difficult to aim accurately."11

Ammunition

Types

75mm Gun

The 75mm M3 gun of the Sherman fired several types of ammunition, at a theoretical maximum rate of fire of 20 rounds per minute.12 The following types were used:13

  • High Explosive (HE)

    • Referred to in US service as the M48 High Explosive round, this was suitable for use against infantry (either entrenched or in the open), as well as destroying buildings and un-armoured or lightly armoured vehicles.

  • Smoke

    • The US M89 White Phosphorus round was used alongside standard smoke rounds.

  • Armour Piercing Capped, Ballistic Capped (APCBC)

    • Often colloquially referred to simply as Armour Piercing (AP). The round weighed 20 lbs, the projective itself weighing 15 lbs. It was the standard anti-tank ammunition used by the Sherman, capable of penetrating 68mm of armour set at a 30 degree slope at 500 yards, falling off at greater ranges to 60mm (1000 yards) and 47mm (2000 yards).

  • Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS)

    • APDS rounds had a tungsten-cored projectile which was surrounded by a lighter alloy sheath which separated from the round as it left the muzzle.

17pdr Gun

The following types of ammunition were used:14

  • AP
    • Armour Piercing shot Mark 3T was used in the 17-lbr, a solid steel projectile with tracer.
  • APC shot Mark 4T
    • A capped solid steel projectile.
  • APDS Mark 1T
    • As described above.
  • HE shell Mark 1T
    • High explosive shell with No. 244 fuse and a tracer.

Performance

Projectile type alone did not determine that projectile's ability to penetrate armour. Muzzle velocity of the firing weapon was also a factor; longer gun barrels imparted higher muzzle velocity; while the Sherman's 75mm gun was the same calibre as a Panther's gun, the latter was aided by a larger shell casing (with more propellant) and especially by the long gun tube. The Panther's 75mm gun was superior to the long barreled 75mm of the PzKpfw IV and even superior in performance to the 88mm gun of the Tiger I. Range to the target also impacted ability of a round to penetrate armour, and the further the target was from the gun, the worse the performance.

The controversial aspect of the Sherman tank's performance in combat was the ease with which superior German guns could penetrate the relatively weak armour of the Sherman, the ranges at which it could do so, and the inability of the Sherman's return fire to have the same effect.

...the five main German tank guns (75mm KwK 40 (PzKpfw IV), 75mm KwK 42 (Panther), 88mm KwK 43 (Jagdpanther), 88mm KwK 36 (Tiger I) and 88mm KwK 43 (Tiger II), not including self-propelled guns and assault guns using the same types of armament) were capable of penetrating the 3-inch (76mm) armour of the Sherman V at 1000 yard range while, at the same range, the Sherman 75mm could just penetrate the 80mm of armour on the German (PzKpfw IV) or Jagdpanther but had little chance of penetrating the heavier armour on the Panther and Tiger tanks without using APDS ammunition. The Sherman Firefly, with its 17-pdr (76.2mm) gun was capable of penetrating any German tank except the Tiger II at 1000 yards range and, using APDS shot, the most heavily armoured German tank at 2000 yards. The problem was that the Firefly was no better armoured than the normal Sherman and its long gun barrel betrayed its identity. Talk of long ranges is relatively meaningless, however, because postwar research revealed that the normal range at which German tanks and anti-tank guns opened fire in 1944-1945 was 800 yards, a distance that ensured penetration of every tank in the Allied inventory. The German tactic was to hold their fire as long as possible and their first targets were the easily-identified Fireflies.15

Protection and Survivability

The original design specifications of the Sherman called for the armour to be able to withstand hits from 37-mm guns. At the time the Sherman designs were drafted, 50mm guns were the largest in use on medium tanks. While the armour on the Sherman was comparable to other medium tanks in Britain, Russia or Germany in 1942, advances in German gun technology rendered the armour vulnerable to the later high velocity 50mm, 75mm, and ultra-high velocity 75mm and 88mm weapons that German tanks began mounting in 1943.

17-pounder Sherman of Lord Strathcona's Horse in the Netherlands, April 1945, showing the extent to which extra tracks were often applied to tanks in Canadian service. LAC Photo.

Early Sherman models were also prone to burning when hit by enemy fire (called 'brewing up'). Unprotected ammunition stowage also provided a danger to Sherman crews. A common myth perpetuated in postwar histories that the use of a gasoline (petrol) engine contributed to this tendency and that German tanks used diesel less likely to burn is unsupported by fact; most Second World War tanks, including German models, used gasoline engines and petrol was unlikely to ignite when hit with Armour Piercing shells.

In fact, battlefield experience and (US Army) Ordnance tests established that the main cause of Sherman fires was ignition of the ammunition propellant. A lesser culprit was the occasional ignition of turret hydraulic oil, personal stowage or sometimes fuel. It was estimated that 60-80 per cent of Shermans penetrated by (Armour Piercing) rounds or Panzerfausts burned. This is easy to believe in view of the fact that a penetration from nearly anywhere in the frontal arc would bring a projectile in contact with ammunition, and once the casing ruptured, the (High Explosive) filler used in many German AP rounds would ignite it...Once a propellant fire broke out the crew had little choice but to abandon the vehicle as quickly as possible.16

Later Sherman models decreased the dangers of ammunition stowage by welding one-inch thick applique armour plates to the hull outside the stowage racks, and later moving ammunition to the hull floor and utilizing "wet stowage" where ammunition was kept in liquid filled jackets.

However, as tank crews became familiar with enemy gun performance, additional armour solutions were created in the field, including the use of logs, sandbags, and especially common in Canadian units was the use of spare track welded to the hull and turret - including tracks from tanks other than Shermans, including captured German track. The use of field-applied armour was controversial; some technicians felt it increased the vulnerability to HEAT weapons, others pointed to the strain on drive trains caused by the additional weight. The crews' response was that there was no point preserving the drive train for an additional 500 miles of life if the tank did not survive to the next bend in the road.

By the end of June 1944, armoured crews of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade began to make changes:

The members of the (6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars)) took the opportunity to start making unauthorized modifications to their Shermans. They attached lengths of track from derelicts to the glacis plates (front of the tank) and the sides of the hull. The theory was that the additional armour would either deflect or slow down a round striking the tank. The crews were only too aware of the Shermans shortcomings and felt that they needed every additional advantage they could think of. The RCEME officers who saw these goings on were not impressed. The extra weight would drive up fuel consumption and cause premature track and engine wear, they said. They also stated that the extra padding was illusory, that it would do nothing in the way of adding protection. The crewmen remained singularly unimpressed with these arguments. They didn't care a hoot about fuel, track or engine wear; they cared about getting across the next one hundred yards of ground and living to tell the story. If the extra armour was not real protection, that didn't matter either, they liked it and if it helped their morale and gave them more confidence in their vehicles then it was worth the expense.17

The 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division apparently did not wait long after arriving on the Continent to similarly modify their tanks:

On 3 August (Major) Dave Currie's "C" Squadron (of the South Alberta Regiment) moved up to replace (Major) Lavoie's "A" Squadron, which was withdrawn to have German tank tracks welded to the turrets and hulls of their Shermans for additional armour protection. Apparently, as the War Diarist noted, the Regiment was the first armoured unit in 4th Division "to attempt such a modification and those who have had experience with it can vouch for its usefulness."18

The Sherman acquired the nickname "Ronson" after the popular brand of cigarette lighter (whose slogan was "Lights up the first time, every time!"). German troops sometimes referred to them as "Tommycookers".

Hatches

Survivability for the turret crew was hampered by the fact that Canadian Shermans in the Second World War (with the exception of the Firefly) had only one hatch in the turret. The loader was obliged to "crawl under the gun to exit through the main "commander's" turret hatch", after the commander and gunner had exited.19 Hull crew were similarly at a disadvantage if their overhead hatch was obstructed by the main gun of the turret.

The Sherman also had an emergency hatch in the belly of the tank.

Mobility

Powerplants

The Sherman V used a Chrysler multi-bank engine.

The engine did have its problems, as it was basically five Chrysler truck engines bolted together, thus having 30 cylinders and initially five belt-driven water pumps. Its size took up the majority of space in the enlarged engine compartment and made even simple maintenance difficult. Various changes (such as replacing the five water pumps with just one gear-driven pump) helped to get over some of these problems...In order to fit the larger engine the hull had to be lengthened by some 11 inches and the vertical fuel tanks (of earlier Sherman models) removed. The loss of these tanks was compensated for by the installation of larger sponson tanks, each holding 80 gallons. Bulges also appeared - in the floor for the engine cooling fan and on the rear deck to house the upper part of the radiator assembly. To redistribute the weight properly the centre and rear bogies had to be relocated on the longer hull. Longer tracks were needed (83 plates per track instead of 79), and the ground contact length increased from 147 to 160 inches.20

Soldiers of the Canadian Grenadier Guards receive instruction in tank maintenance in the UK, 24 Jan 1943. PAC Photo.
Soldiers of the Canadian Grenadier Guards receive instruction in tank maintenance in the UK, 24 January 1943. LAC Photo.

Refuelling
 

Our first real tank was the 30 ton Ram...Anyone caught smoking within 50 feet of it was put on charge (during training). I often smiled a year or so later in Italy, seeing someone gassing up a (Sherman) with a cigarette dangling from his lips; sheer stupidity, of course; damn poor discipline, too. But then, in Italy we heated our water for tea with a combustion heater sitting on the tank's floor between the co-driver's feet.21

 
Electrical System

The Sherman ran on a 24-volt DC electrical system, with a power take-off from the main engine driving a 24 V, 50 amp main generator. An auxiliary generator unit - a 30 V, 1,500 Watt generator driven by a one-cylinder, two-stroke, air-cooled fuel fired engine - was located inside the tank. Known as "Little Joe" to US tankers, Canadians referred to it as a Homelite. It was used to charge the Sherman's batteries (two 12-volt batteries, wired in series) when the main engine could not be run, or when the main generator's output had to be supplemented, such as when the radio or power turret traverse placed a heavy load on the batteries.22

Suspension and Tracks

While the earliest models of Sherman tank (as well as Canadian variants such as the Ram) had Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS) bogie trucks with return rollers mounted centrally, the later models used in combat by Canadians had offset return rollers. The postwar Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS) bogie trucks were less maintenance-intensive as they did not have to be disassembled in order to change the wheels. HVSS also gave more wheel travel, providing a smoother ride.

A variety of track types were utilized on Canadian Shermans; including plain rubber blocks, rubber-chevron tracks and metal chevron tracks. The postwar HVSS suspension tracks were different yet again.

Canadian Dry Pin track, very similar in appearance to track used on German medium tanks, was used on the Sexton II self-propelled gun and the Canadian Grizzly tank. Vehicles using this track used a special 17-toothed sprocket.

The track length of the Sherman V was longer owing to the extended hull, on which the bogie trucks were placed farther apart. The track width of the postwar HVSS tanks served to decrease the vehicle's ground pressure. Standard track plate width was 16.5 inches (which could be extended through the use of end connectors, as described below), and track plate width increased to 23 inches on HVSS Shermans.

Turn radius

The largest disadvantage in performance the Sherman had in comparison with its enemy counterparts was its steering, and subsequent turn radius, which was larger than the PzKpfw IV. A US Army Ordnance report lists 31 feet (9.5m) for the turning circle of a Sherman. Panzerkampfwagen by Ellis & Doyle (Argus 1976) list minimum turning circles as:

  • PzKpfw I ausf A&B: 2.1m
  • PzKpfw II ausf F : 4.8m
  • PzKpfw III ausf M : 5.85m
  • PzKpfw IV ausf D&G: 5.92m
  • PzKpfw 38t: 4.54m
  • PzKpfw 35t: 4.88m
  • PzKpfw V (Panther) ausf G : 10.0m
  • PzKpfw VI (King Tiger) ausf B : 4.8m

The standard end connectors of the tracks can be seen above left. Below left are two types of "extended end connector." Drawings based on those found in Sherman in Action.

It was just as well perhaps that the (South Alberta) Regiment received a shipment of track extenders, gadgets which widened the area of the tank tracks giving them better grip in muddy conditions. These were difficult items to fit and the work kept the crews out of mischief for a few days.23

 
A 17-pounder Sherman of the 21st Armoured Regiment (The Governor General's Foot Guards), in Wetle, Germany, 11 Apr 1945. Extended end connectors can be seen on the tracks, as well as a not untypical mixture of stowage and foliage.

Doctrine and Training

Canadian battle doctrine in the Second World War was based in large part on British battle experience in North Africa, but training was hampered by lack of equipment. By early 1943 - just as the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade were preparing for Sicily - modern equipment was becoming available in greater quantities; the Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank in infantry units reflected the trend in western armies to provide substantial anti-tank protection to infantry platoons. The battle-tested 6-pounder Anti-Tank Gun became available to infanty anti-tank battalions, and the Sherman had undergone its baptism of fire, first with British forces at El Alamein, and then with US forces in action against the Vichy French, Germans and Italians. British experience in the desert had been marked by aggressive tactics using inferior tanks, anti-tank guns and infantry weapons leading to costly defeats. General Montgomery, appointed commander of the 8th Army, changed that. He would also put his stamp on the Canadian soldiers fighting in Italy and North-West Europe.24

General G.G. Simonds, who had previously commanded the 1st Division in Sicily, led II Canadian Corps in battle in the Battle of Normandy, and outlined doctrine for the Canadians there under his command, based on his Sicily and Italy experience. He advised that tanks be used aggressively, following behind leading infantry on the attack. "In theory there was nothing wrong with Simonds' version of Allied battle experience but in practice the thinly armoured, under-gunned Sherman tanks were seldom able to accompany the infantry onto the objective, and almost never able to stay to help meet the counterattacks."25

Montgomery had argued with the British War Office about the correct method of employing tanks for 18 months prior to the Normandy Landing. While the War Office was not willing to abandon the concept of "infantry" tanks (slow, heavily armoured but lightly armed) and "cruiser" tanks (fast, lightly armoured, and equipped with potent anti-tank weaponry), Montgomery insisted that all tanks be capable of both roles - infantry support and fighting other tanks. (American doctrine, arrived at independently, nonetheless followed the War Office's direction - "tanks" were for infantry support and "tank destroyers" were for killing other tanks.) However, little thought seems to have been applied to the matter of actually organizing an armoured division for combat. Little time was spent before Normandy in training in tank-infantry co-operation, and the armoured divisions were organized with armour in one brigade and infantry in another. The infantry divisions earmarked for the Continent had no armour at all, though independent armoured brigades (such as the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade) were intended to be portioned out as necessary.26

"During 1943 the Canadians, like the other Allied troops in the United Kingdom, were gradually developing the artillery-based battle doctrine which built on the strengths rather than the weaknesses of the Allied armies."27 Training in tank-infantry co-operation was left wanting; after November 1943, the two sole Canadian armoured brigades in the UK were "heavily involved with their own training and there was no opportunity for further work on infantry-tank co-operation."28

Scales of Issue

Sherman

The standard 75mm gun armed Sherman was used exclusively in Canadian Armoured Regiments in action, with the exception of Fireflies used to augment the anti-tank capabilities of the troops and squadrons. Both Armoured Reconnaissance Regiments (of the 4th and 5th Armoured Divisions) were also equipped with Shermans.

Firefly

In Northwest Europe, the Firefly was a standard issue in armoured regiments, 1 per troop, though the 29th Canadian Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (South Alberta Regiment) did not receive Sherman Fireflies until September 1944, about a month after landing in Normandy with the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division. "By the spring of 1945 there were enough of these AFVs to provide each troop with two 17-pounder gun tanks."29

The Firefly began arriving in Italy in November 1944, and some saw action with Canadian units of the 5th Canadian Armoured Brigade before Operation GOLDFLAKE repatriated Canadian units to the First Canadian Army in Northwest Europe in early 1945. The scale of issue was 1 or 2 per squadron rather than troop. It is not known if any were issued to the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade.

A document entitled Middle East AFV Technical Liaison Letter 25, 16 December 1944 outlined the experience of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Regiment in Italy (abbreviations in the original have been spelled out in full):

1. This regiment received 4 Sherman Ic tanks, during a lull in battle, on 5 Oct 44.

2. After some discussion, it was decided to allot them all to one squadron, on the basis of one per troop. Since the troop leader normally leads his troop in the sort of close country in which we are now operating, it was decided that the 17 pdr Shermans would be given to the Troop Sergeants. (Squadron organization - 4 troops each 3 tanks).

3. Instruction was commenced as soon as the kit had been checked. One officer and one sergeant had just returned from a 17 pdr course at RACTD, having been flown both ways, and, in addition, a very competent sergeant-instructor from RACTD was attached to the Regiment. It was not possible to include firing in the brief training program.

4. On 14 Oct the 17 pdr tks saw their first action when this squadron provided close support for an infantry battalion (Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment) in an advance beyond SCOLO RIGOSSA. In the first afternoon this force gained approximately 1500 yds against stubborn resistance. Although the 17 pdr tanks were kept rearmost in their troops, they were called upon to shoot up many houses and dug-outs, and the HE shell was found to be about the same as the 75mm. In the opinion of one troop sergeant it "seems to knock out the back wall of the house"

5. An opportunity to observe its hole-punching capabilities came late in this first afternoon. One of the troop corporals spotted a Panther at about 300 yds range. He indicated it to his troop sergeant and meanwhile fired one round of 75 mm AP at it. The troop sergeant's gunner reports that as he laid the 17-pdr on the Panther, its turret was swinging slowly towards him and, as be fired, was still roughly 30 degrees off. Four rounds of 17-pdr AP were fired, all scoring direct hits. The Panther did not brew up, our own infantry patrols, fearing recovery by the enemy, set fire to it during the ensuing night.

6. The remains of this tank may be seen at BULGARIA (mr 656045). There are two clean holes in it and three "gouges". One hole is in the side of the gun barrel, approx 3 inches from the mantlet; since there is no hole out the other side of the barrel, and judging from the angle of penetration about 60 deg from normal) it seems probable that this AP round entered the turret via the breech of the gun. The other hole is in the side wall of the turret."

Main Opponents

PzKpfw IV ausf H; this sub-type of PzKpfw IV was numerically the most important. The side skirts were mounted on tanks as a defence against HEAT ammunition. This particular vehicle is representative of what Panzer Division 2 PzKpfw IVs looked like in Normandy.

Panther (PzKpfw V), representative of Panthers of 12. SS Panzer Division "Hitlerjugend" in Normandy. In theory, a German armoured regiment by the summer of 1944 was usually a mix of PzKpfw IV and V tanks.

Tiger (PzKpfwVI ausf E) This Tiger is representative of Tigers of SS Panzerdivision 1. "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" in Normandy. The PzKpfw VI was considered a "heavy" tank and served in special heavy tank battalions as a corps asset.

While the Sherman first saw combat in 1942 with the British in North Africa at El Alamein, and in Tunisia some weeks later with American forces, German armoured divisions at that time were equipped primarily with the Panzerkampfwagen III (PzKpfw III). Growing numbers of the Panzerkampfwagen IV (PzKpfw IV) were in use in North Africa, a medium tank roughly on a par with the Sherman, though the high velocity 75mm gun its later models carried had 20 percent higher muzzle velocity and could penetrate 92mm of armour at 500 yard range compared to the 68mm of the Sherman's 75mm gun.30 Small numbers of the PzKpfw VI "Tiger" were also employed in North Africa with thick armour and an 88mm gun capable of penetrating Sherman armour from over a thousand yards away.

Even once Canadian armour first got into action in earnest in Sicily in July 1943, German armour was not generally encountered in large numbers, nor in Italy, where the main enemy AFVs were upgraded versions of the the Panzerkampfwagen IV (PzKpfw IV) and significant numbers of self-propelled guns such as the Sturmgeschütz. However, the summer of 1943 also saw the first combat use of the PzKpfw V, the "Panther", and by the time of the Battle of Normandy in June 1944 was employed in roughly equal number to the PzKpfw IV. (Allied tankers, including the Canadians, generally used the terms "Mark 4" and "Mark 5" for these German tanks.)

By Normandy, the Panthers were no longer employed in separate battalions as they had been in 1943, but were integrated directly into German armoured divisions. In Normandy, the Germans deployed a greater number of armoured divisions, the majority for much of the campaign opposite the British and Canadians. The turret of the Panther was also used in Italy in pre-sited prepared positions, set into concrete and very difficult to engage (known as Panzerturms or Pantherturms). The Panther had frontal armour much thicker than a PzKpfw IV or Sherman, though the side of the turret was weak and could be penetrated by even the 6-pounder anti-tank guns used by the infantry - if a clear shot could be made.

The PzKpfw VI "Tiger" remained a specialist vehicle, allocated to independent heavy tank battalions though some elite divisions had an organic unit of Tigers assigned permanently.

A British tank officer in a Churchill regiment newly arrived in Normandy is reported to have had the following (often quoted) conversation with the Adjutant of his regiment:

Wilson: What do the Germans have the most of?"
Adjt: Panthers. The Panther can slice through a Churchill like butter from a mile away.
Wilson: And how does a Churchill get a Panther?
Adjt: It creeps up on it. When it reaches close quarters the gunner tries to bounce a shot off the underside of the Panther's gun mantlet. If he's lucky, it goes through a piece of thin armour above the driver's head."
Wilson: Has anybody ever done it?"
Adjt: Yes. Davis in C Squadron. He's back with headquarters now, trying to recover his nerve.
Wilson: How does a Churchill get a Tiger?
Adjt: It's supposed to get within two hundred yards and put a shot through the periscope.
Wilson: Has anyone ever done it?
Adjt: No.31

The quote refers to the "shot trap" on the front of the Panther; Sidney Radley-Walters illustrated this shot trap effectively in the television series The Valour and the Horror; the round underside of the mantlet would deflect solid shot downwards into the hull of the tank if hit at the right angle, either killing the driver or co-driver, or possibly setting off the ammunition stored in the sponson.

In addition to German tank guns, which were relatively rarely encountered by Canadian armoured units in North-West Europe after Normandy, the main weapons of German infantry formations were ant-tank guns, and a proliferation of man-portable, shoulder fired light anti-tank weapons such as the Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck. Every German infantry division also had significant numbers of anti-tank guns, both towed and self-propelled.

Organization and Tactics

A troop of an Armoured Regiment consisted of four vehicles. One tank was led by the Troop Commander, a Lieutenant. The second in command, called the Troop Sergeant, commanded the second vehicle. The other two tanks were commanded by Corporals. Three troops and a headquarters element made up a squadron, and three such squadrons were organized into an armoured regiment. It was not uncommon for squadrons to act independently, parceled out to infantry battalions for support as needed.

"Tank Aces"

While popular culture has glamorized the role of German tank commanders such as Michael Wittmann (and even his gunner, Balthasar "Bobby" Woll), Canada did not produce "tank aces" in the sense that successful German tank commanders have been embraced.

Tank-to-tank combat was rare in Italy due to the terrain, and even in North-West Europe where tanks were more commonly used for infantry support missions. German armour, especially after the Battle of Normandy, was usually only found in small numbers opposite Canadian formations - certainly the flooded terrain in the Scheldt and the Rhineland was not often considered "good tank country." Nonetheless, Major Sidney Radley-Walters, who commanded "A" Squadron of The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment, was credited with knocking out approximately 18 German tanks and assault guns during his wartime service.

Germany produced at least ten tank commanders who managed 100 kills to their credit, fighting from Tiger tanks for at least part of their career, including Johannes Bölter (139+), Otto Carius (150+), Kurt Knispel (168) and Wittmann (138). Given the superiority of their equipment,the number of opposing tanks they encountered (almost all on the Eastern Front), and the length of time they spent on campaign, it is not surprising that Canada was unable to produce similar statistics.

Crew

Four men of a tank crew of The Three Rivers Regiment pose beside a knocked out PzKpfw IV in Italy in October 1943. In summer months in Italy, standard Khaki Drill clothing was commonly worn rather than specialized tank crew uniforms. LAC Photo. Tank crew of The Fort Garry Horse having lunch by their Sherman tank near Carpiquet, France, 8 July 1944. Tank crews had to learn to live together in the field, including cooking for themselves. Khaki uniforms were not issued in France. LAC Photo.

The crew consisted of five men

  • Commander
  • Gunner
  • Loader/Wireless Operator
  • Driver
  • Co-driver

Duties in Action

In action, each crewmen had duties made obvious by their designations; the Commander led the tank, instructing the driver where to go and how fast, spotting targets for the gunner, designating what type of ammunition to use, and directing the fire of the bow machinegun. The gunner fired the main gun; the loader/operator kept the gun loaded with the proper ammunition, as well as keeping the fighting compartment clear of empty casings and reorganizing the ammunition racks as necessary.

Maintenance

Regular inspections of the vehicle were called "parades":

Typical daily duties for the crew of a Sherman V under the "parade maintenance" system were as follows:

Crew Commander: Check internal and external stowage, turret intercom, fire extinguishers, order other tests as required and complete all relevant paperwork.

Driver: Check fluid levels with engines running and off, check gauges, check lights, check periscope, engine and transmission compartments, clutch, air cleaners, throttle controls, fuel filter, inspect suspension at regular intervals, lubricate anything requiring it.

Co-Driver: Assist driver as required, check and oil bow .30 calibre Browning, test intercom, check periscope, clean compartment thoroughly.

Gunner: Clean and test main gun and co-axial .30 calibre, test turret traverse by hand and power, check periscope and telescopic sight, align sights as required, assist in checking suspension, oil weapons, check recoil and stabilizer systems, fill or bleed as required.

Loader-Operator: Check all electrical systems, carry out wireless netting drills, check periscope, assist driver with checking oil levels in engine, maintain Homelite, replenish drinking water, check all hatches, ports, etc., in turret and oil if necessary, check interior lights, check turret chamber and floor for any oil leaks from equipment.32

Pioneer Tools

Shermans fresh from US factories came fitted with all the tools and equipment it was felt were needed by the tank crews. Experienced soldiers soon added to these. A storage bin was often mounted on the rear of the turret. Sherman Vc Fireflies came with a long narrow box fitted to the rear of the hull. This box often showed up on 75mm Shermans as well. Old ammunition boxes were welded to the tank hull to hold various pieces of necessary kit. And there was usually a spare bogie wheel or two carried somewhere on the tank as a replacement for accident or combat damaged parts.33

Standard pioneer tools and equipment stowed on the Sherman included:

  • Spade (usually referred to incorrectly as a "Shovel"), used for digging
  • Full size pickaxe head and helve
  • Hexagonal nut wrench, for removing road wheels
  • Metal tow cable
  • Engine starting crank

Specialized Variants

Sherman DD tank. IWM Photo.

Sherman DD tank. IWM Photo.

Sherman flail tank. PAC Photo.

Sherman flail tank. LAC Photo.

Popular Culture

Personal Accounts

  • Peewees On Parade by John A. Galipeau (as told to Pattie Whitehouse), a Sergeant in the 29th Canadian Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (The South Alberta Regiment).

Survivors

Canada's veteran Shermans were left in Europe after the Second World War with a small number being returned to Canada. It is believed only two combat veterans still exist in Canada. Forceful III, went to Vimy House on 20 May 2004 for repainting; previously on display at Cartier Square Drill Hall in Ottawa from 1986, the tank was refurbished and put on display on 15 Oct 2005 at the Canadian War Museum. The tank had previously been the personal mount of Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) E.M. Smith, DSO, ED and had seen action with the 21st Canadian Armoured Regiment (Governor General's Foot Guards) throughout North-West Europe, being the only tank of the sixty-nine originals issued to the Regiment. The tank landed in France on 25 Jul 1944, when Major Smith was Officer Commanding No. 3 Squadron (by tradition the GGFG used numbers rather than letters to identify sub-units). Smith was promoted to command the regiment in Aug 1944. The regiment had intended for the tank to be displayed at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, a proposal rejected by Mayor Charlotte Whitton, and the tank went to Camp Borden instead.

Bomb, a Sherman tank of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment, is the only other veteran Sherman to still survive in Canada.

When the postwar Shermans were phased out of service in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many were relegated to duty as range targets, and others became "gate guardians", going on permanent display at military bases around the country.

Simulations

  • The boardgame Patton's Best was a solitaire game produced in 1987 by the Avalon Hill Game Company, allowing players to experience commanding a single tank; a Canadian variant for the game was produced by the Canadian Wargamer's Journal and reprinted in The General Magazine.

  • One of the first 3-D games for the PC was Muzzle Velocity released by digi4fun in 1997, which included a first person perspective of combat in North-West Europe. While Canadian forces were not specifically mentioned, the game was very generic in outlook and British forces were included in the game. The Sherman was one of the playable vehicles, though the level of realism was low. Especially problematic were engagement ranges of only 200 metres or so, and three story brick buildings collapsing when under machinegun fire. Infantry was also modeled from a 1st and 3rd person perspective, though the modelling was extremely simplistic.

  • Panzer Commander followed in 1998 allowing players to command tanks in a 1st person perspective; the game included playable US and British Shermans, but the scripted campaigns were done only from a German or Russian perspective. Infantry was not modeled in the game at all.

  • A PC tank simulator called "M4" was produced by Deadly Games, depicting combat with US armored formations. The game was sold with a pair of headphones to enhance the feel of the simulation. The game is not widely known.

Games

Specifically Canadian Sherman tanks have been featured in a variety of wargames:

  • Squad Leader - though oddly the Rogue Scenarios substituted Cromwell tanks for Shermans due to the non-availability of US-produced armour counters until after the release of G.I.: Anvil of Victory.
  • Advanced Squad Leader - in particular the Historical ASL Module Operation VERITABLE.
  • Combat Mission - both Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord and Combat Mission: Afrika Korps feature Canadian armour, as do titles using the second generation "CMX2" game engine, such as Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy and Combat Mission: Fortress Italy.

Notes

  1. Galipeau, John A. Peewees on Parade: Wartime Memories of a Young (and small) Soldier. (Robin Brass Studio, Toronto, ON, 2002). ISBN 1896941303 pp.162-163.
  2. Place, Timothy Harrison. Military Training in the British Army, 1940-1944 From Dunkirk to D-Day (Frank Cass Publishers, London, UK, 2000). ISBN 0714650374 p.130
  3. Graves, Donald E. South Albertas: A Canadian Regiment at War (Robin Brass Studios, Toronto, ON, 1998). ISBN 1896941060 p.260
  4. Ibid, p.257
  5. Fletcher, David, Sherman Firefly Osprey Publishing, Botley, Oxford, UK, 2008) ISBN 978-84603-277-6 pp.14-16 - thanks also to Tim Bell for noting a discrepancy in the data originally presented on the page.
  6. Fortin, Ludovic. British Tanks in Normandy (Histoire & Collections, 2005) ISBN 2915239339 p.90
  7. McNorgan, Michael R. The Gallant Hussars: A History of the 1st Hussars Regiment 1856-2004 (1st Hussars Cavalry Fund, 2004) ISBN 0969465912  p.194
  8. Zaloga, Steven J. Sherman Medium Tank 1942-45 (Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1993) ISBN 185532296X pp.10-11
  9. Ibid, p.14
  10. Ibid
  11. Forty, George. M4 Sherman, p.91
  12. Zaloga, Ibid, p.10
  13. Graves, Ibid, p.356
  14. Henry, Chris. British Anti-Tank Artillery 1939-45 (Osprey Publishing Ltd., Elms Court, Oxford, UK, 2004) ISBN 1841766380, p.42
  15. Graves, Ibid, p.356
  16. Zaloga, Ibid, p.16
  17. McNorgan, Ibid, p.156
  18. Graves, Ibid, p.106
  19. Zaloga, Ibid, p.13
  20. Forty, Ibid, pp.59-60
  21. Jones, Gwilym. To the Green Fields Beyond: A Soldier's Story (General Store Publishing House, Burnstown, ON, 1993). ISBN 0919431690 p.34
  22. Forty, Ibid, p.55
  23. Graves, Ibid, pp.262-163
  24. Copp, Terry The Brigade (Fortress Publications, Storey Creek, ON) p.27
  25. Ibid, pp.47-48
  26. Place, Ibid, p.153
  27. Copp, Ibid, p.36
  28. Ibid, p.39
  29. Graves, Ibid
  30. Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. (Pan Books Ltd, London, UK, 1984) p.227
  31. Wilson, Andrew. Flamethrower (London, 1974) p.54
  32. Graves, Ibid, p.361
  33. Guthrie, Steve. The Sherman in Canadian Service (Service Publications, Ottawa, ON, 2002) ISBN 1894581148 p.15 

Additional References

  • Culver, Bruce (Don Greer, Illustrator). Sherman in Action (Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., Carrollton, TX, 1977.) ISBN 0897470494
  • "Sherman Tank", Canadian War Museum Fact Sheet No. 15, edited by Fred Gaffen.
  • Hunnicutt, R. P.Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank (Belmont, CA: Taurus, 1978)
  • Macksey, Kenneth. Tank Tactics (Almark Publishing Co. Ltd., London, UK, 1976) ISBN 855242507

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