“Good Enough” Tanks Won WWII

By Jeremy Hsu | October 16, 2014 8:00 am
Brad Pitt plays the commander of a five-man crew in a U.S. Sherman tank near the end of World War II in the film "Fury". Credit: Courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment

Brad Pitt plays the commander of a five-man crew in a U.S. Sherman tank near the end of World War II in the film “Fury”. Credit: Courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment

Sometimes a “good enough” military technology can achieve victory over better military technologies. Such a fact probably gave very little comfort to the five-man crews of U.S. Sherman tanks who faced an uphill battle against more powerful German tanks during World War II. British tank crews gave Sherman tanks the unflattering nickname “Ronson” — a grim reference to the Ronson cigarette lighter’s ad slogan “lights first every time” and the unfortunate fact that Sherman tanks often burned after taking just one hit. But that did not stop the U.S. from supplying tens of thousands of Sherman tanks to U.S., British, Canadian and other Allied forces, tipping the scales against the smaller numbers of elite German tanks on World War II battlefields.

The armchair historian debate over the Sherman’s war legacy could blaze up once more with the new war film “Fury”, starring actor Brad Pitt as a U.S. tank commander leading a five-man Sherman crew deep within Germany in the closing days of World War II. Some historians and military history enthusiasts still scoff at the capabilities of Sherman tanks when compared with the German Panther and Tiger tanks that carried both more armor and more firepower. But the U.S. strategy of mass-producing a reliable tank in large numbers should not be underestimated, according to the book “Armored Thunderbolt: The U.S. Army Sherman in World War II” by Steven Zaloga, a military historian and senior analyst at the Teal Group Corporation. The tale of the Sherman tank’s road to victory represents a history lesson with implications for the future of warfare.

“In battle, quantity has a quality all its own,” Zaloga writes. “Warfare in the industrial age requires a careful balance between quality and quantity.”

The idea of overwhelming an enemy with quantity rather than quality may seem at odds with a U.S. military that has usually emphasized having the best weapons and vehicles since World War II. But finding a balance between quantity and quality could prove a useful lesson for the modern U.S. military that is considering whether to invest in swarms of unmanned drones and robots that could supplement or replace more expensive manned aircraft, vehicles and ships, according to a new report by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a military research institution in Washington, D.C.

“Overwhelming adversaries through greater numbers is a viable strategy for technology competition, and was used successfully by the United States in World War II,” writes Paul Scharre, a fellow at CNAS,  in a preview for the new report titled “Robotics on the Battlefield Part II: The Coming Swarm.”

Quality vs. Quantity

In the case of the Sherman, the U.S. generally struck a good balance between quality and quantity despite the tank’s relative weakness in firepower and armor, Zaloga notes in his book. Sherman tanks were well-designed for mass production and engineered with a rugged reliability that allowed them to keep rolling and fighting far longer than their German counterparts without breaking down. By comparison, “overengineered” German tanks such as the Panther — Germany’s main battle tank during the later phase of the war — were expensive to produce and difficult to maintain under battlefield conditions. The cost and complexity both limited production and led to a high rate of mechanical breakdown on battlefields, which limited the impact such elite tanks could have on the war.

Troops of the 60th Infantry Regiment advance into a Belgian town under the protection of a Sherman tank. Credit: Sgt. William Spangle, September 9, 1944 / Courtesy U.S. National Archives

Troops of the 60th Infantry Regiment advance into a Belgian town under the protection of a Sherman tank. Credit: Sgt. William Spangle, September 9, 1944 / Courtesy U.S. National Archives

That situation only became more desperate for Germany as Allied airpower bombed factories and disrupted supply lines. A growing wartime shortage of materials such as molybdenum — combined with steel to give tank armor its durability — led to more brittle protection for German tanks. Slaves working in German tank factories deliberately sabotaged the oil and fuel lines of armored vehicles. German mechanics also had to deal with a growing shortage of spare parts to repair the tanks.

By mid summer 1944, the Allied forces had 4,500 Sherman tanks in France, representing more than three times the size of the German panzer (tank) force facing them. That numbers advantage meant that the Allies had enough tanks to support infantry attacks against enemy defenses and additional tanks to act as a mobile armored force ready to exploit breakthroughs in the German battle line. By comparison, German infantry rarely had enough tank support and relied more on a wide array of armored vehicles such as assault guns and tank destroyers with fixed guns that lacked turrets to turn.

“The Sherman offered a better balance than the Panther, which, because of its cost and complexity, could be built in enough quantities to equip only one of the two panzer battalions in each panzer division,” Zaloga writes. “In contrast, there were so many Shermans that they not only filled out the U.S. and British armored divisions, but also were plentiful enough to provide each U.S. infantry division with a tank battalion.”

Outgunned in a Duel

The numbers advantage gave the Allies a strategic edge, but it didn’t make Sherman tank crews feel any better when they had to face heavier German tanks on the battlefield. Most Sherman tanks had 75mm and 76mm cannons that usually failed to penetrate the thick front armor of panzers such as the Panther or Tiger tanks at most ranges, whereas German 75mm or 88 mm cannons could penetrate the thinner armor of Sherman tanks from the front at long ranges. The sense of being outgunned and vulnerable led many U.S. tank crews to call every German tank they faced a “Tiger” and every anti-tank gun a dreaded “88”, even though German combat records showed that U.S. tanks in those specific encounters were usually facing weaker types of German armored vehicles and anti-tank guns.

Sherman tank crews paid the price in blood to learn how to deal with the German Panthers and Tigers by using the Sherman’s mobility to maneuver into a position where they could fire upon the weaker side and rear armor of the German tanks. But they still encountered frustrating scenarios such as the one faced by Sgt. Francis Baker, commander of Sherman tank with an improved 76mm gun, during a battle with German Mark V Panther tanks on Nov. 20, 1944, as recounted in Zaloga’s book.

“Ordering my gunner to fire at the closest tank, which was approximately 800 yards away, he placed one right in the side which was completely visible to me,” Baker wrote. “To my amazement and disgust I watched the shell bounce off the side. My gunner fired at least six more rounds at the vehicle hitting it from turret to the track. This German tank, knowing that I possibly would be supported by a tank destroyer, started to pull away. I was completely surprised to see it moving after receiving seven hits from my gun.”

U.S. tank crews also couldn’t help but feel cynical and discouraged when some U.S. commanders continued to boast of the Sherman being the best tank in the war, Zaloga writes. That sense of confidence and complacency among senior Allied commanders only began to change during the Battle of the Bulge in Dec. 1944, when the desperate Germans launched an armored counterattack led by Panthers and Tigers in the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg. While the Battle of the Bulge raged on, Hanson Baldwin, a New York Times war correspondent, wrote an influential story published on Jan. 5, 1945, titled “New German Tanks Prove Superior to Ours — Inquiry by Congress Urged.”

“Why, at this late stage in the war, are American tanks inferior to the enemy’s?” Baldwin asked. “That they are inferior the fighting in Normandy showed and the recent battles in the Ardennes have again emphatically demonstrated. This has been denied, explained away and hushed up, but the men who are fighting our tanks against much heavier, better armored and more powerfully gunned German monsters know the truth. It is high time that Congress got at the bottom of a situation that does no credit to the War Department.”

Tank Evolution

Why did the U.S. mostly fail to build better tanks beyond the Sherman to deal with more powerful German tanks during World War II? The answer provided by Zaloga represents a complex stew of misguided military doctrine, a relative lack of U.S. combat experience against German tanks, and the failure to use available intelligence to predict future battlefield threats.

Soldiers of the 55th Armored Infantry Battalion and tank of the 22nd Tank Battalion, move through smoke filled street. Wernberg, Germany. Credit: Pvt. Joseph Scrippens, April 22, 1945 / Courtesy U.S. National Archives

Soldiers of the 55th Armored Infantry Battalion and tank of the 22nd Tank Battalion, move through smoke filled street. Wernberg, Germany. Credit: Pvt. Joseph Scrippens, April 22, 1945 / Courtesy U.S. National Archives

First, U.S. military doctrine emphasized the idea that tanks should act as a mobile, armored force capable of racing through holes in enemy lines to wreak havoc on infantry, artillery and other softer targets as they outflanked and encircled the enemy. The doctrine suggested that U.S. tanks should never actually fight enemy tanks — a dangerously unrealistic assumption — and should instead leave enemy tanks to be dealt with by a separate group of “tank destroyers” consisting of vehicle-mounted or towed anti-tank guns. That institutional attitude was biased against creating U.S. tanks with more armor and more powerful guns capable of taking on new generations of German tanks. (U.S. tank destroyers also performed poorly against the improved German tanks until the U.S. Army belatedly equipped some with more powerful guns.)

U.S. military doctrine also neglected the critical battlefield role of tanks supporting infantry assaults against enemy defenses. The U.S. Army initially preferred to keep its tanks grouped in large divisions as armored cavalry ready to exploit breakthroughs by charging into the enemy’s rear — a role that was well-suited for the mobile and rugged Sherman tank. By comparison, the Germans, British and Soviets all developed a second class of heavier infantry-support tanks separate from the first class of cavalry tanks. Such infantry-support tanks, such as the German Tiger tanks, required heavier armor to survive direct assaults against enemy defenses consisting of anti-tank guns.

At the same time, the U.S. Army was lulled into a sense of complacency by its early World War II combat experiences in North Africa and Italy. That’s because the Germans deployed relatively few Tiger and Panther tanks in those theaters of war from 1943-1944 — they were pouring most of their best tanks and troops into their increasingly desperate struggle against the Soviet Red Army on the Eastern Front. Both the German Panther and Tiger tanks were developed as part of an arms race against new generations of Soviet tanks such as the excellent T-34. (The latter also represented the most widely-produced tank of the entire war.)

The Soviets did share intelligence on the new German tanks with the U.S. and British armies. But U.S. commanders did not demand better armor or firepower for their tanks, failing to envision how the Germans would deploy growing numbers of the next-generation Panther tank in particular. Their complacency about the Sherman being up to the job was fed by the fact that the Germans had not used their best anti-tank guns early on in the North Africa or Italy campaigns. They also failed to anticipate the growing threat from German infantry anti-tank weapons modeled on captured U.S. bazookas — the two-man panzerschreck and one-man panzerfaust — until they confronted many more of those weapons after Allied forces invaded France in 1944.

For a lesson in what the U.S. could have done differently, we only need to look at how the British military reacted to the same pieces of intelligence, Zaloga writes. The British wisely developed more powerful anti-tank guns and also created a new version of their own Sherman tanks, nicknamed the Firefly, with a more powerful gun to deal with the German Panthers and Tigers prowling Western Europe.

Good Enough Tanks

When the New York Times published its Jan. 1945 story about the superiority of German tanks, the U.S. public and Congress were confronted with the unpleasant fact that their boys were outgunned on the battlefield. U.S. commanders suddenly became much more interested in figuring out ways to upgrade the armor and guns of existing Sherman tanks and speeding up development of a more powerful heavy tank, the T-26 Pershing, which wouldn’t arrive until 1945 when most German resistance had already collapsed. Much of this scramble was too little, too late, as Zaloga describes it. But the U.S. Army did upgrade the Sherman tank in smaller ways throughout the war, such as making newer versions of Shermans with better ammunition stowage that didn’t burn so easily, improving the Sherman’s main gun and providing better armor-piercing ammunition, and making a more heavily armored version of the Sherman tank for infantry support missions.

A line of M4 Sherman tanks and M3 Grant tanks at Ft. Knox near Louisville, Kentucky in June 1942. Credit: Alfred T. Palmer / Courtesy Library of Congress

A line of M4 Sherman tanks and M3 Grant tanks at Ft. Knox near Louisville, Kentucky in June 1942. Credit: Alfred T. Palmer / Courtesy Library of Congress

Fortunately, the weakness of Sherman tanks in duels against elite German Panther and Tiger tanks didn’t actually matter much in the grand scheme because duels between large groups of tanks were rare experiences for the U.S. Army during the war. Feared German weapons such as the Tiger tanks and 88mm antitank guns only existed in relatively small numbers. More common German foes such as the PzKpfw IV tank, 75mm antitank guns, the StuG III assault gun, and German “panzerjager” tank destroyers could still kill Shermans from ordinary combat ranges of 1,000 yards or less, but Sherman tanks fought those foes on more equal footing. If anything, Sherman tank crews spent the vast majority of their battles shooting at non-armored targets such as buildings or enemy troops.

The technical superiority of German tanks also did not necessarily guarantee easy victories for the Germans in tank duels. U.S. and British military studies in the later years of the war found that the single most important factor in tank duels was which side spotted the other first, engaged first and landed the first hits. Such scenarios tended to favor defenders, which is why German tanks on the attack suffered about as heavily as Sherman tanks on the attack. But such situations also favored well-trained and experienced tank crews who knew how to ambush or surprise enemy tanks. Even Panther and Tiger tanks could easily fall prey to Sherman tanks striking from the side or rear. (Zaloga also observes that the myth of the U.S. Army needing five Sherman tanks to knock out a single Panther or Tiger tank appears to have no basis in World War II combat records.)

In the end, Zaloga concludes that the Sherman’s good qualities of being mechanically reliable and easy to mass produce outweighed the tank’s disadvantages on the battlefield against the elite German tanks. He also points out that the Sherman tanks represented just one part of a well-honed U.S. war machine that included the hard-fighting infantry, excellent artillery support, and close air support from the U.S. Army Air Force. In fact, the U.S. Army spent almost six times as much on aircraft as tanks from 1941 to 1945 — $36 billion versus just $6 billion — in a successful effort to dominate the skies and cripple Germany’s wartime industry through strategic bombing raids.

“The Sherman succeeded on the World War II battlefield not because it was the best tank, but because it was part of the most modern and effective army,” Zaloga writes. “The U.S. Army did not insist on fielding the best tank, but it did insist on fielding enough tanks that were good enough.”

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  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    If you are willing to lose brave or at least disciplined personnel, you can do wonders with mere production of numbers. Polish Lancers on horseback were effective against German tanks at WWII’s beginning. ID a command tank (antennas), spear the officer standing in the hatch, drop in a grenade. A good horseman vastly outmaneuvered a tank driver. Mount a small machine gun on your turret, Fire into your enemy’s path rather than follow it. Aim for the horse – it’s the important modality.

    In 2014, ISIS is scything the “Allies.” Do not expect to win if lead by poltroons and administered by REMFs. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara killed more GIs than the VC by cost-cutting hard chrome plating out of US rifles. AK47s never failed to fire.

    • Jacek Dz

      Polish Lancers on horseback were not effective against German tanks at WWII because Polish Lancers _NEVER_ attacked German tanks. Polish Lancers attacking German tanks were only a Nazi propaganda’s invention to stress how a poor and primitive country Poland had been at that time. And as we can see, the propaganda’s still alive and kicking.

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        I bow to your scholarship.

        http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/cinema/rzepinski.html

        My past oral source had pride beyond knowledge.

        • Emkay

          believe nothing you hear..
          half of what you see..
          but all that you feel…

          • canuckingermany

            It that statement is true, then it is also false.

        • BW

          Uncle Al,

          Nobody else bothered to say it, so I will: Very big of you to acknowledge that you had some facts wrong. Thank you. And look further into the Polish experience in the war. They fought on every front in Europe during the war and proved to be tough soldiers. Cheers !

      • james solak

        Dziękuję – thank you (Jen KOO yeh), Apart from countless battles and skirmishes in which the Polish cavalry units fought dismounted, there were 16 confirmed Cavalry charges during the 1939 war. Contrary to common belief, most of them were successful. In addition, every infantry division had an organic cavalry detachment used for reconnaissance.

    • horrido

      No, cavalry was never effective against tanks. Ridiculous. When I served, I spent about half my time repairing a 50s era M113, while congress was buying 2 billion dollar bombers. And the problem with the M16 was not its lack of plating, it was an inferior design in general to the AK (not to mention it’s smaller round).

      • Nixie

        The Polish cavalry was equipped with a portable anti-tank rifle that fired tungsten carbide-cored APCR rounds. The projectiles were quite effective against the light armor of the German tanks.

    • Robert Maybeth

      not sure what books you’ve been reading but they represent isolated incidents not generally effective tactics

  • Brett Champion

    The US actually continued to pursue the “good enough” strategy into the 1960s at which time it switched to emphasizing quality over quantity when it realized that it would’t be able to outproduce the Soviets. So US military planners decided to emphasize what we were best at: technology. We decided to build better tanks, planes, submarines, etc. than the Soviets because we knew we could. And unlike the Germans in WWII, we knew that we would probably be able to build enough of these technologically sophisticated weapons not to be overwhelmed by the Soviet’s greater production of “good enough” versions.

  • bozotheclown

    Goes to show that history can repeat itself. China, Middle East, etc…..good enough against superior forces and technologies…..sheer numbers over brains.

  • rick baca

    The United States and the Allies won the war against the Nazis for three reasons: 1) Hilter was a psychotic twit and 2) most of the Allied technical material was designed to be user-proof, that is, simple to fix, operate and build. 3 Extermely durable–my father’s friend a bomber pilot in Europe would recall, how his B-17 otter had more in common with swiss cheese than a flying machine yet it still did its job and got them home. The Nazis were wasteful of men and material and could could never sustain a fight against a country that could build planes, tanks, etc. faster while saving their crews for another fight. In addition, the Nazis wasted entire armies in obeying the madman Hilter’s orders to not surrender. It must have been clear by the summer of 1942 that the Nazis were doomed

    • Falcon642

      It wasn’t that American equipment was drastically easier to repair, it was that the average GI had more experience with motors than their German, Soviet, Japanese, or British counterpart.

      Because almost all American GIs had some experience with cars, if their Jeep for instance broke down most GIS could jury rig it and get it going again. Your average Axis soldier had no experience with cars.

      • outragex

        American vehicles used more standardized parts than the German habit of constantly refining their designs thus leading to semi-custom vehicles that were hard to stock parts for. Also, the US built effective school programs to train our soldiers in specialties like tank or truck repair. We also had efficient mobile repair trucks and mobile shops. The Germans fought well but were more ad hoc about salvage and repair, partially because they were often retreating and leaving damaged tanks behind. Also, the Germans were forced to use a variety of equipment from captured armies and manufacturers in occupied nations. They just did not have the industrial base of the US to produce equal quantities of standardized designs.

        • skari60

          you mean after june 1944 ?

      • Nixie

        Not true: as an example, the Sherman’s front transmission was bolted to the front and could be easily removed for maintenance, while the German Panther required a complicated teardown.

        • Falcon642

          Sherman vs. Panther is one narrow example. By all accounts the Pz IV was pretty easy to repair and work on as evidenced by the number of field refits that were done on Pz IVs. If the Sherman was easier to work on than the Pz IV, it wasn’t by a large margin.

          Another example is the American Jeep vs. the German Kubelwagen. The Kubelwagen is no harder to work on than a Jeep. Look at trucks, German trucks were no harder to work on than a deuce and a half.

          American equipment may have been slightly easier to work on overall, but the big advantage remained that American GIs were far more familar with motor vehicles than the soldiers of any other nation and as such were much more adept at field repairs than any other soldier.

      • skari60

        bullshit

    • Serge Krieger

      It must be Soviet Union and the Allies. This sounds just right.

  • terry

    Adding heavier armor to the Sherman tank would have only limited its mobility and made it more vulnerable.

    Worse, it would have limited the Allied ability to advance, requiring different parts already in the field, fuel for the Shermans to run with the added weight, and secondary supply logistics to run the extra supplies (which means that you have trim down in other supplies being transported).

    But the worst thing adding more armor would have done would ultimately be to prevent the Shermans from getting to high-priority strong points in the field – exactly the fatal deficiency in the Tiger tank’s “design”.

    People forget that a tank’s design (or any weapon) must take into account its logistical footprint as well as its ability to transport itself (or be transported) to the battlefield in the first place.

    A tank that does not get to the battlefield has essentially been “destroyed”.

    Force that cannot be used is Force wasted.

    The Tiger tank broke down far too often. Its fuel requirements meant that it had limited range from the railroad tracks and was therefore useless in the field for much of the war. When it was in range to contest, it was often beaten by the faster and more easily maintained/less-fuel-hungry Sherman, at which point the Tiger was attacking and the Sherman had already defeated German infantry and lighter tanks – and was defending.

    As the article notes, the greatest factor in tank-to-tank battles was determined by who was Defender vs Attacker:

    Dug-in Vs Charging but vulnerable.

    High-ground Vs Low-ground.

    Already-in-position-to-fire Vs Trying-to-get-in-position-to-fire

    First-to-see, First-to-fire Vs Looking-for-the-enemy and Waiting for his first shots to reveal himself.

    The historic record of many Battles, including the Battle of the Bulge stipulates that Sherman tanks were destroyed at around half the rate of the Tiger Tanks (with the Battle of the Bulge’s records corroborating this literally with 90 Sherman tanks destroyed vs 180 Tiger tanks).

    That is not to say that the Sherman tank won “Duels” vs the Tiger Tank every time; indeed the records don’t stipulate how many Tiger tanks the Sherman destroyed or vice versa. The Officers were apparently just happy to count the burnt or captured hulks and call it a day most of the time, leaving future historians wondering whether the tanks (on both sides) were destroyed by mines, mechanical breakdown, cannibalism, enemy action, or post-action destruction.

    And the Officers were right.

    No matter how a tank met its end, it demonstrated an exploited deficiency one way or another when looked at the beast “From tooth to tail”. Any deficiency from its fuel and material requirements to its fit in the doctrine and surrounding system of weapons (like infantry and bombers), to its crews, to its lack of numbers, even the Sherman’s reputation as an inferior tank on the morale of its crews (a false reputation, as it turns out) can contribute to the fatal defeat of that tank.

    As it is, history demonstrates that the Tiger tank succumbed to its deficiencies first and foremost. Historians will have to begin with this 800 lb gorilla in the room, if they are to be taken seriously in Historic (and Contemporary) Military Affairs.

    • Nixie

      “Adding heavier armor to the Sherman tank would have only limited its mobility and made it more vulnerable.”

      As it turned out late in the war, improving the Sherman’s protection via improvised appliqué armor fashioned from scrapped tanks had only minimal impact on the Sherman’s powertrain. In fact, one variant of the Sherman, the M4A3E2, was factory-equipped this way. Far from making the tank more vulnerable, the extra protection allowed it to shrug off frontal hits from various German antitank weapons, including the Tiger I’s 88mm.

      • Robert Maybeth

        I’d like to point out, that adding the hillbilly armor also had little effect against German AT shells. But it did make the troops feel a bit better, perhaps, which is certainly worth something

        • Nixie

          Some of the techniques were of little use, but welding on double thicknesses of armor plate was definitely effective.

  • stargene

    Back in the Vietnam War period, I read a deep technical study of WWII
    tanks by a colonel at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. He concluded that
    the Soviet T-34, especially the T-34-85, was hands down ‘the queen of
    the field’, despite some early problems. However, he noted, as does
    this article, that the Brits called the Sherman the ‘Ronson’, and that its
    crews considered it a death trap in certain circumstances, e.g.: when the tank was afire, and the gun turret was by chance placed near the
    driver’s door, completely blocking it and trapping the driver. I cannot
    prove but strongly suspect that the obvious and continuing deficiencies
    of the Sherman were a result of both a conservative military mindset
    and a private industrial sector (e.g.: Chrysler) which was reluctant to
    retool and spend any more than was necessary to obtain big profits
    from the federal government. In this regard, I remember my father
    relating that, not long after Pearl Harbor, the feds actually had to threaten to sue or even nationalize some big companies, which had refused to use certain crucial war patents in the new war effort, because it would “violate contracts” held with their counterparts in Nazi Germany (e.g.: Krupp, I.G.Farben, Messerschmidt, etc.). For probably more unbiased evaluations, I recommend the actual field reports made by the Wehrmacht troops on the ground at the time,
    and not so much later texts which often have a decidedly
    ideological and political bias.

    All that being said, I find that I have the highest regard for both
    U.S. and Soviet fighters who made the best use of what they
    were given to “tear the guts out of the Nazi war machine”.

    • http://sciencehsu.com/ Jeremy Hsu

      I haven’t read enough on the T-34, but from what I know it sounds like the Soviet tank probably deserves the MVP tank award for World War II. Pretty sure it holds the title for the most mass-produced tank of the war, and it caused a minor panic in the German military when it first appeared on the battlefield — the German Panther tank seems to have been built as a direct response to the T-34.

    • Jeremy Hsu

      I haven’t read enough on the T-34, but from what I know it sounds like the Soviet tank probably deserves the MVP tank award for World War II. Pretty sure it holds the title for the most mass-produced tank of the war, and it seems to have caused a minor panic in the German military when it first appeared on the battlefield. Plus the German Panther tank seems to have been built as a direct response to the T-34.

    • carlisimo

      Everything said in the article could apply to the T-34: it was ‘good enough’ and won through sheer force of numbers. It did have great stats, but its ergonomic and visibility issues hampered performance. T-34 losses were absolutely terrible, even late in the war when most were T-34/85 models. They were so high that it’s hard to accept that it was really that great. To be fair to the tank, Soviet tactics contributed significantly to those losses – but the Soviets received a few thousand Shermans and their crews were generally happy with them.

      Going back to the Sherman, its reliability and strategic mobility (ability to get anywhere it was needed pretty quickly) saved thousands of infantrymen’s lives. The Pershing probably couldn’t have done that.

      • Robert Maybeth

        Your comment on the T34 was dead on – crude in the extreme, barely good enough! Most T34’s did not have a radio, only 1 in 5 did! This meant they gave orders to the one with the radio and the others followed along like cattle. The Russians had a shortage of radio sets. EVERY German (and American) tank had a radio for communications. Moreover the design of the T34 was so crude, the floor of the turret did not rotate with the turret itself…So when the turret turned, the seats stayed where they were and the crew had to scootch in their seats! Also most of the ammo was stored under the turret floor. To get to this ammo, two steel floor panels had to be removed, the heavy ammo hauled out, and the floor panels quickly replaced, (or not)?! And the electric drive for the T34 turret was usually broken meaning, the 20 ton turret got cranked by HAND…Imagine fighting with all these flaws against a German heavy tank which has you in his sights! So even just being in a T34 was often just a recipe for instant death.

        • Serge Krieger

          Still, it was T-34 which won the war and by the way. Germans were shocked already in 1941 when they met T-34s first time and Germans military asked to copy those. instead, Germans engineers went for Tigers and Panthers.

          Again, the war was won Soviet T-34s not by Shermans which basically had similar idea behind them. Good enough.

    • Nixie

      “I recommend the actual field reports made by the Wehrmacht troops on the ground at the time …”

      In that case, you might be surprised to hear of an October 1944 German report that concluded the Tiger I’s 88mm main gun failed point blank against the original Sherman’s steeply-sloped front glacis plate (at an angle of 30 degrees).

      The Sherman design had a number of important advantages over the T-34/85. One of them was its ability to mount the 90mm M3 gun, which, when firing T30E16 ‘HVAP’ ammunition, could defeat any of the plates of the King Tiger and Panther tanks. The cramped T-34 hull was not amenable to a powerful gun, and thus had to make do with an 85mm weapon that was ineffective against either of the German heavies’ frontal armor. One mass-produced Sherman variant, the M-36 tank destroyer, was armed with the M3 gun, and was fielded in quantity in the autumn of 1944.

      • Robert Maybeth

        i dont know take a look at “Greatest Tank Battles, Normandy” a guy describes pulling up directly in front of a Tiger hidden behind some hedgerows – did not know it was there but shot first, it bounced off, then the German fired his 88…i am amazed the guy was alive to tell the story.

        • Nixie

          The 75mm gun failed point blank against the Tiger I’s frontal armor; no 76mm M1A1-armed Shermans were employed during the Normandy landings.

      • skari60

        a fault in the shell i presume..

    • Nixie

      ” However, he noted, as does
      this article, that the Brits called the Sherman the ‘Ronson’,”
      ‘Ronson’ is a myth, because the slogan “Lights up first time everytime” wasn’t used until the 1950s.

      The fires were traced to ammunition stowage, and later versions of the Sherman had their ammunition stored in liquid-lined bins, greatly reducing the vehicle’s propensity to burn in the event of a shell penetration.

      As for the T34-85, the M4A3E8 Shermans was easily a match, and postwar, the HVAP round was vastly improved with new propellant and a redesigned penetrator that was much more effective against high-obliquity armor (like the Panther’s). The M93 HVAP round was good for 178mm of penetration at 1000 meters, versus 130mm for the BR-365P 85mm APCR, and the Shermans carried plenty of it in Korea, unlike WWII. The T34-85 had aggressively sloped armor, at the expense of a cramped hull, but the turret was large, slab-sided and carried ammunition, meaning that in the event of a turret penetration, a catastrophic ammunition fire would likely result (and that’s why knocked-out T34-85s in Korea typically had their turret roofs blown off).

      Contrary to the myth, the M4A3E8 was such a good design that it wasn’t completely replaced until the 1950s (by the M47/M48 series). Meanwhile, the M26 Pershing, which overmatched the T34/85 in armor and gun power (the M304 HVAP projectile could punch through the Soviet machine, end to end), suffered so many mechanical problems that it was withdrawn.

  • The History Man

    Yet another article that seems to present the only battle as one between the Germans and the USA, while the Germans were suffering massive setbacks on the Eastern front due to the superiority of numbers on the Soviet side.

    Without the huge sacrifice of literally millions of Russian soldiers, the American front might have found even their large numbers of Sherman tanks were of little avail, had the Germans not been so fully engaged elsewhere.

    No article about the Second World War and defeat and victory should overlook this fundamental point.

    • http://sciencehsu.com/ Jeremy Hsu

      Thanks for your comment. I completely agree with what you stated about the Russians taking up the majority of the Wehrmacht’s resources. I did actually mention the huge Soviet contribution in this article, though I mainly focused on the debate over the performance of the Sherman tank.

    • Oliver Neal Ward

      Absolutely!

    • Jeremy Hsu

      Thanks for your comment. I completely agree with what you stated about the Russians taking up the majority of the Wehrmacht’s resources. If you read far enough, I actually did mention the Soviet contribution in this article from both a tank development and resources standpoint, though I wanted to focus on the debate over the performance of the Sherman tank.

    • Falcon642

      Once the Allies landed in Normandy, the Western front received priority from Hitler. The majority of supplies and the best troops went to the Western front, while the Eastern front was badly neglected. Hitler believed he could trade space for time in the Eastern front and use that time to defeat the Western Allies. After the D-Day landings Hitler famously said “The Eastern will have to take care of itself.” Read Guderian’s book “Panzer Leader”.

      The Soviet Union did destroy 90% of all German divisions destroyed in the war, but most of that happened before June 1944. After D-Day the Allies got the best the Wehrmacht could field while the Red Army fought the JV.

      • technoreaper

        Ridiculous nonsense.

      • idontcare

        After D-Day the US forces fought with small part of german army. In many cases german soldiers were old, poorly armed, with little artillery or air support, they had few tanks which lacked fuel. And this germans were facing US Army with young soldiers, air support,artillery, huge amount of tanks. Before every offensive operations US smashed germans with artillery and from air and then they maybe met some germans.

      • FDR-JFKforAll

        Do you have any idea who supplied the plant, equipment; and, means under “Lend-Lease” for Russia to do this. Take a look at what we sent. By the way “Lend-Lease” at http://www.airforce.ru, is now working between the U.S. Russian cooperation on getting Russia Air Support for it’s many battles in which 27 million died.

      • skari60

        not true dude

      • Jan Houkes

        That is not true. It might have been so that Hitler said this, the numbers, facts and strategical notions prove otherwise.

        • Falcon642

          I have looked at the numbers. The western front received the bulk of new tank production. The majority of Tiger 2 and jagdtiger fought on the western front. Hitler transferred forces from the east in anticipation of d-day and again for the battle of the bulge. Read guderian book panzer leader, it backs up all my claims.

          • Jan Houkes

            The numbers differ; it is said that 1350 Tiger tanks were produced where others say that the number was 2000. Some say that 72% of it were deployed on the eastern front. Fact is that the first Tigers were active on the eastern front (501st and 503st P.Bat). Fact is also that the greatest tankbattle was Kursk. Of the 5 German soldiers killed 4 died on the eastern front . Kursk, Bagration and of course Stalingrad were the real reason for Germany losing the war. The numbers of fighting , and killed soldiers, indicate that , simply by necessity Hitler was forced to deploy most of his men and materiell on the eastern front.

          • Falcon642

            Go back and read my post again, I said Tiger TWO not the tiger 1. Of course most tiger 1 went to eastern front. Germany stopped making the tiger 1 2 months after d day

    • BenjaminBrown

      The allies won for two reasons. 1: The Russian’s threw everything they had at the Germans. As a result they died in great numbers. Nobody disputes this. 2: Arguable more important though, the United States gave the allies an edge when it came to manufacturing. Without the United States involved in the war as a manufacturing powerhouse, the war might of been very different.

      Even the Soviets needed replacements for aircraft’s and what not. Especially after Hitler betrayed Stalin, and wiped out a sizable bit of Stalin’s military.

      Yes, its important to realize that the allies won because of the Russian’s sacrifice, but arguable its more important to realize the importance of simply having more planes and tanks/etc.

      I’d even say that Russia and the United States contributed the most to the allies winning. Russia on the battlefield, and the United States with its factories and shipyards that simply produced more planes/tanks/ships than the Germans/Japanese could destroy.

      • skari60

        basicly.. russians won the war 😉

        • Mark Sniatkowski

          Against Japan? Oh, when they declared war on the empire the day after we dropped the atomic bomb?

          • emcourtney

            Hey, don’t discount the Red Army’s campaign in Manchuria. Japan’s fallback strategy was to bring the 1 million man strong and fully equipped Kwantung army home to defend against the coming American invasion of the home islands. But, to put it bluntly, the Red Army smashed the Japanese in Manchuria. Within days of the start of the campaign it was clear to Tokyo that there would be no Kwantung army to bring home.

            Being a new class of weapon the reality of the atom bomb wouldn’t sink in for some time. However, the immediacy of your last best chance for a negotiated peace evaporating under the onslaught of the Red Army can’t be underestimated when considering motivations to surrender.

          • glennk

            This is so rarely pointed out. The Japanese surrender came after the Soviets smashed them in Manchuria and the Emperor et al. knew that if they didn’t surrender to us fast their country would be invaded by the Russians and end up like Germany had at that pt. The A-bombs didn’t have as big an impact as many historians give them.

      • chris chuba

        The Russians outproduced the Germans in tanks and even modern aircraft during war, not simply the U.S.
        They produced 22,000 T34-85, introduced in 1944 alone, similar to the 10,000 up gunned Sherman M4’s that we produced. I’d say the T34-85 had wider tracks, it could traverse muddier conditions as well as thicker armor.
        They produced a combined 65k Sturmoviks, PE-2, LA-5/7, and Yak-3’s which were all very successful, modern aircraft.

        The Russians clearly mobilized better than the Germans, they died in appalling numbers in 1941 and in high rates until the end of the war. However, their loss rate did decline in every year of the war as they got more efficient. From 1941 – 45 their loss rate declined by 80% but was high by any standard.

      • Mark Sniatkowski

        the Russians would not have done as well without the planes, Shermans and trucks we sent them. Don’t hear about that much.

    • Radu Gheorghe

      You omit quite some important facts:
      – Lend lease program- Stalin was crying for help from US and England he got money, tanks ( Churchill, Matildas ) ammo, guns etc.
      Because Ucraine was in german hands Russia was on brink of starvation …..guess who’s grains were feeding the Russian war machine?….US
      The allies not Russia started to bomb Germany since 42 destroying most of the manufacturing capacity ……..meaning less tanks, assault guns for eastern front.
      Allies were keeping germans busy in Africa and Sicily, american subs and english marine were sinking the german supply ships.
      Don’t forget that also Russia invaded foreign territory in 39 and 40 with no rights same as Hitler….Poland, Romania, Finland to name a few.
      So don’t try to rewrite history Stalin style….without allies Moscow would’ve been gone.
      OH….what about 2 million russian people Stalin itself ordered murdered?
      Allies had to choose the lesser evil.

      • FDR-JFKforAll

        Britain was flat bust economically; and, otherwise. Look how FDR initially gave economic aide. They were so bust, they accepted 50 old destroyers for bases. Then check out U.S. contingency plans til 1942 for Plans Crimson through Pink; and, Plan Orange to bust the British Empire for building up the “Anglo-Japanese” for such as attacking us at Pearl Harbor. And, read FDR’s son on how we really saw the British Empire in “As He Saw It.” WW II’s end was to develop everyone from Empire and slavery.

        • FDR-JFKforAll

          And, ever hear what top U.S. Generals tied down by tea-and-crumpets Monty (“A Bridge Too Far”) really thought save 1-2 about “dabbling around the Med” at millions of U.S. G.I.’s lost? They wanted the 2nd Front by 1942 mainly. We only reinforced our historic enemy; because such as Prince Philip’s family were running the “electronic intelligence” for Hitler to crush Jewish, German; and, our own intelligence behind their lines. Try “The Royals and the Reich” for starters.

    • obot

      The movie is about a US Army unit, not a Soviet unit. Do you think the Russians make WWII movies about the US and British defeating the Germans? Duh!

      • Serge Krieger

        Why should theyÉ They defeated Germany and UKé US role was secondary. There is a lot of Soviet war movies, but they are far more realistic…

        • aaron1313

          Nope.Lend lease provided by the western allies was far from secondary.Those trucks the Americans provided gave your army a mobility it never had before.And it was the western allies whose airmen defeated the Luftwaffe in 1944 allowing your airforce to protect your army during Operation Bagration in 1944.(and later as well)

    • Nixie

      It’s also true that without the Western Allies drawing off vast German forces away from the Eastern Front, the Russians would likely have lost their fight.

      • skari60

        not true.. because west didnt draw so much from easternfront as you might think.. russia won the war almost alone

        • Nixie

          40% of the field divisions, two-thirds of the air force and virtually the entire navy was deployed in the West. Meanwhile, the Western Allies filled huge gaps in the Soviet war machine; large numbers of locomotives and rolling stock, plus 450,000 state-of-the-art trucks (that the Soviets were incapable of making themselves) gave the Soviets a huge edge in mobility over their German opponents. Finally, the U.S. and Canada supplied food to the point of a pound per soldier per day, helping to stave off famine.

          Meanwhile, had the British signed an armistice with the Germans, which would have kept the Americans out of the war, the strong Japanese forces in the Pacific would have been used against the Soviets.

          • skari60

            3 SS divitions, and non excisting airforce was drawn from eastern front.. the germans even joked about the luftwaffe in france after normandy.. they say.. just shoot at all airoplanes.. they are not ours anyway.. I can read in your words that you try to dimish the huge sacrifices the russian did to win the war .. they did 10 times what US and UK did.. thats for sure.. even german war report will tell you the same

          • Nixie

            From the Army’s official history: “Overall, far greater masses of troops had been employed over the truly vast distances of the German Eastern Front than in the west. Even as late as December 1944, over 3.5 million Germans struggled against the Russians along a 700-mile front compared with fewer than 1 million on the Western Front along a much narrower frontage. Yet the Soviet contribution was less disproportionate than would appear, for the war in the east was a one-front ground war, whereas the Allies in the west were fighting on two ground fronts (Western Europe and Italy) and conducting major campaigns in the air and at sea, as well as making a large commitment in the war against Japan. At the same time, the United States was contributing enormously to the war in Russia through Lend-Lease, almost $11 billion in materials: over 400,000 jeeps and trucks; 12,000 armored vehicles (including 7,000 tanks, enough to equip some twenty-odd U.S. armored divisions); 11,400 aircraft; and 1.75 million tons of food. While Russian casualties against the Germans dwarf American and British losses, it should be clear that only the Allies working together won World War II.”

          • skari60

            no one denies that allies won together,, but the russians did the job 😉 however the fighting units of german forces in west in june-august was under 600.000 man.. allies had 1.7 million.. in most battles the germans was 1/4 .. often few as 1/10.. still hold their ground amasingly long.. the result of this was obvious.. germany coutlnt possibly win

          • chris chuba

            Any ‘what-if’ scenario you can throw at how the Russians could have lost the war could be thrown back at our faces as well. For example, if the German forces in the East were able to consolidate in the West there is virtually no chance we could have landed an army in France in 1944.

            The Russians were able to re-build their army after being eviscerated by a vicious and relentless enemy. Let them take a well earned victory lap, I never got why we Americans need to take credit for everything. Yes, our Lend / Lease aid helped but the Russians did a lot to help themselves. 80% of our lend / lease aid arrived in 1943 and later, the Red Army was out of intensive care.

          • Nixie

            In the words of the Army’s official history: ” Overall, far greater masses of troops had been employed over the truly vast distances of the German Eastern Front than in the west. Even as late as December 1944, over 3.5 million Germans struggled against the Russians along a 700-mile front compared with fewer than 1 million on the Western Front along a much narrower frontage. Yet the Soviet contribution was less disproportionate than would appear, for the war in the east was a one-front ground war, whereas the Allies in the west were fighting on two ground fronts (Western Europe and Italy) and conducting major campaigns in the air and at sea, as well as making a large commitment in the war against Japan. At the same time, the United States was contributing enormously to the war in Russia through Lend-Lease, almost $11 billion in materials: over 400,000 jeeps and trucks; 12,000 armored vehicles (including 7,000 tanks, enough to equip some twenty-odd U.S. armored divisions); 11,400 aircraft; and 1.75 million tons of food. While Russian casualties against the Germans dwarf American and British losses, it should be clear that only the Allies working together won World War II.”

            The Russians are entitled to a victory lap, but not to claim that they won the war single-handedly. Furthermore don’t forget that they themselves engineered the situation where they would be fighting the bulk of the German ground forces alone, conniving with Hitler to ensure the defeat of France and Poland, both powerful enemies of Germany.

          • chris chuba

            The Russians didn’t win the war in Europe singlehandedly but it wasn’t exactly 50/50, it was more like 80/20 or in that ballpark. They did receive significant help from the west but I do get their resentment by the way the war is summarized in the average U.S. documentary. I recently saw an episode of Oliver North’s War Stories, ‘The Untold Story of the Russian Front’ where he was fixated on Lend Lease aid. Untold? It’s a borderline fetish in the U.S.
            In 1941 the Russians evacuated about 10,000 factories from western Russia by rail east of Moscow (I should say factory equipment). In 1942, they managed to product 12,000 T-34’s. Some people in the U.S. don’t even realize that they had any of their own wartime production and believe they got everything from us. I think the best summary of the Eastern front I have read is David Glantz, Clash of the Titans and he gives a balanced mention of Lend Lease. He basically says that the trucks were the most useful thing that we sent them because it increased their mobility in 1944. However, the military equipment, like tanks was not as well received / utilized. Personally, I think the raw materials they BOUGHT in 1941 was well utilized. I used caps because when you buy something, you tend to be selective. I agree that the trucks were extremely important, over 50% of their stock. However, I think a lot of the other stuff was Stalin looting us, ie. getting free stuff that they probably didn’t even utilize that well. I bet the North Koreans are still eating some of that Spam. I’m certain the Russians did eat their fair share during the war but dividing the total amount of food by the number of soldiers and saying ‘look, we fed them for 8yrs’ is a dubious calculation but fun.

          • aaron1313

            Lend Lease didn’t just help.It was crucial to the recovery of the Red Army.

          • aaron1313

            You forgot the air war over Germany in which the western allies defeated the Luftwaffe-thus allowing the Soviet Air Force to protect their ground forces in 1944-45.

      • Serge Krieger

        Wrong. By the time Allies landed Soviet army was closing on Germany borders. The last Bagration operation summer 1944 completely destroyed Groups army Center and with it Germany ability to resists. Otherwise, German army was on the run since winter of 1943. Without Allies, it would take few more months but the outcome of the war was already decided back in 1942-1943 long before D day. You obviously have no idea of the topic you are talking about. I suspect too many Hollywood movies.

        • Nixie

          Nonsense. The Germans had plenty of warmaking power in 1942-43, and they could easily have fought the Soviets to a standstill had they not been forced to split their forces in two.

          • Serge Krieger

            Soviet Union did just that. Lend lease started arriving by any meaningful numbers only at the end of 1943 when the tide was already turned and by calculation military gear in lend lease amounted to basically what Soviet army used in the battle of Stalingrad, which is while significant numbers but far form being something tide turning. Soviet industry was turning out equipment on American scale by the way.
            I will point that after the war there was no doubt in mind of even American politicians as to who actually won the war and there is a lot of those acknowledgments in written form. One even went to say that basically the West won war with Soviet blood and American spam which is what it was. The great and most important lend lease help were trucks. Which by soviet calculations helped to bring the end of war by some 6 months at least by increasing mobility of advancing Soviet troops.
            Otherwise, it was Soviet army that turned the tide and there is nothing you can add to this. You landed and started fighting in serious in 1944 when outcome of the war was already crystal clear.

          • aaron1313

            Actually,the western allies were fighting the Nazis long before June 1`944.Ever hear of the war in North Africa and (later) in Italy,the battle of the Atlantic,the air war over Germany?Your claim that the (former) Soviet Union won the war all by itself is stupid and unsupported by the facts.(Commie propaganda)

    • Trey

      The article was about the war in the west, which for tank means the M4, As a side note the USSR used M4 as well

      ( http://iremember.ru/en/memoirs/tankers/dmitriy-loza/ )

      The article points out several times that the Germans sent most of the advanced armor to the east.

      The issue of “what if” is of course rather hard to claim to be right or wrong, but IF the Soviets had fallen it would have been much harder to fight the Germans for the Western Allies. Of course if the Western allies not supported the Soviets they would have fallen almost with out question.

      http://www.historynet.com/did-russia-really-go-it-alone-how-lend-lease-helped-the-soviets-defeat-the-germans.htm

      http://www.historynet.com/did-russia-really-go-it-alone-how-lend-lease-helped-the-soviets-defeat-the-germans.htm

      And to be honest the T-34 was in the “good enough” class in many ways,

      http://chris-intel-corner.blogspot.com/2012/07/wwii-myths-t-34-best-tank-of-war.html

      It is true that the evil of Stalin and the soviet union fought the evil of Hitler and Nazi Germany to a stand still.

      Soviet Marshal G.K. Zhukov is quoted as saying “Today [1963] some say the Allies didn’t really help us…But listen, one cannot deny that the Americans shipped over to us material without which we could not have equipped our armies held in reserve or been able to continue the war.

  • TomD

    Much of the problem with the Sherman tank’s survivability came from the decision to use gasoline powered aircraft engines rather than diesel engines, gasoline being much more volatile than diesel oil. The article mentions the ‘Ronson’ nickname but not the other the Brits gave it: ‘Tommy Cooker’. After the war the U.S. Army made a massive ten year effort to replace almost it’s entire fleet of tanks, trucks, and other vehicles with diesel vehicles. Only the jeep and a few others were retained with gasoline engines.

    • sensaywhat

      I understand that while gasoline fires were and issue, the primary problem in the early Shermans was the ease with which the ammunition could be set alight. Rounds were stored in dry-stowage in the sponsons above the tracks. After the design was corrected to add additional armor to the sponsons and then a change to wet-storage (at the expense of total ammunition capacity), the brew up problem seemed to abate. In 1945, a study done by the U.S. Army showed that only 10–15 percent of wet-stowage Shermans burned when penetrated, versus 60–80 percent of the older dry-stowage Shermans. Also it is interesting to note that the Panzers III, IV and V were all powered by gasoline engines from Maybach.

      Zaloga, Steven (2008). Panther vs. Sherman: Battle of the Bulge 1944. Osprey Publishing Ltd. pp 116-118

    • conor147

      The “Ronson” and “Tommy Cooker” is a confirmed urban legend. No contemporary evidence exists. It is a post-hoc fabrication that became a meme.

    • skari60

      all german tanks were gasoline driven

  • William Volk

    US Crews also had the advantage of troops who had grown up tinkering with automobiles (Model T etc,), where the German crews were less likely to have had that experience. This made repairs in the field possible with existing crews.

  • Plenum

    The article, to me, has a subtext of a deliberate military-institutional bias against tank warfare.

  • jack

    This is pathetic and repulsive. Your pathetic country had nothing to do with winning World War II. Suck a lemon and get over that long debunked myth of American exceptionalism. No country masquerading as the best in the world would be so pathetic.

    • Falcon642

      Without Lend Lease Britain would have collapsed by early 1941 and the Soviet Union would have collapsed in last 1941.

      Furthermore, you forget about the war against the Japanese. Yes the Soviets did most of the heavy lifting against the Nazis, but the Americans did most of the heavy lifting against the Japanese. Educate yourself before you comment.

      • technoreaper

        Lame, pathetic excuses.

      • skari60

        ehh .. russia won the blody war for u

    • Mitch

      What’s the matter, Jack? Did some American brute throw sand in your eyes at the beach and walk off into the bushes with your girlfriend? And all she would say afterwards was “uhhh Jack….do I turn you on…I don’t think I turn you on, do I…not like that American man….Jack, let’s see other people, ok? …we can still be friends…ok?”

  • jason aristotle

    If you want Quality go with Protoss if you want quantity go with Zerg.

  • Charles Cosimano

    There was another reason they kept with the Sherman even though heavier tanks were being worked on. Transport. You could fit a lot more Shermans onto a ship than you could heavier tanks.

    • marketfog

      Our interstate highway system also has the term Military in its official name. About 15 years ago, the govt replaced a perfectly good bridge on I84 in Ct because it wasn’t sturdy enough to take a tank transporter. Even today, heavier truck traffic has to diverted around the bridge complex in Waterbury, CT because it is not strong enough..

  • InklingBooks

    Perhaps we should have gotten ourselves one of Russia’s excellent T-34s and copied it in the thousands. That’d have provided a good companion to the Sherman.

    • Falcon642

      The T-34 had thinner armor and a weaker gun, plus it broke down alot more. The casualty rates of T-34 tanks is absolutely staggering.

      • J.L.

        That’s as much of a consequence of (a) how T-34 was used, and (b) how casualties were counted in the Red Army.

        Also, the T-34 had a bigger HE shell and a stronger turret.

        • bg

          Bullshit. Casualty rates are 3 or 4 to 1 vs German tanks. How the tanks were used? What an idiot. Did you think they were used for farming. Red Army stats – yeah, now THERE’S some info you can trust! Do a little research before you post .

          • J.L.

            The Red Army counted any tank, stuck in mud, even for a short time, as one that was “lost”, resulting in situations where the entire tank force of a unit was “lost” multiple times without reinforcements. Any tank that couldn’t immediately fight, in fact, was lost. (All the Allies counted losses in this way, because it was easier for planning.) On the other side, a hull shipped back to the factory to be refurbished was “built”.

            In contrast, the Germans only counted losses when they were completely sure it was never going to be recovered. This led to situations where, several weeks after a force of Tigers was captured, they were finally recorded as “destroyed by their own crew”.

    • Nixie

      The T-34/76 was inferior to the original Sherman in several important ways. Among them was its two-man turret, which reduced its rate of aimed fire to about one-third that of its German contemporaries (and the Sherman). In gun power and frontal armor, they were about equal. Mechanically, the Sherman was superior.

      The T-34/85 was equipped with a three-man turret, but the anti-armor performance of the 85mm main gun was inferior to that of the American 76mm. It also had a cramped hull, which forced ammunition storage in the vulnerable slab-sided turret.

  • Barzuma

    So the Sherman is the AK-47 of tanks? :-)

  • outragex

    Here is what I’ve learned from a variety of books, many of which were written by US Army vets of WWII. The Sherman was rated as a medium tank compared to the best of the German tanks. It was light enough to be carried on amphibious ships and craft and unladed by smaller cranes in ports that the Allies quickly constructed. It also had to be light enough to cross pontoon and temporary bridges constructed by the advancing allies after they destroyed permanent bridges with air power to hinder the enemy’s transport. The German heavy tanks operated mainly on continental Europe and did not face this need. The Sherman had more standardized parts (though it was upgraded throughout the war) which mean that matching spare parts could more easily be stocked. Also the US Army developed a very efficient system of retrieving disabled tanks after the fighting moved forward, these tanks were cannibalized for parts or repaired and quickly put back into service. The Germans were never as organized at this, partially because there disabled tanks were left behind as they retreated, but also because they could not easily stock spare parts for the semi custom tanks that they used. This situation was much the same for the American versus German trucks as well. In general, the US was more systematic and organized about building and repairing our fleets of motorized equipment because we hand more industrial capacity and were more mechanized as a nation in the pre-war period. Germany depended upon railroads supplying horse drawn wagon trains for most of its units throughout the war. Only a few elite German units had large numbers of vehicles or tanks. Perhaps this was due to the US auto maker’s experience before the war of large scale mass production with more standardization of parts. The US Army did field a much better tank late in the European war, the M-26 Pershing, but only a few got to the war before it ended.

  • idontcare

    OMG. The movie is as bad as the Sherman was. Wiping out 200 SS soldiers with one tank?they are americans so why not… I do not say that Sherman and t-34 were bad tanks. They were good for mass production and they were good in some way. But if you learn something about ww2 you just find out that the german tank were the best. Their armor,guns, training, tactics and the casualties they caused on russians and allies only prove my opinion. So the best tank was : Tiger I (and all other german AFVs like Pz V,Pz IV, Jagdpanzer, Stug III and IV, Jagdpanther,Nashorn,Marder I,II,III and Hetzer.

    • bg

      Goebbels, I thought you killed yourself after you murdered your children. Oh, that’s right, you couldn’t pull the trigger on your vainglorious self. They did annihilate Russians, but not because of tank superiority.

      • skari60

        ehh ?

    • skari60

      damn true

  • UnderCoverBrother

    Shouldnt the saying of “Quantity has a quality all its own” be attributed to its author, Josef Stalin?

  • Timothy Agin

    To me the better solution would have been the British approach. Mount a high velocity gun for better armor penetration and then possibly change the engine package to a diesel rather than the air cooled radial with its highly volatile gasoline fuel. Adding armor would have limited mobility. They did add some patches to weak points that were found in the castings but an improved turret mold could have been developed to deal with that in later production and for repairs.

  • Timothy Agin

    As stated earlier the draining of resources to fight Russia reduced the available equipment to fight the allies. Fighting wars on multiple fronts is always a special challenge. Lots of room for rethinking strategy on the parts of all players in any battle. What ifs abound. What if the Germans had not relied on the invincibility of their Enigma code which turned out to have been broken early in the war? What if the Germans had not bothered building a surface fleet instead focused on many more and better submarines? What if they had continued the assault on Britain until they won in turn allowing them to secure North Africa with the oil fields they needed and secured Western Europe before turning on the Soviets? What if……

  • Nandor Vass

    I would have welcomed reading details about how these thousands of tanks were shipped over the Atantic.

  • Abhinav Tella

    Not a fan of the Sherman, but I agree that it was “good enough” to win, thanks to production numbers. I think it had a good cost to benefit ratio.

    Retooling for newer vastly different designs would have affected production rates. The Tiger (~1,500 produced) and Tiger II (489 produced) made up for their cost in kill ratios but it was like putting all your eggs in one basket as each Tiger lost was a bigger loss due being rare, and a lot were lost due lack of fuel or breakdowns. They should have focused more on Mark Vs and Mark IVs. They could have made a lot more Mark Vs (Panther) if they stopped wasting resources on the heavy tanks.

    Fortunately for us they (Germans) made the mistakes they did. The best weapon is not always the best option for an army, as mentioned quality needs to balanced by production rates.

  • Robert Maybeth

    Adding heavier armor to the Sherman was polishing a turd. It was some use to add the high velocity 76 mm gun like the “Fury” tank as at least they had a, nearly comparable weapon to that on the Panzer Mk IV. But the Sherman was underarmored, a mistake the germans did not make after 1944. I would not want to be a crewman of a US Sherman tank in Europe – a US Army Captain, in charge of recovering and repairing damaged Shermans in WW2 wrote a book about it called “DEATH TRAPS” – all I need to know really.

    The US really had no excuse NOT to give the armor corps a good tank. They already had one, the M26 Pershing. It was heavily armored and had a powerful gun and it was up to “Old blood and guts” Patton himself to pick which tank to take to Europe. Even after seeing the powerful German Tiger tank (the british had captured one intact in North Africa, so there is little doubt Patton must have seen one himself) and assuming the Germans had more then one (sarcasm here) – what kind of decision process made this “military genius” pick the wimpy Sherman rather then the far superior M26 tank?

    Yes, the M26 would have been rushed into service – a few flaws would have resulted in “teething troubles” similar to the ones the Germans had with the Panther at Kursk in 1943. So what? This decision might have saved many US lives, perhaps thousands!The US had plenty of Shermans to act in the support role…meanwhile the first battle the M26 was used was the battle of the Bridge at Remagen (thus proving my point that they’d been ready since 1944)…! In March 1945…

    Poor leadership is something that characterized US warfare in the 20th century – as the EXACT SAME MISTAKE was made, 5 years later in Korea! The North Koreans were rolling south in hundreds of Russian made T-34 tanks – the US formed the Pusan perimiter the last ditch piece of real estate left in Korea . The existence of the T-34 tanks was made known to the leadership – yet all the troops had to stop them was the bazooka, an inferior and under-powered weapon, which repeatedly bounced off the T-34’s…and later what tanks were sent? That’s right Shermans, and the same thing happened as against the Germans – rounds bouncing off, T-34’s blowing up Shermans one after another. Only AFTER US had sent some M26 tanks to Korea, were the T-34’s finally routed.

    Learning from experience or history, is not the US leadership’s strong suit. What conflicts ARE virtually the same: Vietnam 1965-73, Iraq 2003 – ? Afghanistan 2001 – ? In each: No strategy, NO goals, NO definition of victory…

    No, i would not want to have been in the crew of real life “FURY” , because some things about “leadership” never change!

  • Bear Artorius
  • Alex Anderson

    M4’s were, overall, very effective. They didn’t need to be good at dueling with Tigers or Panthers, because it was very rare that they ever had to face Tigers or Panthers, especially not in even numbers. It was not possible to make an “ideal” tank to fight the Germans… However, the Sherman was in general, fairly well designed and fairly effectively used. Yes, it is demoralizing to realize that their quality was exaggerated in propaganda, and that commanders would sometimes fail to use their tanks effectively, and send the crews into terribly deadly situations, or even to deliberately sacrifice large numbers of them in order to achieve strategic victories. That’s war. Just about any tank in WWII that saw a lot of combat had a really high chance of getting badly hit… War is really dangerous!

  • Serge Krieger

    T-34

  • Antonio Roland

    the article mentions how British tank crews gave Sherman tanks the nickname of “Ronson’s”. That’s false. The slogan for Ronson, “Lights every time” was created postwar. Another myth that will not die.

  • Mark Sniatkowski

    Pretty much all of what you said is not true. The Ronson term is not true- “lights first time…” did not become the Ronson motto until the 1950’s. German tanks burned just as badly as American tanks. American tanks traveled in groups of five, hence the five to one ratio. The US Army had tank battalions attached to divisions….this list goes on and on. Read something else if you want to know the truth.

  • robertson buttley

    MY FATHER, WHO WAS THERE, SAID THE SHERMAN M4 WAS A PIECE OF JUNK WHEN COMPARED TO MOST ALL THE GERMAN TANKS OF WW 2. SO MANY OF OUR GUYS DIED JUST BECAUSE THE SHERMAN WAS REAL BAD AND OUT GUNNED AND OUT AROMRED. SHAME , SHAME……

  • robertson buttley

    what really, really won the war for us was our AIR POWER, nothing more !!!

  • mikekrohde

    Bravo History Man. The Germans suffered almost 70% of their casualties in the “East”. The Russians probably lost up to 20 million uniformed combatants in the a”East” including those taken prisoner. Some believe that number is low. It was a peasant army with around a 30% literacy rate. Since Stalin had no concern about casualties once he figured out the calculus i.e., Germany would run out of men in 1945 no matter what, he did not hold commanders feet to the fire about casualties so they had no reason to try to hold them down. Stalin probably had more Russians murdered than Hitler killed in the war for a comparison. A man capable of killing 40 million of his own people to maintain power is certainly capable of sending 20 million soldiers to their doom. The Germans held a technology edge through out the conflict so they had bigger and better guns and armor which tended to inflict high casualties when engaged by an inferior force.

    Our participation in the victory in Europe was substantial, especially in material contributions. We gave the Russians 100,000 trucks which basically transported the Red Army throughout the war and gave them an edge in mobility as often as not after 1942. Compare the approximate 20 million Russian dead to our 350,000 dead. Do you really need to look at any other figures to assess who did what in the European Theater?

  • NoMoreMarxistsInDC

    Watch the movie “Action in the North Atlantic” with Humphrey Bogart. That says it all about how America supplied the Russian war machine.

  • Michael Kinney

    The reason the Sherman wasn’t replaced was because they had to fit as many inside of a ship/landing craft as possible. Another reason they figured in was they had to get tanks across rivers. If the bridges were destroyed it’s a lot harder to get an heavy tank across a temporary floating bridge. The Sherman was designed for infantry support and in that role it excelled with it’s excellent HE 75mm shells. I believe they expected most German tanks to be destroyed via air power and that wasn’t too far from wrong. The Sherman got a bad rap for it’s anti armor failings but it wasn’t actually designed for that role. Things improved when the M10 and M36 arrived.

  • mmur

    Anyone here that believes any allied tank was a match for a german tank is living in fantasy land and needs to re read some historical accounts. Fury was absolutely painful to watch as any stationary target would have lasted seconds against a German platoon. Fury would be comparable to the Syrians making a movie in which a stationary Syrian tank fought for hours against incompetent Israels. I am all for patriotism but in a battle of equal numbers i doubt any ww2 allied tank veteran would pick any allied tank if they could pick a german tank and knew how to use it. Maybe a slight hint to superiority would be the fact that the German’s only had 6000 tanks and it took 6 years to put them in their place- common people read some history!!!!

  • Jeff Fisher

    If the Sherman was as dangerous as the author thinks, I wonder how they would explain that only 1398 enlisted tankers were killed in action during the entire war, even though 1/3 of US tanks were light tanks, and as least some of the losses were suffered when the crew was outside he tank (some estimates are that half that number would have been among crew that we outside their tank). By comparison 979 enlisted personnel in the Quartermasters corps, 5,922 enlisted Field Artillerymen, and 111,100 Infantrymen were killed in action. It is harder to track tank officers because tank officers were officially counted as being from other branches at that point in history.

    The Scan of the orginal report by he US Adjutant General is here:
    https://archive.org/stream/ArmyBattleCasualtiesAndNonbattleDeathsInWorldWarIiPt2Of4#page/n19/mode/2up

    A more user friendly table (but with a few typos or scan errors) is here : http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/ref/Casualties/Casualties-2.html#duty

  • Stan

    One of the problems the German military had as an overabundance of types of weapons.

    Supplying many different but similar weapons systems makes logistics an even bigger nightmare.

    The Brits and their Sherman Firefly were a great compromise, it used the stock Sherman tank parts, and used the ammo and parts from the 17 pounder which was a common British gun.
    And the 17 pounder was arguably as deadly as the famed 88.

    The long supply lines that the US military had favoured having as few different weapons as possible.

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Lovesick Cyborg

Lovesick Cyborg examines how technology shapes our human experience of the world on both an emotional and physical level. I’ll focus on stories such as why audiences loved or hated Hollywood’s digital resurrection of fallen actors, how soldiers interact with battlefield robots and the capability of music fans to idolize virtual pop stars. Other stories might include the experience of using an advanced prosthetic limb, whether or not people trust driverless cars with their lives, and how virtual reality headsets or 3-D film technology can make some people physically ill.

About Jeremy Hsu

Jeremy Hsu is journalist who writes about science and technology for Scientific American, Popular Science, IEEE Spectrum and other publications. He received a master’s degree in journalism through the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at NYU and currently lives in Brooklyn. His side interests include an ongoing fascination with the history of science and technology and military history.

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