The M4 Sherman, formally Medium Tank, M4, was the primary tank used by the United States and the other Western Allies in World War II, and proved to be a reliable and highly mobile workhorse to win the war, despite being outmatched by heavier German tanks late in the war. Thousands were distributed to the Allies, including the British Commonwealth and the Soviet Union, via lend-lease. The M4 was the second most produced tank of the World War II era, after the Soviet T-34, and its performance and role in its parent nation's victory was comparable to that of the T-34. It has been the general conception that in the United Kingdom, the M4 was named after Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, following the British practice of naming their American-built tanks after famous American Civil War generals, and that subsequently the British name found its way into common use in the U.S. This has however been put into question since U.S. documents of proposed names for equipment was found, naming several tanks including the M4.
The M4 Sherman evolved from the Grant and Lee medium tanks, which had an unusual side-sponson
mounted 75 mm gun. It retained much of the previous mechanical design,
but added the first American main 75 mm gun mounted on a fully
traversing turret, with a gyrostabilizer enabling the crew to fire with reasonable accuracy while the tank was on the move.
The designers stressed mechanical reliability, ease of production and
maintenance, durability, standardization of parts and ammunition in a
limited number of variants, and moderate size and weight. These factors
made the M4 superior in some regards to the earlier German light and medium tanks
of 1939-41. The M4 ended up being produced in large numbers, and formed
the backbone of most offensives by the Western Allies, starting in late
When the M4 tank arrived in North Africa in 1942, it was clearly superior to both the Panzer III German main battle tank, with its 50 mm gun, and the versions of the Panzer IV
armed with the short barreled 75 mm gun. Against the 75 mm KwK 40 L/43
long-barreled Panzer IV, the match was about even. For this reason, the
US Army believed the M4 would be completely adequate to win the war, and
no pressure was exerted for further tank development. Logistical and
transport restrictions (roads, ports, bridges, etc) also would
complicate the introduction of a more capable, but heavier tank.
Independent Tank destroyer battalions, including the M36 Jackson
using vehicles built on the M4 hull and chassis, but with open-topped
turrets and more lethal, high-velocity guns, also entered widespread use
among American army corps. By 1944, the M4 Sherman and the TD units
proved to be outmatched by the 45 ton Panther tank, and wholly inadequate against the 56 ton Tiger I and later 70 ton Tiger II heavy tanks, suffering high casualties against their heavier armor and more powerful 88 mm L/56 and L/71 cannons. Mobility, mechanical reliability and sheer numbers, supported by growing superiority in supporting fighter-bombers and artillery, helped offset these disadvantages strategically.
The relative ease of production allowed huge numbers of the M4 to be
produced, and significant investment in tank recovery and repair units
paid off with more disabled vehicles being repaired and returned to
service. These factors combined to enable the Americans numerical
superiority in most battles, and allow many infantry divisions their own
M4 and TD assets. By 1944 a typical U.S. infantry division had as
semi-permanently attached units an M4 Sherman battalion, a TD battalion,
or both. By this stage of the war, German panzer divisions
were rarely at full strength, and some U.S. infantry divisions had more
fully tracked AFVs than the depleted German panzer divisions did,
providing a great advantage for the Americans.
The Americans also started to introduce the M4A3E8 variant, with an
improved high-velocity 76 mm gun previously used only by TDs.
Production of the M4 Sherman was favored by the commander of the
Armored Ground Forces, albeit controversially, over the heavier M26 Pershing, which resulted in the latter being deployed too late to play any significant role in the war. In the Pacific Theater,
the M4 was used chiefly against Japanese infantry and fortifications;
in its rare encounters with much lighter Japanese tanks with weaker
armor and guns, the Sherman's superiority was overwhelming. Almost
50,000 vehicles were produced, and its chassis also served as the basis
for numerous other armored vehicles such as tank destroyers, tank retrievers, and self-propelled artillery.
The Sherman would finally give way to post-war tanks developed from
the M26. Various original and updated versions of the Sherman, with
improved weapons and other equipment, would continue to see combat
effectively in many later conflicts, including the Korean War, Arab-Israeli Wars, and Indo-Pakistani War (where it was used by both sides) into the late 20th century.
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