The Sherman Tank

 “A Tiger can destroy 10 Sherman tanks, but the Americans have 11.”

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel




A military maxim proclaims that quantity has a quality all its own.  Some 50,000 M4 Sherman tanks were manufactured by the US during the World War II.  A speedy and maneuverable medium tank, the M4 was designed to be shipped easily by sea and rail.  As an infantry support platform it was much loved by GI’s.  The only problem was that the Sherman was totally outgunned by  German Tigers and Panthers.  One dismayed tanker recalled seeing a Tiger fire through two buildings and still take out a Sherman.  The Sherman 75 gun could not penetrate the front armor of a Tiger.  Tiger and Panther shells had little problem penetrating the Sherman’s armor, causing American tankers to sometimes refer to their tanks as Ronsons, after a popular lighter of the period.  However, the Americans usually heavily outnumbered the enemy armor they confronted and almost always could call on air support to knock out enemy tanks.  Enemy armor also had to confront endless American infantry with anti-tank weapons and mortars, backed up by plentiful artillery and abundant tank destroyers, which made most German armored offensives against American positions risky propositions for them.


Most losses of the Sherman were not caused by German armor.  However, the fact that the Shermans were clearly inferior to the top classes of German armor was demoralizing for American tankers.  Variants on the Sherman saw service during the campaigns in France and Germany with heavier frontal armor and  mounting heavier guns partially alleviating the problem.

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  1. This brings to mind a longtime friend of my family who served as a Sherman commander under Patton in WWII. He was part of the race to relieve the airborne in the Bulge, among other notable events. Despite the chill of the northwestern Illinois winters, (where most of my relatives still reside), he never wore anything heavier than a wool sport coat or suit. He explained that it was so cold riding in those tanks in the Ardennes Forest that he never felt anything approaching it again, regardless of the temperature.

  2. Even though the “ronson” quote can be found all over the internet, I don’t believe that it is accurate. The ronson lighter was not all that popular at the time. If the Sherman was as easy to light up as the legend has it, I am pretty sure that GIs would have called it a “zippo”
    Moreover, the M4 was clearly superior to the most common German medium tank – the PZKW IV – with a better gun (most of the time), better front armor, and vastly superior reliability. In addition, the 75 mm versions were superior in actual combat – if not on paper – to the T-34 75 since it was more reliable and had a vastly more efficient turret design and crew compartment, as well as a better gun – and the Korean war showed the the 76 mm Shermans were better in the real world that the T-34 85

  3. Don

    Back in the day, having spent more time on tank maintenance than I care to remember; I would like to point out that a tank that running is better than o that isn’t. The high end German tanks were a mechanics nightmare.

  4. Isn’t that one of those three-schools-of-engineering things?

    Germans have really high quality engineering that takes hard-core engineers to fix (tight tolerance, designed for excellence above all else); the Brits have high quality engineering where you have to have someone really good at finding juuuust the right piece to work with this specific machine (rather loose tolerances with excellence above all else), and American really high quality engineering can be repaired by any monkey who can read with any part out of the box. (really tight design tolerances, sacrifices some design excellence for function)

    Note, I was one of those monkeys for USN calibration.

  5. “However, the Americans usually heavily outnumbered the enemy armor they confronted and almost always could call on air support to knock out enemy tanks.”

    And call on artillery support as well. In WW2 the U.S. Army had the best artillery (not the guns themselves, the Germans had some of those) but rather in logistics and fire control doctrine and training. If an Allied commander needed fire support a call would result in incoming barrages from every unit within range, regardless of the chain of command.

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