#1 – The gasoline engines made the tank a death trap.
One of the most popular myths surrounding the Sherman is concerning “Catastrophic hits” to the tank. That is, hits that would cause the tank to either explode or catch on fire violently. In these scenarios, the crew would typically have a very low survival rate and knock the tank out permanently. British tankers nicknamed the tank the Ronson because the lighter of the same name had a motto of “Lights the first time, every time!”.
The truth – Early in the war, the Sherman tank had a nearly identical rate of failures when compared to its contemporaries. The Panzer IV had a nearly identical rate of catastrophic failures. Even Belton Y Cooper – whose book ‘Death Traps’ was highly critical of the M4 Sherman’s performance did note several times that German anti-tank crews had a very difficult time catching the tank on fire
In mid 1944, the US introduced wet stowage to the ammo compartment of the tank. By all accounts, the rate of failure decreased by an overwhelming 75%. This decrease dropped failures to even blow that of the dreaded Tiger tank.
Myth #2 – The 75mm cannon could not destroy enemy tanks
This is by far one of the most perpetuated myths concerning the Sherman tank.
It is partially true, but only when combined with poor US anti-tank doctrine as perpetuated by General Lesley McNair. Many historians remember that in his opinion, tanks were not to be used against other tanks. However one thing not realized is that his opinion had even worse effect on tank crews – They were issued old, out-dated armor piercing ammunition.
From 1943 onward, the US military had in its posession an extremely effective anti-tank round for the 75mm cannon called the M61 APCBC.
The APCBC could actually penetrate the Tiger tank from ALL aspects as well as the Panther in most regards. It could penetrate nearly 100mm of enemy armor from 500 yards, and over 90mm from a thousand yards. This was enough to penetrate the rear or side armor of the Tiger from the longer distance, or at a distance of 500yds, penetrate the tiger from the front. Many critics of the M4 do note that the up-gunned tanks carrying the 76mm gun could take on a tiger, yet the armor penetration of the 76mm is only 5% better than the 75mm armed with the M61 APCBC ammunition. Sadly, due to McNair’s orders, APCBC was not issued to tankers, and instead substituted with an inferior type of ammunition (The standard APC, which had 30% less penetration characteristics.
The Russians were quite a fan of the power of the 75mm cannon the Shermans. the difference between the way the USSR employed them and the way the US did was the fact that they actually issued the M61 APCBC to their troops.
Here are a few photos from a classified report using a 75mm armed Sherman against a Tiger tank.
This test was performed firing a 75 mm M3 gun from an M4A2 Sherman with M-61 and M-72 rounds. Here are the results:
Side, shell type M-61, distance 400 m. Result: penetration, spalling inside in an area of 300 mm by 300 mm
Side, shell type M-72, distance 625 m. Result: penetration, minor spalling on entrance and exit.
Side: shell type M-72, distance 625 m. Result: same as above.
Turret: shell type M-61, distance 650 m. Result: dent 50 mm deep, 140 mm diameter. Penetration of the turret platform.
Turret: shell type M-61, distance 650. Result: dent 40mm deep, 120mm diameter.
Side: shell type M-61, distance 650. Result: Penetration. Shell knocked out a cork-like section of armour.
Side: shell type M-61, distance 650. Result: same as above.
Myth #3 – The armor was paper thin
Often the M4′s armor is compared to that of the Panther and the Tiger, where it fares poorly. The T34 however is compared and often touted as one of the best-protected tanks during the entire war.
The truth is pretty simple and straight forward – The Sherman’s armor was nearly identical to the T34, later in the war it was even increased well beyond the T34′s armor. The Sherman offered around 50mm of frontal armor at a 45 degree angle, offering 70mm of armor in relative thickness. The T34 offered about 40mm of armor at a 45 degree angle, or 56mm of relative thickness.
Overall, the armor was inferior to that of the Panther or Tiger, but was superior to tanks that were more similar in usage – The T34 and the PzIV.
The Sherman tank featured up to 50mm of frontal armor that was angled at around 45 degrees which was nearly identical to that of the T34 which had . As a comparison, the PzIV Ausf G had frontal armor of only about 50mm at a 60 to 90 degree angle depending on upper/lower sides – A relative thickness of only 55mm. Additionally, the Pz V Ausf G (Panther) had 60mm to 80mm of frontal armor at a 55 degree angle – A relative thickness of 73mm to 97mm.
So , a summation of the following armor characteristics :
|Tank Name||PzIV Ausf G||T34-76||T34-85||M4 Early||M4 Late||Panther||Tiger|