#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 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.
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|
In the end, the Sherman may not be the best tank on the face of the planet, but it was hardly a pushover against ANY tank on the battlefield. It compared very well against the Panther and could put the hurt on a Tiger should it be needed. It was additionally far superior to the Pz4 or Stug3 which were the most common armored vehicles it would have encountered in ww2. Much of the hate against the Sherman has been perpetrated post war and sadly most of it is from Belton Cooper.
If you’re interested in reading a quality rebuttal against Belton Cooper’s anti-Sherman book “Death Traps”, here’s one of the best from Amazon.
Death Traps, a poorly written memoir by Belton Y. Cooper promises much, but delivers little. Cooper served as an ordnance lieutenant in the 3rd Armor Division (3AD), acting as a liaison officer between the Combat Commands and the Division Maintenance Battalion. One of the first rules of memoir writing is to focus on events of which the author has direct experience; instead, Cooper is constantly discussing high-level or distant events of which he was not a witness. Consequently, the book is riddled with mistakes and falsehoods. Furthermore, the author puts his main effort into an over-simplified indictment of the American Sherman tank as a “death trap” that delayed eventual victory in the Second World War.
Cooper’s indictment of the Sherman tank’s inferiority compared to the heavier German Panther and Tiger tanks ignores many important facts. First, the Sherman was designed for mass production and this allowed the Allies to enjoy a 4-1 superiority in numbers. Second, fewer than 50% of the German armor in France in 1944 were Tigers or Panthers. Third, if the German tanks were as deadly as Cooper claims, why did the Germans lose 1,500 tanks in Normandy against about 1,700 Allied tanks? Indeed, Cooper claims that the 3AD lost 648 Shermans in the war, but the division claimed to have destroyed 1,023 German tanks. Clearly, there was no great kill-ratio in the German favor, and the Allies could afford to trade tank-for-tank. Finally, if the Sherman was such a “death trap,” why did the US Army use it later in Korea or the Israelis use it in the 1967 War?
There are a great number of mistakes in this book, beginning with Cooper’s ridiculous claim that General Patton was responsible for delaying the M-26 heavy tank program. Cooper claims that Patton was at a tank demonstration at Tidworth Downs in January 1944 and that, “Patton…insisted that we should downgrade the M26 heavy tank and concentrate on the M4..This turned out to be one of the most disastrous decisions of World War II, and its effect upon the upcoming battle for Western Europe was catastrophic.” Actually, Patton was in Algiers and Italy for most of January 1944, only arriving back in Scotland on 26 January. In fact, it was General McNair of Ground Forces Command, back in the US, who delayed the M-26 program. Cooper sees the M-26 as the panacea for all the US Army’s shortcomings and even claims that the American offensive in November 1944, “would have succeeded if we had had the Pershing” and the resulting American breakthrough could have forestalled the Ardennes offensive and “the war could have ended five months earlier.” This is just sheer nonsense and ignores the logistical and weather problems that doomed that offensive.
Cooper continually discusses events he did not witness and in fact, only about one-third of the book covers his own experiences. Instead of discussing maintenance operations in detail, Cooper opines about everything from U-Boats, to V-2 rockets, to strategic bombing, to the July 20th Plot. He falsely states that, “the British had secured a model of the German enigma decoding machine and were using it to decode German messages.” Cooper writes, “not until July 25, the night before the Saint-Lo breakthrough, was Rommel able to secure the release of the panzer divisions in reserve in the Pas de Clais area.” Actually, Rommel was wounded on 17 July and in a hospital on July 25th. In another chapter, Cooper writes that, “the British had bombed the city [Darmstadt] during a night raid in February,” and “more than 40,000 died in this inferno.” Actually, the RAF bombed Darmstadt on 11 September 1944, killing about 12,000. Dresden was bombed on 13 February 1945, killing about 40,000. Obviously, the author has confused cities and raids.
Even where Cooper is dealing with issues closer to his own experience, he tends to exaggerate or deliver incorrect information. He describes the VII Corps as an “armor corps,” but it was not. Cooper’s description of a counterattack by the German Panzer Lehr division is totally inaccurate; he states that, “July 11 became one of the most critical in the battle of Normandy. The Germans launched a massive counterattack along the Saint-Lo- Saint Jean de Daye highway…” In fact, one under strength German division attacked three US divisions. The Americans lost only 100 casualties, while the Germans suffered 25% armor losses. The Official history calls this attack “a dismal and costly failure.” Cooper wrote that, “Combat Command A…put up a terrific defense in the vicinity of Saint Jean de Daye…” but actually it was CCB, since CCA in reserve. On another occasion, Cooper claims that his unit received the 60,000th Sherman produced, but official records indicate that only 49,234 of all models were built. Cooper claims that the 3rd Armored Division had 17,000 soldiers, but the authorized strength was about 14,500. Can’t this guy remember anything correctly?
Cooper’s description of the death of MGN Rose is virtually plagiarized from the official history and a number of articles in ARMOR magazine in the past decade reveal that Rose was an extreme risk-taker. Reading “Death Traps,” the uninitiated may actually believe that the US Army was badly defeated in Europe. Cooper even claims that, as the 3rd Armored Division approached the Elbe River in the last days of the war that, “with our division spread out and opposed by three new divisions, our situation was critical.” If anybody’s situation was critical in April 1945, it was Germany’s. Actually, the 3rd Armored Division had one key weakness not noted by Cooper, namely the shortage of infantry. The division had a poor ratio of 2:1 between tanks and infantry, and this deficiency often required the 3AD to borrow an infantry RCT from other units. While the much-maligned Sherman tank was far from perfect, it did the job it was designed for, a fact that is missed by this author.Phillip McGregor (OFC)Another interesting document is the following one showing engagement of Tigers & Pathers from 75mm and 76mm gunned Shermans.
Interested in WW2? Read similar articles we’ve written like……
100+ Graphic photos of the Eastern Front
The cost of war – The price of weapons during WW2