Was the M4 Sherman really that bad? A Soviet perspective

With regards to WW2, many so-called experts have determined that the American M4 Sherman tank was one of the worst weapons fielded by the Allies. In his book “Death Traps” Belton Cooper believes that the M4 got many American servicemen un-needlessly killed due to intentionally poor construction. Since the writing of this book, some historians have agreed with this point, while many others have not.

In our last Article about the M4 “Dispelling the myths surrounding the M4 Sherman” we brought up a great deal of technical records regarding armor, guns and the like.

To supplement this article, we are providing a excerpt from a Soviet tankman with the 6th Guards Tank Army, mr Dmitry Loza.

“[I fought] On Shermans. We called them “Emchas”, from M4 [in Russian, em chetyrye]…. When someone says to me that this was a bad tank, I respond, “Excuse me!” One cannot say that this was a bad tank. Bad as compared to what?”

“In general, the Matilda was an unbelievably worthless tank!”

With regards to the maintenance of the M4 Sherman tank versus the British Matilda tank, Dmitriy noted that “The Sherman was light years better in this regard.”

With more regards to reliability, especially both on-road and offroad service usage – “I might be mistaken, but I believe that the service life of the T-34 track was 2500 kilometers. The service life of the Sherman track was in excess of 5000 kilometers. Secondly, The Sherman drove like a car on hard surfaces, and our T-34 made so much noise that only the devil knows how many kilometers away it could be heard. ”

Two M4A2 Sherman tanks rolling through the streets of Vienna. Note the STUG in the background.

Two M4A2 Sherman tanks rolling through the streets of Vienna. Note the STUG in the background.

With regards to the ‘Ronson’ theory that the M4 Sherman was a death-trap once hit, causing ammunition to cook off (That is violently explode)
“For a long time after the war I sought an answer to one question. If a T-34 started burning, we tried to get as far away from it as possible, even though this was forbidden. The on-board ammunition exploded. For a brief period of time, perhaps six weeks, I fought on a T-34 around Smolensk. The commander of one of our companies was hit in his tank. The crew jumped out of the tank but were unable to run away from it because the Germans were pinning them down with machine gun fire. They lay there in the wheat field as the tank burned and blew up. By evening, when the battle had waned, we went to them. I found the company commander lying on the ground with a large piece of armor sticking out of his head. When a Sherman burned, the main gun ammunition did not explode. Why was this?”

(After having his tank hit and set on fire by Germans) “We lay under the tank as it burned. We laid there a long time with nowhere to go. The Germans were covering the empty field around the tank with machine gun and mortar fires… …We heard many loud thumps coming from the turret. This was the armor-piercing rounds being blown out of their cases. Next the fire would reach the high explosive rounds and all hell would break loose! But nothing happened. Why not? Because our high explosive rounds detonated and the American rounds did not? In the end it was because the American ammunition had more refined explosives. Ours was some kind of component that increased the force of the explosion one and one-half times, at the same time increasing the risk of detonation of the ammunition.”

A whopping 17,184 M4 Shermans were sent to Great Britain. A total of 4,102 were sent to the USSR.

A whopping 17,184 M4 Shermans were sent to Great Britain. A total of 4,102 were sent to the USSR.

With regards to the interior layout, soldier comfort and amenities of the M4 Sherman – “In the first place, it was painted beautifully. Secondly, the seats were comfortable, covered with some kind of remarkable special artificial leather. If a tank was knocked out or damaged, then if it was left unguarded literally for just several minutes the infantry would strip out all this upholstery. It made excellent boots! Simply beautiful!”

With regards to the anti-aircraft mount M2 50 caliber heavy machine gun – “These machine guns were of great use to us in the war with Japan, against kamikazes. We fired them so much that they got red hot and began to cook off. To this day I have a piece of shrapnel in my head from an antiaircraft machine gun.”

With regards to the special-delivery diesel powered engine used in the M4 Sherman tank, the GM 6046 “In Romania it happened that we broke into the German rear with our tanks and they cut us off from our own logistics. We made a cocktail, a mixture of gasoline and kerosene (the M4A2 Shermans were diesel-powered), in what proportions I do not recall. The tanks ran on this cocktail, but the engines overheated.”

Soviet infantry hitching a ride on a M4 Sherman.

Soviet infantry hitching a ride on a M4 Sherman.

As a side note, it appears that the USSR reverse-engineered the GM6046 as the Russkiy Dizel (Diesel Energo) DPN23/2H30 DRPN23/2H30 series of engine used in post-war USSR and Eastern Bloc countries.

Regarding paint schemes and camouflage motorized vehicles – “We lacked the materials. We did not have a large choice of colors. There was a protective color and we painted it. It took a lot of paint to cover a tank! If we had been able to obtain other colors, then perhaps we would have camouflaged our tanks. In general, there were many other tasks at hand, like repair, refueling, and so on.”

Regarding the Sherman’s armor layout
“I want also to add that the Sherman’s armor was tough. There were cases on our T-34 when a round struck and did not penetrate. But the crew was wounded because pieces of armor flew off the inside wall and struck the crewmen in the hands and eyes. This never happened on the Sherman.”

More information from Mr Loza’s perspective can be found at : http://iremember.ru/en/memoirs/tankers/dmitriy-loza/

PS – If you liked this, you might like our 100+ image photo gallery of the graphic nature of the Eastern front