THE GRITTY WAR DRAMA FURY conquered the box office over the weekend, drumming up more than $23 million in North American ticket sales according to Forbes Magazine. And while the action packed World War Two flick gives Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf and Jon Bernthal top billing, the real star of the show is the movie’s restored M4A2 Sherman tank. Widely acclaimed as one of the main contributors to the Allied victory, the M4 Sherman is perhaps the most recognizable American fighting vehicle of the entire Second World War. Yet despite its prominence in the public consciousness, the Sherman was far from the finest tank on the battlefield.
Here are some essential facts about this legendary wartime workhorse.
Performance — Named for the controversial Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, the 30-ton M4 was originally powered by a Continental nine-cylinder, 400-horsepower engine. Later models, like the M4A4 were outfitted with four-speed, 30-cylinder, 470-horsepower Chrysler powerplant. Shermans could reach speeds of 30 mph (48 km/h) and had a range of 120 miles (200 km). It got a whopping 1.4 miles to the gallon.
Packin’ Heat — Early Shermans were outfitted with a largely mediocre 75 mm main gun along with a single hatch-mounted .50 caliber machine gun and two lighter .30 cals positioned in the turret and forward hull. Later models were upgraded to a more powerful 76 mm anti-tank weapon that was capable of lobbing a 15-pound projectile 2,600 feet per second. 
Armour — Perhaps the most recognizable feature of the Sherman was its sloping front armour. The two-inch thick angled hull, while giving the tank a far too conspicuous nine-foot high profile, was engineered to deflect shells away from the tank’s four- or five-man crew.
Help Wanted: One Medium Tank — The M4 Sherman was the result of an urgent U.S. Army requirement in late 1941 for a main battle tank that could match top-of-the-line German panzers. Although the country wasn’t yet at war, the fighting in Europe had made it disturbingly clear that America’s existing tanks, like the lightly armed M3 Stuart and heavier M3 Grant and Lee, were already obsolete. Production of the first Shermans began in July of 1942 at Ohio’s Lima Locomotive Works.
Baptism by Fire — Ironically, it was the British (not the Americans) who first used the Sherman in combat. In October 1942, a platoon of M4s attached to the Eighth Army rolled into action against German and Italian tanks at El Alamein. Just weeks later, hundreds of American Shermans would do battle in the western desert during Operation Torch. The M4 quickly proved itself an equal match for the Panzer III and IV. By the time of the Normandy invasion, the Sherman had completely supplanted the M3 as America’s principle tank. Tens of thousands of the machines served in Europe during the last year of the war, while a smaller number (fewer than 2,000) were sent to the Pacific. More than 4,000 were transferred to the Soviets under Lend-Lease and Britain received a grand total of 17,000 M4s during the war.  Other recipients included France, Australia, China and Brazil.
By the Numbers — Between 1942 and 1945, a mind-blowing 49,000 Shermans of various makes and models rolled off American assembly lines. That’s equal to all German tanks manufactured over ten years beginning in 1935. Only the Soviet-made T-34 was more numerous with 55,000 models produced. Each Sherman cost a modest $33,000 in 1942 (that’s about $550,000 in today’s money). Amazingly, the U.S. War Department hoped for as many as 67,000 Shermans, but with warship production stepped up in 1943, steel was too scarce to complete the order.  Canada engineered its own Sherman variant, which became known as the Grizzly I cruiser. Between 1943 and 1944, nearly 200 were manufactured in Montreal.
Versatility – Up to 15 Sherman variants were produced during World War Two. These included the A1 through A6 models and numerous sub varieties. Versions like the British Firefly were retrofitted with a high-velocity, 17-pounder anti-tank gun, while the M4A3E8 “Easy Eight” carried a powerful 105 mm howitzer. Other Shermans were fitted with bulldozer plows to clear minefields and large protruding blades to cut through hedgerows, while the so-called “Zippo” models mounted flamethrowers instead of a main gun. The tank’s chassis also served as the foundation for an array of other vehicles like M-10 and M-36 tank destroyers and self-propelled guns such as the M-43.
Added Features — Despite its rudimentary design, the M4 did in fact include some rather remarkable technology for its day. For example, the revolutionary gyroscopic sight stabilized the main gun allowing crews to hit targets at ranges of up 1,200 yards, even when the tank was travelling across rough terrain at 15 mph. 
Drawbacks — Although now widely celebrated as a war-winner, the M4 was hardly a best-of-breed fighting vehicle. Germany’s Panther and Tiger tanks were far superior. About 4,300 Shermans were lost between D-Day and VE Day alone – roughly 13 a day for 11 months straight.  In addition to its relatively thin skin, the M4 had an unfortunate tendency to catch fire after being hit. Axis tank crews nicknamed it “the Tommy Cooker”, while the British sardonically dubbed it the “Ronson” after a popular brand of cigarette lighter. Soldiers joked that the motto “lights up the first time, every time” described the Sherman too.  But what the M4 lacked in power or survivability, it more than made up for in sheer numbers. Simply put, American foundries pumped Shermans out faster than the Axis could destroy them. Despite its manifest weaknesses, the M4 excelled when working in groups deep behind enemy lines. Allied commanders wisely left the panzer busting to purpose-built tank destroyers like the M-10 and the M-36 and sent their Shermans deep into the Axis rear to sow calamity.
The Post-War M4 — Despite its evident obsolescence as a frontline tank in 1945, upgraded Shermans soldiered on well into the Post-War era. American M4s fought in Korea while “upgunned” models, known as M-50 and M-51 Super Shermans, formed the backbone of the Israeli tank corps. IDF variants saw action in the 1948 War of Independence and continued in service all the way through to the 1973 Yom Kippur War. British versions also found their way into the arsenals of both India and Pakistan. In fact, during the 1965 Kashmir conflict as well as the 1971 Indo Pakistan War, both sides used modernized Shermans, in some cases against other M4s.
Sherman Goes Hollywood – Just like America’s Post-War allies, Tinseltown has had little trouble getting its hands on surplus Sherman tanks. Accordingly, M4s have appeared in a number of films and television programs over the years. Three were used in the 1970 action comedy Kelley’s Heroes (click here to watch them in action), while James Garner shared the spotlight with a Sherman in the 1984 film Tank (see the trailer here). And because of the scarcity of World War Two-era German tanks, M4s have often played the part of panzers on the big screen. The 1980 Sam Fuller film The Big Red One (see trailer) and even the 1960s television series The Rat Patrol used Shermans as stand-ins for German armour (see a full episode here).
And then of course, there’s Fury.