M4 Furious – 11 Essential Facts About the Sherman Tank

Does the M4 Sherman deserve its reputation as a war-winning piece of military hardware?

Does the M4 Sherman deserve its reputation as a war-winning piece of military hardware?

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.

A restored Sherman.

A restored Sherman.

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).[1] 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. [2]

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. [2] Other recipients included France, Australia, China and Brazil.

Tanks a lot -- the U.S. manufactured more than 45 Shermans a day for nearly three years

TANKS A LOT! — the U.S. manufactured more than 45 Shermans a day for nearly three years.

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. [3] 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. [4]

A familiar sight in wartime Europe: a destroyed Sherman tank. Crews complained that even ricochet rounds could penetrate the tank's two-inch armour.

THIN SKIN? A familiar sight in wartime Europe: a destroyed Sherman tank. Crews complained that even ricochet rounds could penetrate the tank’s two-inch armour.

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. [5] 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. [6] 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.

An Israeli "Super Sherman".

An Israeli “Super Sherman”.

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.

The cast of Columbia Pictures' "Fury." (Giles Keyte/MCT)

The cast of Columbia Pictures’ “Fury.” (Giles Keyte/MCT)

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.


25 comments for “M4 Furious – 11 Essential Facts About the Sherman Tank

  1. LS Menyhetr
    22 October, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Outstanding description of the Sherman’s strengths and weaknesses. A few facts that might have been mention was design was influenced by the size of trains and ship’s holds. The tank was very reliable and loved by the British and all who used it. The gryo was not of much use and the optics weren’t as good as the outstanding optics used by the Germans. The measure of the superior design is its lenth of time in service, surpassing every other WW2 era tank including the T-34.

    • admin
      22 October, 2014 at 6:29 am

      Thanks for the extra details. Great additions.

    • 1 February, 2016 at 5:30 am

      While German optics were excellent, in general their fire controls were incredibly bad for everything except stationary ambushes (which the Germans did a superb job of, btw) And at typical ranges in Europe, (400-600m), the Sherman had a marked advantage in speed to slew and lay the gun on target, and in handing the engagement off from commander and gunner. This is a data point which is often ignored by non-tankers.

  2. Joe Tanker
    6 June, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    The term “Ronson” came after the war, not during. People go on and on on about Sherman vs Tiger, but that rarely happened, only 3 or 4 times between D-Day and fall of Germany in Europe.

    • Apollo
      19 July, 2015 at 10:55 pm

      Joe is quite right. The main reason the tank usually caught fire was because of ammo rack hits – with the introduction of Wet racks on the Sherman, the probability of catching fire dropped significantly.

      • Geary
        16 January, 2016 at 1:03 am

        IIRC, post-war inspections found that wet racks didn’t actually have any impact on that, but rather the change in where the rack was held that occurred the same time wet racks were introduced.

  3. David Taylor
    24 July, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Your comment the “Allied commanders wisely left the serious Panzer busting to purpose-built tank destroyers like the M-10 and the M-36” is untrue.
    The British who fitted the 17 pounder to the Sherman did so for this very reason and it proved itself during the battles in Europe.
    The Sherman Firefly was more than capable at destroying any of the German heavily jarmoured Panzers including the Tiger and King Tiger.

  4. 29 January, 2016 at 8:31 am

    The engine is wrong. I am unaware of any “30 cylinder Chrysler” versions. However, the 7 cylinder Continental radial version was quite popular, and the A2 had a GM diesel. In addition, the Panther and Tiger were not “far superior”. All versions of the Tiger had reliability issues, and never really faced Shermans in significant numbers. The Panther and the M4 Sherman were roughly equivalent in armor 80mm vs. 70mm, and the Panther had a better gun, (irrelevant at 400-600m typical engagement range) but mobility and reliability belonged to the Sherman. By the end of the war, the M4A3E8 Sherman was basically dead even with the Panther, except for the Sherman’s superiority in reliability and fire controls. The destroyed M4 numbers are largely irrelevant and the great majority of them were destroyed by AT guns or AT rockets. Some myths die hard.

    • 29 January, 2016 at 8:38 am

      Quick edit: There was one version (A4) that used the Chrysler 30 cylinder multibank. However, the great majority went with the 9 cylinder Continental, not the 7.

      • 29 January, 2016 at 9:02 am

        As for its suitability against Tigers or Panthers, I’ve long been under the impression that in a head to head fight, the Sherman would come up short against either of the German machines. However by virtue of sheer numbers of tanks moving on Germany from east and west, the Allies overwhelmed Germany (and that’s not even counting the Axis’ shortage of fuel)

        • 1 February, 2016 at 5:32 am

          It’s also important not to forget the twin-six cylinder GM 6046 diesel which was installed in the M4A2 for Russian Lend-Lease and our friends in the USMC. IMO, an M4A2E8 (with the long 76mm gun) was better than the Panther, for all practical purposes.

    • 29 January, 2016 at 8:52 am

      Thanks for the update. You are correct, the Chrysler A57 was not used in all models and only later ones at that. The Continental engine in earlier models was a 9-cyl (the R-975, which was an aircraft engine). I appreciate the time you took to set the record straight!

  5. George Kettler
    31 March, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    I stumbled upon this older post…
    1. Sherman crew was FIVE, not FOUR as you state in the main article. The exception to this is the FIREFLY where it was, in fact, FOUR. Here the bow gunner yielded to additional ammo storage for the 17 Pdr.

    2. The “Easy Eight” carried the 76mm gun…the 105-equipped vehicles, by designation, were NEVER Easy Eight. Similar late equipment but a rose is a rose.

    3. Omitted was the common M4A3 with the awesome GAA Ford gasoline engine. Huge improvement over the Radial, the Multi Bank engine, etc. The US was the primary user.

    “The engine is wrong. I am unaware of any “30 cylinder Chrysler” versions. However, the 7 cylinder Continental radial version was quite popular, and the A2 had a GM diesel. In addition, the Panther and Tiger were not “far superior”. All versions of the Tiger had reliability issues, and never really faced Shermans in significant numbers. The Panther and the M4 Sherman were roughly equivalent in armor 80mm vs. 70mm, and the Panther had a better gun, (irrelevant at 400-600m typical engagement range) but mobility and reliability belonged to the Sherman. By the end of the war, the M4A3E8 Sherman was basically dead even with the Panther, except for the Sherman’s superiority in reliability and fire controls. The destroyed M4 numbers are largely irrelevant and the great majority of them were destroyed by AT guns or AT rockets. Some myths die hard.”

    4. While early Tigers and Panthers had lots of issues with reliability, by later 1944 the operational readiness rates were on par for the Panthers to the Mk IV. I believe this was in Jantz, PANTHER book. Tiger II reliability was improving though I cannot remember a source.

    5. While I agree, contact with the Tiger I was 2-3 occasions for the Americans, the British, Poles, and Canadians faced them frequently near Caen. US contact with the Tiger II was limited as most shipped to the Eastern Front exceptions being the Ardennes, Paderborn and a few others. Overall, contact with PANTHER TANKS would be common any time that the Germans committed armor, approximately 30-40% of their forces.

    6. Having served in US Armored Forces/Cavalryman in Germany, I concur that engagement ranges are not 1500m as in the Russian Steppes. I do believe 400-600m as stated is tight, 600-800 probably would be a more common range. Frontally I’d prefer to be in the Panther…the US 75 could not penetrate it, the US 76 was marginal until the HVAP rounds became available, just a few per tank

    from the Insigny testing

    “7) 3-inch Gun, M5, mounted on Motor Carriage, M10
    a) APC M62, w/BDF M66A1 will not penetrate front glacis slope plate at 200 yards. Will penetrate gun mantlet at 200 yards and penetrate sides and rear of the ‘Panther’ Tank up to 1500 yards.

    b) AP M79 will not penetrate the front slope plate or the mantlet at 200 yards. It holds no advantage over APC M62 ammunition w/BDF M66A1.

    The US Army had been convinced that its 3-inch and 76mm guns were the right solution to the German Panzers. So disillusioning was this test result that it prompted comment directly from Eisenhower himself, in his oft-quoted statement: “Ordnance told me this 76mm would take care of anything the Germans had. Now I find you can’t knock out a damn thing with it.” ”

    6 (cont) NOT very good info if facing Panthers frontally….bad ammo vs thick well-sloped armor. Meanwhile the Panther will make Swiss Cheese of a Sherman at any range. Of course the Shermans could penetrate a Panther’s side armor…

    7. Mobility. Read Ford’s ASSAULT ON GERMANY, Geilenkirchen.
    Read many others….SHERMAN TANKS STUCK IN THE MUD and German Tanks, especially Panthers and the oft-derided Tiger II crossing fields at will….

    8. M4A3E8 even with the Panther…..
    in many ways the Easy Eight was a good tank. Ongoing improvements did help. But the bottom line, once hit, it could be easily penetrated. The Sherman would have to work for a flank shot though HVAP would help frontally vs a Panther.

    By March of ’45, not a lot of Panthers resisting the US Armored Spearheads. German crew quality were the scrapings of the barrel. True too, often overlooked, US losses were so high that crews were often short-handed or guys were HEY YOU! and hastily-trained and sent to the front. Likely for this fight the US would return fire, withdraw, call in Artillery or CAS.

    9, Destroyed numbers are irrelevant.
    Hmmmmm. Perhaps you are talking to the bean counters, not to the crews and families.
    I agree, more Shermans lost to AT Guns, Panzerfaust, Panzerschreck, and mines (never forget mines!) than to the Panther. Even now, the numbers are difficult to determine. But bear in mind, when the Panther hit the Sherman, the Sherman was likely to be penetrated. When the Sherman hit the Panther, the Panther likely had more time on its hands despite upgrades to the Sherman. Probably a safe bet that more Panthers were destroyed by their crews (out of fuel, broke down-not recoverable) than destroyed by Shermans

    • 18 April, 2016 at 8:15 am

      Vis-a-vis your comments on Panther versus Sherman, unfortunately the US experience at Arracourt pretty much contradicts that. An inferior number of Shermans with limited air support kicked Panther ass up between its shoulder blades pretty convincingly. Very few German tank fanboys like to discuss this, though.


      I was also a European tanker/Cavalryman in the late ’80s. I also worked at the Armor Museum for Charles Lemon both before and after my service. I actually drove the Panther II they used to have there. It caught fire when started due to some engineering problems with the positive displacement fuel injection; an issue that German tank crews faced throughout the war. The transmission was also weak, an error that continued to haunt all German armor from the moment they started to upgrade the Panzer IV.

      What most German armor fans also fail to mention is the grossly inferior fire control systems (minus optics) of the Gernan tanks. The M4 had the ability to slew and lay the main gun on both quickly and precisely. German tanks were restricted to fast and undependable electric turret motors, or slow and precise manual controls. From the ambush, at long range, nothing was more effective, but other than that, the M4 was better. And statistically, the first round determined the winner.

      As far as bean counters vs. crews and families, war is a filthy business. And those who suffer from histrionics have no business preparing or fighting one. The fact is, the US military machine was able to project power in an unprecedented fashion and still won. Not only did German technical genius fail to stop that, it actually hastened their fall by putting out a bunch of technically superior looking tanks and equipment that simply were not as good as their stats seemed to show.

      • George Kettler
        19 April, 2016 at 2:58 am

        I’ll agree that WAR is a Nasty Business. The Sherman was a cog in the machine that defeated the Germans in the WEST and helped beat the Germans in the East. But I must say again, what a price the tankers paid.

        Sherman 76 was not able to sense the rounds fired below 1000-1200m due to dust. I suppose the dampness during the fall/winter/spring helped here. Then the problems with projectiles and shatter gap.

        I believe one reason the 17pdr was rejected by the US was also the blast. Another would be the loading problems. Another would be the inaccuracy of the Sabot rounds. Finally, NOT INVENTED HERE.

        I’ll agree, the Panther was often NOT a wonder tank but it was an unruly child that had flaws that were being overcome. More reliable late war than at Kursk where they had serious issues. I’m familiar with the battle though I am due to refresh myself as to the finer details.

        I’ve always thought that the Germans screwed the pooch with the Panther. They had T-34s to look at…they could have/should have built something like the T-44; enlarged-improved T-34 chassis and mount the TIGER I’s 88 L56 in a more German-looking turret. Keep it to 35 tons or there about. Going to the really long 75 seems to be a mistake, 88’s HE shell is very useful compared to the 75’s.

        I was really pissed in basic that I was not on the Armor Museum detail summer 86….a pal of mine ended up as TC on the HETZER for the ‘parade’

        • 19 April, 2016 at 9:03 am

          Fully agreed on the Panther vs. T34. German tank development was problematic, and their maintenance was worse. What US crews would consider organization level maintenance was done by factory representatives. Engineers drove everything, at the expense of the end user.

          I lucked out in that I was born just a few miles away from Mr. Lemon. Ironically, so was David Drake. So we had the Iowa connection, plus a mutual interest, so I could weasel my way into the prep for the Armor Days parade.

          On a side note, the Ford 3 ton was the best running tank in the museum. Despite its stiff suspension it was more fun than anyone should be allowed to have.

  6. AUS Tanker
    16 April, 2016 at 8:53 am

    Major new book coming out on this topic! “For Want of A Gun: The Sherman Tank Scandal of WWII:”


    • David taylor
      18 April, 2016 at 5:18 am

      As I said previously the British fitted the 17 pounder to the Sherman because of this very reason.
      The American’s could have used this gun along with many other British tank adaptation but as usual the Generals refused causing many avoidable deaths.
      The Sherman Firefly was more than capable at destroying any of the German heavily armored Panzers including the Tiger and King Tiger.

      • 18 April, 2016 at 7:57 am

        While technically a superior gun, the 17 pdr really didn’t fit the turret. They had to rotate the breach 90 degrees to even fit it, which affected the crews ability to fight the tank. Even the Brits didn’t care to refit every M4 with the 17 pdr, and there is a reason for that.

      • Don
        30 December, 2017 at 11:19 am

        On the subject of avoidable deaths in the infantry, the low velocity 75mm gun in the Sherman was a life saver as it had a High Explosive projectile much more powerful than in the German Panzers or the 76mm Sherman. The 75mm gun was excellent in destroying German MG42s and strong points, allowing the infantry to assault their objective with lower casualties. This powerful High Explosive was also needed for dealing with Pak 40 AT guns and Luftwaffe 88s.

        The British declined the 76mm Sherman as they believed the combination of 3 75 mm Shermans with great HE and one 17 pounder Firefly was the best battle field solution to infantry support and occasional tank on tank confrontations.

        Look at it this way and the Sherman is the right tank at the right time.

  7. AUS Tanker
    18 April, 2016 at 9:09 am
  8. Hibichi
    2 June, 2016 at 5:52 am

    The Easy 8 mainly carried a 76 mm cannon not a 105 howitzer. What kind of fact did you put in here?

  9. Christian DeJohn
    31 August, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Sneak preview video-
    Army veteran’s new book on the Sherman Tank Scandal of WWII:


  10. 7 September, 2017 at 12:40 am

    HELP WANTED: ONE MEDIUM TANK: The U.S. did the smart thing they designed the M4 using the chassis of the M3, a tank that already had the bugs worked out and for which many parts were already built. Cut size and add turret and you’ve got a partly tried and tested machine to put in the field. This is plain genius if you know how long it takes to design a tank from scratch and coming from the automotive Mecca of the world this is a tank that will be incredibly reliable.
    BAPTISM BY FIRE: You leave out that when the M4 hit the ground in Africa most people agree it was the best tank in the world and the British were elated to get it.
    BY THE NUMBERS: Numbers are definitely key. A country does not win a war by producing less than 2000 Tigers and 6000+ Panthers to go against 150,000 tanks and tank destroyers of your enemy. Because the M4 was reliable and easy to maintain our commanders had good numbers in the field on a regular basis while the Germans were not able to compete in the game of numbers and parts supply.
    VERSATILITY: Left out are the variants which became self propelled artillery, one of the key members of a combined arms offensive. In addition when a problem occurred withe the M4 the design and industry behind it found a solution and remedied.
    DRAWBACKS: Comparing it to tanks 20+ tons bigger is ridiculous. Again I will point out that tank v. tank fighting was not the primary role of armor. In addition numbers will show that the winner in a tank fight is not based on technology (gun, armor) but on tactics. First shooter usually won. Postwar analysis of the Panther (called superior here) showed that the crew of a Panther was practically blind when in combat (hatches closed) compared to that of an M4. The German gunsight with superior optics was complicated and more difficult to use, slowing the overall shooting time of the gunner. The Tiger guzzled so much gas that it could not spend much time in the field and the Panther easily overheated after 30 minutes of combat rpm’s. The M4 did not burn any more than enemy tanks when penetrated.
    It is very important to understand that all armor in WWII shot more HE than AP in WWII IN ALL THEATERS. The M4 had versatility, reliability and durability which meant that they would be available to fight and destroy whatever needed to be destroyed. This is what won the war. Having overly complicated/expensive/gas guzzling tanks in few numbers will do nothing for a war effort. The M4 is a war winning tank, the Panther or Tiger are not.

  11. Robert
    6 October, 2017 at 11:50 am

    I will add my two cents here, though it really reiterates what previous comments have said about the Sherman: gun (underrated- best ammo went to tank destroyer units, but a good 75mm round (M61 75mm AP) was available; guess what? we GAVE it to the Russians in lend-lease).
    As for first shots winning- absolutely. This is where the Sherman rules: fast and precise gun laying from both gunner and tank commander versus example, say a Panther. The gunner’s unity sight on top of the turret is also the model of what all US tanks have used all the way up to the current M-1 series. Ask any American tank commander or gunner about this little fact. The gunner can scan for targets without tank commander direction if so desired, leaving the TC free to, oh use his radio or possibly that M2 machine gun up top. Panther has a nice binocular sight for the gunner, but no wide angle sight that I have ever seen. If you don’t think this is a big deal, think again.
    Now, to deal with heavier tanks from the front requires a more combined-arms approach as the Sherman won’t win that fight vs Panther or any Tiger. Attacking with bazooka-armed infantry teams, mortars, machineguns teams, 105mm artillery, smoke screens, etc. There is no such thing as the perfect tank, but the Sherman comes close in my eyes. It is the example for crew layout for all modern US tanks up to the M-1 (no electric-operated blast doors in Shermans) 😦
    For reliability and maintenance (think about having to remove 9 interleaved roadwheels to replace one wheel on Tiger or Panther) it rules the roost.

Leave a Reply