In part 3 of this primer series, we take a look at the all Sherman team fielded by the “American” school Saunders.
The M4 (Fun fact: The Americans originally only gave the tank its number designation. It was the British who, in thinking it would be confusing without one, dubbed the American tanks with names) was the main workhorse of the American, and indeed most of the allied, offensives.
Emphasizing ease of transport, mechanical reliability, and ease of maintenance, the M4 Sherman is a compact, tough little medium tank that well deserved the reliance that the allied armed forces had on its strength. With production numbers just shy of the T-34 and its variants, the M4 (and its variants) numbered enough (around 50,000) to not only be exported to the different nations of the allied forces (through the lend-lease program), but to be present in nearly all branches of the US armed forces.
The Sherman was tough enough to more than be a match to the European axis powers’ early armor, such as pz III’s and early pzIV types, as well as all Japanese armor. However, it struggled heavily against late war tanks, such as the PzIV ausf G, Panther, Tiger I, Tiger II, and Jagdtiger.
However, because of the American tank doctrine’s emphasis on mobility and fast deployment/fluid tactics, most of the time this deficiency in the tank’s raw ability was not noticed by their commanders (as being able to flank and otherwise outmaneuver German armor proved to be an extremely reliable way to take them out) but for short periods of time during the early to mid-war (those periods being when they were forced to fight panthers etc. from the front). By the late war, though, the advances in german armor were definitely being felt. Although eased by the production of new tanks, they were still enough in short supply that tank commanders’ reliance on the Sherman forced them to give way and allow the allied force’s air superiority to supplement their firepower.
As an aside, during the war, M4’s with up to 76mm of armor and varying sizes of gun, was expected to easily be able to fight and win against panthers from the front, having tested the 75 and 76mm gun against mockups of the panther’s front hull prior to landing in Europe. However, this expectation was soon proven to be greatly misplaced, as the American mockups were discovered not to have been made to German standards.
This was because Americans normally used steel with a softer BHN (Brinell Hardness Number) than Germans did, meaning that American steel was much easier to punch through than German steel was. This was originally meant to reduce spalling from impacts (spalling being production of deadly internal shrapnel from the vehicle’s own hull), which were usually more deadly to a tank’s crew than the round itself. While this did save lives, the softer American armor was not usually appreciated by its crews, as, to their view, armor was supposed to keep bad things out, not let them in.
The Saunders team specifically fields 3 types of Sherman: the M4a4 w/ 75mm gun, the M4a1 w/ 76mm gun, and the British Firefly, with a QF 17pdr.
Starting with their most ubiquitous tank, the M4a4 w/ 75mm cannon. The A4 had an elongated engine system which required a suitably lengthened hull and track/suspension system. Since this tank is 4/5ths of their entire force, I assume they chose it for the added armor in front and on the crew hatches, since in light of Ooarai’s tanks the 75mm cannon isn’t as much of a disadvantage as it could be.
This being because the 75mm cannon is a medium velocity gun meant to allow the Sherman to fulfill both the roles of infantry support and “tank killer” at the same time. And while this works perfectly well for early war armor (which the Ooarai team falls under), it was, once again, wholly insufficient against most of the newer German tanks.
The team’s lead tank is the M4A1 wielding a 76mm cannon. This slightly confuses me as although the hull is cast (casting being advantageous to the normal welding because it is both easier and produces armor in one homogenous piece, which has less weakpoints than welded armor), the M4A1 is generally softer than the M4A4, so wouldn’t making it lead tank put it in more danger?
On the other hand, the A1 is of smaller profile, and the more heavily armored turret and bigger gun does make it a more dangerous unit. The 76mm gun is a “dedicated” anti-tank cannon that would have the Sherman wielding more AP than HE ammo, and gives it anti-tank ability on par with late model pzIV’s, although panthers and Tigers still outgun it easily. I expect them to have some sort of ace up their sleeve concerning this tank in their battle.
Last up is the team’s single Firefly. Why they don’t have more of these is beyond me, maybe it’s to represent how the Americans never really got any during the war? (aka they are in short supply).
The firefly is a successful British variant of the M4 Sherman, sporting a QF 17pdr gun (you’ll be able to tell by its longer barrel and sideways cylindrical brake). As you can see, it has a longer profile than the A4 to allow for the larger gun. The British 17pdr gives the Sherman even more penetrative ability, now making it able to pierce a Panther’s gun mantlet at usual engagement ranges with regular AP rounds.
It doesn’t stop there, though: if my guess is correct the Firefly will be carrying Sabot rounds, which although wildly inaccurate, allow the 17pdr to even penetrate the armor of a Tiger II. I want to see this tank wreaking havoc when it (hopefully) shows up in episode 6.
As an extra, the shot of Saunders’ hangar also shows the rare(r) M4A6 tank! Made in small numbers and mostly intended (although it didn’t always end up that way) for export, the M4A6 also uses the 75mm cannon. What makes it special though, is the further elongated chassis to accommodate the fact that it is one of the two Sherman variants to use a Diesel (instead of gasoline, which is more easily caught on fire) engine.
That’s it for the Saunders tanks. Next time I’ll be covering the tank battle between Saunders and Ooarai, to conclude in episode 6. Expect that to come out soon after I watch it.