Girls und Panzer Tank Primer pt. 3: Saunders team

In part 3 of this primer series, we take a look at the all Sherman team fielded by the “American” school Saunders.

you'll be seeing this screenshot a lot.

Unfortunately, this is all we see (as far as I can tell) of the M4A1 and Firefly in ep 5.

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.

She flails like a madman

I kind of expected her to be in the A1…

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.

at least this isn't the Firefly shot.

Either this or the firefly should have shown up in the forest…

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.

Esp since the only other time it shows up is in the briefing, where we only see the side of the hull.

The fact that this is the best shot that I can get of the Firefly is sad.

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.

HI

Wonder why they’re the only ones painted differently…

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.

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11 Comments

  1. Rathje
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t exactly say that the Shermans used their mobility to win battles with the late-war German Tigers and Panthers, although they certainly used their mobility to win the war.

    An actual fight with a Tiger or Panther using Shermans usually resulted in about a dozen ruined Shermans for a single knocked-out Tiger. And that was with the Americans trying to use their maneuverability.

    Rather, the way the Shermans out-performed the heavily armored Germans was a sheer matter of logistics. Shermans were simply produced in such massive numbers and deployed so effectively and quickly (due in part to their speed and versatile mobility) that the beleaguered and outnumbered German Panzer Korps simply couldn’t keep up with them. They couldn’t be at every battle where the Americans were deploying armor.

    To make matters worse, the Tigers were horribly fuel inefficient and had notoriously bad fuel systems. They were always breaking down. More Tigers were abandoned by their crews for simply not working than were destroyed by American armor in many engagements. Furthermore, German crews simply didn’t have the logistical support of regular parts replacements, fuel, and mechanical know-how that kept the American war machine running around the clock (even late in the war, the majority of the German army was still horse-drawn).

    And as you mentioned, Allied air superiority proved lethal to German armor late in the war.

    In short, a Sherman couldn’t stand up to a Panther or Tiger in a fixed engagement – even via fire-and-maneuver. But they ran circles around the Panzer Korps in the western theater.

    It didn’t help matters that the Red Army and their outstanding late-war main battle tanks were swallowing tons of German armor on the eastern front – meaning Hitler never was able to marshal his full armored might against the western front.

    • R1CK_D0M
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      >How does that not mean the Shermans didn’t use their mobility to win? Just because they lost a couple tanks doesn’t mean they didn’t use mobility. If they tried to engage tigers from the front at range the tiger would run out of ammo and leave before they brought it down

      .>Yes the Shermans horribly outnumbered what tanks the germans could put out during mid and late war. What you say about logistics is true as well, the american’s great logistics train may have been their only true advantage during the war

      >Lol russia yeah hitler got really confused and worried about the russkies there. Ignored us right until we invaded their butts.

      • R1CK_D0M
        Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Oh and btw there are lots of records of shermans circling and killing confused pzIV’s and even a panther once or twice out in open fields. Although it was more likely that they managed to bypass each other altogether

    • Crusader
      Posted November 27, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

      It also did not help that der Furher didn’t got to total war production until 1943, and by then Germany couldn’t risk a short dip in tank production to accommodate increased production of Panthers.

      Another virtue of the Sherman was strategic mobility as heavier German tanks needed complicated fording mechanisms or sturdy bridges. Using rail was also an issue when tunnels got involved.

    • Wiffle
      Posted February 4, 2013 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

      I believe it took an average of about 3 Sherman tanks to take out 1 Panther or Tiger. Note that this does not necessarily require 2 Shermans to be destroyed. In the Korean War, the M4A3E8 turned this number around into its K:D ratio with the North Korean T34/85′s; Sherman tanks were credited with knocking out a total of 64 enemy T34/85′s for a loss of 20 Shermans, and yes, I said that right. Contrary to what Youtube armchair generals will tell you, the armor and gun of the latest model of Sherman and T34 at a given time were generally similar, although the T34 did have sloped sides (however, the armor was generally poorer in quality).

      Allied air support was in fact quite inaccurate against tanks, and probably receives more credit than it deserves. Furthering this, the machine guns and light cannons of most planes were ineffective against tank armor, although a cannon shot could potentially penetrate thanks to the thinner top armor.

  2. Bear
    Posted November 24, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been reading the book “The Tank Killers” about the Tank Destroyer battalions in WWII. You don’t see much about them but they were a major factor in anti-tank doctrine in the US Army. The Shermans were never intended to take on an anti-tank role. That was the province of the TD’s which were to take out the enemy tanks while the Shermans were to exploit break throughs. The TD’s in the arsenal were M10 Wolverines (3 inch), M18 Hellcats (76mm), and the M36 Jacksons (90mm) along with towed 3 inch guns. The doctrine assumed the TD’s would use “shoot and scoot” tactics to take out the panzers, relying on speed instead of armor (they even lacked armor on the top of their turrets). They actually had a very good success ratio against the panzers especially where they could achieve a flank shot. The towed guns proved to be a very bad idea since they lacked maneuverability.

    • R1CK_D0M
      Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      uhh thanks for the info (not that I don’t know this already)? Not sure what you’re trying to argue or what this has to do with this primer (as Saunders fields no turreted TD’s), but pretty much everything you’re saying is accurate so cool beans.

    • Crusader
      Posted November 27, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

      McNair was the father of the Tank Destroyer and while I agree that TDs could be effective in the chaos of battle you had to use whatever was on hand and tank vs. tank was all too common.

      StuGs had similar success against Allied armor, but keep in mind that even turreted TDs weren’t as tactically useful in assault. In the ebb and flow of battle there were shortcomings to the TD doctrine that McNair promoted. Had the Western front been a defensive battle for the Allies TDs and towed guns would have been very effective but other than the Battle of the Bulge the Germans were the ones on the defensive for the most part.

  3. huntermad
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    There is another reason for their lack of attention :The AT doctrine based on TD was considered a failure of US army in WWII. After WWII, that doctrine was thrown into trash bin.

    • Bear
      Posted November 25, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Yes it was thrown out, but then the original doctrine in the FM was never followed in the field. The concept was flawed to begin with and they finally realized that giving the tanks tank killing guns was a better answer. Their contribution to the war was not negligible though and I think that has been ignored. They fought in every major battle and killed plenty of panzers.

    • Crusader
      Posted November 27, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

      Also the coming of the MBT concept was finally realized and given the cost of MBTs specialized AFVs went to the wayside. Post War NATO tanks were designed to have low profiles and had better gun depression to fight from hull down positions.

      It’s important to remember how much of a game changer the Main Battle Tank was to armored warfare. Where before you had to have something of a division of labor the MBT solved that problem. Also at the time there just weren’t powerful enough engines to move heavy tanks fast enough.

      TDs had their uses but after the war doctrine and technology evolved, another casualty of this was the flame tank. But yes McNair was wrong.

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  • By Girls und Panzer ist Wunderbar | Desu ex Machina on November 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    [...] und Panzer is accessible to all kinds of fans. Tank junkies will love the finer details on tank combat in the show (tankservice?), while plebs like me will also enjoy the girls kicking [...]

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