The Sherman Tank was the primary Medium Tank of the Canadian Army in the Second World War. US-supplied M4A3(76)W tanks were used in the Korean War by successive squadrons of armour tasked as part of the 25th Canadian Brigade. In 1946, Canada had purchased 300 M4A2(76)W HVSS vehicles for training, and they were used by the Regular Force until replaced by the Centurion, and by Reserve Armoured regiments in Canada until the 1970s as a training vehicle.
A variety of Shermans were used in Canadian units after the adoption of the tank in the spring of 1943. The main variants used in armoured and armoured reconnaissance regiments were the Sherman III (the designation used by Commonwealth forces for the M4A2) and the Sherman V (M4A4). The chart below shows total Sherman tank production in both the United States and Canada. The Grizzly was a copy of the M4A1 (Sherman II) which did not see overseas service; the Ram was used in the U.K. for training, and variants were used in Northwest Europe in various functions, including command post, observation post, and armoured personnel carrier roles. The United States provided Sherman tanks not only to their own forces fighting in Europe and the Pacific, but the British Commonwealth, Free French, China and Soviet Union.
Neither the Sherman III or V had a loader's hatch or cupola style commanders hatch with vision blocks. The Sherman Vc Firefly did have a loader's hatch, added as part of the conversion carried out to fit the 17-pdr gun. Small numbers of hatches with vision blocks began to appear late in the war, and postwar M4s used by Canada did have commander cupolas and loader's hatches.
The Fighting Compartment
The Homelite mentioned above was an auxiliary generator, described in detail below under Electrical System.
In January 1945, only one tank of the South Alberta Regiment had a commander's cupola with vision blocks.3 Most Canadian Sherman crews in the Second World War were faced with the choice of restricted fields of vision using periscopes, or dangerous exposure to enemy fire through open or partially open hatches. Some maneuvers were particularly difficult - such as backing the Sherman up. Reversing out of trouble was often preferred as the armour of the Sherman was much thicker in the front than in the rear. Other times, tight terrain or other obstacles made reversing the only way to maneuver. As restrictive as vision was forward, it was non-existent in reverse and the driver had no rear view mirror to guide him. When his tank was on an icy dyke at Kapelsche Veer, Lieutenant Ken Little of the SAR found he couldn't turn around.
The first combat use of the Sherman, in North Africa, identified the 75mm gun as more than adequate for employment against German medium tanks in late 1942 and into 1943. The US envisioned the Sherman as an infantry support tank only, leaving anti-tank work to Tank Destroyers mounting high-velocity guns. The British and Canadians also provided anti-tank units at both the infantry battalion level, and as divisional artillery.
The initial fighting in Sicily and Italy in 1943 and early 1944 saw little employment of German heavy armour, however, the first appearance of the Tiger in North Africa suggested a need to upgrade tank armament. In the summer of 1944, Allied troops in France after the Normandy Landing found themselves increasingly confronted with heavier German armour, including the now-widely issued Panther.
The British developed the 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun as well as Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot shells capable of defeating the heavier German tanks, originally as a wheeled anti-tank gun, and in modified form for the Sherman. Both the Sherman I and Sherman V were outfitted with the 17-pounder in a modified turret:
The co-driver's position was eliminated as was the bow machinegun. These vehicles were designated Sherman Ic or Sherman Vc, and given the nickname "Firefly." They were issued one per troop in North-West Europe by the time of the Battle of Normandy, later being increased to two per troop.
The HE shell of the 17-pounder was weak, however, making the Firefly a poor all-purpose vehicle, though a number of Shermans equipped with 105mm howitzers were also used by Canadians in North-West Europe and Italy.
The use of the 75mm gun as an indirect fire weapon originated in Italy with the 8th (New Brunswick) Hussars; by late 1944 the practice was not uncommon, and Shermans in the Nijmegen Salient were often tasked to provide fire in this manner.7
The gun sights on early Shermans were periscopic, replaced in 1943 by three-power telescopic sights "good out to 1000m even though it did not have either the optical quality or the power of German sights, and could prove difficult to use if facing into the sun."8 Ranging was achieved by either the commander or the gunner by estimation, and ballistic reticules were contained in the sights.
The .50 calibre anti-aircraft machine gun was widely deleted on Canadian tanks;
All Shermans had a .30 calibre Browning machine gun mounted co-axially with the main gun; the Firefly was the only variant not to also have a bow-mounted .30 calibre Browning. The co-axial gun could be used to roughly guide the main gun onto a target through the use of tracer bullets and observing the "splash" of ball rounds, though at long distances the trajectory of the .30 and the main gun were subject to wide variances, affected also by the type of ammunition being used. The bow machinegun was limited by having no telescopic gunsights, and the gunner had to observe tracers/splash through his periscope (or by exposing the top of his head outside the hatch). "It was a reliable weapon, if a bit hard to change barrels."10 George Forty adds that "The .30 machine-guns were of limited use against anything other than personnel and the bow gun was particularly difficult to aim accurately."11
The 75mm M3 gun of the Sherman fired several types of ammunition, at a theoretical maximum rate of fire of 20 rounds per minute.12 The following types were used:13
The following types of ammunition were used:14
Projectile type alone did not determine that projectile's ability to penetrate armour. Muzzle velocity of the firing weapon was also a factor; longer gun barrels imparted higher muzzle velocity; while the Sherman's 75mm gun was the same calibre as a Panther's gun, the latter was aided by a larger shell casing (with more propellant) and especially by the long gun tube. The Panther's 75mm gun was superior to the long barreled 75mm of the PzKpfw IV and even superior in performance to the 88mm gun of the Tiger I. Range to the target also impacted ability of a round to penetrate armour, and the further the target was from the gun, the worse the performance.
The controversial aspect of the Sherman tank's performance in combat was the ease with which superior German guns could penetrate the relatively weak armour of the Sherman, the ranges at which it could do so, and the inability of the Sherman's return fire to have the same effect.
Protection and Survivability
The original design specifications of the Sherman called for the armour to be able to withstand hits from 37-mm guns. At the time the Sherman designs were drafted, 50mm guns were the largest in use on medium tanks. While the armour on the Sherman was comparable to other medium tanks in Britain, Russia or Germany in 1942, advances in German gun technology rendered the armour vulnerable to the later high velocity 50mm, 75mm, and ultra-high velocity 75mm and 88mm weapons that German tanks began mounting in 1943.
Early Sherman models were also prone to burning when hit by enemy fire (called 'brewing up'). Unprotected ammunition stowage also provided a danger to Sherman crews. A common myth perpetuated in postwar histories that the use of a gasoline (petrol) engine contributed to this tendency and that German tanks used diesel less likely to burn is unsupported by fact; most Second World War tanks, including German models, used gasoline engines and petrol was unlikely to ignite when hit with Armour Piercing shells.
Later Sherman models decreased the dangers of ammunition stowage by welding one-inch thick applique armour plates to the hull outside the stowage racks, and later moving ammunition to the hull floor and utilizing "wet stowage" where ammunition was kept in liquid filled jackets.
However, as tank crews became familiar with enemy gun performance, additional armour solutions were created in the field, including the use of logs, sandbags, and especially common in Canadian units was the use of spare track welded to the hull and turret - including tracks from tanks other than Shermans, including captured German track. The use of field-applied armour was controversial; some technicians felt it increased the vulnerability to HEAT weapons, others pointed to the strain on drive trains caused by the additional weight. The crews' response was that there was no point preserving the drive train for an additional 500 miles of life if the tank did not survive to the next bend in the road.
By the end of June 1944, armoured crews of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade began to make changes:
The 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division apparently did not wait long after arriving on the Continent to similarly modify their tanks:
The Sherman acquired the nickname "Ronson" after the popular brand of cigarette lighter (whose slogan was "Lights up the first time, every time!"). German troops sometimes referred to them as "Tommycookers".
Survivability for the turret crew was hampered by the fact that Canadian Shermans in the Second World War (with the exception of the Firefly) had only one hatch in the turret. The loader was obliged to "crawl under the gun to exit through the main "commander's" turret hatch", after the commander and gunner had exited.19 Hull crew were similarly at a disadvantage if their overhead hatch was obstructed by the main gun of the turret.
The Sherman also had an emergency hatch in the belly of the tank.
The Sherman V used a Chrysler multi-bank engine.
The Sherman ran on a 24-volt DC electrical system, with a power take-off from the main engine driving a 24 V, 50 amp main generator. An auxiliary generator unit - a 30 V, 1,500 Watt generator driven by a one-cylinder, two-stroke, air-cooled fuel fired engine - was located inside the tank. Known as "Little Joe" to US tankers, Canadians referred to it as a Homelite. It was used to charge the Sherman's batteries (two 12-volt batteries, wired in series) when the main engine could not be run, or when the main generator's output had to be supplemented, such as when the radio or power turret traverse placed a heavy load on the batteries.22
While the earliest models of Sherman tank (as well as Canadian variants such as the Ram) had Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS) bogie trucks with return rollers mounted centrally, the later models used in combat by Canadians had offset return rollers. The postwar Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS) bogie trucks were less maintenance-intensive as they did not have to be disassembled in order to change the wheels. HVSS also gave more wheel travel, providing a smoother ride.
A variety of track types were utilized on Canadian Shermans; including plain rubber blocks, rubber-chevron tracks and metal chevron tracks. The postwar HVSS suspension tracks were different yet again.
Canadian Dry Pin track, very similar in appearance to track used on German medium tanks, was used on the Sexton II self-propelled gun and the Canadian Grizzly tank. Vehicles using this track used a special 17-toothed sprocket.
The track length of the Sherman V was longer owing to the extended hull, on which the bogie trucks were placed farther apart. The track width of the postwar HVSS tanks served to decrease the vehicle's ground pressure. Standard track plate width was 16.5 inches (which could be extended through the use of end connectors, as described below), and track plate width increased to 23 inches on HVSS Shermans.
The largest disadvantage in performance the Sherman had in comparison with its enemy counterparts was its steering, and subsequent turn radius, which was larger than the PzKpfw IV. A US Army Ordnance report lists 31 feet (9.5m) for the turning circle of a Sherman. Panzerkampfwagen by Ellis & Doyle (Argus 1976) list minimum turning circles as:
Doctrine and Training
Canadian battle doctrine in the Second World War was based in large part on British battle experience in North Africa, but training was hampered by lack of equipment. By early 1943 - just as the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade were preparing for Sicily - modern equipment was becoming available in greater quantities; the Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank in infantry units reflected the trend in western armies to provide substantial anti-tank protection to infantry platoons. The battle-tested 6-pounder Anti-Tank Gun became available to infanty anti-tank battalions, and the Sherman had undergone its baptism of fire, first with British forces at El Alamein, and then with US forces in action against the Vichy French, Germans and Italians. British experience in the desert had been marked by aggressive tactics using inferior tanks, anti-tank guns and infantry weapons leading to costly defeats. General Montgomery, appointed commander of the 8th Army, changed that. He would also put his stamp on the Canadian soldiers fighting in Italy and North-West Europe.24
General G.G. Simonds, who had previously commanded the 1st Division in Sicily, led II Canadian Corps in battle in the Battle of Normandy, and outlined doctrine for the Canadians there under his command, based on his Sicily and Italy experience. He advised that tanks be used aggressively, following behind leading infantry on the attack. "In theory there was nothing wrong with Simonds' version of Allied battle experience but in practice the thinly armoured, under-gunned Sherman tanks were seldom able to accompany the infantry onto the objective, and almost never able to stay to help meet the counterattacks."25
Montgomery had argued with the British War Office about the correct method of employing tanks for 18 months prior to the Normandy Landing. While the War Office was not willing to abandon the concept of "infantry" tanks (slow, heavily armoured but lightly armed) and "cruiser" tanks (fast, lightly armoured, and equipped with potent anti-tank weaponry), Montgomery insisted that all tanks be capable of both roles - infantry support and fighting other tanks. (American doctrine, arrived at independently, nonetheless followed the War Office's direction - "tanks" were for infantry support and "tank destroyers" were for killing other tanks.) However, little thought seems to have been applied to the matter of actually organizing an armoured division for combat. Little time was spent before Normandy in training in tank-infantry co-operation, and the armoured divisions were organized with armour in one brigade and infantry in another. The infantry divisions earmarked for the Continent had no armour at all, though independent armoured brigades (such as the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade) were intended to be portioned out as necessary.26
"During 1943 the Canadians, like the other Allied troops in the United Kingdom, were gradually developing the artillery-based battle doctrine which built on the strengths rather than the weaknesses of the Allied armies."27 Training in tank-infantry co-operation was left wanting; after November 1943, the two sole Canadian armoured brigades in the UK were "heavily involved with their own training and there was no opportunity for further work on infantry-tank co-operation."28
Scales of Issue
The standard 75mm gun armed Sherman was used exclusively in Canadian Armoured Regiments in action, with the exception of Fireflies used to augment the anti-tank capabilities of the troops and squadrons. Both Armoured Reconnaissance Regiments (of the 4th and 5th Armoured Divisions) were also equipped with Shermans.
In Northwest Europe, the Firefly was a standard issue in armoured regiments, 1 per troop, though the 29th Canadian Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (South Alberta Regiment) did not receive Sherman Fireflies until September 1944, about a month after landing in Normandy with the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division. "By the spring of 1945 there were enough of these AFVs to provide each troop with two 17-pounder gun tanks."29
The Firefly began arriving in Italy in November 1944, and some saw action with Canadian units of the 5th Canadian Armoured Brigade before Operation GOLDFLAKE repatriated Canadian units to the First Canadian Army in Northwest Europe in early 1945. The scale of issue was 1 or 2 per squadron rather than troop. It is not known if any were issued to the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade.
A document entitled Middle East AFV Technical Liaison Letter 25, 16 December 1944 outlined the experience of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Regiment in Italy (abbreviations in the original have been spelled out in full):
While the Sherman first saw combat in 1942 with the British in North Africa at El Alamein, and in Tunisia some weeks later with American forces, German armoured divisions at that time were equipped primarily with the Panzerkampfwagen III (PzKpfw III). Growing numbers of the Panzerkampfwagen IV (PzKpfw IV) were in use in North Africa, a medium tank roughly on a par with the Sherman, though the high velocity 75mm gun its later models carried had 20 percent higher muzzle velocity and could penetrate 92mm of armour at 500 yard range compared to the 68mm of the Sherman's 75mm gun.30 Small numbers of the PzKpfw VI "Tiger" were also employed in North Africa with thick armour and an 88mm gun capable of penetrating Sherman armour from over a thousand yards away.
Even once Canadian armour first got into action in earnest in Sicily in July 1943, German armour was not generally encountered in large numbers, nor in Italy, where the main enemy AFVs were upgraded versions of the the Panzerkampfwagen IV (PzKpfw IV) and significant numbers of self-propelled guns such as the Sturmgeschütz. However, the summer of 1943 also saw the first combat use of the PzKpfw V, the "Panther", and by the time of the Battle of Normandy in June 1944 was employed in roughly equal number to the PzKpfw IV. (Allied tankers, including the Canadians, generally used the terms "Mark 4" and "Mark 5" for these German tanks.)
By Normandy, the Panthers were no longer employed in separate battalions as they had been in 1943, but were integrated directly into German armoured divisions. In Normandy, the Germans deployed a greater number of armoured divisions, the majority for much of the campaign opposite the British and Canadians. The turret of the Panther was also used in Italy in pre-sited prepared positions, set into concrete and very difficult to engage (known as Panzerturms or Pantherturms). The Panther had frontal armour much thicker than a PzKpfw IV or Sherman, though the side of the turret was weak and could be penetrated by even the 6-pounder anti-tank guns used by the infantry - if a clear shot could be made.
The PzKpfw VI "Tiger" remained a specialist vehicle, allocated to independent heavy tank battalions though some elite divisions had an organic unit of Tigers assigned permanently.
A British tank officer in a Churchill regiment newly arrived in Normandy is reported to have had the following (often quoted) conversation with the Adjutant of his regiment:
The quote refers to the "shot trap" on the front of the Panther; Sidney Radley-Walters illustrated this shot trap effectively in the television series The Valour and the Horror; the round underside of the mantlet would deflect solid shot downwards into the hull of the tank if hit at the right angle, either killing the driver or co-driver, or possibly setting off the ammunition stored in the sponson.
In addition to German tank guns, which were relatively rarely encountered by Canadian armoured units in North-West Europe after Normandy, the main weapons of German infantry formations were ant-tank guns, and a proliferation of man-portable, shoulder fired light anti-tank weapons such as the Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck. Every German infantry division also had significant numbers of anti-tank guns, both towed and self-propelled.
Organization and Tactics
A troop of an Armoured Regiment consisted of four vehicles. One tank was led by the Troop Commander, a Lieutenant. The second in command, called the Troop Sergeant, commanded the second vehicle. The other two tanks were commanded by Corporals. Three troops and a headquarters element made up a squadron, and three such squadrons were organized into an armoured regiment. It was not uncommon for squadrons to act independently, parceled out to infantry battalions for support as needed.
While popular culture has glamorized the role of German tank commanders such as Michael Wittmann (and even his gunner, Balthasar "Bobby" Woll), Canada did not produce "tank aces" in the sense that successful German tank commanders have been embraced.
Tank-to-tank combat was rare in Italy due to the terrain, and even in North-West Europe where tanks were more commonly used for infantry support missions. German armour, especially after the Battle of Normandy, was usually only found in small numbers opposite Canadian formations - certainly the flooded terrain in the Scheldt and the Rhineland was not often considered "good tank country." Nonetheless, Major Sidney Radley-Walters, who commanded "A" Squadron of The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment, was credited with knocking out approximately 18 German tanks and assault guns during his wartime service.
Germany produced at least ten tank commanders who managed 100 kills to their credit, fighting from Tiger tanks for at least part of their career, including Johannes Bölter (139+), Otto Carius (150+), Kurt Knispel (168) and Wittmann (138). Given the superiority of their equipment,the number of opposing tanks they encountered (almost all on the Eastern Front), and the length of time they spent on campaign, it is not surprising that Canada was unable to produce similar statistics.
The crew consisted of five men
Duties in Action
In action, each crewmen had duties made obvious by their designations; the Commander led the tank, instructing the driver where to go and how fast, spotting targets for the gunner, designating what type of ammunition to use, and directing the fire of the bow machinegun. The gunner fired the main gun; the loader/operator kept the gun loaded with the proper ammunition, as well as keeping the fighting compartment clear of empty casings and reorganizing the ammunition racks as necessary.
Regular inspections of the vehicle were called "parades":
Typical daily duties for the crew of a Sherman V under the "parade maintenance" system were as follows:
Crew Commander: Check internal and external stowage, turret intercom, fire extinguishers, order other tests as required and complete all relevant paperwork.
Driver: Check fluid levels with engines running and off, check gauges, check lights, check periscope, engine and transmission compartments, clutch, air cleaners, throttle controls, fuel filter, inspect suspension at regular intervals, lubricate anything requiring it.
Co-Driver: Assist driver as required, check and oil bow .30 calibre Browning, test intercom, check periscope, clean compartment thoroughly.
Gunner: Clean and test main gun and co-axial .30 calibre, test turret traverse by hand and power, check periscope and telescopic sight, align sights as required, assist in checking suspension, oil weapons, check recoil and stabilizer systems, fill or bleed as required.
Loader-Operator: Check all electrical systems, carry out wireless netting drills, check periscope, assist driver with checking oil levels in engine, maintain Homelite, replenish drinking water, check all hatches, ports, etc., in turret and oil if necessary, check interior lights, check turret chamber and floor for any oil leaks from equipment.32
Shermans fresh from US factories came fitted with all the tools and equipment it was felt were needed by the tank crews. Experienced soldiers soon added to these. A storage bin was often mounted on the rear of the turret. Sherman Vc Fireflies came with a long narrow box fitted to the rear of the hull. This box often showed up on 75mm Shermans as well. Old ammunition boxes were welded to the tank hull to hold various pieces of necessary kit. And there was usually a spare bogie wheel or two carried somewhere on the tank as a replacement for accident or combat damaged parts.33
Standard pioneer tools and equipment stowed on the Sherman included:
Canada's veteran Shermans were left in Europe after the Second World War with a small number being returned to Canada. It is believed only a handful of combat veterans still exist in Canada.
Forceful III, went to Vimy House on 20 May 2004 for repainting; previously on display at Cartier Square Drill Hall in Ottawa from 1986, the tank was refurbished and put on display on 15 Oct 2005 at the Canadian War Museum. The tank had previously been the personal mount of Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) E.M. Smith, DSO, ED and had seen action with the 21st Canadian Armoured Regiment (Governor General's Foot Guards) throughout North-West Europe, being the only tank of the sixty-nine originals issued to the Regiment. The tank landed in France on 25 Jul 1944, when Major Smith was Officer Commanding No. 3 Squadron (by tradition the GGFG used numbers rather than letters to identify sub-units). Smith was promoted to command the regiment in Aug 1944. The regiment had intended for the tank to be displayed at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, a proposal rejected by Mayor Charlotte Whitton, and the tank went to Camp Borden instead.
Holy Roller saw action with the 1st Hussars, landing on 6 June 1944 and one of just two Canadian medium tanks to both land on Juno Beach on D-Day in Normandy and also survive the war. The vehicle was put on display in Victoria Park in London, Ontario in the 1950s. The tank's barrel had drooped since going on display, and was found to be filled with trash and dirty needles when the regimental association re-opened the vehicle for inspection in May 2017. Holy Roller was subsequently cleaned, external openings were sealed, and the barrel was restored to a position horizontal with the ground.34 The original wartime crew was made up of Terry Doherty, Frank Fowler (who named the tank), William Reed, Everett Smith and Frank White.35
Bomb, a Sherman tank of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment, also landed on D-Day in Normandy on 6 June 1944 and then returned to Canada.
When the postwar Shermans were phased out of service in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many were relegated to duty as range targets, and others became "gate guardians", going on permanent display at military bases around the country.
Specifically Canadian Sherman tanks have been featured in a variety of wargames: