As an all-round, general purpose tank, the Sherman was one of the best tanks of the Second World War.
In 1940, the British established a Tank Mission in Washington, under the leadership of Michael Dewar, to persuade the Americans to build British tanks. It was later deemed wiser to stick to American designs. At first the tanks had to be paid for but in March 1941 President Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease Act came into force. Equipment was loaned to Britain in exchange for American use of British bases.
Design of the M4 Medium Tank dates back to April 1941. A pilot model was ready in September 1941 and production began in February 1942. The design mirrored the M3 Grant in terms of engine, transmission and suspension but the hull was quite different, being surmounted by a fully rotating turret carrying the main armament. The M4A1 featured a cast hull whereas other versions were welded.
By 1943 the Sherman was getting past its prime. The gun, a dual purpose 75mm, was outclassed by comparable German weapons and was not powerful enough for the thick armour in later vehicles. An officer at Lulworth Camp came up with the idea of fitting the British 76.2mm, known as the 17 pounder. The new design would be known as the Sherman Firefly.
The 17 pdr was much bigger than the 75mm so the turret had to be modified, with a bulge at the back to fit the radio and an extra hatch for the loader. The new ammunition was bigger so there were changes inside too. Indeed the demand for space was so great that hull machine-gunner, sitting to the right of the driver was disposed of and the weapon aperture sealed.
In action the Firefly was a success. The gun proved capable of dealing with the heavier German tanks but, since the armour had not been thickened to match it was still very vulnerable. The long gun was often disguised to look like a regular Sherman.
The Tank Museum’s M4A1
The Tank Museum owns the oldest surviving example of a Sherman. It has two significant features not seen on later production Shermans. One is the main armament sight, set in the top of the turret; the other is the extra pair of machine-guns, operated by the driver, at the front. The tank was named MICHAEL in honour of Michael Dewar and when it arrived in London it was displayed on Horse Guards Parade as the first Sherman tank to be delivered under the Lend-Lease scheme.
The Tank Museum’s Firefly
The Sherman Firefly in the Museum’s collection was built in 1944 in the Crysler Factory in America, and converted in a Royal Ordinance Factory in the UK. It is painted to represent a tank of Guards Armoured Division around the time of Arnhem.