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Armored Thunderbolt: The U.S. Army Sherman…
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Armored Thunderbolt: The U.S. Army Sherman in World War II (edition 2008)

by Steven Zaloga (Author)

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612325,395 (4.1)1
Hundreds of photos, including many never published before with riveting accounts of armored warfare in World War II Compares the Sherman to other tanks, including the Panther and Tiger Author is a world-renowned expert on the Sherman tank and American armor Some tank crews referred to the American M4 Sherman tank as a "death trap." Others, like Gen. George Patton, believed that the Sherman helped win World War II. So which was it: death trap or war winner? Armor expert Steven Zaloga answers that question by recounting the Sherman's combat history. Focusing on Northwest Europe (but also including a chapter on the Pacific), Zaloga follows the Sherman into action on D-Day, among the Normandy hedgerows, during Patton?s race across France, in the great tank battle at Arracourt in September 1944, at the Battle of the Bulge, across the Rhine, and in the Ruhr pocket in 1945.… (more)
Member:Chartboy03
Title:Armored Thunderbolt: The U.S. Army Sherman in World War II
Authors:Steven Zaloga (Author)
Info:Stackpole Books (2008), Edition: Spi, 368 pages
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Armored Thunderbolt: The U.S. Army Sherman in World War II by Steven J. Zaloga

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I seem to be reading a lot of military books recently. Well, here’s another one. Steven Zaloga’s Armored-Thunderbolt is insightful and, appropriately enough, debunks a number of Sherman myths.


At the start, Zaloga warns that this is not yet another book with lots of color illustrations of tank variants and tables of armor penetration capability; instead, he’s interested in “tank philosophy” – how and why the United States designed and built the tanks it used in WWII. (That being said, there actually are armor penetration tables and lots of illustrations – not color paintings for modelers but photographs of Shermans in the field.)


World War II memoirs, novels, and movies are full of criticism for the Sherman, usually centering on the facts that the Sherman’s 75mm gun (and even the upgunned 76mm version) were inadequate to penetrate the frontal armor on the German tanks it usually faced, and the Sherman’s armor protection was equally inadequate to defend it against German tanks (usually citing the King Tiger with an 88mm KwK 43 as the weapon the Shermans had to face). The situation, according to Zaloga, came about due to a complicated interplay between the Technical Division of the United States Army Ordnance Department, under the direction of General Gladeon M. Barnes and responsible for weapons development, and the Army Ground Forces, originally under Lieutenant General Lesley McNair and responsible for weapons specification (i.e, for describing the kind of weapons the army needed). Barnes ran the Technical Division more or less as a personal fief; since Ordnance issued huge contracts he had considerable lobbying support. McNair had his own agenda, often conflicting not only with Ordnance but with the needs of troops in the field; the US Army’s rather strange tank destroyer doctrine was McNair’s idea.


Barnes’ main problem, according to Zaloga, was the inability to adapt to predictive weapons design. Prior to WWII, Ordnance had been concerned with infantry weapons and artillery. Technology in these areas did not change rapidly – with the exception of the M1 rifle, US infantry weapons were more or less the same ones used in WWI (and even then, the M1903 rifle would probably have been adequate for WWII). Similarly, artillery design hadn’t changed much; the US had replaced the WWI era 75mm field artillery with 105mm guns, but most heavier artillery was WWI vintage (at least the gun tube designs were; the carriages had been redesigned to be pulled by motor vehicles instead of horses). Barnes seemed to have expected tank and antitank weapon design to go more or less the same way; although acknowledging that the standard M1917 tank, based on the French Renault FT, was no longer adequate for WWII, he apparently expected that a single new tank design would serve through the entire war.


McNair, in turn, had his own difficulties, particularly his enthusiasm for independent tank destroyer units. Other books about WWII US armor have singled out McNair’s idea that tank destroyers should be high speed, lightly armored vehicles zipping around the battlefield wiping out enemy tanks, while American tanks should churn along as infantry support. In fact, as Zaloga points out, it was even worse than that; McNair favored towed guns rather than self-propelled tank destroyers. He had picked up on the success of British towed 6 ponders in Africa as justification for this scheme. The key flaw was not so much the inadequacy of American towed antitank weapons, but the fact that in British and German practice the antitank units were embedded in infantry formations while the US tank destroyers were in independent battalions. Ordnance, scraping around for a weapon to meet the tank destroyer doctrine, came up with a WWI vintage 3 inch coast defense/antiaircraft gun mounted on a 105mm howitzer carriage. The self-propelled version of the 3 inch antitank gun (first on a halftrack, then on the M10 tank destroyer) was just barely adequate); the towed version was disastrous. It was much heavier than the German and British equivalents (the PaK 40 and the 17 pounder) and had a much higher silhouette, and its deployment in independent tank destroyer battalions meant it was never around when the infantry actually needed it. To make matters worse, McNair saw to it that a number of M10 units were converted back to towed artillery, based on the results of the Italian campaign. In the battles around Casino, 432 Shermans were lost: 205 to PaK towed guns, 93 to self-propelled tank destroyers, 118 to self-propelled assault guns, and only 2 to German tanks. The problem with McNair’s conclusion was that the Germans had wisely concluded that the Apennines were poor tank country and sent theirs somewhere else. American forces had run into both the Tiger I and the Panther in Italy, and found that they were immune to frontal shots by any antitank weapon available; however, McNair had ignored this, deciding that both German tanks were “curiosities” only deployed in small units and therefore not relevant. This was more or less correct for the Tiger, and, as far as Italy went, correct for the Panther as well. Unfortunately McNair didn’t anticipate the Germans making the Panther their main battle tank. McNair’s final pet project was the M18 Hellcat tank destroyer, probably the fastest tracked vehicle of its size fielded in WWII, and not of very much use.


McNair did make one vitally important contribution, however; he insisted that American military vehicles be mechanically reliable. In this respect the Sherman was superior to any of the tanks it faced. Sherman units had less than 10% of their tanks disabled due to mechanical problems; German tank units averaged about 40%. The expected lifetime of a Panther before a depot overhaul was less than 1000 miles; Shermans typically put in that many miles during training. Finally, Shermans were designed for easy repair of major components; transmissions and engines could be replaced in the field with the assistance of a wrecker while similar operations on German tanks required the vehicle to be towed or railed back to a depot. What’s often ignored in the tabular comparisons of armor protection and gun penetration is that a Sherman driving around on the battlefield was vastly superior to a King Tiger with a broken crankshaft.


The shortcomings of American tank design didn’t really appear until after the breakout from the Normandy beaches (Ironically, McNair was killed in action by a friendly bomb while on an inspection tour of the front). The Ordnance Department, in its typical desultory fashion, had been tinkering with various gun options for the Sherman, and a few outfitted with the M1 76mm gun had begun to appear. Unfortunately, this gun didn’t penetrate the frontal armor on a Panther, either; the muzzle blast was very unpleasant for nearby ground troops (partially because Ordnance had arbitrarily chopped 15 inches off the original barrel length), and the HE shell had less explosive capacity than the 75mm (the projectile diameter in both guns was exactly the same, but the 76mm had a larger cartridge case and the ammunition was not interchangeable). American tankers developed a variety of expedients; a white phosphorous round for the 75mm had been introduced and tankers began keeping a round in the tube. If a Panther or Tiger appeared, a quick shot would blind the German tank in a smoke cloud while the Sherman maneuvered for a flank shot. With a very good gunner, a 75mm or 76mm round that hit the lower half of a Panther’s gun mantlet would not penetrate but would ricochet downward through the thin deck armor. Similarly, various field armor projects were tried, including welding track sections to the glacis plate, covering the side and front with sandbags, and even coating the tank with six inches of poured concrete. The only one of these ever demonstrated to be useful was the Third Army approach – cannibalizing armor from killed Allied or enemy tanks and welding it on vulnerable spots.


The situation really came to a head during the Battle of the Bulge, when defending American troops didn’t have much of anything that would stop a King Tiger – towed guns, tank destroyers, tanks or bazookas. Ironically, the weapons eventually forced into service were ones that nobody had wanted. By this time in the war high altitude German aircraft were not a threat, and the 90mm antiaircraft battalions had been assigned to artillery units, where they were employed for long range harassing fire; pressed to the front they proved adequate against Tigers and Panthers at medium range. Ordnance had also developed a 155mm self-propelled howitzer (the M12) that the artillery didn’t want; weapons of this size were usually kept in rear areas where a self-propelled capacity was unnecessary. Although no armor-piercing round was available, a hit from one of these firing over open sights would disable a German tank just from concussion effects (interestingly, the Russians had developed a somewhat similar weapon in the SU-152, nicknamed “The Animal Killer” for its success against Tigers and Panthers).


The Bulge left Ordnance scrambling for some sort of upgunned tank; this included fitting a 90mm AA gun on a Sherman chassis as the M36 tank destroyer, and finally coming up with a 90mm main battle tank, the M26 Pershing. (The number of models between the M4 and the M26 indicates the fiddling around Ordnance did). The 90mm Pershing was still inferior in armor penetration to a King Tiger, and also mechanically unreliable, having been rushed into service before the bugs were ironed out. Exactly one “Super Pershing” with a T15E1 90mm gun that was finally equal to the 88mm KwK 43 was delivered to Europe; its crew field-uparmored it with an addition five tons of armor taken from Panthers (which probably didn’t help the automotive performance much; the standard Pershing had the same engine as a Sherman but was 10 tons heavier). Nevertheless, the “Super Pershing” did knock out all three German tanks it engaged, including two Tigers, one at 1500 yards (possibly; American crews tended to identify any German tank they saw as a Tiger).


Shermans soldiered on in Korea (where, after the North Korean T34s were eliminated, they were actually preferred to M26s because of their superior mechanical performance); in various post-war armies (in an ironic twist, the French used Shermans regunned with 75mms taken from Panthers); in the various Middle East wars (the Israelis managed to squeeze a 105mm gun into a Sherman turret as the “Isherman”), and, reportedly, in the Balkans in the 1990s.


Highly recommended; a very different take on US tanks than the usual. Zaloga’s writing is quite clear and straightforward and the illustrations are abundant and useful. Even though he claims this is not a reference book, just about every tank design proposed by the US army turns up in a photograph somewhere, including such oddities as the T28 ultraheavy tank, the M36B1 which fitted the 90mm turret from the M36 tank destroyer on a Sherman hull, and the M6A2E1 which fitted a 90mm Pershing turret on the obsolete and never deployed M6 heavy tank.
( )
  setnahkt | Dec 4, 2017 |
Largely written as a rebuttal to popular accounts entranced by the legend of the German Tiger and Panther tanks, Zaloga seeks to put the American medium tank programs of World War II back into context, as part of the ebb and flow of a weapons race where tactical circumstances were usually more important than paper performance, typically to the advantage of the M4 Sherman.

That said, Zaloga gives a good overview of the institutional issues that left the American forces in the ETO feeling vulnerable to the base-line German weaponry of 1944, such as the demands of crash rearmament, a Bureau of Ordnance lacking much flair for high-performance anti-tank weaponry, and Gen. Leslie McNair's (commander of the U.S. Army Ground Forces) unhealthy obsession with the U.S. Tank Destroyer force (which just so happened to benefit McNair's career arm of the artillery). However, the biggest subtle attitude problem which Zaloga identifies may simply be that the U.S. ground forces, as opposed to the USN or the USAAF, had no real experience with technological weapons races, and so lacked the psychology to appreciate that you're always one step away from losing battle-field dominance.

Zaloga doesn't presume to suggest what the alternatives might have been for the U.S. Army tank forces that hit the beach in Normandy in 1944 (though he spends a good bit of time demonstrating how bad most of the other options were), but had there been a little more proactive thinking in the U.S. Army the M4 Shermans in the independent tank battalions assigned to infantry support would have been up-armored early and there would have been at least a sprinkling of tank destroyers armed with the British 17-pounder gun. That would have taken care of the more glaring issues, until the improved machines post-Ardennes offensive made their appearance.

Zaloga also dwells on the issues facing the German panzer troops, which included a rapid decline in production quality of those armored vehicles that did survive the Allied air war to make it to the front line. For example, there were apparently more than a few Panthers that suffered from defective armor, a fact that I hadn't been aware of before. ( )
  Shrike58 | Dec 7, 2011 |
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Hundreds of photos, including many never published before with riveting accounts of armored warfare in World War II Compares the Sherman to other tanks, including the Panther and Tiger Author is a world-renowned expert on the Sherman tank and American armor Some tank crews referred to the American M4 Sherman tank as a "death trap." Others, like Gen. George Patton, believed that the Sherman helped win World War II. So which was it: death trap or war winner? Armor expert Steven Zaloga answers that question by recounting the Sherman's combat history. Focusing on Northwest Europe (but also including a chapter on the Pacific), Zaloga follows the Sherman into action on D-Day, among the Normandy hedgerows, during Patton?s race across France, in the great tank battle at Arracourt in September 1944, at the Battle of the Bulge, across the Rhine, and in the Ruhr pocket in 1945.

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