Why didn't America build better tanks in World War 2?
October 01, 2013 4:04AM
We did build a fine tank that was a match for the Tiger or Panther one on one. It was called the M26 Pershing. It came out in the fall of 1944. About 200 were shipped to the ETO before the war ended. It was armed with the m3 90mm gun and could poke holes in German tanks at a 3000 yards!
There is a film clip shown on tv once in a while of a M26 stalking a Panther in the city of Cologne and blowing it to ****.
The T34 was the not the great tank some people are making it out to be now. The Germans destroyed them by the thousands. They were like Shermans, there so many of them the Germans were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Look the M26 up on the web for more info.
Even after commanders realized how vunerable their tanks were they were unable to get better ones in large quantities, because even increasing the thickness of the armor on the Sherman to withstand German weapons would have made it too large to be shipped by train. The Army made the decision that it would be best to have a large number of inferior tanks equal to their German counterparts but not in a large enough quantity to keep up an effective offensive.
It's debateable wether this was the right decission or not, but their choice was sufficent to win the war.
The Lee and Grant tanks showed just how badly the US could design a tank before the Sherman was introduced.
Logistics have been much quoted here and it's true that the American military favoured sheer volume of numbers.
Given the air superiority of the Allies and the use of tankbuster air to ground attacks, the German method of building far fewer but technically superior tanks could be also veiwed as an error.
While designs were being improved it would not have made sense for the Allies to simply stop producing tanks and wait for a better model to be produced in sufficient number before invading Normandy.
As it was the British produced the hybrid Sherman Firefly a tank killing model equipped with the British 17 pounder gun which was almost as effective as an armour piecing weapon as the daunting German 88mm used by the fearsome Tiger mk1
All in all the problem was with American thinking, not design. The Americans believed tanks were a weapon to use to exploit the line, while Tank Destroyers were to due anti armor work. So, we have our problem of HVAP, due to doctrine the majority of it found its way to the towed and self propelled units of the Tank Destroyer Force. HVAP was produced in the following calibers. 75mm (very little, mainly for training purposes), 3 inch (for use with the towed 3 in gun and the M-10 GMC), 76mm (for use with the M4(76mm)and the M18 Hellcat GMC) and 90mm (for use with the M1 and M2 90mm AA Gun, 90mm T8 towed AT gun, the M26 Pershing, and the 90mm M36 GMC). One other round was developed for test with the 105mm gun that was being tested for the M6 Supertank test program. Plans also called for a posable round for the the 75mm pack howitzer and the 105mm Howitzers (for both the M2 and M3)
The problem was that supply was just catching up with demand when the war ended. So the priortiy of issue was placed on doctrine and not the realities of war. In my openion the HVAP would have been better issued to the Tank battalions, who had to face the Tigers and Panthers, then to the Tand Destroyers who wasted alot of it on targets that could have been taken out by regular AP rounds. But again I have to say the tank destroyers did do a good job in making the enamy armor a managable force in the battle. I would love to hear others thoughts about this.
I have been doing some more research. I looked into the Panther, Tiger and King Tiger. Well When you look at them as opposed to the Sherman you find out two important things.
1) All three of these monsters If deseigned in the US would rate as heavy tanks. They all are about 45-60 tons in weight. That makes them in the heavy class, so to be fair with your comparision you have to put them against the M26, a tank that proved to be better then them.
2) When you compare the Sherman to The Panzer IV you realize in its clase the Sherman was one of the best tanks in the ETO.
Also The US did have a medium tank in production that could have been easily put into service. The T23E3 had a short production run of 250 tnaks. It wasn't standerdized because Ordanence thought it would confus mantinance personal becasue of its unique drive. The Armored Force asked that the Tank be designated M27, but ordinance over ruled them. I think if the war in Europe had gun much longer they would have allowed it. Armored Force also wanted to designate the T20E3 as the M27B1 and produce it as limited standard as a second source for tanks of the Medium type.
So when you compare US tanks to German you have to realize you can't compare apples to oranges. You have to be fair. Yes the Sherman had its problems. The German tanks had desiel engines the Americans used Gas engines. When the American tanks were hit in the right spot the gus blew uo. But besides that when you look at equal classes...the Sherman was a very fine medium tank, and the Pershing was a fine heavy tank. Then you also have the other two american beasts that could have really effected the outcome..the M6 Supertank and the T23E3\T20E3 mediums...life could have gotten really hard for German tankers.
Still doesn't answer question as to why T-34's weren't built. Wasn't the T-34 design clearly superior to that of the Sherman? Was it a chauvinism matter (belief that no Soviet design could be better than "Made in U.S.A.")? Did any U.S. Army authorities seriously consider building the T-34? By 1942, wasn't there clear evidence as to T-34 performance against the Germans.
The Russians used overwelming numbers in everything
They even created Artillery Divisions.
A reliable tank, easy to modify (funnies such as DD�s, flamethrowers, mine sweepers played a vital roll on d-day). But clearly no match for heavy german tanks in Normandy and further on. But the Allied ground commanders had a excellent anti-tank weapon at their disposal in those days; the airforce. Nearby stationed P-47�s, P-38�s Typhoons and Tempests could be called upon the battlefield to destroy tanks by the hundred against acceptable losses. (and ofcourse the allied artillery)
I am not saying the airforce would just do the job, and I also believe that a few more 17- pounders in those turrets would have saved many lives(on the allied side). But i believe that the allied airforce had the greater number of tankkills. Hundreds to thousands of tanks were molested even before they had seen the battlefield.
The german heavy tanks were superior in many ways in combat indeed. Better armor, optics and guns. But not too easy to repair. And these huge monster used masses of fuel, wich germany was running out of very fast. In the Ardennes, the advancing german armor was dependent on the captureing of allied fuel depots, many panzers had to be left behind with empty fuel tanks.
If one could build a decent tank these days that could be maintained by local farmers i would be happy to hear from it.
I am only 19 years old, so i am no veteran, and i am no expert, but this is my point of view on this issue. Maybe i am totally wrong, then i would like to hear why.
greetz from holland
1) At no time did the Germans ever use Diesel engines in any tank design. The Russians did, and they had their own plus and minuses (not to mention they were very LOUD! and could be heard starting up for miles).
2) I completely disagree with the airforce being the force that was mostly responsible for taking out the German tank force - that is complete rubbish. Most tank-busting aircraft MISSED their targets entirely.
Infact, take a look at how the famous Michael Whittman died - rumor was that his tank was busted from the air, but upon investigation, it was a 17pdr that took his life. I read a very interesting article on it somewhere and it had a good deal of information on the allied air tank-busters and their effectiveness.
3) I completely agree with the thought that it was the incompetence of the US Ordanance office and not of the design offices that caused the tanks problem for the Americans in WWII.
As far as I'm concerned, that M26 Pershing was an EXCELLENT design, and they should have fielded it ASAP. Overall, I consider the M26 Pershing as thee best tank of WWII, but take in mind that it was only used in ONE major tank engagement - it was too little too late to make too much of a difference - Germany's fate was sealed by 1943 at Kursk.
- The other reason was logistics. German heavy tanks were complex machinery, too heavy, and unreliable. Tigers and Panthers used gas engines because diesels at the time were too underpowered to propel these beasts. The Sherman, on the other hand, was simple to make, easy to maintain, and relatively cheap. Sherman tank crews developed tank tactics to effectively deal with the German heavy tanks.
Same was true with the Air Corps, the Axis planes were more than a match with any Allied aircraft, but it was superior tactics and numbers that overwhelmed them.
The Sherman was a good effort for 1942. And once the Allies had air superiority German tanks had to hide anyway. No tank beats a fighter-bomber.
There is one small mystery, though. How come the only people who listened to the American Christie on tank design were the Russians? Bit like Japan and statistical quality control. In fact if you look into the US's history of wartime innovation it's a surprisingly short list.
T-34/76 and T34/85 was a quality tank with sloped armour, agility and firepower.
I disagree that the Pershing was the best Tank of WW2.
It's 90mm was still surprisinly inferior to the 88mm offered by the Tiger and Tiger 2 even though it could still penetrate the German Tanks.
For me, the best tank of WW2 was the IS-2. 122mm gun could blow a Panther or Tiger's turret off it's mount.
It could defeat a Panther at 1500m (4920ft) while the Panther had to get as close as 400m (1310ft)
by the way, you could say i was unlucky. by the time the war ended i was through with 2 grants, and 3 shermans, the last sherman out during D-Day, and it was a miracle i survived that day.
Also the allies had had limited and fitfull involvement with tank warfare at this time, the german mark 3 and later mark 4s, being our principal oppenants in the desert campaigns and tunisia. Italy was to hilly, and to distant for the germans to mass deploy armour in significant quants. 43/44 in Italy involved allied action against mark 4s again, and only a few panthers/tigers, as from the germans view it was not the priority 1 theatre, there was limited direct threat to german territory. That I believe is the main reasons for our armour being behind the germans, unlike aircraft were there was constant action for 5 years, with by 43/44 the allies again had matched the germans in the air.
Despite that it would have been nice to have seen the allies using some decent tanks, and I am sure given some of the bravery of allied tank crews, who repeatedly stuck to there tasks, hit tigers/panthers, with no noticable effect, how much quicker the normandy campaign could have been. Pershings or Centurions able to lead attacks and match the german armour may have allowed the british to breakthrough weeks earlier, as british attacks constantly drew the remaining german armour reserves until it had bled dry, and bled dry much of the british armour and morale.
Armies only field new weapons when they have to, because it is cheaper and easier to produce a lot of an established design than to create a new one from scratch. Every military in WWII obeyed this principle. In other words they produce new weapons because they just got their butts kicked.
The first of the major powers in WW2 to get a buttkicking was the Russians. They invaded Finnland in the winter of 1939-40 and were humiliated. Their massive heavy tanks got bogged down in the mud. They had purchased the light tank design of Walter Christie, because unlike the western powers they had no tank designs of their own stemming from WW1, and were willing to deal with the genius designer. The result was the BT series of fast tanks. After the debacle of the Winter War in Finland, they produced a highly mobile tank based on that design, with good armor and firepower as well as speed: the T-34. This tank was just entering service when Germany invaded a year and a half later. Remember this time period, you will see it again.
The Germans started WW2 with amazingly weak tanks. The Pz I was essentially a machinegun carrier. The Pz II had a 20mm gun. The Pz III was their main battle tank with a 37mm gun. The Pz IV was a support tank with a 75mm howitzer for a main gun, with short range and poor armor penetration. By the time they invaded France they had begun producing Pz IIIs with a medium velocity 50mm gun. It's anti-tank capability was about the same as the smaller 37mm gun but the larger explosive charge of a 50mm warhead made it a better weapon against soft targets, resulting in a better all around weapon system.
At this time the Americans were designing the M3 Lee. It had a 37mm gun on a turret, like the Pz III, plus a 75mm medium velocity gun in the hull. Unlike the low velocity howitzer in the Pz IV the 75mm gun in the M3 had reasonably good anti-tank performance. It also had more armor than the Pz III. It was significantly superior to the German tanks of the time in most respects, although its inefficient design limited its employment to a stopgap measure until something better could be designed and produced.
In 1941, the Germans invaded Russia. The Germans dealt with the lumbering KVs the same way they'd dealt with the British Matildas IIs: bombing them with Stukas or Maneuvering 88mm AA guns into ambush positions. The T-34 had just entered production and numbers available were initially small, but it posed a serious problem--it's armor and firepower were far superior to the German's tanks, and its mobility made it more difficult to bomb or ambush with 88s. As greater numbers entered service, it became clear that the only solution was a radically new weapon system, something large enough to mount the 88mm gun, and with armor to resist the 76mm and 85mm weapons fielded by the Russians. The result was the Tiger, but designing a new weapon system takes time and the Tiger wouldn't enter service until 1943, at least a year and a half after the design was begun in May of 1941. (See, I told you you'd see it again. It's not the last time, either.) In the meantime the Germans produced more of the latest Pz IIIJ, with its high velocity 50mm gun, and began working upgrading the armor and armament of the Pz IV, producing the Pz IVF2 in 1942.
In 1941, the Americans were designing the replacement for the M3 Lee. The M4 Sherman had slightly better armor protection than the Pz III of the time, and Its medium velocity 75mm gun simply outclassed it, especially combined with a gyroscopically stabilized turret. The New Pz IVF2 was still being designed and would not appear on the battlefield for months. The Tiger was a dream. When it was designed, the Sherman was state of the art.
The only weapon system superior to it at that time was the T-34, which despite the glaring lack of a tank commander, was a formidable weapon. The M-10 GMC aka the Achilies or Wolverine, was similar to the T-34 in most respects. It's suspension was the same as the M4 rather than the low slung Christie suspension of the T-34 giving it a taller overall height, and it was not as long. But it was similar to the T-34 in most other respects, from the 76mm gun to its armor thickness and slope. Seen from the side the two vehicles bear a striking resemblance.
The M4 and M10 entered production in 1942 and had been produced in massive quantities by 1942, when America occupied West Africa. By that time Pz IIIJs and Pz IVs with medium velocity 75mm guns were common. But these tanks were the roughly comparable to their American counterparts, even inferior to them. But the Tiger was being fielded, and it was as rude a shock to the Americans as the T-34 had been to the Germans. But just as it had taken the Germans time to produce the Tiger, and the Russians time to produce the T-34 before them, the Pershing did not see battle until late in 1944, just over a year and a half after the design was begun in early 1943. It seems that American tanks were inferior to the Germans in tank technology for the whole war. We were, it is just that we weren't in the war very long, so we have a bit of a warped view of the whole thing.
1. Logistics. Tank design was limited in size, in most of WW2 .. not only by railcars .. but by wharf handling facilities, craneage, bridges, road structures, tank transporters, landing craft, etc, ad infinitum .. For every increase in size, there has to a corresponding upgrade in everything that the item fits through, on, or across ..
2. Training. For every new model, a lot of time has to be spent training up crews and maintenance personnel .. military planners were reluctant to introduce new models, not only because of delays involved in the time from drawing board to final production .. but also the delays caused by training demands. Time, during WW2, was something that was of crucial importance .. when strategic developments in major battles hinged on sometimes only days or weeks.
3. Weight. Weight was not only a crucial factor (linked to size), in the above-mentioned items such as bridges .. but it was a crucial factor in many operations where the ground conditions were poor. Smaller tanks are able to paddle across boggy terrain, whereas big tanks sink into the morass.
The only reason the Germans were able to build the Tiger so big, was because it was designed to able to ford rivers up to 18-20 feet deep .. rather than cross bridges .. as very few bridges in pre WW2 Europe, could support the weight of a Tiger .. whereas they could support a Sherman.
4. Tank design of WW2 was limited to what engines, drivetrains and other vital components were readily available in large numbers, and that had a proven design. Hence the reason for using Wright-Cyclone radials, Cadillac, GM, and Chrysler engines. Designing a big new tank to match the Tiger would possibly have posed a problem in trying to find a major increase in the size and reliability of drivetrains. This was a problem faced by the German commanders, when the Tiger proposal was offered up .. with Porsche actually offering a diesel electric unit to get around the drivetrain problem.
The other factor was .. what facilities were readily available and could be immediately turned over to war production .. hence the use of car and railroad factories for tank production. It was all about turning out vast numbers in a short time .. as the demand was not only from the U.S. Military .. but from all those Allied countries involved in the conflict, too .. Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand .. were all in desperate need of armaments, and took delivery of as many as they could get in the shortest possible time. Changing designs on a major scale, mid-war, could have been a big setback in production .. the best option was incremental gains on a proven design.
The engine factor is one area where it was not recognised by military chiefs, that gasoline was such a deadly fuel to use. The overriding instructions of U.S. military commanders was that ALL front line equipment had to be a single fuel, to eliminate planning disasters caused by the wrong fuel being in the wrong place at the wrong time .. and that fuel was gasoline.
Australia's military chiefs recognised that the GM diesel provided a worthwhile option to U.S. military thinking, as .. not only was it already a military standard engine in shipping, but it offered two major advantages .. in that, it was extremely fuel efficient as compared to the gasoline engines .. and it offered more crew protection, by the virtue of diesel being far less volatile, and therefore less likely to explode like gasoline, when seriously hit. Also, diesel was required as a front line fuel for most landing craft, and earthmoving equipment .. so gasoline was not given the overwhelming priority by Australian military chiefs, that it was, by U.S. commanders.
Accordingly, a large proportion of Australian delivery Shermans were GM diesel powered, and they proved highly valuable in the conditions under which they were used, in the S.W. Pacific region.
The most numerous tank the Germans used in 1940 was the PzKpfw II, with a 20mm autocannon for it's main armament. The "best" tank the Germans fielded at that time was the PzKpfw III with either a 37mm high velocity gun or a 50mm medium velocity gun, and 30mm armor on most models (early ones had only 15mm). The Pz IV of the day had only a 75mm low-velocity howitzer and 30mm armor.
By comparison, the allied tanks were monsters. The The French Char D had a 47mm low velocity gun and 40mm armor. The Somua S35 had a 47mm medium velocity gun and 55mm armor. The Char B1 bis had 47mm medium velocity gun and a 75mm low velocity howitzer, with 60mm armor. Last but not least, the British Matilda II had a 40mm high velocity gun and 80mm armor. The only German anti-tank weapons of the day that were effective agaisnt the frontal armor of the Matilda II and Char B1 were the 88mm AA guns.
The secret to blitzkreig were mass, speed, initiative, and communication overcomming brute power. Heavy tanks are primarily effective for head to head slugging matches, while large numbers of nimble medium tanks are better for blitzkreig-style breakthroughs. The Panther combined both speed and power, but by the time it was fielded, German military leadership had settled into a toe to toe slugging match style of fighting, limiting it's effectiveness.
The Sherman won because it's huge numbers gave the Allies mass, and the Allies had the initiative to make that mass count. It could be argued that the Allies learned blitzkreig from the Germans, but the Germans forgot it.
Messenger.C, 1989, World War Two Chronological Atlas, Bloomsbury, Soho Sqr, London, U.K
http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTFfirstname.lastname@example.org&rnum=1&prev=/groups?q=g:thl3576575243d&dq=&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTFemail@example.com 2) The posters here do not seem to understand the complexity of combined arms warfare in WWII. Here is a link to the attack on Eisenborn Ridge by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge http://rhino.shef.ac.uk:3001/mr-home/bulge/7-8_6.html. The German armored attack, including Tigers and Panthers, was obliterated. Sure the Germans had superior tanks, but the allies had superior observation, superior TDs, superior artillery and ammunition supplies, and in this case, superior communication and tactics. The US army conducted operational research to find the best ways to fight, and overall they did a good job, although inevitably some mistakes were made. If the war had gone longer, the Pershing would have given the US superiority in the last remaining area where they had technical weakness.
The bottom line:Quantity ovr Quality
Yes the Sherman started off with a Wright engine, but by the time the Sherman went to war in European theater most of the M4s being used in the American service were equiped with a very reliable and somewhat quiter engine then the Germans armor. The Wright engine was replaced by a Ford engine. Where the German engines developed oil leaks, over heating and so on the Sherman's Ford engine seemed to run for ever in what ever condition.
I have to clear up a post I made earlier. I claimed that the German armor ran on diesl engines I was wrong about that. They too used gasoline.
The weakness of the Sherman came down to one factor. It was thined skined. in comparison to a Panther it had a maximum of 75mm of armor compared to the Panther's 100 mm.
Though the army did take steps to solve this problem.
1> The army adopted a more powertul gun. the up the gun from a 75mm gun to a 76mm gun.
2> introduced new ammo. They brought out the "hypershot" rounds. they used a tungston corped round fired at a higher velocity (HVAP)
3> The Army issued orders for the Sherman Jumbo to be field produced. they wanted to get at least one in every platoon.
4> Finally they ordered the Pershing to be shipped to Europe
Though the problem with all these solutions is that they all came late in the war. The HVAP round in conjunction with the 76mm gun became a deadly combination. It could penatrate the armor of the Panther at a decent range and have a good chance of knocking out Tigers and King Tigers. The problem was both the gun and ammo were slow into getting into the tank service. It seems the Tank Destroyers had the priority on both. This was a matter of doctrine. That has been discoused many times here. The US Army seen tanks as weapons to exploit the lines. Sort of a modern cavelry column, and the tank destroyer was to be used on mass to stop enamy armor. That is the primary reason the TD units got the guns and ammo. doctrine. The Jumbo sort of feel into the role of being used to stop the Panther and Tiger. They were origannly designed to be used as assault tamks on the enamy fortifecations alont the main german lines of defence. When these lines didn't prove as hard to crack as thought the "Jumbos" were redeployed. The problem here was that most of them still carried the 75mm gun, and had to be upguned in the field when the 76mm guns became avalible (usually taken from knocked out Shermans that carried the 76mm gun). The Pershings were shiped really to late to be of any real use. The biggest contribution they made was the taking of the Remogan bridge. Ten of them were involved in the battle. There just wasn't enough of them.
All the solutions mentioned above were reactions to the Tigers, King Tigers and the Panthers, but if you look back toward the states we could have gotten the problems solved sooner. We had a good force of modern tanks ready for production. The T20 series was ready for production, in fact 250 were produced before production was halted in favor of the Pershing. The T20's would have been a very reliable replacement for the Shermans and they could have been in the field by D-day if they would have been allowed to be produced. They were actually going to be designated the M27. They had a lower hull then the sherman, better suspension, better transmition and the same Ford engine. But again the Army didn't persue the T20's becasue it would have meant braking the production run of ther Sherman. Another tank that was ready for production and that was not produced in large numbers was the M6 Supertank. It was designed at the same time as the tiger with the same job in mind over coming the enamies defences. IT was nearly identical to the tiger in weight, size, speed and armor. The biggest drawback it had was that it mounted a modified 3 inch gun. but again with HVAP in tests it proved it could have faced down the Tiger and been a good chance of taking the King Tiger. The reason it wasn't produced in numbers was becasue Ordenance said they could ship two Shermaans in the space it took to ship the M6. Again quantity won out Another thing to mention about the M6 was that it was tested with a 105mm gun that proved that it could even face down the Soviet JS series tanks. The results of the test were based on firing the gun with HVAP rounds.
In conclusion it wasn't that the Americans didn't have better tank, becasue they did. It came down to three simple facts.
2> Shipping concearsn
3> the need to keep a solid production run going.
Once the army realized that the Shermans were out matched they did take steps, but the point of this argument is even though the steps were some what sucessful, the need for them could have been avoided if The M6 and the T20s (M27) would ahve been allowed to be produced and shipped.
Though the situation is they really couldn't have been produced, becasue the demand for the Sherman from all the allies were to high and the fact that the Americans would have never allowed the M6 or the T20 to be lend-leased. So the choice was to was continue the production of the M4.
It wasn't that the Americans didn't have a better tank, becasuse they did: it was because the needs of the allies and the doctrine used by the army were used to rule down the production of more modern tanks. The Sherman was a victem of its own reliabitly, flixabilty and ease of production.
If anything, the arms race between Russia and Germany regarding the procurement, development and use of increasingly heavily armed and armored tanks is the problem. Not a careless disregard by American planners.
The development of the M4 series of tank reflected the pre-war vision of US (and Germany) armored doctrine. The M4 was fast, mobile, reliable and had a gun which uses powerful HE ammunition. Characteristics suited to the armored doctrine envisioned.
While the US was involved in North Africa, the M3 and M4 was a match for any German tank. The difference was in part due to the training. Green US troops were often no match for equally equipped well trained and experienced Germans.
Enter the Russians. The early war Russian tanks were about equal, overall the their German counterparts. Again the difference was in the training. Inadequately trained conscripts were no match for the highly trained panzertruppen. However, even the Germans had difficulty with some models of Russian tank, namely the KV-series. Few German weapons could take out these heavily armored beasts, luckily the reliability of the KVs, and the poor crew quality was a help the the Germans. Never-the-less, the Germans continually upgraded the armor and armament of the main battle tank, the PZ III. In response, the Russians introducted the T-34 which is fast, fairly well armored and boasted a large gun. In terms of tank development, the Germans early in the war were playing catch up while the Russians had probably the best tank design going. Again, the difference was the training. In response to the T-34, the Germans upgunned the Pz IV form a short 75mm gun to a high velocity 75mm gun and developed the Panther which was first used at Kursk in mid 1943. With both tanks, the KVs and T-34s were no match for German armor.
In contrast, up to this point the Americans had never even seen a Panther yet, even if they did, there would have been too few to make an impact as most were needed in Russia. And the M4 tanks could still take on the Mk IIIs and IVs, under good conditions. Therefore there was as of yet no need for a heavier tank design. Furthermore, when used in its intended role, the M4 was as good as anything.
By the time of D-day little has changed. The US armored forces while still struggling against the Pz IV, could still deal with them and few Panthers were encountered. It is not until after D-day that American Armor began facing the Panther in greater numbers. However, large scale armored battles in the ETO were rare and an American tank was more likely to be taken out by an AT gun, Artillery, mines or infantry with Panzerfausts or Panzerschrecks, than they were to be destroyed by an enemy tank. Even so, the largest tank battle in the ETO between Americans and Germans found the Germans descisively beaten having lost something like well over 100 tanks (mostly Panthers) and SP guns to 7 lost M4s. And the numbers involved on both sides were fairly equal.
Why not the T-34. Well for several reasons. First, the 76mm gun on the T-34 was LESS powerful that the M3 75mm gun on the M4. Russians sources often downplay the usefullness of lend lease armor. However the way in which they used it is mute testimony to the real view of the M4 by the Russians. The vast majority of M4s provided by lend lease went in to the Russian Guards armored formations. Another reason why not the T-34 is that all current tooling and production facilities in the US would be completely redone in order to produce it. Russian manufacturing couldn't keep up with its own requirements for tanks. Only by lend lease and sacrificing its own production of all other motorized transport in favor of the T-34, were the Russians able to keep its tank units supplied with armor.
The T-34, while a very good tank, almost revolutionary in some regards, it was not as good in some respects to other allied tanks. Its systems operation life was measured in hours instead of weeks or months. Without considering battle damage, you could expect to replace the engine, tracks, bearings etc on a T-34 after a few weeks of hard service. Its crew compartments were small and cramped causing increased fatigue among their crew. The early models required the Commander act as the gunner due to the turret configuration.
By the time the US realized that it could benefit from a better tank design, it was already too late and as it was, many people, including Patton argued strongly against a tank with better AT capability saying that a gun with a good HE round was more valuable. Even if the Pershing was rushed into production, there would have been too few too late to have an impact.
If the M4 was such a poor design, then why was it, or modified version of it used well into the 70s when all German armor was relegated to scrap?
BTW, German tanks used gasoline, not diesel.
Thanks Ramble over
- The fuel for those tanks also had to be transported and a sherman used alot less petrol than a heavy tank.
To compensate for the Shermans limitations the US Military copied the german combined arms tactics of close air support, artillary, tanks and armoured infantry to great success. If you research the ww2 German soldiers reaction to US Airpower most were amazed by the US Air Power and the devistation caused on their armoured forces(Most of the German Veterans still tremble and shake to this day,over 50 years later, rembering the effect). Fortunately for the US Army most German tanks that were identified were knocked out by American or British Fighters that ,if weather permitted, were available. Small consolation to the Sherman Tanker who still had to occasionally face a panther or Mark IV medium tank wich was more likely given the small number of Tiger Tanks available. A veteran sherman tank crew used the woods to get around a german tanks flanks to get at his softer sides or rear. The heavier long barreled german tanks played heck at this.
US Armored formations in Europe kept up a 94% strength average even with losses to such superior German tanks.
If one understands the spiral of tank design - larger gun size requires larger turret size - requires larger armor weight - requires larger engine - requires more fuel.
Because of this every country focused on special AT tanks versus battle tanks. For the Americans these were TDs (Tank Destroyers) and for the German Panzerjaeger (Tank hunters)
Only with improvement in armor ptotection to weight, engine power to weight and specialized proejectiles did tanks achive the universal "all in one" status.
During WWII Eisenhower himself and the vast majority of the armored commanders in the field were against issuing the new Pershing tank until the German counter offensives then it was sent in as an emergency measure.
US Tanks outnumbered German tanks by 6:1 with a vast production edge. US Tank doctrine was to break into the enemy rear and rip out his logistical guts. Patton, who made the great exploitation drive accross France said it this way. "You hold em by the nose and kick them in the butt"
Patton had to stop his drive due to fuel. That same drive with Pershings would have moved 20% slower and only reached 80% before the same fuel supply was exhausted.
If the logic of armored warfare is that smaller tanks are always worse then the allies could never have brken out of Nomrandy in the first place. The Germna had their Tigers their but with 8th bomber suport nd fighter bombers the Shermans broke out anyway and created the huge engulfment of those same superior German tanks in the falaise pocket
Remember that the German initially overan Poland with tanks that ounted no more than MGs. What was critical about these tank units was their ability t move 110 KLMs a day with less than 5% brekdowns that were repiared on the spot by the support troops. Most tnaks of other countries were superior tank v tank weapons but could not sustain that kind of distances without break downs and had no organized logitical support to keep them in combat shape if they did.
US Tank warfre was not tank versus tank warfare. It was part of a combined arms approach.
Note that while the SHerman remained the mainstay, the Stuart Recce still played a heavy role as a fast and far moving tank. The Chafee, became a superb tank when it when into service yet, in some ways, was inferior to even the Sherman.
German Tigers and "Konigs" tigers are often classified as superb "defensive" tanks. Consider the inherent oxymoran in that. Most of those same tanks had to be abandoned in the Bulge because they had no gas to retreat. (Falaise, Bulge) Germany Tiger ACE was killed at night in his tank by a Typhoon firing 4" rockets dwn at the soft reardeack armor. Fighter bombers destroyed most of these heavy tanks whenver they tried to move.
Place a tank like that at the arrow point of a US logistical system that had to reach 3000 miles for supply and the result would be disaterous.
The Shermans developed many excellent fetures. Wet ammo storage reduce fire hazards. Engine abilities improved. The orginal hull became a dropped forged piece. A gyrostabilizer gave it excellent "fire on the move" abiliies. It never really developed a high penetrating gun for AT encouters.
Realize also that from D-Day forward the vast number of armored crew replacement were infantry replacement who gt oy a few days training at best. Brave as they were these men could not even use the capabilites the Sherman had yet alone take advantage of its improvements. So while the tank imporved greatly, the crews became greener and greener.
IN other words the big issue here is not just the ability of the "weapon" but the numbers in productions and the logistical net that supports it and the men who fight in it. With all these issues having the same limitatins the Sherman itself cannot be pointed to for its weaknesses so much as what is accomplished. It gave the US an overwhelming number of viable if not superior armored units that could be kept at high strength and could be sufficiently logisitcally supported as to ensure victory.
The Sherman tank was War winner no matter what anyone says. If you wanted to save the thousands of lives of the men who crewed them you could have started with a much higher proportion of armored crew training in the US so that infantry would not end up being substituted as replacements.
The is an expression that fair soldiers study tactics, good soldiers study strategy and great soldiers study logisitics. That is how one should asses the Sherman in WWII
To say that the comparison between the Sherman and the Tigers is unfair because one is a medium tank and the other is a heavy tank misses the point. The saying is "don't bring a knife to a gun fight" and in this case don't bring an M-4 Sherman to a tank fight.
Also, it was not just the American tanks that were inferior, the US Army was still using tanks like WW I in support of infantry. By the late 1930s, the German General Staff knew the real reason to have a tank is to fight other tanks.
The greatest enemy of a tank, is another tank - Guderian, Achtung! Panzer! 1937. That said and perfectly clear doesn't negate TANK DESTROYERS from the equation. As the Germans found out with their combat in Poland. The Panzer III was designed with a high velocity weapon designed to destroy enemy tanks while the Panzer IV had a low velocity 75mm cannon designed to destroy bunkers and strong points. The Germans soon realised both had to be able to handle everything from infantry to tanks.
The Sherman could handle everything but the heaviest of German tanks. What to do when your tanks are being destroyed by the German heavies? Design a new tank? No! Design a tank destroyer on the Tank chassis, enter M10, M36, M18 etc. etc.
The Sherman was a good tank, when an American armoured battalion met a Schwere Panzer Abeiltung you can't blame them for being destroyed when its heavy vs. medium. Does this mean when a Tank Hunter Platoon full of M36 Sluggers meets a Panzer Recce full of Pz. III Ausf Js and obliterates them that German tanks are crap?
There are a number of excellent books that provide a broader view of the true value of various tanks during WWII. Reading these books will give you a real surprise.
One of the best is "Sledgehammers" by Christopher Wilbeck, which is a thorough review of the available data on the operational history of German Tiger I and II tanks. The surprise conclusion from this book is that although the Tigers were exceptionally lethal in tank vs. tank combat (achieving direct kill ratios of 12:1 in many cases), they were greatly hampered by their mechanical unreliability, massive weight and immobility (they could not cross most bridges, and needed to be transported to the battleefield by train since they would break down if they were driven for any great distance), short combat radius, and very small numbers (only 1,348 Tiger Is and 489 Tiger Is were ever produced). Large numbers ended up abandoned and destroyed by their crews when they either ran out of gas or suffered some repairable breakdown, more than were destroyed by Allied tanks.
There is also an excellent quote in the book from Gen. George C. Marshall that pretty much sums up the rationale for the U.S. Army's use of a combination of the M4 Shermans and the lightly armored tank destroyers:
"From the summer of 1943 to the spring of 1945 the German Tiger and Panther tanks outmatched our Sherman tanks in direct combat. This stemmed largely from different concepts of armored warfare held by us and the Germans, and the radical difference in our approach to the battlefield. Our tanks had to be shipped thousands of miles overseas and landed on hostile shore amphibiously. They had to be able to cross innumerable rivers on temporary bridges, since when we attacked we sought to destroy the permanent bridges behind the enemy lines from the air. Those that our planes missed were destroyed by the enemy when he retreated. Therefore our tanks could not well be of the heavy type. We designed our armor as a weapon of exploitation. In other words, we desired to use our tanks in long-range thrusts deep into the enemy's rear where they cold chew up his supply installations and communications. This required great endurance - low consumption of gasoline and ability to move great distances without breakdown."
A book by Dmitriy Loza "Commanding the Red Army's Sherman Tanks" gives some invaluable insights as to the pros and cons of the Sherman vs. the T34 and German tanks. Loza points out that although the T34 armor was better sloped and thicker, the steel was of inferior quality and tended to spall, which would kill the crew.
In "Germany's Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy" Thomas Jentz gives actual ballistics tests done by the Germans in Oct 1944, comparing the Sherman A2 (75mm) and A4 (76mm) and Firefly (17 pounder) vs. the Panther, and also the T34/85 vs. the Panther, and JSII 122mm vs. the Panther. The Sherman A4 was actually slightly more effective in both armor protection and firepower compared to the T34/85. The JSII turns out to be only somewhat more effective than the A4. The Sherman 17 pounder (British Firefly) firing the tungsten sabot round was actually superior to the JSII 122mm gun in firepower.
(Russian cannons had to be of a larger caliber than their German or American counterparts to get the same effectiveness because of inferior manufacturing - they were unable to make their gun tubes of high enough quality to generate the high pressures needed to produce a high velocity projectile).
Jentz's Panther book points out the severe problems with mechanical breakdowns that plagued the Panther. A graph on p. 152 gives the revealing statistic that the maximum number of operational Panthers on the Western front was only 336 out of 471 total available (Dec 15, 1944, right before the start of the Battle of the Bulge).
Both the Panthers and Tigers had design/manufacturing defects in their fuel system that resulted in constant leaks of gasoline fuel, and they could spontaneously catch fire. Yet, they never got the derisive nickname of "Ronson" that the Shermans did. A number of accounts I have read describe how the seemingly invincible Tigers could be knocked out with phosphorus rounds - the phosphorus would stick to the outside of the Tigers and burn continuously and if they got into the engine compartment, they could start a fire (in "Deathtraps" Cooper describes how two Tiger IIs were abandoned, intact, by their crews after being struck by phosphorus rounds fired from a Sherman tank - he attributes this to the noxious gases produced by the burning phosphorus - I think it was more likely the fear of being burned to death inside the Tiger).
The problems with the Sherman had to do more with the lack of crew training. Mortality in the tank crews was very high, and as pointed out by Belton Cooper in his book, the U.S. Army closed their tank training school, so that tank crews were taken from the infantry and trained in the field, usually by the maintenance crews.
As it turns out, although we have this concept of tanks as being the hard spearpoint of blitzkrieg warfare, the rapid evolution of weaponry in WWII resulted in a variety of ways to stop or destroy advancing tanks. Tanks can be easily destroyed by mines, artillery (firing both upwards and directly), aircraft, and hand held infantry rockets. As Belton Cooper himself points out, a German panzerschrek could penetrate the frontal armor of a Tiger II. The development of the shaped charge explosive warhead has forever made tank armor vulnerable. This is true even today, where the depleted uranium and Chobham and explosive reactive armors can all be defeated by shaped charge warheads (these are larger, and in tandem, compared to the WWII versions).
Because of this, the loss rate of tanks from combat was very high on all sides. This was even true of the heavily armored Tiger tanks. Tiger ace Michael Wittman's famous attack at Bocage-Villers is often recounted as an example of the superiority of the Tiger tank. And yet, as Wilbeck points out in "Sledgehammers", although the battle did temporarily halt the British advance and take an appalling toll on their tanks, by the end of the day, Wittman's entire unit had been knocked out and was combat ineffective whereas the British tanks were quickly replaced. Wittman would eventually be killed in another attack on the Caen-Falaise road in which he charged into battle against some 900 Allied tanks with only some 50 on his side. Although some say that his tank was hit by a rocket firing aircraft, Wilbeck believes it more likely that a British Firefly fired the fatal shot.
As accounts of these failures show, the far more important important factor in tank warfare during WWII was NUMBERS. The Sherman tank was designed to be mass produced, like cars, and indeed it was mostly produced by car manufacturers. Some 55,000 were eventually produced. This compares with only 8,485 of the PzKpfw IV, and the low numbers for the Panthers and Tigers.
People forget that the main reason that the US never had a heavy tank in greater numbers in WWII was that the war in Europe ended before the M26 could be deployed in greater numbers. For all of its flaws, this has to say something about the overall effectiveness of the U.S. Army with the Sherman tank and tank destroyers.
The question, why couldn't America built better tanks, is a little like, when did you stop beating your wife; it presupposes a conclusion. That is: the American tank (specifically the M4 Sherman) was inferior to their German counterparts. I believe that is an erroneous conclusion. Certainly the German Panthers and Tigers would be favored in a one on one engagement with an M4. That is if the German tank could even get to the battle site. With its logistic, maintenance and mobility handicaps, the German vehicles were much more unlikely to get to the battlefield than the much more reliable and transportable M4. Like that famous tactical thinker, Woody Allen, once said, "90% of life is just showing up". The Panthers and Tigers rarely showed up. However, when they did they did over-match the relatively thin-skinned M4 in small unit encounters. However, the US Army's overall strategy and tactics proved to be effective against the German Army despite the inferior tactical traits of M4 in individual combat. At the opening battle of the Falaise Gap during August 6-7, 1944 the 2nd SS Panzer Division fielded some 200 tanks (including many Panthers and Tigers) against the US Army's 30th Infantry Division. According to John Keegan, the American unit, "coolly dug in on high ground, called forward the divisional tank-destroyer battalion equipped with assault-gun-type weapons, which destroyed fourteen tanks, and waited for daylight and better weather conditions to bring out the tactical aircraft which would wreak even greater damage." So the might of an elite German armored unit was blunted and ultimately destroyed by on US Army infantry unit using the combined arms tactics of WWII. By the end of the battle the Germans would lose over 100,000 soldiers and 13,000 vehicles, many of the vehicles lost due to mechanical and logistics short-comings. This and other war-winning encounters was achieved by American combined arms strategy despite the tactical inferiority of the M4
As the results of the war conclusively demonstrate, the strategic decision to stay with the M4, although in some cases tactically inferior to its German counterpart, was the right decision.
To answer the original question who is to balme...., according thier own memoirs, the US Generals did not realize how badly out-classed the Sherman tank was until after the Normandy landings, then they started asking for a beter tank (keep in mind that the war ended 11 months after D-Day). considering the time required for R&D, production scale-up and delivery of a new weapons system, receiving 200 Pershings in January 1945 was a quick response.
Who was the blame? Patton, Bradley, and the other field commanders for not comprehending the significance of the appearence of the Tiger in North Aferica and reporting it to Eisenhower. Eisenhower's actions were based upon the input that he received from his command. (the Memoirs of the various officers in command at the time)
Also note that at the beginning of WWII, the US doctrine was to use light (M3/M5)as the primary fighting tanks and the medium tank was to bring up the rear if the enemy was found in significnt strength. The US army paid dearly for that mistake at the battle at Kassreine Pass. The lessons learned from that battle led to major changes in the equipment used by the US including reassignment of the light tank from a primary combantant role to a scouting role and the medium tank as primary combantant role. That changed the whole armor doctrine, development strategy, and the production quotas on medium tanks. In short, after North Aferica the US had to re-think and recreate its combat doctrine, then revise what equipment requiremnets for subsequent fighting.
2. "Shermans played a big role in WWII" OK, if you say so, but I don't know how or when. The day that an M-4 was important I have not heard about. I know that they were there and they took a lot of hits and people got hurt, but the P-47 was our tank killer, not the M-4. Can you imagine the radio call that went like "Hey, we are in trouble, the Gerries have us in the corner, SEND IN THE M-4 SHERMANS!"
3. The Navy made lots of expensive blimps, none of which ever sank a submarine, but at tremendous cost. If the Sherman was good, maybe the Navy blimps were too. "If it feels good, build it!"
The American army wanted a tank that was reasonably well armed and armored but most of all highly mobile-the M-4 Sherman-for its breakthrough role. In 1942 this was as good a tank (barring the T-34) as existed, by 1944 it was completely outclassed by its opponents.
The 'tank' was not to fight other tanks, following Fuller's theory, so the American army created and equipped a second force, tank destroyers, that were very lightly armored but with a heavier gun. Their job would be to move to an enemy breakthrough and destroy it i.e. fighting enemy tanks with TDs.
By '44 the short comings of the Sherman's gun were obvious to almost everyone except our generals. The Brits had developed a new turret for the Sherman mounting a 17pdr gun that could put finis to any German tank. We (source: Eisenhower's Lieutenants) were offered 150 such guns to reequip some of our tanks, the offer was rejected. McNair offering to have as many as 300 M-26s available for the invasion was told no by the army high command in England. They wanted lots of Shermans for the breakthroughs.
Another short coming of the Sherman was its gasoline engine. It's been said that this was retained for logistic reasons but we were the logistic genius' during the war while the Russian's not so adapt in this area used diesel from the outset. We lost 5000+ Shermans in the ETO.
After the war Eisenhower (about the Sherman) said, "Goddamn it I was lied to." An answer you would never have gotten from Wellington I can promise you.
Fighter planes are made out of mostly aluminum, not steel. In order to win any war, ground troops have to hold the ground. Simply wiping out the enemy with airplanes doesn't mean that you have gained control of the disputed territory. Tanks are absolutely vital to help the infantry overcome the remaining enemy soldiers. The Sherman was a terrific infantry support weapon. Having tanks available for the Allied ground troops to overcome enemy infantry armed with machine guns and artillery usually meant the difference between heavy casualties vs. easily wiping out the enemy positions.
There are lots of books that describe the terrific job of infantry support done by the Sherman tank. A couple of excellent books that describe the role of US tanks:Steel Victory by Harry Yeide, and "United States Tanks of World War II" By George Forty. Mundane stuff, using a tank to wipe out a machine gun nest or \blow away a sniper, or knocking out a mortar or artillery position. But very, very important to the infantry, to try to destroy these same enemies with just infantry would usually mean much higher casualties.
Most of the European conflict in fact was infantry combat. Allied troops could not have won without the firepower of the Sherman tanks.
The Sherman tank was designed originally as an infantry support weapon - its 75mm gun was a relatively low velocity gun that had an excellent high explosive round that was designed to kill infantry. The later 76mm gun installed on the Sherman did not have as good of a high explosive round, which was why Shermans with the 75mm gun continued to be issued for the duration of WWII. .
George Forty's book describes one of the few M-26 vs Tiger tank encounters known to history. Basically, the M-26 caught the Tiger as it was rising up out of its defilade position and hit the Tiger in the belly. Forty states in his book that the M-26 was the equal of the Tiger I in armor and firepower.
However, by all accounts that I have read, the 90mm gun installed on the M-26 tanks that saw action in WWII (the gun was later upgraded) was INFERIOR to the high velocity 75mm gun of the Panther and the 88mm gun of the Tiger II (the Tiger II had a higher velocity 88mm gun than the Tiger I).
The Pershing's initial 90mm gun was relatively low velocity, considering that it was supposed to be mainly an anti-tank weapon. The Pershing had decent (for 1944) frontal armor, but could still be penetrated in the front by the powerful guns of the Panther and Tiger tanks. Like the Panther and Tiger I tanks, its side and rear armor were relatively weak.
However, all US tanks (Pershing and Shermans) had additional advantages - they had power traverse in the turret, and gyro stabilized guns, and so could usually get off the first shot. In most tank to tank fights, if you have a gun that can penetrate the armor of your opponent, getting off the first shot will win the fight.
A big problem is that vision in all tanks is always very limited, and so it is possible to easily ambush just about ANY tank. Thus, getting off the first shot is often just a matter of luck as to who spots who first.
Remember that a huge number of the Allied tanks that were lost were destroyed not by German tanks, but by infantry weapons. The Germans manufactured literally millions of rounds of the Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck infantry rockets. The shaped charge explosive warhead of the Panzershreck could penetrate the frontal armor of the Tiger II, one of the most heavily armored tanks of WWII. So the fact that the Pershing tank had more armor than the Sherman certainly made it more survivable in a fight, and its more powerful 90mm gun made it more effective in tank to tank combat, but very likely, had more of the Pershings fought for longer in WWII, a good number of them would also have been destroyed.
OK, everybody, once and for all, let's lay to rest this stuff about "US tanks of WWII were bad because they used gasoline engines and gasoline engines are bad". Gasoline engines were used not only in American tanks (including the Pershing), but in British and German tanks as well! Only the Russians had all-diesel engined tanks. The Panther and Tiger tanks had Maybach engines that were adapted from aircraft engines and so used gasoline. The British adapted the superb Merlin aircraft engine to put into their tanks. The Sherman tank's Wright radial engine was also originally an aircraft engine. So gasoline was used by three out of the four major tank armies in Europe because their tanks were using high performance aircraft engines. The reason for using aircraft engines was the higher power to weight ratios of the aircraft engine vs. a diesel engine.
"McNair offering to have as many as 300 M-26s available for the invasion was told no by the army high command in England. They wanted lots of Shermans for the breakthroughs."
au contraire - McNair was the head of Army Ground Forces which was the main organization that opposed the development of what became the M26 Pershing. Since McNair was killed while on a site visit to the Normandy beachhead (by friendly fire - an effort to break out of the Normandy beachhead with a massive US bombing raid went astray), it's not entirely clear what his role was in the Sherman tank vs Pershing tank debacle - but Steven Zaloga in his books about the Sherman tank blames McNair for the AGF doctrine of relying on tank destroyers and artillery to destroy enemy tanks. George Forty, in his book, names Lt. Gen. Hugh Drum, commader of the First Army and the Eastern Defense Command, as one of the prime instigators of the tank destroyer concept.
The tank destroyer forces did indeed succeed in destroying a large number of German tanks. The M18 Hellcat was particularly effective, and was capable of taking on the Panthers and Tiger tanks. Although it only had a 76mm gun similar to the 76mm Sherman, it could reach speeds of up to 55mph and could flank the German tanks faster than they could traverse their turrets, unlike the Shermans or the M10 and M36 tank destroyers, and so it could get off a shot at the sides or rear of the Panther/Tigers. The M10 and M36 tank destroyers were effective mainly in ambush situations. The main problem with all of the tank destroyers was that even though they did destroy German tanks, their open top turrets and thin armor made for high crew casualties from enemy fire, whether from tanks, artillery, mortars, infantry attack, you name it.
2) The major supporter of the Tank Destroyer program (Gen. McNair who among other things was in charge of tank development programs) felt that the Sherman was adequate for the job if supported by Tank Destroyers. As a result he delayed the programs that resulted in the Pershing.
3) The Allied commanders in the field did not realize how out classed the Sherman was until the hedgerow fighting that occurred during the breakout from the Normandy invasion. Within 6 months after they realized that the Sherman was outcalssed, the Pershing was in the field. . . most of the tank vs. tank fighting Including the battle of the bulge) was over by then.
4) We have to remember that WWII was the place where the first theroies of mechanized warfare were tested: -The Sherman was designed for a different role than it was placed into after it entered combat. It wasn't designed to be a "tank killer". -The logistics of getting supplies to the right place at the right time was a new challenge with mechanized warfare. A concern was that mixing gasoline and disesel fuel tankers could result in delivering the wrong type of fuel to the front lines, which could have devastating results in a combat situation. -The concept of the "Combined Arms" assult was a new idea that could only be successful with the advent of good radio communications. - Prior to WWII the mobile forces used were primarily horse mounted calvary. In 1939, the Germans showed the world how an armor assult should be made. The rest of the world (including the US) had to scramble to catch up in military doctrine which had a major impact on weapon systems design.
5) Gasoiline engines: after the war started, it was realized that gasoline was a bad idea on the battlefield, however the logistics of converting so many vehicles and the risk of mixing fuel in a combat situation was too high to allow that type of conversion in the middle of a war.
6) Overall the United States Sherman was an excellent tank. Mechanically, it was the most reliable tank in the war (far more so than any of the German equipment). The Sherman was easily maintained, it could be repaired and placed back into service faster than any other tank in WWII. The longevity of service after the war also indicates the quality of the Sherman. The Sherman was an excellent tank.
7) The 75mm gun was not designed for dueling with other tanks. However, the high velocity US 76mm gun could penetrate German armor. Shermans were not proveded with these guns until after the Normandy breakout because the need for the upgrade was not realized until the hedgerow fighting had begun. - (The gun issue is a discussion topic of its own)
8) The comment regarding tanks vs. airplanes. Just remember that a war is won by an infantryman who "places his flag" on the objective. EVERYTHING else is just a tool to help him get there. There is a long list of excellent tools (both Allied and Axis) that assisted the infantryman, the Sherman tank is on that list.
9) Keep in mind that the Sherman was an excellent tank, but the most "decisive" tank of WWII was clearly the USSR T-34.
10) Technologically the "best" tank in the war in my opinion is a toss up between the Tiger and the M-26 Pershing. Appearantly the a Pershing tank met a Tiger at least once, but there were not enough 1:1 duels to really determine which was best in combat. If I had to vote, I would choose the Peshing based upon its performance in Korea against the T-34/85.
With total air cover, anything is possible in a war against conventional forces like the Wehrmacht.
Air cover allowed the US Army to move forward in spite of the distraction of burning and exploding Sherman tanks along the way.
Hitler even waited to launch the "Battle of the Bulge" until his weatherman could assure him at least a few days of bad weather so that his Panzers would not be eliminated by P51D "tank killers". Good thinking Adolf, but the sky cleared and that was the end of that battle.
Another example of how bad things are without air cover was the fighting in the Hurtgen Forest. It is lucky that that battle is not still going on.
I think we should have sent all the Shermans to Russia, and let the Russians try their luck with all of that "tank and infantry stuff" against the Germans. (Which is kind of they way it went and explains why the Russians lost two million casualities during the last year of the war.)
If we never made the Sherman, we would have had more assets to manufacture and man fighter (not bomber)aircraft as well as have more troops to march along under the air cover.
In Korea, we had the equipment, but it was on the other side of the world and took too long to get it where it needed to be.
In South East Asia paid the price again by underestimating our enemy.
Air power does NOT win wars, never has, never will. It is the infantryman who places his flag on the objective that wins wars.... everything else is a tool (planes and tanks included) to help the ground units.
The Sherman was the perfect tank for explotation, but the Allied commanders knew nothing of the word. The German retreat after the disaster at the Falaise Gap was the perfect time for the Sherman to shine, but it did not because it was halted. The Armoured Divisions could have chased the Germans all the way back to Germany, even to Berlin, had they been ordered to keep up the pressure. If that had happened, the Sherman would be praised as the winner of World War 2. Due to the failure of the commanders, they are not.
German tanks were the superior force on the field, but the resources were wasted on other super weapons. Had Germany diverted its resources to tried and tested machines (Pz. kpfw IV, Pz. kpfw V, Pz. kpfw VI and StuGIII) then these machines could have held on. The Germans knew how to use tanks effectively, and they were the masters of warfare. From command to ground, they knew how to use one tank or one person to stop an armoured column. Even Allied generals realised that on approaching anywhere near equal terms in numbers, the Germans would come out on top. And this is not always to do with the tank, but the ability of the tank crew.
I'd advise anyone who tries to downplay the German tanks due to mechanical failures and fuel shortages, without looking at Soviet and Western tanks properly (in that same way) to cease. The German tanks were capable of reaching their battleground, and when their were the fear of every man on the field. Talk all you will about Germans abandoning tanks, but then look at archive photos of intact Shermans and VC Shermans in German markings, or the hundreds of Soviet tanks in German markings.
The M26 was an excellent all-round tank, it was almost on equal playing ground with the Tiger in a straight shooting match. However, it was a faster and more durable tank. And the M26E4 'Super Pershing' achieved a kill on a King Tiger at Dessau, although the shot was at the under-belly.
It was halted because someone (I forget his name) high in the US stated that the M26s 90mm cannon would make crews go off seeking enemy tanks to destroy, but that was the job of the tank destroyer...
Overall I think the U.S Armys tank arm was a good mix by 1945. MBT M4A3(76W)'Sherman'- HBT M26 'Pershing - GMC M36 'Jackson'.
You punch with the Pershing, and exploit with the Sherman...
As an addendum, I would like to offer the following for your consideration. Despite the impressions that the Tiger and Panther tanks, with all their acquired mystique, have left upon our collective minds, and in spite of the ongoing fascination with the German Panzers which still persists (and is more popular than ever), World War II was, for the vastly greater part, fought out as "warfare with tanks" rather than as "tank warfare".
Anyway, even today, the US Army is not great at building tanks.
The M1 Abrams, which you read in a lot of Internet discussions has been built up as the best tank in the world, has been characterized by tank experts as a "pretty good tank for the price". Faint praise indeed, sounds sort of like the Sherman and Pershing tanks, eh?
The US Army just does not seem to have the knack for building tanks or doing the research into new weapons technology, especially for tanks. The M1's 120mm smooth bore cannon, for instance, was designed by Rheinmetall of Germany (yep, the same company that built the guns for the Tigers and Panthers). The M1's much vaunted Chobham armor was developed by the British. Its often touted depleted uranium shells were first fielded by the Russians. So, NONE of the advanced war-making features of the M1 are American in origin.
When the US tried to build the MBT-70 tank in the 1970s, there were cost overruns and the tank had all these fancy but useless features like an adjustable suspension system that was too complicated to work well.
Historicallly, all the money, talent and brains in the US armed forces seems to flow to either the aerospace industry or to the Navy. The Army just does not seem to get enough weapons development research money to design, test, and implement promising new weapons technology.
The US B-29, the ultimate strategic bomber of WWII, a true super-weapon, cost an average of about $1 million each. About 4,000 were built. According to this website:
The first B-29 cost $3,392,396.60. Those coming off the production lines today cost approximately $600,000. A total of 157,000 man-hours were required to produce the first B-29's to roll off the line; those produced today require only 57,000 man-hours.
So you see, my comparison of the B-29 program with the Germans Tiger tank program is not too far off the mark. The B-29 program for the US was a huge cost, but the resulting weapon had an eaually huge, war-winning impact against Japan.
The hugely expensive Tiger tanks? Well, just look at what happened to them at the Battle of the Bulge. They never made it to the front lines of the German attack, then they ran out of gas at the end of the Battle of the Bulge.
The Germans were willing to spend a huge amount of their economic resources, therefore, to always have tank supremacy. Even at the end of the war, further tank improvements were in the works.
There would have definitely been a Panther II with the ultra-high velocity 88mm L71 gun of the Tiger II, as well as some increase in armor. There was an entirely new line of tanks, the E-series tanks, which was being planned (only the hull of the E-100, the heaviest in this series, was ever built).
And so, no matter what the US or Russians or British built in the way of tanks, the Germans were determined to top them and have the best tanks on the battlefield.
But so what? It would turn out that tanks, which held so much promise at the end of WWI as the ultimate assault weapons against heavily defended but static positions, had by the end of WWII become highly vulnerable to heavily defended static positions.
With the shaped charge warheads, high velocity tungsten sabot rounds, mines, aircraft rockets and cannon, artillery, you name it, armies now had a plethora of weapons to defeat tanks. One simply DID NOT NEED TANK SUPREMACY to defeat superior tanks, in other words.
And so, the Germans defeated themselves. They spent enormous sums to build the Panther and Tiger tanks. And what happened to them?
In January of 1945, the German Army finally ran out of fuel stores for its tanks. Both at the Battle of the Bulge on the Western Front and at the River Vistula on the Eastern Front, the superior Panther and Tiger tanks and the not too shabby latest model Pzkpfw IVs would RUN OUT OF GAS, and were either overrun or abandoned.
The single biggest difference in WWII was that the US and British developed long range strategic bombers and the Germans and Russians did not. And so while the Germans and Russians were slugging it out to the death on the steppes in endless massive tank battles, the US and British were cleverly spending their money on the true super weapons of WWII - the strategic bombers.
Between May and September 1944, Allied bombers destroyed Germany's synthetic fuel plants completely. Once these were gone, Germany (with few natural oil fields) rapidly became unable to field a modern mechanized army as its fuel stores were used up. Albert Hess (Nazi Minister of Production)himself said later that this was the single most important factor that hastened the defeat of Germany.
And so here's my answer to the question "Why didn't the US build better tanks in WWII?" :
1. The Germans were convinced of the need for tank supremacy and were willing to spend whatever it took to gain tank supremacy. They thought that by winning local battles that they would win the war. The huge costs of building supreme tanks left them with no resources for building other weapons such as strategic bombers.
2. The US and British realized that tanks could be defeated by means other than having superior tanks, and instead concentrated on building strategic bombers which, ultimately, did indeed win the war for them.
The Panthers and Tigers were very expensive and difficult to manufacture. They were made out of rolled and hardened steel plate that was carefully cut, mortised and hand welded together. They were really individually hand-built by craftsmen, like Roll-Royce cars. According to Thomas Jentz, even to the very end, the German Wermacht inspectors stayed true to the highest standards, and would refuse to accept substandard steel plate from the steel mills.
Wilbeck states in his book that the Tiger I was said to have cost 800,000 Reichmarks, which was equivalent to the weekly wages of 30,000 German workers, and required 300,000 man-hours to produce each one. The Tiger II presumably was even more expensive, but I have not seen any data for them.
I have found in another book that the Pzkpfw IV cost about 100,000 Reichmarks. Somewhere, I read that the Panther was about half the cost of a Tiger.
The M26 cost about $80,000, twice that of the M10 tank destroyer (slightly over $40,000). Have not seen figures for the Sherman, but probably closer to the M10 in price.
US tanks were all designed to be mass produced, like the Model T. The biggest savings in time, labor and money came from creating the molds to produce cast steel hulls and turrets. This most likely resulted in steel that was as not as strong as the rolled and hardened steel plate used on the Tigers and Panthers, but nobody in the US Army seemed to care. All US tanks through the M60 continued to use cast steel hulls and turrets.
Incidentally, that was why the Shermans and Pershings all had a rounded form - it was the molds. This was also how the M3 Grant tank came to be - the molds for the Sherman's cast turret had not been developed yet, but the hulls and drive train were - and so the hull was built up to take a 75mm cannon. It was only the extreme urgency of the need for a tank that produced the Grant tank.
The Tigers were very unreliable, and ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT drive themselves to the battlefield. The Panthers had similar mechanical problems but not as bad.
At the Battle of the Bulge, when the Germans were finally forced (because of lack of railroads) to drive their Tiger IIs to the battlefield, virtually NO Tigers made it to the battlefront. According to Christopher Wilbeck's "Sledgehammers" ( a great book that debunks the myth of the Tiger tanks), the Tiger IIs were too slow to keep up with the Pzkpfw IVs and Panther tanks, which made up the leading edge of the assault. There was also a horrendous mechanical breakdown rate, as the Germans left a trail of broken down Tiger IIs behind them (so much so that the final group of Tigers left was made up almost entirely of the most experienced and highest ranking tank group commanders - having taken over the still-functioning tanks of their lower ranking underlings). They still didn't make it to the front lines for the most part.
"...Since I was the oldest tank commander alive (not in age but in combat experience) in CO E 33rd Armored Regiment, ....I was given the opportunity of selecting a crew and attending school at Aachen, Germany, on the new M26 Gen. Pershing tank....Up to this time I had lost or been knocked out of seven M4 tanks, but had also knocked out twelve various German tanks and hundreds of other vehicles.
"...We were hit hard by the Germans from Elsdorf..... the Commanding Officer of our Company asked me if I thought I could knock the Tiger out that was almost destroying us. The Company Commander and I did some investigating, by crawling out to a position where we could see from ground level a sight to behold. The German Tiger was slightly dug in and this meant it would be more difficult to destroy. I decided that I could take this Tiger with my 90mm.
"Our M26 was in defilade position, more or less hidden in a little valley. I detailed my driver Cade and gunner Gormick to accompanyme on this mission. I would be gunner and have Gormick load. I instructed both of them that once we had fired three shots - two armor piercing and one HE point detonating - we would immediately back up so as not to expose ourselves too long on the top of the hill.
"Just as we started our tank and moved very slowly forward (creeping) I noticed that the German Tiger was moving out of the position and exposed his belly to us. I immediately put a shell into its belly and knocked it off. The second shot was fired at his track and knocked his right track off. The third shot was fired at the turret with HE point detonating and destroyed the escaping crew.
Mashlonik then goes on and describes how he later encounterd three other German AFV's, two of which were Pzkpfw IVs, retreating from Elsdorf, and knocked them all out at a range of 1200 yards from a flank position.
But then again, downward deflection shots frequently produced big holes, since the top armor of a Tiger, especially a Tiger I, was pretty weak. So maybe it was an HE after all, and the Army didn't pay much attention because they knew that lucky downward deflection shots could knock a hole in a Tiger I.
Incidentally, the Russian JS 2 and JS 3 tanks had what amounted to sheet metal on their top armor - that was how they avoided being as heavy as the Tigers, staying in the middle weight tank range despite pretty heavy frontal armor and decent side armor.
It keeps getting repeated in this thread that "the T34 is superior to the M4".
This is NOT TRUE. I hope people stop posting this drivel once and for all.
Somebody else had posted earlier that the key to the fearsome reputation of the T34 was the fact that the Germans encountered it in mid-1941, when they invaded Russia.
At the time, the best that the Germans had were the Pzkpfw III with the 37mm gun, and the short barrel, VERY LOW velocity 75mm Pzkpfw IV. A good number of the German "tanks" were the Pzkpfw IIs, which had these 20mm cannons that were just a cut above machine guns.
For 1941, the T34 was revolutionary and truly superior to any other tank in the world. The underpowered German cannon shells bounced easily off its armor.
By late 1941 - early 1942, the Germans had quickly responded in two ways -
1. The Pzkpfw IV was upgunned to the longer, higher velocity L43 75mm cannon
2. The Tiger I was developed.
Very quickly, the T34 was no longer superior. The Pzkpfw IV with the new gun was roughly equal to the T34 except perhaps in the frontal armor because of the better slope of the T34 front glacis plate.
By 1943, the Panther had appeared - Accounts of the massive tanks battles of that year show that the T34 75mm tanks were routinely getting slaughtered, much like the 75mm Sherman M4, to which they were nearly EQUIVALENT. Similar to the Sherman 75mm, the T34 75mm gun could not penetrate the frontal armor of the Panthers and Tigers.
And so the T34 was upgunned, to the 85mm cannon, and this model appeared in early 1944. This gave it some ability to attack the Panthers and the flanks of the Tigers, similar to the 76mm Shermans (which appeared in mid to late 1944), to which they were nearly EQUIVALENT.
However, the armor and firepower of the T34/85 was clearly still INFERIOR to the German Panthers and Tigers. The Russians knew that - the 85mm upgunned T34 was only a stop-gap measure until they could finish developing the JS tanks. When the JS II tank with the 122mm gun finally appeared in spring 1944, it was roughly the equal of the German Panther and Tiger I.
To the Comment that the German tanks had superior optic's et. al. which outclassed the Pershing. Optic's are good, but I rather have the gyro stabilizer (Germans did not have this) which allowed the M26 or M4 to fire accurately while moving. In a tank fight MOVING is good. Firing while MOVING is better!
Also, I've been referring to the T34 75mm guns. Actually the T34 had 76mm guns.
In October 1944, the Germans put out a report showing ballistic tests they had done comparing the Panther tank with captured specimens of the Sherman A2 (75mm) and A4 (76mm) and Firefly (17 pounder). Also in the test was the T34/85mm and JS II tanks with 122mm. The Cromwell and Churchill tanks were also tested.
The tank that did the worst was the Sherman 75mm. Not surprisingly, the Cromwell and Churchill tanks were almost as bad.
However, the big shocker, if you look at the tables, is that the T34/85 also did quite poorly against the Panther. The Panther's 75mm cannon could penetrate the turret and the sides of the T34/85 almost as easily as the Sherman. The only area where the T34 was greatly superior to the Sherman was at the nose of the frontal glacis plate. Here, the T34's armor plate was still steeply sloped whereas the Sherman's armor had a rounded nose that was virtually perpendicular to an approaching cannon shell.
In terms of cannon, the 75mm gun of the Sherman could not penetrate the frontal armor of the Panther at any distance. It could penetrate the side armor of the Panther from within the shooting range of the Panther.
The 76mm gun of the Sherman was roughly eaual (the actual numbers suggest that it was very slightly superior) to the 85mm gun of the T34. From the front, they both still could not penetrate the glacis plate or the turret mantlet of the Panther, but could penetrate the front of the turret at very close range. From the side, the T34/85 and Sherman 76mm could penetrate the Panther at long range equal to that of the Panther's gun.
The tables also show that the British 17 pounder was a terrific gun. Firing a tungsten core round, it was slightly superior to the 122mm cannon of the JS II in certain situations against the Panther. This is what made the Sherman Firefly so effective.
I think I mentioned before in an earlier post that Russian manufacturing was very poor and this was why their guns had to be of larger caliber to get the same punch. The manufacturing tolerances of the guns and shells could not be made close enough that the guns could generate a consistantly high pressure so as to produce high velocities.
Dmitriy Loza's "Commanding the Red Army's Sherman Tanks" gives many good comaprisons between the T34 and Sherman. Loza states in his book that Russian armor was more brittle and tended to spall when hit by a shell, often killing or injuring the crew.
Advantages of the T34 - wider tracks, steel tracks which gripped muddly terrain better. Could turn on a dime by reversing one set of tracks while pushing forward with the other set of tracks. Used diesel fuel (not as explosive). Had a low silhouette when compared with the Sherman.
Disadvantages of the T34 - mechanically unreliable compared to the M4. Also could not trek long distances, although probably not as bad as the Tiger tanks in this regard. The steel tracks of the treads made a huge noise when driving on roads, giving away its location to the enemy for miles.
Advantages of the Sherman - highly reliable, could trek very long distances, "wet storage" of ammunition reduced the chance of secondary fires/explosions considerably. Rubber clad treads were very quiet when driven on a road.
Disadvantages of the Sherman - able to steer only by braking one set of treads, and pulling ahead with the other tread. Rubber clad treads were very slippery on wet, icy or muddy terrain.
The Japanese had a 47mm anti-tank gun which could not penetrate the frontal armor of the Shermans, but could penetrate it from the side. So from long range, they used their large artillery guns, and tried to snipe at the US tanks with these big artillery shells. Not too effective, occasionally a tank would be hit, but usually the hit was not lethal enough to completely destroy the tank, just put it out of action until it could be repaired.
The biggest weapon that the Japanese had was mines, which they sometimes enhanced by planting together with a 1000 lb bomb. The mines with the 1000lb bomb were pretty lethal, and were capable of destroying the entire tank, whereas the regular mines just caused damage.
And of course, the Japanese had suicide bombers, with satchel explosive charges, which could blow up the US tanks.
So, in the Pacific, the US had complete tank supremacy, and tank crew losses were a lot lower.
This goes back to one of my points - which was that when you talk about "building a better tank" - it's all relative to who you are trying to beat.
After the initial shock of encoutering the T-34 (and the KV-1, it should also be said), the Germans went into this mode of doing everything possible to have the best tanks on the battelfield. Unforunately, they lost sight of the fact that they also needed huge numbers of tanks, not just a few extremely expensive and hard to build tanks.
The goal with the escort carriers was to get lots of strike aircraft out into the Pacific as cheaply as possible. Just like the tank destroyers and Shermans - get lots of cannons out there as quickly and cheaply as possible.
The escort carriers were really pretty bad as warships. They were very slow, had absolutely NO ARMOR, and were just floating tin cans carrying large loads of aviation fuel and bombs and torpedoes. They were very small and cramped and only semi-stable in rough seas.
The only reason that they worked at all was that the Japanese Navy had so few resources that for much of the war, they were never able to successfully attack and destroy these escort carriers. The Japanese Navy didn't even know that they existed, and throughout the war thought that these escorts were full sized carriers.
At the Battle off Samar, during the Phillipines campaign, a Japanese battleship group finally managed to catch a group of these escort carriers naked, without their usual protective screen of biggers ships (Admiral Halsey had gotten suckered into chasing after a decoy group of Japanese carriers and so had pulled his group of first line carriers and battleships away).
The Gambier Bay became the only US carrier to be sunk by a Japanese battleship as a result (the Gambier Bay almost survived the bombardment initially because the Japanese shells, which were armor piercing, punched all the way through from one end of the ship to the other without exploding - but eventually it couldn't move anymore because of the damage to the machinery, and so it got blasted away). The Japanese battleship group could have EASILY destroyed the ENTIRE group of escorts that day but for the bravery of a few destroyer escorts that took on the Japanese battleships and, unbelievably, scared them off into retiring, satisfied that they had sunk a major US carrier (little did the Japanese know that the US had over 120 of these escort carriers during WWII).
Later on, when the Japanese started using the kamikazes, they finally had a weapon that could get through and kill off the escorts and several of them just blew up and sank when hit.
So, yes, it's not talked about too much anymore, but part of the philosophy of building these weapons in large numbers and as cheaply and quickly as possible was that weapons cost a lot of money, but the men manning them were EXPENDABLE. That's right, EXPENDABLE was a word that was frequently used as part of the fighting philosophy of the US armed forces in WWII. It was this same philosophy that led to the disaster at Hurtgen Forest, and continued on into the Korean War and Vietnam War.
But it's easy to criticise.....Remember, precision targeted smart bombs and missiles were not available then. The art of making war was only some twenty years removed from WWI, when it was standard operating procedure to send massive waves of soldiers charging straight into machine gun and artillery fire. And only some eighty years or so removed from a time when armies marched and lined up across a field from each other and fired away - with the loser being the one that broke and ran first.
Which is another way of saying that yet another, very obvious answer to the central question of this thread is simply: the people who lead and direct wars often are not very smart people and do stupid things that get a lot of people killed for no good reason. The problem is that it is not possible to tell beforehand whether a decision will be a smart decision or a dumb one - one is judged by history only from the results.
The British bought one of Christie's prototype T3s and the Soviets bought two T3s - the T3 would have great influence on tank design in those countries. British tanks of WWII would use the Christie suspension extensively. The T34 would use it also.
The Germans never used the original Christie suspension but rather improved on it - they took the large road wheels and independent suspension concept, but then put in torsion bars instead of the bell clapper and spring suspension that was in the original Christie suspension. So whenever people say that the Germans used the Christie suspension, that's not really correct. The German torsion bar suspension is the main type of tank wheel suspension used today on almost all tanks (although nobody uses the interleaved wheels that the Germans seemed to love - too complicated and a tendency for the wheels to become glued together by mud or ice).
Christie ended up suing the US government over the use of his patents, and was still involved in litigation when he died in 1944. Perhaps that's why the Sherman did not use the Christie suspension.
The US Army was reduced to almost nothing in the interwar years. It was not given any money to produce tanks. Many officers had to take a reduction in rank in order to stay in the Army (including George Patton)
The Soviets, on the other hand, built multiple tank designs in the interwar years.
As the German ballistic tests in Thomas Jentz's Panther book show, the Soviet 85mm had a similar firepower to the US 76mm gun used on the M4. That is, they could penetrate the Panther easily from the side at a distance, but still had trouble penetrating the frontal armor of the Panther.
It was not until the JS 2 tank showed up in the spring of 1944 with its 122mm gun that the Soviets had a tank that could match the Panther and Tiger I for penetration of frontal armor.
The Soviets lost a lot of tanks during the battles of 1943, and its was these losses that caused them to further upgun the JS series tanks even more, to 122mmm.
Even the Germans couldn't quite accomplish that goal. For example, have you ever wondered, if the Pzkpfw IV was so much cheaper and easier to produce, why not just put a bigger gun and better armor on it instead of building the really expensive Tigers and Panthers? Well, basically that couldn't work because the Pzkpfw IV was a pretty small and light tank to begin with, and that would have maxed out its engine, drive train, and suspension system.
The Germans did try to put the 75mm L70 cannon on the Pzkpfw IV - there is a picture of this experimental tank in this book "Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War 2". This was the Panther's gun, and while the gun looks just fine on the much larger Panther, it's huge on the Pzkpfw IV, and obviously a heavy unbalancing weight.
Hitler tried to get the much more powerful L71 88mm cannon put on the Tiger I instead of the shorter L56 88m cannon, but it wouldn't fit into the turret. The whole purpose of the Tiger II was a complete redesign around the L71 88mm cannon as well as heavier armor.
Tank design basically worked in opposite directions as far as Germany and the US were concerned. In the US, Army Ground Forces (AGF) was mainly concerned about weight (because of the need to ship overseas and cross the English Channel) and mobility and durabilily - and so it adamantly refused all heavy tank designs. In fact, according to Steven Zaloga, the barrel of the 76mm gun on the M4 was cut short in length during the testing phase to improve the balance of the M4 turret, and to increase the barrel life. This of course reduced the velocity of the 76mm shell.
In Germany, on the other hand, tank design started with Hitler signing off on very secific requirements for a certain type of gun and a certain amount of armor protection. Since these specs came from Hitler, they had to be met, and the final details as the the weight of the tank, its speed, and the cost, were usually overlooked. This is about the only way that one can explain the fact that the Tiger I was originally planned as a 36 ton tank (VK 3601), grew to a final design spec of 45 tons, and then ended up as a 56 ton monster in production form. The result was a grossly over weight tank that was too heavy for its own mechanical system and drive train, could barely move faster than a man could walk (4 mph average speed on rough terrain, acccording to Wilbeck's "Sledgehammers"), and easily broke down on long treks.
The 76mm gun upgrade to the M4 was eventually put into a new turret, which came from the T23 prototype tanks that were being developed (but never went into production). The T23 turret was larger than the original M4 turret, and could take a 90mm gun. However, the T23, which was built on an M4 suspension, came in badly overweight and unbalanced, and had fairly high ground pressures.
According to this book "American AFV's of World War II" by Duncan Crow, the Armored Force Board wanted 90mm guns installed in the M4A3, but Army Ordnance rejected this because they felt that the resulting tank would be not be mechanically sound because of the increased weight characteristics, which basically maxed out the existing M4 suspension system. On the other hand, it was possible to mount the 90mm cannon on the M10 open turret (many of which had an M4 chassis also) because the open turret was so much lighter. And that's how come the M10 tank destroyer was upgunned to a 90mm (thus becoming the M36), whereas the M4 was upgunned only to the 76mm gun.
Of course, later on in WWII, by improving the M4 suspension to the horizontal volute spring suspension and adding wider tracks, later versions of the M4 were able to handle much higher weights from extra armor and firepower without any difficulty (the Israelis would put a 105mm cannon on their M4s and use them in the 1973 war).
Once again, the root cause of the problem was the adamant opposition of Army Ground Forces, led by Lt. Gen Leslie McNair, who appears to have been the chief architect of the tank destroyer doctrine, and was determined not to field any expensive, slow, heavy tanks. And in fact, when the M26 finally did make the battlefield, although it was classified as a heavy tank, at only 41 tons, it was lighter than the Panther, which the Germans regarded as a medium tank.
AGF simply did not want a heavy tank with a 90mm cannon. It wasn't until McNair was killed by the USAAF in a friendly fire bombing raid at Normandy (July 1944), and the German tanks shot through the tank destroyers at the Battle of the Bulge, that everybody finally got on the same page and decided that it was time for the M26 to take the field.
The most experienced tank crew were generally put into the Tiger tanks (Heavy Tank Battalions). That sort of made sense because one certainly would not want inexperienced tank crews to fool around with an 800,000 Reichmark machine.
However, as it turns out, the Tigers had trouble making it into combat because of their extremely limited mobility. The irony of the Tiger IIS not getting into the front line of fighting at the Battle of the Bulge I have already pointed out. And so the valuable experience of these tank crews would be wasted.
The other big irony of what happened with the Tigers, which is another little historical gem that people generally fail to recognize, is that in the initial crucial battles around Normandy, the SS Heavy Tank Battalions that did make it into combat ended up in the BRITISH sector (this little pearl was pointed out by Christopher Wilbeck in "Sledgehammers").
Yes, the British, forever underappreciated by the Americans, took heavy losses, but they had much better anti-tank weapons in the form of the excellent 17 pounder gun, both in towed form and in the Sherman Fireflies. Their infantry also carried the PIAT, which was more powerful than the American bazooka (the initial bazooka warheads were underpowered and had trouble penetrating the frontal armor of the German tanks - they were later improved). These weapons could all knock out a Tiger tank much more easily than what the US had during the battles around Normandy.
And so, despite the heavy losses, the British (and I include the Canadians, etc., who were with them) managed to knock out just about all of the Tigers that they faced. And that included killing Michael Wittmann, Tiger ace.
Kudos to the British.
Another irony was that the Panther was actually a much superior all-around tank compared to the Tiger because it was quite fast for such a big tank and it still had a big gun that could knock out any Allied tank from a great distance.
However, the Panther had much weaker side armor, and so could be knocked out, even by the 75mm Sherman, if a tank crew was not careful or very alert, and let themselves get ambushed or otherwise flanked. Because the most experienced tank crews usually ended up in Tiger tanks, Panther crews were frequently inexperienced, and they would sometimes lose a tank just out of sheer incompetance.
I read a comment in one book that US tank crews, even though they knew that their 75mm shells could not penetrate the frontal armor of a Panther, would still fire at them, usually with an HE round, in the hope that the crew would be terrified by the blast and abandon ship. Since the Panthers leaked gasoline and were known to occasionally spontaneously incinerate their crews, this quick abandonment was not as silly as one might think.
Here is an answer I would like included:
Germany�s PzKfW Mk. IV Panzer was a good solid reliable tank which if made in sufficient numbers was superior to all other tanks in manufacture. With the possible exception of Polish built 7TP "czolg lekki" diesel, alas Poland lacked the numbers, and failed to mobilize its tanks due to Britain�s appeasement; these machines were soon found in Panzer units. As to the question at hand, America did not attempt to match the later Panther, Tiger and King Tiger tanks were because they were impractical. Hitler designed them as an indestructible impregnable mobile fortress, indestructible yes, impregnable yes, mobile not a chance. The Panzer and Sherman were both effective anti infantry weapons. The Sherman in particular was highly reliable, it was simple and Allied field commanders could expect them to fight more often then German commanders could rely on the Tigers. If Tigers did make it to battle the Air Corps and RAF (plus RCAF), use of mustang and tempest fighters respectively proved to be the best anti-tank system of the war.