Friday, August 22, 2014

The best tank of World War Two… a debate

(Some of this is taken from a previous post on Statistical Issues.)

Left us start with the issue of tanks from the perspective of propaganda. More rubbish has been written about who had the best tanks during the Second World War than about any other topic to do with that war. Again and again you get supposedly serious historians talking about how the Germans started the Second World War with overwhelming tank superiority; that the Allies were only brought back into the race by the arrival of the Sherman tank; and how German technology leapt ahead again at the end of the Second World War to give them unrivalled vehicles. All these statements are of course completely incorrect.

One of the problems of course, is 'best tank when, and for what?'

Comparing what was available in 1939/40 to what was being produced in 1945 (say a Panzer III or Matilda II with a Centurion or Stalin), is worse than useless. There is no comparison. Only the Panzer IV was actually produced throughout the war: and the heavily armoured final version of the tank – with a long barrelled 75mm gun capable of taking on almost every tank yet operational in mid 1945 – bore only a passing resemblance to the lightly armoured tank with a short barrelled infantry support gun – of with minimal ability to do more than scratch the paint of a CharB in 1939/40.

The best tank in the world in 1939 was the French Somua 35 (closely followed by the FrenchCharB). These tanks were, for the period, the best armed, armoured, and most mechanically reliable vehicles available. They repeatedly demonstrated their complete invulnerability to the standard German tank and anti-tank guns, and were often able to destroy large numbers of German tanks, before eventually being themselves destroyed by hastily deployed German heavy artillery or anti-aircraft guns. There are records of single French tanks taking over 130 hits from German anti-tank guns, while blithely cruising around destroying German tanks, vehicles, and guns.

The main fault to be had with the French tanks however, was their one-man turret. It may have had a 47 mm gun capable of knocking out any German tank of the period, but it meant that the tank commander had responsibility for loading, aiming, and firing, as well as directing his own tank, and those of the other units in his squadron. Given that far too few tanks had radio, the magnificent equipment was always left down by command and control techniques.

Fortunately for the allies, the best tank of 1940 was the British Matilda II. Not only did it have armour invulnerable to any German gun except their heavy anti-aircraft artillery - the famous 88 mm - it also had a 40 mm gun capable of defeating any German tank of the period, and the magnificent advantage of a three-man turret with proper radio facilities. Unfortunately for the allies, there were only a few dozen of these available in northern France. Not nearly enough to turn the tide. They did however have the crucial effect of scaring the German divisional commander (one Erwin Rommel) into pulling back and re-fortifying his position rather than advancing after the Arras counter-attack; and an equally stellar affect on the German high command who froze Panzer operations for a few crucial days to let infantry catch up, and then refused permission for the Panzers to be wasted in the tax on the evacuating British and French forces at Dunkirk.

A minor sidelight here. I have always had trouble with history books, or indeed with graduates of various army training schools, who hold that Hitler should have allowed his tanks to roll over the Allies at Dunkirk. They manage to ignore several important details. The German blitzkrieg worked against second-rate troops, and only became a rout when they found their way into rear at areas with inadequate lines of defence. The German tanks facing the more professional Allied forces in Belgium were beaten off time and again with significant casualties. The idea that the Germans would have been effective in attacking the cream of the Allied forces, well-equipped with artillery, anti-tank guns, and tanks, in what would effectively become street fighting (the worst possible offensive terrain for tanks), is highly dubious. The fact that most of the German tanks had just completed several hundred kilometers of fast movement and now needed major maintenance was also an issue. As was Hitler’s quite sensible belief that it was more important to redeploy them to finish off France, than to waste them against desperate men in a fortified port.

The Matilda and its successor the Valentine would probably still the best Allied tanks in the world in early 1941, when they swept Italian forces before them, and several times fought the German African corps to a standstill. The German response to their shocking failures in 1940, had been to upgrade the Panzer III and IV with slightly improved armour, and the short barreled 50 mm gun. But they were still on a losing wicket engaging the British infantry tanks in any sort of close terrain, such as in the siege of Tobruk. Fortunately for Rommel, out in the open terrain of the desert he could deploy his tanks behind screens of high-powered anti- tank guns, which the British tanks lacked the long-range high explosive shells to engage effectively.

This is where the myth of the value of the Sherman tank comes from. The Sherman arrived at a time when it’s armour and weapon were on a par with the Panzer III and IV tanks that it was facing. Despite the fact that its 75 mm gun was greatly inferior as an anti-tank weapon to the new British six pounder guns that were starting to equip British tanks, the high explosive shell that the Sherman could fire was incredibly useful for engaging Rommel’s 88 mm guns at long-distance in the flat desert terrain.

For several months, it seemed as though the mechanically reliable Sherman would be a war winner, despite its notable tendency to explode in flames whenever it was hit. (Allied troops refer to it as a Ronson - “lights first time every time”. German troops just referred to it as a “Tommy Cooker”.) But this concept was fantasy, which could be easily demonstrated within a few months, though it took the US government another two years to admit it.

Within months of the Sherman arriving on the battlefield. the Panzer IV had been upgraded to a long barrelled 75, and the result, as many commentators have noted, "was more than a match for any contemporary Allied tank".

Worse was to be revealed in the Tunisia campaigns, where the Sherman’s came up against the Tiger tank (a response to the brilliant Russian T34), which was almost completely invulnerable to their 75 mm guns. (The British were very grateful that their more efficient six pounder anti-tank weapons were already being reinforced by the magnificent new 17 pounder anti-tank weapons which could deal with these monsters.) Nonetheless American authorities apparently learnt nothing from this campaign. (To be fair the British were also working on the assumption that a six pounder anti-tank gun would be adequate tank armament to see out the war at this point.) However the Italian campaign revealed conclusively that shorter range engagements against more heavily armed and armoured vehicles made the Sherman completely obsolete. Even the much more heavily armoured British Churchill, with it’s astonishing cross country ability and acceptable 6 pounder was not adequate.

The British response was surprisingly fast (considering how slowly things had changed in the past), not only designing and manufacturing 17 pounder version of the Cromwell from scratch in time to have some available for the D-Day landings; but also developing a version of the Sherman that carried the 17 pounder gun. This latter – the Sherman Firefly – was offered to the Americans, along with all the other ‘funnies’ that Percy Hobart had designed for the campaign, but again American military authorities - particularly General Omar Bradley - felt that none of this was necessary. (See casualties at Omaha compared to British/Canadian landings. For the rest of the war the Americans had to borrow British ‘funnies’ for assault operations.)

The campaigning Normandy showed even more thoroughly how ineffective the standard Sherman was as an assault tank, but still American authorities insisted that swapping from a 75 mm to a 76 mm gun would be enough to see out the war. The new gun was significantly better, giving the Americans and the equivalent anti-tank firepower to the British six pounder (which had been recognized as being insufficient for two years in British service) or the Russian 85mm. However the weapon was nowhere near as efficient as the 17 pounder which the British now had in more than half their tanks and self-propelled anti-tank guns. 

In all of this so far, I have barely mentioned the Russians at all. Their T34 tank was possibly the single most effective of the war, and was the breakthrough that forced everyone else to rethink their designs.  So we can say without a shadow of a doubt that the T34 was the best tank of the war for almost two years – from the time of Barbarossa (June 22, 1941) until the appearance of the Panther at Kursk (July 5, 1943). It certainly held this title unchallenged by the Sherman and Churchill tanks that appeared during its reign, and probably by the Tiger as well.

The Tiger is a problem for this sort of discussion, because it re-introduces the concept of 'what for' into the debate. The Tiger was a far superior heavy infantry support or assault tank to the T34, but a far inferior battlefield manoeuvre or pursuit tank. In fact the Tiger was so slow and limited in cross country ability, that it was actually more effective as a defensive weapon once the Germans were thrown back on that approach, than it had been for re-igniting their Blitzkreig glory days.

Which brings up another debate worth considering. Heavy versus medium tanks, and their roles.

The vast majority of western books are fixated on the 'best' tank, perhaps on the assumption that a single tank that will do all jobs is the best solution. Certainly there are loud complaints in many textbooks about the British division of their armour into Infantry versus Cruiser tank formations. For some reason it is believed that this was a waste of resources, that could have been better spent on a 'compromise' tank that could do everything required.

It doesn't seem to occur to such critics that the technology levels of most nations for most of the war were to up to a genuine 'all purpose' tank.  In the last days of the war, both the Americans and British rushed the new models to the front line. The American Pershing heavy tank had a very good 90 mm gun, and much better armour. It also unfortunately, had the same engine as the Sherman for much greater weight, so was as slow and difficult to manoeuvre as many of the underpowered German heavy tanks. It is not really an 'all purpose' design. By contrast to the British were moving the first of their Centurion tanks to the front line even as the war finished. The Centurion had an unrivalled balance of armour, gun, and manoeuvrability. Whereas the Pershing had a service life of only a few years, the Centurion is still in front-line service with several nations in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, including Israel which has used them in many wars. (The South Africans have just announced yet another upgrade to keep the Centurion at battle standards). 

It should be noted though, that many people suggest that, technically, the first genuine all purpose tank – the Centurion – was actually a post war design, because the 6 operational tanks in Belguim when Germany surrendered had not actually engaged German tanks. (As opposed to the Pershing, the 20 operational examples having engaged German tanks at least twice…) This appears to be splitting hairs more than a bit considering the war continued for several more months in Asia against an opponent not worthy of redeploying Pershing's or Centurian's against – in fact incapable of facing even obsolescent Matilda's (Australians in New Guinea), Stuart's and Grant's (Burma). But it does reinforce the point that such designs were technically not possibly for most nations for most of the war.

The truth is that every nation that took tanks seriously in WWII had different categories of armoured vehicles. Every single one of them – French, German, Russian, Italian, British, American and even Japanese – had armoured cars for scouting; light tanks for more combat intensive reconnaissance and pursuit; medium tanks for open warfare and pursuit; and most had heavy tanks for infantry support and breakthroughs . (To be fair the Italians and Japanese never had heavy tanks…. and their mediums looked a bit 'light' by anyone else's standards.)

The writers who decry the British Infantry and Cruiser tank division seem unaware that almost everyone else had the same division. The Germans had Panzer III cruisers, and the early Panzer IV's with low velocity short barrelled guns as infantry support vehicles. Later this division was the Panther – whose 75mm high velocity high explosive shell lacked punch for anti-infantry or anti-artillery work – and the Tiger - the 88mm high explosive shell having much greater punch: but the principle was the same. The French had the Somua 35 for cruiser work, and the CharB for assault work. The Russians had a variety of heavy and medium tanks throughout the war on the same principles.

Only the Americans had a different division, with their preference being general purpose cruisers with low velocity 75's, and 'tank destroyers' with high velocity 76.2's, but based on pretty similar hulls. In some ways their division was prescient, in that the German 'Jagd' tank destroyers were just a more streamlined version of the same principle - heavier gun on specialist version of similar hull. But it left the Americans with a hole in the assault tank/infantry support category that was never adequately filled. (Whenever they needed heavy tanks to assault one of the fortified ports in France, it was the specialised Churchill's of General Hobart's 79th division that they had to call on.)

Having noted the necessary division between medium cruisers and heavy assault/infantry support tanks however, we can still make a fair summary.

So, in contrast to what many history books and documentaries will tell you, the French had the best tanks in 1939, and the British had the best tanks of 1940 and 1945. Also in contrast to what many history books will tell you, the Shermans effective front-line role can best be defined as the few months between the battle of Alamein, and the arrival of Tiger tanks in Tunisia. All attempts to use it after that in Italy or northern France just demonstrated how pathetic it was in modern engagements. Even the British Firefly version with the 17 pounder, was extremely vulnerable to any German tank. In fact it is amusing to note, that they came into their own for the blitzkrieg across open country in pursuit of the defeated German armies across France; which has a direct parallel to the inferior German tanks pursuing the defeated French in 1940. (The equally inadequate British Cromwell tanks, being significantly faster, were actually still better at this pursuit than the Shermans.) The best tank of the Sherman's period of functional use, of course being the T34.

So our list of 'best tanks' could go something like this.
1939 - Best cruiser - Somua 35, Best support - CharB.
1940 - Best support becomes Matilda II.
1941 - Best cruiser initially Panzer III/IV with short 50mm guns, becomes T34 when Russia enters the war.
1942 - Best support is Tiger.
1943 - Best cruiser is Panther.
1944 - Best support is Tiger II.
1945 - Best 'all purpose' is Centurion.


  1. Shame you didn't mention the Elefant/Ferdinand, for comic effect!

    The Czechs had 2 tank types which the Germans absorbed. They were seen as useful and mechanically reliable (unlike the PzKpfw I and II) and were estimated to have equipped 4 panzer divisions at the start of Barbarossa.

    When assessing "best" of time & class, did you allow for reliability? The early Panthers were not properly debugged for Kursk and were therefore less effective than they should have been. The Tiger II was very thirsty and difficult to deploy, so a strain on logistics.

    The points about the Sherman are agreed but it was reliable and available in large numbers - which the unnecessarily complex German contemporaries were not (the Russians met both of these points with the T34). If the crap tank is the last one on the battlefield, it's the winner.

    1. Dear AJK,

      Agree, about the Czch tanks. The older LT-35 equipped the 6th Panzer for France and Russia, and the better LT-38 equipped many units… at one point over a thousand of them made up more than 25% of the German panzers. Frankly they were probably the best German tank of the battle of France, and the Germans would not have won that battle without them.

      Yes I did consider reliability. The Panther got over some of its early reliability, but always had drive train problems. Nonetheless it was enough in advance of the T-34 to class as a better tank by the time it was working on the defensive. Note that the T-34 was often of dubious finish, and had a lot more breakdowns than are usually acknowledged (partly due to lack of maintenance skill), and the notorious lack of reliability in some British tanks in the desert was also often more bad maintenance than bad design.

      Interestingly the T-34 and Sherman both suffered from considerable 'unreliability' postwar when equipping middle eastern armies… though not the israeli's of course!

    2. On the Elephant/Ferdinand, I have never considered it a tank. As an assault gun it was not bad (see Warsaw) except for the initial lack of a machine gun, but it was no more useful than the British Tortoise or the heaviest Russian assault guns with huge guns. Potentially useful if used properly, but pretty useless on a battlefield.

    3. Another drinker of Russian Kool-Aid. It has been what? 75 years now since the end of the second world war and STILL people continue to parrot russian propoganda about how good the T-34 was.

    4. @Dont drink the Kool-Aid

      ‘The deficiency of our diesels is the criminally poor air cleaners on the T-34. The Americans consider that only a saboteur could have constructed such a device’

      The famous one where the US inspector did not put oil in the air filter as they were supposed to.

      The Germans had no response to the T-34 with Hitler ordering a direct copy. The Panther was based on it.

      The overall drive of the link was drivel.

    5. I think it would be fair to say that all the tanks of the first half of the war had pretty great failings, and the improved ones of the second half of the war still had significant failings.

      Until the Centurion, which I consider a late war design that worked.

  2. When we say "best tank," do we mean "best tank to fight other tanks" or "best tank all-around?" Sure, the Sherman or Cromwell against a Tiger is crap … but most tank fire was directed against soft targets, so if you need to trade AP performance for HE effect … I can see why you'd make that choice. David French (Raising Churchill's Army) is good on the trade offs of British Tank design - in a nutshell, they didn't believe you could have it all on 30 tons (and given the need to fight in all theaters including poor infrastructure "colonial spheres", they didn't want monster tanks the couldn't cross the bridges etc.), and traded AP gun power and armor for reliability and a decent dual purpose gun.

    I'll throw the British Comet tank into the ring for best late war cruiser - basically a late model up-armored Cromwell. Fast, reliable, good armor, with the "77mm HV" gun, which almost matched 17pdr performance while being more compact and having a useful HE shell to boot.

    1. Dear SF5

      Well, that's the problem isn't it? Best for what?

      The fact that the Matilda and Panzer IV were both in action all through the war might indicate they are best? Except that they were both second rate fill ins by the end.

      Amusingly the comment of AJK that 'if the crap tank is the last one on the battlefield it's the winner', would imply that the best tank might be the one that came out on top on more battlefields than any other? But that would probably have to be the pre-war 'Vickers 6 ton tank' which was under licence to so many countries – amongst them USSR, Poland, Bulgaria, Greece, Finland, Portugal, Bolivia, Thailand and China – that it often fought on both sides (see Spanish Civil War, Poles against Russians, and Finns against Russians 1940 and 1941-5). It also won battles for the Bolivians, Chinese, and Thais!. As it fought for more nations, and came out on top for more nations, on more battlefields than any other in 1939-1945, perhaps it was best? Except that I don't think that will convince anybody.

      The fact that the Centurian is STILL in front line service with regional powers might make it the best tank of the war? Except that it had virtually no influence on the war.

      But what I do say is that the fact that the T-34 and Sherman (and their crews) could be thrown away in great numbers does NOT make them best.

    2. On the Comet, it was certainly an underrated tank. All the reliability of the Sherman, the speed of the Cromwell, the armour of the Churchill, and the detuned 17 pounder still had similar penetration to the magnificent 88!

      It was a better general purpose tank than anything short of the Panther (if you can ignore the Panther's technical problems), despite its old fashioned vertical frontal armour. It was certainly better than the T-34, and in fact remind in service with the British, and then with many other armies (Burma, Eire, Finland and - in actual combat - South Africa) long after supposed contemporaries like the Pershing and Stalin had been retired by everyone.

      But in practice it was just a arm up act for the Centurion a few months later (the Centurion could have been deployed earlier except for a government rule that anything not ready before the end of 1944 should be delayed), so it's claim for 'great tank' is only relevant if you want to claim that the Centurion did not get into service during the war?

    3. I still cling to my comment about the last tank on the battlefield. If we are adding in the peripheral wars/fronts of WWII (don't think that Bolivia would count, but, if you say so ...), where sub-standard or outdated designs lived on like zombies, then "you must be joking". It's just a new criterion: availability. Mind you, the Soviets had an additional advantage after Stalingrad: they were usually in possession of the battlefields and could recover and repair breakdowns - unlike the Germans. (Are reliability stats available, somewhere? I'm interested in your aside about the T34.) Another criterion: maintainability - if our "crap tank" can be fixed quickly at the front by an eejit with a hammer, while their technical miracle needs specialists at a rear base, then "crap tank" might hack it.

      BTW a story from the Indo-Pak wars claims that the Pakistanis with state-of-the-art US hardware were beaten by outdated Indian Centurions partly because Indian gunners with basic gunnery could loose off several rounds while their opponents were still fiddling with their computers. Gotta match the kit with the expertise that's available.

      BTW, what were the crew survival rates on the various types? Surviving allied tank crews in Normandy were reissued new AFVs from a tank park, but God help the Sherman driver who got trapped .... Also, tank crew survivors on the Eastern Front were (I believe) shot where possible to prevent their return to battle.

      Sorry to ramble; didn't have time for a brief response.

    4. Dear AJK

      lIke your point about availability. The Germans holding the battlefields for the first half of the war was vital to their recycling of tanks. Particulalry in north Africa and Russia. The allies getting their techniques improved, and then holding most of the battlefields, had a huge effect on turning things around.

      Would be interested in more figures on survival rates of crews myself if anyone has good sources?

    5. On reflection I also have an issue with your comment on 'outdated Centurions'. If the tried and tested design proves superior on the battlefield to the hi-tech experimental model which doesn't work well, then it is hard to call it outdated isn't it? (Remembering that the Centurion is still in front line service, and most of the American tanks of the 1940's, 1950's, 1960's and even 1970's are not.)

      The amusing reflection here is that when the Americans wanted to copy a cheap, easy to use, and highly effective Soviet Anti-aircraft tank (ZSU 23-4), they spent many years developing the appalling Sergeant York project into a very expensive, very complex, and hopelessly ineffective American alternative. The Soviet model looked obsolete by caparison, but it is still around, and the Sergeant York is not.

      The B52 is not still planned to be inservice up to 2050 - almost 90 years after first designed - because it is obsolete, but because it still does the job perfectly well.

    6. But the crew of the M4s weren't thrown away, the tank was, but not the crews, they had the lowest of any Allied or Axis Medium tank to see proficient service.

    7. I agree with a lot of what you say. It's sometimes embarrassing as a n American to admit our armored vehicles were barely up to par during WW 2. For such a large industrialized nation we definitely did not bring the best we could.

      But that's where I will stop with apologies for the United States. Many European, Soviet or protectorate historians will always find these faults. However they often fail to understand the United States was far from thinking it would be involved in another European war. And when we talk about armored combat we generally refer to this theater of operations as European.

      I would argue that the USA was many YEARS behind the military technology and thinking of Europeans, Soviets and British military thinkers. Just the fact that the Sherman could contend with axis armor was amazing given its quick introduction and insanely quick production.

      Americans learned a lot, very quickly. The British I believe tried to help them more than any other allied nation. To this we owe them a debt of gratitude. Had the US been involved in conflicts earlier or seen that they they would have to militarize then I think this conversation would be very different. The United States was THE industrial power of the Western world. There's no doubt we could have produced better armored fighting vehicles and in great numbers. How they would have compared is only speculation. The Axis powers would undoubtably NOT wanted to speculate this scenario.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Fascinating and thought provoking!

  5. Just in case anyone is interested they have started (mis)-quoting you on

    1. Dear Edgeworthy,

      thanks for the link. Very amusing discussion. Glad I have said something (however outraged), that might cause such an interesting debate.

      They are correct of course that I say many things to stir the pot. I also often use value loaded language to do so. As long as no one takes it too seriously, hopefully it doesn't cause too many ruptured blood vessels.


  6. Just a short comment on the Tiger I, It was not slow and lumbering as many thinks, its speeds and manuverbility was very close to the Pz IV. Its major problem was very poor transmission that needed a skilled driver to keep from breaking. Panther had the same problem. The second problem was the need for special trains for statigic transport, with the hassle of changing to and from a transport track.

    1. One of the issues was repair with all late war German vehicles because of the interlocked wheels if an inside wheel was destroyed you would have to remove 7 just to access the broken wheel(tiger1)

  7. Dear Anonymous Sept 5,
    I agree that the Tiger I had pretty good speed for a 'heavy', but I always understood that its cross country performance suffered a bit too much from its weight, so that its cross country performance was its main battlefield problem... but I am open to correction. In fact most of the heavy tanks were pretty slow and limited for anything except assault conditions, allowing less powerful cruisers to outmanoeuvre them in field battles.

    1. The way I understand it is that a driver without experiance would often ruin the clutch and transmission going from road to cross country, but a good driver together with its wide traks would have no problems. It has a power of 13 PS/tonne where the pz -IV has around 12 PS/tonne late war. This means that it is close enough to most foes in performance that outmanoeuvering often cost Tanks, unlike stratigic outflanking where it suffered a lot more.

      P.S. Thank you for an interesting blog that gives the brain something to do.
      P.P.S. English not my first language so sorry for any crap grammer/spelling

    2. Anon: I don't think anyone needs to apologise to Nigel D about their spelling, grammar or punctuation. ;-)

    3. For comparison:
      Panzer IIIF; max speed: 40kph; range: 165km
      Pzkpfw IVH; 38; 210
      Pzkpfw VG "Panther"; 46; 200
      Pzkpfw V "Tiger"; 37kph on road, 20kph cross-country; 140km
      Pzkpfw VI "Tiger II"; 35; 170

      M4A3 "Sherman"; 47; 160
      M26 "Pershing"; 48; 148
      M3A1 "Stuart"; 60; 110

      Matilda MkIII; 24; 255
      Churchill MkVII; 20; 350
      Comet; 47; 198

      T-34/85; 55; 360
      KV-1; 35; 335
      IS-1; 40; 250

      Data from World War II Tanks, Collins, 1999, ISBN 0-00-472282-5 (prominently displays "Jane's" on cover and elsewhere - mark of authority?)

      Clearly, these can only be indicative, but useful for comparisons. Interesting how the US went for shorter range/endurance, while the Brits went further. Understandable why the Soviets had top endurance. (Another criterion: logistics support.)

    4. Dear AJK,
      Good point about me not bothering to check speling (sic) etc.

      I often do these posts on an iPad using Pages while waiting for something in a car somewhere, email as Word, and post without bothering to check spelling etc. (Or indeed, to see whether ticking the box to standardise the font size from cutting and pasting has worked).

      If I took the blog more seriously perhaps it would worry me, but as it is only idle reflections on what I have read, I would rather not be bothered.

      PS: As an ex academic who had to mark a lot of papers clearly stuffed with words downloaded from the internet, I also try to be more than a bit 'creative' with phrasing/phrazing. I hope anyone who tries to plaguirise (sic) my stuff gets royally reamed for not at leaf (predictive text) spell checking...

    5. On your point about published figures on tanks, I also have problems with how different nations/publishers work that out.

      The X tank could do Y speed on roads, but Z speed cross country. Which is quoted, and why?

      The Comet mentioned above for instance was speed limited to 47k on roads, but could usually do similar cross country (have a look for post war photos showing the tank 'flying' after taking a jump at speed).

      Meanwhile most of the tanks you mention halve their speed cross country (though you only quote the speed of the Tiger in both variants).

      In practice the Tiger was a heavy assault tank or defensive tank, and the Comet was a medium pursuit tank, so cross country speed was probably far more important to the Comet than to the Tiger.

      But your point on range is particularly interesting, and relates both to access-to/limits-of logistics support, and also strategic outlook. As you have pointed out the more variety of terrain and infrastructure, the more flexible your range of tanks.

      The US decision to simplify its tanks down to effectively a single design with short range was partly due to confidence in their logistical support, but also partly due to an oversimplification of theory about the terrain and infrastructure they would be fighting over.

      Frankly, the Sherman was designed to operate somewhere like France, and in the open, with lots of roads and railways around. Not on the Eastern Front, or in cities, or in mountains, or for assaults on fortifications, etc. (Actually it is a sign of the fundamental strength of the design that it did operate even marginally effectively in so many places. But that is also a weakness in that its flexibility allowed an excessive delay in the decision to design better options.)

    6. The Tiger had fine soft soil performance due to his overlapping running gear.
      The MMP was in the advisable range.

    7. "The electric u-boats never got into action"

      Actually, a Typ XXIII sub sunk coastal cargo ships in 1945.

  8. (Whenever they needed heavy tanks to assault one of the fortified ports in France, it was the specialised Churchill's of General Hobart's 79th division that they had to call on.)

    Besides Cherbourg, could you point out the other heavily fortified French ports that Americans were tasked with capturing (thus where Churchill tanks were used)?

    1. Churchill Crocodiles (flamethrowers) were used at Brest

    2. It is interesting how little note is taken of the many American divisions that turned towards the Atlantic after breaking out from Normandy. Their job was to clear several ports that the Germans had fortified, and the fighting all along the French coast continued sporadically even after the Allies broke into Germany.

      Several books comment that belated attempts were made to build US native 'funnies', but that in practice it was easier top use units from 79th division which were 'scattered along the entire front of Allied operations'.

      Actually the Crocodiles were usually paired with AVRE's, the theory being the AVRE's would use their Spigot Mortars to crack the fortifications, and the Crocodiles would encourage the occupants to give up.

      There is one good story of Germans at one of these fortified ports being scared into coming out to surrender when the Crocodile got close, but going back in to continue fighting when it got bogged down. (Which is a way of noting that the Churchill's were, like the Shermans, very flexible conversion vehicles, but nonetheless not ideal for some of the jobs they finished up having to do.)

  9. I posted the comment above, in which the first part is your own statement. The second part is my followup question about your assertion per the Churchill Tank.

    IMO, you attempt to use specific instances to support your own Global WW2 viewpoint.

  10. The Centurion Tank was a very capable tank, and I have often wondered why America didn't license to build it ourselves during much of the Cold War.

    That said, the Centurion, like the American Pershing tank, was not a real WW2 combatant. So IMO, your analysis per WW2 tank analysis in later years is flawed.

    I agree with some of your points about the US Sherman, including that US Army types were too slow to adapt to obvious European Theater warfare, or they were slave to US production numbers. Either way, it was obvious that ground forces also needed to adapt to technological advances like the US and Allied Navies and Air Forces did.

  11. That said, I have read many of your blog posts and they frequently border on the WHINY...America screwed it up for everyone. No doubt you have an intellectual bent, that you can supply reasonably sound intellectual support.

    That said, you mainly deal in supposition on what could have happened, and nothing more. Pretty much light as a souffle support for some of your theories.

    1. "One can scarcely let a sentence that is not highly flattering glance across the Atlantic without some American blowing up." ... H.G. Wells

    2. Nice quote, but per this "rethinking history" blog, but it is misapplied, IMO.

      I welcome a realistic discussion on WW2. No I don't think that America won WW2 single handed or even close to that designation. Apparently, H.G. reflects the sentiments of others here, that feel that they were not given enough credit by various historians (thus blowing up on the other side of the Atlantic and Pacific from America).

      Apparently some Brits and Brit emigrants to Australia and other locales have a bone to pick about various "historians". No problem there, but I object to overt attempts to re-write history per one's own or National ego.

      No problems with a realistic discussion of WW2 history.

    3. Dear Vampire,

      yes, this blog is to prick the assumptions of pompous Brit/Aust 'scholars' who belittle everything we did, and pompous yank 'historians' who grandstand everything they did. A little bit of middle ground would be nice. As you say, 'I object to overt attempts to rewrite history per one's own or National ego'.

      Having said that, I agree that most of these comments are whimsical reflections rather than serious analysis. A lot of 'what if' stuff is a bit of fun.

      Still I have problems with 'Centurion, like the Pershing, was not a real WW2 combatant'. If it was in action in WW2, regardless of whether it got into serious combat, it was a WW2 design. Certainly if the war had gone on for a couple of weeks, or if Patton's fear the t the Russians might get 'frisky' had happened, these tanks would have become the most discussed combatants. The German and British jet fighters never actually met, and really had very little effect on the result of the wear, but they were genuine wartime designs. The electric u-boats never got into action, but they were in no way post war designs (not least in that Germany wasn't allowed to build subs post war).

      Too many books quote every Essex carrier launched by the end of the war as if it fought, and completely write off every British 'light fleet' carrier as having not fought, despite the fact that several light fleets were heading from Sydney to the combat zone at a time several of the Essex's were still being fitted out and not in commission. This sort of playing with figures is a prime reflection of the differences in approach between 'historians' of different nations, and perhaps between the biases they are trying to put across?

    4. No need to take it personally, it all smacks of an inferiority complex. You could try and treat critics like your friends? ;)

  12. T-34 is surely the most over hyped WW2 tank with lots of technical issues and terrible narrow pace for crew causing the fact how enemy tank could shoot 2 or 3 times before hapless T-34 got their first if not too late.

    Here are the Soviet armour loss figures:

    1941: 20 500 (some 2 000 T-34/76)
    1942: 15 100 (over 6 000 T-34/76)
    1943: 23 500 (over 15 000 T-34 mostly version 76)
    1944: 23 700 (over 16 000 T-34 mostly version 85)
    1945: 13 700 (average month losses peaked, almost all tanks medium or heavy)

    Just how can any suggest T-34 being "winner of the war" with such terrible combat loss figures? Even Finns with Stug III assault gun got kill rate of 1:10 in Karelian Isthmus (and most of those Soviet tanks were indeed T-34/85). That dark smoke of T-34 was first info for Germans in eastern front and Finns in Karelian Isthmus than T-34 company was arriving .... and they were ready to hit hard with that 75 mm gun. T-34 was absolutely too slow in combat.

    1. Well, it and the Sherman were war winners if you count sacrificing several tanks and their crews for each Gemran tank as a 'winning' strategy.

      The Soviets were always committed to swamping with numbers regardless of casualties, so they were using their preferred tactic effectively. (though as someone noted above, they were at their last gasp in manpower - oindeed in woman power - by the end, so it was not a brilliant success.

      The Americans effectively accepted the same process with their 'replacement' soldier system and insistence on keeping the Sherman going long after they could have had something better. (british tanks were even worse at some stages, but they kept at least trying for something better... eventually anyway.)

      The main difference between Americans and the Russians being that almost everything written by and about the Americans tries to avoid admitting that they were using the same 'crush with numbers regardless of casualties' tactic.

      If you accept that the Soviet and American tactic was suicide waves until you win with sheer piles of bodies, then yes, those tanks were war winners.

      But, like you, I would deny that this is the definition of a great tank.

    2. Tank on tank engagements were the exception rather than the rule on the Western front. Even still I have never seen any statistical evidence that the Sherman had anything less than a 1 to 1 kill ratio vs other tanks at any point in the war. If you have such evidence is love to see it.

    3. "The main difference between Americans and the Russians being that almost everything written by and about the Americans tries to avoid admitting that they were using the same 'crush with numbers regardless of casualties' tactic.

      If you accept that the Soviet and American tactic was suicide waves until you win with sheer piles of bodies, then yes, those tanks were war winners."

      American doctrine was that tanks were not the best weapon to destroy other tanks.

      The Germans were, for example, unable to move their armor during daylight hours in France after D-Day because the Allies had air superiority to such as degree that it almost became air supremacy. If a tank column appeared in daylight then it could expect to get attacked by USAF and RAF fighter-bombers.

      The US also had a large number of tank destroyers that were supposed to handle enemy tanks and allow the US tanks to maneuver around and outflank the enemy. These had mixed results in practice.

      Finally, the US had some truly nasty artillery (155 mm howitzers, for example) that was quite effective in an anti-tank role if it could be brought into action. This wasn't often possible when the US was attacking, but in a few instances German counterattacks were blasted incessantly by heavy artillery.

      The idea of combined arms was practiced with varying degrees of success by the US, but the tank was at least in principle not considered the ideal weapon to eliminate enemy tanks.

      Rommel also agreed with this principle, and the Afrika Korps always tried to lure enemy tanks into attacking so that 88 mm guns could pick them off.

      The US always tried to substitute expenditure of materiel for blood whenever possible, to the point where Germans were jealous of the "rich men's war" where they had to deal with massive artillery, massive air forces, massive numbers of vehicles, etc. with dwindling resources. They were more effective than the Western Allies - most sources rate them as somewhere around 1.3 to 1.5 times as effective per soldier - but they lost in the end.

    4. I have no problem with the 1.3 to 1.5 soldier effectiveness ratio if we keep it in context. The German army was the most experienced army in the world by far, followed by the Russians, British and then more distantly by the Americans. If they couldn't expect to have more effective infantry units I don't know what they could expect.
      This inexperience showed in the type of training they received. To show one example. When Third Army under Patton was ordered to dig in for the month of October the troops received specialist training on assaulting fortified positions or bunker busting. Which surely was handy during the assault on Metz. During this same period the German army received specialist training in forest fighting. Now which of these training classes do you think was the most effective in the months to come. So yes the 1.3 to 1.5 rings true to me.

    5. This neo nazi myth of Soviet hordes is just that a myth.

      The Soviets never went in thinking yes we will just send more troops until the enemy is overwhelmed.

      This myth comes from when the nazis wanted to explain how they had lost to inferior beings these sub human jewish communist slavs.

      The nazis couldn't say hey these guys were better and we were worse, their minds could never accept such a thing so they invented this convenient lie that lots of people seem to swallow hook and sink.

      And of course never ask the counter question if all the soviets did was send in people why couldn't you win, to counter such an attack is simple.

      And it ignores that the nazis and their allies had themselves numerical superiority until about 1943.

      This is what really happened

      The Red Army was given impossible commands in the beginning of the war based on political considerations, where attack was the only politically acceptable action, which meant that many units were simply lost because they didn't have weapons and the logistics were not there for attack.

      Plus the purges who had removed any type of initiative from the Red Army, where it was more important to cover your ass than tho do what was militarily correct.

      In addition to that 97% of those who surrendered between June 1941 and may 42 were murdered by the nazis which gives a very high "kill ratio" and those are only the numbers that made it to some sort of camp, the numbers who got kill whilst surrendering and were never registered is even higher.

      After may 42 Hitler saw that the war wouldn't end quickly so decided to immediately exterminate the Slavic soldier but use them as forced labor.

      If one excludes those who died in captivity and compares to those who died in the field, then the USSR lost less than the Nazis and their allies. Especially when looking at the numbers after 42.

      The red army went through several reforms and was constantly re-evaluating what it was doing, the tactics would change, and again never ever was it written that one should attack expecting larger casualties or anything like that, that was never something anyone accepted. And by the end of the war the tactics and doctrine used by the ussr was better than that of the nazis.

      What is often omitted are the nazi allies, Romania Hungary Finland and all European volunteers who also fought against the Soviets, so comparison German vs Soviet often gives a wrong picture because it excludes the other nations soldiers. In addition to that the soviets would include sick into their wounded figures, where as the nazis only counted wounded.

      The nazis and Finns went even further in this numbers game where a person who was wounded but brought back to a hospital in Germany or Finland and later died was classified a civilian who died by civilian means the Finns did the same.

      Then the nazis would often omit the some of the German soldiers who were part of Greater Germany i.e the borders after 1937 for example Austria, if an "Austrian" soldier died he was Austrian and not German.

      Then of course we have the fact that the German internal bookkeeping broke down so no one really knew how many died. And that was also omitted for a really long time.

      And then we have the fact that when these myths began to rise in the 1970s the USSR was the enemy state so anything negative said about it was good, in addition the ussr was not going to contradict these myths and say how they fought because if there was a new war it would be good if the enemy thought them incompetent, and the ussr was not going to share any tactics that it might use in the coming war.

      And finally when there was a battle in place X then for the Germans a smaller geographical area was used and a smaller time frame, and those numbers are then used to compare to a larger geographical area and a longer time frame for the Soviets.

      These type of number games in addition to obvious great leaps in logic is how the myth survives.

      I repeat the whole hordes and accepting larger casualties is just that a myth.

    6. *to not immediately exterminate

  13. The T-34 was great in face of an AT defence of mainly 37 mm calibre. Later on it was as inadequate as the Pzkpfw IV, which never had a proper turret armour strength.

    It wasn't necessary to push forward nearly as much at Dunkirk as suggested here. It as only necessary to push enough forward to have artillery observation posts covering the remaining Allied shore. This was possible, and the costs would have been much less than the Allies'. It might have meant that the UK would have accepted peace later in 1940, even if only for a year or two. This in turn would have allowed a greater German focus on the Soviet Union and land warfare in 1941/1942.

    1. Agree about T-34. An excellent general purpose tank for 1941-3, and falling off the pace there after. (i.e., same as Sherman, excellent in 1942, falling off pace thereafter).

      On Dunkirk, fun reflection. Artillery battles between the two sides would have been interesting. The British heavy and medium artillery units that fought in the retreat were constantly asking generals like Brook for more targets during the retreat, and the Germans were reliant on field artillery for most of the Battle of France because the heavier units simply could not keep up with the pace of advance. I imagine the RN also would have been able to give the British the advantage here unless the Luftwaffe could stop them. German artillery controlled places like Tobruk in daylight later in the war, but had little effect on night evacuations, but that was at the Allies nadir of resources in 1941 and 1942. German artillery failed to stop allies using ports in Sicily, Italy, and France whenever the RN net enough ships to dominate the artillery battles later on.

      Interesting to wonder if British destroyers had spent more time at Dunkirk in artillery duels, and less parked along wharves, whether that would have meant less losses of destroyers, or less men evacuated in the same time, or both?

      All idle speculation as usual.

  14. One thing that needs mentioning for the T-34 is the fact that it made the Germans rethink their tanks and have to push the Tiger and Panther out asap. The T-34 is directly responsible for the 88 on the Tiger and the sloping armour on the Panther.

    If it wasn't for the mechanical issues, terrible tactics and lack of training Germany would have found itself in some big trouble early on in Barbarossa.

    Always hard to pick an overall winner with these sort of topics, what's the best plane, ship, infantry weapon etc.

  15. Best tank of WWII was the Sherman, hands down. With the 76mm gun it had a 7 to 1 exchange ratio against the T-34/85 in Korea.

    Why was the Sherman superior? Because of its effective and stabilized HE gun against the 90% of German formations that had no tanks, it could move and shoot and kill German antitank guns in ambush positions.

    Against the few German units with tanks or Jagdpanzers, it would win using the right tactics: Sneak up on them, penetrate to the flank and rear, and dash close while firing.

    It served from north Africa, through Europe, from Stalingrad to Berlin with the Russians, from Normandy to the Elbe, from Sicily to the Po, from the Rivera to Prague, and at the key locations of the Pacific war: Manchuria to the Yalu, and from Pusan perimeter to the Yalu the other way. The only places that didn't have Shermans in use were Greece, Iraq, and Finland in WWII. The Sherman served in Greece and in Israel after the war, often refitted with the 75mm gun of the Panther by the French.

    1. The Sherman in the second world war in US service rarely enjoyed a 76mm gun.

      The units deployed later in Korea were fielding upgraded versions. And they were commanded by combat veterans who'd then been trained in updated doctrine.
      The North Korean T-34's were crewed by greenhorn crews and using Soviet second world war tactical doctrine suited to enjoying superiority in numbers and supporting firepower that they couldn't have.

      And even then: the 7 to 1 ratio is highly exaggerated.

      The Korean war is not relevant here. We're talking about the second world war, where the Sherman was found wanting against the German Panzerwaffe sorry.

    2. By wars end half of the m4s in the ETO had 76mm guns some even had 90mm.

    3. Russell the m4a3e8 deployed in Korea were late ww2 designs of which 4500 were produced by wars end if that's what you mean by upgraded. If you think the tank crews were crusty ww2 vets.... Probably not in most cases
      As for doctrine I'm not sure how that really effects specific tactical engagements. Given that once combat starts doctrine goes out the window replaced by local tactical considerations.

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  16. One thing to know about suspensions, is that a key factor is the availability of high quality rubber. The Germans didn't have it, so they had to compensate by making their road wheels larger, leading to the overlapping design. That gave them the high maintenance designs that caused them so much trouble, and the high failure rate for their roadwheels that tied their armored attacks to rail heads.

    By contrast, US and UK had no shortage of high quality rubber, and could use the smaller road wheels, and less maintenance intensive designs. That meant that US armored vehicles could road march to the point of conflict, concentrating as necessary. Military professionals of the time knew and understood the Lanchester equations, and would concentrate units and fire to punch holes, and then exploit. Overrunning enemy units, capturing great numbers, and leaving the Germans to destroy their cut off and out of fuel tanks was a mark of success.

    At the Bulge, the Panzer spearheads were able to break into the US lines with 5000 men, but only 500 walked out, after the loss of their heavy equipment. Such was the success of the US defense in depth.

  17. Nigel - you suggest that the reason the Germans didn't attack the Brits at Dunkirk was based on risk aversion.

    Could you comment on David Irving's assertion that in 1940 the Germans were trying to avoid war with Britain and even sent Rudolph Hess (via parachute into the Scottish highlands) to make peace overtures. Irving argues that the Germans did not attack the fleeing Brits precisely because Hitler didn't want war with England.

    This view goes a long ways towards explaining why the Germans didn't turn the British Expeditionary Force into minced meat using air power.


    1. Dear Terry

      It is no secret that Hitler didn't want to fight Britain, and stated in Mien Kampf that Britain was Germany's natural ally.

      On that basis he certainly wanted to negotiate a 'peace', possibly even like the Peace of Amiens in 1805 - a lull in the Napoleonic wars.

      That said, I don't think many of his generals wanted to advance into the teeth of the best allied troops in a street fight, when they still had 80 off French divisions to defeat. Moscow proved later that tired troops can't be asked to do too much. (10th army, the one that ran out of steam outside Moscow, had been forced to 'divert' all the way to Greece en route to Barbarossa... with fatal results.)

      If the cost wasn't too great, it would have been worth trying to capture those men at Dunkirk as a bargaining point.

      But that assumes anyone (Admiral Ramsay included) had a clue how successful the 'miracle' of Dunkirk would be.

      I suspect most people (including the British generals in the BEF) were assuming the majority would have to surrender.

      I think Hitler had several things on his mind, but defeating France was No.1.

    2. A bit more reading on this has also pointed out that the maze of rivers and canals around Dunkirk made the place an ideal place to trap and destroy tanks, and tha the German high command knew this pretty well.

      Tank availability was already way down, and maintenance of the survivors was as important as not wasting th resource when Hitler and his generals still had the rest of France to conquer.

      Now I am certainly not convinced that France could have survived even if Germany had crippled much of her tank strength at Dunkirk, but it does make you wonder if a much slowed advance could have given them some time to -if not recover - make better preparations for evacuations and fighting on from the colonies...

      Good fun to consider I suppose...

    3. The British stopped the German advance at Arras. The Germans never moved much further after. The Germans could not have taken Dunkirk, they would have been badly beaten. The Luftwaffe was defeated over Dunkirk by mainly the RAF who formed a CAP.

      The British were retreating back to the UK after the French collapsed - a programme already in motion after General Gort assessed the French (run by 'very' old men) and declined a counter-attack. All armies retreat and regroup when the need is there. There happened to be a body of water in the line of the retreat. The Germans could not have taken Dunkirk if they attacked. The British even won the air battle over Dunkirk. There was also British AA guns on the ground. More German than allied planes were destroyed in the Dunkirk pocket.

      Only six small warships were sunk at Dunkirk by the Germans as the Luftwaffe was kept at bay and the retreat operation was carried out as planned. All bridges to Dunkirk were destroyed by the allies. The first defeat of the Nazis in WW2 was in the air by the British over Dunkirk. Germany was consolidating their remaining armour and the important resupply from Germany for an expected attack by the British and French from the south. They had no option but to stop.

      The British counter=attacked at Arras was with outdated Matilda 1 tanks, which only had machine guns, and a few of the new Matilda 2 tanks. The Germans fled in droves. The Germans countered with superior numbers then pushed back the Brits. In desperation the Germans turned a 88mm AA gun horizontal and it worked against the Matilda 2 - their conventional anti-tank weapons and tanks could not penetrate the tank. Rommel thought he had been hit by a force three times the size, which made them stop and rethink. The British resolve and the new Matilda 2 made the Germans sit up and think about a street fight in Dunkirk against a consolidated force still with its weapons and the new Matilda 2 - the 88mm would be useless in Dunkirk streets while the Matilda 2 would be in its element. The Matilda 2 could knock out any German tank at the time, only the 88mm could knock it out. The Germans were expecting the Matilda 2 to be shipped over in numbers. A Dunkirk street fight was a fight the German troops were untrained and unequipped for and unwise to get involved in.

      German preoccupation rightly was with an expected attack from the French and British forces in the south not from Dunkirk which was too much of a formidable dug-in opponent. The German column had Allied troops to each side and there was soft marshland to the south west of Dunkirk unsuitable for tanks. If German forces had engaged in a street battle for Dunkirk, they would be vulnerable on their weak flank from the south. In short any German forces attacking Dunkirk would have been wiped out. There was a British plan to break out of the Dunkirk Pocket using British and French forces which was abandoned by Gort. All military school studies since have show it would have been a success.

  18. Nigel,

    You stated in your blog that Omar Bradley did not accept an offer by the British for Fireflys just prior to D-Day. My understanding is that he felt that only the "funnies" were unnecessary. Do you have any factual evidence to support that he was referring to the Firefly as well? Is there a source documenting the British offer of Fireflys to the Americans prior to the D-Day landings?


    1. I have seen it in several general books on tanks, but I do not know of the original source. Some books suggest they were offered on a 1 to 1 basis of sharing.

      Anyone know the details?

    2. British funnies

      As I understand it, the stories of the Americans turning down the funnies are due to two post-war claims by people who should have been knowledgeable. Chester Wilmot in "The Struggle for Europe" quotes Percy Hobart in a post-war interview as claiming both that while Bradley was initially interested after talking with subordinates he later changed his mind, and that their failure to use funnies was a major cause of the American losses at Omaha Beach. In Omar N. Bradley and Clay Blair, "A General’s Life: An Autobiography by General of the Army Omar N. Bradley," Bradley makes a claim to the effect that he didn't accept the funnies because they were Churchills. Naturally these statements were taken at face value by many other historians. However both statements appear to have been made without referring to documents, human memory is fallible, and the records indicate that the Americans did request several types of funnies, and analyses of the funnies performance on the Commonwealth beaches indicates that they would not have been useful on Omaha Beach.

      Prior to 1944 the Americans had started an initiative similar to Hobart's in the states, but as a backup had provided him with some of his funding. This funding was focused on developing Sherman based funnies. By late 1943 the US based effort was obviously behind schedule, and that effort was dropped in the hope that Hobart would be able to fulfill their needs, increasing his funding as a result. As Hobart noted, after the January presentation Bradley was only enthusiastic about the DD tanks, but deferred the decisions to his subordinates, General Leonard T. Gerow, commander of the U.S. V Corps, in particular.

      Gerow in March submitted a request for a number of funnies, emphasizing the Sherman variants, but including some of the Churchill/Valantine funnies for which there were no Sherman equivalents. Unfortunately, Hobart was also behind schedule, though not as badly as the US effort, and it soon became obvious that he could barely meet the pre-D-Day Commonwealth demand, and the highest priority US DD tank demand. What pre-D-Day surplus he had would have been almost entirely Churchills, in such limited quantities that their main effect would have been to complicate US logistics. As a result a compromise was reached, almost all non-DD funnies would be delivered to Hobart's 79th Armored Division. Post D-Day deliveries would be used to augment his division, and it would then be treated as a shared resource from which units of funnies would be detached on an as needed basis for use for British, Canadian, and US actions. This decision limited US logistical problems.

      In the event the funnies weren't particularly useful on D-Day itself. The flail tanks were ineffective in eliminating mines so they were mostly removed by British engineers, but delay in trying out the flails put them behind the US effort. The pillboxes near the beaches were sited so that they were easier to take out with artillery and tank guns rather than flamethrowers, though the Crocodiles would prove very useful within a few days, when off the beach. As a whole the most useful aspect of the funnies on that day was their guns, and the main effect of the modifications and attachments was to reduce available space on transports, and complicate the crossings of sea walls, beach shingle, and German defenses. The consensus seems to be that the American D-Day effort benefited by replacing the missing funnies with Shermans.

    3. I should know better than to post based on memory. My comments on Hobart's funnies was based on Richard C. Anderson's comments in World War II forums. While I remembered them correctly as to the US Army's non-use of them as being due to unavailability and not uninterest, I overstated their uselessness with regards to the Commonwealth beaches. His comments were largely confined to skepticism about their usefulness on Omaha Beach. See Richard C. Anderson, Jr, "Cracking Hitler's Atlantic Wall," "Appendix C: The Funnies and Omaha Beach."

  19. I love this topic and have done a little research on why the glaring inadequacies of the Sherman, which was to be such an important part of the combined war effort weren't addressed. What I found shocked me.
    It turns out that the opinions of american tactical commanders of the Sherman can be broken up into roughly 2 eras, pre battle of the bulge and post. Before bulge when surveyed American tactical commanders down to the battalion level expressed overall satisfaction with the M4 . True Normandy has been very costly in tanks and tank crews, and after Normandy the Americans investigated why this was so and made several suggestions. But after the breakout and rapid advance across France it seems a sort of euphoria set in and the lessons of Normandy were quickly forgotten.
    After the stupifying tank losses at the bulge, tactical commanders were screaming for upgrades, which were available but only in very small numbers (Sherman jumbo). Satisfaction with the jumbo types was very high. Which brings me to a question I can't find answers for.
    Why weren't up armor kits made available?

    1. Hi David, as I understand it, the Sherman Jumbo (M4A3E2) weighed 42 tons, up from the usual 30-32 tons of the standard M4. This overloaded the vertical volute suspension and crushed wheel bearings, as well as increasing the tank's ground pressure, making it poor cross-country, even with "grouser" track extensions. The Jumbo was only good for rolling down roads and soaking up AT fire. I hope this helps. Mike Stanmore.

    2. Hi David, as I understand it, the Sherman Jumbo (M4A3E2) weighed 42 tons, up from the usual 30-32 tons of the standard M4. This overloaded the vertical volute suspension and crushed wheel bearings, as well as increasing the tank's ground pressure, making it poor cross-country, even with "grouser" track extensions. The Jumbo was only good for rolling down roads and soaking up AT fire. I hope this helps. Mike Stanmore.

    3. Dear David and Mike,

      agree to an extent with both of you.

      Will point out that the Matilda II and Grant were still being used in slightly upgraded forms against the Japs in 1945... They were still effective too.

      But that doesn't make them any more than adaptable. Saying that the Sherman was a good design in 1942, but not competitive with the latest designs of tank (no matter how many upgrades – and at what cost) by 1945, is not a personal insult. Just a statement of fact.

    4. I couldn't disagree more actually. No matter which way I look at it the Sherman always comes out on top in terms of total combat effectiveness. First the reputation it had for catching fire is a myth that was been disproven thoroughly at least in so far as every other tank on the battle field burned just as readily. In fact after they received wet stowage ammo racks in the floor they were the least fire prone tank in the world.

      Secondly it's look down shoot down capability was the best by far of any tank in existence. What does that mean? It's gun depression was an amazing 10 degrees! It's gun also had a primitive vertical gyro stabilizer for better "peek and pop'. When the Sherman's got the high ground Whoa!

      Another thing people overlook about the Sherman was that it could do ANYTHING! Want to make a tank destroyer out of it? Sure what size gun? 3 inch or 90mm. Need an assault tank? Here's a Sherman jumbo go jumbo it up. Need an assault gun? 105mm howitzer Ok?. Need mobile artillery? I'll put the 105 in the tank straight up for you. Maybe you need more punch in the high ex department here's a 155mm long Tom for you! Need a bridge, Sherman bridge. Don't have enough Jumbo's around make your own! Smoother ride HVSS.

      The real problem with the Sherman was not it's design. It was the people who decided which upgrades it would get and how many of each they REALLY needed. This knowledge unfortunately would have to be bought in blood... Twice! After Normandy we knew the Sherman's needed bigger guns and a turret was developed to house the 90mm... they never pulled the trigger on it because of lack of demand. But the grunt tankers knew better, they were screaming for bigger guns which largely fell on deaf ears higher up. Why do you need bigger guns were KILLING them statistically. But wars aren't fought by statistics they are fought by men, and the psychological impact of being outgunned in every engagement was higher than the commanders thought. In a psychological study it was found that after a tank crew man saw 3 friendly tanks knocked out he was virtually useless from fear. Even though statistically speaking he was almost 9 times more likely to survive the war than an average infantry man. I'm not saying the tankers had it easy I'm saying they knew what the higher ups didn't that being in an under gunned tank had a psychological toll far beyond what the statistics might lead one to believe. And it was appreciated far too late.
      Hard to believe? Take this sample from Normandy. Statistically speaking in Normandy an American tank was far more likely to be knocked out by mines or panzer Faust or stugIII than a enemy tank. The number one fear was panthers.

      So I'll restate my assertion that the Sherman tank was by FAR the most combat effective tank on the field on any front it just wasn't used properly. Ordinance and AGF wrongly assumed that the battlefield commanders knew what equipment they needed. It wasn't there job to know what equipment they needed it was there job to take the equipment they were given and make the most of it which they did. Ordinance and AGF should have had hundreds of people assessing battlefield needs in the field they didn't. Hell all they really needed to do was steal the lessons the Germans and Russians had already learned.

      But that wasn't the Sherman's fault, it could be configured almost anyway they wanted.

  20. But I think it would be a mistake to assume that Sherman losses were proportionally higher than those of any other medium tank. I have never seen any evidence other than anecdotal to this effect. Quite the contrary when I read after action reports from American Third Army it shows that when the German pz4 and 5s showed themselves they had short lives indeed. And only in the fewest instances when they were in virtually unassailable positions were they able to hold up the advance for long. If anyone has statistical evidence to the contrary I'd love to see it.

    1. Dear David,

      two comments.

      When things are going well, you assume they will stay that way. The Germans thought they could win in Russia with the tanks that had won in France, whereas the Russians were busy on a new generation of tanks because theirs had failed so badly in Finland in 1940.

      Similalry the British were so impressed by the 6 pounder in 1942 that some people thought they could win the war with it. Saner heads prevailed and they were soon trying to shoehorn the 17 pounder into tanks.

      The Shermans were so successful in 1942 that it was assumed they would do, or that a little gun upgrade and a bit of extra armour might make them do. This was just inexperience. If they had been in the war as long as Britain, or Germany, or even Russia, they would have moved faster.

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    3. I agree and disagree. Agree inexperience delayed the upgrades needed for the m4 to be even more successful. Disagree on your assertion the m4 was obsolete even at the end of the war.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. I have an interest in historical weapons, with the general belief that that there was no such thing as the best tank of World War II. I find it alternately amusing and irritating that many such rankings choose features that are most important for a set piece battle against another tank. As a result ergonomics, reliability, maintenance, maneuverability, speed, anti-infantry/artillery weaponry, upgrade-ability, and logistics are ignored or dismissed. The resulting “best” are tanks that the Germans would have found useless for Army Group A in the Battle of France, they considered of little use for the main thrusts of Barbarossa, that couldn’t support the exploitation of British North African breakthroughs, that the Soviets suspend production on to focus on the T34, that Bayerlein considered of little use in the close quarters of Normandy, that the US would have found of little use in the exploitation of Operation Cobra, and that Pieper considered more of a potential problem rather than a help in the Ardennes.

    The first tank you use as an example, the Char B1, is the one I believe the Germans considered of little use in Barbarossa. The Germans freely used captured enemy equipment to arm their forces including French trucks, Czech tanks, and Soviet artillery. In the latter case they even made factories to produce Soviet gun ammunition. In the fall of France the German’s captured 161 Char B1s, a significant fraction of their Mk III and IV tank complements. Their experts did not view it as a wonder weapon. The poor ergonomics, high maintenance, poor reliability, and avgas fuel limited their use by the Germans. After reviewing their capabilities, they converted some to flamethrowers and a few to 105 mm self-propelled guns. Almost all the unconverted B1s were assigned to occupation troops, although a few saw service in the Balkans. There was a brief attempt at Hitler’s insistence ( to use the flamethrower versions in combination with a few unmodified B1s to attack Soviet fortresses, but after a month the unmodified B1’s were withdrawn, and only the flamethrowers and self-propelled guns were subsequently used against the Soviets. Many seem to have been deployed as protection for airfields, minimizing the avgas logistics. No B1s seem to have been sent to Finland to supplement the ones they used in the Winter War.

    I can, of course, go into far more detail about the problems of the Char B1, or any of the other tanks you favor.

    I will also note that another common aspect of such lists in general is nationalism, either consistently choosing the weapons of a single nation in all categories, or consistently discriminating against the obvious candidates from a specific nation.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Char B was designed to back up the Maginot line. It was certainly not a tank you would want to take to the Russian steppes.

      That was actually the main problem with the otherwise successful Matilda II. Ideal for the french front if trench warfare had re-occurred. Still potent as a 'fortress breaker' even in the North African desert, but not really suitable as a pursuit tank in any sort of Blitz warfare.

    2. The best all around tank was probably the antiquated looking Churchill. It was heavily armoured could match most tanks in the 6pdr gun version and with APDS ammunition could penetrate a Tiger. It could turn on its own axis and could climb mountains, as it did in Tunisia. At Dieppe it was the only tank in the world that could get off those pebble beaches. And half got over the sea wall. Attributes that went un-noticed to the Germans. Its failing was the slow engine - two bus engines mated and laid flat (which did give a lower centre of gravity). No attempt was made to insert the RR Meteor engine. It was to be discontinued but performed well at El Alemein so was kept on. It was also the basis of the Hobart 'Funnies'. A much ignored tank. And one a general would like in his arsenal.

      The Churchill also had the highest survivability in any tank of WW2.

    3. Good point.

      Hadn't noted the high survivability. Did that apply to crews of tanks that were disabled or destroyed as well as to the tanks themselves?

    4. If I recall, I think it was the numbers of tanks and those killed was less in Churchill's. It was also roomy. The crews liked it.

  22. One thing that shouldn't be forgotten, is that despite the up-gunning of tanks throughout the conflict to be better at dealing with other tanks; tank-vs-tank combats were rare and most of the tanks' usage was as infantry support or as "armoured cavalry" using its mobility to help encircle or probe on the offensive or help count-arrack on the defensive. Even in 1945.
    A tank would be more likely to go into combat with an AT gun or possibly a tank destroyer than another tank.

    The Sherman was rather good at the important infantry support and in mobile roles. It's big shortcomings were against German anti-tank defences and German tanks.
    But having said that; all tanks were good at the important support and in mobile roles in the latter half of the war. And the Sherman was really not a great basic design like the T-34.

    1. I disagree with your assessment that the t34 was a good design. Most t34s during the war had 2 man turrets severely limiting the awareness and effectiveness of the commander during battle as he also had to fire the gun. Gun depression was poor severely limiting defelade options. Fire on the move capabilities were practically nonexistent. Fire control in the 3 man turrets was not good. Future tanks would look more like the t38 on the outside but would be more like the m4 on the inside.

    2. This page gives a very concise and enlightening assessment of the t34s combat effectiveness. All source material for the assessment is documented.

      It's not pretty.

  23. Dear Nigel

    You might find this one interesting

    The video is rank historical revisionism, and any attempts people have made to criticise it have been given a lot of grief, there are days when I wonder why I bother!?

    Its advocates are simply refusing to accept contrary evidence, some from the best possible sources.

    1. A vocal subset of players of World of Tanks has an interest in historic accuracy, and they have enough funding to pay the speaker to do a professional job on that history to satisfy those users. From what I can tell in this presentation and his articles for the Chieftain's Hatch he does an excellent job of finding, identifying, publicizing, and analyzing the best possible sources. He does a particularly good job of avoiding the hyperbole that often attends discussions of tanks.
      For a historian the best possible evidence is primary source material, the reports and paperwork filed by the military and civilian bureaucracy, and the post action memoirs and oral histories of the participants. But primary source material si not without its problems. Some is missing, incomplete, damaged or subject (particularly the memoirs and the higher level summaries) to distortion for reasons of ego, gain, or political agenda. Using it properly requires cross checking numerous sources, a tedious and expensive process. As a result it is almost necessary to use a number of secondary sources that have already done the analysis. But secondary sources may be in error out of either political (David Irving on Dresden),social (SLA Marshall on reluctance to shoot) agendas, or laziness that doesn't do sufficient cross checking (the acceptance of Hobart's claims that the Americans losses on Omaha Beach were primarily due Bradley's failure to accept his "Funnies"). The most reliable secondary sources are those that involve expert studies well funded to provide lessons learned for the future on terms that avoid political interference.Unfortunately such studies were common in the US only in the first post-war decade, after that reports were more often designed to please the high command.
      The presentation and his column make extensive use of primary sources, and the most reliable types of secondary sources. I suspect you cannot provide better sources.

    2. Dear Edgeworthy, did find it interesting, thanks.

      Dear Bill, like your points too.

      I find the video clip evidence that the 75 Sherman seemed OK to American tankers until it hit Normandy, but proved there that the tankers were very wrong to think that the 75 was adequate (and perhaps they should have bought some 76's from the tank parks they had left in England) quite in keeping with my points.

      I also note that the statistics on crews surviving in Sherman's were not only better than I have seen elsewhere, but had convincing evidence (for a change).

      The video is well worth watching.

    3. Edgeworthy -The historian who's call sign is Chieftain who's work you have linked and branded as revisionism is possibly the foremost tank historian alive. If you know of a better source please enlighten.

  24. Hobart's claim that Bradley's rejection of his "Funnies" was a significant cause of the Omaha Beach casualties rests on several assumptions that are rarely examined: that the Americans didn't accept his "Funnies;" that Bradley was the reason for their non-acceptance; that if accepted they would have been provided; that if provided they could have been delivered to the beach without affecting the delivery of other equipment of comparable use; if delivered to the beach they would have been as useful as on the Commonwealth beaches; and they were critical on the CW beaches. Some of these assumptions are known to be wrong, the rest are at best questionable.
    It is known that Bradley did not consider himself an expert on armor. and as a result he did what any sensible commander would do he deferred the decision to more knowledgeable member of his staff. They then saw a demo of Churchill and Sherman based '"Funnies" in early February. Following that there was a letter at NARA on this from Brig. E. O. Herbert for the C-in-Cinc 21 Army Group (Monty) to the Under Secretary of State dated 16 Feb 44, and entitled "US Requirements for British Devices-OVERLORD." The letter indicates that the Americans did request "Funnies," but only Sherman based ones or Sherman compatible attachments.
    This request was not fulfilled, but it is not documented why. The most likely reason was that the British did not have the resources to fulfill it. Until late January the official plan was for three beaches. When the plan was expanded to five beaches requirements increased in proportion. In the event "Funnies" sufficient to supply the CW three beaches on D-Day were still being delivered at the last minute, and the CW had to rely on US supplied DD tanks. Any supplied to the Americans would have been at the cost of the CW.
    Transport for the first waves for Neptune was barely sufficient for the forces deployed. This was particularly true for the Americans, who had numbers similar to the CW, but with individual craft that were typically slightly smaller than those of the CW. If the "Funnies" had been available then either fewer Shermans would have been landed, or the CW would have had to also provide additional landing craft.
    Omaha Beach appears to have been the beach least amenable to the "Funnies". Those mines that were deployed were on locations largely inaccessible to the Sherman flails: marshes behind the shingle, paths up the bluffs, and behind the weapon nests on top of the bluffs. The AVRE Churchills were older models with little more armor than Shermans. Their benefits were largely confined to their attachments intended to bridge tank obstacles, and their petard mortars. The shingle on Omaha was wider than on other beaches, making AVRE bridging more problematic. Omaha had the largest number of anti-tank guns well emplaced to provide mutual cover. The mortar had limited range and exposed the loader. Getting in place to use them would have likely resulted in their rapid loss. Similarly the anti-tank ditches and walls near the washes, were also well covered.
    On the CW beaches the "Funnies" were generally useful, but not critical.The petard mortars and their sights were among the last equipment to be delivered, so the crews hadn't had the training to make optimal use of them. The bridging attachments were more useful, but regular tanks before crossing provided useful distant cover, and a fair number often managed to cross elsewhere.

  25. This statement: "This latter – the Sherman Firefly – was offered to the Americans, along with all the other ‘funnies’ that Percy Hobart had designed for the campaign, but again American military authorities - particularly General Omar Bradley - felt that none of this was necessary," has as many problems as the claim that the 'funnies' would have made a significant difference at Omaha Beach on D-day. I have seen references to two memos that the British offered Fireflies to the US: one in mid-winter 43-44 when the design was finalized, the other in late spring 44. The references are never detailed, as to time scale and quantities. I suspect the 43-44 winter offer was solely the tank turret made available for testing and evaluation (
    As to the spring offer, the context strongly implies that the Fireflies were offered to be available on time for use on Omaha Beach. I am beyond skeptical on that point. It is possible that someone on the British side was unrealistic enough to suggest that they might be available on that time scale, but in the event production was not able to meet Commonwealth expectations until well after D-Day. According to Bill Buckley, British Armor in the Normandy Campaign," p. 173, plans up to mid May were that the tank regiments were to have 15 fireflies each, but had to make do with 12. Discussions in the Axis History forum by Richard Anderson indicate that some Canadian armored regiments had fewer than the British.
    As with the AVREs, even if the fireflies were provided to the Americans the questions remain as to how they would be shipped, and how useful they would be. The Fireflies were good anti-tank tanks, but worse than the 75 mm Shemans at any other application at that time. Attacks on prepared positions benefits from HE, but their mid-44 HE was poor and of limited availability. They carried fewer rounds, had a lower rate of fire, and lacked a machine gun for suppressing infantry, The weight of the gun decreased their mobility. The Americans faced no armor that day. The anti-tank company in Kampfgruppe Meyer thaat could have attacked Omaha, was Stugs and older French tanks vulnerable to the M4 75mm. Of the six panzerstellung at Omaha, four were French WW I turrets, and the other two were difficult to target. They were too long for the DD units, and LCTs were of very limited supply.
    As to Bradley turning down fireflies I can find no sources other than you with that claim. On the contrary, if you Google Bradley and fireflies, you will find numerous discussions of Bradley's failed attempt to get fireflies in mid-August 44. Unfortunately initially the British were still busy replacing their Normandy losses, then they needed tanks for the conversion, they were unwilling to use their reserves in Britain on the promise they would be replaced by American tanks in the pipeline, the Americans had underestimated their losses and had no reserves on hand, and the field commanders were unwilling to take tanks out of the front line to send them back to Britain. Eventually 100+ were produced for the Americans, but saw less action than the Pershings.
    As to the post-D-day parts of the Normandy campaign. The bocage in the American and Western Commonwealth sectors, tended to result in close quarters combat with frequent ambushes. All German (and Allied) tanks were vulnerable in their sides, and could be penetrated by almost any anti-tank gun in the opponents inventory. The 17-pdr was less critical in that terrain than in the more open country near Caen.

    1. Dear Bill,

      agree with much of that. Certainly I think 'offers' and actual 'availabilities' were all highly unrealistic. Not really my point.

      Different types of tanks are needed for different jobs. The Allies eventually found they really, really, needed 'bunker busters' and crocodiles and DD tanks and later 'hedgecutters and 'kangaroos' just as much as standard gun tanks.

      Gun tanks were better for dealing with infantry and anti-tank guns, but upgraded anti-tank tanks were needed for dealing with 3 Tigers at close range as they smash through dozens of under gunned 'gun tanks'. (See the battle in the British sector where they were glad they had a mixture of 75's - general purpose anti-infantry/anti-anti-tank gun - as well as 6 pounder models capable of putting holes in Tiger's!)

      That is the point about the Americans being damned lucky that they didn't face any real armoured opposition for a considerable period. Certainly not until they had massed artillery available to deal with it.

      That doesn't alter the point that again and again during the war field commanders had said: '6 pounders will be fine to see out the war', or 'Shermans will be fine to see out he war', or 'we don't need specialist armour, we'll just stack up the bodies until we win...'. The allies kept winning regardless, but it makes a mockery of the idea that they were doing their best to get high tech alternatives to soft bodies...

  26. "The British response was surprisingly fast (considering how slowly things had changed in the past), not only designing and manufacturing 17 pounder version of the Cromwell from scratch in time to have some available for the D-Day landings; but also developing a version of the Sherman that carried the 17 pounder gun." This sentence show such a thorough misunderstanding of the history of the Cruiser Mk VIII Challenger, the only tank that might be considered a 17 pdr version of the Cromwell that I hardly know where to begin.
    Challenger development was not quick and was the source of much controversy between Britain's combat forces and the Department of Tank Design (DTD). A common problem for previous British tank designs involved turret rings too small to accept subsequent gun designs. The delays induced by the resulting redesigns, left all parties unhappy. This appeared to be solved with the Churchill and the Cntaur (the Cromwell's "predecessor") which could accept both the 6 pdr and the 3 in gun that accepted US 75 mm ammo.
    Work on incorporating the 17 pdr in these designs began in early 1942. However the 17 pdr brought the old issues to bear. The attempt to incorporate the 17 pdr into a design based on the Churchill, the Black Prince, was so delayed it was in effect replaced by the Centurion. The Challenger was more successful, getting into production in 1943, but the result was not well liked by the high command. It was higher than some Sherman variants, had less armor, had a lengthened track with a tendency to derail and increase stress on the drive train, and had production problems possibly due to the high demand for the Meteor engine. Less than 300 were built. They were never modified to be waterproof, and as a result, contrary to your claim, none were fielded on D-Day in Normandy. They were only issued to troops in NWE in August, after the COBRA breakout. They then went through a couple of cycles of service for a month or two, then withdrawal from service to address problems found in the field. Their crews were generally happy with them, but not the supply or maintenance personnel or the British high command.
    As to the Firefly, its development was not a good example of the wisdom of the DTD.[1] It began as a back door project by George Brighty and George Witheridge two majors at Lulworth, that were unhappy with the pace of development of the Challenger and Black Prince projects, and generally thought that the Sherman was a better design than the Cromwell and Churchill. It is not clear how they go tanks to experiment with, and it is well documented that for a time the DTD attempted to stop work on the Sherman Firefly.
    [1] David Fletcher, "The Sherman Firefly," New Vanguard

    1. perhaps I didn't put enough sarcasm into that 'surprisingly fast' comment... I am pretty underwhelmed by how slowly the Western Allies responded EVERY time the writing was on the wall!

  27. "The best tank in the world in 1939 was the French Somua 35 (closely followed by the FrenchCharB). These tanks were, for the period, the best armed, armoured, and most mechanically reliable vehicles available." While the Somua 35 had a good record of reliability the same cannot be said for the Char Bis. The 75 mm on the Char Bis required turning the tank for fine grained aiming. which in turn resulted in the adoption of the Naeder "steering" system, which had high maintenance requirements, and restrictions on operating conditions. The reliance on avgas also caused its own form of reliability problems, making the system prone to fuel starvation.

    1. Well, again, I agree that the Char B wasn't any great shakes on maintenance, but my point is that the Somua was a cruiser, and the Char B a heavy, and for their time, they were the best. As I commented somewhere above, that does not make me imagine that the Char B could have been used on the Russian steppes...

      On the other hand, if the maintenance issues had been worth the effort of moving that many semi-obsolete heavies with completely different supply requirements, they might have been much more use to the Germans at siege intensive places like Sevastapol or Leningrad than the Panzer III's that were completely unsuitable for such work...

    2. Hi Nigel, I just wanted to thank you for this blog. It's been a great read. I'm an "old" ww2 Wargames who recently "got back into it" (after finding my 1973 Wargames Research Group rules. My vote for the best tank of WW2? I know it wasn't the Sherman Jumbo, the King Tiger or the T34/76 (though it was probably the most influential). Probably the Comet, but British tanks tended to be cramped... Oh dear, maybe there wasn't one...

    3. Hi Nigel, I just wanted to thank you for this blog. It's been a great read. I'm an "old" ww2 Wargames who recently "got back into it" (after finding my 1973 Wargames Research Group rules. My vote for the best tank of WW2? I know it wasn't the Sherman Jumbo, the King Tiger or the T34/76 (though it was probably the most influential). Probably the Comet, but British tanks tended to be cramped... Oh dear, maybe there wasn't one...

  28. The best wwii tank is Sherman. Why? It incorporated several key features for modern mobile tank fight: gyrostablizer-to fire during fast moving, you have to appreciate how critical it was; fast turret turning speed, 10 seconds for 360 degrees, none of the german and british and soviet tanks had that, and again this was critical for tank fight; the high profile-yes, the so much disputed high profile, it gave you significant better view range than german and soviet ones, it let you shoot first, how precious that alpha was. It was superior to III and IV, as demonstrated in North Africa, but outclassed by V and VI. But Sherman jumbo was comparable to V and VI in armor, but not in firepower. If the war extended for another two or three years, I am sure that Shermo Jumbo would have fitted something like 17pounds, making it a mini-heavy, comparable to Panther and Tiger I. At the time, US already had workable prototypes for real heavy tank, T29-T32, which led to M103, this was the one could easily counter Tiger II and IS3. Anyway, I have to say that US had the best designing theories and techniques for modern tanks in WWII. Period.

    1. The Jumbo could have sported the turret and gun of the Pershing right away. They were virtually interchangable.

    2. @WhoAmI
      'The best wwii tank is Sherman.'
      Are you having a laugh?
      'I have to say that US had the best designing theories and techniques for modern tanks in WWII. '
      You are having a laugh!

  29. Hey Nigel

    I think there are several myths regarding the M4 Sherman being a bad tank. This article here completely dunks those myths:

    In other words, the Sherman was perfectly capable of fighting most German AFVs. But why did you put the Centurion in 1945? It didn't see any combat at the end of WWII, I think the M26 Pershing would fit well into the 'all purpose part. Powerful gun, reasonably strong armor and mobility (despite a weak engine) plus it saw combat.

    1. The Sherman was obsolete on introduction. The amazing thing was that US forces put all their eggs into one basket and only had one tank. By the time they realised it was unsuitable for all engagements and a new tank was designed and built the war had ended. Too late.

    2. I wouldn't say it was obsolete. It was qute a good design for 1941 and even 1942. As the above debate shows, it was in fact considerably better than the much lauded T34 in many ways, and certainly more adaptable.

      But not preparing the follow up model until too late was just as disastrous as the British putting off the introduction of the 6 pounder into their tanks for 2 disastrous years.

    3. The T-34 showed the way in basics of tank design: low, wide tracks, fast, superb suspension, sloped armour, dedicated tank engine, etc. The Panther was based on it. Tank v tank battles were the norm and had been since 1940, yet the Sherman was an infantry tank. All this was known to the US designers of the Sherman. They had the benefit of the British experience of tank design as well.

      The Cromwell was a better tank than the Sherman, that is not saying much, but even that was obsolete on introduction. Crew ergonomics and protection was scant in the design of both. The Sherman lacked a lot overall and was not suitable for purpose, which was a 'universal' tank. The US put all their eggs in one basket with this unremarkable tank. They only had one type.

    4. The Sherman was a far more survivable tank than the t34 and far more combat capable in almost every respect. It's gun had a FAR higher rate of fire almost 3 times higher. It's armor was thicker, faster turret ,faster off road speed, far more reliable, endlessly upgradable in armor and gun. The t34 was a good design for 1941. But by the end of the war the Sherman outclassed it in every way and not just by a little. I'll admit I'm a bit of a Sherman fanboy but facts are facts.

  30. The Centurion was undergoing evaluations in Belgium when the war in Europe ended, and weren't deployed to the Japanese theater. Its not that they didn't see combat in British units, it was that it wasn't deployed to British units by VE day. Six of them were undergoing evaluation, that's it.

    These little historical missteps of widely available factual data always seem to benefit the perception of how the Brits faired vis a vis the actual reality.

    The Pershing, which was actually deployed to combat units and even saw actual combat in Germany would be the choice for 1945 based on your criteria otherwise.

  31. The Centurion was undergoing evaluations in Belgium when the war in Europe ended, and weren't deployed to the Japanese theater. Its not that they didn't see combat in British units, it was that it wasn't deployed to British units by VE day. Six of them were undergoing evaluation, that's it.

    These little historical missteps of widely available factual data always seem to benefit the perception of how the Brits faired vis a vis the actual reality.

    The Pershing, which was actually deployed to combat units and even saw actual combat in Germany would be the choice for 1945 based on your criteria otherwise.

    1. You know, I have real problems with this 'it didn't engage the enemy, therefore it wasn't of that period.

      There are dozens of Cold War jets or tanks that never engaged the enemy, but are still Cold War designs.

      I have real problems with the idea that the Type XXIII U-boat sunk 5 ships, so was a WWII design, and the Type XXI didn't sink any, so wasn't.... Despite U-2511 having a British ship in her sights when she heard the war was over...

      The Centurions were in Belgium, being moved to the front, when Germany surrendered. That's several months of operational deployment before the end of WWII. They had no actual combat in WWII, but were contemporaries of the Pershing, end of story.

      The Pershing, saw 20 of the 310 actually sent to Europe before VE day, make it to the front line, had half a dozen combat engagements at this time. They had no real effect on the outcome of the war, but were definitely a wartime effort.

      Personally, I don't see how you can logically define the Centurion as a post war design.

      But if you are capable of saying the Germans Type XXI was not a wartime design, you are capable of believing anything.

    2. Because the Pershing was deployed to front line units and saw action, and because the Centurion wasn't. That's a pretty clear analysis. No one is saying if it was in action but didn't kill anything - we are saying it had the opportunity to fight. The Centurion didn't have the opportunity to fight.

      From the Centurion wiki: Full production began in November 1945 with an order for 800[16] on production lines at Leyland Motors, Lancashire the Royal Ordnance Factories at Leeds and Woolwich, and Vickers at Elswick. The tank entered service in December 1946 with the 5th Royal Tank Regiment.[17]

      The first Centurion wasn't put into a combat unit until more than a year after the end of WWII.

      It WAS the best tank of the early post-war period, without a doubt.

    3. OK, so you think the Type XXI was NOT a wartime design... I wonder what it was?

    4. The Centurion was the last of the 'cruiser' tanks. Clearly a WW2 design. The development of the RR Meteor tank engine gave British tank designers much more scope and hence the Centurion came along.

      The Centurion was 'deployed', in 'service', in WW2. They rushed to get it blooded but the war came to an end. It was considered for the invasion of Japan, as the Japanese were knocking out Shermans in Okinawa and took Pershings there, which also were not used as the war ended. The war with Japan was planned to run into 1946.

  32. Very interesting post thank you, I agree that the Centurion was WWII tank and it was a shame it did not get there earlier. Same story as the British jet an almost criminal lack of forthought by the government if only they had given Frank Whittle funding earlier. We have ended up with arguably the best tank in the world the challenger 2 a direct descendant of the centurion.

    1. As usual, it comes down to 'what for'?

      Centurion was generally brilliant (which is why its still in service) while the Chieftain was a bit heavy for general purpose (but it was mainly designed for the German plains I suppose), which is why it mostly isn't still in service (except for some engineer models).

      Still the British kept the technological edge, and the 'Chobham' composites and reactive armours they developed are standard on the newer Abrams and Leopard II's as well as the Challengers.

  33. 'Troop Leader' by Bill Bellamy and 'By Tank into Normandy" by Stuart Hills are great bases of reference for the European theatre tank warfare. Tigers and panther were respected, but the tactics were there to deal with them. The big fear was a panzerfaust in the hands of a determined soldier. It was accepted that whoever shot first, killed the other tank. There doesn't seem to be any great angst over armour, or a bigger gun. Usually if hit, most of a crew got out before the second shell came, sometimes not. It was a grubby affair for both sides. In one action Hills talks about the Firefly in his troop, along with the 75 equipped Shermans, finishing a Tiger, and a couple of Panthers, and several Mark IV's in one action for the loss of a couple of Shermans.Generally they pulled back and called in the ever ready 25 pounder support to eliminate the big cats. It was all about the right tactics, and luck, and professionalism. The big technological improvement that's mentioned is when they get infra-red sights in the new Chaffee recon tanks-no armour, 75mm, but crews happy to take it into combat. Because they had the tactics to defeat the big cats, if they saw them first.

  34. @Nigel Davies
    The Comet was what the Cromwell should have been. I assume the Cromwell was smaller as they didn't know how much HP the RR Meteor engine produced. If the designers knew while they were developing the Cromwell (the Meteor was being developed simultaneously) they would have made the Comet. The Comet ended up an interim tank and would have made a difference in numbers the Caen sector.

  35. "Only the Americans had a different division, with their preference being general purpose cruisers with low velocity 75's, and 'tank destroyers' with high velocity 76.2's, but based on pretty similar hulls. In some ways their division was prescient, in that the German 'Jagd' tank destroyers were just a more streamlined version of the same principle - heavier gun on specialist version of similar hull. But it left the Americans with a hole in the assault tank/infantry support category that was never adequately filled. (Whenever they needed heavy tanks to assault one of the fortified ports in France, it was the specialised Churchill's of General Hobart's 79th division that they had to call on.)"

    Mr. Davies, you neglected to mention the Sherman 'Jumbo' at this point as it is very relevant to this part of your article. Also it was a very effective vehicle. Yes, I'm aware that only about 250 were converted as such but these vehicles were certainly not designed by Hobarts team of geniuses. Also, the earlier models of Sherman compared with the same T-34...the advantage is certainly on the Sherman. The only real advantage the Russian tank had was wider tracks and a problematic diesel engine. Either tanks' gun could destroy the other at normal combat ranges (500m) but the optics and three man turret crew of the Sherman would give it a substantial edge. Thank you and I enjoy your blog immensely.

    1. The T-34 had the Kharkiv model V-2 diesel engine which did have some initial problems which were ironed out soon enough. The engine was made until recently (it may still be), although adapted over time. The V2 was an excellent engine.

      The Sherman Jumbo would grind up the transmission and running gear as it was too heavy for what mechanicals were fitted. It was used as an initial breakthrough tank and then retired and not used.

      The British wanted to make a heavier Sherman to pool and standardise resources. The US rejected it. It would probably have had a RR Meteor engine. The RR Merlin was made by Packard in the USA so any version of the tank made there would have easy engine availability.

      The T-34 did have a 3 man turret version, with a larger gun as well. You have to be a Sherman apologist..... :)

    2. I was referring to the early model M4's and T-34-76's. If you want to bring up the T34-85 built in 1944 we can do that, but then I'll throw out the M4A3E8 which still was the superior vehicle, it's dominance against North Korean T-34/85's attest to that. And yes, the V2 did become over time and excellent engine. Too bad the Soviet transmissions were garbage. In any case, what's there to apologize about? The Sherman (obviously not the best tank in WW2)was however, a war winning design.

    3. Different variants of the same tank make little difference. I personally am more impressed by the T34-85 upgrade than by the attempts to up armour or up gun the Sherman, but am glad they were - belatedly - made.

      Doesn't alter the basic point. The war was indeed 'won' with mass production of steadily more outdated designs (both those two and the Churchill and Cromwell), while British and American leaders delayed the introduction of better machines which could EASILY have been produced earlier.

      This was at the cost of their soldiers lives.

    4. Indeed. The Centurion's introduction was delayed by order. It could have been available in Normandy where it would have been great asset to the British, who engaged about 95% of German armour. It would have also been good at punching out concrete bunkers in the German 'Atlantic Wall'.

    5. @Paul Breedlove
      The Sherman was not a war wining 'design', its design on introduction was outdated, with the war's progress increasingly so. It was relatively 'successful' only because over 50,000 of them were made.

    6. @John Burns, you just made the statement for me that the Sherman was a war-winning design quite simply because of the fact that over 50,000 were made. You need a sensible design, not just tons of industry like the US had to pull that off. Relatively simple design, good performance, reliability and speed, easy to operate and maintain. Big enough for a whole lot of upgrades, (the Firefly being the most obvious) but not so large that it used more resources than necessary. Hey, if you think the Sherman wasn't a war-winning design then you certainly can't claim the T-34 was (which most people seem to think).

    7. Agreed the Sherman was like a spaceship compared to the t34 as far as the Jumbo grinding the transmission and running gear... Even the Jumbo was more reliable than any t34 ever made and was able to complete a 400 mile endurance course. Compare this to the 300 km endurance course t-34s rarely completed and you get an idea of their relative reliably.

  36. Here is the problem I have with the "best tank of the war" debate. Everyone who does it has their own set of criteria that they set up to give the tanks a score or grade to determine the best, and someone else then says "well what about this or that". I you were to take 1 perfectly operation tank from one nation and put it against a comparable tank from other nations which would win? End of story. once you put in other factors such as reliability, productions, crew training blah blah blah, it skews the results. Look in every year of the war there was a "best tank" and most of the time that "best tank" was a response to the previous "best tank" If you take every tank produced in the war put them in a bracket system and make each one fight which would end on top? That is your "best tank"

  37. I will say the Tiger and Panther were the best tanks of the war. Their designs which were put into battle in 41-42 withstood all allied advances in technology. They themselves had little design improvements to contend with the new tanks being fielded against them. If you look at what the allies did to their tanks it was mostly in response to these two machines. "How do we kill Tigers and Panthers. Now some might say well they designed the King Tiger to contend with heavier Russian tanks. True, but the Tiger was able to fight against IS and IS2's with success, and the Panther was far superior to the T34-85 and could hold its own against the Russian heavies as well. So in my estimation regardless of design problems or maintenance issues or any other extraneous info, the Panther and Tiger are the best, taken from this simple fact. The allies had to design new tanks to try to defeat the Germans and the Tiger and Panther were still able to defeat these new or upgraded tanks with little or no major improvements to their original designs.

    1. Sorry the Panther came out operationally in mid 1943.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. The Tiger was a response to the French Char B and the British Matlida 2. The Panther was a response to the T-34, it even looked like it. The Centurion and Pershing were responses to the Tiger. The best of them was the Centurion, the 'universal tank'. BY the end of WW2 the British experience got it more right than all the others. The Centurion did not fire a shot in anger in WW2, but a WW2 tank for sure. It was operational in WW2 and available for the invasion of Japan.

      The best all rounder tank, a tank generals would prefer in their arsenal, without doubt was the Churchill. As an army moves forward, tanks have to do a multitude of tasks. Tank v tank engagements were rare. No other tank accomplished the various tasks better and more comprehensively than the Churchill. It could even climb up mountains.

    4. @Anonymous
      The Tiger and Panther were the best of 'all' WW2? Well that goes to the Centurion. As tank design progressed dramatically through the war, some tanks in certain periods were better than others. The tanks that made the difference in battles that mattered was the T-34.

    5. The Panther and Tiger tanks were desperate attempts to regain control of the battle field. They were dismal failures in this regard. What they did accomplish however was to give the Germans the best tanks in the world at what they needed which were defensive tanks. Tigers and Panthers could never sustain any kind of real offensive (ie bulge were operational losses due to mechanical failure were in the area of 45 percent). The Panther was the best tank in the world at one thing and one thing only... limited counterattack. In this regard it was devistating. It's superior mobility (until the introduction of hvss and tortion bar suspension allied tanks) over soft ground and through forests meant they were not tied to the roads like allied tanks often were. This gave Panthers a huge advantage in the limited counterattack role. This advantage the Germans used masterfully, often just waiting for allied attacks to bog down in mud before unleashing counterattacking Panthers to blow them to bits.
      But how can a tank that could never sustain an attack be considered "the best tank of ww2" in my opinion it can't. It can however, on my opinion, be considered the best defensive tank in ww2.

  38. While the T-34 was well equipped, with a powerful gun, sloped armor, and decent top speed, just about any other country would have thrown the design out for some serious reworking. The turret mechanism literally sparked when used, and didn't stop immediately, meaning the gunner would have to predict where their gun would coast and stop early; an easy fix; make it a manual. The optics were like looking through the bottom of a beer bottle, the engines caught fire every ~50 miles, they constantly lost tracks to terrible quality pins and welds, and they were extremely cramped due to their internal layout. This poor internal layout also meant that when struck with a shell, everyone in the tank would be likely to die. Additionally, internal fires and explosions almost always spelled a tankers end. Some of these problems were fixed over the years, but most every Soviet soldier who had the chance to operate both the Sherman and the T-34 preferred the Sherman. TLDR, the combat effectiveness of the T-34s is irrelevant if the enemy has the initiative and can shoot three accurate shells for every one of yours.

    Because of these points, I am personally of the opinion that there is little truth in the T-34's dominance mid-late war. I would instead suggest that the best medium tank of that period is, the Sherman, but not because it was excellent, but because every other reasonably reliable and accessible tank was worse, or lacked basic equipment like transceivers or AAMGs. Where the various Sherman moddels excel most is in their support equipment; full radio communication, HVSS suspension, gyrostabalizers, a variety of ammunition, a three man turret, and dozens of other essential upgrades over the years that other comparable tanks lacked.

    Now, this is all from the perspective of a tank operator; which tank would I be safest/most effective fighting in, as apposed to operationally superior. In that regard, the T-34 allowed the Soviets to hold their own against German armor that previously was superior to their other available vehicles that were at best interwar designs and at worst foolish. (BT-7, T-50, T-60, T-28, etc.)

    A good read as usual, and quite comprehensive. I know its quite a long post, and I hope I didn't drop a sentence somewhere.

    1. If we're willing to count them, I'd actually call Finnish modified T-34s as some of the best mediums in the war.

    2. When it comes to the T-34 then people always use the earliest and worst performances by none-skilled operators.

      The T-34 was modified many times and upgraded constantly, it could of course been upgraded more but it was upgraded.

      The biggest problem of the T-34 was that people were sent in with only 72 hours of classroom training and expected to perform. Give the same amount of training for the panther, tiger or sherman then those tank will also perform badly. Then of course the idiotic political motivated tactics of always attacking in the first half of the war even though defending would sometimes be better, the purge of the leadership which meant that no officer would do anything without asking permission from Moscow first, and by the time a reply had arrived things on the battlefield had changed so much that performing those orders which would have been good 3 days ago, today meant that the unit got destroyed. And of course the lack of radios.

      But this is how it is, the absolute worst performance of the T-34 is always used, the average or the best is never used.

      For german tanks it is the opposite, the absolute best performance is used, the worst is never used.

    3. The worst problems of the T-34 were never able to be corrected and it remained extremely unreliable until the end of production due to inadequate engine air cleaners causing severe power loss from the engine. Transmission gear failure was also a huge problem never solved or even almost adequately addressed. Inconsistent (to say the least) armor quality was and is still a characteristic of all Russian afv's the t34 was no exception. This lead to 85 to 90 percent of all incoming shots penetrating the armor. Penetration of the armor almost certainly would kill the entire crew due to the internal layout with fuel being stored right next to crewmen. The ammunition was the biggest threat because of additives in the explosive designed to increase yield but no additive to increase fire resistance. These were the major flaws of the late t34 design but there were many more. By comparison British, American, and German tanks were enormously more survivable especially wet storage American tanks that only had a 15 percent fire rate. The T34s great reputation comes from Russian video games.

  39. T-34c got outclassed eventually, but the T-35/85 was still one of the top tanks of the war in 1945.

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  41. Seems to this relatively lightweight student of WW2 that the best tank would be the one that is about to kill you. Thus the Sherman, produced prodigiously, ran amuck among enemy troops because there were so many of them and were everywhere, which war planners intended even knowing the casualties which would result. I recall reading a German soldier agreeing with just that. Shermans overran him and his buddies, they were everywhere. Sure, a single enemy tank could potentially take out a lot of Shermans, but it didn't matter to the enemy on foot, as every time he walked around a corner, there was a Sherman. The "thin" armor of the Sherman was sure a lot thicker than his shirt, and the Sherman's allegedly insufficient firepower was a lot more than his Mauser. Are we forgetting this, that strategy of the Sherman was to overwhelm the overall enemy, not win every tank battle? This, plus that a damaged or bad-running Sherman could be fixed a lot easier for its simpler design, and returned to battle a lot quicker than many of the other tank types.

    1. Unless of course the 'you' it kills is one of the crew because it's a Ronson?