The Medium Tank M4A1 that arrived in the UK in the summer of 1942 was much more promising than the Medium Tank M3 that had arrived shortly prior. The layout of the armament was much more conventional, the armour was tougher, and the crew's workspaces were more comfortable. Before too long, these tanks were on their way to North Africa, where they would have to fight against the harsh environment in addition to an experienced enemy. The Sherman's career was not going to be an easy one.
First blood on the sand
The tanks that arrived in North Africa were not prepared for desert warfare. They were modernized in field workshops, where British technicians added dust shields, brackets for the Sunshield camouflage tarps, racks for canisters with water and fuel, stowage bins, and other equipment necessary for life in the desert. Desert camouflage was applied over top of the olive drab paint. 252 Shermans were ready by the Second Battle of El Alamein: 92 in the 1st Armoured Division, 124 in the 10th Armoured Division, and 36 in the 9th Armoured Brigade.
The situation with the delivery was far from ideal. The tanks arrived only weeks before the planned offensive. The lack of time to train had an impact not only on the skills of the crews, but also on the cohesion with the forces fighting alongside the tanks. Since the Shermans were going to attack at night through minefields, cooperation with infantry and engineers was quite important.
|Shermans of the 9th Hussars, 9th Armoured Brigade, September 15th, 1942. The tank is likely already painted in desert yellow, but disruptive camouflage has not yet been applied.
"Confirmation has been received by reports from the Western Desert, indicating great satisfaction with the M4 Medium Tank (Sherman).The position of the main gun in the turret has made possible the advantage of maximum cover in “hull down” position in addition to good observation by the tank commander. There is concrete evidence that the enemy tanks, including the special PzKw IV (with the long-barrelled higher velocity 75mm gun) has been destroyed up to ranges of 2,000 yards. All troops are indicating that there should be more Shermans sent out at the earliest opportunity."
|Sherman tanks ready for battle with disruptive camouflage applied.
|War Daddy II, a captured M4A1 tank at the Kummersdorf proving grounds. The tank still has early suspension bogeys with one return roller in the middle, a narrow gun mantlet, and direct vision ports for the driver and his assistant.
|A burned out Sherman tank with a grave next to it. Even the most successful tanks are not invincible.
|A crew from the 2nd Dragoons, 1st Armoured Division, refills their tank with ammunition. November 1942.
|A Sherman tank on a Scammell Pioneer transporter, October 1942. The automotive components of these tanks were very reliable, but the tank's usage was limited by the lifespan of wheels and tracks.
|A Sherman tank with an American crew. Given the same tank as the British tankers, the Americans achieved much less due to inexperience.
|Camouflage diagram for Sherman tanks. White stripes helped knock off the contrast formed by shadows under the barrel and on the lower hull.
|Fragments of the M48 shell spread at an angle of 50-80 degrees from its trajectory. For more effective shooting, it was recommended to ricochet the shell off the ground, setting the fuse delay to 0.05 seconds.
|Ammunition stowage inside a Sherman tank. It was easy to pull out of the racks, but also very vulnerable to being hit.
|Wet ammo rack diagram. The space between cells was filled with water.
|Medium Tank M4A1 with applique armour opposite its ammunition racks.
- Canadian Military Headquarters, London (1939–1947) RG 24 C 2
- D. Oliver, M. Stramer, The New Breed Part 1, North Africa
- Pier Paolo Battistelli. Battle Story: El Alamein 1942 — Spellmount, 2012