Updated 19th February 2002, see link to US conversions serial numbers below

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SHERMAN M4 AND M4A3 17 POUNDER IN US SERVICE. NEW INFORMATION.

This document contains an evaluation of the information contained in documents provided by Steve Zaloga concerning the development, production and use of the batch of Sherman Fireflies allocated to US Forces in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) 1944-45. The author graciously acknowledges the US National Archives (USNA) and Mr Zaloga for unearthing this vital new information.

 

  1. This new information confirms information found in the UK Public Record Office (PRO) on the US programme. The confirmed facts are:

    The new information provides the following startling facts:

"Remove radio and radio mounting base and relocate (on half inch spacer) in armoured box on the rear of the turret. Armoured box should be 2 and a half inch longer and 3/4 inch wider than the box currently employed. A 2 inch increase in the length of the box should be obtained by decreasing the thickness of the end plates of the box from 2 inch to 1 inch. The front top mounting strip of the box should be narrowed half an inch and the bottom edge bevelled approximately one half of the thickness of the plate. Two handles should be provided on the top plate."

Note that this document seems to be British as it is written in "UK English", rather than "American English". The classification stamp also seems "British" rather than American. I can not prove this, but it seems likely based on the style and spellings used in the documents I have examined at the PRO and from elsewhere. If so the detail that runs to four typed pages may be the first full description of the process needed to convert a Sherman into a Firefly. The document confirms that water protected ammunition hulled M4A3's were to be used. It is a very significant find.

One document states (Inter-Office Memo from AFV&W Section, HQ ETOUSA to Chief AFV&W Section, dated 11th March 1945):

"The British had never converted a 75mm gun tank with water protected ammunition stowage. The are very pleased with the prospect of converting these tanks. It is estimated a wet tank can be converted in 20-30 percent less man hours than the earlier model tank. This type of tank also provides a superior 17-pdr tank for US troops since complete stowage bins are provided in the sponsons for American equipment.

A series of three tables listing the US conversions, by production number, then by serial, then by shipping date. Version 1, to be checked and updated.

 

  1. What does the new information not reveal:

    Modelling US Fireflies.

This new information opens up some new possibilities from available kits:

  • M4A3 wet stowage HVS. This can be made using a Dragon M4A3 HVS model or with a conversion set and a Tamiya or Italeri hull.
  • For all of the above the rectangular top deck tool stowage bin developed for the Sherman IC conversion can be used, but the rear plate blanket bin (the greatcoat bin shown in the Tank Museum stowage diagrams?) was not to be used on the US conversions. That said, in the only photo the bins do not appear to have been fitted. In fact I have only seen one or two photos with the greatcoat bin visible. For details see Phil Dyers 2001 article in Military Modelling on the Dragon ICH. The conversion will be a little easier than British ones as the US vehicles do not need the British rear deck fire extinguishers. The small increase in the radio box is not really noticeable, given the tolerances most modellers work to (me included!), but some suggestion can be given by revising the joins of the boxes plates and adding the two handles to the lid (these may have appeared on some British versions). From the single photo some vehicles had the late US commanders cupola for another variation.

    1. This means that much of the book will have to be rewritten in detail, but the above provides the basics of the new information. As time allows I will type up the material along with the appropriate quotes so that readers do not have to take my word for the above statements and this will appear on the web site.
    2. Summary. This is very significant and Mr Zaloga has done a great service to researchers and modellers for putting this into the public domain. It shows that this old story many thought was done and dusted is in fact still very much alive. I don't think it invalidates my book, but shows, as I suggested that in archives I did not have access to, that there was significant new material out there. The old books of thirty years ago are now shown to have been correct in talking about M4A3 conversions, but for the wrong reasons! One point is what do we call these. I think that Sherman IC, Sherman IHC and Sherman IVC are wrong as this was a British designation system. M4A3C does not sound right, so I intend to stick to the name in the documents of Sherman M4 and M4A3 (17 Pounder) and variations. Now has anyone got the photos!
    3. The information contained also helps with some of the other mysteries about the Firefly. The fact that M4A2's do not seem to have been desired (not a US standard version, except for the USMC in the Pacific) ties in with the MOS letter to K A Usherwood unearthed by David Fletcher at the Tank Museum in 2001. This letter stated very clearly that 17 Pounder conversions must be on a petrol engined Sherman. The point about the M34A1 gun mount and the Oilgear traverse gear may offer a clue to the vexed issue of M4A1 conversions (the fabled and Unicorn like Sherman IIC, so beloved of model makers and writers from the 1950's onwards). What if the only available 75mm M4A1's (we know that 76mm T23 turret tanks were excluded as the turret layout precluded the installation of the 17 Pounder gun, within the time-scales and industrial capability available in 1944-45) only had electric traverse and or M34 mantlets. The earlier mantlets do not have the holes in them as the M34A1 does, this could be the reason it was required. There must have been some sort of shortage as many Shermans in US and Allied service kept the ealier mantlets and mounts until the end of the war. Showing that it must have been a major upgrade. If so this offers a simple solution to the issue of why none seem to have been converted. Add in the small number of 75m M4A1's given to the British and we have a series of good reasons, plus the interior hull space problems identified by D P Dyer for them not being converted. What also if the M4A2's available were of the wrong type. Perhaps that was a factor. I doubt if we will ever know, but Steve's discovery gladden's my heart and perhaps some where the facts are lurking in a dusty file!

    Below is a conjectural model of a possible US M4A3 HVS Wet stowage 17 Pdr conversion. This model is to about 1/76th using an Esci hull and turret as the base. The HVS comes from Matchbox's M40 GMC. The 17 Pdr and mantlet from Matchbox/Revell's VC Firefly, with details from MMS (MG), US cupola (Hasegawa) and stowage from Skytrex. The base is the Matchbox SdKfz 251 with a wall cast in plaster from a mould made using brick pattern plastic. The idea is to suggest the possible use of US conversions in occupation duties as suggested by the new documents. If this happened I don't know, but it gave an excuse for the little base and the authentic Nazi graffiti. I apologise to anyone offended by the Swastika, but I do not think it is appropriate to let political correctness get in the way of historical accuracy. The abomination to humanity that was Nazi Germany will not be prevented from occurring again by trying to hide its symbols and images. T66 track is more likely for this period, but I did not have any around in this scale. Note the .50 HMG stowage brackets on the radio box, a sure way of identifying a US conversion if any should by some miracle survive into 2002. Keep looking everyone!

    Image of my US Firefly in approx. 1/76th. Click for a larger 65kb image
    Image of my Us Firefly in approx 1/76th. Click for a larger 65kb image

    Sorry the books wrong, but these things happen. Please add this as an amendment along with the other new material on the web site SR1 page.

    Mark Hayward

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