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.
- This new information confirms information found in the UK Public Record Office (PRO) on the US programme. The confirmed facts are:
- Production of the Firefly took place at, at least three locations, which have been confirmed by two independent documents, one in the USNA and one in the PRO. The documents note that the British were converting Shermans at "four (4) arsenals". Production was up to 250 per month as at June 1944 and interestingly it notes that "work at two of the arsenals will probably be discontinued because of the shortage in the supply of the necessary tanks to the arsenals." In the PRO information in Sherman Firefly the four were still in work in December 1944. So if the work did cease it was sometime in January 1945 or later. Tellingly the same letter notes that the British facilities "are not operating to capacity at the present time."
- The programme was delayed into 1945, after having been requested in summer 1944, due to the lack of suitable 75mm Shermans from either US or British stocks. US 75mm Sherman tank production having been cut back as the US saw the war ending sooner than it did in Europe and an over reliance on the new tanks coming on stream such as the 76mm Shermans and the 90mm armed T26E1.
- Ammunition shortage was always a factor and the one that fatally delayed the programme and caused the proposed numbers to be as limited as they were.
- The end of the war dealt the final death knell to the programme as the M26 came into service and the need for tanks evaporated.
- The number of conversions was 100, with 80 being provided equally to First and Ninth Armies. Third Army does not seem to be down for any, due to Army level objections. The other 20 were to be given back the British. The total programme had been for 160 conversions. The unconverted 60 were also to be passed back to the British. These were to be given back and used for such things as crab mine tank conversions.
The new information provides the following startling facts:
- The US converted not only 75mm M4's and M4 Hybrids not distinguished in the text, but confirmed by the only known photo published in AFV News in the 70's, (but unavailable for use in Sherman Firefly) but also 75mm M4A3's of the dry hull form and the late wet hull (often referred to as the 47 degree glacis hull). This is a major discovery, but as yet no photographs have come to light. Alleged M4A3 Fireflies (Sherman IVC using British nomenclature) in photographs are M4's with British serials. The only possibility is that the vehicles shown could be one of the prototypes with a British serial on it, but this remains conjecture. Perhaps in a private collection somewhere one of these rare beasts is depicted in a photo.
- US conversions only seem to have been called, Sherman M4 and M4A3 17 Pounder. Firefly is not mentioned once in the documents. This is consistent with official British and Commonwealth practice, where the name also does not appear. As discussed in Sherman Firefly the name is only used in two captions at the IWM and in unit war diaries and soldiers recollections.
- US conversions differed in detail from British ones, the main change being the radio box, which was slightly bigger to allow for US radios. The difference is 1.5mm in 1/35th scale with the difference being described thus in the conversion instruction:
"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.
- The M4A3 wet hull was preferred as it saved production time (20-30 percent less man hours). This suggests that the water/glycol bins could be adapted to take the 17 Pounder ammunition, despite its larger size, compared to the 75mm rounds. This is very significant. Even if it was preferred, both wet and dry hulls seem to have been used.
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.
- M4A2's are excluded, M4A1's mentioned in one letter in 1944, but not thereafter as are M4A4's. Certain restrictions applied to suitable Shermans and ones without the correct features were in one case recorded as being returned. The key features were hydraulic Oilgear traverse, M34A1 wide mantlet.
- The US conversions were all made in British workshops, by British labour, with British supplied conversion kits and 17 Pounder guns.
- The sites concerned were Woolwich arsenal and Hayes, Middlesex in greater London. The third factory at Nottingham is mentioned, but does not seem to have been used for the US conversions.
- Unconverted hulls were to be provided to the British for conversion to mine clearance duties, i.e. Crabs with the name being specifically mentioned.
- After the war ended the tanks were not required for combat use in other theatres and were to be offered for occupation duties in Europe.
- A complete list of Tank, Gun, Breach, Recoil numbers are provided of all eighty conversions along with some of them picked out as M4A3. I am not sure if the tank number is the one that appears on the hull side. I tried to match the M4 Hybrid appearing in the photo with one of the numbers, but could not do so. Based on this it would seem that at least fifty of the 80 conversions issued were M4A3's.
- The AFV News photo's location is narrowed down to one of the factories (Hayes or Woolwich), Southampton, where they seem to have been shipped to the Continent from or at the holding area in France or Belgium.On flash of inspiration this weekend. I was very puzzled why the tank in that photo does not appear in the
list's of the eighty tanks sent to France for US use. At first I thought the tank numbers might not the ones painted on the
tanks, but then I reviewed the documents again
and one late ref is very hard to read, but I had a real close look and it
clearly states that the 20 not required for the US out of the 100, were in
storage at Hayes, London, pending probable disposal to the British. Also
another document notes that a radial engined conversion was swapped for an
M4A3 so that it could be given to the British. As the vehicles in the photo
seem to be M4 or M4H and the background looks a bit "English" I am
speculating that this photo might be off the 20 tanks earmarked for the
British at Hayes. I am almost tempted to drive to Heye's have a look round
to se if I can see the house in the background, that could easily still be
extant. If this is so then it does explain why the front tank can not be
seen in the lists in the documents. I have just been told (19th Feb) that the photo was taken in England, so this helps the idea of it being Hayes. It's a bit tortuous I know, but if its true, then it
does tie up some loose ends about the photo. The photo may appear in a new book by another author later this year, more news as I get it.
As stated in my book Phil Dyer provided me with details of Dick Harley's discovery of a photo of US Fireflies, published in "AFV News" Vol 24, No 1 and a copy of the photo. This shows what appear to be IC Hybrids and IC's in a tank park. Some have the US vision cupola for the commander and other late war US features, such as widened sand shield supports. The location is not given. Regrettably it was not possible to obtain permission from the copyright holders in the USA to use the photo in this book. For other information, see Vol 24 No 3 of the same publication by Phil Dyer and Vol 25 No 1 by Steve Zaloga. Also see Hunnicutt's classic "Sherman". As above it now seems likely that these tanks are the "spare" twenty conversions left over from the US programme. All this seems to confirm that while the US did get some Fireflies they never saw any combat. Their post war fate is not recorded, but they probably did not last long as the US standardised on the M4A3 76mm W and the M26 series. Mr Zaloga was kind enough recently to pass me a copy of the original signal concerning the US unit that was apparently given Fireflies, but most interestingly this was in Italy! This contradicts accepted wisdom, which would have only units in 12th Army even having the possibility of an allocation. The unit was the 555th Tank Battalion (not the 553 as noted in AFV News) and the unit was most certainly in Italy as part of the US 5th Army. "9 May 1945, Cameri, Italy...C Company is to turn in its 17 pounded tanks"("pounded" is a direct quote, not my mistake!). It said that the Company was "hoping to do a lot of good with them". Combat report reference; "755-3-Diary May 45". It never got the chance to use them, much to the disappointment of the crews. No details of numbers or the date when it got them are recorded. A check of the figures I found for Italy at the PRO shows that 5th Army only had 12 Fireflies in April 1945, so if any were given to C Company of the 555th Tank Battalion then it sheds a whole new light on the level of co-operation and interoperability between Allied forces in Italy. This is a mystery that may never be solved. It is however likely, based on information from Mr J DeMarco that these Italian front Fireflies came from Commonwealth stocks. Italy truly was a front where the UN was put in to practice, before the organisation was formally set up. This is a corrected version of the paragraph in the book, at which time I had assumed that the Fireflies in the photo were the actual ones taken into US service.
I just got this from Joe Demarco and it's from the USNA and is a report from the Battalion Records:
On April 19, upon completion of operations with Eighth Army, the battalion reverted to Fifth Army and was re-equipped with the following types of tanks:
1 Med Company -- M4 and M4A4 w/ British 17 Pounder Gun
1 Med Company -- M4 Series
1 Med Company -- M4A3 w/ 76mm gun
1 Light Company -- M24
Source; HQ Fifth Army Armored Section, 6/15/45"
Jo say's "With the inclusion of M4A4's, these Fireflies were more likely from British stocks & NOT US-converted Fireflies." Given the well known official US aversion to the M4A4, this shows how much they wanted 17 Pdr tanks and how much practicality could overide policy! The supplies guys might not have been so pleased, having to support all these spares.
- The programme started in March 1945, with the first tanks arriving back from the continent on 9th March. Continental stocks of 80 tanks were the first to be used, with the remainder coming from the USA. The work seems to have commenced on or about 19th March, after some delay. The aim was to complete the 160 tank programme by 5th May. Oddly coincidental given that the war in the West had virtually ended by then with the unconditional surrender signed two days later, but no one in March was making any optimistic assumptions after the nasty shock Herbstnebel delivered in December 1944. The first three conversions were shipped from Southampton on 26th March. Of the 80 to be sent to the continent the last seems to have departed Southampton on 4th May with the other 20 not required, but completed still in the UK. Thus if the full original 160 had been desired the programme would not have been converted on time against the original timetable. On 12th May a signal clearly states that the amended programme had been completed.
- The documents contain information on the breakdown of the conversions. Woolwich was to convert 110 starting at 14, moving up to 18 then back to 10 for the last week. Hayes was to convert 50 at a rate of 6 per week at first moving up to 10 towards the end of the timetable in May. It is not clear how many were converted at each location of the 100 conversions made. This is well below capacity noted in June 1944 for 150 per week for all four arsenals then converting Shermans to 17 Pounder Fireflies.
- What does the new information not reveal:
- If the US conversions were included in the total conversion number of 2139 recorded in British documentation.
- What happened to the 80 issued vehicles post war.
- What if any operational use the vehicles were put to.
- How a unit apparently on the Italian front came to be issued with some.
Modelling US Fireflies.
This new information opens up some new possibilities from available kits:
- M4 rolled plate hull. This can be modelled using Tamiya's quite acceptable M4 kit with one of the many available Firefly conversion sets or scratch building.
- M4 Hybrid, including the option of the late high bustle turret. This can be modelled using either a conversion set or the Dragon IC Hybrid kit.
- M4A3 dry ammunition stowage hull. This can be converted from the Tamiya M4 kit with deck details from the M4A3 kit.
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.
- M4A3 wet stowage hull. This can be converted from the Tamiya kit or from one of Italeri's issues. If the late hulls were used, then it seems feasible that late VVS with the upswept return roller bracket can be used. As I typed this up I have just got my Vol. 31, No 15 Dec 2001-Jan 2002. Military Modelling. This has a review of the new Tamiya M4A3 kits. The revised turrets may help with the conversion and the opening loaders hatch is a nice bonus. I hope that the kits have been revised with the thickened turret cheek armour that is essential to a depiction of the late turrets, but if not it will be easy to add. A simple option one way or the other is for the new Castoff Models late high bustle turret to be used, when it comes out in the new year.
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.
- Bandai's kits can also be used as they made a series of Shermans including a late hull M4A3 105mm tank along with 76mm versions, so this should be possible for the dedicated model maker in this scale, especially if Frog/Fuman issue the appropriate kits. The M4A3 US conversions making these kits far more useful as well.
- In the smaller scales Esci's little gem in 72nd/76thish comes into play. This is a nice little kit and its rather nice that it along with the rather similar Tamiya model can be used for a representative Firefly at last. The HVS can come from Matchbox's M40 GMC kit. MMS's great little M4A3 75mm W can also be used (kit number 936). Cromwell's solid M4A3 76MM W HVS can also be used with a high bustle 75mm turret from MMS as another option. Hasegawa's old kit is not very good, but could be used at a pinch, with a new turret.
- In the larger scales the £45.00 21st Century Models M4 in 1/18th (similar, but twice the size of the Tamiya M4) can be converted. If one can do the VVS then a 1/16th scale model is not out of the question from the big and pricey Tamiya kit. The HVS examples make the kit very easy to use, however. Now if only someone would donate one to a good cause!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
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.