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Sherman 76 and T34/85 perceptions versus reality

Discussion in 'Armor and Armored Fighting Vehicles' started by Walter_Sobchak, Feb 8, 2012.

  1. Walter_Sobchak

    Walter_Sobchak Member

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    Is it just me or is there a tendency within the US and Great Britain to be much more critical of their own WW2 equipment than that of Germany or the USSR? For example, I often find books and articles referring to the 76mm version of the Sherman as a bit of a failure since it could not penetrate the frontal armor of late war German tanks at long distance. Seldom have I ever seen a book refer to the T34/85 in the same way, even though it's armor piercing stats are very similar to the Sherman 76mm. Usually books seem to focus on T-34/85 as one of "the best tanks of the war" without making much mention that the T34/85 was only partially effective against the frontal armor of the late war German tanks it was designed to counter. Any thoughts on this apparent double standard?
     
  2. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    See the numerous tank comparison or best tank threads. (The points you raise are valid by the way)
     
  3. Walter_Sobchak

    Walter_Sobchak Member

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    I know the comparative virtues of the sherman vs the T34 have been well addressed in other threads. My point concerns why the western allied vehicles garner so much more criticism than their soviet counterpoints. Is this due to soviet censorship that only allowed positive appraisals of their vehicles which was then parroted in the western press? Or is it just a case of the "grass is always greener on the other side" type thinking.
     
  4. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    The point is often made in those threads that the M4 was at worse on a par with the T-34 or the Pz-IV. I.e. you points are addressed in those threads.
     
  5. marc780

    marc780 Member

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    All the tanks during WW2 had plenty of things wrong with them no matter who built them. The key to any successful tank design is balancing firepower, protection and mobility. The German heavies had excellent firepower and thick armor but broke down a lot and were slow. The Sherman was easy to build, repair and maintain and very mobile but until the "Easy 8" up-gun was way undergunned.

    Worse, it was often a death-trap for its own crews. It always seemed to me that the Americans took an awfully long time to get a decent tank to the troops - the German Tiger was first encountered in early 1943 in North Africa.
     
  6. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I would argue that it was a lot more than that. Other important factors were the "ilities" i.e reliability, strategic mobility, supportability, produceability, ergonomics, and such.
    On the contrary when the Sherman was first produced it had a more than adequate gun. The "Easy 8" by the way had the same gun. The mistake the US made was assuming that the Panther was another German heavy that would seldom be seen. Testing of the 76mm gun was also flawed leaving the impression that it had better performance than it actually did.
    The Sherman was no more a "death-trap" than most other tanks of the time. Indeed more US tankers were killed outside that tank than were killed in it.
    But the Tiger was a rare beast and it could be defeated by numbers and combined arms. It would have been a mistake to sacrifice too much to make a "Tiger Killer". Now if the danger had been acurately predicted in 43 a Sherman with a 90mm gun could probably have been in the field by D-day but that's another matter.
     
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  7. Walter_Sobchak

    Walter_Sobchak Member

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    Ok, let me restate it. My question was not to argue the merits of the M4 versus the T-34. That has been done here before and the consensus is that the two vehicles were pretty well matched. My question is why are writers and historians in general so harsh in their assessment of the sherman (and other pieces of western tech) while generally heaping praise on the t-34? Is it a case of "the grass is always greener" or is it due to successful propaganda on the part of the soviets?
     
  8. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Actually I think US propaganda is to blame for a large part of it. US tankers were told that their tanks was as good or better than the opposition (which while it might be true from an army perspective wasn't from that of the individual tanker) and that the 76mm gun in particular could penetrate most if not all the opposing tanks (a result of some flawed testing). When it became clear to the individual tankers that this was not the case there were some very valid and loud complaints both at the time and latter.
     
  9. superbee

    superbee Member

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    I really don't think writers / historians have heaped praise undue praise upon the T34/85 nor have they excessively criticized the Sherman 76. Virtually all of what I have read seems to regard both tanks as effective upgrades to their respective series. What one often does read in print is a writer reporting on certain Allied commanders being somewhat disappointed in the performance of the Sherman 76's cannon. The writers were not criticizing the tank; the Allied commanders were.
     
  10. gtblackwell

    gtblackwell Well-Known Member

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    I think the issue you raise may have to do with relative freedom of the press of various combatants. all nations exert more controls on military information in times of war but I think few would argue that in the US, UK Canada, Australia, NZ, etc . that journalist and citizens in general had more freedom of expression including criticism that those in Axis nations. The Soviets had political commissars attached to military units and the Germans had their Gestapo. One might be no so quick to criticize their equipment . GI's even created words to describe their "complaints. I am sure the fighting soldiers of the Wehrmacht or the Soviet Army complained as a matter of course, who on the Eastern front would not, but purely speculating on my part but I am guessing they might be more cautious. LOL
     
  11. JBark

    JBark Member

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    Late in the war The Washington Post (I'm going by recollection) was beating the drum about the inadequacies of the M4, possibly a result of actions during the Btlle of the Bulge, and congress was going to grab the chance to make headlines with an investigation. General Eisenhower asked two of his armored division commanders to compare similar Allied and Axis weapons, in particular the M4 and the Panther. He asked forthem to include opinions of men serving in the field. Considering the timing of this request one can guess Ike wanted to have answers ready for whoever asked questions.

    I would offer that this is the root of the inequalitiy of which you speak. As one poster notes we possess a relatively free press and any mistake, fault or shortcoming will be headlines over and over. The T-34 luckily became a legend as the tank that stopped the Wermacht steamroller. German generals needed some excuse as to why their armor and fantastic tactics came up short and the Russians weren't about to deny this.

    In all fairness to the M4 studies of combat in the ETO showed that the armor and gun advantages of the Panther made no difference in combat. In most cases a tank v. tank engagement was won by the side which fired first. Even the lowly 75mm could take out the mighty Panther with a shot to the side.
     
  12. JBark

    JBark Member

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    The M4 was initially fielded with the 75mm gun. The Easy 8 carried the higher velocity 76mm gun.

    Good points. In addition the U.S. switched to wet stowage of ammunition to reduce fires.
     
  13. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Thanks for the correction. I think I got it mixed up with the "Jumbo". Of course a bit of research showed it came with both guns. I should know to be more careful going from memory ...
     
  14. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    One advantage the T-34 has in reputation building was it's earlier service date, at the time it was fist encountered the Germans had nothing to match it's gun/armour combination and it took then nearly one year to get an equivalent vehicle to the troops, until then they had to rely on the poor crew training and less apparent shortcommings (the visibility of the T-34 is reported as rather bad and the early turret ergonomics were pretty poor as well) to deal with it but generally speaking the appearance of a T-34 unit was a big tactical problem for any German unit in 1941-42 and reported as such giving the T-34 it's high reputation.
    On the other hand at the time of the M4 introduction the Germans had the long gunned Pz IV, that was a close match in combat capability, already in service and the Tiger was just round the corner, so the M4 never enjoyed a clear leadership in the gun/armour race like the T-34 did.
    The story of the Panther being "another heavy" destined for limited production is pretty hard to believe, by D-Day there should have been plenty of intelligence from the USSR to prove it was not so. IIRC in Italy there were a couple of Panther batallions deployed outside their parent division and this may have contributed to the mistake, but they were still officially part of a divisional panzer regiment not independent units like the "500 series" that operated the tigers, IMO the flawed "tank destroyers not tanks will fight enemy tanks" doctrine had a lot to do with time it took to give it a good AT capability.
     
  15. JBark

    JBark Member

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    I think the easiest source for the info will be Zaloga's Armored Thunderbolt where he points out that, 1.) Soviets were reporting the Panther used in independent battalions like the Tiger, 2.) U.S. units in Italy were reporting that they were very satisfied with the M4 and it's 75mm gun.

    We weren't the only ones that thought this way. As I said reports from the field were that the 75 was doing the job. Considering that a tank's main job is against soft targets the 75mm of the M4 was seen as best for the job. The presence of the TD's gave everyone security that the occasional cat could be handled (Yeide quotes the TD units as confident.) Enemy armor should be dealt with by a combined arms assault, ideally.
     
  16. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

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    I think TiredOldSoldier had it right. The Germans in early war created a reputation of technical superiority over their adversaries, rightly or otherwise. The T-34 shattered that myth. The German tankers who fought against the T-34s and KV-1s reacted the same way that Allied tankers did in Normandy. The M4 circa 1943 was a very potent machine, but the Allies especially the Americans neglected to upgrade its firepower due to misapprehensions about the role of the Pz-V, as is well known. The reports from the Eastern Front confirmed Allied bias that the Pz-V was going to be complementary of the Tiger tank because during the Battle of Kursk almost all of the Panthers were concentrated in provisional Panzer Brigades attached to units making the main effort such as the Grossdeutschland Panzer Grenadiers. In Italy, the terrain was so prohibitive of tank movement that Panther battalions were rarely placed at the front lines and only occasionally engaged allied tanks from very long range. In the Italian battles Panther and Tiger tanks generally failed to perform which made the Americans complacent about gun performance. Also, it bears mentioning that the Soviets not only upgunned their T-34s earlier in 1944 but also issued more tungsten carbide ammunition to their tank crews. On average a tank crew should have at least four tungsten carbide ammunition and six for major offensives; by late 1944 six rounds of special AP ammunition was the standard.
     
  17. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Kursk was 1943 and the Soviet decision to upgun the T-34 in early 1944 makes me think they expected to be facing "cats" as a matter or routine, though the F-34 performance against the 80mm plates of the late Pz IV that was specifically designed to counter it was not great.
    IMO the TD concept was wrong as it assumed they would be in the right place when the enemy tanks appeared, this may be doable if you're using your tanks for infantry support and therefore moving at "infantry speed" but not if doing mecanized warfare, as people like Fuller and Guderian pointed out at one point after the breakthrough the two sides mecanized forces are going to clash and then every tank will need to partecipate, what they had in mind was battles like Hannut/Gembloux, 2nd El Alamein, 22 Pz during Uranus, Prochorovka, Sidi Bou Zid, Mortain, Mitla pass, etc. where the fate of the offensive was decided by the fight between the armoured spearhead and opposing armour reserves after it had broken through the initial line. The MBT concept grew out of the realization that the biggest threat to an exploiting tank force was another tank force, today's 120, 125mm smooth bores with their very high velocity rounds are certainly not designed with soft targets as a priority.
     
  18. Walter_Sobchak

    Walter_Sobchak Member

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    It seems to me that the German generals had a vested interest in promoting the idea of the T-34 as a super weapon after the war. For example:"Very worrying", Colonel-General Heinz Guderian, Commander of Second Panzer Army.

    "We had nothing comparable", Major-General F.W. Mellenthin, Chief of Staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps.

    "The finest tank in the world", Field-Marshal Ewald von Kleist, First Panzer Army.

    "This tank (T-34) adversely affected the morale of the German infantry", General G. Blumentritt.

    It seemed that after the war the Generals took to blaming the T-34 and (more so) interference by Hitler on strategic and tactical matters as a way of distancing themselves from being responsible for the German loss. Western authors such as Lidell Hart and Fuller seemed more than willing to take the Generals at their word and propagate the myth of the invincible T-34. Soviet historians were of course not going to refute such a story, so the T-34 goes down as the great tank of the war in most literature.
     
  19. JBark

    JBark Member

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    I thought they created a reputation of tactical superiority. Technically their armor was inferior to that of the French.

    I think it is important to remember that despite reactions of men in the field combat numbers showed that technical superiority did not give the edge, tactics and training did.

    It also bears mentioning that the M4's 76mm fired an HVAP round with very impressive numbers but U.S. shortages in tungsten limited how much could be distributed.
     
  20. JBark

    JBark Member

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    In WWII the tank was clearly intended as a mobile weapon to exploit a penetration and hamper/destroy communications, supply, command and reinforcements. Fifty per cent or better of a tanks ammunition was HE.
     

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