My name is Frank, I am head of site and restorations at Eden Camp Museum, Malton, North Yorkshire. Eden Camp is a very special place, it is the only Second World War prisoner of war camp that is open to the public in England. Our award-winning museum is housed in the original buildings erected by Italian prisoners of war in 1942.
Our museum covers military conflicts from the First World War to the modern day, and social history. We immerse our visitors in the sights, sounds, and smells of the past for a thoroughly memorable day out (tanks and vehicles also fit this brief!). We have thankfully been very successful as a family-run museum for over 30 years, and that success has led to the museum now restoring our vehicle collection.
We have many vehicles; ranging from motorcycles, artillery, and, of course, tanks. The vehicle we will be looking at today is our M50, a highly modified variant of the Sherman tank.
Eden Camp Museum’s M50 Sherman
The M50 has been part of our collection since 1991, and was always intended to be a static gate guardian.
It was acquired by the owner of the museum from the Budge Collection at an auction. We only started to restore the M50 in 2019, with it being the first large vehicle Eden Camp Heritage Restorations has undertaken work on.
At the time, we didn’t realise the sheer scale of history this tank encompassed and represented.
Our M50 Sherman started its life in November 1942, originally as an M4A4 built by Chrysler at its Detroit Defence Arsenal. The M4A4 was the variant powered by the notoriously complex Chrysler A57 Multibank, an engine made of five straight sixes bolted together.
Once it was accepted into the US Army, it was assigned hood number 3016871. We can positively identify this assumption by using the vehicle’s serial number – 16565 – found on the rear towing eye and repeated inside the tank on the hull. To test this theory, we can simply reverse the process and look back at vehicle number 3016871, which leads us back to 16565.
This confirms the model type and date of manufacture. Special thanks should be given to Pierre Olivier who maintains a comprehensive list of many surviving Shermans.
The M50’s WWII Career
Interestingly, our M50’s activities during the Second World War are what we have the least info on, unbelievably.
It is general knowledge that the vast majority of all M4A4 Shermans were sent to Allies of the US under the Lend-Lease agreement, particularly Britain. We used this general knowledge to start an investigation into our vehicle’s WW2 history. The Brits were famous for accepting the M4A4, so we investigated this lead first and looked closely at the tank for British markers.
The Brits adapted the M4A4 very specifically, for instance, with the Firefly and Hobart’s funnies. We believe our tank was upgraded in a similar fashion to a fording/wading tank (maybe even a funny, but more on that later).
We look at the “scars” on our vehicle; these are the weld marks, lumps bumps etc. that are present but are not standard to the M4A4 variant.
Using these marks we can identify the installation of British fire extinguishers on the rear deck of the vehicle, and we can also identify the remains of bracketry that would have supported the snorkel arrangement of a fording Sherman.
We can double-check this using photographs and references, and we did just that at The Tank Museum, Bovington last year and this was where this theory grew legs.
So, what’s the difference between a wading tank and a swimming tank? Well, simply put, not much except propulsion and a screen and a front end that looked very similar to a boat.
The swimming tanks were fitted with props at the rear, and the front end was shaped like a boat hull to aid their movement through water. They were also fitted with a wading screen (which can be seen on the example at The Tank Museum) which was fastened to the side of the hull. So, why cant we tell for certain that our tank was a swimming tank? There are a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the tank has been substantially upgraded in its life, most importantly in this case with new rear rollers and a new front end. These upgrades removed the markers we would need to confirm the theory. We do see scars that could be left by the wading screen attachments, but due to several IDF upgrades of stowage, it is too difficult to say as fact that this tank was a swimming tank.
Can’t you use the British T number to give you the vehicle history? The T number has been lost to time. Although we can confirm the US hood number 3016871, it does not translate over to British T numbers, as there is no numerical correlation between the two. There is also no British record to correlate the T number with the serial number either.
It would seem quite simply that T numbers were assigned to randomly loaded/unloaded vehicles after their arrival over the Atlantic.
What can we tell you about WWII? Well, other than we think it was a fording tank , we can say very little and certainly not confirm anything as fact. We think the field welds on the “quick fix plates” suggest it was done over in Britain , or at least not in America. Which would suggest a date of arrival of the tank into Europe somewhere in 1943. With that date in mind, it may tally up with a famous amphibious landing etc.… of course, this is all conjecture.
The important part to take away from this, is that we know enough to talk to our visitors about it. We can show you the marks, the brackets, the scars etc., and we want you to make up your own mind! If someone comes to our museum tomorrow and can show us we’ve got it wrong, or can add info, we will always listen and learn.
Post War Service
While the known wartime history is somewhat limited, our tank really starts to come to life post-war.
After the war, assuming our tank survived, or assuming it was damaged but still repairable, the French army bought the Sherman to re-arm itself in case of another outbreak of war.
The French bought many Shermans, mostly it would seem from its own lands (northern Europe) and began a very successful upgrade program to simplify and assemble the various versions into one configuration.
M4A4s became known as the M4A4T – the T standing for “Transformé”. The French bought up surplus upgrade and spare parts for the Sherman, and replaced the Chrysler A57 Multibank engine with the simpler and cheaper Continental R975 radial engine. The three-piece differential housing on the front end was removed, and a single piece cast front end was installed. In addition, a small hole was cut into the rear armor plate to allow the use of a cranking handle for the R975.
These upgrades are easy to spot; obviously the front end is not the 3-piece housing, or even possibly the bow front, and there is still the hole on the rear of the tank where the cranking handle would have engaged the R975. Importantly though, this hole has been filled in.
We see this type of scar on our tank often, filled in, ground off, flatted down etc. and it is important to realise these are phase marks. We need to identify the marks and then work out when they were filled in/removed. Imagine it a little like Time Team archaeological dig, with the different layers corresponding to different eras of time.
That brings us nicely to around 10 years after WW2 was over. France had begun and completed their own tank design and build. They had developed the AMX range of vehicles, such as the AMX-13 with the SA50 75 mm gun. It is often said that the SA50 gun was reverse engineered from the 75 mm gun used in the Second World War German Panther, however, it is much more likely this gun was engineered to match the specs and capabilities of the Panther’s gun instead.
So, we now know France no longer needs the Sherman, it has its own, better, AMX tank. So what do you do with a tank your country no longer needs? This question is so often answered by our visitors as “scrap it!”, but the tank is a valuable asset, much more valuable than scrap. The real answer is you sell it to whoever wants to buy it (within reason), especially if that trade strengthens an existing relationship between countries or allies.
Service with Israel
We now move to late 1956 – Israel sent a request to France for equipment. This included weapons, and in our case the M4A4T. France was keen to help for various political reasons, some of which might relate to the expansionist moves by Egypt, which were being supported by Russian equipment.
The Israelis liked the Sherman hull, engine, and drive train, but the old WWII-era 75 mm gun could no longer hold its own against the Soviet tanks used by Israel’s enemies. The answer was quite simple: following inspiration from the WWII Sherman Firefly, France suggested that it may be possible to graft their powerful SA50 gun used in AMX tanks into the pre-existing turret of a WWII Sherman. This was major surgery.
Honestly, Israel had little choice but to commission France to take on a prototype program to see if this suggestion was possible.
French engineers worked their magic, and sure enough, after major modifications the SA50 was installed in a WWII Sherman. Three of these prototypes were made, and Israel agreed to purchase the components to carry out the upgrades themselves, under the watchful eye of French experts.
We will talk more now about just how you fit a modern gun, more than twice the length of the original into a turret from WWII. It’s really “simple”; you just need to make the turret big enough to accept the gun and its recoil.
To do this, French engineers extended the mantlet, moving the gun forward. This allowed the turret and turret ring to accommodate the gun at full recoil, but by pushing this mass forward, the turret became significantly unbalanced. It was very forward-heavy due to the gun’s weight, but importantly the length of the gun itself. This was overcome by adding a large (approx 4-ton) counterweight to the rear of the turret, perfectly balancing the whole assembly. When we lifted the turret off our tank for restoration the quality of the work shone through, as it was indeed perfectly balanced.
Now we know how to upgrade the M4A4T to be contemporary to its foes, we can assign it a name. Once the gun was fitted our tank was no longer a M4A4T, it was now an M50. The 50 refers to the length of the gun in calibers, the CN75/50, or as it was called in France SA50. This version of the tank had the big gun, the standard VVSS (vertical volute spring suspension from WWII) and the upgraded radial R975 engine installed by France during its M4A4T upgrades.
We will now cheekily be very Western and assign this version of the M50 a nickname: “M50 MK1”. To be clear, this term was never used in the IDF, but its useful to help simplify the different stages of the M50.
The M50 MK1 went through its IDF service in the early days of the Sinai, the Six Days war etc., and was well regarded by those who served on them. They were very capable machines, proving effective at long range. This was until, in our tanks case, 1972.
The IDF, now famed for how well they could maintain and use older vehicles, needed a more capable tank. Once again, with little or no other alternatives they looked to upgrades rather than replacement of the asset.
The IDF needed a tank more capable over loose ground, with better fuel economy, but all the while keeping that fantastic French CN75/50. A tank, at its very bones, is simply a way of propelling armament to the position it is required. So, to keep the gun moving it was decided to upgrade the engine, the suspension and tracks of the M50 MK1.
The drive train and running gear configuration on the tank was now 30 years old, and although maintained well other upgrades were available. Even in WWII these upgrades had been demonstrated, such as with the advent of HVSS (horizontal volute spring suspension). This and other parts were available to the IDF.
We are now back to major surgery to fit HVSS to a hull that was never designed to accept it. For those interested, the HVSS takes the track width from the standard 16 inches on VVSS, and increases it to 23 inches – a great gain for reasonably little effort, but with the drawback of added weight.
The idler wheels, drive sprockets, bogeys, and return rollers runners are all different from those used on VVSS, and they do not clear the hull if fitted as a direct replacement. The IDF, took a very simple approach to this problem, they simply cut parts off the bottom of the hull with a gas axe so that the new running gear would clear. A simple solution and very ‘easy’ to accommodate.
HVSS was now installed, but as mentioned earlier, this had a negative effect on the power-to-weight ratio of the tank.
If you make something heavier you need more grunt to shove it. This is where the second part of the upgrade came in. The IDF were supported not just by France, Britain, Germany, etc., but also by America. Cummins diesel based over in Columbus, Indiana, had designed a V8 diesel engine, originally intended for civilian use. The IDF commissioned Cummins to upgrade this engine for military use, by basically increasing the power from 430bhp to 460bhp. This engine became VT8-460.
The VT8-460 was installed into our tank by Volcan Industries in 1972, at the same time the HVSS was installed along with a new engine deck. It now became what we call the “M50 MK2”, a suped-up version of an already suped-up tank.
Our tank continued its military service with the IDF, with the IDF registration plate 813612Y, but unfortunately, once again we cannot locate service records.
I have spoken to several IDF vets, one who claimed to remember our specific vehicle and they all spoke highly of the machine. They seemed to all be particularly impressed by the gun, which as we have mentioned is a very capable weapon. None of the vets I spoke with could remember the M50 having the “star” engine (radial) but they were all impressed with the reliability of the Cummins.
This takes us to around 1978/79, and the IDF had by now, just like France, designed their own tanks (the Merkava), but also were still being supported by their allies, with tanks like Centurions for example. This made our Sherman obsolete in the IDF, so the same question from 1956 arose once again- what to do with a tank you no longer need?
The answer was the same: you don’t scrap it, you sell it to someone who wants to buy it and even better if it strengthens a pre-existing relationship between allies.
By this point our tank was now knocking on the door of being 40 years old. A milestone. It was no longer possible to upgrade the Sherman, the M50 was, as good as it gets, the only improvement would be an upgrade of the gun to the larger 105mm gun (known as the M51 Sherman) but the IDF had already done that and had all that it required. The M50 was at its peak and couldn’t be improved enough to be contemporary to its foes, so Israel could no longer take the upgrade route to prolong the tanks service life, therefore the M50 was to be sold.
Israel had a problem! Nobody wanted such an outdated and outmoded tank, so our M50 was left in a tank yard and sat patiently waiting. Enter the South Lebanon Army.
Service with the South Lebanon Army
The SLA were a small force, with little armour. Israel knew that they couldn’t sell their M50s, but they could gift them to the SLA.
For the SLA, the idea of being given an M50 Sherman must have seemed very appealing, especially coupled with ongoing support and servicing from the IDF. In total, 36 M50 Shermans were gifted to the SLA, with only 4 of those being M4A4-based gun tanks. They were used to good effect by the SLA, who although lacking in training were certainly capable enough. Some M50 Shermans were used by the SLA as static gun points/checkpoints.
The support from the IDF was good, and when an M50 needed service or repair they were whipped off on the back of a lorry and a replacement was given.
Our tank had quite a specific history in the SLA, and although we don’t know where it was based or what it did exactly, we can tell you it was a “poster boy”. Our vehicle was one of two M50 Shermans used by the SLA for a press conference/promo photo shoot. We are lucky to have 2 photos from that time.
The question is why is it blue? The answer? Who knows! We have different theories, but honestly, it is all conjecture.
- It’s blue to blend with the sky. If used as a static gun, possibly high up or on a horizon we can certainly see that the blue blends nicely with the skyline. Even in the UK this colour works well. After all, the main purpose of camo is to blend to the surroundings. But this would rely on very specific tank use/position.
- It was to disguise the SLA as a UN force, copying the blue colour they were perhaps trying to trick others to thinking they were part of the peacekeeping force.
- To stand out! This seems the opposite of point number 1, but it has been suggested that because there were so many other tanks/vehicles in a sandy colour the SLA wanted to stand out to avoid friendly fire from its allies the IDF.
The SLA abandoned our vehicle, and as far as we can tell it was recovered by the IDF. It must have been one of the lucky ones as lots of armour was left as range targets or just abandoned.
From Israel to Yorkshire
A man named Dubi sold our Sherman to the Budge Collection in 1988. The deal was agreed in late 1988, and in May 1989 our tank was shipped by Dubi from Ashdod, Israel to Goole, East Yorkshire.
The Budge Collection was a large collection and bought many vehicles from Dubi at the same time. They then picked the best to keep for the Budge Collection and sold off the others at auction.
Our tank was in a sorry state, and was relegated to being kept away from the main Budge site in a place nearby called “muddy field” or “ropes field”. Eden Camp viewed the Sherman in this field and agreed to buy it. Although its condition was poor, the museum only wanted a static gate guardian so it was deemed appropriate.
It arrived at Eden Camp in 1991, where it was “rolled off the trailer” and left as a guardian under our Hurricane fighter. It underwent cosmetic external refurbishments to be shown to our visitors.
The restoration of the vehicle started in 2019, and we made a promise to ourselves to fully restore it to running condition and drive it for our visitors to see.
When we began, she had broken suspension, a broken engine, no clutch, no prop, no primary output shaft, and all sorts laid inside! The stuff laid inside was actually a treasure chest. Our tank told her story once we got it stripped out. The layers of debris held great secrets, like empty brass casings, coins, buttons, uniforms, socks, t-shirts, and even 1942-dated .30 caliber loading belts.
The tank is a great drive! I’ve been fortunate in that I got the first drive after restoration – the first one since 1985-ish! It was a real honour to sit in the driver’s seat, which is still a 1942 original fitment. To sit where many others had sat before me and drive this machine really hit home.
Something I’ll never forget.
Seeing the Sherman at the Eden Camp Museum
Our Sherman is kept in our Heritage Hall, along with our other vehicles in the collection. We try to drive it at least once a week in summer, if not more. We man our hall 1-3pm every day and although we choose a vehicle each day to focus on, we are always happy to show visitors around our Sherman, after all that’s what she is for!
The Eden Camp Museum opens on the 3rd of April 2023 (03/04/23) for our new season. We have some great new features, such as a new play area, and of course new vehicles for our visitors to see, including the running Abbot SPG, and the fully restored OT810. The T34 should also be back ready for the new season but watch this space!