Today we are taking a look some of the weirdest vehicles to be created during the Second World War: Sherman mine clearers. Surviving inside a minefield requires a very specialist vehicle, and the Sherman chassis offered the perfect platform to handle this demanding job.
Many designs were drawn up, and they came in all shapes and sizes, each taking a different approach to clear minefields. This resulted in some fascinating, awful and downright hilarious machines.
We’ve chosen what we think are the most notable and interesting, but there are many more that we haven’t covered here.
- Mine Clearers
- T9 Mine Exploder
- T1E1 Mine Exploder
- T15 Mine Resistant Vehicle
- T1E3 “Aunt Jemima”
- T8 Mine Exploder
- T10 Mine Exploder
- T12 Mine Exploder
Anti-tank and anti-personnel mines are some of the biggest threats a military can face in war. Individually, a mine is of little consequence, and can be dealt with by a single person, but when buried on mass in minefields, they are a tool that can quite literally shape battles and wars.
Often thought of being intended simply to kill or damage enemy personnel and equipment, the truly effective purpose of a minefield is its ability to direct the flow of battle to the defender’s benefit.
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Most units will halt an advance upon realising they have stumbled into a minefield, while they establish the best solution to the problem. A prepared enemy can pre-zero minefields with artillery, so when an enemy is stopped they can hit them with instant and accurate fire.
The unit will be forced to either retreat, continue through the minefield, or find a way around. Often, minefields will “funnel” an attacking force into a less advantageous location, where they can be attacked by the defender.
Going through them means clearing a path for friendly units. This is a slow process that makes the clearers vulnerable to the enemy as they work.
Mines, combined with other defences like anti-tank ditches or dragons teeth in layers, can progressively degrade and deplete attacks, sapping all momentum before the force has even reached the defender’s main line.
Naturally, militaries have been finding creative ways of dealing with minefields for as long as they have been used. While it can be done by hand, this is slow and dangerous, so in modern combat vehicles have been used to cut pathways through minefields.
Naturally, mine clearing vehicles work in an extremely violent environment, so they need some very particular engineering to function well.
During the Second World War the trusty Sherman was used as the basis for mine clearing vehicles. Its adaptability made it ideal for the role, as mine clearers tend to require lots of extra equipment be bolted on.
This work intensified on the run up to D-Day, as the Allies expected to face dense German minefields during the invasion of Europe.
A few were used in service, with the Sherman Crab flail being the most common and well-known. But for every Sherman mine-clearer that was used, there were many experimental ones that never made it into service.
This list gives a brief overview of just a few of the weirdest, and most absurdly proportioned mine clearing vehicles based on the Sherman chassis.
T9 Mine Exploder
The T9 is another roller system. It was large drum on the end of a boom and pushed in front of a Sherman. It was covered in 150 mm (6-inch)-tall spikes that helped to detonate mines. The T9 was inspired by sheepsfeet rollers, used in construction to compact the ground.
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The drum was not powered, and was simply mounted on an axle and pushed in front of the tank. Between the tank and the drum was a large boom, which could be extended or retracted depending on the situation.
This system was effective at clearing mines, and covered the entire front of the tank, but at a staggering 38,100 kg (84,000 lbs), the T9 was actually heavier than the Sherman pushing it. Its massive weight badly affected its abilities off-road.
A lighter version, named the T9E1, was investigated. This type had a much thinner drum and an overall lighter construction, shaving off 10 tons compared to the T9, but it was still too heavy. It did not see service.
T1E1 Mine Exploder
The T1E1 was the second in a series of large mine rollers attached to the front of Shermans. The first type, the T1, was actually fitted to an M3 medium tank.
The T1E1 was developed in 1943 as an improved version, consisting of three individual rollers at the front of an M32, the tank recovery version of the Sherman. Each roller had six 51 mm (2 inch) thick discs that were 1.2 meters in diameter.
With a weight of 590 kg (1,300 lbs), the idea was that their sheer weight would cause any mines to detonate as the system rolled over them. Their sturdy construction would protect them from the subsequent blasts.
The rollers were attached to the crane of the M32, so they could be lifted out of the craters caused by the mines. This was something the previous T1 lacked.
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While the T1E1 detonated mines perfectly well, its weight of 16,300 kg (36,000 lbs) meant it was incredibly difficult to steer. A lightened version was made, named the T1E2, but it was still extremely heavy. The T1E1 was used in service in limited numbers.
T15 Mine Resistant Vehicle
The T15 was a means of making a Sherman-based vehicle resistance to mines exploding underneath it. It was made in response to an enemy tactic of using a mine in front of a mine clearer to trigger a second mine underneath the tank, destroying it.
The T15 was built to survive this scenario and keep going.
The turret from a Sherman was removed, and the turret ring opening was sealed over with a 25 mm (1 in) thick armor plate with two hatches. Thick armor was also added to the belly.
But the T15’s most notable feature was its thoroughly reinforced running gear. The VVSS suspension bogies were covered by armor plates welded to the hull above. The roadwheels were replaced with reinforced steel discs, and rubber bump stops were added above the swing arms to cushion their upward travel during a mine detonation underneath.
Lastly, heavy duty tracks were added. Their increased size meant less links were needed, so a 9-tooth drive sprocket was added to turn them. The T15E1 brought further reinforcement to the running gear, including solid cast wheels and protrusions on the tracks. This design didn’t see action as the war ended before it could be finished.
T1E3 “Aunt Jemima”
The T1E3 was a further development of the T1E1 mentioned earlier. It was another roller type, now comprised of ten giant 2.5 meter-wide steel discs in front of a Sherman.
This time the discs were powered, driven by the tank’s engine via a chain and sprocket. The discs were 70 mm (2.75 in) thick and extremely heavy. Large holes were cut into the discs to remove material and lighten them, but all in the system still weighed 26,800 kg (59,000 lbs).
The T1E3’s rugged construction meant they were easily able to survive mine blasts, and as they could be used by a standard Sherman, the mine clearing unit had its own firepower.
But its heft meant the combined weight of the T1E3 and Sherman was more than a Tiger, and mobility was severely impacted. Driving at only a few miles per hour, it became essentially impossible for the Sherman/T1E3 unit to manoeuvre through thick mud.
Around 100 were built, and the type saw service in Europe, nicknamed “Aunt Jemima”.
T8 Mine Exploder
The T8 used multiple jack hammer-like exploders in front of a Sherman that prodded the ground to set off mines. Each exploder contained a spring and hydraulic shock absorber, which absorbed some of the mine blast.
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They moved up and down via an eccentric shaft driven by the tank’s engine, and pummelled the ground in front. The exploders struck the ground 180 mm (7 in) apart, and were capable of covering the entire frontal area of the Sherman.
Nicknamed “Johnie Walker”, the 4,500 kg (10,000 lb) T8 was much lighter than other mine clearers, but it found to be finicky and delicate during testing, so the idea was abandoned.
T10 Mine Exploder
This is arguably the strangest on the entire list, and in fact we have covered it in depth here: T10 Mine Exploder – the Penny-farthing Tank. However, we still thought it was worth mentioning briefly here.
Rather than push rollers in front, the T10 was a self-propelled roller. The running gear and tracks of an M4A2 Sherman were removed, and replaced with three huge wheels made up of discs.
To make room for the rollers the front corners of the hull sponsons were cut back. The T10 was designed to use itself to detonate mines, and simply resist the blast with a reinforced belly and a high ground clearance.
The front wheels were the largest, measuring 2.5 meters in diameter. They were connected to and driven by the tank’s final drives, with steering achieved by slowing or speeding up the desired wheel.
A small set of discs at the rear covered the 1.6 meter wide gap between the front wheels. The T10 was tested and found to be, unsurprisingly, impractical and unwieldy. It did not see service.
T12 Mine Exploder
The T12 is the odd one out on this list, as it doesn’t use pressure to detonate mines.
23 spigot mortars were fitted to a platform that replaced the Sherman’s turret, and a further five were mounted on the front of the hull.
The mortars would be fired into a minefield, landing in a long, thin line and exploding a path 6 meters (20 feet) wide and 76 meters (250 feet) deep.
The T12 was a similar concept to a line charge, and did technically work. But other tools were simpler and more capable, so it was not introduced into service.