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Sherman Tank Identification Guide - Tank Historia

Sherman Tank Identification Guide

The Sherman tank has one of the most complex manufacturing histories of any tank, with variants upon variants, each with their own unique features and further developments that set them apart.

This is hardly surprising as there was a huge number built, but a negative consequence of the Sherman’s long and varied career is that it can be difficult to identify what type you are looking at.

For that reason we have compiled this guide to help you easily identify the main variants of Sherman tanks.

M4A4T Sherman from the right.
This Sherman was built as an M4A4, but it was later modified by the French to use the R-975 radial engine.

So be sure to save this guide so you can quickly refer to it and find out what type of Sherman you are looking at.

A disclaimer – you could write multiple books on all of the differences between Shermans, so we have limited this guide to help with spotting the main variants, along with a few other interesting, more general features to look out for. It is by no means an exhaustive list of ALL Shermans.

Contents

Introduction

In total there were 50,000 Shermans built between February 1942 and July 1945, along with 12,000 more vehicles built on its chassis. Across this production run there were a vast amount of updates to the basic Sherman design, such as increased armor thickness and the fitment of more powerful guns.

However many of the changes were added to make the Sherman easier to build, transport, repair and operate. It was this continuous chase for increased simplicity and efficiency that kept the Sherman relevant for the entire war.

M4A1 HVSS labled.
Cast Sherman – areas of importance.

The US broke the manufacture of the Sherman down into five main models, the M4, M4A1, M4A2, M4A3 and M4A4. Others were built and tested, but these four made up the majority of Shermans to see use.

Each of these models were expanded upon into separate variants, with different guns, ammunition storage and tracks etc. At the same time though, there were updates and modifications applied across all of these different versions to keep the design as standard as possible.

M4A4 labled.
Welded Sherman – areas of importance.

In addition, the factories building Shermans each had their own ways of doing things, resulting in more variations.

Something that further complicates studying particular Sherman examples, is that they will sometimes have features they shouldn’t, and don’t have features that they should. This is usually the result of using up stock, refurbishments, and items being replaced at some point in the vehicle’s history.

M4

The M4 is the variant of Sherman that was powered by the Continental R-975 radial petrol engine, and was constructed with a welded hull. They were only armed with the 75 mm and 105 mm guns, and were not fitted with the later T23-style turret. Some 105 mm versions had the later horizontal volute spring suspension (HVSS) system.

Features to look out for:

  1. Welded hull. The M4 was only built with a welded hull, although some M4s were built as “composites”, which had a cast front.
  2. Two large engine access doors at the rear. These doors are located at the back of the tank, below the rear armor. They provide limited access to the R-975 engine.
  3. A hole in the center of the rear armor plate. This hole was for manually cranking the engine before starting to properly lubricate it.
  4. Either a flat, or inverted “U” shaped rear armor plate.
  5. Two engine air cleaners either side of the access doors. The air cleaners look like boxes, and are partially hidden by the rear armor plate. They are often missing on surviving Shermans.
  6. Flat, solid engine deck with large square air inlet cover behind turret.
M4 Sherman labelled image.
M4 features.

M4A1

The M4A1 variant is powered by the same R-975 radial engine as the M4, but the M4A1 has cast armor.

It was the first Sherman to enter production, with nearly 10,000 being built in total.

The M4A1 was armed with 75 mm and 76 mm guns. Later versions could also come with HVSS suspension, large hatches and the T23-style turret.

Features to look out for:

  1. Single piece cast hull. The entirety of the M4A1’s upper hull is cast.
  2. Two large engine access doors at the rear. These doors are located at the back of the tank, below the rear armor. They provide limited access to the R-975 engine.
  3. A hole in the center of the rear armor plate. This hole was for manually cranking the engine before starting to properly lubricate it.
  4. Either a flat, or inverted “U” shaped rear armor plate.
  5. Two engine air cleaners either side of the access doors. The air cleaners look like boxes, and are partially hidden by the rear armor plate. They are often missing on surviving Shermans.
  6. Flat, solid engine deck with large square air inlet cover behind turret.

Interestingly, the rear light guard on the M4A1 can be used to help identify the exact manufacturer that built it. For example the Lima plant’s rear light guards have a slight twist in them.

M4A1 Sherman features.
M4A1 identification features.

M4A2

The M4A2 had a welded hull and was powered by the General Motors 6046 diesel engine.

It could come with 75 mm and 76 mm guns. Later versions could also come with HVSS suspension, large hatches and the T23-style turret.

Almost 11,000 were built. The US did not want diesel tanks, so almost all of these were sent to Europe via Lend-Lease. The US Marines did use some though.

Features to look out for:

  1. Welded hull. All M4A2s were built with welded hulls.
  2. No engine access doors at the rear. The M4A2 was the only operational Sherman variant without any rear engine access doors.
  3. Tubular exhaust system. The M4A2’s exhaust extends across most of the lower hull rear and has two central exit holes. Sometimes it can be hidden by exhaust deflectors, which can come in grille and sheet form.
  4. Bolt holes along the top of the rear armor plate. Earlier versions have 11 bolts, but this was later reduced to six.
  5. Engine deck covered by a grille. The M4A2’s engine deck has a square-shaped grille centrally positioned near the turret. It only covers around half of the deck width.
M4A2 Features.
M4A2 identification features.

M4A3

The M4A3 was powered by the Ford GAA V8 engine and had a welded hull.

It is arguably the definitive version of the Sherman, with its 500 hp engine the most powerful fitted to wartime Shermans. 12,600 were built.

M4A3s could be armed with 75 mm, 76 mm and 105 mm guns. While some had VVSS suspension and 75 mm guns, most M4A3s were built with HVSS, the T23-style turret and either the 76 mm or 105 mm guns. It also served as the basis for the M4A3E2 up-armored Sherman.

Features to look out for:

  1. Welded hull. All M4A3s were built with welded hulls.
  2. A single engine access door at the rear. The door is a square shape, centrally positioned at the rear.
  3. Two exhaust pipes exiting directly out the back. The M4A3’s exhaust pipes are located on either side of the access door. They can sometimes be hidden by a grilled exhaust deflector.
  4. A large grille on the engine deck, with a central filler cap behind the turret. The M4A3’s engine deck grill is similar to the M4A2s, but is wider, covering the entire width of the deck.
  5. A single piece, cast differential housing.
M4A3 Features.
M4A3 identification features.

M4A4

The M4A4 is powered by the A57 Multibank engine, and has a welded hull.

It is perhaps the easiest to identify from a distance. The A57 engine was comprised of five Chrysler engines, and had a total of 30 cylinders. It produced 420 hp, but was enormous in size.

Due to the engine’s large size the hull of the M4A4 had to be lengthened by 28 cm (11 inches), making it easily distinguishable. All M4A4s were armed with 75 mm guns, and Britain was their main user.

Features to look out for:

  1. Welded hull. All M4A4s were built with welded hulls.
  2. Space between the bogies and road wheels. The M4A4’s longer hull meant its bogies were positioned further apart. This large gap is very noticeable, even from a distance.
  3. Two engine access doors at the rear of the hull.
  4. Three-piece differential housing. All M4A4s were built with the older differential housing made up of three separate pieces bolted together.
  5. Mostly blank engine deck, with a small grille and bulge behind the turret. The bulge was added to make room for the A57 Multibank engine.
  6. Bulge on the belly, near the rear of the hull. Like the top bulge, this was added to make room for the A57 Multibank engine.
M4A4 Sherman features.
M4A4 identification features.

Firefly

The British Firefly is one of the most famous models of Sherman, likely in part because it was one of the only Allied tanks capable of knocking out heavy German tanks.

Read More M4A3E2 – The Sherman with More Armor than a Tiger

It was built on the basis of the M4 and M4A4, and, most significantly, was armed with the 17-pounder gun. Some of the M4-based versions had composite hulls. Because of their long guns, Fireflys are often confused with American Shermans with 76 mm guns. The two are actually very different, however.

Features to look out for:

  1. 17-pounder gun. A Firefly can be spotted from afar thanks to its long, 17-pounder gun. The 17-pounder has a slight taper near the mantlet, the 76 mm does not.
  2. Muzzle brake. The Firefly’s muzzle brake is very rounded in shape, resembling a light bulb, and has two circular holes in each side. The 76 mm muzzle brake has a “sharper” appearance, and more defined baffles.
  3. Large box at the rear of the turret. Firefly turrets have a large armored box on the back. This contains the radio. It was moved from the inside at the back of the turret to here to make room for the 17-pounder.
  4. Covered-over bow machine gun. Sherman Firefly’s eliminated the bow machine gunner found in standard Shermans, and put ammunition in his place. As a result, the bow machine gun gap was covered by a piece of armor plate.
  5. Two engine access doors at the rear of the hull. Carried over from the M4A4 and M4.
Sherman Firefly features.
Sherman Firefly identification features.

“Easy Eight”

The name “Easy Eight” is a well known nickname usually used for the M4A3E8, but its real meaning is not actually specific to that tank.

The name comes from the code given to the horizontal volute spring suspension system (HVSS) during testing, “E8” (“E” standing for “Experimental”). Tanks fitted with this suspension during testing had “E8” added to their designation, for example; “M4A2E8”, or “M4A3E8”.

In service, the tanks simply received the suffix “HVSS” to signify that they were fitted with HVSS suspension, for example, an M4A3 with a 76 mm gun and HVSS suspension would be designated “M4A3(76) HVSS”.

As the M4, M4A1 and M4A2 also received this suspension, the name “Easy Eight” should, in theory, apply to them too. But today the name has stuck, and is mostly reserved for informally referring to the M4A3(76) W HVSS.

Features to look out for:

  1. Long 76 mm gun.
  2. T23 style turret. This turret was originally designed for another tank, but was eventually fitted to the Sherman as it was better suited for the 76 mm gun.
  3. Wide tracks and HVSS suspension. The HVSS suspension brought wider tracks, giving the Sherman better ground pressure.
M4A2E8 Easy Eight Features.
Easy Eight identification features.