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For Want of a Gun - The Sherman Tank Scandal of WWII

ISBN Number:
978-0-7643-5250-8
Published:
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Publisher:
Schiffer Books
Retail Price:
US $84.99
Reviewed By:
Danny Egan

For Want of a Gun: The Sherman Tank Scandal of WWII

by Christian DeJohn

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Background

The author of this book, Christian DeJohn, recently wrote our club president to ask if we wanted to review this book. It's a little unusual for us to get review samples through this particular method but, since this is a book about tanks, we gladly agreed to review it. I was not aware, at the time we agreed to do the review, that the book had generated some controversy since its publication.

Out of respect for that controversy, for the length of this book, and for the fact that we tank nerds love to debate tank quality, I decided that we needed to do a bit more than a normal review. What follows is not fundamentally different from our normal book reviews, but it is much more in depth. I hope you, our members, will understand why once you have read the review. 

This is not a dry piece of work, and perhaps it shouldn't be. Equipment design and selection is mostly about engineering a compromise solution to difficult problems, which is dry (albeit fascinating) stuff, but then we expect soldiers to use that equipment with their lives on the line. Thus some emotion comes into it. Also, the author is a skilled writer with an obvious passion for this subject. This is a book in which the author takes up a number of arguments (summarized below) and then presents his evidence to support his argument. Like a lawyer, he also grapples with some of the counterarguments. This review will first summarize his work and then assess how well he accomplishes his goal of convincing the reader of his arguments regarding the "Sherman Tank Scandal of WWII". 

 This is a heavily-illustrated book, although few of the photos are new. Below, a well-known photo of an M4A3 of the 25th Tank Bn, 14th Armored Division in 1945

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Production

This is a big, impressive-looking book measuring about 24cm X 30cm (basically coffee-table-size) with high quality hard covers and 351 glossy pages. Photo reproduction is excellent throughout. In addition to all the photos of tanks, there are many photos of WW2 newspapers, propaganda posters, US uniforms, and other related items. 

  

Typical page with period magazines and soldiers' personal equipment

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Photos

This is a heavily-illustrated book. I did not count the photos, but there are hundreds. Most of the M4 Sherman and M3 Lee photos are well known from WW2; a few new ones of museum examples are also shown. There are photos of German armor, mostly Tigers and Panthers. There are many photos of GI equipment such as k rations, canteens, unit insignia and so forth that are not really related to the subject of the book. There are dozens of images from WW2 advertisements, newspapers and propaganda posters that are interesting to see, but which (with the exception of a few newspaper clippings) add nothing to the purpose of the book. 

AMPS members will probably be interested to know the author is also an armor modeler. Photos of several of his tanks are shown in the book; ironically, none of the models are Shermans. 

 
Duplicates spotted:
1. Panzer IV on p 118 and 124 are the same photo
2. M4A3 on p 152 and 188 are the same photo
3. M4A1 on p 323 and 325 are the same photo
4. M3Lee on p 258 and 262
5. "Entrance hole on T26 turret" is a Sherman, not a T26. The exact same photo, less cropped, appears on p 351.

 

This photo, which appears twice, is incorrectly captioned as a T26. This is obviously a Sherman. 

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Organization and Summary

The book is organized in 15 chapters plus a short conclusion.

Chapters 1-2 provide some background on US Army armor in the interwar period, along with some commentary on the early blitzkreig era. The employment of tanks and the broader questions of the extent to which combat and combat support units should be mechanized and motorized was an issue for all major armies during this period. In the US Army, limited budgets and the lack of an armor branch (tanks were part of the infantry branch) meant that little practical research or training could be done. These first two chapters are probably the strongest in the book - which is not to say they are good. They are very deeply flawed, but not as badly as the following chapters. The book decries the lack of funding for the interwar Army while failing to even mention the Great Depression except as a minor side remark late in the story. There is no understanding that the US, as the only major power on the North American continent, prioritized the Navy as the main means of national defense in those years, which is why the Army tended to get last call on funding. Also, a point often forgotten (here and elsewhere) is that tanks of the 1920s really were very fragile mechanically. The auto industry was in its infancy and no rational army leader would rebuild the force around an unreliable piece of equipment. Things changed rapidly in the 1930s but this needs to be acknowledged. The commentary on the Spanish Civil war is uninformed; German tanks were considered seriously under-gunned in that campaign; armed only with rifle-caliber machineguns, they were no match for Soviet 45mm-cannon-armed T26s.   

J. Walter Christie and his M1931 tank. 
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The author's Panzer II model   

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Chapter 3 is a short study of the Tank Destroyer branch with its doctrine, tactics and weapons described. Again this is one of the stronger chapters, but it is still weak. The book cites popular material such as the Farago biography of Patton, or uses rhetorical flourishes, rather than consulting the field manuals (FMs) such as March 1942's FM 17-10 Armored Force Tactics and Techniques, which after all are the Army's official doctrinal documents. Had the author consulted the field manuals, he would have found that tank-v-tank fighting was indeed envisioned as a role for tanks. While it is true that the TD doctrine contributed to less-well-armed tanks, the version of the story told here is simplistic and rhetorically driven. Claims are made that considerations of politics and inter-branch rivalry overruled other considerations in high level decisionmaking. No evidence is offered for these claims. There is confusion between frontline usage of towed anti-tank guns as a tactic (a tactic employed by virtually all armies in WW2), and the US doctrine of aggressive, mass action by whole TD battalions held as reserve units. This is a critical distinction, lost both by McNair in the US 1941 maneuvers and by the author here. Doctrine must first be understood before it can be critiqued.      


Chapters 4-5 describe the fighting in North Africa and Sicily, the feedback to Army Ground Forces, and the intelligence failure regarding the Panther. Here it must be said that the book goes seriously astray. Many conclusions are drawn that simply have no basis or run counter to the facts. The US Army concluded from these two campaigns that the M4 was about as good as the tanks it faced, and better in some important ways. The major opponents were Panzer IIIs and IVs. Very few Tigers were encountered, and no battle was lost because of the presence of Tigers. The author fails to note that the tiny number of Tigers used in Sicily were almost all lost. Based on the evidence of these two campaigns, the Army was correct. 

The US intelligence failure regarding the Panther is a valid point that is worthy of a book of its own. US leaders were aware, from the Red Army, of the Panther. None were encountered in North Africa or Sicily, and in Italy the US never faced a Panther until May 1944. Even on the eastern front, the few (approximately five) Panther units in 1943 were running at about 30-40% operational readiness rates according to Robert Forzcyk. There are, therefore, some good reasons for the lack of awareness of what the Germans were capable of with the Panther. It was only on the eve of the Normandy invasion that US intel worked out the rate of Panther production with a very high degree of accuracy. This was a major failure and one that deserves a serious look by a qualified historian. It is not addressed in any intelligent way in this book. The tiny number of Tigers faced by the US Army was virtually immaterial, but the Panther was common. 

An M4A1 knocked out or, more likely, bogged down in a huge shellhole

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Chapters 6-15 are a mess of bad data, wrong conclusions, anecdotes, and fantastical conspiracy theories. Worst of all they contain some offensive personal attacks. The content here is highly repetitious, which is why I treat it all as one section. The author re-states the arguments made years ago by Belton Cooper in Deathtraps. Briefly, the book claims US tankers were daily facing far superior enemy tanks, that their officers did not listen to their complaints, that alternatives existed, that Shermans could have been fitted with 90mm guns in time for Normandy, that top officers such as Patton, McNair, Eisenhower, and even Marshall conspired to cover these facts up. Thus the term "scandal" in the title of the book. 

Many anecdotes are offered to bolster these arguments, but no real data. Simple statistics on casualties, tank losses, and tank production are misinterpreted or misused. Had the author consulted some of the documents I list below, he would have found his facts were simply wrong. But the research here is simply not very good.   

The personal attacks on several generals are offensive and uncalled for. They also add nothing to the argument the author seeks to make. General George Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff, had a stepson who was a tank commander. He was killed in action by a sniper, while standing up in his open hatch, in Italy. The author exploits this death to argue that the Sherman's quality somehow contributed to his death. Obviously he could have been killed by a sniper standing in the cupola of any tank in the world including the latest M1A2. General Leslie McNair, a three-star general commanding Army Ground Forces, is repeatedly attacked for his lack of combat experience and his stateside lifestyle. McNair's assigned duties were to organize, train and equip the entire ground-force component of the US Army. He was not a troop commander. Yet he visited the front in North Africa to get a firsthand look at what was happening. He was far enough forward to be wounded by artillery fire. In July 1944, he was killed by friendly 'short' bombs during the opening phase of Operation Cobra. At the time, he was visiting an Infantry battalion slated for the initial assault.  Students of history may find fault in the decisions of these officers, but personal attacks on their integrity or courage are dishonorable. The author also expends a half-page each to the Eisenhower-Summersby relationship and the Patton-Bill Mauldin conflict, as if these have anything to do with the thesis of the book.  

The Argument 

The author makes a number of arguments in chapters 6-15; stated briefly they are: 

The Sherman was inferior to its German tank opponents; the primary flaw was inferior firepower
This weakness in the Sherman contributed to US battle losses at Kasserine, El Guettar, the Ardennes, and possibly others.
This weakness in the Sherman led to unnecessary US casualties
Alternatives existed that could have resulted in better US tanks in the field by June 1944
The Sherman was not replaced/upgrade adequately due to deliberate negligence or bad faith on the part of US officers including Marshall, McNair, Eisenhower, and Patton. 
This failure was covered up or concealed, deliberately, by US Army officers and President Roosevelt.

  

   Tracking of tank crew casualties does not support the claims made in this book

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 The endpapers give the reader a pretty good taste of what's coming

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 Let's take each of these arguments in turn. 

1. The Sherman was inferior to its German tank opponents; the primary flaw was inferior firepower

The argument in this book is primary a comparison of the M4 (all variants) to the Tiger and Panther. It is essentially a restatement of Belton Cooper's thesis, and there is little new here. I don't think anyone would be shocked to read that the ~30 ton M4, a medium tank, was outgunned by the heavy Tiger I and II, or the 45 ton "medium" Panther. That the M4 had trouble in one-on-one, tank-v-tank combat against these types is not seriously in question. The book also cites armor weakness and poor off-road mobility compared to these tanks; again, these are well-known facts that do not need to be re-argued in 2017.  

The author makes some important errors, however. 

a) He misses the historical record that shows most tank combat in the ETO was not tank-v-tank, it was support of infantry. Both ammunition expenditure data and records of typical ammo loadouts in tanks of virtually every army prove this.  
b) When tank-v-tank combat did happen, often the opponents were e.g. the numerous Stug-III and Panzer-IV, The US Army very rarely encountered a Tiger I, although Panthers were common opponents and Tiger II encounters may have been more common than Tiger I encounters. To take one example, US Third Army records show about one-third of the German tanks they destroyed (not merely encountered) between Aug 1 1944 and March 1945 were Tigers or Panthers. The other two-thirds are mostly ignored by this book. 
c) The book makes this (and all other) argument largely with rhetoric and anecdotes and makes almost no use of any statistics, For example, there are no tables showing gun and ammunition performance, as you might expect given the argument is about gun power. The few data points provided undermine the author's argument. For example, tank losses were well documented in both the US and British armies. The author acknowledges (p. 253) that US records show that US units, for example, lost about as 60% as many tanks as they knocked out or the enemy abandoned. On p 252, the author cites a sample of 30 Panthers and Tigers knocked out, 19 of them by gunfire from 75mm and 76mm guns on M4s, something he claims is almost impossible. The claim that the T34's firepower was vastly better than the Sherman's is obvious rubbish if a single penetration test table is consulted. But no such data is presented.      
d) There are no tables of armor thickness, a key item in his argument. 
e) There are few records cited of actual tank losses or causes of loss.
f) The Panther was designed to be a dominant medium tank because the Germans knew they could never out-produce the USSR and the US; therefore, they opted for higher quality. It should not be surprising that the Panther was far better armed and armored than the M4 or T34 (although the author, without explanation, rates the Panther as a "distant second" to the T34 on p 295). In the Korean war, US studies showed the T-34-85 and M4A3E8 to be close matches.  




2. This weakness in the Sherman contributed to US battle losses at Kasserine, El Guettar, the Ardennes, and possibly others. This is the weakest argument in a group of weak arguments. The author re-states this over and over again without ever doing the work to show how Sherman flaws led to any actual battle loss. Not a single battle is analyzed in any way - there are no maps, for example. There are no loss tables for any battle. There are no alternative explanations considered. No after-action report says, in effect "if we'd had bigger guns we would have won this battle". The entire argument is nonexistent. 

The claim that Kasserine was a US loss caused by a lack of tank firepower is absurdly wrong. A cursory glance at mechanized combat in WW2 will show that every army that fought the Germans lost their first encounter - sometimes they lost many encounters. The French army of 1940, for example, had the reputation of being the best in Europe. Their tanks were better-armored and many were better-armed than their German opponents. Yet they lost the French campaign. The US II Corps at Kasserine was incompetently led and its dispositions were tactically ridiculous; at least one division commander pointed this out before the battle. Inexperience, poor leadership and weak organization led to the defeat. The US Army's response was to fire some commanders, change how armored divisions were organized and make other reforms. This response was largely the correct one. 

The claim that El Guettar was a US battle loss is not generally the consensus of historians. El Guettar was a multi-phase battle, but the best-known phase was a US defensive victory, ironically featuring the successful use of tank destroyers acting in the role for which they were developed.  

The Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) was not, as is claimed on p 296 and elsewhere, a US defeat or its "worst European defeat". The Bulge campaign was the biggest battle the US Army has ever fought; losses were high and there were certainly tactical defeats in the campaign, but overall it was a large-scale success. The Germans failed to gain their objectives while losing much of their best equipment and burning out many of their best units. It is not coincidental that German defensive strength in the west declined rapidly after January 1945.     

 Actual US defeats such as the Rapido river crossing attempt or the first attack on Montecassino are never mentioned by the author. Better tanks would not have helped there either. 

 

3. This weakness in the Sherman led to unnecessary US casualties. Here the author is again on very weak ground due to his misuse of statistics. The claim is made that ~60,000 US soldiers became casualties due to the Sherman's poor firepower and armor. This claim is, not to put too fine a point on it, completely and utterly wrong.  As I note below in my comments on the US Army Adjutant General's report on casualties, about 6400 armor crew enlisted men became casualties during the entire war in all theaters; this includes less than 1600 killed in action (KIA) or died of wounds (DOW) and about half were probably hit outside their tanks (fuller explanation below). US Armored Divisions were balanced organizations with three tank battalions and three armored infantry battalions each; most of the casualties were in the rifle companies. 

To say these facts destroy the book's central thesis is an understatement. 



4. Alternatives existed that could have resulted in better US tanks in the field by June 1944. The claim is repeatedly made that the US could have fielded meaningful numbers of T26 heavy tanks or 90mm armed Shermans by 1944. No basis is given for these claims. This theory has been published in several places and has been solidly refuted by several other authors. Again the book's argument is extraordinarily weak, because no facts are provided. The claims are merely asserted and we are expected to believe them. Weasel words like "could have" or "should have" are used frequently here. The ridiculous idea that a tank's weight is unrelated to its gun power is asserted here. The author dismisses legitimate requirements related to weight, bridging and transport by ship and railroad. Had he been more careful in his research he would have learned that one of the delays in shipment of T26s to the ETO was a shortage of heavy rail cars on which to get them from the factory to the ships. He skips the numerous reports documenting the defects of the T26 while it was being tested and the unreliability of the type when it was employed in larger numbers in Korea. He acknowledges the unreliability and teething problems inherent in any new weapons system that affected the Panther, while skipping over this issue with the T26. 

None of this is to disagree that the T26 would have been better to have had earlier in the ETO; it is simply to point out that the author hasn't done his homework and has no idea why the tank arrived when it did. 


5. The Sherman was not replaced/upgrade adequately due to deliberate negligence or bad faith on the part of US officers including Marshall, McNair, Eisenhower, and Patton. Here I believe the author mistakes commercial advertising and wartime morale-related efforts for serious policy analysis. Without any basis in engineering or logistics, he makes the claim that the US Army could have issued upgrade kits to armor units so that crews could install 90mm guns and HVSS suspensions on their existing M4s in the field. He believes this is a feasible plan. 

On page 302, the book states that “arrogance….led Roosevelt to overrule military advisors and experts” The President has legal authority over all military personnel and decisions; it is his job to make decisions after listening to professional advice. This isn't "overruling" and it is simply the author's personal attack on FDR to label this "arrogance".    

The book does not deal with the rather massive flaws in the management of German tank production. In 1944, Panther production was running at around 300 tanks per month, even as both T-34 and Sherman production was over 1,000 per month. The question is not whether a Sherman is better 1:1 against a Panther; it is rather whether you would like to go to war with a few hundred Panthers or a few thousand Shermans. 


6. This failure was covered up or concealed, deliberately, by US Army officers. This part of the book is largely innuendo and implication rather than any straightforward argument, so it is difficult to take on. It largely consists of some deeply offensive personal attacks on various generals, often referred to as "the brass". 

 To sum up, this book misunderstands some very basic facts, then imagines a conspiracy, and leaps to the accusation that specific men caused a scandal. Faced with a complete lack of evidence for this scandal, the author makes up a coverup conspiracy. The whole thing is ludicrous.    

Comments on Cited Documents 

The book makes repeated reference to three documents that bear some additional review. 

1. The 1945 State of the Union address: The United States Constitution requires that the President make an annual report to Congress; this is the origin of the "State of the Union" (SOTU) address. FDR gave his 1945 speech on January 6, 1945. Two sentences are devoted to an "improved tank" with a bigger gun; no tank is named but I agree with the author that he was obviously referring to the T26 Pershing. On the other hand, FDR devoted seven paragraphs to the shortage of Army nurses. The only weapons system called out by name is the B-29 bomber.

It is misleading at best to claim, as the book does, that FDR was "forced" to address the Sherman "scandal" in his SOTU address. FDR was a skilled political leader who said exactly what he wanted to say. The presence of two sentences does not indicate a 'scandal'; this is the kind of issue-hitting that politicians do all the time. If these two sentences do indicate a scandal, what do seven paragraphs regarding Army nurses indicate? I conclude the book misses the mark regarding this speech.    

 

2. US Army Official History ("Green Books"): "The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions for War" 1955:  "How well the Ordnance Department succeeded in matching the Germans in quality continues to be a matter of debate both within the Ordnance Department itself, and between the using arms and the Department. That the battle of quantity was won—with the help of a superb industrial machine— can hardly be denied." 

"Despite the late start, American ordnance had overtaken and outdistanced enemy ordnance by 1945. Unflattering comparisons of some American weapons with those of the enemy, Ordnance officers were convinced, grew out of American soldiers' tendency to regard only the deadly effectiveness of an enemy arm without taking into consideration its weaknesses. Unquestionably, particular items of German design and make were superior in at least some particulars to the corresponding American pieces—simpler to operate, easier to repair, lighter to carry, cheaper to manufacture, or better killers. The dreaded German "Panthers" were more heavily
armored and had more fire power than any American tanks that saw action. We now know that ever since 1933 Nazi Germany
had been applying most of her science and productive capacity to preparing for war. Her head start put the United States at a nearly insuperable disadvantage. Nevertheless, by the last year of the war American fighting equipment in general was sturdier and better functioning than that of the enemy. And the U.S. Army had far more of it" p. 41.

It is hard to find fault with this conclusion. 

3. The White Report: The author calls this document "The Smoking Gun" of the Sherman scandal. In March 1945, Eisenhower asked Generals Isaac White and Maurice Rose to present him an informal report on troop attitudes towards their equipment, especially tanks. Eisenhower wanted to know what the soldiers thought. White and Rose responded with over 100 pages of material gleaned from talking to troops. This report makes fascinating reading. Although a few field grade officers are quoted, for the most part the responses are from Captains, Lieutenants and Sergeants. It is a series of anecdotes. A consistent theme is that the soldiers want a lot more firepower. Many incidents are cited in which US tankers hit German Panthers or Tiger IIs repeatedly without effect. Again, as I wrote at the beginning of this review, no one since 1944 has credibly argued that the Sherman had firepower sufficient to reliably handle Panthers and Tigers. 

The report reveals the danger of relying on anecdotes rather than data, however. Examples: on Page 74, a Sherman crewman relates knocking out a Panther from 1600 yards using HVAP. One round knocked out the Panther. On page 100, another Sherman does the same at 1500 yards. On page 42, the 702nd Tank Destroyer battalion (M10 and M36) reported total TD losses in combat of 19 vehicles, while claiming 96 German tanks knocked out. On page 102, a lowly M24 light tank knocks out a Panther with three hits to the side at 800 yards. 

Likewise, the German general Guderian conducted a 'Panzer Commission' after hearing about 370 Panther final drive failures. His comment? "The troops were losing confidence in 'defective weapons' "

Statistics tell us without doubt that Shermans, M10s, M36s and especially M24s faced tough odds going up against Panthers. Yet an anecdote-driven approach would paint a different picture, using the examples above. DeJohn's entire approach is to relate anecdotes and make snarky comments rather than grapple with data

Comments on Documents Not Cited 

There are several easily-obtainable primary-source and secondary source documents that the book does not use. Obviously every author is free to choose what sources s/he will use to construct their work. However, it is academically unsound to ignore major, well-accepted work or primary sources that have direct bearing on the issues with which the author is grappling. Several stand out: 

a) Hunnicut's "Sherman": Widely accepted as the best account of the development of the Sherman tank, it is never mentioned in this book. This is akin to writing a book about evolution without making reference to Darwin.   

b) The "Conference Notes - Distribution of Medium Tank, M4 Series (76mm Gun)" Headquarters, First United States Army Group, April 20 1944: This short, two-page document was kindly provided to me by Steve Zaloga minutes after I asked a question about the "Tidworth" weapons demonstration and meeting the book describes as having occurred in January 1944. The claim in the book is that this meeting was the occasion when US officers in the ETO, including Patton, rejected both 76mm gun Shermans and the T26. The book makes this event a pivotal point in his argument.  

In fact, the demonstration on January 27, 1944 was a demonstration of engineering AFVs put on by the 1st Assault Brigade of the British Army. It has nothing to do with Shermans or T26s. A later meeting in April 1944 actually did concern the 76mm Sherman, and was attended by a number of senior officers, however, no Corps or Army commander was among them. This is the meeting at which it was decided to leave the 76mm Shermans in depots rather that disrupt units that were already training for Overlord. 

General Patton attended neither the January nor the April meetings and there is no document in any record showing he "rejected" either the 76mm Sherman or the T26 (which did not, of course, exist as a production tank in April 1944, much less January). 

It is poor research to write a 351-page book on the Sherman's gun and not make use of this document, which as noted above is easily obtained.   

c) US Army Adjutant General casualty reports for armor crewmen in WW2. The DeJohn book uses the figure of ~60,000 US soldiers killed or wounded in action due to the weakness in the Sherman. This number is used carelessly; at times the author claims these men were all tank crew, while at other times he acknowledges that the number includes personnel who were not tank crew but merely serving in Armored Divisions. In fact, according to the Adjutant General, total enlisted armor crew losses in all theaters were 1581 KIA/DOW; 4832 WIA for a total of 6413. About half of these casualties are thought to have occurred while personnel were not in the tank. This outside-the-tank estimate matches British estimates. For example, crew were often wounded or killed by mortar fire while in laager, and tank commanders were frequently the target of snipers while outside their tanks. These outside-the-tank casualties would not be affected in any way by the firepower or armor protection of their tanks. The true number of losses due to weakness in armor or firepower cannot be above a ceiling of about 3200 (i.e. half of 6400), or roughly one-twentieth the claim made in the book - and could only be that high if we assume every single crew casualty that occurred while in the tank was caused explicitly by a lack of firepower or armor. Obviously this is not the case. 

Officer casualties are listed by branch, and the armored force was not a branch in WW2, so it is difficult to get a good figure for losses. However, a tank company of 17 tanks would have had five officers in those crews at full strength, or about 5.8% of all crew. If every US officer in a tank crew was a casualty you still could not approach 60,000 casualties. 

Given these statistics, the entire premise of the book is wrong.   

d) SHAEF Message EX-82453, January 4 1945: This message from Eisenhower to the Adjutant General, War Department is a request for additional supplies of tanks to the ETO. It requests a ratio of four 90mm armed tanks to one 105mm howitzer tanks. It also says that "Of paramount importance is the uninterrupted flow of the maximum number of medium tanks to this Theater." The message states that the HQ of both the 6th (Devers) and 12th (Bradley) Army Groups concur. 

Thus in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge, US commanders wanted 90mm armed tanks - but above all they wanted more tanks, period. This message is never referenced in the book despite dozens of references to the need for more and better tanks during the Bulge. Combat leaders wanted more Shermans above all, because without them they could not fight.  

 

The Data Tables & Appendices

There are no real data tables nor any appendices in this book. Three small tables from WW2 are reproduced, but the author has compiled no statistical data or his own nor analyzed any primary source statistics. This is unfortunate because the statistics are very easy to obtain and would better illuminate some of the issues raised in the book.  

Maps

There are no maps. The book claims that the US Army suffered defeats because of the Sherman, but displays no maps in support of that argument

 

Other Research Notes 

  1. There is a sloppiness to the research in this book. For example, on page 194, the author says that because a Sherman gunner had only his gunsight to observe, he was wholly dependent on the tank commander to lay the main gun roughly on target, thus Tigers and Panthers could fire first. Yet on page 206-207 he quotes US 4th Armored Division's Alben Irzyk saying that US tanks could usually fire first "quicker, better and faster than a German gunner" and that "often a good American gunner could get off 3 or 4 rounds before the first German round". Which is it? Is the Sherman faster or slower to fire the first round? All Shermans had both a gunner's telescopic sight and a wide-angle periscope, so they could in fact observe the terrain and look for targets independent of the commander. 
  2. The author states repeatedly that the Panther turret was manually traversed. The White Report, which the author has read, on p 122 describes the Panther's power-driven turret. Any number of other sources will confirm this. 
  3. The claim that the Tiger was lower than the Sherman is contradicted by illustrations showing height differences in this book. 

 

 

Errors

Below, a left-side idler, incorrectly captioned as the "right side drive...wheel"

 

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The errors in this book make for a long list but here are a few I picked up: 

 

 

 Page       

Claim                                                                          

                          Correction
 137  “3-inch (90mm)” gun   3-inches is 76.2mm.
150   Firefly had “British-designed turret”  The Firefly turret was the same as all 75mm turrets, with modifications to fit the gun.
154 

Tidworth demonstrations, Jan. 1944 resulted in refusal of T26 tank

 The January demo was of AVREs. No connection to M4s or T26s. 
157   The crest of the House of Seville appears on the Italian flag  The royal family of Italy was the House of Savoy
 193  Hurtgen forest battle would have benefited from bigger, heavier tanks  The road network in the Hurtgenwald was difficult for Shermans and M10s to traverse; bigger tanks would have been worse off. Note that the Germans in Italy wanted smaller tanks, not Tigers.
 194  Sherman gunner had no periscope   Sherman gunners had both periscopes and gunsights to observe 
 194  German cupolas offered overhead protection while open  German cupola hatches did not offer overhead protection when open CORRECTION: The Panther cupola had an 'open protected' position that provided open, overhead protection. Thanks to Nick Moran (the "Chieftain") for this correction. 
 195 German tanks had infrared night sights   Very questionable; infrared sights were produced and a small number may have been used, not very sucessfully
 203   “The size or weight of a tank’s hull does not mandate the effectiveness of its main gun”   The selection of gun imposes size and weight requirements on the rest of the tank design. 
 206  “Trapdoor Springfield” was standard US Army rifle in the Spanish-American war  Standard rifle was the Krag-Jorgensen, although a few units had Springfields
 210   “Allied tank guns had lagged behind Germany’s since the Spanish Civil War”  German tanks in Spain had two 7.92mm machineguns. Most late 1930s French tanks were cannon-armed; even many US tanks had 12.7mm machineguns in this era
 213  “Second Armored Division first fought Panthers in Italy”   The US 2nd AD never fought in Italy at all except Sicily. No Panthers were sent to Sicily.
 213  Sidi Bou Zid battle was in 1942   The battle was in 1943 
 213  “Many accounts imply the 90mm gunned T-26 tank was a late-war invention, but as early as 1940, the US possessed a 90mm anti-aircraft gun that could be fitted inside a tank” The T-26 was first produced in the last year (“late”) of the war. The US had no tank in 1940 that could carry a 90mm gun. Having the gun itself is meaningless. The biggest US tank of 1940 had a 37mm main gun.  
 215  The Firefly had a “larger, British-designed turret”  As on p.150, this is still untrue.
 218   M36 had a new hull unique to that vehicle  M36 was built on the M10 series hull
 218  M36B1 “….was in fact a genuine tank”   The M36B1 was designated a TD by the US Army; it was open topped, had no coaxial MG, and was used by TD units.
 221   “spent shell casings” in photo caption  Objects are in fact fiber shipping containers for ammunition (remember this is a book about tank guns)
 240  M10 GMC had a 4-man crew  M10s had a 5-man crew
 260  Army could have issued modification kits to convert M4s to 90mm guns and HVSS  This is fantasy; no such kits were practical. Author fails to explore how they would have affected production of new tanks or readiness of units in the field. 
 271  Torsion-bar suspension “descended from” Christie suspension  The two systems have little in common and one is not derived from the other.
 272  T26 tank had a new engine  The T26 had the same Ford engine as the M4A3; this is widely known to be the major flaw in the design.
288  Photo caption “entrance hole on T26 turret”  This is an M4 turret
289  Chrysler tank arsenal credited with 20,000 M3 medium tanks produced  Chrysler produced 20,000 tanks of all types at the plant. About 6,500 M3 series tanks were built.
295  Panther “distant second” to the T34 in overall quality  No basis is offered for this unusual statement.
296 Battle of the Bulge “The Army’s worst European defeat”    Bulge generally considered a hard-won US victory.
296  US had jet fighters in Europe in 1945   No operational US jet fighters saw service in WW2. One XP-59 was sent for tests in Britain.
 325-326  Historians cannot figure out how many tank crew casualties occurred  Adjutant General tracked this information, available on line
 326   “Oddly” ETO casualty figures do not include the Italian campaign   Italy was not in the ETO.
 329  “…outnumbered tankers were forced to confront King Tigers with only four rounds of ammunition…”  Author mistakes typical HVAP loadout to total ammo supply.
 341  T26 tanks would have been helpful on the beachhead April 1 1945 landings on Okinawa   The immediate landing operations on Okinawa were unopposed.
 349  60,000 “tankers” as casualties; “we never hear about…” these   We never hear about 60,000 tanker casualties because that is about 10 times how many actually occurred in all theaters.  
 253  Photo caption says "M10"  Vehicle pictured is an M18
     

  

 

Conclusion

Arguments have persisted since WWII regarding the quality of the M4 series of tanks. As the great Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not to their own facts". No important question can ever be settled without rigorous review of the relevant facts and exclusion of irrelevant factors. This is a basic part of all research, and is something we're all used to seeing. Sadly, that level of basic discipline and rigor is absent from this book.

Robert Forczyk has written "The Panther has commonly been described as 'the best tank of WW2', but such simplistic assessments have been made with little regard for the Panther's actual capabilities or performance" in Osprey's "T-34 versus Panther: Ukraine 1943". This comment applies as well to DeJohn's book.

This is not a well-researched book. The argument regarding the Panther intelligence failure is interesting but neither that nor the rest of the issues are ever really grappled with in any rigorous way; almost no data is brought to bear on the subject, so it becomes a very long , . , content-free argument. To paraphrase Monty Phython, it is an argument uncontaminated by facts. 

In addition, it is an argument heavily contaminated by cruel personal attacks against US soldiers such as Marshall, Eisenhower, McNair, Patton, and others. Such personal attacks have no place in a history of a tank's development and use, even if they were valid. This book hit a real low point for me when I read on page 341 that FDR had "conveniently died".   

 

Pros: Good collection of well-printed photos; generally free of grammatical errors; author is up-front about his biases; some good background historical information on the development of the US armor branch between the wars. Many "I was there" stories.

Cons: Severe lack of focus on the subject; many fundamental factual errors; many errors of data interpretation; few/no data tables; repetitive; innumerate; few new Sherman photos. Because of the crushing weight of inaccuracies in this book, I cannot recommend it.  

 NOT Recommended 

Thanks goes out to Shiffer Publishing for this review sample.

Reviewed by Danny Egan

 

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