The M4 Sherman, officially Medium Tank, M4, was the most widely used medium tank by the United States and Western Allies in World War II. The M4 Sherman proved to be reliable, relatively cheap to produce, and available in great numbers. It was also the basis of several successful tank destroyers, such as the M10, Achilles and M36. Tens of thousands were distributed through the Lend-Lease program to the British Commonwealth and Soviet Union. The tank was named by the British for the American Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman.
The M4 Sherman tank was produced in several variants and it was also the basis for a number of related vehicles. In addition, Shermans have been modified by several nations from modernization upgrades to complete hull conversions for another task. The wide array of special duties that a tank could be used for were just being explored by armies around the world in the early 1940s. Theories of what vehicles were supposed to be engaging enemy tanks changed as vehicles like the Sherman often found themselves up against enemy armor, and consequently some of the most important initial changes centered around up gunning the basic vehicle. Improving the vehicles mobility, protection, and creating specific variants for infantry support roles soon followed.
The M4A3E2 Sherman was one of the first ‘Jumbos” produced. In March of 1944, the US government inked a deal that would bring it some 254 of the modified Shermans to life to which the Ordnance Committee applied the designation of “M4A3E2” to the type – “E” signifying the type as an “experimental design.” Production of the upgraded Sherman commenced at light speed to help get the armor up to the front lines as quickly as possible. So, Fisher Body upgraded the Sherman M4A3 hull by adding an extra 1.5” of armor plate to the hull front and sides. The original turret was also replaced with a new casting that had a maximum armor of 6” thick with a 7” thick gun shield. The added armor increased the weight of the tank from 35 to 42 tons.
By late 1944, the M4A3E2 was already being delivered into the eager hands of awaiting American tank crews and commanders in Europe. The first vehicles arrived in the New York port on the 14th of August 1944. On the 29th, the 12th Army Group was informed by the War Dept that 250 M4A3E2 Assault tanks had been released and would be in the ETO in September. On the 1st September, the 3rd Armored Division put in a request for 150 M4A3E2s from 12th Army Group. The first 128 Jumbos arrived in France via Cherbourg on the 22nd September 1944.
The first thirty six tanks were issued to the US First Army on the 14th October and were then issued to individual tank battalions. Fifteen to the 743rd, fifteen to the 745th and six to the 746th. On the 18th October, Normandy beach depots recorded having seventeen on hand, twenty four released to Armies and nineteen on route to Third Army. By the 24th October Army allocations for delivery had been confirmed as:
First Army – 105 M4A3E2 Jumbos
Third Army – 90 M4A3E2 Jumbos
Ninth Army – 60 M4A3E2 Jumbos
The last recorded delivery was on the 9th November when 746th Tank Battalion of the First Army was issued a further nine Jumbo’s. The Jumbo proved popular due to its ability to stop many German anti-tank rounds. A Jumbo Sherman called “Cobra King” was the first tank to reach the besieged 101st Airborne Division at Bastongne on December 26, 1944.
More radical variants followed, first with experiments with flotation screens in preparation for the invasion of Europe by Allied forces in 1944, and later by the addition of rocket launching equipment mounted on the turret. Extensive work on creating mine clearance devices to be attached to Shermans or out of Shermans in some fashion was also conducted up until the end of the Second World War. Much of the war time equipment remained for training or was placed in storage. Some 96 Sherman Jumbos were still in the US inventory in 1948, this out of the 50,000 or so Shermans produced in all.