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Australian Shermans


The M4 ( composite hull ) in the tank park in New Guinea. The rubber chevron tracks are evident, as are the appliqué armour plates on the hull sides.


by Paul D. Handel





Some recent articles claim that Australia received a quantity of Sherman variants, including the M4A4. Whilst there is always the possibility of such a vehicle being in the Australian inventory, all available data from the National Archives and photographs from several sources do not mention such a vehicle. Possibly a photo in the General Motors Holdens War History which shows Shermans on a production line is the cause of this confusion, but it is the same photo as reproduced in a wartime Chrysler Corporation (USA) book on their tank production. This genesis of this article was first published in the Journal of Military Ordnance in March 1996 and will show what details are available and the types of Sherman that were seen in Australia. Further photos and details can be obtained from the Australian War Memorial website (www.awm.gov.au) and their photographic database.

Although Australia received some 757 M3 Medium Grants and Lees during 1942, only three M4 medium tanks were allocated to the Australian Army during the course of the Second World War. The local tank programme which produced the Australian Cruiser Tank Sentinel was halted in mid 1943, after only 66 production vehicles were built. Part of the reason for stopping the Australian - built tank project was the insistence by US authorities of the availability of M4 Mediums in any quantity required by Australia. Indeed, the local manufacture of US Medium Tanks was considered at one stage, but the requirement to obtain power plants from the USA and the inability of Australian industry to produce a synchromesh gearbox were some of the factors which led to the idea being dropped.


M4 Medium Tank in Australia


The first US M4 Medium Tank to arrive in Australia was an M4A2, produced as part of a British Lend-Lease order. Some of the identifying features of the vehicle were steel chevron tracks, solid bogie wheels, early style M4 volute units, early style sprocket, spoked idler and sandshields. The gun was mounted in an M34 gun mount, and the turret used on Oilgear traverse unit. The tank arrived in Australia during mid 1943, and on arrival carried both a US registration number (USA W 3096073) and a British registration number (T 146142). The British registration number (less the T prefix) was the one used by the Australian Army to identify the vehicle. Soon after its arrival in Melbourne, the tank was painted in a two colour camouflage scheme of vehicle grey (a sort of Khaki grey) and Khaki green No. 3, and then despatched to the Mechanisation Experimental Establishment (MEE) at Monegeetta, north of Melbourne, for trials. These trials included testing over grass, in bushland, through mud and over standard "WD" obstacles such as step, trench and incline. The vehicle probably remained at MEE until around the middle of 1944.


The M4A2 after its arrival in Melbourne. The USA and UK registration numbers can be clearly seen, and the desert-type sandshields are in place.

Early in 1944, the Australian Army was requested by the British War Office to undertake trials of Churchill and Sherman tanks in "New Guinea conditions". The vehicles would be supplied by the UK, as would an RAC officer and a REME Senior NCO to assist with instruction on driving and maintenance. The British allocated two Shermans which arrived in Australia in May 1944. It is believed the tanks were supplied from stocks in the UK. Although both tanks bore consecutive British registration numbers, they were significantly different.

Tank No. T263412, an M4 manufactured by the Chrysler Corporation (serial No. 59427), had a welded rear hull with cast front. It had rubber chevron tracks, solid bogie wheels, early style sprocket and solid idler. The gun was mounted in an M34A1 Gun Mount, and the turret had a loader's hatch. Appliqué plates were welded on the hull sides.

The second tank, also an M4, was registered T263413, and was manufactured by Baldwin Locomotive (serial 16239). It had a fully welded hull, with rubber block tracks, spoked bogie wheels, late style sprocket and solid idler. The gun was mounted in a M34A1 gun mount. Appliqué plates were welded in front of the drivers' hatches and on the hull sides. An interesting sideline in designations is that in both official reports of the jungle trials the two tanks are listed as M4A1. Not until a further Australian report of 1945 does the designation M4 appear.


The M4 with flat rubber block tracks awaiting tests at Monegeetta. The name “The Stag” has been applied in Australia.

The Australian Army proposed the use of the diesel engined M4A2 in the trials as well as the War Office supplied tanks and so the three Shermans, together with three Churchills (a Mk IV, Mk V and a Mk VII), were shipped to New Guinea in August 1944 on the US Liberty Ship Norman J. Coleman, along with 26 Matildas allocated to the 2/4th Australian Armoured Regiment. After landing at Madang, the tanks were stored in the open for 14 days, during which time the trials camp was established. The terrain selected for the trials included plantations of light undergrowth, with ground surface mud up to 3 feet deep; undulating Kunai grass, dense secondary growth and creek crossings 18 feet wide and up to 10 feet deep. Rain for the trials period was over 12 inches per month.

Initial running of the Shermans showed that the performance of the M4A2 fitted with steel chevron tracks was unsatisfactory, and so after 57 miles of running for trials purposes this tank was deleted from the trials. Instead it was used to carry observers around and as transport to and from the trials site. The track problem was noted in the report which quoted "--- had this tank been fitted with a flat rubber track and grousers, its performance would have been superior to that of the Sherman M4A1 (sic)."

The trials were conducted only in first and second gears, and this caused some problems with the two M4s due to the oiling up of spark plugs. The average distance covered by each tank during the trials, which lasted 32 days, was 130 miles.


Sherman vs. Churchill


It was considered by the trials team that overall the Churchill was preferable to the Sherman for operations in jungle. The main advantages of the Churchill over the Sherman were listed as:

1. Superior manoeuvrability, especially at low speeds.

2. More suitable low gear ratio for low speed running during infantry co-operation.

3. Greater armour thickness.

4. Marginally better performance when crossing creeks and during hill climbing.

5. Greater ground clearance.

The Sherman was judged to be superior only in the areas of visibility, due to its larger periscopes which had wider fields of vision, and its ability to steer more easily on side slopes. The inherent reliability of the Sherman was also considered to be advantageous.

Following the trials, the tanks remained in New Guinea for a further three and a half months, after which they were returned to Australia, where some further trials were conducted. Those trials confirmed the results of the New Guinea tests, and so the Australian Government ordered 510 Churchills for the Army. This order was cancelled at the end of the war, after a total of 51 Churchills (comprising six trials vehicles and 45 production tanks) had been received.


Australian Shermans' Post-War Fate

After the war, the three Shermans were sent to the AFV School at Puckapunyal, where they were retained as Museum pieces for a period. The M4 was apparently used as a tank target during the 1950s and 1960s, and was shot up on the range. The M4 (Composite hull) was used as a small arms target in running order, as extra armour protection was welded around the entry hatches and over the air cleaners at the rear. After being sent for a time to the Officer Cadet School at Portsea, Victoria, where it was named Casper and, folklore has it, that its barrel position (up or down) indicated the morale of the cadets, it was eventually rescued and returned to Puckapunyal. Both the M4A2 and M4 (composite Hull) can be seen today on display at the RAAC Memorial and Army Tank Museum at Puckapunyal. The turret of the M4 was rescued from the range by John Belfield, a well-known Australia AFV collector and is believed to be in the hands of his Melbourne Tank Museum.





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The M4A2 after repainting, and on test at Monegeetta. The Australian number can be seen on the transmission housing, as can the bridge classification sign. (M4A2Test.jpg)
The M4A2 at the RAAC Tank Museum in the early 1970s. (M4A2Pucka.jpg)
The lower rear hull of the M4 ( composite hull ) showing air cleaners and tool stowage. (M4CompRear.jpg)
The M4 Composite Hull at the RAAC Tank Museum in the 1990s. (M4CompPucka.jpg)
The M4 lower rear hull showing air cleaner, the additional grouser rack and tool stowage can be seen , as can the towing pintle. (M4Rear.jpg)
 The M4 on Puckapunyal range sometime in the 1960s. Although of poor quality it shows some of the damage inflicted by modern tank ammunition. (M402.jpg)



Article Text and Photographs Copyright © 2001 by Paul D. Handel
Page Created 17 November, 2001
Last Updated 16 November, 2001

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