While these photos were presumably made to demonstrate American armored might six months after the nation’s entry into World War II, they present instead a pretty accurate picture of the real situation, with the United States still finding its way, production beginning to ramp up, but many, many lessons left to be learned. This series of photos depicts at least four different variants of two different tanks, some of them lacking armament, cobbled together for the photographer. M4 Sherman production had just begun in February 1942, and it was around the time these photos were taken that the U.S. 1st Armored Division had been stripped of its new M4A1 Shermans so that they could be urgently shipped to North Africa to cover British tank losses in the Western Desert.
The M3 Lee tanks in the photo represented the largest number of medium tanks in the U.S. Army, at the time, but they were essentially 1939 technology, developed as a stopgap that could be manufactured in large numbers very quickly. The M4 and M4A1 Shermans shown here initially made a good showing in battle, but instead of continuing development of ever more powerful guns and thicker armor, the Army concentrated on production, believing from the good reports from the Sherman’s initial battles against German tanks in North Africa that development could wait. As it turned out, it couldn’t, and while the Sherman was not the “death trap” some called it, especially after modifications, the failure to continuously refine and improve the design ultimately cost Allied lives. The most common tank in the Army at the time remained the M3 Stuart, a good design but already behind the times.
Originally published Sept, 6, 2017