The British M4A1 Sherman Tank 76mm

This British M4A1 Sherman Tank has a large 76mm long barreled gun and an early cast hull compared with the later easier to produce welded hull Sherman tanks. It has the standard original suspension unit. Later models were fitted with an improved HVSS system that had better shock absorbing qualities and could cope with wider tracks to help hive extra grip in muddy or snowy conditions.

Surviving British Sherman M4A1 cast hull 76mm gun Tank

British M4A1 Sherman Tank cast hull with a 76mm gun

It was housed at the Isle of Wight Military Museum. Unfortunately the Museum had to close due to the Landowner wanting more money. The collection was given back to original owners and some sold. I do not know where this Sherman has gone. If you do please send me an e-mail.

Surviving British Sherman M4A1 cast hull 76mm gun Tank

Notice that this M4A1 Sherman tank had to have a gun barrel holder attached to the frontal hull because of the 76mm gun's length compared with the normal short barrel 75mm gun.

Canadian Sherman tanks in Italy 1943-44

On July 10th 1943 thousands of Canadian troops and tanks landed on the south east coast of Sicily as part of the Allied invasion force. In six weeks of hard fighting the Allies had freed Sicily of German and Italian forces. On the 3rd of September they turned their attention to the Italian main land. Five days later on September 8th 1943 Italy surrendered. The collapse of the Fascist Government in Italy lead to the removal of Italian armed forces from the Second World War. It forced the Germans to rush in reinforcements.

This is what the Allied commanders wanted. For D-Day in the summer of 1944 to be a success it was desirable to have as many armoured and infantry divisions diverted away from the Normandy coast as possible. It was never the overall plan to attack Germany from Italy. This was a side show with a serious deadly purpose which worked. It was a diversion used to draw away troops from main area of attack in Northern France. The fighting soldiers on the ground in Italy were not aware of this overall plan. This was necessary to make the advance up the Italian coast line appear as if the Allies’ aim was to invade Germany by crossing the Alps. This attack into Germany from the southern mountains was never intended.

Italy’s former ally now had to fight for every inch of Italian soil. They didn’t just send 60 divisions to the south coast of Europe. They sent 60 of the best fighting divisions to stop the allies breaking into the southern approaches of Germany itself. These well trained, experienced well equipped troops quickly discovered they had an unexpected advantage over the advancing allied army. It was the rugged mountainous Italian landscape. Running right down the length of the Italian boot is the central ridge of mountains called the Apennines. Spurs of the Apennines reach out to both the east and west Italian coast. These created endless steep rugged valleys with streams and rivers that were problematic to pass and easy to defend. It was the worst possible tank country for an assaulting army to try and cross.

The Germans built defensive lines that exploited every useful natural feature they could. They had the advantage of a terrain that became more extreme as you moved further north. There were very few open plains or passes that would have assisted tank movement. It took a relatively small amount of Germans to block all the paths north. Bridges are blown and roads mined. They were in a static position where they could just sit and wait for the allied tanks and infantry to come along and fall into their traps.

The Canadians fought for almost a year. This included some very hard street battles in October. Combat in Italy had already cost the Canadians 10,000 casualties. In May 1944 the eventually cut through the Gustave and Adolf Hitler defensive lines and headed for Rome. One of the last obstacles on the advance to Rome was the Melfa River in the Liri Valley. It was like a giant anti-tank ditch that barred the approach to Rome by cutting across the valley at right angles. The Canadians were ordered to seize the river crossings and open the road to Rome. For the assault on the Melfa river the Canadians 5th Armoured Division mobilised over 4,000 combat troops, 24 light tanks and 160 M4 Sherman medium tanks that were armed with a low velocity 75mm gun.

The Sherman only had 51 mm of frontal armour that was dangerously venerable to the more powerful guns fitted to most German tanks. The only advantage the Canadian tankers had was in number superiority. If a Sherman was hit it had a horrific weakness. It caught fire very easily. The Canadians called it the Bunsen Burner or Ronson after a famous brand of cigarette lighter. The German’s called it the tommy burner. Almost invariably you would lose all five crew members if the tank caught on fire.

To defend the Melfa River crossings the German’s fielded 1,000 infantry and only 30 tanks and assault guns, but some of those were the new Panther Mark V tanks. On 24th May 1944 the assault on the Melfa River began. The Shermans of the British Columbia Dragoons raced towards the river crossings. The infantry went in and started to fight their way across the valley but they could not get up the other side because of the dug in prepared machine gun nests. On top of the cliff were some German tanks and some of them started to advance down the valley side machine gunning the Canadian infantry. Apart from the Canadian artillery the only solution to this problem was to send in the lightly armoured Shermans. There was a 12 foot drop from the countryside fields down to the river. The tanks were sent down a track to help the infantry. Shells were falling onto the tanks from many locations. Those that missed cause dust to explode into the local environment so it was hard to for both sides to see a target. It was a real deadly mess. The German tanks came down their 12 foot cliff sides and meet the Canadians on the valley floor. It was tank against tank. The Canadians of the 5th Armoured Division would be the first in the west to do battle with the German panzer V Panther tank.

It weight a formidable 45 tonnes and has 80mm of sloped frontal armour. A design copied from the impressive Russian T34 tanks the Germans had encountered in the east. It’s long barreled high velocity gun could easily penetrate a Sherman Tanks armour. The Canadian tank crews had received no information that the Germans had moved Panther tanks down into Italy. It was a total shock to them. They were out classed. The Panthers were a lot slower than the Sherman’s but the Canadian’s shells just bounced off these new tanks.

The Panthers would go on fire just like the Sherman’s if they were hit in a weak spot, but the problem for the Canadian crews was to find those locations. They found out that if you could land a shell in the gap between the Panther’s turret and body then this would seize up the turret and the gun could not be traversed. The Sherman’s could then work their way around the back of the enemy and fire their shells in parts of the tank that was not as heavily armoured as the front.

By the end of the battle all the German tanks were knocked out. Many Sherman tanks were destroyed but the supremacy in numbers won the day. By 1st June 1944 a few days before the launch of D-Day the Canadians were only 26 miles from the old city gates of Rome. It was then that they received the order to halt. They could have been in Rome in an hour but it had been decided that for propaganda purposes the Americans would be the ones to liberate the ancient city.

There was no particular glory to this act as the Germans had left leaving Rome an open city. The Americans entered Rome on the 4th June 1944. Their glory and the headlines did not last long because two days later the Allies invaded Normandy. Thanks to all the efforts in Italy there were fewer German armoured divisions awaiting the invasion than there might have been. They were tied up in Italy. Even as the invasion of France progressed the Germans still hung onto their defensive positions in northern Italy and did not release troops.

The Canadians were about to face some of their hardest battles. The Allies rushed north to capture the Italian industrial and agricultural heart land. In the vanguard were the Canadians in their Sherman’s. This was going to be no easy victory. The Germans were intent on holding onto the north of Italy to protect the southern approach to the fatherland. It is also important for the German war effort to benefit from the bread basket of Italy and its manufacturing power. In the summer of 1944 the Germans were desperately building a defensive line in the north to protect the Po Valley.

It was called the Gothic line and ran in the mountains north of Pisa and Florence but was not complete. The German high command tried to delay them at the more southern Trasimene Line that ran from Ancona in the east to Grosetto. The Canadians meet it between Lake Trasimene and lake Chiusi. Between the two lakes the Germans had improvised a 3km deep zig zag trench system of defensive positions. They had correctly guessed this is where the Allies would send the thrust of their attack.

The rolling ridges and high ground offered the Germans ideal terrain for their delaying action. The Germans always seemed to be on a higher hill than the approaching Canadians. They could see them coming and direct down fire. On the 21st of June 1944 Sherman tanks of the Canadian Ontario Regiment went into action against German panzer V Panther tanks. Many of the Panthers were in hull down defensive positions in sunken roads where all the Canadians could see was the enemy’s turret. They knew they were out gunned and at that range if the enemy tank crew managed to get a direct shot on the Sherman M4 then it would blow a hole through the armour.

Some of the Panther tanks found they needed to change positions to take a shot as they could not get their gun depressed enough. This was their undoing and enabled some Shermans to get a shot into their underbelly; the weakest armoured spot on the tank. They also tried to get around them so they could hit their sides and engine compartment which were other weak spots. Any shots that hit the sloping front armour just bounced off. Many of the German tanks used the cover of the forest to ambush and retreat.

After two days of heavy fighting the tanks of the Canadian Ontario Regiment managed to push their way through the German defences. They drove north along the shore of Lake Trasimene. Five Kilometres to the west the tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment sat at their start line waiting to enter the battle at 7am. The start time had changed but they did not get the message. They left their tank park and advanced up the road only to find they were behind enemy lines. The Germans moved in behind them and cut them off. The tanks first knew something was wrong when the last tanks yelled over the radio that they were being attacked from the rear.

Seven M4 Sherman tanks were immediately knocked out. The remainder spent the next seven hours fighting to survive. Some used bomb and shell holes as protection. The Sherman chassis could not survive a direct it and this reduced the amount of tank body that was on show. When relief finally got to them only two tanks survived out of the fifteen that had moved off from that start line. One of the surviving tank crews thought that their luck had run out when a Panther came out of the woods straight for the shell hole they were sheltering in. It was 500 yards away. They knew they could not destroy the German tank at that range front on but managed to get a lucky shot into the Panther’s turret ring jamming it.

The relatively unknown battle of Lake Trasimene produced some of the heaviest casualties for the Canadians during the war. The Germans retreated northwards to the yet incomplete defensive Gothic Line. It was designed to protect Italy’s industrial heartland and the Po Valley. In one week the Canadians had vaulted the Trasimene Line. This success meant that they were now considered shock troops by other units and commanding officers.

The Canadians were central to all the Allied assaults in the Italian campaign. The Germans soon realised that where ever the Canadian’s 1st division popped up that is where the point of the next offensive would be. German Field Marshall Albert Kesselring, Commander of the Germans in Italy, needed to find out where they were so he could know where the main attack on his Gothic line was going to occur.

In August 1944 the Canadians knew they were being watched. They therefore transferred to the Adriatic coast in secret. They moved from their position in the centre of Italy at Perugia 200 kilometres east, through the mountains, to the assembly point near the port city of Ancona. They moved 11,000 vehicles including 650 different fighting vehicles. For the assault on the Gothic line the Allies had 10,000 troops, 260 M4 Sherman tanks.

They were facing a German anti-tank ditch and a number of river obstructions. The enemy had also laid mines and barbed wire. Intelligence had discovered that Adriatic section of the defensive line was the weakest as there were not enough troops to defend it. There were no reserves that could be sent to Italy. The Allies were about to break out of Normandy and man power was needed in France. All Kesselring could do is move troops already in Italy to the Adriatic to meet the threat. On 31st August 1944 he started to rush troops to the location. There is an awareness in the Allied headquarters that they had to get up in the hills and take the German defensive positions fast before the reinforcements arrived.

The Canadians cross the Foglia Valley into the heights behind the Gothic line to point 204 near the town of Tomba di Pesaro. The Canadians are very aware that the battlefield in their area of the gothic line is command of the view points in the surrounding slops near this mountains village. The tanks of the British Columbian Dragoons are given the job with supporting a battalion of infantry. The battalion is not ready so they make the decision to go it alone.

It turns out to be a very costly decision as they have to drive through a German anti tank screen and thick artillery bombardment. Even without reinforcements the Germans were ready for the Canadian attack. They were entrenched in good defensive positions and had zeroed in their guns so they were very accurate. The Sherman tanks advanced up one of the ridges and many were picked off. Some tumbled or slide down the side slope after being hit. Before reaching the German’s trenches the tanks had to go through a mine field. When a tank drove over the mine it would blow the track off. The 88mm guns had been positioned so that they could fire at the side of the tanks as they made their way up the mountain. The shells just cut through the weak tank side armour like butter.

Amazingly three Canadian tanks actually make it to point 204 but to their horror they encountered a large Panther tank head on. They drove at the Panther as fast as they could to reduce the range. The first tank managed to survive a glancing blow to its side from the Germans long high velocity 75mm gun.

Stupidly the Panther commander ordered the driver to turn the tank. The sight of three enemy Allied tanks charging your position at full speed must have been unnerving. The Sherman’s gun could do little damage to the slopped frontal armour of the Panther but they had a chance of penetrating the weaker side armour. All three M4 Sherman tanks stopped and started rapid fire at the side of the enemy tank. Two of the shells managed to stop the Panther; one on the turret and the other on the side.

This last successful engagement enabled the Canadians to get a commanding toe hole into the Gothic line. The Germans started to withdraw. The supposedly invincible Gothic line had been smashed.

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