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WAR-WINNER:
A RE-APPRAISAL OF THE M4 “SHERMAN” TANK IN WORLD
WAR II

by
Kevin D. Smith
A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Arts in History

Middle Tennessee State University
2013

Thesis Committee:
Dr. Amy Sayward
Dr. Bren Martin

I dedicate this work to the veterans, both civilian and military, of the M4 tank. May your
experience and sacrifice in the Second World War serve as an example to future
generations in the preservation of liberty.

ii

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to thank Dr. Amy Sayward for her kindness, patience, and guidance in
producing this work and in giving me a chance to fulfill a goal. She gave me a second
chance when I did not deserve it and represents the best qualities of a teacher. I would
also like to thank Dr. Bren Martin for his willingness to assist me in this process even
though we had never worked together before. I would also like to thank my mother,
Cathi, for never doubting that I could do this. Most importantly, I would like to thank my
wife, Jenny, who supported, encouraged, and enabled me to finish my goal. She believed
in me even when I did not believe in myself. Finally to my son, Alex, I pray that my
study of the past makes me a better father to guide you to a better future.

iii

ABSTRACT
The M4 tank was one of the principal armored vehicles used by the United States
during World War II. The U.S. also supplied the M4 in large numbers to its allies; it
became the most important Allied tank of the war. In spite of this widespread use,
historians, veterans, and post-war commentators frequently denigrate the M4 as a weapon
and claim that it was a mistake to employ it against the Axis powers. The critics’
argument is that the M4 was cheaply designed for easy mass production as part of the
American strategy to overwhelm the Axis powers through the quantity rather than the
quality of its weapons. These critics point to the technical inferiority of the M4 to latewar German heavy tanks as proof of this claim and argue that by employing the M4 the
Americans wasted thousands of lives and delayed the end of the war.
This argument is flawed and does not portray an accurate story of the M4 in
World War II. Interior Army disputes over the role of tanks in battle and the resulting
doctrine developed to defeat the German army were the primary determinants of the
M4’s design; ease of production was not the overriding factor. The record of the M4 in
combat from 1942 to 1945 was exemplary when it was used as it was intended.
Additionally, the 1944 modifications to the M4 demonstrated the soundness of its overall
design. The M4 struggled (but still occasionally succeeded) in duels with the heavier
German tanks, a task it was not designed for. Considering its overall war record, the M4
was an invaluable resource for the Allied powers and must be considered a successful
tank.

iv

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION………….……………………..…………………………………...….1
CHAPTER I: ARMOR DEVELOPMENT IN THE INTERWAR PERIOD: A
PRECURSOR TO THE M4 "SHERMAN"..………………..………..…….8
CHAPTER II: THE DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE M4……….…..…...…35
CHAPTER III: THE M4 IN COMBAT, 1942-1943……………….……………………66
CHAPTER IV: THE M4 IN COMBAT, 1944-1945………………….…..……..………90
CONCLUSION………….……………………..…………………………………..…...125
BIBLIOGRAPHY………………………………………………………………………130
APPENDICES: ………………………………………………………………………...142
APPENDIX A: ANNOTATED ORGANIZATION OF THE WAR
DEPARTMENT…………………………………………………….143
APPENDIX B: KEY GERMAN & AMERICAN TANK DEVELOPMENT AND
PRODUCTION, 1940-1945……………………......……………….145
APPENDIX C: AMERICAN MEDIUM TANKS, 1940-1945……………...………146
APPENDIX D: BASIC ARMY STRUCTURE………………………………...……149
APPENDIX E: SIMPLIFIED U.S. ARMORED DIVISION ORGANIZATION,
1944……………………………………………..……………...……150
APPENDIX F: SELECTED ARMOR AND GUN COMPARISION…..……...……152

v

1

INTRODUCTION
World War II was a mechanized war in which motorized vehicles were decisive
to the outcome of the conflict. All major and minor powers utilized these machines
extensively; anything that could be, was equipped with an internal combustion engine for
the purpose of increased mobility. In the air and on land, the new machines
revolutionized warfare, and one of the principal icons was the tank. The tank--with its
firepower, armor, and off-road capabilities--proved to be one of the decisive weapons of
the war. Every major land battle of the war included tanks, frequently as the key weapon
in offensive and defensive operations. For the United States and its allies, the primary
tank of World War II was the Medium Tank M4, commonly called the M4 or “Sherman.”
It operated in every theater of the war and participated in every major battle in which the
United States fought. The other major Allied powers--including Great Britain, France,
China, and the Soviet Union--also used the M4 extensively in combat. From its
introduction in 1942, this tank played an essential role in the battles and campaigns the
Allies planned and conducted. Despite its widespread use and significant role, historians,
veterans, and commentators have decried the use of the M4 ever since 1944; for them, the
M4 was a failure as a tank and a weapon. However, the critics’ argument is flawed; first,
it is based on a false premise, and secondly, the criticism is myopic regarding the M4’s
performance. Contrary to the criticism, the M4 was an excellent tank that was fully
capable of performing the role it was designed for, and moreover, its capabilities made it
a vital asset in every theater where it fought. The M4 had limitations to be sure, but a full
analysis of its history and record show that its merits significantly outweighed its
deficiencies.

2

Critics of the M4 make a flawed comparison with late-war German tanks and
misrepresent the design history of the M4. Without a doubt, the M4 was technically
inferior in some aspects to the late-war German heavy tanks, the Panzerkampfwagen V
“Panther” and the Panzerkampfwagen VI “Tiger” and “King Tiger” tanks. These panzers
had more powerful guns and thicker armor than the M4; in a duel, the M4 was at a
distinct disadvantage. To critics, the inadequacies of the M4 resulted in unnecessarily
high losses in both tanks and crews for the Allies. Historians such as Stephen Ambrose
and Max Hastings have argued (implicitly and explicitly) that the M4 caused excessive
and unnecessary casualties.1 Veterans such Omar Bradley and Belton Cooper have made
similar accusations; Cooper referred to the M4 as a “deathtrap” in the title of his book.2
This extremely negative image of the M4 persists even in popular culture; one program
on the History Channel labeled the M4 an “engineering disaster.”3 From 1944 until now,
scholars, soldiers, and laymen have questioned why the United States, with all of its
industrial prowess and ability, was unable to produce a tank superior to those of the
Germans. Moreover, why did the United States continue to use such an “inferior” tank
without developing a replacement? The aforementioned critics have asserted that the
1

Stephen Ambrose. Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches
to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945 (New York: Simon
& Schuster, 1997), 63; Max Hastings, Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), 190.
2

Omar N. Bradley, A Soldier’s Story (New York: Henry Holt and Company,
1951), 41; Benton Y. Cooper, Death Traps: The Survival of an American Armored
Division in World War II (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1998, 2000).
3

History Channel, “Modern Marvels S10E49 Engineering Disasters 12,”
YouTube Web site, MPEG, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMw6Bnk_bI&list=WLF195F8E78D1C6DBD (accessed January 30, 2013).

3

United States sought to win the war by overwhelming its enemies through sheer numbers
rather than skill; they offer the M4 as evidence of this interpretation. Moreover, critics
point to the M4 as an example of the failure of the U.S. Army to prepare adequately for
war, which resulted in “poor” performance in the Mediterranean and European theaters-an ironic view when one considers that the Allies won. Likewise, critics argued that the
British and Soviets did not use the M4 because it was an excellent tank; they used the M4
because it was available and their own tank production was inadequate to meet their
needs. Subsequently, the sole value of the M4 was that it was easily manufactured in
large numbers and therefore “won” by overwhelming its opponents, regardless of its
quality as a weapon. However, this argument does not hold up to historical scrutiny,
especially when one examines the origin of the M4 and its combat record.
The M4 was the product of the limited experience of the U.S. Army in the
interwar years (1920-1939) with tanks and the resulting internal debates over the role of
the tank. Prior to the German invasion of Poland, which featured tanks prominently,
American army officers debated the role of tanks in future battles without ever reaching a
consensus. The Infantry branch favored using tanks to support foot soldiers and therefore
pushed designs that focused on heavy armor and armament. The Cavalry, on the other
hand, wanted light and fast tanks for quick strikes and raiding behind enemy lines. The
interwar years were lean budgetary times for the Army, and it could not accommodate
both branches’ wishes. Limited funding for research and development hampered the
Army’s ability to experiment with tank tactics and designs. Consequently, the Army had
little experience designing and building tanks; the small number of tanks produced was
wholly inadequate to practice and develop tactics that could be developed into a doctrine.

4

By mid-1940, the successful German attacks on Poland and France stunned both
American civilian and military observers alike; the role of the tank figured prominently in
the minds of American leaders. The U.S. Army sought to create a tank doctrine and force
that could first counter the German panzers and secondly defeat Germany using similar
methods to blitzkrieg, which emphasized the use of tanks to strike deeply into the
enemy’s rear areas to maximize confusion and disruption. As a result, it developed Tank
Destroyers (self-propelled, anti-tank guns) for the first mission and the M4 for the second
mission. Americans, particularly Army Ground Forces commander Lt. General Leslie
McNair, did not believe that tanks should be wasted in solely breaking through an
enemy’s front lines or in dueling other tanks. McNair believed that tanks should be used
after a breakthrough had been achieved to attack headquarters and supply depots dozens
of miles behind enemy lines. He also believed that tanks were useful to support the
infantry. As the chief architect of the doctrine, organization, and training of the Army in
wartime, McNair’s views dominated the development of weapons and their use in
combat; his vision was a compromise between the opposing views that emerged during
the interwar debate. In conclusion, McNair’s interpretation of this debate and his
understanding of German blitzkrieg primarily determined the design of the M4.
The M4’s design incorporated all of the features that McNair and the Army
believed were necessary for the tank to perform the battlefield mission they had designed
for it. Additionally, its manufacture took place against the desperate background of 1941,
when the Germans seemed to be on the verge of total victory. The Americans desperately
needed new tanks to help the British and to build up their own forces, which was more
imperative after the United States entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl

5

Harbor in December 1941. Previously in September 1941, U.S. President Franklin D.
Roosevelt had ordered American factories to produce thousands of new tanks per month
and tens of thousands per year, a goal clearly beyond American ability at the time. The
American army possessed some tanks, but all of these models were obsolete by 1941.
The first attempt to produce a new tank was based on expediency and resulted in the M3
medium tank, an unbalanced design that merged existing, obsolete models with a new
weapon, a 75mm gun. None of the users were satisfied with the M3, but it served as the
father of the M4, which used the same gun. Moreover, the Army used or modified the
engine, suspension systems, and other features from the M3 in the M4’s design. The chief
characteristics of the M4 were its mechanical reliability, easy maintenance, and dualpurpose 75mm gun, capable of firing both high explosive and armor piercing shells.
Because American industry was in the process of building production facilities, the Army
did not specify that the design of the M4 must accommodate existing production
practices or be easy to produce. As soon as the new tank plants were ready, U.S. industry
built whatever the Army had ordered as quickly as the factories could manage. The
efficiency of the American tank industry generated the large numbers of M4s, not the
nature of the design.
In late 1942 and 1943, the American, British, and Soviet armies were pleased with
the M4’s performance and saw little need for a replacement. The British first used the M4
at the Battle of Second El Alamein. The M4 demonstrated its quickness and effective
firepower and also showed that it was capable of defeating any Italian and German tanks
with ease, with a one exception, the “Tiger” heavy tank. In the Pacific, the U.S. Marine
Corps used the M4 first during the assault on Tarawa (November 1943) and then in its

6

subsequent campaigns. The M4’s ability to destroy Japanese bunkers and support
American troops endeared it to the Marines and the Army Forces in the Pacific. The
American tank also earned the respect of its adversaries, including German General
Erwin Rommel in Africa, who praised it. The period between 1942 and 1943 was the
highpoint of the M4’s career and when General Jacob Devers, chief of the Armored
Force, even described it as the best tank in the world.4
The record of the M4 in 1944-45 was more complex, with both achievements and
difficulties. Prior to D-Day (June 6, 1944), the Americans upgraded the M4 with a variety
of modifications to improve its armor protection, mobility, and firepower, but only the
British incorporated an anti-tank gun that could defeat the largest panzers. The
Americans continued to hold to the doctrine that the M4 should avoid tank-on-tank
engagements. As in the previous campaigns, the M4 performed extremely well in all the
missions it was designed for: fast-moving attacks against unarmored or lightly armored
troops and infantry support. In the Pacific, the marines and soldiers continued to use their
M4s with great success and requested that more be shipped to them as soon as possible.
Likewise, Soviet soldiers successfully used their M4s for similar missions but also
developed effective methods for combating the panzers. The Soviet accounts, although
very sparse, also demonstrated great appreciation and even affection for their M4 tanks.
In northwest Europe after D-Day, the Americans and the British had similar success with
their M4s. Only in battles against the heaviest German tanks did the Allies find the M4
4

Erwin Rommel, The Rommel Papers, ed. B. H. Liddell Hart (New York: Harcourt,
Brace, 1953), 19; G. MacLeod Ross, The Business of Tanks, 1933 to 1945 (Ilfracombe,
UK: Arthur H. Stockwell Ltd., 1976), 245.

7

lacking, but once again, this mission was outside its design parameters. Even so, the
Americans developed tactics to defeat the panzers that gave the M4s a chance of victory
that belied subsequent critics’ claims; a duel was not an automatic German victory.
Moreover, tank battles were not the M4’s most common mission in France, the Low
Countries, and Germany during the last year of the war. The Allies mostly used the M4 to
support infantry and to seize objectives behind German lines, the tasks the Americans had
designed the M4 for and in which it excelled.
By the war’s end, the M4 had proved a valuable asset in the Allies’ arsenal, and it
is not an exaggeration to say that they could not have won the war without it. The critics’
assertion that the M4 was solely the product of a desire for mass production is not
accurate; it was not cheaply made for mass consumption. The story of the M4 in combat
with the larger German tanks that is the focus of its detractors is important, but that is not
the whole story nor as one-sided as often portrayed. The majority of the record of the M4
is one of success and achievement. From both the Allied and Axis points of view, the M4
was a great tank, albeit not the technical stand-out of the war. In this respect, historians
and laymen alike should recognize the M4 tank for what it was--a war-winner.”

8

CHAPTER I
ARMOR DEVELOPMENT IN THE INTERWAR PERIOD:
A PRECURSOR TO THE M4 “SHERMAN”
Tanks were the dominant land weapon of the Second World War, but their origins
stem from the First World War and the interwar period (1920-1939). Although tanks had
been used briefly in World War I, the technology was not advanced enough for their full
potential to be realized at that time. More importantly, the doctrine on how to employ
tanks, called armored or mechanized warfare, was still in its experimental stages. The
various armor doctrines of World War II were the result of theories and experiments
conducted in the interwar period. For the U. S. Army, the interwar period was a time of
shortage and frustration. Poor funding and scant public interest made the Army’s mission
of preparing for the next war almost impossible. However, the causes of the Army’s
problems were not all external, especially where tank development was concerned. The
notable tank historian George Hofmann commented that a doctrinal development gap as
much as a production gap hampered the Army’s tank program even as late as 1941 along
with a “prewar political and economic ambivalence towards military affairs.”1 At the
highest level, Army leadership was deeply conservative and generally held an
unfavorable view towards new technology and new doctrines in the 1920s and 1930s.
Believing that future wars would be fought in essentially the same manner as the past,
Army officers struggled to make sense of how to use tanks and therefore what kind of
tanks to build. The German invasion of Poland in 1939 demonstrated the capabilities of
massed tank attack and consequently revealed the inadequacies of American ideas on
1

George F. Hofmann, “The Tactical and Strategic Use of Attaché Intelligence:
The Spanish Civil War and the U.S. Army’s Misguided Quest for a Modern Tank
Doctrine,” Journal of Military History 39 (January 1998): 101-33.

9

tanks and their use. Forced to respond quickly, Army leaders had to pull together the
many divergent theories on the use of tanks that heretofore had failed to be resolved.
Although inadequate and frequently misguided, American tank development in the
interwar period was a major influence on the design and deployment of the M4
“Sherman” tank in World War II.
In World War I, the U.S Army used tanks in combat for the first time and gained
useful, albeit limited, experience. Upon entering the war Americans recognized the value
of the tank and established an independent tank corps in January 1918, with a school for
training crewmen during the war. Notable persons assigned to the tank corps included
young officers such as George S. Patton, Jr., and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Army
leadership envisioned using tanks to assist advancing infantry as a mobile, fire-support
weapon that would break the deadlock of trench warfare that dominated battlefields on
the Western Front during World War I. Invulnerable to bullets and able to traverse the
broken, shell-pocked ground, tanks overcame the many obstacles that had kept
infantrymen from successfully attacking across the “no-man’s land” that characterized
the battlefields in France. Tanks could also attack machine-gun emplacements
successfully and cross the trenches; barbed wire had no effect on tanks. After eliminating
enemy strong points, tanks could continue to advance and to exploit the opening (breach)
in the defense without having to stop and rest. They could cross successive lines of
trenches or attack enemy positions from the rear, while the foot-soldiers attacked the
front, which was the preferred method. Theoretically, a successful attack would rupture
an enemy’s lines and force neighboring units to retreat or be systematically destroyed in a
similar fashion. Before the armistice, the Americans had several successful engagements

10

using tanks, including the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (September-November 1918), but
these experiences were always with limited numbers of French and British manufactured
tanks. No American-designed or -built tanks arrived during the war. At the conclusion of
hostilities, tank corps officers advocated the continuance of an independent tank corps
that could develop its own doctrine and technology. Like the promoters of the airplane
(another new, wartime technology) and the air corps, tank officers perceived that the
established, more conservative branches (the Infantry, the Cavalry, and the Artillery)
would interfere with and hamper the development of these new weapons unless they had
some independence.2
Following the conclusion of World War I, Army leaders took the first steps to
officially define the role of tanks and their permanent place in the organization. Under the
direction of the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of War, a committee of high-ranking
officers was convened to analyze the “lessons” of the war and to make recommendations
on the future structure of the Army, including tanks. Known as the Superior Board, this
group was led by the former American Expeditionary Force (AEF) commander General
John Jay Pershing, whose soaring reputation after the victory ensured that its findings
would be widely accepted. In its report to the War Department and Congress, the board
found no compelling reason for the continuance of an independent tank corps, because
tanks had demonstrated their value only as supplements to the Infantry. An effective
weapon to be sure, the tank had limited applications in the opinion of the board. In his

2

Kenneth Macksey, Tank Warfare: A History of Tanks in Battle (New York:
Stein and Day Publishers, 1972), 65-66; William O. Odom, After the Trenches: The
Transformation of U.S. Army Doctrine, 1918-1939 (College Station: Texas A&M
University Press, 1999), 54-57.

11

excellent work on the American army during the interwar years, historian David Johnson
noted how the Superior Board did not evaluate the tank in terms of what it might become,
but rather, how it had performed during the war. According to Johnson, board members
took the short-sighted view that tank technology was stagnant and that nothing new could
be expected in the future. Therefore, no need existed for a separate tank corps in the
Army after the war to experiment and further develop tanks or their application in
warfare.3
The wartime commander of the tank corps, General Samuel D. Rockenbach,
supported the effort for independence from the other branches, but his remarks to
Congress and War Department officials inadvertently worked against convincing leaders
to create as separate branch for tanks. Appearing before a Congressional panel regarding
the postwar restructuring of the Army, he testified that the role of the tank was to punch
holes in an enemy’s lines to clear the way for the Infantry. Having accomplished this,
faster and more maneuverable tanks could then raid into the enemy’s rear areas.
Rockenbach’s argument was a prophetic concept that would be central to the intended
role of the M4 in World War II. However, the emphasis of his remarks was on the role of
the tank in supporting the Infantry, which reinforced the arguments against an
independent tank corps in the minds of Congressmen and Army officials.4
Naturally, the opinion of tanks held by the victorious AEF commander, General
Pershing, was the most influential with Congress, War Department officials, and Army
3

David E. Johnson, Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army,
1917-1945, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, ed. Robert J. Art, Robert Jervis, and
Stephen M. Walt (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 38.
4

Johnson, Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers, 38-39.

12

leaders. In Pershing’s view, tanks existed to aid the Infantry in battle and should therefore
be placed under the Chief of Infantry. Tanks should be tested and developed in
accordance with the Infantry mission, according to Pershing. Dr. Robert S. Cameron
credited Pershing’s opinion with assigning tanks exclusively to assisting infantry in the
trench-breaching role, and therefore tanks should be under the control of the Infantry
branch; an independent tank corps might otherwise pursue models of tanks and battlefield
missions that jeopardized their usefulness to the Infantry.5 For Congress, the opinions of
Pershing and the Superior Board certainly outweighed those of Rockenbach and other
tank officers, like Patton and Eisenhower, who also supported an independent tank
corps.6
After the war, Congress intended to reduce and restrict the size of the Army in
keeping with American peacetime tradition and the public’s post-war sentiment.
Certainly, the establishment of a new branch for tanks did not fit with this approach.
Concurrently, Congress had already decided to establish an independent branch for
aircraft. Legislators viewed this act as sufficient, albeit necessary, acquiescence to the
Army’s wishes regarding expansion. To Congress, tanks worked with and directly aided
infantry; therefore, tanks belonged to the Infantry; the National Defense Act of 1920
codified this decision. As such, it provided the fundamental basis and conception for how
American armor development proceeded in the interwar period. The Infantry branch
would design, test, and evaluate tanks during the interwar years on the basis of how well
the vehicles could aid the foot soldier. The tank was to be nothing more than a mobile
5

Robert S. Cameron, “Armor Combat Development 1917-1945,” Armor 106
(September-October 1997): 14.
6

Macksey, Tank Warfare, 73-74.

13

gun platform, supporting the Infantry and would not be utilized in any other capacity,
such as exploitation or long-range attack. By relegating the tank to a support role rather
than exploring other alternative missions for it, the act created conditions that ultimately
stifled and deterred the creative development of and experimentation with tanks and their
doctrine.7
Tanks in World War I had serious technical and mechanical issues that limited
their overall usefulness in battle, so Army planners had to consider these aspects in their
discussions on the use of tanks. Officers who advocated using tanks independently,
operating miles deep inside enemy territory, had to speak of the possibilities of future
tanks and assume a progression of technological and mechanical development. The
decision to place tanks as a support to the Infantry was understandable, although
inherently shortsighted; it reflected the limitations of tank capabilities at the time vis-avis technology and Army structure. Like most motorized vehicles of the period, tanks in
World War I and the immediate post-war period were notorious for being mechanically
unreliable. In most engagements, engine breakdowns and mobility impairments such as
broken tracks accounted for as much as half of a unit’s losses in a day. Although repairs
were usually made in a day or two, the initial shock and momentum of the attack had
been lost, enabling the Germans to recover and redeploy. Regardless of the gains made in
terms of territory captured, the ability to maintain the offensive was weakened by the
excessive maintenance demands inherent in World War I tanks. After operating for
several miles, tanks needed vital mechanical servicing to prevent severe breakdowns.
7

Cameron, “Armor Combat Development,” 14; Russell F. Weigley, The
American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), 216-17.

14

Any attack had to be halted while repairs and maintenance work occurred. When the
attack was renewed, the tanks would have to battle through the new German defenses all
over again. Of course, battles such as these occurred after units had reached the
battlefield, which was also a struggle. These tanks had a small radius of action, less than
fifty miles, before refueling was necessary. Refueling was a time-consuming and laborintensive process that soldiers carried out by hand, using five-gallon cans and a funnel.
To move longer distances, trains transported tanks on flatbeds to the nearest point where
the attack was planned. Because of all these factors, Army officers believed that tanks,
while useful, could only be employed in thoroughly pre-planned circumstances. The idea
that tanks, independently, might penetrate deeply into enemy territory and rapidly change
the direction of an attack was more theoretical than based on historical fact. During
World War II, American tank designers strove to remedy these shortcomings, and
mechanical reliability was one of the key features in the design of the M4. Reliable was
not a term used to describe World War I tanks. However, technical limitations were not
the only factor that influenced the Army’s thinking on tanks.8
Military and civilian leaders did not view the tank as gaining victory in war but
just as adjuncts to the real source of triumph, the foot soldier. The primary conclusion of
the Superior Board was that manpower—specifically large numbers of riflemen--had won
the Great War. The National Defense Act placed this belief at the center of its

8

Kenneth Macksey, Tank Versus Tank: The Illustrated Story of Armored
Battlefield Conflict in the Twentieth Century (London: Grub Street, n.d.; New York:
Barnes & Noble Books, 1999), 29; Dale E. Wilson, “World War I: The Birth of
American Armor,” in Camp Colt to Desert Storm: The History of U.S. Armored Forces,
ed. George F. Hofmann and Donn A. Starry (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky,
1999), 24-27.

15

restructuring of the Army. Naturally, the Infantry branch was the primary benefactor of
such an outlook. Presumably in the future, as in the past, the rifleman would be the
bedrock of defense, not technology like tanks and their promises of future capabilities. In
practice during the 1920s and 1930s, the Infantry chose personnel over machines in its
decisions over how to allocate its limited funds; each branch of the Army requested and
spent its own funds as it saw fit at that time. Hofmann notes that in 1932, the Army, at the
request of the Infantry, requested $2.4 million for limited service tests and procurement
of a new semi-automatic rifle (the M1 Garand), a new anti-aircraft gun, and new tanks.
The War Department approved only $1 million, and the money was spent on the new
rifle, the Infantry’s highest priority.9 Decisions such as these were typical in the interwar
period and reflect the subordinate role of tanks in the Infantry’s priorities.10
The Infantry branch was naturally inclined towards traditional elements and its
primary component, the rifleman. With a slightly romantic notion, the Infantry repeatedly
stressed the supremacy of the rifleman over all other battlefield weapons. The presiding
view was that infantry, the so-called “Queen of Battle,” had always been the decisive and
crucial factor on the battlefield and would certainly remain so in the future. The Infantry
chiefs considered ideas and opinions that challenged this belief as subversive and
dangerous. Johnson records one particular example when Dwight D. Eisenhower, then a
captain, published an article in the Infantry Journal in 1920. Eisenhower theorized about
the possibilities of future tank technology and implied, either intentionally or
9

Timothy K. Nenninger, “Organizational Milestones in the Development of
American Armor, 1920-40,” in Camp Colt to Desert Storm, ed. Hofmann and Starry, 4344.
10

Odom, After the Trenches, 51.

16

unintentionally, that tanks might have a separate role from the Infantry in future
operations. To his surprise, his article constituted a form of doctrinal heresy, and the
Chief of Infantry advised him to discontinue such statements. According to Johnson,
Eisenhower recalled that the Chief of Infantry even hinted at the possibility of a courtmartial.11 For the remainder of the twenties and into the early thirties, the Chiefs of
Infantry sought to maintain both their domination over tank development and the
paramount role of the Infantry in battle. Hofmann remarks that the unimaginative views
of Infantry leaders were the most serious impediment to the development of an American
tank force. By 1930, significant automotive improvements resolved many of the
limitations of World War I tanks, but the Infantry leaders ignored the implications of
these developments and how the capabilities of tanks had changed. The Infantry was
determined to keep tanks in a secondary role to the rifleman and prohibited any
experimentation that might alter this view or suggest a different mission. During the
1920s and 1930s, the Infantry’s bias for its own service icon, the rifleman, was the
guiding factor in tank development rather than a desire to comprehend and integrate new
technology on the battlefield.12
Within the framework of the Infantry’s views, Army engineers and mechanics
improved the automotive and technical components of tanks in the interwar period. The
Infantry chiefs examined and refined tank doctrine in order to better accomplish the
mission of supporting the rifleman. The capabilities and reliability of automotive
11
12

Johnson, Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers, 75.

George F. Hofmann, “Army Doctrine and the Christie Tank: Failing to Exploit
the Operational Level of War,” in Camp Colt to Desert Storm: The History of U.S.
Armored Forces, ed. Hofmann and Starry, 103.

17

components continued to improve significantly after World War I. The durability of
power trains, fuel efficiency, and cross-country mobility had substantially improved. By
the late twenties, tanks had the ability to operate for greater periods without extensive
maintenance. Some Infantry officers began to question how these improvements might be
utilized. Tanks, in their supportive role, could maneuver quickly against enemy strongpoints and machine-gun nests; therefore, faster tanks became preferable to slower
models. Infantry officers began to favor increased mobility across the ground and the
newer, more reliable engines made this possible. citation needed (at least to infantry
officers questioning how tank improvements could be utilized)
In order to achieve greater mobility, the overall weight of a tank had to be
restricted to certain limits. The days of ponderous, lumbering heavy tanks was over as far
as the Americans seemed to be concerned. Armor was reduced to make tanks lighter and
therefore faster. The preference for mobility at the expense of armor protection remained
a common theme throughout the interwar period and influenced the development of the
M4. Besides off-road mobility, the structural load limit of most bridges in the United
States was a factor that Infantry officers had to consider in designing a tank. Rivers
became obstacles that would hold up an offensive if the tanks were too heavy to cross the
bridges. As would be the case in World War II, the weight of a tank was one of the most
important limiting factors in its design. Citation needed to American ideas that tanks had
to be lighter
The Army’s procedure for developing new weapons was for the user, the Infantry,
to specify the criteria and submit the request to the Army Ordnance Department, which
actually developed the blueprints. Frequently, the Ordnance designers were unable to

18

meet all of the stipulated design criteria regarding firepower, protection, and mobility and
were forced to trade off certain requested features in order to balance what the user
wanted with what was technically possible. Usually, the Infantry officers rejected these
proposed compromises, and the design process started over again. The effect of this
approach was that designed models were directly tied to the user’s requests. The positive
aspect of this approach was that unwanted equipment was not forced upon the user.
Unfortunately, suggestions from the Ordnance Department on tank development had to
be agreeable to the Infantry in order to be included in the next prototype. This practice
tended to discourage experimentation and limited development to tweaking components
that the Infantry believed were valuable. Once the United States entered the war, the
Americans found it very difficult to change this mindset, and therefore American tank
development was never on the cutting edge of technology and always seemed to be
responding to what the Germans had developed first.13
Limited Congressional funding for the Army was also an important constraint on
the development and experimentation of tanks. In the view of Congress, surplus World
War I tanks were still plentiful. Robert Cameron noted that the surplus wartime tanks
created an illusion of armored strength that influenced Congress to limit funding further
development of tanks and discouraged funding any production of new models.14
Furthermore, Congress was quick to question the need for more funding for tanks when

13

Constance MacLaughlin Green, Harry C. Thomson, and Peter C. Roots, The
Technical Services: The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions for War, United
States Army in World War II series (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office,
1955; Reprint, Center of Military History, United States Army, 1990), 257-58.
14

Cameron, “Armor Combat Development, 1917-1945,” 14.

19

the Army itself viewed them as a lower priority. The onset of the Great Depression only
strengthened this argument. Johnson makes the key observation that the Army would
most likely have used any additional funding to support increasing manpower. Although
his view is speculative, this opinion seems to be correct considering the Army’s track
record and, more importantly, stated views on the supremacy of the foot soldier over
other weapons, particularly tanks. Considering what the Army did with the funds that it
had, the idea that any additional funding would have benefited the tank program seems
unlikely.15
In spite of internal bias and Army doctrine, many officials, both inside and
outside the Army, became more aware of the potential and feasibility of motorization in
warfare. Following a visit to Great Britain in 1927, Secretary of War Dwight Davis
ordered the creation of an experimental mechanized force, commonly called the EMF.
The purpose of the EMF was to study the effect of mechanization on all branches of the
Army. In July of 1928, the Army brought together groups of soldiers from the Infantry,
Cavalry, Artillery, Engineers, and Quartermasters at Camp Meade, Maryland. These
groups were allocated all forms of motorized equipment and organized as a single unit.
As such, truck-mounted infantry and artillery, tanks, and the cavalry’s armored cars
conducted a variety of tests. General Staff officers explored and analyzed the problems of
using motorized equipment for long-distance road marches as well as supply and
offensive operations. Naturally, the EMF experienced significant challenges and
problems. Obsolete wartime equipment frequently broke down, and few spare parts were

15

Johnson, Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers, 229; Weigley, The American Way of
War, 217-18.

20

on hand to make repairs. The lack of cross-country mobility in vehicles other than tanks
limited the ability of the exercises to demonstrate the potential of mechanization. By
October of that year, the Army disbanded the EMF. However, the experiment had not
been a waste. As Hofmann notes, the findings from the trials with the EMF provided
useful practical and technical information on the operation of motorized forces. Rather
than discrediting tanks and motorized forces, the EMF produced enough positive results
that the Army’s interest was stimulated to pursue future development. More importantly,
the door for exploring the potential of the tank outside of a supportive role had been
opened.16
When he assumed the duties of Chief of Staff of the Army in November 1930,
General Douglas MacArthur sought to transform the American army’s understanding and
use of mechanized weapons, particularly tanks. In one of the most significant decisions
regarding armor development, MacArthur ordered all branches to mechanize as much as
possible. Furthermore, types of equipment were not to be limited to one branch. Hofmann
explains that MacArthur believed that the different components of the Army should
decide for themselves what equipment they needed in order to perform their battlefield
mission; in short, missions should determine how the Army was equipped and organized,
not vice versa.17 The primary result of this order was that branches other than the
Infantry could now experiment with tanks. The Cavalry was the primary benefactor of
MacArthur’s order. Previously, the National Defense Act and Army regulations limited
the Cavalry to developing and equipping armored cars. Moreover, the protestations of the
16

Nenninger, “Organizational Milestones,” 40.

17

Ibid., 46.

21

Infantry, jealous of its prerogative with tanks, had previously prevented any Cavalry
experimentation with tracked vehicles. MacArthur could overrule the Chief of the
Infantry, but he could not simply override a Congressional mandate. In order to
circumvent the provision that tanks belonged only to the Infantry, MacArthur and cavalry
officers officially referred to their vehicles as “Combat Cars.”18
For the Cavalry, the combat car offered tremendous potential for carrying out that
branch’s traditional missions: reconnaissance, screening, counterattack, and
exploitation/pursuit duties on the battlefield. To Cavalry officers, the screening mission
was the least practical area for consideration. Quite simply, sufficient numbers of tanks
would be difficult to procure in order to guard vital rear areas and to screen the main
body of the army. However, the ability to react quickly and powerfully to an enemy
threat--such as an attack or breakthrough--was an attractive feature of the tank; the
counterattack mission was one of the most vital roles cavalry played in an army.
Considering the Cavalry’s other missions, Cavalry officers were extremely interested in
the tank’s cross-country mobility. With the ability to go off-road, tanks could reconnoiter
in any direction and were less vulnerable to enemy forces. With their additional
firepower, tanks could conduct a “reconnaissance in force,” overcoming weaker enemy
forces where possible. By moving swiftly and striking from unexpected locations, tanks
could also severely disrupt and hamper an enemy’s movements. Likewise, a tank’s speed
and increased firepower would be extremely useful in disrupting rear areas during the
exploitation of a successful breakthrough of the enemy’s lines. While pursuing a
retreating enemy, tanks, like horses, could easily outrun and isolate enemy troops on foot.
18

Hofmann, “Army Doctrine and the Christie Tank,” 117.

22

Thus delayed, these units could then be defeated by advancing infantrymen after they had
caught up. In these ways, many Cavalry officers viewed tanks as a way to augment the
existing cavalry force’s capabilities19
With the inclusion of the Cavalry in the design process, American tank
development began to diverge along two different development paths. Infantry tanks
sought to improve the tank’s armor protection and firepower while maintaining mobility.
Infantry officers, on the other hand, wanted tanks that were able to withstand hits from
heavy machine guns and the emerging anti-tank rifle, which fired a large-caliber bullet at
high velocity. Progressively, the Infantry requested additional machine guns be added in
order to suppress (force to take cover) an enemy’s anti-tank weapons and troops. Small
cannon were added following observations of tanks in the Spanish Civil War. Mechanical
reliability was still crucial, but speed was less vital than protection now. Reminiscent of
the World War I mentality, the Infantry believed that the tank really only needed to
maintain the pace of advancing riflemen with occasional bursts of speed. The Infantry
was also more concerned with the tank’s cross-country mobility and suspension system,
believing that a smoother, more stable ride would produce less strain and wear on
components and thereby enable longer equipment life. A result of this viewpoint was the
Vertical Volute suspension system, which proved very successful in the M4 during

19

144.

Johnson, Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers, 128-29; Odom, After the Trenches,

23

World War II. By the late thirties, the Infantry designs had evolved into a category called
medium tanks.20
The Cavalry had different criteria for tanks that reflected its own doctrine. Speed
rather than firepower was paramount to the Cavalry mission. Accordingly, the combat
cars had thinner armor than the Infantry models and less firepower, usually half the
number of machine guns. Combat cars averaged a weight approximately one-half to
three-fourths of an infantry tank. With less weight, the combat cars were generally
smaller and significantly faster. A tank might have a crew of four, while a combat car had
a crew of two or three. By the early 1940s, Army officials reclassified combat cars as
light tanks and, as such, continued in this Cavalry role during World War II.21
Although developed as a result of rivalry, tanks and the combat cars ended up
with similar components. The Ordnance Department did so primarily for economic
reasons but also for standardization. Both used the same style of suspension and track,
and they also had similar controls and layout. During the thirties, funding was still scarce
for research and development. The substantial government outlays of Roosevelt’s New
Deal did not extend to the ground army as generously as they did to the Navy and the
Army Air Corps. However, the sharing of resources and technology forced Infantry and
Cavalry officers to interact on the issue of tanks. At least, one branch evaluated and
discussed technical proposals put forth by another branch. However, the institutional bias
remained strong, and disagreements frequently occurred along branch lines. Citation
20

George Forty, United States Tanks of World War II (Dorset, UK: Blandford
Press, 1983), 78; Odom, After the Trenches, 103-5.
21

Steven J. Zaloga, M3 and M5 Stuart Light Tank, 1940-1945, New Vanguard
Series 33 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2000), 3-5.

24

needed to the similarity of components, lack of New Deal funding, and interaction
between Infantry & Cavalry
Although MacArthur’s act had opened up the developmental field, the order did
not produce any unified opinions and even tended to work against an established
doctrine. Hofmann argued that the traditionalist views held by the combatant branches,
the Artillery, the Cavalry, and most importantly the Infantry, stifled the development of a
cohesive doctrine for fighting the next war and that MacArthur’s policy intensified the
inter-army discord on such matters.22 Rather than seeking unity in war-fighting doctrine,
the Infantry and Cavalry each viewed the order as a way to force the other branches to
adopt its views. Severe infighting resulted over even basic concepts such as which branch
had the primary role in the attack and the defense and what was the most important
battlefield weapon. Even as late as 1940, these disagreements continued to prevent the
adoption of any unified ideas on how to use tanks in the next war. Subsequently, when
the war began in Europe, the American army had two distinct models of tanks in
development (but very few in service) and no meaningful number of personnel trained in
how to use them.23
Sending shock waves throughout the armies of the world, the German invasion of
Poland in September of 1939 demonstrated the new methods of warfare possible in the
mechanized age. As German troops poured across the Polish borders, military and
political observers realized that mechanized warfare had come of age. German aircraft
22

George F. Hofmann, “Combatant Arms vs. Combined Arms: The U.S. Army’s
Quest for Deep Offensive Operations and an Operational Level of Warfare,” Armor 106
(January-February 1997): 12.
23

Hofmann, “Army Doctrine and the Christie Tank,” 130-31.

25

and tanks were employed in a manner that completely befuddled their opponent. Dubbed
“blitzkrieg” by American and British journalists, the German way of war utilized
precision bombing, mass tank attacks, and above all, speed. In many instances, strong
German armored units were attacking Polish rear areas before the front-line units realized
that an attack was occurring. As reinforcements tried to deploy, they found that roads
were blocked by panzers (tanks) and bridges had been knocked out by Stuka dive
bombers. Paralysis was the result for the Polish Army. In most instances, Polish units that
had been encircled either surrendered or were wiped out. Units that could retreat did so
hastily but rarely had a chance to establish a new defensive line before the Germans were
upon them. The concept of a front line held little real meaning as German armored units
effectively knifed through the defenses and plunged deep into the Polish interior. Unlike
the First World War, this war was about maneuver, not position; speed was essential. The
pattern of German operations was repeated in the Low Countries and France in the spring
of 1940. The soldiers on foot simply could not keep pace with the soldiers on tracks and
wheels; the power of flesh had been eclipsed by the power of machine in battle.24
The German method of employing tanks seemed revolutionary to most observers,
but actually, it was the fulfillment of the ideas of some pre-war British military theorists,
who were decisively in a minority. In Great Britain and France, armor doctrine stipulated
that tanks were to be dispersed among front-line units for either attack or defense, as they
had been in World War I. British army officers J. F. C. Fuller and B. H. Liddell Hart
disagreed contentiously with this idea, often publicly. Since the 1920s, these officers,

24

Robert M. Citino, Armored Forces: History and Sourcebook (Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press, 1994), 68-69.

26

who chose to resign their commissions in the army rather than be silenced, advocated that
tanks should be concentrated for one powerful punch at a decisive point. Quickly
overpowering their opposition, the tanks would then attack into rear areas. However the
attack would not be against local rear areas like front-line units. Instead, the tanks would
strike out for the divisional, corps, and army headquarters and supply depots. Fuller
explained in a post-war work,
[The Tank] was to employ mobility as a psychological weapon: not to kill but to
move; not to move to kill but to move to terrify, to bewilder, to perplex, to cause
consternation, doubt and confusion in the rear of the enemy, which rumour [sic.]
would magnify until panic became monstrous. In short, its aim was to paralyze
not only the enemy’s command but also his government. 25
Instead of an advance of four or five thousand yards a day, the tanks would push on for
ten or twenty miles. Fuller and Liddell Hart envisioned tank armies in which all
components were motorized; such armies would revolutionize warfare by overwhelming
and outmatching any adversary who remained stationary in trenches.26
A German officer, Heinz Guderian, took these ideas and created the Panzerwaffe
(Armored Force), consisting of large armored units. Tanks alone could not support a deep
penetration into enemy lines; other armored units (such as self-propelled artillery and
protected carriers for riflemen) were required to accompany and act in concert with the
tanks. Where the British, French, and Americans envisioned an attack by twenty or thirty
tanks, Guderian’s Panzerwaffe struck with two or three hundred tanks plus their fully
motorized support. This support consisted of infantry riding in trucks, on motorcycles, or
25

J. F. C. Fuller, The Conduct of War, 1789-1961 (New York: Da Capo Press,
1992), 256-57.
26

B. H Liddell Hart, History of the Second World War (Old Saybrook, CT:
Konecky & Konecky, 1970), 66, 705-7.

27

in special armored carriers. Artillery, anti-aircraft, and anti-tank guns were towed by
trucks or self-propelled. The Americans had not developed anything that combined these
elements as effectively as the Germans had. Ironically during the 1930s, Guderian
overcame resistance from tradition-bound army leaders who made all the same arguments
regarding tanks that occurred in the American army. Following the surrender of Poland,
American army officers quickly realized how inadequate their own armored forces and
capabilities really were.27
The Army’s acknowledgment of the inferiority of American tank doctrine
coincided with the realization of the technical inadequacies of American tanks. When the
war began in 1939, Congress allocated more funding, albeit limited, for the procurement
of tanks. Unfortunately, the Army was unsure of what to produce, tanks or combat cars.
This question called attention to the Army’s core problem; it still did not really know
how to employ tanks in battle. How to train and deploy a large armored force similar to
the panzer divisions was also a puzzle. Under pressure from the President and Congress,
the Army decided to produce both of the most modern designs. In October 1939, the
Army ordered 329 of the Cavalry’s M2A4 combat cars or light tanks. The Army planned
to place the heavier, Infantry version, designated Medium Tank M2, into large-scale
production in 1940 after the requisite factories had been built; however, this design was
cancelled before significant production began and replaced by the M2A1. As the Army
began to acquire a sufficient number of tanks in order to form true tank units, the

27

Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader, The Great Commanders series, trans.
Constantine Fitzgibbon (Pennington, NJ: Collectors Reprints, 1997), 24-26; Green,
Thomson, and Roots, Planning Munitions for War, 250-51.

28

question over the best way to employ them in battle became more poignant, and a
resolution was imperative.28
Although tanks were crucial to the German success in 1939, many American
army officers were reluctant to accept that tanks were now the premier land weapon. The
tank’s central role was undeniable in the Nazis’ swift victory over Poland. However, in
the fall and winter of 1939, the American army found itself in a paradox. Both the
Cavalry and Infantry advocated their tank concepts, yet neither branch wanted to be fully
responsible for tanks. Tanks were in the ascendancy with political leaders, and the branch
chiefs feared that their service icons, the rifleman and the horse, would be eclipsed by
this mechanical marvel. It seemed likely that tanks would soon dominate whichever
branch got “ownership” of them. So while branch chiefs advocated their ideas on tank
employment, both continued to stress the dominance of their own branch’s principle
element. The Infantry believed in the supremacy of the rifleman; the Cavalry had
difficulty giving up its romantic notions of the horse. The Cavalry was especially
concerned that its horses would be replaced by tanks and armored cars, because their
practical roles were so similar--transportation and mobile action. Some officers saw the
tank as a potential replacement for the horse and fiercely resisted. Although George
Patton was already recognized as a leading figure in the evolving American tank forces
by 1941, he wrote a colleague and friend, “In spite of my gasoline affiliations, I am
convinced that the day of the horse is far from over and that under many circumstances

28

Peter Chamberlain and Chris Ellis, British and American Tanks of World War
II: The Complete Illustrated History of British, American, and Commonwealth Tanks,
1933-1945 (London: Cassell & Co., 2000), 86.

29

horse cavalry and horse-drawn artillery are more important than ever.”29 General John
Herr, Chief of Cavalry, continued to stress the superiority of the horse and opposed
efforts to transform Cavalry units into fully mechanized units, including several protests
to the Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall.30
With the fall of France, the need for drastic reorganization of the Army’s tank
forces was imperative. Accordingly, General Marshall ordered the creation of the
Armored Force as a separate combat branch in June 1940 (see Appendix A: “Annotated
Organization of the War Department, June, 1941”). Technically equal to the other
branches, the Armored Force was responsible for the deployment and use of tanks and
their supporting elements, including infantry riding in protected carriers (half-tracks) and
self-propelled artillery. Predictably, this decision displeased the branch chiefs of the
Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery. Fearing the loss of skilled personnel, these chiefs also
feared a loss of resources. In order to placate these officers, General Marshall had
stipulated that the Armored Force was for experimental purposes at present. As such, the
Armored Force was neither superior nor equal to the traditional Infantry and Cavalry; it
was merely an adjunct and separate from the two, who did not have direct control over it.
Johnson noted that the Armored Force, while radical for the Americans, did not resolve
the fundamental issue of tanks but only mollified the dispute. The Army’s lack of unity
on the purpose of tanks directly influenced the design of the M4.31

29

Martin Blumenson, The Patton Papers, 1940-1945 (Boston: Da Capo Press,
1974), 38.
30

Johnson, Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers, 140.

31

Ibid., 144.

30

The Armored Force was influenced indirectly and unofficially by the interwar
dispute over tanks. Both Infantry and Cavalry officers remained adamant in their views
and argued the point with zeal, motivated too often by loyalty to their branch. As in the
1930s, the debate was a partly a bureaucratic turf battle for resources and prestige in the
Army. More importantly, both branches were convinced that their view offered the most
likely chance for success in future wars and was therefore the only real choice.32 Because
neither branch was willing to acquiesce in its pre-war views, the Armored Force became
a compromise of sorts. Neither branch controlled it, so neither branch could dictate to the
other how tanks would be used on the battlefield. The Armored Force developed and
tested new models of tanks. It trained crews and standardized the basic combat methods
(tactics) for tanks, such as formations and firing and driving procedures. However, the
larger question of when, where, and how to use tanks remained unresolved. Should tanks
purely support the Infantry, or should they be utilized as the Cavalry envisioned,
exploiting openings and striking deep into the enemy’s interior? Until this fundamental
question was answered, the Army could not design a suitable vehicle, to say nothing of
mass-producing one. Partly to resolve the impasse, the War Department was reorganized
in 1942, and the Armored Force was placed on a more equal footing with the other
branches (see Appendix A). In this capacity, the Armored Force had the principal voice
in the development of tank doctrine within in the Army, although disagreements
persisted. In short order, the Armored Force developed a solution meant to satisfy both

32

Kent Roberts Greenfield, Robert R. Palmer, and Bell I. Wiley, The Army
Ground Forces: The Organization of Ground Combat Troops, United States Army in
World War II series (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1947; reprint,
Center of Military History, United States Army, 1987), 62.

31

branches: medium tanks would be designed and produced that were capable of
performing both the Infantry mission and the Cavalry mission. The M4 was a product of
this decision.33
Into the dispute over the role of tanks, General Lesley McNair, chief of the Army
Ground Forces, emerged as the principal individual who shaped American tank doctrine.
Between 1939 and 1940, McNair served as the commandant of the Command and
General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, which was the principal Army agency for
dealing with theoretical military problems such as the German blitzkrieg. In 1940,
General Marshall tasked McNair with developing the General Headquarters, which was
responsible for all training, organization, and mobilization. The General Headquarters
evolved into the Army Ground Forces. The headquarters was also responsible for the
implementation of doctrine as developed by both of the branches. As the superior
headquarters over all combat forces, the Army Ground Forces, led by McNair, influenced
the development of Army doctrine. For example, the Infantry branch developed new
methods and tactics on how foot soldiers fought; the Army Ground Forces was
responsible for ensuring that doctrine was taught at training camps and utilized in
combat. However, McNair, as commanding general of all branches in the Army Ground
Forces, could and did intervene in the development of doctrine. Doctrine needed to be
coordinated between branches, and McNair worked hard to ensure such coordination
happened. In regard to the role of tanks in the fighting tanks, McNair almost single-

33

Stephen J. Zaloga, US Armored Units in the North African and Italian
Campaigns, 1942-45, Battle Orders series 21 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2006), 10-13,
18.

32

handedly developed an innovative approach that appeared in 1941 to have merit but was
ultimately wrong-headed.34
In early 1940, McNair and his staff set to work on how to counter the German
offensives, specifically the panzer thrusts. With the fall of France, the demand for a
solution became an outcry, as it was apparent to most officers that it was only a matter of
time before the United States entered the war. The German method of attack was to mass
their tanks at crucial points and, with a combination of speed and firepower, to drive
deeply into enemy territory, cutting off front-line combat units. For McNair, the crucial
question was how to stop the German panzer offensives. Based on his experience as an
artilleryman, McNair believed in the power of anti-tank guns against tanks and was
convinced of their ability to stop an attack. Furthermore, he studied the battles of the
Spanish Civil War and the intelligence reports from Poland and France. George Hofmann
describes how, as late as 1939, many military observers and theorists were arguing that
tanks were obsolete because of the increasing efficiency of anti-tank guns.35 McNair
analyzed the Army’s own ordnance reports on the effectiveness of anti-tank guns and the
testimony of participants in Army maneuvers regarding tank defense. McNair’s solution
was to create a new branch, the Tank Destroyers Command, whose specific purpose was
to counter the German panzer thrusts; Army planners were never seriously concerned
about defeating Japanese or Italian tanks, since neither nation utilized blitzkrieg tactics or
had developed impressive tanks. Wherever the Germans attacked, McNair proposed to
34

Christopher R. Gabel, Seek, Strike, and Destroy: U.S. Army Tank Destroyer
Doctrine in World War II, Leavenworth Papers series 12 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat
Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1985), 9-11.
35

Hofmann, “The Tactical and Strategic Use of Attaché Intelligence,” 128.

33

rush anti-tank guns to the area and set up ambushes for the panzers. He realized that one
of the keys of the panzer attacks was that the Germans avoided strong points and simply
bypassed roadblocks and defensive positions. McNair argued that if anti-tank guns were
mobile enough and had been kept far enough back from the front line in reserve, they
could be deployed in such a manner as to force the Germans to fight.36
A chief stipulation of McNair’s proposed tank doctrine was that tanks should not
and would not fight other tanks. According to Hofmann, McNair viewed tank-on-tank
battles as wasteful and expensive; tanks were better suited to the exploitation and pursuit
mission.37 Tanks were complex, highly sophisticated machines that required many weeks
to build at significant cost. Tank crews required even more time to train and cultivate into
functional units. McNair saw little point in having months of labor blasted to scrap metal
in a matter of minutes. He was not alone in this view; the Armored Forces commander,
General Adna Chaffee, agreed that tanks should not be used in an assault role or to duel
with other tanks. Patton also agreed: “I can conceive of nothing more futile than to send
expensive tanks against a prepared position.”38 McNair’s solution sought to address the
crucial problem of the war in 1939 and 1940, but unfortunately it proved inflexible when
battle conditions changed. While McNair’s ideas were inventive, the basic problem of
defeating large-scale German panzer offensives was already obsolete by the time the
United States entered active fighting. After the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa

36

Charles M. Baily, Faint Praise: American Tank and Tank Destroyers during
World War II (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1983), 20-21.
37

Ibid., 131.

38

Blumenson, The Patton Papers, 33.

34

in November 1943, the Allies were usually on the offensive and the Germans were the
defenders for the remainder of the war.
The groundwork of armor doctrine already existed by the winter of 1940 when
officers began to develop the design that became America’s main tank during the war
years. This proposed vehicle became the M4. The division and the disputes over the
tank’s role were evident in its design. As the design work proceeded, the Infantry and the
Cavalry, now represented by the armor branch, continued to cling to many of their prewar ideas and sought to have these incorporated into the model. The doctrine created by
General McNair stipulated a specific role for this new tank that in turn imposed a
criterion upon its design. As a result, the primary factor in the design of the M4 was its
proposed function within American armor doctrine. The interwar dispute over the role of
tanks in battle certainly influenced this doctrine, so when the M4 went to war, the legacy
of the interwar period went with it.

35

CHAPTER II
THE DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE M4
The catalyst for the creation of the M4 was the German invasion of Poland and
France. Germany’s rapid success in conquering Poland in 1939 and victory over French
and British armies in 1940 forced all armies to reconsider how they used tanks in battle.
The U.S. Army’s response was a compromise solution to the interwar debate about the
role of tanks that sought to satisfy both Cavalry and Infantry views but also to build a
force capable of coping with the German Panzerwaffe (armored force). Accordingly, the
Army reorganized itself, creating tank units in the process. The Army also needed new
models of tanks. American army leaders quickly realized that the best U.S. tanks were so
technically inferior as to be useless on the battlefields of 1940 and 1941. American tank
designers evaluated existing tank characteristics--such as guns, armor, and mobility--to
find the right combination of traits that would allow the tank to perform its role in
prospective Army operations. A key stipulation of the new doctrine was that U.S. tanks
would not duel enemy tanks and therefore did not need to be built to do so. Overriding
everything, the success of German armies in 1940 and 1941 created a sense of urgency
for the Americans; they perceived that further delays in reorganization and production
would ultimately be harmful. Whatever the problems were, American leaders needed
solutions quickly; this attitude was the backdrop for the creation of the M4. As such, the
M4’s design and production were the result of the atmosphere and the particular
requirements of the U.S. Army in 1940-41.
In his definitive history of the M4, historian R. P. Hunnicutt accurately described
the situation for the Americans in July 1940, noting that the U.S. Army possessed only

36

eighteen modern tanks.1 These tanks, designated M2A1, carried a 37mm cannon and
were the most advanced American tanks at the time; many of the features of the M2A1
were utilized in the M4. According to Hunnicutt, the fall of France in the spring of 1940
motivated the Americans to rebuild their armed forces with a particular emphasis on tank
warfare. He argued that the Americans believed they needed to reorganize the Army and
develop equipment that was second-to-none in order to cope with the German blitzkrieg.
As a result, American Army planners realized that the M2A1 would be obsolete before
reaching the battlefield and that a tank mounting a 75mm canon (similar to the latest
German model) was required. Without such a tank, the Americans and their allies would
not be successful against the German panzers.2 As well as the dispute over the role of
tanks in battle, the inadequacy of American tank designs compared to the Germans and
the need to develop satisfactory tanks quickly overwhelmingly influenced the design of
the M4, and its origins can only be understood in that context.
When the M4 was conceived in 1941, Germany already had a significant
technical and experiential lead over the United States and Great Britain. The best German
tanks, the Panzerkampfwagen (Pzkw.) III and Pzkw. IV, were designed in 1935 and
employed since 1939; German soldiers knew how to use these tanks well. Not only did
German soldiers have more practical experience operating tanks by 1941 but German
industry also had more practical knowledge in the design and manufacture of tanks (see
Appendix B). In comparison, the best American tank, the M2A1, was already obsolete

1

R. P. Hunnicutt, Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank (Novato,
CA: Presidio Press, 1976), 44.
2

Ibid., 46.

37

due to its inadequate armor, firepower, and mobility. The British had significant
experience in designing tanks during the 1930s, but much of that effort had been wrongheaded. The British produced a plethora of different models, such as the A10, A13,
Covenanter, and Crusader, but all lacked firepower, armor protection, and mechanical
reliability compared to the latest German models. British tanks were at a serious
disadvantage against the German panzers in the first years of the war.3 As such, the
environment in which the M4 was conceived was one of urgency and extreme necessity.
The British desperately needed tanks to replace the equipment destroyed or lost in the
evacuation of France during the summer of 1940 and in the deserts of North Africa in
1941. Their own industry had proved incapable of meeting the wartime demand. Even
before entering the war in December 1941, the Americans realized the necessity of
creating an army that used tanks in a central role. Large numbers of tanks were required,
but a new design was necessary before any new American tanks could be built. The new
tank design was governed according to how the Americans envisioned using tanks in
battle, but unfortunately, the Americans had not resolved its long-standing dispute about
the role of tanks.4
As discussed in Chapter I, the interwar disagreement between the Cavalry and the
Infantry was fundamental to American ideas about tanks and their capabilities; as such,
the disagreement directly influenced the design of the M4. Although the Germans had
demonstrated using tanks as the preeminent offensive weapon in Poland and France, the
3

Tim Moreman, Desert Rats: British 8th Army in North Africa 1941-43, Battle
Orders series 28, ed. Duncan Anderson (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007), 45; Ross, The
Business of Tanks, 1933 to 1945, 129.
4

Citino, Armored Forces, 88-90.

38

Infantry argued that tanks should be used only in a supportive role to assist foot soldiers
(infantry). Accordingly, tanks should be designed as heavy, armored, mobile gun
platforms providing firepower wherever it was needed.5 A key aspect of this view was
that tanks did not need to be any faster than a walking soldier (approximately three miles
per hour), although occasional bursts of speed would be necessary. The Cavalry argued
the issue in a manner keeping with its traditional mission: tanks should be used for
scouting, for protecting the army’s flanks, and for deep raids into enemy territory. As
such, tanks should be fast moving and well armed and have a long range; therefore, they
also needed to be lightweight. The Cavalry also argued that tanks should exploit breaches
in the enemy’s front line and strike deeply into enemy territory. Having done so, tanks
would then attack enemy supply columns, communication points, and headquarters.
Tanks would also seize important geographic objectives and hold them until the infantry
could arrive. Based on this vision of the tank’s mission, the Cavalry stressed that the new
tanks primarily needed to be mobile and fast in order to quickly disengage from enemy
forces and to strike their targets before a response could be developed. Given the
technical limitations of the day, both views could not seemingly prevail; American tanks
would either be heavy and slow or light and fast. By late 1940, improvements in the
tank’s automotive components blurred this distinction so that a new tank could have
heavy armor (two to three inches) and also reasonably fast (25 mph or greater). Even so,
the pre-war Infantry and Cavalry differences over the employment of tanks remained. 6

5

George F. Hofmann, “The Demise of the U.S. Tank Corps and Medium Tank
Development Program,” Military Affairs 37 (February 1973): 25.
6

Baily, Faint Praise, 3-5.; Hunnicutt, Sherman, 40, 47.

39

With the concurrence of General Leslie McNair, chief of the Army Ground
Forces, the newly created Armored Force developed a compromise solution; tanks would
be used for both missions and not limited to just one. As discussed in Chapter I,
originally it was thought that the United States would create tank units to support the
infantry and separate units to exploit breakthroughs into the enemy’s rear. The Armored
Force would create and organize the necessary units with the advice of the Infantry and
Cavalry; it could chose to ignore that advice as well. Neither branch had dominance over
tanks and could no longer dictate or interfere with tank design or production. The real
crux of the solution was the centralization of tank issues into one body, the Armored
Force, and the stipulation that different units of tanks, not different models of tanks,
would carry out the different battlefield functions.
For the exploitation mission, the Army created armored divisions to attack into
the enemy’s rear areas. The armored division consisted of two light-tank regiments, one
medium-tank regiment, and support units of infantry, artillery, and supply, all carried on
trucks or armored vehicles.7 Based on reports from the British in Africa and after several
field tests and exercises, the Armored Force realized that light tanks were of limited value
due to their lack of armor protection and insufficient firepower. Although useful for
reconnaissance and screening duties, light tanks were no longer able to carry out the
primary missions of the armored division; medium tanks therefore became the primary
type for most missions in the division. Reflecting this change, the Armored Force
modified the division in March 1942. These divisions consisted of two tank regiments
7

John B. Wilson, “Organizing the First Armored Divisions: The Meeting at a
Schoolhouse in Louisiana in 1940 Dragged the Infantry and Cavalry Branches into the
Age of Combined Arms,” Armor 108 (July-August 1999): 43.

40

with 63 light tanks and 116 medium tanks each. The division was further modified in
1943 and re-equipped with 74 light tanks and 159 mediums.8
McNair also advocated the creation of separate, General Headquarters (GHQ)
tank battalions to support the infantry. These tank formations were not a permanent part
of the infantry division, which was the principal unit of all World War II armies and the
smallest self-sustaining field formation (about 15,000 men). Instead, the corps or army
commander would control the GHQ tank battalions (54 tanks each) and could allocate
them as support in whatever manner he deemed best. This approach seemed to placate
both positions on the use of tanks but had serious ramifications on tank design and
deployment in the coming war.9
All tanks are engineering compromises and reflect what the designers seek to
emphasize based on the doctrine governing the use of tanks. The three key features of a
tank are its protection (armor), mobility, and firepower. From an engineering standpoint,
weight is the real limiting factor in the design, because the heavier a tank becomes, the
harder it is to move. Any engine has a finite amount of motive power it can generate, and
the weight of the object will determine how easily (speed) it can be moved. Tank
designers favor one feature over another based on the doctrine and the capabilities of the
engine to be used. Therefore, an increase in armor plating, such as its thickness (better
protection), meant fewer weapons and a slower speed. If the designer desires a large gun
or large numbers of small guns, then armor plating must be reduced so that the engine

8

9

Zaloga, US Armored Units, 23-24, 36.

Christopher Gabel, “World War II Armor Operations in Europe,” in Camp Colt
to Desert Storm, ed. Hofmann and Starry, 145.

41

can handle the weight. If speed is the feature most desired, then armor and weapons must
be limited. Moreover, designers must factor in other features that also contribute to
weight, such as a turret, its traversing gear, radios, and fuel (which depends on the
desired operational range). In determining the compromise between all the desired
technical features, the crucial deciding factor is the power limit of the engine. The
relatively weak engines (less than 300 horsepower) of the 1930s and early 1940s meant
that tanks could not be thickly armored, fast, and heavily armed. The Soviet, German,
British, and to a lesser degree, American armies all experimented with light tanks (twenty
tons or less) and medium tanks (twenty to forty tons) in order to determine which
characteristics were the most desirable. The light tanks emphasized speed over armor,
whereas the mediums emphasized armor over speed. Both types had comparable
weapons, usually a 20mm or 37mm gun plus several machine guns. Only the Soviets
developed heavy tanks (forty tons or more) in the 1930s with the requisite powerful
engine; the Germans quickly followed suit after the invasion of the USSR in July 1941.
Heavy tanks focused on heavy armor, impervious to everything but large anti-tank guns
and powerful weapons; speed and mobility were sacrificed, and mechanical failures in
the engines were common due to overstressing. For example, the famous German Pzkw.
VI, the “Tiger,” had thick, heavy armor and a powerful gun (88mm), but its range was
limited to less than one hundred miles. Its speed was significantly slower than its
contemporaries, and its off-road mobility was restricted due to its tendency to sink into
soft ground such as mud or snow.10 The Americans had little interest in heavy tanks: the
lack of mobility was contrary to the Cavalry vision, and the excessive fuel and
10

Macksey, Tank Versus Tank, 122.

42

maintenance requirements were unappealing to the Infantry. More importantly, the
Americans did not have an engine that could power a heavy tank. Consequently,
American tank design focused exclusively on the light tanks favored by the Cavalry and
the medium tanks favored by the Infantry.11
Tank guns reflected the user’s doctrine more than any other aspect of the design.
Until late 1940, the available technology required that different guns were used to
accomplish different tasks. An infantry support tank would be armed quite differently
than one designed to combat other tanks. A gun highly effective against soldiers was less
effective against other tanks and vice versa; guns were not dual-purpose. Combining the
main gun with several machine guns enabled tanks to engage multiple targets effectively,
but the added weight required other design compromises.
An anti-tank gun was significantly different from guns required for other
purposes. Anti-tank guns fired relatively small (37mm to 50mm in diameter) armorpiercing (AP) rounds at high velocity. Occasionally called solid shot, AP rounds were
solid pieces of highly dense metals, such as steel or tungsten. The correct combination of
the round’s mass and its velocity (kinetic energy) was the key to penetrating armor
plating. If the projectile lacked sufficient mass or velocity, the armor plating deflected it
either by absorbing or deflecting the impact (ricochet). Although larger guns were
eventually developed, the 37mm and 50mm guns were the only ones available to the
American, British, and German armies until 1942. Projectiles of this size were easier to
propel to the necessary velocities, and tank crewmen could easily handle the physical size

11

Chamberlain and Ellis, British and American Tanks, 155-56; Green, Thomson,
and Roots, Planning Munitions for War, 278.

43

of the complete round (projectile plus propellant) in the confines of a tank interior.12 In
addition to the amount of propellant, the length of the barrel also affected the velocity of
the projectile. A longer barrel provided greater muzzle velocity and accuracy than a
shorter barrel due to the larger number of rotations (due to the rifling effect) the projectile
experienced as it traveled down the barrel. Gun designers could increase the barrel length
to achieve greater velocity, but only to a certain point. After that point, the rifling effect
became negligible, and the gun became physically unbalanced and dangerous. To balance
to gun, a larger and heavier turret was required, which increased the overall size and
weight of the tank. Moreover, extremely long barrels had other potential drawbacks, such
as limiting the ability to rotate the turret in cramped conditions like city streets or forests.
Designers had to factor in such issues in determining the barrel’s length and tried to
achieve some type of compromise between desirability and practicality.13
For use against troops, fortifications, and non-armored vehicles, only guns firing
larger shells (75mm or higher) filled with high explosive (HE) were effective. An HE
shell has an explosive charge inside the projectile (hence the term “shell”) that bursts
upon impact. The explosive power was in direct relation to the size of the charge, so
bigger shells meant better results; 37mm and 50mm guns could fire HE shells, but the
explosion was of dubious usefulness. Larger projectiles require greater amounts of
propellant because of their mass; the increase in propellant creates another requirement.
Because the explosive force of the propellant is greater, thicker, stronger barrels are

12

Kenneth Macksey and John H. Batchelor, Tank: A History of the Armoured
Fighting Vehicle (New York: Ballantine Books, 1971), 126.
13

Green, Thomson, and Roots, Planning Munitions for War, 326-28.

44

required to prevent the barrel from exploding (bursting). Complex and more difficult to
manufacture, thicker barrels are also heavier, which makes them harder to move; a larger
tank is once again required. Compared to the AP guns, a shorter barrel length was used
to reduce weight and to ease production. Until 1942, no army in the world mounted guns
larger than 75mm because of the limits on automotive power and the limited usefulness
of such weapons.14
Prior to 1941, the technology did not exist to create a single gun that could fire
both AP and HE projectiles with equally satisfactory performance. For example, the
British 2 pounder and the German 37mm gun AP shells had excellent armor penetrative
capability; but the HE shell fired by both was small, and its explosive power was limited
to a small radius that was unlikely to injury or kill anyone who was not at the point of
impact. The German short-barreled 75mm gun fired an excellent HE shell that was very
effective against unarmored targets. However, the gun had a short barrel and low muzzle
velocity that rendered the AP inaccurate and ineffective at normal combat ranges. For
tank designers prior to 1941, guns could either fire effective AP or HE projectiles, but not
both. As such, guns really had only one purpose on the battlefield—either to attack tanks
with armor-piercing shells or to attack military personnel and fortifications with HE
shells. In 1941, a problem developed as opposing tanks began to mount heavier, thicker
armor; previously HE rounds could destroy a tank if the resulting explosion was large
enough, but only AP rounds now had a real chance of doing so. The German
Panzerwaffee sought to resolve the problem by equipping units with both the Pzkw. IV
(25 tons) armed with the short-barreled 75mm gun for attacking troops and soft (non14

Macksey, Tank Versus Tank, 54-56.


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