By Eric Hammel
Over the years, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) acquired hundreds of U.S.-manufactured M4A1 and M4A3 medium Sherman tanks. A large number of these were acquired from the French Army just before the 1956 Sinai Campaign. Over the years, many were refitted with an American 76mm main gun and the remainder with a French 75mm/.62-caliber high-velocity (3,200-feet/second) main gun.
In order to accommodate the long, heavy French gun, the Sherman turrets were modified with gun braces forward and counterweights on the bustle. Further, 40 former French Shermans equipped with French AMX-13 turrets were captured from Egypt in 1956. These were retrofitted with new turrets housing French 75mm/.62-caliber high-velocity main guns. All 75mm and 76mm Shermans were designated M-50 Super Shermans.
Centurions & Pattons Acquired in the 50s
After 1956, the IDF acquired several hundred British Centurion tanks as well as—secretly from the West German Army—200 U.S.-made M-47 gasoline-powered Patton tanks. The standard 20-pounder main gun in each Centurion was replaced with a British-manufactured 105mm high-velocity gyro-stabilized gun, and the Pattons—more modern and better armored than the Shermans—were re-engined with diesel power plants and up-gunned with the British high-velocity 105s.
After deeming the 105mm Centurion upgrades a success, the IDF Armor Corps began to upgrade and standardize its 75mm and 76mm M-50 Super Sherman models with the same high-velocity 105mm gun that was used in the Centurions.
Retrofitted With Souped-Up Firepower
The aging 32-ton Sherman tanks were too lightly built to absorb the recoil, however, and the hulls of several of them cracked when the high-velocity 105s were tested. The IDF ordnance crews eventually retrofitted most M-50 Super Shermans with an Israeli-designed 105mm/ .51-caliber medium-velocity (2,959 feet/ second) gyro-stabilized gun capable of penetrating all known Arab armored vehicles.
The conversions were still taking place in mid-1967, but by then all IDF Shermans were either M-51HV Super Shermans with 105mm medium-velocity guns or M-50 Super Shermans with 75mm high-velocity guns. Also, all 200 of the West German M-47 Pattons were retrofitted with the British-manufactured high-velocity 105mm guns, and their highly flammable gasoline engines were replaced with diesel engines. When West Germany cut off the flow of M-47s in 1964 because of news leaks, the United States direct-shipped a number of M-48 Patton variants that came standard with 105mm guns and diesel engines.
The Jordanian Pattons
The Jordanian Patton tanks also likely came through the West German Army. Although more modern and better armored than the Shermans, it is doubtful the Jordanians upgraded their Patton cannons as did the Israelis, lacking the appropriate industrial base . The Jordanian Patton 20-pounder cannon is roughly equivalent to a 90mm gun. For a time, Jordanian gunnery prevailed, but over short ranges the Israeli Shermans were able to pierce the Pattons’ armor as well as ignite their external gasoline tanks.