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Could an M4 Sherman Tank Even Survive Against a German Panther?

By Kevin Hymel

The German Panzer-kampf-wagen V (Panther) tank was superior to the American M4 Sherman in almost every respect, but it could not guarantee victory at every encounter. The Germans knew that their Panther, with its balanced design of firepower, mobility, and crew protection, was their best armored vehicle. It had a superior main gun and frontal armor. Its 75mm high-velocity weapon, while not as powerful as a Tiger’s 88mm, could easily penetrate a Sherman’s hull or turret at all battlefield distances. The frontal armor was 100mm thick and sloped to deflect shots. Its wide steel tracks gave it excellent cross-country performance and reduced ground pressure.

The Panther was originally designed to replace the German Mark IV tank in response to the Russian T-34 and KV-1. In fact, early design models of the Panther resembled the T-34 in both looks and layout. However, the Panther Committee decided in favor of more conventional engineering and this resulted in the unique Panther design.

No Sherman could—on paper at least—stand up to a Panther, but the U.S. had the priceless advantage of supporting airpower and plentiful reserves.

The M4 Sherman Tanks Had Shortcomings in Design…

The Sherman was at a disadvantage. Although it mounted 75mm cannon, it was of a low-velocity type. The Sherman’s designers felt that a low-velocity gun would last longer than a high-velocity one. They failed to realize that few Shermans would ever last long enough in combat to wear out their barrels. Later versions would have an upgraded high-velocity gun, but they would not reach front-line units until late November 1944, five months after the Normandy invasion. The armor, at 81mm, was considerably thinner than the Panther’s and unable to withstand its armor-piercing ammunition.

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But the Sherman did have some advantages. Its thinner armor made it lighter and more maneuverable on solid ground, an important advantage in the cold, hilly terrain and small villages of Western Europe. Also, the Sherman’s turret had a much quicker rotation rate than the Panther’s, usually allowing American crews to get off the first shot in combat.

The Sherman also enjoyed a greater reliability than the Panther, which was more prone to breakdowns and mechanical difficulties. No Sherman could—on paper at least—stand up to a Panther, but the U.S. Third and Seventh Armies had the priceless advantage of supporting airpower, plentiful reserves, superb logistics, and an overwhelming superiority of numbers. With its speed and ability, the Sherman could outflank the enemy armor, leaving many of them to face American tank destroyers and aircraft.

For the crews of M4 Sherman tanks, their last great advantage was experience.
For the crews of M4 Sherman tanks, their last great advantage was experience.

…But They Also Had Strength in Numbers

In the final analysis, there were simply too many American tanks for the Germans to deal with. The American war industry, free from bomber raids and supported by a motivated work force (Germany resorted to slave labor) produced nearly 50,000 Shermans, more tanks than Germany and Great Britain made during the entire war. Germany only produced about 6,000 Panthers.

From D-Day to the end of the war in Europe, American and Allied planes roamed the skies over occupied Europe, enjoying complete air superiority over the battlefield. Fighter planes often strafed and rocketed German front-line tanks and troops, while bombers destroyed production plants, supply depots, and petroleum, oil, and lubricant facilities. Closer to the ground, superior American artillery reduced German troop movement while pulverizing the enemy front line.

As a result of the air superiority, American logistics overwhelmed the Axis powers. Replacement parts were always in abundance. Tank retrieval crews pored over the battlefields, often while the firing was still going on, and brought back Shermans for immediate repair. Meanwhile, the Germans were forced to leave any damaged or broken-down Panthers where they stopped.

M4 Sherman tanks could not—on paper at least—stand up to a Panther, but the U.S. had the priceless advantage of supporting airpower and plentiful reserves.
M4 Sherman tanks could not—on paper at least—stand up to a Panther, but the U.S. had the priceless advantage of supporting airpower and plentiful reserves.

Experience as X-Factor

Sherman tank crews’ last great advantage was in experience, even though Germany had been at war six years before most of the American tankers invaded France. In early August, Adolf Hitler ordered that all new Panthers sent to the West would go to new armored formations rather than depleted divisions. Thus, Germany’s veteran tankers received lighter Mark IVs, while new, inexperienced crews got the better tanks. So whenever Americans faced off against the Panther, they were usually more skilled in the tactics of close combat.

German tanks (Panther Vs) take up a battle line in a farmer’s field near Ravenna, east of Bologna.
Two Panthers take up a battle line in a farmer’s field near Ravenna, east of Bologna.

Despite their advantages against the Panther, American tankers knew their Shermans were no match for the Wehrmacht’s main battle tank; thus, the Sherman’s nickname in Western Europe was the “Death Trap.”

Comments

  1. First and foremost that ” death trap” LIE was passed along by Belton Cooper- a nitwit who never actually faced combat but was a rear area supply officer.

    The Sherman crew survival rate was higher than the Panzer IV and Panther tank crews( easier to escape)

    Also ever here of the battle of Arracourt? US tankers blasted apart 88 german Panzer IVs, StuGs and supposedly superior Panthers for the loss of 25 Shermans. The majority of the tanks on that battle on the Us side were Sherman’s armed with 75mm cannon, some 76.2mm Sherman’s and a few 76.2 km hellcats and M10 tank destroyers with 3″( 76 mm) guns.

    While the panthers 75mm HV cannon was potent, late 1944 their armor quality was questionable due to short cuts and manufacturing losses. When the Shermans had proper AP rounds they didnt have to fear the Panther or even the lesser available tiger and king tiger.( a platoon of 75mm armed Sherman’s ganged up on a Tiger II in the village of LeGlaize, Belgium and literally BEAT THE DOG CRAP out , mobility killing it and causing the wounded crew to flee!

    There are plenty of after action reports with 75mm Sherman’s mobility killing german Panthers, and 76mm armed ones ” pinning” Panthers at 800-1000m .

    Most US and UK and Canadian Sherman’s got ” killed” cause they used poor tactics,often getting AMBUSHED like in the hedgerow areas of Normandy .

    Although there were at least a dozen german tank “aces”, when the US/ UK and Russians (Soviets) stopped bullrushing through combat zones with their tanks and actually started using BETTER tactics, German tanks STOPPED being so feared ( Russians used better AP ammo in their lend lease shermans like they did in their T-34s and got more kills, causing the germans to run!)

    In fact 3/4 of allied armor kills by the german forces were done wiith anti tank cannon crews, not actual german tanks!

    Please stop repeating ” sherman tanks were inferior” fairy tale- the Sherman’s were far more reliable, had better trained crews, better supply lines, and simply OVERRAN the germans ( who throughout the war still used horse drawn wagons like they did in the franco-prussian war to move supplies about!)

  2. John hilton

    The only decent Sherman was the British Firefly, it killed Tigers at a 1,000 yards, Panthers were easy meet for the British 17 Pounder.

  3. Thomas Murphy

    According to British historian Sir Max Hastings, “no single Allied failure had more important consequences on the European battlefield than the lack of tanks with adequate punch and protection.” The Sherman, he added, was one of the Allies’ “greatest failures.”

    I did a quick Google search and did not find the credentials of a Mark Feener but quite easily found the credentials of Sir Max Hastings – certainly no ‘nitwit’ and Cooper wasn’t either, might want to pay attention to those who actually saw the damage these tanks and crews suffered.

    1. Max Hastings is a journalist, not a military historian, and is widely regarded as being at least 30 years out of date in his work. He is also credited as being the original “Wehraboo” and wildly biased in favour of the Germans. Please pick up works by professional military historians such as Peter Caddick-Adams or John Buckley, who are both professors in their own field. Not journalists.

  4. The main pourpose of the tank concept is to SUPPORT INFANTRY not engage tanks. Yea they did but most tank battalions left the tank combat to the tank destroyers who with 3 inch guns made easy work of german tanks. People bash the sherman because it was “inferior in the face of german tanks” well they were, only to the big cats though. The 75 sherman could easily take care of the panzer 3s and 4s it came across 80 percent of the time. But in its role its supposed to be in which is an infantry support vehicle it performed very well. German AT crews with the long 88 and the short 88 could easily front penetrate the sherman but as soon as they do they are immediently fired upon by 4 other Sherman’s (American tank battalions consisted of 5 tanks) with 50cals and HE rounds. Yea tell me those guns will survive because they wont. And not to mention 3-4 crew will get out due to easy escape hatches. The only ones who will die would be the crew directly in the way of the penetrating shot. So in conclusion the sherman was NOT a bad tank in the role it was designed for, it may have suffered against panthers and tigers but only because it wasn’t meant to fight them. That’s the m 10s, m 18s, and m 36s, job these TDs could make quick work of hand and his crew if they came across them.

    1. What’s the point of trying to make quick work of Hans and his crew using moronic field tactics like was common for western allied troops. Unfortunately for John, Hans had fought on the eastern front against Ivan two tours of duty before John was eventually hauled into Normandy. John wasn’t a soldier, he was a civilian drafted into the army and got made quick work of himself in most cases. By the end of the Normandy campaign, despite huge overweight in air support, artillery, supply chain and unlimited reserves the allied had a staggering 100% casualty rate across its frontline divisions. Germany equally suffered a staggering loss of life, but with only a single replacement for every fifteen casualties they simply lost a battle of attrition, rather than having been defeated by ability.

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