Reference, Stackpole, Armored Thunderbolt

Joined: April 27th, 2005, 8:58 am

April 7th, 2012, 12:12 am #1


Armored Thunderbolt: The US Army Sherman in World War II. By: Steven Zaloga. Hard covers, 8.5 x 10-inches, 360 pages. Contains 410 B&W photos, four line drawings, 22 tables, appendices, annotated bibliography and index. ISBN 978-0-8117-0424-3.

Before I get on with the review of this book and the two other books in the authors recently-completed set depicting US armor in the ETO, I beg the readers indulgence while I go off on a slight tangent.

Slightly more than one thousand reports have now been posted since the Time on Target page began operations in February of 2006. Brett Green recently informed me that ToT has gotten about 1.5 million page views in that time, with between six- and eleven-thousand unique visitors per month. In all, I have been writing model-related reports and reviews for about 25 years now, beginning with my local IPMS (Brooklyn, NY, USA) chapter and continuing on with my Downrange column in the early years of AMPS-Borsight magazine. My sincere gratitude goes to my host, MLs webmaster Brett Green, for allowing me to continue my humble efforts here on Missing Links. Likewise, I am extremely grateful to the manufacturers and publishers, who have provided the products reported upon here, as well as a number of individuals who have helped answer my numerous questions. All have been vital in supporting my efforts to provide information to modelers. My very special thanks go to all the visitors at ToT who, it is sincerely hoped, have come away from these pages better informed.

Since these just-posted reports represent the crossing of a milestone for me here at Missing Links Time on Target page, it is therefore quite fitting that this number is surpassed by reviewing some recent work of Steve Zaloga. Steve has done much for our hobby in a writing career spanning approximately 40 years, and has been a personal mentor to me in many ways over the last 20-plus years. I have downed a pint or two with him numerous times, enjoyed his hospitality and worked with him professionally on several occasions, in various capacities. He is confident in his abilities, yet is a genuinely humble and helpful person. And, he is just plain fun to be around; our hobby is fortunate to have folks like him involved in it.

I know of no better time or place for me to extend a heart-felt THANK YOU to Steve.

Now, on to the business at hand.

Back in 2008, when this book was released, it represented somewhat of a departure for the author. It was not a photo essay book in the manner of his dozens of Concord or Tanks illustrated books, or a mini-history on AFV development, like an Osprey New Vanguard book. This volume is a much more scholarly, detailed look at the development, modification and combat employment of one of Americas war-winning weapons systems, the M4 Medium Tank, popularly-known as the Sherman. This is not to say that the author has not written other exhaustive tomes on specific subjects, to be sure. Anybody that owns his two-part series on Soviet AFV development from Arms and Armour Press, or his book on the Polish Campaign of 1939, from Hippocrene, will be quite familiar with his capabilities when he decides to delve deeply into a given subject.

To begin with, the books sub-title is a bit short of the mark, since this book covers more than just the story of the Sherman tank. Using main chapter headings, each sub-divided in to several segments, the author touches on a wide-ranging set of topics, either directly or somewhat indirectly, related to the Sherman tank. To give a better idea, here is a listing of the chapter headings, which follow the two-page introduction:

War of the Machines.
Birth of the Sherman.
The Panzer Nemesis.
The Future Sherman: Improve or Replace?
Bocage Buster.
To Paris and Beyond!
Through the Mud and Blood.
Armored Superiority in the Ardennes.
On to the Rhine!
From Bloody Tarawa to the Sands of Iwo Jima.
Cold War Sherman.
Report Card on the Sherman.

As mentioned, the chapters are, in turn, subdivided. For example, War of the Machines is divided as follows:

The First Yank Tanks; covers tank development from The Great War up through the 1930s, from the US point of view.
The Arms Race Begins; details technical lessons learned during the Spanish Civil War, particularly by the Soviets and Germany.
The French Earthquake; discusses the ramifications of the 1940 conquest of France and how it jump-started the already ramping-up US tank program.
American Blitzkrieg; describes the US reaction to world events and the changing (often incorrect) perceptions of US leaders and designers.
Kindergarten Tank; shows how the M3 medium tank brought US production and design capacity up to a war-time level, and how the M3 helped form and train new US Armored Divisions.
The School of Tank Technology: further embellishes the ways and means that led to the M4.
Stranger in a Strange Land: details the British influence on US tank design, and their first use of the M3 and M4 medium tanks in combat.

Thus, in one overall chapter heading, the author is able to logically progress the reader through the ins-and-outs of US tank conception, design, development, production and employment. The remaining chapters do the same thing, often discussing the influence of various personalities and organizations involved in the quest for a better American tank. In other places, the lack of foresight amongst some very influential people and the misunderstanding of development trends by friend and foe alike are detailed. Although this is a story about a tank, anti-tank weapons, their doctrine and their employment is central to the story of the Sherman. Therefore, the US Tank Destroyer Command is discussed in some detail, particularly when it comes to the best means of supporting Infantry Divisions in repelling enemy armor. The notion that the best way to fight a tank is with another tank, is also gone over, particularly when it concerns tank-infantry cooperation between the independent Tank Battalions and the Infantry Divisions they were often assigned to as support elements. Other topics include enemy weaponry (tanks, anti-tank artillery and hand-held infantry anti-tank rocket launchers) and how they did (or in some cases DID NOT) influence a timely American response.

As the Sherman evolved to meet battlefield threats, or to increase production, a multitude of changes were introduced. The production bottleneck represented by the use of a particular power plant was overcome by adapting other engines to the Sherman before a purpose-designed engine, by Ford, was standardized on the preferred US model, the M4A3. Fire control and armament improvements are also detailed as are survivability enhancements. The combat effectiveness of the M4 design was further improved by the introduction of deep-wading equipment and amphibious devices that allowed a beach assault to be supported by armor from the outset. The problem of how to assault fortified positions was also dealt with by additional weapons (rocket-launchers, flame-throwers and mine-clearing devices) and how to overcome natural obstacles (bridge-laying tanks, bulldozer tanks and hedge-row clearance devices) is also discussed. Up-armored Assault Tank variations are described as are unit-level modifications to increase armor protection. Tactics, training, crew layout and combat experiences are also discussed, making for an extremely well balanced presentation.

While the text is sweeping and quite comprehensive, it is supported in other ways. Foremost are the appendices, with their large numbers of tables. These include technical specifications for the M4A1 (75mm), M4A1 (76mm) and M4A3E8 (76mm); data on production by manufacturing plant and type, distribution to US and foreign users, and information on US tank gun performance. The second appendix details US unit strength and loss data from the ETO, broken down into no less than 13 different categories. The third appendix details the strength, by type and date, of British 12th Army Group Sherman user units in NW Europe, and British Sherman designations. Figures for total Lend-Lease shipments, by type and year to the USSR, the UK, France and others, from 1942-45 are also presented. Finally, a Bibliographic essay leads the reader to the authors sources, both primary and secondary.

Spread throughout this book are over 400 B&W photographs. These are all well-reproduced on glossy, coated paper stock. Captions are often quite extensive and typically very informative. They represent a bewildering cross-section of Sherman types and sub-variants, well-showing design progression and improvements. Experimental US tanks, other US types (light and heavy tanks, tank destroyers and self-propelled guns) and anti-tank artillery are depicted. Contemporary Soviet, British, German and French types are seen as is contemporary enemy anti-tank assets. Field modifications and markings are also shown, but the latter are not discussed in any detail, since this books focus is more on the technical and doctrinal aspects of the story. Once the Sherman enters combat in earnest with US forces, the photos are presented in a chronological fashion, again showing evolution in design and modifications in a relatively straight-forward fashion.

In essence, this book answers a number of questions regarding the Shermans design, conception and performance in the field, often in a detailed, yet easily understood manner. This is not strictly a modelers book; it is more for the student of history and technology; however, modelers should find much here of use. A number of the photos seen herein can be seen in other related works by the author; some are new. But, all are part of this fascinating and far-ranging story and sure to provide inspiration for your next Sherman model.

Frank V. De Sisto

Stackpole Books are available through their web-site at: My copy was purchased on-line for approximately 30% less than list price, including shipping.


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