What was the Sherman Tank’s Fatal Flaw?

What was the Sherman Tank’s Fatal Flaw? The M4 Sherman was the workhorse of the American military forces in World War 2. But, it picked up a few other names throughout the war as well.

“Tommy Cooker”


“Death Trap”

An M4 Sherman tank burns after being hit by enemy fire in Germany in early 1945.

Many people use these names to refer to the M4 Sherman tank.

Ironically, these same people often have nothing but praises for the Panzer IV and the T-34.

A Sherman DD amphibious tank of 13th/18th Royal Hussars in action against German troops using crashed Horsa gliders as cover near Ranville, Normandy, 10 June 1944

Rebellion Military History

Ignorant to the fact that the latter two are actually the true “ronsons” and “death traps”.

It is well known that the M4 Sherman was very prone to bursting into flames when hit by German tanks.

Belton Cooper, author of the appropriately named Death Traps, a study of U.S. armored divisions and their battles in Europe during World War II wrote:

British Firefly in Namur, 1944. This is an M4 composite, showing the late cast hull front with large crew hatches

“The German tank had an 88-[millimeter gun] and it just blew the General Sherman tank to pieces until there was nothing left but smoke and fire.”

“The 3rd Armored Division entered combat in Normandy with 232 M-4 Sherman tanks.”

“During the European Campaign, the Division had some 648 Sherman tanks completely destroyed in combat and had another 700 knocked out, repaired and put back into operation. This was a loss rate of 580 percent.”

Before the adoption of the “wet stowage” racks, the average burn rate of the Sherman tank when penetrated was over 80 percent.

However, this is not unique to the Sherman alone. As the Panzer IV (and all other German tanks) was just as bad, if not worse, burning even more readily when penetrated.

Ammunition racks filled the hull sides of the Panzer IV. And its larger and longer 75x495mm rounds were more likely to get hit and ignite if the tank was penetrated.

Battle of Stalingrad

Meanwhile, the Sherman had its ammunition racks spread far apart from each other. And were a lot less likely to detonate in a chain of explosions.

Both the Sherman and the Panzer IV however have abundant hatches for the crews to escape out of. And it’s usually only the one or two unfortunate souls that get directly hit by the penetrating shell who end up dying.

This M4A4 has extra armor plates in front of crew hatches

The T-34 on the other hand had most of its ammunition was stored in the hull floor where these are a lot less likely to get hit.

This is however negated by the greater difficulty of quickly getting out of the tank. When its on fire which is why at least two crewmen on average gets killed on the T-34 when it’s knocked out compared to the 1.5 crew of the Panzer IV and the 1 crew average of the M4 Sherman.

M4A3(76)W HVSS participating in a World War II victory parade

Many people blame the M4 Sherman’s use of a gasoline engine to be the reason why it often easily burst into flames when penetrated but this is really far from the truth.

Its engine and fuel tanks are right behind the fighting compartment separated by a 10mm thick bulkhead. And any penetrating AP projectile would hit the 75mm rounds stowed around the turret ring before it could reach the engine compartment.

A Sherman with track widening “duckbill” extended end connectors.

Analysis of knocked out gasoline engines and diesel engines of Sherman tanks also showed that both had roughly the same burn rates. And their fuel tanks were often found to be still intact and filled with fuel.

The true cause of fires on M4 Sherman tanks was really the stored ammunition getting hit and cooking-off.

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What was the Sherman Tank’s Fatal Flaw?

Written by Garupan History