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M10 Sherman at Fisher Body Plant 21

M10 production line at Fisher Body Plant
M10 production line at Fisher Body Plant (Wikipedia)

During World War II the Allied forces needed a new kind of vehicle that could in essence stop German tanks from pushing through the anti-tank guns. This lead to General Motors ramp up production at the Fisher Body Plant in Detroit Michigan for a new generation of the M10 tank destroyer. Although the M10 was a powerful and devastating piece of technology against the Axis army in North Africa, its life was short lived. Production of this tank destroyer was halted in 1943 at Fisher and production was completely stopped by 1944. Through its life on the field was short, it made an impact that left a legacy lasting generations.

The Construction of the M10

Built on the chassis of the M4A2 Sherman tank (originally on the M3) with a 3-inch (76.2mm) M7 primary gun, the M10 Sherman was built for both destruction and maneuverability. In doing so, it allowed a full 360 degree turn radius that could attack enemy’s from nearly every angle [4]. The open top design of the M10 allowed space for a larger gun as well as a decrease in weight that was desperately needed [5].

The M7 gun used in the M10 was so heavy that it needed a very large counterweight to support it. To improve the turrets movement to surpass its 4 degree lift limit a new counterweight of extra grousers (extra tank treads) and antiaircraft guns to be stored on the rear of the turret [7]. Although the intention was that this would increase it to 15 degrees of movement, this ultimately failed. Instead, a counterweight of iron, lead and mild steel where created and improved further to a set of 3,700 pound, wedge-shaped counterweight designed by the Fisher Body division [8]. While not as effective as its German count part, the American M10s 76.2mm gun was effective in doing its job. Carrying up to 54 rounds aboard and a standard 50 caliber Browning M2HB heavy machine gun proved its point as a tough yet agile machine for taking out tanks.

Production of the M10s by Fisher Body division of General Motors went from September 1942 to December 1943, producing a total of 4,993 M10s [8]. Due to the vast amount of M10s produced by the Fisher plant verses the 1,035 M10A1s produced by Ford in later years, fisher m10s where shipped off to the western front while Ford M10s where kept on american soil [10]. Towards the end of its life, the last 300 where given 76mm M1 guns which improved penetration verses the original M7 [7]. The end of the M10 as it was known came in January 1944 as the M10s where converted to M35 Prime Movers, removing the turret and adding towing equipment for 8-inch Gun M1s and 240 mm Howitzer M1s [4].

The M10 During the War

M10 Tank Destroyer in the western front
M10 Sherman Tank Destroyer in the western front (The National Interest)

At the start of the American involvement in World War II, The U.S. Army decided that they needed a more mobile and destructive anti-tank units in order to intercept the German’s armored spearhead/Blitzkrieg tactics As commonly used anti-tank guns were heavy and had to be pulled into position, a lot of time was wasted waiting for them to get into position. The Army’s response was the creation of Tank Destroyers [9]. Like many automoble manufacturing plants at the time, Fisher  retooled during the World War II for military production, notably for its aircraft parts, anti-aircraft guns, tanks, and notably the M10.

Like most tank destroyers of the period, the M10 was used as a reserve unit basing itself in friendly territory until it was called. Upon this they were deployed quickly to take down the enemy tank. [6] Using their fast maneuvering and vast firepower to destroy the opposing tanks, the new armor branch in charge of the tank destroyers wanted to focus on some of the same kind of bold armored attacks that the Germans had been synonymous for. The overall construction of the M10 was as simple as any tank could be during World War II, as all everything from its upkeep to operation can was summed up into a nice 284 page manual given to you by your local adjutant general or post adjutant [1].

America was proud of the M10 and the tactical abilities it had on the field. “Top speeds up to 32 miles per hour”, “200 miles to the tankful” and a turret wheel so easy to turn that your sister could do it” where all selling points to promote this new technology [3]. The M10 was seen to be the face of the counterattack against the Nazis in Northern Africa.

Although the M10 and other similar tank destroyers had been successful in retrospect, at the time they where thought to be “unsuccessful” by such leaders as General Patton. This was due in no small part by the way they where being used as “direct support artillery” instead of their intended purpose as a mobile reserve. In March 1943, Major Allerton Cushman acting as foreign observer started in a Observer Report that.

“This I consider misuse of destroyers since it eliminates the possibility of using them as a mobile reserve to meet armored counterattack, and because the M1897 75mm gun has too flat a trajectory for gaining maximum effect against targets of this type.” ~Allerton Cushman[2]

The M10 Sherman is debatably the most popular tank destroyer, but it wasn’t the only tank destroyer the United States had, nor the rest of the Allied forces. Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia all had versions of mobile tank-destroyer vehicles. From small anti-tank guns mounted on small chassis, to colossal beasts of armor and guns, tank destroyers came in all shapes and sizes. None had turrets, though due to their cost and the perception that they were unnecessary. Turrets were added by the U.S. because of the army’s stance on a more active role of the tank Destroyers [6].

The Death of the M10

The death of the M10 Sherman was just as sudden as its birth, partially due to its inability to fully pierce frontal armor of German Tiger and Panther tanks. They made up a majority of the Axis powers arsenal, increased negative reputation for it. As well as later in the war the M10s where being used as tanks on the front line rather than their specified purpose. This caused severe issues as the M10 was not designed for full frontal attack and although the open top was useful in being able to see the enemy before he saw you. It was not well equipped to handle Panzerfaust anti-tank rockets. This fatal flaw led to soldiers covering the tops of the M10 with sandbags, more armor plating, and even more machine guns.

M10 Sherman Southern France.
M10 Sherman Southern France. (Battle Front Models)

But what put the last nail in the coffin was the introduction of the new M4A Sherman tanks in 1944, with their own 76-millimeter guns. This just made the distinction between tanks and tank destroyers even more blurred. Some military men wondered what is the use of a M10 if the armor is as pierce-able as a regular tank, and a gun of the same size and destructive power. At that point just use a tank.

Disputes where made over whether or not to focus more on towed guns or continue to use the dying M10s. What they didn’t realize was that towed guns where not fairing any better than the M10s. In fact they where worse off. During the defense of Elsenborn Ridge 17 towed guns where lost as well as countless others getting stuck in the mud and snow while the M10s where able to destroy 17 enemy tanks in just two days [7]. In the Battle of the Bulge, 119 tank destroyers were lost, of those 72% were towed guns, while the M10s and other tank destroyers where able to claim 306 enemy tanks [7]. By January 1945, it was decided that the towed guns would be converted to self-propelled destroyers, but by then it was too late, the stigma was already set that the M10 was just inferior armor and better guns. The time of the M10 was over.

Although its life under US leadership was done, it found homes in sever other countries including the United Kingdom, Russia, Free French, Israel, and even in the Republic of China. Under the Lend-Lease act, several hundred M10s where passed into British hands under the Royal Artillery units, seeing battles in both Italy and France during the war. 54 M10s found their home in Russia, although they were not seen in high regarded due to their open top configuration. The Free French army led by General De Lattre received dozens of M10s, one nicknamed “Sirocco” even disabled a Panther in Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Primary Sources

  1. “3-Inch Gun Motor Carriage M10A1.” N.p., 20 Nov. 1942.
  2. Cushman, Allerton. Observer Report (Army Ground Forces). Rep. no. ADA438195. 1-9 29 Mar. 1943.
  3. The War a Current Information Film for the Armed Services. M10 Tank Destroyer Propaganda Film. War Department, 3 Oct. 2010.

Secondary Sources

  1. Bocquelet, D. (2014, November 28). M10 Wolverine. Tanks Encyclopedia
  2. Hunnicutt, R.P. Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank. 1978. Echo Point Books and Media, LLC.
  3. Kendall D. Gott, G. F. (2007). Breaking the Mold: Tanks in the Cities. The Journal of Military History, Vol. 71, No. 4. 1324-1325.
  4. Roblin, Sebastien, Tobias Burgers, Scott Nicholas Romaniuk, James Holmes, Joshua W. Walker, and Hidetoshi Azuma. “The US Army’s World War II Tank-Destroyers: Waste of Time or Wonder Weapon?” The National Interest
  5. Staff Writer. (2016, February 6). M10 Gun Motor Carriage (Wolverine / Achilles) Tank Destroyer / Gun Motor Carriage (1942). Military Factory
  6. Tank destroyer. (2016). Retrieved from Britannica Academic
  7. World War Two, MI Tank Arsenal – General Motors Corporation. (2015) Fisher Body – Gone but not Forgotten!!!

For Further Reading