The M4 Sherman, formally Medium Tank, M4, was the primary tank used by the United States during World War II. Thousands were also distributed to the Allies, including the British Commonwealth and Soviet armies, via lend-lease. In the United Kingdom, the M4 was named after Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, following the British practice of naming their American-built tanks after famous American Civil War generals. Subsequently the British name found its way into common use in the U.S.
The Sherman evolved from the Grant and Lee medium tanks, which had an unusual side-sponson mounted 75 mm gun. It retained much of the previous mechanical design, but added the first American main 75 mm gun mounted on a fully traversing turret, with a gyrostabilizer enabling the crew to fire with reasonable accuracy while the tank was on the move. The designers stressed mechanical reliability, ease of production and maintenance, durability, standardization of parts and ammunition in a limited number of variants, and moderate size and weight. These factors made the Sherman superior in some regards, to the earlier German light and medium tanks that had swept across Europe in the blitzkrieg campaigns of 1939-41, and which still made up the majority of the German armor --albeit usually in up-gunned and up-armored variants—forces in the later stages of the war. The Sherman ended up being produced in large numbers and formed the backbone of most Allied offensives, starting in late 1942.
The original Shermans were able to defeat the relatively small German tanks such as the Panzer III and IV they faced when first deployed in North Africa. Later, they found themselves more evenly matched against the newer up-gunned and up- armored Pz.Kpfw. IV medium tanks. They were outmatched by the Panther heavy tank and wholly inadequate against the armor and range of the Tiger I and later Tiger II heavy tanks, suffering high casualties against their heavier armor and more powerful 88 mm cannons. Mobility, mechanical reliability and sheer numbers, supported by growing superiority in supporting fighter-bombers and artillery, offset these disadvantages to an extent at a strategic level. Later versions of the Sherman introduced 76 mm guns, giving them better armor penetration than the original 75 mm gun, though still insufficient at range against late war German heavy tanks.
Production of the Sherman was favored by the commander of the Armored Ground Forces, albeit controversially, over adoption of the heavier M26 Pershing, whose subsequent delayment caused it to be too late to play any significant role in the war. In the Pacific Theater, the Sherman was used chiefly against Japanese infantry and fortifications; in their rare encounters with much lighter Japanese tanks with weaker armor and guns, the Sherman's superiority was overwhelming.
Production of the M4 exceeded 50,000 units, and its chassis served as the basis for numerous other armored vehicles such as tank destroyers, tank retrievers, and self-propelled artillery. Only Mikhail Koshkin's design of the Soviet T-34 tank was ultimately produced in larger numbers during World War II. Many German generals and many historians considered the T-34 the best tank of the war, but even so the Russians recognized the Sherman's particular advantages when they used them in certain niche situations.
The Sherman would finally give way to post-war tanks developed from the M26. Various original and updated versions of the Sherman would continue to see combat effectively in many later conflicts, including the Korean War, the Arab-Israeli Wars, and Indo-Pakistani Wars into the late 20th century, against the T-34 and sometimes much more contemporary Soviet tanks.