WoT: Marching with the M4 Sherman

The M4 Sherman is one of the most iconic tanks of World War II. It is to the American war machine what the Panzer IV and T-34 were to the German and Russian armies respectively. They were produced in their thousands, and though widely regarded as being somewhat inferior to the German tanks they faced they were solid machines without which the war in the West would have been a great deal more difficult to win. In World of Tanks they are Tier V medium tanks.

Basic American tactical doctrine was for tanks to assume a “hull-down” firing position. For this reason American tanks have a tendency to be a bit skimpy on the hull armour (which was meant to protected by an obstacle like a ridge) but have better turret armour to the front. The M4 fits this pattern very nicely. It’s hull armour is not very strong and fairly easy for opponents to penetrate. The turret front considerably less so. Mastering American tactical doctrine is therefore key to getting the most out of this tank. I am learning.

In terms of firepower the stock gun is, as always, nothing to get overly excited about. That said it was good enough for me to get by at first. There are two possible guns to research from hit – a slower firing, high-damage HE gun, and a faster-firing lower damage higher-penetration AP gun. I played for a couple of games on the first, and found it quite effective. However, whenever I play with a HE gun I always compare it to the KV-2, and so far I haven’t found a tank as fun to play with the HE as the KV-2, so I generally move on to the AP guns. The upgraded AP gun on the Sherman is a delight, fast-firing and hard-hitting. While it cannot reliably penetrate the front armour of a Tier VI heavy, it can certainly do so from the sides. Tier V tanks are reliable prey, especially if one takes a moment to aim carefully. Fortunately, although stock this tank is somewhat slow, with the upgraded engine it is generally possible to get into a position to flank to use one’s upgraded weaponry to greatest effect.

The true strength in this tank however is not any of the above. Rather it is the elevation arc of this gun, or particularly the ability to depress the gun far more than in most other tanks. That sounds fairly boring, bit it has a crucial advantage. Usually when a tank drives up a hill or over a bump its lower hull gets exposed – while it’s gun is unable to depress low enough to fire at any enemies on the other side. By being able to depress its gun to a relatively high angle – 12 degrees compared to just 6 degrees for both the Panzer IV and T-34 – this allows the M4 Sherman to expose a great deal less of itself to be able to fire back. Indeed, done right it usually only needs to expose its turret or, if some of the hull does become exposed, it is generally angled enough to make it more effective.

It is an art I am still learning. Sometimes I utterly fail at it, but just now and then I seem to manage to master the trick. In a recent game this led to my second best match (in terms of experience) ever. It was on the Himmelsdorf map in Encounter mode. In encounter both teams start either side of the steep hill that dominates the eastern side of the map. Usually practice is for some tanks to climb up to the top of the hill while the rest aim for the encounter base on the west side of the map, to prevent those tanks from being outflanked by enemy tanks also climbing that same hill. Usually this results in a brawl at the top. That certainly happened in this game as seven or eight opposing tanks, drove up to the hill’s summit (along with two artillery). Facing them was a KV-1S (who died fairly swiftly by advancing up to the summit and getting swarmed), myself in the Sherman, another KV-1S, a T49, a Grille, and I think one other tank. Unlike that rather adventurous KV-1S we stayed on our downslope and forced the opposing tanks to come to us. Actually if they had all advanced at once we probably would have died in fairly short order, but they did not which allowed us to whittle down their numbers. I shouldn’t really have survived, except of course that most often all they could hit was turret, and shells kept bouncing. One time I was a bit too brave and lost most of my hit points in two quick shots to the hull. Soon after that though I was mostly able to hide behind the wreck of an opposing tank. My final tally was five killed, four damaged, and two detected, and 1930xp (before the daily first victory bonus). Oddly enough I did not get a battle honour for this rather grand performance, which only goes to show achievements do not show everything.

Íf that is what this tank is capable of, there are also some things it simply cannot do. Chief amongst these is go head to head with a heavy. It simply does not have the armour or the hit points. Indeed, the relatively weak hull armour makes it a generally poor brawler in a built up area in a head to head battle with many tanks its own tier or higher. If one is forced into that role, try to find something to protect the hull – really the hull-down doctrine is inescapable if one wishes to do well.

I cannot compare this to the T-34, as I have not yet played that tank. Compared to the current Panzer IV it feels a little underpowered, but then the current Panzer IV became overpowered with the reform to the match-making system because its equaliser – its gun – became excessive. I will have to wait until 8.0 to get a feel for whether it is out of place. Perhaps when I have upgraded the T-34 I can compare these five worthies of the battlefield.

My current judgement is this is a very fine tank, and very enjoyable to play, with one proviso: it was a tank designed with a certain doctrine in mind. Try to do too much outside of that doctrine and one is likely to sometimes struggle. Try to apply that doctrine and you play this tank to its strengths.

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