Sherman Firefly
Overview
 
The Sherman Firefly was a World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 variant of the American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 Sherman tank
M4 Sherman
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...

, fitted with the powerful British 17 pounder
Ordnance QF 17 pounder
The Ordnance Quick-Firing 17 pounder was a 76.2 mm gun developed by the United Kingdom during World War II. It was used as an anti-tank gun on its own carriage, as well as equipping a number of British tanks. It was the most effective Allied anti-tank gun of the war...

 anti-tank gun as its main weapon. Originally conceived as a stopgap until future British tank designs came into service, the Sherman Firefly became the most common vehicle with the 17 pounder in World War II.

Though the British expected to have their own new tank models developed soon, British Major George Brighty championed the already-rejected idea of mounting the 17 pounder in the existing Sherman.
Encyclopedia
The Sherman Firefly was a World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 variant of the American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 Sherman tank
M4 Sherman
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...

, fitted with the powerful British 17 pounder
Ordnance QF 17 pounder
The Ordnance Quick-Firing 17 pounder was a 76.2 mm gun developed by the United Kingdom during World War II. It was used as an anti-tank gun on its own carriage, as well as equipping a number of British tanks. It was the most effective Allied anti-tank gun of the war...

 anti-tank gun as its main weapon. Originally conceived as a stopgap until future British tank designs came into service, the Sherman Firefly became the most common vehicle with the 17 pounder in World War II.

Though the British expected to have their own new tank models developed soon, British Major George Brighty championed the already-rejected idea of mounting the 17 pounder in the existing Sherman. With the help of Lieutenant Colonel Witheridge and despite official disapproval, he managed to get the concept accepted. This proved fortuitous, as both the Challenger
Cruiser Mk VIII Challenger
The Tank, Cruiser, Challenger was a British tank of World War II. It mounted the 17 Pounder gun on the Cromwell chassis to add heavier anti-tank firepower to the cruiser tank units....

 and Cromwell
Cromwell tank
Tank, Cruiser, Mk VIII, Cromwell ,The designation as the eighth Cruiser tank design, its name given for ease of reference and its General Staff specification number respectively and the related Centaur tank, were one of the most successful series of cruiser tanks fielded by Britain in the Second...

 tank designs experienced difficulties and delays.

After the problem of getting the gun to fit in the Sherman's turret was solved, the Firefly was put into production in early 1944, in time to equip Field Marshal Montgomery
Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC , nicknamed "Monty" and the "Spartan General" was a British Army officer. He saw action in the First World War, when he was seriously wounded, and during the Second World War he commanded the 8th Army from...

's forces for the Normandy landings. It soon became highly valued as the only British tank capable of defeating the Panther
Panther tank
Panther is the common name of a medium tank fielded by Nazi Germany in World War II that served from mid-1943 to the end of the European war in 1945. It was intended as a counter to the T-34, and to replace the Panzer III and Panzer IV; while never replacing the latter, it served alongside it as...

 and Tiger tanks
Tiger I
Tiger I is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of...

 it faced in Normandy at standard combat ranges. In recognition of this, German tank and anti-tank gun crews were instructed to attack Fireflies first. Between 2100 and 2200 were manufactured before production wound down in 1945.

Origins

The concept of fitting a 17 pounder gun into a Sherman tank had initially been rejected by the Ministry of Supply
Ministry of Supply
The Ministry of Supply was a department of the UK Government formed in 1939 to co-ordinate the supply of equipment to all three British armed forces, headed by the Minister of Supply. There was, however, a separate ministry responsible for aircraft production and the Admiralty retained...

's Tank Decision Board. Although the British Army had made extensive use of the American-built Sherman tank, it was intended that a new generation of British tanks would replace it in the anti-tank role. First there was the Cromwell tank
Cromwell tank
Tank, Cruiser, Mk VIII, Cromwell ,The designation as the eighth Cruiser tank design, its name given for ease of reference and its General Staff specification number respectively and the related Centaur tank, were one of the most successful series of cruiser tanks fielded by Britain in the Second...

, which was expected to use the Vickers
Vickers
Vickers was a famous name in British engineering that existed through many companies from 1828 until 1999.-Early history:Vickers was formed in Sheffield as a steel foundry by the miller Edward Vickers and his father-in-law George Naylor in 1828. Naylor was a partner in the foundry Naylor &...

 High Velocity 75mm gun; this gun would have had superior anti-tank performance to the US 75mm
75 mm Gun (US)
The US 75 mm gun tank gun M2 and the later M3 were the standard American tank guns of the Second World War.Besides use on the two main American medium tanks of the war the M3 Lee and the M4 Sherman . The lightweight M6 and M5 variants were developed to equip the Light Tank M24 and the B-25...

 and 76mm guns
76 mm gun M1
The 76 mm Gun M1 was an American Forces World War II-era tank gun, which replaced the 75 mm gun on late Medium tank M4s, and was used for all 76 mm Gun Motor Carriage M18 tank destroyers. The previous 75 mm M3 L/40 gun on the early M4 Sherman variants was designed more as an infantry support...

 that were mounted in the Sherman. The second was the A30 Challenger
Cruiser Mk VIII Challenger
The Tank, Cruiser, Challenger was a British tank of World War II. It mounted the 17 Pounder gun on the Cromwell chassis to add heavier anti-tank firepower to the cruiser tank units....

 which was based on the Cromwell but with the even more powerful 17 pounder gun. These two tanks - and their successors, the Comet
Comet tank
The Tank, Cruiser, Comet I was a British cruiser tank that first saw use near the end of World War II. It was designed to provide greater anti-tank capability to Cromwell tank squadrons. It was armed with a 77mm HV, a derivative of the 17 pounder, with the result it was one of the few British...

 and the Centurion
Centurion tank
The Centurion, introduced in 1945, was the primary British main battle tank of the post-World War II period. It was a successful tank design, with upgrades, for many decades...

, which were already on the drawing board - were to have replaced the Sherman in British service, and so the prospect of spending time and money mounting a 17 pounder on the Sherman was not seen as desirable.

Nonetheless several unofficial attempts were made to upgun the Sherman. The earliest attempt can be credited to Major George Brighty of the Royal Tank Regiment
Royal Tank Regiment
The Royal Tank Regiment is an armoured regiment of the British Army. It was formerly known as the Tank Corps and the Royal Tank Corps. It is part of the Royal Armoured Corps and is made up of two operational regiments, the 1st Royal Tank Regiment and the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment...

 while he was at Lulworth
Lulworth
Lulworth is the popular name for an area on the coast of Dorset, South West England notable for its castle and cove. However there is no actual place or feature called simply "Lulworth", the villages are East and West Lulworth and the coastal feature is Lulworth Cove.See:*East Lulworth *Lulworth...

 Armoured Fighting School in early 1943. Despite the fact the A30 Challenger was undergoing initial trials at Lulworth, Brighty was convinced that the Sherman was a better mount for the 17 pounder. However he was stymied by the turret of the Sherman, which was too small to allow for the very long recoil of the gun. In a rather desperate move, Brighty removed the recoil system and locked the gun in place, thus forcing the entire tank to absorb the recoil, but this was a far from ideal situation and there was no telling how long the tank would have been able to handle such a set-up.

Around June 1943, a colleague of Brighty, Lt. Col. George Witheridge of the Royal Tank Regiment, arrived at Lulworth. A veteran of the North Africa campaign, Witheridge had experienced firsthand the lopsided battles between British tanks armed with 2 pounder gun
Ordnance QF 2 pounder
The Ordnance QF 2-pounder was a British anti-tank and vehicle-mounted gun, employed in the Second World War. It was actively used in the Battle of France, and during the North Africa campaign...

s against Rommel
Rommel
Erwin Rommel was a German World War II field marshal.Rommel may also refer to:*Rommel *Rommel Adducul , Filipino basketball player*Rommel Fernández , first Panamanian footballer to play in Europe...

's formidable panzers and anti-tank guns. During the disastrous Battle of Gazala
Battle of Gazala
The Battle of Gazala was an important battle of the Second World War Western Desert Campaign, fought around the port of Tobruk in Libya from 26 May-21 June 1942...

 in mid 1942, Witheridge had been blown out of his Grant tank
M3 Lee
The Medium Tank M3 was an American tank used during World War II. In Britain the tank was called "General Lee", named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and the modified version built with a new turret was called the "General Grant", named after U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant.Design commenced...

, and though he recovered from his wounds, he was declared unfit to return to combat duty. Instead, in January 1943, he was posted to Fort Knox
Fort Knox
Fort Knox is a United States Army post in Kentucky south of Louisville and north of Elizabethtown. The base covers parts of Bullitt, Hardin, and Meade counties. It currently holds the Army Human Resources Center of Excellence to include the Army Human Resources Command, United States Army Cadet...

 in the United States for six months to advise on gunnery, where he was "sold" on American tanks. While at Lulworth, Witheridge inspected the A30 Challenger, and "joined in the chorus of complaints" about the tank. Upon looking up Brighty and learning of his attempts to use the Sherman, Witheridge lent his assistance. He advised Brighty on methods to solve the recoil issue.

Not long after, Witheridge and Brighty received a notice from the Department of Tank Design (DTD) to cease their efforts. Unwilling to abandon the project, Witheridge, using his connections with such influential people as Major General Raymond Briggs
Raymond Briggs (British Army officer)
Major-General Raymond Briggs CB DSO was a British Army officer who led 2nd Armoured Brigade at the Second Battle of El Alamein.-Military career:...

, former GOC
General Officer Commanding
General Officer Commanding is the usual title given in the armies of Commonwealth nations to a general officer who holds a command appointment. Thus, a general might be the GOC II Corps or GOC 7th Armoured Division...

 of the 1st Armoured Division in North Africa and now Director of the Royal Armoured Corps
Royal Armoured Corps
The Royal Armoured Corps is currently a collection of ten regular regiments, mostly converted from old horse cavalry regiments, and four Yeomanry regiments of the Territorial Army...

, and successfully lobbied Claude Gibb, Director General of Weapon and Instrument Production at the Ministry of Supply, to make it an official ministry project. In doing so, the endeavour was taken out of the hands of the highly enthusiastic and devoted amateurs at Lulworth who had initiated it and given to professional tank developers.

Design

It was W.G.K. Kilbourn, a Vickers
Vickers
Vickers was a famous name in British engineering that existed through many companies from 1828 until 1999.-Early history:Vickers was formed in Sheffield as a steel foundry by the miller Edward Vickers and his father-in-law George Naylor in 1828. Naylor was a partner in the foundry Naylor &...

 engineer at the time working for the Department of Tank Design, who transformed the prototype
Prototype
A prototype is an early sample or model built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from.The word prototype derives from the Greek πρωτότυπον , "primitive form", neutral of πρωτότυπος , "original, primitive", from πρῶτος , "first" and τύπος ,...

 into the tank that would serve the British forces from D-day onwards. The first thing Kilbourn had to fix was the lack of a workable recoil system for the 17 pounder. The 17 pounder travelled 40 inches back as it absorbed the recoil of the blast. This was too long for the Sherman turret. Kilbourn solved this problem by redesigning the recoil system completely rather than modifying it. The recoil cylinders were shortened to allow the turret to take the gun and its recoil, and the new cylinders were placed on both sides of the gun to take advantage of the width of the Sherman's turret rather than be hindered by its height.

The gun breech itself was also rotated 90 degrees to allow for loading from the leftUS designed tanks put the gunner on the right and loader on the left. British practice was the reverse rather than from on top. The radio which was mounted in the back of the turret in British tanks had to be moved. An armoured box (a "bustle") was attached to the back of the turret to house the radio. Access was through a large hole cut through the back of the turret.

The next problem encountered by Kilbourn was that the gun cradle, the metal block the gun sits on, had to be shortened to allow the gun to fit into the Firefly, and thus the gun itself was not very stable. Kilbourn had a new barrel designed for the 17 pounder that had a longer untapered section at the base, which helped solve the stability problem. A new mantlet
Gun mantlet
A gun mantlet is an armour plate or shield attached to an armoured fighting vehicle's gun, protecting the opening through which the weapon's barrel projects from the hull or turret armour and, in many cases, ensuring the vulnerable warhead of a loaded shell does not protrude past the vehicle's...

 was designed to house the new gun and accept the modified cradle. The modifications were extensive enough to require that 17 pounders intended for the Firefly had to be factory built specifically for it.

Kilbourn had to deal with other problems. On the standard Sherman tank, there was a single hatch in the turret through which the tank commander, gunner and loader entered and left the tank. However the 17 pounder's larger breech and recoil system significantly reduced the ability of the loader to quickly exit from the tank if it was hit. As a result, a new hatch was cut into the top of the turret over the gunner's position. The final major change was the elimination of the hull gunner in favour of space for more 17 pounder ammunition, which was significantly longer than the 75 mm shell and thus took up more room.

The Firefly had no armour or mobility advantages over the normal Sherman tank, although the gun mantlet was some 13mm thicker.

By October and November 1943, enthusiasm began to grow for the project. The 21st Army Group was informed of the new tank in October 1943. Even before final testing had taken place in February 1944, an order for 2,100 Sherman tanks armed with 17 pounder guns was placed. This reaction was understandable, as the Challenger program was suffering constant delays and few would be ready for Normandy, and even worse, the realization that the Cromwell tank did not have a turret ring big enough to take the new High Velocity 75mm gun (50 calibre
Caliber (artillery)
In artillery, caliber or calibredifference in British English and American English spelling is the internal diameter of a gun barrel, or by extension a relative measure of the length....

s long), so the Cromwell would have to be armed with the general purpose Ordnance QF 75 mm
Ordnance QF 75 mm
The Ordnance QF 75 mm, abbreviated to OQF 75 mm, was a British tank-gun of the Second World War. It was used instead of the Ordnance QF 6 pounder , an anti-tank gun, to give better performance against infantry targets in a similar fashion to the 75 mm gun fitted to the American...

. Thus the Sherman Firefly represented the only available tank with firepower superior to the QF 75 mm gun in the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

’s arsenal. Not surprisingly, it was given the ‘highest priority’ by Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 himself.

The nickname "Firefly" is not found in wartime official documents. It was sometimes used at unit level (Brigade/Regiment) war diaries from March 1944, with another nickname being 'Mayfly'. During the war, Shermans with 17 pounder guns were usually known as '1C', '1C Hybrid', or 'VC', depending on the basic mark of the vehicle. In British nomenclature, a "C" at the end of the Roman numeral indicated a tank equipped with the 17 pounder.for more on the explanation of the various marks, see Lend-Lease Sherman tanks#British nomenclature

Armament

The main armament of the Sherman Firefly was the Ordnance Quick Firing 17 pounder
Ordnance QF 17 pounder
The Ordnance Quick-Firing 17 pounder was a 76.2 mm gun developed by the United Kingdom during World War II. It was used as an anti-tank gun on its own carriage, as well as equipping a number of British tanks. It was the most effective Allied anti-tank gun of the war...

. Designed as the successor to the British QF 6-pounder
Ordnance QF 6 pounder
The Ordnance Quick-Firing 6-pounder 7 cwt, or just 6 pounder, was a British 57 mm gun, their primary anti-tank gun during the middle of World War II, as well as the main armament for a number of armoured fighting vehicles...

, the 17 pounder was the most powerful British tank gun of the war, and one of the most powerful of any nationality, being able to penetrate more armour than the 8.8 cm KwK 36 fitted to the German Tiger I
Tiger I
Tiger I is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of...

, or the Panther tank
Panther tank
Panther is the common name of a medium tank fielded by Nazi Germany in World War II that served from mid-1943 to the end of the European war in 1945. It was intended as a counter to the T-34, and to replace the Panzer III and Panzer IV; while never replacing the latter, it served alongside it as...

's 7.5 cm KwK 42. The Firefly 17 pounder was able to penetrate some 140 mm of armour at 500 m (546.8 yd) and 131 mm at 1000 m (1,093.6 yd) using standard Armour Piercing, Capped, Ballistic Capped (APCBC)
APCBC
The armour-piercing capped ballistic cap is a type of armor-piercing shell introduced in the 1930s.-Development:The APCBC munition type was an evolutionary development of the early war armour-piercing capped shell, itself an evolution of the more basic AP and APHE shell types...

 ammunition at a 30 degree angle. When supplied, Armour Piercing, Discarding Sabot
Armour-piercing discarding sabot
Armour-piercing discarding sabot is a type of kinetic energy projectile fired from a gun to attack armoured targets. APDS rounds are sabot rounds and were commonly used in large calibre tank guns, but have now been superseded by armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot projectiles in such...

 (APDS) ammunition could penetrate some 209 mm of armour at 500 m and 192 mm at 1,000 m at a 30 degree angle, which on paper could defeat the armour of almost every German armoured fighting vehicle at any likely range . However, early production APDS rounds lacked accuracy, and the 50 mm penetrator was less destructive after it had penetrated enemy tank armour than the 76.2 mm APCBC shell. In any case, APDS ammunition was rare until late 1944.

Despite the Firefly's superior antitank capabilities, the tank was regarded as inferior to the regular Sherman against soft targets such as enemy infantry, buildings and lightly armoured vehicles. As the war in Europe neared its close, the Allies found themselves encountering these more often than heavy German tanks. Allied tank units therefore typically refused to completely switch to Fireflies. A good HE shell only became available in late 1944 and even then was not as potent as the standard Sherman 75mm HE shell. Another problem was that the powerful blast from the 17 pounder gun kicked up large amounts of dirt as well as smoke, making it difficult for the gunner to observe the fall of the shell, forcing him to rely on the commander to observe the fall of the round and to order corrections. Dirt and dust revealed the position of the tank, so Sherman Fireflies would have to move every few shots to avoid detection. The recoil and muzzle blast could be severely jarring to Firefly crews and the muzzle blast frequently caused night blindness as well. This was a common problem on any tank armed with a high velocity gun, including Panther and Tiger tanks. The cramped nature of the turret meant that loading the large 17 pounder shell was difficult so Fireflies had a reduced rate of fire compared to regular M4 Shermans. Since the Firefly was a stopgap to get a 17 pounder gun mounted on a tank, these problems were never eliminated as the Firefly was to be retired with the introduction of the new British tank designs.

The Firefly's secondary armament was the standard .30 inch coaxial machine gun in the turret. The hull mounted machine gun had been removed to increase ammunition storage for the main gun. A top-mounted .50 cal machine gun was also attached, though many crews removed it due to awkward mounting and position near the commander which limited a full 360 degree view when unbuttoned in battle.

In 1945, some British Shermans were fitted with a rail on either side of the turret for two "60 lb" (27 kg) high explosive 3 inch rockets
RP-3
The RP-3 , was a British rocket used in the Second World War. Though primarily an air-to-ground weapon, it saw limited use in other roles. Its 60 lb warhead gave rise to the alternative name of the "60 lb rocket"; the 25 lb solid-shot armour piercing variant was referred to as the "25 lb rocket"...

. These were used at the Rhine Crossing by the tanks of a single squadron of the 1st Coldstream Guards. The tanks were called "Sherman Tulips". The tanks fitted were conventional Shermans and Fireflies. The rockets, accurate when fired from aircraft, were less accurate when fired from a tank as they were being fired from a stationary point and had little slipstream over the fins. Despite this, the RP-3 was effective when its 60 pound warhead hit the target.

Production and distribution

Three different variants of Sherman Firefly served during the Second World War, each based on different variants of the M4 Sherman. The Firefly conversion was carried out on Sherman I (M4), Sherman I Hybrid (M4 Composite) and Sherman V (M4A4) tanks. Some sources state that several Sherman IIs (M4A1) were converted and used in action, but photos allegedly showing these conversions are in fact views of the front half of Sherman I Hybrid Fireflies. To complicate matters, a very small number of Canadian licence-built Sherman IIs (M4A1), the Grizzly
Grizzly I cruiser
The Grizzly I was a Canadian built M4A1 Sherman tank with some modifications, it had thicker, more sloping armour, had a longer range, and, most notably was fitted with Canadian Dry Pin tracks.-History:...

, were converted to Fireflies in Canada and used for training, but none saw action. The majority of Shermans converted were the Sherman V/M4A4 model, of which the British received about 7,200. The Sherman VC and IC variants are easily distinguished by their lower hulls; the VC having a riveted lower hull with a curved shape while the IC has a welded and angled lower hull. The Hybrid can be distinguished by its upper hull which is cast and which gives it a distinctive curved look in comparison to the more boxy hull of a typical Sherman.

Production of the Firefly started in early 1944, and by May 31, some 342 Sherman Fireflies had been delivered to Montgomery's
Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC , nicknamed "Monty" and the "Spartan General" was a British Army officer. He saw action in the First World War, when he was seriously wounded, and during the Second World War he commanded the 8th Army from...

 21st Army Group for the D-Day landings. As a result, British tank troops were composed of three regular Shermans and one Firefly. The same distribution occurred in Cromwell units, but this caused logistical problems, as each Cromwell troop now needed to be supplied with parts for two different tanks, and the Fireflies were slowly replaced by Challenger tanks as they came out. Churchill
Churchill tank
The Tank, Infantry, Mk IV was a heavy British infantry tank used in the Second World War, best known for its heavy armour, large longitudinal chassis with all-around tracks with multiple bogies, and its use as the basis of many specialist vehicles. It was one of the heaviest Allied tanks of the war...

 units received no Fireflies, and as a result often had to rely on any attached M10
M10 Wolverine
The M10 tank destroyer, formally 3-inch Gun Motor Carriage, M10 was a United States tank destroyer of World War II based on the chassis of the M4 Sherman tank. It was numerically the most important U.S...

 or M10 Achilles
17pdr SP Achilles
The 17 pounder, Self Propelled, Achilles was a British variant of the American M10 Tank destroyer armed with the powerful British Ordnance QF 17 pounder anti-tank gun in place of the standard 3" Gun M7...

 units to provide increased firepower to deal with tanks their 75mm guns could not eliminate.

Production was limited by the availability of suitable tanks, with the phasing out of 75mm Sherman production. To make up numbers the Mark I "hybrids" were employed
From D-Day in June to the end of the Battle of Normandy in late August, some 550 Sherman Fireflies were built, more than sufficient to replace any permanent tank losses during the battle. In late 1944, with the creation of an effective High Explosive shell for the 17 pounder gun, British units started to receive two Fireflies per troop. By February 1945, some 2,000 Sherman Fireflies had been built and British armour troops were equipped with a 50/50 mix of 75mm and 17 pounder armed Shermans.

In the spring of 1945, production of the Firefly was scaled down, with the last tank being delivered in May 1945. This was the result of several factors, from superior home-grown designs like the Comet
Comet tank
The Tank, Cruiser, Comet I was a British cruiser tank that first saw use near the end of World War II. It was designed to provide greater anti-tank capability to Cromwell tank squadrons. It was armed with a 77mm HV, a derivative of the 17 pounder, with the result it was one of the few British...

 and Centurion
Centurion tank
The Centurion, introduced in 1945, was the primary British main battle tank of the post-World War II period. It was a successful tank design, with upgrades, for many decades...

 coming into service which would replace the Firefly, to the impending defeat of Nazi Germany, and the inferior design of Japan's tanks, which it seemed would be the next opponents the British would have to face after the fall of Germany.

Overall production of the Sherman Firefly reached some 2,100 - 2,200 tanks; exact numbers are hard to determine as documents give contradictory totals. Jane's World War II Tanks and Fighting Vehicles gives a production of 1783 over 1944 and 563 over 1945, for a total of 2346.

Service

Normandy
Fireflies were introduced to armoured brigadesThe British "Tank Brigades" were equipped with Churchills and divisions in the 21st Army Group in 1944 just in time for the Normandy landings. The timing was fortunate as the Allies discovered that the Germans were fielding a much larger number of formidable tanks, such as the Panther
Panther tank
Panther is the common name of a medium tank fielded by Nazi Germany in World War II that served from mid-1943 to the end of the European war in 1945. It was intended as a counter to the T-34, and to replace the Panzer III and Panzer IV; while never replacing the latter, it served alongside it as...

, than had been expected in the Normandy theatre. In fact the Allies had mistakenly assumed the Panther, like the Tiger, would be a rare heavy tank with a limited production run, rather than a total replacement for their medium tanks, and the larger-than-expected number of Panthers came as a nasty shock to the Allied commanders as well as the tank crews forced to engage them with guns that could not penetrate the frontal armour at long range.

Fireflies were deployed as one tank per troop of Cromwell or Sherman tanks. The deployment with Cromwell troops made servicing and supply of those units more complex. The Firefly was also slower than the Cromwell.

Panthers and Tigers accounted for only 30% of the 2,300 German tanks deployed in Normandy (the rest being Panzer IV
Panzer IV
The Panzerkampfwagen IV , commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a medium tank developed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz...

s, Sturmgeschütz III
Sturmgeschütz III
The Sturmgeschütz III assault gun was Germany's most produced armoured fighting vehicle during World War II. It was built on the chassis of the proven Panzer III tank...

s and other tanks that the standard Shermans were able to effectively handle). However, the importance of Caen
Caen
Caen is a commune in northwestern France. It is the prefecture of the Calvados department and the capital of the Basse-Normandie region. It is located inland from the English Channel....

 and Montgomery's operations, which pinned German armoured forces in front of the British positions so the American units could break out to the west, meant that British and Commonwealth units had to face over 70% of all German armour deployed during the Battle of Normandy, as well as over half of the elite, well-equipped Waffen-SS
Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS was a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions, and served alongside...

 units. As a result, the Sherman Firefly was perhaps the most valued tank by British and Commonwealth commanders, as it was the only tank in the British Army able to effectively defeat the Panthers and Tigers at the standard combat ranges in Normandy.

This fact did not go unnoticed by the Germans, who realized that these long-barrel Shermans posed a much greater threat to their heavy tanks than the regular Shermans, and German tank crews and anti-tank gun crews were instructed to eliminate Fireflies first. Similarly, the Firefly crews realized that the distinctive long barrel of their 17 pounder gun made the Firefly stand out from regular Shermans, so crews attempted to disguise their tanks in the hope they would not be targeted. Some crews had the front half of the gun barrel painted white on the bottom and dark green or the original olive drab on the top to give the illusion of a shorter gun barrel. Another suggestion was for a shorter wooden dummy gun to be mounted on the rear of the turret and point forward; however, this tactic does not appear to have been used in combat.
Despite being a high priority target, Fireflies appear to have had a statistically lower chance of being knocked out than standard Shermans; this was probably due more to how they were employed than to the actual effectiveness of the attempted camouflaging of the long barrel. Given the high value placed on Fireflies, a common tactic was for commanders to reconnoitre the battlefield before a battle to look for good hull down positions. During the battle, Firefly tanks would stay behind in those position and cover the regular Shermans as they pushed forward, eliminating any enemy tanks that revealed themselves when they opened fire on the advancing Shermans and only moving forward when the regular Shermans had secured the area, or when they could no longer cover them from their current position. Similarly, when on the move, troop commanders tended to position Fireflies in the rear to reduce the chance of them being knocked out. However, given the relatively unpredictable nature of battle, this setup was not always practical or possible, and many times, Fireflies were forced to engage enemies in the open where they could be identified.

Despite this, the Firefly's increased firepower was much valued, and during many engagements, the Firefly proved its worth, knocking out Tigers and Panthers at long range, as well as less formidable tanks like the Mark IVs and StuGs.

One example of this increased firepower was displayed by Lt. G. K. Henry's Firefly during the defense of Norrey-en-Bessin on 9 June against an attack by the 3rd Company of the 12th SS Panzer Regiment of the 12th SS Panzer Division
12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was a German Waffen SS armoured division during World War II. The Hitlerjugend was unique because the majority of its junior enlisted men were drawn from members of the Hitler Youth, while the senior NCOs and officers were generally veterans of the Eastern...

. Determined to capture the town in preparation for a larger offensive to drive the British and Canadians back into the sea, Kurt Meyer ordered an attack by 12 Panthers of the 3rd Company and infantry to attack Norrey-en-Bessin and drive the Canadians out of the town. The attack got under way at 1300 hours with the Panthers racing to the town at full speed only to stop to fire their guns, quickly outrunning their infantry support which was forced to the ground by Allied artillery fire. Within 1000 m (1,093.6 yd) of the town, nine Shermans of the 1st Hussars
1st Hussars
The 1st Hussars is an armoured Primary Reserve regiment of the Canadian Forces, currently based in London, Ontario and Sarnia, Ontario.-Foundation and organisation:...

 opened fire into the advancing Panthers' flanks. Lt. Henry's gunner, Trooper A. Chapman, waited until the Panthers "lined up like ducks in a row" and quickly knocked out five with just six rounds. The attack was repulsed with the loss of seven of the 12 Panthers.

A similar example occurred on 14 June, during Operation Perch
Operation Perch
Operation Perch was a British offensive of the Second World War which took place between 7 and 14 June 1944, during the Battle of Normandy. The operation was intended to encircle and seize the German occupied city of Caen, which was a major Allied objective in the early stages of the invasion of...

. Sgt. Harris of the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards, along with three standard Shermans, set up defensive positions along with the infantry after successfully driving out the Germans in the village of Lingèvres
Lingèvres
-References:*...

, near Tilly-sur-Seulles
Tilly-sur-Seulles
-External links:*...

. Looking through his binoculars, Sgt. Harris spotted two Panthers advancing from the east. He opened fire at a range of 800 metres (874.9 yd), knocking out the lead Panther with his first shot, and the second Panther with his second. Relocating to a new position on the other side of the town, he spotted another three Panthers approaching from the west. From his well-concealed flanking position, he and his gunner, Trooper Mackillop, eliminated all three with just three rounds. Harris and his gunner had knocked out five Panthers with as many rounds, demonstrating the potency of the Firefly, especially when firing from a defensive position on advancing enemy tanks.

In perhaps its most famous action, a group of seven Tiger tanks from the 3rd Company and HQ Company, Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 supported by several Panzer IV
Panzer IV
The Panzerkampfwagen IV , commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a medium tank developed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz...

 tanks and Stug IV
Sturmgeschütz IV
The Sturmgeschütz IV , was a German assault gun of the Second World War.-Development:The Sturmgeschütz IV resulted from Krupp's effort to supply an assault gun...

 assault guns were ambushed by Fireflies from A Squadron, 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry
Northamptonshire Yeomanry
The Northamptonshire Yeomanry was a unit of the British Army formed in 1794 as volunteer cavalry, it later served in an armoured role before being reduced to squadron level in 1956...

, 33rd Armoured Brigade, A Squadron, the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade
2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade
-History:Soon after 3rd Canadian Tank Brigade assumed the designation in summer 1943 of the original 2nd Canadian Tank Brigade, the new 2nd Tank was redesignated and reorganized as 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. Although reorganized as an armoured brigade, no motor battalion served under its command...

 and B Squadron, The 144th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps, 33rd Armoured Brigade. Tanks of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry and elements of the 51st (Highland) Division reached the French village of Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil
Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil
Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-Population:-Personalities:...

 on the morning of 8 August 1944 during Operation Totalize. While B Squadron stayed around the village, A and C Squadrons moved further south into a wood called Delle de la Roque. C Squadron positioned themselves on the east side of the woods and the understrength A Squadron in the southern portion with No. 3 Troop on the western edge of the wood. From this position, they overlooked a large open section of ground and were able to watch as German tanks advanced up Route nationale 158 from the town of Cintheaux
Cintheaux
Cintheaux is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-Geography:The commune is located between Caen and Falaise and is the home to the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery....

. Under strict orders from the troop commander, they held their fire until the German tanks were well within range. Ekins, the gunner of Sergeant
Sergeant
Sergeant is a rank used in some form by most militaries, police forces, and other uniformed organizations around the world. Its origins are the Latin serviens, "one who serves", through the French term Sergent....

 Gordon's Sherman Firefly (Velikye Luki
Velikiye Luki
Velikiye Luki is a town on the meandering Lovat River in the southern part of Pskov Oblast, Russia. It is the second largest town in Pskov Oblast; population: The town is served by the Velikiye Luki Airport....

 - A Squadrons tanks were named after towns in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

) had yet to fire his gun in action. With the Tiger tanks
Tiger I
Tiger I is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of...

 in range, the order was given to fire. What followed was an almost 12 minute battle that saw Ekins destroying all three Tigers that No. 3 Troop could see; there were actually seven Tiger tanks in the area heading north along with some other tanks and self propelled guns. A short time later, the main German counterattack was made in the direction of C Squadron. A Squadron (less Sgt Gordon who had been wounded and had already bailed out of the Firefly) moved over to support them and in the resulting combat, Ekins destroyed a Panzer IV
Panzer IV
The Panzerkampfwagen IV , commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a medium tank developed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz...

 before his tank was hit and the crew were forced to bail out. One of the Tigers Ekins is credited with knocking out was that of Michael Wittmann
Michael Wittmann
Michael Wittmann was a German Waffen-SS tank commander during the Second World War. Wittmann would rise to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer and was a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross holder....

, though there is still some controversy over whether Ekins really killed Wittman, as Fireflies of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment also fired at the Tigers from a closer range of 150 m (164 yd).
Italy
Overall the Firefly proved itself a very successful tank despite the fact it was only intended as a stopgap tank until future British tanks like the Comet and the Centurion came into service. While Normandy had priority, Fireflies also served with distinction in Italy in British and Commonwealth units. British units in Italy also used the Sherman with the US 76mm gun.

Operators

Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 - 16 sold by Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 as scrap in 1949 to the Lebanese Army, 2 passed on to the Al-Murabitun
Al-Murabitun
The Independent Nasserite Movement or al-Murabitoun , also termed variously Mouvement des Nasséristes Indépendants ' in French, Independent Nasserite Organization , or Movement of Independent Nasserists, is a Nasserist political party in Lebanon.-Political...

 militia in 1976.

See also

  • M4 Sherman variants
    M4 Sherman variants
    The M4 Sherman tank was produced in several variants and it was also the basis for a number of related vehicles.In addition, Shermans have been modified by several nations from modernization upgrades to complete hull conversions for another task.-Overview:...

  • Lend-Lease Sherman tanks
    Lend-Lease Sherman tanks
    The United States provided tens of thousands of its Medium Tank M4, nicknamed the Sherman, to many of its Allies during the Second World War, under the terms of Lend-Lease Act.-British nomenclature:...

  • Allied technological cooperation during World War II
    Allied technological cooperation during World War II
    The Second World War was not won by one nation; the Allies had to cooperate while fighting on the ground, as well as by sharing technological resources and innovations...


External links

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