Impressive: How Israel Won Many Wars With Outdated World War II Sherman Tanks

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February 4, 2020 Topic: History Region: Middle East Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: World War IITanksArmyIsraelMiddle East

Impressive: How Israel Won Many Wars With Outdated World War II Sherman Tanks

Not easy.

That something was the M51, also called the Isherman. This was the ultimate evolution in Sherman battle tanks. Atelier de Bourges, the French company that developed the M50 Super Sherman, developed a 105mm cannon with lower recoil that the Sherman hull and a modified turret could withstand. These T23 turrets also had new mantlets and a rear turret extension. This potent modification made the tank heavier, and to compensate for the added weight, a new Cummins 460hp diesel engine, wider tracks and a new hydraulic system were also installed. Some 200 of Israel’s Shermans were altered, breathing new life into the old design.

From Six-Day to Yom Kippur: The Sherman’s Waning Use

The tanks went into combat alongside Zahal’s newer ones in 1967’s Six-Day War. Israel, convinced that its neighbors were coordinating an all-out attack, decided to strike first, concentrating against Egypt before turning to Syria. Jordan also became involved. Shermans were used on all three fronts. A battalion of Ishermans took part in the attack on Abu Ageila, diverting the defenders’ attention while a combined infantry-airborne assault took the position.

On the Jordanian front, the Sherman-equipped units had a harder time against Jordan’s M47 and M48 Pattons. In one engagement, the Jordanians claimed 17 Shermans, destroyed around Jenin and Ya’Abad. In another fight, the Shermans came out on top, however. As a column of Jordanian M48s was retreating, it ran into a patrol of Israeli Shermans. A sharp fight broke out at point-blank range, and the Jordanians left behind 15 tanks on the field. Against the Syrians, Israeli tank losses were heavy because of the intense fighting. Ironically, the Syrian Army was equipped with refurbished World War II-era Panzer IV and Sturmgeschutz IV assault guns purchased from France—the same tanks the Shermans had faced two decades earlier.

Although the Shermans had done their part in the Israeli victory of 1967, after the war more modern tanks began entering the service, and the old workhorses were showing their age. The M51 models were kept, but many of the M50s were retired, a few being sold and others having their chassis converted into different types of vehicles. A few  remained operational, and during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Sherman tanks still served, although they had been largely supplanted by newer designs.

Sherman Conversions:  Stretching the Service Life of the Platform

The Shermans’ service was not yet over, however. The chassis of the venerable workhorses were used to create new vehicles and fill other roles in the Israeli arsenal. The first was the Model 50 self-propelled howitzer. Zahal had a large number of French-built Mle50 155mm howitzers on hand; these were mated to a Sherman chassis. The engine was moved to the front of the hull and the gun mounted in an open-topped compartment in the rear. Batteries of the guns served in both the 1967 and 1973 wars before passing into reserve use. The Mle50 howitzer had a range of 11 miles. An interesting variant of the vehicle was a fully tracked ambulance for evacuating wounded soldiers under fire. The Israelis have always been protective of casualties, and make every effort to evacuate wounded troops. The ambulance could carry four wounded soldiers and a medic in a fully enclosed rear compartment. When evacuating under fire, the vehicle had the advantage of being able to park its front end toward the incoming fire. This placed its thickest armor and entire engine compartment between the enemy and the evacuees, as long as the incoming fire was not of sufficient caliber to disable the engine with penetrating fire.

A second self-propelled gun also was built. The L33 conversion of the Sherman chassis mounted a Soltam M68 155mm howitzer in a large, fully enclosed armored superstructure, giving the crew protection from overhead shell bursts and fragments. The Soltam cannon had a range of 141/2 miles. They first entered service in the Yom Kippur War and also served in the 1982 war in Lebanon.

Another ingenious conversion was the Makmat 160mm mortar carrier. This vehicle has an open-topped compartment forward (the engine is retained in the rear) that holds a Soltam 160mm mortar. The high-angle fire of a mortar requires an open top. The front and side panels of the compartment can be folded down to provide easier access and more room for the crew, although at the sacrifice of some protection. The mortar carrier entered service in 1968. Two further Sherman variants included a multiple rocket launcher carrying four 290mm rockets and an observation vehicle with an extendable platform in place of the turret. The platform could be raised up to 90 feet and was used along the Suez Canal as a mobile observation post.

The Sherman in its various configurations filled gaps in the Zahal order of battle over the course of several decades, until the Israelis gradually were able to purchase more modern tanks. With French assistance, these Shermans were kept viable with upgrades to their weapons, engines, and hydraulic systems. When their usefulness as tanks ended, the chassis found new life as artillery and mortar carriers and a variety of battlefield support vehicles. If necessity is the mother of invention, then the Israeli Shermans are a testament to both the need and the ingenuity of the Israeli Army.

This first appeared in Warfare History Network here

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

(This article was originally posted last year.)