bookImages of War - Sherman Tank
by Gavin Birch.
Published by Pen & Sword Books Ltd, England
Soft cover, 176 pages.
ISBN 1-84415-187-5

Review by Peter Brown

While many photos of Sherman tanks were taken by official photographers during the Second World War, only a small proportion of those taken have appeared in print and more often than not the same few appear again. There have been several good photo studies of the Sherman in American use but coverage of British subjects is far less extensive. In order to change this, the author has searched the photo collection at the Imperial War Museum in London for Sherman photos with the aim of publishing those which have not been published before. He claims that over 80% are "new" and I for one would say that this is probably correct based on having spent many hours and many Pounds over thirty-five years collecting books and magazines for their photo content.

So this is basically a photo book, There is a short introduction giving background to the Army Film and Photographic Unit whose work forms the main part of the IWM’s photographic collection, followed by a short history of the development of the Sherman tank. The photos themselves are arranged into sections by area of operations. The first - surprisingly - is the United Kingdom with a short survey of Shermans in training including a few photos of 79th Armoured Division "Funnies". Then comes the later stages of the North African campaign covering Libya and Tunisia, on to Sicily and Italy, the North-West Europe campaign in covering 1944 and 1945 as separate sections and Shermans in Burma. Photos nearly all show British units with only a few showing Canadian and Polish service, though there is one section drawn from American Embassy sources showing American use mostly in France and Germany.

These photos are very good, and as stated above are mostly not seen in print before. They are mostly in-action photos, do not expect detailed close-ups or specific details on changes between marks though these can still be picked out but they are ideal for modelling as they show the tanks as they appeared in the field. All are black and white as there are sadly few original colour photos available. A bonus is that all negative numbers are provided which will allow anyone interested to locate the specific photos and look for others in the same sequence. Captions give some details of location and in many cases dates, they can be vague as to the units involved which is often the case in the original captions at the IWM but in some cases where units are given they are not correct.

The selection is very good, although there are some curious omissions. For example there are no photos showing them at El Alamein, while these are not numerous and some have been used before even a few would have completed the overall picture given that Shermans saw action for the first time there. The United Kingdom section is short which does leave more space for photos from theatres of war, while there is one photo of the M4A1 Sherman II named MICHAEL which first Sherman to come to the UK - now one of the Tank Museum collection this is the oldest surviving Sherman in the world - one has been chosen shows it after it had been fitted with a new gun although the IWM has there are several photos of it as delivered taken while being inspected by Winston Churchill. Against that there are things which are not often seen, such as 2" bomb throwers mounted on commander’s cupola in Sicily and good photos of Shermans in Burma.

One serious drawback however is that many vehicles are wrongly identified. Shermans can be hard to identify as the author himself states, he provides a summary of the different marks with a cross-reference list of American and British designations. Reading these shows that there are things he has assumed were specific to one type or another and he uses these points to identify the tanks in the photos. As a result, several tanks which are clearly M4A2 Sherman III or M4A4 Sherman V are described as M4 and even cases like a Vc being described as a Ic Hybrid. Old hands who know the small details which are used to tell one type from will spot these, but those who do not will be easily mislead.

There are also factual errors in the text, for example Fireflies were used in Normandy before they appeared in Italy later in 1944, and no M4A6 were supplied under Lend-Lease. The British designations of Sherman IIc, IIb and VIIc refer to types which never existed - namely M4A1 with 17pdr and 105mm guns and M4A6 17pdr respectively - while IVb and IVc - M4A3 105mm and 17pdr - though theoretically correct were only used in American service.

While these may seem like minor details, these points are raised to show pitfalls which could easily trap the unwary which do reduce the value of the book. They are not intended to detract from the hard work in selecting the photos and getting them into the public domain at a very reasonable cover price. If the captions have been better these errors could have been eliminated and what is a good book could well have become a very good or even a great one.

Despite these drawbacks, what we do have is a large collection of well-selected and clearly printed photos. As a source of information they should be welcomed by those interested in Shermans. As an attempt to put something other than the same well-used photos into print this book is a success. It is unfortunately let down by errors, maybe none of them are major in themselves but taken together they do reduce the value of the while and they could lead to others taking things as correct and repeating them which will only make the confuse worse.

Even with its faults I do recommend this book and I am happy to have bought a copy. The author and publisher have worked to produce a good selection of Sherman photos and that is what they have succeeded in doing. Add this one to your collection and you will have a good source of inspiration for models at a very reasonable price, though as a recognition guide to Sherman tanks it should be approached with caution

Page created 11 June 2005

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