Tanks as a Product of the Pre-War Industrial Base
The Lonely Leader; Monty, 1944-1945, Alistaire Horne, 1994
It is a truism that, in a peace-orientated democracy, the panoply of war generally reflects the civilian industrial base rather than that which it requires ideally to win a war. But, as Correlli Barnett acidly notes, the pre-war British motor-vehicle industry 'had concentrated on small family cars and light vans, suitable for a sedate Sunday outing to the seaside and deliveries of groceries...'. Detroit was perhaps equally open to blame. The thirty-ton M-4 Sherman, whose surprise advent on the battlefield had helped turn the tide in the desert in 1942, had all the merits and defects of the US automobile industry such as Ralph Nader in the 1960s had savaged as 'Unsafe At Any Speed'. It could be mass-produced in vast numbers; it was fast (30 m.p.h.) and spaciously comfortable (until it 'brewed up') for crews, compared with the British Cromwells; but it had an uncomfortably high profile in battle. It had inadequate armour, easily caught fire and mounted a 75mm gun descended with little modification from the famous piece that had been the mainstay of the French Army in 1914 - though too light even then. Excellent in 1942, by 1944 it was totally outclassed, capable of penetrating only 68mm of armour, the German Panther, star of Normandy, boasted 100 mm of well-sloped frontal armour, while its long 75mm KwK 42 could penetrate 118mm of armour at 1000 yards - and the Sherman had only 68mm of frontal protection. The main fault of the Panther, and even more of the heavier (58 ton) Tiger, lay in the slow traverse of its turrets, so the best chance the Allied Shermans and Cromwells had in Normandy was when three or four could each take on one of the superior German Panzers - much as the three little British cruisers - Ajax, Achilles and Exeter - had worried to death the mighty Graf Spee in the Battle of the River Plate.