Sherman Firefly Tank

Sherman Firefly

(Library and Archives Canada  Photo, MIKAN No. 3226344)

Cromwell and Sherman Vc Firefly tanks with their crews at dawn in Normandy, 25 July 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada  Photo, MIKAN No. 3224035.)

Sherman Ic Hybrid Firefly tank, 21st Canadian Armoured Regiment, Governor General’s Foot Guards (GGFG),  21 CAR, with the long barrel of the 17-pounder disguised with foliage.  There is an 8-barreled smoke grenade discharger mounted above the gun mantlet.  Germany, 11 April 1945.

The Sherman Firefly was in service with Canadian armour units during the Second World War. The Firefly was based on the American M4 Sherman tank, but was fitted with the more powerful British17-pounder anti-tank gun (3-inch (76.2 mm) calibre). The Sherman Firefly became the most common vehicle mounting the 17-pounder in the war. Once the difficulty of fitting such a large 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 Bernard Montgomery's 21st Army Group. The Firefly soon became highly valued, as its gun could almost always penetrate the armour of the German Panther and Tiger it faced in Normandy, something no other British Army tank could reliably do at that time. In recognition of this, German tank and anti-tank gun crews were instructed to attack Fireflies first. Because the Firefly had a visibly longer barrel, crews tried to it so the tank would look like  75 mm-gun Sherman from a distance. Between 2,100 and 2,200 were manufactured before production wound down in 1945.

Three different variants of Sherman Firefly served during the Second World War, each based on a different variant of the M4 Sherman. The Firefly conversion was carried out on Sherman I (M4), Sherman I Hybrid (M4 Composite) and Sherman V (M4A4) tanks. A few Canadian licence-built Sherman IIs (M4A1), named the Grizzly, 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 lengthened hull, and a larger gap between the suspension units. They employed the three-piece bolted transmission housing. The Sherman IC usually sported the cast transmission housing. The Hybrid can be distinguished by its upper hull, which is cast and gives it a distinctive curved look in comparison to the more boxy hull of a typical Sherman. (Wikipedia)

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3396461b)

Sherman Ic Hybrid Firefly tank armed with a 17-pounder Gun, 8th Princess Louise (New Brunswick) Hussars, 5th Canadian Armoured Division, en route to the Zuider Zee passing through Putten, Holland, 18 April 1945.  Firefly crews attempted to disguise the length of the 17-pounder gun barrel to confuse German anti-tank gunners by fitting a false muzzle brake half-way up the barrel and painted the forward portion in a counter-shaded pattern to give the illusion of a shorter gun barrel. Despite being a high priority target, Fireflies appear to have had a statistically lower chance of being knocked out than standard Shermans, probably due more to how they were employed than to the effectiveness of the camouflaging of the long barrel.

Panthers and Tigers accounted for only about 126 of the 2,300 German tanks deployed in Normandy; the rest being Panzer IVs, Sturmgeschutz III tank destroyers and other armoured vehicles that the 7 mm Shermans could penetrate. The importance C 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 per cent of the German armour deployed during the Battle of Normandy, as well as over half of the elite, well-equipped Panzer units. As a result, the Sherman Firefly was perhaps the most valued tank by British and Canadian commanders, as it was the only tank in the Allies armament able to reliably penetrate the frontal armour of Panthers and Tigers at the standard combat ranges in Normandy.

One example of this increased firepower was displayed by Lt. G. K. Henry's Firefly during the defence of Norrey-en-Bessin on 9 June against an attack by the 3rd Company of the 12th SS Panzer Regiment. Determined to capture the village in preparation for a larger offensive to drive the British and Canadians back into the sea, Kurt Meyer ordered 12 Panthers of the 3rd Company and infantry to attack Norrey and drive out the Canadians. The attack got under way at 1300 hours, with the Panthers racing towards the town at full speed, stopping only to fire their guns. They quickly outran their infantry support, which was forced to ground by Allied artillery fire. Within 1,000 m (1,100 yd) of the village, nine standard Shermans of the Canadian 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 Panthers with just six rounds. The attack was repulsed with the loss of seven of the 12 Panthers. (Marc Milner, Stopping the Panzers, (University of Kansas Press, 2014)

In his 2004 book, No Holding Back about Operation Totalize in Normandy in August 1944, author Brien A. Reid states that it is most likely that it was a Sherman Firefly belonging to A Squadron of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment that actually destroyed the German Tiger tank number 007 that was commanded by SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Michael Wittmann on 8 August 1944. Wittman was one of the highest scoring German tank commanders of the war.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3225569)

Sherman Firefly in Normandy, July 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3208394)

The Germans captured this Firefly tank late in the war, but ran out of fuel which gave this Canadian crew a chance to recover it. The troopers are with the 11th Armoured Regiment (Ontario Regiment), Lt. H.S. Nixon (on top), Sgt. T.W. McCutcheon (at side), and Tpr. E. Kobarnynka (in tank) driving, 10 May 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3396351)

Sherman Firefly of the Headquarters Squadron, The British Columbia Regiment, 4th Canadian Armoured Division, shelling a German position near Meppen, Germany, 8 April 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3224527)

Sherman Firefly of the Headquarters Squadron, The British Columbia Regiment, 4th Canadian Armoured Division, shelling a German position near Meppen, Germany, 8 April 1945.

Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3224528)

Sherman Firefly of the Headquarters Squadron, The British Columbia Regiment, 4th Canadian Armoured Division, shelling a German position near Meppen, Germany, 8 April 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3223023)

Tank crews of The British Columbia Dragoons lined up in front of their Sherman tanks during a review by General H.D.G. Crerar followed by a mounted marchpast, Eelde, Netherlands, 23 May 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3524764)

A pair of Sherman Firefly tanks signed 51, which was the Senior Armoured Regiment of 5th Canadian Armoured Division, Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) passing the saluting base in the review and marchpast given by the GOC in Command of the 1st Canadian Army, General Harry Crerar, at Eelde airport, Netherlands, 23 May 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4166576)

Final inspection of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division at Eelde Airfield, Netherlands, 23 May 1945.  Lined up are the tanks of the 5th Armoured Brigade, including the 2nd Armoured Regiment, Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), 8th Princess Louise's New Brunswick Hussars, and the British Columbia Dragoons.  Most of these are Sherman tanks with additional track on the glacis, interspersed with 17-pounder Firefly tanks, without the additional protection of welded-on track.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3202553)

Sherman Vc Firefly tank, LdSH (RC) with Dutch families gathered around them at Harderwijk, Netherlands, 19 April 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3524865)

Sherman Vc Firefly, LdSH (RC) tank crew, with Dutch women and children at Harderwijk, Netherlands, 19 April 1945.

(Author Photo)

M4A4 Sherman Firefly VC 17-pounder Monument 12e RBC.  This M4A4 is reported to have served with the Three Rivers Regiment in Sicily, Italy, and in the Netherlands during the Second World War. It was returned to Canada as a "War Trophy," and is on display as a monument in Trois Riviers, Quebec.  Its original 75-mm gun has been replaced with a 17-pounder anti-tank gun. The tank's original Serial Number is 5235, indicating it was accepted in Sep 1942.  The bullet splash plates on this tank are welded onto the air intake grill.   CFR No. WD CT150503, “Cathy”.  

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3207585)

Sherman Vc Firefly tank, Governor General's Foot Guards, Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands, 6 Nov 1944.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3524144)

Sherman Firefly tank of The Canadian Grenadier Guards, Almelo, Netherlands, 5 April 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3228088)

Sherman Vc Firefly tank of The Fort Garry Horse near the Beveland Canal, Netherlands, ca. 29 October 1944.  (Lt Ken Bell)

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, PA113675)

Sherman Ic hybrid Firefly tank, South Alberta Regiment, Calcar, Germany, Feb 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3207720)

Sherman Vc Firefly tank, 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) (6 CAR), Zetten, Netherlands, 20 Jan 1945. (L-R): Trooper Neil McDougall, Sergeant Tony Hornick, Troopers Johnnie Pritchard and Bill Stewart.

(National Digital Archives, Poland)

Sherman Vc Firefly tank, 1st Polish Armoured Division in the Netherlands, November 1944.

(National Digital Archives, Poland)

Sherman Vc Firefly tank, 2nd Polish Armoured Division, 1945.

(Library and Archives Canada  Photo, MIKAN No. 3226823)

Sherman Vc Firefly tank with turret reversed (larger storage box on the back of the turret), Sherbrooke Fusiliers, Caen, France, 11 July 1944.

(Doug Knight Photo)

Grizzly tank with 17-pounder Firefly turret, (Serial No. 65), one of a kind prototype, CFB Borden Military Museum, Ontario.

(US Army Center of Military History Photo)

British Firefly patrolling the banks of the River Meuse, Namur, France, 1944.

(IWM Photo, B 15229)

A Sherman Firefly drives through, Geldern, Germany, 6 March 1945.

(IWM Photo, B 9477)

A Sherman Firefly and other vehicles in the village of Putanges, France, 20 August 1944.

(IWM Photo, B 9806)

A Sherman Firefly tank of 11th Armoured Division crossing the Seine at Vernon, 30 August 1944.

(IWM Photo, B 13283)

Sherman Firefly dug-in near Gangelt, on the Dutch/German border, 1 January 1945.

(IWM Photo, B 5546)

A Sherman Firefly tank alongside a hedge, 16 June 1944.

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