Hundreds of Sherman tanks have seen service with the Israeli Armoured Corps since its inception in 1948 and most of them underwent intensive modifications to keep them in pace with more modern adversaries. Some of them were in active service with the Israelis over thirty years after they came off the assembly lines in the USA.
First Israeli Shermans
During the last days of the British Mandate in the late Spring of 1948, the withdrawing British rearguard concentrated around Haifa awaiting embarkation from Haifa Harbor. The whole Haifa Bay area had been built up during WWII as a vast rear base with numerous supply and maintenance bases which amassed thousands of vehicles including many hundreds of AFVs. Unable to evacuate all the AFVs, the British Army decided to destroy them or render them not serviceable. Vast ammunition stocks were sunk in the bay and the AFVs were towed up the Carmel road and pushed over a ridge where they rolled down several hundred meters into a deep wadi resulting in their destruction. The British 1st Airborne Squadron R.E. was charged with destroying over 600 AFVs in this matter. However, one M4A2 Sherman managed to escape destruction.
For several weeks, the Israeli arms acquisition group at Haifa had watched the destruction of the AFVs from a distance and decided to try to acquire some of the spoils at any cost before the British evacuated from Haifa. Contact was made with the British, a deal was made and a clandestine exchange was arranged. As the British paratroopers loaded a Sherman onto their tank transporter at No. 142 Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) base depot at Tira, south of Haifa, a Jewish acquisition crew silently crept up the mountain road and maneuvered their makeshift transporter into a small grove and awaited for their British counterparts to arrive. Soon the noise of the British transporter was heard as it came around the bend. Quickly the Sherman was winched onto the Israeli transporter, covered with a tarp and the new owners rapidly drove down the coastal road towards Tel Aviv. The British engineers continued up the road, signed the form confirming the destruction of another AFV while their officers remain none the wiser.
The newly acquired Sherman was not exactly what they expected. After they arrived safely at the ex-British REME field park at the Eastern Fair Grounds in North Tel Aviv, the Israeli technicians hastily uncovered their purchase. Instead of being a combat ready battle tank, it was a worthless bulk of steel, lacking guns, optical equipment, the engine was not serviceable, and several bogey wheels and track plates were missing. Having served with the RAOC and later REME repair workshops in Egypt and Palestine during WWII, the Israeli fitters were not discouraged. Acquisition groups were immediately dispatched to the evacuated REME dumps at Bet Nabala near Lydda where fighting with the Arabs was in full swing. Roaming around the junk heaps while under fire, they found what they needed except for track plates. They dragged their spoils to a waiting truck and quickly drove back to Tel Aviv. The British had laid out hundreds of track plates on the beaches in Haifa Bay near the Kurdane RAOC Base workshops to allow movement over the soft sand. A truck raced along the coastal road and found the tracks were still buried in the sand. A suitable section of track was selected, manhandled aboard the truck and was brought back. The then running M4A2 Sherman was given the name “Tamar” after a girlfriend of one of the technicians. “Tamar” is a female name of Hebrew origin meaning “date” (the fruit), “date palm” or just “palm tree”. There are three characters in the Bible with this name.
At that time fighting around the city of Jenin in the northern west bank was intensifying and AFVs were badly needed to repel Arab assaults on nearby kibbutzim (communal settlements in Israel, typically farms). Soon the first Israeli Sherman tank would be ready but it was still unarmed. To enable the Sherman to engage in its first battle, it was considered to mount a 20mm Hispano Suiza gun on top of the turret but it would been an inconvenience and dangerous for the crew to reload or clear the gun outside the turret while under fire. Luckily, some 75mm M3 guns had arrived from arms dumps in Italy. One was selected and fitted into “Tamar’s” turret. Meanwhile, divers dived in Haifa Bay to retrieve 75mm ammunition which the Royal Navy had dumped in it several months earlier. The ammunition was laid out to dry and later found to perform surprising well. “Tamar” still lacked optical equipment; only peritelescopes were available for gunnery at the time which ruled out any accurate laying of the 75mm gun.
Another Sherman had joined “Tamar” making a total of four “heavy tanks” including two ex-8th RTR Cromwells which were acquired from their camp at Haifa aerodrome just before the British left the country. The second Sherman was a M4A1 Continental engine tank also acquired from British ordnance dumps, reconditioned, and fitted with a newly arrived 75mm M3 gun. It was quickly made ready for action and was named “Meir”. “Meir” is a Jewish masculine given name and an occasional surname which means “one who shines”.
The four “heavy tanks” went into action with the 82th battalion of the newly formed 8th Armoured Brigade and all were manned by British crews (all veteran tankers). They seen immediate action in the capture of Bear Sheba and the southern Negev. Following along the old Roman track to Auja el Hafir, the Shermans pounced on the Egyptian garrison and overwhelm them after a brief encounter. After Auja was captured, the two Shermans and one Cromwell drove into the Sinai and for the first time in the Israel-Arab war, smashed into the Abu Agheila junction which was only lightly held by Egyptians who fled when the noisy steel monsters approached. Moving on in the direction of El-Arish, the two Shermans in vanguard as the Cromwell had broken down, approached the El-Arish aerodrome. There “Tamar” had lost a track and stalled. The crew tried to replace the broken track but without the proper tools were not able to. Due to political pressure, a hasty withdrawal from the Sinai was ordered and the cherished “Tamar” was destroyed by its then British-Israeli crew. The wreck was never retrieved from its resting place since those early days in 1948. The Israeli forces had passed that vary spot in two future campaigns, in 1956 and 1967, where many young tanks crews were unaware that the rusty wreck by the roadside near the El-Arish aerodrome was the forefather of their current tank mistaking it as just another wreck in the war-torn desert.
More Sherman tanks began arriving in Israel having been purchased by sharp-eyed acquisition crews who roamed surplus and scrap dumps around the world. Tanks were obtained from US surplus dumps as far away as the Philippines. A number of 105mm Howitzer Shermans were found in US 5th Army dumps in Italy that were used for infantry support. But the US Army had demilitarized most of their war surplus material where holes were drilled into the gun barrels rendering them unable to fire. A makeshift solution was developed, by slipping tight fitting metal sleeves over the defective gun barrels. Although able to fire, their combat effectiveness was very limited. Laying of the guns was done by using interior azimuth indicator and clinometrics used in artillery ranging for HE ammunition only as the optical equipment needed for direct laying on targets as well as AT ammunition was scarce.
During the early 1950’s, the Arab nations started receiving more modern tanks mostly from the Soviet Union. The Egyptians had received T-34s, SU-100s and some SU-152s which demonstrated the inadequacy of the current Israeli tanks armed with the old 75mm guns. The French attitude towards Isreal drastically changed as tensions intensified in North Africa with the Algerians who had Egyptian support in their attempts to oust French colonialists from the Maghreb regions. The French, in an effort to stem Egypt’s support to Algeria, agreed to supply Israel with 250 modern tanks which included surplus M4A1 Shermans (VVSS and HVSS) armed with 76.2mm guns. They started arriving in Israel in early 1956, some time before the Sinai Campaign. The Israelis renamed these Shermans the M1 or the “Super Sherman.”
During the early 1950’s, the French developed a fast firing 75mm tank gun which was a development of the powerful German 7.5cm Kwk 42 (L/70) which armed the Panther in WWII. While the German gun reached a muzzle velocity of over 900 m/sec with AT ammunition, the new French CN 75-50 gun topped 1000 m/sec. The French mounted the new high velocity (HV) 75mm gun on an oscillating turret which became their air portable AMX-13 light tank and as part of their agreement supplied a number of AMX-13s to Israel which was superior to the mere 600 m/sec muzzle velocity of the old WWII 75mm gun. But the Israelis had reservations as to the combat efficiency of the AMX-13 tank with its cramped two-man turret and an unreliable ammunition auto loader. So the French had agreed to sell just the new gun to Israel. Similar to the British late WWII Sherman “Firefly” mounting the 17 pounder, the Israelis ordnance experts developed a similar solution to mount the French CN 75-50 in their Shermans. Several prototypes were built and tested. The final model was ready in early 1955 and in the summer of 1955 was the first trail firing took place. Late in 1955, the Israeli ordnance depot setup the first construction line and the first 50 Shermans were modified.
By mid-1956, one company of the newly designated M50 Shermans were delivered to a reserve brigade for combat evaluation. Soon afterward, this company took part in the battles of Abu Agheila in the Sinai Campaign (see below). Following the campaign, several final modifications were made then the final version of the early design M50 was reached. By then, the French foundries supplied castings regularly and the production line started in earnest. In 1959, the first battalion of M50s were ready and delivered to the 82nd Battalion where most of them were based on the M4A4 Sherman with Continental engines.
By the late 1950’s, the M50 with narrow tracks and VVSS suspensions and overloaded Continental engines, lacking spare parts, began breaking down under the burden of the new gun and the additional load placed on them. The Israelis began a search for a new engine suitable for tanks. After several options were examined, the Cummings 460 hp diesel engine, manufactured in Columbus, Indiana, USA was selected. A M4A3 hull was purchased, its engine compartment was cut out and the new engine fitted in place of the water cooled Ford V8 GAA engine. The M4A3 was the most suitable for the new engine because they originally had radiators whereas the smaller M4 hulls had none. A frantic search for M4A3 hulls began and all over the world surplus dumps were visited again. Hundreds of M4A3 hulls were purchased from dump owners scratching their heads in amazement since they only get an occasional buyer for the rusty hulls. By late 1959, the Cummings deal was signed and in early 1960, the first batch of the new engines arrived in Israel to be installed into the awaiting hulls.
Walk Around: Prime Portal M50 Super Sherman
Walk Around: Cybermodeler Online M50 Super Sherman
Video: EDEN CAMPS M-50 SHERMAN TANK HISTORY & WALK AROUND
The Soviet arms deal was gaining momentum and the Egyptians received their first batch of JS-3 (also “Joseph Stalin” or “Iosef Stalin” IS-3) tanks with heavy armor and mounting a hard hitting 122mm gun. The M50 with the French CN 75-50 gun could counter the Soviet T-54 quite effectively but was no match for the JS-3 so the Israelis started to search for their next Sherman upgrade.
The French armament industry had just developed a new tank gun, the CN 105 FI, a 105mm, 56 caliber (almost 6 meters long) rifled gun designed to fire a shaped-charge HEAT round. Up to then, shaped-charge ammunition had been fired through smooth-bore barrels such as recoil-less or rocket-propelled systems but the French devised a technique by which the round was gyro stabilized through an anti-spin device, by means of ball bearing fitted into the barrel grooves. As the ball bearings rotated, the round passed through the barrel, firmly non-rotating, and upon exiting its initial muzzle velocity was 1000 m/sec, the highest ever achieved for that type of ammunition. The Israelis immediately realized the potential of the new gun and found it perfect for their needs. However, the original CN 105 FI which was the armament of the French new AMX-30 main battle tank was too long and its muzzle velocity was too high for it to operate effectively in a modified Sherman turret due to the lack of space to handle the recoil. The solution was to shorten the barrel by 1.5 meters and accept the compromise of the lower muzzle velocity of 800 m/sec. The new modified gun was designated the D1504 with L/44 Caliber and it required the manufacture of special ammunition which brought about an accelerated ammunition manufacturing capability in Israel.
Major modification were necessary in order to mount the new 105mm gun in the Sherman turret, much more compared to what was encountered with the mounting of the new 75mm. Also, it was vital to upgrade the obsolete Sherman in all aspects in order to make it a more viable and effective combat vehicle to counter the more modern Soviet tanks. The decision was made to reconstruct a completely new tank bringing it up to date with as many of the current technical innovations as possible. The new design had the Cummings 460 hp diesel engine, wide T-80 tracks with E8 HVSS suspension and the D1504 L/44 gun as the main armament. For convenience and standardization, the later M4A1 hull was initially were used mainly because large quantities were available and they had the larger turret which originally mounted the 76.2mm gun. During firing trails of the prototype, it was discovered that the pressure of the newly designed gun modifications and the resulting recoil shock made it require a muzzle break. Over 2500 work hours were spent on reconstructing the M51 which the new tank was designated. The M51 was also referred to as the “Isherman” (i.e. Israeli Sherman). However, theses names were never used by the Israelis for the M50 or M51.
Walk Around: Prime Portal M51 Super Sherman
Sinai Campaign, 29 October – 5 November 1956
Mounting tensions between Israel and Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula emanated from Egyptian policies. Egypt was systematically encouraging terror attacks (by Palestinian Fedayeen) from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilian targets and blocking the Tiran Straits preventing Israeli shipping from accessing the Red Sea. On 29 October, Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip.
BATTLE OF ABU AGHEILA 1956
The first M50s to see combat did so under extremely unfortunate circumstances. They had been delivered for combat tests shortly before the campaign to B Company, 82nd Tank Battalion, 7th Armoured Brigade and underwent rigorous training by the order of the battalion commander Lt. Colonel (later Major General) “Bren” Adan. The M50s spearheaded the battalion through Daika Pass following the Brigade’s recce group smashed the Egyptian 6th Infantry Brigade’s defenses around Abu Agheila and mounted a quick pre-dusk assault on Ruafa Dam which was defended by two Egyptian infantry companies and some AT guns. After taking all around defensive positions, Adan’s battalion dug in and waited for an Egyptian counterattack from both El-Arish to the west where the Egyptian 3rd Infantry Division had assembled strong forces and from Um Sheikhan to the northeast where the Egyptian 10th Motorized Battalion was approaching from. During the next day, several battles developed where both sides used Sherman tanks. The new M50 proved to be adequate by knocking out several Egyptian M4s. But at 1200 hrs, another column of Shermans approached along the Kuseima-Abu Agheila road. The M50 company commander, in his hull down position and unaware that the approaching Shermans might not be Egyptian, opened fire from over 1000 meters with devastating results. After seeing the Sherman column hit, he ordered one tank platoon to maneuver to flank the column and 8 tanks were knocked out in a few minutes.
Suddenly, a Harvard trainer (North American AT-6 Texan) swooped down low over Adan’s battalion; the pilot while screaming at the tankers, waggled his wings, waving frantically and pointing towards the direction of the burning column. The M50 company commander immediately ordered his crews to cease fire. Racing forward in his jeep followed by his tankers, he approached the burning hulks on the highway. He then realized, in horror, that he had fired upon the 5th company of the newly-created 37th Armoured Brigade which was moving up unannounced. Several crewmen, all known to the 82nd battalion, had been killed in the horrible tragedy. The incident was not forgotten by the Israeli tank crews for a long time after that.
During the campaign, air recognition markings were painted on some Israeli vehicles. Some of the M50s had a blue St. Andrews cross, outlined in white, painted on their engine deck. There were a few variations of these markings and here are a couple.
Film: The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive – Operation Sinai
Film: The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive – Operation Kadech
While the Israeli Armor Corps increased in size, several marking systems were used. In 1959, the final marking system was introduced and based on using a chevron represent the company in the battalion which was painted in white either on the turret or the hull sides. The direction which the chevron is pointing determined the company. The number of stripes on the gun barrel also indicated the company number.
The individual tanks in the platoon were marked by a combination of the platoon number and Hebrew letters “A”, “B” and “C”. The tank of the platoon commander was marked with only the platoon number. When the number of tanks in the platoon was increased to 5, the letter “D” was included. Sometimes the tactical numbers were painted on a section of canvas and was attached to the turret side.
The later air recognition marking was a wide white strip outlined on both sides with thin black lines painted down the center line of the turret and sometimes also along the center of the engine deck. Several variations and combinations were used on various Israeli armour vehicles.
SIX DAY WAR, JUNE 1967
Battle of the Dothan Valley, Samaria on the West Bank
Northern Command (West Bank) – General Elazar
“Peled” Ugda (Division) – General Peled
45th Armoured Brigade – Colonel Moshe Bar-Kochva
- 39th Tank Battalion (4 Companies) with M50/M51 Sherman
- Two Armoured Infantry Battalions (25th and 74th) in half-tracks
- Three 120mm mortar batteries in half-tracks
- One Jeep-mounted reconnaissance company
37th Armoured Brigade – Colonel Uri Ram
- One Tank Battalion with CenturionOne Tank Battalion with AMX-13s
- One Tank Battalion with AMX-13s
9th Reserved Infantry Brigade – Colonel Aharon Avnon
1st Emira Anya Infantry Brigade
25th “Khaled al Walid” elite Infantry Brigade
12th “Jarmouk” Infantry Brigade
6th Infantry Brigade
Independent Tank Regiments – supported the infantry units
- 12th Tank Regiment with M47 Pattons
- 10th Tank Regiment with Centurions (20 pdrs)
40th Armoured Brigade – Rakan Yazi
- 2nd Armoured Regiment with M48/M48A1 Pattons.
- 4th Armoured Regiment with M48/M48A1 Pattons.
- 8th SP Artillery Battalion with three M52 155mm SPs
During the afternoon of June 5, Ugda Peled was ordered to eliminate the Jordanian 155mm ‘Long Tom’ field guns positioned at Burquin and Ya’bad that were shelling the Ramat David airbase in the Jezreel Valley and the vital Wadi Ara road. The task was given to the 45th Armoured Brigade and at 1700hrs began its assault on the Jordanian outer positions and moved through dense olive groves. The leading Sherman platoon commanded by Lieutenant Morke followed by 74th Armoured Infantry halftracks passed several Jordanian outposts and sprayed them with MG fire. One of the tank commanders spotted something hidden in an olive grove which appeared to be an artillery gun position. Without hesitation, he charged in with his tank and fired, blowing up an enemy ammunition cache with a tremendous explosion. Later it turned out to be one of the ‘Long Tom’ field gun positions. Morke was frantically searching for an opening in the woods for his tanks. He directed his tank along what turned out to be an old goat track which was barely visible and the only way through. Suddenly, they came under heavy enemy small arms fire which they responded with coaxial and .50-calibre MG fire. The sun was setting and the dust which their tracks raised made visibility even move difficult. Half of the tanks were lost behind an impassable traffic jam as they tried to squeeze through a small village in the dark. The lead tank had taken a wrong turn and got hopelessly lost. With no time to locate his missing tanks, Morke decided to press on with just six Shermans towards the Jordanian positions on Burquin Hill.
The Shermans were driving in total darkness through the olive grove when suddenly the tank commander of the lead tank flicked on his Xenon searchlight and to their shocking surprise, about 50 meters away it illuminated the huge bulk of an enemy M47 with its 90mm gun pointing
directly at them. Both the lead Sherman and the M47 fired simultaneously and both missed. The lead Sherman reloaded first and fired again scoring a direct hit on the M47 causing it to explode in a large ball of fire which lit up the entire area. The explosion flash revealed several more enemy tanks moving about on the hill. Morke immediately ordered his six Shermans to spread out in line and charge towards the enemy tanks on the hill. There was total confusion and the enemy seemed to been taken by surprise having no night vision devices. The Shermans kept flicking on and off their Xenon searchlights as they stormed the M47s deployed on the hill. A Jordanian ammunition truck exploded, lighting up the whole battle scene as the Shermans charged recklessly into the fray with all gun blazing. Soon enemy tanks were burning all over the hill, their surviving crews scrambling out of their blazing hulks. Within minutes, they destroyed an entire company of M47s losing just a single Sherman, its crew just received minor wounds. Burquin Hill was theirs that night.
Around midnight on June 5, Israeli intelligence intercepted enemy radio transmissions that indicated the Jordanian 40th Armoured Brigade was advancing along two axes directly towards the 45th Armoured brigade. Kabatiya Junction was a vital strategic objective because it dominated the valley and all the surrounding area. As dawn approached, the race began where the first force which got there first would probably win the battle. The Israeli Air Force had air superiority over the area after wiping out the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian Air Forces on the afternoon of June 5. Advancing along two axes, the 45th Armoured brigade followed by 9th Reserved Infantry Brigade made their way south towards Ya’abad to the west and Jenin to the east. Bar-Kochva’s armoured infantry had a fierce battle with the Jordanians but eventually secured the area then moved to take Kabatiya Junction to cut off Jenin from most of the West Bank. The Jordanians counterattacked and tried to envelop Bar-Kochva’s forces from both flanks in a night attack but the Shermans with determined crews were more than a match for the Jordanian M48 Pattons caused them to withdraw in disorder. Then the combined Israeli brigades advanced in Jenin which was defended by about 30 M47s of the 47th Tank Battalion. The battle raged all night before Jenin was taken and Bar-Kochva’s forces finally occupied the vital ground to the south-east and south-west of the town.
On June 6, the 37th Armoured Brigade moved to the east of Jenin to open up the Jenin-Tubas road and then would advance to Nablus from the northeast. Initially they broke through the enemy AT gun screen and took Tilfit but were then engaged at long range by enemy tanks. A duel ensued which lasted throughout the day. The Jordanian positions had excellent coverage of the road and commanded the entire valley. Small Israeli armoured patrols were sent down into the valley in an attempt to draw enemy fire so their positions could be determined by their gun flashes and that continued throughout the day. Then at dusk, a Jordanian tank squadron was spotted moving its position and was hit by a highly effective air strike which set a number of the enemy tanks on fire. At last light, while using the burning tanks as reference points, a night attack was mounted and managed to reach the village of Akabar. Then the brigade advanced and captured Tubas in a surprise assault.
Meanwhile, the Jordanian sector command called for reinforcements and two tank regiments of the 40th Armoured Brigade were on their way westward from the Damiya Bridge in a two pronged advance. The 4th Tank Regiment with supporting SP artillery and infantry pushed forward through Tubas towards Kabatiya Junction while the 2nd Tank Regiment advanced to the intersection at Araba. Although Jenin was captured the Israelis during the night, the Israelis were not able to link up with their forces due to the advance of the 40th Armoured Brigade. The Israeli brigade commander then suspended operations in Jenin and withdrew his armour into a position with all-around defense on a nearby hill. He then ordered two flights of IAF Super Mysteres to strike the Jordanians on their flank and at Kabatiya while he reorganized and resupplied his forces. However, the Jordanian commander realized what was happening and ordered a two-prong counterattack on the Israeli hill top position. One prong made a frontal attack on the Israeli hilltop while the other attacked from Araba to the southwest to cut off the Israeli armour supply route. The southern prong attacked and knocked out several Israeli engineer half-tracks but several Jordanian Pattons were then knocked out at close range by Israeli Shermans which stalled the attack. The frontal attack also stalled due to heavy Israeli fire and several more Jordanian tanks were knocked out.
The coup de grâce was an Israeli column of AMX-13 tanks, a company of Centurions, and some Shermans of the 37th Armoured Brigade, which moved along a track into the rear of the Jordanian brigade. The column bypassed an enemy AT blocking position and surprised the Jordanians who then broke and retreated. After their hard climb up and over the rocky hill, they eventually reached their objective and by midnight had knocked out over 35 Jordanian M48s and several M113 APCs at Sebeda to the east of Kabatiya Junction. By the next evening, only eight Jordanian tanks managed to make their way back across the Jordan River. Six Jordanian officers and 73 soldiers were KIA and more than 320 soldiers were WIA.
BATTLE FOR JERUSALEM
M1 Shermans of the 29th Tank Battalion attached to the 6th “Etzioni” (Regulars) / 16th “Jerusalem” Infantry Brigade (Reservists) provided fire support during the battle for Mount Scopus.
Film: The Battle for Jerusalem (Survival of a Nation)
Film: Jerusalem – 1967 – The Six-Day War
From left to right, the Israeli paratroopers in the photograph are Zion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat, and Haim Oshri. They were reservists of the 66th Battalion, 55th Paratrooper Brigade and are the first three Jews to reach the Western Wall and stand beside it in almost 1,900 years.
Israeli intelligence reports indicated the presence of the Jordanian 60th Armoured Brigade between Jerusalem and Jericho (northeast of Jerusalem). The 95th Tank Battalion had a difficult route to negotiate which was a little more of a steep rocky goat track. The Centurion company was ordered to lead the advance since the Centurion had a higher ground clearance than the Shermans over the boulder covered track. Without any form of night vision equipment, all 12 Centurions were stuck on the rocks or immobilized by broken tracks. The Shermans took over the lead of the advance. Despite mines, boulders and obstacles up a steep slope, only six Shermans and a half of a mechanized infantry company were able to clamber onto the ridge line. Suddenly from behind a hill, two squadrons (companies) of Jordanian M48 Pattons of the 60th Armoured Brigade armed with 90mm guns opened fire. One Sherman was immediately hit, but the other Israeli tanks reacted quickly. Knowing that their 75mm gun was no match for the frontal armor of the M48, the Israelis maneuvered their lighter Shermans around the stationary Pattons to fire at their less armoured sides. The Jordanian tanks were still fitted with auxiliary fuel drum racks on the rear engine deck intended for road march and should been discarded prior to battle. The Sherman tank fire was lethal and six M48s quickly burst into flames. The remaining Pattons retreated towards Jericho with 11 left abandoned.
The following two M51 Shermans belong to a company from the 60th Armoured Brigade that were transferred from the southern command in the Sinai to assist the M1 Shermans tank unit, the 182nd central command armour battalion. The tanks have mismatched chevrons and the number of stripes on the gun barrels. They have large improvised 5th platoon tactical markings hand painted in white paint.
GOLAN HEIGHTS 1967
After the conquest of the Judea and Samaria areas, M50 and M51 Shermans began moving north toward the northern border with Syria to take part in the battles over the Golan Heights. The tracks up to the Golan escarpment were not suited for heavy AFVs so AMX-13s and Shermans were used in the initial assault.
Southern Command – Brig. General Gavish
“Tal” Ugda (84th Armoured Division) – Brig. General Tal
- 7th Armoured Brigade – Colonel Gonen (88 Centurions & 66 Pattons)
- 60th Armoured Brigade – Colonel Aviram (86 Shermans & AMX-13s)
- 202nd Paratroop Brigade – Colonel Eitan
“Yolfe” Ugda (38th Armoured Division) – Brig. General Yolfe
- 14th Armoured Brigade – Colonel Zippori
- 99th Infantry Brigade – Colonel Adam
- 80th Paratroop Brigade – Colonel Matt
M51 Shermans of the 60th Armoured Brigade supported the 202nd Paratroop Brigade riding in half-tracks during the advance towards Rafah Junction. However, the M51s and AMX-13s of the brigade got stuck in the sand dunes south of Rafah and did not take part in the fighting.
BATTLE OF ABU AGEILA/UM KATEF, 5-6 June 1967
The Egyptian defenses at Um Katef which protected the strategic crossroads at Abu Agelia was among the strongest in the Sinai Peninsula. Constructed according to Soviet tactical specifications, three parallel fortified lines were about 5 km (3 miles) wide built with mutually supporting trench lines, dug in tanks, AT guns and MG positions all protected by surrounding minefields. During the night battle, M50/M51 Shermans of the 14th Armoured Brigade supported the Israeli paratrooper and infantry attack by illuminating the enemy trench lines with their searchlights and provided direct fire support. By daybreak, the positions were subdued and mopping up operations continued for most of the following morning.
While the M50/M51 Shermans were fighting at Um Katef, the Centurion battalion of the 14th Armoured Brigade advanced and neutralized the Abu Ageila strongpoint. They then moved south to link up with the Sherman battalion and the two battalions would be ready to deal with any Egyptian counterattack. Unlike the tragic fatal incident which occurred in the 1956 campaign, the Shermans which were delayed by minefields and other obstacles were able to break through the Um Katef position and approach their planned meeting point. At the same time, Colonel Zippori began to receive radio messages from both the battalion commanders that they were heavy fire and they were going to return fire. Zippori immediately ordered the Sherman battalion to cease firing so they can determine if they were firing at each other by mistake. The Centurion commander then reported that he was still receiving fire which turned out to be some Egyptian tank reserves which had moved into the area. Then followed was a confused, fierce tank battle in the pitch dark night. By dawn, the defenses of Abu Ageila-Um Katef were destroyed with long columns of Egyptian vehicles fleeing westward and which were soon attacked by the Israeli Air Force.
This is the Company commander’s tank with the registration number 810239. A shaved head crewman is handing a massive 105 round to his crew mate. Note the oversized chevron painted over the stowage tool box and on the hull. Since it is in the middle of battle, the grenade launchers on the turret are loaded with live uncovered grenades.
This is a close up of M51 with the registration number 75203. A crew member on the ground has thrown a food ration box to his comrade standing inside the loader’s hatch. The box can be seen in the air just below the gun barrel. The large searchlight over the main gun is protected by a special canvas cover. In the background, the leading half-track of a logistic convoy is seen passing on the road.
A tank crew member is carrying .30 Caliber MG ammunition boxes and in the background are 105mm rounds removed from their protective shipping tubes. The other soldiers on and around the supply truck are unloading and opening the ammunition for the tankers to retrieve.
Film: Cease-fire ends 6 day Arab-Israeli War
Following the Six Day War, the front line tanks battalions were re-equipped with modified M48s and later M60s or Israeli refitted Centurions. The M50s ans M51s remained with the mechanized and reserve brigades. The M1 76.2mm Shermans equipped special border defense units. Many Shermans were rebuilt as self-propelled weapon carriers and for other special armoured vehicles based on the Sherman chassis.
The Israeli Trail Blazer (Gordon) was a recovery/engineering vehicle based on HVSS based M4A1s which had a large single boom crane (as opposed to the A-Frame of the M32). It was able to tow up to 72 tons.
Film: Sherman M51 (105mm) – Israel 1971
Film: Semiorugas y Shermans M50, Israel 1972
YOM KIPPER WAR, October 1973
Although the Sherman were considered obsolete against the modern Soviet T-55 and T-62 tanks, however they performed excellently on both fronts, especially on the Golan Heights where they knocked out a number of Syrian T-55s. The Centurion crews watched, some shaking their heads with doubt, as the Sherman crews went into action but once the familiar report of the Sherman cannons was heard, the results spoke for themselves and there was no longer doubt of their effectiveness.
Film: Golan Heights Yom Kippur War 1973
M50/M51’s were used in the Mechanized brigades and in the 19th Reserve Armoured Brigade.
M50 Shermans: 190
Equipped the single tank battalions in the 4th, 11th, 670th, and 875th Mechanized Brigades.
M51 Shermans: 145
Equipped the 164th Armored Brigade (3 battalions) and a single tank battalion of the 9th Mechanized Brigade.
A M51 Sherman speeds pass the destroyed remains of a truck and a T-55 or T-62 tank (probably Egyptian). The chevron indicate Company C and on the turret is the Hebrew letter “B” as part of the tactical number.
Major Saad Haddad was the founder and head of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) during the Lebanese Civil War. Haddad’s militia collaborated with Israel and received the bulk of its arms, equipment, supplies and ordnance from Israel. The SLA received a number of ex-Israeli M50 Shermans when the Palestinian terrorist forces (PLO) in southern Lebanon were supplied T-34 tanks (but had not used them operationally).
“The Big Red One” (1980) written and directed by Samuel Fuller starring Lee Marvin co-starring Mark Hamill (Star Wars Fame) and Robert Carradine.
It was produced independently on a low budget, shot on location in Israel and was heavily cut on its original release, A restored version, “The Big Red One: The Reconstruction” added 47 minutes to the film’s running time and premiered at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.
The German Tiger tanks in this movie were Israeli M51HV tanks based on the M4A1E8 Sherman. The Israeli tank crewmen were wearing modern tanker helmets with microphones. In the one winter scene from the reconstructed version, the German tank was an Israeli M50 converted from an M4 Sherman and the tank commander was in a German uniform. Note that all the M51s in the movie had a single white stripe on the gun barrel.
Film Trailer: The Big Red One
The M51 Sherman in the cross scene in the movie. Unteroffizier (Sergeant) Schroeder (actor Siegfried Rauch) sets up the ambush around the knocked out Tiger tank near the large cross.
M51 SHERMANS TODAY
Video: M51 Super Sherman in action at Santa Fe event 2010
Video: M51 Super Sherman Restoration Part 1
Video: M51 Super Sherman Restoration Part 2
Video: M51 Super Sherman, T34-85, Marder III, T54 Tanks Rolling at Capel
Video: war and peace 2017 m51 Super Sherman only vid
MODEL KITS AND DECALS
Tamiya 56031 M51 Super Sherman – 2010
Academy 13254 M51 SUPER SHERMAN – 2xxx
Cyber Hobby 9122 Israeli M50 Super Sherman – 2010
(Bonus + Israeli Paratroopers)
Dragon 3528 Israeli M50 Super Sherman – 1996
Dragon 3529 M51 Isherman – 1997
MP Models 10101 Israeli M-50 Sherman – 1985
Tamiya 35322 M1 Super Sherman Israeli Tank – 2011
Tamiya 35323 Israeli Tank M51 – 2012
Star Decals 35-C1226 Israeli AFVs # 9. M51 Super Sherman.
Bison Decals 72041 M50 Super Shermans Six Day War 1967
Bison Decals 72042 Israeli M51 Super Shermans Six Day War 1967
5 thoughts on “Israeli Super Shermans”
another great write up on a fantastic tank!
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Algunos de esos Super Shermans pasaron a servir al ejército de Chile en la década de 1980. Aparte de uno que otro en algún museo, el resto terminó en el desierto de Atacama como blanco de tiro de los Leopard IIA4. Muy buena investigación, se agradece.
Some of those Super Shermans went on to serve the Chilean army in the 1980s. Apart from one in some museum, the rest ended up in the Atacama Desert as a target of the Leopard IIA4. Very good research, thank you.
a few months ago I was going to write about Israel Sherman. this work of yours is very beautiful and interesting: I did not know the history of the tracks
Thanks for an outstanding, well-researched article. One correction: the caption on one of the photos of the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem says it was too narrow for a Sherman tank to pass through. The first Sherman that breached the gate actually did enter the Old City through the Lion’s Gate. It was such a tight fit that the 5-gallon gas cans on the side of the tank were crushed and gasoline spilled over the side of the tank. The tank didn’t stay in the city for long and reversed back out of the gate. There is a photo showing the tank about 2/3 out of the gate inside the city. I’d have included it if there was a way to post photos in the comments.
The title Super Sherman was officially confined to the M1 Super Sherman. This was the standard 76mm M4A1 with HVSS, effectively M4A1E8. M1s and M1 Supers were converted to M51s. The M50 and M51 were never known as Super Sherman (and none of them was ever known as iSherman). This is a common mistake and misapprehension.