Key point: America's Sherman tank was badly outmatched by the German Panzer.
“We had been assured by our officers before we invaded France in 1944,” recorded Bill Harris, “that our Sherman tanks could take care of any Nazi armor we met there.”
Harris, a tank gunner in the U.S. 2nd Armored Division, had been told over and over again that the American M4 Sherman Medium Tank (the Allies’ main battle tank) was as good, if not superior, to any armored fighting vehicle in the Wehrmacht’s arsenal. Unfortunately for hundreds of U.S. and Allied tankers, including Harris, who had three Shermans shot from under him during the war in Western Europe, the nine savage weeks of fighting in the Normandy hedgerow country and the following dash across France proved the Sherman was far from the equal of the German Tiger, Panther, or even the outdated Panzer IV.
Finding a Replacement For the Sherman
Regardless of what the “Dog Faces” were told about their tanks before the Normandy invasion, some of the high brass in the U.S. Army knew otherwise due to reports coming from the Eastern Front, where the Soviet Army was scrambling during 1943 to come up with an answer to the new German heavy MK VI Tiger tank and the medium MK V Panther. In mid-1942, even as the Sherman first entered mass production (48,000 would eventually be manufactured between 1942 and 1945), the United States Army Ordnance Department, in fits and starts, embarked on a search to improve the M4. This quest started with the design of the T20 prototype intended as an improved version of the Sherman.
The main difference between the two armored vehicles was a lower silhouetted engine that made the T20’s overall profile smaller than the existing M4. In addition, the T20 was to be armed with a new 76mm M1A1 cannon, as well as fitted with 3-inch frontal armor compared to the 2.5 inches found on the Sherman.