Book Review, Reading Material, Reference

The Sherman Design and Development

This review was originally published on Track-Link in 2013.

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For many modelers, building solid references is often the most engaging part of a project. Learning about a particular vehicle or line of vehicles’ technical and operational history is for some a hobby in itself. While a frequent issue with this is not finding much on a given subject, in some cases the problem is that there is more out there than we can possibly hope to acquire, often leaving us wondering what to get.

In 2013, Ampersand Publishing released Son of Sherman vol 1, The Sherman Design and Development, A complete and illustrated description of the U.S. M4 Sherman tank series in the Second World War, which will be the subject of this review. There were rumors back them about a possible vol 2, The Sherman Modeler’s Guide, A complete and illustrated description of modeling the Second World War U.S. M4 Sherman tank.

Those two books are the legacy, revision and expansion of Pete Harlem now out of print Modeler’s Guide to the Sherman. Authors Patrick Stansell and Kurt Laughlin have worked from this book to create the Son of Sherman series.

The Book

This is a large, heavy book. I received the hardcover edition. Format is 8.5 x 11 inches and the book is 386 pages long. Typography and editing is of a high standard, with over 900 black & white and color photographs and more than 130 drawings.

Upon opening the book, you immediately get the feeling of a massive amount of information and it looks as if the authors’ biggest challenge was to decide what to actually leave out, even though contrary to Hunnicutt’s more classical approach the book is solely focusing on WWII’s M4s.

Drawings make use of extremely well done shadings that really do contribute to the clarity and readability of volumes on elevations. The shading will often illustrate a subtle aspect of cast parts that would simply not show up otherwise. A real plus for modelers. As Frank DeSisto pointed out in his review, there are no side views, and this is certainly a missing feature, but I’m guessing the authors ruled out adding probably something like 30 pages to their already weighty tome.

This is largely made up for by the many pictures. Each main variant gets the plan part, than the picture part, which serves as an immediate revision of variants details just discussed in the plan section. In my opinion keeping so much real estate for this is a very sound choice. Mingling period pictures with ones of preserved vehicles, with precise and clear captions drawing the viewers attentions to details in synch with the book’s main text is an excellent way to put the points just made in the drawing part across. As much as I like workarounds from the net, there is really no substitute to having an expert’s guided tour.

Content

The book is divided in the following sections:

  1. Quick Start: A Sherman Introduction
  2. Factory Made: The Factories That Produced the Sherman
  3. Small Hatch Tanks: The Firsts Shermans
  4. Appliqué Armor: the remanufacturing Process
  5. Large Hatch Tanks: Refining the Sherman
  6. Final Drive Assembly: The FDA
  7. The 75mm Turret
  8. The 76mm turret
  9. Running Gear: Road Wheels, Bogies, Tracks and Idlers.
  10. Annexes (see below)

After a quick intro, the authors take some time to explain the industrial fabric of pre-war and wartime US tank production facilities and how it relates to the Sherman. This is an aspect of the subject I was mostly ignorant of but now consider a key point to properly understand and identify M4s. In fact, much of the variety, as the authors painstakingly demonstrate, comes from this pluralistic industrial landscape.

The two “Hatch” chapters forms the greater part of the book. Through plans, which I believe are the most important legacy from Peter Harlem’s work, the authors explains key features of each hull variations and specific modifications. The main text is basically a detailed guide to these plans and should really be read. The plans alone are great but the text that explains them makes understanding the variations being shown better, especially since some are pretty subtle. You also get part of the whys these mods have been performed in the first place.

The chapters dealing with the turrets use the same approach described above. They cover 75mm, 76mm and 105mm turrets. This brings me to mention that the book deals with U.S.-manufactured M4s. It deals with these no matter where they ended up on the globe during WWII, but it doesn’t touch foreign-modified tanks such as the Firefly. It doesn’t cover DD tanks, special prototypes or specialist vehicles either, nor does it touch on earlier vehicles leading to it. The book deals solely with the M4 Sherman gun tank series. I don’t see this as an issue, yet these topics would make for a fantastic book and I hope that the authors harbor plans for this. Just saying.

The Final Drive Assembly (FDA) and the running gear form the remaining chapters. Again, extensive details, plans and pictures are provided for both, always with the intention of helping the reader identify correct variations in relation to specific production lines.

There are also a couple of quick one-pagers on specific details, such as a plate dealing with small hatch hoisting eye variation.

The Annexes deals successively with a) foundry symbols, b) registration numbers, c) large hatch Sherman changes chart and d) transportation methods from production facility to the front lines. Apart from the last which is interesting but not related to the first three, these data are in line with the rest of the book in that the authors keep referring to these numbers to illustrate and identify variants. It thus makes sense to have a definite registry to help the reader conduct his own investigation.

A good bibliography, numerous end notes and an index complete the book. Again, this is not merely a cosmetic thing: it’s the foundation of any true history work. Although I personally prefer footnote simply because I find them more practical (though I realize they can truly mess a layout), end notes complement the text. They often refer to the source(s) used by the authors or provide some additional details that would otherwise be somewhat of a burden in the main text.

Using the Book

One of my modelling colleague said about the book that he found it to be quite complex and wasn’t sure how to “use” it in a modelling context. While the book may indeed seems complex, I would offer that it’s rather the subject matter that is not simple. Yet in my opinion, for us modelers the book’s use is most definitely project-oriented. I am convinced that a great way to use it is to confront its massive knowledge to pictures, trying to gather as much information as possible about every aspect of a particular tank. Here, Son of Sherman is worth many times its weight in gold, because it will definitely help you positively identify most WWII M4s you may find on any picture, and I’m not just talking about sorting M4A2 from A3s, but to form a cohesive assessment of many much more subtle features.

A Note about Hunnicutt

While Stansell/Laughlin Son of Sherman and Hunnicutt’s Sherman are two vastly different books on many counts, there’s a point to be made about putting them side by side. After reading Son of Sherman, opening Hunnicutt’s made me realize an important quality the newer book has. With its thoroughly systematic approach in presenting all the main hulls, turrets, FDAs and suspensions variants, Son of Sherman slices the complexity of the M4 series into logic chunks that you can easily leverage to identify a particular vehicle. From a modeler’s perspective, this is quite possibly its most fundamental contribution.

Conclusion

There is no doubt in my mind that Son of Sherman vol. 1 is an important milestone in our knowledge of the M4 and possibly the single most relevant reference you can acquire on the subject right now. It takes Harlem’s earlier efforts to a whole new level and definitely tops Hunnicutt’s in terms of editing and publishing qualities. It deals with a complex subject, and yes, it is a complex book, but one filled with interesting and useful information in every possible corners. Speaking strictly for myself, my own knowledge of the subject has made quite literally a quantum leap.

Even if you are only beginning to stride across the vast expanses of Shermanland, perhaps especially if you are, this book will provide you with a strong foundation to get going, and it will remain an important reference as your interest and knowledge grow. As a modeller, I get the feeling that I now have in my possession the most detailed reference book I can possibly own on the Sherman, and that is a great start to undertake any WWII Sherman project.

I would like to thank my friend Karl Ratté for kindly lending me his copies of Hunnicutt Sherman, Harlem’s Modeler’s Guide to the Sherman and Zaloga Armored Thunderbolt. These where greatly useful to better assess Son of Sherman‘s relative value.

At this time, I cannot tell if the book is still available. In fact, I am not even sure who has the actual rights on the book since Ampersand Publishing went out of business. I’ll update as soon as I can clarify this.

May 2020 Update – I was able to get in touch with co-author Patrick Stansell who shared some pretty uplifting news about the future of this book and his collaboration with co-author Kurt Laughlin. Basically, it is my understanding that they are working on an expanded version of the book, possibly to be available as soon as this year. Given just how massive the work already is, this will no doubt be an impressive tome!

Also quite worthy of note is Mr. Stansell’s mention of the long-announced Sherman Modeler’s Guide which he says “is also still very much alive as a project.”

These are good news to be sure. I can only hope this endeavour comes to fruition.

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