Sunday, 6 September 2015

The M4A1 Revalorisé and the names of Israeli Shermans

Author: Life_in_Black (US server)

Since the French medium tier 8 premium, the M4A1 Revalorisé, first appeared, I've seen countless people throw around the term “Super Sherman”. Mainly they say that this is a Super Sherman, or ask why an Israeli tank is in the French tech tree. The short answer is, this isn't an Israeli tank, and it isn't a Super Sherman, but the full answer is slightly more complicated than that.

So, is this tank being French then? The answer is yes, but it wasn't designed with France in mind. Back in the early to mid 1960s, a Middle East arms race had begun to take shape, with the Soviets supplying relatively new weapons systems to Egypt and Syria, something which alarmed the Israelis greatly. So much like during the 1950s, Israel once again turned to France in regards to upgrading their numerous Shermans with something capable of dealing with these new Soviet weapons, namely the T-54 and T-55 that were forming the backbone of the Egyptian and Syrian armored forces. Thus, the M4A1 Revalorisé was born:

The M4A1 Revalorisé, which means upgraded/improved, was created to test the concept of mounting a much larger cannon on the Israeli Shermans, this time a 105mm. The French used an M4A1 chassis with the 76mm armed “T23” model turret, not the older 75mm M3 turret as used on the Israeli M-50 and the WWII vintage Firefly. Even so, the turret needed a large counterweight added to the rear, as well as a large muzzle brake and new low pressure HEAT ammunition so as to make the cannon work.

Aside from the initial proof of concept vehicle that is the Revalorisé, all of the conversions were done in Israel using guns purchased from France. In addition to mounting the guns and modifying the turrets, Israel also converted these M4A1 Shermans to use the HVSS suspension, replacing the outdated and less efficient VVSS. They also replaced the original engines with the much more efficient 460hp Cummins VT8-460 diesel engine, much like the Israelis had done with the M-50s not too long before.

The cannon however, is what most people notice, as it's a vastly different 105mm cannon to the old 105mm M4 howitzer. Here was a dedicated anti-tank cannon designed to fire HEAT rounds at just over 900m/s velocity, mounted on a chassis that was already over 20 years old. The cannon itself was a shortened version of the 105mm CN 105-57 mounted on the AMX-30, and which itself was a relatively new cannon at the time. Now here's where the fun begins, as the M4A1 Revalorisé's 105mm cannon is called an L/51, which is different from what is commonly believed to be true, that of the gun being L/44 in length. I believe the French 105mm cannons on the M-51 were also L/51 in barrel length, the answer to which lies in the name itself, M-51.

Most people think of this 105mm armed Sherman as the “Super Sherman” as that's been the name used for years in even reputable sources. Other sources will say that the term Super Sherman refers to an M4A1 chassis with the HVSS suspension, so an M4A1E8. However, the truth is a lot more simple than that, as Israel did in fact have a naming system in place for its Shermans:

As can be seen from the picture (which comes from an official 1968 IDF Armored Corps memory book commemorating Israeli armored forces during the Six Days War), the Shermans are called in order, Sherman M-3, Sherman M-1, Sherman M-50, and Sherman M-51. (Hebrew is read from right to left, and mostly contains no vowels) This might be confusing at first, especially when the tank itself was known as an M4, but it makes a lot of sense once you realize that the distinction in the names comes solely from the armament mounted in each version. The M-3 mounted the 75mm M3, the M-1 mounted the 76mm M1A1 or M1A2, the M-50 mounted the French CN 75-50, and the M-51 mounted this new 105mm cannon. At no point has Israel ever differentiated vehicles based on the chassis or suspension, as indeed, even the small number of 75mm CN 75-50 armed M10 tank destroyers were also called M-50 and lumped together with the Sherman mounted versions in terms of statistics and numbers operated. So we're left with the French 105mm cannon and a designation for the tank as M-51. The only logical conclusion to this is that the name of the tank came from the name of the gun itself like on the other Sherman variants, however the gun was newly built just for Israel, so there's no guarantee that it had a name at the time the conversion happened, even if one was assigned later. So we're left with pretty much just the barrel length.

There is precedent as well for this, given the cannon it was based on the 105mm CN 105-57, was in fact 57 calibers long, or L/57. (caliber in this instance denoting the barrel's length in mm divided by the caliber of the weapon itself, also in mm) It is therefore not inconceivable then, that the Israelis made a similar judgment call with this particular gun, and designated it CN 105-51 to denote its length. Obviously, while this isn't confirmed, it would explain the name of the tank and why the French prototype had an L/51 barrel that appears to be the same length as that of the Israeli M-51.

An Israeli M-51 finding a new lease in life, as well as an identity crisis (from The Big Red One):

In fact, “Super Sherman” itself doesn't make any sense, as it's oddly specific and isn't in Hebrew nor is it some sort of abbreviation or amalgamation of certain letters for a vehicle that the IDF loves, like Magach. It's not a nickname either, as Israeli nicknames tend to be very simple, and are usually further simplified from what the IDF's Ordnance Corps uses. For instance, no matter what model of Magach is in question (be it an older M48 variant like the Magach 3, to a highly upgraded M60 version, the Magach 7), it's still only called Magach by the soldiers.

And while we're on the subject, there are several other names that have been attributed to Israeli vehicles are either completely made up, or were never used by Israel or the IDF. Of note is that even well known, and reputable historians will use these terms as well, simply because they're so prevalent and previous books and sources will use them, so nobody ever bothers to find out if the terms are historical or not:

Ti-67: Near as I can tell, this may have been some sort of generic Israeli name for the captured Tiran tanks, as it's literally an abbreviation of Tiran 1967, denoting the name of the tanks (Tiran) and the year they were first captured (1967). Therefore, there is no mythical upgrade of the T-54/55 or T-62 known as a Ti-67, because if it was ever used it's just a generic term for that family of tanks.

Tiran 1, 2, 3: I've seen the names Tiran 1, 2, and 3, thrown about to denote unmodified T-54s, T-55s, and T-62s respectively in Israeli service. These are more fictitious designations, as those vehicles were always known as the Tiran 4, Tiran 5, and Tiran 6 respectively. It sounds kind of like someone was a fan of Star Wars, with the “prequels” coming long after the original trilogy. On a related note, Israel has never differentiated between modified and unmodified versions of the Tiran 4, 5, and 6, either. Oftentimes, you'll also see a Tiran 4 or Tiran 5 modified with the 105mm L7/M68 denoted as an "Tiran 4Sh" or Tiran 5Sh". This is likewise unhistorical, as Israel never differentiated between an unmodified Tiran and a modified one. The "Sh" most likely stands for Sharir (Muscle), which is the Israeli name for the 105mm L7/M68, so "Sh" most likely evolved from there as a way to denote a rearmed Tiran, but this isn't an Israeli distinction.

Isherman: This is literally an amalgamation of the words Israeli and Sherman. Never used by Israel, and like “Super Sherman”, it appears to have been invented by an author/historian or possibly a modeling company. Once upon a time, little was known about the Israeli modified Centurions, so it's not surprising that some sort of catchy name or designation like “Isherman” or “Super Sherman” would be used to help differentiate these vehicles from their base versions.

So to recap, yes the M4A1 Revalorisé is historical for France, no it's not an Israeli vehicle even if it was the prototype for the Israeli M-51. And the term Super Sherman is not historical, even if it is widespread. Which means that none of these vehicles are “Super Shermans” as there is no such thing.

PS: Currently the engine on the M4A1 Revalorisé is wrong, as the Israelis were the ones to overhaul the Shermans with the HVSS and the Cummins VT8-460, not the French. It should be using a Continental engine, like other M4A1 Shermans, not an engine that was only ever mounted in Shermans by Israel as part of their extensive overhaul program. Hunnicutt says as much here:

Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank – Hunnicutt
Warmachines No. 10: IDF Tiran 4, Tiran 5, Tiran 6 – Michael Mass
Chariots of the Desert – David Eshel
Armored Corps (1968 IDF memory book on armor in the Six Days War) ... evalorises ... -of-tanks/

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