The M4A4 FL-10 was one of the last major modifications of the US Medium Tank, M4 in the mid-1950s. This modification was carried out by France for Egypt, which needed a more powerful vehicle to counter the fierce Israeli armored forces, which, although inferior in numbers, were superior in firepower and training.
The new vehicle, developed on the basis of a French project of a few years earlier, the M4A1 FL-10, entered into service in 1955 and remained operational at least until 1967 participating in two of the most important wars of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the Six Day War of 1967.
The Sherman in the French Army
During the Second World War, the Free French Army used a total of 657 vehicles based on the US M4 Medium Tank chassis. In addition, other vehicles on the Sherman hull were delivered by the US Army to the Free French Army to replace losses during the war.
After the war, another 1,254 vehicles based on Sherman hulls were delivered to the new Armée de Terre (Eng: Land Army) and were used by many French armored units until the very early 1950s.
To simplify the logistic line, the Armée de Terre commissioned the Atelier de Construction de Rueil (ARL) to modify all Sherman models with the Continental Motors R-975C4 engine, originally mounted on the M4 and M4A1, creating the so-called Char M4A3T and M4A4T Moteur Continental, where ‘T’ means ‘Transformé’ (Eng: Transformed).
In early 1951, the modern AMX-13-75 light tank was accepted into French service and the Sherman was gradually removed from service in favor of more modern vehicles. The Armée de Terre removed the Sherman from service in 1955, while the Gendarmerie did not remove the last Sherman until 1965.
Attempt to Upgrade
By 1955, there were over a thousand French Shermans waiting to be sold to other nations or dismantled. That year, the Compagnie Générale de Construction de Batignolles-Châtillon created a project to modify the French Shermans to make them competitive against more modern Soviet vehicles. This would also mean they would be easier to sell on the international market as more and more third-world nations were buying second or third-hand vehicles.
The Prototype: the M4A1 FL-10
The easiest way to improve the ability of the Sherman to deal with more modern enemy vehicles was to replace the main armament, just as was being done in France at the time with the M-50 prototypes for the Israelis.
But modifying the Sherman’s turret was very expensive. Thus, it was preferred to directly install the FL-10 Type A early production turret of the AMX-13-75 on the vehicle. This was lighter and less armored than the standard Sherman turret. The main armament would be the same as on the AMX-13-75 and the M-50, the CN-75-50 cannon.
The prototype was built based on an M4A1(75)W ‘Large Hatch’ hull, but Compagnie Générale de Construction de Batignolles-Châtillon planned to produce this Sherman variant on any type of Sherman hull, from the M4 to the M4A4, depending on the buyer’s requirements.
The Armée de Terre was not impressed with the new modified Sherman prototype. The vehicle’s characteristics, apart from the armament, remained roughly equal, if not inferior to, a standard Sherman (76)W.
The problem with the upgrade project was the attempt to combine the characteristics of the modern AMX-13-75 light tank with the older M4 Sherman medium tank. The French tank was a small vehicle with very thin armor, meant to be as light and fast as possible, reaching 60 km/h on roads. It had a very low silhouette to facilitate camouflage and to make it a less visible target. The armament was however among the most powerful in service, able to penetrate the frontal armor of the hull of a T-54 at a distance of almost 1,000 meters.
The M4A1 FL-10 had a maximum speed of only 38 km/h and was a very tall tank, 3 meters exactly, thus losing two characteristics of the AMX-13-75, speed and concealability. Another problem was that the turret was too light and poorly armored, which would have affected the ballistic protection of the vehicle, resulting in it being unable to resist even smaller caliber weapons, such as 20 mm Armor Piercing (AP) rounds.
The project was therefore abandoned by the Armée de Terre and was proposed to the Israelis as an economic alternative to their project of arming the Sherman with CN-75-50 cannons.
It is unclear whether or not Israeli technicians participated in any tests on the M4A1 FL-10, but it is certain that they considered the automatic loader as a negative part of the vehicle. In fact, for many years, the Israeli doctrine preferred a human loader to an automatic loader.
After the clear Israeli refusal, France received a request for help from another Middle East nation that had to update its Shermans.
The Egyptian Shermans
The Kingdom of Egypt attempted to get its first shipment of Shermans from Great Britain in January 1947. The British tried to deliver 40 surplus Shermans of the US Army that were crammed in a warehouse in Ismailia, but without success.
During the Israeli War of Independence, in August 1948, Egypt signed a contract with Italy for the purchase of 40-50 ex-British M4A2 and M4A4 Shermans that remained on Italian soil after the Second World War and were awaiting scrapping.
Italy, which had secretly sided with the newborn State of Israel by supplying tanks, weapons, and ammunition, tried to refuse but, because of a British intervention, had to accept. However, they slowed down the delivery as much as possible, so the Shermans arrived in Egypt in 1949, when the war was over.
By 1952, Egypt took possession of another 50-70 Sherman from British stocks in Egypt and Europe. Most were M4A4s, although some M4A2s and several specialized variants, such as Armored Recovery Vehicles (ARVs), dozers and self-propelled guns, were also acquired.
After the July 23rd, 1952 coup, which removed King Farouk, the Egyptian Army had a total of 90 Shermans assigned to three armored battalions plus a number, estimated at less than 20, used for training, in addition to self-propelled guns and ARVs.
The Egyptian interest
In 1955, the Egyptian Army was looking for modern equipment with which to re-equip itself after the bitter defeat suffered during the Israeli War of Independence. Not siding ideologically with either the Warsaw Pact or NATO countries, Egypt was able to purchase military surplus from various nations on either side.
By 1955, it had bought and received 200 Self Propelled 17pdr, Valentine, Mk I, ‘Archers’ from the United Kingdom, the first shipments of SD-100s (Czechoslovak license copy of SU-100) from Czechoslovakia, of which Egypt would buy a total of 148 by the end of the 1950s, and also the first batches of T-34-85s that Egypt bought from Czechoslovakia, receiving a total of 820 tanks until the early 1960s.
In 1955, however, Egypt had few medium tanks (only 230 T-34-85s were in service in 1956, the rest would arrive after the Suez Crisis) and needed large quantities of material to outclass the Israeli armored forces in a hypothetical clash with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) troops.
Even if they were already working with Israeli technicians on the M-50 prototypes, the French had no problem working with Egypt in order to improve on the old Sherman. After contacting the French, the Egyptians asked them to re-engineer their M4A4 fleet.
The French proposed to upgun the Egyptian Shermans, mounting the FL-10 turrets to cut the cost of turret modifications. All Egyptian M4A4s were re-engined and, over the course of several years, some fifty M4A4s were rearmed with the FL-10 turret.
Hull and Armor
The Egyptian Shermans were all M4A2(75)D and M4A4(75)D tanks, all equipped with dry storage racks and small hatches. From photographic evidence, all 50 vehicles that were converted with the FL10 turret were M4A4(75)D variants. The frontal armor was 51 mm thick sloped at 56°, 38 mm at 0° on the sides and 38 mm at 20° at the rear. The lower armor was 25 mm thick, while the roof armor was 19 mm.
Welded to the sides of the vehicles, near the side ammunition racks, were armor plates 25 mm thick armor plates one on the left side and two on the right side, giving a total thickness of 63 mm.
Some M4A4 FL10s received three plates per side to increase protection. This modification was probably done by the Egyptians after the French modifications of 1955.
The gasoline Chrysler A57 Multibank 30-cylinder, 20.5-liter engines of the M4A4s, delivering 370 hp at 2,400 rpm, were by this point very worn out due to being in service for over 10 years, the poor maintenance given by inexperienced Egyptian technicians, and the abrasive Egyptian sand. The French were asked to replace them with engines that had easier maintenance and that were diesel.
It was decided to power all the Egyptian M4A4s with the diesel engines of the M4A2 in order to offer a logistical commonality between the two vehicles.
The engine of the M4A2 was the General Motors GM 6046, which actually consisted of two 6-cylinder engines coupled together, with a total capacity of 14 liters, delivering a gross power of 410 hp at 2,900 rpm.
The exhaust system was removed and replaced with two M4A2-style mufflers. The old ‘C’ shaped deflector mounted on the rear armor plate of the hull, which could be raised and lowered to deflect the exhaust gases upwards, thus avoiding raising too much sand during desert travel, was not removed.
The amount of transportable fuel remains unknown. A standard M4A2 had tanks with a capacity of 560 liters of diesel for a range of 190 km. It can be assumed that, thanks to the increased size of the engine compartment of the M4A4, which was 30 cm longer, the capacity of the fuel tanks was larger, along with the range of the new vehicle.
The late-production oscillating FL-10 Type A turret type mounted on the Egyptian Shermans needed a modified hull turret ring to be mounted. The turret ring of the AMX-13 was smaller in diameter than that of the Sherman and it was necessary to bolt a circular steel plate to the roof of the hull which decreased the diameter to 180 cm, the diameter of the new turret.
Like all oscillating turrets, the FL-10 had an upper part that could move vertically and a lower collar that rotated the entire structure through 360°.
The lower part was mounted on the Sherman chassis and was equipped with the turret basket with 75 mm ammunition, the radio equipment and the turret rotation mechanism.
The upper part was equipped with the commander’s and gunner’s seats, the main gun, the coaxial machine gun, various optical systems and the automatic loader. The advantage of such a turret is that, at any elevation, the gun, the breech and the automatic loader will always be on the same axis, making the functioning of an automatic loader far simpler.
The front part of the turret, where the two parts overlapped, was screened by a rubber cover. Two of the negative aspects of the oscillating turret design are the risk that water could easily pass between the two parts and the impossibility of sealing the vehicle for deep fording or to defend from toxic, chemical and bacteriological gases. Small, but not impossible, was also the risk that small arms fire could block the elevation of the gun on the battlefield.
The commander’s cupola was equipped with eight periscopes, while the gunner had two periscopes in addition to the gun optics and a hatch above him.
The rear bustle contained the automatic magazine aligned with the axis of the cannon breech. The automatic magazine consisted of two 6-round cylindrical revolvers that could be loaded from the outside through two upper hatches or, less conveniently, from the inside.
The cannon mounted in the FL10 turret was the CN-75-50 (CaNon 75 mm Modèle 1950), also known as the 75-SA 50 (75 mm Semi Automatique Modèle 1950) L.61.5, with a 4.612 m long barrel. This powerful French high-speed gun was curiously derived from the 7.5 cm Kampfwagenkanone 42 L.70 of the Panzerkampfwagen V ‘Panther’.
Developed by the Atelier de Bourges in 1950, it was the best 75 mm anti-tank gun of the time and managed, albeit by a small margin, to beat the US M1 76 mm cannon, the British 17-pdr and the Soviet Zis-S-53 85 mm guns. The elevation was from -6° to +13° with the oscillating turret. The automatic magazine allowed a rate of fire of 12 rpm or one round every 5 seconds, twice the rate of fire of an Israeli M-50. The high rate of fire could be sustained for the 12 rounds stored in the two autoloader drums in the turret’s rear.
The secondary armament consisted of a Browning M1919A4 30.06 caliber machine gun in the hull, in a spherical mount used by the navigator, and another coaxial machine gun.
The model of the coaxial machine gun is a matter of debate. Some sources mention the use of the French MAC Modèle 31C (Char) caliber 7.5 x 54 mm MAS machine guns produced by the Manufacture d’armes de Châtellerault (MAC), while other sources instead state that the coaxial weapon was a Browning M1919A4 mounted to standardize the ammunition carried on the tank.
From photographic evidence, it can clearly be seen that the slot for the coaxial machine gun was slightly modified, thus suggesting that the coaxial machine gun was not the standard MAC Mle 31C.
Externally mounted were four Modèle 1951 1ère Version 80 mm smoke launchers that could be activated from inside the tank.
The CN-75-50 fired 75 x 597R mm projectiles with 117 mm rimfire.
|Name||Type||Round Weight||Total Weight||Muzzle Velocity||Penetration at 1000m, angle 90°*||Penetration at 1000m, angle 30°*|
|Obus Explosif (OE)||HE||6.2 kg||20.9 kg||750 m/s||//||//|
|Perforant Ogive Traceur Modèle 1951 (POT Mle. 51)||APC-T||6.4 kg||21 kg||1,000 m/s||170 mm||110 mm|
|Perforant Coiffé Ogive Traceur Modèle 1951 (PCOT Mle. 51)||APCBC-T||6.4 kg||21 kg||1,000 m/s||60 mm||90 mm|
*Of Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA) plate.
A total of 60 rounds of 75 mm ammunition were carried. 20 in two 10-round racks on the bottom of the hull, 10 rounds on the rack on the right side of the hull, 9 on the left side, 9 ready-to-use in the turret and, finally, 12 in the two rotating drums on the back of the turret.
Five thousand rounds were carried for the Browning M1919A4 machine guns. At least 4 smoke grenades were carried in a rack inside the vehicle.
The crew consisted of 4 soldiers: driver and navigator, respectively on the left and right of the transmission, while the commander and gunner sat on the left and right in the turret. Thanks to the short stature of the Egyptian soldiers, the tankers did not have many comfort problems inside the turret designed for crews with an average height of 173 cm.
Due to the poor training of the crews in the use of the tank, during the few short actions of the M4A4 FL10s, the results were very poor if not disastrous, leading to the defeat of defending units against unmodified M4 Shermans at short range.
Due to the poor maintenance of the automatic loader and the poor Egyptian training, the rate of fire decreased disastrously, and the Egyptians were not able to fully exploit the potential of this system.
The first M4A4 FL-10s were delivered to the Egyptian Army in late 1955, almost coinciding with the arrival of the first M-50 Degem Aleph (Eng: Model A) to the Israeli Defence Force.
12 M4A4 FL-10s were able to participate in the Suez Crisis, a war fought between 29th October 1956 and 7th November 1956. The conflict broke out after Egypt declared the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Whilst the canal was the property of the Egyptian government, European shareholders, mostly British and French, owned the concessionary company in charge of administering the canal and earning a considerable amount from the canal’s profit.
France, Israel, and the United Kingdom secretly planned actions against Egypt. Israel would invade Egypt while France and the United Kingdom would intervene to cease hostilities by creating a demilitarized perimeter on both sides of the Suez Canal taking control of the canal zone and the economies derived from it.
On the day of the beginning of hostilities, Egypt had at its disposal in Sinai three companies of Shermans assigned to the 3rd Armored Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division, with a total of 40 M4A2s and M4A4s with diesel engines, 12 M4A4 FL-10s, 3 M32B1 ARVs and 3 Shermans with dozer blades. One of the companies of 16 tanks was positioned in Rafah, along the border between the Gaza Strip, Egypt and Israel, while the other two remained in El Arish.
At dawn of October 30th, 1956, the Israeli 7th Armored Brigade, under the command of Uri Ben-Ari, began the attack, starting Operation Kadesh.
The city of Rafah was defended by 17 Archer tank destroyers, 16 Shermans and various artillery units, including British 25-pdr, 105 mm guns and mortars as well as minor infantry units. Around the city, the Egyptians had erected 17 outposts, well defended by minefields, tank destroyers and artillery.
The Israeli 77th Division had the 27th Armored Brigade equipped with the first batch of 25 M-50 Degem Aleph (Eng: Model A). This Brigade also had two companies equipped with M-1 ‘Super’ tanks, one half-tracked company equipped with M3 half-tracks, a Motor Infantry Battalion and a light reconnaissance battalion with AMX-13-75 tanks. Also present was the Golani Brigade and various engineering, medical and other units.
On the night of October 31st, members of the Golani Brigade, supported by the half-tracks of the 27th Brigade, attacked the Rafah crossing from the south, capturing it by morning. This allowed the tanks to pass through the North Road and enter Sinai, heading towards El Arish.
The next day, the 27th Armored Brigade succeeded in overcoming the minefields in Sinai under heavy Egyptian barrage and established a perimeter along the eastern outskirts of El Arish. On November 2nd, the 77th Division entered El Arish, occupied it and took possession of all the military depots. The division advanced further, arriving only 20 km away from the Suez Canal.
During the advance towards El Arish, an M4A4 FL-10 was knocked out of action, remaining in place, as a witness of the battle, for many years. Egypt recovered it in the early 2000s, restored it and today it is exhibited at the Museum of the Battle of El Alamein. Another M4A4 FL-10 was knocked out or abandoned while retreating from El Arish towards the Suez Canal.
Vehicles Captured by the Israelis
There is a lot of photographic evidence showing the capture of some M4A4 FL-10s by the Israelis, along with about fifty T-34-85s, all the M4A2 and M4A4 Shermans at El Arish and Rafah not destroyed and other armored vehicles, logistics vehicles, artillery pieces and small arms. Some sources claim that as many as 8 out of 12 M4A4 FL-10s were captured intact.
Israel had already dealt with AMX-13-75s and their turrets and was not satisfied with them. The M4A4 FL-10s were judged inferior to the M-50 Degem Aleph and had a very interesting fate.
The Israeli M-50s were based on all kinds of hulls, from the M4 to the M4A4, remotorized with Continental Motors R-975C4 radial engines and turrets modified to accommodate the CN-75-50.
All captured Egyptian M4A2 and M4A4 Shermans were converted to this standard, even some of the 8 M4A4 FL-10s. These received a suitably modified standard Sherman turret in place of the FL-10.
These M-50 Degem Alephs were almost identical to other M-50s and are recognizable only by the three 25 mm plates welded to the sides of the tanks. Their use in service is unknown, although at least one served in a tank school in Israel.
They were probably later upgraded to the Degem Bet (Eng: Model B) standard in the early 1960s, receiving a new Cummins VT-8-460 Turbodiesel delivering 460 hp engine and HVSS suspension, remaining in service with the IDF until 1975.
Six Day War
After the military defeat during the Suez Crisis, Egypt stopped buying NATO vehicles and started to buy Soviet equipment, ordering 350 T-54s and 150 T-55s between 1960 and 1963.
At the outbreak of the Six Day War, 4 mixed companies of Shermans were deployed in the Sinai and Gaza Strip by the Egyptian Army, for a total of about 80 vehicles on the Sherman hull. Their employment was very limited and affected by poor reliability due to poor maintenance and a lack of spare parts.
The Six-Day War was the military Israeli response to the deterioration of diplomatic relations with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan (which had always been very turbulent). After a series of provocations from the three Arab nations, the Israeli Defence Force made a surprise attack on June 5th, 1967.
The Israeli southern attack towards the Sinai foresaw, as in the 1956 war, an attack on Rafah and, from there, a move westwards on the Northern Track passing through El Arish.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had required that only Rafah and its surroundings be attacked, ignoring the rest of the Gaza Strip.
In Rafah, the Egyptians put up a strenuous resistance, losing more than 2,000 men and 40 Shermans, of which about half were with FL-10 turrets. They caused the 7th Israeli Armored Brigade significant losses.
During the battle, some Egyptian artillery pieces and tanks that were in hull-down positions, instead of turning their guns in the direction of the attacking Israeli forces, opened fire on the kibbutzim (a type of settlement which is unique to Israel) of Nirim and Kissufim in the Negev Desert.
After this attack on the Israeli civilian population, the Israeli Head of State, Yitzhak Rabin, ordered the 11th Mechanized Brigade, under the command of Colonel Yehuda Reshef, to enter the Gaza Strip and occuped it, thus ignoring Moshe Dayan’s orders. Needless to say, the fight between the Israeli forces and the Egyptian and Palestinian troops was very fierce.
At sunset, the Israelis had conquered all the central southern part of the Strip and had occupied the Ali Muntar Ridge that dominates Gaza, but a first attack on the city failed.
On the morning of June 6th, the 11th Brigade, supported by the 35th Brigade of Paratroopers under Colonel Rafael Eitan, succeeded in conquering the whole strip, losing a total of almost 100 soldiers dead.
During the fighting in Rafah and in the Gaza Strip, some M4A4 FL-10s were knocked out or captured still in their defensive positions along the border line.
During the attack in the Sinai, which lasted from 5th to 8th June, the Israelis occupied the entire Sinai peninsula. They defeated four armored divisions, two infantry divisions and one mechanized division, totaling 100,000 Egyptian soldiers, 950 tanks, 1,100 Armored Personnel Carriers and 1,000 artillery pieces killed, destroyed, captured or wounded.
On June 7th, a mixed Egyptian unit attempted a counter-offensive to repel the attackers. This poorly planned and uncoordinated action ended up breaking against the Israeli lines without causing major damage to the IDF and causing even more losses among the Egyptian troops. In this attack force, there were also some M4A4 FL-10s which were easily destroyed by the Israelis.
This was the last action of the M4A4 FL-10s. Those that were not destroyed by the Israelis were captured in the Sinai or Gaza Strip warehouses intact and probably converted into self-propelled guns, since the M-50s were no longer in production.
The few remaining M4A4 FL-10s in Egypt were removed from service in favor of more modern vehicles of Soviet origin. Egypt, however, did not remove all Sherman from service. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, indigenous versions of Sherman bridge-layers were still in service and the Egyptian Army is known to have used ARVs on Sherman hulls at least until the 1980s.
It can therefore be assumed that the hulls of the last M4A4 FL-10s were either used for special versions or disassembled and used as spare parts for special versions of the Sherman.
The M4A4 FL-10 in Film
In the 1969 Italian film I Diavoli della Guerra (Eng: The Devils of War), set in Tunisia in 1943, 6 M4A4 FL-10s were used to play the role of German tanks, while the role of US tanks was played by 9 Egyptian M4A2s and M4A4s.
Another film, in which 3 M4A4 FL-10s were disguised as German tanks of World War II, was Kaput Lager – Gli Ultimi Giorni delle SS (Eng: The Last Days of the SS), also shot by an Italian in 1977.
The M4A4 FL-10 was a good fallback vehicle with mediocre quality. However, it was economically viable for third world countries or nations that could not afford latest generation vehicles. Egypt did not use these to their full potential because of poor training of tank crews and the poor maintenance given to the vehicles.
It was, on paper, equal or superior in many aspects to the Israeli M-50 Degem Aleph, but because of these problems, it never managed to achieve the same success as the Israeli vehicle on the battlefield.
M4A4 FL-10 specifications
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||7.37 x 2.61 x 3.00 m|
|Total Weight, Battle Ready||31.8 tons battle ready|
|Crew||4 (driver, machine gunner, commander and gunner)|
|Propulsion||General Motors GM 6046 with 410 hp at 2,900 rpm|
|Armament||75 mm CN-75-50 with 60 rounds, a 7.5 mm MAC Mle. 31C and a 7.62 mm Browning M1919A4|
|Armor||63 mm hull front, 38 mm sides and rear
40 mm turret front, 20 mm sides and rear.
|Total Production||one M4A1 prototype and 50 M4A4|
Egyptian Sherman – Christopher Weeks
The AMX-13 light tank Volume 2: Turret – Peter Lou
Egyptian Army Sherman – Wolfpack Design Pub.