United Kingdom/United States of America (1944)
Tank Destroyer – Approximately 2,000 Built
Turning the Sherman into a killer
From the hedgerow of Normandy, France, to the hills of Italy and the plains of Netherlands, the Firefly was one of the few Allied tanks the Germans learned to fear… Among the most potent Allied conversion of the war, and certainly one of the deadliest version of the Sherman, it was a clever -although risky and improvised- move to try to keep up with the latest German tank developments. At that time, the “basic” M4 Sherman equipped the Allies almost exclusively, from the US to the British, Canadian, ANZACS, Free Polish and Free French forces, and its limitations were well known before 1944.
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Its basic 75 mm (2.95 in) gun was excellent to deal with other tanks at reasonable ranges and against armor up to 75 mm (2.95 in), or against fortifications and infantry. But facing the latest versions of the Panzer IV, the Panther and Tiger, it was woefully inadequate. However, the British Army had just received the superlative 17 pounder, which proved itself able to nail any known Panzer. Mated with the Sherman, this stopgap combination (before the new generation of Allied tanks could enter service) became lethal, and added its own weight to the Allied effort to secure victory.
Preserved Firefly, showing its camouflaged barrel, as seen in 2008.
The idea of putting the 17 Pounder (76.2 mm/3 in) on a Sherman was long opposed by the Ministry of Supply. It finally happened largely due to the efforts and perseverance of two officers, British Major George Brighty, with the help of Lieutenant Colonel Witheridge, an experienced veteran of the North African campaign and wounded at Gazala. Despite reports and refusals, they managed to pursue the project by themselves and eventually get the concept accepted. Massive delays also began to appear in the development of the official projects which were meant to mount the new gun. Brighty had already made attempts of the conversion at the Lulworth Armoured Fighting School in early 1943. This first version had the whole recoil system removed, locking in effect the gun in place, while the tank bluntly absorbed the recoil. Witheridge joined Brighty due to the doubts of the A.30, Cruiser Mark VIII Challenger being ready in time and lobbied actively for the same idea, providing his assistance and solving the recoil problem.
They received a note from the Department of Tank Design to cease their efforts. However, thanks to Witheridge’s connections, they eventually convinced the head of the Royal Armoured Corps. They then won over the Director General of Weapon and Instrument Production, and the Ministry of Supply, who ultimately gave them full support, funding, and an official approval. In October-November 1943 already, enthusiasm and knowledge about the project grew. In early 1944, before the new delays of the Challenger and inability of the Cromwell turret ring to receive the 17 pdr became known, the programme was eventually given the ‘highest priority’ by Winston Churchill himself in preparation for D-Day.
Ex-Dutch Firefly preserved at the Amersfoort Cavalry Museum
About the 17 pounder
This legendary piece of ordnance was the first of the many ROF (Royal Ordnance Factory) cannons which came to fame postwar. These included the rifled L7 105 mm (4.13 in) and later the L11 120 mm (4.72 in) gun that was given to the Chieftain and Challenger. The 17 pounder was a 76.2 mm (3 in) gun with a length of 55 calibres. It had a 2,900 ft/s (880 m/s) muzzle velocity with HE and HEAT rounds and 3,950 ft/s (1,200 m/s) with APDS or Armor Piercing Capped, and Ballistic Capped. These figures allowed it to defeat armor in the range of 120-208 mm (4.72-8.18 in) in thickness at 1,000 m and up to 1,500 m with the APDS.
The design of the gun was ready in 1941 and production started in 1942. It proved itself time and again in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy, with the first action in February 1943. So the idea to have it inside a tank turret was a priority, since the QF 6-pdr was found inadequate by 1943. However, the 17 pounder was long and heavy. It therefore needed much reworking and compromises to have it installed in a turret, and intermediary solutions had to be found. By 1944, the Archer used it, as well as the Achilles (M10 Wolverine), the Challenger, and later the Comet.
17 Pounder ammo rounds being loaded by the crew of a Sherman Firefly. Notice the camouflage nets around the turret, mantlet and gun barrel
The work of genius was that of successfully cramming the heavy gun into a turret it was never designed for. By doing it, W.G.K. Kilbourn, a Vickers engineer, allowed the quick conversion of the most prolific Allied tank. This ensured that no changes in maintenance, supply and transport chains were needed. These were quite critical factors after D-Day.
There were a few changes made to the chassis, most of which were Mk.I hybrids (cast glacis) and Mark Vs, except for the modified ammo cradles and the hull gunner position being eliminated to make room for more ammo. The turret interior was also completely modified. The rear was emptied to allow the gun to recoil and a counterweight was added to the rear to balance the long barrel. This “bustle” now housed the radio, formerly at the back of the turret, and could be accessed by a large hole in the casting. The mantlet was also modified, 13 mm (0.51 in) thicker than the original. The loader also had his position changed. A new hatch had to be cut into the top of the turret over the gunner’s position since the size of the new gun prevented the gunner from using the normal hatch.
But the 17-pdr itself still had a one-meter long recoil course, and the whole recoil system was completely modified. The main recoil cylinders were shortened while additional new cylinders were added to take advantage of the turret width. The gun breech was rotated 90 degrees to allow the loader to sit on the left. The gun cradle also had to be shortened, which caused stability concerns. These were solved by the adoption of a longer untapered section at the base of the barrel. Therefore, the Firefly had it’s custom tailored version of the 17 pdr.
Polish Sherman Firefly at Namur, in Belgium, in 1944
Main Gun penetration figures
Official British War Department test figures show that the 17pdr anti-tank gun firing armor piercing AP rounds would penetrate the following thickness of homogeneous armour plate and these distances: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 119.2 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 107.3 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 96.7mm. When firing armor-piercing capped (APC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 132.9 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 116.5 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 101.7 mm. When fired at sloped armour it was estimated there would have been 80% success at 30 degrees’ angle of attack.
The Firefly in Action
The Firefly was ready in numbers and filled the 21st Army Group’s Armored Brigades in 1944, just in time for D-Day. This was fortunate because Allied intelligence did not anticipate the presence of enemy tanks, of which the numerous Panthers were formidable adversaries for the Sherman.
Ken Tout summed up his impressions about the Firefly, then at the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry:
“The Firefly tank is an ordinary Sherman but, in order to accommodate the immense breach of the 17-pounder and to store its massive shells, the co-driver has been eliminated and his little den has been used as storage space. … The flash is so brilliant that both gunner and commander need to blink at the moment of firing. Otherwise they will be blinded for so long that they will not see the shot hit the target. The muzzle flash spurts out so much flame that, after a shot or two, the hedge or undergrowth in front of the tank is likely to start burning. When moving, the gun’s overlap in front or, if traversed, to the side is so long that driver, gunner and commander have to be constantly alert to avoid wrapping the barrel around some apparently distant tree, defenceless lamp-post or inoffensive house”
British Firefly crossing a bridge, Operation Goodwood
Fortunately, the Firefly was also present. The British and Commonwealth units had to face over 70% of all German armor deployed during the Battle of Normandy, including the much-feared SS Panzer units, in particular around Caen. In turn, the Germans learnt to recognise and respect the Firefly, which often became their #1 priority target in most engagements. Such was the damage they inflicted. In response, the crews usually painted the protruding half of the barrel with an effective countershading pattern to try to disguise it as a regular Sherman. A common tactic was to place the Fireflies in good hull-down positions in support of other Shermans, covering them in the advance each time an enemy tank would reveal itself, at least in theory.
Their effectiveness rapidly became legendary, as testified by the most enviable hunting scores of all Allied tanks. On 9 June 1944, Lt. G. K. Henry’s Firefly knocked-out five Panthers from the 12th SS Panzer Division in rapid succession during the defense of Norrey-en-Bessin. Other Shermans were credited with two more, out of a total of 12, successfully repelling the attack. On June 14, Sgt. Harris of the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards destroyed five Panthers around the hamlet of Lingèvres, near Tilly-sur-Seulles, changing position in between. Even the most feared German top ace tank commander, Michael Wittman, was presumably killed by a Canadian Firefly. This famous action was credited to Ekins, the gunner of Sergeant Gordon’s Sherman Firefly from the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, A-Sqn. He destroyed three Tigers in a row, one of which was presumably that of Michael Wittman, near Cintheaux, in August 1944.
Fireflies of the Irish Guards group, operation Market Garden
In total, the 1900+ Fireflies were used by the 4th, 8th, 27th, 33rd Armored Brigades, the Guards Armoured Division and the 7th and 11th Armoured Division in Normandy and north-western Europe, including the Netherlands and Northwestern Germany. In Italy, it was deployed with the British 1st and 6th Armoured Divisions. The Canadians had Fireflies with the 1st (Italy) and 2nd Brigades and in the 4th and 5th Canadian Armoured Divisions, mostly in north-west Europe in 1945. The 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade operated 36 Firefly 1Cs during the siege of Dunkirk in 1944. The 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade had some during the Italian campaign, as did the Polish 1st Armoured Division (NW Europe) and 2nd Armoured Brigade (Italy), and the 6th South African Armoured Division in Italy. After the war, Fireflies were still used by Italy, Lebanon (until the 1980s), Argentina, Belgium and the Netherlands (until the late 1950s).
British Firefly at the Bovington Tank Museum in 2014
Sherman Firefly specifications
|Dimensions (L/w/h)||19’4” (25’6” oa) x 8’8” x 9′ (5.89/7.77 oa x 2.64 x 2.7 m)|
|Total weight, battle ready||37,75 long tons (35.3 tons, 83,224 lbs)|
|Crew||4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion||Multibank/radial petrol engine, 425 hp, 11 hp/ton|
|Top speed||40 km/h (25 mph)|
|Range (road)||193 km (120 mi)|
|Armament||ROF OQF 17 Pdr (3 in/76.2 mm), 77 rounds
Roof cal.50 (12.7 mm) Browning M2
Coaxial cal.30 (7.62 mm) Browning M1919, 5000 rounds
|Armor||90 mm (3.54 in) max, turret front|
|Total production||2000+ in 1944-45|
|For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index|
Links, Resources & Further Reading
The Firefly on Wikipedia
Firefly Gun barrel camouflage
Firefly reconstruction in the Netherlands
British Tanks of WW2 Poster (Support Tank Encyclopedia)
Firefly Ic hybrid from a Polish armored unit, Italy 1944.
British Sherman Firefly Ic, East Riding Yeomanry, 27th Armoured Brigade, Normandy, 6 June 1944
Firefly Ic, 29 Armoured Brigade, 11th Armoured Division, Normandy, summer 1944.
Firefly VC, 14th Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, 33rd Armoured Brigade, July 1944
Firefly, VC 3rd County of London Yeomanry, 4th Armoured Brigade, Normandy, summer 1944.
Firefly VC, 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, 3th Armoured Brigade, France, 1944.
Firefly Mk.VC “Dopo voi”, New Zealand 15th Armoured Regiment, 4th Armoured Brigade, Trieste, Italy, May 1945.
New Zealander Firefly VC “Peacemaker”, 15th Armoured Regiment, 4th Armoured Brigade, Adriatic front, Italy, 1945.
Rare Mk.Ic composite Firefly Tulip, the ultimate tank hunter. It was given RP-3 rockets also used by the Hawker Typhoon.
All Illustrations are by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
Chill with this cool Sherman shirt. A portion of the proceeds from this purchase will support Tank Encyclopedia, a military history research project.
American M4 Sherman Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt
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By David Lister
A compilation of little known military history from the 20th century. Including tales of dashing heroes, astounding feats of valour, sheer outrageous luck and the experiences of the average soldier.
54 replies on “Sherman VC Firefly”
what the difference between firefly VC and IC?
The Firefly IC was based on the Sherman I (M4), while the VC was based on the Sherman V (M4A4).
Kan iemand mij helpen met schema’s of blueprints van een
QF 17-Pounder Mk. VI kanon
by any chance has anyone out there ever seen a photo of a firefly with the WE120/double I tracks
British didnt used HEAT shells and the Chieftain never mounted the L30 but the L11
Chieftain info was corrected.
And for the HEAT fix, I think HEAT was merely tested for the gun. British never issued HEAT however I think that the shell type was used in testing.
HEAT shells and rifled barrels do not work together very well. And the British have always liked rifled barrels.
Does anyone have information regarding Post Second World War Sherman Fireflies? I’ve come across the “Sherman Repotenciado” from Argentina, but I am not having much luck.
is there evidence that the Sherman Firefly used APDS rounds during WWII due to their initially poor accuracy and missing optics?
greetings from Germany
Hi, look at this https://worldoftanks.com/en/news/chieftain/chieftains-hatch-us-guns-vs-german-armour-part-1/
The Chieftain discusses the Normandy test of the 6 pounder and 17 pounder which includes the APDS. The present view is the 17 pounder APDS was used October 1944, but by the Royal Artillery, either SP or towed
Did any American tank division use a Firefly?
No, they were not too keen on the 17-Pounder. The American’s favored the 76mm once it became available.
– TE Moderator
But isn’t the 17pdr more powerful than the 76mm?
At first yes, but ammunition for the 76mm was produced which granted it similar balsamic abilities.
– TE Moderator
balsamic refers to vinegar lol, you probably meant ballistic.
now 76mm vs 17 pdr.
the 17 pdr fired a much more powerful APCBC round and APCBC was used because ADPS and HVAP were not accurate enough and the penetration wasn’t good against sloped armor (panthers, tigers 2 etc.)
17 pdr apcbc @500m vs FH 175mm
76mm apcbc @500m vs FH 122mm
The italians would have appreciated the “balsamic abilities” lol
Darn spellcheck. Throwing vegetable type ammo at the germans would have cooked their geese.
The 76mm was considered powerful enough, and was much more suitable for the Sherman’s relatively small turret.
Hi, I noticed you made a little area in the second paragraph of the first sub heading, where you said “However, the British Army had just received the superlative 17 pounder, which proved itself able to nail any known Panzer.” The 17 pounder was actually first used during the North African Italian Campaign in early 1943, so by the time the Sherman was being tested with the 17 pounder, the capability of the weapon was known. Just a little comment for an extremely minor problem (I am sure you are working on other things – like a Jagdtiger article :).
Kind Regards, Brody
Why didn’t the Americans use the Firefly?
There were a number of reasons, but the the most relevant one was that the Americans were more satisfied with their preexisting 76mm gun on a Sherman than the 17 Pdr. The 17 Pdr is a large gun and didn’t fit into the Sherman turret well (hence the extra hatch needed for the loader) and the ammunition stowage was a problem, the gun in the firefly was notoriously tricky to load in a hurry and the loader only had a few rounds readily available before they had to replenish from the ammo stowed in the hull, which required traversing the turret around and wasn’t really something you could do when you were being shot at. The 76mm on the other hand offered more space to work the gun and stow ammunition.
Thomas, please see below Taken from U.K. national archives Catalogue Reference:WO/229/83. It may be of more interest to the encyclopaedia because it covers SHAEF headquarter reports, logistics, tank status 1944/45. You are quite correct,but without the updated ammunition, the 76mm could not defeat the Panthers front armour, never mind the Tiger. The documents cover the exchange between Eisenhower and ordnance, not helped when ordnance’s view was problems what problems. So he tested to find the British guns worked and none of the American guns didn’t, he was particularly chastened as the 6 pounder with APDS, was very successful. This resulted in the letter to Marshall urgently demanding improvements. However, by the time the M36 arrived, ordnance’s answer, the battle was over. There apparently is evidence, got to get the detail, that the war department suppressed reports from Italy that there were serious problems fighting Panther. Bottom line, the British realised they needed a better gun on the Allied tanks, and shoehorned it into the Sherman and Cromwell ( to become Challenge,) the old half a loaf is better than none. Ordnance wanted a fully working tank, ie Pershing. This delay was unfortunate for the US Army Armoured Divisions.
The only saving grace against this glaring defect in the Firefly was that it often got in the FIRST, and ONLY, shot in engaging German armor.
Doctrine, ignorance and ego of one man played a huge factor in Americans not up gunning the Sherman. General Lesley McNair dictated U.S. Armor Doctrine and policy at the time and his Tank Destroyer Doctrine took president. McNair felt that the 75mm was ‘good enough’ as it had handled the Panzer Mk III and Mk IV F1 (Short Barrel 75mm Cannon) in North Africa, so he felt additional heavier tank guns were not required and McNair “did not want to tie up the long supply line from America” with additional equipment like new ammunition or a new tank which delayed improvements to the Sherman and development of the Pershing. While they had encountered limited number of Tiger tanks in North Africa the US seriously underestimated their numbers in Europe and had not encountered a Panther on the battlefield yet. McNair delayed upgrades to the Sherman as well as development of the Pershing and both statistics and Reports show that the Tank Destroyers were seldom employed as intended for the simple reason as Heinz Guderian said you fight tanks with tanks. It was also US policy at the time to not use or rely on foreign manufacture of any ordinance for strategic reasons.
Floyd, an excellent summary, have you seen Eisenhower’s letter, after he finds out about the M10 76mm not able to destroy a Panther head on, 2 July 1944. He then initiated tests with all allied guns against Panther hulls, to find only the 6pounder APDS and 17 pounder could destroy them in the test. He was far from happy, the exchange with ordnance resulting in him sending a brigadier with a personal letter to Marshall. Only when the m36 arrived in September 1944, he had the 90mm gun. It all starts again after the Battle of the Bulge, your point tanks after fight tanks and they sent some Pershings, by then it is about over.
They felt the 76mm gun M1 in development was more than suitable.
They had the 90mm gun undergoing experimental trials by Normandy and felt this would be fine for their TD arm if needed, but the 76mm they felt was enough.
Pretty cool tank
Even the most feared German top ace tank commander, Michael Wittman, was presumably killed by a Canadian Firefly. This famous action was credited to Ekins, the gunner of Sergeant Gordon’s Sherman Firefly from the Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment, A-Sqn. He destroyed three Tigers in a row, one of which was presumably that of Michael Wittman, near Cintheaux, in August 1944.
This is not correct. Please change. Sergeant Gordon’s Firefly was the Northamptonshire Yeomanry which destroyed 3 Tigers of the 8 Tigers involved. A further 2 Tigers were also destroyed, during the engagement. So a total of 5 of the 8, the Northamptonshire Yeomanry claim all 5.
However, the debate has been about Wittman, and whether it was The Sherbrooke with standard Sherman’s firing from the left flanks or the Firefly also firing but from the opposite flank. The argument being the Firefly was too far away. Analysis at the time, now released on the commonwealth tank performance during Normandy is quoting an average engagement distance of 1120 yards for the Firefly and Challenger so the Northamptonshire Firefly could have comfortably engaged the 007 Tiger. The penetration performance of the 17 pounder round against the 75 mm standard round, logically would point to the Firefly, however the debate will continue.
Hello David, fixed
“Even the most feared German top ace tank commander, Michael Wittman, was presumably killed by a Canadian Firefly. This famous action was credited to Ekins, the gunner of Sergeant Gordon’s Sherman Firefly from the Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment, A-Sqn. He destroyed three Tigers in a row, one of which was presumably that of Michael Wittman, near Cintheaux, in August 1944.”
Could or should read:
“Even the most feared German top ace tank commander, Michael Wittman, was possibly killed by a Canadian Firefly. Nevertheless, this famous action is normally credited to Ekins, the gunner of Sergeant Gordon’s Sherman Firefly…..”
In the same engagement my Fathers regiment 144 RAC were also involved.
Did the Firefly ever get to fight in the desert?
(I use one for my Commonwealth forces in Bolt Action, and have a desert painted one.
It annoys the hell out of some people, who claim it never fought in a desert.
I just go, It is on my list, and does not want to stand out (Other vehicles are all in desert scheme)
It would be fun to be able to point to a Firefly in desert scheme….
No, the Firefly entered service faaaar too late for the war in North Africa.
but it did serve in the middle east after the war.
Yes with Lebanon in both the 1958 crisis and the Lebanese Civil War by multiple sides.
I stumbled across a few typos in this article. In the first sentence under the header “Conversion design”, change “succeeding” to either “successfully” or “succeeding in”. Another in the last sentence under the header “Main Gun penetration figures”. Change the word “slopped” to “sloped”.
why was the 7.5cm gun ineffective against the late panzer IV models?
Because the Panzer IV was uparmored significantly and the Panzer IV’s 75 mm gun was superior.
i thought the panzer IV H had a frontal armor thickness of 3.1 inches (80mm)
It does, but the 75mm M2 and M3 could pen a little more than 90mm with the M61 and it doesnt take long for those slugs to lose their energy and penetration at any decent range
The photography with the three tank crew in berets shows actually a Polish tank.
Great page. I just have three observations on the colour profiles:
Firefly Mk.VC “Dopo voi” looks like a Ic – with bogies closer together.
The British Firefly Ic East Riding Yeomanry looks more like a Vc – with wider spaced bogies.
29 Armoured Brigade Firefly Ic would appear to be a Hybrid Ic – note the cast front.
This page has been earmarked for complete rewriting. We will address your comments then!
All the best,
The Army Catering Corps however prefer balsamics any day to ballistics!! ??
Could you just say “Trieste” instead of “Trieste, Italy”?
I am trying to find information about two Irish Guards Sherman Tanks,,, 1st one is 2nd troup, 2nd Batt, Irish Guards ‘Buncrana’ and the 2nd is HQ Batt. Irish Guards ‘Ulster’
Hi! Why is there a M4A4E8 in the gallery pictures?
This article is great, but the last picture of the collage onder the tank museum firefly is a sherman with a t-23 turret with the 76, still a great article
Are you sure the second illustration was an IC? My information has it as a VC. British Sherman Firefly VC, East Riding Yeomanry, 27th Armoured Brigade, Normandy, 6 June 1944
Why is it a tank destroyer?
It was designed as a turreted tank destroyer. Because of the large gun, it would have been impractical at close ranges (A problem the Germans also encontered with the Tiger). It also was designated a TD because that was what it was built for.
Minor issue of course – the text claims countershading of the long barrel was commonplace; your photographic display show 2 examples only. In the event research seems to suggest painted countershading was not that common.
Reference the photograph above: incorrectly captioned “Polish Sherman Firefly at Namur,in Belgium,in 1944”.
The photograph is of the late Robert Boscawen & crew of 2 Squadron
1st (Armoured) Battalion Coldstream Guards on the Meuse December ‘44 during the Battle Of The Bulge. The photo is on the front cover of Boscawen’s book “Armoured Guardsman”.