The Sherman Firefly was a British tank based on the US M4 Sherman. It was used by British and Commonwealth Armies. They were fitted with the powerful British 17-pounder anti-tank gun as its main weapon. The Firefly tank was an ordinary Sherman but, in order to accommodate the immense breech of the 17-pounder and to load sufficient ammunition, the hull machine gunner had been eliminated. According to Buckley, the tank’s value, other than in an anti-tank role, was small and it was still the case in Normandy that the most of the tank’s duties focused on overcoming soft targets. Nevertheless, the Firefly was very popular among tank crews in Normandy but, there simply were not enough to go around and the impact of the Firefly on the campaign was correspondingly limited.

A Sherman Firefly of 22nd Armoured Brigade, 7th Armoured Division comes ashore from an LST (Landing Ship Tank), Gold area, 7 June 1944 [Via, © IWM - B 5130]  

The Firefly is closely associated with 21st Army Group in Normandy and was an important element in the fighting there. According to Buckley there were available a total of 200 Firefly tanks on June 6th with Units attached at 21st Army Group. According to Hayward there were a total of 338 Firefly tanks on June 30th, 728 in December and 1118 by January 1945. 

A Sherman Firefly tank alongside a hedge, 16 June 1944 [Via, © IWM - B 5546]

Firefly tanks just seemed to be just about the only tracked weapon available to 21st Army Group which could give a truly impressive account of itself in armour-to-armour combat. True, the Germans could field only some 150 or less Tigers, but they also had 650 Panthers and over 600 SPGs, many of which had powerful 75mm guns.

The Firefly's increased firepower was much valued, and during many engagements, the Firefly proved its worth, knocking out Tigers and Panthers at long range, as well as less formidable tanks like the Panzer IVs and StuGs.

  • One example of this increased firepower was displayed by Lt. G. K. Henry's Firefly during the defense of Norrey-en-Bessin on 9 June against an attack by the 3rd Company of the 12th SS Panzer Regiment of the 12th SS Panzer Division. Determined to capture the town in preparation for a larger offensive to drive the British and Canadians back into the sea, Kurt Meyer ordered an attack by 12 Panthers of the 3rd Company and infantry to attack Norrey and drive the Canadians out of the town. The attack got under way at 1300 hours with the Panthers racing to the town at full speed only stopping to fire their guns, they quickly outran their infantry support which was forced to the ground by Allied artillery fire. Within 1,000 m (1,100 yd) of the town, nine Shermans of the 1st Hussars opened fire into the advancing Panthers' flanks. Lt. Henry's gunner, Trooper A. Chapman, waited until the Panthers "lined up like ducks in a row" and quickly knocked out five with just six rounds. The attack was repulsed with the loss of seven of the 12 Panthers.

A Sherman Firefly and other vehicles in the village of Putanges, 20 August 1944 [Via, © IWM - B 9477]

  • A similar example occurred on 14 June, during Operation Perch. Sgt. Harris of the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards, along with three standard Shermans, set up defensive positions along with the infantry after successfully driving out the Germans in the village of Lingèvres, near Tilly-sur-Seulles. Looking through his binoculars, Sgt. Harris spotted two Panthers advancing from the east. He opened fire at a range of 800 metres (870 yd), knocking out the lead Panther with his first shot, and the second Panther with his second. Relocating to a new position on the other side of the town, he spotted another three Panthers approaching from the west. From his well-concealed flanking position, he and his gunner, Trooper Mackillop, eliminated all three with just three rounds. Harris and his gunner had knocked out five Panthers with as many rounds, demonstrating the potency of the Firefly, especially when firing from a defensive position on advancing enemy tanks.

C Sqn 3 CLY Firefly tank Normandy 1944 [Via]

  • In perhaps their most famous action, Fireflies from A Squadron, 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, 33rd Armoured Brigade, A Squadron, the Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, and B Squadron, The 144th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps, 33rd Armoured Brigade, ambushed a group of four Tiger tanks from the 3rd Company and HQ Company, 101st SS Heavy Tank Battalion supported by several Panzer IV tanks and StuG IV assault guns. Tanks of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry and elements of the 51st (Highland) Division reached the French village of Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil on the morning of 8 August 1944 during Operation Totalize. While B Squadron stayed around the village, A and C Squadrons moved further south into a wood called Delle de la Roque. C Squadron positioned themselves on the east side of the woods and the understrength A Squadron in the southern portion with No. 3 Troop on the western edge of the wood. From this position, they overlooked a large open section of ground and were able to watch as German tanks advanced up Route nationale 158 from the town of Cintheaux. Under strict orders from the troop commander, they held their fire until the German tanks were well within range. Ekins, the gunner of Sergeant Gordon's Sherman Firefly (Velikye Luki - A Squadrons tanks were named after towns in the Soviet Union) had yet to fire his gun in action. With the Tiger tanks in range, the order was given to fire. What followed was an almost 12 minute battle that saw Ekins destroying all three Tigers that No. 3 Troop could see; there were actually seven Tiger tanks in the area heading north along with some other tanks and self-propelled guns. A short time later, the main German counterattack was made in the direction of C Squadron. A Squadron (less Sgt Gordon who had been wounded and had already bailed out of the Firefly) moved over to support them and in the resulting combat, Ekins destroyed a Panzer IV before his tank was hit and the crew were forced to bail out. One of the Tigers Ekins is credited with knocking out was that of Michael Wittmann, though there is still some controversy over whether Ekins really killed Wittman, as Sherman Fireflies of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment also fired at the Tigers from a closer range of 500 m (550 yd).

Never say never! A IC Hybrid with the large stowage box more associated with VCs advances towards Aunay-sur-Odon, 31 July - 1 August 1944 [Via, © IWM - B 8370]

Source: | | | | British Armour in the Normandy Campaign (2004). John Buckley

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