American and Canadian automobile and locomotive manufacturers turned out 13 variations of the M4 Sherman tank. A total of 49,422 units were produced in eleven factories. The single most produced variant was the M4A2 with a 75 mm gun with 8,053 units produced by five different manufacturers. The Chrysler Detroit Arsenal facility produced 7,499 units of the M4A4 with a 75 mm gun. This was largest manufacturing run for a single M4 Sherman variant.
Table of Contents
Transition From Civilian to Military Production
Herman Goring was famously quoted as saying that Americans could produce razor blades and refrigerators but not military equipment. At that time there was a kernel of truth to his statement, but it was backwards looking versus forwards looking. United States industry even in the mire of the Great Depression was outproducing the big three Axis nations combined. Its automotive and locomotive industries were world leaders.
President Franklin Roosevelt tapped William Knudsen, President of General Motors, to work with other US industry leaders to meet the needs of the American military and eventually her allies as well. The US’ industrial coordination versus the other nations of the time was more informal. Most of these industrialists worked with their existing supply chains to develop and produce needed military hardware. Handshake deals were common earlier on just to get things moving. Things became more formalized as the War Production Board and its sub-boards and committees. This included the Combined Munitions Assignments Board a joint US and UK controlling allocations of war materiel to allied nations.
Due to the Great Depression numerous manufacturing facilities were either idle or underutilized. Using existing infrastructure help jump start the transition from civilian to military production. Additionally, the US Office of Production Management froze production, sales, or deliveries of commercial vehicles effective on January 1, 1942. This freed up all US automobile and truck manufacturers to be dedicated to war production. The ban of commercial vehicle sales would last until October 1945. This type of action was not limited to the automobile industry as numerous other industries also transition to military production as well.
The United States was slowly coming out of the Great Depression with a 1933 unemployment rate high of 24.9% and an equally high underemployment rate. The unemployment rate for 1940 was 14.6% and 1941 was 9.9%. These rates quickly dropped in 1942 to 4.7% and then remained under 2.0% for the remainder of the war. Therefore, at the beginning of the war many men were looking and available to step up. As the volunteers and drafted men went into the services industry tapped into the then nontraditional labor forces such as women and minorities.
Counteracting use of previously unemployed and nontraditional labor sources were a myriad of labor strikes. The AFL- CIO pledged to no strikes for the war’s duration. Some companies took advantage of the pledge and reduced benefits often resulting in wildcat strikes.
Tank production as well as other military production rose to phenomenal heights during the war. This was based upon mass manufacturing techniques, year over year improvements due to climbing the learning curves, manufacturers sharing designs and other technology, and an able workforce.
M4 Sherman Tank Production By Manufacturer Data
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Sources: Hunnicutt, R.P. “Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank”, Echo Point Books & Media 2015, Stansell, P. and Laughlin, K. “Son of Sherman Vol 1: The Sherman Design and Development.” The Ampersand Group, Inc., 2013, Data accessed at The Sherman Tank Site, “The Place For All Things Sherman Tank.”, http://www.theshermantank.com/tag/tank-factories/, Data accessed on June 28, 2022
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