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Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service
with James MacMillan

Part of the Flames Of War hobby has for me always included an element of historical research and modelling. While recognising that not everyone is as interested in modelling historical units as I am, I thought it would still be useful to provide some information on how you can use the M4A1 Sherman Tanks from the Hit the Beach starter set as a basis for a British Armoured Squadron. 

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In British service, the M4A1 Sherman found in the Hit the Beach set was known as the Sherman II. While this type of Sherman in British service was relatively uncommon in Normandy, there was one British brigade in Normandy equipped with Sherman IIs throughout the NWE Campaign - the 4th (Independent) Armoured Brigade (4AB) 'The Black Rats' - some of the original armoured units that fought in the desert as part of the Eight Army.

Royal Scots Greys (Sherman II & Firefly VC, Stuart M3A1s). A famous Scottish regiment dating from 1681, particularly known for its cavalry charge at Waterloo. Had fought in the Middle East, North Africa, and Italy prior to the fighting in Normandy. 

3rd County of London Yeomanry (on 29 July 1944 became 3rd/4th County of London Yeomanry(The Sharpshooters) Sherman II & Firefly VC, Stuart M3A1's). Raised in 1900. Fought in the Middle East, North Africa, Sicily and Italy. 

44th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment (Sherman II & Firefly VC, Stuart M3A1s). A regiment raised during WW2, fought in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. 

2nd Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps (Motor Battalion). The regiments ancestry can be dated back to the French and Indian War in 1756, the 60th Regiment of Foot and the later founding of the Rifle Brigade. Fought in France in 1940, before being re-formed to fight in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. 

4th Royal Horse Artillery (equipped with towed 25 Pounders prior to September 1944, thereafter Sextons). Initially formed in 1901, it was re-formed in 1939, fought in the Middle East, North Africa and Normandy. Initially part of 5AGRA (Army Group Royal Artillery), it joined 4AB on 25 June 1944. 

4AB had been part of 7th Armoured Division during the fighting in the Middle East, before forming a separate brigade in September 1942. Hence the similar unit sign to that of 7th Armoured Division. It continued to fight in North Africa, Sicily and Italy before returning to the UK in January 1944 to prepare for the invasion of Europe. The brigade had a close relationship to 7th Armoured Division, and fought alongside in often in the NWE campaign.

Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

One of the useful things about 4AB from a gaming and modelling perspective is that they fought with a large number of British and Canadian units in Normandy. As an independent Armoured Brigade, it was moved around to support various infantry divisions as required, including the 2nd Canadian, 3rd British, 15th Scottish, 43rd Wessex, 50th Northumbrian (Tyne and Tees) and 53rd Welsh Infantry Divisions, as well as fighting under the command of both 7th and 11th Armoured Divisions. The unit also fought in close proximity to 31st Tank Brigade’s Churchills and was supported by various units of M10s – including those from the Armoured Divisions it supported.

The Brigade’s own infantry Motor Battalion was split according to a pre-arranged and permanent distribution, with A company going to 3CLY, B to 44th RTR and C to the Scots Greys.

Landing in Normandy between 7th and 10th June 1944, the Brigade took part in the early post D-Day fighting, before taking part in Operation Epsom and the battle for hill 112, Op Jupiter and Op Bluecoat. 

With regards the second option for British use of M4A1s, on D-Day and for a few days afterwards, some regiments of the 8th Armoured Brigade were also equipped with Sherman II ‘DD’ tanks. B and C Squadrons of both the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards and the Sherwood Rangers were equipped with these tanks. While not exactly the same model as the base M4A1s provided in the Hit the Beach box, they would be an interesting modelling project to show the tanks after the inflatable screens had been removed.

Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

The 8th Armoured Brigade had a similarly interesting time in Normandy. Landing on D-day in support of 50th Northumbrian (Tyne and Tees) Infantry Division. It took part in Op Epsom, supporting 49th Infantry Division in the fighting around hill 112. It later took part in Op Bluecoat in support of the 43rd and 50th Divisions. Finally, taking part in Op Blackwater with the same two divisions taking the Brigade to the Seine river. 

While my focus is on the Normandy campaign, other British and Commonwealth units used the Sherman II in Italy, as well as the M4A1 76mm (called a Sherman IIa in British service). Sherman IIs appear to have been in use in Sept 1944 within 1st Armd Div, 5th Cdn Armd Div, 7 Armd Bge, 21 Tank Bde, 25 Tank Bde. Sherman IIas with 1 Armd Div and 6 SA Armd Div.

Building The Shermans
Contrary to popular belief, the Sherman IIs used by the British included many of the later model hulls with the cast transmission housing (red), although you can find images of some with the older transmission housing (blue). 

Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

I’ve marked the side hull tarp as not to use, as Sherman crews in Normandy quickly learnt not to put stowage on the hull sides. Narrow lanes and streets, thick hedges and undergrowth all meant stowage on tanks had to be on the rear engine deck or turret, as anything on the hull sides would be torn off and lost. There are also images of Sherman IIs with sand shields either fully or partially in use, so these can be used. 4AB tanks also used bits of sand shields as welded on stowage holders.

Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

For the gun and gun mantlet, use the yellow circled parts.

The British, being a bit thriftier with equipment, tended not to use .50 cal AA guns on their tanks – although this often depended on the unit. Some research here on specific regiments might provide some more specific info. So far, I’ve found several images of a 44th RTR tank with a turret mounted .50 cal machine guns, which suggests at least some tanks in the Brigade did use these.  

As another option, I have also seen some of the British M4A1s with the later (large hatch) hull used by the American 76mm M4A1s. So you could swap in some of these hulls for a little bit of variety, if you're so inclined.

Painting The Shermans
For painting, follow the guide in the newest Colours Of War book (page 77 for British Late War Armour). 

For 4AB decals, the British Decal pack sold by Battlefront could be used. Specifically, the BR946 British Decals (Late) pack. Use the red ‘desert rat’ marking, and once dry on the model carefully overpaint the red with black. While not precisely correct, it should look close enough at 15mm.

Similarly, use the red and white ‘Arm of Service’ numbers from this decal pack. Overpaint the white numbers with red, then once dry carefully hand paint the appropriate numbers over in white. It takes some practice, but is doable. If your in doubt, a little coat of gloss varnish over the dry decal before you try to alter it helps the paint come off if you need to start again. Remember to give the paint on the decal time to dry before you try to varnish again!

Getting Started - Building An Army
Assuming you decide to go with one of the regiments of 4th Armoured Brigade, a starter army using Hit the Beach M4A1 models and the Fortress Europe Sherman Armoured Squadron army list would look like this.

 Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

Obviously, this list might change with the D-Day: British book. I’m also assuming you have access to the Fortress Europe British Sherman unit cards – unfortunately not included in the Hit the Beach starter set. However, you could always just use the American tank stats/card as a short-term stand in.

Any initial collection for this 4AB force is going to be short the famous British Firefly tanks and thus lacking a bit of a punch. If you are only fighting against the Hit the Beach German force, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Remember to smoke and flank those Panzer IVs for best effect!

Unfortunately, the 76mm Shermans were not used by the British in Normandy (although they were in Italy and by other Allied units later in the NEW campaign). The American 76mm Sherman was a very different looking beast from the Sherman Firefly, so it’s not a straight stand in model wise. Of course, you could use tanks with these turrets as stand ins for Fireflies initially, but probably better to stick to 75mm Sherman IIs. 

If you do decide to build the 76mm turrets, make sure you also build and keep the 75mm turrets. And remember, you only get one ‘peg’ for the turret to attach to the hull, so be careful when you decide to use this. 

Gathering Strength - Expanding Your Army
The next upgrade to your army could be to buy the British Starter set! Of course, should you be lucky enough to be able to swap your starter Germans for more Shermans, you could already have an expanded force which might look like this:

 Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

From a historical perspective, a force like this might potentially represent the Fireflies having been grouped together and used elsewhere… at least till you get some re-enforcements. 

Assuming you haven’t had the extra Shermans, adding in the British Starter set to the initial 8 M4A1s would allow you to add Fireflies (Sherman VCs) to your Sherman troops as well as adding a large number of support options. Note that while the starter set states it contains 1 x Firefly and 4 x 75mm Shermans, the sprues allow either option. You would want to build 4 x Fireflies and 1 x 75mm Sherman (to be the OP tank for your guns).

To the initial 8 M4A1s, you add two Fireflies. You could also add the Stuarts as a combat platoon of your main formation, representing recce tanks from the HQ Squadron or from another unit attached as a liaison force, instead of as a formation support option. 

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From a historical perspective, the British Starter Set Stuarts are the wrong models of Stuarts (though still 37mm armed tanks). 4AB used Stuart M3A1s, rather than M5A1s. However, you could model the M5A1s as Stuarts from one of the regiments of 11th or 7th Armoured Division, which would fit due to the units 4AB fought with. This would give you a force which looks like this:

 Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

(Of note is the fact that you can build Stuart M3A1s using the BBX32 Honey Armoured Troop (Plastic) Mid War British box. Just make sure you use the turret option with the two triangular hatches rather than the mid was single cupola option. Use the late war British 37mm Stuart unit card - LB106.) 

This force would leave you with two ‘spare’ Sherman Fireflies for future expansion – of note is the fact the D-Day: British book will allow you to field post D-Day troops of 2 x 75mm and 2 x Firefly troops. 

Of course, if you have been lucky enough to get some extra M4A1s from a friend’s starter set, you could use the extra Fireflies to make a force that looks like this:

Lend Lease! ‘Hit the Beach’ Shermans in British Service

This would allow you to represent an entire Squadron of British Shermans, plus support! 

For further expansion, with the British D-Day book (due in February 2020) likely to include more Armoured Squadron and Motor Company options, you could add in a British Infantry Company box and a few dozen halftracks. Then you could field a Motor Company of 2nd Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps or an ‘leg’ infantry company, with support options for both already in your collection. At the same time, 4AB’s close affiliation with 7th Armoured Division also gives a useful pretext for adding a Cromwell Squadron. 

Interestingly, many of the vehicles in the American Starter set could also be used by a British Army using the hit the Beaches starter set as a basis.

(Sources: ‘British Tanks in Normandy’ (Ludovic Fortin), ‘Sherman Tanks, British Army and Royal Marines, Normandy 1944’ (Dennis Oliver), ‘British and Commonwealth Armies 1944-45, Volume 2’ (Mark Bevis), http://www.desertrats.org.uk/orgarmour.htm#AB4)

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Last Updated On Thursday, August 8, 2019