Argentine Shermans

With the end of WW2 in Europe there were large stocks of surplus vehicles, originally provided by the US to her allies under the ‘lend lease’ programme, which left vast quantities of surplus vehicles to be sold off at low prices. Many countries took advantage of this and purchased large quantities of equipment, and Argentina was amongst the countries to purchase surplus vehicles.

At the time Argentina was seeking a more modern tank for it’s Army, who had just 12 locally-built DL-43 Nahuel (similar to the M4 Sherman) and small numbers of Vickers Carden Lloyd Mk.l light tanks in service at the time. 1,036 Sherman Firefly, which originally belonged to the 21st Army Group, plus tanks from Canada, England and Poland were available to buy. Argentina hired Indanex, a Belgian company, to purchase amongst other things, a number of tanks for the army and following negotiations, 538 armoured vehicles, including 30 Crusader Mk Ill British tanks, 98 light tracked carrier T-16E-3 and 360 Sherman tanks of different models were desptatched to Argentina.

There were several Firefly models, including the M4 and M4 Hybrid, the Mk IC, the C subfix, referring to the OQF cannon (Ordenance Quick Firing), the MklV/VII armed with the 17-pounder gun, and three M-31 recovery tanks based on the M3 Lee.

The tanks were received between 1947 and 1948, after which the Argentine State Arsenals worked full time to replace the used components, which included radios (British No.19 sets), overhaul the weapons, engines, transmission, tracks, brake system, sights, gearbox, instruments, etc.

Many of the tanks that arrived from Belgium were kept in reserve at the Villa Martelli workshop where, in 1958/59, they disassembled the tanks to recover parts for spares for those already in service. The tanks were stored outside, and retained the original paint schemes, as used in Europe. Most of the refurbished tanks were sent to the First Armoured Brigade in South America, which represented a huge leap forward for the Argentine armed forces. Almost all Sherman Fireflys were sent to the heavy sections, of the Destacamentos de Explociacion Blindada, Regimientos de Infanteria Motorizada and the Regimiento de Tiradores Blindados.

An added complication when trying to trace of the units and vehicles in service with the Argentine military, is an old Argentine Army custom of constantly changing the designations of the units, as well as the organization and location, and even today makes it difficult to trace the exact location and deployment of Argentine personnel.

The classic Army organization in the 50’s, was the 1g Division de Caballeria Blindada, which included the RC 8, RC 10, the GA1 (1st Armoured Artillery Group), one Destacamento de Exploracion Blindado, one Escuadron de Zapadores/Pontoneros Blindado and Esc. de Comunicaciones Blindado.

In 1954, the Argentine Minister of War, Jose Humberto Sosa Molina, went to the United States, where he purchased more equipment, which included the 90mm anti-aircraft cannon, complete with the Allis Chalmers M4 tractor, six M7 equiped with the 105mm M2-A2 howitzer and ten Sherman tanks of various models arrived with all this equipment.

Up until 1962, all the armoured vehicles belonged to the armoured units and mechanized infantry, but after 1962 the Caballeria took charge of the tanks, forming the Tiradores Blindados and Exploracion Blindada, according to an official bulletin Ng302 dated the Sept 3rd, 1962and for a while armoured vehicles existed side by side with infantry units and horse equipped cavarly!

One of the factors that caused most of the early troubles with the Shermans was the use of the Chrysler A-57 Multibank engine on the M4A4 variant. The engine, known as the Chrysler Multibank, basically comprised of five petrol car engines, each with six pistons, and was found to be unreliable due to its complex systems and location of the carburettors, with failures common, and repairs difficult to carry out. This resulted in the low availability of vehicles, until 1959, when the engines were changed for the V8 Ford GAA 8, of which the Army purchased 317 units, and increased the availability significantly. With the new engines, the tanks could achieve speeds of 50 km/h in extreme conditions, and combined with the 76.2mm cannon, made it a powerful tank. By that time, the DGFM (Direccion General de Fabricaciones Militares), were producing the ammunition for that cannon, consistin in APCBC, SVDS and HE.

ARMOURED UNITS

The RCTan 10 received its first tanks on 29th April, 1948, and was equipped with the Sherman M4 and M5 armoured vehicles. In 1951 they were redesignated Agrupacion Blindada 1, comprising of one M4 Battalion, and in 1953 they changed once again and became the Agrupacion de Tropas Blindadas 1. Another change in 1958 saw the unit renamed as Agrupacion Blindada A, with its Base at Campo de Mayo, where it was organized as the following: Batallon deTiradores blindados and Batallon deTanques, two Companias (Ca) de tanques and two Ca de Tir Bl (1a Ca tan, 2a Ca Tan y 1a and 2a CATir Bl.) CA Comando de la Agrupacion, Ca de mantenimiento and Ca de abastecimiento Blindado. They were located in Azul, Buenos Aires Province, until 1961, when it was transformed into the Regimiento de Caballeria deTiradores Blindados 10, with three Escuadrones de Tiradores Blindados and one of tanks.

In 1962, Regimiento 2 received the same armoured vehicles as the RCTan 10, and Regimiento 2 were also located at Azul, Buenos Aires Province, but in 1979 the Shermans were replaced by the SK-105 Kurassier. The arrival of the first Sherman tanks in 1947 saw the creation of the Regimiento de Caballeria deTanques 8, in the Corrientes Province, which later moved to Magdalena, in the Buenos Aires Province, and where it remains today, being the main tanks regiment. The Regimiento de Caballeria de Tanques 1, located in Tandil in the Buenos Aires province, was moved to Villaguay, in the Entre Rios province.

One of the biggest units, was the Escuela de Tropas Mecanizadas, created on October 15th, 1943 and based in the Corrientes Province, although in September 1955, it moved to Villa Martelli, in the Buenos Aires Province.

The tank maintenance unit changed its name to Agrupacion Talleres Fabrica General Paz, as the result of the union of the Taller de Mantenimiento Ng 3 and the Equipo Movil de Reparacion de Tanques y Semiorugas (Mobile halftrack and tanks repair unit).

SHERMAN IN ACTION

Internal troubles in Argentina resulted in several uprisings against the constitutional order, producing changes in the government, with the significant loss of lives and materials. The first action took place on June 16th, 1955, near the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the Government Palace, Economic Ministry, close to Colon plaza.

Despite heavy fighting there was no loss of vehicles, as they acted in the Infantry support role and civilian groups. On this occasion it was the Escuadron de Tanques of the Regimiento de Granaderos a Caballo Gral San Martin and the Regimiento Motorizado 1 Buenos Aires that was involved.

A few months later a new uprising took place on September 16th, 1955, but this time the uprisings were countrywide, but again there was no loss of vehicles, however, on 21st September, 1962 new fighting broke out and this time it involved fierce fighting against the tanks of the Regimiento 8. The most severe encounter took place at the Echeverri crossover, where the tanks had to destroy barricades of heavy trucks created by the fighting civilians.

In peacetime, the Argentine Army began with its reorganization and by 1965 had formed five Escuadrones de Exploracion de Caballeria Blindada, and two Destacamentos de Caballeria de Exploracion. In the first case, there was one Escuadron de Tanques (Tank Squadron) composed by five Sherman Firefly and in the second, two Escuadrones deTanques plus other armored vehicles.

With the arrival of the first AMX-13 in 1969, all the remaining Shermans were sent to the Regimiento de Caballeria de Tanques 8, and the Sherman of this Regiment, reinforced the RCTir Bl 2 and 10, who in turn replaced the M4 Shermans with 75mm cannons, leaving 140 units in service.

By 1977, an armed conflict was within sight with Chile, and while construction of the new TAM (Tanque Argentino Mediano) had begun, they were a long way from being able to form a powerful unit, so it was decided to modernize 120 Sherman Firefly and M3/5 half-track. The work was completed by the end of 1978, as was the conflict with Chile.

A NEW SHERMAN

From the original tanks, only there was 140 vehicles in service, in varying conditions and with the threat of armed conflict with Chile on the horizon, it was decided to remanufacture 120 Sherman Firefly. The work on the M4A3/4 M4A consisted of the complete dismantling of the tanks, which were then cleaned, repaired and all compnents, both internal and external, refurbished, repainted. At the same time a new French CN-105/57 105mm gun was installed, which was very similar to that used in the AMX-13. To install the new armament it was neccesary to modify the turret, and this work was carried out at the Fabrica Militar de Rio Tercero, located in the Cordoba Province. The Shermans were also fitted with a new and more powerful diesel engine, the French Poyaud 520/V8S2. This engine was a 13,960CC, water cooled V8, developing 500hp at 2,500rpm. Radio equipment consisted of an Argentine made VRC-3600, with intercom and external phone. The original optical instruments were retained, only the aiming telemetry unit was replaced to suit the new gun.

By 1978 December, the Argentine Army Armoured units were composed of the I Brigada de Caballeria Blindada, including the RCTan8 equipped with 60 AMX-13 and the RCTir Bl 2 and 10 equipped with two Escuadrones de Tiradores Blindados and one composed of 12 Sherman repowered tanks.

The II Brigada de Caballeria Blindada, based at Parana, Entre Rios Province was composed of the RCTan1 located at Villaguay, and the Regimientos de Caballeria de Tiradores Blindados 6 and 7, all located in the same Province. In 1981 the RCTan 2, received the new SK-105 so the remaining Shermans were passed on to the II Brigada de Caballeria Blindada.

The period between 1981 and 1991, when the army began to receive more of the locally built TAM tanks, which were built in the local factory TAMSE (Tanque Argentino Mediano Sociedad del Estado), coincided with the years of great transferences of tanks between units. I Brigada de Caballeria Blindada received the new TAM tanks but didn’t use the re-engined Shermans, while II Brigada de Caballeria Blindada, had some TAM tanks and some re-engined Shermans, which remained in service until 1991, after which the TAM equipped all the regiments, and the Shermans were finally retired from service, although the official retirement of the Sherman didn’t take place until 1998.

After some years a few deficencies were found in the new TAM, which had been fitted with the URDAN mine sweeping device, and as a consequence a small number of Shermans were taken back into service (in practice they never had stopped working), for use in the mine-sweeping training and even today the Sherman is still used to train new troops for demining work, without any risk to the TAM family vehicles, which surely must make the Argentine Shermans one of the longest serving World War Two tanks in the world?

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